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Friday, November 25, 2011

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The April 1975 Legion of Mary Tour


In April 1975, Legion of Mary (Jerry Garcia, Merl Saunders, Martin Fierro, John Kahn and Ronnie Tutt) went on its only tour, performing, by my count, twenty-five shows in the seventeen days between April 4th and April 20th (inclusive). They started in Brooklyn, spent a bunch of time in the core Northeast (New York, Boston, Philly), down a bit further south (Washington, Atlanta) and up to the upper Midwest (Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison), mostly playing mid-size clubs and theaters.

There is a great deal to say about this tour, and I’ll only be able to scratch the surface here. My overarching point would be to remark on the degree of institutionalization represented by this tour by this band. Not only is there a set tour (which the innominate Garcia-Saunders aggregation had test-flown in November 1974), but it’s with a band with a name and fixed membership. It’s not really that surprising – the GD was on hiatus, and there was space for a formalized alternative Garcia outlet—but it is noteworthy. Remember that Garcia had only toured outside the Grateful Dead three times prior to this: January 1972 behind Hooteroll?, briefly (and I think abortively) with Old and In the Way in June 1973, and the November 1974 Garcia-Saunders tour. Looking through the other end of the telescope, this would be the final time Garcia would tour behind a non-GD band that wasn’t eponymous --$5 word … “bearing his name”. When next he returned to the Northeast, he’d be in front of the newly-christened Jerry Garcia Band, which, with tiny variations (e.g., Jerry Garcia and John Kahn) is the name under which he’d cross time zones for the rest of his too-short life when not playing with the Grateful Dead.

The core of the tour, to my reckoning, was a three-night, six-show run (April 8-10) spent at the Bottom Line, 15 West Fourth Street, New York, NY, 10012. I should certainly say more about this venue, but Corry has said more than I could, anyway. [see also Jerry's Brokendown Palaces entry for the Bottom Line.] The shows were promoted by Allan Pepper and Stanley Snadowsky, as indicated by this ticket for the Thursday (April 10) late show, which I believe has been shared at the Merl Saunders Facebook page.


Jerry and Merl had played the Bottom Line twice before, with the July 1-4, 1974 standalone shows (i.e., not part of a tour), and the full November 1974 tour, which had featured the great Paul Humphrey on drums. Somewhere I came across something that said the July shows were envisaged as a dry run for the November tour, but now I can’t find the source. I have more to say about the November tour as well, which features some naming and billing variations that interest me (to say nothing of some pretty decent music). I have already discussed it once in terms of when it ended, but there’s lots, lots more to say.

What fascinates me about the April Bottom Line shows, for whatever reason, is that, as far as I can tell, they went totally unadvertised. If the Grateful Dead have come to be seen as pioneers for what we would now call viral marketing, it’s worth noting that the first extensions beyond that group may have been to Garcia’s side projects. The Bottom Line’s standing ads in the Village Voice just sort of skipped over these three nights (see the issues of March 31, 1975, p. 114, and April 7, 1975, p. 106). Yet the shows quickly sold out (can’t find a cite for that, but I think there is one) and one of them, the Tuesday (April 8) late show, was even reviewed in the New York Times (John Rockwell, “Legion of Mary Fans Cheer Band’s Winning Music,” New York Times, April 10, 1975, p. 47). Again, it’s no big deal, but it just fascinates me as a slight deviation from the otherwise pretty straight institutionalization of the whole affair.

My own judgment has long been that these April 1975 shows are not that great, and revisiting this April 10th early show as taped by the late, great Jerry Moore does little to dissuade me from that view. Stevie Wonder’s “Creepin’” [Allan] is an interesting novelty, and this version shows some promise, but it never really takes off. Two of the Garcia selections on this night, “It Ain’t No Use” and Jesse Winchester’s “Every Word You Say” [Allan | Schofield], are among my least favorite tunes from the period and just don’t do much for me. The Merl Saunders vocals, “My Problems Got Problems” [Allan | Schofield] (credited on Fire Up+ to Saunders and Carrier) and another great Stevie song, “Boogie On Reggae Woman” [Allan | Schofield] are both a little off, especially the former. It starts off with all kinds of whacked out tempos, way too fast for Merl to keep up with lyrically, and it never really settles in. It ends with kind of a thud after Merl tries, unsuccessfully, to improvise some lyrics to fit the unfamiliar tempo. They pull BORW together a little bit better, albeit after a rough start.

(Aside: I love how Merl got Jerry to play Stevie Wonder tunes. Both “Creepin’” and “Boogie On Reggae Woman” appeared on Fulfillingness’ First Finale [1974]. A propos of nothing, that album also has a track titled “It Ain’t No Use”, but it’s not the same as the Jerry Williams / Gary U.S. Bonds / Don Hollinger track played by Garcia and figuring in the present show’s setlist.)

The only real standout, to my ears – and it is a standout—is Dylan’s “The Wicked Messenger” [Allan | Schofield]. I have no idea where Garcia got the idea to turn this song into a raunchy, grinding, wailing electric guitar dysphony … had someone else covered it this way before? If Dylan’s album version featured a country lilt to contrast the grim lyrics, Garcia’s version met darkness with darkness. It’s a biting, metallic display of anger and virtuosity, not quite the equal of the version from the Great American Music Hall on May 15, 1975 (featured on the bonus disc Absolute Mary), but still a show-stealer and well worth ten minutes of anybody’s time.

All right, listening notes follow. Thanks again to Jerry Moore (RIP, STW), Rob Berger and David Minches for getting this great recording into the ears of the masses.

Legion of Mary
Bottom Line
15 West Fourth Street
New York, NY, 10012
April 10, 1975 (Thursday)
Early Show

Recorded by Jerry Moore; 2x AKG D1000Es > Sony TC-152; Transfer and FLAC encoding by David Minches: Master played back on Nakamichi Dragon > Korg MR-1000 (DSF [1-bit 5.6448 MHz Stereo]) Korg AudioGate > WAV [24/96] > Adobe Audition 3.0 > FLAC encoding. Speed/pitch Correction by Joe B. Jones. Thanks to Rob Berger for supplying the master cassettes.

(7 tracks, 85:29)
01. crowd and tuning [1:08]
02. It Ain't No Use [12:20] [1:38]
03. Creepin' [13:36] [1:07] % [0:33]
04. My Problems Got Problems [14:42] [2:06]
05. Every Word You Say [7:24] [0:11] % [2:37]
06. The Wicked Messenger [10:10] [1:44]
07. Boogie On Reggae Woman [15:45] [0:24]

Lineup:
Jerry Garcia - el-g, vocals;
Merl Saunders - keyboards, vocals;
Martin Fierro - saxophone;
John Kahn - el-bass;
Ron Tutt - drums.

JGMF:
! Recording: symbols: % = recording discontinuity; / = clipped song; // = cut song; ... = fade in/out; # = truncated timing; [ ] = recorded event time. The recorded event time immediately after the song or item name is an attempt at getting the "real" time of the event. So, a timing of [x:xx] right after a song title is an attempt to say how long the song really was, as represented on this recording.
! db: http://db.etree.org/shn/14209 (earlier transfer of same tape).
! R: this is the only known recording of this show as of 11/2011. It's a characteristically excellent Jerry Moore tape.
! t03 Creepin' they find a nice little groove from 4:53 around Garcia's solo. This has real promise. It's better than the 2/14/75 version I just listened to. It even swings a little bit.
! t04 PGP they have the tempo way too fast for Merl, and generally. Around the 12-minute mark they are completely lost, Merl trying to improvise through a tempo that he just doesn't have a handle on, not that successfully.
! P: t06 WM I love the raunchy tone Jerry gets on this during his first solo, late 1-min to early 2-min mark. And he is still shredding in the early 3-min mark. Wow, this is very heavy stuff.
! P: t07 BORW starts off a little rough again, things just out of sync.
! R: t07 some bumping of the microphone early in BORW.

16 comments:

  1. I think "Wicked Messenger" was just modified by Garcia's usual choice of tempo. However, there was a sort of precedent on the first album by the Rod Stewart/Ron Wood Faces, called First Step. The first track on the album, released in early 1970, was a slow, bluesy version of "Wicked Messenger." I doubt it was the source of Garcia's arrangement, but the idea was in the air.

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  2. excellent reading, as always. thanks!

    random note: i think it's one one of these bottom line recordings that you can hear a member of the audience going "dinsdale, dinsdale", like in the monty python sketch.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLz07TaTDEA

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  3. Hello!
    Having some confusion, and I bring it up here because of the Bottom Line connecton...

    I had always assumed these April '75 shows at the Bottom Line to be where/when Jerry met one of his legends, John Lennon. However, it seems there are some discrepancies. The Jerry site mentions the July 1974 shows at the Bottom line as being when this meeting occurred. However the Blair Jackson book "Garcia: An American Life" states that the meeting took place at the Bottom Line during the Fall of 1975. LOM did not play that venue during their fall tour that year - only the spring tour (April 8-10th as mentioned in this blog post). Perhaps this was just a typo on Blair's part? In either case - which is it? July 1974 at the Bottom Line, April 1975 at the Bottom Line, or at a previously undocumented Fall 1975 show at the Bottom Line?

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  4. sraile to the white courtesy telephone, please ...

    (Frank, a sometimes-commenter on this blog is the most expert person on this question ... let's try to get sraile's reply. Thank you for posting!)

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  5. There's this quote from Merl in Oliver Trager's American Book of the Dead (p 240; it's on google books): "I never will forget when we played the Bottom Line in the spring of 1975. We did three shows in three days, and the place was jam packed. We were playing and the audience was just freaking out, and all of a sudden we hear all the noise stop. We hear an 'oooh,' and we see a flash go by into the dressing room. We look at each other because we didn't know who went in there When we went into the dressing room John Lennon was sitting there."

    It's problematic, since the lostlivedead post on the July 74 Bottom Line shows says that's when Lennon dropped by (and, if Kahn's description of Lennon's drunken behavior in BJ's book is accurate, then July 74 makes more sense given that it was right in the middle of Lennon's "lost weekend" period), so perhaps Merl is mistaken about the date. If Merl is correct, though, it does give some sense of how many people were in the club for these shows.

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  6. I'll weigh in. I haven't looked in any Lennon bios though - as a true researcher should - but I think it's likely the true date could be triangulated from that side as well.
    That aside, I conclude that Lennon most likely did meet the Garcia band during the April '75 run, and possibly on two occasions.

    I think Blair Jackson's statement that it occurred during the fall '75 Northeastern tour is misleading, one of Blair's rare slips. (And repeated in the Illustrated Trip.) They didn't play the Bottom Line that tour; and indeed, there was no day they could have, as every date on that tour was filled with a show (except for October 29). Also, by that tour every show was recorded - it seems very unlikely for an NYC show then to slip through the cracks. On top of which, Lennon's son was born in October 1975, making it pretty odd for Lennon to be hitting the clubs shortly afterwards. So I think Jackson carelessly mistook the spring '75 Northeast tour for the fall one.

    We have four different accounts of the meeting from the Garcia band members.
    One was from Merl, as quoted above. It continues:
    "When we went into the dressing room John Lennon was sitting there. We were shocked. He came to thank us for doing his number Imagine on my album Heavy Turbulence. I had done the first cover version of his song."

    And, from Jackson's Garcia bio, Martin Fierro:
    "He came backstage and Jerry introduced him to us and I couldn't speak. My voice left me. He was one of my biggest heroes and I couldn't talk. I was like a drugstore Indian. Then he came back with us to the hotel in the limo. No guards, no Yoko, just him. And he partied with us for a while."

    And John Kahn:
    "Lennon was sort of in disguise, and he was with this really weird guy I didn't know. I heard from Richard Loren that Lennon asked if there was a guitar there that was louder than Garcia's. He wanted to sit in. Well, that got back to Jerry, and Jerry said, 'No, fuck him.' Later, Lennon came down to the dressing room and was there for a long time, a couple of hours. He was real drunk and was a little belligerent. He kept referring to Jerry as J.C., which I took to mean Jesus Christ, like making fun of Jerry. That night Lennon ended up with the Hell's Angels, and we had a particularly sleazy, motley group of Hell's Angels with us."

    And finally, Jerry himself, as he told to Justin Kreutzmann:
    "Before a Jerry Garcia Band show, in New York, John Lennon came by to thank him. Lennon told Jerry that his version of 'Imagine' was the first time someone had covered one of John's solo tunes.
    After the show they talked for a while and Jerry invited John to come back the next night to join him on stage. John said he would return the following day and do a sound check with the Garcia Band so they could work up a few tunes. Lennon never came back and Garcia thought that all the imposing Hell's Angels hanging out backstage might have 'scared him off.'"
    http://blogcritics.org/music/article/john-lennon-meets-jerry-garcia/

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  7. (continued...)

    Some observations -
    Martin Fierro, as far as I know, was not at the Bottom Line shows in July '74. Coupled with Merl's memory of the meeting being in April '75, that makes it pretty certain that 1975 is the true date.
    I'm not sure how the story got transferred to 1974. But it's interesting that, other than confirming that Lennon spent time in the dressing room after the show, the stories barely correspond at all.
    Garcia & Saunders agree that Lennon came to thank them for the cover of Imagine - which means that Lennon actually came to see SAUNDERS, since it was on his album, and Lennon may only have been vaguely aware that Garcia had played on it too. (And, in Kahn's telling, Lennon didn't think much of Garcia.)
    Garcia & Kahn agree that there was a band of Hell's Angels present, but remember Lennon's reaction quite differently.
    According to Kahn, Lennon wanted to sit in and Garcia said no; according to Garcia, he asked Lennon to sit in and Lennon flaked out. And Kahn's memory of the drunken, belligerent John was (tactfully?) not confirmed by the others.

    Kahn's Lennon seems to fit 1974 better actually, as John was back with Yoko in 1975...but not necessarily better-behaved! And in summer 1974, John was recording Walls & Bridges, and I think more likely to consider "sitting in" with some club band than in mid-1975 when he'd temporarily 'quit music.' And as far as I know, Lennon was in NYC in July 1974.

    The discrepancies make it just possible that Lennon dropped in on two occasions. This is a desperate speculation, though, as I think someone would've mentioned if he had met them twice.

    As a trivia note - the Elephant's Memory band (which had backed Lennon in '72) played along with the Garcia/Saunders band at the Hell's Angels party on the SS Bay Belle in NYC harbor 9/5/73.

    Also - Peter Coyote tells the bizarre tale of an intersection between the Grateful Dead, the Hell's Angels, and John Lennon in Christmas 1968 -
    http://www.petercoyote.com/freshair.html (about 3/4 down the page)

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  8. http://www.flickr.com/photos/43811327@N00/2309216034/sizes/o/in/photostream/


    I took this photo at The Bottom Line on 7/2/74, the 2am late show. I still have my ticket stub. Never went to another Bottom Line show. Isn't that Martin Fierro with the hat?

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  9. Heh heh heh. You ol' meanie.

    Yep, I can confirm that that's Martin, all right.

    :)

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  10. Well then! The jerrysite states "show without Martin Fierro" for some reason... But there he is, and there goes my theory. (A testimony to inadequate research!) Now I have to say July '74 is the most likely time for the meeting; indeed overwhelmingly likely.

    If Lennon were to find out Saunders was in town & seek him out, it seems a "Merl Saunders & Friends" billing would catch his eye more than the mysterious "Legion of Mary" name the band went under in '75.

    Of course, there's always the November '74 run at the Bottom Line, too...

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  11. Thanks for the kind words, JGMF! My name is Scott Raile and, for the past ten years, my friend Chip Madinger and I have been working on the John Lennon book to end all John Lennon books. We've found that there has been very, very, VERY little primary research done on the Beatles over the past 40 years; most everyone who writes a book simply copies what's come before, mistakes and all. Chip and I were determined to not do that, and as such we researched literally everything from scratch.

    It was mind-boggling how much information we came up with, not only in the category of "I had no idea that's what happened," but also in the category of correcting "facts" that had been accepted for decades. Indeed, we came up with so much information, it can't be contained in one book, but will be spread out over four books, starting (probably) in late 2012. If anyone is interested, please check out our website (lennonology.com) or you can also find our presence on Facebook (again, search for Lennonology).

    I was primarily involved with what will be the first volume, STRANGE DAYS INDEED, which is a day-by-day chronology of John and Yoko's life from 1968-1980. Since it is in a day-by-day diary format, it was crucial that we nail down as many dates as possible and, as an enormous Deadhead, it was important to me to get the John/Jerry date just right. Like many things, we hit numerous dead-ends for many years, before one thing opened up the floodgates. And so, with Chip's permission, I will reveal here for the first time the REAL date that John met Jerry: Tuesday, November 5, 1974.

    Our source for this information was an issue of "Cashbox" which featured a photo of John outside the Bottom Line, and which was very explicit about when it was taken. And, like many, many other things in the book, that piece of information connected up to a few other things. In May Pang's book LOVING JOHN (a book that, like so many "I was there" tomes is factually very accurate, but the timeline is very skewed), she mentions that she and John got into a big fight because his photo was published in a "trade publication" that showed him with a lovely woman who was neither Yoko nor May.

    Sure enough, that description fits the Cashbox photo quite well; a comely lass is indeed hanging on John's arm, and she's no-one we've seen before. And that also provides food for thought for another fact we know: the issue of Cashbox would have been on the stands on Saturday, November 16, 1974, and we know for a fact that John spent the night at the Dakota that night. A result of his fight with May? It seems likely.

    (And that brings up another point: John and Yoko saw each other a LOT during "the lost weekend." So, the mythology that they were magically reunited at the Elton John concert on November 28 is pure hokum. After all, he spent the night at Yoko's place two weeks before that).

    So, that's a VERY long way of saying "November 5, 1974." But I want everyone to rest assured that that date is rock-solid and, if you're a John Lennon fan and found that factoid interesting, please check out our book next year; it will be full of hundreds (thousands?) of stories just like this.

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  12. This has been a very interesting thread, not least because Scott has settled the date definitively. I was very intrigued by the perspective of LIA's quotes, however. Often we have numerous contradictory assertions about meeting Jerry Garcia from different eyewitnesses, yet hear we had Garcia and his band mates as the eyewitnesses with foggy memories.

    Would that we were always so lucky to have someone like Scott swoop in at the end and resolve all our questions.

    On another note, how often did Fierro play with Garcia/Saunders between July '73 and Fall '74? Jan 19 '74 is all that comes to mind off the top of my head, and now we have the Bottom Line as well.

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  13. Well, what a privilege it is to be able to host the revelation of that date ... a crossing of some serious threads, there.

    Scott, thank you for your research and to you and Chip Madinger for agreeing to give us a preview of the fruits of your labors! That is very, very exciting. Congratulations.

    I can put together a pretty good list of when Martin was around. As far as I can tell, he really settles in by January '74 and is there almost without fail through the end of Legion of Mary (ca. July 6, 1975). But there will be some dates that remain shrouded, and alas I think July 2, 1974 is destined to remain one of those.

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  14. Also, let me add that I agree totally (and I suspect those who write and read around these parts do as well) that what you say about Lennonology could also be said of Jerryology. Folks operate with a set of received truths which reflect what really happened to a greater or lesser degree. The degree can only be assessed by hard work, careful reasoning and, when the time is right, transparent procedures. Bravo to you guys for doing it right!

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  15. A big thanks to JGMF for the blog, LIA for coming by to lend his insights, and especially to Scott for taking the time to give us such a great answer (and preview of his amazing book)!

    It would certainly be nice to send this info along to the powers that be at The Jerry Site so we could have this documented there.

    Again - thanks very much!

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  16. In a 1994 interview, Merl was asked about synthesizers, and he says "I used John Lennon's Mellotron". In case sraile hasn't heard this tidbit (or can say that it makes no sense, or whatever), I am posting it here.

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!Thank you for joining the conversation!