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Monday, January 19, 2015

Jerry's January 1976

(formatting will almost certainly be a mess - I blame Blogger)

I.                    Preface

My band is in a state of flux right now. John Kahn and Ron Tutt and I are the main … are the nucleus of it, such as it is. We’re hoping to have a four-piece band that we all like, sometime. So far, the combinations that we’ve tried have been interesting, but not exactly where we’re trying to go musically. And so that’s, we’re waiting – we’re more or less auditioning keyboard players, playing with different people. – Jerry Garcia to velvet-voiced KSAN-FM DJ Bonnie Simmons, live in studio the afternoon of January 23, 1976, via GDAO
The demise of 1975 marks the end of the challenge-seeking phase of Garcia's Side Trips, and 1976 marks the start of a comfort-seeking phase. The transition was abrupt, but it was not instantaneous; it most directly took place over the month of January 1976. Armed with some fresh data from the GD Archives, I annotate a chronology of this liminal month.

II.                  The Pivot of 1975-1976

Time powerfully constructs the human experience. Just think of the importance of the concept of a week, in our everyday lives, for a demonstration. Years, with their added relationship to the physical universe, do so even more so.. Ever the dilettante, I get my general sense of this from Boorstin (1985), but here's what some recent science (Tu and Soman 2014) tells us (Korkki 2015).

In one study, conducted in 2010, the researchers asked two groups of farmers in India to set up a bank account and accumulate a certain amount of money by a deadline, offering extra money as an incentive. One group was approached in June, with a deadline of December that year. The second group was approached in July with a deadline of January the next year. The farmers in the first group were more likely to set up an account immediately, even though both groups had the same amount of time. That’s because the deadline was in the same year as the assignment and therefore seemed more like the present.
The turn of the year is the big one. At the level of the day, shit happens on New Year's Eve; legion is the New Year's Day on which we wake to find that "new shit has come to light". Variance is probably higher across that pair of consecutive days than any other in the calendar.

1975-1976 is to years as 12/31-1/1 is to days. No two consecutive years in Garcia's life outside the Grateful Dead differ more resolutely than this mismatched pair. His personal life sees a sharp break, as he leaves Sans Souci (and Mountain Girl and their girls) right around Christmas 1975 and moves in with Deborah Koons right around the start of the year. (It's no coincidence that relationships end and begin with particular frequency in liminal times – again, that's probably the time structuring us, and not the reverse.) Pharmacologically, and though the precise dates are not known, by many timelines, including my own, late 1975 marks the entrance of Persian as a regular part of Garcia's life. If 1975 is the year he gets hooked, 1976 is his first year as an addict to the ultimate comfort drug, the poppy. Socio- and musico-metrically, Merl Saunders and the jazz-funk parts of the JGMS/Legion repertoire exit stage right, and David Grisman leaves the Garciaverse for the next fifteen or so years. Nicky Hopkins (three-plus months) and James Booker (three-plus days) fugue through, and we land on Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux and their slower, swampier, gospel sensibilities.

It's the musical break that really interests me. The demise of 1975 marks the end of the challenge-seeking phase of Garcia's Side Trips, and 1976 marks the start of a comfort-seeking phase. Thereafter, challenge and comfort ebb and flow together, and this is how I mark the course of the Side Trips ("Musical Challenge in the 1970s"). Local peak in 1979 ("Risky Reconstruction"), way too much comfort until the next great breakpoint ("1986, Coma and Recovery", xxx-WIP), a little rise thereafter ("Great Late Jerry", xxx-WIP) and then the roll downstream, the final Grisman re-engagement a rare distillation, longer on both dimensions, deeper in amplitude. In the end, of course, there's quiet.

All is not sharp lines. The human quest for novelty (i.e., Challenge!) drives up from way deep down, from primal places, and at least, because of the Booker experiment, it went out with a creative bang, ten days into the new year. Time undertakes fine needlework across our phony seams. Knowing that this is not a 12/31-is-black-and-1/1-is-white state-change invites me to get up a little closer to inspect the stitching. Hearing Garcia confirm "my band is in a state of flux right now", plus a productive research trip to the Grateful Dead Archives, supplies some concrete motivation and raw material. Accordingly, let's drill down to the literal meso-level, the month, for a granular look at a critical juncture.

III.                January 1976 and Its Legacy

In the challenge-comfort transition of 1975-1976, January 1976 is liminal, embodying massive challenge-seeking (hello, James Booker) and massive comfort-accepting (hello, Keith and Donna Jean). Within the span of a month, Side Trips Jerry of the 1968-1975 flavor (tastes like acid) gave way to a very different model, tasting more like cough syrup and one which, all cards on the table, I find rather less compelling than its predecessor. Don't get me wrong, Garcia was still doing amazing things, and working maniacally, on a day-in and day-out basis. But, as far as his musical life outside the Grateful Dead, his Side Trips, go, I will argue strongly that he "settled" when the Godchaux Era JGB was allowed to form. (Note the passive voice.) I don't know that the alternatives really were – laying at least some of them out will be a chunk of what I will do below. But the (non-) decision was not, to my taste, musically salubrious, the band trying to lumber through and around its members' various and sundry heavy loads. Though it has its moments, it took 18 months, the advent of great new material for Jerry's first Arista record (eventually, Cats Under The Stars) and the departure of stalwart Ronnie Tutt for the band to shake loose of its general torpor and find its groove, which it would then have about a year to really enjoy.

A.      Background: End of the Hopkins Era

Jerry Garcia's only New Year's Eve JGB show, beginning 12/31/75 and ending in the wee hours of 1/1/76, brought an appropriately shambolic curtain down on the Nicky Hopkins Era (ca. 9/1/75-12/31/75). We don't have a very precise operational understanding of how this went down – did Richard Loren call Nicky on the phone and tell him he was out? Did Big Steve Parish pay him a visit? We also don't know the precise timeline, except that Nicky played final notes as a member of the band early on the 1st, on January 2nd-3rd he is billed as a featured player, with his buddy the great John Cipollina, with Terry and the Pirates at the Longbranch Saloon in Berkeley.

Most importantly, at least in terms of our innate desire not just to see variation (see above), but to account for it, we don't really know why it happened. The standard account has it that Nicky was just too out-of-control and had to go. Because I am not a big fan of the show, I have harbored the idea that 12/31/75 was just the straw that broke the camel's back. But I now believe that Nicky's tenure with the JGB, despite the existence of a formal business partnership (Jerry Garcia, John Kahn, Ron Tutt, Nicky Hopkins dba Jerry Garcia Band), was always probationary, at best, and perhaps even foreseen as temporary. I am elaborating the evidence in work in progress.

This preliminary view sheds new light, in my eyes, on the dawn of January 1976. If I am right, the unpleasantness of ending things is already at least several weeks back in the past; a reasonably fresh start is possible. Let's see how it went down. (I will be trying on some weird interweaving of headings and such here, not sure how success it will be.)

B.      Chronology

Welcome to 1976, the Bicentennial.

January 1, 1976 (Thursday)

Good morning, Belvedere! (Garcia has moved out of the Stinson place he shared with Mountain Girl and moved in with Debrorah Koons, apparently in Belvedere. And, no, I don't actually know where he woke up on 1/1/76, but if you do I certainly invite you to email me! ;-))

January 2-5, 1976 (Thursday-Monday)

No sign of our hero this weekend. Good – young man, not that young now at 34, is working very hard; he really has earned a break. I hope he took one.

Junco Partners

January 6, 1976 (Tuesday)

James Booker flies in on Delta 928, according to Steve Brown's notes.[1] I am not sure who paid for the ticket. Kahn:

He came to my house in Mill Valley a couple of days before the gigs. First he didn't show up until 5 in the morning. Me and Jerry were there and we're getting calls from his grandmother and his priest — Booker had gotten lost en route somehow; they'd lost track of him. Finally I got a call and it was Booker himself. He was calling from Dan's Greenhouse, a liquor store. He was in front of there at 5 in the morning with an overcoat and no socks and a hat bag; that was it — no clothes. He had about 30 eye patches and eight or nine wigs.

I am not 100% sure how to piece the airline info together with a) what we are told about Booker's arrival and b) the fact that during the 1/7/76 rehearsal Booker refers to stuff they worked up last night", i.e., January 6.[2] This could indicate that the 1/7/76 material is mis-dated, and is really, say, 1/8/76 (see below), or that Kahn is mis-remembering something.

January 7-8, 1976 (Wednesday-Thursday)

Rehearsals with James Booker.[3] shnid-28366 delivers 90 minutes of tape from a rehearsal, said to be at 20 Front Street ("Club Front") on January 7, 1976, of Garcia, Kahn, a drummer (presumably Tutt) and the great James Booker working up some material.[4] Corry is skeptical and thinks they might have taken place in John Kahn's living room, but I note that Steve Brown's papers locate 1/24-25 rehearsals at "Front Street" (see entry below), making it more likely that these were there, too. These rehearsals are well worth a listen (see my listening notes). Booker's mad brilliance, which I have parsed a little in "James Booker, Classified", fully displays itself; this is a great piece of tape in the too-sparse Booker record, to say nothing of the Garciaverse.

The following tunes appear:
Tico Tico
Don't Try To Be Your Brother's Keeper
Something You've Got
Just a Closer Walk With Thee
Goodnight Irene
United Our Thing Will Stand
Classified ->
Right Place, Wrong Time
Slowly But Surely

The Booker originals are pretty stunning (I especially love "United Our Thing Will Stand", "Classified", and "Slowly But Surely"), but the whole set is all Booker: his material, his direction, his hilarious banter. If I can sometimes hear the sounds of Garcia smiling behind his beard, maybe scratching his head, through his guitar playing, I definitely get that here. Fascinating. And not to be gainsaid, either – part of the "Burden of Being Jerry" (Gans and Greenfield 1996) -- is that, after about this time, he could no longer just be a guy in the band even as, in Reconstruction a few years later, he might have tried. Here he gets to back one of the true greats ever to grace a bench – the Bayou Maharajah, James fucking Booker.

January 8, 1976 is the contract date for the weekend's gigs, though the copy I saw was not signed.

January 9-10, 1976 (Friday-Saturday)

Newly rehearsed, the band plays weekend gigs at Sophie's, 260 S. California Avenue in Palo Alto (94306). The contract with impresario Ken Rominger (who also ran the Bodega at 30 South Central in Campbell) is $500 guaranteed against 90% of the gross total receipts. (Is that ticket sales only, or would it include bar?) I don't have ticket prices for the night, but they might have been $4.50 or 5 bucks. I have the room capacity at 420 as Keystone Palo Alto from 1977, though there's a sense it might have held fewer in this earlier incarnation. If we call it 400 and we assume they shows sold out (?), that would have been $4,000 gross for the weekend, so $3,600 for JGB.

Note that the paperwork shows Nicky Hopkins in the Garcia Band, which puzzles me a little bit, given that the paperwork is dated January 8th. I presume there were no real plans that he should be there, that his name was there as a placeholder and/or boilerplate, but I don't quite know.

Kahn described the weekend's gigs to Blair Jackson:

The shows were really cool. But he wouldn't learn any of our songs. We tried to teach him songs and he refused. He was a little crazed, so we ended up doing mostly his songs. He did half a set of solo piano and it was great; you could hear a pin drop. And he played things like the "Minute Waltz"; it was incredible. He could still play great. He could switch between piano and organ really easily and it would sound amazing. But he was out of his mind. He was watching cars go by and was checking out license plates and talking about the CIA. He saw a Louisiana license plate and then John Kennedy's name somewhere and that freaked him out. He saw bad omens everywhere and he was getting really weird. I didn't know he was that crazy, so I might have had delusions that we'd stay together longer.

Cryptdev attended on Friday the 9th and offers a convergent narrative:

It was one of the wildest and weirdest Garcia shows I ever saw. Basically Booker took over and the rest of the band was doing their best to keep up with whatever poured out of his keyboard. Booker was clearly very lubricated with something(s) and spent the break at the bar imbibing prodigiously. Jerry did get in a few tunes from his usual repertoire at the time, but clearly with some difficulty.

The first night circulates from soundboard tape derived from copies long in private hands in the East Bay (shnid-8386), as I understand things. Highlights for me include Garcia navigating some relatively unfamiliar classical and operatic terrain, as snippets of "Für Elise" and "Flight Of The Bumblebee" tumble from Booker's fingers and, especially, a nice wide version of his original "Classified", which finds some nice space and signposts what might have been, musically.

The second night circulates from an audience tape (shnid-8077 | listening notes), which includes more evocative nuggets of musical Americana (trifectal "Junco Partner" is in the road-, drug-, and prison-song halls of fame) than transcendent musical moments.

If you want to hear Garcia play New Orleans style, if you want to hear every note you can of the great James Booker on the keyboards, check them both out. They're a mess, but then again, aren't lots of the interesting things?

Corry sums: "The two-date James Booker experiment remains as a curiously forgotten fork in the Jerry Garcia Band, a final ride down the Genius Highway before a U-Turn back towards more conventional territory". The End Of A Very Brief Era.


January 11, 1976 (Sunday)

Grateful Dead band meeting.[5] Yes, they had those. Regularly.

January 13-14, 1976 (Tuesday-Wednesday)

Work at the "film house" (230 Eldridge Avenue, Mill Valley, CA, 94941) on what would materialize, 18 months later, as The Grateful Dead Movie.[6]

January 14, 1976

Noting they'd already spent $100,000 and needed $400,000 more, Ron Rakow sends a letter to United Artists asking the firm to back the film project.[7]

January 20-22, 1976 (Tuesday-Thursday)

Film house.[8]

My band is in a state of flux right now

January 23, 1976 (Friday)

About midday, Garcia heads to the KSAN studios in the city and does a live interview with the delightful Bonnie Simmons (Simmons 1976, via GDAO), ostensibly to promote his forthcoming record Reflections (Round RX107, February 1976).[9] Her "tell me about your band" elicited the epigraphed response. I hate to treat him like an oracle, but for purposes of this blog, which focuses on Garcia's musical life outside the Grateful Dead, this is very important material – he was rarely asked and less often spoke about his side bands, let alone at such a fluid time. So I'll unpack it a little, representing in a way that's more narratively convenient for me.

"John Kahn and Ron Tutt and I are the main … are the nucleus of it, such as it is"

They seem to have formed this nucleus upon Tutt's arrival (with the formalization of a band name, Legion of Mary), and at this time the nucleus probably included Merl, who had been doing "Jerry and Merl" paperwork for sometime. When Nicky arrived he joined the core group, but when he spun out his name pretty quickly came off the fictitious business name statements. Garcia, Kahn and Tutt remained, dba Jerry Garcia Band.

Is Bonnie implicitly asking "Why did Nicky leave/Why was Nicky let go?" Given how big a name Nicky was and the utter absence of information about his abrupt departure, I have to think she is. Regardless, I'll proceed as if she is. The JGB's problem, Blair Jackson writes, "was Hopkins, who besides being a major cokehead -- not an issue where Garcia and Kahn were concerned-also had a severe drinking problem. This is why he occasionally rambled on incessantly between songs onstage, muttering incomprehensibly in his thick British accent, and why by year's end he was out of the group" (Jackson 1999, 270). Blair lays out John Kahn's elaboration for why "it didn't work out".

Tutt really didn't like Hopkins, and after a while he blew Jerry out, too, because he was just too over the edge; he was too fucked up to play music. That's the line where you've gone too far. At this Winterland show [in December 1975] he was on another planet, playing in the wrong key, and you just couldn't get to him. He sort of wrecked that whole gig. Tutt was really mad (Kahn in Jackson 1999, 271).

Thankfully, Jerry would never have narrowcast that sort of slight over the short wave of a conversation, less still broadcast it over KSAN's 35,000 watts. He keeps it simple:

"So far, the combinations that we’ve tried have been interesting, but not exactly where we’re trying to go musically"

On its face this could sound like the "irreconcilable differences" of the musical vocation, a catchall, a nostrum. But I find it an informative little kernel, consistent with what John told Blair. Musical problems, in the end, are the one thing that can't be overlooked. He could have said that Nicky was pursuing other opportunities – everyone would have been ready to hear that the Session Man had some big jobs lined up, whether that was true or not. Instead, hearing Garcia say it leads me to think that it "really" was so simple as that, by whatever means, stuff was getting in the way of the music.

I don't think of this question and answer in terms of James Booker, because no more than a few hundred people at most were aware of his connection to Garcia. But everything I said above Nicky above applies to Booker by analogy, each the driver of his particular rig down the "Genius Highway" (Corry). And the Booker experiment was certainly interesting, no doubt about that.

To what extent, if any, is Merl implied in this answer? I don't know. I don't get the sense that Jerry intends this explanation to go back that far. But then again, it's only been five months, so maybe it does cover Legion of Mary. Hell, maybe after playing almost five years together, "what happened with you and Merl?" might be the real $64,000 question. Toward the end of the interview, in a question put by a fan (via Ms. Simmons), Garcia is asked about playing again with Merl. He says "Yeah, if it's the right situation", without further elaboration. It must have been painful for him to be broadcasting his need for a keyboard player, while clearly not preferring this particular one that's ready-to-hand. Reconstruction would reconstruct their musical partnership, for a time, but that is almost three years in the future.

"we’re more or less auditioning keyboard players, playing with different people"

My initial reaction to this was something like "Well, you didn't try very hard", since only the Booker tryout has been known. Who else, I asked myself, did they bother trying out? How active a search was this? Did they "audition" anyone else?

Corry once wrote about a mysterious episode, October 11, 1975 in which a second pianist sits in and is introduced by Nicky Hopkins as "Tim Hensley", in his "first gig with the band"; he sticks around and plays again the next night. He offers various kinds of speculations about why the band would try out a second keyboardist while Nicky was apparently on board, and what might have gone down. Hell, until reading this you don't even know who "Tim Hensley" is, and that's because drunk Nicky mis-slurred Tim Henson's name. Corry has kindly shared some thoughts via email, including this link with more information about this very talented man, a member of the famed Muscle Shoals rhythm section, shot to death on Christmas Eve, 1977. I am not sure whether the fact that he didn't stick makes it more or less likely that he might have gotten a call in January. Either way, if we're drawing up a roster he might need to figure.

We presume that Larry Knechtel could have been another candidate. Of course he appeared on Reflections, and a February ad for the record introduced him as a member of the Jerry Garcia Band (Village Voice, February 16, 1976, p. 117). My hunch is that this just reflects old, ambiguous, indifferent copy, possibly desperation (leveraging Bread!), and not any real information from inside Garcia HQ. But there must have been some chatter about Knechtel joining the band, maybe coming out on tour. Since he doesn't remember anything, and no-one else has ever said, this has to remain pure speculation.

There's one other name I can add to the mix, and as with the others I can only mostly speculate. Steve Brown noted Garcia Band gigs January 26-28 (see below) as "Keystone with Randy Wallace", with the latter name crossed out and Keith and Donna substituted.[10] Who is Randy Wallace? I have no idea. Did he ever play with Jerry (e.g., at the 1/24 rehearsal)? I don't know that, either. What happened to him? Your guess is as good as mine. But apparently things were far enough along with him that Garcia's business manager wrote down his name.

One final set of points for now from the Bonnie Simmons interview. The pretext for the visit is to promote the forthcoming Reflections (Round Records RX 107, February 1976). They play pretty much the whole record and talk about it. Again, that's why they are there. Bonnie's question "Do you have any upcoming gigs?" is supposed to elicit a response like "Well, yes, Bonnie, we'll be at the Keystone Berkeley next Monday through Wednesday, come check us out." But when Bonnie asks him about upcoming gigs, he either willfully or incomprehendingly relates it to the Dead and the group's still nebulous plans to start playing live again.

Given that the historical record shows (see below) that the Jerry Garcia Band, whose leader Jerry Garcia was about to drop a new record, indeed did play locally three days after the interview, and given that they are together in a promotional context, why didn't Garcia mention the gigs?

One possibility is that he just forgot. Another is that they hadn't been booked yet, though I doubt that (see the next few days' entries). Still another is that, because this was basically an audition, he didn't want to bring out too many people, put that pressure on the new (presumed) guy. A fourth, not contradictory with the previous one, is that he didn't know who the new guy would be, and was hedging in case he had a dozen wigs, and maybe needed patches over both eyes, but, unlike Booker, couldn't play. Whatever the case may be, I entertain the idea that Bonnie's question, or rather his inability really to answer Bonnie's question about upcoming gigs, may have spurred what we see over the next few days.

State Change

January 24, 1976 (Saturday)

If forced to choose, I'd say the tide turned, and the switch from challenge to comfort was proximally effected (like very nearly in the "pulling the trigger" sense) on this date. See next entry.

January 24-25, 1976 (Saturday-Sunday)

Steve Brown's papers identify Front Street rehearsals on these dates.[11] Nothing else is known about the 24th. Soundboard tape of 1/25/76 circulates,[12] and it finds Keith at the keys and Donna Jean singing harmonies, including quite nicely over multiple takes of the Porter WagonerDolly Parton smash "Tomorrow Is Forever". (Dolly, by the way, was Jerry's "favorite girl singer", per McLanahan 1972).

But, uhh,– Keith and Donna? WTF? How did that happen?

More below, but first let me step back.

Also on Sunday 1/25, the Oakland Tribune runs listings for Garcia Band at Keystone starting the next day and running through Wednesday (i.e., January 26-28).[13] This must have been called in the day before at the latest, i.e., on Saturday 1/24. Again, this puts Garcia's non-response to the question about upcoming gigs in sharp relief. Speaking on Friday, he could have forgotten there were gigs coming up to start the next week. But I don't think so. It's also possible that the gig was not planned when Bonnie asked the question, but was spurred by it – signaling to Jerry that he needed to start shitting or getting off the pot when it comes to the band-in-flux. Somehow, though, I think it's that he wanted to keep a real quiet couple of nights in Berkeley, less pressure on whoever's auditioning. Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday shows? That's typically how they structured the first shows out for new (or temporary) players, especially if they didn't manage to book off the beaten path, in Cotati or somewhere.

Summarizing the arc of the weekend: On 1/23 Garcia either forgets the gigs or, perhaps because they haven't pinned down who will be on keys, he just doesn't mention them. By 1/25, they have advertised gigs starting the next day and they are rehearsing with Keith and Donna. 1/24 Looks like the inflection point to me.

January 26-28, 1976 (Monday-Wednesday)

The Garcia Band System, such as it was, involved breaking in new or temporary players on off-nights, off-the-beaten-path, or both. A Monday-Wednesday run at the Keystone fits the bill perfectly. Though the first night has been in some question,[14] I don't see any reason to doubt it, first because it's advertised in the Trib and second because (though this is not necessarily independent of the listing), it's in Steve Brown's notes. Originally noted by Steve Brown as "Keystone with Randy Wallace", he later crossed that out and substituted Keith and Donna.[15]

But what happened to …

"… we’re hoping to have a four-piece band that we all like, sometime"

That's what Jerry had said on 1/23. Somewhere in advance of that, Brown wrote that Randy Wallace was to be tried out. Yet, on 1/25 Garcia's doing his best Porter to Donna Jean's Dolly, in a five-piece band, 3/5 of the members of which are in the Grateful Dead. WTF? You're Jerry Garcia, you have most every keyboardist in the Bay Area at your disposal, and many beyond, you are looking to put together a quartet, in your project generally aimed to delivering things you can't get out of your playing with the Dead, and you end up with the Dead keyboardist, neighbor down the street, and, oh, by the way, you're a quintet because you got his old lady (again, Dead), in the deal. The Garcia Band is made more of a redundancy, the Italian Senate of the Garciaverse.

C.      JGB #2 Membership

But this gives me an opportunity to play with concepts and words that matter to me. Like all human scoeities, the Jerry Garcia Band was stratified. At the apex, of course, stood its namesake, a very consequential Head of State, with his Prime Minister John Kahn, his right-hand man, running the show day-to-day. Ron Tutt joined them in the ownership group. Nicky Hopkins had been, but eventually he buys or is bought out, and his name disappears from the papers. (I have never seen any contracts, fictitious business name statements, or anything else that might clarify the details of how, precisely, these gents were dba Jerry Garcia Band, despite years of searching. I know the formalities only through tax liens against the band and its members.)

Unlike the man he was replacing, Keith never joined the ownership group, and generally seems to be held at arm's-length, a hired player. Donna Jean, far from not being on the ownership group, is not even listed among gig personnel on the union contracts, which I gather would be something of a no-no for her and for the Garcia Band. She only led on one or two numbers a night, it's true, but she was onstage with the band, singing harmonies or just swaying around (to no small effect on anyone who could watch her, not least Jerry, as video from the period shows), more often than not. There's probably a technicality at the union about what percentage someone needs to play before they need to be listed. But it's also possible that everyone was just skirting whatever requirements there were. I am not even sure Donna Jean was in the union.

From Nicky to Keith, then, the JGB undergoes an organizational change – the keyboardist is no longer an owner, but a hired player.[16] The formal triumvirate endured beyond Tutt's participation in live gigging with the Jerry Garcia Band – it would take the late-1981 "Return of Ron Tutt" Tour to generate the cash needed to square everything away, I believe. After that, Jerry Garcia Band is, formally, what had long been germinating in practice: a Jerry Garcia-John Kahn joint.

January 29, 1976 (Thursday)

Maybe he rests a little, gets his haircut.

IV.                Garcia's Comfort: The Godchaux-Era JGB

The Godchaux Era JGB appears to have been born by default, for wont of a better option (or the time/energy/inclination to generate it). That's probably too harsh – Jerry and John did try to "drive the Genius Highway" with Booker even after co-genius Nicky Hopkins flamed out; playing with Booker, and working with him, would have been ... a challenge. But the only other known candidate is Randy Wallace, it's not clear to me who he is --though I suspect, based inter alia on the arcs of two careers and my own preconceived ideas, that he'd have had a hard time challenging Garcia in the latter's band—and it's not even clear that he ever played with these guys. No other players are known to have been engaged, and then, of a sudden, it's Keith and Donna.

LIA gets one great angle on this:

It's interesting to me how passive Garcia seems to have been about getting bandmembers - like whoever wound up there, 'OK, let's try it out. Kahn, this would sound nice with some pedal-steel ... or maybe another piano.' This might explain why some of these mid-'70s guests/members didn't last very long. And of course, when he was done with somebody, he wouldn't say a word himself but left it to a henchman. What a strange band-leader.

Indeed! He put his name on it, but, as Corry has said, it could also have been called the John Kahn Band, since Mule ran the thing.[17] And whether it was John's inertia, or Jerry's, or their co-dependent (or, hell, independent!) "both", it doesn't really matter. That inertia, or a lack of time or energy, should drop its leaden hand on the proceedings is fitting, since, like the new drug of choice, the band is all about the comfort. Musically, and not unrelated, it favored a super slow, super opiated groove. Check out the January 27 and 28 shows[18] for this in spades, or even worse, the Valentine's Day show, which … makes … me … sleepy even to contemplate. The January recordings sound incredible (made respectively by Betty Cantor-Jackson at the soundboard and Bob Menke and Louis Falanga from the crowd) – but this band utterly slogs. It's a matter of taste, of course, but I find the slow tempos of the 1976-1977 Garcia Band – Jerry's Comfort, though it was Robert Hunter who would, the next year, adopt a band of that name—I find the plodding dirges utterly exhausting and generally uninteresting. Keith Godchaux could play (especially when he could stay awake and upright at the keyboards), but whatever his native gifts he could never challenge Garcia the way Nicky or Booker could.

Inertia seems to have driven this outcome. When asked about Keith and Donna joining the JGB, Rock Scully (RIP) replied that they were just around - he mentioned Club Front as the center of gravity, that whoever was there was a live candidate, whoever wasn't, wasn't -- some auditioning process!. Keith and Donna were there, and they just sort of accreted into JGB membership by virtue of their sheer presence. Inertia is a powerful force, and the comfort of the tried-and-true is especially appealing when all else is askew. Garcia's personal life was in a shambles - he and MG had just broken up for good (sort of) around Christmastime, he had moved out of Sans Souci and was just moving in with Deborah right at this time. He was working like a maniac, starting to spend lots of time at the "film house" in Mill Valley, working on the movie that would consume two years of his life and leave him rather a smoking ruin, all Persian, Peruvian and Camel cigarettes (vaguely Ottoman, judging by the iconography).

We can't always do it all, sometimes we just have to cut the knot, and sometimes cut knots take on lives of their own. I think that's what happened here, and that's what happened on the Side Trips road from challenge to comfort.

V.                  Postscript

January 30-31, 1976 (Friday-Saturday)

The knot cut, Garcia kept on working, as the creatively-inspired and/or workaholic will do, whatever their drugs of choice and the other opportunity costs they pay. The last weekend of the month found our Leonardo mixing the Good Old Boys' forthcoming Pistol Packin' Mama at Ace's, at Bob Weir's house in Mill Valley.[19]

I love this as a postscript. After what seems like a very busy month full of other things, he has still other things to do, a hat he has been paid to wear --$2,100 and 10¢ a disc[20]– as a record producer, winding up the business of Round Records with its final release.

Because even if, as I suggest, the Garcia Band keyboard flux materialized with a thud in Keith Godchaux's heavily percussive hands, with consequences for the musical experience of the next 18 months, even if Jerry's personal life was in a shambles and his pharmacological choices becoming riskier, even if he is still scrambling around his record companies going bust, his pirate business partner is about to snatch back two hundred twenty-five thousand 1976 dollars, even if the GOB stuff had been recorded precisely a year before (January 27-29, 1975) and was probably way behind schedule -- well, there's no time like the present.

In other words, these last two dates remind me to give the guy a break, to set my own preference for other musical approaches aside, and understand that sometimes a piece has to be held back to move others forward. Let JGB coast for awhile, a very simple enterprise requiring effectively no adjustment to the status quo ante, almost certainly a net improvement in terms of hassles encountered and time to do other things. And he is doing other things: not least continuing to make records and, now becoming utterly consumed in a theatrical film project, for the first time. But maybe, too, if only momentarily, he's drawing back, if only a little, from some of the ambitions of a younger-man. Sometimes you have to just hunker down, and that's as good as a way as any of characterizing where his Side Trips find themselves as the January 1976 page turns.

! ref: Arnold, Corry. 1987. The Jerry Garcia Band: 11 years and still rockin'. Golden Road no. 13 (Winter): 22-26.
! ref: Arnold, Corry. 2010. October 11-12, 1975 Keystone Berkeley Jerry Garcia Band w/Nicky Hopkins--Tim Hensley, electric piano. Lost Live Dead, January 10, URL, consulted 12/21/2013.
! ref: Arnold, Corry. 2012. January 9-10, 1976: Sophie's, Palo Alto, CA: The Jerry Garcia Band with James Booker. Lost Live Dead, May 24, 2012, URL, consulted 12/31/2013.
! ref: Arnold, Corry. 2013. "Reflections" Reflections (Round Records RX-107). Lost Live Dead, August 1, URL, consulted 1/24/2014.
! McClanahan, Ed. 1972. Grateful Dead I Have Known. Playboy 19, 3 (March): 84-86, 108, 218-228.
! ref: Simmons, Bonnie. 1976. Bonnie Simmons with Jerry Garcia. Broadcast on KSAN in San Francisco on January 23, 1976 [radio broadcast]. Grateful Dead Archive Online, accessed November 10, 2013,

Beyond the usual suspects, particular thanks to the Special Collections pros at McHenry Library, UC Santa Cruz, most obviously and especially Nicholas Meriwether, who expertly curates the amazing Grateful Dead Archive. It's a real pleasure to be able to dive into the Dead's papers, which hold a million answers to crucial questions we didn't know we had.

[1] Steve Brown Papers, MS338, Box 1, Folder 10: "[xxx-need label]." Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz.
[2] See my "'Gimme some chords, Jerry Garcia, gimme some chords' - LN jg1976-01-07.jgb-rehearsal.93mins.sbd-tjs.8385.shn2flac,", at note 6.
[3] Steve Brown Papers, MS338, Box 1, Folder 4: "Calendars, 1974-76." Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz.
[5] Steve Brown Papers, MS338, Box 1, Folder 4: "Calendars, 1974-76." Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz.
[6] Steve Brown Papers, MS338, Box 1, Folder 4: "Calendars, 1974-76." Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz.
[7] Grateful Dead Archive, MS332, Ser. 2: Business, Second Accrual (preliminary), Box 1018, folder xxx [xxx]. Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz.
[8] Steve Brown Papers, MS338, Box 1, Folder 4: "Calendars, 1974-76." Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz.
[10] Steve Brown Papers, MS338, Box 1, Folder 4: "Calendars, 1974-76." Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz.
[11] Steve Brown Papers, MS338, Box 1, Folder 4: "Calendars, 1974-76." Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz.
[13] Oakland Tribune, January 25, 1976, p. 11-E.
[14] Arnold (1987, 23), places the birth of this incarnation of the JGB to the next night, but I think 1/26/76 is correct.
[15] Steve Brown Papers, MS338, Box 1, Folder 4: "Calendars, 1974-76." Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz.
[18] From shnid-17120 and shnid-17695 respectively, to my taste.
[19] Steve Brown Papers, MS338, Box 1, Folder 4: "Calendars, 1974-76." Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz.
[20] Grateful Dead Archive, MS332, Ser. 2: Business, Second Accrual (preliminary), Box 1006, folder 33: [Royalty of the Good Old Boys]. Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz.


  1. One illuminating aspect of this post is that, with the Archives now available to researchers, it's possible to chart Garcia (and the Dead) from day to day like this in some periods: exactly when he worked on the film, when meetings were held, what decisions were made, etc. It's at once frustrating and exciting that this kind of research has only just begun, and so much has yet to come to light. Our knowledge of some aspects of Garcia's career could look very different in a few years.

    1. I second LIA's comment, it is completely fascinating to find out what was scheduled or canceled, and how various long running projects intersected with Garcia's performance schedule. Any hope for a February 1976 list, or are LIA and I just going to have to do it ourselves?

    2. I don't think I have enough to make other months interesting. Maybe Steve Brown had a new year's resolution to stay organized, and it really panned out for a month, maybe the month's liminality made him write more stuff down (to help the cognitive bucket brigade) or maybe I just didn't pin other months down as well. This is the only post of this kind that I plan!

  2. One thesis I have been ruminating on for some time is that the linchpin of Keith and Donna's musical relationship to Garcia was not Keith, but actually Donna. If you look at what came afterwards, Keith was replaced by an organ player, so to speak (Melvin), but Donna's parts remained intact. Donna was joined by Maria Muldaur, and the two-female-vocalists configuration was at the heart of the Garcia Band from 1981 until the end. All of the subsequent singers sang in the gospelish-r&b style that Donna first introduced to the JGB. Put another way, Donna could have stepped in for Jackie or Gloria at any time without a big change in their sound, but we sure would have noticed Keith replacing Melvin.

    One thing that your timeline brings forth is the idea that Keith may have been hired as an emergency sub, but Donna's presence intrigued Garcia enough to keep them both around. Certainly Donna sounded much better with the JGB than the Dead. To be clear, I liked Donna with the Dead, but Donna could hear herself much better and there was far more room for her to harmonize in the open spaces without Phil and Bob in the middle.

    Another economic factor that gets overlooked is the economic advantages of having a married couple in the band. One limo to pick them up, one hotel room, and so on, cuts down on the cash expenses (incidentally, the gross receipts at Sophie's would have been door only). I know that Keith was a Grateful Dead board member and Donna was not, so although Donna probably had a monthly wage as well as Keith, they would have only got a 1/6 share of the Dead instead of 2/7. I don't think this was an anticipated result, but the economics of touring with the Godchauxs may have been very attractive to Garcia's management.

    When you look at the remarkable video that has surfaced of the 1976 Garcia Band, the musical connection between Jerry and Donna is palpable. Keith's just another keyboard player, in a way, albeit a very good one who needs no rehearsal, but Donna has a great feel for the various Southern music styles that Garcia was interested in playing with the JGB. If you try and imagine contemporary replacements for Keith and Donna, it's not hard to consider Mark Naftalin or Bill Payne filling Kieth's chair, but a viable replacement for Donna is harder to figure out. Yes, of course, there were lots of pretty girl singers in San Francisco or Los Angeles with nice voices, but they either had a star quality that would have been ill-served by a jam band, or lacked the distinction to be a counterpart to Garcia's vocals.

    1. The way Jerry just takes Donna in in those videos really is pretty striking - lotta love on that stage.

      And your points about the money makes sense. Keith-Donna and John-Maria in 1977-1978, and then Jimmy-Liz (and, IIRC, Daoud-Essra?) in 1981.


    The 3/11/78 interview addresses the question of how Keith and Donna came to be in JGB.

    JK: "These things happen more than a decision ... it's coincidental, that's all."
    JG: "It's coincidental, almost, yeah."
    JK "We didn't have a piano player, and Keith was the best guy we could find, and Donna's a fabulous singer."
    DJG: "... they needed a piano player, and another singer would be nice. Keith and I live together. It'd be cheap." [laughter]
    JG: "Not too hard ... and we're all freaks."
    DJG: "--just fell into it really naturally."

    JG: "It's a matter of timing, really."
    JK: "Those things happen. It's not heavy decisions or anything. That kind of stuff just happens ... somebody shows up, and it's right, and everybody knows it's right."

  4. The thing that got Mickey Hart "fired" from the GD 1971-1974 was, especially, that he just couldn't play well, and it was affecting the music (Kreutzmann 2015, 152). A very forgiving scene in lots of ways, but messing up the music is the cardinal sin.

  5. BK: "I played in a band with Keith and Donna for a little bit, but then they both defected into one of Jerry's bands" (Kreutzmann 2015, 197). Interesting choice of words.

  6. Substances are OK, so long as it doesn't interfere with the music. Crossing that line got Keith fired from the GD a few years later. BK

    "we all did drugs –some more than others—but we all did them … But when someone in our ranks went overboard, we all would start pointing fingers. Especially when it started affecting the music. Our music was the only thing that was sacred and we all wanted to protect it … when somebody else in the band was doing something to have one bad night after another, repeatedly, then it became a problem …"

    He goes on to note "Jerry would be the one member who could get the hall pass on this".

    Kreutzmann 2015, 251.

  7. Putting down a marker regarding "Grateful Dead Hiring Practices",

  8. Certainly not inconsistent with the "comfort" thesis in re the nondecision to bring the Godchauxs into JGB:

    "Keith and Jerry were both junkies, and they were junkies together, along with John Kahn." Drug use was especially bad with JGB, for that reason. "Jerry, Keith and John were all in the same sad shape, and as a result they became thick as thieves, united in their never-ending quest to score. These guys shared dealers, they shared drugs, they shared paraphernalia. They shared secrets and lies."

    Parish 2003, 217-218.

  9. On time as a social convention, see Sorokin 1943.

  10. "A week of any kind is a purely sociocultural creation" (Sorokin 1943, 191).


!Thank you for joining the conversation!