Sep 21, 2018

February 4, 1970: Family Dog


Wednesday night (last Wednesday - a week ago) there was a hot-shit, high-class, invitational only bash at the Family Dog. If you had gone down, you could have gotten in - like you walk up to the door and say, "Marty Balin invited me," and bop on through. I said, "Ralph Gleason invited me," (actually it had been Sandy Darlington). I invited a number of people myself, and they said, "Black Shadow invited me." Everybody got in. Hip high-society, rubbing elbows. Get in free.
KQED-TV was taping a live rock show with the Airplane, the Dead, Santana, and Kimberly. But it was really a party, a television party, and as a matter of fact it was pretty neat. I usually get places early ('cause I dig watching things get set up), and Lil and I arrived around 8:00. The Dog was mostly empty except for a bunch of people sitting around the stage, early-bird movie cameramen, and some technicians playing with their shiny TV cameras. It felt good, even with nothing happening; people were relaxed and expectant, rapping and watching the big color-TV monitor by the side of the stage. There were three cameras, two of them on high dollies and one (right in front of the stage) on a low, rolling platform. People drifted in in pairs and triplets, and strolled up and down the hall looking for their friends.
After a while, Kimberly started to play. We hadn't brought any dope, and I went looking for someone who had. No luck, so I complained to the management and wandered some more. The cameras were mostly taking pictures of the audience, and big, colored lights blinded us. That's the price you pay for fame and everything. The Dog was getting more crowded now, and I could feel the curve of excitement rising slowly. Something was building, but not yet built. Fuck, where was the dope?
The second (or third) wave of arrivals came bearing the sacrament, and an angelic chick who had come with Robert Altman led me to where it was being smoked. Five or ten minutes later I slipped back into the flow, as Kimberly finished their set and the Stones bootleg concert album started playing on the PA. Dope circulated freely. The curve was getting up there now, and I realized that it wasn't a concert, wasn't even an event, but merely a party. Santana started to play, and I found my way up to the front so I could watch the cameramen and the TV monitor.
TV is groovy stuff, man. Instant feedback, watching the image in the back of the camera while you take it. There wasn't much room to move around, but whenever the cameras had to change position the crowd obligingly melted, flowed, and crystallized again, understanding the reason for the disruption and perfectly cool. Altamont should have been like that. No one was uptight about anything. The earlier promise of good vibes had been fulfilled, and I was well and truly stoned. Helpless to do much more than sit there and take it all in, I let Santana fill me with energy, watched the cameras, and smoked more dope.
There had been rumors (the usual rumors - you know) that the man was arriving with a lot of acid. I went over to the snack bar and discovered two big barrels of kool-aid punch - a barrel of green kool-aid and a barrel of red kool-aid. I stood there trying to figure out the psychology of the kool-aid makers: if I were going to put acid in one of these barrels, which barrel would I put it in? Finally I drank some green and some red, filled cups, and brought them to Lil and Altman. But the acid turned out to be rumor-acid, and we never got off. No matter.
By now the Dead were setting up. Earlier in the evening I had gone over to ask Jerry Garcia something, and discovered him in the grip of an intense karmic involvement with this cat whose lady wanted to dance on-stage with the Dead. The cat was channeling a really heavy energy beam at Garcia, and Garcia was just doing the best he could, saying, "Sure, man, she can do whatever she wants, it's cool," but the cat couldn't dig it and kept right on beaming in, saying, "She couldn't get it together to ask you, and you're just her favorite band," and on and on. I remembered a Common meeting when someone had accused Garcia of being a rock star, and Garcia said, "We can't help it, man, if people need to make us rock stars we gotta play along."
So now she was up there with the Dead, living a dream and dancing North Beach go-go style. I watched her tits bounce for a while, but the best dancers were on the floor, dancing for themselves. I really don't dig watching go-go dancers - the ego-trip gets in the way. The Dead put out some pretty music, but they weren't up to the energy explosion that they usually pull off. They had just gotten busted in New Orleans a couple of days before, and under the circumstances I could dig that they might be a shade off the mark. But even on an off-night the Dead look out for your head, and it was good to dance, good to be there with them.
The dope was still going around, and it all began to flow even smoother than before. Somehow the Dead got off and the Airplane got on, and then Jorma's guitar was ripping through the smoke-filled hall, carrying an intensity that couldn't have hit me more intimately if his guitar strings had been attached to my teeth. A rush, heavy and fine, and then Marty and Grace were into "Another Side of This Life," just as sad/true as it was when Fred Neill sang it in the Gaslight on MacDougal Street, lo these many years ago. The Airplane did it up just right, and now the curve was peaking and I leaned into it, giving over to the music.
But going through the acid number (you know: Is it coming on? Am I getting off?) had used up a lot of energy, and Jorma's guitar was about all I could still pick up on. Tired, happy, wasted, I wandered around until I found Lil and we crashed somewhere off by ourselves, letting the Airplane TCB. There was a jam afterward, but I couldn't listen anymore and we split.
Sure was a nice party.

(from the San Francisco Good Times, 13 February 1970)

* * *


In April the National Educational Television network will present an hour and a half special featuring the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Santana, and 800 invited guests in various states of heightened consciousness. The show was pulled together by writer Ralph Gleason, who was able to secure for the groups complete control over the program, filmed last week at the Family Dog Ballroom on the Pacific Coast Highway. The show promises to be unique in many ways. To begin with, not since the heyday of the old Fillmore Ballroom almost three years ago have I seen such a cosmic gathering. In the crowd Dino Valenti wandered around, as did members of the Quick Silver Messenger Service, Bill Graham, Chet Helms, the old Charlatans, and other members of Frisco bands and scene makers. Members of the San Francisco Hip Society, sipping red or green Kool Aid, according to taste.
At the rear of the hall in a sound box was Owsley, the sound man at the original Family Dog and Acid Test gatherings. It was like the class reunion of Sandoz '65.
The taping started at eight in the evening. Santana, the Airplane, and the Dead were each to do short sets, then join together for a jam session.
The jam session started late in the evening, the Kool Aid and the vibes were electric as the Dead, Quick Silver, the Airplane, and Santana played with each other. Various members of the audience also took the mike and crooned their trip into it. After a decent allowance of time with the mike, the tripster would be gently guided off stage as, together, the bands played on into the night.
All of the bands were as good as I have seen them before, only this night they seemed especially so. It was as if they all got a chance to take a trip back to the scene Frisco was before they were rock stars, before the ballrooms got over-crowded and people stopped dancing in them.
Gleason wrote a book last year, The Jefferson Airplane and The San Francisco Sound (Bantam, 95 cents), in which he reviewed the San Francisco scene from its beginnings and interviewed each of the Jefferson Airplane. In the interview with singer Marty Balin, the following dialogue takes place. 

GLEASON: It's a profound sociological event, this whole last two years.
MARTY: It's funny how it happens like that. If you have a sense of history, you can see...we are the renaissance of today...the young people, the grass, and the music.
GLEASON: They can't stop the music...there are little delaying guys did are on the top of the charts on every radio station in this country. They can't erase that. It is there. Forever. When you do your ninety minute TV thing, what it ought to be is the whole thing. It should lay it right out there visually.
MARTY: That's what we want to do. Yeah! We want to tell it from the inside and tell it so beautifully and so heavy that, for an hour, people are just caught up...not with just selling it, or this and that, you know, just showing off, but just the sheer poetry of it, the beautiful idea that exists. It would blow people's minds, and hour and God! [sic] How can we get the chance to do it? Nobody will give us the chance. They think we are all crazy! When we went into those towns, well, we said, "Let's go play in the park for the people like we do at home." So we'd do that, and I'm not kidding you! We'd play in these Civic Centers, and we played one place, the cops just lined up around this whole Civic Center, all the cops in the city, from out of town, and there are maybe 50,000 kids there for our free concert, right in the middle of the Civic Center. It was just great! It was a fantastic thing... They would have barriers up, and we'd just knock the barriers over. We'd take off our shirts and not bullshit. We just came out on this sunny day, and we're all getting tans, too, and they just had a great time. [We'd] do that before we'd go play a concert lots of times, and they'd still come to the concert. Promoters would freak out. They'd say, "You can't play anywhere for a 50 mile radius," so we played for nothing, for ourselves for free, and they'd blow their minds.
GLEASON: Have they tried to write anything into the contract saying you can't play for free?
MARTY: No. They don't think anybody plays for no money.

Gleason says, "The book is a gas if you were, like myself, involved in the early days of the San Francisco scene. The crazy people Marty spoke of finally got their chance, in the Family Dog Ballroom, to lay it out for TV, so beautifully that the people were caught up, and the old San Francisco magic came back for a return appearance. In April you'll be able to see what all the shouting was about way back then, on Channel 28.

(by John Carpenter, from the Los Angeles Free Press, 20 February 1970)

* * *


The Haight-Ashbury may be a disaster area and the hippies may be dead, dispersed, or diverted, but the music which made the mid-Sixties a turning point in American social history is alive and well.
The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, and the Quicksilver Messenger Service are the three bands from the original dances in 1965-66 and they are still strong bands today, and the Dead, strangely enough, is now more popular than ever.
When it was all happening in the beginning months, TV crews and filmmakers from all over the world flocked to San Francisco's ballrooms and photographed the action. I remember when a BBC-TV crew spent weeks here in a frenzy of filming, living with the Grateful Dead and following one band after another around to dances and concerts.
But somehow all these representations of the San Francisco scene failed to bring out what it was really like, perhaps because of time limitations, perhaps because of other things.
In any case, it certainly never seemed to me that what I ended up watching on the screen or the tube really got the feeling that the events themselves had in that period.
So when the chance came to make a film and a videotape program for National Educational Television on the San Francisco adult rock music [scene], it was too good to resist.
The results will be seen today on Channel 9 at 10 p.m. in NET's "Fanfare" series and next Sunday night at 10. Tonight's program is a filmed performance documentary and is called "San Francisco Rock: Go Ride the Music." Next Sunday night's program is a videotape show and is called "San Francisco Rock: A Night at the Family Dog."

The programs began as a series of discussions between Dick Moore (then head of KQED's film unit and now head of the entire KQED operation), Bob Zagone (who had directed numerous rock and jazz programs for KQED), and myself. When NET approved the idea, we then went to the Jefferson Airplane for a long evening's discussion of what to do, and the project was under way.
That was early this year. The Airplane wanted the music to be seen and heard in its most natural setting. So we took over the ballroom on the Great Highway that the Family Dog was then operating and had a two-night rehearsal and shooting schedule with the KQED mobile video unit and with special assistance from Glenn McKay, the light show artist who had done so many of the Airplane's shows.
The program consisted of sets by the Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Santana, one of the exciting younger bands who was there as the Airplane's guest, and a jam session at the end of the evening. Special care was taken to keep the lighting necessary for video cameras low enough so it did not distract either the musicians or the audience and [was] still bright enough to get an image.
Bob Zagone worked outside in the mobile unit's command truck with its control room setup, and the whole evening was videotaped and an hour show edited down from that.

Then we went to work on the film program, the idea of which was to show the bands in several different scenes and to get some feeling of how it was for them, as differentiated from the feeling of the video show at the Family Dog which was more from the audience viewpoint.
We filmed an evening with the Airplane at Pacific High studios in San Francisco where they just played a couple of sets for their friends, a group which included members of most of the other bands and several visitors such as David Crosby. There we had more mobility with hand-held cameras and simultaneous shooting from several locations.
Next we had the unusual opportunity of participating in one of the dances that the San Francisco bands themselves ran. This was an evening at Winterland featuring the Airplane and the Quicksilver Messenger Service.
We were able to film the special technical arrangements being made prior to the performance and to film, with one hand-held camera, a portable light, and a tape recorder, backstage in the dressing room as Dino Valenti rehearsed a new song with David Freiberg of Quicksilver.
Then, with good luck running with us, we were able to arrange for a free concert by Quicksilver at Sonoma State College on a gorgeous sunny afternoon in March during a special week-long peace program. It was a wild day.
One of the group had decided to quit and we didn't know if he would show up. There was a terrible hassle getting a piano for Nicky Hopkins. The electricity blew out three times in the opening number, but somehow we survived it all and got a lot of excellent footage of the band and the audience in that benign setting.
Then the hard part came when Bob Mathews mixed down the music tracks and Claire Ritchie and Bill Yahraus edited the film. That is the show we will see tonight, with the video performance at the Family Dog next Sunday night.
In neither of the programs did we want to set up an outside voice to narrate, so the only voices heard are those of the musicians themselves. In tonight's film there are short interviews with both Marty Balin, lead singer of the Airplane, and Jerry Garcia, guitarist and unofficial musical guru of the San Francisco scene, which set the stance for the entire approach.
Since the filming at Sonoma State followed the evening when Dino Valenti brought out his new song, we were able to cut from the dressing room rehearsal to the outdoor performance in one of the most effective moments I have seen concerning contemporary music.

Rock music is, of course, inextricably bound up with electronics, and we were lucky throughout to get the kind of realistic sound we did. In addition, Bob Zagone's prior experience with Jazz Casual shows and with several rock shows (including the West Pole series) was of immense value in capturing the feeling of the musicians and of the event itself in each case.
Both of the programs are being sent out over the Public Broadcasting System's network to the educational TV stations all over the country, and hopefully they will all program them.
San Francisco's contribution to contemporary music has finally had an adequate representation on film and videotape which, no matter what may happen now to trends and styles, will be available for history. I am proud to have had even a small role in bringing it about.
Both programs will be repeated, incidentally, on the Saturdays following the initial showing. Tonight's program will be repeated Dec. 12 at 6 o'clock and next Sunday night's program will be repeated at 6 on Dec. 19.

(by Ralph Gleason, from the San Francisco Examiner, 6 December 1970) (China>Rider) (Hard to Handle)

See also:

Sep 19, 2018

January 1970: Jerry Garcia Interview


"Dark Star crashes
pouring its light into ashes.
Reason tatters...
The forces tear loose from the axis.

Searchlight casting for faults
in the clouds of delusion.
Shall we go you and I while we can
Through the transitive nightfall
of diamonds?"
 - "Dark Star", Hunter-Garcia

Jerry Garcia, guitar & vocals and guiding spirit of The Grateful Dead, sits feet crossed, beautiful dark leather jacket open, halo hair, eyes "on" in the non-luxury of the wise man, his room at the Chelsea Hotel. Six pieces of furniture: bed, two chairs, lamp, dresser, television also on, the third person, the neutral party. Our talk is an express, no local amenities, just the stroboscopic velocity of his rap, totally there and then, "good-by," gone.
Altamont: A Destruction Car Derby Race Track east of San Francisco in the industrial wastelands. Toll: 4 dead, countless injured at the Rolling Stones free concert.
"It's the only thing on my's the a dirty trick...the best people in San Francisco were working on it...we started two months before...this incredible energy was just rolling, so utterly...I'm responsible for what happened...I mean you could blame the Grateful Dead, we did the first free concerts...we wanted to keep it quiet, a free concert where the Stones would come and play...we wanted to let them loosen up...get beyond the rock and roll band thing they do...but the media got to say 'Rolling Stones' on the radio, 'for free' and 300,000 people just appear...the Stones didn't know...they are so out of touch...their fame makes it impossible...and everything was handled by their business front in New York...all dollars, that hassle...we wanted them to come, walk around, see other people doing what they the one announced the Be-In on the radio, it just's the whole role of music fighting the money-system-music-business's been six years and that's still where we are...the Stones are a rock and roll band...they come from incredibly popular commodity...we didn't want the media to know... that's why Gleason (the San Francisco rock critic who accused Jagger of being responsible for the murder of Meredith Hunter by the Angels) was so angry...none of us would talk to him about it before hand...but he found out and announced it...the media killed it.
"Everyone here has a new sense of's all WHERE CAN WE GO FROM HERE? will NEVER happen more "festivals" until we can get it COMPLETELY COOL...Woodstock, that was a proven crowd, heads...and they were really stoned...yeah, Woodstock was lucky...but they were cool...we know if we're going to do it with that many people they have got to be cool.
"The night before Altamont it was really beautiful...the fires, the stage going up, just a few hundred happy heads...but the next day...polluted air, orange-y and thick...desolate hills...a downer...I came in by helicopter...really high...this, the vibrations...Santana was just leaving, they're friends of was horrible...people as far as you could see...sitting in panic...there was no way out...walking through the large crowd was like going through the circles of Dante's and there you saw these groups of patient heads...but the rest...and up by the stage...people nodding out on downs, people with no shirts, skin all scratched, eyes in panic...empty was murder...THE BIGGEST VOLUNTARY MASS BUMMER OF ALL TIME!
"The Angels...yeah...imagine if there were still sabre-tooth tigers walking around...that's the Angels...and not the San Francisco or Oakland Angels, they're already different...these were the San Diego Angels, San Bernardino Angels...and busting heads, man, that's the Angels' whole bit...but I mean when you live with them you get cool about the learn how to learn how to avoid's cool...the people there weren't hip, most of was just people...Rolling Stones fans...consumers...'Get your free Rolling Stones'...not heads...they didn't know about the Angels...they didn't understand...and once the Angels get violent they go all the way...that's it...imagine a group of Angels standing around something you can't really see...beating on it...I was afraid for my life...I've got to hand it to Jagger...the music was OH FUCKIN' KAY...GOOD SHIT...JAGGER IS A HEAVY DUDE, MAN.
"They filmed the murder...if the Mayseles had any sense or cool they would burn the film...(the Mayseles flew back to San Francisco with the developed film to be used as evidence for indicting the offending Angels)...that'll stir them up...The Mayseles fly out...but we have to live with's cool...the Angels are always being indicted for murder.
"Everybody fucked was a hard and expensive lesson...when I heard there were four deaths, only was a can't imagine what it was could have been's the only thing on my mind...everybody's talking about's the news."

A river of pure water flowing over the waters, around the bends, among the trees. Only high up in the mountains, in America, are there any rivers of pure water. The Grateful Dead are seven of the most together musicians that play together.
In the weeks that have passed one impression remained constant: Altamont was so much the outcome of everything that preceded it, back to Kesey and the acid in the orange juice of the Merry Pranksters bus right up to Woodstock, People's Park and everything this year, and the experience is so organic and the lesson so deep - like Dylan's accident or the death of Brian Jones - it's the Dark Star.
"Ken Kesey...yeah, he is living up on his farm in Oregon...but he has to explain to his neighbors what happened at Altamont...he knows that he's responsible...that we're all responsible...what happens to one of us, now, happens to all of us...and that's not the way things used to's beautiful."
Of course, there are other things on his mind, like the Earth. "If we don't do something in five years it's too late." The project is called Earth People's Park, devoted to acquiring land and setting up ecologically sound communities. "It's time for a big interruption of the game while we try and get the board back together. It's not political, and I can't say 'You are poisoning the earth!' Difference just don't count anymore. I mean there are infinite differences between every two human beings...but we're all in this one together. I hope humanity can get it on in the last minute and pull it out...otherwise, well, it'll be over. There are flashing signs, big neon signs, EMERGENCY. For me, it's the most important thing."

And through it all, music. The scene is "sweeter than ever." Stephen Stills now lives near the Marin county ranch where the Dead are, and is producing their next album. Any of you who heard the Dead's Fillmore concerts this weekend may have noticed the tight vocals, the three voices (Garcia, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir) in soaring harmony...that's Stills, and Garcia is very happily into it. The set I heard was brought to a close by a most remarkable song, "Uncle John's Band", lyrical with Band influences as well as Stills'. If it sounded awkward sometimes it's because some of the songs are only two weeks old. The album is already revolving around a subject. "We're thinking of a title...'The Working Man's Dead'." "Any relation to the Stones' 'Factory Girl'?" ", that's a banner song...this is something intimate, personal, not about them but from them...there are a lot of people whose lives are just work until they get old and die...Micky (Hart, the drummer on the left as you face the stage) goes out with the cowboys every day...he looks like a redneck...well, you'll see him...he goes drinking with them, too...they turn him on to juice and he turns them on to dope...they turn him on to work and he turns them on to music."

Hendricks did New Years Eve, and New Years Day eve, and he sure wasn't the old Hendricks. The group, a Band of Gypsies with Buddy Miles on drums and Billy Cox on bass, works out musically very well, but the racial dissonance (cool dissonance) and the flamboyance...gone with the old year. The guitar is essentially feminine, the shape, the strings, the way you stroke it and caress it...but at one point Jimi spread his legs, bent his knees, hung it between them, and wow did it change sex...there it was, stretched foreskin and all, sailing. 15 seconds and that was it. He did it, like an allusion, a reference, the high old times of the Monterey Festival raping the amplifiers, setting his ax on fire, seem to be over. Guess it's time to follow the gypsies.
The most moving thing about the concert was (were) the Voices of East Harlem! Talk about music born from the community! Wow, if you could pay rent with warmth and good vibrations they'd have their own penthouse anywhere they want it. Something to get into very soon. The Voices include the youngest singer (he is really something else) in rock and roll, and on Tuesday night a very likeable Philadelphia group called Sweet Stavin' Chain brought us..."Here he is folks (said mad Nero, the lead guitar) the biggest singer in rock and roll." And out he came, 6 feet 6 inches tall, about 220 pounds in blue jeans and a tie-dye shirt. It was quite a shock. They were very funny when they were putting on rock and roll...a wonderfully freaky rolling on the floor "In A Gadda da Vida," and most amazing of all "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" (Right, "if you go out into the woods today you'd better not go alone...") dedicated to all the 7-year-olds in the audience. Unfortunately the straight stuff wasn't as enjoyable.
With the Dead were Mr. Graham's proteges, Cold Blood. "Good music continues to come out of San Francisco," Bill said as he introduced them. They are very good musicians. Their lead singer, Lydia Pense, is overwhelmingly similar to someone whose first name is Janis, a lot sweeter. Also there was Lighthouse, a 12 man group with horns, winds, and of all things an electric string section, violin, viola and cello (2 of them). Can I report a whole new departure? Unfortunately, not at all. But they did a version of that soul-shaking masterpiece from the Band's first album, Robertson's "Chest Fever" with each word beamed at you like the Midnight Special.
[ . . . ]

(by James Lichtenberg, from the East Village Other, 21 January 1970)

Sep 14, 2018

1969: More Live/Dead Reviews

“Live/Dead” (Warner Bros. 1830) is the new Grateful Dead album, live tracks from a number of locations including the old Avalon Ballroom (where “Dead Don’t Have No Mercy” was cut). It’s far and away the best thing the Dead have offered on record in terms of getting across what the band really sounds like. It ought to be their most successful disc, too, since it not only sounds like the band sounds but it’s attractively programmed and mixed and the lyrics come through clearly and with meaning. The continuing dialogue between Garcia’s guitar and Lesh’s bass is fascinating.

(by Ralph Gleason, excerpt from "The Stones' Music - 'Let It Bleed'," the San Francisco Examiner, 14 December 1969)

* * * 


The Grateful Dead's new double-LP package, "Live-Dead" (Warner Bros. 1830), is not only the best Dead on record, it also contains some of the most interesting music recorded out of the "rock" scene this year.
Actually it is the direction in which the Dead are now pointing, toward new sounds and structures in electronic music, that makes the whole 75 minutes almost consistently fascinating.
The Dead here present the most impressive concert-rock efforts ever recorded by a San Francisco group. The Dead may not (yet) be up to the integrity of the Who, and that group's rock-opera "Tommy," but guitarist Jerry Garcia and his Dead colleagues certainly have some classy sequences on this new pair of records.
The opening selection, 23 minutes of it, is titled "Dark Star," and after four playings I still kept discovering new sounds, attractive matchings of guitars, beautifully produced (and executed) audio changes, and care with dynamics. And rhythmic change-of-pace, great get the idea?
Besides Garcia's elegant guitar, which is featured, but not at the expense of others, there is remarkably fine bass guitar stuff by Phil Lesh, and all kinds of fillers and strong support by Bob Weir, the Dead's other fine guitarist.
There is little, here, to suggest a swing away from the Dead's usual extended blues improvisations to a more "country" sound (which, presumably, is where many groups think things are at, right now) but this collection of music definitely emphasizes the great three-guitar teamwork (including the bass) that Garcia, Weir, and Lesh have developed.
Pigpen McKernan's organ lines flow all through things, and he sings Blind Gary Davis' mellow "Death Don't Have No Mercy" in a warm and sympathetic manner.
"Turn On Your Love Light," second longest track, is recorded live and is a bit sloppy, but wildly spirited. It's a rhythmic romp with plenty of both the drummers (Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart) and great splitting of solo roles, separated by stop-time rhythmic gaps.
"Saint Stephen" is a wild and weird combination of almost medieval mysticism and frenzied hard rock, plus some obscure lyric lines by Robert Hunter. It dissolves, with an eruption of free-sound, into "The Eleven," which ends the concert.
My only criticism would involve the singing, or more accurately, the inconsistent stereo sound balance on the vocals. But I stopped worrying about the words rather early in the listening, and just let the voices fall into place as if they were additional instruments.
Which, of course, they are. 

(by Philip Elwood, from the San Francisco Examiner, 24 December 1969)

* * *

on Warner Bros.-Seven Arts

Good old Grateful Dead! A two record set, recorded live, that flows like an acid vision. Almost everything is fine; the only thing I can think of to complain about is that "Lovelight" doesn't get me off as good as it does in person. But a phonograph record just can't handle the kind of vibration that the Dead put out when you're in the same room with them, and maybe it's just as well; when you stand away from the music, a little, you can really appreciate all the musicianship that's there. Garcia, a gliding, joyous lead - playing the way everything looks when you're so stoned you can't find compartments any more. The rhythm section is also looking out for your head: Micky Hart, Bill Kreutzman, Phil Lesh, as free in 11/4 as in 4/4, making the change so smooth it's hard to pick up exactly when it happens.
The programming of the record is perfect too - which it should be, since it just duplicates a typical Dead set.  [line missing]  "Dark Star" and "Saint Stephen" to get you centered and calm, "The Eleven" to get you standing up and (at the Family Dog, anyway) dancing, sliding into "Lovelight" which blows your mind and gets you so whacked out jumping and bopping that you're glad to fall on the floor and just listen to "Death Don't Have No Mercy". Now the acid (or whatever) is probably coming on heavy, so the Dead (ever heedful of your state of consciousness) get into "Feedback". Then, finally, "We Bid You Goodnight" gives you back your head again and sends you out into the night. Whew!
It's all here, and it's as good as we all hoped it would be. Hey, Grateful Dead, thanks for "Viola Lee" and thanks for "The Eleven," and just fucking thanks! What would we do without you? 

(by black shadow, from "Record Wrap," San Francisco Good Times, 18 December 1969)

* * *

Warners 1830

It's taken almost four years, but the Dead finally have a waxed impression of the things they do live so well. It's a double-record set, all live, that completely eclipses the faults of their previous albums, including their other live work ("Anthem of the Sun"). This set is well-mixed, completely non-commercial in approach, and completely free-flowing.
Here, finally, we can hear Jerry Garcia's remarkably fluid guitar runs as they zig-zag in and out of the ever-changing layers of music that the group as a whole puts down. And, for a change, you can hear each individual instrument and (if you really want to) you can clearly understand the vocals. But vocals, to be sure, aren't the forte of the Dead on this set. Except for the 15-minutes of "Turn On Your Love Light" where the vocal bridges are used to draw the audience into the music even more, the seven titles on this album are largely instrumental. More than 75 grateful minutes of Dead music.
As a live album, it avoids the failings of other live sets - the long, extended applause sessions and introductions are omitted in favor of jamming in the most possible music. (Besides, those on-record applause and introduction segments are becoming more and more reminiscent of those television studio applause you have to conform to the reactions of other people. And that's the beauty of Dead music; five different people will react five different ways to it.)
There's really nothing fancy on this set; nothing that the Dead wouldn't have done on any of their live gigs, whether they were being recorded or not. The opening track, "Dark Star," is more than 23 minutes of the best instrumental whallop the group has ever gotten into. This is carried over into "St. Stephen," reworked from the version on "Aoxomoxoa"...they just put more feeling into it, further illustrating the stimuli that a live audience injects into a group. But there aren't too many groups who can work off the energy they receive from the audience and send it back to them in spades...and of those groups that can, they're probably from the San Francisco area. Listen to the interaction at the end of "Love Light," when the vocalist completes his chores with a final "Yeah," hears the audience response, and yells "and leave it on."
Until, perhaps, Quicksilver's next album (set for release in January), LIVE DEAD has got to qualify as one of the best albums ever done by a San Francisco group.

(by Pete Senoff, from "Record Raps," the Los Angeles Free Press, 19 December 1969) 

The same column also had a review of Pink Floyd's Ummagumma, which I'll include: 

The Floyd started a couple of years ago as England's first "psychedelic" band. They were touring with their own self-contained light show before news of the San Francisco experiments ever reached British shores. Their original repertoire was pop, but done with a smattering of electronics...their first album was a studio gem. But the epic and most-remembered cut on that album was "Interstellar Overdrive"...a 2001-like opus conceived and staged live before the movie was even filmed. It was an all-encompassing electronic space trip, done with a mixture of conventional instrumentation and electronics. 
A second album and a soundtrack have since passed, with the Floyd taking every opportunity to further refine their space music to an art. They've progressed beyond "songs" as such and into long compositions - variations on a theme. Almost an Anglo-counterpart to current Zappa themes. In the realm of musique concrete, it can't readily be appreciated by lead guitar freaks and "if you can dance to it, it's cool" cultists. The last time Pink Floyd played L.A., they shared a Pinnacle bill with Jeff Beck. [7/26-27/68] Predicably, Beck got the adulation and the Floyd garnered a host of blank stares. However, it's a different story in England, as they're regarded as cult figures, akin to the reputation the Dead enjoy here among a pseudo-underground.
Needless to say, this new double album is already a minor classic on the continent. Made up of a live record and a studio project, it's a good indication of the progression the Floyd have made since last year. In live concert situations, they've been experimenting with an Azimuth Coordinator Sound System, using four speaker units in a close approximation to true 360 degree sound...far more dynamic than ordinary stereo. Although this effect couldn't be transferred onto the vinyl, the four live compositions most certainly do refute any claims that the group is dependent totally on the studio. In truth, they aren't very exciting to watch live, but they amplify this attribute by being super-audio attractions; that's why their records are still the best vehicles for communication. The four live things are rearranged versions of earlier classics, including a more intricate "Saucerful of Secrets" (from their second album). 
The studio record gives each member about 15 minutes to compose, arrange, and play to his heart's content, backed instrumentally by the rest of the group. Most of the compositions are pretty abstract, encompassing diverse elements of every conceivable nature...classical piano, vocal choruses, electronics...even sea gulls. 
It's an engrossing set, one that can best be appreciated through headphones and the best possible stereo system.

* * *


Most albums recorded live are distinguished mainly because of the applause and shouts the fans give the performers after each number. Other than that, they might as well have been recorded in the studio, for there is no great difference.
Grateful Dead's new album (Reprise) is not just recorded live in concert, it is totally Alive. The plastic disc which serves as the divider between the listener and the band is gone, the Dead are right exactly next to you, playing with all their energy for all it's worth.
Long known for the togetherness and energy which they display during concerts, the Dead prove capable of keeping this aliveness or spontaneity intact on their album, where groups like the Airplane or Traffic become deadly boring when their live concerts are released on record.
No member of the Dead stands out above the other, they are a group, and each member's playing (or singing) becomes part of the group's texture. And yet, there is still beautiful jamming and soloing by individuals in the Dead, which makes their music so unprogrammed and exciting; but we still know that the Grateful Dead are performing a number, not just jamming for the hell of it, as Chicago or Led Zep constantly do.
"Saint Stephen-Eleven," "Turn On Your Lovelight," and "Dark Star" are examples of the Dead at their best, through extended jams and solos; yet never losing touch with their basic composition. I liked "Death Don't Have No Mercy" the least, it's a slow blues number, and up until that point the Dead were just too vibrant and moving to switch to such a slow song.
This album is really quite an accomplishment, the Dead have succeeded in putting together a live rock album that really preserves the power of their music performed live, and it should be picked up on.

(by Steve Rosen, from "Musix & Other Noise," the Spectator (Bloomington, IN), 4 February 1970)

* * *

Rock group at its best

The Grateful Dead is one of America's finest rock groups, although it has yet to release a best-selling album. The group's latest, "Live Dead," probably won't make it either, but it should, for the Dead today are playing what rock probably will be all about in a few more years. 
"Live Dead" is a low-priced double album of the Dead at their liveliest best. It's like hearing the group in concert at the Kinetic Playground again, where the Dead played on and on, bringing the crowd to its feet and then back down into a tightly huddled core, with eyes closed and heads bobbing.
The Dead has the ability to hit you with volumes of revelations, to make its music speak without words, and to do it so clearly you think you can touch their intangible sound.
Beginning with "Dark Star," they go through countless changes until they have completely left "Dark Star" and are jamming. After 10 minutes or so, if you can manage to think about it, you realize you don't know what you are hearing. By the time you realize that, they've managed to pull the pieces together and are again doing "Dark Star."
Side two begins with "Saint Stephen," the kind of tribute to Stephen Foster that brings you up to your feet, impatient to sing along.
"Stephen" flows unsuspectingly into "The Eleven." Jerry Garcia's guitar surges forth, and the song takes off. The lyrics are rushed over and yet they are clearly audible. "William Tell has stretched his bow till it won't stretch no furthermore and/or it may require a change that hasn't come before." Garcia's guitar takes off again, and everything falls in line.
Five minutes later, we're back to the beginning, picking up the lyrics that were passed over: "Now is the time past believing, the child has relinquished the rein, now is the test of the boomerang, tossed in the night of redeeming."
"Eleven" then beautifully fades into "Turn on your Lovelight," which continues on side three.
"Death don't have no answer" is the first song on the fourth side. It sounds like the theme song for a heroic, nearly Biblical epic that has one major message: Don't die for something, live for something.
"Death" is followed by nine minutes of "feedback," which seems to have come straight from the crypt. Here again, the Dead show they are not amateurs experimenting with bleeps but are far ahead into the electronic age.
"Feedback," like the rest of this album, flows from beginning to end and finally works its way into the last lyric, with which the Dead usually ends a live set: "Lay down my dear brothers, lay down and take your rest. I want you to lay your head upon your Savior's chest. I love you - ah, but Jesus loves you the best, and I bid you good night."
It's magnificent.

(by Wayne Crawford, from the Chicago Daily News, 5 February 1970) 

* * *


Physicality - that's the thing. And it's all around us. Nude theaters, erotic flicks, bare-skinned photo journalism. More directly - a greater than ever before emphasis on exercise, self-defence, non-verbal encounter, and just plain old physical self-awareness.
But what happened to pop music? Peaking at the greatest popularity, the most lucrative financial return and widest cultural influence in its history, pop found itself, in the late sixties, moving further and further away from the activity which was at the very core of its existence - dancing. "Rock is becoming just like jazz," one listener has said. "It just isn't very good dance music anymore."
One of the reasons that so many sophisticated rock groups came out of San Francisco in the mid-and-late sixties was that dance-music remained a necessary part of their repertoires. Balancing musical adventurousness with solid, danceable rhythms, groups such as the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead demonstrated that it was possible for a rock group to grow into a complex artistic organism without severing the vital tendrils of rhythm that tie it to its public.
The Grateful Dead were at the Fillmore last week, playing their music, showing us that physicality is still the thing in pop music, and reminding us that a band that can't make people dance had better not plan on staying around very long. When Ron "Pigpen" McKernan launched into his unique improvision on blues lyrics, with Jerry Garcia's soaring guitar lines whipping in and around the vocal, the Fillmore audience came enthusiastically alive. The 2nd Ave. rock palace is no dance hall, but when the impulse is strong enough, even the confines of an auditorium seat can be room enough. Soon most of the audience were on their feet, sliding, bending, waving their bodies in an almost symbiotic interchange with the musicians.
It was the kind of musical excitement that the Dead always generate in "live" concerts, and rarely on studio recordings. (The group's newest release, Live Dead, Warner Brothers 1830, recorded live on two disks, allows the band the leisure time it needs to build up musical energy. For the record listener it is a first class opportunity to respond to the enormously powerful rhythmic impulses of the San Francisco septet.)

[The review continues:]

The Dead weren't the only rock group in town stressing physicality. The week before, Delaney, Bonnie & Friends - with superstar guitarist Eric Clapton as the best-known "friend" - were at the Fillmore, and Sly & The Family Stone jammed Madison Square Garden on the weekend. 
If the Dead were the major advocates of dance music in the late sixties, the Delaney & Bonnie and Sly groups look very much like the best new dance bands of the seventies. Arriving in town on the crest of a wave of laudatory publicity, Delaney & Bonnie sounded as though they finally had made a whole cloth out of the many tangled threads of influence that make up their music. The presence of Clapton, one of the authentic cult heroes of English rock mythology, gave the group an aura of solid musical achievement that was reinforced by the stories of Beatle George Harrison's performances with D&B (as a sideman, no less) during their recent European tour. 
But clearly the Delaney & Bonnie eight piece ensemble would be a good one even without the presence of English pop mighties. Bonnie is one of the few - perhaps the only - white female singer who works convincingly with the blues. And like Delaney, she instills the black-based music which dominates their repertoire with a twanging country music swing. The result is probably the most convincing mixture of these two curiously similar musical genres since the heydays of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Buddy Holly. Delaney gives Bonnie a musical, and no doubt spiritual support that seems to stimulate her to a far wider stylistic range than, say, Janis Joplin or Tracy Nelson. But Delaney sometimes dominates the group and Bonnie too much, cracking jokes, boozing between selections, using Clapton as the butt of sophomoric humor, and worse of all, taking too much solo space for himself. Delaney is good, but a group that has Bonnie and Eric Clapton in it should make more room for their superb talents. Like the Dead, they play the kind of music that can get the sometimes immobile Fillmore audience to its feet. A new Delaney & Bonnie recording titled Delaney & Bonnie and Friends On Tour with Eric Clapton is due from Atlantic this week (SD 33-326, stereo). 
Physicality reached its peak with the arrival of Sly and the Family Stone on stage at Madison Square Garden. The arena police, hard put to keep the audience seated during the preliminary acts, gave up entirely when Sly and his rocking seven piece band appeared. Aisles were jammed, masses of youngsters came storming down from the upper reaches, and visibility, even in the front rows of the orchestra, was almost impossible without standing on one's chair. 
Sly's music was undeniably aimed at physical response. "I want to take you higher" he shouted, and the audience answered "higher, higher." The rhythm settled into a driving, heavily accented groove that demanded little from the audience except a recurring, march-like foot stamping so strong that the concrete floor of the Garden began to reveal frightening tremors (reminding me of old stories about the effect Lionel Hampton's version of "Flying Home" used to have upon the balcony audiences at the Apollo). 
As with the Dead and Delaney & Bonnie, Sly has assembled a band that plays together with brilliant technical efficiency; the most exuberantly improvisational sections somehow come together with the cohesive structural dynamism of a first class symphony orchestra. Sly has developed a leitmotiv arranging style that inserts familiar word and melody patterns - "take you higher," "dance to the music," "boom-sha-ka-la-ka-la-ka," etc. - into the fabric of many different songs. These recurring motives give the audience a happily familiar reference point, even in brand new material, and guarantee a persistently energetic listener response. 
So physicality is back in force for pop music. The loud cries of a return to the simple rhythms of nineteen fifties rock & roll confirm just how much it has been missed in the last few years. But so long as the Grateful Dead, Delaney & Bonnie, and Sly and his Family are with us, there will be no need for revivals. Better get out your dancing shoes.

(by Don Heckman, from the New York Times, 22 February 1970) 

* * *


This review is not for Grateful Dead Fans. They already have this record. It is for those who recognize that the Dead are more than a spiffy, hip allusion in "Hair" sung by the Cowsills, but who have never seen them alive. They only come off live. 
In concert on any given night, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Pig Pen, Tom Constanten, Bob Weir, et al, just might jam their way into your heart. The album in question, "Live/Dead," is a collection of old favorites done by the group in top form. 
The problem involved in seeing and hearing the Dead on any given night is that their improvisational music might not come off. When they do get it on, fantastic! When they don't, the music is terrible. That is the beauty of the album; we have nights when they were really into it, preserved on acetate, four sides of it. 
The album opens with 23 minutes and 15 seconds of "Dark Star." The piece is really a fugue with theme and variations. The lyrics are superfluous, in fact, distracting, with their early Alan Watts overtones. For example: "A transitive nightfall of diamonds." But the piece as a whole is tremendous. After hearing this song, you keep getting replays as if the music were in the air. 
"St. Stephen" has just the right lilt for singing along if you can handle more than an eight-bar break between verses. "The Eleven" moves with the same drive and vigor that characterizes the best of the Grateful Dead. 
"Turn On Your Love Light" has never been done quite like this. The Dead don't mess around when they say "turn on your love light," and the crowd responds in kind. For 15 minutes they incite the audience to do all kinds of nasty things with great music and exhortations such as, "Take your hand out of your pocket and turn on your love light." 
"Death Don't Have No Mercy" is funky-down blues. This song is as soulful as any B.B. King rendition could be. Now we come to the bad part. Eight minutes of "Feedback" is more than any person can tolerate at a sitting. 
Jerry Garcia is tremendous on lead guitar. His riffs are fresh, inventive, and neat to listen to. Phil Lesh is great on bass, but it is pointless to cite individual performers because the total performance is greater than the sum of its parts. 
The Dead are a group for those who would rather hear brilliance once in a while than hear mediocrity all the time. "Live/Dead" could have been called "The Best of the Grateful Dead" because that's what it is. 

(by Rolf Hage, from the Oregon Daily Emerald, 15 May 1970)

* * *   

The new Grateful Dead album, "Live Dead," should be purchased by Dead maniacs only. You really have to be a Dead fan to put up with the shoddy production and the obnoxious "Feedback" cuts that Reprise gives you. I like the Dead and this album contains a lot of pleasant and worthwhile music. I think they rely too much on long rhythm-pseudo-solos with two or more drummers, but they obviously enjoy what they are doing and are playing for themselves.
(from "The Critic," by Mike Baron, the Madison Kaleidoscope (WI), 4 March 1970)

This 2 record set is the closest thing to the Dead in person, on a typically good night. And it's as good as you have heard it is. "Dark Star" runs 23:15, "Turn on Your Love Light" is 15:30, "Saint Stephen" and "The Eleven" combined are 16 minutes of side 2, surrealistic jams that could come only from Jerry Garcia and Company. Two tabs, two heads, and "Live Dead" make for a perfect evening.
(from "Records," by Rob Klein, Northwest Passage (Seattle), 20 April 1970)

Thanks to Dave Davis.

More reviews:  

Sep 11, 2018

June 1969: Aoxomoxoa Reviews


The Grateful Dead’s album is called “Aoxomoxoa” (Warner Brothers 1790) and it is an ambitious work, as all their albums have been. It does have the sound of the Dead and it does have a good deal of that hard to describe but warm feeling which they produce in their personal appearance, but the album somehow leaves me unsatisfied. This has been happening in recent concerts by the group, too, and it puzzles me.
It seems to have something to do with the fact that there is a kind of warm, pre-natal formlessness about their work. This is something of a contradiction because their music, any music almost, certainly has some form. I think it is a question of internal structure rather than the kinds of form which involve length, juxtaposition of movements and segments. The Dead ramble and the kind of excitement of creativity which they can get in person is difficult to capture on records at all and may be impossible.
On the other hand, the shifts in mood and feeling from track to track may be too subtle for some (i.e. me!). It is a disturbing thing. In some ways the Dead seem to personify the best and the worst of the permissive music concept which, I suspect is also reflected in their life style. It’s not that the album is bad; it is rather that having had such moments of enjoyment from the Dead, the album, as was its predecessor, is a disappointment.

(by Ralph Gleason, from the San Francisco Examiner, 15 June 1969)



I received a letter the other day from my seven year old brother Luke, who is in England, about a conversation he overheard in a pub in the village of Worcester-on-Sauce between the worldly British aristocrat, Sir Clancy Crigginsborsh, and his close friend the noted country blues guitarist Big Blind Broken-Legged Bill:
Sir Clancy: "Oh I say old chap, what is your opinion of all this new music being produced by the younger generation, all this rock and roll?"
Big Blind Broken-Legged Bill: "Oh man, what is this? I don't think nothin' of it, man. That stuff ain't music, it ain't got no feelin'. Now you take the blues..."
Sir Clancy: "Yes, it's all rather juvenile, eh wot?"
Big Blind Broken-Legged Bill: "I'm hep, man. Bunch of corny dudes trying to play somethin', but all they does is make a lot of noise. Sorry motherfuckers. Nickel-dime, lemon-lime."
Sir Clancy: "My feelings precisely, old chap. The decibel level is so excruciatingly high, isn't it? And the lyrics are so adolescent, why it all just..."
At this point my brother took his thumb out of his mouth and interrupted with: "Aw, you're bunkers you are," and proceeded to put on the new Grateful Dead record. The reactions were not long in coming.
Sir Clancy, eyes shut, rocking back on his heels: "I say, oh I say, it's so...refined."
Big Blind Broken-Legged Bill: "Blues that swing."

Well now the point of my brother's story is that the Grateful Dead is one group that should appeal to all persons, no matter what their personal persuasions. Some people refuse to recognize the greatness of the Stones because they are afraid of dirtiness or too much overt sexuality or roughness or some such thing. Others shy away from the early Beatles because they are afraid of being sentimental. Still others stay away from Otis because of his open emotionalism and lack of intellectualism. Everyone limits himself in one way or other.
But now the Dead are not only one of the very few groups around who are as good as the Beatles, the Stones, and Otis, but also they have a style of playing and express a mood which most and perhaps all people should be able to accept. I think it has something to do with the pleasantly uplifting quality of their music and the purity of their tone. There are people in this world who are afraid of all kinds of legitimate feelings, but I doubt that there are too many who are afraid of lyricism and uplift.
Last weekend at the Fillmore East, the Dead gave the best concert this reviewer has ever attended. [6/21/69]  They even beat out Sam and Dave, and that's going some. Sam and Dave, and the Grateful Dead, definitely the two best live acts around these days. And both of them will be in New York this summer. Enough said about that.
The thing about the Dead, of course, is that they are all such fine musicians. Phil Lesh the bassist is perhaps the best anywhere. The only ones I can think of off hand who might possibly compare with him are Jack Cassidy and Bill Wyman. The organist, Tom Constanten, is also one of the best around, and very sneaky. He just sits there, with everyone else moving around, smoke bombs going off, things going on, and throws in these tricky little things with perfect taste. He must be good, since he replaced Pig Pen, himself one of the best organists around.
Of the two drummers, one is very good, the other can hang with anyone.
The lead guitarist, Jerry Garcia, is certainly the best guitarist around today. There is no one else who can be compared with him even for a moment, except maybe Lightning Hopkins. But you mention B.B., Clapton, Cropper, Keith Richards, and popular chumps like Jeff Beck, and they're all nothing compared to Garcia. If Django Reinhart were alive today maybe he could compete. I don't know though. It is truly amazing that a guitarist could so dominate a group of such top-notch musicians.
At the Fillmore concert, and also at a free Central Park concert the next day, Garcia played steel guitar on a couple of country songs. He isn't as good on that yet as he is on a regular guitar, but he still might rank with the best.

Which brings me to the new Grateful Dead album, Aoxomoxoa (spelled backwards is...). The new album, their third, is better than their second but not as good as their first. Which means that it is very good. One of the best albums released so far this year. The back cover is the picture that this article is writing around. When I first saw this picture it made me a little afraid to play the record. It made me wonder if the Dead were on a bad trip. But they aren't, and even if they were it wouldn't matter actually. They're so comfortable. Like Ray Charles.
There is something about the new album that is very confusing. The music doesn't make complete sense to my ears at first on some of the cuts, and I think it has to do with the Dead breaking through to a new kind of music. The first thing I noticed about this record was that the music seems to be more horizontal somehow, more stretched out on a line than earlier Dead records or other rock. It seems to do with the fact that every member of the group is good enough to be a soloist, and so they all solo at once. The result is that, especially on the first songs on each side ("St. Stephen" and "China Cat Sunflower"), one no longer has the traditional vertical set-up of rock with the drums and bass underneath, the lead guitar on top, and the vocal on top, out front, or in the middle. All a very big generalization, of course, especially since rock has been moving away from that set-up for the last few years. The Jefferson Airplane, for instance, have always been somewhere between the vertical and the horizontal.
But, getting back to Aoxomoxoa, the point is that the bass and drums are not underneath, at least on the two songs mentioned. They are just sitting up there at the same place as the other instruments. And with everyone soloing at once, and the instruments stopping and starting at different times (another non-rock idea), the effect becomes a little avant-garde jazz-like, and you're not completely sure what's going on. In fact the whole concept is analogous to avant-garde jazz. But it still flows from rock and although confusing, it still sounds nice right away the first time you hear it. St. Stephen has become one of the Dead's favorite concert numbers, and has become an audience favorite as well. Which shows that this stuff is easy enough to get into. It's just confusing, that's all. You don't know what it is, but you like it.
The most traditional, and also the best song, is "Dupree's Diamond Blues," possibly the best song the Dead have ever done. It is absolutely necessary to buy this album just for this one cut alone. This song is simply a joy to hear every time and any time. It opens with the best words on the album: "When I was just a little young boy/Papa said to me, son you'll never get far/I'll tell you the reason, you want to know/Because child of mine, there isn't really very...far to go." It's cool the way boy rhymes with far. Then the song goes on to be a love song about a man who steals a diamond ring because he likes his jelly roll, and well I won't spoil it by telling the whole story now. I'll just add that the music is awfully kinetic.
The rest of the album includes a cut which is all bottleneck guitar and not much else but which is still rock, I think, and good, and a long piece of electronic music over and over again, because it usually seems so intellectual. But this selection is all right, because it seems to express a mood pretty well. It's like the back cover a little bit.
The song most like the back cover though is "Mountains of the Moon," a harpsichord song about a carrion crow among other things (see what I mean?).
So all in all it's a really nice album, and unique too, a must for any record collection. For that matter their first album is a must too, a straightforward rock album that anyone can appreciate, and their second album might be a must too. It's a near must anyway, if only for its fine kazoo playing. And now I'm waiting for their fourth album, and I hope it contains a live version of "Turn on your Love Light," the song they now use to close their concerts, with Pig Pen telling his story about how his mother told him that he shouldn't keep his hands in his pockets, that he should get his hands out of his pockets and go out and get what he wants, and the song just going on and on, thirty minutes? Forty minutes? Long enough anyway.

(by Mark Blumler, from the Columbia Daily Spectator, 27 June 1969)

See also:

Sep 10, 2018

January 24-26, 1969: Avalon Ballroom

On Jan. 24-25-26 the Avalon will reopen under new management with an opening bill consisting of the Grateful Dead, Sons of Champlin, and Initial Shock.
(from the San Francisco Examiner, 14 January 1969) 



After a month and a half of eerie quiet, the Avalon Ballroom will rock again tonight to the same bands whose sounds caused police to close the place down last month.
Presumably to convince neighbors it won't be that bad this time, the promoters of the new rock dances have fitted themselves with the promising name of Soundproof Productions.
The name is in striking contrast with Chet Helm's Family Dog, the outfit whose dance license was taken away because of the barking and all.
Soundproof Productions was formed by several former employees of the Family Dog. Helms himself wasn't asked to join.
The new company will stage its shows with the benefit of the dance license of John Whooley, who has the master lease on the Avalon.
Though Whooley said "a lot of work" has been done to make Soundproof Productions live up to its name, he can't promise that some of the sound generated inside won't be audible outside.
If necessary, more money than has been spent already will be poured into making the Avalon as sound proof as it will ever be, he vowed, adding: 
"If it isn't perfect this weekend, it will be next weekend."
To supervise the crowds and make sure they behave inside and outside, Whooley and Soundproof Productions have hired eight special police officers.
A full time janitor, who'll sweep up in front of the Avalon after the shows, is also on the payroll.
The Avalon's bill tonight includes the Grateful Dead, Sons of Champlin, and Initial Shock. The light show is by the Garden of Delight.
It all starts at 9 p.m. at Van Ness Avenue.

(from the San Francisco Examiner, 24 January 1969)


It's a dog-eat-dog world. Two former partners in Chet Helms' Family Dog are proving their pedigrees at the old and new Avalon Ballroom which reopened last night.
Bob Simmons and Gary Scanlon left the Family Dog when, in their own words, "it looked like everything was over." The trio had been together since student days at the University of Texas. Simmons and Scanlon call their new Avalon operation Sound Proof Productions. The neighbors fervently hope so.
Equipped with the landlord's good will and his dance permit, they began with the Grateful Dead, Sons of Champlin, the Initial Shock, and a bit more soundproofing.
"We plan to bring bigger acts than ever to the Avalon," they said, naming stars like Ike and Tina Turner, Lee Michaels, and the Youngbloods.
How does Chet Helms feel about the break? Bitter, disillusioned, but undaunted, he believed things will work out for him at Playland where he plans to open using the Family Dog name.
Both ventures will bring needed competition in that phase of the music business back in the Bay Area. Nobody should corner the market.

(from Tom Campbell's "Pop Scene" column, "The Sound of Competition," San Francisco Examiner, 25 January 1969)



The rains came and, buffeted by the winds, the small line of rock fans huddled under umbrellas in front of 1268 Sutter.
In contrast to the long queues that ran four abreast around the corner and up Polk Street several months ago, it appeared the reopening of the Avalon Ballroom was a bust.
But inside, past the security guards, the line Saturday night streamed up to the dance area, where it appeared all sweetness and light.
This was the new look and softer sound promised at the reopening of the controversial rock and strobe light mecca for the hippie set.
The saxes honked and the electric guitars blared while the Garden of Delight played its lighting against the walls. The Grateful Dead was on the bandstand and the floor was packed with the long-hairs, the unisex, the gay trappings associated with the hippie element.
To the uninitiated, it would seem to be a huge Halloween costume ball. A young man walked by, and somewhere in that mass of hair there was a face.
Soundproof Productions was making the scene. Everyone was being careful not to create the unwholesome atmosphere that resulted in [the] closing of the Avalon for a month and a half.

But, outside, in addition to the record rain that was flailing the Bay Area, there were other storm clouds gathering. Neighbors, who complained in October that the Avalon element created filth, loud noises, and such indecent incidents as urinating in doorways, were adopting a "watch and wait" attitude, like the lull in the eye of a hurricane.
Deputy Police Chief Al Nelder revoked in October the license of Chet Helms, who operated the Avalon under the name of The Family Dog. The revocation was subsequently upheld by the Permit Appeals Board.
John Whooley, who has leased the ballroom the past ten years, reopened it Friday in conjunction with Gary Scanlan, 26, and Bob Simmons, 28, both lately of Austin, Tex.
Whooley has said a lot has been done to make Soundproof Productions live up to its name. "If it isn't perfect this weekend, it will be next."
But has the noise been kept down?
Not so, says Mrs. Catherine McLean, operator of the nearby Madison Hotel and one of the complainants against the Family Dog.
"You can still hear the noise," said she, "maybe not quite as loud but still noisy." Two of her tenants complained about the noise this weekend and are going to move out, she added.
"I don't know what I am going to do, I have to make a living."
George Kaplanis and Fran Scarpulla are two other neighbors who are adopting a wait and see attitude. Kaplanis, owner of the Via Vai cocktail lounge on Polk, said burglaries and crimes pick up when the hippies are around.
Scarpulla, who owns and operates The Tortola restaurant at 1237 Polk, said he was concerned with "the way the street has deteriorated" but feels the situation can be controlled.
Jean Maunas, partner with Mrs. McLean in the Madison, said the music is still loud and "you can't even go through the alleys because of the cars."
He complained about "hippies" congregating in the lobby Saturday night and throwing cigaret butts and candy papers around.
Whooley and Soundproof Productions have hired eight special police officers to control the crowds. Scanlan and Simmons said there were no problems Friday and Saturday nights.
The Avalon is permitted a 950 capacity at a time and no one under 18 is allowed in the place. Kids under 18 can get in if they have a letter of authorization from their families, Scanlan added.
The weekend storms kept the queues down on Sutter and up Polk. Whooley, Scanlan, and Simmons say they are keeping the noise down and controlling the crowds. The neighbors are marking time.
Next weekend may have some answers.

(by Dick Alexander, from the San Francisco Examiner, 27 January 1969)

More on Soundproof here.

Sep 8, 2018

October 30, 1968: Jerry Garcia at the Matrix


The rock jam sessions at The Matrix on Fillmore Street, judging from a couple of hours there last night, are the most consistently interesting experimental music in town.
The Matrix a few years ago was the seed bed of what is now the astonishingly successful San Francisco sound.
The new music that guitarist Jerry Garcia and his friends were getting into last night may indicate history will repeat itself and The Matrix will be the home of a renaissance in the San Francisco rock musicians' attitudes.
Garcia, the prodigious instrumentalist and nominal leader of the Grateful Dead, is a spokesman for more freedom of expression and a far looser and expanded musical scene.
"Fate brought us together here tonight," he quipped, "so this is fate music."
"We're trying new things, feeding ideas to each other, using new instrumental blends, inviting guests to join us...we are enlarging our world."
The Grateful Dead is still alive, but Garcia doesn't believe in months on end of traveling, doing regular concerts, playing things safe.
"We may have a full Grateful Dead show some day," he said, "with girl singers, more complex rhythms. We may even enlarge the band."
Last night with two drummers, guest guitarist Elvin Bishop, and bassist Phil Lesh, Garcia was getting into more fascinating and enjoyable expressions than I run into in most of the more stereotyped rock and jazz clubs and concerts.
This electronic experimentation will never be commercially successful. It has long-line themes with continuous improvisation. Far closer to the jazz sessions of old than to the neatly processed pop-rock of today.
The Matrix is a relaxed musical workshop. It's a beer-wine place with neat decor, an inexpensive menu, a beautiful sound system, and some beautiful people, too. 

(by Philip Elwood, from the San Francisco Examiner, 31 October 1968)

Sep 7, 2018

June 7, 1968: Carousel Ballroom


Sure recipe for a mob scene - the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead in a downtown ballroom on a Friday night in June.
The Carousel last night was jam packed, but crowd quantity did not guarantee musical quality, and neither group was at its best form.
These affairs aren't dances, they are concerts. The San Francisco sound is no longer the catalyst for dancing. The fans either don't want to dance or they can't because of sardine-can conditions. So what's happening on stage, through the loud speakers, is the whole scene.
And as a concert hall the Carousel is woefully inadequate. The light show doesn't illuminate enough of the stage; the sound system, last night, was distorting badly; and if 3000 people are going to sit, there might as well be chairs.
Far more bodies would be closer, and more comfortable; maybe the created floor space would then invite dancing. I miss it.

The Jefferson Airplane always comes on strong, and they did last night. But after "It's No Secret" the set I heard became muddled. Grace Slick is singing louder and guttier than in the past but seems to have lost some of her melodic beauty. Her duets with Marty Balin have a sameness and often are hurried and ineffective.
The Airplane's ensemble strength was inconsistent; even the heavy bassist Jack Casady was often lost in the acoustic imbalance. Lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, always steady, worked in some nice solos and wah-wah effects with his usual taste.
But the group's long experiments-in-sound, electronic dissonance, drum breaks, etc., failed to come off.
The Dead should be Grateful for guitarist Jerry Garcia. Without him, last night, their set would have been a shambles, a joke. Garcia's astonishing performance consistently places him ever further ahead of his colleagues.

(by Philip Elwood, from the San Francisco Examiner, 8 June 1968) (might include some recordings from the Carousel, June '68)

Sep 5, 2018

October 1, 1967: Greek Theatre, Berkeley


It was a big day, yesterday, for the sophisticated jazz fan.
Eleven hours of mainstream swing and traditional Dixieland flowed from the Club Pier 23 on the Embarcadero during the Bill Napier benefit, and nearly four hours of the University of California's musical potpourri absorbed the afternoon at the Hearst Greek Theatre on the Berkeley campus.
About 5000 attended the Cal "Centennial Jazz" matinee and the Napier benefit drew over 500 to the waterfront festivities.
I would wish the two events could have been shuffled occasionally: the informal enthusiasm at the Pier 23 was missing at the Berkeley show, and the modern musical experimentation was lacking on the waterfront.

In Berkeley the Grateful Dead, rock-blues group, a generally interesting and popular electronic band, was boring. In an outdoor environment with brilliant sound projection (and the Greek's naturally superlative acoustics) the Dead's presentation never grabbed the audience and took them aloft.
No one danced, nor indicated any desire to, and other than Jerry Garcia's wonderful guitar variations there wasn't anything very interesting in the Dead's hour of ordinary chord changes, occasional vocals, and undistinguished rhythms.

The Charles Lloyd quartet, in contrast, displayed superlative individual musicianship, fascinating complexities in their ensemble performance, and a wide ranging series of themes on which to improvise.
Pianist Keith Jarrett constantly taunted leader Lloyd into esoteric flute or saxophone expressions, and when Jarrett devoted his whole introductory solo space to variations on strummed-piano strings and microphonic percussion, the Greek Theatre audience roared with delight.
I have never heard Lloyd's quartet in a more exuberant mood and their artistic good humor and good taste might well have been noted by the dour Dead.

The Bola Sete trio introduced the afternoon with a typical cross section of Sete's appealing guitar. His Bach, Villa Lobos, and Haydn mixed with flamenco and Brazilian themes is one of the most attractive blends of musical expression on the American scene.
[ . . . ] 

(by Philip Elwood, from the San Francisco Examiner, 2 October 1967)

June 28, 1967: Oakland Auditorium, Oakland CA


Last night at the Oakland Auditorium my incredulity at the patience of a teen-age audience hit an all time high.
The Oakland event appeared, on paper, to be the best rock concert of the season, with the Young Rascals heading a high quality bill.
Scheduled for 8:15, absolutely nothing happened on stage until 9:20 when a disc-jockey m.c. lamely commented that there were amplification difficulties. No one, naturally, heard his remarks.
By 9:30 the Sons of Champlin tried to get going, but with no vocal mikes in operation it was a lost cause. They finally knocked off a straight instrumental ad-lib blues and split.
Another panic button was hit backstage, the audience passively hung on, and by 10 p.m. Country Joe and the Fish launched their usual barrage. Someone had cleverly deduced that the auditorium's sound system might be used. It was, although the balance was wretched for the rest of the concert.
Meanwhile the Bob Holt light production crew, projecting abstractions from backstage onto a fine mesh curtain, found that the Young Rascals' organ amplification boxes had been piled like a Stonehenge right in the projectors' line of sight.
The Rascals refused to move anything, the curtain didn't capture the visuals adequately, and Holt's artistic efforts (although of the most consistent quality of anything on stage all night) were pale representations of what might have been.
After another typical 15 minute scuffling on stage with cords, mikes, instruments, and workmen careening into one another, the Grateful Dead ploughed through a pedestrian set.
Bill the Drummer squashed a hole through his bass drum head (occasioning another delay) and Phil Lesh made pertinent comments regarding the debacle in which the audience and performers had become involved.
Pigpen's "Good Mornin' Little School Girl" came through the electronic haze well enough, although his organ was incomprehensibly mushy. Pigpen is now wearing his hair pulled back, with an old-style Admiral's fore-and-aft hat with Robin Hood feather locks.
By 11:30 producer Bill Quarry had taken over the mike, explaining that there had been more problems at this one concert than he had ever before experienced. He laughingly said it might be "the latest concert in the history of Oakland," and launched into announcements of his future presentations.
Virtually all the concert's faults could, of course, have been eliminated had the show been properly produced in the first place.
The Grass Roots were still assembling equipment at 11:40. Quarry announced that there would be an intermission (!) after their set, and this reviewer left without discovering if the Young Rascals ever got groovin'.
It is astonishing that teen-agers and their parents (dozens of whom were pacing the sidewalk) continue to support such fiascos.

(by Philip Elwood, from the San Francisco Examiner, 29 June 1967)

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)

* * *

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)

* * *

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) 

* * *

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)

* * * 

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) 

* * * 

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)  

* * * 

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)