Jun 28, 2013

October 4-5, 1970: Winterland, SF


The night Janis Joplin died, the three remaining bands from the first days of the San Francisco scene - Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service - were rocking on at Winterland. As a magnesium flare made an arc over the audience and died during the Dead's "Cold Rain and Snow," backstage the rumor was spreading: Janis is dead.
A phone call to UPI confirmed the rumor. There was little overt reaction. A straight celebrity-follower ... sat in a corner weeping, until he was told he was laying his bad trip on everybody. He left.
No announcement was made from the stage. Concert producer Paul Baratta tried to keep the story from reaching members of Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service, who had not yet gone on. All the musicians had apparently heard the story as rumor, but most did not learn that it had been confirmed until after the show.
Out front, the Winterland, which has a legal capacity of 7,500, had sold out at 8:40 and during the evening another 3,000 people were turned away. It was whooping and hollering night, and despite the crowd on the floor and the hindrance of theater seats, there was a fair amount of dancing. About every third time you passed a strong scent of grass, you caught a strong whiff of wine on somebody's breath. There were a few people calling for reds, but for a San Francisco audience it was a happy, physical crowd, jumping with enthusiasm for the city's favorite bands. Reunions were blossoming everywhere.
Coincidentally, the show was being broadcast live and in color on KQED, the local Public Broadcasting TV station with quadrophonic sound arrangements with FM stereo radio stations KQED and KSAN.
Whether Janis' death was too unexpected or too hard an idea to grasp, or whether it seemed too remote from the celebratory spirit of the concert, or just because the radio and TV announcers hadn't the class to react to the news (or not mention it at all) - whatever the reason, the KSAN announcers and the hopelessly unprepared man with a mike who led a hand-held TV camera around for KQED handled the news in the worst of taste. . . .

[Examples of clueless comments from the KSAN and KQED backstage announcers telling people the news on the air.]

Monday night, the second night of the Airplane-Dead-Quicksilver engagement, is not a big night for rock and roll shows, but the hall seemed to be filled again. By now everyone knew about Janis, but the crowd was not in a mournful mood. Said Jerry Garcia after the Dead's set:
"The crowd seemed a little crazier last night than tonight, I don't know. You have to understand I have no memory, that's the price I pay. The difference in vibes? It makes a big difference in vibes if you tell somebody, Janis died. That's like heavy news. But listen, man, these are all people who've been on lots of trips, and they're sensitive, far-out, weird people, probably the weirdest people on earth in this place, and they've all looked at death a million times in lots of different ways. Nobody's really uptight about death. Death is something that really happens.
"Like everybody does it, the way they do it. Death only matters to the person who's dying. The rest of us are going to live without that voice. For those of us for whom she was a person, we'll have to do without the person.
"Janis was like a real person, man. She went through all the changes we did. She went on all the same trips. She was just like the rest of us - fucked up, strung out, in weird places. Back in the old days, the pre-success days, she was using all kinds of things, just like anybody, man.
"When she went out after something, she went out after it really hard, harder than most people ever think to do, ever conceive of doing.
"She was on a real hard path. She picked it, she chose it, it's OK. She was doing what she was doing as hard as she could, which is as much as any of us can do. She did what she had to do and closed her books. I don't know whether it's the thing to do, but it's what she had to do.
"It was the best possible time for her death. If you know any people who passed that point into decline, you know, really getting messed up, old, senile, done in. But going up, it's like a skyrocket, and Janis was a skyrocket chick.
"She had a sense of all that, including the sense that if somebody was making a movie of it, it'd make a great movie. If you had a chance to write your life...I would describe that as a good score in life writing, with an appropriate ending."
Bob Weir: "She went the way she wanted to, man, and I can't bring myself to be in abject misery about it, because, like I say, she drank herself to death, she lived up to her image. If you knew Janis personally, you knew the direction she was going.
"You know about the irony of her getting Bessie Smith a tombstone. I think we, the bands, should put together a collection and get her a tombstone, kind of a cheap, gaudy tombstone, the way she'd have wanted. I know she doesn't like want her ashes scattered to the wind, man, she'll want to go six feet under like all her songs."
Pigpen had a personal kind of tribute in mind: "When I get a few days I'm gonna set back and get ripped on Southern Comfort.
"I turned her on to Southern Comfort, man. I knew her when she came up in '63 and I was with the jugband. Then she came back to Texas, and when she came back up I told her one day, 'Tex, try some of this.' She said [rolling his eyes, reeling] 'Oh man, that's good!'
"We used to get drunk and play pool together. She beat me 80 per cent of the time." . . .

[More comments from random bystanders, including "saxophonist Martin Fierro, who had played with Quicksilver both nights."]

Marty Balin of the Airplane didn't appear on Monday night. "He's feeling really down," said Paul Baratta, "and he thinks this is going to be a funeral thing for Janis. But Bob Weir told him, 'Hey, man. Janis went the way she wanted to, come on.' But he isn't coming."
Neither Baratta nor any of the groups spoke of Janis from the stage. But there seemed to be a special edge in the way the Airplane - a trio, as Grace had not yet come on stage and Marty wasn't there at all - announced, "What do you want to bet by the end of the evening you're all gonna be dancing?"

(by Charles Perry, from Rolling Stone, October 29 1970)

http://archive.org/details/gd1970-12-17.sbd.unk.87356.sbeok.flac16 (a compilation from the October 4-5 shows)


  1. It is often asked whether the Dead knew during the 10/4/70 show. Apparently not til they left the stage.

    It's also an early look at the Dead's rather unemotional attitude towards death.

    This account of the 10/4/70 broadcast makes clear that Marty Balin (as was frequently the case) was having dissensions with the Airplane, which may be why he really chose not to return on 10/5:

  2. From an October 1970 Robert Christgau article, "A Musical Weekend" -

    If someone were to ask me to name the two best albums of the past twelve months, I'd probably answer Live/Dead and Neil Young's After the Gold Rush...
    [10/4/70] was the occasion of an important day in the history of media: the first live quadraphonic television broadcast...
    Susan and I went up to Greil and Jenny Marcus's, and he set up the TV and his big FM tuner and two other radios, and we settled down to four channels of the Grateul Dead. No, it wasn't like being there. The Marcus house was less busy and less exciting than Winterland seemed to be. But it was more lifelike than stereo, you bet.
    Between acts the two radio stations competed in filling in the void of no music. And then something very strange happened. One station learned that Janis Joplin had just died, and the other didn't. So as the announcer on one station rattled on about the red of someone's guitar blending into the red of his shirt, the other talked about heroin in a blank undertone. The displacement was eerie. Fittingly, our talk turned to Altamont...
    We didn't listen to the Airplane, and before Quicksilver came on, Susan and I went home...
    (reprinted in his book "Any Old Way You Choose It")

  3. Part of the KSAN broadcast after the Dead's set is now available here:
    DJ Dusty Street receives the news of Janis on the air and is initially speechless: "Wow...wow... After that, I really don't know what to say... It's hard to talk after news like that." She recovers, though, and keeps on interviewing people without bringing it up.
    I imagine the 'tasteless' KSAN announcements mentioned in the article came in later set-breaks.

    If I were transcribing this article today, I probably would have included more of it!

  4. This was the first show Keith and Donna attended as fans.

  5. We were way up in the balcony in a cloud of weed tripping our brains out that night. Jugs of wine were being passed around spiked with who knows what. At the end everyone jammed with the Dead. It took us 3 hours to find the car. The sun was coming up on 101 and we almost pulled off at Agnew State Hospital to turn ourselves in on the way back to San Jose. Memorable show hehehehe

  6. Al Aronowitz wrote:
    "I was backstage at San Francisco's Winterland Arena when the word filtered in that Janis had been found dead in her motel room in Hollywood...and the news was too incredible to provoke anythinq but numbness. Some girls began to cry.
    "What can you do?" said Jerry Garcia... "You just have to keep on." The Jefferson Airplane was in the middle of its set, part of a concert with the Dead and Quicksilver to inaugurate a series of programs at Winterland to challenge the dominance of Bill Graham and the Fillmore West over the music scene in the Bay Area.
    It started out as a festive night, broadcast live over one television channel and two FM radio stations, but Janis' death took the heart out of the party. The 7,000 who packed the hall didn't learn what had happened until after the show was over.
    "We didn't want to make any announcement," said producer Paul Baratta, "because the feeling was that this was a party and Janis was so much a part of the scene that she would have understood that it would have been too much of a downer."
    When the Jefferson Airplane came offstage, Grace Slick couldn't believe the news. "Is it true?" she said. "Is it true?"

  7. I was there that night and it was great seeing all those bands, Dino Valenti played with Quicksilver, and Jerry played with the New Riders... all the bands were showcasing their new music... we were all waiting for the big jam at the end but it never came and we couldn't understand why until we found out that Janis had died that night...