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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders, Ash Grove, May 1973

There has been a lot of confusion over the years about the Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders shows played at the Ash Grove (8162 Melrose Avenue, Santa Monica, CA) in May of 1973. The Jerry Site has listed a pair of shows (early/late) on 5/23 and a pair of shows (early/late) on 5/30.

I believe there were two shows on 5/29, two shows on 5/30, and none on 5/23. I’ll make the case in this post.

Evidence for 5/23: questionable

What evidence is there for a 5/23 dating? As far as I can tell, there is only the Jerry Site’s listing and a 69-minute audience recording with the following:

MAR (Taped by Night Crew, Sony ECM-22Ps > Sony 770) > 2R > playback on Akai GX-4000D > ART DI/O > Egosys Waverterminal 2496 > HHb 800 master CD > one or two CD gens > HP 9350i extraction using EAC (v0.9 beta 4) > tracking using CD Wave (v1.6) > sector boundary verification using shntool (v1.01) > .shn encoding using mkwACT (v0.97 beta 1). A > D by David Minches, CD > SHN by jjoops.

Single Disc (6 tracks, 69:12)
1. //It Takes a Lot to Laugh It Takes a Train to Cry [7:30#] [1:07]
2. Expressway [11:33] [1:45]
3. Money Honey [6:21] [2:18]
4. Little Bit// of Righteousness [18:39#] [1:52]
5. Like a Road [10:33] [0:15]
6. That's Alright Mama [6:53] [0:23]
d1t01 Train to Cry cuts in, not much missing
d1t04 LBOR brief cut/splice @ 17:29

So, what about this tape? Harvey Kaslow (one of the “Night Crew” tapers, with Craig Todd, Rob Bertrando, and others) says that he did not tape this. In email correspondence, Rob Bertrando says “I would guess Bruce Harvey taped it, and I thought the date was 5/30/73.”

I have found no other evidence for a 5/23 show except this tape, around the date of which there is lots of doubt. By contrast, there is strong evidence that there were two nights of two shows each, *and* that these took place on 5/29 and 5/30/73. I’ll make that case now.

Evidence for 5/29 and 5/30

First, Hillburn (1973) makes this mention: “on the way [at the Ash Grove]: Merl Saunders (with Jerry Garcia, May 29-30)”.

Second, Davis (1973), writing in the first week of June 1973, writes the following: "Merle [sic] Saunders, Jerry Garcia, John Kahn and Bill Vitt flew down from San Francisco last week and played two mid-week nights at the Ash Grove to full houses." The "last week" obviously implies the last week of May, and the language can also be read to imply back-to-back nights. (May 29th-30th were Tuesday-Wednesday, by the way.)

Third, most importantly, Merl Saunders, Jr. supplied me with a handbill for the gigs, show dates of 5/29 and 5/30. (Note, too, that George Tickner, later to play with Journey, is listed here.)

Perhaps not QED, but pretty darn close, IMO. I consider the case for 5/29 and 5/30 shows, with no show on 5/23, very near to closed.

There are two remaining issues to clear up, having to do with early/late shows and with the songs played.

Evidence for early and late shows

Bill Greenspan, who was actively seeing Garcia-related shows in the LA-Santa Barbara area around this time, has said that on 5/30 there were not two shows, but a single show with intermission. The evidence does not support this, suggesting instead that there were separately ticketed early and late shows on both nights.

First, McGuinn (1973) alludes to "two evenings of four completely sold-out performances". This implies separately ticketed early and late shows.

Second, Davis (1973) notes that after playing a set, “the informal band without a name sat around waiting for one crowd to file out and another to get seated”.

In short, there is pretty strong evidence for early/late shows on two nights (four shows total).

Songs Played

Regarding the songs played, unless more tape turns up it's unlikely that we'll learn much more than what we know. Davis (1973) mentions Train to Cry, Expressway, Money Honey, and “That’s Allright”, all of which are on the tape (assuming the latter is That’s Alright Mama). He also mentions After Midnight. McGuinn (1973) mentions After Midnight, Money Honey, That’s Alright Mama, and Dixie Down.

The only new information here, relative to what we know based on the tape, is that they played "After Midnight". We should probably enter this at the Jerry Site, along with the other tunes represented on the tape that are currently listed as the 5/23/73 late show. I am uncertain whether to change this to 5/29 or 5/30, though ...

Regarding track 4 of the circulating recording, Alan Bershaw had identified it as a jam on Blind Willie Johnson's "I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes", which is how we knew it for some years. But I have verified that it is Merl's "Little Bit of Righteousness."

One other thought about setlist. It's either just dumb luck that the tape we have is of the show that these authors caught and wrote about, or Jerry and Merl were playing more or less the same set (or least sets with the same standards what would be recognizable to the reviewers). I don't have much to add.

  1. Davis, Randall. 1973. Musical Notes. Arcadia Tribune, June 7, 1973, p. 13.
  2. Hilburn, Robert. 1973. Rock ‘$’ Rollers … to Coin a Phrase. New York Times, May 19, 1973, p. B7.
  3. McGuinn, Jim. 1973. Garcia and Saunders. door 5, 1 (June 14-19), p. 14.


  1. Joe

    I find your argument quite convincing. Its completely implausible that Jerry and Merl flew down to Los Angeles for a show at the tiny Ash Grove, came home, and flew back the next week. Unscheduled, unadvertised shows are were least plausible in San Anselmo, Berkeley or Cotati (though there were far fewer than is generally presumed), but I don't see it happening at the Ash Grove.

    Furthermore, it seems quite plausible that a tape labeled "5/29-30/73 Ash Grove" turned into "5/23/73 Ash Grove." The common reason given for this is "spurious electrical activity.

    Any idea what the George Tickner connection might have been? A nascent form of Journey existed around this time (as The Golden Gate Rhythm Section), and Tickner had been playing around the Bay Area since 1967, but I'm not aware of him having worked with Garcia, Saunders or Kahn in another configuration. Tickner was in the 1967 version of Frumious Bandersnatch and a 1968-ish group called Faun--then I think he went to college for a while.

  2. Tickner is believed/known to have sat in with Garcia/Saunders at the Boarding House on 4/13/73 and 4/14/73, based on tape boxes of non-circulating Betty reels. This info is at The Jerry Site. No other dates are known, though now I want to listen to the Ash Grove show again to see if there's a second guitarist. This would presumably have been right around the time that Tom Fogerty stopped, FWIW. Haven't quite pinned that down, either.

  3. Lossless Legs user Bill G relates the following in comments on a torrent of "5/23/73":

    I was lucky enough to be at this show. Sitting on old church pews in a room that held less than 300 people. In the 2nd set, Jerry & Merl pulled out "Lonely Avenue" that simply was breathtaking!

    At the end of the show, Jerry hung out at the exit chatting up all comers. My old girl friend Kitty still has his autograph on her purse she brought to the show.

  4. I am very late to this party, since I’m only just now listening to this “5/23/73” tape for the first time. But it seems worth noting that, despite being billed, George Tickner is definitely not performing here, as the Davis (1973) quote above implies. There is no 2nd guitar audible at all, and there is clearly no one else soloing besides Garcia and Saunders. Sarah Fulcher is also absent. Dunno what that implies in the scope of “informal bar band” to “proper band,” but it makes sense that an out-of-town trip would pare things down to the essentials.

    I’d also bet that, whether this is really 5/29 or 5/30, it’s the early show: the closing That’s All Right Mama is really fired up (more than you’d think for any band that had played for 3 hours) and How Sweet It Is (not played here) seems to have been a standard ‘end of night’ tune during this period. Just a guess, though.


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