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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Jerry with Merl and/or Martin, ca. 1974, The Sand Dunes

We know that Jerry Garcia was playing around outside the GD to a varying, but always non-zero, extent throughout the career of his most famous band. We have a sense that this was happening more, and more loosely, in the early days (at least pre-1976) and less, and in a more routinized/institutionalized way after that. How much this was happening in the "early days" is probably impossible to fathom, because by definition the less institutionalized stuff leaves less of a footprint (tapes, advertisements, etc.) than the more so. Measurement is harder, and the data are biased against the real loose stuff. We are left with some stories, a vague sense, but little else.

I don't want to go into more detail about all that here, but I want to report on a few tantalizing tidbits I found in the Oakland Tribune in 1974. A first reads as follows (1):

The Merl Saunders Band, which featured Jerry Garcia on guitar and Martin Fierro on sax on alternating weeks at the Sand Dunes in San Francisco, has changed its name to Aunt Monk featuring Saunders and Fierro with equal billing. Mondays at the Sand Dunes.

A second article discussing the Sand Dunes (2) at slightly greater length also notes that "Merl Saunders and Martin Fierro play Monday nights when not with Jerry Garcia, and Garcia has shown up on some Mondays, too."


It certainly sounds plausible. We know that 1974 was a busy year for Jerry playing around (TJS has 119 entries for the year). We know that Merl had regular non-Jerry gigs as the house performer around this time (as, apparently, at the Generosity in 1975), at which Jerry would sometimes drop in (as, apparently, at the Generosity on Feb. 14, 1975 and May 9, 1975). As the information below will show, Jerry had almost every Monday night in 1974 free as far as is known to me: 27 free and not known to be outside Bay Area, 12 booked and/or out of town. So what's to stop him?

Regarding the venue, based on another mention from earlier in the year (3), it seems that the Sand Dunes was at 46th and Taraval. Here is a regular Google map of the location:

View Larger Map

Here is a street view:

View Larger Map

Hard for me to tell on this basis where the bar might have been. I am intrigued by the idea that it might be 3639 Taraval, apparently a watering hole now called The Riptide ("On the edge of the Western world"). It's not the corner of 46th and Taraval, but it's less than a block away and may have been the obviously intended location at the time, who knows.

[update: in comments, Yellow Shark has confirmed the address as 3599 Taraval St, San Francisco, CA 94116]

Anyway, below is a list of the Mondays in 1974 up until the October 6th article. I have provided info where there seems to be a conflict. That leaves lots of open dates, about which we are of course very unlikely ever to know anything. BTW, the dates with (*) probably warrant some explanation (i.e., a further post), and I do think I'll get to the 7/22 one at some point, but not now.

19740422 - JG probably in LA*
19740513 - GD between Reno and Missoula
19740520 - GD between Portland and Seattle
19740617 - GD between Des Moines and Louisville
19740624 - GD between Miami and Providence
19740701 - JG probably in NYC
19740722 - JGMS at Keystone, Berkeley*
19740729 - GD in Landover
19740805 - GD in Philly
19740902 - JGMS gig in Marx Meadow, Golden Gate Park
19740909 - GD in London
19740916 - GD presumably still in Europe


- (1) "Rap-Up's Wrap Up," Oakland Tribune, August 25, 1974, p. 2-RAP.
- (2) Art George, "The State of the Small Club," Oakland Tribune, October 6, 1974, p. 4-RAP.
- (3) "Rap Up's Wrap Up," Oakland Tribune, July 21, 1974, p. 2-RAP.


  1. I am boggled by all of this, but it actually fits in with many other patterns. The original Garcia-Saunders pairing came from Monday nights at the Matrix, so its a nice reprise.

  2. wrt to the address, everybody who lives or hangs out in the Sunset navigates by intersection, since the Avenues are numbered and the Streets are alphabetical. Thus the intersection would have been far more important than the address.

    Based on the current Streetcar map, I suspect 46th and Taraval was the terminus of the L Taraval line (it certainly is so today). As such, 46th and Taraval would have been a relative landmark.

  3. ok, well, the L Taraval doesn't end at 46th but in fact turns South to the Zoo. But the point's the same, it was a known intersection.

  4. The Sand Dunes was at 3599 Taraval.

    The building was certainly a bar from when it was first opened in 1946. There is an account of a waitress (Mrs Laura Flagg) from the bar (which is only referred to as the "corner bar") being shot by an ex-mate in the July 23, 1947 Oakland Tribune. The first explicit usage of the name "Sand Dunes" I have found in in an advertisement in the Oakland Tribune of October 17, 1954.

    August 15, 1959 saw the Oakland Tribune report a bookmaker bust. This was actually related to an office above what was then being described as a restaurant.

    The 1970s saw a jazz based weekend performance schedule advertised in the Hayward Daily Review.

    By late 1974, the adverts for the Sand Dunes in the Hayward Daily Review dry up - noting that I could not find any additional Aunt Monk shows there. Oddly enough, Aunt Monk shows are patchy to say the least (I found only one in 1975, half a dozen in 1976 and one slightly odd one in 1977 - advert is en route.

    Copies of the mentioned articles are en route via electronic mail.

  5. From a reference I found elsewhere (by googling the "3599 traval" address I found a reference that the bar was on the SE corner - which makes it the windowless building to the right in the Google Streetview pane.

  6. I wonder who the drummer was for Aunt Monk in 1974? When the album was recorded in Fall 75 (post Jerry), Chris Hayes was the guitarist and Tony Saunders the bassist--I infer that Larry Van was the drummer. Both Paul Humphrey and Ron Tutt did not live in San Francisco, and wouldn't have been available for a casual Monday night gig.

    Chris Hayes (b. 1957) would probably still have been in high school in 1974, and I'm not sure how old Tony Saunders was then either. Neither of them may have been playing 1974 Monday night gigs, at least not regularly. In either case, it begs the question of who the drummer might have been, whether Larry Van, Bill Vitt or someone else.

    The one time I saw Aunt Monk was Spring 1976, at a free noontime concert in Lower Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley. I believe it was promoting the new Fantasy album, and probably a Keystone gig that night. Our expectations were low, without Jerry, but in fact Aunt Monk was great. The lineup was Merl, Martin, Chris Hayes on guitar and Bill Vitt on drums. Merl covered the bass part admirably with his feet.

    Aunt Monk played songs like You Can Leave Your Hat On and Favela. Hayes was a fine guitarist, more of a funky jazz rhythm player than a soloist (he went on to help found Huey Lewis and The News). Many decades later I met Bill Vitt at a Sonoma winery (he worked there), and he recalled the gig. He said Merl called him the day before, and it was kind of a one-off.

    If Garcia was going to sit in with Merl at the Sand Dunes, even occasionally, the drummer couldn't have been a chump. Given Merl's facility with the bass pedals, the group may often have just been a traditional sax/Hammond/drums trio.

  7. Thanks, gentlemen!

    I intend to ask Tony Saunders about this stuff.

    Yeah, Aunt Monk was quite fabulous, IMO. There's one tape circulating from '76 from the east coast, that I know of.

    Drummer at Sand Dunes wasn't Bill Vitt, he confirms. BTW, it could also have been Kreutzmann, let's not forget.

  8. That building on the SE corner is a church of some sort these days. I always wondered what it used to be. I walked by last weekend when I was staying with my brother who lives a block away. There's even an old marquee on the building still. My bro's actually on tour as we speak playing with the Rhythm Devils. I'll have him ask Bill and see if he remembers anything.

  9. JGMF, here's some info on the Riptide.

    04/26/10 - posted by Woody LaBounty -

    Hi all,

    We're doing some research on the building at 3639 Taraval Street, now the Riptide Bar, just west of 46th Avenue where the streetcar turns.

    Built in 1941, the building has two original storefronts (now combined into one business) and some remember half as the bar called the "Oar House" and the other side as a bait shop called "The Master Bait Shop." (No jokes please.)

    Any memories, photos, trivia, or other items of interest about either of these businesses or intervening establishments at 3639 Taraval? Any leads will be appreciated.


  10. "San Francisco's Riptide Bar Burns,"


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