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Saturday, October 16, 2010

The John Rich Question: Reply to Corry

Bravo, Corry! The John Rich Question is indeed a great mystery.See Corry's post for the details of the question. I am sure I'll have to update this post several times, but I wanted to take the second I have available to get started with a reply.

I love this mystery. I agree with Corry that it stands alongside the Tim Hensley Question as one of the most interesting puzzles of JGB-era (post-1975) GOTS. Update: It is Tim Henson, Nicky just mis-slurred his name on 10/11/75.

I also love this music. The steel really gives great depth and color to these shows, which is great since I find 1976-1977 JGB for the most part to be a bit of a snore. The shows have a wintry feel to me -- not sure why I'd describe them that way (beyond know the date, of course), but there you go. They are well worth very close listening.

I believe the source of the name is an Oakland Trib piece by Larry Kelp from 12/23/76 (1), which gives a loose, analytical review of the Wednesday, 12/22/76 show. Kelp lauds the JGB's "lower key music" (which he later artfully labels "sway music") and identifies John Rich as the "newest member" of the JGB, filling "in the sound with tasty rhythm and pedal steel guitars". It sounds like the atmosphere was joyful and intense. I haven't scrutinized this, but I assume a midweek, three-night run was quite unique and only feasible because it was right before Christmas.

There is a second guitarist on January 29, January 30, and April 9, 1977. I believe that he/she is sometimes playing rhythm and sometimes a steel guitar. Given what Kelp says, I'd bet it's "John Rich." He plays those two instruments and he seems to have been around for at least a few months, which in that world qualified for membership, I'd guess. Membership is a big deal to me, as an institutionalist. (Long back story to that ... there's an original thought there that I think is important, but it's years away from fruition.) As Corry notes, we have discussed JGB becoming a going concern around this time. I have other, really nice evidence about that that I haven't processed yet, but anyway the fact that this guy was around and characterized to the local music reporter as a "member" of the band is noteworthy.

Yet I have been able to find absolutely zilch about this guy. No-one I have spoken to (Donna, Linda Kahn, numerous others) seems to remember him. There are a few album credits that look likely, but they strike me as really obscure. (Sorry, don't have them noted yet.) He's tough to Google because of another country music-playing John Rich, of the group "Big & Rich".This can all be better researched, I know, and if no-else does it I'll get to it eventually and post an update.

Corry's guess that there's a Tutt connection seems plausible to me. Between Nashville and LA Tutt must have known an awful lot of steel players. I don't know how many would have come in and out of Elvis's orbit (I have never really listened to The King), but I assume it's a lot. If we can ever encourage Tutt to talk about this stuff, we might get to know for sure!

A few more scattershot thoughts.
  1. So, other dates when Garcia is playing with a steel player? Hmm ... an interesting challenge.
    • The Canadian Festival. I have a sit-in with Ian & Sylvia (and thus Buddy Cage playing steel) on July 3, 1970, based on Walter Keenan's analysis of the Festival Express footage.
    • Did James and the Good Brothers have a steel player? If so, the "2/27/71" sit-in should count.
    • The Scotty's Music Store Jam, date uncertain. I used to call it 5/14/70, but of course Buddy Cage wasn't around yet (they wouldn't meet until the Canadian Festival train trip). This has just come up for some discussion at the Archive. Let's say it's December 9, 1971. Totally deserving of its own post, BTW.
    • November 3, 1972, JG plays steel with NRPS @ Winterland. Not sure if Buddy is there too, or if Jerry is subbing for him.
    • 11/23/72, Doug Sahm & Friends at Armadillo World, Austin. Gotta be a steel player here, no? I can't listen to that tape because of the horrible vocal distortion and the drunkenness of the players. Does that make me a lesser person?
    • 3/18/73, I think he's there (on steel, w/ NRPS at Felt Forum) instead of Buddy, right?
    • 12/15/73 NRPS at Winterland. Also with Sandy Rothman on banjo. Why, oh why, is there no tape of this?
    • February 2, 1974 w/ NRPS at Keystone, Berkeley.
    • I'll be listening to this soon enough for my Golden State Country Bluegrass Festival (GSCBF) series, but would the Dirt Band have had a steel player on 4/28/74?
    • I'll stop there for now, maybe make a full post of it at some point.
  2. Kelp notes that the JGB's version of "Stir It Up" recalls the Wailers' version from their 1973 gigs at the Matrix in SF; anyone doubt that Jerry attended one or more of those '73 shows? He was already dabbling in reggae ("Harder They Come" was being played before October 19-20, 1973), but this would of course become a huge influence, partly defining the sound of the Melvin Seals-era JGB.
  3. The opening act on Tuesday and Wednesday was Steve Seskin, who "opened the evening with a bright set of acoustic folk and blues songs. He was aided by singer Landy Pareira and bassist-harmonica player Steve Gurr." This is confirmed by a 12/19/76 calendar listing in the Trib (2), which lists opening act for the Tuesday 12/21 show as "Stacy Raven".
  4. NB you Phil people that Tooloos played over the weekend through 12/19 (2)
  5. At the 12/21 setbreak announcement, Garcia says "We're gonna try to get ourselves together," which is probably about equipment but could be read lots of ways (e.g., in terms of quickly working up some arrangements). 
  6. My notes (which have been fragmented and disorganized for two years, after my Tapetracker stopped working) say that Rich plays steel on all but Let it Rock and Ride Mighty High on 12/22/76. He's definitely playing on Mighty High on 12/21, so I'd want to verify that he wasn't there the second night - I'd bet on close listening, he is there.
  7. An unlineaged sbd tape of 12/23/76 just surfaced. We should put an ear to it to see if there's a steel player. Update: yes, it does.
  8. This is an instance of what I tag as "JG-Host" during a period in which there would be very, very few. My thought is that Jerry's drug use clearly correlated negatively with three clearly measurable aspects (inter alia, natch) of his non-GD musical career: album credits, guest shots (sit-ins, i.e., JG-guest) and these. Assuming that "sit-in" is the correct characterization of "John Rich" being on these tapes --and if he were really understood as a member, it wouldn't be within my own, working taxonomy of these things-- these were the only ones of 1976. They mystery guitar player from early '77 is the only guest in that year. Lee Oskar (10/24/78) is the only JGB guest of 1978 that I know of. A few ladies sing-along with Reconstruction in '79. You get the point. Did you know that during the nadir of Garcia's drug use, by my reckoning, there were no JGB sit-ins between Mickey Hart at the Phoenix Theater, Petaluma, on 1/22/83 and Bonnie Raitt at the Greek Theater, Berkeley, on 8/30/87? Well ... now you do.
    Anyway, I am grateful to LLD for prompting this! Thanks, Corry!

    (1) Kelp, Larry. 1976. A Showcase for Garcia’s Styles. Oakland Tribune, December 23, 1976, p. 22.
    (2) "Bay Area Calendar," Oakland Tribune, December 19, 1976, p. E-14.


    1. These points are a great catalog of the relevant issues. I do notice that when Garcia jammed with a steel player, it was frequently Cage. Of course, Cage is a great player, but it may also have been that he was socially comfortable with him too (Jerry may have felt that older Nashville musicians weren't sympathetic to pot).

      I would find it pretty unlikely that the NGDB had a steel player, or there was a pedal steel at the Festival. Even if someone there knew how to play it (there were a lot of fine musicians) there wouldn't have been anywhere to plug it in (you wouldn't bring your Fender to the Freight and Salvage and ask, "hey, whose got a Marshall Stack?")

    2. The Dirt Band set is partly electric, including Garcia on electric guitar. So not sure plugging in would have been the issue.

      Given all of this, not sure there is any later documented instance of JG playing with a steel player than April 9, 1977.

    3. Interesting about the Dirt Band.

      I looked at the first several shows of 1977, and there is very little taped evidence or eyewitness accounts, and what little there is points to John Rich being in the band. Its entirely possible that Rich was a member of the group from December 76 through February 77, and played a number of shows.

    4. I was thinking it wasn't John Rich, but Don Rich. Donald Eugene Ulrich, best known by the stage name Don Rich (August 15, 1941 - July 17, 1974) was a country musician who helped develop the Bakersfield sound in the early 1960s. He was a noted guitarist and fiddler, and a member of the Buckaroos, the backing band of country singer Buck Owens.
      Unfortunately, he died in 1974.
      On July 17, 1974, after finishing work at Owens' Bakersfield studio, Rich was killed in a motorcycle accident.[1] He had been en route to join his family for vacation on the central coast of California. For unknown reasons, his motorcycle hit a center divider on northbound Highway 1 at Yerba Buena Road in Morro Bay. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the then Sierra Vista Hospital in San Luis Obispo at 10:55 [2] that evening, 50 minutes after the incident was reported. California Highway Patrol officials stated that there were no skid marks and no apparent mechanical problems. Reports indicated that Owens had pleaded with Rich not to take his motorcycle that day and had been pleading with him for years to quit riding.

      Owens was devastated by the news, and for years did not talk about Rich's death. In a late 1990s interview, Owens said, "He was like a brother, a son, and a best friend. Something I never said before, maybe I couldn't, but I think my music life ended when he died. Oh yeah, I carried on and I existed, but the real joy and love, the real lightning and thunder is gone forever.",1025138&dq=don+rich&hl=en

    5. Hello people of 2010. I have traveled from from 2016 (Donald Trump quite likely is going to be the GOP's nominee. The future is scary...) and just discovering this post.
      Lame humor aside, here is something that answers a tangential question in this post, and the answer to which you probably learned sometime in 2011. That Garcia played steel at the Armadillo/Austin/All-Star Thanksgiving '72 show. If you still haven't listened to it, AT LEAST dig the "It Takes a Lot to Laugh..."--a Leon/Jerry duet in which Leon works Jerry's name into the lyrics. Leon had a huge hit with it too at this time, so pretty ballsy for Jerry to sing half or more and take two solos.
      Cool picture nonetheless:


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