Friday, November 1, 2019

update re 2/19/69

Heads up: I was reading an article about the remnants of a record collection from the 60's commune at Rancho Olompali, which led me roundabout back to Light Into Ashes' post about the 2/19/69 Celestial Synapses show (and some very helpful recent comments), and I was nerdily inspired to updated my own post a bit.  Pictures! Local history!  Hippie entrepreneurs and lurid drug stories!

See here:

Monday, October 7, 2019

Jerry Hahn, Moses, and Merl

courtesy discogs
Jerry Hahn was a guitarist who was active in the 60's San Francisco jazz scene.  His first big gig was with saxophonist John Handy's group (perhaps not well-known to many casual jazz fans today, but Handy was big at the time, having been signed to Columbia by John Hammond), and then with rising star Gary Burton.  Hahn's own debut (Are-Be-In, 1967, for Arhoolie) touched on the same jazz-raga-rock vibe as stuff like Butterfield's East-West, Gabor Szabo's Jazz Raga, or Pat Martino's East.  In 1970, he released the cult-classic The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, by his group of the same name, on Columbia, which to this day has still never been reissued.  The JHB seems to have worked a lot around the Bay Area, and opened for some major acts on the Fillmore circuit, and Hahn also got the call to play on Paul Simon's debut (post-Garfunkel) album.

Three years later, Hahn recorded a 'solo' album, Moses, for Fantasy Records.  The band was his JHB rhythm section -- Mel Graves on bass, George Marsh on drums -- and Merl Saunders as a last-minute addition, on organ and synthesizer.  Moses is a good record, though not one that I personally return to a lot as a whole album.  Stylistically it's a little all-over-the-place: the title cut (which I can listen to all day) is wonderful, a midtempo funky groove with a vibe that would have fit Garcia/Saunders perfectly; ditto the cover of Donovan's "Sunshine Superman."  Hahn's originals have an edgier, fusion/jazz-rock feel; two of them are 'suites' that jump around even more.  Then there are a few 50's-era standards, played well but comparatively straightforward.  It's kind of an odd mix when taken as an entire album, imho.  But all of it is very good.  imho, if they had cut less material and just stretched out more, it might be even better -- most of the tracks are under five minutes.  Like the JHB album before it, Moses has so far never been reissued in any digital form, anywhere.

So what does this have to do with this blog?  I am curious about the brief intersection of Jerry Hahn and Jerry Garcia and am wondering if there was more to it than is generally known.  I am also interested in this album as it relates to Merl Saunders' own involvement with the scene around Fantasy Records.  But there are no concrete conclusions to draw; so for now, consider some inchoate observations:
  • per George Marsh: “[Garcia] had his own group and I met him then and I was in the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood and we played [the Matrix] also ... So one of those times, it was set up that Mel Graves, the bassist, and myself and Merl Saunders played with Jerry one of the nights at the Matrix” (here).  He elaborated in an interview with Jake Feinberg that Saunders played on both of these nights: one night with Marsh, Graves, and Hahn, the next night with Marsh, Graves, and Garcia.  The Chicken On a Unicycle list of Matrix shows (which I realize is both outdated and probably incomplete), don't show Hahn and Garcia ever performing on the same night; there's a back-to-back booking in April 1970 (Garcia Monday night jam on 4/20, Hahn on 4/21-22), but I am pretty sure that Saunders wasn't in the mix at that point [can't be 4/20-21-22; Howard Wales is on the bill for 4/20].  Marsh does dimly recall to Feinberg that he jammed with Howard Wales at one point, but the details are lost.  The JHB also played the Matrix a lot -- 26 times in 1970, according to that list -- so it could easily have been some other time.  At one time, Corry Arnold thought that this Garcia-Saunders-Graves-Marsh performance was that December.  Re: this same general time period, Corry has also speculated whether Hahn might be the mystery guitarist who sat in with the Dead for a brief but unique jam at Winterland on 4/15/70.  Hmm.
  • We do know for sure, however, that the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood played at Pepperland in San Rafael on 12/21/70, along with the New Riders, the very short-lived Crosby-Garcia-Lesh-Kreutzmann ensemble, and, possibly the acoustic Dead (per Michael Parrish's eyewitness account -- with pictures! -- plus more via jgmf).  So that's at least two Garcia/Hahn connections, albeit fairly minor ones for two guitarists who were both pretty busy.
  • The Moses sessions were Jan 8-11, 1973 at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley.  Four sessions seems like a lot of time for an album like this, but what do I know?  Marsh recalls in the Feinberg piece that the group went in as a trio, but recruited Merl in passing to play on the record.  Corry Arnold also relates that "Hahn was set to record at Fantasy as a trio with Marsh and Graves. However, they saw Merl Saunders in the Fantasy cafeteria, and invited him to play on the album," but also that Saunders was recruited by the producer "so that [Hahn] wouldn't go completely off to Mars" -- for what it's worth, however, the back of the record says Hahn produced the album himself -- which may explain why a fairly small-group jazz record took four sessions to record.  
  • Is it possible that Garcia was hanging out at any of these Jerry Hahn sessions with Merl at Fantasy Studios?  Garcia was working on Baron Von Tollbooth with Kantner, Slick & co. on Jan 8-9  (thank you jgmf), but is it possible that Merl mentioned these unplanned studio dates to Jerry, and that Jerry swung by to check it out?  Marsh doesn't say anything about it in the Feinberg interview, so I'm inclined to think not -- but then again, he doesn't mention the Pepperland thing, either, so it's not out of the question.  Given that Jerry circa 1973 seems to have rarely spent an idle day doing something non-musical, it seems conceivable.  Or maybe he was pickin' with Grisman and Rowan on his front porch (pretty likely, actually, per Corry's pre-OAITW timeline), or rehearsing the new batch of Wake of the Flood-era tunes with the Dead, or hanging with Healy and the sound crew working out kinks in the Dead's new PA, or something else entirely.  
  • Or could it also be possible that maybe Merl invited Jerry Hahn to come to the Keystone where Garcia/Saunders were playing on Jan 12th-13th?  or perhaps to some other gig?  There are a lot of Jan 73 Garcia/Saunders show that are unrepresented by any tape, and personnel was still fairly fluid in that group at this point.  Second guitarist George Tickner was added for a few shows that spring, as was singer Sarah Fulcher.
  • It is worth repeating that Merl Saunders was a total pro and a master musician.  Anyone who knows something about Garcia's life outside of the Dead has some understanding of the profound influence that Merl had on Garcia's development as a musician, but I still don't know that many Garcia/Saunders fans listen all that closely to Merl as a soloist -- I don't see much in the way of comment about him, at any rate.  Merl apparently just walked in and played here.  I'm sure it was no sweat for him to reel off standards like "All Blues" and "Joy Spring," or the funk of "Moses," but some of Hahn's stuff is pretty spiky and Merl adds just what is needed.  It is also worth noting that Merl is playing some synthesizer on Moses.  The Jan 73 G/S shows are, I believe, the only times that we hear Merl playing a synth in performance (allowing, again, there are big gaps in our knowledge of many of these shows).  On stage, the effect was a bit underwhelming, but he sounds far more comfortable with the instrument in the studio. 
So I dunno: some speculation, some more insight into the musical prowess of Merl Saunders, some interesting musical digressions.  Never a bad thing.  I would certainly like to learn more about Merl's relationship with Fantasy Records/Studios and the influence, direct or not, that it had on the Garcia/Saunders band -- starting, I presume, with Tom Fogerty, and extending into the general influence that the label's output had on Reconstruction (more later, someday).  But, for now, it's just another piece of the puzzle. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

What good is spilling blood? It will not grow a thing

I would never argue with anyone who says Workingman's or American Beauty, but my favorite Dead studio album for personal listening has always been Blues for Allah.  I feel very at home within the sound of this record.  This afternoon I was feeling at home with it in my Listening Cave (on an LP passed on by a college roommate who did not own a turntable; thanks, Obie) when I noticed that the inner sleeve helpfully provides Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian translations of the title lyric:

Just in case you needed to know. 

Who knows all the lyrics to "Blues For Allah" off the top of their head?  Like nobody, I'll bet.  There are some real Hunter gems are buried in there, though: Let's see with our heart / these things our eyes have seen / and know the truth will still lie / somewhere in between, and so on.

I also had forgotten and/or never knew that the songwriting credits for the instrumental portions of the album are more finely sliced than most heads (or me, at least) probably think:

Every instrumentalist but Mickey got a credit for Slipknot, but it's nice to see that Donna got one for Sand Castles & Glass Camels -- there's a good one for GD Trivia Night.

The thousand stories have / come round to one again.

Friday, October 4, 2019

make good money, five dollars day

Um, did you know about this?  I did not.  Among other things I learned: PARCO is a big chain of Japanese department stores.  This is from 1993.
courtesy GDAO
And, if that wasn't weird enough:

Interesting, indeed.  I hope this paid for at least a year of college for one of his kids.

That is all.  Carry on.

Monday, September 30, 2019

10/1/76: some slipknot

courtesy gdsets

I took in the bulk of the 2nd set jam while cooking dinner, and then again just now.  The sbd is just dandy, but this great aud tape is the way to go:

(it's even better than the Jerry Moore sourced tapes, imho, although either this tape must be from the same source, or the taper must have been set up right near him?)

  • Slipknot!  Oh Slipknot!  This is masterful.  After about 9 minutes, it seems like everyone else is ready to wrap things up and move on -- but Jerry waits, defers, then slowly spreads his tendrils off in another new direction.  This is a beautiful moment of Grateful Dead communication.  The nudge from the drummers and Phil's little slide at 11:40 cues the walk-up into the ending very nicely. 
  • 11 minutes of Franklin's Tower is just enough.  I'm sorry, but this feels, you got it, just exactly perfect.  Not an all-timer, not blowing the roof off, not just cruising either; just the right amount of bounce and Jerry heats it up just when he needs to.  I am happy.  
  • They didn't really have the whole disco Dancin' thing down until 1977, and a lot of the earlier 76 ones feel more clunky than funky to my ears.  This one has found its groove, though it doesn't have the same git down as it did in 77-79.  Jerry uses his wahwah pedal to great effect here, giving the jam a more smeary, psychedelic feel than the cleaner wompwompwomp of his trademark Mutron.  Again, it's short and sweet, but not too short: a hair below 8 minutes total before they break the jam off for Drums.
  • After 5 minutes of the Wheel, everyone is clearly rarin' to get back into Dancin', but Jerry ignores it and wanders off the path.  The next 3 minutes are yet another of those low-key, only in '76 kind of jams: everyone is game to just see what happens, and Jerry's in no hurry to get them anywhere in particular.  And what happens is quite lovely -- shades of Crazy Fingers in spots, but really just another one of those funny '76 corners, like finding a room in your house that you didn't know was there.  Jerry lands it right in Ship of Fools, not a tune that I typically get excited about.  But after that trip, it's a welcome arrival.  It ends, and after some uncertain splashing about, Jerry guides them all back into the Dancin' reprise.  Kinda messy in spots, but hey man, they're just making this up as they go along.
  • But it's not quite over.  Why not slide a little bonus GDTRFB in there just for good measure?  Why yes, thank you, I will.  All of it is great, but I find myself rewinding to 7:14 when Phil does that great tumble down into the AWBYGN riff and they're all playing everything all at once.  They even finagle a slick little transition into the closing Saturday Night, something they definitely did not have to do.  But they did stuff like that in 1976.

I do like 1976.

PS: This was the first of three times that they played at the Market Square Arena.  Each show was very good, and there is fantastic aud tape of each one.  How 'bout that.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

RIP Robert Hunter

Rest in peace, Robert Hunter.  Right now I can think of no better tribute than this: tonight I sang his words to my kids before they fall asleep, which I have done nearly every night now for over a decade.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Merl's Tune (Help Us Out)

I assume y'all know Merl's Tune, although there are unfortunately only a small handful of known performances:
3/7/73, with George Tickner on 2nd guitar.
4/14/73 (no circulating tape, also with Tickner)
7/5/73, released on GarciaLive vol 6
7/10 & 11/73, i.e. the various Live at Keystone releases; Merl's Tune wasn't on the original album and didn't see commercial release until the first Keystone Encores LP/CD in 1988.

I am a big fan, in particular, of 3/7/73 and 11/3/73, but of course all of these shows are worth hearing.  For some reason, Merl's Tune fell out of favor (or maybe was never in favor to begin with?), but it would have fit very well next to the band's jazzier material in 1974-75.

Check this out, though.  Cue up any of those version of Merl's Tune, then take a listen @20:40 here:

"Help Us Out," credited to John White (per label scans at discogs) vs. "Merl's Tune" credited on Keystone Encores to Saunders/White.  Thanks to youtube commenter michael tristan for pointing that out (um, 6 years ago), and to Peter Tschirky for posting it.

John White is a little-known Bay Area guitarist with, afaik, this one Mainstream LP from 1971 to his credit.  I don't know anything about him besides what's in this older blog post:

Saunders plays on the whole record, along with drummer Philip Wilson (ex Butterfield Blues Band, and later a renowned drummer in free jazz circles) and saxophonist Hadley Caliman.  Mainstream's 70's jazz catalog mostly hasn't made the transition to digital yet, and the original LP's were usually pretty light on detailed session info, so no luck there.  The dense horn-heavy sound is also pretty typical of Mainstream's overstuffed approach to production, but imho this record definitely fits well in that gritty Bay Area rock/R&B/jazz guitar bag next to, say, Harvey Mandel or Mel Brown, that kind of thing.

I have heard a couple of Merl Saunders sideman appearances from this same Garcia/Saunders timeframe, but the ones I'm thinking of were for Fantasy Records, Saunders' label.  This John White LP is from 1971, so presumably Saunders wasn't under contract with Fantasy yet.

So, um, yeah.  Dunno if this is in the same league as the "Finders Keepers" misattribution.  Barring other information, I will just offer this for your consideration.