The demise of the Legion of Mary, Garcia’s principal side band from Ronnie Tutt’s arrival on December 6, 1974 until mid-1975, remains one of the enduring mysteries of the Garciaverse.
The “why” is the biggest mystery of all. After almost five years of steady gigging and recording Garcia is said to have walked away. I don’t have time to go to Sources, but there is verbiage from Martin Fierro about a “star trip” and a sense of hurt from Merl Saunders, implying that shadowy forces were at work to short-circuit the magical Jerry-and-Merl trip in favor of the Grateful Dead. A big part of the conventional psychology of Garcia, ascribing to him personal cowardice in saying hard things to loved ones, derives from the Saunders account of what went down with the Legion in 1975 and Reconstruction in 1979.
In this post, I want to say less about the “why” and more about the “when”, though I think a revised understanding of the temporal piece may raise new questions about the causal one. I will conclude that we should extend the known Legion timeline to the end, rather than the beginning, of July 1975. My best guess is that there were additional gigs at least on July 23-24, 1975 at the Lion’s Share and July 30, 1975 at the Great American Music Hall. Sometime between late July and early August, Jerry and Merl went their separate ways.
The canonical List is clear: according to Dennis McNally’s research, preserved and extended by Corry Arnold, Independence Day 1975 tolled the bell for the Legion of Mary. It’s all pretty symbolic, of course. The Great American Music Hall, site of Jerry and Merl’s final 4th of July engagement, was a favorite of Garcia’s since they had first played it July 19, 1973. That gig, in turn, was not only with Merl, but was something of a Fantasy party to celebrate the canning of the July ’73 Keystone tapes, which would become the GSKV Live at Keystone, the fullest commercial expression of the Garcia-Saunders collaboration. Garcia suggested the Music Hall for the Dead’s highest-stakes gig of 1975, for FM radio executives on 8/13/75, in collaboration with new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss (since 6/11/75) United Artists (Selvin 197508xx). Oh yeah, one more thing – 7/19/73 was also Martin’s first known gig with these guys, and when Legion ended in the same room he’d wait 13 years to play again with Garcia (with Zero, 7/16/88 in Golden Gate Park). It all makes for a great story.
However poetic, the notion of a sudden rupture after the Fourth of July is incorrect. We now know of both a July 5th Saturday night at the Music Hall (listed in the Oakland Tribune and the Marin Independent-Journal) and an anticlimactic Sunday night show at Jerry and Merl’s chasse gardée, the Keystone Berkeley, now documented by the house calendar, listings in the Chronicle and the Datebook, and, even better, tape by the ever-timely Robert Castelli (shnid-108018). The show has always struck me as a little lethargic, and I imagined in my mind not a sudden rupture but a cartoonish putt-putt-putt and plonk, out-of-gas kind of finish for the band.
So, as of now, I have considered that Legion of Mary ran from December 6, 1974, through July 6, 1975. But I want to suggest the addition of at least three new dates to the end of the band’s run.
Closing of the Lion’s Share: July 24-25, 1975
With the release of the Garcia-Saunders 7/5/73 Lion’s Share show as GarciaLive 6, the venue looms large in our immediate imaginations. And why not? It was a legendary little Marin room. But lost to history has been an apparent Saunders-Garcia gig (or two) two years later, as the Share was ending its run on the Miracle Mile in San Anselmo. In comments to a post which I’ll mention more below, JGBP quotes a public posting by ‘cabdriver’ at Deadnetcentral recounting such gigs:
This Lion's Share gig (their closing week) was the first week of July, 1975 [sic: incorrect – see below]. The Garcia-Saunders Band played two consecutive nights during closing week … There were not very many people there, that's the funny part. And I can't find any reference to them doing those gigs anywhere. But it did really happen!
Cabdriver expressed uncertainty about the week the Share went dark. The Lion’s Share’s closing week was July 23-29, 1975, and the schedule ran as follows:
- Wednesday 7/23 Commander Cody
- Thursday 7/24 Merl Saunders and Friends / Aunt Monk / Sweetmeat
- Friday 7/25 Merl Saunders and Friends / Sweetmeat
- Saturday 7/26 ???
- Sunday 7/27 Kathi McDonald
- Monday 7/28 Michael Bloomfield, Mark Naftalin, Roger “Jellyroll” Troy, Nick Gravenites / Allair and Mitchell
- Tuesday 7/29 Sons of Champlin / Michael Hunt
(Sources: Selvin 19750720 has the whole schedule. Listing in SFC19750723p47 supplies 7/23 and 7/24. Listing in Fremont Argus, July 25, 1975, p. 38 and “Lion’s Share Out With Flair,” Independent-Journal (San Rafael, CA), July 25, 1975, p. 20, both provide 7/25 and following.)
Those Thursday and Friday “Merl Saunders and Friends” gigs, which I took in my own notes to be Merl playing out quickly post-Jerry, certainly fit cabdriver’s description of back to back gigs during closing week at the Share. Somehow the fact that 7/24 bills Aunt Monk separately seems to make it more likely that Jerry was one of Merl’s Friends in a different configuration.
Summing here, we seem to have an eyewitness account of Jerry and Merl playing during the closing week at the Share, and this lines up with independent evidence from newspaper listings. I think those gigs happened and would propose adding them to the List.
July 30, 1975 at the GAMH
Remember when I found the “Latest Legion Listing”, for July 30, 1975 at the Great American Music Hall? I treated it as spurious because it didn’t fit my preconceived narrative. I even found a way to suggest that the very real professionalism of the GAMH made it more likely to find such a spurious listing. But beyond the idea that gigs to shut down the Share might extend the known timeline, I have found an additional piece of information that leads me to revise my earlier view. My first encounter with this possible gig came through the July 25 I-J, and I surmised that a lot could have changed in five days. But I have found a second listing for the gig, and this one is in the July 30th Chronicle.
This makes the first-discovered listing feel less spurious, because the Datebook listings would be very up-to-date, I think, based on information not more than a few days old. The fact that the GAMH was professionally run only reinforces the idea that there really was, as of approximately the day before, a planned Legion of Mary gig at the Music Hall on Wednesday, July 30, 1975.
Did it really happen? I don’t know. It’s less certain than the Share shows. But this last piece makes it feel a bit more likely …
August 5, 1975?
The McNally-Arnold list historically gave this as the Jerry Garcia Band’s first show. This is almost certainly incorrect, as gigs only got going with Nicky Hopkins and JGB #1 from September 18, to the best of our current reckoning. Corry now considers this a Keith and Donna show with Jerry, which is how I currently list it. But, check out this series:
|Keystone Berkeley ad from the pink section, 7/27/75, billing Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders 8/5/75|
|Keystone Berkeley August 1975 calendar, scan courtesy of Ed Perlstein|
See that big blank spot over Merl’s name in the 8/5/75 box? “Jerry Garcia and” would fit perfectly in that spot. I raise this for two reasons. First, *this* looks to be where the rupture between Jerry and Merl could have happened, insofar as that’s the right conception of things. Gigs were advertised, nothing unusual about that, but then something changes. I think Corry’s reasoning that this was Keith and Donna is pretty sound, but that would mean Merl would have been bumped for it, potentially part of the story of Merl having the rug pulled out from under him. Second, whatever the deal with 8/5, the fact that there had been a JGMS billing this late in the game lends more credence to the idea of late-July gigs.
So, in summing up on this one, I am not prepared to say there was a JGMS/Legion gig on August 5, 1975. I am prepared to say that it was planned as JGMS, and then morphed into something else (either Merl without Jerry, or Keith and Donna). In that sense, it arguably sets the new outer limit to our understanding of the tenure of the Legion of Mary.
Putting this all together might merely push the end of Legion back to the end of July, rather than to the beginning. In that sense, it’s a purely quantitative addition to our understanding. But, I don’t know, somehow the boys jamming together at the Share (as they did so well on 7/5/73, GarciaLive 6), casts a whole new light on the demise of the Legion, making it feel less like an opiated Sunday-night anticlimax and more like a couple of good gigs to wrap things up. It may still be the case that Jerry ducked out after 7/30 with just as much cowardice as we have always thought, but this is softened in my mental palette just a little bit if there was good, joyful gigging for a little longer than has previously been recognized.