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Sunday, August 07, 2016

Dating the Legion’s Demise: A Revisionist Account



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.

Conventional Datings

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.

Conclusion

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.



20 comments:

  1. Wow,this is great research. I used to think that the inexplicable Jerry Garcia Band listing of Aug 5 '75 was because Nicky Hopkins schedule changed, but this research suggests that it wasn't that way at all.

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  2. Let me try his again... Neat! I realize thats a lot of arcane and opaque digging and lots of thoughtful questioning and years of research. And I'm a huge Legion fan, too. So thanks for all that.
    Now can we turn it on, turn it up and get to work saving our planet and helping one another to be happy in this life? That would be the best way to discover Garcia. In my opinion. It would certainly be honorable to him and to Sanders as well. They were both very compassionate and generous men who loved humanity and the Earth. I don't mean that as a disconnect comment to this post. Am saying that maybe we too should be active in our choices.
    To my qualm-
    The use of the word cowardice and his name in a sentence twice is like a double of bleach and organic mangosteen. You don't know what went down and even if you did, don't insult him. He is my hero and my God. He was as powerful as a Lion in a room of caged fixed cats. You weren't there and don't know how or why - you are speculating- and speculate away but don't insult him. I trust him- it was his life and his art and his process and his enlightenment. We are all inconceivably lucky he did anything that he did. Look how much benefit you derived. Do not insult him again. People read this blog: ) I know I have for years. please and thank you.

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    1. Wow, your God? You know that sentiments like that really creeped him out, right? It was quite a common topic of discussion in later years, not speculation on my part; this kind of view is really unhealthy for everyone involved, and attitudes like yours contributed to his increasing alienation over the years. He was just a guy, a unique and super talented guy with great gifts and weaknesses. He himself was extremely clear on that.

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  3. Naawww, I'll just say what I want on my blog, and you can feel free to read or not. I won't be censored because he was your hero and your God. In fact, the latter sentiment makes me more likely to turn over the less pleasant stuff, to present his humanity in all of its fullness. Garcia talked often about wanting the full range of the experience -- good, bad and in between.

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    1. Too bad you never met him yet have made a life discussing him and poking fun which is fine- but don't insult him.

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  4. Personally, I would have bailed on that deal because of Martin Fierro. He was too loud and overpowering often. He would go bars and bars where really a brass like that is best in increments. Look man, that wasn't Jerry's gig right? Those weren't his choice tunes. It was great like lots of things but he did with many artists but he needed his own band for sure. That experience no doubt helped that happen. Would bet he wanted to record and write. And personally, I'm glad he started the JGB then. That was the right choice.

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  5. And lastly please- thanks- did it occur to you that maybe why this little month and a half period in history is so shrouded in mystery is because Jerry was a nice guy?

    Maybe he had real reasons for his creative choices and maybe he just left those issues unspoken for reasons---- like because he was a nice guy.

    He was the most chill person ever and really a nice guy. I can't imagine him saying things publicly about others like they (including yourself) say about him. Because he was a nice guy. I can't imagine him saying them privately actually.

    And again it's amazing to me how many beings benefitted by his life and then say some pretty egotistical, digging things about him when he really gave them at least a major boost of not a reason to live. That's called riding coat tails and it ain't no art form though it should be done nicely.

    So while you speculate on a time that really has little bearing on the future of music, art, humanity, our planet, anything evolutionary really ... And again I appreciate your intense interest and scholarly address... Maybe it's all speculation because he was such a nice guy that he kept his personal reasons to himself and just carried on.

    So again, I've been reading your awesome blog for years and find it sometimes so hilarious I can't stop laughing when I think of that post for months and months. And I think you have a great sense of humor and are truly a scholar on all of this. I'm simply saying that he left some things unknown to us. So let it be unknown. Or next thing you know you may be on the karmic receiving end for encouraging discursiveness. And then people go on bad trips. And no one needs that.

    Really in the end all that really matters is if you were a nice guy.

    That's why he's my hero and my God. He was the nicest person ever. Incredibly kind and generous.

    Hey- even my 80 year old Tibetan teacher has bunions and some issues with his eyes but that don't mean he's somehow imperfect. It makes him more relatable. Is easy to be tamed by something that is familiar. So if you wanna point out Jerry's human characteristics then go for it. But don't you ever call him a coward again. Not ever. Cause that would make you a liar. And I'd rather you be the really nice guy I know you are. Peace and Love.

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  6. Vanessa, I am glad you read the blog and like it. Read the post again in re cowardice - I never call the man a coward. I talk about a conventional account of cowardice, derived from a number of stories about Jerry sending Big Steve to do the hard work of telling people they're out, or people not being given the respect of being told where they stand, but rather just finding themselves marooned. In terms of your commands such as "don't ever call him a coward again", first, as I just said, I didn't, but second, if I think that shoe fits, I won't hesitate to do so here on my blog.

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  7. i love your blog but am breaking your shoe fitting thingy.

    I've thought a lot on all of that you posited above and this the thing- he was the sweetest person ever.
    And a real gentleman by worldly standards in terms of how he treated people in the larger world.
    And was also a perfectionist. That may set up some- Interesting dynamics.

    Every person who got canned or left- I personally can hear why in the music as far as that goes- I would have done the same thing. And I would have done it sooner.

    He couldn't bear to do it. Too nice when he came down to it and not in his nature. No fanfare, no explanation? Did they really need one? Couldn't they judge themselves? If those people don't know what they did to get left or canned then they weren't near his caliber to begin with.
    Why just play a part?
    He was an authentic artist and true virtuoso. I'm sure it was tough times inside knowing he had to split or split off sometimes to keep evolving but he had to: for me and for you!
    I'm a huge fan of 1968 but there is some soulful
    stuff in 1995 he couldn't really have dreamt of in '68. His soul evolved. You gotta make some personnel and personal changes in that Ascension. And You gotta know it'd be real hard for him to break a heart- what the fuck is he gonna say???

    And the man was not a liar either so what is he gonna say that isn't gonna sting?
    So he just did everyone a favor and made himself look like the "whatever" in it and let them (and you) talk amongst themselves about it and say shit sometimes and --- whatever--- he just kept going. No hard feelings on his side. And never did he say something mean! Ever.Ya know? He was a nice guy!

    He always did better without them at that point, by the way- and I think that makes him brave. A lot of people stay in relationships- working and personal- when they are past tenure or outlived or just fucking crummy. Because even if it's dull, even if it's loveless, even if the drummer is rushing- most people
    Are cowards
    And don't go or push off. They stay cause that's easy and at least it's predictable.

    And Yeah sure he was human. Sure. He was an amazing guise at least. And that's a really strange perdiciment for a living Buddha to be in without an organized religion. Truly. He's the founder. He had to find the way himself. None of us know what that is. None of us. We are all followers.

    Hey- even my 80 year old Tibetan teacher has a 30-something nun that runs interference. These great men and women shouldn't have to peddle or play in the mundane- they'd be like you and me then: all fucking run around and burnt out at the end of too many days and for what? In the case of that nun, that's her practice: devotion to our common teacher and it actually benefits the larger spiritual community because it protects his energy levels.

    So to retain the last word, I will misappropriate your comment and call this a moment of semantics and you will please change the word to "non-confrontational". Please. Because he easily is the bravest person I ever met.

    He did it all. Just think what the world would not have or not be without him. Would I even be alive? I don't know. It's been unbelievable. I'm still learning how profound. And among the greatest men, women and prophets to ever live I can't think of someone who has done more for evolution. And I'm reaching way back to find equals along the route but no one who did more. So please excuse me and you are free to prosper Mr JGMF blog. But if you keep friends among the few know-it-all's say things about him now they'd never ever say to his face- go measure them up for concrete boots please-they are the real cowards.




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  8. What's this absurd 4006 word rule! : ) just lets all be nice. Okay? Let's be all nice. Peace and love.

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  9. I was at July 6th at the Keystone and just before the gig started, I talked to Steve Parish. He said that this was the last gig. I asked him about it and he said "some will be staying and some will be going" and did not wish to further elaborate. That statement gave me the benefit of watching the entire show knowing it was "goodbye", which was sad, as I believe that Merl and Jerry was the best Jerry solo band ever. The next Saturday, I got word that "Merl and Jerry" would be playing the Generosity on Union Street in SF that night and went down there. No Jerry, but the first time that I got to see Aunt Monk - first time seeing the amazing Tony Saunders, so Merl was out on his own at least 6 days later. Also, I did go to see Jerry at the Great American Music Hall that summer and it was with the Keith and Donna Band with Steve Schuster, etc. as is listed on the net, for example on jerrygarcia.com. In other words, the Lion's Share show, who knows, maybe Legion played those two last shows for old time's sake, but I can confirm that the organizational moves were already in the works by the first weekend of July 1975 (I went to both GAMH shows that weekend also). I tend to doubt that I found out about this before Merl. The other thing that I could be having a false memory about or not, but makes sense, is that there were some erroneous listings and ads at this time, where they incorrectly listed Merl and Jerry, probably either because they assumed, as wouldn't be so strange, that if Jerry is there, then Merl or vice versa and maybe some shows that were tentatively scheduled that got cancelled. Things were definitely in flux at that time in the Jerry solo world, to say the least. Also, considering besides from bluegrass and Howard Wales, in the 1970's (modern Jerry solo era - forgetting about Sara and early Palo Alto days), this was new territory - Jerry with anyone else but Merl in an electric solo project (well besides NRPS). Certainly when Steve Parish said that some were gonna stay and some were gonna go, I really wondered what was going to be next. At least I knew more about it at that time than most - and apparently, in some ways, still do:)

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  10. Anon, that is really amazing. Thank you for sharing this. It doesn't resolve the mystery of the possible Lion's Share gigs later in the month, but it does put them into context. Sounds like we have mostly had it right for awhile, then.

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  11. JGMF,
    Amazing work as always. Extremely fortuitous too as I was just thinking today about the end of LOF and Garcia's break with Saunders. Reading your post and your positing of the break happening in later July-early August made me think of the upcoming 8/13 show and its importance in helping them sell BFA to an undoubtedly skeptical record industry audience and thereby save them from possible financial armageddon as the record companies' finances went south. Might Garcia's break with Saunders be possibly related? We know that his break from Grisman happened around the same time due also to financial pressures relating to the companies. We also know from a letter in the Archive how pissed Joe Smith at Warner's was about Hooteroll. Especially given the contemporaneous release of their Keystone collaborations, could the pressure on Garcia to drop Saunders, then, have come from those who felt that the continuance of their relationship would sabotage the GD's relations with the major labels? This was, after all, after they had sold their distribution rights to UA so perhaps even UA put pressure on Garcia, perhaps even making it a condition of buying the rights, to cut his relationship with Saunders, and through him Fantasy Records. Thoughts?

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  12. For some reason I've been thinking of this breakup and how very soon afterward Garcia was touring. They just never toured. In the 3 1/2 year Garcia/Saunders were a team how often did they leave California? 3 or 4 times for at most a week at a time. I just have this notion based on nothing other than their history that Saunders was reluctant to tour. Garcia needed to make more money that he could playing the Keystone every other weekend and set out to do that.

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  13. Thanks for your contribution!

    I am not so sure. JGMS toured out east in 11/74 and Legion did in 4/75. I think Merl would have loved to tour more with his golden-egg laying friend Jerry. I think the problem was that Jerry (probably really his people, possibly including John Scher) thought that in order to make the money that Jerry started wanting/needing to make, it needed to be the Jerry Garcia show rather than the Jerry-and-Merl show.

    I could be wrong, you could be right - lots of possibilities!

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!Thank you for joining the conversation!