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Sunday, April 17, 2011

NRPS-Matrix-1970 01 of 7: Introduction

NRPS-Matrix-1970: a seven part series discussing New Riders of the Purple Sage (NRPS) gigs at the Matrix, 1970, including listening notes on the circulating tapes, speculation on dates, observations on playing, general pontificating.
  1. Introduction
  2. LN19700430: Thursday, April 30, 1970
  3. LN19700707: Tuesday, July 7, 1970
  4. LN19700729: Wednesday, July 29, 1970
  5. LN19700730: Thursday, July 30, 1970
  6. LN19700902: Wednesday, September 2, 1970
  7. Analysis and Conclusions

Preface

The idea of the New Riders of the Purple Sage (NRPS) playing the 120-capacity Matrix at 3138 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA, 94123 in 1970 is pretty exciting one on a lot of levels. It's the overall symmetry point in an n-dimensional issue space covering the venue, time period, personnel and band questions, tapes and dates, and so forth. The information and insights gleanable on each dimension reflect into the others and shade and color them in a totally unique way. It's an interesting time in an interesting place with interesting people playing interesting music. Good enough for me.

Venue

The Matrix [COAU | Rock Archaeology], of course, is one of The Venues were history unfolded itself. This is true, most importantly, in the big picture of San Francisco music, most obviously the Jefferson Airplane arc. It's also more narrowly true of Garcia On The Side. Out in the Marina, Jerry did some of his first outside dabbling in the Grateful Dead era with "Mickey and the Hartbeats" in October 1968 [GDG | JGMF]; played his first public banjo (as far as I know) of the Grateful Dead era  ("2/19/69") [LLD | GDG | JGMF]; woodshedded the Bakersfield country concept with some of the first billed New Riders gigs in August 1969; moved a guitar-keyboard-bass-drum quartet concept from a wide-open Monday Night Jam to what would become, by 1975, The Jerry Garcia Band; played out with the great David Crosby, and so forth. If walls could talk, and all that. I have done a data dump on my  1970-1971 Garcia dates at the Matrix, though of course that post should probably be updated to reflect everything we've learned. (So much to do!)

Band

It's of course well known that NRPS [JGMF] toured with the GD in 1970 and were integral to the "An Evening With The Grateful Dead" show format, comprising acoustic Dead, NRPS, and electric Dead. Less well-known is that the Riders appear to have been Jerry's midweek-hometown band in 1970 (see also Harris 1970, 32). The GD played nearly every Friday-Saturday in 1970 whether at home or on the road. Local Mondays were the province of the celebrated Monday Night Jams with either Wales or Saunders on keyboards, Kahn on bass, and presumably Vitt on drums. But, as one can already see from the list of tapes that I'll cover --assuming for the moment that those dates are accurate-- the Riders spent a fair number of Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursdays at the Matrix, and a quick glance tells me that Mandrake's also hosted a bunch of midweek shows. If 1970 was Garcia's most prolific gigging year --and I think it was, insofar as NRPS sets opening for GD are counted-- playing small clubs Mondays and many midweek nights absorbs a chunk of the delta relative to other years.

Personnel

The Riders apparently saw a period of near-total inactivity from November 1969 through ca. March 1970. One possible exception is NRPS January 19, 1970, Pauley Ballroom, UC Berkeley and there are some doubts about the shows that have historically listed during March. They pick up in the second quarter and play through the rest of the year. They do so with new bassist David Torbert, who appears to take over the slot vacated the previous winter by a seemingly disinterested Phil Lesh. By the end of the year, Spencer Dryden will have replaced Mickey Hart on drums. In late June - early July, the Grateful Dead and the New Riders take the Festival Express train ride, where they first encounter Buddy Cage. Garcia apparently hatches the idea pretty quickly, if not on the train itself, that Cage should replace him as the NRPS pedal steel guitar player. It takes about 15 months for that to materialize, but materialize it does.

Tapes and Dates

For all of these reasons, and also because the material is diverse and fascinating, we are very fortunate to have quite listenable, occasionally very good, often reasonably complete soundboard recordings of the shows/dates listed above. As a class, the Matrix Tapes are well known and much-discussed. I wish I had a better mechanism for scooping up everything that's been said on this topic -- maybe I should extend my method of promiscuous tagging to this subject, as well. [ed: Done!] So these tapes are precious historical documents.

But their accuracy is questionable. Corry once forcefully argued that "you can't believe anything about the date on a Matrix tape box," though an earlier Corry had articulated the more tempered view that "Matrix dates tend to be approximately correct, but often not precisely correct." Yellow Shark has said, based especially on pre-1970 materials, the venue is even sometimes someplace other than the Matrix.

I think the more tempered view is closer to the mark insofar as the 1970 NRPS tapes are concerned. That is, while there is some doubt about each of the dates I list above as New Riders 1970 NRPS gigs at Matrix (except July 7th, with its well known poster), my analysis will lay bare at least some stuff consistent with most of them. We can't pinpoint, but the date range implied by a close listen is usually close to the date we list (e.g., 7/7, 7/29, 7/30), or otherwise it is unrevealing on the question (e.g., 9/2). There's only one outright contradiction, and that's that the same set of material travel as both "4/30/70 set I" and "7/29/70 set I". I will advance the argument that the latter is approximately correct. There is less evidence available about whether the venue actually is the Matrix, but I hope to uncover a few tidbits that might let others more knowledgeable than I make some more informed judgments.

Were there other 1970 NRPS dates at the Matrix, besides these? Not that I see, though of course there could have been unadvertised, unrecorded shows of which we are unaware. The ones I discuss are the conventional NRPS-Matrix-1970 ones. To dispense with one open possibility, could the Monday night "Jerry Garcia and Friends" listings of September 7, September 14 and October 26 have been NRPS gigs? Sure, they could have been, but I don't think they were. Most of us are operating under the reasonable assumption that 1970 Monday Night Matrix gigs were the Wales and then Saunders bands. NRPS-Matrix-1970, as I said above, seems to have been a midweek phenomenon.

Summary

Anyway, my aim is just to map out what I find at the NRPS-Matrix-1970 nexus.

I do hope that this inquiry will equip me, at some point, to evaluate the material circulating as Grateful Dead @ Matrix, 7/30/70 and GD @ Golden Hall, San Diego, CA, August 5, 1970. LIA has argued that the "tape of '8/5/70 San Diego' can't be from San Diego, but is likely from a San Francisco club show", specifying that he believed that set to be a July 1970 "Hartbeats"-listed set from the Matrix. I think both of these tapes are more or less what they purport to be, but I need to put my thinking together.


Beyond that, what do I think I'll conclude? It's crazy to write the intro without knowing the conclusion. And I have not cleaned up all my listening notes yet, so I am not sure what I have (except that I have way too much and way too minutely detailed). But here are a few tentative conclusions.
  • The "4/30/70" tape is the same material as "7/29/70, set I". I think the July dating is approximately correct, which leaves the status of a 4/30/70 gig in some doubt.
  • I think the July material is, generally, roughly accurately dated.
  • I can't say much about the September 2 dating. It's a distinct show, but I can't yet tell when it might be from.
  • There are a lot of *exceptionally* loose moments in these sets. It's not all sunshines and unicorns, but it is relentlessly interesting. To me.

Acknowledgments

There have lately been some fantastic discussions of related stuff, but especially 1970 Matrix shows, over at Lost Live Dead (LLD) (Corry's "John Kahn IV" post, covering John Kahn's known live 1970 performances) and at Grateful Dead Guide (GDG) (LIA's post on the July 1970 Hartbeats shows). I am Grateful to everyone involved in those discussions for their knowledge and wisdom! I would love for more people to get involved in these conversations, so please do consider this invitation to weigh in!

Reference
Harris, David. 1970. Rock’s First Family: Grateful Dead. Circus 4, 4 (March): 32-35 .

2 comments:

  1. I'll be interested in the Listening Notes, as I haven't heard any of these tapes...
    Looking forward to Part 7!

    ReplyDelete
  2. This will be great! Good luck in getting it done in 7 parts. If Vegas had odds on this, I think the over/under would be about 9.

    ReplyDelete

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