Sep 4, 2018

1966: The Grateful Dead - Good for Dancing


There are many interesting similarities between the current rock 'n' roll scene and the great Swing Era dance-band activity of the late Thirties.
During the Swing Era there were dozens of bands, all the kind you could dance to with pleasure for hours but only a few with really exciting and interesting soloists. The others were remarkable for a good dance beat and for their ensemble sound. But the average band's performance level was good enough to make you want to dance.
The same thing is happening in the rock bands. Even though Bob Dylan says his music is not for dancing, his songs have been adapted by many groups including the Byrds and the Grateful Dead and played for dancing.
During most of the recent weekends, anywhere up to a dozen rock 'n' roll bands played public dances here and, with rare exception, the bands were good enough to dance to. Once in a while a band would start to play and the dancers would slowly leave the floor after a few tentative steps.
Then above that level of professionalism are the really exciting and interesting bands like the Jefferson Airplane, Paul Butterfield, the Grateful Dead, and the Blues Project. What these bands do is to play good dance music (some play better than others for this, incidentally) and have interesting and unusual arrangements, original material, and good soloists.
The main solo instrument in these bands is the single body electric guitar, though many of them have organists, flute players, etc. [ . . . ] They are only now beginning to define the possibilities of these instruments through the work of soloists such as Mike Bloomfield in the Butterfield band. [ . . . ]
These soloists make the rock bands exciting in addition to the excitement of the ensemble. Players like Bloomfield, Jorma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, these are the Lester Young and Charlie Christians of this genre.
There's a fundamental difference in how the music is played, too. Drummers, for instance, are not just timekeepers added from the outside; they play best from the inside of the tune in terms of the structure of the tune, rather than the time. [ . . .  ]

(by Ralph Gleason, from the San Francisco Examiner, 22 May 1966)

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7/15/66 - Fillmore Auditorium


The Opera Guild is hoping that the taping of the Jefferson Airplane last Friday at the Fillmore Auditorium by the Bell Telephone Hour will convince more conservative members of the organization that "pop" music is a valid part of the local music scene.
Ever since the committee for the guild's annual Fol de Rol announced a "pop" theme for the annual bash Oct. 19, they have received critical letters from the old guard.
A crew from Bell Telephone has been filming chamber music ensembles and the Symphony as part of a program on music in San Francisco which will be a New Year's Day spectacular.
Guild members celebrated the taping by gathering for cocktails . . . The group then drove to the Fillmore Auditorium, where they were whisked to the projection room to watch the goings-on by promoter Bill Graham. Most of them . . . elected to stay there, although a few other intrepid souls attempted the jammed dance floor.
Opera director and Mrs. Kurt Herbert Adler . . . obliged the television crew by frugging away for several numbers to the Jefferson Airplane, which Dr. Adler termed "very interesting musically." However, he confided he preferred the music of the second pop group, "The Grateful Dead," for dancing. . . .
As colorful as the Guild group looked, they couldn't compare with the costumes on the floor, which included a girl in a bikini, another in an Edwardian costume of flowing velvet robes and a plumed hat, and a third in brief gold-spangled tights.
There were favorable comments on the well behaved, if far out, crowd. "Why, there's more noise on Friday nights in the Burlingame Club," said one.
No one expected to see any one they knew, but the Adlers bumped into ballerina Linda Meyer, and Bob Phillips greeted the long-haired, barefoot teenage daughter of one of his friends.

(by Joan White, from the San Francisco Examiner, 15 August 1966)

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9/4/66 - Fillmore Auditorium

On Sunday night [at the Fillmore], Country Joe and the Fish, a Berkeley Bluesrock gang, were in fine shape on “Flyin’ High,” and The Grateful Dead again convinced me that they are on the way to big things; especially good for dancing. The Quicksilver Messenger Service’s “Got My Mojo Workin’” although almost drowned in electronic rhythm (a trait) was bright and effective.

(from Philip Elwood, "A Lively Weekend for Rock and Jazz," the San Francisco Examiner, 6 September 1966) 

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12/20/66 - Fillmore Auditorium 


Shouting singer Otis Redding and his band, an overwhelming rhythm and blues tidal wave, roared through Fillmore Auditorium last evening to begin a three-night engagement. No one interested in what's happening to popular music can afford to miss Redding: he's too much. 
Redding has a giant voice to match his big powerful body. He uses both to create a sensational and sensuous performance. Riding on top of the surging four-beat waves of sound from his blasting 8 piece band, Redding shouts, struts, and lurches. He sends the audience reeling with the first vocal blow, and from then on it just wilts and collapses in roaring approval during each tune.
In the 50 years of blues notation the underlying theme has been hardship in life, and love. For singers like Redding there is no distinction between the two and everything he does on stage drives that message on down. 
"I don' wanna stop, I been loving you too long...I'm getting stronger," rambles one of his chants, and on "Try a Little Tenderness" there is no sign that Redding would ever take that advice himself. Even his "Sad, Sad Song" is boisterous, rough, raw...and real. . . . 
[The band's] ensemble style is sustained unison wailing, accentuated by electric organ, guitar and bass. It suits Redding, and the song and dance show which preceded him, quite perfectly. 
The Grateful Dead, sharing the bill with Redding last night, proved their superiority over other local rock groups. Jerry Garcia (guitar) and Pigpen McKernan (harmonica-piano) are superb vocalists and soloists. The Dead has imaginative variety in format and a steady assured ensemble sound, and beat, which make it singularly listenable and danceable.

(by Philip Elwood, from the San Francisco Examiner, 21 December 1966)

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1/13/67 - Berkeley Community Theater (early show) 


The Mamas and the Papas . . . played a double-header concert in Berkeley last night that filled the 3,500-seat Community Theater for the first show and drew almost as many for the 10:45 p.m. repeat. 
[ . . . ] 
The program was opened with a 30-minute set by The Grateful Dead, a Westbay rock quintet that is memorable because two of its members (male) have hair that reaches to their shoulders. 

(by Russ Wilson, from the Oakland Tribune, 14 January 1967) 

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2/12/67 - Fillmore Auditorium

'Twas in the Name of Civic Unity

It was family night, you might say, at Bill Graham's Fillmore Auditorium the other evening, when the Council for Civic Unity sponsored a wild and wonderful "Happening"... Board members not only came and saw, but danced and listened, joining the ranks of regular enthusiasts...many of them brought their teen-aged children with them. And it was a toss-up who had the most fun. Although youth, to be sure, has the greatest lasting power. Sighed Sally Hellyer, during one lull, "I'm afraid I'll have to stay 'til the very end." She had son Stephen and a group of friends in tow, and THEY weren't about to leave until the last ear-splitting number was over. Four rock 'n' roll bands kept people jumping (and the musical din at a crescendo) - the Grateful Dead (whose lead guitarist is Bob Weir, 19-year-old son of the Frederick Weirs of Atherton), Moby Grape, Notes from the Underground, and the New Salvation Army Band. And those who had never experienced the Fillmore Auditorium before, who were there because it was a Council for Civic Unity benefit, vowed they would have to come again. 

(from the San Francisco Examiner, 19 February 1967)  

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3/14/67 - Whiskey a Go Go 


At Whiskey a Go Go the hard rocking Grateful Dead (and a good Love Conspiracy lightshow) are having problems. The band sounds fine...all four times its fortissimos ricochet across the club's incredible dimensions (a glass wall 40 feet high is one example). 
The move from Fillmore Auditorium into a go-go club, a trend which probably will increase, also poses non-audio problems. Most important is trying to lure the Fillmore rock fans into a night club while at the same time holding the club's regular drinking crowd long enough for them to get used to the psychedelic explosions of such as the Dead.

(by Philip Elwood, from the San Francisco Examiner, 15 March 1967)   


  1. The emphasis on danceability is very interesting. It seems to me a key factor in the appeal of Grateful Dead music, and is not examined enough.

    1. The emphasis in 1966 was very different. I don't think there's a single article from that year that refers to the Dead as a "psychedelic" or "acid rock" band; that perspective only started creeping in during 1967. In 1966, it was assumed that any rock band was primarily for teenagers to dance to, and as mentioned in all these pieces, the Dead rated high in danceability.
      All these pieces refer to the Fillmore dances, which is no coincidence since that was one of the only places in San Francisco where teens were allowed to dance at a concert, despite much civic harassment. You'll notice another emphasis in some of these pieces is that they're addressed to more 'conservative' audiences, assuring them that even adults, families, and high-society members can come to the Fillmore to dance and have fun (despite the "ear-splitting din").
      Ralph Gleason took it on himself as a one-man mission to convince San Francisco that the Fillmore was good clean fun for kids, not a dark den of sex orgies. For instance, at random from a 5/29/66 Examiner article:
      "At the rock dances - particularly the ones for the post teen crowd as opposed to the ones for the teenie-boppers or high school crowd, informality reigns.
      People sit in the lights on the floor and talk. Dancers sit out a number, lying on the floor in front of the band watching. When a girl is asked to dance, she may kick off her shoes and drop her string bag and leave them both lying there on the floor while she dances.
      No one gets upset when strangers ask the girls to dance. This is one of the reasons for the lack of hostility in the crowds."
      Articles often noted with surprise that the colorfully dressed Fillmore crowds were more "well-behaved," and less noisy and rowdy, than the typical club crowds. At this point, drugs were never mentioned in these types of reports.

  2. One article I found on the dance-scene debate in San Francisco:

    A handful of terribly hairy youngsters, a battling dance hall operator, and a handful of parents had the Board of Supervisors on the horns of a dilemma today.
    It all came about because of a proposed ordinance to liberalize the City's dance hall law. The change would allow teenagers to attend public dances limited to persons in the 14 to 18 bracket.
    It wasn't enough to suit dance hall operators and most of those who spoke.
    As attorney Robert McKendrick told the board's Fire Safety and Police Committee yesterday:
    "The San Francisco scene is a very energetic, very lively, growing scene and it's going to do a lot for The City. I hope you come up with some idea that takes into account that you don't want to kill the scene."
    "These dances I've gone to," said Howard Klein, who hasn't shorn his curly locks for six months, "are developing as a form of art and as a form of art they should be available to everyone. It's more than a form of art - it's a happening. It's a beautiful thing."
    Rock Scully is manager of the Grateful Dead, a music combo, and he testified, “I have found where older people are present at dances they tend to lend a sobering influence to the youngsters.”
    [PTA members opposed attendance by anyone under 19.]
    William Graham, Fillmore Auditorium dance hall operator, argued for a law that bans youngsters under 16 from evening dances, but allows persons of all ages at afternoon dances.
    Supervisor Terry A. Francois had been openly skeptical of any plan to mix youngsters and adults on a dance floor. Francois accused Graham of trying to generate pressure on the supervisors.
    Graham challenged Francois to produce evidence of any misconduct at his auditorium affairs. And in a final angry gesture Graham declared:
    "If you will allow people to mix at Sunday afternoon dances, I will close my Sunday afternoon dances as a reward to the Board of Supervisors."
    Applause rocked the committee hearing room.
    Mrs. Betty Edelstein said her three teenaged daughters had experienced nothing but problems at teenage dances sponsored by private organizations. But at the Fillmore Auditorium, "People couldn't be better behaved," she declared.
    Her husband, Bert Edelstein, a director of the Jewish Community Center, said the center dances were harassed by problems, including fights.
    He said he found the atmosphere at the Fillmore hall "healthful and good. Of course, when we as middle class adults go into a place like that, it's frightening when we see the scene. The noise is almost more than I could bear. But I think it's decent."
    Mrs. Sue Bierman said she took her husband there "and I loved it. But it makes you feel kind of old. Aside from that, it's an exciting thing. In the thirties we had the big bands. Now we've got these perfectly fantastic whatever-they-are bands."
    Francois asked about the lighting in the dance hall and Graham said, "the lighting is the same whether it's afternoon or night. It's not conducive to amorous relations. It's a very pleasant thing with slides, pictures of the musicians' faces. It's handled by instructors and experts in this field from State College."
    Joseph von Joo, a San Mateo College student, told the supervisors, "High school dances aren't as safe and angelic as you've been told... The crime here is stopping the beautiful, loving atmosphere that is going on."
    The supervisors referred the dance hall law back to the Police Commission, asking it to consider Graham's proposal.
    (by Russ Cone, from the SF Examiner, 12/9/66)

    1. Graham had been debating with the city about the dance laws all year. I liked this piece for the quotes from the timid middle-class elders venturing into the scary, noisy Fillmore; but there are several ironies here. The city's considering whether to allow younger teenagers at public (unsupervised) dances at places like the Fillmore. Rock Scully and Bill Graham do not seem eager to have the Fillmore flooded with young teens - Scully prefers to have older people present, and Graham doesn't want any young teens at the evening shows. But at the afternoon shows (which were generally Sundays only) they'd be welcome. The city supervisors, meanwhile, seem alarmed at having younger kids interacting with the kind of "adults" who might be at the Fillmore, and concerned by the dark lighting. (Graham gives them a pleasant fib about the lights.) But some parents are all for it: the regular teen and community-center dances are full of problems and fights, but at the Fillmore, it's so safe and well-behaved!