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Monday, May 07, 2012

Merl Saunders, October 19, 1970

Found this interesting. One thing I think we have learned is that, perhaps contrary to assumptions over the years, Garcia came home to the Bay Area whenever there were a few days between GD shows when they were on tour. At least, that's how I read the evidence from ca. 1970.

As a result, the listing above for Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders and Friends at the Matrix on Monday, October 19, 1970 is not that surprising. Jerry probably did come home between the GD show in Minneapolis on October 17 and in DC on October 23.

What struck me about the above was the concurrent listing for the "Merle [sic] Saunders Trio" at El Matador on the same October 19th date. That the copy editors missed this is one thing (contradictions are fun!). More interesting to me is that Merl was probably hedging his bets: it's entirely possible that there had been GD shows planned between 10/17 and 10/23, and that they fell through. If he had been expecting Jerry to be out of town, Merl would have had to work without his relatively new partner. We don't know much about what this might have been (e.g., who were the other two players?), but I just thought it was interesting enough to post (but not so interesting that I write a dissertation about it).


  1. It's possible that "Merle" could have been playing an early or late gig at another club. Do you know what the typical schedule was at the Matrix?

    1. That's a good point, Scratchie. I don't know what times the Matrix shows would start.

  2. My own theory is that the El Matador was usually closed on Mondays, a fact I believe I learned from Derrick Bang's new book on Vince Guaraldi, which is very informative about San Francisco nightclubs from the 50s through the early 70s (among other topics).

    My theory is that someone from El Matador called the Chronicle and said "Merl Saunders Trio all week" and some copyboy--remember them?--put Merl down for opening Monday, when the implied term for El Matador would be opening Tuesday. Thus the conflict was created by the Chronicle, not reality. Monday was musician's night off in San Francisco, so everyone could get together and jam.

    Incidentally, for the prosopographically minded, the group Naked Lunch, who are opening for Elvin Bishop at the Keystone Korner, are a predecessor to the fine band Malo. I think they featured guitarist Abel Zarate and keyboardist Lu Stephens, though I would have to look it up. They are also another in a long line of bands whose name was inspired by writer William Burroughs.

  3. In the 1950s and into the early '60s, the traditional jazz clubs were indeed dark on Mondays, and bookings generally ran from Tuesdays through Sundays. But this began to change in the 1960s; the Blackhawk began a "locals night" on Mondays, Outside at the Inside started with a "folk night" on Sundays and Mondays. The Blackhawk changed its policy completely in September 1962, with split acts sharing a week: initially Guaraldi's trio on Mondays, the Ramsey Lewis trio on Tuesdays, and both combos sharing the stage for the rest of the week. In late 1965, a critic mentions that the Guaraldi/Bola Sete combo did better business at El Matador "on a frigid Monday night" than all the other clubs combined.

    Once rock and folk clubs began to replace jazz clubs, the "Monday dark" policy vanished completely. As you know, the Matrix had a "jam night" on Mondays. In July of 1968, Guaraldi's trio was at the Trident for three weeks, but on Mondays the club offered the Dick McGarvin Trio. As for El Matador, I can say that, as of late 1970, it had music on Mondays, with the Guaraldi trio there Mondays through Wednesdays, and Tjader's trio there the rest of the week.

    So no, I'd have to say that it's not "generally true" that any clubs -- including El Matador -- were closed on Mondays, in the late 1960s and beyond. It's more likely true that the featured acts were given the night off, and somebody else filled in for them ... but even that can't be stated with certainty.

  4. I've dug up some info on El Matador.
    El Matador
    492 Broadway, North Beach, between Columbus and Montgomery
    San Francisco, CA

    In 1957, some say 1953, Conrad opened El Matador, a popular Latin-pop-and-jazz music club in San Francisco's North Beach that attracted celebrities as varied as Norman Mailer, Orson Welles, Marilyn Monroe, John Steinbeck, Noel Coward and Truman Capote.(3)
    Top performers such as Charlie Byrd, Erroll Garner, the Modern Jazz Quartet, George Shearing, and Oscar Peterson graced the nightclub.(5)
    In San Francisco, aficionados of the ancient and bloody art of bullfighting who find themselves hankering for the sights and sounds of the bull ring can find satisfaction of a sort no farther away than Broadway, in the picturesque El Matador bar, which is owned and operated by sometime matador and eminently prolific writer on bullfighting lore Barnaby Conrad. The rendezvous was established, he explains, after a representative of his publishers, on a trip west from New York, asked to be taken to a "nice little bar" where one could talk. "Such a thing didn't exist, so I opened one," says Conrad, "and, like Laocon with the serpents, I have been wrestling with my hobby ever since."

  5. Laocon today has to contend with nothing more formidable than a pet macaw, as shown on the opposite page; after five years Conrad's El Matador is solidly established, like the Giants, as part of the San Francisco scene. And justifiably so, since the place is really quite extraordinary. To begin with, it is as dark as the inside of your sombrero; but what the eye distinguishes after a few minutes is worth seeing. Besides innumerable bullfight photographs and a full-length portrait of the late Manolete, there are on display all the traditional and beautiful regalia of the bull ring. Hung against the white walls among Spanish wineskins are swords, brilliant capes, the odd-shaped black hats and the glistening trajes de luces, or "suits of lights," in which matadors fight. Finally, there are two stuffed bulls' heads which rivet attention. One of these is real; it belonged to a bull that died for the Tyrone Power film The Sun Also Rises. The other is a straw monstrosity with lolling tongue, the only creature in this rather awesome bar that dares look slightly squiffed. Spanish guitar music contributes to the general atmosphere of the place, and on Sunday evenings, when patrons are treated to movies of famous bullfighters in action, the whole show comes near to rivaling the Plaza Mexico.
    The man responsible for it all, 37-year-old Barnaby Conrad, is among other things a pianist and guitar player and something of a painter; the mural behind him in the photograph is his own composition. He has had six books published, including the sensationally successful novel Matador, which has sold more than 2 million copies. The work which is Conrad's own favorite is his requiem for his friend and idol entitled The Death of Manolete. Barnaby narrowly missed death himself last spring in Spain when he was badly gored in his continuing effort to personally master the sport which is the love of his life. A perennial absorption with the business of danger and death in the bull ring marks this uncommon man. And yet his life today centers very largely about home and family—his lagoon-side house on Belvedere Island in the Bay, his beautiful wife Dale, an ex-newspaper columnist who looks like a Dresden china figurine, and their three handsome children.
    An uncommonly delicious specialty of Mr. Conrad's bar is the hot appetizers cooked Japanese-style over charcoal-burning table stoves, which have been a feature of El Matador ever since San Francisco Restaurant Man Vic Bergeron (Trader Vic) presented his friend Barnaby with several of these miniature hibachis. Delicacies which are threaded on slender bamboo skewers for grilling include raw top sirloin of beef cut in squares that have been soaked in red wine with a dash of brandy, small cubes of spicy smoked sausage, taquitos (small Mexican cornmeal tortillas filled with hot chili sauce"), and shrimp previously simmered in white wine and mixed spices.
    There are endless combinations of other good things that might be tried at home. And the possibilities of this do-it-yourself table cookery certainly go beyond appetizers. Think of a terrace luncheon, for example, with an individual hibachi for each guest, and perhaps a big dish of ripe fruit for a dessert.(1)

  6. In Person at El Matador is a 1965 live-album by Sérgio Mendes and Brasil '65. It was recorded at El Matador in San Francisco, California. Recorded by Wally Heider.
    Just who is Barnaby Conrad? The acclaimed author of Matador (three million copies sold since 1952) and of 31 other books, including five bestsellers. As a contemporary of Hemingway, the 81-year-old Conrad was also a bullfighter, El Niño de California, the first American to have fought in Spain, Mexico, and Peru. Today, he's also a famed artist whose murals and paintings are in collections worldwide, including the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. But, you ask, wasn't he also a filmmaker, a diplomat, a tropical fish-breeder, the piano-playing owner of the San Francisco's chic-est nightclub, El Matador, during the 1950s? Yes. Barnaby Conrad has worn a remarkable number of hats in his charmed life.
    Artist-author-adventurer Barnaby Conrad was born in San Francisco in 1922. Captain of the freshman boxing team at University of North Carolina, he went on to study painting at the University of Mexico, where he became fascinated by the ancient art of bullfighting. After graduating from Yale in 1943, he served three years as American Vice Consul in Seville, Malaga, and Barcelona-an experience that would inspire eight of his books, including Last Boat to Cadiz. In 1947, he worked as secretary-companion to famed novelist Sinclair Lewis. John Steinbeck chose Matador as his favorite book of the year, and the novel has been translated into over 20 languages.
    Returning to the bullring in 1958, Conrad was gored almost fatally, upon which he put the cape aside for the palette and the typewriter. In 1973 he started the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference, inviting such notables as Eudora Welty, Gore Vidal, Joan Didion, Ross McDonald, and others over the years. He and his wife Mary continue to direct this literary gathering.(2)
    Vince Guaraldi & Bola Sete recorded – Live At El Matador, released by Fantasy in 1966.

  7. The place used to have a fantastic zimbalist player (think hammering directly on piano strings) who entertained diners.(4)

    El Matador was "swank", "the most attractive room in America". Part saloon, part salon, one might on any given night find Truman Capote, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra or Duke Ellington at El Matador.

    Barnaby Conrad wrote a book about his nightclub, "Name Dropping, Tales From My Barbary Coast Saloon, 1994.
    It was decorated with bullfighting gear, bullfighting photos, bullfighting art and two stuffed bull heads.
    El Matador closed in 1983.
    El Matador is long gone now, but it was just a few doors down from Enrico's, where Conrad ate lunch with Steinbeck almost every day on his "Travels With Charley" layover.
    Last spring Conrad, 88, recalled Steinbeck was "riding high and in wonderful spirits" when they saw each other 50 years ago. "He visited me a couple of times in my saloon and took me to see the inside of Rocinante," Conrad remembered.
    Steinbeck had agreed to film a brief "standup" introduction for a low-budget movie based on his short-story "Flight," which Conrad was producing and needed help in selling to distributors. So one day Conrad, Steinbeck and Elaine drove south along the coastline to Monterey and Carmel to scout a suitably scenic seaside location.
    Steinbeck hadn't been in Monterey for 20 years. When he saw what the city had done to try to revive Ocean View Avenue -- the blighted street of closed sardine factories that had recently been officially renamed "Cannery Row" in Steinbeck's honor -- he was "terribly depressed," Conrad said.(6)
    Dr, Anton Szandor LaVey, founder of The Church of Satan and author of The Satanic Bible, was disappointed that Barnaby Conrad's El Matador saloon in San Francisco played host to only jazz musicians. El Matador was a museum of tauromaquia but lacked one element in order to make it a total environment: the music of the bullring! Dr. LaVey said that he offered to play organ interpretations of the music but Barnaby turned him down (Barnaby didn't know what he was missing!).(8)

  8. Herb Caen wrote an item (the "Glitterbug Set") about Conrad's old nightclub on Broadway.(7)

    El Matador was the scene of many late-night gatherings and shenanigans, where local notables including Caen, Enrico Banducci, Howard Gossage and jockey and art collector Billy Pearson rubbed shoulders with haute Hollywood icons Frank Sinatra, Tallulah Bankhead, Artie Shaw, Judy Garland, Tyrone Power and Ava Gardner.
    "I hate to sound like an old-timer," Conrad said. "But there were so many characters then. Down the street, Johnny Mathis was playing at Ann's 440 Club, Lenny Bruce was at the Swiss-American Hotel. You had Jonathan Winters at the hungry i and Phyllis Diller down at the Purple Onion. It was an extraordinary time. Imagine, Noel Coward in my little rotten saloon."
    Conrad recounted the origin of his autobiographic epitaph, stemming from the first erroneous reports of his demise in 1958, with typical flair: "Eva Gabor comes running into Sardi's. She sees Noel Coward and says, 'Noel, dahling, have you heard the news about poor Bahnaby? He vass terribly gored in Spain!' Alarmed, Noel asks, 'He was what?' And Eva replies, 'He vass gored!' And like a good martini, a relieved Coward dryly responded, 'Thank heavens ... I thought you said he was "bored." (7)

    Ownership changed in 1964.

    ...And of course, Rexroth. Kenneth Rexroth would hold forth at the Matador reciting poem after poem, sometimes in Japanese, not caring whether we understood or not.
    Jack Kerouac came into the Matador only one time, and he was already a star. He had an aura about him. It was Truman Capote that made his famous and unjustified remark, "That's not writing, that's typing."
    Kerouac came into the bar that night with Larry Ferlingetti, the celebrated poet and owner of City Lights Bookstore. I'd never met Kerouac before, and actually, I was reluctant to meet him since I'd just written an unfavorable review of his latest book, The Dharma Bums, which had appeared in the Saturday Review. He was tanned, good-looking, and a little drunk, but intriguing. I thought he was older than me, and he was, by thirteen days.
    "I'm sorry I had to write that review," I said to the beatnik god. I liked "On The Road" alot, but I just didn't understand this one."
    "You will," he said affably. "In about ten years, you will."
    Then his mood changed. He stared sadly into his bourbon, as though the answer to the mystery of life lay among the ice cubes.
    Then he brightened and clapped me on the shoulder. "You know, life's like a sewer-you get out of it what you put into it."
    Without another word, he lurched out into the night, on the road again.(9)

  9. "For the record, the Matador is still there. Sort of. The bullfighting motif and artifacts disappeared. The big mural has been covered up with puce material, there are pool tables, and there is no trace of "la fiesta brava" around the electronic pinball machines.
    One evening in February 1994, I drove by the Matador and saw that the sign was down. I peered through the window, and though it was dark, I could see that the place was gutted, piles of lumber indicating that an extensive remodeling job was in progress. Nothing about the place indicated that there had ever been a place called El Matador.
    Except! Except the beautiful six foot mat across the double door entrance, which announced to the world in black with big white letters, "El Matador". It was the only tangible proof left that there had ever been a place of that name, but it was firmly cemented in the sidewalk. My resolve was instant, dammit, the Mat's mat mattered! That was my mat, and I must have it forever.
    I stationed my wife at the corner to keep eye out for hte fuzz-it would be terribly embarrasing to go to the slammer for vandalism at my time of life. Then I pressed my son, Barny, who was born about the same time as the nightclub, into vigorous action. With one eye cocked for policemen or the new owner, we pulled, yanked and pried. After ten minutes, the great mat was ripped away from it's bed and, like a giant manta ray, was flopped into the trunk of the car. Feeling as though we'd pulled off a monstrous college prank, we drove away jubiliantly.
    "Just think," I panted. "That mat was trod upon by Ingrid Bergman, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, Hedy Lamarr, ans Vivien Leigh. Plus three Gabors and their mother."
    My more literate son added, "And Caldwell, Steinbeck, Capote, and Kerouac."(9)

    Merl Saunders performed here but so far there is no evidence that Jerry performed here.

    1.)^Mabon, Mary Frost, El Matador at Eve, 1959-05-04,
    4.)^Entriken, Rocky, 2007-06-17,
    5.)^Beyl, Ernest, Jazz in San Francisco’s glory days: From the fifties to now,
    6.)^Steigerwald, Bill, Steinbeck Sees His Future Country, 2010-10-29
    7.)^Bigelow, Catherine, The Travels Of Barnabull, 2003-11-16, sf chronicle, pg e-3,
    8.)^Wessel, Larry, The Nicest Man I Ever Met,
    9.)^O'Reilly, James, Habegger, Larry, O'Reilly, Sean, Travelers' Tales San Francisco:True Stories, Conrad, Barnaby, El Matador Lives, pg 234-6

    Sorry about the length of this but it's al cool stuff.


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