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Thursday, February 10, 2011

When did Melvin Seals begin with JGB?

Edited 20110216

The Jerry Garcia Band show listed as Saturday, December 20, 1980, Keystone Palo Alto, Palo Alto, CA, has always struck me odd. I argue here that (1) "12/20/80" is a "phantom" listing, a mislabel of 12/20/79. Along the way (2) I argue that "1/18/81" is also a phantom, a mislabel of 1/18/83. This leads to a new-to-me understanding of when Melvin Seals joined the band; I (3) conclude here that Melvin Seals's public debut as keyboardist with the Jerry Garcia Band was Thursday, January 22, 1981 at the Keystone Palo Alto, Palo Alto, CA. This can be seen as a companion piece to my query about the start of the Garcia-Saunders relationship.

Observation #1: all circulating tapes of "12/20/80" are actually copies of 12/20/79. No-one with ears to hear (or eyes to see, if one had been there) could confuse Melvin and his Hammond B-3 with Ozzie Ahlers and his electric piano (can't remember the precise gear right now).

Observation #2: the last reasonably well documented JGB show before "12/20/80" is August 9 (*shiver*), 1980, Keystone Palo Alto, Palo Alto, CA (TJS | shnid 29088 [partial sbd]). As we presently understand it, that is the last show of the Garcia-Kahn-Ahlers-Errico quartet version of the Jerry Garcia Band. (Errico would return on October 13, 1982, for another 8-month stint.)

Observation #3: I know of no hard evidence (newspaper ad, ticket stub, attendee recollection, distinct tape, etc. etc.) of a JGB show on 12/20/80. Gordon Sharpless, credited as contributor at TJS, has shared his conclusion that "12/20/80" is a misdate of 12/20/79 in comments.

Observation #4: there have been tape recordings labeled "Melvin Rehearsals", dated Wednesday, January 14, 1981 through Friday, January 16, 1981, at Club Front in San Rafael, CA. I have January 16th to listen to (thank you, wk!) but haven't gotten around to it yet. It's the kind of thing that is going to be all consuming for 90 minutes, and I tend not to have chunks of time like that. Tape datings are among the least reliable data sources we have --I have created a new tag called 'methodology', by the way-- but the coincidence of Wed-Fri rehearsals right before starting up the new configuration the next week is a strongly suggestive one. (I would have guessed that they'd gig on Saturday 1/17, but if they weren't ready they probably spent a few more nights rehearsing.) There may well have been further rehearsals, but there is no public information about that. Anyway, these rehearsals are consistent with a later starting date than "12/20/80" ... I don't think workaholic Jerry would have been rehearsing this new band for the 3-4 weeks required to have started up before 12/20/80 and still been rehearsing in the third week of January.

Observation #5: The next conventionally-listed JGB gig is Sunday, January 18, 1981, Catalyst, Santa Cruz, CA (TJS). This would be a plausible first gig for a band with a new lineup: Sunday night at the relatively out-of-the-way Catalyst. I see three reasons to conclude that this date is bogus, though. First, the tapes circulating with this date are all from January 18, 1983 (same venue, the Catalyst). Mislabels being what they are, this doesn't mean an '81 show on this date and venue didn't happen. Second, TJS has this note: "DeadBase's setlist for this show is a duplication of their 01/18/83 setlist and incorrect", and it credits gorshar as a contributor. This is exactly like the profile of 12/20/80, of course. Third, the manucript tradition (i.e., Corry's lists) never contained information on this show. Strike three and this date is out, as far as my current reasoning goes.

Interim Analysis. Here's what I think happened for both "12/20/80" and "1/18/81". The old manuscript tradition correctly had no listing for this show. At some point a tape of 1/18/83 gets mislabeled "1/18/81" (easily enough), just as a tape of 12/21/79 became "12/20/80" (though this one has a less obvious orthographic explanation). This tape forms the basis of a Deadbase listing (most of which, but obviously not this one, drew from Corry's lists). When the Jerry Site comes around in ca. ?1999? or ?2000?, gorshar tells Ryan about the mislabel, but Ryan (rightly, conservatively) makes the note but keeps the entry in, just in case. But I am prepared to conclude here that 1/18/81 is also a bogus listing.

Observation #6: the next known JGB show is Thursday, January 22, 1981, the first of two nights at the Keystone Palo Alto in Palo Alto, CA (TJS, shnid 97266 [Latvala's partial audience recording]). These are Melvin's presumed third and fourth shows, after "12/20/80" and "1/18/81". But I argue there that 1/22/81 is the correct dating for Melvin Seals's public debut with the Jerry Garcia Band. The two preceding dates, "12/20/80" and "1/18/81", are both phantoms, by my analysis.

Aside, re: personnel: Melvin would never leave the JGB's keyboard chair, putting in an astonishing 14+ years. Without checking the numbers, I think this makes Melvin Jerry's #2 onstage musical collaborator (in terms of frequency) outside the Grateful Dead, following Jerry's ol' buddy John Kahn. There is obviously much, much more to say about Mr. Melvin Seals, who continues, 30 years on, to engage this music as "Melvin Seals and JGB".

Aside re: venues: Corry's pathbreaking work on the Keystone complex, including his Garcia shows at Keystone overview, deserves to be borne in mind at all times. His economic analysis is especially important, really providing some good hard evidence about the Garcia-Keystone (let me use that as shorthand for Freddie Herrera and the whole complex here) symbiosis. He mentions the nice complementarities of Jerry being able to rotate through the various clubs, especially in this period when the Keystone Berkeley, Keystone Palo Alto, and the Stone (San Francisco) were all operating. I don't read him as identifying any further division of labor, but I have a hypothesis: the Keystone Palo Alto was more likely to be used midweek than either of the other two clubs. That's not to say the KPA never got weekend shows, just that, by the early 80s, if there was woodshedding to be done and a Keystone club was to be involved, it was more likely to happen in Palo Alto than in Berkeley or SF. Otherwise, it seems like slightly more out-of-the-way places such as the Catalyst and the River Theater got a disproportionate share of the "debut" action. And given the fluidity of JGB membership in the early 1980s (e.g., in terms of backup singers and drummers), there was an unusual amount of woodshedding to be done. I do think we could get at this with some very simple statistic tests, but I'll add that to the "to-do" list.

And a meta point underneath (or "over", anyway) that: maybe the fact that less central venues tended to get the "debut" performances in the early 80s is why information on precise starting and ending dates has been so inconsistent. Fewer notetakers and tapers = less carry-though to the present. An interesting sociology of knowledge involved in all this, but I digress ...

  1. I argue and conclude that the "12/20/80" JGB date is a phantom
  2. I argue and provisionally conclude that the "1/18/81" JGB date is a phantom.
  3. I argue and conclude that Melvin Seals's public debut with the Jerry Garcia Band was January 22, 1981, following at least some rehearsals the week prior.

Source Check:
McNally, LST: no mention
Jackson, Garcia, p. 321: Melvin's arrival and tenure noted, but no starting date/timeframe given.
Jackson, cutting room floor: no mention.


  1. I concur with all of your analysis. Let me add that I am really old, and in December 1980 I was writing down dates of Grateful Dead and Garcia shows as they occurred, and I never wrote anything down for 12/20/80 (I still have my original list).

    Without horning my own toot, I am one of the key source materials for the GarciaBase list in Deadbase IX, and I didn't have 12/20/80. Someone else (John Scott or Stu Nixon probably) added the date to the Deadbase IX list, probably based on the tape.

  2. Thanks for confirming, Corry. I'd say it's pretty close to a closed case on that basis. Just a mislabeled tape, I'd say. Those things have a pernicious kind of persistence, they do.

  3. Gaaah, there's a piece I got wrong / missed.

    There is a date of 1/18/81 out there from the Catalyst, Santa Cruz. But the tapes with that date that I have seen are 1/18/83. I believe this "1/18/81" is exactly like "12/20/80", a phantom that exists only based on a tape mislabel.

    Should I leave this tidbit in comments, should I edit my post, or should I make a new post?

  4. The appropriate thing is just to edit the post. Of course, it's more fun if you write an entirely new post, but mainly more fun for readers like me. It's not a responsible use of your time, but then, we're talking about blogging here.

  5. I've long since given up paying attention to this sort of thing but if my memory serves correct it was simple common sense that led to the epiphany that 12-20-80 was a duplicate of 12-20-79. Same date, same place, same set list, like... what are the odds?

  6. Unless anyone has any objections, I think this entry should go onto the TJS cutting room floor and be deleted from whatever local lists we are all holding. Thoughts?

  7. Is there a way to indicate a date on TJS as "spurious?" When you eliminate dates, it does cause people to keep bringing them up, creating an endless loop.

    I guess the solution is to remove 12/20/80, and mention under 12/20/79 that the date is often mislabeled.

  8. As of now, there is no way to do that. The obvious thing would be to maintain obvious phantoms that don't add into the setlist and other data, but that are maintained as placeholders so people can find them and read that they are phantoms.

    I have a tag called TJS-deletion which I haven't really used, but which could serve as a stopgap. Not as good, since people go first to TJS, but it can at least preserve the data for eventual integration into TJS, should that ever become possible.

  9. I would leave the date in and identify it as a mislabeled 12/20/79.

  10. I have updated the post based on comments and a bit more thinking. Thanks for all of your help!

    I think I am just going to keep a running list of phantom shows here on the blog.

  11. I first saw Melvin play with JGB at the Keystone Berkeley at the 1-31-1981 show after having moved to Berkeley right prior to the five December 1980 Grateful Dead Oakland shows. Recently, I discovered that I first probably saw Melvin almost five years prior on March 18, 1976 in Burlington, VT as part of the Elvin Bishop Band visiting my sister at UVM at age 16. This piece made me research this, but this was the big Elvin tour with Mickey Thomas after "Fooled Around And Fell in Love". Correct me if I am wrong,but it's fun to think I may have seeh him so early. Here's the clip


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