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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Where were the NRPS in late 1969 - early 1970?

Light Into Ashes notes the following about the April 17-18, 1970 NRPS billing:

these were the first known shows Garcia had played with NRPS since November '69

The Jerry Site does list shows on March 13 and March 14, while the NRPS concert history lists 2/7/70. I need to investigate those dates further.

Still, LIA's observation is one worth emphasizing: there is no known (to me!) NRPS activity during December 1969 or January 1970, and at most sporadic activity through March 1970.

I find this puzzling, so I'll pose the question: where were those guys and what were they doing? Did the GD's studio work crowd out or swallow up everyone's efforts? Were the GD working on their acoustic sets, leaving less time for Jerry to work on pedal steel (which is a variant of the same question)? Were the New Riders gigging without Jerry, but I have just failed to note it (entirely possible)? Something else?

I'd love to hear thoughts or to get some info on the whereabouts of Marmaduke and Nelson during this timeframe.


  1. Well, you're anticipating one of my future research projects, but I may as well post the abstract here.

    The short answer is that I think its about finding a replacement for Phil Lesh. I think Phil agreed to play bass for a while, and then lost interest or reached the limits of his commitment (eg he told Jerry he would do it for six months, or something like that).

    All the stories about finding a bass player for the New Riders make considerably more sense if you think about them as taking place in Winter 1970 instead of Summer 69. I think Phil agreed to get the show on the road--an unrehearsed Phil is better than most bassists, period--but it wasn't his thing. Have you ever heard a word of nostalgia or regret from Phil for passing off the Riders?

    The whole saga about Hunter writing "Friend Of The Devil" with Dawson took place in Winter 1970. Hunter even said (somewhere I can't access quickly) that he rehearsed with them but never played a gig, and he suspected Nelson was planning to get Torbert in anyway. And yet, they were playing no gigs at the time.

    So here's my ratiocinatio about the New Riders circa Winter 1970:

    Garcia, Nelson and Dawson took their concept out in the clubs in late 1969, to see if it was viable. Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh came along for the ride, essentially as a favor to Jerry and for general fun.

    In early 1970, Garcia decided he was serious about the Riders concept. Lesh played out his option--he was never a nightclub guy anyway. Hart stuck around. That meant they had to find a real bass player. Do you think Garcia and Nelson didn't talk about it?

    The Riders started writing and rehearsing new songs. Hunter was their ghost bass player. They must have strung him along in some ways, without quite lying to him.

    You have to trust me on this, but Dave Torbert wasn't really available in late '69, but he was in Spring 70. Nelson (his former bandmate in New Delhi River Band) got ahold of him, and he took over the bass chair.

    The March 13-14, 1970 show at New Orleans House was Torbert's debut (I have yet to prove that--this is my research project). There were probably other very low profile gigs in March.

    The sole basis for the assumption of a Feb 7, 1970 Fillmore West NRPS performance is a fragmented tape that has John Dawson singing "Together Again." If this was part of the Dead set, and featured Dawson, Garcia, Weir, Lesh and Hart, it was--in a sense--the New Riders, but it may have only been for one song.

    Some people--myself included--used to think that the song was indicative of a longer NRPS set, but now I think the opposite. They brought Marmaduke out for a song, because he was still "on the team" but there wasn't any NRPS set per se.

  2. We used to think that the New Riders only played occasionally from Summer 1969 until April 1970. We have now discovered, however, that the New Riders were working pretty steadily from August through November.

    The steady 5-month run is why I think the band was actually called to a halt, temporarily, and since Phil Lesh was the only member who didn't continue, his replacement seems like the biggest issue.

  3. I should add that if Hunter rehearsed with the New Riders as bassist, and then found out he was fired/not hired, that would be consistent with Jerry's sheepish conflict avoidance with Merl Saunders, Bill Kreutzmann and every other side band member who didn't fit his current needs.

    The irony of course is that if NRPS had kept the prolific Hunter around, even as backup vocalist/acoustic guitarist, or whatever, who knows what great songs Nelson and he might have written... sic transit gloria Bakersfield

  4. In addition to Hunter, Bob Matthews apparently played bass at a few NRPS gigs, although it is unclear whether it was before or after Lesh. He seems accessible, so this could probably be determined.

    Another reason for the lack of NRPS shows in late 1969-early 70 may have related to Lenny Hart's embezzlement. It is clear from Sam Cutler's autobiography (You Can't Always Get What You Want - highly recommended if you haven't read it) that the Dead developed a strategy to tour as much as they could during this interval, both to raise capital and to build markets, notably on the eastern seaboard. Thus the time Garcia would have had for extracurricular activities, including the NRPS, was probably limited.

    Finally, I was fortunate enough to go to two of the 2/70 Fillmore West shows (2/5 and the first part of 2/8), and Garcia's pedal steel was onstage all weekend, and he clearly played it after I left on the 8th. However, I am dubious that the NRPS played any entire sets that weekend, although 2/7 remains the most mysterious of the weekend's shows. If there is a Dawson performance of Together Again from that show, it is news to me - it's not on the circulating SB or AUD.

  5. Amazing comments as always ... thanks!

    Corry, can you please elaborate on conflict-avoidance re Kreutzmann? I have a sense of the Saunders story, agree that the sub-text of the way Hunter talks about NRPS is that he probably felt a little cast aside, but don't know any Kreutzmann angle on this.

    Your theory about the pause to get Torbert in is fascinating and strikes me as plausible.

    Michael, I had forgotten about the pedal steel in the GD sets at these shows. That is interesting.

    Corry, I have never seen this 2/7/70 "Together Again" tape, but would like to hear it ... ;-)

  6. Well, I will sheepishly concede that it has been a long time since I looked what was supposed to be on the February Fillmore West tapes. I do have an idea that there was a Dawson-sung version of "Together Again" but it was probably a spurious add-on.

    Nonetheless, notwithstanding my own lamitude, my general points still remain intact:

    Hunter's tale of the writing of "Friend Of The Devil" suggest that NRPS still existed, if only in the greater Kentfield Metropolitan Area

    There were no true NRPS shows prior to March 1970, even if Hunter and/or Nelson occasionally appeared in some form on stage with the Dead

    There was no true bass player, as Lesh had stepped down and Hunter and Matthews were never fully acclimatized

  7. Somewhere, in a document that I cannot find readily on paper or online, John Kahn discusses the departure of Merl Saunders and Martin Fierro from the JGB/Legion Of Mary. He ruefully says that it had been Garcia's "turn" to tell the bad news to Merl and Martin, since it was only fair after he had been the one to break the news to Kreutzmann (of course Jerry didnt).

    I took this to mean that in about 1973 or so, Kreutzmann had thought he was "replacing" Bill Vitt, when in fact there were plans to get Ron Tutt (and later Paul Humphrey). Remember also that in this period the cash that Billy K would have gotten for drumming at a Keystone gig would have been welcome.

    Since I saw Kreutzmann sit in with the JGB various times, I presume it was all water under the bridge, but it was a telling remark by Kahn (assuming I didn't completely imagine it of course).

  8. I posted the speculation on Corry's blog that perhaps the NRPS disbanded after Nov '69, for unknown reasons; and didn't spark to life again until someone decided to bring them along on the May '70 Dead tour.
    It appears those March '70 dates are now in dispute, so that could make a full 5 months of non-performance!

    I don't find the idea that they were waiting for Torbert during the hiatus very compelling. (Were there no bass players in California?) Bob Matthews, I believe was the first NRPS bass player, for a very brief period in '69 before Lesh signed on. I think Hunter said somewhere that his rehearsal with them lasted all of 20 minutes! (Not sure when that would have been.)
    At any rate, it seems unlikely Torbert would have been brought onboard with the idea of making an album, since they didn't start recording until December '70 (and weren't even on a label until '71).

    Garcia did play pedal-steel at the 2/5 and 2/7/70 shows (while ignoring it on 2/6 and 2/8). I find the idea of an NRPS show on 2/7 pretty unlikely. (Taj Mahal and Bigfoot were the openers for those shows.) But it is possible Dawson joined them for a song, or a few, before our 2/7 tape starts.
    I think after 1/31, the Dead had the idea of going back to acoustic/pedal-steel sections in the shows, as they'd done in summer '69, but weren't yet sure of the format. The pedal steel bit the dust pretty quickly, but by the Fillmore East shows they introduced the mid-show acoustic interlude.


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