Line Up a Long Shot, Maybe Try It Two Times - Garcia: An American Life (2000)

Garcia: An American Life (2000)


Line Up a Long Shot, Maybe Try It Two Times

tarting an independent record company was a gamble, but at least it was a bold move taken from a position of strength. All through 1972 the Dead’s popularity was rising. Though they still performed mainly at 2,500- to 3,500-seat theaters, they were increasingly booking civic auditoriums, small stadiums, college sports venues and professional basketball and hockey arenas. In the New York area, where ticket demand was always intense, they now played just across the Hudson River in Roosevelt Stadium, a decaying minor-league baseball park in Jersey City that could accommodate 23,000 fans. In Philadelphia, also rabid Dead territory, the band played its first show at the 17,000-seat Spectrum in September 1972.

Garcia viewed the Dead’s steady rise in popularity with some measure of alarm. It’s not that he didn’t want his work to be enjoyed by large numbers of people; on the contrary, he was proud that the Dead had been able to amass such a following without consciously making concessions to mainstream commerciality. But playing in larger places made it more difficult to feel as if he was connecting with everyone in the audience. The Acid Tests and psychedelic nights at the Fillmore Auditorium had been models of how high a band and crowd could get together. Playing a 20,000-seat venue made the energy exchange between group and audience completely different. As Garcia noted in the early ’70s, “A lot of times people who don’t know how to get it on way outnumber the people who do know how to get it on.” But Garcia also recognized that with a big crowd you also have even greater potential to get the big rush—when everyone is locked in on the same wavelength as the band, and the room becomes a single, undulating celebratory organism.

To their credit, the Dead did everything they could to make the experience of going to large concerts more pleasant for the audience. The band had always invested lots of time and money into developing loud and clear sound systems. It had been part of Owsley’s original vision for the band, and the mantle had been taken up by Dan Healy, Bob Matthews and everyone who was a part of the group’s technical support staff. In the late ’60s, it even led to the formation of a separate sound entity, Alembic, which was dedicated to producing outstanding sound reinforcement systems, recording electronics and musical instruments. The loose group of hi-fi wizards took its name from the world of alchemy (one of Owsley’s areas of interest)—an alembic is an instrument used to refine, purify and transform. The Dead helped support the Alembic technical brain trust and workshop, and in return got a sound system that was the envy of everyone in the touring music industry and which allowed the band to feel good about playing the occasional monster gig.

The larger sound systems the Dead introduced in the early ’70s required a bigger road crew to move and assemble the mountains of equipment, which put even more financial pressure on the band to play bigger shows. By the end of 1972 the Grateful Dead “family” was more than seventy-five people, with about thirty on the payroll, and playing in 2,500-seat halls wasn’t going to bring in enough money to cover a group that big. In this regard it became the typical American success story, and it led to some of the usual pitfalls: earning more money encouraged people to buy homes and better cars, which led to mortgages and term payments that had to be maintained month after month. Not that anyone in the scene was living ostentatiously—these people were still on the lower end of the economic scale in Marin, and, considering the Dead’s popularity, on the lower end of the economic scale in big-time rock ’n’ roll, too.

If anyone in the organization had a plan that was going to make the scene cooler or more efficient in some way, he or she could usually get the money to try to implement that idea. However, nothing happened unless all the bandmembers agreed that it should. If one person in the band really didn’t like an idea, he could block it. And the band also listened carefully to the opinions of the road crew, so if one of them or a couple of them were strongly against something, a member of the band might join them and defeat a proposal. That said, though, everyone in the organization generally gave one another latitude for their ideas to blossom. Indeed, the major upside of success was the freedom to try new things and increase their autonomy in the music business. So at the same time the record company was starting up and development money was being funneled to Alembic, the Dead also sunk some money into starting their own booking and travel agencies in an audacious attempt to control nearly every aspect of their working life. And for a few years it worked.

Garcia, says Alan Trist, had strong opinions on how to conduct the business of the Grateful Dead. “He said, ‘Okay, let’s not fall into the traps that are out there.’ So one response is to have your own people around you, and that’s an aspect of the social and business world of the Dead that was consistently upheld by Jerry. And that was a real necessary protection against what the world would do to you otherwise. He was constantly making sure that business decisions and strategies were righteous, in the old sense of that word. So instead of pursuing a path that would make more money and doing all the things it was possible for them to do along that road, they chose to go in the opposite direction, because it was clear they were not going to buy into that culture of money and fame and fortune in the traditional way. They rejected the easy options, and to me that was an extremely attractive and courageous way to go.”

At the Dead’s first show of 1973, in Stanford University’s Maples Pavilion, the band unveiled seven new Hunter-Garcia songs, the biggest batch they’d ever introduced at once. The songs were all over the map musically and lyrically, and none of them much resembled any songs the two had written before. Generally speaking, they were less folk- and country-influenced.

Two of the new songs—“They Love Each Other” and “Row Jimmy”—showed Garcia’s infatuation with reggae, the spirited, highly rhythmic Jamaican music form that got its first wide American exposure through the soundtrack album for the 1972 film The Harder They Come, featuring Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals, Desmond Dekker and others. Garcia liked the title song so much that he began playing it with his solo band in mid-’73. And he was sufficiently intrigued by reggae that he attended one of the first American appearances by Bob Marley and the Wailers—then virtually unknown outside Jamaica—in a small Bay Area club later that year. Typical of Garcia, when he decided to borrow from the idiom in his own songs, he modified it considerably. “They Love Each Other,” a sprightly paean to the glories of a blissful romantic union, added some interesting little rhythmic tricks within the basic beat. “Row Jimmy,” with dreamy and obtuse Hunter lyrics, slowed down a reggae beat to the point where each component note and counter-rhythm was clearly discernible and the tune as a whole moved along like a lazy river.

The humorous R&B-flavored romp called “Loose Lucy” found Garcia in an unusual role—accused cad and submissive plaything of the intimidating title character. “Wave That Flag” was also a lighthearted number, a fast shuffle consisting of several stanzas of short, playful, seemingly unconnected rhymes that Garcia had great difficulty remembering in the correct order—not that it mattered to the overall feeling of the tune, where the rhythm of the words was as important as their literal meaning. This is the song that, a year later, was tightened up lyrically to become the much more successful “U.S. Blues.”

Garcia admitted that “Here Comes Sunshine” was inspired by songs from the Beatles’ Abbey Road album such as “Sun King” and “Here Comes the Sun.” This was particularly evident on the choruses, which taxed the group’s harmony chops to the limit. But even the main motif, a lilting melodic line with a cadence almost like a music box, owed something to “Here Comes the Sun.” Hunter’s elliptical words were inspired by childhood memories, as he later noted in his book of lyrics: “Remembering the great Vanport, Washington, flood of 1949; living in other people’s homes; a family abandoned by father; second grade.” Yet the tone of the lyrics was actually optimistic, and Garcia’s music was so buoyant and affirmative that the song always felt like a joyous celebration of life, as well as perhaps a message to the Dead:

Line up a long shot

Maybe try it two times

Maybe more

Good to know

You got shoes

To wear

When you find the floor

Why hold out for more?

Here comes sunshine

… Here comes sunshine!

This song opened up to jamming easily. It provided a mellow framework to work within, and the band usually managed to stretch out quite far within the groove, slowly building crescendos piece by piece without straying too far from the main melodic figure.

Hunter said his original title for the haunting ballad “China Doll” was “The Suicide Song,” and a look at the first two verses shows why:

A pistol shot at five o’clock

The bells of heaven ring

Tell me what you done it for

“No, I won’t tell you a thing

“Yesterday I begged you

Before I hit the ground—

All I leave behind me

Is only what I’ve found …”

“It’s almost like a ghost voice: ‘Tell me what you done it for / No I won’t tell you a thing,’” Hunter said. “It’s a little dialogue like that. I think it’s a terrifying song. And then it’s also got some affirmation of how it can be mended somehow. There’s a bit of metaphysical content in there which I leave open, not that I subscribe or don’t subscribe to it. At the time it resonated right. The song is eerie and very, very beautiful the way Garcia handles it.”

Perhaps the most instantly popular of the seven new Hunter-Garcia tunes was “Eyes of the World,” a fresh, breezy, wide-open song with a distinctive samba feel. “It was kind of a Brazilian thing,” Garcia said, and indeed, it almost sounded like some jazzy horn number you might hear being played by an orchestre tropicale in a seaside Rio nightclub. The song became one of the Dead’s liveliest jamming tunes, offering the band lots of room between verses, and also many different possibilities for connecting it to other tunes, since it had no formal ending—after the final chorus the band usually played around the central riff for a while longer, then Garcia or Lesh would signal a key change at some point and it would slip off in another direction, sometimes coming back to an “Eyes” riff, other times leading to a different song or groove. “Eyes” was another song Garcia never tired of. Though it went through small changes over the years, usually related to tempo, its essence remained unchanged.

After a very successful eight-show tour of the Midwest, where the smallest hall the band played had 7,500 seats, the Dead returned to the Bay Area for a couple of weeks in advance of an East Coast tour of basketball arenas, including three consecutive nights at the 17,000-seat Nassau Coliseum (on Long Island) and concerts at the cavernous Boston Garden and the Philadelphia Spectrum. It was hard to believe that two years earlier the band had been playing the relatively tiny Boston Music Hall (drawing so many people outside that there was a near-riot).

On the night of March 8, a week before the tour, Pigpen was found dead in his Corte Madera apartment, a victim of what the Marin County coroner ruled a “massive gastrointestinal hemorrhage.” His liver showed acute signs of disease and his spleen was also enlarged. Though Pigpen had been sick for a long time, his death still stunned nearly everyone close to him. “It was very shocking and very sad, and so untimely,” said Sue Swanson. “I mean almost nobody was even thirty at that point, so to lose someone was almost unthinkable.”

“When he went to the hospital in ’71 and we all gave him blood,” Garcia said years later, “they were saying, ‘That’s it, he’s not going to make it,’ so in effect we went through it—we went through the pain. Then he came out of it for a while and it was great. And actually I thought he was doing pretty good. When he died he just snuck away. I guess the stress on his system was just too much for him.”

On March 12 a traditional Catholic funeral at a mortuary in Corte Madera was attended by about two hundred people, including the whole McKernan clan, members of the Dead family and various Merry Pranksters and Hell’s Angels. Pigpen was laid out in an open coffin, wearing his trademark leather jacket and a cowboy shirt, his hat on the pillow. “It was a bummer,” Garcia commented the next day. “They had an Irish Catholic priest to say kind words, but it was for the straights.”

“I just remember the funeral as totally depressing,” Rock Scully said. “I was just totally brought down. I’d never seen Jerry more unhappy, ever. God, he was devastated; we all were.”

“It was pretty sad,” Laird Grant said. “There are a lot of funerals you go to and you feel okay about it—the guy’s been dying for six months and everyone expects it—but with Pigpen it was sort of like: Okay, here’s this one. Hang on to your hats, kids! You ain’t seen shit yet! Here goes Pigpen. Now what happens?”

What happened was the Dead went out on that East Coast tour two days after the funeral. “We’d been getting used to it [Pigpen’s absence] all along, so it wasn’t a sudden change when he died,” Weir said. “It was a very gradual change that became formal when he wasn’t here anymore at all.”

“Still, after he died you’d go out there [onstage] and it’d be like, ‘Where’s Pig?’” Garcia noted. “And we missed all those songs. It was like operating with a broken leg. So we went to our next strong suit, which was kind of a country feel; the American mythos, the Hunter songs. And our other strong suit was our [musical] weirdness. So we went with our strong suits that didn’t involve Pigpen.”

On the third night of the East Coast tour, at Nassau Coliseum, the Dead played “He’s Gone” as the second song of the night, and many in the audience took it to be a memorial to Pigpen and lit matches to honor his memory. It’s a ritual that was repeated in other cities that year, too. Even though the Dead had thousands of new fans in 1973 who had never seen Pigpen perform, his legend loomed large and the affection that everyone in the Dead scene felt for him was well-known.

“It’s hard to say what it was about him that people really loved,” Garcia said in 1988. “But they loved him a lot. I know I loved him a lot, and I couldn’t begin to tell you why. He was a lovable person. Really, it hasn’t felt right since Pigpen’s been gone, but on the other hand he’s always been around a little, too. He hasn’t been entirely gone. He’s right around.”

Ronald C. McKernan’s gravestone at Alta Mesa cemetery in Palo Alto reads: “Pigpen was and is now forever one of the Grateful Dead.”

* * *

While the Dead’s following seemed to grow with each passing month, Garcia continued his low-key involvement with his club group, and in the winter and spring of 1973 he also plunged into a new side project—a bluegrass group called Old and in the Way, featuring Garcia on banjo and vocals, John Kahn on string bass, David Grisman on mandolin and vocals, fiddler Richard Greene and guitarist-singer Peter Rowan, the older brother of Chris and Lorin Rowan.

“Old and in the Way was basically David Grisman’s trip,” John Kahn recalled. “There was no fiddle player in the group at first. It was me, Peter Rowan, Grisman and Jerry. We’d get together and play at Jerry’s house in Stinson Beach, or at my house in Forest Knolls, and then we started playing some real small gigs informally, like at the bar in Stinson Beach. It was this tiny place and the audience was louder than the band. It was all these big hippies dancing with these big hiking boots with the big flaps bouncing up and down. They’d start clapping and you couldn’t hear us at all. Even we couldn’t hear us!”

“You know Jerry—if he thinks something is worth doing, he’ll just take it out there right away, which is good,” Grisman said. “He said, ‘Let’s play some gigs!’ and he had the gigs lined up! We started playing in clubs and then he booked a tour. It was a real informal thing.”

Richard Greene came on board at a benefit concert at the Stinson Beach firehouse and played fiddle for the first few months the group was together. An alumnus of Bill Monroe’s group, and later the progressive-rock band Seatrain, which also included Peter Rowan, Greene hadn’t played with Garcia since the mid-’60s.

“When I played in Old and in the Way I got to see more of the ‘star’ Garcia,” he says. “Not that he acted that way; but in terms of how people in the audience related to him. Do you know about the checks in the glove compartment of his car? He was just like he was in the ’60s when I knew him, only now it’s the ’70s and he’s getting rich and famous and everything. Jerry was receiving a lot of money from all sorts of sources and he’d get a check and just throw it in the glove compartment of his car, and eventually, thousands of dollars were sitting in there that he completely forgot about. He just didn’t pay attention to money; he was a true hippie in that way. That was symbolic for me.”

Greene was living in Los Angeles the whole time he was with the group and was in the process of launching his own band, the Zone, so eventually he dropped out of the band and was replaced by Vassar Clements, another veteran of Bill Monroe’s band (as well as groups with Earl Scruggs, Jim and Jesse McReynolds and John Hartford), and widely regarded as one of the best fiddlers anywhere. “I thought he was the best of all of us,” John Kahn commented, “and easily one of the best players I’ve ever worked with. He could’ve played jazz with Coltrane. He could play anything.”

Much of the group’s repertoire came from traditional bluegrass— Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, Jim and Jesse, et al. But Old and in the Way also incorporated a handful of excellent original tunes by Grisman, Clements, Peter Rowan—the ostensible lead singer in the group and author of “Midnight Moonlight,” “Panama Red,” “Land of the Navajo” and “Lonesome L.A. Cowboy”—and even a few pop songs rearranged bluegrass-style by Garcia, such as the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” and the Platters’ ’50s hit “The Great Pretender.” In Grisman and Clements the band had two exceptionally good soloists, and though Garcia was no longer the red-hot five-string banjo picker he had been in the mid-’60s, he brought his characteristic spunk and good taste to everything he played on the instrument.

“Jerry worked real hard at playing the banjo,” Vassar Clements says. “Anything he tried he worked hard at. And the way it was with him, if he didn’t feel pretty sure of himself, he wouldn’t go out and play. What I liked about his playing is that it was different. You could tell he wasn’t a guy who’d been playing banjo all his life, but the groove was always there and he had good ideas. It sounded great to me.”

Old and in the Way played sporadically through 1973 in between Grateful Dead tours, and even cut an album at Mickey Hart’s studio, though it was never released. “We weren’t too happy with it,” Grisman said. “It was kind of rushed. It didn’t seem to equal what we were doing live.” A live album recorded by Owsley at the Boarding House club in San Francisco came out in 1975 and went on to become one of the best-selling bluegrass albums of all time. But by the time that record was released the group had long since disbanded, a victim of squabbling between Rowan and Grisman and the difficulty of trying to work around Garcia’s always hectic schedule.

Garcia’s memories of the group were nearly all positive, and shortly before he died he even talked about getting the band together again. “We were supposed to go out on a tour in the fall of ’95,” Clements says wistfully, adding, “Shoot, I wish he’d lived to be a hundred and twenty.”

“Playing with Old and in the Way was like playing in the bluegrass band I’d always wanted to play in,” Garcia said. “It was such a great band and I was flattered to be in such fast company. I was only sorry my banjo chops were never what they had been when I was playing continually, though they were smoothing out near the end.”

To give a sense of the double life Garcia was leading in those days, on May 18, 1973, Old and in the Way played a show at a small Palo Alto club called Homer’s Warehouse, and then two days later he strapped on his electric guitar to play with the Grateful Dead in front of 40,000 people at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco—the Dead’s first big stadium show. Four nights later he was back playing banjo with Old and in the Way at the Ash Grove in L.A., followed by one-nighters in Boston and Passaic, New Jersey, before joining the Dead in Washington, D.C., for two enormous gigs at RFK Stadium with co-headliners the Allman Brothers Band.

The Dead and the Allmans had been friends and mutual admirers for several years. The Macon, Georgia-based Allmans cited the early Grateful Dead—particularly the Anthem of the Sun-era band—as one of their influences. Indeed, that album was the source of the Allmans’ famous “Mountain Jam”: the theme from Donovan’s “There Is a Mountain” appeared in the middle of the jam on “Alligator” on Anthem. The Allmans had the same instrumental lineup as the 1968 Dead—including two drummers—and like the Dead the Allmans had paid dues in the psychedelic world, tripping and jamming for hours on end. But whereas much of the Dead’s music had been informed by country sources, the Allmans drew more from blues and R&B. The group’s distinctive sound came from the blending of Duane Allman’s and Dickey Betts’s guitar styles with Gregg Allman’s sturdy B-3 work and a relentless powerhouse rhythm section. Their music never had the loose, slippery, unpredictable quality that the Dead had in spades, but what they did have was the ability to play incredibly complex, bebop-inspired unison lines that exploded into jams which invariably led to other fiery crescendos. These guys had serious chops, but the veneer was still that of a simple electric blues band.

The Dead and the Allmans had shared a bill at the Fillmore East in February 1970, and then in April 1971 Duane played slide on three songs with the Dead during the group’s final series at the Fillmore East. Tragically, in October of that year Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident. But the Allman Brothers had so much momentum following the release of their incendiary live album At Fillmore East that they were able to stay together and actually increase their following on subsequent tours. In July 1972 Dickey Betts, bassist Berry Oakley and drummer Jaimoe joined the Dead for a few songs at Dillon Stadium in Hartford, Connecticut, and the following night Garcia, Weir and Kreutzmann returned the favor by jamming with the Allmans at Gaelic Park in the Bronx. By 1973 the Dead and the Allmans were the most popular touring bands in the country, and really the last true-blue proponents of the Big Jam left in American rock ’n’ roll.

So there was history and momentum going into the June RFK concerts, which attracted 110,000 people over two days (okay, it was a lot of the same people twice). The Allmans headlined the first of the two shows, both of which were played in sweltering heat and crippling humidity. The second day the order was reversed and the Dead closed the show with a three-set extravaganza, the last featuring the Dead and Allmans together for a set of rock ’n’ roll tunes that included “That’s All Right Mama,” “Not Fade Away,” “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad,” “The Promised Land” and “Johnny B. Goode.”

But the RFK shows were really just a taste of what was yet to come. A month and a half later, the Dead, the Allman Brothers and the Band drew 600,000 people to a concert at the Grand Prix Racecourse in Watkins Glen, New York, in the beautiful Finger Lakes region.

The promoters had expected a crowd of about 150,000 to show up—just a few thousand more than typically came to see the annual United States Grand Prix race there—but there were that many people camped outside the gates two days before the show. Bill Graham, who had been hired to stage the concert, persuaded the promoters to open the gates four hours earlier than planned, and by midday Friday—a day before showtime—the area was packed nearly half a mile from the stage, while hundreds of thousands more streamed toward the site on foot, since traffic was backed up for twenty miles in every direction. As had happened at Woodstock and virtually every other humongous festival, tickets eventually stopped being collected and then the masses really poured into the area. The early arrivers were rewarded for enduring a torrential downpour the night before the gates opened—the Dead played two short sets as a “sound check,” the Allmans played for ninety minutes, the Band an hour. There were people in the woods and covering the hillsides for miles around, and most didn’t seem particularly concerned that the sound couldn’t possibly travel to the far reaches. They just wanted to be there. Dan Healy arranged to have the concert broadcast on a frequency that could be picked up by radios within a few miles of the site. It was a mellow crowd, content to hang out and party with each other for the most part.

Most agreed that the Dead’s two sets on Saturday afternoon were not their best—not in any way bad like at Woodstock, but not as consistently powerful as most of their 1973 shows, including the RFK concerts. At least this time the Dead missed the rains, which nearly washed away the Band during their set. The day really belonged to the Allman Brothers, whose music had more of the grand sweep needed to communicate to people half a mile away. There was another nice Dead-Allmans jam session at the conclusion of the Allmans’ set around 2:30 Sunday morning, and the thousands who could actually hear the music seemed to enjoy it thoroughly. There were a few drug arrests, the usual scattering of bum trips and overdoses, and several highway fatalities miles from the site before and after the concert, but considering the size of the crowd and the scarcity of food and other amenities, things went extremely well. It helped that it was only a one-day event.

Garcia didn’t have much time to savor the triumph of Watkins Glen. In fact, he helicoptered directly from the concert site to Mount Holly, New Jersey, where he was facing charges stemming from a March 29 bust on the New Jersey Turnpike. Garcia and his passenger, Bob Hunter, had been driving from a gig in Baltimore to one two nights later in Springfield, Massachusetts, in a rented 1973 Chevrolet when they were pulled over because Garcia was driving 71 mph in a 60 mph zone. A search of Garcia’s briefcase (which he opened to retrieve his driver’s license) turned up small quantities of pot, LSD and cocaine, so Garcia was arrested and later released on $2,000 bail. Hunter was not charged.

If Garcia was worried when he went to court following the Watkins Glen show, it didn’t show. He cheerfully signed autographs for well-wishers in the courtroom and chatted amiably with reporters on the scene. Probation officials at the hearing described Garcia as “a very likeable person,” and one county official revealed that the state trooper who had arrested Garcia had said, “He was such a nice guy, we hated to bust him.” After an attorney for Garcia presented a psychiatrist’s report stating that Garcia was not addicted to drugs, was “a good family man and a creative individual,” the Burlington County court judge gave Garcia a suspended one-year sentence, with the charges to be dropped after that period provided Garcia was not named in another criminal offense. Two days later Garcia was back with the Dead for two sold-out shows at Roosevelt Stadium (with the Band opening), the second of which fell on Garcia’s thirty-first birthday.

The Grateful Dead spent most of August ensconced in the Record Plant, a cushy state-of-the-art recording studio in Sausalito, recording Wake of the Flood, their first album for Grateful Dead Records. Four of the seven Hunter-Garcia songs introduced in February made it onto the record: “Here Comes Sunshine,” “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo,” “Row Jimmy” and “Eyes of the World,” plus the earlier “Stella Blue.” Keith Godchaux sang lead on an R&B/gospel-tinged song he and Hunter wrote called “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away” (it would be Keith’s only vocal appearance on a Dead record), and Weir contributed the three-part “Weather Report Suite,” featuring sections co-written with folk songwriter Eric Anderson and John Barlow. The Weir-Barlow section in particular, “Let It Grow,” showed perhaps the greatest compositional sophistication of any Weir tune to date, mixing Spanish-influenced passages with furiously fast jamming and dynamic shifts that took the piece from thundering stepped riffs to a soft, graceful lilt within a matter of seconds.

With the exception of Keith’s song, all of the tunes had been road tested, so recording them was mainly a matter of engineers Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor getting good performances on tape. A few songs featured outside players: Vassar Clements’s fiddle snaked through “Mississippi Half-Step”; a small horn section added peppery blasts to “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away” and “Let It Grow”; Doug Sahm, former leader of the Sir Douglas Quintet, played twelve-string on a track; and helping on background vocals was a singer named Sarah Fulcher, who had also had a brief tenure with the Saunders-Garcia group earlier in the year.

On the Dead’s September East Coast swing following the completion of the album, two of the horn players on the record—saxophonist Martin Fierro and trumpeter Joe Ellis, both from Doug Sahm’s band, who opened every show on the tour except one—joined the Dead for a couple of numbers at each concert, to mainly negative reviews from the Deadheads. “To be honest, the fans didn’t like the horns, so the Dead finally said, ‘Fuck it!’” Fierro says good-naturedly. “But we had a great time; it was wonderful. We rehearsed, but we didn’t have written arrangements. We had head arrangements. And sometimes it sounded pretty good and sometimes it was a little rough.” After this tour, Fierro started dropping in regularly with the Saunders-Garcia group, too.

Wake of the Flood was released in mid-October through a network of independent record distributors. As in the later Warners days, the band sold about 450,000 copies in the first four months and after that sales tapered off rapidly. “I think some people believed that we were going to instantly go out and sell a million copies of our record because Warner Bros. had done such a lousy job and now we were in control,” Ron Rakow says. “Then, when it didn’t sell a million copies some people thought I was fucking with them. See, there was this attitude in the Dead that the record company is for fucking with. I thought it was just because it was Warner Bros., but once I became the record company, I found out it was whoever had the gig. So some people in the band didn’t believe our fans were buying it quickly and that there were only that many of them, which was Garcia’s theory, and what Warner Bros. always said. So when the same thing happened to us they thought I was fucking with them.”

Even if sales weren’t up dramatically, the amount of money the band made from album sales was. “We were making about thirty-three cents an album” with Warners, Rakow told the Wall Street Journal in 1974. “Now we make about a dollar twenty-two an album.”

By controlling every aspect of an album’s production, manufacturing and distribution, Rakow was also able to devise creative ways to make and save money for the band. For example, when Wake of the Flood came out, Rakow learned that the price for printing two million covers was only five thousand dollars more than printing the million they actually needed, so he ordered the extra covers made. “Then, a few years later, when we needed money,” Rakow relates, “I ordered the records to fill the covers from our pressing plant in Santa Maria at a special rate. I had the records drilled as cutouts [overstock] before they were even shrink-wrapped, and then I sold them all to a cutout operation in Philadelphia for ninety-five cents apiece and made five hundred thousand dollars in one day. They sold them in stores for two dollars apiece, so in the end almost two million copies of Wake of the Flood were sold.”

According to Rakow, Garcia was fascinated by these kinds of financial machinations. “I’ve heard people say that Jerry was impressed with me because I had Wall Street experience. That’s bullshit. Jerry wouldn’t know Wall Street if it fell on him. He never owned a stock in his life, at least when I knew him. But I regarded business as an art form and a game and he loved that, and that’s why I intrigued him. We weren’t just doing a business; it was a way to employ people—our friends. It was to answer a question that we asked ourselves often: ‘Who are we and what are we? Are we dessert on an already maggot-ridden, decadent capitalist table, or are we appetizers on the banquet of the new form?’ I phrased it one time stoned on acid, and we asked it to ourselves over and over and over for ten years.”

Not everyone in the Dead organization was thrilled with Rakow’s crafty gamesmanship or the strong influence he apparently had over Garcia. Rakow was a schemer and a dealmaker—he bragged about his exploits—and a couple of bandmembers were privately nervous about where Rakow might lead them. Dave Parker, who had helped lead the band out of their financial hole and handled some of their day-to-day business affairs, was among those who were suspicious.

“Rakow was very sharp and very adept at getting people’s confidence,” he says. “He became close to Jerry and things took a different direction after that. I can’t say I was comfortable with it.

“Jerry was always willing to go along and trust somebody who maybe other people wouldn’t have trusted. You know how it is in the rock ’n’ roll world—there are all sorts of characters. A good rap was presented to Garcia, he was sold on it and he made the decision to trust that it was going to happen and happen right.”

“Rakow had lots of great energy for a lot of things, and then terrible energy for other stuff; it was a strange, unpredictable mixture,” Mountain Girl says. “But it was energy that the group seemed to need—that Pranksteresque business. He was utilitarian, practical, but crazy. He seemed harmless at the time. He was an element, a character, another escapee from New York.”

The Dead played its final shows of 1973 in mid-December (it was one of the few years the group didn’t play on New Year’s Eve), and shortly after returning to California, Garcia began work on his second solo album, which would be one of the first releases on a new Grateful Dead subsidiary label, called Round Records, designed to put out solo projects by the bandmembers. (Rakow says the reason the Dead’s record companies had such “lame, unimaginative” names was “nobody could ever agree on anything. ‘Okay, records are round.’ That they agreed on.”) Whereas Grateful Dead Records was a partnership involving ten people—the six bandmembers, Rakow, Jon McIntire, Rock Scully and Alan Trist—Round was owned entirely by Garcia and Rakow because “some of the Dead don’t want a risk,” Rakow told Rolling Stone at the time. “Garcia likes risks, likes worries, so he can always be on the edge.”

The approach Garcia took on his second album was the polar opposite of the way he’d made the first one: he put it almost entirely in the hands of John Kahn, allowing his friend to help choose material and select the musicians who would be on the record. “He was game to try something different,” Kahn said, “and it was almost like he didn’t want to be the boss on it.

“We picked out the songs together. I would present him with a bunch of ideas, he’d take the ones he liked and work on those. It was mainly stuff that he wouldn’t ordinarily have thought of, and I think that was part of the challenge for him—to try something that was really new to him, he chose [Irving Berlin’s] ‘Russian Lullaby.’ He had a record of Oscar Aleman doing it in this weird guitar trio. Jerry told me it was Hitler’s favorite song.”

A few of the songs the pair chose included Smokey Robinson’s “When the Hunter Gets Captured by the Game,” Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock,” the Stones’ “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” Van Morrison’s “He Ain’t Give You None,” Dr. John’s “What Goes Around,” Peter Rowan’s “Mississippi Moon” and a Hunter-Kahn original called “Midnight Town.” It was a very broad range of styles, and Kahn “cast” every song differently. Several songs had horn arrangements, “Mississippi Moon” utilized a full string section, and on a few tunes Kahn brought in the ace L.A. session guitarist Larry Carlton to play rhythm guitar. Merl Saunders appeared on several cuts, Richard Greene fiddled on two, and this was the record where Garcia and Kahn first encountered Ron Tutt, Elvis Presley’s outstanding drummer, who joined Garcia’s solo group later.

While the various bandmembers were engaged in solo pursuits of one kind or another at the beginning of 1974, the Dead’s sound wizards were busy developing the famous “Wall of Sound”—a sound reinforcement system larger than any ever built before, expressly designed to deliver clean, loud audio in large venues such as stadiums and basketball arenas. It was the culmination of theories that the Dead’s technical gurus had been exploring and refining for years. As Dan Healy put it, “We became used to a quality of sound that was just not attainable via rental systems. We realized that if we didn’t do it ourselves, it wouldn’t sound good. We thought, ‘For the prices we’re paying to rent equipment that sounds shitty, we could develop our own stuff,’ so we did.”

The original idea for the Wall of Sound was probably Owsley’s, though it stemmed from hours and hours of conversations with sound and electronics experts like Ron Wickersham, Rick Turner, John Curl, Bob Matthews, John Meyer, Dan Healy and others. Owsley believed that they could “build an integrated system where every instrument has its own amplification, all set up behind the band without any separate onstage monitors,” he said in 1991. “It’s a single, big system, like a band playing in a club only larger, and the musicians can all adjust everything, including their vocal level, by having a single source; by using this point-source thing.”

The system debuted on March 23, 1974, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco—a concert formally dubbed the Sound Test. It was the Dead’s first arena show in the Bay Area, where they normally played at the 5,000-seat Winterland, and more than a few local Deadheads didn’t like this development at all—they saw the Wall of Sound as a sellout by the Dead—an excuse to play larger venues, rather than a response to the necessity of doing so. Still, nearly everyone agreed that the system delivered incredibly clear sound to almost every nook and cranny in the notoriously bad-sounding arena, and fears that the Dead would now play only giant shows proved unfounded—their next Bay Area shows were back at Winterland.

Rising more than 30 feet at the rear of the Cow Palace stage, the Wall of Sound incorporated 480 loudpeakers stacked in columns behind the band. By July, there would be 640 speakers powered by 48 amplifiers in the setup. It required a crew of 16 to transport and maintain it, adding tremendous overhead to an already expensive road operation—and this at a time when the Grateful Dead were trying hard to keep their ticket prices low.

“It was highly impractical to try to move it around—set it up, tear it down and move to the next city,” Dan Healy recalled. “We had two complete stages and they were extremely complicated; it cost close to $200,000 for the two stages. So when we went out on tour, the stages would leapfrog. We’d set one up in this city, while the other one went to the next city. You talk about out of hand …” (The practice of having two identical setups became common with stadium acts like the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd in the late ’80s.)

“But the bottom line was it sounded great,” Healy added. “I think it raised the consciousness of the [touring sound] industry and set new standards and exemplified the direction it really should be going in. I think it changed the whole face of the audio world. I know for a fact that a lot of major sound companies changed their designs and changed their array theories after we did that. It was an experiment. But it was magnificent in its glory, and I loved every second of it.”

By this time, too, Garcia had changed his guitar sound again, moving away from Fender Stratocasters to a custom guitar made by a Northern California luthier named Doug Irwin. Garcia said he liked Irwin’s axes because they combined some of the best sonic elements of Gibson and Fender electrics while also having their own character. “His guitars have great hands,” Garcia noted. “My hand falls upon one of them and it says, ‘Play me,’ and it’s one of those things not all guitars do.” Garcia played Irwin guitars from 1973 on, with just a couple of short periods trying other models.

As usual, the Dead introduced several new songs at the beginning of their touring year. In late February at Winterland, Garcia rolled out three songs he’d written with Hunter, who was now splitting his time between Marin County and England.

“U.S. Blues” represented a serious reworking of “Wave That Flag,” which had quietly slipped out of the repertoire in June of 1973. It retained the original song’s quick rhyming scheme: “Back to back / Chicken shack / Son of a gun / Better change your act …” But it added an opaque commentary about the Dead’s place in an America that was being ripped apart by the Watergate scandal, which was escalating almost daily, steaming inexorably toward Richard Nixon’s resignation in August 1974:

I’m Uncle Sam / That’s who I am

Been hiding out / in a rock ’n’ roll band

Shake the hand / that shook the hand

Of P. T. Barnum / and Charlie Chan …

Wave that flag

Wave it wide and high

Summertime done

Come and gone

My oh my

Though there was a cynical edge to “U.S. Blues,” the music was exuberant and the song quickly became an anthem of sorts for the Dead—a declaration that their traveling circus was as American as apple pie.

The ballad “Ship of Fools” also worked well as oblique reflection on the U.S. political situation or the confusing state of affairs in the Grateful Dead or any other organization, for that matter.

The bottles stand as empty

As they was filled before

Time there was a-plenty

But from that cup no more

Though I could not caution all

I still might warn a few:

Don’t lend your hand to raise no flag

Atop no ship of fools …

Musically, it was one of Garcia’s most conventional tunes—George Jones could easily have sung “Ship of Fools.” When Elvis Costello did cover the song in the late ’80s he played up its honky-tonk side to great effect.

“It Must Have Been the Roses,” with words and music by Hunter, also had a country feel, though the lyrics came straight from the mythic world Garcia described earlier. As in “Ship of Fools,” there’s a sense of nonspecific place and time, the past and present floating in the air like vapors, secrets revealed yet others barely hinted at remaining hidden. Hunter once described “Roses” as “my Faulknerian song.”

The third new Hunter-Garcia song was “Scarlet Begonias,” a bright and infectious polyrhythmic tune that “definitely has a little Caribbean thing to it, though nothing specific,” as Garcia noted. Hunter’s lyrics playfully tell the story of a chance encounter with a free-spirited girl in London—a giddy mix of images about fate, desire, temptation, memory and expectation. Do they or don’t they? That is the question. Hunter, ever the teasing obscurant, provides no answers.

With its irresistible rhythmic momentum, generous space for melodic guitar solos, and long, spacey instrumental coda, “Scarlet Begonias” fast became a favorite of most Deadheads, as eagerly anticipated as songs like “Uncle John’s Band,” “Sugar Magnolia” and “China Cat Sunflower,” to name three sure-fire crowd-pleasers. The fans seemed to particularly enjoy the spirit of the song’s final verse, which many took to be an affirmation of the magical bond between the Dead and Deadheads at a show:

The wind in the willows played “Tea for Two”

The sky was yellow and the sun was blue

Strangers stoppin’ strangers

Just to shake their hands

Everybody’s playing

In the Heart of Gold Band

Heart of Gold Band

Although the Dead’s sound changed noticeably from year to year during their first decade—either because of personnel changes or additions and/or subtractions to and from the repertoire—the essential musical character of the 1973 and 1974 shows was similar. In those years the band scattered plenty of short tunes in their sets, but there were probably more jamming songs those years than any since 1968. And the sheer number and variety of songs that took the band into interesting jamming spaces was unequaled in their history before or after: “Eyes of the World,” “Scarlet Begonias,” “Truckin’,” “The Other One,” “Here Comes Sunshine,” “Weather Report Suite,” “China Cat Sunflower” > “I Know You Rider,” “Dark Star,” “Playing in the Band”—any one of those, each different from the other in almost every way—was a guaranteed thrill ride that was unique every time and showed the Dead at their improvisational best. There is a large contingent of Deadheads who argue fairly persuasively that 1972 to 1974 was the Dead’s most exciting and creative period. Even vaultmaster Dick Latvala, the acidhead keeper of the spirit of ’68, says, “Though in my soul I’m an Anthem-era man—‘That’s It for the Other One’ and ‘Dark Star’ and ‘China Cat’—I think ’73 was the best year the Dead ever had. There were so many unique vehicles for jamming that year. They always kept a space where they could express that psychedelic side.”

After the Sound Test in late March, the Dead went into CBS Studios in San Francisco to record a new album, Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel (the Mars Hotel was a transients’ hotel near the studio). As with Wake of the Flood, the band recorded their basic tracks live and then added overdubs—and since they were able to synchronize two sixteen-track machines, they had plenty of room for textural elements to give the songs more depth. Garcia had five tunes on the album: “Scarlet Begonias”; “China Doll,” which was put in a mainly acoustic setting, with an exquisite harpsichord part by Keith Godchaux; “U.S. Blues,” which was the album’s radio hit; “Loose Lucy” and Ship of Fools.” The remaining three songs had never been played live before: Weir and Barlow’s “Money Money”; and two songs by Phil and Bobby Petersen, featuring Lesh’s first lead vocals since “Box of Rain”—the country tune “Pride of Cucamonga” and “Unbroken Chain,” which contained the best jamming the Dead had put on a studio record since the Ace version of “Playing in the Band.”

The album was all over the map stylistically—like a Dead show—but the performances were superb, the vocals strong and it was loaded with imaginative guitar effects, nifty percussion parts and many different keyboard sounds—this was the album where Keith Godchaux really came into his own as a studio player. Guests included John McFee of the Marin-based country/ R&B band Clover on pedal steel guitar (Garcia deemed himself too rusty to handle any steel parts) and Ned Lagin on synthesizer. (Lagin also occasionally played electronic space music in duets with Phil onstage at a number of ’74 Dead concerts, usually as a miniset between the first and second Dead sets.)

From the Mars Hotel was one of three albums to come from the Dead camp in June 1974. The other two were the first releases on Round Records—Robert Hunter’s impressive debut, Tales of the Great Rum Runners, recorded at Mickey Hart’s barn studio with a slew of Marin County musicians and Garcia helping out on the mix; and Garcia’s second LP, inexplicably titled Garcia, like his first album. (It later became known as Compliments of Garcia, after a sticker that was put on radio station promotional copies; the currently available CD is simply called Compliments.) Mars Hotel sold briskly as expected, but Garcia’s record was a commercial disappointment. FM radio largely ignored it, and Deadheads gave it mixed reviews—the most common complaints were that there were no extended guitar solos (nine of the ten songs were under four minutes), and since the instrumentation on the record varied so much from track to track, it didn’t feel as if it had been made by Garcia’s group. Still, there were a few standout tracks. A funky reading of Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” contained a crisp Garcia solo; Albert Washington’s “Turn On the Bright Lights” gave Garcia room to lay down a scorching guitar line that soared above the beefy horn arrangement; and “Russian Lullaby” featured Garcia’s only recorded work on classical guitar.

Deadheads hungry to hear Garcia really cut loose and jam bought copies of a double LP by the Saunders-Garcia-Kahn-Vitt club band called Live at Keystone, recorded in Berkeley in July 1973 but released in the spring of 1974 as part of Merl Saunders’s deal with Fantasy Records. The album marvelously captured the spirit of that quartet at its peak (before Vitt left to join the Sons of Champlin), as they roamed through myriad genres in their typically relaxed but still intense fashion. There was an eighteen-minute workout on “My Funny Valentine” that would have had Rodgers and Hart scratching their heads; an ultra-funky version of Lightnin’ Hopkins’s “Someday Baby”; extended takes on “The Harder They Come” and Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street” (with David Grisman helping out on mandolin); and what remains one of Garcia’s most moving performances, “Like a Road,” the Dan Penn-Don Nix tune originally cut by Albert King.

The Saunders-Garcia group in the first half of 1974 found Bill Kreutzmann in the drummer’s seat and Martin Fierro playing reeds occasionally, sharing the solo spotlight with Jerry and Merl. In the spring of 1974 Garcia also played banjo and guitar with a short-lived, eclectic acoustic group called the Great American String Band, whose membership variously included David Grisman, Richard Greene, Taj Mahal on bass and vocals, Sandy Rothman on guitar and vocals, guitarist/singer David Nichtern and bassist Buell Neidlinger. Despite the presence of three Old and in the Way alumni, the band played very few bluegrass tunes. Mainly they dabbled in blues, old-timey and Djangoesque swing jazz. Garcia played only about a dozen gigs with the group—including one where they opened for the Grateful Dead in a stadium at the University of California at Santa Barbara—“and then we went into all sorts of different groups without Jerry,” says Richard Greene. “One of them was the Great American Music Band, which later evolved into the David Grisman Quintet.”

Beginning in July 1974 the Saunders-Garcia band had a slightly altered lineup—with Kahn, Fierro and jazz/R&B drummer Paul Humphrey—and, for the first time, a name: the Legion of Mary. “The name was my idea, but it backfired on us,” Kahn said. “We played our first gig under that name at the Keystone Berkeley and these people showed up who were really part of this religious group called the Legion of Mary. I thought I’d made it up! They were a pretty obscure group. They had a brochure that had this picture of these medieval people and then some guy in a suit. I’m not sure what that was all about. Anyway, they came to listen to us and they ended up liking us so they let us use their name. At the same time, we realized we probably didn’t want to go under that name too long; it was a little weird.”

The Legion of Mary’s music was a slight departure from the past Saunders-Garcia bands in that Martin Fierro’s role was expanded and the jams sometimes took jazzier turns. Fierro also brought in a few new songs. Despite Garcia’s earlier pledge to keep his solo groups local, he took the Legion of Mary out on a Northeastern tour in the fall of 1975, but stuck to clubs and small theaters exclusively in an attempt to keep it low-key. It was at one of those shows, at a trendy New York rock club called the Bottom Line, that Garcia got to meet one of his favorite musicians, former Beatle John Lennon.

“He came backstage and Jerry introduced him to us and I couldn’t speak, man,” says Fierro. “My voice left me. He was one of my biggest heroes and I couldn’t talk. I was like a drugstore Indian. Then he came back with us to the hotel in the limo. No guards, no Yoko, just him. And he partied with us for a while.”

John Kahn’s memory of the evening was less starry-eyed, however. “My perspective was a little off-base because I’d dropped a TV set on my hand that morning and I’d gotten a pain pill from the Hell’s Angels,” he said. “So I wasn’t in the best shape. Lennon was sort of in disguise and he was with this really weird guy I didn’t know. I heard from Richard Loren, I think it was, that Lennon asked if there was a guitar there that was louder than Garcia’s. He wanted to sit in. Well, that got back to Jerry, and Jerry said, ‘No, fuck him.’ Later, Lennon came down to the dressing room and was there for a long time; a couple of hours. He was real drunk and was a little belligerent. He kept referring to Jerry as ‘J.C.,’ which I took to mean Jesus Christ, like making fun of Jerry. That night Lennon ended up with the Hell’s Angels and we had a particularly sleazy, motley group of Hell’s Angels with us. Years later I got asked to play with him by a guy in his band, Jesse Davis, but it didn’t work out. I would have liked to. I liked his music a lot. And basically I thought he was really cool, even though he was not cool when we met him. But I’m sure that sort of thing happens all the time. You meet a guy under the wrong circumstances …”

Meanwhile, the Grateful Dead juggernaut kept on rolling, packing stadiums and arenas from the middle of May through the beginning of August—just twenty-four shows, with plenty of breaks in the schedule. Everywhere the tour went, the Wall of Sound drew rave reviews from Deadheads for both its clarity and its impressive and imposing physical presence. But traveling with the Wall of Sound turned out to be enormously expensive and the band quickly found that their coffers were being depleted almost as fast as they were filled. Off the road, expenses were rising, too. Salaries continued to escalate, as did the size of the payroll. The two record companies needed money to pay for studio time and product manufacturing, and everyone in the group seemed to have personal needs that required money, whether it was Weir building a recording studio adjoining his sylvan house on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais, or a new car for Billy.

There was also another significant drain on the Dead’s resources that didn’t have anything to do with concerts, the record company or the handful of auxiliary businesses the Dead were supporting, and that was cocaine. When coke first came into the Dead’s world in the late ’60s it was viewed as an exotic delight, a perk of the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle; a pick-me-up—a beneficial road tool. But through the early ’70s, more and more coke came into the Dead scene, some of it brought in by various millionaire Dead fans (a few of whom also got into heroin later). By 1974 it was a big problem. Not only was the white powder very expensive, it was so psychologically addictive that most of the people in the Dead scene who got into using it regularly used too much of it, and it made many of them irritable and paranoid. And it attracted a sleazy element to the Dead’s backstage that wasn’t eradicated for many years—most coke dealers were not cool people.

Unfortunately, Jerry Garcia loved cocaine.

“At first it seemed like this neat shit, man,” John Dawson says. “It cost a whole lot of money and it was really subtle. It was one of those things where you didn’t particularly notice it until you’d had too much of it, and then it was like having a hand grab you at the back of the neck. In the beginning it was a treat when it was there and it wasn’t a big deal when it wasn’t there—‘Oh man, you’ve got some cocaine? Far out! Wow, thanks!’ You’d snort it and go on your merry way.”

“I first noticed it in ’69 or ’70,” Mountain Girl says. “It was shown to me with considerable excitement: ‘This stuff is really great!’ I tried it and it didn’t do a thing for me at all. It made me so grouchy I couldn’t stand myself. I really got unfriendly. It’s bad enough being me without that. I’m already rude and sharp-tongued enough without having to get into actively disliking everyone! Compared to LSD or pot, it just had no life for me.

“But Jerry and Hunter liked it, and the crew guys liked it, and it pretty much fell on gender lines for a long time. The guys were sneaking off and snorting coke and the gals were home. The guys had always pretty much been in charge of the procurement, so it also bypassed me.

“Of course in those days we didn’t know as much about it as we do now,” she continues. “Medical professionals said it wasn’t so bad, and various Indians do it every day and live to be ninety-five years old and have legs like gazelles, so they rhapsodized about it that way.”

“Cocaine definitely did change things in the scene,” comments Richard Loren. “If you’re a greedy person, it’s only going to make you more greedy. It’s like Robin Williams said: ‘Cocaine is God’s way of telling you you’re making too much money.’ What happened during that period is a lot of money went to cocaine, and some decisions had to be made based solely on money that wouldn’t normally have been made if a lot of money wasn’t needed. A lot of money went out and it needed to be replaced. How is that money replaced? Play bigger gigs, put more stress on the managers to make more money. ‘Why do you need more money? Five years ago things were good: Okay, you had a broken-down car, but you got high, the sun was shining; it was wonderful.’ That’s not to say that cocaine was all bad. It kept people awake a lot longer. It got people’s minds thinking. I think at first it was a genuinely communicative drug. But it was a double-edged sword.”

“Cocaine really subverted a lot of good people and fucked up the ’60s in a major way by creating a lot of chaos and sickness,” Mountain Girl says. “I hated it! It really ruined our lives. If anything ruined our lives it was cocaine. Jerry and I had fights about it. Coke makes you think you know it all and it makes you shoot your mouth off and it makes you hate everybody the next day. It was the end of the open heart. Instead, everybody went into the bathroom [to snort it]. People got greedy about it and it never had that warm, social thing that pot had. It was so subtle at first but it got to be so pervasive; it was everywhere.

Bandmembers, managers, crew, girlfriends—everyone was touched by cocaine to some degree. Some people handled it okay, others were pitched into a downward spiral because of it. It’s difficult to assess how cocaine affected the Dead’s music in the early ’70s, because there wasn’t a time in that era when most of the band didn’t use it. Did they play faster? Did it give them the energy they needed to play four-hour shows? Did it affect the direction of the songwriting at all? We’ll never know. Garcia always maintained that none of the drugs he took after his early LSD days had much of an effect on his music.

If we’re to believe Rock Scully’s fascinating but factually dubious memoir, Living with the Dead, the cocaine issue came to a head when the Grateful Dead went to Europe in September 1974. According to Scully’s lively account, when they got to England a few days before the first concert at the historic Alexandra Palace, they were offered mounds of cocaine by their wealthy British hosts, which, on top of the LSD that was also going around, made things a little crazy. Finally, Scully writes, Rex Jackson, one of the Dead’s senior roadies, who’d been with the band since 1968, laid it on the line backstage at a sound check before the first London show. He challenged everyone to give up cocaine and to dump out their stash in a pile right there. The band and crew grumbled but agreed, and eventually they burned the snowy mountain.

To what degree this colorful tale is accurate is hard to say without corroborating eyewitness accounts (we’ll have to wait for the crew memoirs). But Steve Brown, who was on the tour working for Grateful Dead Records, says, “A lot of that stuff in Rock’s book is true. There was a very heavy scene that went down when we got over there initially. We sent a lot of marijuana over there in the speakers; it was made available to us for both use and trade for whatever else we might want. Then, when we got over there, people were being pulled on right away to go out and party and to hang out with certain crowds. Right away it was like, ‘The Grateful Dead from San Francisco are here: Let’s party!’ But there was also a thing of various people being uptight and strung out with their own drug habits at that point. And the cocaine was definitely a problem.

“I think what they went through,” Brown continues, “is something that had to happen at some point, whether it was the sacrificial bonfire or the massive flushing of the toilets, getting rid of stuff that way—I remember hearing people in the rooms shouting, ‘Flush it! Flush it!’ It was like an early intervention on themselves brought on by their own paranoid delusions or whatever. It was a strange little moment in time. And this was the beginning of the tour. This isn’t the end when you’ve had enough and you’re ready to go home. This is when you’re just getting started.”

In any case, the Dead played three outstanding shows at the Alexandra Palace, as documented on Dick’s Picks Volume Seven, a three-CD set released in 1997. The rest of the tour, which consisted of just one show in Germany and three in France, was considerably calmer than those first days in London. Some people were still doing coke (it was hard to stay away from those dealers who wanted to give it to them), but it was curtailed considerably. Because they were carting the thirty-eight-ton Wall of Sound around, the band played larger venues than on the 1972 tour, but the tour didn’t draw huge crowds, so it ended up costing the Dead quite a bit—and of course this time Warner Bros. wasn’t there helping to foot the bill. (This time, too, the Dead left the family at home. That may be another reason things spun out of control—too many unsupervised guys on the prowl.)

The Dead’s original plan for 1974 called for them to tour through the autumn and into the first weeks of 1975, but at some point they decided they’d had enough. The cost of keeping the Wall of Sound on the road was prohibitive, the venues the band was forced to play to sustain their scene were getting bigger and bigger, people were feeling burned out from ten years of nearly constant touring and too many people had attached themselves to the humongous Grateful Dead touring machine—“the Grateful Dead tit,” as John Kahn referred to it. So they made a decision: they would stop performing for an indefinite period, take some time to work on individual projects, make a record without the pressure of having to go out on the road every few weeks, and assess where they’d been and where they were going to see if they could bring the beast under control—get away from “the mega-gig, the huge stadium,” as Garcia later put it.

“That represented the end of the line, developmentally, of what’s there in America,” he said. “You can’t go anywhere else; you can’t get any bigger. So what we would like to do is improve the quality of the experience both on the level of what we’re doing amongst ourselves and how we interact with the audience, and what the audience experiences when we’re there. In that sense we’re the Don Quixotes of rock ’n’ roll. We’re doing something nobody else cares to do, which is trying to figure out how to make the experience we value and which our audience values something that’s more in line with what it feels like, which is a sort of positive outpouring of good energy. That’s the reason we stopped—to think about it.”

In another interview he said, “Fame and success are human-eaters. They’d like for you to go for it. They love it when you go to Hollywood and get yourself a comfortable pad and a swimming pool and get into the pleasure palace trip. And either you go for it or you say, ‘No, I don’t want that.’”

Plans for a late fall/winter tour were abruptly scrapped, and instead the Dead booked five consecutive nights at Winterland, October 16-20. Tickets for the final show of the series were ominously stamped with the words THE LAST ONE, and while optimistic Deadheads fully believed the break from performing was a hiatus rather than a retirement, no one knew for sure whether the Dead would ever come back.

Because the future was unclear, the Dead decided they should document the shows somehow, so they turned to a New York filmmaker named Leon Gast to assist them. Gast, who won an Oscar in 1997 for When We Were Kings, his documentary about the 1974 Muhammad Ali-George Foreman heavyweight championship match in Zaire, first contacted Garcia and Ron Rakow in early 1973 to see if they would help finance a documentary he’d been working on about the Hell’s Angels. Sandy Alexander, president of the New York chapter of the motorcycle club, introduced Gast to Garcia and Rakow, “and we hit it off,” Gast says. “Jerry came by one day, all alone, to look at what we had. I showed him maybe an hour of material and he loved it. Rakow loved it, too, and he said, ‘Well, what do we do?’ We shook hands and that night we made a deal and they agreed to provide the financing to complete the film, which I believe was about $300,000.” Garcia also agreed to appear in the film, speaking on camera about the Angels and playing with the Saunders-Garcia band during a September ’73 Hell’s Angels “Pirate Party” aboard the ferryboat SS Bay Belle circling around Manhattan—it was that band’s first appearance outside of the Bay Area.

When Rakow and Garcia originally approached Gast about shooting the October ’74 Winterland shows, “They were talking about doing a video shoot,” Gast says. “They wanted to document these shows, because, as I understood it, they were breaking up. But I said, ‘Why do a video? Let’s do a film thing.’ So I showed them some James Brown footage that I’d just shot in Africa [which ended up in When We Were Kings] and they were impressed. So we went from doing a $40,000 video to a $1.2 million film. Film shooting was budgeted for $250,000 and it came in right there.”

Gast assembled a crew of nine cameramen to cover every aspect of the shows, from people waiting in line outside to Deadheads dancing in the hallways or buying snacks during the show to family, friends and crew members hanging around backstage. There were a couple of fixed cameras in the audience shooting the action onstage, one mounted on a crane on one side of the stage, and also cameramen dressed head to toe in black wandering around the edges of the stage to capture close-ups of the bandmembers.

“Jerry’s big thing was that he wanted the cameras to be as unobtrusive as possible,” says Emily Craig, who was married to Rakow and who worked on the postproduction of the film. “He didn’t want the film to get in the way of people having a good time and feeling like they were at a regular Dead show, and I think that if you look at the movie, what’s there is like a regular Dead show.” (That said, many who attended the shows did find the cameras and lights on the audience rather invasive.)

Predictably, the Dead made no real concessions to the presence of the film crew. They just went out and played five strong shows so there would be lots of good material to put into the film. And for their part, the Dead’s stage crew made a point of giving the cameramen a taste of Grateful Dead craziness: “I think almost everybody got dosed [with LSD] every single night,” Gast says with a laugh. “I spoke to the Dead and said, ‘I don’t know who’s going to be able to handle it and who won’t, but you’re paying a lot of money to do this, so don’t fuck around.’ Okay, night number one it was very easy to determine when people got dosed, because it was in the coffee urns and the punch bowl. There was a little army of dosers going around. Second night they took the paper cups out of the coffee machine and put a little drop in each one and put them back. Another night they put it in oranges and bananas with hypodermic needles. The last night they had big buckets backstage filled with Coca-Cola and beer, and supposedly there was acid in the bottom of the barrels so you’d get dosed when you put your arm down into it. The last night, too, [roadie] Steve Parish had the ‘L’ and you had to lick a drop to get onstage. I remember being on the headset and calling for Don [Lenzer, one of the onstage cameramen], ‘Oh Don! Don, can you …’ and I looked up and Don was just sitting on the stage with his camera in his lap, listening to the music. It was quite an experience, but everybody did a great job considering.”

The final night was a three-set extravaganza in which virtually every member of the Dead family—including the band—and a large segment of the audience took acid; after all, that was an essential part of the Dead’s roots. And for old time’s sake Mickey Hart rejoined the band for part of the show and smashed away at his kit as if he’d never left. Sometime after two in the morning, the band assembled onstage to sing a final a cappella version of the old Bahamian spiritual “We Bid You Goodnight,” and then it was over. A shower of roses were flung onto the stage and thousands of Deadheads began to file out of Winterland, while hundreds more stuck around as long as they were allowed to, soaking up the vibe of the Dead at Winterland as long as they could, and watching the road crew begin to dismantle the Wall of Sound for what might be the last time.