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.
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.
- 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.
(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.