A podcast which goes through the history of rock and roll music, one song at a time, starting in 1938 and ending up in 1999.
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Episode one hundred and sixty-seven of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “The Weight" by the Band, the Basement Tapes, and the continuing controversy over Dylan going electric. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a half-hour bonus episode available, on "S.F. Sorrow is Born" by the Pretty Things. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ Also, a one-time request here -- Shawn Taylor, who runs the Facebook group for the podcast and is an old and dear friend of mine, has stage-three lung cancer. I will be hugely grateful to anyone who donates to the GoFundMe for her treatment. Errata At one point I say "when Robertson and Helm travelled to the Brill Building". I meant "when Hawkins and Helm". This is fixed in the transcript but not the recording. Resources There are three Mixcloud mixes this time. As there are so many songs by Bob Dylan and the Band excerpted, and Mixcloud won't allow more than four songs by the same artist in any mix, I've had to post the songs not in quite the same order in which they appear in the podcast. But the mixes are here — one, two, three. I've used these books for all the episodes involving Dylan: Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties by Elijah Wald, which is recommended, as all Wald's books are. Bob Dylan: All The Songs by Phillipe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon is a song-by-song look at every song Dylan ever wrote, as is Revolution in the Air, by Clinton Heylin. Heylin also wrote the most comprehensive and accurate biography of Dylan, Behind the Shades. I've also used Robert Shelton's No Direction Home, which is less accurate, but which is written by someone who knew Dylan. Chronicles Volume 1 by Bob Dylan is a partial, highly inaccurate, but thoroughly readable autobiography. Information on Tiny Tim comes from Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life of Tiny Tim by Justin Martell. Information on John Cage comes from The Roaring Silence by David Revill Information on Woodstock comes from Small Town Talk by Barney Hoskyns. For material on the Basement Tapes, I've used Million Dollar Bash by Sid Griffin. And for the Band, I've used This Wheel's on Fire by Levon Helm with Stephen Davis, Testimony by Robbie Robertson, The Band by Craig Harris and Levon by Sandra B Tooze. I've also referred to the documentaries No Direction Home and Once Were Brothers. The complete Basement Tapes can be found on this multi-disc box set, while this double-CD version has the best material from the sessions. All the surviving live recordings by Dylan and the Hawks from 1966 are on this box set. There are various deluxe versions of Music From Big Pink, but still the best way to get the original album is in this twofer CD with the Band's second album. Transcript Just a brief note before I start – literally while I was in the middle of recording this episode, it was announced that Robbie Robertson had died today, aged eighty. Obviously I've not had time to alter the rest of the episode – half of which had already been edited – with that in mind, though I don't believe I say anything disrespectful to his memory. My condolences to those who loved him – he was a huge talent and will be missed. There are people in the world who question the function of criticism. Those people argue that criticism is in many ways parasitic. If critics knew what they were talking about, so the argument goes, they would create themselves, rather than talk about other people's creation. It's a variant of the "those who can't, teach" cliche. And to an extent it's true. Certainly in the world of rock music, which we're talking about in this podcast, most critics are quite staggeringly ignorant of the things they're talking about. Most criticism is ephemeral, published in newspapers, magazines, blogs and podcasts, and forgotten as soon as it has been consumed -- and consumed is the word . But sometimes, just sometimes, a critic will have an effect on the world that is at least as important as that of any of the artists they criticise. One such critic was John Ruskin. Ruskin was one of the preeminent critics of visual art in the Victorian era, particularly specialising in painting and architecture, and he passionately advocated for a form of art that would be truthful, plain, and honest. To Ruskin's mind, many artists of the past, and of his time, drew and painted, not what they saw with their own eyes, but what other people expected them to paint. They replaced true observation of nature with the regurgitation of ever-more-mannered and formalised cliches. His attacks on many great artists were, in essence, the same critiques that are currently brought against AI art apps -- they're just recycling and plagiarising what other people had already done, not seeing with their own eyes and creating from their own vision. Ruskin was an artist himself, but never received much acclaim for his own work. Rather, he advocated for the works of others, like Turner and the pre-Raphaelite school -- the latter of whom were influenced by Ruskin, even as he admired them for seeing with their own vision rather than just repeating influences from others. But those weren't the only people Ruskin influenced. Because any critical project, properly understood, becomes about more than just the art -- as if art is just anything. Ruskin, for example, studied geology, because if you're going to talk about how people should paint landscapes and what those landscapes look like, you need to understand what landscapes really do look like, which means understanding their formation. He understood that art of the kind he wanted could only be produced by certain types of people, and so society had to be organised in a way to produce such people. Some types of societal organisation lead to some kinds of thinking and creation, and to properly, honestly, understand one branch of human thought means at least to attempt to understand all of them. Opinions about art have moral consequences, and morality has political and economic consequences. The inevitable endpoint of any theory of art is, ultimately, a theory of society. And Ruskin had a theory of society, and social organisation. Ruskin's views are too complex to summarise here, but they were a kind of anarcho-primitivist collectivism. He believed that wealth was evil, and that the classical liberal economics of people like Mill was fundamentally anti-human, that the division of labour alienated people from their work. In Ruskin's ideal world, people would gather in communities no bigger than villages, and work as craftspeople, working with nature rather than trying to bend nature to their will. They would be collectives, with none richer or poorer than any other, and working the land without modern technology. in the first half of the twentieth century, in particular, Ruskin's influence was *everywhere*. His writings on art inspired the Impressionist movement, but his political and economic ideas were the most influential, right across the political spectrum. Ruskin's ideas were closest to Christian socialism, and he did indeed inspire many socialist parties -- most of the founders of Britain's Labour Party were admirers of Ruskin and influenced by his ideas, particularly his opposition to the free market. But he inspired many other people -- Gandhi talked about the profound influence that Ruskin had on him, saying in his autobiography that he got three lessons from Ruskin's Unto This Last: "That 1) the good of the individual is contained in the good of all. 2) a lawyer's work has the same value as the barber's in as much as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work. 3) a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living. The first of these I knew. The second I had dimly realized. The third had never occurred to me. Unto This Last made it clear as daylight for me that the second and third were contained in the first. I arose with the dawn, ready to reduce these principles to practice" Gandhi translated and paraphrased Unto this Last into Gujurati and called the resulting book Sarvodaya (meaning "uplifting all" or "the welfare of all") which he later took as the name of his own political philosophy. But Ruskin also had a more pernicious influence -- it was said in 1930s Germany that he and his friend Thomas Carlyle were "the first National Socialists" -- there's no evidence I know of that Hitler ever read Ruskin, but a *lot* of Nazi rhetoric is implicit in Ruskin's writing, particularly in his opposition to progress (he even opposed the bicycle as being too much inhuman interference with nature), just as much as more admirable philosophies, and he was so widely read in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that there's barely a political movement anywhere that didn't bear his fingerprints. But of course, our focus here is on music. And Ruskin had an influence on that, too. We've talked in several episodes, most recently the one on the Velvet Underground, about John Cage's piece 4'33. What I didn't mention in any of the discussions of that piece -- because I was saving it for here -- is that that piece was premiered at a small concert hall in upstate New York. The hall, the Maverick Concert Hall, was owned and run by the Maverick arts and crafts collective -- a collective that were so called because they were the *second* Ruskinite arts colony in the area, having split off from the Byrdcliffe colony after a dispute between its three founders, all of whom were disciples of Ruskin, and all of whom disagreed violently about how to implement Ruskin's ideas of pacifist all-for-one and one-for-all community. These arts colonies, and others that grew up around them like the Arts Students League were the thriving centre of a Bohemian community -- close enough to New York that you could get there if you needed to, far enough away that you could live out your pastoral fantasies, and artists of all types flocked there -- Pete Seeger met his wife there, and his father-in-law had been one of the stonemasons who helped build the Maverick concert hall. Dozens of artists in all sorts of areas, from Aaron Copland to Edward G Robinson, spent time in these communities, as did Cage. Of course, while these arts and crafts communities had a reputation for Bohemianism and artistic extremism, even radical utopian artists have their limits, and legend has it that the premiere of 4'33 was met with horror and derision, and eventually led to one artist in the audience standing up and calling on the residents of the town around which these artistic colonies had agglomerated: “Good people of Woodstock, let's drive these people out of town.” [Excerpt: The Band, "The Weight"] Ronnie Hawkins was almost born to make music. We heard back in the episode on "Suzie Q" in 2019 about his family and their ties to music. Ronnie's uncle Del was, according to most of the sources on the family, a member of the Sons of the Pioneers -- though as I point out in that episode, his name isn't on any of the official lists of group members, but he might well have performed with them at some point in the early years of the group. And he was definitely a country music bass player, even if he *wasn't* in the most popular country and western group of the thirties and forties. And Del had had two sons, Jerry, who made some minor rockabilly records: [Excerpt: Jerry Hawkins, "Swing, Daddy, Swing"] And Del junior, who as we heard in the "Susie Q" episode became known as Dale Hawkins and made one of the most important rock records of the fifties: [Excerpt: Dale Hawkins, "Susie Q"] Ronnie Hawkins was around the same age as his cousins, and was in awe of his country-music star uncle. Hawkins later remembered that after his uncle moved to Califormia to become a star “He'd come home for a week or two, driving a brand new Cadillac and wearing brand new clothes and I knew that's what I wanted to be." Though he also remembered “He spent every penny he made on whiskey, and he was divorced because he was running around with all sorts of women. His wife left Arkansas and went to Louisiana.” Hawkins knew that he wanted to be a music star like his uncle, and he started performing at local fairs and other events from the age of eleven, including one performance where he substituted for Hank Williams -- Williams was so drunk that day he couldn't perform, and so his backing band asked volunteers from the audience to get up and sing with them, and Hawkins sang Burl Ives and minstrel-show songs with the band. He said later “Even back then I knew that every important white cat—Al Jolson, Stephen Foster—they all did it by copying blacks. Even Hank Williams learned all the stuff he had from those black cats in Alabama. Elvis Presley copied black music; that's all that Elvis did.” As well as being a performer from an early age, though, Hawkins was also an entrepreneur with an eye for how to make money. From the age of fourteen he started running liquor -- not moonshine, he would always point out, but something far safer. He lived only a few miles from the border between Missouri and Arkansas, and alcohol and tobacco were about half the price in Missouri that they were in Arkansas, so he'd drive across the border, load up on whisky and cigarettes, and drive back and sell them at a profit, which he then used to buy shares in several nightclubs, which he and his bands would perform in in later years. Like every man of his generation, Hawkins had to do six months in the Army, and it was there that he joined his first ever full-time band, the Blackhawks -- so called because his name was Hawkins, and the rest of the group were Black, though Hawkins was white. They got together when the other four members were performing at a club in the area where Hawkins was stationed, and he was so impressed with their music that he jumped on stage and started singing with them. He said later “It sounded like something between the blues and rockabilly. It sort of leaned in both directions at the same time, me being a hayseed and those guys playing a lot funkier." As he put it "I wanted to sound like Bobby ‘Blue' Bland but it came out sounding like Ernest Tubb.” Word got around about the Blackhawks, both that they were a great-sounding rock and roll band and that they were an integrated band at a time when that was extremely unpopular in the southern states, and when Hawkins was discharged from the Army he got a call from Sam Phillips at Sun Records. According to Hawkins a group of the regular Sun session musicians were planning on forming a band, and he was asked to front the band for a hundred dollars a week, but by the time he got there the band had fallen apart. This doesn't precisely line up with anything else I know about Sun, though it perhaps makes sense if Hawkins was being asked to front the band who had variously backed Billy Lee Riley and Jerry Lee Lewis after one of Riley's occasional threats to leave the label. More likely though, he told everyone he knew that he had a deal with Sun but Phillips was unimpressed with the demos he cut there, and Hawkins made up the story to stop himself losing face. One of the session players for Sun, though, Luke Paulman, who played in Conway Twitty's band among others, *was* impressed with Hawkins though, and suggested that they form a band together with Paulman's bass player brother George and piano-playing cousin Pop Jones. The Paulman brothers and Jones also came from Arkansas, but they specifically came from Helena, Arkansas, the town from which King Biscuit Time was broadcast. King Biscuit Time was the most important blues radio show in the US at that time -- a short lunchtime programme which featured live performances from a house band which varied over the years, but which in the 1940s had been led by Sonny Boy Williamson II, and featured Robert Jr. Lockwood, Robert Johnson's stepson, on guiitar: [Excerpt: Sonny Boy Williamson II "Eyesight to the Blind (King Biscuit Time)"] The band also included a drummer, "Peck" Curtis, and that drummer was the biggest inspiration for a young white man from the town named Levon Helm. Helm had first been inspired to make music after seeing Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys play live when Helm was eight, and he had soon taken up first the harmonica, then the guitar, then the drums, becoming excellent at all of them. Even as a child he knew that he didn't want to be a farmer like his family, and that music was, as he put it, "the only way to get off that stinking tractor and out of that one hundred and five degree heat.” Sonny Boy Williamson and the King Biscuit Boys would perform in the open air in Marvell, Arkansas, where Helm was growing up, on Saturdays, and Helm watched them regularly as a small child, and became particularly interested in the drumming. “As good as the band sounded,” he said later “it seemed that [Peck] was definitely having the most fun. I locked into the drums at that point. Later, I heard Jack Nance, Conway Twitty's drummer, and all the great drummers in Memphis—Jimmy Van Eaton, Al Jackson, and Willie Hall—the Chicago boys (Fred Belew and Clifton James) and the people at Sun Records and Vee-Jay, but most of my style was based on Peck and Sonny Boy—the Delta blues style with the shuffle. Through the years, I've quickened the pace to a more rock-and-roll meter and time frame, but it still bases itself back to Peck, Sonny Boy Williamson, and the King Biscuit Boys.” Helm had played with another band that George Paulman had played in, and he was invited to join the fledgling band Hawkins was putting together, called for the moment the Sun Records Quartet. The group played some of the clubs Hawkins had business connections in, but they had other plans -- Conway Twitty had recently played Toronto, and had told Luke Paulman about how desperate the Canadians were for American rock and roll music. Twitty's agent Harold Kudlets booked the group in to a Toronto club, Le Coq D'Or, and soon the group were alternating between residencies in clubs in the Deep South, where they were just another rockabilly band, albeit one of the better ones, and in Canada, where they became the most popular band in Ontario, and became the nucleus of an entire musical scene -- the same scene from which, a few years later, people like Neil Young would emerge. George Paulman didn't remain long in the group -- he was apparently getting drunk, and also he was a double-bass player, at a time when the electric bass was becoming the in thing. And this is the best place to mention this, but there are several discrepancies in the various accounts of which band members were in Hawkins' band at which times, and who played on what session. They all *broadly* follow the same lines, but none of them are fully reconcilable with each other, and nobody was paying enough attention to lineup shifts in a bar band between 1957 and 1964 to be absolutely certain who was right. I've tried to reconcile the various accounts as far as possible and make a coherent narrative, but some of the details of what follows may be wrong, though the broad strokes are correct. For much of their first period in Ontario, the group had no bass player at all, relying on Jones' piano to fill in the bass parts, and on their first recording, a version of "Bo Diddley", they actually got the club's manager to play bass with them: [Excerpt: Ronnie Hawkins, "Hey Bo Diddley"] That is claimed to be the first rock and roll record made in Canada, though as everyone who has listened to this podcast knows, there's no first anything. It wasn't released as by the Sun Records Quartet though -- the band had presumably realised that that name would make them much less attractive to other labels, and so by this point the Sun Records Quartet had become Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks. "Hey Bo Diddley" was released on a small Canadian label and didn't have any success, but the group carried on performing live, travelling back down to Arkansas for a while and getting a new bass player, Lefty Evans, who had been playing in the same pool of musicians as them, having been another Sun session player who had been in Conway Twitty's band, and had written Twitty's "Why Can't I Get Through to You": [Excerpt: Conway Twitty, "Why Can't I Get Through to You"] The band were now popular enough in Canada that they were starting to get heard of in America, and through Kudlets they got a contract with Joe Glaser, a Mafia-connected booking agent who booked them into gigs on the Jersey Shore. As Helm said “Ronnie Hawkins had molded us into the wildest, fiercest, speed-driven bar band in America," and the group were apparently getting larger audiences in New Jersey than Sammy Davis Jr was, even though they hadn't released any records in the US. Or at least, they hadn't released any records in their own name in the US. There's a record on End Records by Rockin' Ronald and the Rebels which is very strongly rumoured to have been the Hawks under another name, though Hawkins always denied that. Have a listen for yourself and see what you think: [Excerpt: Rockin' Ronald and the Rebels, "Kansas City"] End Records, the label that was on, was one of the many record labels set up by George Goldner and distributed by Morris Levy, and when the group did release a record in their home country under their own name, it was on Levy's Roulette Records. An audition for Levy had been set up by Glaser's booking company, and Levy decided that given that Elvis was in the Army, there was a vacancy to be filled and Ronnie Hawkins might just fit the bill. Hawkins signed a contract with Levy, and it doesn't sound like he had much choice in the matter. Helm asked him “How long did you have to sign for?” and Hawkins replied "Life with an option" That said, unlike almost every other artist who interacted with Levy, Hawkins never had a bad word to say about him, at least in public, saying later “I don't care what Morris was supposed to have done, he looked after me and he believed in me. I even lived with him in his million-dollar apartment on the Upper East Side." The first single the group recorded for Roulette, a remake of Chuck Berry's "Thirty Days" retitled "Forty Days", didn't chart, but the follow-up, a version of Young Jessie's "Mary Lou", made number twenty-six on the charts: [Excerpt: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, "Mary Lou"] While that was a cover of a Young Jessie record, the songwriting credits read Hawkins and Magill -- Magill was a pseudonym used by Morris Levy. Levy hoped to make Ronnie Hawkins into a really big star, but hit a snag. This was just the point where the payola scandal had hit and record companies were under criminal investigation for bribing DJs to play their records. This was the main method of promotion that Levy used, and this was so well known that Levy was, for a time, under more scrutiny than anyone. He couldn't risk paying anyone off, and so Hawkins' records didn't get the expected airplay. The group went through some lineup changes, too, bringing in guitarist Fred Carter (with Luke Paulman moving to rhythm and soon leaving altogether) from Hawkins' cousin Dale's band, and bass player Jimmy Evans. Some sources say that Jones quit around this time, too, though others say he was in the band for a while longer, and they had two keyboards (the other keyboard being supplied by Stan Szelest. As well as recording Ronnie Hawkins singles, the new lineup of the group also recorded one single with Carter on lead vocals, "My Heart Cries": [Excerpt: Fred Carter, "My Heart Cries"] While the group were now playing more shows in the USA, they were still playing regularly in Canada, and they had developed a huge fanbase there. One of these was a teenage guitarist called Robbie Robertson, who had become fascinated with the band after playing a support slot for them, and had started hanging round, trying to ingratiate himself with the band in the hope of being allowed to join. As he was a teenager, Hawkins thought he might have his finger on the pulse of the youth market, and when Hawkins and Helm travelled to the Brill Building to hear new songs for consideration for their next album, they brought Robertson along to listen to them and give his opinion. Robertson himself ended up contributing two songs to the album, titled Mr. Dynamo. According to Hawkins "we had a little time after the session, so I thought, Well, I'm just gonna put 'em down and see what happens. And they were released. Robbie was the songwriter for words, and Levon was good for arranging, making things fit in and all that stuff. He knew what to do, but he didn't write anything." The two songs in question were "Someone Like You" and "Hey Boba Lou": [Excerpt: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, "Hey Boba Lou"] While Robertson was the sole writer of the songs, they were credited to Robertson, Hawkins, and Magill -- Morris Levy. As Robertson told the story later, “It's funny, when those songs came out and I got a copy of the album, it had another name on there besides my name for some writer like Morris Levy. So, I said to Ronnie, “There was nobody there writing these songs when I wrote these songs. Who is Morris Levy?” Ronnie just kinda tapped me on the head and said, “There are certain things about this business that you just let go and you don't question.” That was one of my early music industry lessons right there" Robertson desperately wanted to join the Hawks, but initially it was Robertson's bandmate Scott Cushnie who became the first Canadian to join the Hawks. But then when they were in Arkansas, Jimmy Evans decided he wasn't going to go back to Canada. So Hawkins called Robbie Robertson up and made him an offer. Robertson had to come down to Arkansas and get a couple of quick bass lessons from Helm (who could play pretty much every instrument to an acceptable standard, and so was by this point acting as the group's musical director, working out arrangements and leading them in rehearsals). Then Hawkins and Helm had to be elsewhere for a few weeks. If, when they got back, Robertson was good enough on bass, he had the job. If not, he didn't. Robertson accepted, but he nearly didn't get the gig after all. The place Hawkins and Helm had to be was Britain, where they were going to be promoting their latest single on Boy Meets Girls, the Jack Good TV series with Marty Wilde, which featured guitarist Joe Brown in the backing band: [Excerpt: Joe Brown, “Savage”] This was the same series that Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent were regularly appearing on, and while they didn't appear on the episodes that Hawkins and Helm appeared on, they did appear on the episodes immediately before Hawkins and Helm's two appearances, and again a couple of weeks after, and were friendly with the musicians who did play with Hawkins and Helm, and apparently they all jammed together a few times. Hawkins was impressed enough with Joe Brown -- who at the time was considered the best guitarist on the British scene -- that he invited Brown to become a Hawk. Presumably if Brown had taken him up on the offer, he would have taken the spot that ended up being Robertson's, but Brown turned him down -- a decision he apparently later regretted. Robbie Robertson was now a Hawk, and he and Helm formed an immediate bond. As Helm much later put it, "It was me and Robbie against the world. Our mission, as we saw it, was to put together the best band in history". As rockabilly was by this point passe, Levy tried converting Hawkins into a folk artist, to see if he could get some of the Kingston Trio's audience. He recorded a protest song, "The Ballad of Caryl Chessman", protesting the then-forthcoming execution of Chessman (one of only a handful of people to be executed in the US in recent decades for non-lethal offences), and he made an album of folk tunes, The Folk Ballads of Ronnie Hawkins, which largely consisted of solo acoustic recordings, plus a handful of left-over Hawks recordings from a year or so earlier. That wasn't a success, but they also tried a follow-up, having Hawkins go country and do an album of Hank Williams songs, recorded in Nashville at Owen Bradley's Quonset hut. While many of the musicians on the album were Nashville A-Team players, Hawkins also insisted on having his own band members perform, much to the disgust of the producer, and so it's likely (not certain, because there seem to be various disagreements about what was recorded when) that that album features the first studio recordings with Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson playing together: [Excerpt: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, "Your Cheatin' Heart"] Other sources claim that the only Hawk allowed to play on the album sessions was Helm, and that the rest of the musicians on the album were Harold Bradley and Hank Garland on guitar, Owen Bradley and Floyd Cramer on piano, Bob Moore on bass, and the Anita Kerr singers. I tend to trust Helm's recollection that the Hawks played at least some of the instruments though, because the source claiming that also seems to confuse the Hank Williams and Folk Ballads albums, and because I don't hear two pianos on the album. On the other hand, that *does* sound like Floyd Cramer on piano, and the tik-tok bass sound you'd get from having Harold Bradley play a baritone guitar while Bob Moore played a bass. So my best guess is that these sessions were like the Elvis sessions around the same time and with several of the same musicians, where Elvis' own backing musicians played rhythm parts but left the prominent instruments to the A-team players. Helm was singularly unimpressed with the experience of recording in Nashville. His strongest memory of the sessions was of another session going on in the same studio complex at the time -- Bobby "Blue" Bland was recording his classic single "Turn On Your Love Light", with the great drummer Jabo Starks on drums, and Helm was more interested in listening to that than he was in the music they were playing: [Excerpt: Bobby "Blue" Bland, "Turn On Your Love Light"] Incidentally, Helm talks about that recording being made "downstairs" from where the Hawks were recording, but also says that they were recording in Bradley's Quonset hut. Now, my understanding here *could* be very wrong -- I've been unable to find a plan or schematic anywhere -- but my understanding is that the Quonset hut was a single-level structure, not a multi-level structure. BUT the original recording facilities run by the Bradley brothers were in Owen Bradley's basement, before they moved into the larger Quonset hut facility in the back, so it's possible that Bland was recording that in the old basement studio. If so, that won't be the last recording made in a basement we hear this episode... Fred Carter decided during the Nashville sessions that he was going to leave the Hawks. As his son told the story: "Dad had discovered the session musicians there. He had no idea that you could play and make a living playing in studios and sleep in your own bed every night. By that point in his life, he'd already been gone from home and constantly on the road and in the service playing music for ten years so that appealed to him greatly. And Levon asked him, he said, “If you're gonna leave, Fred, I'd like you to get young Robbie over here up to speed on guitar”…[Robbie] got kind of aggravated with him—and Dad didn't say this with any malice—but by the end of that week, or whatever it was, Robbie made some kind of comment about “One day I'm gonna cut you.” And Dad said, “Well, if that's how you think about it, the lessons are over.” " (For those who don't know, a musician "cutting" another one is playing better than them, so much better that the worse musician has to concede defeat. For the remainder of Carter's notice in the Hawks, he played with his back to Robertson, refusing to look at him. Carter leaving the group caused some more shuffling of roles. For a while, Levon Helm -- who Hawkins always said was the best lead guitar player he ever worked with as well as the best drummer -- tried playing lead guitar while Robertson played rhythm and another member, Rebel Payne, played bass, but they couldn't find a drummer to replace Helm, who moved back onto the drums. Then they brought in Roy Buchanan, another guitarist who had been playing with Dale Hawkins, having started out playing with Johnny Otis' band. But Buchanan didn't fit with Hawkins' personality, and he quit after a few months, going off to record his own first solo record: [Excerpt: Roy Buchanan, "Mule Train Stomp"] Eventually they solved the lineup problem by having Robertson -- by this point an accomplished lead player --- move to lead guitar and bringing in a new rhythm player, another Canadian teenager named Rick Danko, who had originally been a lead player (and who also played mandolin and fiddle). Danko wasn't expected to stay on rhythm long though -- Rebel Payne was drinking a lot and missing being at home when he was out on the road, so Danko was brought in on the understanding that he was to learn Payne's bass parts and switch to bass when Payne quit. Helm and Robertson were unsure about Danko, and Robertson expressed that doubt, saying "He only knows four chords," to which Hawkins replied, "That's all right son. You can teach him four more the way we had to teach you." He proved himself by sheer hard work. As Hawkins put it “He practiced so much that his arms swoll up. He was hurting.” By the time Danko switched to bass, the group also had a baritone sax player, Jerry Penfound, which allowed the group to play more of the soul and R&B material that Helm and Robertson favoured, though Hawkins wasn't keen. This new lineup of the group (which also had Stan Szelest on piano) recorded Hawkins' next album. This one was produced by Henry Glover, the great record producer, songwriter, and trumpet player who had played with Lucky Millinder, produced Wynonie Harris, Hank Ballard, and Moon Mullican, and wrote "Drowning in My Own Tears", "The Peppermint Twist", and "California Sun". Glover was massively impressed with the band, especially Helm (with whom he would remain friends for the rest of his life) and set aside some studio time for them to cut some tracks without Hawkins, to be used as album filler, including a version of the Bobby "Blue" Bland song "Farther On Up the Road" with Helm on lead vocals: [Excerpt: Levon Helm and the Hawks, "Farther On Up the Road"] There were more changes on the way though. Stan Szelest was about to leave the band, and Jones had already left, so the group had no keyboard player. Hawkins had just the replacement for Szelest -- yet another Canadian teenager. This one was Richard Manuel, who played piano and sang in a band called The Rockin' Revols. Manuel was not the greatest piano player around -- he was an adequate player for simple rockabilly and R&B stuff, but hardly a virtuoso -- but he was an incredible singer, able to do a version of "Georgia on My Mind" which rivalled Ray Charles, and Hawkins had booked the Revols into his own small circuit of clubs around Arkanasas after being impressed with them on the same bill as the Hawks a couple of times. Hawkins wanted someone with a good voice because he was increasingly taking a back seat in performances. Hawkins was the bandleader and frontman, but he'd often given Helm a song or two to sing in the show, and as they were often playing for several hours a night, the more singers the band had the better. Soon, with Helm, Danko, and Manuel all in the group and able to take lead vocals, Hawkins would start missing entire shows, though he still got more money than any of his backing group. Hawkins was also a hard taskmaster, and wanted to have the best band around. He already had great musicians, but he wanted them to be *the best*. And all the musicians in his band were now much younger than him, with tons of natural talent, but untrained. What he needed was someone with proper training, someone who knew theory and technique. He'd been trying for a long time to get someone like that, but Garth Hudson had kept turning him down. Hudson was older than any of the Hawks, though younger than Hawkins, and he was a multi-instrumentalist who was far better than any other musician on the circuit, having trained in a conservatory and learned how to play Bach and Chopin before switching to rock and roll. He thought the Hawks were too loud sounding and played too hard for him, but Helm kept on at Hawkins to meet any demands Hudson had, and Hawkins eventually agreed to give Hudson a higher wage than any of the other band members, buy him a new Lowry organ, and give him an extra ten dollars a week to give the rest of the band music lessons. Hudson agreed, and the Hawks now had a lineup of Helm on drums, Robertson on guitar, Manuel on piano, Danko on bass, Hudson on organ and alto sax, and Penfound on baritone sax. But these new young musicians were beginning to wonder why they actually needed a frontman who didn't turn up to many of the gigs, kept most of the money, and fined them whenever they broke one of his increasingly stringent set of rules. Indeed, they wondered why they needed a frontman at all. They already had three singers -- and sometimes a fourth, a singer called Bruce Bruno who would sometimes sit in with them when Penfound was unable to make a gig. They went to see Harold Kudlets, who Hawkins had recently sacked as his manager, and asked him if he could get them gigs for the same amount of money as they'd been getting with Hawkins. Kudlets was astonished to find how little Hawkins had been paying them, and told them that would be no problem at all. They had no frontman any more -- and made it a rule in all their contracts that the word "sideman" would never be used -- but Helm had been the leader for contractual purposes, as the musical director and longest-serving member (Hawkins, as a non-playing singer, had never joined the Musicians' Union so couldn't be the leader on contracts). So the band that had been Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks became the Levon Helm Sextet briefly -- but Penfound soon quit, and they became Levon and the Hawks. The Hawks really started to find their identity as their own band in 1964. They were already far more interested in playing soul than Hawkins had been, but they were also starting to get into playing soul *jazz*, especially after seeing the Cannonball Adderley Sextet play live: [Excerpt: Cannonball Adderley, "This Here"] What the group admired about the Adderley group more than anything else was a sense of restraint. Helm was particularly impressed with their drummer, Louie Hayes, and said of him "I got to see some great musicians over the years, and you see somebody like that play and you can tell, y' know, that the thing not to do is to just get it down on the floor and stomp the hell out of it!" The other influence they had, and one which would shape their sound even more, was a negative one. The two biggest bands on the charts at the time were the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and as Helm described it in his autobiography, the Hawks thought both bands' harmonies were "a blend of pale, homogenised, voices". He said "We felt we were better than the Beatles and the Beach Boys. We considered them our rivals, even though they'd never heard of us", and they decided to make their own harmonies sound as different as possible as a result. Where those groups emphasised a vocal blend, the Hawks were going to emphasise the *difference* in their voices in their own harmonies. The group were playing prestigious venues like the Peppermint Lounge, and while playing there they met up with John Hammond Jr, who they'd met previously in Canada. As you might remember from the first episode on Bob Dylan, Hammond Jr was the son of the John Hammond who we've talked about in many episodes, and was a blues musician in his own right. He invited Helm, Robertson, and Hudson to join the musicians, including Michael Bloomfield, who were playing on his new album, So Many Roads: [Excerpt: John P. Hammond, "Who Do You Love?"] That album was one of the inspirations that led Bob Dylan to start making electric rock music and to hire Bloomfield as his guitarist, decisions that would have profound implications for the Hawks. The first single the Hawks recorded for themselves after leaving Hawkins was produced by Henry Glover, and both sides were written by Robbie Robertson. "uh Uh Uh" shows the influence of the R&B bands they were listening to. What it reminds me most of is the material Ike and Tina Turner were playing at the time, but at points I think I can also hear the influence of Curtis Mayfield and Steve Cropper, who were rapidly becoming Robertson's favourite songwriters: [Excerpt: The Canadian Squires, "Uh Uh Uh"] None of the band were happy with that record, though. They'd played in the studio the same way they played live, trying to get a strong bass presence, but it just sounded bottom-heavy to them when they heard the record on a jukebox. That record was released as by The Canadian Squires -- according to Robertson, that was a name that the label imposed on them for the record, while according to Helm it was an alternative name they used so they could get bookings in places they'd only recently played, which didn't want the same band to play too often. One wonders if there was any confusion with the band Neil Young played in a year or so before that single... Around this time, the group also met up with Helm's old musical inspiration Sonny Boy Williamson II, who was impressed enough with them that there was some talk of them being his backing band (and it was in this meeting that Williamson apparently told Robertson "those English boys want to play the blues so bad, and they play the blues *so bad*", speaking of the bands who'd backed him in the UK, like the Yardbirds and the Animals). But sadly, Williamson died in May 1965 before any of these plans had time to come to fruition. Every opportunity for the group seemed to be closing up, even as they knew they were as good as any band around them. They had an offer from Aaron Schroeder, who ran Musicor Records but was more importantly a songwriter and publisher who had written for Elvis Presley and published Gene Pitney. Schroeder wanted to sign the Hawks as a band and Robertson as a songwriter, but Henry Glover looked over the contracts for them, and told them "If you sign this you'd better be able to pay each other, because nobody else is going to be paying you". What happened next is the subject of some controversy, because as these things tend to go, several people became aware of the Hawks at the same time, but it's generally considered that nothing would have happened the same way were it not for Mary Martin. Martin is a pivotal figure in music business history -- among other things she discovered Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot, managed Van Morrison, and signed Emmylou Harris to Warner Brothers records -- but a somewhat unknown one who doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. Martin was from Toronto, but had moved to New York, where she was working in Albert Grossman's office, but she still had many connections to Canadian musicians and kept an eye out for them. The group had sent demo tapes to Grossman's offices, and Grossman had had no interest in them, but Martin was a fan and kept pushing the group on Grossman and his associates. One of those associates, of course, was Grossman's client Bob Dylan. As we heard in the episode on "Like a Rolling Stone", Dylan had started making records with electric backing, with musicians who included Mike Bloomfield, who had played with several of the Hawks on the Hammond album, and Al Kooper, who was a friend of the band. Martin gave Richard Manuel a copy of Dylan's new electric album Highway 61 Revisited, and he enjoyed it, though the rest of the group were less impressed: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Highway 61 Revisited"] Dylan had played the Newport Folk Festival with some of the same musicians as played on his records, but Bloomfield in particular was more interested in continuing to play with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band than continuing with Dylan long-term. Mary Martin kept telling Dylan about this Canadian band she knew who would be perfect for him, and various people associated with the Grossman organisation, including Hammond, have claimed to have been sent down to New Jersey where the Hawks were playing to check them out in their live setting. The group have also mentioned that someone who looked a lot like Dylan was seen at some of their shows. Eventually, Dylan phoned Helm up and made an offer. He didn't need a full band at the moment -- he had Harvey Brooks on bass and Al Kooper on keyboards -- but he did need a lead guitar player and drummer for a couple of gigs he'd already booked, one in Forest Hills, New York, and a bigger gig at the Hollywood Bowl. Helm, unfamiliar with Dylan's work, actually asked Howard Kudlets if Dylan was capable of filling the Hollywood Bowl. The musicians rehearsed together and got a set together for the shows. Robertson and Helm thought the band sounded terrible, but Dylan liked the sound they were getting a lot. The audience in Forest Hills agreed with the Hawks, rather than Dylan, or so it would appear. As we heard in the "Like a Rolling Stone" episode, Dylan's turn towards rock music was *hated* by the folk purists who saw him as some sort of traitor to the movement, a movement whose figurehead he had become without wanting to. There were fifteen thousand people in the audience, and they listened politely enough to the first set, which Dylan played acoustically, But before the second set -- his first ever full electric set, rather than the very abridged one at Newport -- he told the musicians “I don't know what it will be like out there It's going to be some kind of carnival and I want you to all know that up front. So go out there and keep playing no matter how weird it gets!” There's a terrible-quality audience recording of that show in circulation, and you can hear the crowd's reaction to the band and to the new material: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Ballad of a Thin Man" (live Forest Hills 1965, audience noise only)] The audience also threw things at the musicians, knocking Al Kooper off his organ stool at one point. While Robertson remembered the Hollywood Bowl show as being an equally bad reaction, Helm remembered the audience there as being much more friendly, and the better-quality recording of that show seems to side with Helm: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Maggie's Farm (live at the Hollywood Bowl 1965)"] After those two shows, Helm and Robertson went back to their regular gig. and in September they made another record. This one, again produced by Glover, was for Atlantic's Atco subsidiary, and was released as by Levon and the Hawks. Manuel took lead, and again both songs were written by Robertson: [Excerpt: Levon and the Hawks, "He Don't Love You (And He'll Break Your Heart)"] But again that record did nothing. Dylan was about to start his first full electric tour, and while Helm and Robertson had not thought the shows they'd played sounded particularly good, Dylan had, and he wanted the two of them to continue with him. But Robertson and, especially, Helm, were not interested in being someone's sidemen. They explained to Dylan that they already had a band -- Levon and the Hawks -- and he would take all of them or he would take none of them. Helm in particular had not been impressed with Dylan's music -- Helm was fundamentally an R&B fan, while Dylan's music was rooted in genres he had little time for -- but he was OK with doing it, so long as the entire band got to. As Mary Martin put it “I think that the wonderful and the splendid heart of the band, if you will, was Levon, and I think he really sort of said, ‘If it's just myself as drummer and Robbie…we're out. We don't want that. It's either us, the band, or nothing.' And you know what? Good for him.” Rather amazingly, Dylan agreed. When the band's residency in New Jersey finished, they headed back to Toronto to play some shows there, and Dylan flew up and rehearsed with them after each show. When the tour started, the billing was "Bob Dylan with Levon and the Hawks". That billing wasn't to last long. Dylan had been booked in for nine months of touring, and was also starting work on what would become widely considered the first double album in rock music history, Blonde on Blonde, and the original plan was that Levon and the Hawks would play with him throughout that time. The initial recording sessions for the album produced nothing suitable for release -- the closest was "I Wanna Be Your Lover", a semi-parody of the Beatles' "I Want to be Your Man": [Excerpt: Bob Dylan with Levon and the Hawks, "I Wanna Be Your Lover"] But shortly into the tour, Helm quit. The booing had continued, and had even got worse, and Helm simply wasn't in the business to be booed at every night. Also, his whole conception of music was that you dance to it, and nobody was dancing to any of this. Helm quit the band, only telling Robertson of his plans, and first went off to LA, where he met up with some musicians from Oklahoma who had enjoyed seeing the Hawks when they'd played that state and had since moved out West -- people like Leon Russell, J.J. Cale (not John Cale of the Velvet Underground, but the one who wrote "Cocaine" which Eric Clapton later had a hit with), and John Ware (who would later go on to join the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band). They started loosely jamming with each other, sometimes also involving a young singer named Linda Ronstadt, but Helm eventually decided to give up music and go and work on an oil rig in New Orleans. Levon and the Hawks were now just the Hawks. The rest of the group soldiered on, replacing Helm with session drummer Bobby Gregg (who had played on Dylan's previous couple of albums, and had previously played with Sun Ra), and played on the initial sessions for Blonde on Blonde. But of those sessions, Dylan said a few weeks later "Oh, I was really down. I mean, in ten recording sessions, man, we didn't get one song ... It was the band. But you see, I didn't know that. I didn't want to think that" One track from the sessions did get released -- the non-album single "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?"] There's some debate as to exactly who's playing drums on that -- Helm says in his autobiography that it's him, while the credits in the official CD releases tend to say it's Gregg. Either way, the track was an unexpected flop, not making the top forty in the US, though it made the top twenty in the UK. But the rest of the recordings with the now Helmless Hawks were less successful. Dylan was trying to get his new songs across, but this was a band who were used to playing raucous music for dancing, and so the attempts at more subtle songs didn't come off the way he wanted: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Hawks, "Visions of Johanna (take 5, 11-30-1965)"] Only one track from those initial New York sessions made the album -- "One Of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)" -- but even that only featured Robertson and Danko of the Hawks, with the rest of the instruments being played by session players: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan (One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)"] The Hawks were a great live band, but great live bands are not necessarily the same thing as a great studio band. And that's especially the case with someone like Dylan. Dylan was someone who was used to recording entirely on his own, and to making records *quickly*. In total, for his fifteen studio albums up to 1974's Blood on the Tracks, Dylan spent a total of eighty-six days in the studio -- by comparison, the Beatles spent over a hundred days in the studio just on the Sgt Pepper album. It's not that the Hawks weren't a good band -- very far from it -- but that studio recording requires a different type of discipline, and that's doubly the case when you're playing with an idiosyncratic player like Dylan. The Hawks would remain Dylan's live backing band, but he wouldn't put out a studio recording with them backing him until 1974. Instead, Bob Johnston, the producer Dylan was working with, suggested a different plan. On his previous album, the Nashville session player Charlie McCoy had guested on "Desolation Row" and Dylan had found him easy to work with. Johnston lived in Nashville, and suggested that they could get the album completed more quickly and to Dylan's liking by using Nashville A-Team musicians. Dylan agreed to try it, and for the rest of the album he had Robertson on lead guitar and Al Kooper on keyboards, but every other musician was a Nashville session player, and they managed to get Dylan's songs recorded quickly and the way he heard them in his head: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine"] Though Dylan being Dylan he did try to introduce an element of randomness to the recordings by having the Nashville musicians swap their instruments around and play each other's parts on "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35", though the Nashville players were still competent enough that they managed to get a usable, if shambolic, track recorded that way in a single take: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35"] Dylan said later of the album "The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album. It's that thin, that wild mercury sound. It's metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up." The album was released in late June 1966, a week before Freak Out! by the Mothers of Invention, another double album, produced by Dylan's old producer Tom Wilson, and a few weeks after Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. Dylan was at the forefront of a new progressive movement in rock music, a movement that was tying thoughtful, intelligent lyrics to studio experimentation and yet somehow managing to have commercial success. And a month after Blonde on Blonde came out, he stepped away from that position, and would never fully return to it. The first half of 1966 was taken up with near-constant touring, with Dylan backed by the Hawks and a succession of fill-in drummers -- first Bobby Gregg, then Sandy Konikoff, then Mickey Jones. This tour started in the US and Canada, with breaks for recording the album, and then moved on to Australia and Europe. The shows always followed the same pattern. First Dylan would perform an acoustic set, solo, with just an acoustic guitar and harmonica, which would generally go down well with the audience -- though sometimes they would get restless, prompting a certain amount of resistance from the performer: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Just Like a Woman (live Paris 1966)"] But the second half of each show was electric, and that was where the problems would arise. The Hawks were playing at the top of their game -- some truly stunning performances: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Hawks, "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues (live in Liverpool 1966)"] But while the majority of the audience was happy to hear the music, there was a vocal portion that were utterly furious at the change in Dylan's musical style. Most notoriously, there was the performance at Manchester Free Trade Hall where this happened: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone (live Manchester 1966)"] That kind of aggression from the audience had the effect of pushing the band on to greater heights a lot of the time -- and a bootleg of that show, mislabelled as the Royal Albert Hall, became one of the most legendary bootlegs in rock music history. Jimmy Page would apparently buy a copy of the bootleg every time he saw one, thinking it was the best album ever made. But while Dylan and the Hawks played defiantly, that kind of audience reaction gets wearing. As Dylan later said, “Judas, the most hated name in human history, and for what—for playing an electric guitar. As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord, and delivering him up to be crucified; all those evil mothers can rot in hell.” And this wasn't the only stress Dylan, in particular, was under. D.A. Pennebaker was making a documentary of the tour -- a follow-up to his documentary of the 1965 tour, which had not yet come out. Dylan talked about the 1965 documentary, Don't Look Back, as being Pennebaker's film of Dylan, but this was going to be Dylan's film, with him directing the director. That footage shows Dylan as nervy and anxious, and covering for the anxiety with a veneer of flippancy. Some of Dylan's behaviour on both tours is unpleasant in ways that can't easily be justified (and which he has later publicly regretted), but there's also a seeming cruelty to some of his interactions with the press and public that actually reads more as frustration. Over and over again he's asked questions -- about being the voice of a generation or the leader of a protest movement -- which are simply based on incorrect premises. When someone asks you a question like this, there are only a few options you can take, none of them good. You can dissect the question, revealing the incorrect premises, and then answer a different question that isn't what they asked, which isn't really an option at all given the kind of rapid-fire situation Dylan was in. You can answer the question as asked, which ends up being dishonest. Or you can be flip and dismissive, which is the tactic Dylan chose. Dylan wasn't the only one -- this is basically what the Beatles did at press conferences. But where the Beatles were a gang and so came off as being fun, Dylan doing the same thing came off as arrogant and aggressive. One of the most famous artifacts of the whole tour is a long piece of footage recorded for the documentary, with Dylan and John Lennon riding in the back of a taxi, both clearly deeply uncomfortable, trying to be funny and impress the other, but neither actually wanting to be there: [Excerpt Dylan and Lennon conversation] 33) Part of the reason Dylan wanted to go home was that he had a whole new lifestyle. Up until 1964 he had been very much a city person, but as he had grown more famous, he'd found New York stifling. Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary had a cabin in Woodstock, where he'd grown up, and after Dylan had spent a month there in summer 1964, he'd fallen in love with the area. Albert Grossman had also bought a home there, on Yarrow's advice, and had given Dylan free run of the place, and Dylan had decided he wanted to move there permanently and bought his own home there. He had also married, to Sara Lowndes (whose name is, as far as I can tell, pronounced "Sarah" even though it's spelled "Sara"), and she had given birth to his first child (and he had adopted her child from her previous marriage). Very little is actually known about Sara, who unlike many other partners of rock stars at this point seemed positively to detest the limelight, and whose privacy Dylan has continued to respect even after the end of their marriage in the late seventies, but it's apparent that the two were very much in love, and that Dylan wanted to be back with his wife and kids, in the country, not going from one strange city to another being asked insipid questions and having abuse screamed at him. He was also tired of the pressure to produce work constantly. He'd signed a contract for a novel, called Tarantula, which he'd written a draft of but was unhappy with, and he'd put out two single albums and a double-album in a little over a year -- all of them considered among the greatest albums ever made. He could only keep up this rate of production and performance with a large intake of speed, and he was sometimes staying up for four days straight to do so. After the European leg of the tour, Dylan was meant to take some time to finish overdubs on Blonde on Blonde, edit the film of the tour for a TV special, with his friend Howard Alk, and proof the galleys for Tarantula, before going on a second world tour in the autumn. That world tour never happened. Dylan was in a motorcycle accident near his home, and had to take time out to recover. There has been a lot of discussion as to how serious the accident actually was, because Dylan's manager Albert Grossman was known to threaten to break contracts by claiming his performers were sick, and because Dylan essentially disappeared from public view for the next eighteen months. Every possible interpretation of the events has been put about by someone, from Dylan having been close to death, to the entire story being put up as a fake. As Dylan is someone who is far more protective of his privacy than most rock stars, it's doubtful we'll ever know the precise truth, but putting together the various accounts Dylan's injuries were bad but not life-threatening, but they acted as a wake-up call -- if he carried on living like he had been, how much longer could he continue? in his sort-of autobiography, Chronicles, Dylan described this period, saying "I had been in a motorcycle accident and I'd been hurt, but I recovered. Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race. Having children changed my life and segregated me from just about everybody and everything that was going on. Outside of my family, nothing held any real interest for me and I was seeing everything through different glasses." All his forthcoming studio and tour dates were cancelled, and Dylan took the time out to recover, and to work on his film, Eat the Document. But it's clear that nobody was sure at first exactly how long Dylan's hiatus from touring was going to last. As it turned out, he wouldn't do another tour until the mid-seventies, and would barely even play any one-off gigs in the intervening time. But nobody knew that at the time, and so to be on the safe side the Hawks were being kept on a retainer. They'd always intended to work on their own music anyway -- they didn't just want to be anyone's backing band -- so they took this time to kick a few ideas around, but they were hamstrung by the fact that it was difficult to find rehearsal space in New York City, and they didn't have any gigs. Their main musical work in the few months between summer 1966 and spring 1967 was some recordings for the soundtrack of a film Peter Yarrow was making. You Are What You Eat is a bizarre hippie collage of a film, documenting the counterculture between 1966 when Yarrow started making it and 1968 when it came out. Carl Franzoni, one of the leaders of the LA freak movement that we've talked about in episodes on the Byrds, Love, and the Mothers of Invention, said of the film “If you ever see this movie you'll understand what ‘freaks' are. It'll let you see the L.A. freaks, the San Francisco freaks, and the New York freaks. It was like a documentary and it was about the makings of what freaks were about. And it had a philosophy, a very definite philosophy: that you are free-spirited, artistic." It's now most known for introducing the song "My Name is Jack" by John Simon, the film's music supervisor: [Excerpt: John Simon, "My Name is Jack"] That song would go on to be a top ten hit in the UK for Manfred Mann: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "My Name is Jack"] The Hawks contributed backing music for several songs for the film, in which they acted as backing band for another old Greenwich Village folkie who had been friends with Yarrow and Dylan but who was not yet the star he would soon become, Tiny Tim: [Excerpt: Tiny Tim, "Sonny Boy"] This was their first time playing together properly since the end of the European tour, and Sid Griffin has noted that these Tiny Tim sessions are the first time you can really hear the sound that the group would develop over the next year, and which would characterise them for their whole career. Robertson, Danko, and Manuel also did a session, not for the film with another of Grossman's discoveries, Carly Simon, playing a version of "Baby Let Me Follow You Down", a song they'd played a lot with Dylan on the tour that spring. That recording has never been released, and I've only managed to track down a brief clip of it from a BBC documentary, with Simon and an interviewer talking over most of the clip (so this won't be in the Mixcloud I put together of songs): [Excerpt: Carly Simon, "Baby Let Me Follow You Down"] That recording is notable though because as well as Robertson, Danko, and Manuel, and Dylan's regular studio keyboard players Al Kooper and Paul Griffin, it also features Levon Helm on drums, even though Helm had still not rejoined the band and was at the time mostly working in New Orleans. But his name's on the session log, so he must have m
Episode 166 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Crossroads", Cream, the myth of Robert Johnson, and whether white men can sing the blues. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a forty-eight-minute bonus episode available, on “Tip-Toe Thru' the Tulips" by Tiny Tim. Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt's irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/ Errata I talk about an interview with Clapton from 1967, I meant 1968. I mention a Graham Bond live recording from 1953, and of course meant 1963. I say Paul Jones was on vocals in the Powerhouse sessions. Steve Winwood was on vocals, and Jones was on harmonica. Resources As I say at the end, the main resource you need to get if you enjoyed this episode is Brother Robert by Annye Anderson, Robert Johnson's stepsister. There are three Mixcloud mixes this time. As there are so many songs by Cream, Robert Johnson, John Mayall, and Graham Bond excerpted, and Mixcloud won't allow more than four songs by the same artist in any mix, I've had to post the songs not in quite the same order in which they appear in the podcast. But the mixes are here -- one, two, three. This article on Mack McCormick gives a fuller explanation of the problems with his research and behaviour. The other books I used for the Robert Johnson sections were McCormick's Biography of a Phantom; Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson, by Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow; Searching for Robert Johnson by Peter Guralnick; and Escaping the Delta by Elijah Wald. I can recommend all of these subject to the caveats at the end of the episode. The information on the history and prehistory of the Delta blues mostly comes from Before Elvis by Larry Birnbaum, with some coming from Charley Patton by John Fahey. The information on Cream comes mostly from Cream: How Eric Clapton Took the World by Storm by Dave Thompson. I also used Ginger Baker: Hellraiser by Ginger Baker and Ginette Baker, Mr Showbiz by Stephen Dando-Collins, Motherless Child by Paul Scott, and Alexis Korner: The Biography by Harry Shapiro. The best collection of Cream's work is the four-CD set Those Were the Days, which contains every track the group ever released while they were together (though only the stereo mixes of the albums, and a couple of tracks are in slightly different edits from the originals). You can get Johnson's music on many budget compilation records, as it's in the public domain in the EU, but the double CD collection produced by Steve LaVere for Sony in 2011 is, despite the problems that come from it being associated with LaVere, far and away the best option -- the remasters have a clarity that's worlds ahead of even the 1990s CD version it replaced. And for a good single-CD introduction to the Delta blues musicians and songsters who were Johnson's peers and inspirations, Back to the Crossroads: The Roots of Robert Johnson, compiled by Elijah Wald as a companion to his book on Johnson, can't be beaten, and contains many of the tracks excerpted in this episode. Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript Before we start, a quick note that this episode contains discussion of racism, drug addiction, and early death. There's also a brief mention of death in childbirth and infant mortality. It's been a while since we looked at the British blues movement, and at the blues in general, so some of you may find some of what follows familiar, as we're going to look at some things we've talked about previously, but from a different angle. In 1968, the Bonzo Dog Band, a comedy musical band that have been described as the missing link between the Beatles and the Monty Python team, released a track called "Can Blue Men Sing the Whites?": [Excerpt: The Bonzo Dog Band, "Can Blue Men Sing the Whites?"] That track was mocking a discussion that was very prominent in Britain's music magazines around that time. 1968 saw the rise of a *lot* of British bands who started out as blues bands, though many of them went on to different styles of music -- Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After, Jethro Tull, Chicken Shack and others were all becoming popular among the kind of people who read the music magazines, and so the question was being asked -- can white men sing the blues? Of course, the answer to that question was obvious. After all, white men *invented* the blues. Before we get any further at all, I have to make clear that I do *not* mean that white people created blues music. But "the blues" as a category, and particularly the idea of it as a music made largely by solo male performers playing guitar... that was created and shaped by the actions of white male record executives. There is no consensus as to when or how the blues as a genre started -- as we often say in this podcast "there is no first anything", but like every genre it seems to have come from multiple sources. In the case of the blues, there's probably some influence from African music by way of field chants sung by enslaved people, possibly some influence from Arabic music as well, definitely some influence from the Irish and British folk songs that by the late nineteenth century were developing into what we now call country music, a lot from ragtime, and a lot of influence from vaudeville and minstrel songs -- which in turn themselves were all very influenced by all those other things. Probably the first published composition to show any real influence of the blues is from 1904, a ragtime piano piece by James Chapman and Leroy Smith, "One O' Them Things": [Excerpt: "One O' Them Things"] That's not very recognisable as a blues piece yet, but it is more-or-less a twelve-bar blues. But the blues developed, and it developed as a result of a series of commercial waves. The first of these came in 1914, with the success of W.C. Handy's "Memphis Blues", which when it was recorded by the Victor Military Band for a phonograph cylinder became what is generally considered the first blues record proper: [Excerpt: The Victor Military Band, "Memphis Blues"] The famous dancers Vernon and Irene Castle came up with a dance, the foxtrot -- which Vernon Castle later admitted was largely inspired by Black dancers -- to be danced to the "Memphis Blues", and the foxtrot soon overtook the tango, which the Castles had introduced to the US the previous year, to become the most popular dance in America for the best part of three decades. And with that came an explosion in blues in the Handy style, cranked out by every music publisher. While the blues was a style largely created by Black performers and writers, the segregated nature of the American music industry at the time meant that most vocal performances of these early blues that were captured on record were by white performers, Black vocalists at this time only rarely getting the chance to record. The first blues record with a Black vocalist is also technically the first British blues record. A group of Black musicians, apparently mostly American but led by a Jamaican pianist, played at Ciro's Club in London, and recorded many tracks in Britain, under a name which I'm not going to say in full -- it started with Ciro's Club, and continued alliteratively with another word starting with C, a slur for Black people. In 1917 they recorded a vocal version of "St. Louis Blues", another W.C. Handy composition: [Excerpt: Ciro's Club C**n Orchestra, "St. Louis Blues"] The first American Black blues vocal didn't come until two years later, when Bert Williams, a Black minstrel-show performer who like many Black performers of his era performed in blackface even though he was Black, recorded “I'm Sorry I Ain't Got It You Could Have It If I Had It Blues,” [Excerpt: Bert Williams, "I'm Sorry I Ain't Got It You Could Have It If I Had It Blues,”] But it wasn't until 1920 that the second, bigger, wave of popularity started for the blues, and this time it started with the first record of a Black *woman* singing the blues -- Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues": [Excerpt: Mamie Smith, "Crazy Blues"] You can hear the difference between that and anything we've heard up to that point -- that's the first record that anyone from our perspective, a hundred and three years later, would listen to and say that it bore any resemblance to what we think of as the blues -- so much so that many places still credit it as the first ever blues record. And there's a reason for that. "Crazy Blues" was one of those records that separates the music industry into before and after, like "Rock Around the Clock", "I Want to Hold Your Hand", Sgt Pepper, or "Rapper's Delight". It sold seventy-five thousand copies in its first month -- a massive number by the standards of 1920 -- and purportedly went on to sell over a million copies. Sales figures and market analysis weren't really a thing in the same way in 1920, but even so it became very obvious that "Crazy Blues" was a big hit, and that unlike pretty much any other previous records, it was a big hit among Black listeners, which meant that there was a market for music aimed at Black people that was going untapped. Soon all the major record labels were setting up subsidiaries devoted to what they called "race music", music made by and for Black people. And this sees the birth of what is now known as "classic blues", but at the time (and for decades after) was just what people thought of when they thought of "the blues" as a genre. This was music primarily sung by female vaudeville artists backed by jazz bands, people like Ma Rainey (whose earliest recordings featured Louis Armstrong in her backing band): [Excerpt: Ma Rainey, "See See Rider Blues"] And Bessie Smith, the "Empress of the Blues", who had a massive career in the 1920s before the Great Depression caused many of these "race record" labels to fold, but who carried on performing well into the 1930s -- her last recording was in 1933, produced by John Hammond, with a backing band including Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden: [Excerpt: Bessie Smith, "Give Me a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer"] It wouldn't be until several years after the boom started by Mamie Smith that any record companies turned to recording Black men singing the blues accompanied by guitar or banjo. The first record of this type is probably "Norfolk Blues" by Reese DuPree from 1924: [Excerpt: Reese DuPree, "Norfolk Blues"] And there were occasional other records of this type, like "Airy Man Blues" by Papa Charlie Jackson, who was advertised as the “only man living who sings, self-accompanied, for Blues records.” [Excerpt: Papa Charlie Jackson, "Airy Man Blues"] But contrary to the way these are seen today, at the time they weren't seen as being in some way "authentic", or "folk music". Indeed, there are many quotes from folk-music collectors of the time (sadly all of them using so many slurs that it's impossible for me to accurately quote them) saying that when people sang the blues, that wasn't authentic Black folk music at all but an adulteration from commercial music -- they'd clearly, according to these folk-music scholars, learned the blues style from records and sheet music rather than as part of an oral tradition. Most of these performers were people who recorded blues as part of a wider range of material, like Blind Blake, who recorded some blues music but whose best work was his ragtime guitar instrumentals: [Excerpt: Blind Blake, "Southern Rag"] But it was when Blind Lemon Jefferson started recording for Paramount records in 1926 that the image of the blues as we now think of it took shape. His first record, "Got the Blues", was a massive success: [Excerpt: Blind Lemon Jefferson, "Got the Blues"] And this resulted in many labels, especially Paramount, signing up pretty much every Black man with a guitar they could find in the hopes of finding another Blind Lemon Jefferson. But the thing is, this generation of people making blues records, and the generation that followed them, didn't think of themselves as "blues singers" or "bluesmen". They were songsters. Songsters were entertainers, and their job was to sing and play whatever the audiences would want to hear. That included the blues, of course, but it also included... well, every song anyone would want to hear. They'd perform old folk songs, vaudeville songs, songs that they'd heard on the radio or the jukebox -- whatever the audience wanted. Robert Johnson, for example, was known to particularly love playing polka music, and also adored the records of Jimmie Rodgers, the first country music superstar. In 1941, when Alan Lomax first recorded Muddy Waters, he asked Waters what kind of songs he normally played in performances, and he was given a list that included "Home on the Range", Gene Autry's "I've Got Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle", and Glenn Miller's "Chattanooga Choo-Choo". We have few recordings of these people performing this kind of song though. One of the few we have is Big Bill Broonzy, who was just about the only artist of this type not to get pigeonholed as just a blues singer, even though blues is what made him famous, and who later in his career managed to record songs like the Tin Pan Alley standard "The Glory of Love": [Excerpt: Big Bill Broonzy, "The Glory of Love"] But for the most part, the image we have of the blues comes down to one man, Arthur Laibley, a sales manager for the Wisconsin Chair Company. The Wisconsin Chair Company was, as the name would suggest, a company that started out making wooden chairs, but it had branched out into other forms of wooden furniture -- including, for a brief time, large wooden phonographs. And, like several other manufacturers, like the Radio Corporation of America -- RCA -- and the Gramophone Company, which became EMI, they realised that if they were going to sell the hardware it made sense to sell the software as well, and had started up Paramount Records, which bought up a small label, Black Swan, and soon became the biggest manufacturer of records for the Black market, putting out roughly a quarter of all "race records" released between 1922 and 1932. At first, most of these were produced by a Black talent scout, J. Mayo Williams, who had been the first person to record Ma Rainey, Papa Charlie Jackson, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, but in 1927 Williams left Paramount, and the job of supervising sessions went to Arthur Laibley, though according to some sources a lot of the actual production work was done by Aletha Dickerson, Williams' former assistant, who was almost certainly the first Black woman to be what we would now think of as a record producer. Williams had been interested in recording all kinds of music by Black performers, but when Laibley got a solo Black man into the studio, what he wanted more than anything was for him to record the blues, ideally in a style as close as possible to that of Blind Lemon Jefferson. Laibley didn't have a very hands-on approach to recording -- indeed Paramount had very little concern about the quality of their product anyway, and Paramount's records are notorious for having been put out on poor-quality shellac and recorded badly -- and he only occasionally made actual suggestions as to what kind of songs his performers should write -- for example he asked Son House to write something that sounded like Blind Lemon Jefferson, which led to House writing and recording "Mississippi County Farm Blues", which steals the tune of Jefferson's "See That My Grave is Kept Clean": [Excerpt: Son House, "Mississippi County Farm Blues"] When Skip James wanted to record a cover of James Wiggins' "Forty-Four Blues", Laibley suggested that instead he should do a song about a different gun, and so James recorded "Twenty-Two Twenty Blues": [Excerpt: Skip James, "Twenty-Two Twenty Blues"] And Laibley also suggested that James write a song about the Depression, which led to one of the greatest blues records ever, "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues": [Excerpt: Skip James, "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues"] These musicians knew that they were getting paid only for issued sides, and that Laibley wanted only blues from them, and so that's what they gave him. Even when it was a performer like Charlie Patton. (Incidentally, for those reading this as a transcript rather than listening to it, Patton's name is more usually spelled ending in ey, but as far as I can tell ie was his preferred spelling and that's what I'm using). Charlie Patton was best known as an entertainer, first and foremost -- someone who would do song-and-dance routines, joke around, play guitar behind his head. He was a clown on stage, so much so that when Son House finally heard some of Patton's records, in the mid-sixties, decades after the fact, he was astonished that Patton could actually play well. Even though House had been in the room when some of the records were made, his memory of Patton was of someone who acted the fool on stage. That's definitely not the impression you get from the Charlie Patton on record: [Excerpt: Charlie Patton, "Poor Me"] Patton is, as far as can be discerned, the person who was most influential in creating the music that became called the "Delta blues". Not a lot is known about Patton's life, but he was almost certainly the half-brother of the Chatmon brothers, who made hundreds of records, most notably as members of the Mississippi Sheiks: [Excerpt: The Mississippi Sheiks, "Sitting on Top of the World"] In the 1890s, Patton's family moved to Sunflower County, Mississippi, and he lived in and around that county until his death in 1934. Patton learned to play guitar from a musician called Henry Sloan, and then Patton became a mentor figure to a *lot* of other musicians in and around the plantation on which his family lived. Some of the musicians who grew up in the immediate area around Patton included Tommy Johnson: [Excerpt: Tommy Johnson, "Big Road Blues"] Pops Staples: [Excerpt: The Staple Singers, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken"] Robert Johnson: [Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "Crossroads"] Willie Brown, a musician who didn't record much, but who played a lot with Patton, Son House, and Robert Johnson and who we just heard Johnson sing about: [Excerpt: Willie Brown, "M&O Blues"] And Chester Burnett, who went on to become known as Howlin' Wolf, and whose vocal style was equally inspired by Patton and by the country star Jimmie Rodgers: [Excerpt: Howlin' Wolf, "Smokestack Lightnin'"] Once Patton started his own recording career for Paramount, he also started working as a talent scout for them, and it was him who brought Son House to Paramount. Soon after the Depression hit, Paramount stopped recording, and so from 1930 through 1934 Patton didn't make any records. He was tracked down by an A&R man in January 1934 and recorded one final session: [Excerpt, Charlie Patton, "34 Blues"] But he died of heart failure two months later. But his influence spread through his proteges, and they themselves influenced other musicians from the area who came along a little after, like Robert Lockwood and Muddy Waters. This music -- or that portion of it that was considered worth recording by white record producers, only a tiny, unrepresentative, portion of their vast performing repertoires -- became known as the Delta Blues, and when some of these musicians moved to Chicago and started performing with electric instruments, it became Chicago Blues. And as far as people like John Mayall in Britain were concerned, Delta and Chicago Blues *were* the blues: [Excerpt: John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, "It Ain't Right"] John Mayall was one of the first of the British blues obsessives, and for a long time thought of himself as the only one. While we've looked before at the growth of the London blues scene, Mayall wasn't from London -- he was born in Macclesfield and grew up in Cheadle Hulme, both relatively well-off suburbs of Manchester, and after being conscripted and doing two years in the Army, he had become an art student at Manchester College of Art, what is now Manchester Metropolitan University. Mayall had been a blues fan from the late 1940s, writing off to the US to order records that hadn't been released in the UK, and by most accounts by the late fifties he'd put together the biggest blues collection in Britain by quite some way. Not only that, but he had one of the earliest home tape recorders, and every night he would record radio stations from Continental Europe which were broadcasting for American service personnel, so he'd amassed mountains of recordings, often unlabelled, of obscure blues records that nobody else in the UK knew about. He was also an accomplished pianist and guitar player, and in 1956 he and his drummer friend Peter Ward had put together a band called the Powerhouse Four (the other two members rotated on a regular basis) mostly to play lunchtime jazz sessions at the art college. Mayall also started putting on jam sessions at a youth club in Wythenshawe, where he met another drummer named Hughie Flint. Over the late fifties and into the early sixties, Mayall more or less by himself built up a small blues scene in Manchester. The Manchester blues scene was so enthusiastic, in fact, that when the American Folk Blues Festival, an annual European tour which initially featured Willie Dixon, Memhis Slim, T-Bone Walker, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, and John Lee Hooker, first toured Europe, the only UK date it played was at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, and people like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones and Jimmy Page had to travel up from London to see it. But still, the number of blues fans in Manchester, while proportionally large, was objectively small enough that Mayall was captivated by an article in Melody Maker which talked about Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies' new band Blues Incorporated and how it was playing electric blues, the same music he was making in Manchester. He later talked about how the article had made him think that maybe now people would know what he was talking about. He started travelling down to London to play gigs for the London blues scene, and inviting Korner up to Manchester to play shows there. Soon Mayall had moved down to London. Korner introduced Mayall to Davey Graham, the great folk guitarist, with whom Korner had recently recorded as a duo: [Excerpt: Alexis Korner and Davey Graham, "3/4 AD"] Mayall and Graham performed together as a duo for a while, but Graham was a natural solo artist if ever there was one. Slowly Mayall put a band together in London. On drums was his old friend Peter Ward, who'd moved down from Manchester with him. On bass was John McVie, who at the time knew nothing about blues -- he'd been playing in a Shadows-style instrumental group -- but Mayall gave him a stack of blues records to listen to to get the feeling. And on guitar was Bernie Watson, who had previously played with Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages. In late 1963, Mike Vernon, a blues fan who had previously published a Yardbirds fanzine, got a job working for Decca records, and immediately started signing his favourite acts from the London blues circuit. The first act he signed was John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and they recorded a single, "Crawling up a Hill": [Excerpt: John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, "Crawling up a Hill (45 version)"] Mayall later called that a "clumsy, half-witted attempt at autobiographical comment", and it sold only five hundred copies. It would be the only record the Bluesbreakers would make with Watson, who soon left the band to be replaced by Roger Dean (not the same Roger Dean who later went on to design prog rock album covers). The second group to be signed by Mike Vernon to Decca was the Graham Bond Organisation. We've talked about the Graham Bond Organisation in passing several times, but not for a while and not in any great detail, so it's worth pulling everything we've said about them so far together and going through it in a little more detail. The Graham Bond Organisation, like the Rolling Stones, grew out of Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated. As we heard in the episode on "I Wanna Be Your Man" a couple of years ago, Blues Incorporated had been started by Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies, and at the time we're joining them in 1962 featured a drummer called Charlie Watts, a pianist called Dave Stevens, and saxophone player Dick Heckstall-Smith, as well as frequent guest performers like a singer who called himself Mike Jagger, and another one, Roderick Stewart. That group finally found themselves the perfect bass player when Dick Heckstall-Smith put together a one-off group of jazz players to play an event at Cambridge University. At the gig, a little Scottish man came up to the group and told them he played bass and asked if he could sit in. They told him to bring along his instrument to their second set, that night, and he did actually bring along a double bass. Their bluff having been called, they decided to play the most complicated, difficult, piece they knew in order to throw the kid off -- the drummer, a trad jazz player named Ginger Baker, didn't like performing with random sit-in guests -- but astonishingly he turned out to be really good. Heckstall-Smith took down the bass player's name and phone number and invited him to a jam session with Blues Incorporated. After that jam session, Jack Bruce quickly became the group's full-time bass player. Bruce had started out as a classical cellist, but had switched to the double bass inspired by Bach, who he referred to as "the guv'nor of all bass players". His playing up to this point had mostly been in trad jazz bands, and he knew nothing of the blues, but he quickly got the hang of the genre. Bruce's first show with Blues Incorporated was a BBC recording: [Excerpt: Blues Incorporated, "Hoochie Coochie Man (BBC session)"] According to at least one source it was not being asked to take part in that session that made young Mike Jagger decide there was no future for him with Blues Incorporated and to spend more time with his other group, the Rollin' Stones. Soon after, Charlie Watts would join him, for almost the opposite reason -- Watts didn't want to be in a band that was getting as big as Blues Incorporated were. They were starting to do more BBC sessions and get more gigs, and having to join the Musicians' Union. That seemed like a lot of work. Far better to join a band like the Rollin' Stones that wasn't going anywhere. Because of Watts' decision to give up on potential stardom to become a Rollin' Stone, they needed a new drummer, and luckily the best drummer on the scene was available. But then the best drummer on the scene was *always* available. Ginger Baker had first played with Dick Heckstall-Smith several years earlier, in a trad group called the Storyville Jazzmen. There Baker had become obsessed with the New Orleans jazz drummer Baby Dodds, who had played with Louis Armstrong in the 1920s. Sadly because of 1920s recording technology, he hadn't been able to play a full kit on the recordings with Armstrong, being limited to percussion on just a woodblock, but you can hear his drumming style much better in this version of "At the Jazz Band Ball" from 1947, with Mugsy Spanier, Jack Teagarden, Cyrus St. Clair and Hank Duncan: [Excerpt: "At the Jazz Band Ball"] Baker had taken Dobbs' style and run with it, and had quickly become known as the single best player, bar none, on the London jazz scene -- he'd become an accomplished player in multiple styles, and was also fluent in reading music and arranging. He'd also, though, become known as the single person on the entire scene who was most difficult to get along with. He resigned from his first band onstage, shouting "You can stick your band up your arse", after the band's leader had had enough of him incorporating bebop influences into their trad style. Another time, when touring with Diz Disley's band, he was dumped in Germany with no money and no way to get home, because the band were so sick of him. Sometimes this was because of his temper and his unwillingness to suffer fools -- and he saw everyone else he ever met as a fool -- and sometimes it was because of his own rigorous musical ideas. He wanted to play music *his* way, and wouldn't listen to anyone who told him different. Both of these things got worse after he fell under the influence of a man named Phil Seaman, one of the only drummers that Baker respected at all. Seaman introduced Baker to African drumming, and Baker started incorporating complex polyrhythms into his playing as a result. Seaman also though introduced Baker to heroin, and while being a heroin addict in the UK in the 1960s was not as difficult as it later became -- both heroin and cocaine were available on prescription to registered addicts, and Baker got both, which meant that many of the problems that come from criminalisation of these drugs didn't affect addicts in the same way -- but it still did not, by all accounts, make him an easier person to get along with. But he *was* a fantastic drummer. As Dick Heckstall-Smith said "With the advent of Ginger, the classic Blues Incorporated line-up, one which I think could not be bettered, was set" But Alexis Korner decided that the group could be bettered, and he had some backers within the band. One of the other bands on the scene was the Don Rendell Quintet, a group that played soul jazz -- that style of jazz that bridged modern jazz and R&B, the kind of music that Ray Charles and Herbie Hancock played: [Excerpt: The Don Rendell Quintet, "Manumission"] The Don Rendell Quintet included a fantastic multi-instrumentalist, Graham Bond, who doubled on keyboards and saxophone, and Bond had been playing occasional experimental gigs with the Johnny Burch Octet -- a group led by another member of the Rendell Quartet featuring Heckstall-Smith, Bruce, Baker, and a few other musicians, doing wholly-improvised music. Heckstall-Smith, Bruce, and Baker all enjoyed playing with Bond, and when Korner decided to bring him into the band, they were all very keen. But Cyril Davies, the co-leader of the band with Korner, was furious at the idea. Davies wanted to play strict Chicago and Delta blues, and had no truck with other forms of music like R&B and jazz. To his mind it was bad enough that they had a sax player. But the idea that they would bring in Bond, who played sax and... *Hammond* organ? Well, that was practically blasphemy. Davies quit the group at the mere suggestion. Bond was soon in the band, and he, Bruce, and Baker were playing together a *lot*. As well as performing with Blues Incorporated, they continued playing in the Johnny Burch Octet, and they also started performing as the Graham Bond Trio. Sometimes the Graham Bond Trio would be Blues Incorporated's opening act, and on more than one occasion the Graham Bond Trio, Blues Incorporated, and the Johnny Burch Octet all had gigs in different parts of London on the same night and they'd have to frantically get from one to the other. The Graham Bond Trio also had fans in Manchester, thanks to the local blues scene there and their connection with Blues Incorporated, and one night in February 1963 the trio played a gig there. They realised afterwards that by playing as a trio they'd made £70, when they were lucky to make £20 from a gig with Blues Incorporated or the Octet, because there were so many members in those bands. Bond wanted to make real money, and at the next rehearsal of Blues Incorporated he announced to Korner that he, Bruce, and Baker were quitting the band -- which was news to Bruce and Baker, who he hadn't bothered consulting. Baker, indeed, was in the toilet when the announcement was made and came out to find it a done deal. He was going to kick up a fuss and say he hadn't been consulted, but Korner's reaction sealed the deal. As Baker later said "‘he said “it's really good you're doing this thing with Graham, and I wish you the best of luck” and all that. And it was a bit difficult to turn round and say, “Well, I don't really want to leave the band, you know.”'" The Graham Bond Trio struggled at first to get the gigs they were expecting, but that started to change when in April 1963 they became the Graham Bond Quartet, with the addition of virtuoso guitarist John McLaughlin. The Quartet soon became one of the hottest bands on the London R&B scene, and when Duffy Power, a Larry Parnes teen idol who wanted to move into R&B, asked his record label to get him a good R&B band to back him on a Beatles cover, it was the Graham Bond Quartet who obliged: [Excerpt: Duffy Power, "I Saw Her Standing There"] The Quartet also backed Power on a package tour with other Parnes acts, but they were also still performing their own blend of hard jazz and blues, as can be heard in this recording of the group live in June 1953: [Excerpt: The Graham Bond Quartet, "Ho Ho Country Kicking Blues (Live at Klooks Kleek)"] But that lineup of the group didn't last very long. According to the way Baker told the story, he fired McLaughlin from the group, after being irritated by McLaughlin complaining about something on a day when Baker was out of cocaine and in no mood to hear anyone else's complaints. As Baker said "We lost a great guitar player and I lost a good friend." But the Trio soon became a Quartet again, as Dick Heckstall-Smith, who Baker had wanted in the band from the start, joined on saxophone to replace McLaughlin's guitar. But they were no longer called the Graham Bond Quartet. Partly because Heckstall-Smith joining allowed Bond to concentrate just on his keyboard playing, but one suspects partly to protect against any future lineup changes, the group were now The Graham Bond ORGANisation -- emphasis on the organ. The new lineup of the group got signed to Decca by Vernon, and were soon recording their first single, "Long Tall Shorty": [Excerpt: The Graham Bond Organisation, "Long Tall Shorty"] They recorded a few other songs which made their way onto an EP and an R&B compilation, and toured intensively in early 1964, as well as backing up Power on his follow-up to "I Saw Her Standing There", his version of "Parchman Farm": [Excerpt: Duffy Power, "Parchman Farm"] They also appeared in a film, just like the Beatles, though it was possibly not quite as artistically successful as "A Hard Day's Night": [Excerpt: Gonks Go Beat trailer] Gonks Go Beat is one of the most bizarre films of the sixties. It's a far-future remake of Romeo and Juliet. where the two star-crossed lovers are from opposing countries -- Beatland and Ballad Isle -- who only communicate once a year in an annual song contest which acts as their version of a war, and is overseen by "Mr. A&R", played by Frank Thornton, who would later star in Are You Being Served? Carry On star Kenneth Connor is sent by aliens to try to bring peace to the two warring countries, on pain of exile to Planet Gonk, a planet inhabited solely by Gonks (a kind of novelty toy for which there was a short-lived craze then). Along the way Connor encounters such luminaries of British light entertainment as Terry Scott and Arthur Mullard, as well as musical performances by Lulu, the Nashville Teens, and of course the Graham Bond Organisation, whose performance gets them a telling-off from a teacher: [Excerpt: Gonks Go Beat!] The group as a group only performed one song in this cinematic masterpiece, but Baker also made an appearance in a "drum battle" sequence where eight drummers played together: [Excerpt: Gonks Go Beat drum battle] The other drummers in that scene included, as well as some lesser-known players, Andy White who had played on the single version of "Love Me Do", Bobby Graham, who played on hits by the Kinks and the Dave Clark Five, and Ronnie Verrell, who did the drumming for Animal in the Muppet Show. Also in summer 1964, the group performed at the Fourth National Jazz & Blues Festival in Richmond -- the festival co-founded by Chris Barber that would evolve into the Reading Festival. The Yardbirds were on the bill, and at the end of their set they invited Bond, Baker, Bruce, Georgie Fame, and Mike Vernon onto the stage with them, making that the first time that Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce were all on stage together. Soon after that, the Graham Bond Organisation got a new manager, Robert Stigwood. Things hadn't been working out for them at Decca, and Stigwood soon got the group signed to EMI, and became their producer as well. Their first single under Stigwood's management was a cover version of the theme tune to the Debbie Reynolds film "Tammy". While that film had given Tamla records its name, the song was hardly an R&B classic: [Excerpt: The Graham Bond Organisation, "Tammy"] That record didn't chart, but Stigwood put the group out on the road as part of the disastrous Chuck Berry tour we heard about in the episode on "All You Need is Love", which led to the bankruptcy of Robert Stigwood Associates. The Organisation moved over to Stigwood's new company, the Robert Stigwood Organisation, and Stigwood continued to be the credited producer of their records, though after the "Tammy" disaster they decided they were going to take charge themselves of the actual music. Their first album, The Sound of 65, was recorded in a single three-hour session, and they mostly ran through their standard set -- a mixture of the same songs everyone else on the circuit was playing, like "Hoochie Coochie Man", "Got My Mojo Working", and "Wade in the Water", and originals like Bruce's "Train Time": [Excerpt: The Graham Bond Organisation, "Train Time"] Through 1965 they kept working. They released a non-album single, "Lease on Love", which is generally considered to be the first pop record to feature a Mellotron: [Excerpt: The Graham Bond Organisation, "Lease on Love"] and Bond and Baker also backed another Stigwood act, Winston G, on his debut single: [Excerpt: Winston G, "Please Don't Say"] But the group were developing severe tensions. Bruce and Baker had started out friendly, but by this time they hated each other. Bruce said he couldn't hear his own playing over Baker's loud drumming, Baker thought that Bruce was far too fussy a player and should try to play simpler lines. They'd both try to throw each other during performances, altering arrangements on the fly and playing things that would trip the other player up. And *neither* of them were particularly keen on Bond's new love of the Mellotron, which was all over their second album, giving it a distinctly proto-prog feel at times: [Excerpt: The Graham Bond Organisation, "Baby Can it Be True?"] Eventually at a gig in Golders Green, Baker started throwing drumsticks at Bruce's head while Bruce was trying to play a bass solo. Bruce retaliated by throwing his bass at Baker, and then jumping on him and starting a fistfight which had to be broken up by the venue security. Baker fired Bruce from the band, but Bruce kept turning up to gigs anyway, arguing that Baker had no right to sack him as it was a democracy. Baker always claimed that in fact Bond had wanted to sack Bruce but hadn't wanted to get his hands dirty, and insisted that Baker do it, but neither Bond nor Heckstall-Smith objected when Bruce turned up for the next couple of gigs. So Baker took matters into his own hands, He pulled out a knife and told Bruce "If you show up at one more gig, this is going in you." Within days, Bruce was playing with John Mayall, whose Bluesbreakers had gone through some lineup changes by this point. Roger Dean had only played with the Bluesbreakers for a short time before Mayall had replaced him. Mayall had not been impressed with Eric Clapton's playing with the Yardbirds at first -- even though graffiti saying "Clapton is God" was already starting to appear around London -- but he had been *very* impressed with Clapton's playing on "Got to Hurry", the B-side to "For Your Love": [Excerpt: The Yardbirds, "Got to Hurry"] When he discovered that Clapton had quit the band, he sprang into action and quickly recruited him to replace Dean. Clapton knew he had made the right choice when a month after he'd joined, the group got the word that Bob Dylan had been so impressed with Mayall's single "Crawling up a Hill" -- the one that nobody liked, not even Mayall himself -- that he wanted to jam with Mayall and his band in the studio. Clapton of course went along: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Bluesbreakers, "If You Gotta Go, Go Now"] That was, of course, the session we've talked about in the Velvet Underground episode and elsewhere of which little other than that survives, and which Nico attended. At this point, Mayall didn't have a record contract, his experience recording with Mike Vernon having been no more successful than the Bond group's had been. But soon he got a one-off deal -- as a solo artist, not with the Bluesbreakers -- with Immediate Records. Clapton was the only member of the group to play on the single, which was produced by Immediate's house producer Jimmy Page: [Excerpt: John Mayall, "I'm Your Witchdoctor"] Page was impressed enough with Clapton's playing that he invited him round to Page's house to jam together. But what Clapton didn't know was that Page was taping their jam sessions, and that he handed those tapes over to Immediate Records -- whether he was forced to by his contract with the label or whether that had been his plan all along depends on whose story you believe, but Clapton never truly forgave him. Page and Clapton's guitar-only jams had overdubs by Bill Wyman, Ian Stewart, and drummer Chris Winter, and have been endlessly repackaged on blues compilations ever since: [Excerpt: Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, "Draggin' My Tail"] But Mayall was having problems with John McVie, who had started to drink too much, and as soon as he found out that Jack Bruce was sacked by the Graham Bond Organisation, Mayall got in touch with Bruce and got him to join the band in McVie's place. Everyone was agreed that this lineup of the band -- Mayall, Clapton, Bruce, and Hughie Flint -- was going places: [Excerpt: John Mayall's Bluesbreakers with Jack Bruce, "Hoochie Coochie Man"] Unfortunately, it wasn't going to last long. Clapton, while he thought that Bruce was the greatest bass player he'd ever worked with, had other plans. He was going to leave the country and travel the world as a peripatetic busker. He was off on his travels, never to return. Luckily, Mayall had someone even better waiting in the wings. A young man had, according to Mayall, "kept coming down to all the gigs and saying, “Hey, what are you doing with him?” – referring to whichever guitarist was onstage that night – “I'm much better than he is. Why don't you let me play guitar for you?” He got really quite nasty about it, so finally, I let him sit in. And he was brilliant." Peter Green was probably the best blues guitarist in London at that time, but this lineup of the Bluesbreakers only lasted a handful of gigs -- Clapton discovered that busking in Greece wasn't as much fun as being called God in London, and came back very soon after he'd left. Mayall had told him that he could have his old job back when he got back, and so Green was out and Clapton was back in. And soon the Bluesbreakers' revolving door revolved again. Manfred Mann had just had a big hit with "If You Gotta Go, Go Now", the same song we heard Dylan playing earlier: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "If You Gotta Go, Go Now"] But their guitarist, Mike Vickers, had quit. Tom McGuinness, their bass player, had taken the opportunity to switch back to guitar -- the instrument he'd played in his first band with his friend Eric Clapton -- but that left them short a bass player. Manfred Mann were essentially the same kind of band as the Graham Bond Organisation -- a Hammond-led group of virtuoso multi-instrumentalists who played everything from hardcore Delta blues to complex modern jazz -- but unlike the Bond group they also had a string of massive pop hits, and so made a lot more money. The combination was irresistible to Bruce, and he joined the band just before they recorded an EP of jazz instrumental versions of recent hits: [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"] Bruce had also been encouraged by Robert Stigwood to do a solo project, and so at the same time as he joined Manfred Mann, he also put out a solo single, "Drinkin' and Gamblin'" [Excerpt: Jack Bruce, "Drinkin' and Gamblin'"] But of course, the reason Bruce had joined Manfred Mann was that they were having pop hits as well as playing jazz, and soon they did just that, with Bruce playing on their number one hit "Pretty Flamingo": [Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "Pretty Flamingo"] So John McVie was back in the Bluesbreakers, promising to keep his drinking under control. Mike Vernon still thought that Mayall had potential, but the people at Decca didn't agree, so Vernon got Mayall and Clapton -- but not the other band members -- to record a single for a small indie label he ran as a side project: [Excerpt: John Mayall and Eric Clapton, "Bernard Jenkins"] That label normally only released records in print runs of ninety-nine copies, because once you hit a hundred copies you had to pay tax on them, but there was so much demand for that single that they ended up pressing up five hundred copies, making it the label's biggest seller ever. Vernon eventually convinced the heads at Decca that the Bluesbreakers could be truly big, and so he got the OK to record the album that would generally be considered the greatest British blues album of all time -- Blues Breakers, also known as the Beano album because of Clapton reading a copy of the British kids' comic The Beano in the group photo on the front. [Excerpt: John Mayall with Eric Clapton, "Ramblin' On My Mind"] The album was a mixture of originals by Mayall and the standard repertoire of every blues or R&B band on the circuit -- songs like "Parchman Farm" and "What'd I Say" -- but what made the album unique was Clapton's guitar tone. Much to the chagrin of Vernon, and of engineer Gus Dudgeon, Clapton insisted on playing at the same volume that he would on stage. Vernon later said of Dudgeon "I can remember seeing his face the very first time Clapton plugged into the Marshall stack and turned it up and started playing at the sort of volume he was going to play. You could almost see Gus's eyes meet over the middle of his nose, and it was almost like he was just going to fall over from the sheer power of it all. But after an enormous amount of fiddling around and moving amps around, we got a sound that worked." [Excerpt: John Mayall with Eric Clapton, "Hideaway"] But by the time the album cane out. Clapton was no longer with the Bluesbreakers. The Graham Bond Organisation had struggled on for a while after Bruce's departure. They brought in a trumpet player, Mike Falana, and even had a hit record -- or at least, the B-side of a hit record. The Who had just put out a hit single, "Substitute", on Robert Stigwood's record label, Reaction: [Excerpt: The Who, "Substitute"] But, as you'll hear in episode 183, they had moved to Reaction Records after a falling out with their previous label, and with Shel Talmy their previous producer. The problem was, when "Substitute" was released, it had as its B-side a song called "Circles" (also known as "Instant Party -- it's been released under both names). They'd recorded an earlier version of the song for Talmy, and just as "Substitute" was starting to chart, Talmy got an injunction against the record and it had to be pulled. Reaction couldn't afford to lose the big hit record they'd spent money promoting, so they needed to put it out with a new B-side. But the Who hadn't got any unreleased recordings. But the Graham Bond Organisation had, and indeed they had an unreleased *instrumental*. So "Waltz For a Pig" became the B-side to a top-five single, credited to The Who Orchestra: [Excerpt: The Who Orchestra, "Waltz For a Pig"] That record provided the catalyst for the formation of Cream, because Ginger Baker had written the song, and got £1,350 for it, which he used to buy a new car. Baker had, for some time, been wanting to get out of the Graham Bond Organisation. He was trying to get off heroin -- though he would make many efforts to get clean over the decades, with little success -- while Bond was starting to use it far more heavily, and was also using acid and getting heavily into mysticism, which Baker despised. Baker may have had the idea for what he did next from an article in one of the music papers. John Entwistle of the Who would often tell a story about an article in Melody Maker -- though I've not been able to track down the article itself to get the full details -- in which musicians were asked to name which of their peers they'd put into a "super-group". He didn't remember the full details, but he did remember that the consensus choice had had Eric Clapton on lead guitar, himself on bass, and Ginger Baker on drums. As he said later "I don't remember who else was voted in, but a few months later, the Cream came along, and I did wonder if somebody was maybe believing too much of their own press". Incidentally, like The Buffalo Springfield and The Pink Floyd, Cream, the band we are about to meet, had releases both with and without the definite article, and Eric Clapton at least seems always to talk about them as "the Cream" even decades later, but they're primarily known as just Cream these days. Baker, having had enough of the Bond group, decided to drive up to Oxford to see Clapton playing with the Bluesbreakers. Clapton invited him to sit in for a couple of songs, and by all accounts the band sounded far better than they had previously. Clapton and Baker could obviously play well together, and Baker offered Clapton a lift back to London in his new car, and on the drive back asked Clapton if he wanted to form a new band. Clapton was as impressed by Baker's financial skills as he was by his musicianship. He said later "Musicians didn't have cars. You all got in a van." Clearly a musician who was *actually driving a new car he owned* was going places. He agreed to Baker's plan. But of course they needed a bass player, and Clapton thought he had the perfect solution -- "What about Jack?" Clapton knew that Bruce had been a member of the Graham Bond Organisation, but didn't know why he'd left the band -- he wasn't particularly clued in to what the wider music scene was doing, and all he knew was that Bruce had played with both him and Baker, and that he was the best bass player he'd ever played with. And Bruce *was* arguably the best bass player in London at that point, and he was starting to pick up session work as well as his work with Manfred Mann. For example it's him playing on the theme tune to "After The Fox" with Peter Sellers, the Hollies, and the song's composer Burt Bacharach: [Excerpt: The Hollies with Peter Sellers, "After the Fox"] Clapton was insistent. Baker's idea was that the band should be the best musicians around. That meant they needed the *best* musicians around, not the second best. If Jack Bruce wasn't joining, Eric Clapton wasn't joining either. Baker very reluctantly agreed, and went round to see Bruce the next day -- according to Baker it was in a spirit of generosity and giving Bruce one more chance, while according to Bruce he came round to eat humble pie and beg for forgiveness. Either way, Bruce agreed to join the band. The three met up for a rehearsal at Baker's home, and immediately Bruce and Baker started fighting, but also immediately they realised that they were great at playing together -- so great that they named themselves the Cream, as they were the cream of musicians on the scene. They knew they had something, but they didn't know what. At first they considered making their performances into Dada projects, inspired by the early-twentieth-century art movement. They liked a band that had just started to make waves, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band -- who had originally been called the Bonzo Dog Dada Band -- and they bought some props with the vague idea of using them on stage in the same way the Bonzos did. But as they played together they realised that they needed to do something different from that. At first, they thought they needed a fourth member -- a keyboard player. Graham Bond's name was brought up, but Clapton vetoed him. Clapton wanted Steve Winwood, the keyboard player and vocalist with the Spencer Davis Group. Indeed, Winwood was present at what was originally intended to be the first recording session the trio would play. Joe Boyd had asked Eric Clapton to round up a bunch of players to record some filler tracks for an Elektra blues compilation, and Clapton had asked Bruce and Baker to join him, Paul Jones on vocals, Winwood on Hammond and Clapton's friend Ben Palmer on piano for the session. Indeed, given that none of the original trio were keen on singing, that Paul Jones was just about to leave Manfred Mann, and that we know Clapton wanted Winwood in the band, one has to wonder if Clapton at least half-intended for this to be the eventual lineup of the band. If he did, that plan was foiled by Baker's refusal to take part in the session. Instead, this one-off band, named The Powerhouse, featured Pete York, the drummer from the Spencer Davis Group, on the session, which produced the first recording of Clapton playing on the Robert Johnson song originally titled "Cross Road Blues" but now generally better known just as "Crossroads": [Excerpt: The Powerhouse, "Crossroads"] We talked about Robert Johnson a little back in episode ninety-seven, but other than Bob Dylan, who was inspired by his lyrics, we had seen very little influence from Johnson up to this point, but he's going to be a major influence on rock guitar for the next few years, so we should talk about him a little here. It's often said that nobody knew anything about Robert Johnson, that he was almost a phantom other than his records which existed outside of any context as artefacts of their own. That's... not really the case. Johnson had died a little less than thirty years earlier, at only twenty-seven years old. Most of his half-siblings and step-siblings were alive, as were his son, his stepson, and dozens of musicians he'd played with over the years, women he'd had affairs with, and other assorted friends and relatives. What people mean is that information about Johnson's life was not yet known by people they consider important -- which is to say white blues scholars and musicians. Indeed, almost everything people like that -- people like *me* -- know of the facts of Johnson's life has only become known to us in the last four years. If, as some people had expected, I'd started this series with an episode on Johnson, I'd have had to redo the whole thing because of the information that's made its way to the public since then. But here's what was known -- or thought -- by white blues scholars in 1966. Johnson was, according to them, a field hand from somewhere in Mississippi, who played the guitar in between working on the cotton fields. He had done two recording sessions, in 1936 and 1937. One song from his first session, "Terraplane Blues", had been a very minor hit by blues standards: [Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "Terraplane Blues"] That had sold well -- nobody knows how well, but maybe as many as ten thousand copies, and it was certainly a record people knew in 1937 if they liked the Delta blues, but ten thousand copies total is nowhere near the sales of really successful records, and none of the follow-ups had sold anything like that much -- many of them had sold in the hundreds rather than the thousands. As Elijah Wald, one of Johnson's biographers put it "knowing about Johnson and Muddy Waters but not about Leroy Carr or Dinah Washington was like knowing about, say, the Sir Douglas Quintet but not knowing about the Beatles" -- though *I* would add that the Sir Douglas Quintet were much bigger during the sixties than Johnson was during his lifetime. One of the few white people who had noticed Johnson's existence at all was John Hammond, and he'd written a brief review of Johnson's first two singles under a pseudonym in a Communist newspaper. I'm going to quote it here, but the word he used to talk about Black people was considered correct then but isn't now, so I'll substitute Black for that word: "Before closing we cannot help but call your attention to the greatest [Black] blues singer who has cropped up in recent years, Robert Johnson. Recording them in deepest Mississippi, Vocalion has certainly done right by us and by the tunes "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" and "Terraplane Blues", to name only two of the four sides already released, sung to his own guitar accompaniment. Johnson makes Leadbelly sound like an accomplished poseur" Hammond had tried to get Johnson to perform at the Spirituals to Swing concerts we talked about in the very first episodes of the podcast, but he'd discovered that he'd died shortly before. He got Big Bill Broonzy instead, and played a couple of Johnson's records from a record player on the stage. Hammond introduced those recordings with a speech: "It is tragic that an American audience could not have been found seven or eight years ago for a concert of this kind. Bessie Smith was still at the height of her career and Joe Smith, probably the greatest trumpet player America ever knew, would still have been around to play obbligatos for her...dozens of other artists could have been there in the flesh. But that audience as well as this one would not have been able to hear Robert Johnson sing and play the blues on his guitar, for at that time Johnson was just an unknown hand on a Robinsonville, Mississippi plantation. Robert Johnson was going to be the big surprise of the evening for this audience at Carnegie Hall. I know him only from his Vocalion blues records and from the tall, exciting tales the recording engineers and supervisors used to bring about him from the improvised studios in Dallas and San Antonio. I don't believe Johnson had ever worked as a professional musician anywhere, and it still knocks me over when I think of how lucky it is that a talent like his ever found its way onto phonograph records. We will have to be content with playing two of his records, the old "Walkin' Blues" and the new, unreleased, "Preachin' Blues", because Robert Johnson died last week at the precise moment when Vocalion scouts finally reached him and told him that he was booked to appear at Carnegie Hall on December 23. He was in his middle twenties and nobody seems to know what caused his death." And that was, for the most part, the end of Robert Johnson's impact on the culture for a generation. The Lomaxes went down to Clarksdale, Mississippi a couple of years later -- reports vary as to whether this was to see if they could find Johnson, who they were unaware was dead, or to find information out about him, and they did end up recording a young singer named Muddy Waters for the Library of Congress, including Waters' rendition of "32-20 Blues", Johnson's reworking of Skip James' "Twenty-Two Twenty Blues": [Excerpt: Muddy Waters, "32-20 Blues"] But Johnson's records remained unavailable after their initial release until 1959, when the blues scholar Samuel Charters published the book The Country Blues, which was the first book-length treatment ever of Delta blues. Sixteen years later Charters said "I shouldn't have written The Country Blues when I did; since I really didn't know enough, but I felt I couldn't afford to wait. So The Country Blues was two things. It was a romanticization of certain aspects of black life in an effort to force the white society to reconsider some of its racial attitudes, and on the other hand it was a cry for help. I wanted hundreds of people to go out and interview the surviving blues artists. I wanted people to record them and document their lives, their environment, and their music, not only so that their story would be preserved but also so they'd get a little money and a little recognition in their last years." Charters talked about Johnson in the book, as one of the performers who played "minor roles in the story of the blues", and said that almost nothing was known about his life. He talked about how he had been poisoned by his common-law wife, about how his records were recorded in a pool hall, and said "The finest of Robert Johnson's blues have a brooding sense of torment and despair. The blues has become a personified figure of despondency." Along with Charters' book came a compilation album of the same name, and that included the first ever reissue of one of Johnson's tracks, "Preaching Blues": [Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "Preaching Blues"] Two years later, John Hammond, who had remained an ardent fan of Johnson, had Columbia put out the King of the Delta Blues Singers album. At the time no white blues scholars knew what Johnson looked like and they had no photos of him, so a generic painting of a poor-looking Black man with a guitar was used for the cover. The liner note to King of the Delta Blues Singers talked about how Johnson was seventeen or eighteen when he made his recordings, how he was "dead before he reached his twenty-first birthday, poisoned by a jealous girlfriend", how he had "seldom, if ever, been away from the plantation in Robinsville, Mississippi, where he was born and raised", and how he had had such stage fright that when he was asked to play in front of other musicians, he'd turned to face a wall so he couldn't see them. And that would be all that any of the members of the Powerhouse would know about Johnson. Maybe they'd also heard the rumours that were starting to spread that Johnson had got his guitar-playing skills by selling his soul to the devil at a crossroads at midnight, but that would have been all they knew when they recorded their filler track for Elektra: [Excerpt: The Powerhouse, "Crossroads"] Either way, the Powerhouse lineup only lasted for that one session -- the group eventually decided that a simple trio would be best for the music they wanted to play. Clapton had seen Buddy Guy touring with just a bass player and drummer a year earlier, and had liked the idea of the freedom that gave him as a guitarist. The group soon took on Robert Stigwood as a manager, which caused more arguments between Bruce and Baker. Bruce was convinced that if they were doing an all-for-one one-for-all thing they should also manage themselves, but Baker pointed out that that was a daft idea when they could get one of the biggest managers in the country to look after them. A bigger argument, which almost killed the group before it started, happened when Baker told journalist Chris Welch of the Melody Maker about their plans. In an echo of the way that he and Bruce had been resigned from Blues Incorporated without being consulted, now with no discussion Manfred Mann and John Mayall were reading in the papers that their band members were quitting before those members had bothered to mention it. Mayall was furious, especially since the album Clapton had played on hadn't yet come out. Clapton was supposed to work a month's notice while Mayall found another guitarist, but Mayall spent two weeks begging Peter Green to rejoin the band. Green was less than eager -- after all, he'd been fired pretty much straight away earlier -- but Mayall eventually persuaded him. The second he did, Mayall turned round to Clapton and told him he didn't have to work the rest of his notice -- he'd found another guitar player and Clapton was fired: [Excerpt: John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, "Dust My Blues"] Manfred Mann meanwhile took on the Beatles' friend Klaus Voorman to replace Bruce. Voorman would remain with the band until the end, and like Green was for Mayall, Voorman was in some ways a better fit for Manfred Mann than Bruce was. In particular he could double on flute, as he did for example on their hit version of Bob Dylan's "The Mighty Quinn": [Excerpt: Manfred Mann "The Mighty Quinn"] The new group, The Cream, were of course signed in the UK to Stigwood's Reaction label. Other than the Who, who only stuck around for one album, Reaction was not a very successful label. Its biggest signing was a former keyboard player for Screaming Lord Sutch, who recorded for them under the names Paul Dean and Oscar, but who later became known as Paul Nicholas and had a successful career in musical theatre and sitcom. Nicholas never had any hits for Reaction, but he did release one interesting record, in 1967: [Excerpt: Oscar, "Over the Wall We Go"] That was one of the earliest songwriting attempts by a young man who had recently named himself David Bowie. Now the group were public, they started inviting journalists to their rehearsals, which were mostly spent trying to combine their disparate musical influences --
Episode 165 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Dark Stat” and the career of the Grateful Dead. This is a long one, even longer than the previous episode, but don't worry, that won't be the norm. There's a reason these two were much longer than average. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode. Patreon backers also have a twenty-minute bonus episode available, on "Codine" by the Charlatans. Errata I mispronounce Brent Mydland's name as Myland a couple of times, and in the introduction I say "Touch of Grey" came out in 1988 -- I later, correctly, say 1987. (I seem to have had a real problem with dates in the intro -- I also originally talked about "Blue Suede Shoes" being in 1954 before fixing it in the edit to be 1956) Resources No Mixcloud this week, as there are too many songs by the Grateful Dead, and Grayfolded runs to two hours. I referred to a lot of books for this episode, partly because almost everything about the Grateful Dead is written from a fannish perspective that already assumes background knowledge, rather than to provide that background knowledge. Of the various books I used, Dennis McNally's biography of the band and This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead by Blair Jackson and David Gans are probably most useful for the casually interested. Other books on the Dead I used included McNally's Jerry on Jerry, a collection of interviews with Garcia; Deal, Bill Kreutzmann's autobiography; The Grateful Dead FAQ by Tony Sclafani; So Many Roads by David Browne; Deadology by Howard F. Weiner; Fare Thee Well by Joel Selvin and Pamela Turley; and Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads by David Shenk and Steve Silberman. Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is the classic account of the Pranksters, though not always reliable. I reference Slaughterhouse Five a lot. As well as the novel itself, which everyone should read, I also read this rather excellent graphic novel adaptation, and The Writer's Crusade, a book about the writing of the novel. I also reference Ted Sturgeon's More Than Human. For background on the scene around Astounding Science Fiction which included Sturgeon, John W. Campbell, L. Ron Hubbard, and many other science fiction writers, I recommend Alec Nevala-Lee's Astounding. 1,000 True Fans can be read online, as can the essay on the Californian ideology, and John Perry Barlow's "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace". The best collection of Grateful Dead material is the box set The Golden Road, which contains all the albums released in Pigpen's lifetime along with a lot of bonus material, but which appears currently out of print. Live/Dead contains both the live version of "Dark Star" which made it well known and, as a CD bonus track, the original single version. And archive.org has more live recordings of the group than you can possibly ever listen to. Grayfolded can be bought from John Oswald's Bandcamp Patreon This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them? Transcript [Excerpt: Tuning from "Grayfolded", under the warnings Before we begin -- as we're tuning up, as it were, I should mention that this episode contains discussions of alcoholism, drug addiction, racism, nonconsensual drugging of other people, and deaths from drug abuse, suicide, and car accidents. As always, I try to deal with these subjects as carefully as possible, but if you find any of those things upsetting you may wish to read the transcript rather than listen to this episode, or skip it altogether. Also, I should note that the members of the Grateful Dead were much freer with their use of swearing in interviews than any other band we've covered so far, and that makes using quotes from them rather more difficult than with other bands, given the limitations of the rules imposed to stop the podcast being marked as adult. If I quote anything with a word I can't use here, I'll give a brief pause in the audio, and in the transcript I'll have the word in square brackets. [tuning ends] All this happened, more or less. In 1910, T. S. Eliot started work on "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", which at the time was deemed barely poetry, with one reviewer imagining Eliot saying "I'll just put down the first thing that comes into my head, and call it 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.'" It is now considered one of the great classics of modernist literature. In 1969, Kurt Vonnegut wrote "Slaughterhouse-Five, or, The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death", a book in which the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, comes unstuck in time, and starts living a nonlinear life, hopping around between times reliving his experiences in the Second World War, and future experiences up to 1976 after being kidnapped by beings from the planet Tralfamadore. Or perhaps he has flashbacks and hallucinations after having a breakdown from PTSD. It is now considered one of the great classics of modernist literature or of science fiction, depending on how you look at it. In 1953, Theodore Sturgeon wrote More Than Human. It is now considered one of the great classics of science fiction. In 1950, L. Ron Hubbard wrote Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. It is now considered either a bad piece of science fiction or one of the great revelatory works of religious history, depending on how you look at it. In 1994, 1995, and 1996 the composer John Oswald released, first as two individual CDs and then as a double-CD, an album called Grayfolded, which the composer says in the liner notes he thinks of as existing in Tralfamadorian time. The Tralfamadorians in Vonnegut's novels don't see time as a linear thing with a beginning and end, but as a continuum that they can move between at will. When someone dies, they just think that at this particular point in time they're not doing so good, but at other points in time they're fine, so why focus on the bad time? In the book, when told of someone dying, the Tralfamadorians just say "so it goes". In between the first CD's release and the release of the double-CD version, Jerry Garcia died. From August 1942 through August 1995, Jerry Garcia was alive. So it goes. Shall we go, you and I? [Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Dark Star (Omni 3/30/94)"] "One principle has become clear. Since motives are so frequently found in combination, it is essential that the complex types be analyzed and arranged, with an eye kept single nevertheless to the master-theme under discussion. Collectors, both primary and subsidiary, have done such valiant service that the treasures at our command are amply sufficient for such studies, so extensive, indeed, that the task of going through them thoroughly has become too great for the unassisted student. It cannot be too strongly urged that a single theme in its various types and compounds must be made predominant in any useful comparative study. This is true when the sources and analogues of any literary work are treated; it is even truer when the bare motive is discussed. The Grateful Dead furnishes an apt illustration of the necessity of such handling. It appears in a variety of different combinations, almost never alone. Indeed, it is so widespread a tale, and its combinations are so various, that there is the utmost difficulty in determining just what may properly be regarded the original kernel of it, the simple theme to which other motives were joined. Various opinions, as we shall see, have been held with reference to this matter, most of them justified perhaps by the materials in the hands of the scholars holding them, but none quite adequate in view of later evidence." That's a quote from The Grateful Dead: The History of a Folk Story, by Gordon Hall Gerould, published in 1908. Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five opens with a chapter about the process of writing the novel itself, and how difficult it was. He says "I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book cost me in money and anxiety and time. When I got home from the Second World War twenty-three years ago, I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden, since all I would have to do would be to report what I had seen. And I thought, too, that it would be a masterpiece or at least make me a lot of money, since the subject was so big." This is an episode several of my listeners have been looking forward to, but it's one I've been dreading writing, because this is an episode -- I think the only one in the series -- where the format of the podcast simply *will not* work. Were the Grateful Dead not such an important band, I would skip this episode altogether, but they're a band that simply can't be ignored, and that's a real problem here. Because my intent, always, with this podcast, is to present the recordings of the artists in question, put them in context, and explain why they were important, what their music meant to its listeners. To put, as far as is possible, the positive case for why the music mattered *in the context of its time*. Not why it matters now, or why it matters to me, but why it matters *in its historical context*. Whether I like the music or not isn't the point. Whether it stands up now isn't the point. I play the music, explain what it was they were doing, why they were doing it, what people saw in it. If I do my job well, you come away listening to "Blue Suede Shoes" the way people heard it in 1956, or "Good Vibrations" the way people heard it in 1966, and understanding why people were so impressed by those records. That is simply *not possible* for the Grateful Dead. I can present a case for them as musicians, and hope to do so. I can explain the appeal as best I understand it, and talk about things I like in their music, and things I've noticed. But what I can't do is present their recordings the way they were received in the sixties and explain why they were popular. Because every other act I have covered or will cover in this podcast has been a *recording* act, and their success was based on records. They may also have been exceptional live performers, but James Brown or Ike and Tina Turner are remembered for great *records*, like "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" or "River Deep, Mountain High". Their great moments were captured on vinyl, to be listened back to, and susceptible of analysis. That is not the case for the Grateful Dead, and what is worse *they explicitly said, publicly, on multiple occasions* that it is not possible for me to understand their art, and thus that it is not possible for me to explain it. The Grateful Dead did make studio records, some of them very good. But they always said, consistently, over a thirty year period, that their records didn't capture what they did, and that the only way -- the *only* way, they were very clear about this -- that one could actually understand and appreciate their music, was to see them live, and furthermore to see them live while on psychedelic drugs. [Excerpt: Grateful Dead crowd noise] I never saw the Grateful Dead live -- their last UK performance was a couple of years before I went to my first ever gig -- and I have never taken a psychedelic substance. So by the Grateful Dead's own criteria, it is literally impossible for me to understand or explain their music the way that it should be understood or explained. In a way I'm in a similar position to the one I was in with La Monte Young in the last episode, whose music it's mostly impossible to experience without being in his presence. This is one reason of several why I placed these two episodes back to back. Of course, there is a difference between Young and the Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead allowed -- even encouraged -- the recording of their live performances. There are literally thousands of concert recordings in circulation, many of them of professional quality. I have listened to many of those, and I can hear what they were doing. I can tell you what *I* think is interesting about their music, and about their musicianship. And I think I can build up a good case for why they were important, and why they're interesting, and why those recordings are worth listening to. And I can certainly explain the cultural phenomenon that was the Grateful Dead. But just know that while I may have found *a* point, *an* explanation for why the Grateful Dead were important, by the band's own lights and those of their fans, no matter how good a job I do in this episode, I *cannot* get it right. And that is, in itself, enough of a reason for this episode to exist, and for me to try, even harder than I normally do, to get it right *anyway*. Because no matter how well I do my job this episode will stand as an example of why this series is called "*A* History", not *the* history. Because parts of the past are ephemeral. There are things about which it's true to say "You had to be there". I cannot know what it was like to have been an American the day Kennedy was shot, I cannot know what it was like to be alive when a man walked on the Moon. Those are things nobody my age or younger can ever experience. And since August the ninth, 1995, the experience of hearing the Grateful Dead's music the way they wanted it heard has been in that category. And that is by design. Jerry Garcia once said "if you work really hard as an artist, you may be able to build something they can't tear down, you know, after you're gone... What I want to do is I want it here. I want it now, in this lifetime. I want what I enjoy to last as long as I do and not last any longer. You know, I don't want something that ends up being as much a nuisance as it is a work of art, you know?" And there's another difficulty. There are only two points in time where it makes sense to do a podcast episode on the Grateful Dead -- late 1967 and early 1968, when the San Francisco scene they were part of was at its most culturally relevant, and 1988 when they had their only top ten hit and gained their largest audience. I can't realistically leave them out of the story until 1988, so it has to be 1968. But the songs they are most remembered for are those they wrote between 1970 and 1972, and those songs are influenced by artists and events we haven't yet covered in the podcast, who will be getting their own episodes in the future. I can't explain those things in this episode, because they need whole episodes of their own. I can't not explain them without leaving out important context for the Grateful Dead. So the best I can do is treat the story I'm telling as if it were in Tralfamadorian time. All of it's happening all at once, and some of it is happening in different episodes that haven't been recorded yet. The podcast as a whole travels linearly from 1938 through to 1999, but this episode is happening in 1968 and 1972 and 1988 and 1995 and other times, all at once. Sometimes I'll talk about things as if you're already familiar with them, but they haven't happened yet in the story. Feel free to come unstuck in time and revisit this time after episode 167, and 172, and 176, and 192, and experience it again. So this has to be an experimental episode. It may well be an experiment that you think fails. If so, the next episode is likely to be far more to your taste, and much shorter than this or the last episode, two episodes that between them have to create a scaffolding on which will hang much of the rest of this podcast's narrative. I've finished my Grateful Dead script now. The next one I write is going to be fun: [Excerpt: Grateful Dead, "Dark Star"] Infrastructure means everything. How we get from place to place, how we transport goods, information, and ourselves, makes a big difference in how society is structured, and in the music we hear. For many centuries, the prime means of long-distance transport was by water -- sailing ships on the ocean, canal boats and steamboats for inland navigation -- and so folk songs talked about the ship as both means of escape, means of making a living, and in some senses as a trap. You'd go out to sea for adventure, or to escape your problems, but you'd find that the sea itself brought its own problems. Because of this we have a long, long tradition of sea shanties which are known throughout the world: [Excerpt: A. L. Lloyd, "Off to Sea Once More"] But in the nineteenth century, the railway was invented and, at least as far as travel within a landmass goes, it replaced the steamboat in the popular imaginary. Now the railway was how you got from place to place, and how you moved freight from one place to another. The railway brought freedom, and was an opportunity for outlaws, whether train robbers or a romanticised version of the hobo hopping onto a freight train and making his way to new lands and new opportunity. It was the train that brought soldiers home from wars, and the train that allowed the Great Migration of Black people from the South to the industrial North. There would still be songs about the riverboats, about how ol' man river keeps rolling along and about the big river Johnny Cash sang about, but increasingly they would be songs of the past, not the present. The train quickly replaced the steamboat in the iconography of what we now think of as roots music -- blues, country, folk, and early jazz music. Sometimes this was very literal. Furry Lewis' "Kassie Jones" -- about a legendary train driver who would break the rules to make sure his train made the station on time, but who ended up sacrificing his own life to save his passengers in a train crash -- is based on "Alabamy Bound", which as we heard in the episode on "Stagger Lee", was about steamboats: [Excerpt: Furry Lewis, "Kassie Jones"] In the early episodes of this podcast we heard many, many, songs about the railway. Louis Jordan saying "take me right back to the track, Jack", Rosetta Tharpe singing about how "this train don't carry no gamblers", the trickster freight train driver driving on the "Rock Island Line", the mystery train sixteen coaches long, the train that kept-a-rollin' all night long, the Midnight Special which the prisoners wished would shine its ever-loving light on them, and the train coming past Folsom Prison whose whistle makes Johnny Cash hang his head and cry. But by the 1960s, that kind of song had started to dry up. It would happen on occasion -- "People Get Ready" by the Impressions is the most obvious example of the train metaphor in an important sixties record -- but by the late sixties the train was no longer a symbol of freedom but of the past. In 1969 Harry Nilsson sang about how "Nobody Cares About the Railroads Any More", and in 1968 the Kinks sang about "The Last of the Steam-Powered Trains". When in 1968 Merle Haggard sang about a freight train, it was as a memory, of a child with hopes that ended up thwarted by reality and his own nature: [Excerpt: Merle Haggard, "Mama Tried"] And the reason for this was that there had been another shift, a shift that had started in the forties and accelerated in the late fifties but had taken a little time to ripple through the culture. Now the train had been replaced in the popular imaginary by motorised transport. Instead of hopping on a train without paying, if you had no money in your pocket you'd have to hitch-hike all the way. Freedom now meant individuality. The ultimate in freedom was the biker -- the Hell's Angels who could go anywhere, unburdened by anything -- and instead of goods being moved by freight train, increasingly they were being moved by truck drivers. By the mid-seventies, truck drivers took a central place in American life, and the most romantic way to live life was to live it on the road. On The Road was also the title of a 1957 novel by Jack Kerouac, which was one of the first major signs of this cultural shift in America. Kerouac was writing about events in the late forties and early fifties, but his book was also a precursor of the sixties counterculture. He wrote the book on one continuous sheet of paper, as a stream of consciousness. Kerouac died in 1969 of an internal haemmorage brought on by too much alcohol consumption. So it goes. But the big key to this cultural shift was caused by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, a massive infrastructure spending bill that led to the construction of the modern American Interstate Highway system. This accelerated a program that had already started, of building much bigger, safer, faster roads. It also, as anyone who has read Robert Caro's The Power Broker knows, reinforced segregation and white flight. It did this both by making commuting into major cities from the suburbs easier -- thus allowing white people with more money to move further away from the cities and still work there -- and by bulldozing community spaces where Black people lived. More than a million people lost their homes and were forcibly moved, and orders of magnitude more lost their communities' parks and green spaces. And both as a result of deliberate actions and unconscious bigotry, the bulk of those affected were Black people -- who often found themselves, if they weren't forced to move, on one side of a ten-lane highway where the park used to be, with white people on the other side of the highway. The Federal-Aid Highway Act gave even more power to the unaccountable central planners like Robert Moses, the urban planner in New York who managed to become arguably the most powerful man in the city without ever getting elected, partly by slowly compromising away his early progressive ideals in the service of gaining more power. Of course, not every new highway was built through areas where poor Black people lived. Some were planned to go through richer areas for white people, just because you can't completely do away with geographical realities. For example one was planned to be built through part of San Francisco, a rich, white part. But the people who owned properties in that area had enough political power and clout to fight the development, and after nearly a decade of fighting it, the development was called off in late 1966. But over that time, many of the owners of the impressive buildings in the area had moved out, and they had no incentive to improve or maintain their properties while they were under threat of demolition, so many of them were rented out very cheaply. And when the beat community that Kerouac wrote about, many of whom had settled in San Francisco, grew too large and notorious for the area of the city they were in, North Beach, many of them moved to these cheap homes in a previously-exclusive area. The area known as Haight-Ashbury. [Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Grayfolded"] Stories all have their starts, even stories told in Tralfamadorian time, although sometimes those starts are shrouded in legend. For example, the story of Scientology's start has been told many times, with different people claiming to have heard L. Ron Hubbard talk about how writing was a mug's game, and if you wanted to make real money, you needed to get followers, start a religion. Either he said this over and over and over again, to many different science fiction writers, or most science fiction writers of his generation were liars. Of course, the definition of a writer is someone who tells lies for money, so who knows? One of the more plausible accounts of him saying that is given by Theodore Sturgeon. Sturgeon's account is more believable than most, because Sturgeon went on to be a supporter of Dianetics, the "new science" that Hubbard turned into his religion, for decades, even while telling the story. The story of the Grateful Dead probably starts as it ends, with Jerry Garcia. There are three things that everyone writing about the Dead says about Garcia's childhood, so we might as well say them here too. The first is that he was named by a music-loving father after Jerome Kern, the songwriter responsible for songs like "Ol' Man River" (though as Oscar Hammerstein's widow liked to point out, "Jerome Kern wrote dum-dum-dum-dum, *my husband* wrote 'Ol' Man River'" -- an important distinction we need to bear in mind when talking about songwriters who write music but not lyrics). The second is that when he was five years old that music-loving father drowned -- and Garcia would always say he had seen his father dying, though some sources claim this was a false memory. So it goes. And the third fact, which for some reason is always told after the second even though it comes before it chronologically, is that when he was four he lost two joints from his right middle finger. Garcia grew up a troubled teen, and in turn caused trouble for other people, but he also developed a few interests that would follow him through his life. He loved the fantastical, especially the fantastical macabre, and became an avid fan of horror and science fiction -- and through his love of old monster films he became enamoured with cinema more generally. Indeed, in 1983 he bought the film rights to Kurt Vonnegut's science fiction novel The Sirens of Titan, the first story in which the Tralfamadorians appear, and wrote a script based on it. He wanted to produce the film himself, with Francis Ford Coppola directing and Bill Murray starring, but most importantly for him he wanted to prevent anyone who didn't care about it from doing it badly. And in that he succeeded. As of 2023 there is no film of The Sirens of Titan. He loved to paint, and would continue that for the rest of his life, with one of his favourite subjects being Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster. And when he was eleven or twelve, he heard for the first time a record that was hugely influential to a whole generation of Californian musicians, even though it was a New York record -- "Gee" by the Crows: [Excerpt: The Crows, "Gee"] Garcia would say later "That was an important song. That was the first kind of, like where the voices had that kind of not-trained-singer voices, but tough-guy-on-the-street voice." That record introduced him to R&B, and soon he was listening to Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, to Ray Charles, and to a record we've not talked about in the podcast but which was one of the great early doo-wop records, "WPLJ" by the Four Deuces: [Excerpt: The Four Deuces, "WPLJ"] Garcia said of that record "That was one of my anthem songs when I was in junior high school and high school and around there. That was one of those songs everybody knew. And that everybody sang. Everybody sang that street-corner favorite." Garcia moved around a lot as a child, and didn't have much time for school by his own account, but one of the few teachers he did respect was an art teacher when he was in North Beach, Walter Hedrick. Hedrick was also one of the earliest of the conceptual artists, and one of the most important figures in the San Francisco arts scene that would become known as the Beat Generation (or the Beatniks, which was originally a disparaging term). Hedrick was a painter and sculptor, but also organised happenings, and he had also been one of the prime movers in starting a series of poetry readings in San Francisco, the first one of which had involved Allen Ginsberg giving the first ever reading of "Howl" -- one of a small number of poems, along with Eliot's "Prufrock" and "The Waste Land" and possibly Pound's Cantos, which can be said to have changed twentieth-century literature. Garcia was fifteen when he got to know Hedrick, in 1957, and by then the Beat scene had already become almost a parody of itself, having become known to the public because of the publication of works like On the Road, and the major artists in the scene were already rejecting the label. By this point tourists were flocking to North Beach to see these beatniks they'd heard about on TV, and Hedrick was actually employed by one cafe to sit in the window wearing a beret, turtleneck, sandals, and beard, and draw and paint, to attract the tourists who flocked by the busload because they could see that there was a "genuine beatnik" in the cafe. Hedrick was, as well as a visual artist, a guitarist and banjo player who played in traditional jazz bands, and he would bring records in to class for his students to listen to, and Garcia particularly remembered him bringing in records by Big Bill Broonzy: [Excerpt: Big Bill Broonzy, "When Things Go Wrong (It Hurts Me Too)"] Garcia was already an avid fan of rock and roll music, but it was being inspired by Hedrick that led him to get his first guitar. Like his contemporary Paul McCartney around the same time, he was initially given the wrong instrument as a birthday present -- in Garcia's case his mother gave him an accordion -- but he soon persuaded her to swap it for an electric guitar he saw in a pawn shop. And like his other contemporary, John Lennon, Garcia initially tuned his instrument incorrectly. He said later "When I started playing the guitar, believe me, I didn't know anybody that played. I mean, I didn't know anybody that played the guitar. Nobody. They weren't around. There were no guitar teachers. You couldn't take lessons. There was nothing like that, you know? When I was a kid and I had my first electric guitar, I had it tuned wrong and learned how to play on it with it tuned wrong for about a year. And I was getting somewhere on it, you know… Finally, I met a guy that knew how to tune it right and showed me three chords, and it was like a revelation. You know what I mean? It was like somebody gave me the key to heaven." He joined a band, the Chords, which mostly played big band music, and his friend Gary Foster taught him some of the rudiments of playing the guitar -- things like how to use a capo to change keys. But he was always a rebellious kid, and soon found himself faced with a choice between joining the military or going to prison. He chose the former, and it was during his time in the Army that a friend, Ron Stevenson, introduced him to the music of Merle Travis, and to Travis-style guitar picking: [Excerpt: Merle Travis, "Nine-Pound Hammer"] Garcia had never encountered playing like that before, but he instantly recognised that Travis, and Chet Atkins who Stevenson also played for him, had been an influence on Scotty Moore. He started to realise that the music he'd listened to as a teenager was influenced by music that went further back. But Stevenson, as well as teaching Garcia some of the rudiments of Travis-picking, also indirectly led to Garcia getting discharged from the Army. Stevenson was not a well man, and became suicidal. Garcia decided it was more important to keep his friend company and make sure he didn't kill himself than it was to turn up for roll call, and as a result he got discharged himself on psychiatric grounds -- according to Garcia he told the Army psychiatrist "I was involved in stuff that was more important to me in the moment than the army was and that was the reason I was late" and the psychiatrist thought it was neurotic of Garcia to have his own set of values separate from that of the Army. After discharge, Garcia did various jobs, including working as a transcriptionist for Lenny Bruce, the comedian who was a huge influence on the counterculture. In one of the various attacks over the years by authoritarians on language, Bruce was repeatedly arrested for obscenity, and in 1961 he was arrested at a jazz club in North Beach. Sixty years ago, the parts of speech that were being criminalised weren't pronouns, but prepositions and verbs: [Excerpt: Lenny Bruce, "To is a Preposition, Come is a Verb"] That piece, indeed, was so controversial that when Frank Zappa quoted part of it in a song in 1968, the record label insisted on the relevant passage being played backwards so people couldn't hear such disgusting filth: [Excerpt: The Mothers of Invention, "Harry You're a Beast"] (Anyone familiar with that song will understand that the censored portion is possibly the least offensive part of the whole thing). Bruce was facing trial, and he needed transcripts of what he had said in his recordings to present in court. Incidentally, there seems to be some confusion over exactly which of Bruce's many obscenity trials Garcia became a transcriptionist for. Dennis McNally says in his biography of the band, published in 2002, that it was the most famous of them, in autumn 1964, but in a later book, Jerry on Jerry, a book of interviews of Garcia edited by McNally, McNally talks about it being when Garcia was nineteen, which would mean it was Bruce's first trial, in 1961. We can put this down to the fact that many of the people involved, not least Garcia, lived in Tralfamadorian time, and were rather hazy on dates, but I'm placing the story here rather than in 1964 because it seems to make more sense that Garcia would be involved in a trial based on an incident in San Francisco than one in New York. Garcia got the job, even though he couldn't type, because by this point he'd spent so long listening to recordings of old folk and country music that he was used to transcribing indecipherable accents, and often, as Garcia would tell it, Bruce would mumble very fast and condense multiple syllables into one. Garcia was particularly impressed by Bruce's ability to improvise but talk in entire paragraphs, and he compared his use of language to bebop. Another thing that was starting to impress Garcia, and which he also compared to bebop, was bluegrass: [Excerpt: Bill Monroe, "Fire on the Mountain"] Bluegrass is a music that is often considered very traditional, because it's based on traditional songs and uses acoustic instruments, but in fact it was a terribly *modern* music, and largely a postwar creation of a single band -- Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. And Garcia was right when he said it was "white bebop" -- though he did say "The only thing it doesn't have is the harmonic richness of bebop. You know what I mean? That's what it's missing, but it has everything else." Both bebop and bluegrass evolved after the second world war, though they were informed by music from before it, and both prized the ability to improvise, and technical excellence. Both are musics that involved playing *fast*, in an ensemble, and being able to respond quickly to the other musicians. Both musics were also intensely rhythmic, a response to a faster paced, more stressful world. They were both part of the general change in the arts towards immediacy that we looked at in the last episode with the creation first of expressionism and then of pop art. Bluegrass didn't go into the harmonic explorations that modern jazz did, but it was absolutely as modern as anything Charlie Parker was doing, and came from the same impulses. It was tradition and innovation, the past and the future simultaneously. Bill Monroe, Jackson Pollock, Charlie Parker, Jack Kerouac, and Lenny Bruce were all in their own ways responding to the same cultural moment, and it was that which Garcia was responding to. But he didn't become able to play bluegrass until after a tragedy which shaped his life even more than his father's death had. Garcia had been to a party and was in a car with his friends Lee Adams, Paul Speegle, and Alan Trist. Adams was driving at ninety miles an hour when they hit a tight curve and crashed. Garcia, Adams, and Trist were all severely injured but survived. Speegle died. So it goes. This tragedy changed Garcia's attitudes totally. Of all his friends, Speegle was the one who was most serious about his art, and who treated it as something to work on. Garcia had always been someone who fundamentally didn't want to work or take any responsibility for anything. And he remained that way -- except for his music. Speegle's death changed Garcia's attitude to that, totally. If his friend wasn't going to be able to practice his own art any more, Garcia would practice his, in tribute to him. He resolved to become a virtuoso on guitar and banjo. His girlfriend of the time later said “I don't know if you've spent time with someone rehearsing ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown' on a banjo for eight hours, but Jerry practiced endlessly. He really wanted to excel and be the best. He had tremendous personal ambition in the musical arena, and he wanted to master whatever he set out to explore. Then he would set another sight for himself. And practice another eight hours a day of new licks.” But of course, you can't make ensemble music on your own: [Excerpt: Jerry Garcia and Bob Hunter, "Oh Mary Don't You Weep" (including end)] "Evelyn said, “What is it called when a person needs a … person … when you want to be touched and the … two are like one thing and there isn't anything else at all anywhere?” Alicia, who had read books, thought about it. “Love,” she said at length." That's from More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon, a book I'll be quoting a few more times as the story goes on. Robert Hunter, like Garcia, was just out of the military -- in his case, the National Guard -- and he came into Garcia's life just after Paul Speegle had left it. Garcia and Alan Trist met Hunter ten days after the accident, and the three men started hanging out together, Trist and Hunter writing while Garcia played music. Garcia and Hunter both bonded over their shared love for the beats, and for traditional music, and the two formed a duo, Bob and Jerry, which performed together a handful of times. They started playing together, in fact, after Hunter picked up a guitar and started playing a song and halfway through Garcia took it off him and finished the song himself. The two of them learned songs from the Harry Smith Anthology -- Garcia was completely apolitical, and only once voted in his life, for Lyndon Johnson in 1964 to keep Goldwater out, and regretted even doing that, and so he didn't learn any of the more political material people like Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, and Bob Dylan were doing at the time -- but their duo only lasted a short time because Hunter wasn't an especially good guitarist. Hunter would, though, continue to jam with Garcia and other friends, sometimes playing mandolin, while Garcia played solo gigs and with other musicians as well, playing and moving round the Bay Area and performing with whoever he could: [Excerpt: Jerry Garcia, "Railroad Bill"] "Bleshing, that was Janie's word. She said Baby told it to her. She said it meant everyone all together being something, even if they all did different things. Two arms, two legs, one body, one head, all working together, although a head can't walk and arms can't think. Lone said maybe it was a mixture of “blending” and “meshing,” but I don't think he believed that himself. It was a lot more than that." That's from More Than Human In 1961, Garcia and Hunter met another young musician, but one who was interested in a very different type of music. Phil Lesh was a serious student of modern classical music, a classically-trained violinist and trumpeter whose interest was solidly in the experimental and whose attitude can be summed up by a story that's always told about him meeting his close friend Tom Constanten for the first time. Lesh had been talking with someone about serialism, and Constanten had interrupted, saying "Music stopped being created in 1750 but it started again in 1950". Lesh just stuck out his hand, recognising a kindred spirit. Lesh and Constanten were both students of Luciano Berio, the experimental composer who created compositions for magnetic tape: [Excerpt: Luciano Berio, "Momenti"] Berio had been one of the founders of the Studio di fonologia musicale di Radio Milano, a studio for producing contemporary electronic music where John Cage had worked for a time, and he had also worked with the electronic music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Lesh would later remember being very impressed when Berio brought a tape into the classroom -- the actual multitrack tape for Stockhausen's revolutionary piece Gesang Der Juenglinge: [Excerpt: Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Gesang Der Juenglinge"] Lesh at first had been distrustful of Garcia -- Garcia was charismatic and had followers, and Lesh never liked people like that. But he was impressed by Garcia's playing, and soon realised that the two men, despite their very different musical interests, had a lot in common. Lesh was interested in the technology of music as well as in performing and composing it, and so when he wasn't studying he helped out by engineering at the university's radio station. Lesh was impressed by Garcia's playing, and suggested to the presenter of the station's folk show, the Midnight Special, that Garcia be a guest. Garcia was so good that he ended up getting an entire solo show to himself, where normally the show would feature multiple acts. Lesh and Constanten soon moved away from the Bay Area to Las Vegas, but both would be back -- in Constanten's case he would form an experimental group in San Francisco with their fellow student Steve Reich, and that group (though not with Constanten performing) would later premiere Terry Riley's In C, a piece influenced by La Monte Young and often considered one of the great masterpieces of minimalist music. By early 1962 Garcia and Hunter had formed a bluegrass band, with Garcia on guitar and banjo and Hunter on mandolin, and a rotating cast of other musicians including Ken Frankel, who played banjo and fiddle. They performed under different names, including the Tub Thumpers, the Hart Valley Drifters, and the Sleepy Valley Hog Stompers, and played a mixture of bluegrass and old-time music -- and were very careful about the distinction: [Excerpt: The Hart Valley Drifters, "Cripple Creek"] In 1993, the Republican political activist John Perry Barlow was invited to talk to the CIA about the possibilities open to them with what was then called the Information Superhighway. He later wrote, in part "They told me they'd brought Steve Jobs in a few weeks before to indoctrinate them in modern information management. And they were delighted when I returned later, bringing with me a platoon of Internet gurus, including Esther Dyson, Mitch Kapor, Tony Rutkowski, and Vint Cerf. They sealed us into an electronically impenetrable room to discuss the radical possibility that a good first step in lifting their blackout would be for the CIA to put up a Web site... We told them that information exchange was a barter system, and that to receive, one must also be willing to share. This was an alien notion to them. They weren't even willing to share information among themselves, much less the world." 1962 brought a new experience for Robert Hunter. Hunter had been recruited into taking part in psychological tests at Stanford University, which in the sixties and seventies was one of the preeminent universities for psychological experiments. As part of this, Hunter was given $140 to attend the VA hospital (where a janitor named Ken Kesey, who had himself taken part in a similar set of experiments a couple of years earlier, worked a day job while he was working on his first novel) for four weeks on the run, and take different psychedelic drugs each time, starting with LSD, so his reactions could be observed. (It was later revealed that these experiments were part of a CIA project called MKUltra, designed to investigate the possibility of using psychedelic drugs for mind control, blackmail, and torture. Hunter was quite lucky in that he was told what was going to happen to him and paid for his time. Other subjects included the unlucky customers of brothels the CIA set up as fronts -- they dosed the customers' drinks and observed them through two-way mirrors. Some of their experimental subjects died by suicide as a result of their experiences. So it goes. ) Hunter was interested in taking LSD after reading Aldous Huxley's writings about psychedelic substances, and he brought his typewriter along to the experiment. During the first test, he wrote a six-page text, a short excerpt from which is now widely quoted, reading in part "Sit back picture yourself swooping up a shell of purple with foam crests of crystal drops soft nigh they fall unto the sea of morning creep-very-softly mist ... and then sort of cascade tinkley-bell-like (must I take you by the hand, ever so slowly type) and then conglomerate suddenly into a peal of silver vibrant uncomprehendingly, blood singingly, joyously resounding bells" Hunter's experience led to everyone in their social circle wanting to try LSD, and soon they'd all come to the same conclusion -- this was something special. But Garcia needed money -- he'd got his girlfriend pregnant, and they'd married (this would be the first of several marriages in Garcia's life, and I won't be covering them all -- at Garcia's funeral, his second wife, Carolyn, said Garcia always called her the love of his life, and his first wife and his early-sixties girlfriend who he proposed to again in the nineties both simultaneously said "He said that to me!"). So he started teaching guitar at a music shop in Palo Alto. Hunter had no time for Garcia's incipient domesticity and thought that his wife was trying to make him live a conventional life, and the two drifted apart somewhat, though they'd still play together occasionally. Through working at the music store, Garcia got to know the manager, Troy Weidenheimer, who had a rock and roll band called the Zodiacs. Garcia joined the band on bass, despite that not being his instrument. He later said "Troy was a lot of fun, but I wasn't good enough a musician then to have been able to deal with it. I was out of my idiom, really, 'cause when I played with Troy I was playing electric bass, you know. I never was a good bass player. Sometimes I was playing in the wrong key and didn't even [fuckin'] know it. I couldn't hear that low, after playing banjo, you know, and going to electric...But Troy taught me the principle of, hey, you know, just stomp your foot and get on it. He was great. A great one for the instant arrangement, you know. And he was also fearless for that thing of get your friends to do it." Garcia's tenure in the Zodiacs didn't last long, nor did this experiment with rock and roll, but two other members of the Zodiacs will be notable later in the story -- the harmonica player, an old friend of Garcia's named Ron McKernan, who would soon gain the nickname Pig Pen after the Peanuts character, and the drummer, Bill Kreutzmann: [Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Drums/Space (Skull & Bones version)"] Kreutzmann said of the Zodiacs "Jerry was the hired bass player and I was the hired drummer. I only remember playing that one gig with them, but I was in way over my head. I always did that. I always played things that were really hard and it didn't matter. I just went for it." Garcia and Kreutzmann didn't really get to know each other then, but Garcia did get to know someone else who would soon be very important in his life. Bob Weir was from a very different background than Garcia, though both had the shared experience of long bouts of chronic illness as children. He had grown up in a very wealthy family, and had always been well-liked, but he was what we would now call neurodivergent -- reading books about the band he talks about being dyslexic but clearly has other undiagnosed neurodivergences, which often go along with dyslexia -- and as a result he was deemed to have behavioural problems which led to him getting expelled from pre-school and kicked out of the cub scouts. He was never academically gifted, thanks to his dyslexia, but he was always enthusiastic about music -- to a fault. He learned to play boogie piano but played so loudly and so often his parents sold the piano. He had a trumpet, but the neighbours complained about him playing it outside. Finally he switched to the guitar, an instrument with which it is of course impossible to make too loud a noise. The first song he learned was the Kingston Trio's version of an old sea shanty, "The Wreck of the John B": [Excerpt: The Kingston Trio, "The Wreck of the John B"] He was sent off to a private school in Colorado for teenagers with behavioural issues, and there he met the boy who would become his lifelong friend, John Perry Barlow. Unfortunately the two troublemakers got on with each other *so* well that after their first year they were told that it was too disruptive having both of them at the school, and only one could stay there the next year. Barlow stayed and Weir moved back to the Bay Area. By this point, Weir was getting more interested in folk music that went beyond the commercial folk of the Kingston Trio. As he said later "There was something in there that was ringing my bells. What I had grown up thinking of as hillbilly music, it started to have some depth for me, and I could start to hear the music in it. Suddenly, it wasn't just a bunch of ignorant hillbillies playing what they could. There was some depth and expertise and stuff like that to aspire to.” He moved from school to school but one thing that stayed with him was his love of playing guitar, and he started taking lessons from Troy Weidenheimer, but he got most of his education going to folk clubs and hootenannies. He regularly went to the Tangent, a club where Garcia played, but Garcia's bluegrass banjo playing was far too rigorous for a free spirit like Weir to emulate, and instead he started trying to copy one of the guitarists who was a regular there, Jorma Kaukonnen. On New Year's Eve 1963 Weir was out walking with his friends Bob Matthews and Rich Macauley, and they passed the music shop where Garcia was a teacher, and heard him playing his banjo. They knocked and asked if they could come in -- they all knew Garcia a little, and Bob Matthews was one of his students, having become interested in playing banjo after hearing the theme tune to the Beverly Hillbillies, played by the bluegrass greats Flatt and Scruggs: [Excerpt: Flatt and Scruggs, "The Beverly Hillbillies"] Garcia at first told these kids, several years younger than him, that they couldn't come in -- he was waiting for his students to show up. But Weir said “Jerry, listen, it's seven-thirty on New Year's Eve, and I don't think you're going to be seeing your students tonight.” Garcia realised the wisdom of this, and invited the teenagers in to jam with him. At the time, there was a bit of a renaissance in jug bands, as we talked about back in the episode on the Lovin' Spoonful. This was a form of music that had grown up in the 1920s, and was similar and related to skiffle and coffee-pot bands -- jug bands would tend to have a mixture of portable string instruments like guitars and banjos, harmonicas, and people using improvised instruments, particularly blowing into a jug. The most popular of these bands had been Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers, led by banjo player Gus Cannon and with harmonica player Noah Lewis: [Excerpt: Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers, "Viola Lee Blues"] With the folk revival, Cannon's work had become well-known again. The Rooftop Singers, a Kingston Trio style folk group, had had a hit with his song "Walk Right In" in 1963, and as a result of that success Cannon had even signed a record contract with Stax -- Stax's first album ever, a month before Booker T and the MGs' first album, was in fact the eighty-year-old Cannon playing his banjo and singing his old songs. The rediscovery of Cannon had started a craze for jug bands, and the most popular of the new jug bands was Jim Kweskin's Jug Band, which did a mixture of old songs like "You're a Viper" and more recent material redone in the old style. Weir, Matthews, and Macauley had been to see the Kweskin band the night before, and had been very impressed, especially by their singer Maria D'Amato -- who would later marry her bandmate Geoff Muldaur and take his name -- and her performance of Leiber and Stoller's "I'm a Woman": [Excerpt: Jim Kweskin's Jug Band, "I'm a Woman"] Matthews suggested that they form their own jug band, and Garcia eagerly agreed -- though Matthews found himself rapidly moving from banjo to washboard to kazoo to second kazoo before realising he was surplus to requirements. Robert Hunter was similarly an early member but claimed he "didn't have the embouchure" to play the jug, and was soon also out. He moved to LA and started studying Scientology -- later claiming that he wanted science-fictional magic powers, which L. Ron Hubbard's new religion certainly offered. The group took the name Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Champions -- apparently they varied the spelling every time they played -- and had a rotating membership that at one time or another included about twenty different people, but tended always to have Garcia on banjo, Weir on jug and later guitar, and Garcia's friend Pig Pen on harmonica: [Excerpt: Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Champions, "On the Road Again"] The group played quite regularly in early 1964, but Garcia's first love was still bluegrass, and he was trying to build an audience with his bluegrass band, The Black Mountain Boys. But bluegrass was very unpopular in the Bay Area, where it was simultaneously thought of as unsophisticated -- as "hillbilly music" -- and as elitist, because it required actual instrumental ability, which wasn't in any great supply in the amateur folk scene. But instrumental ability was something Garcia definitely had, as at this point he was still practising eight hours a day, every day, and it shows on the recordings of the Black Mountain Boys: [Excerpt: The Black Mountain Boys, "Rosa Lee McFall"] By the summer, Bob Weir was also working at the music shop, and so Garcia let Weir take over his students while he and the Black Mountain Boys' guitarist Sandy Rothman went on a road trip to see as many bluegrass musicians as they could and to audition for Bill Monroe himself. As it happened, Garcia found himself too shy to audition for Monroe, but Rothman later ended up playing with Monroe's Blue Grass Boys. On his return to the Bay Area, Garcia resumed playing with the Uptown Jug Champions, but Pig Pen started pestering him to do something different. While both men had overlapping tastes in music and a love for the blues, Garcia's tastes had always been towards the country end of the spectrum while Pig Pen's were towards R&B. And while the Uptown Jug Champions were all a bit disdainful of the Beatles at first -- apart from Bob Weir, the youngest of the group, who thought they were interesting -- Pig Pen had become enamoured of another British band who were just starting to make it big: [Excerpt: The Rolling Stones, "Not Fade Away"] 29) Garcia liked the first Rolling Stones album too, and he eventually took Pig Pen's point -- the stuff that the Rolling Stones were doing, covers of Slim Harpo and Buddy Holly, was not a million miles away from the material they were doing as Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Champions. Pig Pen could play a little electric organ, Bob had been fooling around with the electric guitars in the music shop. Why not give it a go? The stuff bands like the Rolling Stones were doing wasn't that different from the electric blues that Pig Pen liked, and they'd all seen A Hard Day's Night -- they could carry on playing with banjos, jugs, and kazoos and have the respect of a handful of folkies, or they could get electric instruments and potentially have screaming girls and millions of dollars, while playing the same songs. This was a convincing argument, especially when Dana Morgan Jr, the son of the owner of the music shop, told them they could have free electric instruments if they let him join on bass. Morgan wasn't that great on bass, but what the hell, free instruments. Pig Pen had the best voice and stage presence, so he became the frontman of the new group, singing most of the leads, though Jerry and Bob would both sing a few songs, and playing harmonica and organ. Weir was on rhythm guitar, and Garcia was the lead guitarist and obvious leader of the group. They just needed a drummer, and handily Bill Kreutzmann, who had played with Garcia and Pig Pen in the Zodiacs, was also now teaching music at the music shop. Not only that, but about three weeks before they decided to go electric, Kreutzmann had seen the Uptown Jug Champions performing and been astonished by Garcia's musicianship and charisma, and said to himself "Man, I'm gonna follow that guy forever!" The new group named themselves the Warlocks, and started rehearsing in earnest. Around this time, Garcia also finally managed to get some of the LSD that his friend Robert Hunter had been so enthusiastic about three years earlier, and it was a life-changing experience for him. In particular, he credited LSD with making him comfortable being a less disciplined player -- as a bluegrass player he'd had to be frighteningly precise, but now he was playing rock and needed to loosen up. A few days after taking LSD for the first time, Garcia also heard some of Bob Dylan's new material, and realised that the folk singer he'd had little time for with his preachy politics was now making electric music that owed a lot more to the Beat culture Garcia considered himself part of: [Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Subterranean Homesick Blues"] Another person who was hugely affected by hearing that was Phil Lesh, who later said "I couldn't believe that was Bob Dylan on AM radio, with an electric band. It changed my whole consciousness: if something like that could happen, the sky was the limit." Up to that point, Lesh had been focused entirely on his avant-garde music, working with friends like Steve Reich to push music forward, inspired by people like John Cage and La Monte Young, but now he realised there was music of value in the rock world. He'd quickly started going to rock gigs, seeing the Rolling Stones and the Byrds, and then he took acid and went to see his friend Garcia's new electric band play their third ever gig. He was blown away, and very quickly it was decided that Lesh would be the group's new bass player -- though everyone involved tells a different story as to who made the decision and how it came about, and accounts also vary as to whether Dana Morgan took his sacking gracefully and let his erstwhile bandmates keep their instruments, or whether they had to scrounge up some new ones. Lesh had never played bass before, but he was a talented multi-instrumentalist with a deep understanding of music and an ability to compose and improvise, and the repertoire the Warlocks were playing in the early days was mostly three-chord material that doesn't take much rehearsal -- though it was apparently beyond the abilities of poor Dana Morgan, who apparently had to be told note-by-note what to play by Garcia, and learn it by rote. Garcia told Lesh what notes the strings of a bass were tuned to, told him to borrow a guitar and practice, and within two weeks he was on stage with the Warlocks: [Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, “Grayfolded"] In September 1995, just weeks after Jerry Garcia's death, an article was published in Mute magazine identifying a cultural trend that had shaped the nineties, and would as it turned out shape at least the next thirty years. It's titled "The Californian Ideology", though it may be better titled "The Bay Area Ideology", and it identifies a worldview that had grown up in Silicon Valley, based around the ideas of the hippie movement, of right-wing libertarianism, of science fiction authors, and of Marshall McLuhan. It starts "There is an emerging global orthodoxy concerning the relation between society, technology and politics. We have called this orthodoxy `the Californian Ideology' in honour of the state where it originated. By naturalising and giving a technological proof to a libertarian political philosophy, and therefore foreclosing on alternative futures, the Californian Ideologues are able to assert that social and political debates about the future have now become meaningless. The California Ideology is a mix of cybernetics, free market economics, and counter-culture libertarianism and is promulgated by magazines such as WIRED and MONDO 2000 and preached in the books of Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly and others. The new faith has been embraced by computer nerds, slacker students, 30-something capitalists, hip academics, futurist bureaucrats and even the President of the USA himself. As usual, Europeans have not been slow to copy the latest fashion from America. While a recent EU report recommended adopting the Californian free enterprise model to build the 'infobahn', cutting-edge artists and academics have been championing the 'post-human' philosophy developed by the West Coast's Extropian cult. With no obvious opponents, the global dominance of the Californian ideology appears to be complete." [Excerpt: Grayfolded] The Warlocks' first gig with Phil Lesh on bass was on June the 18th 1965, at a club called Frenchy's with a teenage clientele. Lesh thought his playing had been wooden and it wasn't a good gig, and apparently the management of Frenchy's agreed -- they were meant to play a second night there, but turned up to be told they'd been replaced by a band with an accordion and clarinet. But by September the group had managed to get themselves a residency at a small bar named the In Room, and playing there every night made them cohere. They were at this point playing the kind of sets that bar bands everywhere play to this day, though at the time the songs they were playing, like "Gloria" by Them and "In the Midnight Hour", were the most contemporary of hits. Another song that they introduced into their repertoire was "Do You Believe in Magic" by the Lovin' Spoonful, another band which had grown up out of former jug band musicians. As well as playing their own sets, they were also the house band at The In Room and as such had to back various touring artists who were the headline acts. The first act they had to back up was Cornell Gunter's version of the Coasters. Gunter had brought his own guitarist along as musical director, and for the first show Weir sat in the audience watching the show and learning the parts, staring intently at this musical director's playing. After seeing that, Weir's playing was changed, because he also picked up how the guitarist was guiding the band while playing, the small cues that a musical director will use to steer the musicians in the right direction. Weir started doing these things himself when he was singing lead -- Pig Pen was the frontman but everyone except Bill sang sometimes -- and the group soon found that rather than Garcia being the sole leader, now whoever was the lead singer for the song was the de facto conductor as well. By this point, the Bay Area was getting almost overrun with people forming electric guitar bands, as every major urban area in America was. Some of the bands were even having hits already -- We Five had had a number three hit with "You Were On My Mind", a song which had originally been performed by the folk duo Ian and Sylvia: [Excerpt: We Five, "You Were On My Mind"] Although the band that was most highly regarded on the scene, the Charlatans, was having problems with the various record companies they tried to get signed to, and didn't end up making a record until 1969. If tracks like "Number One" had been released in 1965 when they were recorded, the history of the San Francisco music scene may have taken a very different turn: [Excerpt: The Charlatans, "Number One"] Bands like Jefferson Airplane, the Great Society, and Big Brother and the Holding Company were also forming, and Autumn Records was having a run of success with records by the Beau Brummels, whose records were produced by Autumn's in-house A&R man, Sly Stone: [Excerpt: The Beau Brummels, "Laugh Laugh"] The Warlocks were somewhat cut off from this, playing in a dive bar whose clientele was mostly depressed alcoholics. But the fact that they were playing every night for an audience that didn't care much gave them freedom, and they used that freedom to improvise. Both Lesh and Garcia were big fans of John Coltrane, and they started to take lessons from his style of playing. When the group played "Gloria" or "Midnight Hour" or whatever, they started to extend the songs and give themselves long instrumental passages for soloing. Garcia's playing wasn't influenced *harmonically* by Coltrane -- in fact Garcia was always a rather harmonically simple player. He'd tend to play lead lines either in Mixolydian mode, which is one of the most standard modes in rock, pop, blues, and jazz, or he'd play the notes of the chord that was being played, so if the band were playing a G chord his lead would emphasise the notes G, B, and D. But what he was influenced by was Coltrane's tendency to improvise in long, complex, phrases that made up a single thought -- Coltrane was thinking musically in paragraphs, rather than sentences, and Garcia started to try the same kind of th