Friday, June 12, 2015

The Common: September 5-6-7 ish, 1969

Berkeley Tribe, August 8-14, 1969, p. 3.

Regular readers will know that I have been chasing the idea of "Jerry and the Jeffersons" in my head for a good long while. It narrates the arc of Garcia's life as a process of gradual privatization. I started it years ago, have picked it up and put it down repeatedly, have kept adding to it, etc. It is stewing in my brain.

Annie's photo at the center of p. 3 of the August 8, 1969 Berkeley Tribe shows Jerry Garcia dressed as Bluto, standing and talking at a meeting of The Common, in the Family Dog On The Great Highway on the afternoon of Saturday, August 2, 1969. (This copy is a scan from my old photocopy, with all of my marginalia and stuff. Within a few years, this page will become accessible via the Independent Voices collection.)

I have a lot to say about this moment in time. I have a lot to say about The Common, though it's already very nicely trated in Michael Kramer's Republic of Rock. Kramer scooped me in using the Bluto photo - I had been holding back on it for the book, but he beat me to it. It's a great image, and he has good taste!

The idea of being scooped is a weird one that I don't want to get into. Needless to say, there are some really good bits that I am holding back for the book, some really great stuff. On the other hand, I am swimming in data, more stuff is coming out every day, and odds of really losing anything are pretty small.

Correspondingly, I wanted to drop this little nugget on you.

Good Times, September 4, 1969, p. 19.
The great Good Times entertainment listings for Friday, September 5, 1969 in the prior day's issue list at Family Dog "Malachi, Rubber Duck (mime) and a jam with members of 3 groups we're not allowed to name. Lights by Temporary."

Verrryyyy innnnterresssssssting.

First, note Rubber Duck, which is the psychedlic mime-and-minstrelsy thing around Joe McCord (see here), sometimes involving TC and Garcia.

Second, more importantly, "a jam with members of 3 groups we're not allowed to name". I don't know why, exactly, they couldn't name the bands, nor at whose request. But I wonder where Mr. Garcia was, this Friday night?

Third, the reason we ask this is that it sheds light on the tapes made by Owsley Stanley ("Bear"), dated September 6, 1969, featuring the Jefferson Airplane at the Family Dog with Garcia, Mickey Hart, and others sitting in, and Sunday, September 7th, featuring Jorma and Joey Covington, Garcia possibly playing some drums (see Dick Latvala's cassette copy jcard below), and the lot of them playing a weird little set of drunken surf music at the Edge of the Western World.


Naturally, Corry is on the case.  I can't really try to parse the specific dates of the specific materials, but I do think that the Good Times listing sheds new light on this event, especially in terms of my "Jerry and the Jeffersons" frame.

The guy who wrote the book which is to Airplane stuff as my listening notes are to Garcia stuff says that the jam on 9/6/69 is the "longest time of an Airplane improvisation, jam or song ever!" (Fenton 2007, 158). The Jeffersons played their asses off this night. Though the sonic journal bears some imperfections (sorry, couldn't resist), it has been featured as some sort of quasi-official release.
The Family Dog Presents the Jefferson Airplane at the Family Dog Ballroom, Featuring Special Guest Jerry Garcia (Charly SNAP 293 CD, 2007SNAP 293 CD, 2007)

Furthermore, the Jeffersons had never really been very close to Chet Helms, by appearances. I have generated some data (not ready for prime time) suggesting that these parties crossed professionally less than they should have, given the contexts in which they moved (compare JA to GD in this respect). The Jeffersons were more Bill Grahamers from the beginning, and the Dead were more Chet Helmsers. So the fact that the Airplane would play an unadvertised gig for Chet in September 1969 is noteworthy (LIA). This and the 2/4/70 "Night At The Family Dog" filmed session (see) are really the only two instances I can find of the Jeffersons doing something for Chester.

My big takeaway, though, is what this tells us about The Common, a very fragile little bloom that burst out momentarily and then faced the fate that things that live must.

Arnold, Corry. 2010. September 6-7, 1969 Family Dog At The Great Highway, San Francisco Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead. Lost Live Dead, January 30, 2010, URL, last accessed 1/19/2012.
Fenton, Craig. 2007. Take Me To A Circus Tent: The Jefferson Airplane Flight Manual. West Conshohocken, PA: Infinity Publishing.
Johnson, Art. 1969a. Out on the Edge. Berkeley Tribe, August 8-14, 1969, pp. 3-4.


  1. The question I would have is "who was the third band?" Members of the Dead, Airplane and who?

    It is unquestionably true that the Airplane weren't particularly close to Chet. I don't think they were hostile--just not close. The Airplane did play the reopeing of The Family Dog on June 13, 1969, and a relatively unadvertised booking on January 30-31, 1970 at the Family Dog. The AIrplane were so big that they could sell out Family Dog on a single reference in Ralph Gleason's column, so there was never any kind of poster. By this time, I think the bands were effectively promoting their own shows at Family Dog anyway.

    The February 4 '70 event was a TV special organized for PBS by Ralph Gleason. It wasn't a Family Dog event. Yes, they rented the venue (it was a Wednesday night), but Chet was just another contractor that night.

    Helms was a nice and creative guy, but his finances were always shaky. Thus a lot of the bands who played for him did it as a favor of sorts, since they would be underpaid or maybe not paid (or shorted, or however it might work). The Airplane weren't close to him, so they weren't really on the list for giving favors. Kantner et al seemed perfectly willing to play at the Summer Of Love celebrations in 87, 97 and '07, so I don't think it was personally negative.

  2. JGMF, Fascinating stuff, as always! Just a note that the paperback edition of _The Republic of Rock_ will have the correction (which got missed in proofs for the hard cover, darn it!) for "The Common," a strange and wonderful little moment of fragile gonzo Helmsian Blutosian hippie democratic dreaming if ever there was one. All best, Michael

  3. One cool thing: the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress (all hail archivist and scholar Todd Harvey there) just acquired Earl Crabb's archive. Earl was the Dr. Humbead of Dr. Humbead's Revised Map of the World (see Jesse J's Heads book) and a real important member of the Berkeley/Bay Area folk and psychedelic scenes (as you probably know). I'm hoping there's more in the archive we can discover about places such as The Common! It's a shame that Chet Helms himself didn't really keep an archive (so far as I know)...that'd have all kinds of interesting stuff in it. As I recall, there are, however, some very funny letters and notes from him to the Wild West promoters I've seen that are classic "oops we let too many people in for free" Chet Helms mea culpas after they held the various concerts at the Family Dog on the Great Highway and elsewhere in relation to Wild West.

  4. Also, on Jerry and the Jeffersons, there is one photo (from 1966) of Jerry backstage with the JA at the Greek Theater on the Cal campus when the JA performed at the Berkeley Folk Music Festival that summer. Except that, alas, Jerry's head is cut off in the photo! But you can tell it's him, Beatle boots on and looking hip.

  5. Thanks for the tip on the paperback, congrats on that. Sorry to be snotty about a typo!

    Lots of good archives out there. Is there any place that tries to track them, as they relate to say, the subject matters of JGMF and/or Republic of Rock?

    I'll look for the pic at the Greek.

    1. Not snotty at all. There shouldn't be any mistakes in the book! But a few embarrassing ones are in the hard cover version: Thanks for correcting! My belief is we should all try to get these things as accurate as we can. I'll send you copy of the photo. Found it in the Berkeley Folk Music Festival Collection at Northwestern, where I teach. I'm always on the hunt for the KQED tv footage of the Berkeley Festival 1967, 68, and 70 ('s not in the San Francisco TV Archives at SF State, alas, probably erased in the vaults during the 1970s, but maybe it exists somewhere. And any audio recordings of the Festival is always amazing to locate. There is a smattering of audio at Northwestern, Library of Congress, and Smithsonian Folkways, but there must be more out there! Look forward to your book...keep us all posted please. Michael

  6. Chet Helms was interviewed in the 7/25/69 Berkeley Barb, and in a list of upcoming bands playing at the Family Dog, mentions, "I would like on some occasion to have the Airplane back, although it's sort of an uncomfortable circumstance just because of the physical number of people they draw. The Dead are going to play for us in the early fall."
    ("Walking the Dog," p.9)

    This illuminates another reason the Airplane didn't play the Family Dog very often, and why the 9/6/69 show wasn't listed in advance - they were simply too popular for the venue.
    Which makes it a little odd that they'd return in January '70 (listed in the paper, too), but by then perhaps Helms was pursuing more profits:


!Thank you for joining the conversation!