Chapter 3: There Were Days Between
Page 51, top; more on Pigpen:
Dave McQueen, who was one of the East Palo Alto crowd that befriended Pigpen, tells a nice story about the teenage Ron McKernan: "I had an 'in' with the owner of the Choo-Choo Inn, a black honky-tonk on the tracks in San Mateo, through Lester Hellums, who would sit in with the house band. T-Bone Walker was going to play there and Ron heard about it from one of the corner kids. Ron was spending more time in East P.A. than he was at home at that point. Anyway, he came to me like any normal rotten teenager when he really wants something he can't scheme on alone, so I talked to the owner and got him a table right up front. T-Bone stood there and played right in front of him the whole night. Ron was in heaven! At the end he said to T-Bone, 'See you in 20 years, Mr. Walker!' He talked about it for weeks."
Page 53; lower middle; Hunter's love of wordplay:
Hunter, Willy Legate and David Nelson even got together in the fall of '62 to write their own unfathomable opus. "It really had the flavor of the late '50s, early '60s," Nelson says. "We were stoned and talking and Willy would be typing. Willy said, 'It's got to have a title,' and Hunter said, 'How about My Vacation in Rio?' He would write something, I would write something, Willy would write something and we went on like that." Nelson reads a passage:
"'There once was a man who heard death call. No, she heard it on the ceiling and she heard it inside the beach ball. She heard it in the theater and while walking on the damp, cold sidewalk.' Then somebody else is talking: 'No, there goes one. Bandersnatch and all the Western states.' That's probably Willy, and then this is Hunter for sure: 'His hand tore passionately at her bra strap. He didn't want to do it, but before he could stop himself he found himself shooting three hot slugs into her smooth, firm belly. "That's the way it is, baby," he said. He put on his hat and coat and walked out the door. Movin' West, that's me.' It's pretty inane reading it now, but it was something doing it," Nelson says.
Page 53, bottom; Hunter's psychedelic tests:
Hunter said. "They paid me $140 for the four tests, one a week over a period of a month. There were people who were totally unprepared, who knew nothing about the experience. I had read [Aldous] Huxley's book [The Doors of Perception, about the writer's psychedelic experiences] but I told them I hadn't, 'cause I really did want to get in on the trip, and what they called psychoto-mimetic drugs. They were interested in seeing what it did to my idio-motor responses; they wanted to see if I could be hypnotized more easily on the drugs or without them."
Hunter was given mescaline, psilocybin and, finally, LSD in a sterile, I knew I was in for something when I saw the chair wink at me. So the first thing I did was turn the lights off — I mean, here I was in this white room with these fluorescent lights on. So I turned them off, and I saw this long corridor open in front of me, and this locker was at the other end, disgorging monsters at me; monster after monster. But I knew I was hallucinating, so I resolved to take control of these hallucinations and I imagined an elevator shaft behind me. And this monster materializes, brandishing a dagger, and I grab the dagger, plunge it into me, lick the blade, and jump down the elevator shaft. It was one hell of an introduction to LSD."
Page 54, middle; more background on Sara Ruppenthal:
The Ruppenthals were a respected family in Palo Alto, so it's not too surprising they viewed Jerry with unease. Sara's father, Karl, had been a commercial pilot in the years after the war. During that time he got a master's in business at Berkeley and a Ph.D in business administration at Stanford Business School, where he subsequently taught. He also served on the Palo Alto City Council for a time. But Sara was already traveling down the bohemian road well before she met Jerry. Besides her involvement in the peace movement, in junior high school she dated Darby Slick, who later went on to form one of the most underrated of the first-generation San Francisco bands, the Great Society, with his brother Jerry and sister-in-law Grace Slick. In high school, too, Sara and her friends would "go up to the city on the train and hang out in North Beach, looking for something exciting and interesting. I remember going to parties on houseboats in Sausalito where they had candles in Chianti bottles, everyone was drinking rotgut red wine and listening to jazz. That was just so cool. We all wanted to be beatniks." And in Jerry she found one, though by '63 the term was already becoming archaic.
Page 57, middle; Sara on her musical relationship with Jerry:
"By the time I met Jerry, he'd begun to collect every recording he could lay his hands on of not only bluegrass but old-timey music. We would study them note for note, whatever we could get of the traditional singers who were still alive and picking — the Carter Family, Doc Watson, Clarence Ashley, Jean Ritchie. We listened to the Anthology of American Folk Music, with lots of old timers on it, reissues of great old 78s from the '30s. A record of whaling songs by Ewan McCall. Mike Seeger and the New Lost City Ramblers. Jerry and I drew upon these sources for the songs we performed together and also as an acapella quartet with Suzy Wood and Marshall Leicester. That was a high point for me; those times singing together."
Page 58, middle; the Monterey Folk Fest banjo contest:
"I wish I could say Jerry won," says Rodney Dillard, "but he didn't. He felt for sure he was gonna have it because he played this real fancy bluegrass style — not the greatest in the world, bless him. We gave it to a guy who was a little more creative, actually a folk singer who frailed the banjo, named Mike Cooney. And none of the bluegrass people could understand why we did it. All the bluegrass nazis were really mad."
Bluegrass nazis? "The purists," he continues. "When The Dillards came onto the scene we were strictly hard-core bluegrass, yet we got blasted by some of the folk magazines because we had echo on our records. It was all these people who were trying so desperately to hang on to the really traditional stuff. That made me just want to grind up sacred cows for hamburgers, and we went on course later to add drums and add a whole 'nother dimension to what we were doing."
Page 59, top; more on Garcia's banjo playing:
"He was the type of player who just plunges in and then sorts it out later," adds David Nelson, whom Garcia recruited to play mandolin in the Black Mountain Boys. "Jerry was a total self-player, all over, different styles, and doing it his way all the time. I don't know if he was highly regarded or not because the politics were so vicious in those days, you didn't get a true opinion. He got accused of being arrogant a lot because of the awesome quality, that presence he had. It got interpreted as arrogant. There was some flap I don't remember that well, possibly because it was so unpleasant, where we were refused a gig because of Garcia's supposed arrogance."
Paul Foster, who for a time ran the Offstage club in San Jose, says, "I had a problem with him. I didn't book him very often because he was kind of snotty to the audience; he treated them terrible." According to Garcia, "We always had a sort of abuse-the-audience attitude. Once they were in there, they were yours and you could do whatever you wanted to them! That was part of the fun of playing those little clubs."
And a Black Mountain Boys anecdote from Eric Thompson:
"I remember one time [the Black Mountain Boys] went to a real country dance hall in a place like Richmond [California, near Berkeley] and we played some tunes and these guys were very nice to us. They said 'That's a nice bluegrass sound.' They played Ernest Tubbs stuff in those places. You came in and you stamped your hand with a blue fluorescent stamp, and there was a bar in the back and there were fights. It was sawdust on a big wood floor. But we didn't make a lot of contact with that world. That was one of the few times we did. Usually it was more of a folk revival kind of thing and I don't think there were really the venues for it. There was no place like the Ash Grove or the Club 47 in Northern California, so we ended up doing things like playing on Gert Chiarito's program on KPFA and things like that — that was about as public as you could get. And then we'd play at these little tourist places in North Beach."
Page 59, upper middle; more on Dave Parker's background:
Dave Parker was a relatively new addition to the gang when he moved into the house. He was born in Santa Barbara but grew up mostly in San Francisco and Menlo Park, where he attended Sequoia High School, Tiff Garcia's alma mater. He went to UC Berkeley for a year to study engineering, but he did poorly and was placed on academic probation, so he moved back to the Peninsula and went instead to the College of San Mateo, where he met Rodney and Peter Albin, and then David Nelson. Like just about everyone else in this early part of the saga, he loved both Beat writers and folk music, which quite naturally led him into Garcia's wide circle of friends. Parker and Garcia became close friends that autumn, and they spent a lot of time hanging out and talking to Garcia at Dana Morgan's, which was just a few blocks from Hamilton Street. "He'd just be sitting around waiting for his next student to show up," Parker says. "Jerry always had some fascinating perspective on something. Then when his student would show up I'd go out in front and look at the instruments or talk to Dana, who I went to high school with.
"He was always an amazing guy," Parker continues. "I hate to use a word like charisma because it's so overused, but he just had a certain force to his personality and character — he was a very strong, magnetic person, and yet he was never looking to dominate anybody or any scene. He always had that thing of 'I'm not the leader,' yet ironically, he always was; he couldn't help it, just because of being him. It was natural."
Page 60, top; after Jerry and Sara's daughter Heather was born...:
Jerry and Sara "brought Heather home on the third day and we just sat there terrified: 'Oh my God. Now what do we do?'" Sara recalls. "She started hiccupping and we thought she was going to die. We were in an utter panic with the weighty responsibility of being parents. I remember looking it up in Dr. Spock. 'Let's see — Hiccups ... Hiccups ... Here it is! Oh ... it's OK.'"
Things went from weird to worse when Sara got a serious breast infection and had to be re-hospitalized for a few days. Still, Jerry went ahead with his plan to go to Los Angeles with the Black Mountain Boys, who were opening for the Kentucky Colonels at the Ash Grove. "It was a big important thing for him," Sara says philosophically, "but I came home from being in the hospital, my parents had gone to Europe, Jerry left for L.A., and I was recovering from this nasty infection alone with this baby and weeping a lot — devastated with the responsibility of motherhood and not having any support." At least she had Clyde the cat, a wheat-colored tabby Jerry had given her during the pregnancy, to keep her company.
Page 60, bottom; more on Bob Weir's decision to play music:
How did his well-heeled parents react? "They figured out a few years before that he wasn't going to be a doctor or a lawyer," says his younger sister, Wendy. "He was really bored in school, and my parents figured if music was the career he wanted, they wished him the best of luck. My mother, in particular, was fully supportive of him when she saw that was his passion."
Page 62, top; early home movies:
Garcia's crowd was goofing around making their own movies, too. Dave Parker, who worked part-time in the mailroom at General Mills while he attended San Jose State, managed to snare a super 8 camera and projector that had been left on the loading dock, unsigned for, so the group made a number of primitive home movies, some of which have survived. "We liked making people disappear [on film]," Parker says. "We called them 'zot scenes.'" Parker also remembers making a movie after hours in the deserted halls of Pacific High School, a huge Victorian mansion where Laird Grant worked as a caretaker. Garcia ran the camera for that one. "He was always looking for new experiences in some kind of creative form, and to expand his horizons," Parker says.
Page 63, lower middle; more on the big drive East:
"The one real digression we made was somewhere way out in the country in southern Missouri," Sandy Rothman says. "The Whites are actually this Acadian family and the stop in Missouri was to see some of their old people from Maine; we were seeing this guy named Slim, who Jerry used to talk about as a sort of Neal Cassady-type character, and I can see what he meant — he was this virile cowboy guy that all the women loved. It was in this trailer park and it was all Missouri people, but they were actually Acadian hillbillies. It was a great scene there. We played all night one night and all these people came around and listened to us play. There was a big bonfire and a lot of Cajun food; an amazing scene. Jerry always said it felt like being in some incredible movie. We finally tore ourselves away from it so we could make our beeline up to Neil's." The Colonels went their own way, and knocked 'em dead at Newport that July on the main stage and in workshops.
Page 64, top; making tapes on the road:
On May 24, Rosenberg says, "Jerry made a tape at the Brown County Jamboree. What I used to do, and Mike Seeger used to do, and Alice Gerrard used to do, is go up to the performer before the show and say, 'Can I tape the show?' and they'd usually say yes and then you'd set your mike up onstage or you'd actually tape your mike to the house mike stand. So you got really good recordings if you were careful about placing the mike, because everyone played into one mike anyway. Jerry recorded the afternoon show of Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys."
Garcia's and Rothman's travels also took them to various bluegrass shows in Ohio — for instance, they met Rosenberg in Dayton and taped the Osbornes at the White Sands bar there on May 28.
"Getting into that world was like opening a magic door," Garcia said, "because I met all these people who had live tapes of bluegrass. That's what really did it for me, because live, the music sounded so energized and beautifully detailed. The point of view of the one microphone on all those bluegrass recordings allowed you to hear the depth of it — you'd hear the instruments coming toward the microphone and then moving away. You'd hear them playing the little holes and doing all this wonderful dynamic stuff."
And what did Rosenberg, a banjo player who went on to become one of the world's foremost experts on bluegrass, think of Garcia as a player? "Oh, he was great. Jerry was really into [Bill] Keith at that time. Most people were pretty crazy about it at the time. Most banjo players took it and overdid it. I think it's similar to what happened with saxophone players with Charlie Parker — he did all this marvelous stuff and then everyone tried to copy him and it didn't work so well. But Jerry was very good at what he was doing. Beyond that, though, he was just a lot of fun to play with. In a sense, he was still getting going as a banjo player, but he was doing very well. There are licks I know he heard from Billy Ray Latham. He selected things he liked and then, like an artist who makes up his own iconography, he developed his own vocabulary, so to speak."
Page 65, upper-middle; more on the formation of Mother McCree's:
"When Jerry decided he wanted to do something, he always had a way of recruiting the people he needed to get it to happen," says Dave Parker, who was tapped by Garcia to play washboard in the jug band after Jerry became dissatisfied with the group's original washboard player, Bob Matthews. "Jerry was making a transition. He'd gone from the old-time American music to bluegrass, and he wanted to try something different. I remember we saw the Jim Kweskin Jug Band on The Steve Allen Show at somebody's house in Berkeley, and we'd heard their record, and that sounded like a lot of fun, so Jerry decided we'd get together a jug band."
In Bob Matthews' telling of the origins of Mother McCree's, "At one point Weir and I and this guy I went to Peninsula High with, Rick McAuley, decided we were going to start a jug band. Rick never really stayed with it, though. Bob and I were into it. In high school, Weir and I would go to first period, which was 8 to 9 o'clock, and then at 9 we'd get out and hitchhike to Dana Morgan's and cut the rest of school hanging out with Jerry. One of these mornings we went in and told Jerry we had started a jug band. In those days, he spent all his time playing. You could have a conversation with him, but it was always while he was playing. He said, 'Oh, that's nice. I'm in.' And that's how Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions was born." Robert Hunter and David Nelson came up with the fanciful moniker.
Page 65, lower-middle; Pigpen and the jug band:
"Pigpen was seemingly the most professional of anybody in the group," Robert Hunter recalled. "He had his act down completely very young. Obviously he developed other parts of his music as time went on, but you could see what he was very clearly, even at the beginning. You could tell this was a guy who understood and could play blues."