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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Great American String Band - May 5, 1974, Keystone, Berkeley

Sunday, May 5, 1974 found Garcia at the Keystone (typical), but in the background, picking some banjo in the Great American String Band behind its featured front line of Richard Greene (fiddle), David Grisman (mandolin), and David Nichtern (guitar and vocals).

Rather remarkably, we know a fair bit of very interesting stuff about this gig, despite the fact that there is no tape in circulation.

First, the band was billed as Great American String Band (GASB), which wasn't always the case - it sometimes traveled as Great American Music Band (GAMB), and it doesn't appear that things were particularly consistent in that regard. This testifies to the rather fluid nature of the enterprise, always of interest in the Garciaverse, which would become increasingly institutionalized as time went on. Garcia is listed first, natch - capitalists gotta capitalize - but that's pretty standard.

Second, an anonymous commenter at Hooterollin' reports special guest appearances, including, a week after Old And In The Way's abortive swan song --"no sweeping exits"-- at the Golden State Country Bluegrass Festival, the last known stage shared by Garcia and the great Peter Rowan:
I saw Great American String Band show at the Keystone on May 5, 1974 and can attest to the fact that Peter Rowan and Jack Bonus were brought out for two songs - Midnight Moonlight and Hobo Song and the show was recorded professionally for what folks at the gig were hearing would be a future album.
Third, as the commenter said, the gig was being recorded for release, one presumes on Round Records, the "side band" companion company to Grateful Dead Records. While the Dead outfit had been up and running since the previous autumn, Round appears to have been born later, perhaps even in this very spring 1974 timeframe. A review that I have just discovered (Silver 1974) confirms that Bear (Owsley Stanley III) was recording the show with a female assistant, I presume the same Vickie Babcock who helped him record Old And In The Way the previous October.

Fourth, between the Hooterollin' commenter and Sam Silver's review, we can also reconstruct some of the setlist. The show started around 11 pm with what the reviewer called "Dog's Bone", which I assume was "Dawg's Bull", a Grisman original. They played "Bud's Bounce" ("mistakenly credited to Buddy Emmonds, really belongs to Buddy Spiker"), "Midnight at the Oasis", at least one Carter Family tune, and Django Reinhardt's "Swing '42" (about which Silver raves). Anonymous commenter adds "Midnight Moonlight" and "Hobo Song" to the mix.

Fifth, Silver took and the Barb published a picture of the GASB in action, one of only two of which I am aware (the other from 5/25/74 in Santa Barbara - h/t Bob Murphy).
Sam Silver's photo of the Great American String Band, live at Keystone Berkeley, May 5, 1974. Published in the Berkeley Barb, May 10-16, 1974, p. 17.

Silver is over the moon about the band, with "the best of all possible pickers for the unique job of creating a new music". The review is well worth a read, really capturing the vibe of a show where Garcia is the draw but the other players are the virtuosi, and the audience seemed ready to rock but proved able to appreciate acoustic brilliance.

All of this raises a few essential questions. Are these tapes in possession of the Owsley Stanley Foundation? If so, who can spare whatever it would take to sponsor their preservation? Why didn't the GASB record ever materialize? Most importantly, given the amazing musical direction the band was taking - it was an early germ of Dawg Music, Grisman's brilliantly distinctive alchemical blend of dozens of traditional musical forms - why didn't the String Band last?

! listing: Oakland Tribune, May 3, 1974, p. 30;
! listing: Hayward Daily Review, May 3, 1974, p. 44;
! listing: Oakland Tribune, May 5, 1974, p. 2-R;
! ad: Oakland Tribune, May 5, 1974, p. 2-R;
! Ref:;
! review: Silver, Sam. 1974. Waiting for Jerry Garcia. Berkeley Barb, May 10-16, 17, via Independent Voices.


  1. Hey there - I'm the "Hooterallin' Anom". Nice to see your interest and research on this. I don't want to swear by it, but I am nearly sure you can add a couple more songs to the setlist. I'll Be A Gambler, If You Deal the Cards and My Plastic Banana is Not Stupid. Would think they played Swing 42 and some of the other usual songs, but the two I mentioned stick out in my mind. Definitely there was another Grisman song or two.

    Fantastic to have confirmed for yourselves (and to know I'm not out of it!) that the show was recorded. You mention how the Silver article is a good read. Did I miss the link for that? If not, can you add it, if there is one?

    Jake Feinberg now asks for subscriptions to listen to the full archives, but I did hear some of the Peter interviews recently and there were some interesting comments he made about the demise of OAITW. My recollections are a bit fuzzy, so you'll need to check for yourself, but there was something about the band having pet names for each other that, I think he was implying that once drugs got into the picture (he didn't say Jerry, but...), when he was called Melonface or whatever the name was, it was then perceived as an insult. But then, he goes on, I think (I could be remembering this wrong) to imply that Grisman wanted to do his own thing. Richard Greene, it says in Hooterallin' was playing with Loggins & Messina until '76, Jerry had the Dead. Grisman had all these tunes and I think he wanted to be his own boss maybe. Most of this is my own conjecture though. He also found Tony Rice, Todd Phillips, Darol Anger and Joe Carroll and I was at the David Grisman Quintet's first gigs, the first being at Bolinas Community Center in December '75, I believe it was. It was mostly Grisman tunes with a Rice tune sprinkled in plus some Django. Rice was a baby then, but already at the top of his game.

    Oh yeah - I shouldn't forget this part of the Peter interview - this is important. And this definitely reminds me that it was Grisman that was the one who nixed things (and this was strange, because before he talked about Jerry getting grumpy with the nickname, drugs, etc.). OK, so Peter says that Jerry wanted to go on with OAITW and someone suggested that he call up Ricky Skaggs and have him replace Grisman. For some reason, they didn't do it - I think Peter says that he didn't want to. But now, he says that he frequently wonders what might have been. He thinks that, with Skaggs, OAITW could have gone on to national fame.

    I've always wanted to hear that album from my first Jerry west coast show. I was at the Reno and Santa Barbara GD shows, too (SB was my all-time favorite Dead show!). Jerry, Peter, Grisman, Richard Friggin Greene on a Sunday night - totally loose, no need to buy tickets in advance, Stubhub. It was a different time - and getting into the show with a fake ID made on Market Street, which looked fake, but Smitty didn't care:)

  2. I just realized that on the four nights prior to this GASB show (May 1-4), Owsley was recording Doc Watson at the Boarding House -- those tapes were released last year by the Owsley Stanley Foundation.

  3. I just linked in the Silver review to the Independent Voices copy of the relevant Barb. Sorry to have taken more than 2 years to fulfill this request, anon!


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