Beneath the Sweet Calm Face of the Sea - Garcia: An American Life (2000)

Garcia: An American Life (2000)


Beneath the Sweet Calm Face of the Sea

erry and Mountain Girl’s second baby girl, Theresa (aka Trixie), was born in September 1974 while the Grateful Dead were on tour in Europe. This should have been a cause for grand celebration, but by the fall of 1974, the pair’s relationship had deteriorated considerably and Jerry was spending more and more time out of the house, mostly working on one musical project after another. M.G. knew that Jerry had been unfaithful to her at different times during the previous couple of years—“catting around,” she calls it—but she chalked that up partly to the vicissitudes of the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. And most of Garcia’s romantic conquests weren’t relationships per se.

Still, M.G. says, “He was sleeping and eating and changing his clothes at home; hanging out for a few hours during the day. That was his routine. It was comfortable and easy. I didn’t expect him to take out the garbage. And he was great with the kids. He would hang out with them. He used to sing to them. I remember he worked out ‘Russian Lullaby’ in front of them.”

Around the time of the Europe tour, however, “I knew something was wrong because he started being brief with me,” M.G. says, “and then he’d come home and say some of the weirdest shit—anti-family things like, ‘Having a family is probably going to ruin my artistic career.’ He didn’t mean it; he was just trying it out. He’d make these weird statements and then he’d watch me to see what I said. So I’d either refute it or be so startled by it I’d be undone by it.”

What M.G. didn’t know was that Jerry was falling in love with another woman, an aspiring filmmaker named Deborah Koons. She was a few years younger than Jerry, the daughter of wealthy Cincinnati professionals—John Fletcher Koons III was a successful businessman and his wife, Patricia Boyle, was a lawyer. Deborah’s grandfather, John Koons Jr., had made his fortune heading the local Burger Brewing Company and a Pepsi bottling concern, and he was also active in various civic affairs. In 1949 the Koons family was listed in Cincinnati’s Blue Book social register for the first time. Deborah, her brother, John, and sister, Christina, were brought up in one of the city’s toniest neighborhoods. She attended private schools, and after graduating from Hillsdale prep school she went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1967 to 1971, majoring in radio-TV-film. Early on she had set her sights on a career in filmmaking.

She first saw the Dead in the late ’60s and didn’t like them. But in March 1973 she attended a concert at the Nassau Coliseum and, after that show, “someone suggested that I ride back to Manhattan with the band and crew on their bus, and so I got on and sat next to Jerry and we had a conversation and struck up kind of a friendship. I mentioned that I was leaving in a few days to go to Europe for a year and when we parted he gave me his address [actually, the Dead’s post office box] and asked me to write him.”

She says the two exchanged half a dozen letters while Deborah was in Europe, and when she moved back to the United States around the middle of 1974, settling in New York, she contacted Jerry again, and shortly after that the two began a clandestine relationship. Deborah then moved to California and the pair started seeing each other regularly, though Jerry was still nominally living at the Stinson address. She traveled with Garcia during part of the September 1974 European tour, and the guitarist made sure that when postproduction on the Grateful Dead movie began, Deborah had a role to play—she’s listed in the credits under “Script Assistance.”

Almost immediately following the Dead’s October ’74 series at Winterland, Leon Gast had begun to wade through the hundreds of hours of film that had been shot by his nine cameramen. However, when it became clear to him that the Dead, and Garcia in particular, wanted control over editing the film, Gast bowed out of the project and the job of editing fell to Susan Crutcher, who had originally been hired as an assistant editor on the project.

While the long, tedious job of synching the film to audio was going on at a rented Mill Valley house that served as headquarters for the movie’s postproduction (the film company was dubbed Round Reels), the Dead began work on their next album at Bob Weir’s new home studio. Previous Dead studio records were dominated by songs that had already been played live. For this album—eventually entitled Blues for Allah—the band took a new approach: it was built up from nothing in the studio. “We kind of made a ground rule for that record: ‘Let’s make a record where we get together every day and we don’t bring anything in [in advance],’” Garcia said years later. “The whole idea was to get back to that band thing, where the band makes the main contribution to the evolution of the material. So we’d go into the studio, we’d jam for a while, and then if something nice turned up we’d say, ‘Well, let’s preserve this little hunk and work with it, see if we can’t do something with it.’ And that’s how we did most of that album.”

“I would say that it’s musically the most adventurous album we’ve done in a pretty long time,” Garcia remarked in an interview during the making of the album. “Our development [historically] has been to synthesize various forms, like playing jazz, playing country and western, playing rhythm and blues and forming combinations of those genres and styles within what we’re doing, within our instrumentation. Now we’re working on creating styles rather than just being eclectic or synthesizing other styles. Thus, it’s a little bit more difficult, and considerably more experimental. It’s still questionable as to whether the things will be successful musically, but we’re sort of into defining new spaces for ourselves musically to go to.”

As Phil noted after the album was released, “We wanted to free ourselves from our own clichés, to search for new tonalities, new structures and modalities. I think we succeeded.”

Because the band was recording at Weir’s house, they didn’t have to worry about paying for studio time or hurrying because some other group had a session booked. They were able to dig in and work as long as their stamina (aided by copious amounts of cocaine) allowed—at one point, according to Garcia, they worked fifty hours straight. Of course even recording in a home studio isn’t exactly free: tape expenses alone ran into many thousands of dollars. But whereas with Wake of the Flood and Mars Hotel the group rehearsed outside the studio so they could then go in and get good, strong takes right away, the whole point of the Blues for Allah experiment was to allow the entire process of musical evolution—from germination to tracking to overdubbing—to occur in the studio environment in a natural way, at its own speed, without the meter running, so to speak.

* * *

At the same time that the Blues for Allah sessions were taking place in the winter of 1975, four other albums were being readied for release on Round Records, and Garcia played on all of them.

Keith and Donna was the first album by the Godchauxs, and it was literally a homegrown product—“Almost all of it was recorded at our house in Stinson Beach,” Donna says. “Bob Matthews brought in a Neve board [recording console] and we had our nine-foot Steinway there and we had our whole living room set up as a recording studio for a while. Jerry was just a couple of minutes away, so it was real easy to get together and work on it.”

Keith and Donna wrote almost all the songs on the album—except “Showboat,” written by Keith’s younger brother Brian, and the rather torpid cover of “River Deep, Mountain High”—and it reflected their passion for gospel music and good-time rock ’n’ roll. Naturally Keith’s keyboard work infused every track, but Garcia was actually the principal soloist and colorist. He played his guitar through several distinctive pedal effects, and on “Every Song I Sing” he laid down his longest slide guitar solo on any studio album. Garcia’s singing was also prominent on a pair of songs that hearkened back to the spirit of the great black gospel groups of the ’40s and ’50s: “Showboat,” sung by Keith, was written in the style of an old Golden Gate Quartet or Swan Silvertones number; and the traditional spiritual “Who Was John” found Keith, Donna and Garcia harmonizing quite effectively a cappella.

“There was a period there when Garcia and Keith and I just spent hours and hours and hours listening to tons of different albums of old gospel music—Dorothy Love Coates and the Blind Boys of Alabama; real funky, real spiritual gospel music,” Donna says. “We did that for a long time, and ‘Who Was John’ came out of that, though I can’t remember who did that before us. We were just in that world all the time for a while. Jerry loved those kind of harmonies.”

Old and in the Way was a live album by the defunct group, recorded in October 1973 at the Boarding House by Owsley. Garcia sang lead on two cuts—“Pig in a Pen” and the traditional bluegrass spiritual “White Dove”—and played banjo and sang baritone harmony throughout. The album went on to become a surprise best-seller in the bluegrass community (as well as among Deadheads), which was ironic since Garcia had never been able to sustain a commercially successful bluegrass band in the days when he was more serious about it—Old and in the Way was never more than a sideline for him.

Garcia produced, arranged and played electric and acoustic guitars, pedal steel and various keyboards on Robert Hunter’s slicker and more focused second effort, Tiger Rose. “I like Garcia’s arrangements and production on it, and I like the songs,” Hunter said in 1984. “The only thing I can’t stand is the vocals on it. I played it for the first time in years the other day and I was horrified.” So much so that in 1988 he recut all the lead vocals on the album. In addition to Garcia, the album featured an impressive roster of friends, including Mickey Hart, David Freiberg, Starship keyboardist Pete Sears, David Grisman and New Riders bassist Dave Torbert.

Phil Lesh and Ned Lagin were the driving forces behind Seastones, an ambitious and altogether difficult album of electronically treated instrumental and vocal performances. Along with Garcia, the album also featured Grace Slick, David Crosby, David Freiberg, Mickey Hart and Spencer Dryden (the usual suspects), but most of the record was a soft, subtle electronic wash with barely distinguishable parts—sort of a cross between a Grateful Dead “space” jam and the proto-New Age experiments of Brian Eno and Harold Budd. The thirty-six-minute piece that came out as Seastones was recorded in February 1975. The CD version, released in 1990, contains a second, even more challenging composition that was recorded in November 1975.

Though the Dead were still “in retirement,” in mid-March 1975 Bill Graham coaxed the band into performing at a huge, star-studded benefit concert at Kezar Stadium for the San Francisco Public Schools’ cash-strapped sports and music programs. The Dead, billed as Jerry Garcia and Friends, shared the bill with some heavy company—Bob Dylan with Neil Young and three members of the Band, Santana, Jefferson Starship (in one of their first local appearances since the Jefferson Airplane’s demise), Tower of Power, the Doobie Brothers (who were hugely popular in the Bay Area at the time), Joan Baez and a few others. Not bad for five bucks at the gate. Marlon Brando spoke, various local sports heroes were introduced, to appreciative applause, and the Grateful Dead played the strangest set of music imaginable, stunning even their most ardent fans with their odd and thoroughly spacey presentation.

They opened their forty-minute segment with an instrumental version of the tune that would later acquire lyrics and be named “Blues for Allah.” It was built around a slow, strange, ominous-sounding sequence of notes which then led to other related progressions that were filled with a sort of lumbering drama that fell somewhere between being genuinely fascinating and actually kind of nerve-grating. Much of the mostly non-Deadhead audience didn’t know what had hit them—could this really be San Francisco’s original good-time party band?—and sort of stood and sat around looking puzzled and bored. That tune then led into another instrumental, written by Phil, called “Stronger Than Dirt,” that had some interesting tempo changes and a Latin feel in places—it’s one of the jazziest pieces the Dead ever recorded. That piece was split in two by a drum solo by Mickey and Billy—a clear signal that Mickey had come back into the fold—and eventually wound up back at the “Blues for Allah” theme again. The band left the stage to light applause, then returned and played “Johnny B. Goode,” which couldn’t have been more different from what they had just played—but was exactly what the crowd wanted to hear. All in all it was a rather peculiar afternoon for the Dead in their first appearance since their hiatus began. They certainly couldn’t be accused of pandering; quite the opposite.

Garcia spent the first three weeks of April on an extensive tour of the East Coast (and three shows in the Midwest) with the Legion of Mary, which now included Ron Tutt on drums, replacing Paul Humphrey. “Ron Tutt was the Rolls-Royce of drummers,” Merl Saunders says. “He said that he didn’t know how to play jazz but I thought he could play anything.”

At first, playing in theaters and clubs with the Legion of Mary was a nice change of pace for Garcia after the last couple of years of huge gigs with the Grateful Dead. But after a while even that scene got to be fairly crazed. Merl Saunders says that crowds of people approached Garcia wherever he went, which started to wear on him. Eventually Garcia just holed up in his hotel room when he wasn’t onstage.

“I’m a person who really likes to be connected to people,” Saunders explains. “Jerry liked people, too, but he also sometimes became very distant, and other times he’d be very spacey. He would also sometimes get very angry. You could never tell this when he was playing, because he seemed to always be happy when he was playing, but offstage he’d go through these dramatic changes, like getting in the limo: ‘Fuck it. In the car, Merl! Roll up that window! Driver, just drive right through the crowd!’ And I’m like, ‘Hey man! Cool it!’ It bugged him that these people wouldn’t give him his space. It became very annoying to him. The people were always well-meaning and all, but he just didn’t want to have to deal with it a lot of times. He wanted to play his music and then just be himself. Some days he accepted it, some days he didn’t. Some days he had the bullies [his road crew] in front of him to keep people away from him.”

The Grateful Dead resumed work on Blues for Allah at Weir’s studio in early May and continued until the beginning of July. In the middle of that period, the Grateful Dead played their second concert since their “retirement,” a benefit concert at Winterland to raise money for the family of San Francisco poster artist Bob Fried, who had died that spring. The top-billed act at “The Bob Fried Memorial Boogie” was supposed to be Jerry Garcia and Friends, but everyone there knew who was really playing that night, and the place was electric with anticipation. There were opening sets by Keith and Donna’s band (which included Garcia) and Kingfish, a rock/R&B band featuring Weir, Dave Torbert and an excellent guitarist in the Garcia mold named Robbie Hodinott. Then the Dead came out and opened up with a new Hunter-Garcia song called “Crazy Fingers.” Garcia said that in his original setting the song was almost heavy metal, but by the time it reached the concert stage it had been transformed into a floating, lyrical, slow reggae tune that perfectly matched the feeling of the words, which Hunter described as “a collection of haiku-style verses, mostly seventeen syllables, some more successful than others, with no connecting link other than similarity of mood.”

Your rain falls like crazy fingers

Peals of fragile thunder keeping time

Recall the days that still are to come

Some sing blue

The band ended their first set with a sequence of three new songs that were linked to one another—“Help on the Way” (by Hunter-Garcia, though at this Winterland show it was played without vocals), an intricate instrumental connector by the whole band called “Slipknot” and Hunter-Garcia-Kreutzmann’s “Franklin’s Tower.”

“Help on the Way” was written around one of the jazziest progressions Garcia had ever conceived. It was a little sharp-edged and dissonant, and Hunter’s dramatic lyrics matched the urgency of the music:

Paradise waits

On the crest of a wave

Her angels in flame

She has no pain

Like a child she is pure

She is not to blame

Poised for flight

Wings spread bright

Spring from night

Into the sun

Don’t stop to run

She can fly like a lie

She can’t be outdone

“Slipknot” opened and closed with a spidery unison line that had a slightly bebopish feeling, but in the middle it opened up to a jam that ascended noisily in steps and then cruised to other plateaus before finding its way back to the unison line and then falling into “Franklin’s Tower,” which bounced along happily like a spry bluegrass tune on a chord sequence that Garcia admitted he’d purloined from the “colored girls” section of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.” The verses consisted of couplets that were rich in metaphor.

Some come to laugh their past away

Some come to make it just one more day

Whichever way your pleasure tends

If you plant ice, you’re gonna harvest wind

Roll away the dew

Roll away the dew

The song “Blues for Allah” eventually became a three-part suite in the studio, and it “was a bitch to do,” Garcia said. “When we got toward the end of the album, we had some time restrictions and we started working pretty fast. But up until then we’d been pretty leisurely about it. That song was another totally experimental thing. In terms of the melody and the phrasing and all, it was not of this world. It’s not in any key and it’s not in any time. And all the line lengths are different.”

Most of the nearly thirteen-minute “Blues for Allah” suite was instrumental, and the middle section, entitled “Sand Castles and Glass Camels,” contained some of the freest playing the Dead ever did in the studio. The Lesh instrumental introduced at Kezar in March was fleshed out and tightened up to become something called “King Solomon’s Marbles,” and Weir had two songs on the record, a delicate guitar instrumental called “Sage and Spirit” (named for Rock Scully’s daughters) and “The Music Never Stopped,” a gospel-tinged rocker with John Barlow lyrics that seemed to be about the Dead themselves:

There’s a band out on the highway

They’re high-steppin’ into town

It’s a rainbow filled with sound

It’s fireworks, calliopes and clowns

Everybody’s dancin’

The album as a whole had an intimate feeling to it, and though it took a long time for the tunes to emerge from the jams and become songs, the finished record sounds remarkably like performances of the songs rather than some layered studio product. Dan Healy engineered the disc and managed to capture the interaction between the players in a more immediate and obvious way than some of their studio records had. If the record was lacking anything, it was the warmth and confidence that the band drew from playing songs in front of people for a while before recording them.

While the band was finishing up Blues for Allah, Garcia was also putting in long hours in Mill Valley overseeing the construction of the Grateful Dead movie, working closely with Susan Crutcher to determine the shape of the behemoth. “It was fascinating to see what six camera people were doing at the same moment at the same point of a song,” Crutcher says of the process of viewing the unedited footage. “We had great camera people so it was almost all really high-quality work. A few of them had never seen a Dead show, so that was quite an experience for them. Since we had five nights of concerts, we had a couple of versions of some favorite songs, and then we had a lot of one-version songs—like ‘Uncle John’s Band’ we had only one version of, which didn’t make it because Jerry’s view was that even if something was very strong visually, if he wasn’t completely happy with it musically, he didn’t want to use it. It also took him a while to get used to looking at himself on camera. But actually he was good about that; a lot better than a lot of people I’ve worked with. He was more concerned with his playing.”

Crutcher says that Garcia was perhaps most fascinated by the hours of Deadhead footage, since it gave him a glimpse of something he’d never seen—his fans before, during and after a show. “There was so much funny and weird stuff,” she notes. “We named everybody: There was ‘Moosegirl,’ the girl who makes that noise that sounds like a moose call. There was ‘Iggy,’ who recites this poem in the movie—‘Mama Hated Diesels So Bad.’ We had names for the dancers. It was fun, because it personalized it for us, and we got to know them. Jerry loved that part of it.”

Garcia’s creative juices were certainly flowing in mid-1975, but his personal life was in a shambles. “He was gone more than he should have been during that period when he was working a lot on the movie,” Mountain Girl says. “I’d go over there to the movie house and people just didn’t talk to me; literally didn’t talk to me. The vibe was very cool. I had no idea about Deborah or any of that stuff. They all knew and they weren’t sure if I knew or not. Nobody had told them. So there was a weird vibe and I didn’t go over there much. Plus the kids couldn’t really hang out there because there was film and equipment all over the place.”

“It was a little awkward for me,” Crutcher says, “because Deborah was Jerry’s girlfriend but he was still [living] with Mountain Girl. Mountain Girl would come over and put rock salt in the corners of all the rooms to eliminate the evil spirits, and that kind of thing. I think it was a sort of magic thing. It was her way of saying that she knew, without confronting anybody. Then ultimately she did, of course.”

Then, M.G. says, “Jerry just kind of vanished with no explanation. I found out where he was and I ran into him. It was very upsetting. Then he came back for a while and he was kind of going back and forth.” What was his explanation? “He needed some space. That was actually possible. Home life was getting a little crowded. We had three kids in a two-bedroom house. And I was stubborn. I just stuck to my spot and waited for him to show back up again. I didn’t chase him over the hill. A couple of times I sort of chased him down and tried to talk to him, but he was evasive. But then he’d show up at the door and spend some time. He seemed to think he could have it both ways. And he got away with it for a long time.

“I think it was a terrible strain on everybody. I couldn’t believe it; it was a nightmare. It was also difficult to find out that everybody knew and hadn’t told me.”

Eventually Jerry and Deborah moved into a duplex in Tiburon, an upscale Marin community spread along a peninsula that juts into San Francisco Bay near Mill Valley, and Mountain Girl was left to fend for herself and the three girls in Stinson. Steve Brown, who helped move some rented furniture into the Tiburon house, says that Garcia and Deborah seemed to be very happy together. “I think the reason it seemed to work was that Deborah stayed away from the Grateful Dead scene pretty much. I liked Deborah. She was very nice to me and was a very pleasant person to be around. There was definitely that kind of puppy love thing of when people are first together; they were a cute couple and there was a lot of affectionate goo-goo eyeing and stuff. They were into a lot of the same things; some of the same writers and science fiction and film, of course. But she was pretty smart and stayed out of any real obvious situations that would cross any of the other old camp of Mountain Girl family people; women particularly. She kept a pretty low profile.”

“She was a strange bird,” comments Donna (Godchaux) MacKay. “There was kind of a seductive mystery about her, but it was really no mystery—she was just very inward. Everything that was in Jerry that was secretly very inward was attracted to that. He might have been very outgoing, but that’s when he wanted to be. When he didn’t want to be, we all know, Jerry could be very … ‘I don’t want you to be in my world and don’t you dare try to get in!’ He wouldn’t say that, of course, but he’d get that look on his face. He could slam that door absolutely shut. That’s just the way it was. And I think that was part of his attraction to her. So much of his world was the other [outgoing side] that she was a ‘safe place’ to be inward with.” Donna, too, remembers that the couple “kept to themselves most of the time.”

However, as M.G. notes, “There were a number of confrontations. We had a scene in Weir’s studio on Jerry’s birthday [in August 1975]. Annabelle wanted to give Jerry a birthday present, so I pulled myself together and went over there with Annabelle and Trixie either on his birthday or the next day. I’d been pretty freaked out for a while. So I showed up and I was talking to Jerry, and Deborah came into the room and sat down and smiled at me, and I just lost it. There was something about her that really made me upset. The stakes just seemed so high all of a sudden and I grabbed her and threw her out of there and broke the door off the hinges in the process. I created a huge hysterical scene.”

The Grateful Dead made two more appearances in 1975. On August 13 they played a private, invitation-only party at the 650-seat Great American Music Hall to celebrate the release of Blues for Allah. This was the smallest show the Dead had played since the late ’60s. The concert was broadcast nationally a couple of weeks later over the Metromedia radio network, so the Dead got some excellent publicity for their new record. The new songs were different from any the band had written before, yet they still sounded completely natural surrounded by other Dead tunes like “Eyes of the World,” “Sugaree,” “The Other One” and “U.S. Blues.” The evolutionary path was clear.

A month and a half later, on September 28, the Dead and the Jefferson Starship got together and put on a free concert, announced the day of the show, that drew 25,000 people to Golden Gate Park’s Lindley Meadows on a cold and foggy Sunday afternoon. The Dead played one long set that day, mostly showcasing their new material, but also revving up the crowd with favorites like “Truckin’,” “Not Fade Away” and “One More Saturday Night.” Four appearances during their first year away from touring? It was ample indication that this band was not about to retire. On the contrary, they seemed more energized at each successive appearance. There was still no indication that the hiatus would end anytime soon, but most Deadheads believed it was only a matter of time before the Dead would succumb to the lure of the stage again.

The lack of touring certainly had an adverse affect on the Dead’s financial situation. After all, that had always been their main source of income. Yes, there was the $300,000 Rakow had managed to snag from Atlantic Records for the Dead’s foreign distribution rights, but by mid-1975 that money was long gone. Grateful Dead Records turned a tidy profit with each Dead album, but the Round Records projects were not nearly as successful, particularly Seastones and Keith and Donna. Moreover, manufacturing costs had soared on the last few record projects because of a vinyl shortage caused by political turmoil in the Middle East’s oil-producing nations. But the real money drain was the movie, which ate up hundreds of thousands of dollars. That was Garcia’s baby, and the rest of the band recognized that the movie had the potential to be a tremendous artistic statement by and about the band. They trusted Garcia’s vision of the project and the postproduction crew’s regimen, which turned out to be slow and methodical. Garcia had hoped that the movie would be in theaters by Christmas of 1975; as it turned out, work on the film continued all the way into early 1977.

“What we really need is a subsidy,” Garcia joked in 1975. “The government should subsidize us and we should be like a national resource.”

In mid-1975 Rakow and the band agreed that it was time to end the great independent record company experiment, so they signed a distribution deal with United Artists Records—not exactly an industry giant—to handle Grateful Dead albums and the solo discs on Round Records. The Dead organization got a much-needed infusion of cash to keep the various recording and film ventures going (the Hell’s Angels Forever movie project was still eating up money, too), and for the first time in a couple of years, Garcia, Rakow and company didn’t have to worry about the endless minutiae of record manufacturing and distribution.

“The independence we had with Grateful Dead Records really isn’t that important,” Garcia said a year later. “I felt as though it was something we tried to do, but the time it happened was just the worst possible time to do it. It was the time when there were incredible vinyl shortages and all that stuff, and here we were, starting our little record company in the midst of ‘the collapse of the record industry.’ It was like swimming upstream.

“But it doesn’t bother me if some plan doesn’t work. They have lives of their own after a while. If they work, they deserve to. If they don’t, the heck with it. No sense worrying about it.”

Garcia gigged with Keith and Donna’s group, which also included Kreutzmann and three other players, for about four weeks in August and September 1975. The band played a combination of songs from the Keith and Donna album, Memphis soul tunes like “Knock on Wood” and “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” and even a few Garcia-sung covers. When he returned from the Keith and Donna tour, Garcia abruptly kicked Merl Saunders and Martin Fierro out of the Legion of Mary and hired British rock ’n’ roll piano wizard Nicky Hopkins—who’d played with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Quicksilver—for the newly named Jerry Garcia Band (which also included John Kahn and Ron Tutt).

John Kahn said the decision to go in a different direction with the group was made for purely musical considerations: “It didn’t seem to be headed anywhere for us. It was stuck in a bag. Without putting anybody down, it was just a period of nongrowth musically, I thought, and Jerry thought so, too. We dealt with it like Jerry dealt with a lot of things—we just sort of ditched it. We hid and just didn’t have any gigs for a long time, and then we started another band. It wasn’t very well done. Since then I’ve been more careful making sure that sort of stuff was done properly. Jerry was supposed to do that one himself, because I’d been the guy who fired Kreutzmann to get Tutt. So it was his turn, but of course he wouldn’t do it.”

Whatever the grisly details, the change in the fall of 1975 did represent a new direction for Garcia’s band. Hopkins was an amazing technician on the piano, equally capable of providing florid ornamentation, spare melodic filigrees and deft rhythmic pounding. The music lost some of its jazzy flavor when Saunders and Fierro left and took on more of a rock ’n’ roll personality. A raft of fine new songs came into the repertoire around this time, too, including “Catfish John,” a contemporary country tune that Old and in the Way had performed bluegrass-style; several numbers written by Hopkins, such as “Lady Sleeps” and “Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder,” which he’d originally recorded with Quicksilver on their Shady Grove album; “I’ll Take a Melody,” a little-known song by New Orleans songwriter-producer Allen Toussaint; three tunes from the Grateful Dead’s songbook—“Sugaree,” “They Love Each Other” and “Friend of the Devil”; and a new Hunter-Garcia composition called “Mission in the Rain,” which Garcia described as “a song that might be about me. It’s my life; it’s like a little piece of my life. Hunter writes me once in a while.”

Not that any real information about Garcia is imparted in the song. But the setting—San Francisco’s Mission district—is from the attic of his life. And Hunter’s as well—when he first moved to San Francisco during the Summer of Love he lived at 17th and Mission Streets, “and that [song] was very much a portrait of that time—looking backwards at ten years,” Hunter said.

Ten years ago I walked this street

My dreams were riding tall

Tonight I would be thankful

Lord for any dream at all

Some folks would be happy

Just to have one dream come true

But everything you gather

Is just more than you can lose

Come again

Walking along in the Mission

In the rain …

The Jerry Garcia Band (henceforth the JGB) toured quite a lot in October and November of 1975, and also found time to record a few songs for the Garcia solo album that became Reflections. “That album was supposed to be a Jerry Garcia Band album but it sort of fell apart in the middle, so it ended up being half that band and half Grateful Dead,” John Kahn said.

The problem, alas, was Hopkins, who besides being a major cokehead—not an issue where Garcia and Kahn were concerned—also had a severe drinking problem. This is why he occasionally rambled on incessantly between songs onstage, muttering incomprehensibly in his thick British accent, and why by year’s end he was out of the group.

“He was an incredible player,” Kahn said, “like the Chopin of rock ’n’ roll. He was bluesy but he also had this beautiful tone and touch that complemented Jerry’s playing really well. That was the idea, and then Tutt and I would lay down this really fat, well-defined bottom sound. But it didn’t work out. That wasn’t Hopkins’s best period. Frankly, he didn’t even remember any of the gigs. Later, he asked me if we ever had any fun. I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘Then it must’ve been all right.’ Tutt really didn’t like Hopkins, and after a while he blew Jerry out, too, because he was just too over the edge; he was too fucked up to play music. That’s the line where you’ve gone too far. At this Winterland show [in December 1975] he was on another planet, playing in the wrong key, and you just couldn’t get to him. He sort of wrecked that whole gig. Tutt was really mad.”

Hopkins’s last gig with the band was a New Year’s Eve show at the Keystone Berkeley. Shortly after that the JGB debuted another new lineup at the Keystone Berkeley, and this one stuck for a while: Garcia, Kahn, Tutt and Keith and Donna Godchaux. “Keith was an interesting player,” Kahn said. “He didn’t have the same background as the rest of us. Like, he wasn’t well rooted in blues, but he picked stuff up real fast. He was an amazingly quick study. We’d teach him about some style one day and he’d have it down the next. He picked up the New Orleans stuff real fast. That was a real good band for a long time; definitely one of my favorites.”

Not surprisingly, bringing in Keith and Donna added a gospel feeling to much of the material the band played, and they even tackled some straight gospel numbers, such as the traditional “Who Was John,” the Sensational Nightingales’ “My Sisters and Brothers” and the Mighty Clouds of Joy’s “Ride Mighty High,” as well as gospel-influenced songs like Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and the reggae classic “Stop That Train.”

Garcia’s solo album Reflections came out in February 1976, and offered quite a potpourri of musical styles. Four songs featured the JGB (with Hopkins) augmented by Mickey Hart on percussion, and keyboardist Larry Knechtel (who had also played on Garcia’s second solo record): “Mission in the Rain,” which also had an effective synthesizer line by Kahn; “I’ll Take a Melody”; Hank Ballard’s driving “Tore Up Over You”; and “Catfish John.” And on two of the four, Donna and Bob Weir sang background vocals.

The other four songs on Reflections were performed by the Grateful Dead, including Mickey Hart, who was formally back on board. “It was a continuation of what we were doing with Blues for Allah,” Garcia said. “We were having fun in the studio is what it boils down to, and that’s pretty rare for us. The energy was there, and I thought, ‘I’ve got a solo album coming up. Let’s cut these tracks with the Grateful Dead. I’ve already taught them the tunes.’”

Three songs were ones the Dead had played for a while but never recorded: “Comes a Time,” “It Must Have Been the Roses” and “They Love Each Other.” The fourth was an exuberant new Hunter-Garcia rocker called “Might As Well,” about the Festival Express train trip across Canada in 1970.

Sometime in early 1976 Garcia moved into an old Victorian house in Belvedere, a posh, old-money enclave on a small island off Tiburon. “I went and visited him and Deborah there a couple of times,” John Kahn said. “It was a really nice place.”

Around the same time, Mountain Girl says, “Jerry said he was going to cut me loose, so I was cut loose.” Garcia agreed to give her a thousand dollars a month plus the house in Stinson Beach. “I stayed in Stinson until mid-1976, but I was very unhappy. It was like a bomb had gone off. The kids were unhappy.

“So I went up to Oregon for a year,” she continues. “I bought a place out on the coast, in Port Orford, with money I’d made from my book [a popular guide to cultivating marijuana], and I kind of went up there and hid. I was really lonely. I got tired of Port Orford in a hot second. I lasted there about fourteen or sixteen months. The kids did a year of school there that was just hell. It was really boring.”

Another change occurred in the scene during this period: the arrival of freebase cocaine, which instead of being snorted was smoked and thus was introduced into the bloodstream much quicker and with a more dramatic—some say nearly orgasmic—head and body “rush.” This technique used up cocaine faster and it was much more psychologically addictive. Years before crack cocaine laid waste to thousands of inner-city adults and kids, freebase ravaged the Grateful Dead’s world.

“The weaker ones really fell by the wayside with that drug,” Steve Brown observes. “People who had more to lose started to really go downhill when that started happening. That one sucked a lot of people under, and some people never really got out of it. A lot of them eventually went from freebasing to also smoking heroin—it was a marriage made in hell.”

Ironically, “Garcia was totally healthy-looking back then,” Brown continues. “He was lucid. He was funny. Most of the time you could never tell with him. And that lasted all the way up to the late ’70s. He just had a very high tolerance, I guess.”

John Kahn agreed. “He never got so fucked up he couldn’t play or carry on a normal conversation. We played some of our best shows during that period.” And like many drug users, Garcia went through relatively clean periods followed by periods in which he binged.

By the late winter of 1976 the Dead had decided to begin touring again, but on a much more scaled-down level than before. “We’re horny to play,” Garcia declared. “We all miss Grateful Dead music. We want to be the Grateful Dead some more.”

The Wall of Sound had been taken apart and dispersed: “There are probably twenty-five little bands running around that got outfitted by that system,” Dan Healy said in the mid-’80s. “So when we went back on the road we decided no more albatrosses. We had a year to miss touring, and we had time to reflect on what a truly valuable, precious thing we had. And we wanted to keep it economical so we’d survive.”

The road crew was winnowed down from twenty to just six—“The core nucleus stayed,” Healy said. “It was the same people who were there originally, no more, no less”—and Healy went back to renting equipment, which was then configured in ways that were consistent with some of the audio principles that had emerged from the Wall of Sound experiment.

During the time the band was off the road, all sorts of different ideas about how to make the Grateful Dead concert experience more manageable for both the band and crowd had been explored—from looking into the feasibility of televising concerts to having Buckminster Fuller work up plans for a permanent, customized geodesic-domed performance venue in the Bay Area, where the group could stay put and concertize most of the year. In the end there simply wasn’t enough money for anything so grandiose. But in a noble attempt to reestablish some sense of scale to their operation, the band played in theaters rather than arenas and stadiums on their first tour after the hiatus, with the first crack at tickets going to the 45,000 people on the Dead Heads mailing list.

“Basically, us returning to performing is a compromise,” Garcia said in March 1976, two months before the tour. “It isn’t a totally satisfactory move. The way we’re gonna do it is gonna be different from the way we’ve done it. But it’s retrograde rather than moving on with the idea. We’re actually backing up because there are literally no alternatives. We’re trying to bluff an alternative into existence. But that doesn’t mean there is one. We haven’t succeeded on that level yet.”

Still, Garcia said that his year and a half in the Deadless wilderness had left him feeling that “the thing I’m most into is the survival of the Grateful Dead. I think that’s my main trip now… . I feel like I’ve had both trips now—I’ve been with the Grateful Dead for ten or twelve years, and I’ve also been out of it, in the sense of going out in the world and traveling and doing things under my own hook. And really, I’m not that taken with my own ideas. I don’t really have that much to say, and I’m more interested in being involved in something that’s larger than me… . So, sometime in the last year I decided, yeah, that’s it—that’s definitely the farthest-out thing I’ve ever been involved in, and it’s the thing that makes me feel the best. And it seems to have the most ability to sort of neutrally put something good into the mainstream. It’s also fascinating in the sense of the progression. The year-to-year changes are fascinating.”

Work on the Grateful Dead movie continued all through the winter and spring of 1976, with Susan Crutcher and her team putting in long hours at the Mill Valley film house assembling a massive rough-cut version—the first one ran nearly five hours, long even by Grateful Dead standards. Another expensive and time-consuming element was added to the film when it was decided to open the movie with a short, trippy animated sequence by a young San Francisco filmmaker-animator named Gary Gutierrez. Those seven mind-blowing minutes ended up costing $250,000.

The Dead had been in fairly dire financial shape for a while, and their return to the road, scheduled for June, wasn’t going to do much to rectify that. After all, they had decided to play multiday runs in small theaters in just a few select cities. The movie was getting closer to completion but it still needed more cash. Mickey Hart had gone way over budget on an album he was making with the Diga Rhythm Band, a wondrous all-percussion ensemble he was a member of. There was pressure in many different sectors of the Dead organization to find more money, and in some circles there was the belief that Ron Rakow’s wheeling and dealing was no longer helping the Dead; a few even suspected that he had been lining his own pockets, an accusation that was never formally made or proven.

“Everybody wanted to trust Rakow because Jerry did,” says Emily Craig, who was Rakow’s wife at the time. “Jerry’s vote was greater than the sum of everybody else’s. If he wanted to do something, that’s what was happening. But nobody ever really trusted Rakow, and rightfully so.”

“The big mystery to me is how he was able to gain Garcia’s trust and somehow form an alliance with him,” Dave Parker says. “That was the single most negative event that happened to me in the whole time I worked for the Dead—having to deal with that fact; that Rakow and Garcia essentially became partners, and there was a kind of separation between Jerry and the rest of the band at that point.”

The friction between Rakow and certain bandmembers and key players in the Dead organization came to a head in May 1976 when Rakow went down to Los Angeles to collect a $275,000 recording advance check from United Artists. Instead of turning the money over to the Dead, Rakow put the check in his own account and split the Dead scene completely. It’s an event that still draws emotional responses from the participants twenty years later.

“There was a sizable check that Rakow had gotten from the record company, and he had some kind of manipulation that he was going to do with the money,” Parker says. “I basically was instructed that I had to trust Rakow with this money. It was at Jerry’s insistence that he be given this level of trust. There were some meetings with the band [before Rakow got the check] and a couple of bandmembers had expressed concern to me about what Rakow was doing. Billy was probably the most concerned. Phil was very concerned as well. They all were to a degree, but essentially the way it came down was that Jerry said, ‘This is the guy I want to be doing this stuff. I just want it that way.’ It was like an ultimatum. I felt very strange about that.”

In Rakow’s telling of the story, he was in the offices of United Artists’ Mark Levinson picking up the check when a phone call came through from Rakow’s lawyer telling him that the Grateful Dead’s attorney said that Rakow had been fired. “I told my lawyer that the call he got has no status and this call does not compute,” Rakow says, so he took the check. From his perspective, it was money that was owed him for long and faithful service, plus he had obligations he had to take care of:

“What nobody knows is that the movie was being made partly by money that I had personally borrowed from a very heavy connection of drug dealers,” Rakow says. “Now, I wasn’t going to leave that scene and not pay back that bread before I left. The Grateful Dead had a friend named Cousin David—it was a cover name—and he ran a boutique smuggling operation from Mexico. By boutique I mean he had three or four small planes with seven or eight guys; a real buccaneer when drug smuggling was a small business run by really soulful people who had strong feelings. And he was interested in helping us get that movie out. And our cash flow was terrible—nobody was working. They stopped working October 21, 1974. I left in May 1976. The day I left, we owed Cousin David $47,000, which we had used to make payroll at the film house. The only one that knew what my particular thing was, was Jerry. He knew I owed this guy forty-seven grand. We talked about it. I wasn’t going to leave and depend on somebody like Hal Kant [the Dead’s lawyer] to see that my personal debts were paid.”

Rakow says he put another $40,000 toward completing costs for Hell’s Angels Forever and “I helped the Rolling Thunder guys buy some land in Ruby Valley that the Native Americans live on.” He also bought (for himself) a sizable collection of original copperplate negatives of photographs by Edward S. Curtis, the premier photodocumentarian of Native Americans in the nineteenth century.

“I’m not a lawyer, and I never looked at the books, but it seemed pretty illegal to me,” says Richard Loren. “Rakow says the Grateful Dead owed him money, and that’s probably true, but if you can’t convince them to give it to you, then is it okay to steal it?”

A year and a half after the imbroglio, Rakow told a writer, “I didn’t like the way they treated me. I felt ripped off and I wanted to make sure they felt totally ripped off, and I think they did.”

“He bragged about it to me extensively,” Mountain Girl says. “He thought he’d really run a big score. I was shocked.”

Not surprisingly, Rakow’s departure had a devastating effect on everyone in the Grateful Dead organization. Not only did it mean the loss of critically needed income, it created a rift between Garcia, who was Rakow’s greatest supporter, and the rest of the band.

“Jerry had gone to bat for Rakow in a way, and he’d never say it, but it must have affected him,” Loren says. “He had to look the band in the face after Rakow was gone. You’re sitting down with the other musicians and it was like a ‘He was your guy’ kind of attitude.”

“Ultimately, nobody wanted to go as far as suing about this,” Parker says. “Some of the band and some of the rest of us didn’t feel that what had happened was right, but Garcia had a certain ambivalence about it, and if he had come down strongly one way or another it might have made a difference. But as it turned out there was some going back and forth among lawyers and the way it finally came down is the band decided not to go after him for the money legally. Basically to accept his claim that he was somehow entitled to it. I think they didn’t want to get involved in a big legal showdown—going to court, getting all that publicity. It just kind of faded away. And Rakow got away with it.”

This sort of crisis might have broken up less stable groups, but the bond between the Grateful Dead members was such that they just kept plugging along, no doubt feeling battered, bruised and pissed-off. The anti-Rakow forces were happy to be rid of him, and now the focus could switch completely to the band’s imminent return to the concert stage.

The Dead rehearsed extensively before the tour began in early June. After all, they needed to get used to the idea of playing together regularly again after a year and a half in separate orbits. They also had to bring Mickey Hart up to speed—though he’d played with the group at the four gigs in 1975, he still had five years of the band’s evolution to absorb, and the band had to adjust to Mickey’s being back in the group, too. Weir said that with two drummers in the band again it became a little harder to “turn the corner” in jams, and Kreutzmann noted, “Things maybe didn’t flow quite as easily for a while. It was a little more cumbersome, which I think you’d expect, but it smoothed out over time.”

“Everyone was playing slow,” Mickey said. “The songs had slowed down and then we started to build up steam again. I was out of shape. Billy and I hadn’t really played together for years. This looks easy to some people, but the reason you don’t see two drummers playing together very often is because it’s not easy. It’s not just being good, and it’s not just putting two drum sets up on the stage.”

The band’s sound on that first tour was quite a departure from the wide-open approach the group took in 1973-74. Sets were shorter, there wasn’t nearly as much free-form jamming, the tempos were slower for the most part and there was almost no real “space” music. Deadheads weren’t complaining, however. They were happy to have the band back on the road, and there were lots of new songs to enjoy: all the material from Blues for Allah, which hadn’t been played outside the Bay Area; revivals of old Dead songs like “Saint Stephen” and “Cosmic Charlie” in different, slower arrangements; cover tunes like Reverend Gary Davis’s “Samson and Delilah” and a completely reworked disco arrangement of “Dancing in the Streets”; and numbers from Garcia’s and Weir’s solo albums and band repertoires, such as “The Wheel,” “Mission in the Rain,” “Might As Well” and Weir’s “Lazy Lightning” and “Supplication” (which he’d played with Kingfish).

There were many popular Dead tunes that didn’t immediately follow the group out of retirement, too: “Dark Star,” “China Cat Sunflower” > “I Know You Rider,” “Uncle John’s Band,” “Jack Straw,” “China Doll” and “Casey Jones.” But they all reappeared over the course of the next three years.

In the fickle, transitory world of conventional entertainment, a year-and-a-half layoff is a long time—enough for some people to assume that the act is washed up, or to forget about them altogether. It’s the “What have you done lately?” syndrome. But with the Grateful Dead the opposite happened: the intense loyalty of their fans actually increased during the band’s time away from the road, as people came to realize just how important the group was to them. In addition, during the Dead’s hiatus the underground Grateful Dead tape-trading network had blossomed and, in effect, gone public when a few New York-area Deadheads started a newsletter/magazine called Dead Relix (later simply Relix), devoted to disseminating information about Grateful Dead tapes and taping.

Surreptitious taping from the audience on recorders smuggled into concerts had been going on at some Dead shows since the late ’60s, but the number of tapers increased each year, and the quality of the tapes improved as well. Between audience-made concert tapes and the numerous Dead shows that had been recorded from FM radio broadcasts, there were many tapes in circulation among traders by the mid-’70s. This encouraged more people to collect tapes and to become tapers themselves. Since every show was different and certain nights were unquestionably magical, why not try to capture that magic? Though bootleg albums occasionally turned up on the black market, the great majority of tape transactions in the Deadhead world were trades only—a code of honor specifically prohibited the buying or selling of Dead tapes. This ethical standard remains in place today and has spread into non-Grateful Dead taping circles.

Garcia, for one, was always sympathetic to the tapers, having been a bluegrass taper himself in the mid-’60s. “I think it’s okay,” he said in 1975. “If people like it they can certainly keep doing it. I don’t have any desire to control people as to what they’re doing and what they have. There’s something to be said for being able to record an experience you’ve liked, or being able to obtain a recording of it. Actually, we have all that stuff in our own collection of tapes. My responsibility to the notes is over after I’ve played them. At that point I don’t care where they go,” he added with a laugh. “They’ve left home, you know.”

Five of the twenty-five shows on the Dead’s June-July ’76 “comeback” tour were broadcast on FM stations, and tapers at the shows generally found the Dead turning a blind eye to their activities. There were occasional confiscation sweeps through the tapers’ ranks by less sympathetic members of the Grateful Dead road crew, but by and large Dan Healy condoned the practice; in fact, he took an interest in how the tapes sounded, because in a sense they reflected on his work mixing the band. In 1976 there were only a handful of tapers at most shows, but it seemed their numbers increased exponentially each year.

As it happened, the early-summer theater tour turned out not to be a sign that the Dead were returning to smaller venues on a permanent basis. By August they were back to playing small stadiums and giant arenas—in early October they even played two shows at the enormous 55,000-seat Oakland Stadium (which they did not sell out) on the same bill as the Who. Except for a New Year’s Eve concert at the Cow Palace, the group took a break from touring from the middle of October through the third week of February 1977. (At one point they had hoped to go to Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii in the late fall, but once again it was deemed financially unfeasible.) Which isn’t to say they were inactive. Garcia, naturally, was busy almost constantly, gigging on the West Coast with the JGB, working to complete the film and, beginning in January, recording the next Grateful Dead album.

The Dead’s commitment to United Artists ended when the band formally dissolved Grateful Dead and Round Records in the fall of 1976. At that point the Dead started shopping for a major record label that would pay them big bucks and grant them complete artistic freedom in exchange for the next few Grateful Dead albums. Waiting in the wings for just such a moment was Clive Davis, departed from Columbia Records and now boss of his own New York-based label, Arista. Davis had wanted the Dead to record for him since the late ’60s, so when they were ready to sign with a major label again, he courted them heavily, earning points with the Dead’s managers—particularly Richard Loren, who’d worked with Davis on the Rowan Brothers’ Columbia discs—and John Scher, who, beginning with the Dead’s return to the road in mid-’76, acted as a business advisor to Garcia and the Dead, and produced or co-produced nearly all of the group’s shows east of the Rockies.

“The prior period had been the culmination of that process of taking on everything and doing it all ourselves—the record company, the Wall of Sound, booking, our own travel agency,” Alan Trist says. “There was nothing, with the exception of tickets, that we weren’t doing in-house, and of course we did that later. Then, after the hiatus, the philosophy that Richard and Jerry and myself were in accord on was completely different: ‘Okay, let’s just do what we do best—be a band, and we’ll get other people of our own choosing to do everything else.’ So we hired producers to do the records, hired John Scher to do the booking on the East Coast, Bill Graham to do the West Coast, let Arista do publicity. But it didn’t mean that the basic Grateful Dead head had changed. We’d just learned some lessons about taking on too much.”