"If you tell the Truth, you don't have to remember anything"
-Mark Twain
"You realize, of course, that everything I say is horseshit." -Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Grateful Dead in 1965

In 1965, Pigpen convinced the other members of the Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions to leave behind their acoustic instruments and evolve into an electric blues band. The other members, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Jerry Garcia and Dana Morgan Jr, were all more than willing to participate. Though they went electric, most of their material did not change. Their song repertoire consisted of traditional covers that now became louder.
They lined up a bunch of gigs at a suburban San Francisco pizzeria named Magoo's Pizza Parlor. They played there on a weekly basis then would practice at Dana Morgan's Music Shop. One of these Magoo's gigs was attended by Phil Lesh and his girlfriend. After reconnecting with Phil at the gig, Jerry approached Phil about learning bass and serving as Dana Morgan Jr's replacement, despite the fact that it meant they would lose their practice space. Phil was a trumpet player but was known to have perfect pitch. Phil agreed to join although he thought that he was going to be playing rhythm guitar because of what he was hearing in the Rolling Stones song "The Last Time." There is no record of Jerry asking Bobby, Pigpen, or Billy before asking Phil to join the band. After practicing the bass for a few weeks, Phil played his first gig with The Warlocks on June 18 of 1965 at Frenchy's in Hayward, California, their first gig not at Magoo's Pizza Parlor in Menlo Park. 
While flipping through records, the newest member of the band discovered that there was another band out there that had the name The Warlocks. This New York band lead by Lou Reed, had gotten the name published before the San Francisco Warlocks. So the band without a name had studio time in November as singer Jon Hendricks' backing band. As a bonus they got to record some of their demos after completing his song "Fire in the City." The boys used the temporary moniker of The Emergency Crew for this recording. They decided on the name in the studio. These recordings were put out as the CD "The Birth of the Dead" in 2003, although "Fire in the City" was the B Side for Jon Hendricks in 1966. 
As the legend goes, the band was sitting around throwing different possible band names around, when Garcia took an Encyclopedia Britannica off the shelf. Flipping threw the pages, he focused on The Grateful Dead. It was in the encyclopedia as a folklore of a spirit who karmically repays the person responsible for taking care of their burial. No one else in the band hated the name, but nor did they love it. Yet much like their previous name of The Warlocks, there is a mystical and spiritual energy that surrounds the name. 
Around this time, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters started posting signs around San Francisco asking, "Can you pass the Acid Test?" The band member attended their first Acid Test as participants before being asked to be the musical guest. The band made their first known appearance as the Grateful Dead at the San Jose acid test at Big Nig's House on December 4th, 1965. To say they "played" the Acid Test is being generous. More they brought their instruments, drank the Kool Aid, and let what ever happen for the next 8 hours. If you think about it, the phrase "anything can happen at a Grateful Dead concert," stems from these experiences at the Acid Test. Not only that but the friendships that the band had with the Merry Pranksters, Mountain Girl, Rock Scully, and their soundman Owsley "Bear" Stanley, all originated from the early Acid Test.
Besides the officially released recording, there isn't much recorded history of The Warlocks or The Grateful Dead in 1965. Songs like "You Don't Have To Ask" and "Can't Come Down," the first recorded song by Jerry Garcia, were extremely rough around the edges and therefore abandoned shortly after their conception. Yet in 1965, they chose some of their Jug Band songs that would last all 30 years of the Grateful Dead history and beyond. "Cold Rain and Snow," "Don't Ease Me In," and "I Know You Rider" were all traditional songs that the band played in 1965 that lasted to the final tour in 1995. It's pretty remarkable that the band kept those songs current in their lineup. If you look at Bob Dylan's "30th Anniversary Concert," none of the songs at that show were on his first album. Actually in 1965, the band played two Bob Dylan songs; "She Belongs to Me" and "It's All Over Now Baby Blue." The latter was a song that Jerry sang until February 19th of 1995. 
Although the San Jose Acid Test was the first appearance by The Grateful Dead, the first concert wasn't until December 10th. The band played the Fillmore Auditorium with Jefferson Airplane, Great Society, John Handy Quintet, Mystery Trend, and The Gentleman Band. Bill Graham who put on the Mime Troupe Benefit, was not keen on the new band name and printed the poster as saying; "The Grateful Dead (Formerly The Warlocks)." This would come into play much later on in Grateful Dead history. The band that started as a Jug band over the course of the year, grew into a drug band who appeared in three Acid Tests in December of 1965. All in all 1965, was a period of growth by the band. There was some form of direction that they had, even though it was still immature. 

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