Oct 19, 2021

October 27-30, 1973: Indianapolis to St. Louis


Maybe your friends have told you; maybe you've seen it pasted across a car bumper. Maybe you've found out for yourself by now. There is Nothing Like a Grateful Dead Concert.
Not, at least, if you are thinking in terms of the other concerts you have attended. The Dead do not put on a show. More accurately, a show simply happens when they are in town. When you attend a Grateful Dead concert, you experience an already complete phenomenon. In fact, if you are willing, you can become a functioning part of it, a living, quivering piece of the Grateful Dead.
To say that the Grateful Dead is a state of mind is certainly not the whole truth, but it is a part of the truth. Or to say, as I have heard it said, that the Grateful Dead simply is the truth is too ambiguous, but again it is a significant statement.
What I am trying to indicate is that the Dead mystique is a very real and important trend. Growing numbers of young people are designating themselves Dead Heads, and an increasing volume of print is being devoted to defining the phenomenon. And as I join the cast of writers that have tried to get the Dead down in newsprint, I find that it is nearly impossible to understand, and harder yet, to describe what it is about them that is so compelling.
Yet this is exactly what I propose to do. The only way that I can even attempt it is to give a piecemeal, perhaps impressionistic, account of my experience over the past week. Last Saturday I went to Indianapolis for a Dead concert, and I caught two more in St. Louis Monday and Tuesday. I met a lot of people both backstage and in the audiences, and it is these people who tell the story.
This article doesn't purport to be anything other than my own experience. That is all that I can honestly write. So take it with a grain of salt, or swallow it whole if you like. I am an unabashed Dead Head. 

* * * 

The story begins arbitrarily. A new album, Wake of the Flood, the first release on the newly-formed Grateful Dead Records, was available in Champaign October 15. The next day I carried it with me all over campus. 
Gala stops by the DI [Daily Illini] office to complain about a humor article that made light of astrology. I have never laid eyes on this crazy woman before, but I find myself sympathizing with her argument. She notices the Dead album in my clutches and exclaims, "Ooooo, the Grateful Dead are witches. None that sees them fails to succumb to them." "Succumb," I say, "is not the precise term."
But Gala, you were perceptive. They do have a serious effect on people. A lot of folks have been struck very deeply by them. If only I had the lyrics to the new album, maybe I could explicate it. It does seem that it leads in a particular direction; it almost tells a story.
The trouble is that they are not definite. Like all poetry, the language that they use is myth and symbol. No matter how synchronized the lyrics seem, they must remain ambivalent.
Flash ahead to St. Louis. "Jerry, it seems to me that the Dead are striving to lead us somewhere." The funny round head, hidden from the nose down by the coarse black beard, is nodding vigorously. I am sitting with the man who has been called the spokesman for a generation - my generation. "Well, what I want to know is, to be blunt...where?" The head-shaking stops and two T-shirted shoulders raise in a shrug. "I don't know. I don't know any more than you."

Taken as a whole the Dead lyrics do seem to be concerned with several recurrent themes. Gambling and gamblers play an essential role in the Grateful Dead world ("Jack Straw," "Me and My Uncle," "The Loser"). Traveling or running is another persistent motif ("Truckin," "Beat It on Down the Line," "Friend of the Devil"). Always death and the changes it brings are major concerns ("He's Gone," "Black Peter," "Cassidy"). Also the apocalyptic imagery is strong. Throughout the songs one is struck repeatedly by the thought that a terrible moment is coming, and that it will be followed by arrival in a new age of fertility and beauty. Perhaps "Ripple" is a thesis statement.
"Let it be known, there is a fountain,
that was not made, by the hands of men,
There is a road, no simple highway,
between the dawn and the dark of night.
And if you go, none may follow.
That path was made for your steps alone."
These varying motifs are part of what defines the Grateful Dead experience. They are motifs that also run very deeply through our own collective experience, both as humans and as Americans. "Me and My Uncle," a song not composed by the Dead, is an excellent example of the way that they utilize myth and symbol. Set in the Old Wild West, the song tells of a gambler who helps his uncle cheat some other cowboys at poker Then after the two of them ride off, he kills the older man, and rides to Mexico with the gold. The song rings true to us now because we can feel this kind of trend in our own lives and memories. The Wild West was a point in time and space that remains important to our present national character.
Flash to St. Louis. On Tuesday afternoon I am standing beneath the great arch, the Gateway to the West. Next to the many-styled St. Louis skyline it seems anachronistic. And yet I feel a great thrill to be standing on the banks of the Mississippi, another powerful American symbol, and looking westward, where a fortune could be made and lost in one day. West, where you couldn't trust your blood brother. The godforsaken promised land. And all symbolized by a river and a manmade monument.

Not only lyrics work in terms of symbol. Everything about the Grateful Dead is designed to give the audience free opportunity to make their own associations. The name Grateful Dead is a perfect example. It is pregnant with possible meaning; it is anything but explicit. Each person must make his own associations, and each person does so in his unconscious mind. The name was culled initially from a collection of ballads by the original ethno-musicologist, Francis Child. "The Grateful Dead" was one of ten categories of songs, and the songs under this heading were about ghosts who returned from the grave to conduct unfinished business. Altogether, a thoroughly mythical matter.
In the Dead Book: A Social History of the Grateful Dead, Hank Harrison takes us back to the day in Phil Lesh's house in Palo Alto when Jerry Garcia first ran across the words in a 1912 Oxford Dictionary. "His eyes fell upon the words Grateful Dead. There was a long silence... 'What do you think of this one Phil...THE GRATEFUL DEAD!' Phil fell off his seat in giddy rails of laughter; it had the right ring, something for everybody, an infinite array of association, Egyptian, Gothic, Mystic."

That is precise. "An infinite array." The artwork on the album covers, the lighting in concert, the musical forms. But the amazing thing is that the multitude [of] associations all seem to fit together in some kind of complicated pattern.
My friend Peggy is a design major who is amazed by the coordination of the visual effect. "Ask him," she said when she heard that I'd be talking to Garcia, "if there is some person who is in charge of all the design. Perhaps an agency or studio." "No," Jerry said, "there is no overall director. Everyone just does his job, and it generally comes out synchronized. That is the beautiful thing."
The Grateful Dead is a family that includes not only band members, but business people, sound and light people, the art people, and perhaps the audiences. Backstage the atmosphere is totally relaxed. Two long tables accommodate all the food and drink that will be consumed. The people all mill around, taking care of their jobs and talking to each other. In three days I hardly saw anything that might be called anger, or bitterness, or even bad disposition.
Not that there is no enthusiasm backstage. By the end of the second night in St. Louis, when the band had started to crank up to their closing tunes and it was clear that everything had come off well, the people got into a partying mood that matched the sincerity, if not the frenzy, of the audience. All around the people crowded into the spots where they could get a view of the band between the piles of amplifiers and speakers. I positioned myself to watch Jerry as he played a new riff to "Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad," and found myself dancing with Kathleen, a girl from Sky-High Productions, the group that staged the show. "I'm so happy," she said, squeezing my arm. 

Shift to Indianapolis. I arrive early, but have two tickets to sell. It is raining hard at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, and by the time I've reached the door of the Coliseum, I am thoroughly wet. It is soon apparent that there are many more people with extra tickets than those with none. So pacing and shivering, and accosting likely buyers, I recall my friend Ed. One day he had hitched out of central Iowa in the midst of a blizzard at two o'clock hoping to make a seven o'clock Dead concert in Chicago. And he didn't have a ticket. Nobody thought that he would make it, but he returned with a ticket stub, and claiming that we had missed an amazing concert.
Finally I sold one ticket and decided to take the loss on the other one. I entered the Coliseum just as the Dead swung into "Promised Land," an old Chuck Berry tune. It is a good opening number for them, because while it's up-tempo rock-and-roll, it doesn't have the driving, repeatable refrain that marks their closers.
In any case the audience is loosened up a little. There are no reserved seats. In fact, on the padded floor, there are no seats at all. The floor is packed tight at the stage end, so I find a place farther back. For the most part I will be moving around anyway.
The Dead pause for a lengthy moment, presumably to decide on a song and an arrangement. The audience is impatient and around me I hear some early criticism. Finally they sway into a Garcia number, "Sugaree." Later they will play a series of three songs for nearly an hour without a stop. And all together they will play 24 songs in the course of a four-and-a-half hour show. "Sugaree" was worth the wait. Jerry appears to be in top form tonight, fast and innovative. His leads in the breaks seem new and exciting. There is no question of the Dead equalling the excellence of their albums. Live they generate a higher level of technique and excitement.
Next is the Bob Weir standard, "Mexicali Blues." On piano Keith Godschaux keeps up the boogie-woogie rhythm. From the audience all that is visible of Godschaux is a tangle of flowing red hair hunched over the keyboard. When the lighting changes the reflection off the Steinway makes the hair glow.
Weir may be a little tired. This is already the end of their second week on tour in the Midwest. But Bobby's characteristic mannerisms are still intact. With a little shake of his head his hair falls back away from his eyes. He emits a quiet whoop at the end of a verse, and lifts his right leg off the stage to give emphasis to a particular chord.
"Mexicali Blues" is seemingly sung by a man contemplating his own depravity.
"Is there anything a man don't stand to lose,
When the devil wants to take it all away?"
Like most questions that the Dead pose, this one is never answered. Instead, Jerry immediately falls into the slow descending run that begins the "Loser." It is the first slow, soul-searching song of the evening, and, in a way, it answers the previous tune.
"All that I am asking for is ten gold dollars
And I can pay you back with one good hand."
Garcia's weird controlled voice is convincing. I can close my eyes and picture the desperate gambler who has lost every cent he ever owned over a card table, but is still itching for that inside straight that will make him rich.
"I got no chance of losing this time.
No, I got no chance of losing this time."
To my right a tall skinny girl in a long green dress is swaying slightly to the easy rhythm. She passes me a bottle of wine. She appears to be the prototypical Dead Head. I can see that Garcia's melancholy lead is affecting her desperately. And the wailing guitar pitches are bounding around the inside walls of my head too.
When the song is over we begin to talk. Her name is Mariah.
"I've just been in Mexico for four months. Haven't seen the Dead since June."
"Are you from Indianapolis?"
"No, Philly. I just got here today to visit some friends, and they had already bought me a ticket. Four days on a bus from Guatemala. And I've got to head East again in the morning."
It is Weir's turn. He sings "Black Throated Wind," a slow tune about a hitchhiker on an interstate in the wind and rushing traffic. Towards the end of the tune, Donna Godschaux comes out on stage, her first appearance. Phil Lesh doubles over his enormous bass in a playful bow as she crosses in front of him. Donna is very pregnant ("Six months. We're expecting the baby in January some time."), and the crowd applauds her appearance. In white maternity dress she seems more than a little out of place on stage. She makes a self-mocking effort at dancing, but is obviously burdened.
But when they reach the chorus, and her throaty voice joins Weir's, it is clear that she is still strong. Bob and Donna make a vocal team that is every bit as perfected as Tammy Wynette and George Jones or Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens. Donna has been singing with the Dead for slightly more than a year now. Her voice was the perfect addition, filling out the upper end of the harmonies.
"And I'm out of money now," Mariah says. "But that's really not a problem. I'm only happy that I got to this concert. It makes that bus ride worthwhile. Have you ever ridden on a Mexican bus?"
"I can't say that I have."
"Don't, unless you're headed to a Dead concert, but even then you should get an early start. Mexicans have no sense of urgency."
Next the Dead swung into an up-tempo country tune, that is not on record, but must have been called "They Love Each Other." Through the mist of the colored light on stage I could make out the silk-screened Grateful Dead design on the backdrop. It is [the] Grim Reaper, facing away from the cloudy, turbulent waters - asking to be followed. The design was not there to promote Wake of the Flood; it was there because it belonged there. Just as my hand had found Mariah's waistline, just as she turned to face me, a young Hoosier kid intervened.
"Do you think they'll play 'Casey Jones?"
"Could be," I smiled, "but probably nearer to the end of the concert."
"Oh, well how 'bout 'Sugar Magnolia'?"
I split to look for our photographers, first making sure that my new-found Dead Head would not change places.
I was worried that I was missing my story. I wanted interviews arranged, I wanted people to take me aside and explain things to me, and I wanted the photographers to get the pictures that they wanted.
Earlier Rock Scully, black-bearded, energetic road manager for the Dead, had taken me aside. "Everything is pretty loose and you'll be with us for three days. If you stay cool you'll get whatever you want." Now I was unsure as I talked with a similarly uptight college journalist from Indiana.
My counterpart said, "Rock told me I would get an interview with Garcia. But I don't like the looks of it. We were thinking we might crash their hotel tonight - if there's a party or something."
The set culminated with a nice "China Cat Sunflower" and "I Know You Rider" with an unexceptional transition. The transition, in fact, was a disappointment, because the shifts from one tune to another are one of the hallmarks of the Grateful Dead genius. They require the utmost ability from each of the band members. Garcia can be incredible as he transforms one melody line into another, but without Weir flashing through his practiced chord changes, without Kreutzman breaking down and rebuilding the rhythmic structure, without everyone's careful and insightful support, the change would never come off smoothly.
It was hard to tell why it missed Saturday night. Maybe it came off too smoothly, like not enough chances were taken. The excitement failed to build for "I Know You Rider," a driving bass-pedaled traditional tune. After the four-part harmony conclusion, Weir announced the usual short break.
Flash to St. Louis. After the first concert in St. Louis I went with some friends of mine from Iowa to a motel room in some suburb or another. Four of us, registered as two, and the heat couldn't be turned off so we turned the air-conditioner on. And the TV. All night movies, and memories, and visions. After a thankfully short flick about an acting police dog, a Western came on. A cowboy gunman was hired to find a prospector's brother who was lost in Mexico. But I fell asleep on the floor before he ever crossed the Rio Grande. 

The second set began with Jerry and Bob again alternating songs. They came out determined and they were extremely tight. The crowd perked up again and rocked through "Bertha," "Bobby McGee," and "Tennessee Jed." Then they led into an apparent river medley with "Playing in the Band." "Playing in the Band" is perhaps their tightest song musically. The complicated interplay of themes is finally supported by a rousing lyrical vocal that sounds almost self-congratulatory. It is a tune to celebrate by. This version was shortened and they went right into "Mississippi Halfstep Uptown Toodeloo," which is about a boy whose father left him on the day he was born. It ends with a slow but pretty refrain.
Across the Rio-Grandio,
A-cross the lady river."
Apparently the kid has split himself, in search of his father, and thereby, his identity. Without pausing they flashed into "Big River," a fast tumultuous song that unfortunately has never been released on record, although they have been playing it for at least two years. Finally they spaced out the rock and roll beat and somehow, amazingly returned to "Playing in the Band."
The Mississippi, the Rio Grande. Rivers are another significant Dead image. Possibly the reason lies in the nature of the waterways. Perhaps it's because they lead somewhere. In St. Louis Jerry was talking about the future. "I don't know. We roll like a river. We just ride out the course, and if we are headed in a particular direction, then it's irreversible anyway."
Another flash to St. Louis. Outside Keil Auditorium in a park Tuesday waiting for the final show. All around people are accumulating. Most of those that show up at noon for a seven o'clock [show] are genuine Dead Heads. A carload from Tennessee with the license plate JED share our bottle of wine, and a guy from Long Island showed up with a tape of Monday night's concert. A handsome, young, but decidedly down-and-out man stopped by. "I just signed with a barge to New Orleans, but they won't advance me any cash. You got some change for a meal?" I suggested that he pawn his watch, but he told me it had been a present from his ma. Later I was sorry that I hadn't bought him a bowl of chili. 

When the Dead started into "He's Gone" I found Mariah again. "You've returned," she said. We shared an orange, and she told me about the UFO that she had seen at the Dead concert in Washington D.C. last June. "It just settled down over the Stadium and took in the concert for about a half hour. It was during 'Dark Star.'" Later Michael, from Iowa, would tell me about a dream his brother had had. "He was at a Dead concert and a UFO came down. The Dead unzipped their skins, revealing that they were actually fish people. Then they disappeared, and the flying saucer flew off, beeping a horn as it left." Later yet I repeated the dream to Jerry, and he laughed, saying that it was a conceivable eventuality.
"He's Gone" became "Truckin" became "The Other One." It was a beautiful sequence that was equalled in intensity by a similar series Monday night. The second time they started right into "Truckin," and finished with "The Other One" and "Wharf Rat." Both nights these sequences provided the highlight of the concert.
I left Mariah at the close of "The Other One." It was a sorrowful parting considering we had met less than three hours previously. Her head was ringing with Dead images just as mine was. And though we'd never met before, and aren't likely to again, we both felt like we knew each other well by the end. There was something magical about the way our lives had crossed.
During "Sugar Magnolia" I worked my way backstage. In the lobby I passed a young kid wearing a Leon Russell shirt. "Sugar Magnolia" closed with its usual double ending. The Coliseum went dark and Weir mumbled his thanks to the audience.
Immediately the entire audience lit up matches and clamored for more music. "Casey Jones," "Saturday Night," "Johnny B. Goode." The entire crowd was screaming out their favorite rockers. But the Dead did a surprising thing. They stepped back up on stage and played "Uncle John's Band," a slower, more subtle song with symbolic lyrics revolving around a musical image. They even jammed on the melody for a while before finishing up.
Altogether it was a low-key, but interesting ending. In St. Louis I asked Jerry about it, and as usual his answer was enigmatic.
"We've finished with weirder things than 'Uncle John's Band' before. It's simply a matter of playing what is right at the moment. And that is mainly determined by what's happening on stage. In other words, we just do what we want to."
"Surely you must cater to the audience to a slight degree at least. Why, for instance, do you close so often with 'Casey Jones'?"
"We hope that the audience will like what happens naturally, but it all starts on stage. Sure a lot of people come only to hear 'Casey Jones,' but there are others that come only for 'Dark Star.' We play what seems right at the moment. All the decisions are made on stage." 

The second night in St. Louis they did play "Dark Star," a song that is considered by many to be their most complex and interesting. Like most of their spacy jams the success of "Dark Star" depends both on innovative individual work as well as group dynamics. Garcia's guitar is outright exciting as it produces ominous, foreboding tones. Kreutzman's drumming is perfect both in accompaniment, and as a lead instrument. Lesh, Weir, and Garcia all turn inward and face Kreutzman during the crucial segments. The stage is crossed by white spots that seem to create stark contrasts on stage. The four in the center of the stage seem suspended. Kreutzman's face particularly appears to have been moulded from clay. The mustache is almost too tidy.
Sitting on the floor about twenty rows back, I am looking up at the immense ceiling. It is a pale blue shade, stirring up within me visions of the infinite. The sky. The night. The abyss. If a UFO had access to this space, surely this is the appropriate time for it to appear.
The Dead move right into "Stella Blue" from "Dark Star." The lights turn blue with a tinge of red from a side spot. Garcia plays through the understated chord changes, and the yearning melancholy of the song captures the audience.
And for my part, I seem to be arriving at an understanding. The musical is magical. I would be perfectly content to float forever underneath the expansive ceiling. No external force could move me to break the beauty of the moment. Not hunger, not fatigue, not even an itch on my ankle. The very air is magic. It is the medium that transmits this music to my ears. I can see it. I can see colored specks of Grateful Dead air. If I had some kind of sealable container, I would scoop up a quantity of it. I would take it home and set it on my dresser.
"Dust off those rusty strings just one more time
Gonna make 'em shine."
Or maybe I could fill a gas canister full of it so that I could breathe it in whenever I chose to. So that all the spaces in my head would be filled with vibrant Dead air. I guess that would make me a bona-fide Dead Head. Maybe all Dead Heads live and breathe in Dead air. Maybe it's simply a matter of wanting to. Yes, I can visualize Mariah riding north on a Mexican bus, alive in a Dead world.
The shift from "Stella Blue" to "Eyes of the World" is amazing. "Eyes" is built on a Latin bossa-nova progression. I can't even remember how it was accomplished, except again the lights strike me. Red and purple flow together in an explosive blend. And traces of the rest of the spectrum. The whole scene is self-contained, complete. Only it is a fragile totality - like a soap bubble. It could pop in a second or fade in an hour. I am insecure about it like I am about a pleasant dream that I can feel escaping.
Finally the sound dies, leaving only Weir's guitar. He is fingerpicking through the Old English Prelude to "Weather Report Suite." "Suite" is the perfect conclusion to this hour and a quarter of continuous music. By itself it is almost a musical odyssey, but placed at the end of a series it completes the cycle. In Part II of 'Suite' the tune changes to a lyrical Mexican theme, and ends finally with the loud assertion that, "I am. I am. I am."
It is the snake biting his own tail. It is the great mandala. It is the picture, the symbol for that which is whole. 

This is the point. The Grateful Dead have been developing a collective personality over the last ten years. They have undergone multiple changes and experiences since that day in Palo Alto when Jerry hit upon the name. The Trips Festivals with Kesey's Pranksters, the busts, the deaths, the ripoffs. They have suffered and they have succeeded. They have been vilified as false prophets, and honored as "signposts to a new age."
This much is certain. The Grateful Dead are the only remaining remnant of the visionaries who migrated to San Francisco in the last half of the Sixties. They are the last of the bands that arose in those optimistic days. And long after every sensible commentator has declared the era to be dead, the Dead are only now achieving full recognition.
As a band they are more together musically than ever before. As a business unit they are beginning to come into their own. And as a family with a common dream they have never been so large nor as tightly knit.
Carl Jung introduced the term "individuation" to a non-grateful world. He meant that every person must go through the life cycle and eventually arrive at an identity. Individuation is the process of becoming oneself. The Grateful Dead have individuated as a band, and now their lyrical, musical, and visual symbolism indicates that they have arrived at their identity. Naturally that identity is not something that can be stated in precise language. I asked Jerry if he could try to put his finger on it.
"No, I don't even try anymore. If it can be done at all, then it's up to the writers to try. We just are what we are, and we are very happy about it. I will say this. For us there is no Grateful Dead. I mean, we can't go to a Grateful Dead concert. It's only something that we are collectively. It's not enough to say that it is art. It is, but it's more than that too."
After "Weather Report Suite" the concert ends quickly. "Goin' Down the Road," "Johnny B. Goode" in fast succession, and "One More Saturday Night" as an encore. The crowd is reluctant to let them go, and so am I.
The thought crosses my mind - they are playing in Evanston Thursday. But my return ride to Champaign is waiting. My Grateful Dead trip is temporarily over.
Flash ahead to the eventual perpetual Grateful Dead concert. Mariah is by my side. Michael, Peggy, even Gala are there. Jerry, Bob, Phil, Keith and Donna have no intention of moving on.
"Come hear Uncle John's Band
Play into the tide.
Come with me or go alone,
He's come to take his children home."

(by Dani Ruby, from the Daily Illini, November 3, 1973)

Oct 15, 2021

December 9-10, 1971: Fox Theatre, St. Louis

When a group as young as the New Riders of the Purple Sage get hot on stage, they ARE playing for you, and you melt into their rhythms, start clapping your hands, and dancing in the aisles. Anyone who missed this concert at the Fox Theater on Thursday and Friday (Dec. 9-10), when the program was broadcast live on KADI, will have to suffer until they come round next year. The Sage outshone the Grateful Dead, their hallowed sponsor. 
"I don't play with the Purple Sagers anymore," says Jerry Garcia, the Dead's lead guitarist, backstage before the show. He helped the New Riders get started by playing with them and promoting them. Garcia plays pedal steel guitar on the first Sage album. 
"The group got together in Palo Alto the same as the Dead," says Joe, the Sage road manager. 
Balloons are flying and being popped by cigarettes as the Purple Sage warms up. "We dig the Fox Theater and we dig coming here, so take good care of it," announces Marmaduke, the blond-haired lead singer. He emphasizes that the management is holding the ticket money against damages, and the audience respects this request. 
Then there is a pause for technical difficulties. "The speakers are busted on the left side," the crowd yells in chorus, upset at the management. 
"Hey man, lousy speakers don't have anything to do with capitalism," quips Marmaduke. He snarls about, sounding uptight. "Oh fuck," he bewails & then tries to play up his 'obscenity' by adding, "That's gotta be the most unused word in the English language." 
The Fox usually has tremendous acoustics and good stage views (except on the mezzanine), plus a carved, sculpted, gilded interior. That's why these bands choose to play here. Garcia adds, "There isn't a ballroom here we know of (where people could dance freely)." 
There are hoots and applause. By the time the Riders finish "Six Days on the Road and I'm Gonna Make It Home Tonight!" Almost all of these "working men" songs separate male and female roles. 
This song comes as the stage turns luminous blue. The Riders begin a gentle song about new love, "Come Sit Beside Me." Tie-died amplifiers frame them on stage and look like inlaid mosaics under the spotlights. The theater gildings glow as Marmaduke sings, "Would you like to play with me?" The women are dancing out of sight, behind the musicians. 
"Who's playing pedal steel?" is yelled twice from the audience. Garcia used to fill that spot, and now the metal moaning strings of his protegee range thru us, very moving. This new man got constant attention from the house because of his boss plays on the steel strings, but they never introduced him. 
The drummer's hands never stop, and we think it's Spencer Dryden, who is on their first album. He even plays tambourine with the Dead after his set. His rhythm permeates the sound but never upstages it. He deserved a solo but didn't play one. 
There is little gimmickry or gaudy showmanship; perhaps that's why the audience at one point asks if the Airplane are surprise guests. "Next you'll ask for Mick Jagger," retorts John Dawson (Marmaduke), and the crowd cheers approval. 
The Sage receives a standing ovation for "When it all comes round again." This is a long, autobiographical song, including questions about remembering how you felt when Kennedy was assassinated, The chorus is, 
Can you remember my friend, 
What it felt like in the end? 
Don'tcha wish you had a friend 
When it all comes round again? 
The Sage has just introduced what is likely to be next year's favorite song, and the audience is listening and enthusiastic. 
Upfront, young people are passing a full hash pipe around. There is more dope around than at the Dead's concert last spring, and the majority of the audience is under nineteen. 
A theater spokesman estimated 4000 attendance on Thursday and a 4500 capacity crowd on Friday, but it seemed like more people both nights. There was no damage before, during, or after the concerts. Outside, officers straightened the crowd outside before the doors opened. Inside, heavy, alcohol breathing cops kept trying to seat people. They had little success down front, because there was no place to move. The second and third balconies were more hawkishly patrolled, however. 
The New Riders have drawn a ring of standing admirers to the stage area. Their songs are simple and real - about working class men and the women they love. There is dancing as they sing, "Hello Mary Lou, Goodbye Heart." 
The Sage ends with two of their sexiest songs, "Hand Job" and "Louisiana Lady." 
Now straight from Madison Square Garden in New York, it's the Grateful Dead. We crowd up to the stage, watching them set up. Pigpen comes out and the crowd applauds. 
Bob Weir, the main vocalist, is front and center for most of the set. As he sings, his clean angular looks and his long ponytail are somewhat incongruous. 
After the set begins, Pigpen sometimes rises from his organ and adds new rhythm to the band, singing old favorites like "Big Boss Man" and doing a harmonica solo. 
Jerry Garcia isn't playing pedal steel guitar tonight; he's playing one of the two electric guitars. He usually takes the lead on instrumentals; his knowledge of music is heavy and innovative. Jerry solos on "Shake it, Shake it," a heavy handed number, and the mystical "Black Peter." 
Then the Dead sing "Casey Jones." This year's audience rises like last year's did, turned on and clapping their hands over their heads. 
Since the Dead promoted this concert themselves, it seems likely that they'll leave town with half of the $4 a head take when the music's over. That's $17,000 for two nights. There is that old rumor that the Dead are going to announce buying the Fox, but on Friday they announce that they have no intention of buying it. 
Instead they play until 1 am and the show is broadcast live on KADI. 
The songs, or maybe the sound system, haven't turned on the balcony, as much as some of the others. "Where is the cosmic Dead?" they plead. 
The Dead conclude with an elastic version of: 
I'm gonna love you night and day; 
Love, love don't fade away. 
It includes riffs of other songs like: 
I'm goin' down the road feelin' bad. 
Perhaps the Dead are saying that something has got them down. Wish they'd get over their success inertia. 
The Friday encore (after about 5 minutes of applause from the audience) is "Just Another Saturday Night." It's 1 am. Another 2 full evenings of music over until next time. 
"Did you live through it?" shouts a girl. 
"No, I died," moans a wide-eyed boy near the exit. 
It's raining hard, brothers & sisters. 
(by Jan Garden, from the Outlaw, December 24, 1971) 

The concert at the Fox Theater featuring the Grateful Dead and the New Riders also featured an example of the increasing incidence of police hassles met by some people who attend rock concerts in St. Louis. People inside were constantly being herded (Thursday nite) by ushers and police. The management confiscated at the door any cameras, newspapers, tape-recorders, and wine that they and the watchful guards could find. But outside, before the concert, a lesson in what happens when people don't stick together came home to at least one person who was beaten outside the theater. 
Ron arrived early (as did quite a few people) with his friend, Laurie. About 4 or 5 o'clock the police began to gather everyone waiting for the concert against the wall of the theater, and set up a rope to hold them in. As the crowd grew, Ron handed his camera to a friend further up the line for safety, and a short time later he decided to get out of the line and go wait somewhere else. The police let him out of line. A policeman told him it was all right to go get his camera. 
But, as he reached across the rope to retrieve the camera, a cop grabbed him from behind and pulled him away. Although Ron yelled that all he was doing was getting his camera, the cop dragged him away to the alley near the Fox. 
Once in the alley, although there were other people there, several cops took hold of him. They then clubbed him twice on the head, knocking him to the ground and opening a wound that required several stitches to close. 
The police threw him in a car and drove away. A few blocks later, noticing that Ron was still bleeding, the policeman in the backseat with him said, "Stop that bleeding all over my seat, you son of a bitch." The car stopped and they pushed him headfirst out of the car to the sidewalk, where he lay until a vehicle came and took him to the station where he was finally informed that he was under arrest for resisting arrest and two other counts. He was released to his parents (Ron is 17) on $500 bail for each charge. 
Ron and his family have filed complaints with the police inspector. They believe something will come of that. Ron says that he has always respected the police, and he can't understand what happened. 
Problems with the police at concerts are growing. What helps the police harass people is a general feeling of un-togetherness in a crowd or between people who are not taking into account the situation of their sisters and brothers. Inside the concert, many people remained calmly unaware of the harassment being experienced by other people. To our knowledge, no one came to help Ron; no one followed the police. Concerts and music have long been a means for people to get off together. Let's get it together.
(from the Outlaw, December 24, 1971)

"I follow astrology, but it's more earth-consciousness, calendar-consciousness, solar consciousness. I respect the physical limits of the universe," smiled the thickly bearded and mustached Jerry Garcia, his long black hair waving and shining. 
Garcia, the Grateful Dead's spokesman, vocalist, and lead guitarist was earthly and enlightening when I interviewed him before the Friday concert at the Fox Theater. 
The Dead's three electric guitarists - Jerry, Bob Weir, and Phil Lesh on bass, plus Pigpen, who sings and plays organ and harmonica, met in Palo Alto around '65. 
"From there we moved to L.A. and started living together," reported Jerry. "We lived in San Francisco, from '66 to '68." 
Having lived nearby them, I remember the Dead house on Ashbury. "It was a house, not a commune." Their recent nix on politics was not true then. The Dead gave street concerts shortly after the Haight St. riots of 1967 and '68. They parked a truck at Haight and Shrader and played until it was too crowded to move in the streets. They also played in the series of free concerts in the lush meadows of Golden Gate Park. These became so jammed that they were discontinued. 
The Dead also played outside San Quentin in the spring of '68, adding sparks to that prison's first protest. At this time, the inmates had their own underground paper circulating inside the walls. Three days after that sun-filled concert whose motto was, "Prisoners of San Francisco unite with Prisoners of San Quentin," the inmates went on strike for better conditions. 
"Have you played at any other prisons?" 
"We did play inside Terminal Island, the Federal Prison in L.A.," said Jerry. 
"Are you still giving free concerts?" 
"We've been doing live radio everywhere," Garcia replied. "It's the only way you can do free concerts anymore - because of Altamont and overkill." 
"How long have you been married?" 
M.G. (Garcia's wife): "We've been married 5 years and have 2 children." 
"Were you planning to stay in England this summer at Stonehenge, for the summer solstice?" 
Garcia: We always plan that. 
Q: Did you make any arrangements? 
Garcia: We always make some arrangements. 
Q: Did you play anyplace for the winter solstice? 
Weir: Washington. 
Q: DC? 
Weir: Where else? 
Garcia: Those other voices are all illusions. Don't listen to them. I don't remember where we played. 
Weir: Aren't you going to ask us where our name comes from? 
Garden: I know. It comes from the Egyptian Book of the Dead: 
Out of the land of darkness, 
the ship of the sun is drawn 
by the Grateful Dead.

(by Jan Garden, from the Outlaw, December 24, 1971)
For pictures from the Outlaw, see: 

Sep 30, 2021

December 12, 1971: Bar Mitzvah Party, Airport Hilton, St. Louis

Members of the Grateful Dead and New Riders of the Purple Sage played at their first Bar Mitzvah when they jammed with members of the Spring Rain, on Sunday, Dec. 12.
The band members from Ladue included Sherri Weingart, Mark Slosberg, and Doug Heller, who were playing at the Bar Mitzvah party of Richie Gerber, a student at West Ladue, in the Hilton Airport Inn. Two other band members, John McSweeny and Steve Fisher, attend Country Day School and Bruce Byers attends John Burroughs School.
Several members of the rock groups who were staying at the hotel, stopped at the doors of the room to listen to the band. Guests at the party talked with the musicians, who signed autographs and gave posters to some of the guests.
When Sherri Weingart asked them if they wished to play, they responded enthusiastically with four numbers. Spring Rain then played for half an hour. Phil Lesh, the drummer for Grateful Dead [sic] then came up and played the drums while John McSweeney played some blues music on the piano. Other members of the band then drifted up to accompany the others.
Following the party the members of Spring Rain spent over an hour conversing with the other musicians about music and various other topics.
(from the Panorama, the Ladue High School student newspaper, December 1971)
+ + +

The Dead and the New Riders had played at the Fox Theatre on December 9-10, 1971, and were still in town before heading on to Ann Arbor for their next show on December 14. During their stop in St. Louis, they stayed at the Airport Hilton…and gave another impromptu performance before leaving.   

Richie Gerber, a student at West Ladue Junior High, turned 13 in 1971 and had his Bar Mitzvah ceremony on Saturday, December 11. The party for him was held the next day, Sunday December 12, around 6 pm in a ballroom at the Airport Hilton. It was a kids-only party without about a hundred 13-year-olds attending. Unbeknownst to Richie, “the Grateful Dead were staying at the same hotel where my party was held.”

The party music was provided by Spring Rain, a professional teenage band that was one of the most popular bar mitzvah bands in town. They worked 2-4 engagements a month, playing songs by Carole King, James Taylor, Elton John, Buffalo Springfield, and so on; and they also featured a special oldies set (with songs by Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc.). "We did the stuff that got the kids out on the dance floor." They were 15-to-16-year-old students attending Ladue, Country Day, and John Burroughs high schools. The band members were:     

Bruce Byers - guitar
Steve Fisher - singer
Doug Heller - drums
Jon McSweeney - piano player
Mark Slosberg - bass player
Sherry Weingart - lead vocals      
Richie had an older sister, Debbie Gerber. During the performance, she and two of her friends left the party room and went walking down the hall to the hotel lobby. In the lobby was an open bar surrounded by tables. As the girls walked by, they saw members of the Dead hanging out at the bar – Weir, Lesh, Kreutzmann, Godchaux & “Marmaduke” Dawson of the New Riders. (I’ll refer to them as “the Dead” for short, although Garcia & Pigpen were not there.) Being "attractive cheerleader" types, the girls caught the Dead's attention as well. Richie says, “My sister Debbie wandered by the bar and received a "cat call" from within. She turned, and it was Phil Lesh and Bob Weir.”

The Dead had spent some time at the bar and they were toasted. This did not deter the girls - Debbie was a Dead fan. Richie recalls, “Debbie was 17 at the time and was, well, a flirt. She and two of her friends starting nudging their way toward the band members. Debbie started talking with them, told them why she was there, and they mentioned they overheard the music. For a while, they were flirting with Debbie and her friends (Lynn Kessler and another friend) and Debbie was urging them to come in and play a few songs. Long story short, she convinced them to come to the party.”

The party room was down the hall, but Spring Rain could still be heard in the bar. The Dead did not need much urging to come check out the party, and they “stopped at the doors of the room to listen.”

Spring Rain was playing unawares. Mark Slosberg’s 13-year-old younger sister Jo came over to tell him, "Mark, Mark, the Grateful Dead are here!" He was annoyed at her pestering and told her to go away. She said, “No, look – they really are in the doorway.” She pointed and sure enough, there they were.
Doug Heller recalls, “We were playing a big party. These long-haired guys stick their heads into the ballroom. They heard us playing, they later explained.” Mark says, “They had been drinking in the lounge when they heard us and wandered over.”
Richie himself was not too impressed: “Everyone was in awe, but me… When my sister said ‘I have a surprise for you, someone wants to say hello,’ I was hoping for Garry Unger!” 
Richie wasn't into rock & roll yet and wasn't interested in the Dead - he was more into hockey - so he didn't pay any attention to them.

Spring Rain stopped their set and somehow had the presence of mind to ask the Dead if they would like to play a song or two during their break. Everyone encouraged the Dead to play. According to the article, “When Sherri Weingart asked them if they wished to play, they responded enthusiastically.” The Dead didn't want to interrupt the band, but agreed to play during Spring Rain's break.
They took over Spring Rain’s instruments and played 2 or 3 New Riders songs, led by Marmaduke. Steve Fisher also remembers Bob Weir singing a song: “One of the tunes they did after a quick rearrange of the Altec Lansing speakers was El Paso.”
Richie recalls, “When the band members saw them, after they picked their lower lips off the floor, they handed their instruments over to the Dead, as we sat back and watched them play for 45 minutes!”

As soon as the 13-year-old party guests saw the Dead were there, they realized they had to get the word out. There was one place to go: the bank of pay phones in the hotel lobby. Mark remembers, “All of the kids with older siblings ran out to the lobby and called them on the pay phones.” Their homes were nearby, so within 15-20 minutes, their friends and older teen siblings started arriving, having rushed to the Hilton. Richie recalls, “I definitely remember people showing up to watch as word got around town.” With a hundred more high-schoolers quickly crowding in, the ballroom soon turned into a madhouse.

The Dead stopped playing after a few songs; and after their break Spring Rain came back to do their oldies set led by Steve Fisher. He called it their “Screamin’ Steve schtick… We would do that act after a short break where I would go and dress it up (black leather jacket, black wing tip shoes/white socks, slicked hair etc.), then come back out and do Blue Suede Shoes, Great Balls of Fire…” The Dead didn’t leave: “They were in the back of the banquet room howling with laughter.” Steve was somewhat intimidated as the Dead whooped it up during his set while all the 13-year-olds ran around in excitement.

After this half-hour set, the Dead then played with Spring Rain. Mark says, “Spring Rain still had some time left to play on the gig so we came back. It was just a jam…we jammed jointly on some blues changes. Spring Rain probably started out with a 12-bar thing to get the set going and it just ramped up from there.”
The article reported that the Dead’s drummer (Kreutzmann) “came up and played the drums while Jon McSweeney played some blues music on the piano. Other members of the band then drifted up to accompany the others.” Doug Heller didn't know the Dead and wasn't happy about giving up his drum set to Kreutzmann: "I was not thrilled about that."
Mark thinks it was only about ten minutes. “It was just a basic jam. I don’t remember much soloing. We weren’t really improvisers or soloists at that point.”
Mark may have given his bass back to Phil Lesh to play. Lesh was interested in Mark’s bass: “I had a fretless Fender Precision bass that he had never played on before… He was actually a little confused because he was a bit toasted.”

Jon McSweeney, who was blind, stood out among the players in Spring Rain. According to Bruce Byers, “the piano player was a real talent and actually jammed with the band and made the playing interesting. The other guys in the band would not have held their own without the keyboard player being so good.”
The Dead took note. Mark remembers, “They were particularly interested in our blind piano player Jon McSweeney, who at the time was our best musician and really carried us. I think they were just drunk enough to think they might have run into the next Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles.”
Jon himself says, “I was terribly sick that night, but I wanted to be a pro and not let the band down, so I showed up. Near the end of our first set, someone told me there were some Dead and New Riders members in the room. Then, during our break, they played about four songs! After that, we got to jam with 'em a little, and we talked with 'em a bit. I told Bob Weir I'd just started learning guitar, and he said, "Whatever turns you on." It was magical; I just wish I hadn't felt like shit. 'Course, I would've been REALLY bummed if I'd skipped the gig and found out later!”

After the music was over, many of the young girls there hung out with the Dead outside in the hallway, away from the adults. The Dead signed autographs, some of them on the girls’ chests. (Some girls lowered their dresses so there would be more room to sign on.) One girl remembered, “They were all pretty horny…Lesh in particular.” Mark’s sister Jo comments, “Phil Lesh was a total letch but we teenage girls didn’t think too badly of him – he was famous. We were 13-year-old midwesterners.” Others at the party didn’t notice – Mark observes, “In the bar with the parents later they were all on their best behavior.”

Afterwards, the bands headed to the lobby to sit around the bar, and talked for “over an hour.” The Dead wanted to talk more with Jon the blind piano player. Steve recalls “talking with Jon, his mom, and Bobby Weir at that table in the bar with our cokes.” Mark says, “After the gig, the band members sat around in the bar with us, but they were mostly talking to Jon and his mother who was there to pick him up from the gig.” Bob Weir also recommended that Spring Rain go record at the studio at Scotty's Music, and warned them not to take drugs.

The Dead stuck around for quite a while talking to the kids and parents, but eventually retreated to their rooms. Spring Rain still had some work ahead of them, as Mark recalls: “We still had to break down all of the equipment for the night.” All the teens went home with a memorable experience to tell about their crazy night. "It was the talk of the high school for years to come." Mark says, “I never had to do anything else in high school to be ‘known.’”

But Spring Rain didn’t get the chance to meet the Dead again when they returned to St. Louis in 1972. Mark recalls, “The following year we all tried to get into the stage door at the next Dead show at the Fox but were denied.” Steve adds, “The next year we went to see them at the old Fox Theatre and we were dismissed as hangers-on and not allowed in the back stage door, while we had envisioned ‘hanging with the guys’ like last year.”
Richie says, “Many photos were taken… We had at least 15 pictures of the Dead playing and interacting with Spring Rain. I remember one picture with one of the band members standing behind Debbie, who was holding a guitar, trying to show her a few things (Debbie was taking lessons at the time). Unfortunately, my mother had a fire at her home years ago which took many of the photo albums… None of the Dead photos survived.” 

Co-author John Ellis would like to thank:
Thanks to Bob Glik & Andy Eidelman, and special thanks to Joe Schwab for starting the Facebook thread that included myself and Jesse Jarnow.
Special thanks to Mark Slosberg who made this possible; and to Richard Gerber, Debbie Gerber, and Jo Barry.
And thanks to the members of Spring Rain who contributed their memories (Bruce Byers, Steve Fisher, Doug Heller, Jon McSweeney, Mark Slosberg & Sherry Weingart).

February 2, 1970: Fox Theatre, St. Louis & 1973 Panegyric for Pigpen

What do you say about a 27-year-old drunk who died? Well, perhaps a thing or two. When I heard that the body of Ron "Pigpen" McKernan had been found in his Marin County apartment, I immediately remembered a Greateful Dead concert of a couple of years ago. For sheer energetic joy I still think it is the best rock concert I've ever been to, and Pigpen was the star. 
The concert was in February of 1970 at a marvelous neo-Babylonian movie theater in St. Louis called the Fox. It was, I believe, the first rock concert to be held there; theretofore, management had always resisted rock's barbarian incursions, but as one of America's worst ghettos closed in on midtown St. Louis, they had decided, I think, to get as much money out of the place as possible before the whole fabric of Mid-Western Civilization went ping. They had spades, why not hippies? 
The ambience of the theater had a lot to do with making the occasion so memorable. The lobby of the theater was about the size of the Boston Garden and it was decorated with what appeared to be all the artifacts left over after David Wark Griffith finished "Intolerance." There were waterfalls everywhere, lambent over limestone, so that the place had the cool feel and the fresh, gritty smell of the Carlsbad Caverns. There were huge porcelain elephants stationed at either side of a flowing marble staircase - well, it looked like marble - enormous bulbous (pun intended) chandeliers and huge phony torches jutting out from the walls, held by swags. That place was a motherfucker. 
So the people who came to the concert were already in a state of wonder even before the music started. Plus - remember, this was the Midwest, and not really all that far from the South - it was even at that late date one of the first signs that there was this enormous community around St. Louis of the sort of people who go to Grateful Dead concerts. I hadn't realized that there were that many freaks in Missouri, thousands of them, as if you had shaken every commune in the Ozarks and in the rich Missouri bottomland around Columbia, dumped the contents into Volkswagen buses, and given them all a shove down I-44 and I-70 towards St. Louis. A lot of them probably hadn't seen each other since (a) Woodstock; (b) Jimmy Driftwood's folk festival in Mountain View, Ark.; (c) the Kansas pot harvest. It was like a reunion; the whole hip scene was on the verge of turning into an overbearing drag or worse in the wake of Altamont and the psychedelic hard-sell, but there was a lot of untapped innocence lurching hairily around the Fox Theater in St. Louis that night three years ago. 
The concert started about two hours late. The Grateful Dead had been busted for possession of marijuana a couple of days before in New Orleans and the seven tons of equipment that they hauled around the country had been impounded in lieu of bond or something. A lot of it had just arrived and had been too hastily assembled and besides the PA wasn't working very well, so Owsley Augustus Stanley III, keeper of the ohms, was hopping around kicking various pieces of heavy electronic equipment like a rube at a used car lot. 
Owsley was sending various roadies and quippies scurrying after parts and tools and cursing everybody from Thomas Alva Edison on. For a while, it looked like things would never start because Owsley was in charge and things had better be JUST RIGHT for him because he was sensitive to the slightest untoward wiggle in the holy vibrations the Dead were going to send up to the sky, thence to fall like manna on the hungry ears of earth. I mean, THIS WIRE DOES NOT BELONG HERE.
Finally, though, Owsley was appeased and after a brief set by a warm-up group, the Dead came out. In those days, they were just getting into the sweet country harmonies that showed up under the influence of David Crosby and Graham Nash, and they opened the set with three or four numbers in the "Workingman's Dead" manner. If I tell you that was the first night I heard "Uncle John's Band," their most exalted song, and it turns out they actually didn't do that one until later in history, put it down to the memory striving Platonically for perfection but do believe me, I remember the last half of the concert very clearly. 
After a long and not entirely satisfactory trip down tape-loop lane, the music slowly evolved to a vaguely familiar chord and the trace of a melody began creeping through, somewhere in the interplay between Garcia's guitar and Lesh's bass line. There was a pause, and the three stringed men leaned into their microphones and sang into the silence: 
"St. Stephen with a rose, 
In and out of the garden he goes..." 
At that, a kid in the front row yelped and leapt to his feet as if someone had jabbed him in the ass with an ice-pick. Then everyone was up, and the band took off. There was boogie in the aisles and romping in the balcony, and it wasn't any of your half-assed obligatory Led Zeppelin kind of boogie, nor any of your Seconal and Sopors Black Sabbath stumble-fucks, this was joyous aisle-stomping. It kept up for half an hour and the band never let up, as they sometimes do, never let the beat dwindle away, and toward the end the music was building to a huge vibrating crescendo. People were screaming and bouncing around and hugging each other, whole aisles were dancing with their arms around each other like rock and roll Rockettes. 
And then...along came Pigpen. He had been shaking a tambourine in a bemused sort of way, holding it up by his ear as if it were a seashell and he was listening for the ocean, but now he put it down on top of a speaker and walked to the front of the stage, with Garcia, Lesh, and Weir stretched out behind him. He was wearing a big-brimmed cowboy hat with the sides rolled up, and the hat band was actually a swash of colored cloth that hung down in back by his long pigtail. 
With the band rocking along behind him, he picked a microphone off a stand and held it out in front of him the way a knife-fighter would. He made a dagger gesture with the mike and, even though he didn't move his feet, his body seemed to make a little rush forward at the audience. He poked again at the audience with the mike and the band cut back on the volume and left him a hole. Glaring at the audience as if he had just caught the whole bunch of them in bed with his old lady, but with a thin smile at the corner of his lips, he stepped forward and then began to sing: 
"Without a warning...you broke my heart." 
His body began to rock back and forth, the band came in louder and stronger than ever and buddy, that was all she wrote. Pigpen shouted and growled and screamed, he made little rushes across the stage, he did his Big Mama Thornton routine and his Otis Redding routine and his Little Richard routine and the place just went crazy as he hopped around the stage, screaming again and again, "Turn on your lovelight... Turn on your lovelight." As the concert came to a close with explosions of drums and shrieking of guitars, and the applause and cheers began swelling up from the audience, a tall black woman with the biggest Afro in town jumped up on stage and began hugging and kissing Pigpen, swinging him around like a doll. Pigpen just went limp in her arms and, for the first time all night, he grinned. 

In those days, Pigpen gulped down staggering quantities of cheap wine and liquor, but for the last year and a half of his life, he drank no alcohol at all. Since 1971, when he first went into the hospital with problems in his liver, stomach, and colon, he had appeared less and less with the Grateful Dead. There was the sense, at least from the outside, that the band had grown away from his kind of music anyway, the simple, raucous harp and organ rhythm and blues riffs he had absorbed through his father, a Berkeley R&B disc jockey in the Fifties. Jerry Garcia credited Pigpen with turning an acoustic group called Mother McCrees Uptown Jugband toward the electric blues in the early days in Palo Alto. 
Rock Scully, who became the manager of the band in 1966, about the time they discovered there already was a group called the Warlocks and stumbled on the words "Grateful Dead" in Phil Lesh's dictionary, told me, "Ron will be sorely missed; he was our bluesman." Scully recalled that, when he first met McKernan, "He was about the funkiest looking dude in the world - even the Angels were clean looking compared to him." 
But, Scully said, "He was really a quiet, introspective dude, he generally kept to himself." 
Last April, Scully recalled, Pigpen joined the Dead for a two-month tour of Europe. "It was his first outing with the band in eight months. He had been sick and operated on in the upper colon, and he had ulcers and I guess a hepatetic liver, but he said he was back on his feet and ready to work. 
"We traveled in two buses, and for some reason he insisted on hanging out in back of one of the buses. The buses bounced around a lot and I guess it was really bumpy back there over the rear wheels. He got thrown on to the floor a few times, and I'm sure all that bouncing didn't do his liver any good. But he seemed to be in good spirits.
"At the end of the tour, he came directly back to California, and about five days later we heard he was in the hospital and they had opened him up again. He hadn't drunk anything for almost a year, but apparently it was too late. He had what is called a terminal liver, we found out later, and he had developed pneumonia and he was just in terrible shape. 
"In mid-June, he made the Hollywood Bowl concert, that was the last one. He still looked just terrible and we said, 'Hey, go back in the hospital.'" 
McKernan did go back to the hospital and later moved in with his parents in Palo Alto and lived a quiet life, seldom leaving the house. "As far as we knew he was getting better," Scully said. 
He did seem to be feeling better and around the first of the year he moved into his own apartment in Marin County, where the other members of the Dead live. 
Scully said, "He came to the Dead office maybe 12 hours before he died. He died Tuesday night or Wednesday morning sometime, and during the day on Tuesday [March 6] he came to the office in San Rafael and said the doctor didn't see any reason why he shouldn't go back to work with the band. We were overjoyed. We were going into the studio in April to record, and we thought he was going to be with us. 
"So it was a terrible shock when we were told his body had been found. And we still haven't figured out if he knew all along that he was dying and just didn't want to lay that on us."

(by Harper Barnes, from the Real Paper, Boston, 4 April 1973)
Lovelight from 2/2/70 was released on Dave's Picks 6.

See also Barnes' original show review: