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Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Bloody Hell"



When called to summarize the show in a headline for my etree list, which is a date index for the site, I said "a pretty good night for Nicky Hopkins." And I do think that this is a strong performance by Nicky Hopkins and the whole JGB. Everyone plays well, every song is played well, and some of this, such as "Catfish John" and "Edward" is outstanding, top-shelf stuff. If you wonder what Garcia had in mind in bringing the especially troubled Nicky Hopkins on board as a business partner (Garcia-Kahn-Tutt-Hopkins dba "Jerry Garcia Band") in fall 1975, check out the show-opening "Let It Rock" from this night, a revelation, channeling melody and time, spirit moving bone. Garcia had never played with a guy like this on piano.

I mean no disrespect to Keith Godchaux in saying this. Keith was a piano maestro in his own right. Garcia on Godchaux (5/12/80, Rowland 1980):

Keith is one of those guys who is sort of an idiot savant of the piano. He’s an excellent pianist, but he didn’t really have a concept of music, of how the piano fit in with the rest of the band. We were constantly playing records for him and so forth, but that wasn’t his gift. His gift was the keyboard, the piano itself.

I am willing to accept Garcia's judgment and framing around this - what the hell do I know? It's a very interesting way of expressing a pianist's strengths and limitations, in any case: the fingers and the keys were as one. The piano provides some beautiful terrain for the realization and display (and thence, third-party appreciation) of human possibility. Listen to Keith's playing in October-November 1971, when he first started with the Grateful Dead, and be witness to instinctive brilliance. He's like a trail-runner, meticulously picking spots while running downhill full-bore with nary a tweak of the ankle. Mistake-free at full speed. If you read fast, or you type fast, or if you speak fluently, or knit or darn or dream - unconscious fluency --what pschologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls "flow"-- is a joy to experience and behold.

But, Hopkins! Instinct and musicality, melody and percussion, note and time … This is human accomplishment, between terra firmaand cosmos.Nicky's playing, at its best, orchestrates my mind. It's agile and powerful and instinctive, totally terrestrial, mathematically precise and impossibly, celestially, colorful. In this show, as in Nicky's whole tenure, there are flashes of all of that.

Now, any empirical scientist will tell you that triangulation is good (for me, the locus classicus is Campbell and Fisk 1959, but there are probably others, and earlier). So after listening to the Cooper tape I decided to check the show out from another point of view, an audience recording by Gerry Moskal (shnid-92780). This particular tape has some banter that the Cooper aud lacks, and it reveals a little of the rabbit's-eye view of my little Tuscan idyll, a good close look at the creepy, crawly underbelly of the natural condition, and a sense of the yin-yang co-constitution of the dark and the light.

After a sprightly version of "Catfish John", Nicky talks to the Queens audience.

·         Nicky Hopkins: "How you all doin', a'right? Hold on a minute? One of the things I would like to say is that outside, when I was in the bathroom, just before we went on, I heard some glass smashing against one of the outside doors, because the place has been booked solid for quite awhile. So there are about twenty people outside …
o   [interrupted by crowd members yelling stuff]
·         ... hold on a minute, please, shut up please ... and I mean that politely."
o   70s Queens dude, very near taper: "You shut up!"
·         Nicky: "There are about twenty people waiting to get in."
o   Crowd guy, possibly same: "Let 'em in!" [other hollering from crowd]
·         Nicky continues "Now wait a minute, please, we'll save time, and we'll get more numbers done that way. In particular, a blond-headed guy was throwing bottles or glasses or whatever at the door ... and then, I just blew it. Because of that. Because ... I had a weird trip that went down, many years ago ... I had a pet cat that chewed on some broken glass that some *bastard* had smashed."
o   [the crowd is laughing at Nicky. And I swear in here someone hiccups very close to the mic. It might be snickering.] [crowd dude yells something at Nicky]
·         "And every time I hear glass smashed, that really just triggers me off. I mean, normally I'm pretty cool, man."
o   [This comes off as desperate, and audience bully guy smells weakness. Guys in crowd are laughing at him. More hollering.]
·         "I mean, let me ask you ... hold on ... please ... just a few seconds silence, before we continue ..."
o   Crowd guy, real loud: "What is this, church?" The crowd is cat-calling Nicky, mocking him, shouting him down, while he begs for silence.
·         "Hold on. Hold on! [sounding like a frustrated parent] Please? Quiet ..."
o   Crowd is just mocking him, viciously.
·         Sounds like Nicky says "OK" or "Oh fine" ... [something inaudible off-mic] Nicky: "Listen. To continue ... before we continue ... bloody hell ... fuck it!"
o   Garcia is strumming "the center cannot hold" chords, smirking a little bit behind his beard, but hopefully not cruelly.
o   Crowd guy, laughing: "We gotcha! So that's your attitude, huh?!?" Crowd just taunting poor Nicky.
And the recording cuts out.

Julian Dawson's excellent 2011 biography talks about how Nicky's personality was just about perfectly ill-suited to spotlight stardom, and his painfully awkward emcee'ing and crowd engagements through his short three months in the Garcia Band illustrate the point in spades. If I ever stop polishing (or pushing) the rock of my 10/17/75 notes, I'll present more evidence and analysis.

In the meantime, what do you do if you are a brilliant pianist who has just had a painful, awkward, embarrassing moment? You play.

"Pig's Boogie" is a great song choice. Yeah, Nicky, you are cool, baby! Fuck yeah you are. If you've ever heard "Gimme Shelter", and you'd better have, Queens guy, you need to STFU. This is Nicky fucking Hopkins, Edward, the Session Man. So, hell yeah, take a feature, tear it up! Jerry's solo in the mid-1 minute mark is real upbeat, too. He knows that was just a weird moment, and he knows, or by this time it's perfectly clear to him, that no good comes from talking too much. Just play. And they do. Around the 4-minute mark, vocal crowd dude correctly identifies and calls out "Pipeline!" Yeah, dude, you are right, there is a little Pipeline break in Pig's Boogie. @ 4:30 John Kahn takes some bass lead that is very rare to hear this late in the game, another descending run for him late 4-minute mark, over 5. He puts a little skip in it, now climbing back up, hits a local bottom at 5:18, Jerry starts picking it up behind him, 5:30 Nicky sharp glissade, now barrel-rolling over the six-minute mark. Jerry is tearing it up to 6:30, now with some double-time chords, calling a too-quick end to it at 6:40, but everyone catches it, and they land clean at 7:00. Wow. Totally different context of hearing it after the "bloody hell" encounter. One last great Nicky fuck you here: "Pig", of course, was his cat, though not, I think, the one who died from the glass. What a great private joke for Nicky and the band. And I think it comes out in the spirited performance. Way to go, Nicky. And by the time he has scalped the room with "Edward" to finish the set, he has the crowd at his fingertips, so to speak, right there where there's control, and comfort, and brilliance. Even as they pose their own challenges, flesh and bone don't talk back.

Incomplete listening notes from the Moskal tape and references below the fold.

Jerry Garcia Band
Colden Auditorium, Queens College
Queens, NY
October 30, 1975 (Thursday)
Moskal aud shn2flac shnid-92780

--set I (8 tracks, 83:13)--
s1t01. [0:06] % /Let It Rock [10:38] %
s1t02. //Sugaree
s1t03. That's All Right, Mama
s1t04. [0:24] % /Catfish John [10:32] %
s1t05. "bloody hell" (1) [2:16]
s1t06. Pig's Boogie [7:00]
s1t07. I'll Take A Melody
s1t08. Money Honey
s1t09. (I'm A) Road Runner [11:05] [0:03] %

--set II (10 tracks, 97:07)--
s2t01. It Ain't No Use
s2t02. Russian Lullaby
s2t03. That's What Love Will Make You Do
s2t04. Friend Of The Devil
s2t05. Lady Sleeps
s2t06. Mission In The Rain
s2t07. Mystery Train
s2t08. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
s2t09. [0:16] % [0:10] % Let's Spend The Night Together [19:01] ->
s2t10. Edward [7:07] (2) [0:04]

! ACT1: Jerry Garcia Band
! lineup: Jerry Garcia - el-g, vocals;
! lineup: Nicky Hopkins - piano;
! lineup: John Kahn - el-b;
! lineup: 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/124251 (Cooper aud 2496), http://db.etree.org/shn/124248 (Cooper 1644), http://db.etree.org/shn/92780 (this fileset).
! map: https://maps.google.com/maps?q=Colden+Auditorium,+Queens+College,+65-30+Kissena+Blvd.,+Flushing,+NY+&hl=en&sll=38.997934,-105.550567&sspn=7.374835,16.907959&t=h&hq=Colden+Auditorium,&hnear=Queens+College,+65-30+Kissena+Blvd,+Flushing,+New+York+11367&z=16&iwloc=A. As of this date (11/9/2013), Google Maps locates Colden Auditorium on Reeves Avenue. The [hard contemporary evidence] says "Kissena Blvd." (no number). JGBP gives street number 65-30, but I don't quite know, so I am sticking with the hardest contemporary evidence, for as far as it will go.
! R: field recordist: Gerry Moskal
! R: field recording gear: 1x Sony Stereo ECM > SONY TCD126
! R: field recording location: "A Sweet Spot"
! R: analog history: master cassette > reel > cassette,  by Gerry Moskal
! R: transfer: akamichi BX300 > Macintosh > Peak Bias > JAM > cdr > EAC > MKW > shn, by Brian Mandel  gdplusmore@aol.com, circulated 7-11-08
! R: SHN > FLAC conversion by jgmf, 8/31/2008: - followed the "germain process", as follows: 1] Validate the md5 checksums that came with the shn set. 2] Create an st5 checksum file for the shn set. 3] Convert the shns to flac. 4] Create a flac st5 checksum. 5] Attach the txt file extension to both sets of st5s. 6] Open them both up and copy-paste the checksums onto the text files. 7] The shn & flac st5 checksums must match perfectly. 7] Document the conversion process in the text files. 8] Delete the md5 & shn st5 files. 9] Remove the txt extension from the flac st5 file.
! R: rename to sets by JGMF 11/10/2013.
! R: "Another Taper Named Gerry Project"
! R: seeder notes: "Special Thanks to Gerry for taping this and sharing his masters with me. These were transferred from Gerry's reels in the mid-1980s, when tape trading and collecting had a more social aspect. If you are familiar with Hot Tuna, 5-8-74, Gym S.U.N.Y. Stonybrook, NY, Gerry taped it as well as many other great shows."
! tags: 1975, JGB, Colden Auditorium, Queens College, Queens, NY, Gerry Moskal, Nicky Hopkins, methodology, east coast, college gigs, listening notes, songs-C, songs-E, songs-L, songs-P
! R: s1t01 clips in.
! P: LIR Nicky is playing amazingly, what a revelation he must have been.
! P: CJ again, Nicky is playing GORGEOUSLY. This tempo on CJ is fantastic. Garcia hasn't lost all hope yet. Tutt sings harmony vocals, e.g., at late 2-minute mark, behind "walking in his footsteps / in the sweet delta dawn". Or should that be His? Anyway, wow, what a great version of this wonderful song. This upbeat tempo speaks more to the context in which Garcia appears to have learned it (bluegrass, with OAITW) than to its delta blues subject. If you're American, and you've read Huck Finn (and if you are and you haven't, forgive me for shaming you a little bit here), you know Catfish a little bit as Jim. If you're a guy of a certain age, you might also recall Skynyrd's "Curtis Loew". Ol' Catfish seems a little more sunny than either of those guys, maybe not quite as hard working. Playing as he wanders rather than wandering to play.
! s1t05 (1) Nicky Hopkins: "How you all doin', a'right? Hold on a ?minute? One of the things I would like to say is that outside, when I was in the bathroom, just before we went on, I heard some glass smashing against one of the outside doors, because the place has been booked solid for quite awhile. So there are about twenty people outside [interrupted by crowd members yelling stuff] ... hold on a minute, please, shut up please ... and I mean that politely." 70s Queens dude, very near taper: "You shut up!" Nicky: "There are about twenty people waiting to get in." Crowd guy, possibly same: "Let 'em in!" [other hollering from crowd] Nicky continues "Now wait a minute, please, we'll save time, and we'll get more numbers done that way. In particular, a blond-headed guy was throwing bottles or glasses or whatever at the door ... and then, I just blew it. Because of that. Because ... I had a weird trip that went down, many years ago ... I had a pet cat that chewed on some broken glass that some *bastard* had smashed." [the crowd is laughing at Nicky. And I swear in here someone hiccups very close to the mic. It might be snickering.] [crowd dude yells something at Nicky] "And every time I hear glass smashed, that really just triggers me off. I mean, normally I'm pretty cool, man." [Guys in crowd are laughing at him. More hollering.] "I mean, let me ask you ... hold on ... please ... just a few seconds silence, before we continue ..." Crowdy guy, real loud: "What is this, church?" The crowd is cat-calling Nicky, mocking him, shouting him down, while he begs for silence. "Hold on. Hold on! [sounding like a frustrated parent] Please? Quiet ..." Crowd is just mocking him, viciously. Sounds like Nicky says "OK" or "Oh fine" ... [something inaudible off-mic] Nicky: "Listen. To continue ... before we continue ... bloody hell ... fuck it!" [Garcia is strumming "things have fallen apart" chords, probably smirking a little bit himself. Crowd guy, laughing: "We gotcha." Guys screams toward stage:  but hopefully not cruelly. Queens guy: "So that's your attitude, huh?!?" Crowd just taunting Nicky, and the tape splices. Wow. This would be the perfect place to bring in the Julian Dawson material on Nicky's painful shyness, and how difficult it was for him to force the square peg of the emcee'ing role that was, apparently, part of Nicky's deal in the JGB, into the round hole of his painfully shy personality.
! P: s1t06 "Pig's Boogie" is a great song choice. Yeah, Nicky, you are cool, baby! Fuck yeah you are. If you've ever heard "Gimme Shelter", and you'd better have, Queens guy, you need to STFU to Nicky fucking Hopkins. So, hell yeah, take a feature, tear it up! Jerry's solo in the mid-1 minute mark is real upbeat, too. He knows that was just a weird moment, and he knows, or by this time it's perfectly clear to him, that no good comes from talking too much. Just play. And they do. Around the 4-minute mark, vocal crowd dude correctly identifies and calls out "Pipeline!" Yeah, dude, you are right! @ 4:30 John Kahn takes some bass lead that is very rare to hear this late in the game, another descending run for him late 4-minute mark, over 5. He puts a little skip in it, now climbing back up, hits a local bottom at 5:18, Jerry starts picking it up behind him, 5:30 Nicky sharp glissade, now barrel-rolling over the six-minute mark. Jerry is tearing it up to 6:30, now with some double-time chords, calling a too-quick end to it at 6:40, but everyone catches it, and they land clean at 7:00. Wow. Totally different context of hearing it after the "bloody hell" encounter. One last great Nicky fuck you here: Pig was his cat. Now, I am not sure if Pig died or got sick eating the broken glass, but still, inside, this must have been a nice private joke for Nicky and the band. And I think it comes out in the spirited performance. Way to go, Nicky. And by the time he has scalped the room with "Edward" to finish the set, he has the crowd at his fingertips, so to speak.
! setlist: s2t05 was listed as "Hopkins Instrumental -> Tuning", but it is "Lady Sleeps" (released on Nicky's No Changes, Mercury SRM 11028)
! personnel: Nicky Hopkins. Obviously I am writing a lot about Nicky around this show. Note that, upon the Cooper aud listen, I felt like Nicky was relatively sober this night. He slurs a little bit here (on the word "bottle", notably), but he doesn't sound completely wrecked.
! P: s2t10 Edward is @@ hot hot hot hot hot-as-hell. What an amazing tune. Mr. Hopkins, I tip my hat to you. Pure crashing and crescendoeing wizardry.
! s2t10 (2) JG: "Thank you. See y'all later on."

REFERENCES
Campbell, Donald T., and Donald W. Fiske. 1959. Convergent and discriminant validation by the multitrait-multimethod matrix. Psychological Bulletin 56, 2 (March): 81-105.

Dawson, Julian. 2011. And On Piano ... Nicky Hopkins: The Extraordinary Life of Rock's Greatest Session Man. Foreword by Klaus Voormann. San Francisco: Backstage Press.

Rowland, Mark. 1980. Still Dead After All These Years. The Real Paper, June 28, 1980, p. 6 (?). Accessed via Google News, pdf available upon request.

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