Chapter 7: Come Join the Party Every Day
Page 116, middle; more on Garcia and Surrealistic Pillow:
Paul Kantner noted, "Our first album had been made rather restrictive by RCA and we were sort of unhappy with the results, and we needed to get more communication between us and the studio, and in some idiotic fancy of mine, we figured Jerry Garcia would be the person to communicate some of the things we were trying to accomplish in the studio. So [the engineer] would know that Jack's bass should make the board smoke. Smoke comes out of the board, put another fuse in; don't try to damp it down.
"[Also] we would be rehearsing something out in the studio, [Garcia] would say, 'I have a nice little part that would work in there; maybe you should play this.' And he would pick up his guitar and go boom, 'Why don't you play that?' and he would play it so good that we said 'Why don't you play it? It sounds really good and we can't play it better than that. Come on, help us out here.'
"But mostly he was there to serve as sort of a buffer zone between us and the other side of the window [the producer and engineer in the control room]. A lot of what we were trying to do, both sound-wise and lyric-wise was eased quite a bit by his very gentlemanly manner. He was not harsh, not abrasive," as the somewhat volatile members of the Airplane could be.
Page 117, middle; the Dead's first record contract:
In the same book [San Francisco Nights], Tom Donahue is quoted as saying of the evening: "Joe told me that night, 'Tom, I don't think Jack Warner will ever understand this. I don't know if I understand it myself, but I really feel like they're good.' I told him, 'You've got to sign them, because this is where it's going.'"
Page 118, upper-middle; more on the Haight:
"There is a small, heavily concentrated area of a lot of activity," Garcia said in early 1967. "There's a lot of creativity, but it's not always on levels you can observe because there are different trends happening in what we used to call 'the arts.' For example, six or seven years ago, if you were a painter in San Francisco, you never sold anything because nobody in San Francisco buys paintings and there's no place to sell them. But a guy with a light show can make money. The guys who run the light shows are the guys who were painters a few years ago, and they're finding out something new about color, and the eye, and about spontaneity. Those are all aspects the plastic arts have never had before.
"Poster design and printing, all those things, are skills. These posters here are a product of a lot of people's working at something, and they're getting a return for it. The people who run the dance halls are doing a thing. The people who are being managers are doing something. There's a lot going on. People are opening stores. Not everybody is an artist or a creative person, but not everyone has to be a bookkeeper or businessman to make it. They can get into something that turns them on a little. With our scene here, we've managed to employ just about everyone we know in some capacity, because everybody has something they can do."
Page 119, bottom; hippies and activists:
In Mark Kitchell's extraordinary Oscar-nominated documentary, Berkeley in the '60s, a leading Berkeley activist named Jentri Anders said, "We were all beginning to see that it was much, much bigger than the war. It was much, much bigger than the civil rights movement. There were major things wrong and I think the people who got involved in the counterculture on some level perceived that they did not want to be a part of what was wrong with a culture that was destroying the world. ... The point is, it was the culture that was sick. It was the whole American way of looking at things that was sick, so I think we came to a realization that one way to change that is just live it differently. Instead of trying to change the structure in a direct confrontational way, you just drop out and live it the way you think it ought to be."
"There was a revolution going on," says tape archivist Dick Latvala, "and they usually talk about it as being political Vietnam but I'm talking about an inner revolution. I wanted to know who I was and what was I doing here. A bunch of us rejected Western man's philosophy of progress, progress, progress and questioned it all. We stepped back and questioned everything. That's one of the things pot makes you do pot has you sit down and suddenly see things in a different way than you would if you were directing your mind toward a goal. For a lot of us, it wasn't a political revolution, it was a psychic one, and it had a lot of philosophy behind it for those who were interested in it."
Page 124, middle; more on "Viola Lee Blues":
"Each night when we went into the studio, we played 'Viola Lee Blues' for as long as we wanted to play it, and we recorded it," Garcia said in early '67, "and at the end of the week, we went through and listened to them and the one that turned us on was the one. ... It isn't as good as it could have been, but it's still OK."
Page 125; middle; Henry Kaiser on early Garcia:
"Garcia is in that special category of electric guitar players who you can identify from playing just one note," says Henry Kaiser, himself a eclectic guitarist and renowned innovator. "Garcia plays one note, Carlos Santana plays one note, B.B. King plays one note you know it's them; there's no question about it. Isn't it amazing that someone can put so much self-expression into one note? Garcia wanted to be original, he looked inside himself to see what he had to say, and then he said it in his own way. I think what led him to his uniqueness and creativity and to his being as eclectic as he was, was having that attitude about self-expression pretty early on. I don't know when it started with him, but it was clearly in place by the first album. So, what are the ingredients? Certainly having an extremely diverse range of influences, and within that, mixing some things that no one had yet really mixed. Garcia had the whole bluegrass/old-timey thing that he brought into modern electric guitar music, and mixed with blues licks and R&B rhythms and music from other cultures, like Indian music. There wasn't really a precedent for what he did, and that's one reason he sounded like an original." (In a 1967 interview, Garcia talked about bringing both electrified banjo and pedal steel guitar into the Dead within a few months, but neither occurred.)
Page 126, middle; the Dead's early film opportunities:
Amidst other tidbits, the Olomopali Sunday Times newsletter alerted fans to the possibility that the Dead might appear in a forthcoming film, called Petulia. Actually, the Dead had first been approached by Hollywood producers in January, while the group was recording its album. "We got a movie offer from ABC-Paramount," Garcia said in February '67. "We got an offer to be in a James Coburn movie in which he plays the psychiatrist for the president, who runs off from his job for a series of misadventures, one of which is to spend a certain amount of time with us with a rock 'n' roll band that is traveling around in a nomadic fashion. We're written into the script, with speaking parts and everything. We've agreed to do it, provided we have control over the section we're in. So we might not do it because they might not give us control. We don't want to be in a movie unless it's good, and it won't be good unless we do it ourselves." Ultimately the Dead did not appear in the film, The President's Analyst, written and directed by Theodore J. Flicker. Although the movie is considered by some one of the best black comedies of the late '60s, the scene with the rock band is embarrassingly clich้-ridden and probably would have hurt the Dead's credibility more than helped it.
The Dead did agree to be in Petulia, however, which was filmed in San Francisco in mid-'67. Directed by Richard Lester, already famous for the Beatle films A Hard Day's Night and Help and shot by the inventive cinematographer (and later, director) Nicholas Roeg, Petulia used Haight-Ashbury as a backdrop for a complex psychological drama about a divorced doctor and the kooky, married title character. The Dead are shown at the Avalon Ballroom singing a woefully off-key version of "Viola Lee Blues" at one point, and different members turn up in a couple of other non-music scenes. Big Brother & the Holding Company also appeared in the film which, though not a huge success when it came out in 1968, is today regarded as a classic of sorts because of Roeg's camerawork and Lester's imaginative, non-linear approach to the story.
In late March, the Dead played six shows at a short-lived San Francisco nightclub called the Rock Garden. The series is notable for two completely unrelated reasons: It marked the first time Garcia's mother went to see her son play since his folk days; and sharing the bill with the Dead for those shows was the jazzy Charles Lloyd Quartet, who unquestionably influenced the Dead's musical direction.
Page 127, top; more on the Charles Lloyd Quartet:
Lloyd's background was in Memphis blues and R&B originally. When he moved to Southern California in the mid-'50s and turned toward jazz, he was influenced by tenor giants like Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, as well as Ornette Coleman, who was a friend in Los Angeles. Lloyd paid his dues playing in bands led by Chico Hamilton, Gerald Wilson and Cannonball Adderly before leading his own groups in 1965, he worked extensively in a trio with Ron Carter and Tony Williams, of Miles Davis' incredible Quintet, and the following year he formed a quartet with the gifted pianist Keith Jarrett, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Cecil McBee. Around that time, too, Lloyd discovered psychedelics, even tripping with Timothy Leary at Millbrook.
"I was always a spiritual seeker, and for me [tripping] always had that connotation," Lloyd says "Acid opened up a lot for me. Inhibitions went away and I was able to make some great progress. However, when I look back I wonder about the price of some that. There were a lot of periods where my functioning was questionable."
Lloyd blended easily in the San Francisco counterculture, so it was natural that he should cross paths with the Grateful Dead family. "The Dead were very sweet to me always," he says. "They gave me great dope and there was always a very loving vibe. I always got along great with Jerry, Phil, Bobby and Danny Rifkin and Rock Scully. They were kindred souls."
Lloyd's band was one of the first jazz groups to be invited to play the Fillmore "and the people went berserk," Lloyd says. "We opened for Muddy Waters and we came out and did our thing and they wouldn't let us off the stage. Someone said, 'OK, it's clear to me who you are you're the Lester Young of the acid generation.' From there, Graham saw that jazz could move these crowds. After I played the Fillmore that time, Graham booked me a lot there." The Quartet also worked for Chet Helms at the Avalon Ballroom and at other dances around town.
"That was a really special time," Lloyd says of the mid- and late '60s. "The lines of demarcation fell away and you could hear my music and Ravi Shankar and the Dead and Hendrix on the radio. I think America really gained a lot from all this good feeling and good music coming together the way it did in the '60s. There was a real utopian vision and a sense of brotherhood that was for real; it was not bullshit. What I loved about all those San Francisco bands is that, initially at least, before the business stuff started to come in, they were trying to keep the music pure and not be owned by the corporate structure. They fought to maintain their sovereignty. There was an integrity and a belief in the higher good, and the Dead were definitely part of that.
"Garcia and I talked about recording together," Lloyd says. "Something was beginning to happen. It would have been my group enhanced by him and some other musicians who had a similar creative bent. Jack Casady wanted to play with me; he was very open. What Jerry and I planned to do was go in the studio and let people come and visit and just make music; just for the love of the music."
On the KMPX show, Garcia noted that the Dead's managers were trying to work out some way for the Dead and Lloyd to work together more, but nothing concrete ever materialized from the association; both groups were very busy and on different career tracks. Still, Lloyd left his mark on the group in subtle ways.
Page 127, middle: Mountain Girl's guided tour of 710 Ashbury:
"You come in the front door and on your left is the dining room/front parlor with big sliding doors that are open, so it's two rooms made into one. There are beautiful stained glass borders on these bay windows that look out into the street. In that room is Weir's bed and a big green, fold-out lounge chair that Bob Matthews lived in. There was another set of sliding doors at the end and that led into Pigpen's dark little room. He had another door going in there from the kitchen. The dining room had a big table and that's where a lot of the business got done, and a lot of the interviews were done there. The kitchen was straight back, and the staircase went up to the right. On the upper floor was Rock's room, which had a few stairs going out onto a little gravel-roof deck over the kitchen, and there was Jerry's room, which was the one you see in the pictures with the American flag on the wall. So I moved in Jerry's room there. And then there was the front room, with a beautiful old Victorian fireplace and old curtains that were falling apart, and really ancient rugs on the floor that were crumbling but you could still faintly see these gorgeous designs on them. Danny lived in the basement apartment with Laird, and sometimes Laird lived in the attic."
Page 129, bottom; more on the Dead in New York:
The gritty side of the New York music scene was epitomized by the Velvet Underground, the trashy but thoroughly compelling garage band whose main benefactor was artist/filmmaker Andy Warhol. Like the Dead, the Velvets sometimes indulged in songs with long instrumental sections, and their performances were often accompanied by a light show (called The Exploding Plastic Inevitable), but that's where the similarities ended: the Velvets' vision of the world was relentlessly bleak, colored by the Fellini-esque environment surrounding Warhol, and the drugs of choice in the scene mainly amphetamines and heroin. VU leaders Lou Reed and John Cale were openly contemptuous of the San Francisco bands, and West Coast hippies in general, and, conversely, when Reed and company came to San Francisco they were coolly received.
"It's just tedious," Reed said of California rockers. "They can't play and they certainly can't write. ... Frank Zappa is the most untalented bore who ever lived. You know, people like Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, all those people are the most untalented bores that ever came up." He further mocked the groups because "the West Coast bands were into soft drugs and we were into hard drugs." (Strangely enough, the original name of the Velvet Underground had been The Warlocks!)
It's interesting that Reed lumped Mothers of Invention leader Frank Zappa in with the Dead, because Zappa, too, scorned the San Francisco bands and scene, and he was always virulently anti-drug, even though his music a bizarre m้lange of jazz, lowbrow '50s pop, modern classical and electronic forms stitched together with satirical and sometimes scatological lyrics always appealed to "heads." Zappa derided people at the Fillmore "lying around in a blue haze," and in late '67 he and the Mothers crafted a funny, acerbic album called We're Only in It for the Money, which mercilessly mocked the Haight-Ashbury scene as well as one of the era's other sacred cows, The Beatles' landmark Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band
album, which came out June 1, 1967.
As fate would have it, the Mothers were playing upstairs at the Cafe Au Go Go in New York when the Dead played their first paying gigs on that initial Manhattan trip. "That place was really strange," says Laird Grant. "You're jammed into this brick, low-ceilinged tube this room where they served ice cream and everyone was sitting down instead of dancing like we were used to. That was a weird trip. The Mothers of Invention were playing upstairs and The Fugs were playing down the block. One time I went upstairs to check out the Mothers and I opened the [side stage] door and here's Zappa with half a watermelon on his head, the stage is covered with fruit and vegetable matter and they were wailin'. I couldn't believe it."
"We hated the Cafe Au Go-Go," adds Mountain Girl. "It was all painted black inside and it smelled really bad. The ceiling was about 7-feet high; you could reach up and touch it. It seemed like we'd come a long way for such a small gig. The stage was tiny and all the equipment had to be wedged in there."