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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Reading Notes: Tolces, Todd. 1973. Jerry’s Bluegrass Boys. Melody Maker 48 (April 28): 35.

Tolces, Todd. 1973. Jerry’s Bluegrass Boys. Melody Maker 48 (April 28): 35.

A FEW POINTS TO EXTRACT:

First, I believe the interview material and show observations are from March 13, 1973 at the Keystone in Berkeley. He only mentions it as a quartet, so I doubt there was a fiddle player there. Here are setlist bits we get for this date:
  • Orange Blossom Special
  • Jambalaya
  • Panama Red ("halfway through set"; with Chris Rowan and Lorin Rowan on harmony vocals)
  • How Mountain Girls Can Love
Since we don't have any setlist information for this show at TJS, this should probably be added.

Second, we learn from Peter Rowan that the OAITW studio album was already in the can by ca. March 13, 1973. The idea that it was recorded by mid-March just blows my mind. Jackson (1999, p. 241) says OAITW "even cut an album at Mickey Hart's studio, though it was never released. 'We weren't too happy with it,' Grisman said. 'It was kind of rushed. It didn't seem to equal what we were doing live.'" (We then get the "one of the best-selling bluegrass albums of all time" quote about the eventual live OAITW record.) Not much to say except that these two observations (album cut by March, and "kind of rushed") would seem to fit well together. Let me here just reiterate my plea for any and all information/thoughts about the OAITW studio album. Let me also just note how contemporaneous this is with the whole Muleskinner project. Not sure what to make of that, just putting it out there.

Third, they were planning on doing "a few bluegrass festivals", but I have just reconsulted McNally (pp. 548-550, 554), and it looks like they just played the one (6/8/73 Whippoorwill festival in Warrenton, VA), according to him. That's where I am on the issue of OAITW at the summer 1973 bluegrass festivals, too. My question is, why didn't they play more than one, as Pete seems to have expected and as ads imply they were planning to some degree?

Fourth, tiny I know, we learn that Garcia was carrying his banjo around on the GD tour. Maybe we already knew that, but it's fun for me to think on.

Fifth, here their "theme song" is said to be a Monroe tune, "How Mountain Girls Can Love". Maybe this is some inside joke about Garcia's S.O. Mountain Girl (Carolyn Adams). No idea.

Anyway, reading notes after the jump.



Tolces, Todd. 1973. Jerry’s Bluegrass Boys. Melody Maker 48 (April 28): 35.

Garcia always busy, running around gigging, sessions, etc.

“Garcia’s new band – called Old And In The Way”

“Along with Garcia on this venture is Peter Rowan on guitar and vocals (formerly lead singer of Seatrain and Earth Opera), David Diadem on mandolin (Rowan Brothers producer), and John Kahn on bass.”
“The group was casually formed, the way all Garcia ventures are initiated, a few months ago when the love for bluegrass just brought David, Peter and Jerry together. ‘We all live in the same town,’ Peter Rowan explained. … ‘It’s nice being in a loose situation like this because there’s no pressure to produce on a schedule. We’ve already recorded an album but I’m not sure when we’re going to release it.”

“’Bluegrass is really hard for me,’ Jerry said excitedly.”

Reference to “their second gig at the Keystone recently.” The only two-night stands by OAITW at Keystone from the beginning on March 2 and the publication date of April 28 were March 12-13 and April 27-28. For obvious reasons, I would exclude the latter possibility and say that the gig he is referring to, and the interview snippets, can be dated 3/13/73. So, this show “was like an old family reunion. The Rowan Brothers … opened the show … They closed their set with help from brother Peter supplying extra harmonies and unwarranted theatrics as he leapt and bounded all around the stage and finally jumped into the audience screaming while running to the back of the room.”

“Meanwhile, backstage …”

“’We’re gonna do a few bluegrass festivals with Bill Monroe,’ Peter Rowan beamed.”

“’Hey man,’ Jerry turned to me, ‘you know that banjos act funny at weird altitudes? Why, my banjo sounded just great in Salt Lake City [JGMF: ca. 2/28/73].”

Mentions songs “Orange Blossom Special” and “Jambalaya”.

“The band got off. Garcia occasionally smiled, letting his insides seep into his outsides and picking off some nasty pickin’ licks. Everybody in the band agreed that David Diadem was simply one of the hottest mandolin players around town … Halfway through the set The Rowan Brothers reappeared to help out on harmonies on an original tune appropriately titled ‘Panama Red’. It went off quite well but the best all around song was their ‘theme song’: Bill Monroe’s ‘How Mountain Girls Can Love’.”

“Old And In The Way is a stable band. Even though Jerry Garcia will still continue to perform with the Grateful Dead, Merl Saunders and Tom Fogerty, and just about everybody in the studio, including the likes of anybody from Papa John Creach to the New Riders, he’ll stick to his first love, bluegrass, as will the rest of the band.”

21 comments:

  1. Wow, there's so much here I hardly know what to think. The idea that the studio album was recorded before OAITW had played much is staggering, but makes a lot of sense. I'll have to divide my answers across several Comments.

    Melody Maker was (and may still be) a weekly English popular music paper. They had a huge concert review section which they had to fill every week. As a result, they had stringers in different cities throughout the English speaking music capitals, like Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Sydney, etc. Todd Tolces was the rock critic for a local paper, I think the Marin I-J, and he was also MM's Bay Area stringer.

    Tolces, like many rock critics of the time, was more of a scenemaker than historian. He had good ears, but his attention to detail wasn't stellar, because that wasn't his bag. His pieces in the paper and in MM were short, so he never went into excessive detail. Thus his quote about "completing an album" was no doubt accurate, but he may have been generalizing about what "completing" actually meant.

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  2. It had never occurred to me that the band would have recorded an album in February or March of 1974. Since OAITW's first known show was March 2 and they have already completed the album by March 13, they must have recorded between March 2-12, when they were just barely rehearsed. That would explain Grisman's subsequent remark that the album didn't equal their live shows, because they kept getting better.

    Who played on the recording? Was there a fiddle player? This may explain the hitherto inexplicable bit that John Hartford rehearsed with them but never performed. Maybe Hartford recorded with them in the week of March 2-12--that would explain why he was brought in. After all, OAITW was a picking group for guys who live in Stinson Beach. Why would they have flown in someone from Missouri just to rehearse?

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  3. Remember also that in March of 1973, neither Round Records nor Grateful Dead Records really existed, except on paper. I'm sure Garcia planned to release the album, but since it took several months for the record company to get off the ground, OAITW must have seen the album as increasingly inferior to their live shows. Thus, Owsley recorded the final show of the band at the Boarding House, to make up for the weak studio album.

    Given the close association of Chris and Lorin Rowan to Garcia and Grisman (and of course their brother), I'll bet the Rowans sang harmonies on the studio album. Bluegrass is hard to play, so if they were invited on stage to sing "Panama Red," they must have already had their parts worked out.

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  4. Finally, a few observations about Mickey Hart's studio in his barn in Novato. Garcia has always been fussy about sound, if ultimately willing to compromise, but Grisman has always been even fussier and much more unwilling to compromise, particularly with respect to acoustic instruments. If a bluegrass recording wasn't clear as a bell, I can't imagine Grisman wanting to release a record.

    I'm no expert, but to my ears, all the albums and circulating tapes made in Mickey's Barn sound really flat. The Rolling Thunder and (unreleased) Fire On The Mountain lps sound like muddy demo tapes to me, as does Tales Of The Great Rum Runners. Tiger Rose, with Garcia running the board, sounds better than any of those albums, but still kind of sterile. I realize the Diga Rhythm Band album was recorded at The Barn, but I've rarely listened to it and have no context for passing judgement--what is a percussion album "supposed" to sound like?

    Numerous tapes that are reputedly from Mickey's Barn circulate, like the one with Pete Sears and John Cipollina, or the "Ghost Riders In The Sky' one. They all have that flat, muddy sound, although I grant they are mostly rehearsal/jam type tapes.

    I think that in the early 70s, Mickey's Barn studio was not a particularly good sounding room. It was always available and the only cost was tape, and of course musicians could hang out and take their time, so it was convenient. Don't forget, however, that Hart was not a working musician from 71-74, so he couldn't have afforded to upgrade the room much.

    I think Mickey's Barn was a good place to get musical ideas onto tape, not an easy thing in the early 70s, and it was the first such place that was available to Grateful Dead members. However, the tapes themselves weren't that great. I believe most of the things recorded in Mickey's Barn were actually erased, since 16-track tape was expensive and the recordings were often just rough drafts. I hope someone made a dub of the OAITW album if it was actually erased, but I think very little actually made it out of the studio.

    In early 1973, recording a bluegrass album was basically nuts. Furthermore, the Dead no longer had Warner Brothers to support their indulgences. Recording at Mickey's Barn was effectively free, so they did it there, but if it had the flat, thin sound of Tales Of The Great Rum Runners Grisman in particular would have seen it as unreleasable. The actual tapes may not exist anymore, which would explain why they've never appeared as bonus tracks anywhere.

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  5. (This is so long that it should have been a post, but I've come this far, so why not...)

    There is a progression to the Dead's self-owned studios. Mickey's Barn dates from about 1970, but seems to have been a pretty primitive set-up. Since the Dead were broke in 1970 and then Mickey left the band, it would not have been constantly upgraded. Nonetheless it would have been a place to put things on tape, a very welcome opportunity.

    As the Dead started generating more cash, they seemed to have tried different things. They tried recording the Keith and Donna album in their living room, but that sounded terrible. The last two albums recorded in Mickey's Barn, namely Tiger Rose and Diga, sounded better than what came before it, but hardly Record Plant quality.

    Weir built a studio in his basement, and the band recorded Blues For Allah there. If Mickey's Barn had been adequate, would Weir have built a studio? I don't think so. However, if Ace's had really been adequate, would Le Club Front have been built?

    If I understand correctly, Le Club Front was put together to record Cats Under The Stars, and ultimately the Grateful Dead took over the facility. If Mickey's Barn or recording in a living room or Ace's had been adequate, Garcia and Kahn would have had no need to try and create Le Club Front.

    I think everyone likes Mickey and the entire band and crew fondly recall hanging out on his ranch, goofing off with the horses and guns and recording when inspiration struck, so there only good memories of Mickey's Barn. However, there weren't really any good tapes. By the late 1970s, all working rock musicians had a studio in their basement in order to tape their ideas, so the Barn was no longer a unique facility, and the Dead members stopped using it. No one criticizes the room because they all remember it fondly and Mickey's in the band, but truthfully all the evidence suggests band members went to great lengths to supersede Mickey's Barn.

    The "lost" and possibly erased OAITW album must have been one of the casualties. I'm sure that the performances were inferior to what came afterwards, but if it had been well recorded it would have been preserved, even if the performances were raw. I just hope there's a dub in a box somewhere. Owsley was supposedly working on an OAITW box set, so perhaps he had access to the recordings in some form, because if he doesn't, what was going to be on the Box? Here's to hoping The Bear had one last surprise for us.

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  6. I just read back my comments and see that I mistakenly put "February or March of 1974" when I meant "February or March of 1973". My general assumption of the timeline is now as follows

    OAITW rehearsed in January/February of '73

    Garcia takes his banjo on tour to practice (note that he has it on March 18)

    OAITW debuts on KSAN on March 2, a form of publicity for their upcoming shows

    OAITW records at Mickey's Barn after Garcia returns from touring (last GD show Feb 28) but before March 13, when we know the album was "completed."

    When the Grateful Dead go on tour starting March 15, Grisman and Rowan make a record with Clarence White and others while playing the Ash Grove March 17-22. This record becomes Muleskinner.

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  7. Corry, thank you for your comments. I may need a post to reply, but let me try a few quickies.

    1) agree 100% on the sound of the recordings made at Mickey's Barn.

    2) Club Front has a murky history. I believe it was ca. August 1977 that they started there and, yes, in connection with Cats Under the Stars. But the tickle at the back of my neck tells me that I have recently run across reference to earlier engagements there. I think I doubted the veracity of these, but I need to pin it all down.

    3) A quote from you, and a response from me. You: "If Mickey's Barn had been adequate, would Weir have built a studio? I don't think so. However, if Ace's had really been adequate, would Le Club Front have been built?" My reply: sure, why not? If the fate of the Grateful Dead was in question, and I think it was seriously "in play" for a period, why not hedge bets with a home studio? Each guy with recording ambitions outside the GD gets his own place: Mickey gets his Barn, Bobby gets Ace's, and Garcia starts Club Front. But Garcia's is the only place that can really afford everything top-shelf, so eventually it becomes community property, so to speak.

    4) That last little timeline in your last comment is pretty persuasive to me.

    5) I have been saying that the fundamental architectural flaw of OAITW was that it wasn't big enough to house the three kinds of musics it had to hold: Rowan's songs, Grisman's compositions, and everyone's bluegrass. What reading around here clarifies for me is that we can drop the third element. That is, the design flaw is that the musical (and professional) visions, maybe the working habits, etc., of Rowan and Grisman were just incompatible. McNally and Jackson's narratives both seem to say (and can further be read as saying) more or less this. Have to develop further.

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    1. Club Front was funded by Garcia's solo record contract with
      Arista Records. The Neve console he installed was used for
      subsequent Grateful Dead albums - and transported to Radio
      City Music Hall for Reckoning.

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    2. As far as any reference to earlier engagements at Club Front, the Grateful Dead had begun leasing the warehouse at 20 Front St. in San Rafael for some time prior to Garcia installing the recording studio in it.

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    3. Thanks for sharing that, Anonymous. I would be interested in learning more about the intermingling (and not) of Jerry Garcia as a business entity and the Grateful Dead. In the meantime, your comments do a good job of putting Betty's recollections into context. I can't remember where I have her saying this (I generally try to cite sources, but can't do so now), but somewhere she discusses how they were goofing around Front Street, putting up baffles and all that and basically constructing a little sound studio, when Tutt mentioned just how incredibly Betty was able to capture his drum sound in that room. And so it was decided, the story goes, just to do the record (Cats Under the Stars) there. As best I can pin down, it looks like work on Cats started at Front Street around July 1977. I don't know where in the chronology the Neve board fits in, but I have seen lots of references to that particular and very nice piece of equipment.

      I recall that Garcia and the GD both signed with Arista ca. start of 1977. The GD went down to LA to record Terrapin Station. When that was done, Jerry discovers that they can make records at Club Front, buys some gear to do so. Over time, it seems like that piece of gear kind of got appropriated into the GD orbit ... or is that mistaken? Where is that Neve board now, I wonder?

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    4. And thank you for your second comment as well, Anonymous. Also useful to remember! Inspires me to want to make sure I have done due diligence in the property records and such. Do you happen to recall when the GD started renting that space?

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  8. Your point about the motives of Hart, Weir and Garcia in building their home studios is well taken. I think my point would better be stated as "if the Grateful Dead had found one of those home studios adequate, they would have stuck to it."

    Your point about Rowan and Grisman clashing is on point as well. Rowan and Grisman remain friends to this day, but their collaborations are always brief. I note also that the "successor" band to OAITW had Grisman, Garcia and Richard Greene, but not Rowan. Greene was much closer to Rowan than Garcia or Grisman (Rowan and Greene had spent two years together with Bill Monroe), so that may be an additional, unspoken clue as to why Greene dropped out of the band so quickly.

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  9. From Garcia's interview with Swing 51 (issue #6, 1982) - he talks a lot about OAITW, and mentions that "I wasn't nearly as good a banjo player in Old & In The Way as when I was 21, 22, and deeply into bluegrass... By the time Old & In The Way started, I had to practice for months just to get as good as I was when that band was happening, and even then it wasn't satisfying to me because I knew what I'd been capable of. I was barely 20% the banjo player I had been when I was 21 or 22. The banjo is really one of those instruments that requires 12 hours a day of really serious pickin' to really play great."

    So it seems Garcia saw himself as kind of the weak link in the band (you can see why he was practicing on the Dead tour)...nonetheless, he talks about how much fun it was, and how even Vassar loved it.

    But the key part, for me:
    "Our finest moments which unfortunately aren't on record anywhere are on tape in private collections. None of them have been circulated. Our finest performances didn't get out into the world. The stuff that's on the live album is not really us when we were at our warmest or even our hottest in that band.
    Q: Do you think any of the studio stuff that you recorded will ever come out?
    JG: I don't think so. It was never as good as our shows, and our shows were only good in the smaller places where the audience didn't drown us out. We did some shows on the East Coast...we did a tour of theatres...and it was hopeless! They wanted to clap along rhythmically like audiences do...and that was so much louder than the band was...we just couldn't hear ourselves... When we went to the East Coast we played bigger places, but that finished us. It was paradoxical; it was like our own success, the fact that we were successful and went over well with audiences, killed the band. It made it impossible for us to hear."

    He mentioned some of these points in another interview as well. It seems an odd perspective of his that the band might've stopped because they got too popular! (Do any audience tapes reflect the audience drowning out the band, as he remembers?)
    He agrees with Grisman that the studio OAITW didn't match the live shows. I am curious which shows he talks about (also mentioned elsewhere, where he calls them "heartstopping") that were so much better than the released shows - and if they ever did get circulated.

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  10. Damnit, just had a comment cannibalized. Fucking blogger.

    I replied as follows.

    1) he was the weak link in OAITW, no doubt about it. His banjo playing was not great in 1973, and of course the other guys were all world class.

    2) I thought I had noted some points at which the band asks the crowd to quiet down, but couldn't find them.

    3) I suspect Bear taped some shows that don't circulate. I am dubious that there are some amazing hidden gems in there, though - the Boarding House shows strike me as the band at its peak, but what do I know.

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  11. Just found this interesting tidbit, which I don't recall having seen. From an article in the Barb in November 1973, commenting on the Dead forming their own record company and release Wake of the Flood: "The next LP on Grateful Dead Records is rumored to be the first release by Old and in the Way". Of course, it wasn't released until 1975, and then on Round, so this is interesting both because it speaks to OAITW's place in the planned "album economics" firmament and to the idea that a side project could be released on GD Records, rather than Round. That may have just been a finer point missed by the author, but it intrigues me.

    Blades, Robert "Razor". 1973. Dead Make Disc History. Berkeley Barb, November 16-22, p. 9.

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    1. It would be useful to know what the author's source was! Round Records wasn't known to the public until mid-'74 (for instance, it's not mentioned in Rolling Stone's exhaustive Nov '73 piece on the Dead's affairs) - at this point it was still just a concept.

      The Rolling Stone article mentioned that "Old and In the Way have messed around in Hart's studio as well," so it was known that they had recorded. I suspect the release rumor was just a rumor, not info from someone in the Dead camp. People would have anticipated a studio album - I think as of Nov '73, the idea of using Bear's Oct '73 live tapes to make an album hadn't occurred yet...but maybe it had? I'm curious just when they made that decision, but I suppose we'll never know that.

      OAITW turned out to be the third Round release in Feb '75. I don't think the delay was for any complicated reasons - Round only got off the ground in June '74 with the Garcia & Hunter releases, and I presume work on the next albums didn't commence until after the Dead stopped touring in October.

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  12. There is a contact sheet of OAITW pics by Roberto Rabanne on gdao:
    http://www.gdao.org/items/show/826648
    Hanwaker and I dated these pics as Keystone Berkeley 73-03-12or13 and they show no fiddle player, but very very likely Will Scarlett on harp.

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  13. For some reason the pix are not loading for me.

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    1. I know this problem, seems gdao has server problems, maybe less capacity. Just try it again and again. If you search 'Roberto Rabanne' it is the 6th contact sheet of his.

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    2. gdao works again!
      http://www.gdao.org/items/show/826648

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