Posted on Leave a comment

John Cipollina 5/1989

May 29, 1989 (aged 45) John Cipollina and his twin sister Manuela were born in Berkeley, California, on August 24, 1943. Cipollina attended Tamalpais High School, in Mill Valley, California, as did his brother, Mario(born 1954), and sister, Antonia (born 1952). Their father, Gino, was of Italian ancestry. He was a realtor, and his mother, Evelyn, and godfather, José Iturbi, were concert pianists. John showed great promise as a classical pianist in his youth, but his father gave him a guitar when he was 12 and this quickly became his primary instrument.

Trained as a classical pianist, John Cipollina however didn’t just play the usual pentatonic rock and blues riffs; he meandered about the fretboard, producing a plethora of melodic and evocative notes, inflected with plenty of whammy bar, his signature, particularly during the psychedelic era. Simply stated, nobody played lead guitar like John Cipollina!

One of the forerunners of the San Francisco Bay Area sound in the middle 1960s, Cipollina played lead guitar for the fabulous Quicksilver Messenger Service, until the band went “poppy” in the early 1970s. Man do I remember playing Who do you love and Mona. Epic.

Cipollina had a unique guitar sound, mixing solid state and valve amplifiers as early as 1965. He is considered one of the fathers of the San Francisco sound, a form of psychedelic rock.

I like the rapid punch of solid-state for the bottom, and the rodent-gnawing distortion of the tubes on top.

To create his distinctive guitar sound, Cipollina developed a one-of-a-kind amplifier stack. His Gibson SG guitars had two pickups, one for bass and one for treble. The bass pickup fed into two Standel bass amps on the bottom of the stack, each equipped with two 15-inch speakers. The treble pickups fed two Fender amps: a Fender Twin Reverb and a Fender Dual Showman that drove six Wurlitzer horns.

After leaving Quicksilver in 1971, Cipollina formed the band Copperhead with early Quicksilver member Jim Murray (who was soon to leave for Maui, Hawaii), former Stained Glass member Jim McPherson, drummer David Weber, Gary Phillipet (AKA Gary Phillips (keyboardist), later a member of Bay Area bands Earthquake and The Greg Kihn Band), and Pete Sears. Sears was shortly thereafter replaced by current and longtime Bonnie Raitt bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson who played on the Copperhead LP and stayed with the band for its duration. Copperhead disbanded in mid 1974 after becoming a staple in the SF Bay Area and touring the West Coast, Hawaii (Sunshine Crater Fest on New Years Day of 1973 with Santana), the South (opening dates for Steely Dan) and the Midwest.

In May 1974 Cipollina and Link Wray, whose playing and style had influenced John as a young musician and who he had met through bassist Hutch Hutchinson, performed a series of shows together along the West Coast (with Copperhead rhythm section Hutchinson & Weber and keyboardist David Bloom) culminating at The Whiskey in LA where they performed for four nights (May 15–19) on a bill with Lighthouse (band). Cipollina continued to occasionally perform with Wray for the next couple of years.

In 1975, the Welsh psychedelic band Man toured the United States, towards the end of which, they played two gigs at the San Francisco Winterland (March 21 and 22), which were such a success that promoter Bill Graham paid them a bonus and rebooked them. While waiting for the additional gigs, the band met and rehearsed with John Cipollina, who played with them at Winterland in April 1975. After this, Cipollina agreed to play a UK tour which took place in May 1975, during which their “Roundhouse gig” was recorded.

Rumors that Micky Jones had to overdub Cipollina’s parts, as his guitar was out of tune, before their Maximum Darkness album could be released are exaggerated; only one track, “Bananas”, was to have his track replaced, per Deke Leonard. “Everything … which sounds like Cipollina is Cipollina.”

During the 1980s, Cipollina performed with a number of bands, including Fish & Chips, Thunder and Lightning, the Dinosaurs and Problem Child. He was a founding member of Zero and its rhythm guitarist until his death. Most often these bands played club gigs in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Cipollina was well-known

Cipollina died on May 29, 1989, at age 45. His cause of death was alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a lung disease, which he suffered from most of his life and which is exacerbated by smoking.

Quicksilver Messenger Service fans paid tribute to him the following month in San Francisco at an all-star concert at the Fillmore Auditorium which featured Nicky Hopkins, Pete Sears, David Freiberg, and John’s brother Mario, an original member of Huey Lewis and the News. Cipollina’s one of a kind massive amplifier stack was donated, along with one of his customized Gibson SG guitars, and effects pedals, for display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 1995.

Posted on 1 Comment

Paul Kantner 1/2016

Paul Kantner during Paul Kantner in Concert at Wetlands - 1992 at Wetlands in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Steve Eichner/WireImage)

January 28, 2016 – Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane founding guitarist) was born on March 17, 1941, in San Francisco, California. Kantner had a half-brother and a half-sister by his father’s first marriage, both much older than he. His father was of German descent, and his mother was of French and German ancestry. His mother died when he was eight years old, and Kantner remembered that he was not allowed to attend her funeral. His father sent him to the circus instead. After his mother’s death, his father, who was a traveling salesman, sent young Kantner to Catholic military boarding school. At age eight or nine, in the school’s library, he read his first science fiction book, finding an escape by immersing himself in science fiction and music from then on. As a teenager he went into total revolt against all forms of authority, and he decided to become a protest folk singer in the manner of his musical hero, Pete Seeger. He attended Saint Mary’s College High School, Santa Clara University and San Jose State College, completing a total of three years of college before he dropped out to enter the music scene.

Continue reading Paul Kantner 1/2016

Posted on Leave a comment

Kevin Ayers 2/2013

Kevin AyersFebruary 18, 2013- Kevin Ayers (Soft Machine) was born August 16, 1944 in Herne Bay, Kent, the son of journalist, poet and BBC producer Rowan Ayers, who later originated the BBC2 rock music program The Old Grey Whistle Test.

After his parents divorced and his mother married a civil servant, Ayers spent most of his childhood in Malaysia, where, he would later admit, he discovered a fondness for the slow and easy life.

At age 12, he returned to Britain and settled in Canterbury. There, he became a fledgling musician and founder of the “Canterbury sound”, an often whimsical English take on American psychedelia that merged jazz, folk, pop and nascent progressive rock. As psychedelic rock songwriter, guitarist and bassist, he was quickly drafted into the Wilde Flowers, a band that featured Robert Wyatt and Hugh Hopper.

Continue reading Kevin Ayers 2/2013

Posted on Leave a comment

Lee Dorman 12/2012

Lee Dorman - Iron ButterflyDecember 21, 2012 – Douglas Lee Dorman was born in St. Louis on September 15, 1942 and moved to San Diego, CA in the mid 1960s.He began playing bass guitar in his teens, he became best known as a member of the psychedelic rock band Iron Butterfly in the second part of the 1960s.

The band formed in 1966 in San Diego, California and signed its first record contract with Atco, a division of Atlantic Records, in 1967, according to the band’s Web site and in early 1968, their debut album Heavy was released. They were represented by the William Morris Agency who booked all their live concerts. The original members were Doug Ingle (vocals, organ), Jack Pinney (drums), Greg Willis (bass), and Danny Weis (guitar). They were soon joined by tambourine player and vocalist Darryl DeLoach. DeLoach’s parents’ garage on Luna Avenue served as the site for their almost nightly rehearsals.

Jerry Penrod and Bruce Morse replaced Willis and Pinney after the band relocated to Los Angeles in 1966 and Ron Bushy then came aboard when Morse left due to a critical family tragedy. All but Ingle and Bushy left the band after recording their first album in late 1967; the remaining musicians, faced with the possibility of the record not being released, quickly found replacements in bassist Lee Dorman and guitarist Erik Brann (also known as “Erik Braunn” and “Erik Braun”) RIP 2003, and resumed touring and then recording the monster album In-a-Gadda-da-Vida.

In terms of sound, the group took inspiration from a variety of sources outside of the rock arena, such as the bongo playing of Preston Epps and the rhythm and blues music of Booker T and the MGs. Around this time, the band notably ran into Led Zeppelin lead guitarist Jimmy Page, who later stated that he used the group as partial inspiration for the name “Led Zeppelin”. In 1969, Led Zeppelin opened for Iron Butterfly at Fillmore East in New York, a fact Dorman was fond of noting.

A commonly related story says that In-a-Gadda-da-Vida was originally “In the Garden of Eden”, but at one point in the course of rehearsing and recording, singer Doug Ingle got drunk and slurred the words, creating the phonetic mondegreen that stuck as the title. However, the liner notes on ‘the best of’ CD compilation state that drummer Ron Bushy was listening to the track through headphones, and could not clearly distinguish what Ingle said when he asked him for the song’s title. An alternative explanation given in the liner notes of the 1995 re-release of the In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida album, is that Ingle was drunk, high, or both, when he first told Bushy the title, and Bushy wrote it down. Bushy then showed Ingle what he had written, and the slurred title stuck.

“In-a-Gadda-da-Vida,” stayed on the national sales charts for two years and became a Top 40 radio hit and the album over time sold more than 30 million copies. The track has been featured in a number of films and television shows, including an episode of “The Simpsons.”

Dorman was an intricate part of the success of that song as he played bass in a style as if it was an equal instrument with the others which many considered an early example of moving from psychedelic rock to heavy metal.

When keyboardist Ingle left the band, due to the grueling tour schedules, Dorman founded another band, called Captain Beyond, in the 1970s. Captain Beyond was a rock group formed in Los Angeles in 1972 by ex-members of other prominent groups. Singer Rod Evans had been with Deep Purple; drummer Bobby Caldwell had worked with Johnny Winter; and guitarist Larry Rheinhart and Lee Dorman came from Iron Butterfly after they broke up. This lineup made their self-titled debut album for the Southern rock label Capricorn in 1972, after which Caldwell was replaced by Marty Rodriguez for their second album, Sufficiently Breathless(1973). Captain Beyond became inactive following the departure of Evans, but was reorganized in 1976. Caldwell returned, and drummer Willy Daffern was added as vocalist for Captain Beyond’s third album, Dawn Explosion (1977), recorded for Warner Bros. Dawn Explosion was Captain Beyond’s final effort.

From 1978 on Dorman continued touring with Iron Butterfly, during the many personnel changes, until he got too sick to do so in the early fall of 2012.

The last keyboard/singer of the band, German born Martin Gerschwitz, who had known Lee Dorman for seven years since he joined the band in 2005, said Mr. Dorman did not have any immediate surviving relatives at the time of his death.
He had suffered from heart problems for some time, a fact that ended his performing career in 2012.

Dorman was reportedly on a heart transplant list when he was found dead in his car, reportedly on his was to a doctor’s appointment, outside his home in Laguna Niguel, California, on December 21, 2012. He was 70 years old.

Posted on Leave a comment

Cass Cassidy 12/2012

ed cassidyDecember 6, 2012 – Edward Claude “Cass” Cassidy was born Harvey, Illinois, a rural area outside Chicago, on May 4, 1923. His family moved to Bakersfield, California in 1931. Cassidy began his career as a professional musician in 1937. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, and after his discharge held many jobs before becoming a full-time musician again. At one time in the late 1940s, Cassidy played 282 consecutive one-nighters in 17 states. He worked in show bands, Dixieland, country and western bands, and on film soundtracks, as well as having a brief stint with the San Francisco Opera.

Way back when rock ’n’ roll was countercultural — before the members of the Rolling Stones were anywhere close to 50 years old, much less celebrating their 50th anniversary together — the genre tended to emphasize rather than bridge generational divides.

So when the experimental group Spirit formed in the late 1960s, it was different not just for the way it fused jazz and rock, or the way it mixed psychedelia with a particularly tight backbeat. It was also different because its drummer was the 44-year-old stepfather of its 16-year-old guitarist, Randy California.

By the time Spirit formed in 1967, Mr. Cassidy had already had a notable and diverse musical career. He had played with jazz musicians including Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan and Cannonball Adderly and had formed a folk-blues group with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder called the Rising Sons.

While Cassidy was performing with other adults, his young stepson, Randy Wolfe, was becoming a fine musician himself. He impressed Jimi Hendrix when they met in a music store in Manhattan, and it was Hendrix who gave Randy the nickname he went by for the rest of his life, Randy California to distinguish him from bass player Randy Texas (Palmer). Hendrix wanted tot take the kid to London, but that was thwarted by Cassidy and soon enough, stepfather and stepson were playing and touring together.

Spirit released more than a dozen albums from 1968 to 1996, but it was the first work that was the most influential and critically praised. Its biggest hit and only Top 40 single, “I Got a Line on You,” was released in 1968; the band was also celebrated for its adventurous 1970 album, “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus.” That record included the song “Mr. Skin,” which was the nickname Mr. Cassidy’s fellow band members had given him in honor of his shaved head.

Bob Irwin, the president and owner of Sundazed Records, which has reissued many Spirit albums and also released previously unissued tracks, said the band’s early recording sessions were “kind of like a jazz history lesson” in which Mr. Cassidy nurtured his much younger colleagues.

“Ed always encouraged them to color outside the box, to take chances onstage, to play to the best of and beyond their abilities,” Mr. Irwin said.

Early reviews were usually complimentary, but critics were less positive several years later, after the band’s lineup changed. (Mr. Cassidy and Randy California remained its only constant members.) The critic Robert Palmer, writing in The New York Times in 1976, singled out Mr. Cassidy from what he said was an otherwise unimpressive performance.

“Mr. Cassidy’s drumming is still exceptional — his obligatory long solo at the end of the set was the subtlest, most musical part of the evening,” Mr. Palmer wrote.

Cassidy succumbed to cancer on Dec. 6, 2012 at age 89.

Posted on Leave a comment

James Gurley 12/2009

james gurley2009 – James Gurley was born on December 22, 1939 in Detroit Michigan, the son of a stunt-car driver, and attended the city’s Cooley high school. His father would sometimes enlist his son’s ­support, strapping him to the bonnet of a car and driving through walls of fire. Gurley had his first encounter with a guitar at the age of 16 when an uncle brought one to his home, but initially he showed no interest. He took up the instrument seriously three years later, at age 19, initially teaching himself the rudiments by listening to recordings of the bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins. In 1962 he moved with his wife Nancy and son to the Bay area in San Francisco.

Continue reading James Gurley 12/2009

Posted on Leave a comment

Marmaduke 7/2009

John “Marmaduke” Dawson

July 21, 2009 – Marmaduke aka John Collins Dawson IV was born on June 16th 1945 in Detroit. The son of a Los Altos Hills, California filmmaker, he took guitar lessons from Mimi Fariña, Joan Baez’s sister, before attending the Millbrook School near Millbrook, New York. While at Millbrook, he took courses in music theory & history and sang in the glee club.
After stints at Foothill College and Occidental College, Dawson’s musical career began in the mid-1960s folk and psychedelic rock music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area.

He soon became part of the of Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, a jug band that included Jerry Garcia and several other future members of the Grateful Dead. It is here where he also met fellow guitarist David Nelson.

John “Marmaduke” Dawson had original tunes in his pocket and a guitar in his hands in 1969 when a buddy just learning to play pedal steel guitar often joined his weekly gig at the Underground, a San Francisco Bay Area hofbrau house. The friend was Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, and those sessions set the stage for the New Riders of the Purple Sage, a group they considered “the original psychedelic cowboy band.”

John decided that it was his life’s mission to combine the psychedelia of the San Francisco rock with his beloved electric country music and by 1969, he had written a number of country rock songs, so with Jerry Garcia the two began playing coffeehouse concerts together while the Grateful Dead was off the road.

By the summer of ’69 John and Jerry decided to form a full band, David Nelson was recruited from Big Brother to play electric lead guitar, Robert Hunter on electric bass and Grateful Dead Mickey Hart on drums. This was the original line-up of the band which became known as the New Riders of the Purple Sage.

In 1970 and 1971, the New Riders and the Grateful Dead performed many concerts together. John also appeared as a guest musician on three Grateful Dead albums — Aoxomoxoa, Workingman’s Dead, and American Beauty and he co-wrote the Dead’s “Friend of the Devil”.

Buddy Cage replaced Jerry Garcia as the New Riders’ pedal steel player, John and David Nelson led a gradually evolving lineup of musicians in the New Riders of the Purple Sage, playing their psychedelic influenced brand of country rock and releasing a number of studio and live albums.

In 1982, David Nelson and Buddy Cage left the band. John Dawson and the New Riders carried on without them, taking on more of a bluegrass influence with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Rusty Gauthier to the group. John continued to tour with the band and released the occasional album, until their eventual retirement in 1997 when John relocated to Mexico to become an English teacher and made several guest appearances at the revival of the New Riders concerts in the mid 2000s onwards.

He died in Mexico from stomach cancer on July 21, 2009. He was 64.

• Rob Bleetstein, archivist for the New Riders, wrote in an e-mail, “Dawson’s songwriting brought an incredible vision of classic Americana to light with songs like ‘Glendale Train’ and ‘Last Lonely Eagle.’ “

• With that material and such other “wonderful” Dawson songs as “Garden of Eden” and “Henry,” the band “simply had to become a reality,” claimed Dennis McNally, a Grateful Dead publicist.

Posted on Leave a comment

John “Mitch” Mitchell 11/2008

MitchMitchell-630-85November 12, 2008 – Mitch Mitchell was born on 9 July 1947 in Ealing, west of London. He started life in show business as a child actor on the TV series “Jennings At School”.

His love for jazz and pop music drove him to become a musician. Mitch’s main influences in music were Max Roach and Elvin Jones, teaching himself on the drums, he mixed jazz and rock styles, which later became known as “fusion”, of which he was a pioneer. In the early days he found work as a session player and worked with groups such as Johnny Harris and the Shades, the Pretty Things and the Riot Squad and in 1965 he began playing with Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames.

Continue reading John “Mitch” Mitchell 11/2008

Posted on Leave a comment

Martin Fierro 3/2008

Martin FierroMarch 13, 2008 – Martin Fierro was born on January 18th 1942.

Unlike the famous, but epically somber poem by Argentinian poet José Henriquez published in two parts, El Gaucho Martín Fierro(1872) and La Vuelta de Martín Fierro (1879 Martin Fierro was a magnificent and funny Session saxophone player in the San Francisco Bay Area who was also known as “the Meester” to his many loving fans.

Continue reading Martin Fierro 3/2008

Posted on Leave a comment

Buddy Miles 2/2008

buddy-milesFebruary, 26, 2008 – George Allen ”Buddy” Miles, Jr. (Band of Gypsies) was born on September 5, 1947 in Omaha, Nebraska. Buddy’s father played upright bass for the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, and Dexter Gordon and by age 12, Miles Jr. had joined Miles Sr. in his touring band, The Bebops. In 1964, at the age of 16, Miles met Jimi Hendrix at a show in Montreal, Canada, where both were performing as sidemen for other artists.

“He was playing in the Isley Brothers band and I was with Ruby & The Romantics,” Miles remembered, adding: “He had his hair in a pony-tail with long sideburns. Even though he was shy, I could tell this guy was different. He looked rather strange, because everybody was wearing uniforms and he was eating his guitar, doing flip-flops and wearing chains.” Continue reading Buddy Miles 2/2008

Posted on Leave a comment

John Locke 8/2006

August 4, 2006 – John Locke (Spirit, Nazareth) was born on September 25, 1943 in Los Angeles, California. His father was a classical violinist and his mother sang operas and was a composer. In 1967 he formed the Red Roosters with guitarist Randy California. Later that year they had changed the name to Spirit Rebellious and signed a record deal for four albums under the jazz/hard rock/progressive rock/psychedelic band Spirit name.

The group’s first album, Spirit, was released in 1968 and “Mechanical World” was released as a single. John appeared on their next eight albums and remained involved with the band during most of his career.

When Randy California went solo, band members Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes formed Jo Jo Gunne, while Ed Cassidy and John briefly led a new Spirit, recording the album Feedback in 1972 with Al and Chris Staehely.

Continue reading John Locke 8/2006

Posted on Leave a comment

Arthur Lee 8/2006

arthur lee of love with jimi hendrixAugust 2, 2006 – Arthur Lee (Love) was born Arthur Taylor Porter on March 7, 1945 in Memphis, Tennessee. During his parents’ divorce proceedings in early 1950, Lee and his mother packed their things and took a train to California, while his father was at work.

Lee’s first musical instrument was the accordion, which he took lessons from a teacher. He adapted to reading music and developed a good ear and natural musical intelligence. While he was never formally taught about musical theory and composition, he was able to mimic musicians from records and compose his own songs. Eventually, he persuaded his parents to buy him an organ and harmonica. Graduating from High School, Lee’s musical ambitions found opportunities between his local community and classmates. As opposed to attending a college under a sports scholarship, he strived for a musical career. His plan of forming a band was under the influence of Johnny Echols,(lead guitarist for LOVE, after seeing him perform “Johnny B. Goode” with a five-piece band at a school assembly.

Continue reading Arthur Lee 8/2006

Posted on Leave a comment

Syd Barrett 7/2006

July 6, 2006 – Roger ‘Syd’ Barrett (Pink Floyd) was born on January 6th 1946 in Cambridge, England.  His parents were Dr. Max and Mrs. Win Barrett). Roger was the fourth of five children, the others being Alan, Don, Ruth and Rosemary. The young Roger was actively encouraged in his music and art by his parents – at the age of seven he won a piano duet competition with his sister – and he was to be successful in poetry contests while at high school.

Max died when Roger was 15 and his diary entry that day consisted of one single line: “Dear Dad died today.” The loss cost him dearly. Three days later he wrote to his girlfriend Libby that “I could write a book about his merits – perhaps I will some time.” Continue reading Syd Barrett 7/2006

Posted on Leave a comment

Pierre Moerlen 5/2005

pierre-moerlenMay 2, 2005 – Pierre Moerlen (Gong) was born on October 23, 1952 in the French Alsace Wine region.  The third of five children, his father Maurice Moerlen was a famous organist (one of his teachers was Maurice Duruflé) and his mother was a music teacher. All five Moerlen children learned music with their parents and all became musicians. Pierre’s younger brother, Benoît Moerlen, is also a percussionist (he worked also with Gong and Oldfield).

In January 1973, Pierre joined Daevid Allen‘s band, Gong, as percussionist, debuting on the Angel’s Egg album.

In June 1973 he was asked by Virgin’s boss Richard Branson to play percussion with Mike Oldfield for the premiere of Tubular Bells.

Continue reading Pierre Moerlen 5/2005

Posted on Leave a comment

Spencer Dryden 1/2005

Spencer Dryden with Grace SlickJanuary 11, 2005 – Spencer Dryden was born in New York City on April 7, 1938. His father, a British actor and director, was a half-brother of Charlie Chaplin but Dryden carefully concealed his relationship to his celebrious uncle, preferring his talents to stand on their own merits, rather than on any potentially nepotistic influences of his uncle Charlie’s name.

His parents divorced in 1943, but Spencer fondly recalled playing at his famous uncle’s Hollywood studio as a child. In the late 40s Spencer became friends with jazz fan Lloyd Miller also born in 1938 and living down the street on Royal Boulevard in Rossmoyne in Glendale. Miller said they should start a band and encouraged Spence to play drums. Since Spence didn’t have a drum set, Miller fashioned Dryden’s first drum by thumb tacking an old inner tube over a wooden barrel with no ends. Miller would pump his player piano, play cornet or clarinet and Spence would bang out beats on the drum.

Continue reading Spencer Dryden 1/2005

Posted on Leave a comment

Mel Pritchard 1/2004

Mel PritchardJanuary 28, 2004 – Mel Pritchard was born in Oldham, Lancashire, England on January 20th 1948.

Mel and lifelong friend Les Holroyd were together at Derker Secondary Modern school where they joined a school band, then went on to form Heart and Soul and Oldham blues-rock band called The Wickeds. The band gained a good reputation playing semi-professional gigs. After adding two members from a rival band, the Keepers, the group emerged as Barclay James Harvest in 1966.

Continue reading Mel Pritchard 1/2004

Posted on Leave a comment

Skip Spence 4/1999

skip spenceApril 16, 1999 – Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence was born on April 18, 1946 in Windsor Ontario, Canada. His parents moved to San José, California in the mid 1950s where his father found work in the aviation industry, having been a decorated bomber pilot during the war.

He was given a guitar by his parents at the age of 10. A precocious talent, he also played the drum in his school band, a skill which would come in handy when, having moved to California in the late fifties, he dived into the burgeoning hippie scene of the Bay Area.
Spence had already been approached to join Quicksilver Messenger Service as a guitarist when he bumped into Jefferson Airplane singer Marty Balin at the Matrix, a San Francisco club also used as a rehearsal room. Dissatisfied with the drummer Jerry Peloquin, who was only in so the group could use his apartment in Haight Ashbury, the frontman offered the drumming stool to Spence, who looked the part. Spence jumped at the chance and joined a Jefferson Airplane line-up which also featured the guitarists Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen and singer Signe Toly Anderson. “It’s No Secret”, the Airplane’s first single, was released in February 1966, just as Jack Cassidy replaced the original bassist Bob Harvey.

Spence stayed with the Airplane for over a year and contributed several songs (notably “Blues From An Airplane”) to their debut album, entitled Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, eventually issued by RCA Records later that year. Further personnel changes saw Anderson quit to have children and Grace Slick, formerly lead vocalist with the Great Society, take over, bringing with her “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love”, two seminal compositions which became the Airplane’s first hits and true flower-power anthems. Anderson coincidentally died last January on the same day Airplane founding member Paul Kantner passed away.

By the time these million-selling singles reached the US Top Ten in 1967, Spence, who felt his songwriting was being eclipsed by the other members’ (though his “My Best Friend” was included on Surrealistic Pillow, the group’s second album), had stopped attending rehearsals and was dismissed in favor of Spencer Dryden, who was dating Slick at the time. At the same time, the Jefferson Airplane switched their management to a local concert promoter Bill Graham, leaving Matthew Katz in the lurch.

Katz kept Spence on his books and hatched a plan to form a band around him in San Francisco. He asked the guitarist Peter Lewis and bassist Bob Mosley to come up from Los Angeles to see if they fitted in. Adding a drummer, Don Stevenson, and guitarist, Jerry Miller, the group, Moby Grape, started to rehearse and instantly found a distinctive sound, blending three guitar parts, vocal harmonies and distinctive compositions of all five members, with Spence often at the helm. “Skippy was always `high’ on this other level,” said Peter Lewis in the sleeve notes to a 1993 compilation, Vintage: The Very Best of Moby Grape.

He recalled:
His mind was always churning with stuff. It was hard for him to sit and talk. He didn’t deal in words but in ideas. He was the most unique songwriter I’d ever heard. Like in “Indifference” on the first album, the way he changed keys right in the middle of the song. Skippy was definitely not copying anybody I’d ever heard. Yet it always came out great.

The name Moby Grape reflected the crazy times. According to Jerry Miller,
Skip and Bob (Mosley) went out to have a little lunch and they came back laughing like crazy with a name for the band. They were thinking of this joke: what’s purple and swims in the ocean? So they came back in and said: Moby Grape, we’ll just be Moby Grape. That’s how it happened. We all laughed and got along with that pretty good. Our manager liked Bentley Escort because it related to Jefferson Airplane and Strawberry Alarm Clock but we hated that one. Moby Grape sounded good and it was made up by the band. Skippy appeared to be crazy but he was crazy like a fox. He was a full- on Aries, laughing all the time.

After two months of solid rehearsals in Sausalito, the group played the Fillmore in San Francisco in November 1966 and instantly started a bidding war between record companies. “When I first saw them play,” remembers David Rubinson, the A&R man who won the battle and signed the group to Columbia, “I knew this was a band that could go around the country, around the world and really kill!” Sam Andrews, guitarist with Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin) was full of praise too. “You guys are better than the Beatles,” he told Lewis.

Indeed, the quintet’s debut album, simply entitled Moby Grape, remains a classic of its time, worthy of inclusion alongside The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Love’s Forever Changes, also released in 1967. Unfortunately, an over-eager record company and inept manager conspired to oversell the group with a lavish launch in June at the Avalon Ballroom during which thousands of purple orchids fell from the ceiling. The next day, Miller, Lewis and Spence were found in Marin County with three under-age girls and duly arrested, though charges were later dropped.

Columbia also simultaneously issued five singles from the album when they should have been concentrating on the stunning “Omaha”, a Spence composition which nevertheless crept into the Top 100. Moby Grape reached No 24 on the LP charts (though drummer Don Stevenson’s raised finger had to be erased from the sleeve). ” `Omaha’ was pure Spence energy,” declared David Rubinson later.
He was the maniacal core of the band, the guy who would say fuck it, let’s do it anyway. He was an idiot savant. He couldn’t add a column or figures, couldn’t pay a check in a restaurant. But he saw things in a clear light. He could see through immediately to the truth of what was going on.

The truth was that the five members didn’t get on. “Six months after we met, we were rock stars. That was horrible,” admitted Lewis. Later that year, following abortive sessions in Los Angeles, the group were sent to New York to complete Wow, the follow-up album, which made the Top Twenty. The relocation seemed to have pushed Spence, who consumed psychedelic drugs at an alarming rate, over the edge. Considering that the singer had howled “Save me, save me!” when recording a demo of “Seeing”, the others should have seen the writing on the wall. One day in 1968, Spence went looking for them with an axe. He was jailed and committed to the Bellevue Hospital for six months.
The four remaining musicians attempted to carry on, even touring the UK, despite becoming embroiled in a dispute with Katz, who claimed all rights to the Moby Grape name and put together a bogus version of the band which played the ill-fated 1969 Altamont gig. The legal dispute would rumble on for years; the original group members attempting to reform even resorted to calling themselves Maby Grope or Legendary Grape.

Following his discharge from hospital in 1968, Spence went to Nashville and in four days recorded the dark and whimsical Oar, a truly solo album on which he played every single instrument. Over the years, this record gained something of a cult following and, after its reissue on CD in 1993, was even the subject of a “Buried Treasure” feature in Mojo magazine. By then, Spence had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and had been in and out of mental institutions for most of the Seventies and Eighties. Sometimes, he managed to rejoin his former cohorts but, more usually, he would contribute the odd track to one of their albums before disappearing again.

Spence wrote some music for an episode of the revived television series The Twilight Zone and the X-Files film, but neither score was used. He struggled on with various illnesses and, before his death, heard More Oar, a tribute album assembled by the likes of Tom Waits, Robert Plant, Wilco, and Michael Stipe of REM.

It was with Moby Grape however, that Spence found his greatest musical fame, writing among other songs, “Omaha”, from Moby Grape’s first album in 1967, a song identified in 2008 by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the 100 greatest guitar songs of all time.

Mental illness, drug addiction and alcoholism prevented him from sustaining a full time career in the music industry. He remained in and around San Jose and Santa Cruz, California.

Alexander Lee “Skip” Spence, singer, songwriter, guitarist, drummer and married father of three sons and one daughter, died from lung cancer in Santa Cruz, California on April 16, 1999. He was 52.

Below video is dedicated to one of the greatest psychedelic rock bands to emerge from the San Francisco underground scene, yet who shared in very little of the fame and fortune many of the other SF bands did. Nevertheless, today they are hailed as one of the most influential and iconic rock bands of the psychedelic period. The group was formed in late 1966 by drummer Skip Spence of the original Jefferson Airplane (back when Signe Anderson was still sharing the lead vocals with Marty Balin, a year before leaving and being replaced by Grace Slick). Spence ditched his drum sticks and played rhythm guitar for the new group which consisted of a guitar trio that switched taking turns on lead, often on the same song (much like The Buffalo Springfield). The result was absolutely WILD … and I mean WILD! Dancers went crazy on the discotheque floor keeping in time with the fast-paced frenzy of Moby Grape’s guitar-playing nirvana. Bliss on speed. 

The LP, Moby Grape, was released on June 6, 1967. This video is of the Grape’s song “Omaha” .. probably their most popular tune. In recent years, “Omaha” has been listed as number 95 in Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time”. Released as a single, along with four other singles from the album simultaneously, it peaked at #88 on Billboard and #70 on Cash Box on July 29, 1967 (it debuted on Cash Box with a big red bullet at #72 with a strong upwards surge predicted, but dropped off the chart completely a week after reaching #70 .. the times were so fickle!). Sit back and for the next few minutes enjoy the way it was: Moby Grape and “Omaha”!

Posted on Leave a comment

Randy California 1/1997

Randy California 1979January 2, 1997 – Randy Craig Wolfe aka Randy California was born on 20 February, 1951.

Jimi Hendrix gave him the name Randy California, to distinguish him from Randy Texas, who also played in Jimi’s backing band the Blue Flames, during his 1966 New York stint. His real name was Randy Craig Wolfe and he was lead guitarist and one of the founders of the Psychedelic Rock Band “Spirit” who gained worldwide recognition for songs like “Fresh Garabage”, “Mechanical World” and ‘Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus’ which introduced us to Mr. Skin.

Continue reading Randy California 1/1997

Posted on 1 Comment

Jerry Garcia 8/1995

Jerry Garcia300August 9, 1995 – Jerry Garcia was the frontman/guitarist for the most famous psychedelic jamband in the history of Rock and Roll: the Grateful Dead.

Jerome John Garcia is born on August 1, 1942 in San Francisco, CA to Jose Ramon “Joe” Garcia and Ruth Marie “Bobbie” Garcia, joining older brother Clifford “Tiff” Ramon. “My father played woodwinds, clarinet mainly. He was a jazz musician.”

In 1947 a wood chopping accident with his older brother at the Garcia family cabin causes Jerry to lose much of the middle finger on his right hand at the age of five. That winter, Jerry’s father drowns while on a fishing trip.

Continue reading Jerry Garcia 8/1995

Posted on Leave a comment

Dino Valenti 11/1994

dino valentiNovember 16, 1994 – Dino Valenti was born Chester “Chet” William Powers Jr on October 7, 1937 in Danbury CT to Carnival entertainment parents. He became known by the stage name “Dino Valenti” and as a songwriter he was known as Jesse Oris Farrow in the Greenwich Village folk music scene. His first claim to fame came after he wrote the famous 1960s song “Get Together”, the quintessential 1960s love-and-peace anthem.

In first years of the 1960s, he performed in Greenwich Village coffeehouses such as the Cock ‘n’ Bull/Bitter End and the Cafe Wha?, often with fellow singer-songwriter Fred Neil, and occasionally with Karen Dalton, Bob Dylan, Lou Gossett, Josh White, Len Chandler, Paul Stookey (Peter, Paul and Mary) and others. He influenced other performers including Richie Havens, who continued to perform some of Powers’ early “train songs”. Powers was prevented from acquiring a cabaret license due to an earlier arrest, a requirement that was beginning to be imposed on Village entertainers at the time.

Moving west was the only route left for him, and upon arriving there, he became a member of the band Big Sur in the LA area and later received greatest acclaim as the lead singer of San Francisco psychedelic rock group Quicksilver Messenger Service.

He played in an early line-up of the Quicksilver Messenger Service when John Cipollina, David Freiberg, and Jim Murray all joined this group in 1964. He later rejoined the group as its lead singer and main songwriter. He was busted for marijuana and amphetamines on several occasions and unfortunately had to sell the publishing rights to his greatest composition GET TOGETHER, to pay for legal defense.

In 1970 he tried with fellow bandmate Gary Duncan to start a band called “the Outlaws” which however went nowhere. Back in the Quicksilver fold he wrote eight of the nine songs on the group’s next album, Just for Love (August, 1970), six of them under the pseudonym of “Jesse Otis Farrow”. He remained the primary songwriter on their next album, in December, What About Me?. Despite occasional personnel changes the band released Quicksilver (1971) and Comin’ Thru (1972) before calling it quits. The 2-LP Anthology was issued in 1973 and a tour and album, Solid Silver, appeared in 1975.

Dino underwent brain surgery for an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) in the late 1980s. In spite of suffering from short-term memory loss and the effects of anti-convulsive medications, he continued to write songs and play with fellow Marin County musicians. His last major performance was a benefit at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall on July 27 sometime in the late 80s.

He died unexpectedly at his home in Santa Rosa, California on November 16, 1994, although his younger sister mentioned on his website that Dino was getting bored with life around him and was ready for something new. “The night he died, he called a lot of people…some of whom he hadn’t talked to in quite a while.  It’s my understanding that it was all casual conversation, no revelations, or profundity, or theatrics, but more like he was saying hello one final time.  I think, just as the Phoenix knows, he knew that his time was at hand, and being the “Gypsy soul” that he was, must have felt that such an event was about to take place.  I think, too, that he grew weary of his “home” on this planet, and he felt he had done the best he could here, and was ready to try something else – see the next place, meet the next people, and move on.  After all, Dino was a carnie.

Posted on Leave a comment

Papa John Creach 2/1994

Papa John CreachFebruary 22, 1994 – Papa John Creach (Jefferson Airplane) was  born in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania on May 28th 1917.

He began playing violin in Chicago bars when the family moved there in 1935, and eventually joined a local cabaret band, the Chocolate Music Bars. Moving to L.A. in 1945, he played in the Chi Chi Club, spent time working on an ocean liner, appeared in “a couple of pictures”, and performed as a duo with Nina Russell.

In 1967, Creach met and befriended drummer Joey Covington. When Covington joined the Jefferson Airplane in 1970, he introduced Creach to them, and they invited him to join Hot Tuna. Though regarded as a session musician, he remained with the band for four years, before leaving in 1974 to join Jefferson Starship and record on their first album, Dragon Fly. Creach toured with Jefferson Starship and played on the band’s hit album Red Octopus in 1975. Around 1976, Creach left to pursue a solo career. Despite this, he was a guest musician on the spring 1978 Jefferson Starship tour.

A year later, Creach renewed his working relationship with Covington as a member of the San Francisco All-Stars, as well as with Covington’s Airplane predecessor, Spencer Dryden, as a member of The Dinosaurs. He also continued occasional guest appearances with Hot Tuna, and was on stage at the Fillmore Auditorium in 1988 when Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen of Hot Tuna reunited with Paul Kantner and Grace Slick for the first time since Jefferson Airplane disbanded.
In 1992, he became one of the original members of Jefferson Starship – The Next Generation and performed with them until he succumbed to congestive heart failure on February 22, 1994.

Papa John sadly suffered a heart attack during the ’94 Northridge California earthquake on January 17th. This led to him contracting pneumonia, from which he died a month later) He was 76 years old when he died on 22 February 1994.

Posted on Leave a comment

John Cipollina 5/1989

john-cipollinaMay 29, 1989 – John Cipollina. He and his twin sister Michaela were born August 24, 1943 in Berkely, California, into what he described as a musical family. (There is also another sister, Antonia, and a brother, Mario who was the bass player in Huey Lewis and the News.) Cipollina’s mother, Evelyn, was an opera singer, a protege of the classical pianist Jose Iturbi, who became the twins’ godfather. Cipollina was born with chronic asthma and had to be held upright to fall asleep. (It was a condition that would not prevent him from becoming a chain smoker, however.) In his infancy, he lived in San Salvador and Guatemala, moving to Mill Valley, California, when he was six.

Naturally, the first instrument Cipollina was taught to play was the piano, as early as the age of two, but he began to be attracted to the guitar in his early teens. He recalled riding in the car with his mother and hearing Mickey and Sylvia’s “Love Is Strange” on the radio. “I look over at my mother and I go, ‘What’s that?’” he said, “and she goes, ‘It’s an electric guitar.’” Cipollina had heard acoustic guitars and amplified guitars, but never an electric guitar, and never the single note lines of Mickey Baker. “I really identified with it,” Cipollina said. “I thought, ‘You just said the ‘F word,’ without saying any words. Nobody in my family could bend a note on a keyboard. I thought, ‘God, that’s really cool!’”

Before long, Cipollina was absorbing the playing of Scotty Moore, James Burton and Link Wray, though at his parent’s insistence, he took classical lessons for a short time. “I drove this guy nuts,” he said of his instructor, “because everything I wanted to do, he didn’t want me to do. Then after I had thoroughly snowed my parents, I went out and got an electric guitar and completely forsaked everything else.”

Cipollina was in his first band, the Penetrators, by 1959. “It was more of a gang than a band,” he said. The gang played the popular rock’n’roll of the time – Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino – at high school dances.

But as the ‘50s gave way to the early ‘60s, rock faded in favor of folk music. Cipollina, now about to turn 20, and in a band called the Deacons, didn’t change his style. “Folk music was hip and cool and avant-garde,” he said “and I’m still a rocker. I’m still punking around. I’ve still got my long shirt on and I got my dark glasses.” Along with his black Dan-Electro guitar, it wasn’t a look that went down well at hootenannies.

Cipollina took up playing what he called the “steak and lobster” circuit, handling requests for “Girl From Ipanema,” while, in the daylight hours, trying to become a real estate salesman. Meanwhile, his living arrangements had become unusual. “I hung out with a bunch of crazy flamenco guitar players in a troupe,” he said. “I was living in a huge ferry boat with 11 other people and we were paying a little under $3 a month rent – we were still late on the rent!”

In 1964, Cipollina finally began to run into people who wanted to play rock’n’roll many of them coming out of the folk movement. There was Chet Powers (who changed his name to Dino Valenti and, later, Jessy Oris Farrow), a budding songwriter who wrote “Get Together” and was managed by disc jockey and record company owner Tom “Big Daddy” Donahue. And there was Jim Murray, a harmonica player who learned guitar.

It was Valenti who organized the group. “I can remember everything Dino said,” Cipollina recalled. “We were all going to have wireless guitars. We were going to have leather jackets made with hooks that we could hook these wireless instruments right into. And we were going to have these chicks, backup rhythm sections, that were going to dress like American Indians with real short little dresses on and they were going to have tambourines and the clappers in the tambourines wer going to be silver coins. And I’m sitting there going, ‘This guy is going to happen and we’re going to set the world on its ear.’” The next day, Valenti was arrested for possession of marijuana. He would spend the better part of the next two years in jail.

As Valenti went into jail, David Freiberg, a folk guitarist friend of his, who had been in a band with Paul Kanter and David Crosby, got out. “We were to take care of this guy Freiberg,” Cipollina said, and though they had never met before, Freiberg was added to the group. The band also added Skip Spence on guitar, and began to rehearse at Marty Balin’s club, the Marix. Balin, in search of a drummer for the band he was organizing, soon to be called Jefferson Airplane, convinced Spence to switch instruments and groups.

It was this odd circumstance, however, that led to the gelling of Cipollina’s band, since Balin, to make up for the theft, suggested they contact drummer Greg Elmore and guitarist-singer Gary Duncan, formerly of a group called the Brogues. This new version of the band had its first paying gig in December 1965, playing for the Christmas party of the comedy troupe the Committee.

The band gained financial backing from the Committee’s management, which in turn was working with Bill Graham, then part of the Mime Troup, and so Quicksilver Messenger Service became one of the early bands featured at the San Francisco dances that Graham promoted in 1966.

How the name Quicksilver Messenger Service came about

“Jim Murray and David Freiberg came up with the name,” said Cipollina. “Me and Feiberg were born on the same day, and Gary and Greg were born the same day; we were all Virgos and Murray was Gemini. And Virgos and Geminis are all ruled by the planet Mercury. Another name for Mercury is Quicksilver. Quicksilver is the messenger of the gods, and Virog is the servant. So Freiberg says, ‘Oh, Quicksilver Messenger Service.’”

By this time, of course, Valenti was finally out of jail, but according to Cipollina, he passed on rejoining the group he had started unless Elmore and Duncan were dropped. The band declined.

The quintet of Cipollina, Murray, Freiberg, Duncan, and Elmore became one of the top San Francisco bands, headlining over such contemporaries as the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms in 1966 and 1967, and even playing at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. But unlike the other bands, Quicksilver delayed signing a record contract.

“We didn’t want to sign,” said Cipollina, explaining that, early on, the group had gotten a bad taste in its mouth about record companies since it felt it had not received support from Donahue and his Autumn Records, and had then been rejected by other companies. By 1966 and 1967, when the major labels were coming to San Francisco with their checkbooks, “we didn’t need them,” Cipollina said. “We had no use for them, and we were unsigned. And we were making more money. We would make double the money of the guys who had the record contract.

“We watched everybody else. We watched the Dead, who used to be a fairly funny band, and they were happy-go-lucky, groovin’ kind of guys. And we’d come by and we’d see them getting’ real serious and talking about having to pay back the company. And we watched Jefferson Airplane. They got a record contract and they were just hustling all of the time. Somebody gives you a whole bunch of money one day, and the next day you owe all this money back.”

Reasonable as this sounds, it meant that Quicksilver was not heard on record until after the first blush of publicity and notoriety about San Francisco and the Summer of Love had already passed. They never had the chance to ride that wave to national popularity, as Jefferson Airplane did in the summer of 1967, and, as it turned out, they didn’t stick around long enough to build a loyal mass following, as the Dead did.

The group finally signed to Capitol Records in the fall of 1967, at which time Murray quit. He did stay around long enough to work on the first recording sessions, which produced two songs used on the soundtrack for the film Revolution, issued in March 1968.

It was as a quartet, however, that Quicksilver recorded their first album at the end of 1967. “The first album was the easiest because we didn’t know any better,” Cipollina said. “We didn’t know what constituted making an album. I had lots of trouble in the old days. In those days, when you would record, they had a huge red light, a hundred-watt lightbulb sitting on a floor stand, that would light up ominously when the record button was on. Besides, they had a sign outside that said, ‘Recording. Do Not Open This Door.’ And every time that red light would go on, I would just freeze up. It took me a couple of days to convince these guys, ‘You gotta just get rid of that light, man! I don’t want to know what’s going on!’”

Released in May 1968, Quicksilver Messenger Service featured “Pride Of Man,” a former folk song written by Hamilton Camp (since reclaimed for folkies by the Washington Squares) and a 12-minute song by Duncan and Freiberg called “The Fool.” Rolling Stone, the arbiter of all things from San Francisco at the time, pronounced the album too derivative of the Electric Flag, though it was complimentary toward Cipollina’s playing. The album entered the Billboard charts on June 22, and reached #63, staying in the charts for 25 weeks, a better showing than the Grateful Dead’s Anthem Of The Sun, but far below Jefferson Airplane’s Top 10 Crown Of Creation, and Big Brother And The Holding Company’s chart-topping Cheap Thrills.

Cipollina’s remarks indicate a vast preference for playing live over studio work, a common opinion among San Francisco musicians of the time. Accordingly, the band’s second album, Happy Trails, was recorded live in the fall of 1968. “Live recording was easy,” Cipollina said. “The second album was live, and it was a piece of cake. I think it was probably the best album we ever did, for that reason.”

But there were other problems. “The band started to fall apart during that one,” Cipollina said. “Gary Duncan quit the band as soon as we started recording it, which took a lot of the fire out of the band.” Surprisingly, Duncan hooked up with Valenti, who had released a solo album in 1968.

Happy Trails was released in the spring of 1969. It entered the charts on March 29 and rose to #27, far better than the first album (and roughly the same showing as the band’s next three albums would have). It has come to be remembered as the band’s best work. Even critic Dave Marsh, who is dismissive of Quicksilver, was impressed. “The group made only one noteworthy record, Happy Trails,” he wrote in The Rolling Stone Record Guide in 1979, “which catches them live, at their peak, on versions of ‘Who Do You Love’ and ‘Mona.’ Both tracks feature guitar extravaganzas by John Cipollina that are among the best instrumental work any San Francisco band did.”

Unfortunately, Quicksilver was not able to capitalize on their popular and critical success. “After we did the Happy Trails album, we took a year off,” Cipollina said. “This is when trios were happening, but we were not a power trio. Elmore could cover. Elmore loves trios. But Freiberg is not a trio bass player and I’m not a trio guitar player. ‘Cause, like a trio guitar player’s gotta use all six strings, which is something I’ve never gotten around to doing.”

To fill out the sound, Quicksilver surprisingly added keyboards. “I wanted a piano player.” Cipollina explained. “Quicksilver was the only band I had ever played in without keyboards. And I decided that we wanted (British session ace) Nicky Hopkins, even though I had never met the guy. I didn’t know anything about him; I decided that’s who we needed and the band went along with it. Nicky and I became real good friends and we ended up doing the third album, Shady Grove.” The album was recorded I the fall of 1969 and issued at the start of the new year.

Rolling Stone approved of the new sound. “The old Quicksilver was immediate, instrumentally flashing and frenzied,” wrote Gary Von Tersch. “The Quicksilver on Shady Grove has had its collective head turned around by Nicky Hopkins. The result is a more precise, more lyrical, and more textured Quicksilver.” It was also a short-lived Quicksilver, at least in this exact configuration.

“Quicksilver was slated to play at the New Year’s gig at Winterland, ’69-70,” Cipollina said, “but by this time we were a little hesitant, because we had no singer other than David and we really had trouble writing songs. It took us a year to get the material for Shady Grove together. And of course the company wanted us to do more and more originals and we had more and more trouble doing that.

“When we got Nicky, now we had a full sound, but we didn’t really have the singers. Who comes back in town but Dino and Gary, and they heard our record. Everybody thought that we hated each other, so we said, ‘Let’s prove ‘em wrong. Let’s all go down there as friends.’ And Dino, of course, was always meant to be an original member of the band, and never was, and we thought, ‘How cool to go down and do a show. We’ll just blow everybody out.’ It was a one-shot thing. We went down, and we played the New Year’s show with us and the Dead, and we did so good that before the night was over, Graham had hired us to play at the Fillmore East the following week. And the Dead were setting up a tour and they asked us to come as a headliner. And it just seemed like a natural. So, out of that one gig, Dino and Gary were back in the band.”

This happy state of affairs lasted five months, until May 1970, when the band went to Hawaii and cut what turned out to be its next two albums, Just For Love and What About Me, albums dominated by the songs of Valenti (or Jesse Farrow, as he was called for contractual reasons).

“We started having differences,” Cipollina said. “First of all, I found out that the difference between a four-piece band and a six-piece band is I had less and less to do. And due to the music that we were doing, which was more folk-oriented than I was used to and very simple, there was less and less playing for me to do. So I just sat around and did less playing.”

Cipollina found other places to play. “Nicky turned me on to doing sessions,” he said, “which was not a cool thing. Being in the band was kind of like being married. And playing with somebody else was like cheating on your spouse. I can remember coming in one day after I had done a Brewer and Shipley track. I came into rehearsal and I got the cold stares and the cold shoulders. And finally, somebody said, ‘So you played with Brewer and Shipley!’ Like, ‘How could you,’ you know? ‘You’re sleeping on the couch tonight!’

“I got it put to me that, ‘Well, do you wanna play in a band, or do you wanna do sessions?’ I left Quicksilver (officially) October 5, 1970. Nicky and I left about May. That’s when the showdown came. But then we had obligations, so I ended up doing two more national tours up till October.”

Just For Love had been released in the summer of 1970, and What About Me came out at the start of the new year. Feiberg left the band in 1971 to join Paul Kanter and Grace Slick. Valenti, Duncan and Elmore carried on as Quicksilver for two more albums.

As for Cipollina, “I ended up doing about four years in the studio where basically that was all I did,” he said. “In fact, there was a magazine I read some place that quoted me, I was like at one time the busiest session man in San Francisco. Which is real misleading, anyway, ‘cause San Francisco isn’t that big of a recording town. But I was the busiest session man; I was working every day.”

Cipollina also put together a new band, Copperhead, that featured, at various times, Jim McPearson on keyboards, Hutch Hutchinson on bass, Pete Sears on bass and keyboards, Gary Phlippet on guitar, keyboards and vocals, and Dave Weber on drums. “I started looking for new directions, because I was so burned out at that time with the San Francisco bands,” Cipollina said. “At first, we were all fighting for individuality, and we fought so hard that we were stereotyped. I thought, man, if I see another pair of Levis with patches on the knees, and if I see another guitar with an STP sticker on it, I’m gonna puke. I started looking for something fresh.

“We were an early punk band. In fact, the term ‘punk rock’ was coined for one of the early reviews that Copperhead got, late ’70, early ’71. It was a San Francisco critic, in disdain, who said, well it’s not really San Francisco rock, and it’s not really hard rock, its’ kind of punk rock. And I thought, that looks good, that’s us. We did have a real bad attitude which I was really proud of. It might not have been commercial, but it was definitely more professional.”

Copperhead never got a chance to find out how commercial it might be. The group released an album on Columbia Records in May 1973, the same month that label president Clive Davis, who had signed them, was fired. “They’re cleaning out (Davis’s) desk,” Cipollina said, “and they find this contract for $1,350,000, and they went, ‘Who are these guys?’ So they killed the act. They printed, as far as I know, 60,000 units and that was just accidentally. And then they stopped it. And that was it. In fact, we talked to some booking agents and I found out later that CBS threatened them. They said, ‘If you book Copperhead we’ll take off every CBS act you got.’ They made sure we didn’t work. So by ’74 we just kind of drifted; there was no sense in it.”

But Copperhead was far from Cipollina’s only project at the time. He had met Terry Dolan shortly after his breakup with Quicksilver, and played in Dolan’s band, Terry and the Pirates, until his death. “I got my first time running in with Terry and my last session I did with Quicksilver back in 1970,” Cipollina said. “Nicky had already left Quicksilver and he was producing this guy Terry Dolan. I had just left PHR (Pacific High Recording) studios. We were doing the last overdubs on the What About Me album. And then I ended up going to Wally Heider’s studio.

“I remember I got in a jam with (Jerry) Garcia and Jorma (Kaukonen) and a bunch of bozos. It was just one of those things you do when you don’t want to go home, you know? It was about four in the morning and I’m almost ready to go home now. I got a call from Nicky saying, ‘Hey, come on over, man, I’m over at Lone State Recorders. You ought to come over here, it’s a lot of fun. I’m doing a session. We’d really like you to put a track down or two.’ So I went over there and that’s how I ran into Terry. And then he kept doing sessions and then somewhere along the line, I guess it was after Copperhead, or during Copperhead, he decided to do some gigs. They were real easy and it was a lot of fun. After Copperhead, I ended up playing a lot in Terry and the Pirates. And then of course I went and did the Man thing.”

Man, a Welsh band led by Mickey Jones, Terry Williams and Deke Leonard, had been heavily influenced by Cipollina. “They came to San Francisco and they were big fans and they wanted to meet me,” he said. “So I went in and I met them and they immediately accused me of not being me. I didn’t live up to their expectations at all. They said, ‘Aw, you can’t be him. How tall are you?’ And I said, ‘I’m five-nine.’ And they said, ‘Everybody knows Cipollina’s at least six-two to six-four.’ I said, ‘Bullshit.’ They said, ‘We’ve seen pictures of Quicksilver. He’s a big, tall guy.’ And I actually showed them my license.

“I had never had anybody accuse me of not being me before. It was weird. Deke Leonard said, ‘Well, if you’re Cipollina, here, play something like him. And I don’t know how ‘he’ plays, you know? So we did a jam and I guess I passed.” Cipollina played with the band at the Winterland in San Francisco, and agreed to return with them to England. He appeared on their Maximum Darkness album, released in 1975. but the association was short-circuited by a call from home.

“We were just about to go to Spain,” Cipollina said, “and I got a call from the States saying, ‘Hey, we got Quicksilver back together.’ Before I’d left, somebody had asked me if I would ever play with Quicksilver again. And I was very explicit. I said, ‘Yes, but only if it was the original musicians and you got everybody to agree with it.’ So I went back and did the Quicksilver reunion (Solid Silver), and then did two tours coast to coast with the band.” The album, which came out in the fall of 1975, was only a moderate seller, peaking at #89, and the Quicksilver reunion proved a temporary affair.

Still working with Dolan and doing sessions, Cipollina moved on to a new band project, organized in a typically offhand way. “I had gotten involved at a party with a bunch of L.A. bigwigs and we were all under the influences of whatever,” he said. “We were quite egotistical, including myself. And somebody said, ‘Do you write songs?’ ‘Oh, yeah, I write, sure, you bet!’ ‘Well do you got any new material?’ ‘You bet! I just spit ‘em out, man, like gum.’ And they said, ‘Well, God, we gotta get you in the studio, love to hear your stuff.’ So, three years later, they finally said, ‘Come on, are you gonna go in or not?’ And at the time I had a couple of tunes that I had written and I was ready to put down and I had to pull a band together.

“So I got members of the last three bands that I had worked with, who were Quicksilver, Copperhead, and Terry and the Pirates. And I put Raven together in the beginning of ’76. I went in the studio and cut a bunch of my stuff and we had so much fun in the studio, we looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, let’s do some gigs. Come on, what do you say?’ And that’s how Raven started, and then it just got to be crazy. We only did about four gigs.”

Though recorded in 1976, the resulting Raven album would not be released until 1980, and then on the German Line Records label. Cipollina sold the Raven album to Line while on a tour of Germany with Nick Gravenites, the blues-rock singer, who had produced and played with Quicksilver. It was one of many tours he would undertake with Gravenites, another association that lasted until his death.

Along with his work with Dolan and Gravenites, Cipollina continued to do extensive studio work throughout the 1980s, and to play in San Francisco-based bands in a bewildering profusion. Bands like Thunder and Lightning and Problem Child, with whom Cipollina frequently played on the Bay Area club circuit, never recorded. But other bands, such as the Ghosts, the post-Grateful Dead band led by Keith and Donna Godchaux, did make records. The Ghosts metamorphosed into the Heart of Gold Band after Keith Godchaux’s death and, eventually, into Zero, which issued an album on Relix Records in 1987. Another major affiliation for Cipollian was the Dinosaurs, a band consisting of former members of various San Francisco bands, including former Country Joe And The Fish guitarist Barry Melton, that eventually issued an album on Relix in 1988.

Despite this activity, Cipollina was in declining health. He was sidelined for three months in 1988 due to respiratory problems. When traveling, he reportedly used wheelchairs in airports because he couldn’t walk long distances. The steroids prescribed by doctors for his disease weakened his hip bones, forcing him to use crutches offstage, and he usually sat while playing. Of course, performing in smoke-filled clubs was bad for his health, but he refused to stop playing, even completing a tour of Greece with Gravenites this spring. On Monday, May 29, 1989 he was rushed to Marin General Hospital after an asthma attack. He died in the later evening hours.

Cipollina was cremated and his ashes were spread on Mt. Tamalpais in San Francisco on June 1. He had been scheduled to play with Thunder and Lightning at the Chi Chi Club in San Francisco on June 2, and Gravenites and his band Animal Mind, joined by Mario Cipollina and Greg Elmore, played a tribute show instead. But no one in the room could have played guitar like John Cipollina. No one ever did. Rolling Stone Magazine rated him nr. 32 on the list of best guitar players.

Posted on Leave a comment

Keith Godchaux 7/1980

July 23, 1980 – Keith Richard Godchaux (The Grateful Dead) was born on July 19th 1948 born in Seattle, Washington, but grew up in Concord, California where he commenced piano lessons at five at the instigation of his father (a semiprofessional musician) and subsequently played Dixieland and cocktail jazz in professional ensembles as a teenager.

According to Godchaux, “I spent two years wearing dinner jackets and playing acoustic piano in country club bands and Dixieland groups… I also did piano bar gigs and put trios together to back singers in various places around the Bay Area…playing cocktail standards like ‘Misty’ the way jazz musicians resentfully play a song that’s popular – that frustrated space… I just wasn’t into it… I was looking for something real to get involved with – which wouldn’t necessarily be music.” He met and married former FAME Studios session vocalist Donna Jean Thatcher in November 1970.
The couple introduced themselves to Jerry Garcia at a concert in August 1971; ailing keyboardist/vocalist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (who would go on to play alongside Godchaux from December 1971 to June 1972) was unable to undertake the rigors of the band’s next tour. At the time, Godchaux was largely supported by his wife and irregularly employed as a lounge pianist in Walnut Creek, California. While he was largely uninterested in the popular music of the era and eschewed au courant jazz rock in favor of modal jazz, bebop, and swing, several sources claim that he collaborated with such rock acts as Dave Mason and James and the Good Brothers, a Canadian trio acquainted with the Grateful Dead.

According to Godchaux, “I first saw the Grateful Dead play with a bunch of my old lady’s friends who were real Grateful Dead freaks. I went to a concert with them and saw something I didn’t know could be really happening… It was not like a mind-blowing far out, just beautiful far out. Not exactly a choir of angels, but some incredibly holy, pure and beautiful spiritual light. From then on I was super turned-on that such a thing existed. This was about a year and a half ago, when I first met Donna… I knew I was related to them.” He was also known to Betty Cantor-Jackson, a Grateful Dead sound engineer who produced James and the Good Brothers’ debut album in 1970.

Although the band had employed several other keyboardists (including Howard Wales, Merl Saunders and Ned Lagin) as session musicians to augment McKernan’s limited instrumental contributions following the departure of Tom Constanten in January 1970, Godchaux was invited to join the group as a permanent member in September 1971. He first performed publicly with the Dead on October 19, 1971 at the University of Minnesota’s Northrup Auditorium.

After playing an upright piano and increasingly sporadic Hammond organ on the fall 1971 tour, Godchaux primarily played acoustic grand piano (including nine-foot Yamaha and Steinway instruments) at concerts from 1972 to 1974. Throughout this period, Godchaux’s rented pianos were outfitted with a state-of-the-art pickup system designed by Carl Countryman. According to sound engineer Owsley Stanley, “The Countryman pickup worked by an electrostatic principle similar to the way a condenser mic works. It was charged with a very high voltage, and thus was very cantankerous to set up and use. It had a way of crackling in humid conditions and making other rather unmusical sounds if not set up just right, but when it worked it was truly brilliant.” The control box also enabled Godchaux to use a wah-wah pedal with the instrument.

He added a Fender Rhodes electric piano in mid-1973 and briefly experimented with the Hammond organ again on the band’s fall 1973 tour; the Rhodes piano would remain in his setup through 1976. Following the group’s extended touring hiatus, he primarily used a baby grand piano in 1976 and early 1977 before switching exclusively to the Yamaha CP-70 electric grand piano in September 1977. The instrument’s unwieldy tuning partially contributed to the shelving of the band’s recordings of their 1978 engagement at the Giza Plateau for a planned live album.

Initially, Godchaux incorporated a richly melodic, fluid and boogie-woogie-influenced style that intuitively complemented the band’s improvisational approach to rock music; critic Robert Christgau characterized his playing as “a cross between Chick Corea and Little Richard.” According to Garcia in a 1980 interview with Mark Rowland conducted shortly before Godchaux’s death, “Keith is one of those guys who is sort of an idiot savant of the piano. He’s an excellent pianist, but he didn’t really have a concept of music, of how the piano fit in with the rest of the band. We were constantly playing records for him and so forth, but that wasn’t his gift. His gift was the keyboard, the piano itself.” Bassist Phil Lesh lauded his ability to “fit perfectly in the spaces between our parts,” while drummer Bill Kreutzmann was inspired by his “heart of music.”

Increasingly frayed from the vicissitudes of the rock and roll lifestyle, Godchaux gradually became dependent upon various drugs, most notably alcohol and heroin. Throughout the late 1970s, he was frequently embroiled in violent domestic scuffles with Donna, who also developed an alcohol use disorder.

Following the Grateful Dead’s 1975 hiatus, he largely yielded to a simpler comping-based approach with the group that eschewed his previously contrapuntal style in favor of emulating or ballasting Garcia’s guitar parts. Despite occasional flirtations with synthesizers (most notably a Polymoog during the group’s spring 1977 tour), this tendency was foregrounded by the reintegration of second drummer Mickey Hart, resulting in a heavily percussive sound with little sustain beyond Garcia’s leads. During this same period, Godchaux’s playing in the Jerry Garcia Band — which had fewer instrumentalists and hence a more “open” sound — retained more elements of his earlier work with the Grateful Dead.

In early 1978, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir began to perform slide guitar parts with an eye toward variegating the group’s sonic palette, with Weir concluding that “desperation is the mother of invention.” Garcia biographer Blair Jackson has also asserted that “the quality of Keith’s playing in the Dead fell off in ’78 and early ’79. It no longer had that sparkle and imagination that marked his best work (’72-’74). Much of what he played in his last year was basic, blocky, chordal stuff. I don’t hear many wrong notes, but he’s not exactly out there on the edge taking chances and pushing the others, as he frequently did, in his own quiet way, in his peak Grateful Dead years. I guess the worst thing you could say about later-period Keith is that he was just taking up sonic space in the Dead’s overall sound. Did this affect the others? No doubt, though it can’t be measured.”

Eventually, according to Donna Jean Godchaux, “Keith and I decided we wanted to get out and start our own group or something else – anything else. So we played that benefit concert at Oakland [2/17/79], and then a few days later there was a meeting at our house and it was brought up whether we should stay in the band anymore…and we mutually decided we’d leave.” The Godchauxes were replaced by keyboardist/vocalist Brent Mydland.

During his tenure with the Dead, his only lead vocal was “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away,” from Wake of the Flood (1973). It was performed live six times, all in 1973. Keith and Donna Godchaux issued the mostly self-written Keith & Donna album in 1975 with Jerry Garcia as a member of their band. The album was recorded at their home in Stinson Beach, California, where they lived in the 1970s. A touring iteration of the Keith & Donna Band with Kreutzmann on drums and former Quicksilver Messenger Service equipment manager Stephen Schuster on saxophone frequently opened for Grateful Dead-related groups in 1975, allowing Garcia to sit in on several occasions. Following the dissolution of this ensemble, the Godchauxes performed as part of the Jerry Garcia Band from 1976 to 1978. “Six Feet of Snow,” a collaboration with Lowell George of Little Feat, was featured on the latter group’s Down on the Farm (1979); George had recently produced the Grateful Dead’s Shakedown Street (1978).

After Godchaux’s departure from the Grateful Dead, he cleaned up and remained in the band’s extended orbit, performing alongside Kreutzmann in the Healy-Treece Band (a venture for Dan Healy, the band’s longtime live audio engineer) and on at least one occasion with lyricist Robert Hunter. He also formed The Ghosts (later rechristened The Heart of Gold Band) with his wife; this aggregation eventually came to include a young Steve Kimock on guitar.

Godchaux sustained massive head injuries in an automobile accident while being driven home from his birthday party in Marin County, California, on July 21, 1980. He died two days later at the age of 32.

In 1994, he was inducted, posthumously, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Grateful Dead.

A much more revealing story titled:

How Keith Joined the Dead

 On September 17, 1971, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan went into the hospital, seriously ill and near death. The Dead were faced with a dilemma – just a month later, a midwest tour was to start in Minneapolis. Would they go on without a keyboard player? The decision was made quickly. From September 28, we have our first tape of their rehearsals with Keith Godchaux.
What happened in between?

From the Dead’s perspective, Godchaux came out of nowhere. They had several other keyboard players they had been working with, who could have joined:
Ned Lagin had played on American Beauty, and guested with them at the Berkeley shows in August ’71, along with several other ’71 shows and backstage experiments. But as far as we know, he wasn’t considered, or turned them down.
He mentions in his interview with Gans, “That fall I went back to Boston for graduate school. Brandeis gave me a fellowship that included all expenses, plus recording tape and all sorts of stuff to work with in their electronic music studio.” Many college students wouldn’t think twice between the option of another year at school or joining the Grateful Dead; but Lagin was on his own path. (Ironically, he became unhappy with Brandeis and soon dropped out, to resurface on a later Dead tour…)

Merl Saunders, of course, was playing with Garcia all the time, plus he had done studio overdubs on several songs for the Dead’s 1971 live album that summer. But if they asked him, he was not interested. In later interviews, he sounds like he preferred the independence & freedom to work on his own projects.
When he was asked why he hadn’t joined the band in 1990, he said, “I’ve always done my own thing. Before the Dead, I was working with Lionel Hampton, Muhammad Ali, Miles Davis. Why would I want to work in the Dead and just be the way they worked?” He was proud of doing music theater: “During the late ’60s, I was doing a Broadway play in New York at the George Abbott Theatre. I was musical director for…Muhammad Ali. So those are the things that if I was with the Grateful Dead, I couldn’t do. I played with Miles Davis for about a year. The Lionel Hampton Band. Did a lot of recording with Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne. I wanted to be myself and go the direction I wanted. Although I did record with the Dead. But when they asked me to come in and do their thing — to join them — I didn’t really want to join the band. When it’s Grateful Dead time you have to do a Grateful Dead thing.”
His associations with these other people may have been very brief in real life, but it should be noted he was much prouder of his work with them than any work he could have done with the Dead.

Howard Wales had also played on several songs on American Beauty, and had jammed with the band back in ’69, and had a close personal connection with Garcia – although he hadn’t played the Matrix club dates with Garcia for a year. The Dead even planned to play a benefit with him at the Harding Theater on September 3-4, 1971:

It’s not known whether this benefit actually happened (probably not). But McNally tells the story of Wales auditioning with the Dead around this time. Weir (no doubt rolling his eyes) recalled: “We spurred him towards new heights of weirdness and he spurred us towards new heights of weirdness…much too weird much too quick…everybody backed off, scratched their head and said, ‘Well, maybe, uh, next incarnation.'”
Apparently Wales’s free-flowing weirdness, which Garcia enjoyed fitting into, was a bit too strong for a band that was now more focused on shorter ‘normal’ songs. Garcia would soon get the chance to play some more with Wales in the January ’72 east-coast tour supporting the Hooteroll release. (I would imagine Lesh might also have liked to play with Wales more – back in ’69 he had complained to Constanten: “Phil pointedly remarked how much he preferred Howard Wales’s playing when he sat in with the band.”)
On the other hand, from Wales’ perspective, the Dead might have been a little too big for him. He had apparently stopped playing at the Matrix when too many people started coming to see Garcia! John Kahn remembered, “One night there were a lot of people out there, and Howard realized that that’s not what he wanted to do, and he stopped doing it.” Garcia also said, “Howard went off…periodically he gets this thing of where he just can’t deal with the music world any more, and he just disappears.”

Of course there were plenty of other keyboard players around San Francisco who might have auditioned. It was Godchaux, though, who showed up at just the right moment and grabbed the baton.
Keith & Donna Godchaux, who’d married in November 1970 shortly after her first Dead show, were both already Dead fans. Donna had gone to the 10/4/70 Winterland show (drug-free), taken by some deadhead friends, and had quite an experience. As she said in a Relix interview, “The Grateful Dead came on, and it was more than music…I just could not even believe it. I had not taken anything, and I was just blown away.” She told Blair Jackson, “I couldn’t sleep that night because I was so excited. I kept thinking, ‘What did they do? How did they do that?’ They weave a spell. There’s this whole mystical energy that happens when you see the Grateful Dead and you’re ready to receive it. I was ready to receive it, and I got it. So every opportunity, every rumor that we heard that they might be playing, there we were… We’d all go see the Dead together, or at the very least get together and listen to Dead records.”
One of these friends of friends turned out to be Keith, who was also in these Dead listening parties. As he said in the Book of the Dead in ’72, “I first saw them play with a bunch of my old lady’s friends who were real Grateful Dead freaks. I went to a concert with them and saw something I didn’t know could be really happening… It was not like a mind-blowing far out, just beautiful far out. Not exactly a choir of angels, but some incredibly holy, pure and beautiful spiritual light. From then on I was super turned-on that such a thing existed. This was about a year and a half ago, when I first met Donna… I knew I was related to them.”

As it happened, they were introduced almost simultaneously to the Dead and to each other, and soon married. Getting connected with the Dead took a little longer, but surprisingly, in hindsight neither of them had any doubt it would happen.
Donna: “I had a dream that it was supposed to happen. It was the direction our lives had to go in. The only direction.”
Keith: “It had to happen. I knew it had to happen because I had a vision… Flash: go talk to Garcia… I wasn’t thinking about playing with them before the flash. I didn’t even try to figure out what the flash was…I just followed it, not knowing what was going to happen. I wasn’t playing with anyone else before that. Just playing cocktail lounges and clubs.”

He played jazz piano & cocktail music in a Walnut Creek club, but was just starting to get into rock & roll. As Donna said, “Keith would practice his rock & roll piano at home, and I was basically supporting the two of us.” He’d had no rock experience at all, and apparently listened to little rock music. Though he’d played with small jazz bands before, he was tired of bar gigs: “When other kids my age were going to dances and stuff, I was going to bars and playing… I was completely burned out on that. Then I floated for about six months, and then ended up playing with the Grateful Dead.”
He’d played piano in club bands since he was 14: “I spent two years wearing dinner jackets and playing acoustic piano in country club bands and Dixieland groups… I also did piano bar gigs and put trios together to back singers in various places around the Bay Area…[playing] cocktail standards like Misty the way jazz musicians resentfully play a song that’s popular – that frustrated space… I just wasn’t into it… I was looking for something real to get involved with – which wouldn’t necessarily be music.” (Getting a job was out of the question: “I could never see working during the day, and nobody would hire me for anything, anyway.”)
Considering what he would play later, it’s surprising that when his jazz trio went “in the Chick Corea direction,” Keith decided “I didn’t really have any feeling for that type of music,” and instead listened to big-band jazz, Bill Evans, and bebop: “the musicians the guys I was playing with were emulating… After gigs we’d go to somebody’s house and listen to jazz until the sun came up. They dug turning me on to bebop and where it came from. So I understood those roots, but I never got taken on that kind of trip with rock and roll – and I never had the sense to take myself on it.”
Until he met Donna, who turned him on to rock & roll. He sighed in ’76, “I’m just now starting to learn about the type of music I’m playing now… I never played rock and roll before I started playing with the Grateful Dead.” (Shades of Constanten!)
The interesting thing is that when he saw the Dead, he thought they needed more energy: “When I’d heard them play a couple of times, they really got me off; I was really high. But there were still a lot of ups and downs. Like [they] didn’t quite have the strength to pull the load…”

As far as I know, all the accounts of Keith’s joining the Dead come from Donna’s story – as told to Blair Jackson for the Golden Road magazine in 1985. The turning point came during a visit to their friends Pete & Carol (who had introduced them and turned them on to the Dead, and so played a hidden part in Dead history).
“One day I came home from work and we went over to Pete’s and he said, ‘Let’s listen to some Grateful Dead.’ And Keith said, ‘I don’t want to listen to it. I want to play it.’ And it was like, ‘Yeahhh! That’s it!’ We were just so high and in love! We said to Pete & Carol, ‘Hey guys, we’re going to play with the Grateful Dead!’ And we really believed it. We had no doubt.
We went home, looked in the paper and saw that Garcia’s band was playing at the Keystone, so we went down, of course. At the break, Garcia walked by going backstage, so I grabbed him and said, ‘Jerry, my husband and I have something very important to talk to you about.’ And he said, ‘Sure.’
…I didn’t realize that everyone does that to him. So Garcia told us to come backstage, but we were both too scared, so we didn’t. A few minutes later, Garcia came up and sat next to Keith, and I said, ‘Honey, I think Garcia’s hinting that he wants to talk to you. He’s sitting right next to you.’ He looked over at Jerry and looked back at me and dropped his head on the table and said, ‘You’re going to have to talk to my wife. I can’t talk to you right now.’ He was just too shy. He was very strong but he couldn’t handle that sort of thing. So I said to Jerry, ‘Well, Keith’s your piano player, so I want your home telephone number so I can call you up and come to the next Grateful Dead practice.’ And he believed me! He gave me his number.
The following Sunday the Dead were having a rehearsal and Jerry told us to come on down, so we did. But the band had forgotten to tell Jerry that the rehearsal had been called off, so Jerry was down there by himself. So Keith and Jerry played, and we played him some tapes of songs that I had written and was singing on. Then Jerry called Kreutzmann and got him to come down, and the three of them played some. Then the next day the Dead practiced, and by the end of that day Keith was on the payroll.
They asked me to sing right away, but somewhere in my ignorant wisdom I said I wanted to Keith to do it first, so he did two tours and I stayed home… So Keith and I went into it as green and innocent as we could be. I’d never sung before an audience before, really, and Keith had done only very small gigs.”
She also pointed out to Relix that “Keith and I didn’t know that Pigpen was sick or anything.”

McNally has but a few details to add:
He notes (from a different Donna interview) that after meeting Jerry, she tried calling the Dead’s office a few times with no luck – “she called the office and left several messages, but was ignored. Finally she got him at home.” So it may have been a more circuitous path between the first meeting and the rehearsal, but in Donna’s memory it was about a week.
He identifies the Dead’s rehearsal space as “a warehouse off Francisco Boulevard in San Rafael.” (The tapes of Keith’s rehearsals are labeled as being from an unknown location in Santa Venetia – but Santa Venetia is basically a neighborhood of San Rafael, so it is likely the same place. Possibly they could have moved to a studio to tape some of the sessions, though.)
And he says that “Keith and Donna played Garcia a song they’d written, Every Song I Sing.”
Donna told Blair Jackson, “When Keith and I first got together, we wrote some music that we wanted to be meaningful and spiritual. We wanted to write music to the Lord, because it didn’t seem like there was much out there that was spiritual. But when we heard the Grateful Dead…it seemed to have such spiritual ties. It had a quality that was magical, ethereal, spiritual, and that’s part of what was so attractive about it.”
What’s interesting here is that they’re playing Garcia THEIR music, in order to convince him of their rightness for the band. And there does seem to have been a spiritual tie – this moment prefigures not just Keith’s time with the Dead, but the later Keith & Donna band with Garcia sitting in, and the Garcia Band circa ’76 with Keith & Donna, bringing gospel music into the shows. (I think she has mentioned how she, Keith & Jerry would listen to lots of gospel music at home circa ’76.) So they hit Garcia with just the right note.

Blair Jackson observes that Keith had also played on a James & the Good Brothers record (a band the Dead were friends with) – Kreutzmann played drums on one track, and the album was recorded by Betty Cantor, so Keith may not have been a complete unknown to Garcia. (On the other hand, Keith is not mentioned in the album credits, so it’s a mystery where Jackson got this info.)

In early 1972, the Dead had a little promotional flurry, releasing a few band biographies for the press & fans. These offer a less detailed, but slightly different course of events. The Dead’s spring ’72 newsletter recounted:
“Pigpen was extremely ill, and unable to travel. Jerry had about this same time met Keith Godchaux, a piano player he and Billy had jammed with at Keystone Korner, a small club in San Francisco. With Pigpen sick, three major United States tours facing them, and the desire to have another good musician to add to their music, Keith was asked to join.”

Promo bios of each of the bandmembers released at the same time include this about Keith:
“After jamming with Jerry and Billy at a small club, and getting together with the Dead to work out some tunes, he joined the band in September of 1971.”
Keith was also quoted in the Book of the Dead: “We went into this club in San Francisco where Garcia was playing, and just talked to him. A couple of days later I was playing with him and Bill, and it just sort of came together.”

While these bios are brief and lacking in detail (Donna’s role is not mentioned at all), they were written only a few months later, so they should be taken into account.
The first surprise is to read that Keith had jammed with Jerry & Bill at the Keystone. This seems to have entirely slipped Donna’s memory! Is it possible there was a “lost” Jerry & Keith jam at the Keystone sometime in September ’71?
(Perhaps someone mixed up the Keystone and the rehearsal space – either way, Jerry & Bill jammed with Keith before the rest of the band did.)
It’s also a curious detail that Keith initially got with the Dead “to work out some tunes.” This is frustratingly vague – it may mean nothing; or it may mean that the initial intention was not to actually join the Dead.
Keith confirms that no time passed between meeting and playing: “a couple of days later…” This is even briefer than in Donna’s account!

This brings up the question of just which was the Keystone show where Keith & Donna met Garcia. He had a couple shows with Saunders in this month:
Tuesday, Aug 31
Thursday, Sept 16
The 16th has been considered the most likely date, since it’s closest to Keith’s first rehearsals. Note that Pigpen went into the hospital the next day. Donna remembered the Dead rehearsal being scheduled for “the following Sunday,” but the Dead canceled and only Jerry came. I have to think that, if it was Sunday the 19th, due to the sudden turmoil of Pigpen’s illness, it seems unlikely Jerry & Bill would have jammed with anyone that day. (It also may explain why Donna had a hard time reaching Jerry on the phone that week, though there doesn’t seem enough time for multiple phone calls.)
But note: the jerrysite lists the New Riders playing the Friends & Relations Hall in San Francisco on Sept 17-19, which wouldn’t preclude daytime rehearsals. And Keith did say he played with Garcia just a couple days after meeting him.
Or, if Donna’s memory is right, possibly Sunday the 26th was the first day Keith played with Jerry. This seems superhuman, though – it means his first day with the full Dead would have been the 27th. Our first rehearsal tape comes from the 28th, and it by no means sounds like Keith’s second day with the band. In fact, it sounds like he’s already settled in. (Not only that, it would mean they lost no time in taping rehearsals with the new guy, in fact starting immediately. Pretty speedy, for the Dead!)

So while it’s possible that Keith only started playing with the Dead near the end of the month, I think it’s also possible that he’d met Garcia on 8/31, and perhaps even jammed with him & Kreutzmann a time or two at Keystone Korner; and rehearsals may have started earlier than we think. The Dead may have been considering a new keyboard player even before Pigpen succumbed, and if Keith had already been playing with Garcia informally, their next candidate was right in front of them. (We don’t know how poor Pigpen’s health was in early September, but the Dead may have been aware before 9/17 that he was in decline.)
Or perhaps the Dead initially saw Keith as a temporary stand-in, a Hornsby-like figure until Pigpen could be eased back in. It would’ve become obvious pretty soon, though, that Keith was born to play with the Dead.
Or, the traditional story could be true: the Dead suddenly discovered after the 17th that they needed a new player; Garcia met one that very week, and they snatched him up immediately; and he learned all their songs in a week or less. Serendipity in action…

A closer listen may reveal more, but for now it sounds to me like there is not one attempt to teach Keith a single new song in these rehearsal tapes, only practiced run-throughs of already-learned songs. Very few songs even stumble or break down. At least when they rolled the tapes, Keith was ready to go on every song. This suggests that at the least, there were more than one or two days of rehearsal before these tapes were made.
Admittedly, Keith was quite familiar with the Dead’s music before playing with them; also, some of these songs were as new to the Dead as they were to Keith!
Lesh was quite impressed with Keith: “He was so brilliant at the beginning. That guy had it all, he could play anything… It’s like he came forth fully grown. He didn’t have to work his way into it.”
Lesh wrote in his book that in the first rehearsal, “all through the afternoon we played a whole raft of Grateful Dead tunes, old and new. That whole day, Keith never put a foot (or a finger) wrong. Even though he’d never played any Grateful Dead tunes before…[he] picked up the songs practically the first time through…everything he played fit perfectly in the spaces between [our] parts.”
Kreutzmann later told Blair Jackson, “I loved his playing. I remember when we auditioned him. Jerry asked him to come down to our old studio and the two of us threw every curveball we could, but he was right on top of every improvised change. We just danced right along on top. That’s when I knew he’d be great for the band. He was so inventive – he played some jazz stuff and free music that was just incredible. He had a heart of music.”
Manager Jon McIntire remembered when he first heard about Keith: “I saw Garcia and asked him what it was about, and he shook his head, very amazed, and said, ‘Well, this guy came along and said he was our piano player. And he was.'”

Surprisingly to anyone who ever saw him, Keith said in ’72 that “what I’ve contributed to the band as a whole is an added amount of energy which they needed, for my taste… I have a super amount of energy. I’m just a wired-up person and I relate to music super-energetically… The part of their music which I played fit in perfectly, like a part of a puzzle.”

It’s notable that Keith plays both piano and organ equally during the rehearsals. (Possibly the first instrument he played with Garcia was the organ, though I don’t think Keith had any experience with it; at any rate, organ was the Dead’s first choice for many of the new songs.) Over the course of the tour, though, he gradually dropped the organ altogether, and played it only rarely thereafter. When he is on piano during these rehearsals, the honky-tonk sound from many fall ’71 shows is very clear.

Our tapes come from several days – they’re cassette copies with variable mixes and shifty sound quality. (Note that on some tracks Keith can hardly be heard, being too low in the mix.) – Keith mostly on organ – Keith mostly on piano – very little Keith can be heard – compilation; Keith mixed up on some tracks – bootleg comp; different mixes, sometimes very trebley, but Keith comes out more (for instance Brokedown #2, where he takes over)

The Keith highlight is the first few tracks of 9/30, with Keith in full barrelhouse mode. It’s also interesting to hear him on organ on songs like Jack Straw, Tennessee Jed & Truckin’ on 9/29. (There’s also an oddly assertive moment before Cold Rain & Snow on the compilation, where Keith channels Keith Jarrett for a little solo riffing.)
There are almost no jams here, just straight songs (there is a short, interesting band jam on 10/1, and a rehearsal of the Uncle John’s jam on 9/29). I would guess there must have been more rehearsals over the next couple weeks (they had to have tried out some of the ‘deep’ jams), but no more tapes have come forth. Perhaps the Dead did not bother recording more improvisational jams.

We know Garcia gave Keith a batch of live tapes that had been recorded at the August shows, so Keith would also have been able to listen & practice the songs at home before his 10/19/71 live debut. Not that he did!
From a note on the Dick’s Picks 35 “Houseboat Tapes”: “In the late summer of 1971, just before Keith Godchaux began rehearsals with the Dead, Garcia handed him a big box of tapes and said, “Here, this is our most recent tour. Learn our music.” The irony was that Donna Jean doubts mightily Keith ever bothered to listen to them – he’d never listened to the Dead all that much before he auditioned… In any case, he left the tapes on his parents’ houseboat in Alameda, and there they stayed.”
In fact, in one interview with Lemieux it was speculated that Keith never even took the reels out of their box. But it makes sense – when you can rehearse with the band each day, there’s little need to check out their tapes.

So Pigpen stayed at home until December, while Keith went out and surprised Dead audiences. (Some were thrilled, others dismayed.) This was the second time Pigpen had been replaced by another player; but he probably took it in stride, as he had more serious things to worry about. He was still eager to rejoin the Dead, though, and went back on tour perhaps sooner than was wise. Lesh later felt guilty about this: “It would have been better for him if we’d just canceled the tour and let him recover all his strength at his own pace… It was agreed that Pig would rejoin the band when he felt up to it. Without realizing it, we put a lot of pressure on him to hurry up and get better.”
That was the band’s pattern, though, as the future would reveal – they wouldn’t cancel a tour no matter who was dead or dying. (And though no one knew it, Pigpen was likely beyond recovery by that point anyway.) Though he didn’t necessarily live for the road, Pigpen’s identity was bound up with the band, and he lashed himself to their mast as long as he could, whatever the cost to himself.
He would not be alone. The years on tour wouldn’t be kind to Keith either – indeed, the damage Dead keyboardists inflicted on themselves would become well-known – but Keith started out feeling cosmically optimistic. “The Dead’s music is absolutely 100% positive influence. When I met them, I knew these were people I could trust with my head. They would never do anything which would affect me negatively… They are righteous people.”