The Inn of theBeginning in Cotati hosted Merl Saunders and Friends, including Jerry Garcia, with Paul Pena opening, on Friday, May 31, 1974 and Saturday, June 1, 1974.
The May 1974 IOTB calendar had listed Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1 as TBA, supported by local folk artist Cris Williamson. The May ledger leaves the top of the bill a bit unclear, but the June calendar and ledger fill in the blanks. First, the calendar. It lists “Merl Saunders and Friends” for the weekend, with Paul Pena opening the evenings’ proceedings.
|Inn of the Beginning calendar, June 1974. Courtesy of Mark Braunstein.|
Pena’s story seems an interesting one, just entering the GOTS narrative enough to warrant attention, but obscure enough to motivate some digging. I have talked about him a little in my 2/16/74 post.
A Boston native, blind from birth, the first trace of Paul Pena I can find in the Garcia nexus is as opener for the Grateful Dead at the Electric Factory in Philly on February 14-15, 1969. I’d guess he settles into the Bay Area around July 1973, since that’s when he starts showing up as the opener for Garcia/Saunders. He may even have been the single most frequent opener for these guys from 1973-1975, most often at the Keystone. On this evidence, we’d conclude that Keystone proprietor Freddie Herrera, Jerry and/or Merl liked him and/or his music enough to make him the “regular” opener where the three of them interfaced. Merl and Jerry also laid down some tracks for Pena’s New Train ca. October 4, 1973, though the album was not released, on CD, until 2000. It is most relevant here for Garcia’s pedal steel credits on “Venutian Lady” and “New Train”, tracks on which Merl is also credited. More broadly it’s just a pretty nice album (I like “Gotta Move”) and is noteworthy for Pena’s version of his “Jet Airliner”, later famously covered by Steve Miller.
The IOTB materials, as rich as they have proven, again have interest, though I am not sure if this answers the question of how Pena came to be connected to these guys. On the back of the April 1974 ledger there’s a note to reach Pena through Annette [presumably Annette Flowers] at the GD offices. So, somehow, Paul Pena seems to have been in the GD orbit. Yet he was either also, or eventually became, close to Merl, for whom he’d continue to open shows at least into January 1976 (i.e., during the Merl-Jerry live performance interregnum beginning in ca. July 1975).
Anyway, the June 1974 calendar gives us a listing of Merl Saunders and Friends with Paul Pena opening for this weekend. The Inn of the Beginning Flyer gives its usual nice, informative, locally-contextualized blurb, which I reproduce with its surrounding nice, informative, locally-contextualized materials from the Flyer.
|June 1974 Inn of the Beginning Flyer, first page. Courtesy of Mark Braunstein.|
Jerry Garcia in the IOTB Ledger
As has been the case so often with these Inn of the Beginning materials, the ledger sheds new light, in this case about a heretofore unknown GOTS performance:
|Excerpt of Inn of the Beginning June 1974 ledger. Courtesy of Mark Braunstein.|
As I have elaborated over and over, I find these ledgers to be incredibly robust forms of evidence. The man who kept them kept (and retains) extremely accurate records, on my impression. So, to my satisfaction, this establishes that Jerry played on these nights.
So, eventually, The Jerry Site and anyone’s respective Garcia lists should be updated to reflect these dates:
- Merl Saunders and Friends (with Jerry Garcia), Friday, May 31, 1974, Inn of the Beginning, Cotati, CA
- Merl Saunders and Friends (with Jerry Garcia), Saturday, June 1, 1974, Inn of the Beginning, Cotati, CA
Some speculative and overdone reconstruction of these newly-discovered dates
How do I imagine this coming about? Clearly going too deeply into something that’s probably really simple, let me say a few things.
In my mind’s eye, this is Merl calling for a gig (or Mark Braunstein checking in with him), “I’ve got a bunch of guys together and am free that weekend”, kind of thing. The May-June gigs were booked late, since they didn’t make the May calendar, but the “TBA” listing suggests to me that the Inn was holding that weekend for something special. They usually had things fully calendared in time to go to print. My hunch is that Merl was trying to get Jerry to come up to Cotati on this free weekend and that this accounts both for the delay and for the slightly more tantalizing “and Friends’ formulation. Merl: “Hey Jerry, wanna come up to Cotati and jam this particular weekend?” Garcia: “Yeah, man. I gotta check.” Merl, next phone call: “Hey Mark, can you hold that weekend for me? I might be able to get Jerry.” Mark: “Hell yeah.”
It probably takes a while to get Garcia to (be able to) commit, what with Jerry being Jerry (overcommitted somewhere, on something). Indeed, the record shows that Garcia was at Heider’s on May 31st. Shenk and Silberman (1) report that the “The Vault” (as of the mid-1990s, so presumably containing GD and JG material) holds some Garcia studio work such as “Some Enchanted Evening” (yes, the Rodgers and Hammerstein showtune from South Pacific) and “Cardiac Arrest”. This latter, a little jam really, was released as an outtake to Compliments on the All Good Things box set, and I presume that the released version is from this date. It may also shed some light. According to deaddisc, the players are Garcia, Michael Omartian on the piano, Merl Saunders on organ, John Kahn on bass, and Ronnie Tutt on drums. (I thought I heard some rhythm guitar, but what do I know?). So maybe Merl and Jer drove up to Cotati together, after playing around at Heider’s?
Win-win-win. The Inn is guaranteed a sellout at its standard mid-1974, strong-act-on-a-weekend-night rate of $2. Stuffing 250 people in, they gross $500 in tickets and pay out $400 to the talent (70% of the door for the band, blowing through the $150 guarantee, and $50 for Paul Pena), clear a C-note and then have a nice haul on beer and soda. Merl gets to keep playing with Jerry, which he obviously loves and which, crassly, is always in his pocketbook interest to keep doing. (Man was a cash cow, I tell ya.) Jerry, Being the May-June 1974 Vintage Jerry, The Youngish, Healthy-ish, I-Gotta-Jam-Somewhere-With-Someone Jerry, gets to play. Oh, and he leaves with $80 bucks in his pocket, which oughta keep him in smokes for a few days. Multiply all of this by two for the whole weekend, and we get these gigs.
What “Band” Played?
What should we call this collectivity that performed in Cotati? The listing itself –Merl Saunders and Friends—is interesting, insofar as I care about the formalities of band names, billings, and so on. And I care deeply about those things. When Merl played the Inn on Friday-Saturday April 5-6, 1974, he as just billed as Merl Saunders (note that Paul Pena opened). The “and Friends” formulation in May-June is just an elaborated version, on my read, of the same thing. Both tend to suggest something looser and more ad hoc than a “band”. Merl Saunders and Friends is probably the best we can do. I would not call it a “band” at this point, just a picked-up group (though possibly with ideas about institutionalization, moving forward, at least on Merl’s part).
To get a sense of how fluid the billings were around Merl’s non-Garcia-related “bands”, I have just poked through some of my notes and listings for Merl’s bands without Jerry in the 1971-1975 period. Here are just some of the “bands” that I have seen mentioned or listed:
- Heavy Turbulence. A six-piece band which released the single “Little Bit of Righteousness”, with “Iron Horse” on the B-side in ca. late November 1970 (2). I don’t know who the players were. Not Garcia. But maybe Kahn, Vitt, Fogerty. Matt Scofield’s Merl Saunders discography lists the band as Merl Saunders and Heavy Turbulence, with a catalog number Galaxy 776 (1970), but no players are listed. (As an aside, Heavy Turbulence was also the name of a Saunders record, probably released around mid-March 1972 (3). That album, of course, featured Garcia, Tom Fogerty, John Kahn and Bill Vitt.
- Merl Saunders Quartet. This was the listing at the Inn on December 14-15, 1973 at the Inn, with John Kahn apparently on bass.
- Merl Saunders Band. The Oakland Tribune published a piece on Martin in July 1974 using this name (4; see also my posts on July ’74 shows at Keystone and the Sand Dunes). In late August 1974 (5), the Trib reported that “The Merl Saunders Band, which featured Jerry Garcia on guitar and Martin Fierro on sax on alternating weeks at the Sand Dunes in San Francisco, has changed its name to” …
- … Aunt Monk. So we should date this from around late August 1974. The next usage of this name, which is seems to refer to a bona fide “band” (a name, a relatively fixed membership, a perceived “going concern”, an album) enters my data in September 1974 and continues sporadically for several years.
- Merl Saunders and Martin Fierro. What interests me about the previous little hints of institutionalization (for a “band” to change its “name” it had to be a band with a name in the first place, if you follow me) is that on the same date as the Fierro article (5) the Trib referred to the folks playing at the Sand Dunes as Merl Saunders and Martin Fierro, not Merl Saunders Band (6). No biggie, but just weird. Maybe they needed the extra letters for the type to set properly right-justified, who knows.
- plus lots of ad hoc listings of names, lots of interchange of nouns (band, group, aggregation), and every possible permutation of Merl/Merle [sic]/Mel [sic] Saunders/Sanders [sic]’s name.
It doesn’t really matter, of course. But I like that, in parallel with the Garcia/Saunders group itself, which didn’t have a name –about which I’ll have too much to say, at some point—things were just really, really fluid around all of this. Jerry and Merl would settle in with Legion of Mary for the first-half of 1975, and then, for Garcia, comes the crucial, fateful fall 1975 choice to put his name (and himself) out front in the Jerry Garcia Band, which would be the name of his “main” side band until his death twenty years later (except January-September 1979, with Reconstruction). It’s a terribly important inflection point. Putting his name on it, commodifying his name, professionalizing the band, institutionalizing it, all hearken to the end of a kind of dream of being able to jam anonymously, to play music without all the bullshit that attached to being Jerry Garcia Of The Grateful Dead. I suspect that Jerry would lament, in later years, his increasing inability (or unwillingness, or whatever) to just sit in anonymously in some small club with a band with no name, play some funk.
Who was in the What?
Who played? Well, we know Merl and Jerry played. Let’s assume there’s also bass, drums, and another instrument. We just really, really don’t know.
Regarding bass, the December 1973 IOTB Flyer tells us that the Merl Saunders Quartet of December 14-15, 1973 featured John Kahn. By 1974 Merl’s son Tony Saunders, who would turn 18 in that year and who is a monster funky bassist, appeared more and more frequently and effectively supplanted John (insofar as John was ever implanted at all). But since John would appear to have been at Heider’s with these guys earlier in the day on May 31st, Occam’s Razor probably points to him, at least for that date. The truth is we just can’t know.
I would also suppose that Martin Fierro was there. He had been playing with Merl and Jerry pretty steadily for something like ten months by this time. We know from the band discussion above that he was playing in the Merl Saunders Band at the Sand Dunes in ca. the first half of 1974, apparently alternating Monday nights with Garcia. Of course, that’s right in this time period. We don’t know he was there, but there are all kinds of reasons to think that he probably was.
There was also presumably a drummer. Bill Vitt thinks he was out of the Saunders/Garcia scene by mid-1974, so we should probably rule him out. Bill Kreutzmann is possible, but we just can’t know. It seems unlikely to me, since Merl’s “friends” could easily have included some other drummer. My bet, based on a thin scrap of evidence (his credited presence on the 5/31/74 “Cardiac Arrest” jam) would be Ronnie Tutt. This is presently the earliest direct Garcia-Tutt connection known to me, and given that he’d be around from 1975-1977, a live gig this early would be of particular historical note. But, as with all of this, I am speculating. It could just as well have been that guy from Cotati. You know—that guy. Whatshisname.
What did the Who/What Play?
In terms of the repertoire (i.e., the what that the What and Whom played), again, no specific idea. I imagine that these kinds of gigs, where it’s really Jerry sitting in with Merl, are the ones that turned out to be all-instrumental, such as the “7/21/74 Keystone” stuff, or the 2/14/75 and 5/9/75 (May 9th) gigs from The Generosity in San Francisco. (As an aside, Merl Jr.’s first reaction to the 2/14/75 Generosity gig is that it would have been Aunt Monk, with Tony Saunders on bass.) I thus imagine “When I Die”, “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got)”, “Little Bit Of Righteousness”, “Valdez In The Country”, etc. Maybe a Stevie Wonder number. I doubt they even had a vocal mic set up. Anyway, that’s all speculation. We just don’t know.
So, my initial goal was just to establish the evidentiary basis for adding these two gigs to our Garcia lists (i.e., The Garcia List). But the post turned into a little discussion of Paul Pena and some broader historical context, including Merl’s (Jerryless) bands around this time and some possible players and songs. Lots of wild speculation, once I left the fact of the gigs themselves, but fun stuff to think about. May-June in Sonoma, jamming with friends (or strangers). Not too bad.
(2) Gene Robertson, “On the Beam,” Sun Reporter (San Francisco), November 28, 1970, p. 29.
(3) Dennis Hunt, “Playing Small Rock Clubs is a ‘Release From the Dead’.” San Francisco Chronicle Datebook, April 9, 1972, p. 8, notes that HT was “released a few weeks ago”.
(4) R.B. Ragg, “Life Out on the Side,” Oakland Tribune, July 21, 1974, p. 3-RAP.
(5) "Rap-Up's Wrap Up," Oakland Tribune, August 25, 1974, p. 2-RAP.
(6) "Rap-Up's Wrap Up," Oakland Tribune, July 21, 1974, p. 2-RAP.