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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Cat in the Limelight: RN Grosswald and Blavat 1978

Grosswald, Mike and Glen Blavat. 1978. Jerry Garcia’s Band Under the Stars. Happytimes (Philadelphia), March 31, 1978, p. 15.

Grosswald-Bavat 1978: This is a really nicely done piece from what I assume was a Philly underground paper, Happytimes, around the time of the JGB’s visit to that town in mid-March (3/16/78 at the Spectrum Theatre). Garcia had actually promoted Cats Under the Stars pretty vigorously, including interviews at least on March 10 in Rochester, March 11 in Pawtucket, and March 17 in NYC. It is well-established that Garcia poured himself into the album, loved it from an artistic point of view, and felt the sting of its commercial failure very, very deeply. I’d go so far as to say that he gave up trying after CUTS dropped through the charts like a stone. But that’s a matter for another post (or a book chapter!). For now, some reading notes.

Grosswald-Bavat 1978, 15: CUTS described as “brilliant” [CUTS]

Grosswald-Bavat 1978, 15: “The evolution of the Jerry Garcia Band has pretty much mirrored the development of the Grateful Dead. What started at as loose, informal jazz sessions at San Francisco clubs several nights a week has developed into a tight ensemble that writes and produces its own material”. JGMF: interesting and spot-on analogy. There’s a common, underlying evolutionary process in both bands, from spontaneity and “chaos” to institutionalization and “form”. [GD-JGB]

Grosswald-Bavat 1978, 15: “’We started playing by pure coincidence ten years ago,’ recalled John Kahn, ‘in a real small club in ‘Frisco called the Matrix which hasn’t existed for at least eight years. It used to be a Monday night jam session type of gig. Jerry was with organ player Howard Wales, myself, and Bill Vitt, and I’ve been playing with Jerry ever since. The jamming went on for years; most of the time five or six people would join in.’” [JGMS]

Grosswald-Bavat 1978, 15: Kahn: “’Wales quit and I got Merl Saunders, who I knew from my jazz playing days, to join us.’ Being known only as The Group in the beginning is indicative of how loose these early sessions were. [JGMF: yes!] ‘Nobody thought of having a name or any kind of focus besides showing up and jamming. We tried to avoid all the bullshit that we could,’ Kahn added. [JGMF music without bullshit]

Grosswald-Bavat 1978, 15: addition of Tutt and Fierro gave birth to “Legion of Mary” [LOM]

Grosswald-Bavat 1978, 15 quoting JG from a ca. 1975 interview, re LOM: “Legion of Mary is a different sort of group for me. I don’t write material for it. We play other people’s songs that we like and just have a good time. It’s like a low profile is more desirable for me. The Dead and this group are two different trips. And this one has a lot less pressure associated with it because we haven’t made an effort to get famous at it. That’s one of the things that makes it possible. I couldn’t take the pressure of being a double celebrity. It’s a drag just being it once.”

Grosswald-Bavat 1978, 15: recording CUTS: JK: “was recorded in the Grateful Dead warehouse where they rehearse in San Rafael. Garcia has a 16 track studio machine and we got a real compatible Neve board from the budget of the next hundred million albums.” [JGMF, NB: would be in debt from JGB, for awhile, least!]

Grosswald-Bavat 1978, 15: Kahn speaks to the consonance of the JGB recording process: “We all sort of think the same way musically and the production worked out real well in contrast to other situations I’ve been involved with where everybody contributes different ideas thus you end up nowhere. That can be a real drag.” [JGMF: Reflections?]

Grosswald-Bavat 1978, 15: after the JGB tour, Kahn goes out with Maria Muldaur, including in the area April 10 (opening for Bromberg at the Valley Forge Music Fair). GD will go on tour starting April 6th in Florida.

Grosswald-Bavat 1978, 15: Maria Muldaur: “Maria Muldaur is now a permanent member of the Garcia Band … ‘I totally cherish being part of a musical experience like this,’ she elucidated. ‘I never was a Dead Head, but I’ve become involved because my old man is the backbone, the right hand man of the Garcia band. John and Jerry have a particular musical exchange happening. Their music has evolved and they’ve helped each other grow musically immensely and that’s when I came to respect them. At first I went to their gigs and thought this is pretty loose,’ Maria continued, ‘but then I saw that the place where they come from musically has nothing to do with putting on a tight show. There’s this intimate interchange and there’s an openness that happens. He may bumble a few notes, but that absolutely doesn’t matter ‘cause of where he takes it. And then to see the whole audience get it every time and not just applaud a solo, but levitate out of their seats. That’s a special thing to be a part of.’”

Grosswald-Bavat 1978, 15: “During the recent [GD?] hiatus, Donna spent time setting up a nursery school with Mountain Girl, Jerry’s old lady.” I didn’t know Donna and MG were close.

Grosswald-Bavat 1978, 15: “Cats Under the Stars, the Jerry Band’s best album to date, is sure to propel the Band to new heights of musical stardom. And while Jerry Garcia’s worst fears of becoming a double celebrity are being realized, apparently the feeling is ‘Cats in the limelight / feels like it’s all right.’” That is pretty brilliant.


  1. "...Jerry was with organ player Howard Wales, myself, and Bill Vitt, and I’ve been playing with Jerry ever since. The jamming went on for years; most of the time five or six people would join in.’”

    This is the most intriguing remark, of many. This suggests that a lot more people than just Garcia/Kahn/Vitt/organist (Wales>Saunders) played, even if each only once.

  2. Another fascinating detail regards John Kahn going on tour with Maria Muldaur, which I don't believe he had done previously. Do we have any idea who was in Maria's band in 1978? Of course, I am hoping it features John Rich and Tim Hensley, but that's just me.

    It would also suggest that John Kahn was directing two bands (JGB and MM) during this period, an interesting detail in its own right.

  3. I am a little dubious that there were five or six people "most of the time" at the Matrix, but in the absence of some trove of tapes emerging we are unlikely ever to know.

    I will say that the Nov. 2, 1974 JGMS show -- much later and presumably less fluid than the Matrix days, I know -- has a Latin-type percussion player stepping out a time or two. FWIW.

  4. Well, I suspect Kahn's comment that "most of the time" 5 or 6 people would join in is selective memory. Nonetheless, I do take it to mean that others were known to participate. I assume that many of those participating were people who turned up later, like Martin Fierro and Tom Fogerty, but it's still interesting.

    The most likely candidate for a 1974 conguero would be Armando Peraza. Besides being the best conga player on the West Coast, and a North Beach regular, Peraza was part of a Latin/jazz/rock crowd that hung out and jammed, with trumpeter Luis Gasca as the centerpiece. Garcia was apparently part of that crowd too, during the 70-72 period.

  5. I haven't listened to it all the way through yet, but into Tough Mama no congas, just a maraca or one of those twisty little grinder thingies during "Valdez In The Country", not for very long.

    Yeah, I have seen a reference to Peraza from early '72, and I suppose it's him on 2/16/74 on congas, as well. So he was around a bit. But this maraca or whatever could have been just about anybody, I'd guess. Hell, it could have been an audience member!

  6. By the way, you seem to like these reading notes. I should post more of these, huh?

  7. Three post rule, but anyway: I think the maracas (and occasional cowbell in Favela and Boogie on Reggae Woman) are played by Martin Fierro when he is not blowing. Occam's Razor and all that.


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