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Friday, July 23, 2010

GASB/GAMB: mid-June 1974

update 20140907: June 12 was Lion's Share, June 13-14 was Keystone Berkeley. This post mostly deals with stuff that has been clarified by Elwood (1974), but there's still some good analysis of things other than date/venue in the old text /update

The Great American String/Music Band is one of my favorite Garcia-involved aggregations. It was short-lived by almost any measure, but especially insofar as Garcia’s involvement was concerned. By the latter yardstick, it lasted barely three months. It is still shrouded in some degree of mystery, even regarding fundamentals such as the precise name at various points in time. I have read and thought a lot about that issue, but it’s too convoluted (and still too unclear) for me to post about here – that’ll be a future post. It was a watershed group (along with closely-related Muleskinner) in terms of David Grisman’s musical development, representing, gross modo, the pivot that would turn him decisively toward “Dawg Music” over the next several years. In that sense, I think it’s important more generally in any account of the development of various American musical forms, especially bluegrass.

So, I’ll have a lot to say about GASB/GAMB at some point. For now, putting the cart before the horse, I just want to comment on the dating of two of the shows that circulate, going under the dates of June 12-13, 1974, from the Keystone in Berkeley.

We have three tapes that circulate with these two dates:
  1. a Louis Falanga audience tape (shnid 83232) dated 6/12/74.
  2. a sbd tape (shnid 7331) dated 6/12/74.
  3. a sbd tape (shnid 13768) dated 6/13/74.

I believe that there were three shows in this time period: June 12th at the Lion’s Share in San Anselmo and June 13-14 at Keystone, Berkeley [ed: correct!]. I have no idea what the tapes actually portray. In an optimistic vein, I might conjecture that all three of these dates are represented on the tapes we have, but there's no evidence to that effect.

Let me start with the question of the tapes first.

The key to thinking we have three dates represented here, and not just two, resides in tape #2. I think this is actually two separate shows, based on the following:
  1. "Swing ’42" appears twice, once in each “set” that is identified.
  2. There is an emcee introduction before “set II” saying “Welcome back to the Great American String Band.” This sounds more like a separate show than a return from an intermission, but of course this is not entirely clear. (As an aside, Greene introduces the band as Great American *Music* Band before “set I” on this tape, while the emcee says *String*. But, again, the naming issue is too opaque to get into here.)

These could, of course, be early and late shows from the same date. However, I am not aware of any other early/late billings at either the Lion’s Share or the Keystone Berkeley around this time, so I am inclined to think these are two separate dates. Tapes #s 1 and 3 are the same show, but whatever its date this show is distinct from the two shows I think are present on tape #2. In brief, I think we have three distinct shows represented on these tapes: the one identified as set I of 6/12/74 on the sbd tape; the one identified as set II of 6/12/74 on the sbd tape; and the one that is available to us through both an aud copy and a sbd copy, respectively dated 6/12 and 6/13/74.

In my current state of thinking, I imagine that one of these sets is from the Lion’s Share on June 12, and one each is from the Keystone on June 13 and 14, respectively. I wouldn’t hazard which might be which, and this particular attribute goes way beyond what the evidence rightfully allows.

Why do I say that there was a Lion’s Share (not Keystone) show on 6/12, and a Keystone show on 6/14?

1) 6/12/74: Lion’s Share, San Anselmo
  • I don’t know what the Keystone Berkeley’s Wednesday night booking policy was around this time, but I note that there is no KB item in the Berkeley Barb’s Scenedrome section (June 7-13, 1974, p. 24) for this date. Similarly, the Hayward Daily Review’s calendar from June 7th shows nothing, though I should note that it only seems to cover through June 9th. Insofar as these illuminate, they cut against a Keystone Berkeley gig for GASB on this date.
  • The Hayward Daily Review calendar from June 7th covers the Share’s bookings from the 7th through the 16th, but the 12th and the 13th show no listing. This cuts against GASB being at the Lion’s Share on this date.
  • However, Richard Greene’s 1974 datebook shows him at the Lion’s Share in San Anselmo on this night. While it’s not 100% clear that this was GASB, it seems very likely. Since most of the other evidence is of the dog that doesn’t bark variety, and since Greene’s datebooks strike me as very reliable, I am willing to go with this as the sovereign datum at this point in time.
  • update: Elwood 1974 confirms 6/12/74 at the Share.

2) 6/13/74: Keystone, Berkeley
  • There is an ad in the June 9th Oakland Tribune for Great American String Band shows on 6/13-14 (see right). Note that Garcia is featured and that Kahn is listed, though as far as I know Kahn didn’t play bass with the GASB. (That, in itself, is interesting, given the GASB’s genetic connection to Muleskinner and Maria Muldaur’s band, both of which would have cut toward Kahn being involved.)
  • There is also an ad in the same Barb cited above, which showed nothing for 6/12, providing a listing for 6/13.
  • Elwood 1974 confirms. He was in attendance. He also confirms the Good Old Boys and gives personnel.
3) 6/14/74: Keystone, Berkeley
  • point 2, first bullet, also supports this date.
  • There is a calendar item in the Fremont Argus (June 14, 1974, p. 9) for this date.

In sum, regarding the mid-June 1974 GASB/GAMB gigs:
  • despite what appears to be lots of confused and conflicting information on the tapes, I think we have evidence for three separate shows’ worth of music;
  • despite what’s on the tape labels, I think there were shows at the Lion’s Share on 6/12 and at Keystone Berkeley on 6/13-14.
update: yes, this last line is correct: "there were shows at the Lion’s Share on 6/12 and at Keystone Berkeley on 6/13-14."


  1. Excellent reasoning. I am aware of occasional early/late shows at both the Lions Share and Keystone, but they were exceptional. Also, I think the Keystone preferred that people come early and hang out between sets and buy beer (really, I'm not snarking--that was their business model). Turning the house over cut down on bar sales.

    The Keystone Berkeley was generally open every night in those days. However, in order to know who was actually playing you had to look at the monthly calendar, which was plastered on every telephone pole in Berkeley. The ads in the paper only featured "interesting" higher profile acts. Random weeknights always featured the likes of The Rubinoos, Pyscotic Pineapple or Lucky Strike (heh). I think some nights they just sold beer, but I was too young.

    One of the reasons Garcia could drop in on short notice at Keystone Berkeley on weeknights is that local heroes could be re-booked or just open for Garcia.

  2. There is surprisingly little actually written about the Great American String/Music Band, and most of it just repeats unconfirmed details that can't be proven or disproven.

    One thing that has bothered me over the years was the identity of the bass player. Who was "Flame Bombadine?" Given the quality of the band members, I can't believe that they would play with some casual chump on bass. It doesn't mean that Flame is some star, just that he had to be a player--possibly John Kahn?

    Also, there's a show (Pilgrimage Theater, maybe) where the bassist is supposedly Taj Mahal. Really? Taj? Thousands of shows, dozens of albums, and he only plays bass at one show with Jerry Garcia and David Grisman?

    Now Taj is a fine musician, and I'll bet he can fake it OK on bass for a song or two, so maybe he participated, but I've never found the idea that he was the bassist remotely convincing. Do we even know where the idea that "Flame Bombadine" and "Taj Mahal" played bass with GASB even came from ? Somebody played bass, and it was somebody who could play, and for that matter it was somebody who could play upright (acoustic) bass, a physically more challenging instrument than electric. It had to be a player, and at this point my money's on Kahn.

    There's a lot more interesting work to do with this. Was there ever a photo of the band?

  3. No photos that I know of. Especially vexing since you figure that at least at 5/25/74 (UC Santa Barbara) there were lots of cameras at the outdoor stadium show on a beautiful spring day.

    The histories of the name are really confused. I have gathered lots of material with which to sort it out, but this may be one of those cases where I am looking for something sensible (probably linear) and the reality just might have been a muddle. Sometimes I need to learn to live with that when that's apparently what it was really like.

    Flame Bombadine: I believe that is Buell Neidlinger. I believe that this is an echo of the Old & In The Way practice of giving weird nicknames (Dawg, Spudboy, etc.). At some point that was the conclusion I reached, but now I can't be sure why.

    Taj Mahal absolutely played bass with the GAS/MB several times, at least 4/20/74 (Pilgrimage Theater, LA) and 5/7/74 (w/o Garcia, Ebbets Field, Denver). He sings at the former (maybe the latter), and there are band introductions and everything. Strange, but true. I think Richard Greene knew him from the Ash Grove years before and that's how he got involved.

    But boy, this conversation really reinforces for how that I need to do some GASB posting.

    I should have a tag for "potential posts" so I remind myself. Maybe I'll go do that now.

  4. I am now listening to Robert Castelli's recordings of these shows. During both the Good Old Boys set and the GASB sets someone in each of the bands asks who was there last night. The clearly establishes that there were shows in the same venue on consecutive nights (which jgmf has already established). I now need to compare Castelli's recording to the current circulating ones to see if I can figure out how the dates align. There is a lot of chatter in between songs so this shouldn't be difficult. The only issue is that none of the recordings are definitely dated.

    I do agree that there are at least 3 different versions of Swing '42 which indicates at least 3 shows although 2 could have been part of an early and late set.

  5. Thanks, David. I'd of course be willing to help do some sleuthing through the recordings before the MOTB is finalized, or can wait until after!

    Yeah, I am considering early/late as separate shows when I count up how many shows there might have been.

    Very excited to hear that the GOB sets are there. Looking forward to hearing them, too! It would be obvious for Garcia to have sat in (he sat in with Frank Wakefield on 4/28/74 at the GSCBF, and there have always been notions of Jerry playing with them, but no hard dates). I don't know when the recording sessions for the GOB record (which JG produced) began; this sounds a little early. But clearly the connections are strong and the possibility (though not the certainty, I recognize) is there.

  6. I don't think garcia sat in during the GOB sets. Nelson and Wakefield introduce a banjo player during a couple of the sets. He does say that he is new to the band so I have to see if garcia could have played on the 12th.

  7. Frank Wakefield claims he played with Garcia and Nelson at least five times as a bluegrass trio. Jim Moss (who played a lot with Wakefield) says he has heard a tape. The interview is here

    Of course, Wakefield also says he never knew Jerry's last name, and that when he played with him, he thought the clubs were sold out because everyone was there to see Frank Wakefield. Good story--not convincing.

    I saw the New Riders open for the Dead and the Beach Boys at Oakland Stadium on June 8, 1974, and Frank Wakefield came out and played "Teardrops In My Eyes" with the Riders. I guess Frank forgot the Dead's lead guitar player.

    Oh well--nothing to get in the way of a good tale. Jerry had just shaved off his beard, so perhaps Frank didn't recognize him later? Sure, that's the story.

    Anyway, it does seem like Garcia played with Wakefield and Nelson. McNally had an obscure listing at a Santa Cruz place called Margareta's (that I've never heard of) on Feb 20-21, 1975.


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