Friday, July 8, 2016

The Good Old Boys: Jerry Garcia, Producer (and some banjo)

The front cover to Pistol Packin' Mama by The Good Old Boys, released as Round Records RX-109 (distributed by United Artists) in March 1976. The album was produced by Jerry Garcia, and recorded by Dan Healy in Mickey Hart's Rolling Thunder Barn studio in Novato, and it featured David Nelson along with bluegrass legends Frank Wakefield (mandolin), Don Reno (banjo) and Chubby Wise (fiddle). 
In March 1976, Round Records released Pistol Packin' Mama (Round RX-109), a bluegrass album by a group called The Good Old Boys. Although the primary lead singer and guitarist was old friend and New Rider David Nelson, the anchor to the group was three certifiable bluegrass legends: banjo player Don Reno, fiddler Chubby Wise and mandolin legend Frank Wakefield. Bassist Pat Campbell, a younger player, filled out the band. It was a fine album of bluegrass classics, plus the New Riders "Glendale Train," itself a bluegrass classic by this time, but unlike every other Round release, there was no significant Grateful Dead member performing contribution. Jerry Garcia produced the album at Mickey Hart's Rolling Thunder Studios in his Barn in Novato, with Dan Healy as engineer, and it was mixed at Bob Weir's home studio (Ace's, above his Mill Valley garage), but other than an uncredited Garcia harmony, no member of the Dead played on the record.

Round Records was basically Jerry Garcia's label, in partnership with the Dead's manager Ron Rakow, as Garcia and Rakow had a far larger appetite for the risk of the record business than the other members of the Dead. It is my proposition, however, that if Round Records would have had a future, it would have looked a lot more like Pistol Packin' Mama than, say, Reflections (Round RX-107) or Kingfish (RX-108). I think Garcia wanted to release music that he liked on a cost-efficient basis, playing whatever role he needed to play, whether guitarist or just producer. As had happened many times in the 1970s, the Garcia and the Dead had started the train rolling before the track was complete. This post will sort out the peculiar backstory of the Good Old Boys and the strange history of the release on Round Records, as well as raising some intriguing mysteries about Garcia's participation.

The back cover to Pistol Packin' Mama by The Good Old Boys, released as Round Records RX-109 (distributed by United Artists) in March 1976. Producer Jerry Garcia's photo is inset on the back.
Pistol Packin' Mama-The Good Old Boys (Round Records/UA RX-109)
The historic confusion of Pistol Packin' Mama stems from the perpetually confused financial condition of Round Records. The album was released in March 1976, a year after the Old And In The Way album was released, and some time after Garcia was known to have played banjo in public. Yet in fact the album had been recorded in January 1975, and it was linked to several other Garcia projects, including the Great American String Band. Garcia had even played banjo on stage with the Good Old Boys, and may have done so more than once. Yet no one knew that in 1976.

In 1976, Round had gotten a cash infusion from United Artists in order to produce and distribute the forthcoming Steal Your Face double-lp. Along with relatively conventional rock releases, Round released some fairly quixotic projects. In fact, these projects had been underway for years, but record buyers had little inkling of that. Prior to Pistol Packin' Mama, the last Round release, Seastones (RX-106) had been back in April 1975, and it had been the decidedly uncommercial electronic musical work of Ned Lagin (although billed as a Phil Lesh project at UA's insistence). After the Blues For Allah release in September 1975, Round came out with four albums the next Spring. Two were typical rock releases, Garcia's new solo album Reflections and the Kingfish album. The other two, however, were Mickey Hart's Diga project (RX-110), an unprecedented world music all-percussion ensemble , as well as the bluegrass album featuring a member of the New Riders and some players unknown to hippie rock fans. No live performances supported either release. By May '76, the Dead had announced their new tour, Round Records was done for, and all discussion of the label's lesser releases were forgotten.

The Greenbriar Boys album was released on Vanguard Records in 1962
David Nelson, Jerry Garcia and The Greenbriar Boys
The importance of Frank Wakefield has its roots deep inside David Nelson and Jerry Garcia's love of bluegrass. For young suburban musicians who learned about bluegrass from records, the music seemed like a cultural tradition that could only be mastered by those inside the tradition. The 60s question of whether "white men could sing the blues" was just as real a question to non-Southern bluegrass musicians who had learned about it from records. This was doubly true on the West Coast, because players like Nelson and Garcia had no local bluegrass tradition to learn from. Bluegrass legends rarely played the Bay Area (compared to, say, Cambridge, MA or Greenwich Village). The Greenbriar Boys were the first group that told the Garcias and Nelsons of America that they didn't have to come from some Kentucky hillside if they wanted to play bluegrass.

The Greenbriar Boys were formed in 1959 in Washington Square Park, a "holler" of sorts, to the extent that a holler on 10th Street and 5th Avenue that is within walking distance to the 1, 2, N, Q and R subway lines, not to mention the PATH, can be called a local community, but that it was. The players were all New Yorkers. The band's first album was released on 1962 on Vanguard Records, and it was the first indication that "Northerners" could play authentic bluegrass. For the likes of Nelson and Garcia, it set them free. The Greenbriar Boys were from New York and New Jersey, not the South, and they inspired suburban bluegrass pickers everywhere with the idea that bluegrass could be learned, even if you weren't born to it. Supposedly, a promotional photo for the Black Mountain Boys was posed identically to The Greenbriar Boys, as an homage.

By the early 60s, the members of The Greenbriar Boys were John Herald (guitar), Bob Yellin (banjo) and Ralph Rinzler (mandolin). Rinzler, among many other things, had introduced his teenage neighbor in Hackensack, NJ, young David Grisman, to the bluegrass mandolin. By 1966, Rinzler had left to work at the Smithsonian Institute, and his place had been taken by mandolinist Frank Wakefield. Wakefield was on the fourth and final Greenbriar Boys album, Better Late Than Never (Vanguard 1966). This, too, was a benediction: Wakefield was a certified bluegrass legend himself, and when he joined The Greenbriar Boys, it showed that Northern city kids and Southern pickers could all make bluegrass together.

Frank Wakefield had joined the Greenbriar Boys in 1965. Although not famous outside of bluegrass circles, he was already a mandolin legend (age 31) at that time. David Grisman's unforgettable quote about Wakefield sums it up: "he split the bluegrass mandolin atom. Some of us will never be the same again." Wakefield had been born in 1934 in Emory Gap, TN, but his family had moved to Dayton, OH, where he started performing in 1951. Throughout the 1950s, Wakefield toured with Jimmy Martin, The Stanley Brothers and others. He had joined Red Allen and The Kentuckians in 1958. Around 1960, he moved to Washington, DC with Allen and gave private lessons, including to a young David Grisman.  Wakefield also played with New York Philharmonic ('67) and Boston Pops ('68). Wakefield began a solo career in 1970, and released his first solo album on Rounder in 1972. The Greenbriar Boys released four albums, the last in 1966, and toured up until 1970. The Greenbriar Boys broke up in 1970, but they apparently played occasionally anyway. Bluegrass groups aren't like rock bands, and can "reform" for a single gig in your living room, if they are so inclined.

Good Old Boys Performance History
The foundation of the Good Old Boys was at a fascinating but now cloudy event called The Golden State Country And Bluegrass Festival, produced by Judy Lammers at the Marin County Fairgrounds in San Rafael from April 26-28, 1974. The story is a dense and complicated one, and only JGMF has attempted to do it justice, but it is complex reading. Briefly, although bluegrass was never a lucrative promotional vehicle, Judy Lammers and her husband produced a festival with many of the major stars of bluegrass at the time. The show also featured a momentary reformation of Old And In The Way--this is how bluegrass works--and that has swallowed up the history of festival itself. A famous photo of Jerry Garcia, John McEuen and Steve Martin playing banjos has drowned any other mention of the festival. The GSCBF was a remarkable event in many ways, but I am going to focus on one aspect that JGMF could simply not get to, namely the formation of the Good Old Boys by David Nelson and Frank Wakefield, and Jerry Garcia's prominent and yet unexplored role.

Bluegrass Festivals, even at the highest level of musicianship, are characterized by musicians hanging out and picking together, showing off their chops and sharing licks. It's acoustic music, so no one has to wait for a roadie. The classic bluegrass material is widely known, so any bluegrass picker who can't join in on "Wheel Hoss" at the count of four ain't much of a picker. Old friendships are renewed, new ones are made, and the real players find out whatever other gunslingers are in town. The Good Old Boys got their start at the Marin Fairgrounds, probably backstage picking. David Nelson explained in a 1976 issue of Dead Relix (Vol. 3, #1 quoted JGBP via JGMF):
D.R.: When did the Good Ol’ Boys begin?
Dave: It started at the Vassar Clements California Bluegrass Festival, put on by Judy Lammers, at the Marin County Fairgrounds. The real biggies that were there were Jim and Jesse McReynolds, the Virginia Boys, Frank Wakefield, Vasser, Doc Watson, Ralph Stanley, Jimmy Martin, Maria Muhdaur, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Doug Dillard.
Whether Wakefield and Nelson actually performed together at the Festival isn't clear to me, but it doesn't matter, since they were playing live a week later. In any case, Garcia (and Vassar) sat in with Wakefield and the Greenbriar Boys, which probably meant a lot to Garcia. Wakefield very likely had little idea who Garcia was.

An ad for the Keystone Berkeley for the week of May 5, 1974 from the Oakland Tribune of the same date. The Great American String Band headlined on Sunday May 5, and The Good Old Boys opened the show
May 5 1974 Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Great American String Band/Good Old Boys
Although the Keystone Berkeley was hardly a bluegrass venue, bluegrass is lively music that can be improved by beer. In any case, Jerry Garcia had played many a weeknight with Old And In The Way, and on a Sunday night, the Keystone always enjoyed having Jerry in any format. To the extent this show is noticed at all, it is because it is a very early iteration of the Great American String Band, the "new acoustic" ensemble that featured Garcia, Richard Greene, David Grisman, guitarist David Nichtern and various friends. The Good Old Boys opener is known from other listings.

No tape or eyewitness account circulated about this show, until a comment popped up on a post I wrote about a 1974 Peter Rowan demo session. An anonymous Commenter wrote
I saw Great American String Band show at the Keystone on May 5, 1974 and can attest to the fact that Peter Rowan and Jack Bonus were brought out for two songs - Midnight Moonlight and Hobo Song and the show was recorded professionally for what folks at the gig were hearing would be a future album. Gee, didn't get it until now that I might have actually seen Peter play with Jerry for the last time together (and it was my ONLY time with that privilege). Interestingly, considering it was recorded with studio mikes onstage, I am surprised that a recording of this concert with these two songs with Rowan and Bonus has not surfaced (and have not heard of anyone else acknowledging that they showed up at this gig).
So we know from this Comment that there are unheard, professionally mic'd tapes of a lost GASB show at Keystone Berkeley, including guest appearances by Peter Rowan and Jack Bonus (he wrote "Hobo Song" and recorded on Grunt Records). What's more intriguing is what I think is the likelihood that there was a recording of The Good Old Boys with Wakefield and Nelson, and that Garcia played banjo.

Let me respond to the obvious question first: how could the entire Grateful Dead community have missed a Jerry Garcia banjo appearance with David Nelson at the Keystone Berkeley? There are two critical points to make here:
  • Very few people probably actually saw the Good Old Boys. The Keystone Berkeley had no reserved seats, and you often ended up standing anyway (depending on what year we are talking about). So if you weren't planning to get there early, it made more sense to get there right before the headliner came on. There is a listing for The Good Old Boys opening, but all sorts of unknown local bands opened at Keystone Berkeley, and most locals just skipped them. There was no indication of who The Good Old Boys might have been, so few would have shown up early.
  • Seeing Jerry Garcia at the Keystone Berkeley just wasn't that big a deal back in '74. So for those who were there, even if they saw Jerry play with the Good Old Boys, they were going to see him play banjo with another group an hour later. We don't have any other eyewitness account of the GASB show, which honestly is typical of the era, and they just don't recall. I am hoping this post will jolt some long-dormant memories.
The second question is this: who says that Jerry Garcia played banjo with The Good Old Boys? The answer is that Frank Wakefield says so, and one of his friends and fellow musicians has even heard a tape. So Garcia had to play with Wakefield at some point, and the Keystone Berkeley fits the timeline. Back in 2006, Wakefield described his experience of playing with the Good Old Boys on a somewhat outdated (but still accessible) website (hosted by fiddler Jim Moss):
In 1975 David Nelson, Don Reno, Chubby Wise, and Jerry Garcia made an album out in California. That record sort of came about on the spur of the moment.  I was out in Marin County, in Northern California staying at David Nelson's house and doing shows with his band, The New Riders Of The Purple Sage.  Me and David... and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, were also doing some shows together.  When we did shows David would play guitar and Jerry played banjo. 
Whenever Garcia played with me and David, we would always have a full house.  I thought it was because of me.  I never had heard of Garcia or the Grateful Dead before. It took me a while to realize that people were coming to the shows because Jerry was playing with us.  When we played shows together we played acoustic.  I didn't know any of the Grateful Dead's music and the fact is I still don't.   The audience that was coming to see us was mostly Grateful Dead fans. Most of them had never heard Bluegrass music before, but they really loved it when they heard it.  
The site was run by bluegrass fiddler Jim Moss, who played with Wakefield (and everyone else, of course) many times. On the site, Moss recalls "Jerry Garcia actually was a member of the Good Ol' Boys on several occasions.  I have heard the live tapes from at least one of these shows." So we have confirmation that Garcia played with Wakefield and Nelson more than once, and that at least one was taped.

June 8, 1974 Oakland Coliseum Stadium; Grateful Dead/Beach Boys/New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen
In the midst of Garcia's acoustic gigs, the Grateful Dead headlined a baseball stadium show with the Beach Boys. I have written about it at great length, and you can see the whole story here. The New Riders came on stage about noon that day, and they were joined by Wakefield for one song, Red Allen's "Teardrops In My Eyes," which the Riders had recorded on Panama Red. Wakefield's appearance at the Coliseum definitely puts him in town at the time, and it lends some color to Wakefield's explanation of the Good Old Boys album, which seems mildly exaggerated, as we will see below.

The June 9, 1974 Oakland Tribue Keystone Berkeley ad shows the Great American String Band playing June 13 and 14 (Thursday and Friday) "plus--The Good Ol' Boys."
June 13-14, 1974 Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Great American String Band/The Good Old Boys
The Great American String Band played two nights at Keystone Berkeley, following a Wednesday night show (June 12) at the Lion's Share. Tapes of the GASB sets circulate for both nights at the Keystone (JGMF has the whole story, of course), but there is silence on The Good Old Boys. Few people may have been there for their set, and since regular tapers made Keystone GASB tapes, I have to assume if they were present they would have taped Jerry with The Good Old Boys. However, this does not exclude the possibility that the shows were recorded by Round for possible release, per the description of the May 5 show. Jim Moss heard some tape, and there was apparently more than one tape, so three Keystone shows make good sense.

In June of 1974, Grateful Dead Records was still riding pretty high. The Dead were selling out to record crowds throughout the country, they were about to release their second album on their own label, and Round had just released new albums by both Garcia and Robert Hunter. Sure, now we all know what was happening--The Wall Of Sound sucked up any excess cash, Mars Hotel wasn't really a hit (nor was Compliments Of Garcia) and that doesn't even count the forthcoming debacle of spending $100,000-plus that the band didn't have on filming their retirement. But it didn't look that way in the Summer of '74.

There's plenty of evidence that Garcia was at least contemplating all sorts of releases, like a live Garcia/Saunders album that might have followed the Fantasy album. There were plans afoot for an Old And In The Way album, a Keith And Donna album, something involving Seastones and no doubt other ideas. The record companies all had stars in their eyes at the time, and there were no "Indies" putting out well-recorded music in the hopes of a modest profit. Bluegrass was barely being recorded, with the East Coast label Rounder Records being about the only option. If there was a Rounder, why not a Round? I think the Good Old Boys show were taped because Garcia and Nelson were thinking about a live album, similar to how Old And In The Way ended up getting released. What became of these tapes?

November 29, 1974 Academy Of Music, New York, NY: New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Good Ol' Boys
In the fall of '74, the New Riders of The Purple Sage played three nights at Manhattan's Academy Of Music as part of their East Coast tour. A Jerry Moore tape endures of a brief performance by the Good Old Boys, apparently opening the show. Along with Nelson and Wakefield, Riders' bassist Skip Battin joins in, along with a banjo player (Dave something--I couldn't quite catch it) and fiddler Kenny Kosek. Kenny Kosek was in an Ithaca, NY band called Country Comfort that had backed Wakefield on his first Rounder solo album in 1972. Sharp-eyed fans may recall that just 13 years later, Kosek ended up playing with Nelson and Garcia in the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band. Waylon Jennings may have also been on the bill.

At the Academy, the Good Old Boys play 27 minutes. The group does seven tunes. John "Marmaduke" Dawson comes out to sing the bluegrass classic "Live And Let Live." I don't know if Good Old Boys opened the other two shows (Nov 27 and 28). Nelson introduces Wakefield as "the Evel Kneivel of bluegrass."

Wakefield picks up the story:
The way the Pistol Packin' Mama album came about was me and David were sitting around talking when I told David I'd like to do a record of me and him with Don Reno and Chubby Wise.  First, David thought I was kidding.  When he realized that I was serious he said, "Boy, I would love too, but that you could never get to talk to people like Don Reno and Chubby Wise".   I had already recorded with Don and Chubby back in 1959, so I said to David, "Why don't we call them, but first lets go talk to Ron Rakow."   Rakow was the fella who ran Round Records, the Grateful Dead's record company.  So we went over to Ron's office to talk to him and he was really interested after I told him that Chubby and Don were some of the original people in Bluegrass.  Ron had actually never heard of them.  Ron asked me how much I thought it would cost to do the record.  I said, "Oh,maybe three or four hundred dollars."  David looked at me kinda funny and said "Frank, it will cost more than that".   Then Ron Rakow said, "You'd have to have at least five thousand to start off with."  That sounded good to me so I said, "Well, I ain't gonna argue with that".

Then Ron asked me who would I like to have produce the album?  At that time I still didn't know Jerry's last name even though I had played with him about five times.  So I didn't think about having Garcia produce the record.   I thought we might have John Dawson from the New Riders produce the record, I did know his name.  Then later that day Ron called me and David and asked how about having Jerry Garcia produce the record? I said "who?" --"The guy who has been playing banjo with you."  I told him that that sounded fine with me because "he's alright."
Well, this is a pretty good story. Bluegrass legend plays with some young, admiring hippies, and agrees to make an album with his legendary bluegrass friends. Then, surprise--it turns out that the banjo player owns his own record company and can finance the whole thing! Good times. Now, to be clear, I'm sure Wakefield had no idea who the Grateful Dead were in 1974, and that when he first met Garcia backstage in Marin or at the Keystone, he had no idea who he was. Garcia, for a rock star, was notably self-effacing around other musicians, and Wakefield would not have been the only band member to play the Keystone Berkeley who did not realize that the crowd was there for Jerry.

However, for this story to be convincing Wakefield has to have "not noticed" that his banjo player's band was headlining a concert at a baseball stadium in the midst of all those Keystone gigs. I guess it's possible--maybe Wakefield left early and didn't see his banjo player backstage. But I think Wakefield was exaggerating for effect. Initially he didn't know who Garcia was, but later he did, but it's a funnier story the way Wakefield tells it now. Fair enough. In any case, Nelson, Ron Rakow and Wakefield seem to have agreed to have Garcia produce an album with some other legends. The sessions were booked for January 27-28, 1975. Wakefield:
So, after that, I called Don Reno.  I talked to him for a few minutes and asked him if he wanted to come to California to do a record.  Then I told him that David wanted to talk to him.  Don said, "David who?" I told him David Nelson from the New Riders of the Purple Sage.  I am not sure if Don knew who they were or not, but I handed the phone to David. David held the phone for a long time and said nothing.  I said, David is Don still on the phone?  Did you get cut off?  Finally, David said, "H-h-Hello?, Don, Don Reno? Dave kept stuttering, "I can't believe I'm talking with you."  After a while David calmed down.   He and Don talked for awhile then I got back on the phone and asked Don what he would have to have to do the record.  Don said, "what could you pay me?"I said about $800 plus a round trip ticket and a plane ticket for his banjo.  He would also get a hotel room.   Don said "That sounds good to me.  When do you want to do it". When I called Chubby it went exactly the same way.  Again, David was speechless to talk to Chubby also.

In a few days Don flew out and me, David and Garcia picked him up at the airport. Chubby wouldn't ride in a plane.  So he drove out from Texas in his Cadillac.  it took Chubby about a week to drive to California, but he got there.  We went into the studio and I would call off a song and we would do it.  David and Garcia knew all the old Bluegrass songs.  Don practiced with us for about an hour before we recorded. Chubby got to California the night before we were going into the studio. Chubby didn't get a chance to practice with us at all.

We were in the studio a total of 12 hours, two days, 6 hours each day.  We recorded about 28 songs in those 12 hours.  We did "Leave Well Enough Alone" twice.  That was a song I had wrote and forgot.  Garcia suggested we do it.   Jerry had to tell me the words.  Don was suppose to sing baritone on it, but he had never heard it before. Don couldn't remember the words so Garcia came out from the control room and did the baritone with us on it.  
The Pistol Packin' Mama album was recorded in two days at Mickey's Barn in Novato. The sessions are usually listed as January 27-29, so maybe Jerry and Healy spent an extra day mixing. It's notable that Nelson and Garcia knew all the material, even though neither had played much bluegrass in the intervening decade since The Black Mountain Boys. Garcia even recalled a song that the other band members had forgotten. The notable detail is that 28 songs were recorded, a fact basically confirmed by Nelson (who said they recorded 25 songs). Where are the other songs? Even if there are some flubbed numbers, wouldn't there be enough for another album of outtakes? The window to release them may have closed, as the cd market has shrunk, but it seems unfortunate that a Garcia-produced session of authentic bluegrass legends has sunk under the waves.

January or February 1975 Paul's Saloon, San Francisco, CA: Jam Night
Fiddler Jim Moss recalls a remarkable aftermath of The Good Old Boys in California. Although Deadheads are understandably Garcia-centric, in fact in the early 1970s there was a significant revival of bluegrass amongst young hippie pickers. Jerry was the most famous, of course, but it was happening all over the country, as young players appreciated how the beauty and discipline of bluegrass lent itself to good music played in a simpler acoustic setting.

In the Bay Area, this revival had been led by a now-forgotten group called The Styx River Ferry. Styx River Ferry played what few folk clubs there were, but they also played Fillmore West on audition night and put on bluegrass shows in Ghirardelli Square. The band members were mostly Southern transplants who had come to San Francisco like everyone else, but they found themselves flying the bluegrass flag. As I understand it, Styx River Ferry was looking for a bar to play in, and they stumbled onto a place called Paul's Saloon in the Marina District (I believe the address was 3251 Scott Street), owned by one Paul Lampert. By the early 1970s, there was bluegrass almost every night of the week at Paul's. Paul's Saloon was the real nexus of Bay Area Bluegrass, where all the pickers swapped licks, beer and tall tales. By about 1973, many of the key members of Styx River Ferry had returned to the South, but Paul's Saloon remained the nexus of Bay Area bluegrass activity.

Fiddler Jim Moss continues the story:
One night in 1975 at Paul's Saloon in San Francisco, a jam night as I remember, musicians were standing around getting ready to put together a pickup band and jump up on stage to play a few songs.  At the time this was how musicians kept in shape and how bands were formed.   I seem to remember this was how the Phantoms of the Opry, the Good Old Persons, and the Done Gone band first got together.  Paul's was an incubator for SF Bay Area bands.  Paul himself was very difficult... to say the least.

On this night things would be different.  In through the swinging doors came Frank Wakefield, Don Reno, Jerry Garcia, Pat Campbell and David Nelson. What a buzz in that place that night.  They went to the back room, the warm-up room.  Before long all but Garcia had left for the stage where they would perform 2 sets.   Some of us hung back in the warm-up room to see up close what kind of a Bluegrass guy Garcia was. Garcia sat there with his banjo around his neck.  Robbie McDonald the banjo player for the Phantoms of the Opry, in true gun fighter fashion blasted off a tune in a fiery fashion. This was clearly a challenge to a big time rocker!  A big time rocker with a missing finger on his right hand at that! What would happen next?   Well, Jerry Garcia simply looked at Robbie and said, "nice playing". I would go on to meet Garcia several more times at different places in California only to see the same unpretentious character who each time seemed interested in any Bluegrassers that might be there.

Jerry Garcia actually was a member of the Good Ol' Boys on several occasions.  I have heard the live tapes from at least one of these shows.  Maybe Frank will find a record company to invest and put these out for all to hear someday. I know that Frank has said that he would like to find some photos of them playing together in that band someday.  I know that Paul of Paul's Saloon took pictures of that night in 1975, but who knows what ever happened to him after he shut down Paul's.
February 21, 1975 1685 Commercial Way, Margarita's, Santa Cruz, CA: The Good Old Boys
There is one final known appearance of Jerry Garcia with The Good Old Boys, and it makes even less sense than these other appearances. On Saturday, February 21, 1975, about three weeks after the album was recorded, The Good Old Boys played an out-of-the-way venue in Santa Cruz called Margarita's. It was at 1685 Commercial Way, not near downtown (but near Moe's Alley at 1534 Commercial, if you know Santa Cruz). Nelson, Wakefield and bassist Pat Campbell were joined by Jerry Garcia on banjo. We are fortunate indeed to have an impeccable eyewitness, CryptDev himself:
Jerry Garcia's second appearance in Santa Cruz during the 1970s was a very low key affair. As was the case elsewhere in the Bay Area at that time, he could show up at a club, get a reasonable but not unmanageable crowd, and get to play some music without a lot of the hoopla and baggage that came with a Dead show. Because Margarita's had just opened, publicity for this show was pretty miniscule - a concert schedule listing in Santa Cruz weekly rag Sundaz was about all there was. I had learned about it when I went to the Kingfish opening show, but found a relatively sparse group in attendance when we showed up at the show. The Jerry Site gig list shows two Margarita's dates for the group, on Feb. 20 and 21st, but to the best of my recollection they only played the one night I heard them. 
At Margarita's the Good Old Boys comprised Garcia on banjo, mandolin player Frank Wakefield, New Riders guitarist David Nelson, and standup bassist Pat Campbell. During the course of their set, it became apparent that the group, less Garcia (who had produced) and augmented by bluegrass legends Chubby Wise on fiddle and Don Reno on banjo, had just recorded an record an album, Pistol Packin' Mama, that came out a few months later [sic--it was a year later] on the Dead's Round Records label. Clearly Reno and Wise, who participated in two days of recording for the album, had already decamped back down south, so Garcia was recruited to fill the banjo slot. 
I wish my memory of the set was more substantial, but it is no surprise that they played most, if not all, of the material on the album, which included the title tune, "Ashes of Love," "Dim Lights," and "Glendale Train" from the NRPS repertoire and "Deep Elem Blues" (Wakefield's version) which was a regular in the Dead's 1970 acoustic set lists.  I do not remember any Garcia lead vocals, although a reputed GOB tape I had at one point had him singing "Russian Lullaby" (I suspect that was actually derived from a Great American String Band set rather than a GOB set) but they definitely did not play it that night. Further details are lost in the sands of time, and complicated by the fact that I was just starting to learn the traditional bluegrass repertoire at the time. Nonetheless, it was a fun, low-key evening, and Garcia, Nelson, Wakefield, and Campbell seemed to be really enjoying themselves.
When The Good Old Boys played the Bay Area in 1974 and early '75, almost no Deadheads in the Bay Area had any idea of the connection. David Nelson's name was never mentioned, much less Garcia's. How many shows did they play? It's not really clear, but Wakefield and Moss seem to suggest that Garcia played several shows, and Wakefield specifically said that he had "already played with Garcia five times" before the album. That fits with the known or likely events at Keystone Berkeley (May 5 and June 13-14), Paul's (early 75) and Margarita's (Feb 21 '75). Since bluegrass bands have no amps or roadies, we can hope that there were a few more at places like The Lion's Share or The Inn Of The Beginning, but on the whole there were likely no more than about ten (JGMF found an ad for an outdoor show in Berkeley on July 7, 1974, with the Great American String Band and Good Old Boys, but since GASB didn't play, I don't think Good Old Boys would have either).

Good Old Boys 1975-76
The Good Old Boys started to play shows on the East Coast in 1975. The New Riders Of The Purple Sage were a popular act on the East Coast, and his name would have attracted some people. Also, by early 1975 the Old And In The Way album had been released, so it may have seemed that Nelson was doing what Garcia had been doing, playing some bluegrass on the side, which wasn't untrue. With hindsight, it seems plausible that the shows were booked in anticipation of a Summer '75 release of Pistol Packin' Mama, but of course financial trouble at Round delayed any such plans. Nelson played at least one more show with Wakefield in the Good Old Boys in 1976. Garcia spent a day in January of 1976 mixing the album, and Round finally released Pistol Packin' Mama in March, almost a year late, thanks to a final cash infusion from United Artists.

By early 1976, The Good Old Boys were touring East Coast clubs with Peter Rowan on guitar instead of Nelson, along with Wakefield and a few other players. On at least one occasion (Feb 25 '76), David Nelson appeared with the band, presumably in anticipation of the still-delayed Round album. On other occasions, according to tapes, the likes of Vassar Clements and David Grisman joined in. From the point of view of East Coast Deadheads, who may have known very little about bluegrass, it must have made a lot of sense. The Old And In The Way album was released in March 1975, and Pistol Packin' Mama a year later. Rowan and Wakefield touring together, performing a mixture of songs from both albums (such as "Panama Red" and "Deep Elem Blues") as well as bluegrass classics made for a coherent expression of Garcia and Nelson's bluegrass roots, even if neither of them were present.

Up through the mid-80s, Wakefield mostly used the name Good Old Boys (or Good Ol' Boys) for his band when he toured, regardless of the membership. Since Pistol Packin' Mama was well-known, he regularly performed songs from that album, but many of them were bluegrass standards anyway. Relix Records released two albums in 1992 as Frank Wakefield and The Good Old Boys (Frank Wakefield and The Good Old Boys and She's No Angel). In typical Relix fashion, there is no helpful information on the liner notes, but an article suggested it was from a 1975 show (possibly June 6, 1975--see below). David Nelson is listed as a member on both albums, but there is no other information about other band members, recording dates, or anything else, save for song titles. Since banjo player Tom Stern helped produce the album, and was a later member of Good Old Boys, it seems plausible to assume that he was in the '75 lineup, but I'm not sure about the fiddler or the bass player.

"New Acoustic Music" rose to a deservingly prominent position in the 1990s, not least because of the David Grisman Quintet. The rise of the cd market, which re-released a lot of long-lost material to music fans, brought a renaissance for many artists in a variety of genres. Frank Wakefield was one of many bluegrass players whose catalog across many decades was suddenly accessible, and he continued to tour successfully well into the 21st century. I myself saw Frank Wakefield play the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley in November, 1997--just a brief 23 years after I had seen him with the New Riders at the Oakland Coliseum Stadium--and he was tremendous. Plus, it was Berkeley--Peter Rowan showed up for a few numbers, and then David Nelson did, too. It was a great night. Wakefield is still with us, I'm happy to say. He's not a young buck anymore, so I don't think he plays much, but he split the atom, so he doesn't have to.

Appendix 1:
Pistol Packin' Mama-The Good Old Boys
Initial release : March 1976
Round RX-109 / RX-LA597-G
The only Round Records release that does not include a major playing contribution from a member of the Grateful Dead. This bluegrass album was produced by Garcia. Garcia has stated in an interview that he sings harmony on Leave Well Enough Alone.
  • Ashes of Love (Anglin / Anglin / Wright)
  • I'm Here to Get My Baby Out Of Jail (Traditional arr Wakefield)
  • Long Gone (Public Domain / Reno)
  • Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (Fidler/ Maphis / Maphis)
  • Deep Elem Blues (Traditional arr Wakefield)
  • Pistol Packin' Mama (Dexter)
  • Banjo Signal (Reno / Smiley)
  • Toy Heart (Monroe)
  • Leave Well Enough Alone (Traditional arr Wakefield)
  • Too Wise Special (Wise)
  • On Top of Old Smokey (Traditional arr Wakefield)
  • Barefoot Nelly (Reno / Davis)
  • Don't You Hear Jerusalem Moan (Reno)
  • Glendale Train (Dawson)
  • David Nelson - guitar, vocals
  • Frank Wakefield - mandolin, vocals
  • Don Reno - banjo, vocals
  • Chubby Wise - fiddle
  • Pat Campbell - bass
  • Jerry Garcia - harmony vocals (on Leave Well Enough Alone)
  • Producer - Jerry Garcia
  • Engineer - Dan Healy
  • Mixing - Jerry Garcia, Dan Healy
  • Production assistants - Kidd, Steve Brown
  • Art direction - Ria Lewerke
  • Album design - Leonard Spencer
  • Photography - Ron Rakow, John Allen
  • Recorded at Rolling Thunder
  • Mixed at Ace's
David Nelson, Winter 76 Round Records Newsletter
When Anton Round asked me to write a few words about the "Pistol Packin' Mama" album, I tried to think of what to say and couldn't even come close to what a fantastic trip it was, doing that session. In two days we had 25 songs down on tape, and upon listening back, some of the tastiest, most fun, and liveliest bluegrass ever recorded! I felt like a kid with dreams of the big leagues who was approached by Mantle, DiMaggio, and Ruth and told "well sure we'll play with you, and all your friends too!" 
These three guys wrote the book on banjo, mandolin and fiddle. Chubby Wise is the dearly loved daddy of the country fiddle. He played on the sessions which are today regarded as the definitive bluegrass music. Don Reno is a phenomenal all round musician as well as one singer, guitar picker, and innovator in the highest degree. 
What can I say about Frank Wakefield? He's Brer Rabbit jumping through the briar patch, in the flesh. I'd have to quote Oxford's Dictionary and say, "luxuriously prolific, virtuosity abounding, technical ability overflowing with spirit." All I can say is that it was so much fun doing this album. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.
Appendix 2: Good Old Boys with David Nelson (additional live shows)
June 6, 1975 The Other End, New York, NY (early and late)
David Nelson played at least a few shows with The Good Old Boys in June 1975. It seems that the shows were planned as publicity for the Round Records release of Pistol Packin' Mama, and presumably the dates were fulfilled anyway. We are lucky to have a fine Jerry Moore audience tape. On the tape, Nelson says that the groups has been "on the road about three days," so presumably there are a few other dates. Band members not announced (the lineup is DN, FW, banjo, fiddle, bass--Tom Stern may be the banjo player).

At one point the band tells the crowd
[Nelson]:"We just made a record on Round Records. I imported Frank out to California and Garcia produced it. We did 25 songs in two days. It blew our minds. It's coming out in June or July, I think." [Wakefield]: "it was supposed to be out last week." 
These comments hint at the confusion surrounding Round Records. The album had been recorded four months earlier, and Old And In The Way had come out in the Spring, so another bluegrass release made good sense. Good sense, however, didn't always figure into Round calculations.

The Other End was at 147 Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. Back in the early1960s it had been a coffeehouse called The Bitter End, and had played a critical role in the 60s folk scene. Prior to that, in the '50s, 147 Bleecker was called The Cock And Bull, and Hugh Romney was a regular performer (before he became better known as Wavy Gravy). In 1974, the venue became a nightclub called The Other End. It was a hippie rock hangout during a period when New York music was evolving in various different directions. Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue got its start performing on an ad hoc basis at The Other End. At the end of the '70s, the club reverted to the more famous name The Bitter End. It remains open and apparently thriving today.

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December 20, 1975 My Father's Place, Roslyn, NY: Good Old Boys
[update] Correspondent Keats writes in with an excellent link to what sounds like a Jerry Moore tape recorded at My Father's Place in Long Island. Possibly this is a source tape for the Relix album. The mc begins each set by saying "Will you please welcome Frank Wakefield and Dave Nelson, The Good Old Boys. " There are two sets, the first about an hour and the second 40 minutes. There are many songs from the upcoming album, and some bluegrass classics.

The Good Old Boys are a quintet, with Nelson doing most of the lead vocals (Wakefield handles a few). The balance of the group is Tom Stern (banjo, harmonies), John Glick (fiddle) and Rick Lindner (bass).

Nelson and Wakefield do refer to the forthcoming album. Wakefield says, mock plaintively, "when's that coming out" and Nelson says "March or maybe February." Once again, the New Riders were touring the area, having played the nearby Calderone Arena in Hempstead, NY on the previous weekend (Dec 12 and 13).

December 23, 1975 The Red Rail, Nanuet, NY: Good Old Boys/The Rowans
[update] A Jerry Moore tape has preserved the group's performance at the Red Rail (as well as a tape of The Rowans). Nelson alludes to "coming back one more time to the Red Rail, so I figure they may have played there in June. Nanuet was Southwest of Manhattan, near Nyack and the New Jersey border

February 25, 1976 The Other End, New York, NY (early and late)
w/Wakefield, Nelson, Peter Rowan (mandola), Tom Stern (banjo), John Glick (fiddle), Rick Lindner (bass)
The Good Old Boys apparently played regularly around the East Coast in 1976, as we have tapes from February, April, July and November 1976. Frank Wakefield led the band, of course, but the guitar and lead vocals were handled by Peter Rowan rather than Nelson. To Deadheads, this must have made perfect sense. Most Deadheads had just discovered bluegrass via Old And In The Way (I certainly had), so Wakefield and Rowan touring together presented the two leaders of the "Grateful Dead Bluegrass Scene," such as it appeared. The Good Old Boys with Rowan performed a mixture of songs from Pistol Packin' Mama, Old And In The Way and bluegrass standards. The balance of the band besides Rowan (guitar, vocals) and Wakefield (mandolin, vocals) was Tom Stern (banjo), John Glick (fiddle) and Rick Lindner (bass).

However, for one show at The Other End, on February 25, 1976,David Nelson "rejoined" the band. Rowan played mandola instead of guitar, but he sang as well. Clearly, this show was intended to publicize the release of the album, but once again the album was not even released yet. We have a fine tape of the show, but I don't know whether or if Nelson appeared at any other Good Old Boys concerts after that show.

Appendix 3: Don Reno and Chubby Wise
Don Reno (1926-84) was a legendary banjo player in bluegrass circles. After time in the US Army in WW2, Reno joined Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys in 1948, replacing Earl Scruggs. For a player like Garcia, Don Reno was a foundational player in the three-finger picking style. In 1950, Reno formed his most famous bluegrass partnership with guitarist and singer Red Smiley, which lasted until 1964. Reno continued to perform until his death in 1984. He is buried in Lynchburg, VA.

Fiddler Chubby Wise (1915-1996) was a member of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys from 1942-48, making him a critical member of the band that invented bluegrass. He had an extensive career after Monroe, including becoming a member of The Grand Ole Opry (essentially meaning he was in the house band). He worked on numerous country sessions as well.

Appendix 5: Frank Wakefield On Meeting Jerry
Here is the complete Wakefield interview about Garcia and Nelson, from Jim Moss's excellent Candlewater site. I have excerpted various parts as appropriate above, but here is the whole interview.

Frank Wakefield:  In 1975 David Nelson, Don Reno, Chubby Wise, and Jerry Garcia made an album out in California.  That record sort of came about on the spur of the moment.  I was out in Marin County, in Northern California staying at David Nelson's house and doing shows with his band, The New Riders Of The Purple Sage.  Me and David... and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, were also doing some shows together. When we did shows David would play guitar and Jerry played banjo. 
David and Jerry started out playing music together in a Bluegrass band before they got into Country Rock and they both really loved Bluegrass music.   Whenever Garcia played with me and David, we would always have a full house.  I thought it was because of me.  I never had heard of Garcia or the Grateful Dead before.  It took me a while to realize that people were coming to the shows because Jerry was playing with us.  When we played shows together we played acoustic.  I didn't know any of the Grateful Dead's music and the fact is I still don't.   The audience that was coming to see us was mostly Grateful Dead fans. Most of them had never heard Bluegrass music before, but they really loved it when they heard it.  Both Jerry Garcia and David Nelson helped create a lot of Bluegrass fans.  I still meet fans who say that they first heard Bluegrass back when we were doing those shows with Garcia and David in the Good Ol Boys back east in 1976 and 1977 [sic].

The way the Pistol Packin' Mama album came about was me and David were sitting around talking when I told David I'd like to do a record of me and him with Don Reno and Chubby Wise.  First, David thought I was kidding.  When he realized that I was serious he said, "Boy, I would love too, but that you could never get to talk to people like Don Reno and Chubby Wise."  I had already recorded with Don and Chubby back in 1959, so I said to David, "Why don't we call them, but first lets go talk to Ron Rakow." Rakow was the fella who ran Round Records, the Grateful Dead's record company.  So we went over to Ron's office to talk to him and he was really interested after I told him that Chubby and Don were some of the original people in Bluegrass. Ron had actually never heard of them.  Ron asked me how much I thought it would cost to do the record.  I said, "Oh, maybe three or four hundred dollars."  David looked at me kinda funny and said "Frank, it will cost more than that".   Then Ron Rakow said, "You'd have to have at least five thousand to start off with."  That sounded good to me so I said, "Well, I ain't gonna argue with that". 
Then Ron asked me who would I like to have produce the album?  At that time I still didn't know Jerry's last name even though I had played with him about five times.  So I didn't think about having Garcia produce the record.  I thought we might have John Dawson from the New Riders produce the record, I did know his name.   Then later that day Ron called me and David and asked how about having Jerry Garcia produce the record? I said "who?" The guy who has been playing banjo with you.  I told him that that soundedfine with me because "he's alright."
So, after that, I called Don Reno.  I talked to him for a few minutes and asked him
if he wanted to come to California to do a record.   Then I told him that David wanted
to talk to him.  Don said, "David who?".  I told him David Nelson from the New Riders
of the Purple Sage.  I am not sure if Don knew who they were or not, but I handed
the phone to David. David held the phone for a long time and said nothing.  I said, David, is Don still on the phone?  Did you get cut off?  Finally, David said, "Hh Hello?, Don, Don Reno?" Dave kept stuttering, "I can't believe I'm talking with you."  After a while David calmed down.   He and Don talked for awhile then I got back on the phone and asked Don what he would have to have to do the record.  Don said, "what could you pay me?" I said about $800 plus a round trip ticket and a plane ticket for his banjo.  He would also get a hotel room.   Don said "That sounds good to me.  When do you want to do it".  
When I called Chubby it went exactly the same way.  Again, David was speechless to
talk to Chubby also. In a few days Don flew out and me, David and Garcia picked him up at the airport. Chubby wouldn't ride in a plane.  So he drove out from Texas in his Cadillac.  it took Chubby about a week to drive to California, but he got there.   We went into the studio and I would call off a song and we would do it.  David and Garcia knew all the old Bluegrass songs.  Don practiced with us for about an hour before we recorded.
Chubby got to California the night before we were going into the studio.  Chubby
didn't get a chance to practice with us at all. 
We were in the studio a total of 12 hours, two days, 6 hours each day.  We recorded
about 28 songs in those 12 hours.  We did "Leave Well Enough Alone" twice.  That was
a song I had wrote and forgot.  Garcia suggested we do it.   Jerry had to tell me
the words.  Don was suppose to sing baritone on it, but he had never heard it before.
Don couldn't remember the words so Garcia came out from the control room and
did the baritone with us on it.

I decided on the name for the album.  Pistol Packin' Mama sounded like a good
name for an album.  We put four of Don's songs on the album, "Banjo Signal,"
"Barefoot Nellie," "Don't You Hear Jerusalem Moan" and "Long Gone."  Don sang
lead on the vocals he wrote.  We put an instrumental of Chubby's on the record too.
Chubby didn't have a name for the tune.  I always called him Chubby Too Wise,
so I said, "Why don't we call it the "Too Wise Special"?"  Well, that really tickled
Chubby.  When Chubby would start laughing with that big laugh of his, it would
start his belly to shakin all around.  He said, "That sounds mighty fine Little Frankie!"
Chubby would always call me "Little Frankie".
(Jim Moss interview-2006)
Frank Wakefield's debut album in 1972, on the Cambridge, MA label Rounder Records. The backing musicians were an Ithaca, NY band called Country Cooking, who included Kenny Kosek (fiddle) and Pete Wernick (banjo).
Appendix 6: Frank Wakefield (Rounder)
Frank Wakefield's first solo album was released in 1972 on Rounder Records, out of Cambridge, MA. Although there are not track-by-track credits, the backing group was a band of young bluegrass musicians in Ithaca, NY, called Country Cooking. As a sign of how tiny the hippie bluegrass world was back then, it is worth noting that while Country Cooking fiddler Kenny Kosek would go on to perform in the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, banjo player Peter Wernick had already played with both Nelson and Garcia. Back in the Summer of 1963, Wernick had played a few shows in a group called The Godawful Palo Alto Bluegrass Ensemble with Jerry Garcia and Eric Thompson. In the Winter of '69, Wernick had played with Nelson in a bluegrass group called High Country.

Wernick, although a regular in the Greenwich Village folk clubs, was also getting a PhD in Sociology from Columbia University, thus earning the name "Dr Banjo," by which he is still well known. In the early 70s, Dr. Wernick had an academic appointment at Cornell , which is how he came to found a bluegrass band that still had connections in University enclaves like Greenwich Village, Cambridge, Berkeley and Palo Alto (looking at you, Dr. Humbead).

e shut down Paul's.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Rodney Albin 1940-84 (Folk Headwaters)

Rodney Albin (1940-84), probably in the late 1970s. (Photo: Christopher Newton collection)
Jerry Garcia, like everybody, had many friends who died before he did. Yet Jerry didn't perform at many wakes--six by my count. Two of these performances were for friends who are always placed next to Jerry in the firmament: Janis Joplin's wake at the Lion's Share in San Anselmo (October 26, 1970) for a few invited guests, and Bill Graham's memorial concert in Golden Gate Park (November 3, 1991) for 300,000 friends who dropped by. Back in the Summer Of Love, the Grateful Dead had played a "funeral" at Golden Gate Park (August 28, 1967) for a Hell's Angel named Chocolate George. Another event was "The Bob Fried Memorial Boogie," at Winterland (June 17, 1975), for the family of poster artist Bob Fried. While Fried's name was not well-known, his posters were popular classics of psychedelic California rock poster art. Similarly, when Bay Area traffic reporter Jane Dornacker died in a helicopter accident, Garcia, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart played at the Benefit concert at The Warfield (November 22, 1986). While Dornacker had deep roots in the Haight Ashbury underground, she had also been a popular local radio personality.

Yet the other wake is for a character far less known, the Rodney Albin Memorial Concert at a club called Wolfgang's in San Francisco, on August 28, 1984. Jerry Garcia and John Kahn were the headliners, but they played along with many old friends of Rodney Albin's that night. Rodney Albin's name was hardly known amongst Deadheads at the time, and even those who knew of him hardly realized his impact, but he was an absolutely critical figure in the history of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, and the Haight-Ashbury as a whole. This post will take a closer look at why Rodney Albin (1940-84) was such an important figure, and why his memorial concert brought together so many old friends.

The Boar's Head, Summer 1961
The Fillmore, the Avalon, LSD and the Haight Ashbury hippies all came to the surface in the Summer of 1966, and they went nationwide the next year. Although it is 60s teenagers who recall the incipient clarion call to open minds and freedom from that time, the actual participants were in their 20s. The likes of Owsley, Phil Lesh and Jerry Garcia had been around for a while, trying to create a tiny alternative universe, only to discover they had built a new paradigm. In order to found that new world, a few lonely pioneers had been searching for the next iteration in places like San Francisco and Cambridge. They found each other because there wasn't that many of them.

Rodney Albin, like Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, was searching for something different. Rodney and his younger brother Peter were from a well-to-do but not wealthy family in Belmont, a suburb of San Francisco, nearer to the City than Palo Alto. In 1961, Rodney was a student at the College of San Mateo, a junior college in the Mid-Peninsula area. He was friendly with some Stanford University freshmen who liked folk music, among them Ted Claire and Richard Astle. How they knew each other isn't exactly clear, but there would have been only a small number of "folkies" in the area and somehow they made the connection. In the early 60s, Stanford University was respectable, but not the West Coast Ivy school it is today. Thus, a Stanford freshman would have seen a student at a nearby JC (San Mateo is about 20 miles North, nearer San Francisco) as a fellow college man.

Rodney Albin started the first folk club in the South Bay, called The Boar's Head. The Boar's Head was a tiny loft that seated at most 40 people (per McNally), above a metaphysical book store called the San Carlos Book Stall, at 1101 (or 1107) San Carlos Street. Rodney's brother Peter's best friend was a fellow Carlmont High student named David Nelson. Rodney had already guided Nelson's future career by saying "you know what you would like? Bluegrass," but he was about to have an even bigger influence. In a remarkable interview with the JGMF research staff, Nelson describes Rodney Albin getting Peter and Nelson into a car to go to Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, because Rodney said,“c'mon boys were going down to Kepler’s bookstore, and pick up some of those beatniks, get them to come to our club." He also added, "we've got to find this guy Jerry Garcia."

A January 2011 aerial view, from Hoover Tower, of the Wilbur Hall Residence Complex at 658 Escondido Drive on the Stanford University campus. The Wilbur complex consists of 8 residence halls and a Dining Commons. In 1961, Jerry Garcia and Bob Hunter played their first gig at the lounge in Arroyo Hall. This umpaid gig likely connected them to Ted Claire and Richard Astle, and ultimately to Rodney Albin
How did Rodney even know about Garcia? It's hard to say for sure, but Garcia and Bob Hunter's first, unpaid gig  had been at Stanford's freshman dorm (Wilbur Hall), and they were apparently regular, if informal, performers at the Stanford University coffee shop and some fraternity parties. So the evidence seems to point towards some Stanford freshmen who had met them, particularly Ted Claire. In any case, Nelson and the Albins found Garcia holding court at Kepler's, and invited him to play the Boar's Head. According to McNally, after Garcia cheerfully agreed, Rodney added "can you bring anyone else? Tell everybody." Garcia and Hunter played the Boar's Head in the Summer of '61, and Rodney had set the wheels in motion.

The Boar's Head, Summer 1962
The Boar's Head had packed the space above the San Carlos Book Stall in the Summer of '61, and it needed more space. However small it was, folk music was happenin'. For the Summer of '62, The Boar's Head was located at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Belmont. The newly organized Wildwood Boys, with Garcia, Hunter and Nelson, were regulars, and Garcia played with various other aggregations. The earliest widely circulated Garcia tape, from June 11, 1962, an old-timey configurations with Marshall Leicester and Dick Arnold, under the name Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers, was from the Boar's Head. The Boar's Head actually lasted through the next two Summers, up to 1964, when it eventually faded away.

Christopher Newton's book The First Few Friends I Had (2013 Pondering Pig Press) is an insightful look at Bay Area teenagers who were too late for the Beats and too soon for the hippies.
The Proto-Hippie Wilderness
Most rock music fans pay attention to San Francisco and the Haight Ashbury in the mid-60s. Depending on your exact interests, attention usually gets focused on the Summer of Love in 1967, or the opening of the Fillmore and Avalon in 1966, or the Acid Tests and Mime Troupe Benefits in late 1965. Yet in order for those events to happen, there had to be a community of like-minded souls, a few years older than the teenage hippies who recall the Summer Of Love so fondly. And there was. Jerry Garcia, Grace Slick, David Crosby and a few other legends are the most famous of those characters, but there were enough of them to form a subculture, just after The Beats but still before the hippies. If you look hard enough, you can find their stories.

Christopher Newton was a mid-1950s teenager in suburban San Mateo, just South of San Francisco, midway between the City and Palo Alto, bordered by the El Camino Real. Today, young people set off after high school with all sorts of options--not just sensible college majors like BioStatistics or Hotel Management, but less prudent ones like Rhetoric or Contemplative Studies, or Outward Bound opportunities in the Great Outdoors, all in the service of a better inner and outer life. No such thing existed back in the 1950s. If neither factory work nor middle-class conformity appealed to you, what did you do? For all of those seekers, the answer was pretty much the same: read Jack Kerouac, and search for something different and meaningful on the margins of American life.

Newton has written a very interesting book about his efforts to find his place in the Bay Area pre-hippie wildnerness, from the mid-50s to the mid-60s. The First Few Friends I Had (Pondering Pig Press, 2013) is a very personal tale of Newton's friends and life in those days, but famous characters like Jerry Garcia and Chet Helms wander through the narrative, as they were part of that world. Newton has also written a blog (The Pondering Pig) that includes additional material, and between the blog and the book, we get a sharp picture of how Rodney Albin was so personally important to those seekers in the early days.

San Francisco State College
After some false starts, Newton ends up at San Francisco State College in the Fall of 1962, at the new (and current) campus at 19th Avenue and Holloway, near Lake Merced. Up until 1959, SF State was on Buchanan street, which was why so many SF State students still lived in the Haight Ashbury. It was there that Newton met Rodney Albin. He describes the encounter and their growing friendship in some detail in his blog:
Late one morning in, I suppose, the Fall of 1962, I exited San Francisco State’s HLL building, where the boring part of my initiation into high Western culture took place, and ambled across the lawn towards the  Commons to get coffee and see what was up...
On this particular morning, I happened to notice a new folkie sitting cross-legged on the lawn, surrounded by the regulars and passing around a dulcimer he had just built.  He was a tall gangly kind of folknik, just transferred in from the College of San Mateo, a junior college on the Peninsula.  He was wearing bright red trousers, a stove-piped hat and tails, and he was playing The Battle of New Orleans on his fiddle.  No.  Wait a minute.  That’s got to be my imagination.  The top hat and tails didn’t come until later.  OK, he was dressed like a normal person.  It was his dulcimer that was extraordinary.
Interested in dulcimers myself, I forgot about the coffee (never easy to do)  and squeezed into the circle.  That dulcimer was pretty cool, all right.  Shaped like Jayne Mansfield with soft flowing curves and strummed with a sea gull feather, you could tune it to any interesting modal scale you might be in the mood for, brush its strings with that quill, and there you were,  mournful and lost in the holler, sounding like you’d been born in Viper, Kentucky instead of San Francisco.  I started in on an improvised, sea gull strummed Pretty Polly, and pretty soon I was hooked.  The Commons fled and there I was in some longago fog shrouded mountain glen, watching some no-goodnik do in Pretty Polly while the pretty little birdies mourned.  It sounded like magic, and Rodney had created the damn thing out of a piece of spruce. 
I got to know Rodney after a while and discovered he was from the next holler over.  My holler was called San Mateo and his they called Belmont.  He and his younger brother Peter were still living with their parents in an upper middle class shack in the Belmont hills.  I also discovered that Rodney wasn’t the new guy – I was.  He was well-known in folk circles up and down the Peninsula and across the Bay in Berkeley.  He’d masterminded the folk music festival at the College of San Mateo where young Jerry Garcia made his debut to an unappreciative audience of frat rats.  Rodney and George ‘The Beast’ Howell [one of Newton's best friends] had opened the Boar’s Head the preceding summer, a folk-oriented coffeehouse in the loft above the book store in San Carlos where George worked.  Garcia and the other Palo Alto folkniks regularly showed up there to jam into the weekend nights.
Over the next few years, Rodney Albin facilitated Newton's passage into the nascent but growing little counterculture that would flower a few years later.
I started dropping in to see Rodney when I was down that way.  On my first visit, he showed me the six string balalaika he’d built out of orange crate wood.   It was his first sort of crude try at building an instrument.  He was way beyond now of course. He’d already finished a viol de gamba, and now he was building a harpsichord on his bedroom floor.  Its parts spread hither and thither across the carpet; tools, a reel to reel tape recorder and an unmade bed filled the rest.  He used the tape machine to record performances at the Boar’s Head.  Apparently some of these tapes still exist and are passed from hand to hand in Deadhead circles.   They would include: Garcia, Ron McKernan, David Nelson, Rodneys’s brother Peter of course, and other less talented performers who went on to become teachers and bureaucrats and accountants – but still played pretty good.
The Society Column from the San Mateo Times of September 3, 1964, announces that the folk music entertainment for Caroline Reid's debutante party was provided by the Liberty Hill Aristocrats. 
The Liberty Hill Aristocrats
Folk music had been popular since the 1950s, thanks to groups like The Weavers and The Kingston Trio. By the early 60s, however, there started to be some interest in colleges and suburbs with more serious American folk music, whether bluegrass like Bill Monroe or like its predecessor, generally known as "Old Timey" or String Band music. With new folk clubs like The Boar's Head and The Top Of The Tangent in Palo Alto, which opened in January 1963, there was room for Rodney Albin to start his own aggregation, the Liberty Hill Aristocrats.

The Liberty Hill Aristocrats featured Rodney Albin and his younger brother Peter, along with various other members, some of them part time. One apparently semi-permanent member was fellow student Ed Bogas, a classically trained violinist and pianist who would moonlight on fiddle. Peter Albin, already a fine musician by the end of High School, played guitar and banjo, and Rodney played more exotic folk instruments, many of them apparently constructed by himself.

Unlike rock bands, traditional folk music groups could have floating memberships, since there was no need for amplifiers. A friend could be invited up from the (usually tiny) crowd to sing along or play harmonica on a song they knew. So attempting to work out the actual membership of the Liberty Hill Aristocrats beyond the Albin brothers and perhaps Ed Bogas is a futile exercise. Also, at places like the Boar's Head or The Tangent, groups of fellow musicians would climb on stage for one-time performances of songs that may have been rehearsed just a few minutes before. A widely circulated tape of the Albins and Pigpen, along with singer/guitarist Ellen Cavanagh, playing blues at The Boar's Head as The Second Story Men seems to be one such group. The Second Story Men existed alongside the Liberty Hill Aristocrats, as there were no practical barriers to having multiple bands.

The Liberty Hill Aristocrats played what gigs they could. There were a few gigs at folk clubs, and since folk music was now cool, they seemed to have played at least one debutante party, and probably more. By September 1964 (the date of the Society item from the San Mateo Times clip posted above), both Albins were attending San Francisco State. However, the Albins probably knew the debutantes from around Belmont. By this time, Ted Claire may have been a member of the Liberty Hill Aristocrats, at least some of the time, and another guitarist named Jeffrey Dambreau may have played with them also. In any case, both eventually joined the band. A decade later, Robert Hunter would also play with the Liberty Hill Aristocrats on occasion.

1090 Page Street
Newton also has a detailed recollection of Rodney Albin's most critical contribution to the rise of Haight Ashbury (from the blog):
Sometime in the spring or summer of 1964, Rodney Albin’s uncle acquired a twenty-two room Victorian boarding house on the corner of Page and Broderick Streets in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. The place had seen better days. Built in the 1880s by the owner of a high-toned downtown haberdashery, it had all the modern 1888 conveniences – speaking tubes, a doorbell that rang on each floor, and gas lighting sconces on the walls for when the electricity went out. Its pearl, though, was in the basement: a full-sized ballroom with a stage in one alcove. The entire room was lined with glowing virgin redwood panels. 
But in the 1940s, 1090 Page Street was downscaled from a mansion to a boarding house. Life Magazine mentioned it in a 1961 story titled “The Irish in America.” It featured a full-page photo of thirty ‘typical Irish’ working stiffs and Mrs. Minton, their landlady, all leaning out the windows of 1090 Page waving madly. 
For Rodney’s uncle, the building was strictly a business investment.  He was planning to tear it down and replace it with federally funded senior housing.   But the deal was bogged down in Washington somewhere, so Rodney approached him – he knew a way his uncle could make some money on the place while he waited to finalize the deal.  Why not rent rooms to San Francisco State students? Why, it happened that Rodney himself was a State student.  With his connections he could easily fill the place with the most respectable type of student, earnest and studious.   Rodney guaranteed him $600 a month, and was soon installed as landlord of what would become possibly the most renowned proto-hippie/scruffy student  pad in San Francisco’s short history.  By fall, the place was jumping. Since rooms began at $15 a month, it was affordable,  to say the least.
A ticket to a jam session in the basement in 1090 Page Street, hosted by Rodney Albin (calligraphy by Rodney as well)
Big Brother And The Sopwith Camel
In the basement of 1090 Page Street there was a huge ballroom. Many of the boarders were budding musicians, and they started playing music down there. A resident of a nearby building, a Texas transplant named Chet Helms, started organizing regular Wednesday night jam sessions, early in 1965. After repeated jams, some actual bands started to form. The first one to form was in late 1965, with Peter Albin and others. They made a list of possible names, and chose Big Brother And The Holding Company. Chet Helms became their manager, and they debuted in Berkeley on January 15, 1966.  By the middle of 1966 Big Brother were regulars at Helms' new venue. the Avalon Ballroom. They were missing something, however, so Helms recruited his Texas friend Janis Joplin, and stardom followed.

The second band to come out of 1090 Page Street surfaced in early 1966. They took the same list of possible band names as Big Brother had, and chose another name: Sopwith Camel. They lacked a bass player, however, and auditioned various 1090 Page jam session participants. Much to the surprise of everyone, Rodney Albin tried out as their bass player. Rodney was a folk purist who appeared to look down on rock and roll, yet here he was trying it on. However, he didn't get the gig. Sopwith Camel isn't widely remembered today, but they were one of the first San Francisco bands signed in 1966, and they had one of the first hits with a song called "Hello, Hello," so once again Rodney passed on another opportunity. He may not have entirely wanted it. Newton alludes to the fact that even back in 1965, Rodney Albin had a persistent ulcer, and the late nights and travel of the itinerant rock and roller may not have been desirable, However, thanks to 1090 Page and the jam sessions, Rodney Albin was still a crucial fulcrum in the history of the Haight Ashbury,

A business card for Rodney Albin at Haight Street Music, at 1418 Haight (at Masonic). In 1967, the address had been a boutique called Wild Colors; now it is a restaurant called Hippie Street Thai Food
Haight Street Music, 1418 Haight Street (at Masonic)
Rodney Albin's musical activities are fairly undocumented from 1966 through 1973, a curious fact for such a critical figure in the usually well-researched Haight Ashbury scene. Brother Peter, of course, rose to the top with Big Brother, only to see it crumble when Janis left the group at the end of 1968, He joined Country Joe and The Fish for the first part of 1969 and then Big Brother reformed in 1969 and put out two pretty good, if unheralded albums (Be A Brother in 1970 and 1971's How Hard It Is). Peter remained in Big Brother through 1971, so Rodney certainly had connections to the electric rock world.

However, I do know that Rodney worked at Haight Street Music, a store that seems to have emphasized acoustic string instruments rather than the more popular electric instrumentation. I know that the Liberty Hill Aristocrats continued to play, although exactly where remains obscure. By the end of the 60s, Ted Claire and Jeffrey Dambreau were definitely members of the group, whatever exactly that meant.

I suspect that Rodney Albin made a living during this period primarily as a luthier, building and repairing instruments. He seems to have been a San Francisco version of David Lindley. While no one can compare to Mr. Dave's ability to excel on infinite stringed instruments, some custom made, Rodney seems to still have been a source for instruments that may have needed special constructions. I have learned that in the late 1960s, Rodney Albin was building electric violins for various musicians. What few extant electric violins there were had been hand built at the time, so any violinists who wanted an electric axe would have welcomed Rodney's work.

On August 3, 1969, the Grateful Dead played The Family Dog On The Great Highway, and they were joined by a saxophonist and an electric violinist. Fellow scholars and I have searched in vain for their identities. There were so few electric violinists at the time, that some of the obvious choices like David LaFlamme (It's A Beautiful Day) and Michael White (John Handy, The Fourth Way) have personally indicated that it was definitely not them. A lesser known electric violinist from that time, John Tenney, who played sessions (including the mysterious Pigpen sessions for Mercury in 1969) and in two cover bands, This Ole World and Mother's Country Jam, assured us it was not him, either, but he had some intriguing insights in a personal email:
Don't know what to tell you about the fiddle player. It doesn't sound like LaFlamme to me either... He was much more melodic, and that scrubby bluegrassy (but non-authentic) playing at the end of "Caution Do Not Stop on Tracks" sounds weird in places, almost as if played on a 5-string hybrid violin/viola (I'm hearing high E string and also low C string both). That was not common yet that early; came in a lot more when real electric string instruments were developed in the 70s and 80s. Do you know anything about a player named Rodney Albin? He was brother of Peter Albin, who played in Big Brother. Rodney was a violin maker, also was I believe the manager of the famous house on Page Street (1090?) where the Dead lived early on. He could have made a hybrid 5-string, definitely had the capability for it. He was not an excellent player, but then again neither is the player on these tracks. Incidentally he also made the electric violin that I played on then.
So we know Rodney was making custom electric violins in 1969, and there is even the chance that he is the mysterious electric fiddler at the Family Dog.

As the Grateful Dead became more famous, Robert Hunter remained a mystery. Thus it was a great surprise to Deadheads in 1976 when Hunter started appearing locally with a bar band called Roadhog, singing many of the songs from his two Round Records solo albums. In fact, it turned out that Roadhog had surfaced in 1973, and Hunter had been working with them since their inception. Initially, Hunter appeared to have been the "staff writer," like he was with the Dead. By 1974, he was surreptitiously appearing on stage with Roadhog under the Nom Du Rock of "Lefty Banks."

Commenter runonguinness, a fellow scholar, tracked down a quote from theGrateful Dead newsletter: 
The idea for a Hunter album goes back to the start of Round Records in the Spring of 73. Here's an announcement from the Deadheads newsletter #10 from May 73 page 5:
"Robert Hunter has written the material for his own album and recorded it with Liberty, a Bay Area band. To be released.
I have never come across another mention of a band called Liberty and suspect this was actually Rodney Albin and friends. His early 60s band was the Liberty Hill Aristocrats and my theory is he was still using a variant of the name.
And here he finds the money quote, from a 1979 issue of the British fanzine Dark Star:
And here’s Hunter discussing Roadhog from the third and final part of a Ken Hunt interview in late 1979 published in Dark Star No 25 p 43
KH: How did you come to get involved with Roadhog? As far as I can tell, they were an existing band.
RH: Well, I had played with the band that became Roadhog, oh, ten or twelve years ago. They used to be called the Liberty Hall (sic) Aristocrats. It was Rodney Albin’s band. He just kept the band together for years and years and years. He was always inviting me to stop by and play with them. And I did. I went under the name of Lefty Banks, ‘cause I knew I had a reputation that I didn’t want to destroy at that point – until I got good enough as a performer to use my real name. So I had to join the band to learn how to play electric music. It’s funny, I used to be very at ease on stage playing along, but then after all those years when I got in with Roadhog, I was having shaky legs. I was terrified. There was one time we were playing a fraternity party over in Berkeley and Rodney said, ‘Now Lefty’s going to sing a Robert Hunter tune for you,’ and I did “Must Have Been The Roses”. There was some kid there and he said, ‘Gosh! That sounds just like Robert Hunter!’ That was a great masquerade.
The members of Roadhog were

  • Jeffrey Dambreau-guitar, vocals
  • Ted Claire-guitar, vocals
  • Shelley Ralston-vocals
  • Rodney Albin-bass, electric violin, vocals
  • Bill Summers-drums
  • with Lefty Banks [Robert Hunter]-acoustic and electric guitar, vocals
  • --the guitarists, including Hunter, would play bass when Rodney played fiddle

Tales Of The Great Rum Runners, Robert Hunter's debut album on Round (RX-101), released in June 1974. Rodney Albin was credited on two tracks. This was likely the first time he had recorded on a record that was released.
The genesis story of Roadhog and Robert Hunter will make a remarkable post, when I get around to writing it. I have written a detailed post of Hunter's publicly announced appearances with Roadhog. Back in 1973, Roadhog recorded what appears to be an album demo at Mickey Hart's Novato barn. Hunter wrote many, but not all, of the songs, and sang lead on quite a few of them. Most, but not all of the Hunter songs turned up on Hunter's June 1974 solo album, Tales Of The Great Rum Runners, which was the first album released on Round Records (RX-101).

Albin and Ted Claire play on Rum Runners, and Jeff Dambreau is thanked. Rodney Albin plays fiddle on the title track, and Claire and Rodney join in on the vocals for "Boys In The Barroom." For all Rodney's essential history, his appearance on Hunter's solo album appears to have been his first appearance on a publicly available recording.

The A-side of the privately released 1974 Roadhog single, with the song "Rotate Your Stock," written by guitarist Jeff Dambreau. The b-side was Van Morrison's "Wild Night"
Throughout 1974 and 1975, Roadhog continued to play around the Bay Area and occasionally elsewhere. Robert Hunter appeared with them regularly, but was never billed. There is at least one instance, at a 1975 show in Oregon, where his identity on stage seems to have been acknowledged. Without an internet, however, such information was generally unavailable to Deadheads. Rather oddly, Roadhog had a privately released 45 rpm single, available only at shows. The tracks were a Jeffrey Dambreau original, "Rotate Your Stock", backed by a cover of Van Morrison's "Wild Night," sung by Shelley Ralston. The tracks were recorded at a legendary SF studio called Funky Features. Funky Features, also known as Funky Jack's. Proprietor Jack Leahy had built a studio in the basement of his Haight Ashbury home at 142 Central Avenue, and it was a fine sounding alternative to more expensive studios like Wally Heiders.

I don't think the Roadhog single was really a commercial proposition. Back in 1974-75, demos were expensive, and not every nightclub even had a cassette deck. However, by giving a club the 45 rpm single, the booker could hear what Roadhog sounded like. I believe that is why they recorded a straightforward cover of "Wild Night," to show that they played danceable covers along with original material. Obviously, if Roadhog sold a few singles to fans, they were happy with that, but it probably wasn't a big part of the plan. I don't think Hunter played on this record, but Rodney Albin surely did.

Robert Hunter and Comfort
Around Halloween '76, Roadhog called it a day. Round Records had already folded, so no further solo albums seemed in the offing. Hunter played a few gigs with Barry Melton in November, but he put his performing career on hold. Nonetheless, he explained what happened next to Ken Hunt of Dark Star:
RH: …I got out of the business for nine months or so. And then (resignedly), Rodney had another band after a while, Comfort, and they were such a good band. He told me that they were going to break up unless I joined them, ‘cause they couldn’t afford to stay together any longer. So back to a life of music.
Comfort had actually formed back in 1973, as a sort of songwriting collective. Comfort had even shared bills with Roadhog at some smaller clubs in the Bay Area. By 1977, however, Rodney Albin had joined up with them, and he persuaded Hunter to join, too. Hunter actually supported the band through his Grateful Dead songwriting royalties, putting the band on salary and paying for recording an album at Front Street. It was Hunter's most serious effort at being a rock musician, and it came to pass because Rodney Albin persuaded him to do it.

The members of Comfort were

  • Robert Hunter-vocals, guitar, harmonica
  • Kevin Morgenstern-lead guitar
  • Rodney Albin-fiddle, mandolin, vocals
  • Marlene Molle-vocals [later married Rodney Albin]
  • Kathleen Klein-vocals [married to Larry Klein]
  • Richard McNees-keyboards
  • --replaced by Ozzie Ahlers in January 1978 [Ahlers recommended by John Kahn]
  • Larry Klein-bass [not the Larry Klein who married Joni Mitchell]
  • Pat Lorenzano-drums
Hunter wrote various songs for Comfort, and was the primary lead singer. The main composition was a remarkable suite of songs called "Alligator Moon," with lyrics by Hunter and music by McNees and Morgenstern. Their was also a sort of dance production that went with the suite, and on a few occasions in the Bay Area (in February 1978) Comfort added three ballerinas to the show as well. Video was made, but it has never surfaced to my knowledge. The entire production was financed by Hunter.

Comfort recorded an album at Front Street Studios, financed by Hunter--though I don't doubt that Front Street proprietors Jerry Garcia and John Kahn didn't charge him much. The tracks have circulated, and the 18-minute "Alligator Moon" is a unique composition for Hunter as a vocalist. However, Hunter was unhappy with the production, and the album has never been released. A few tracks did come out on the Relix Records compilation Promontory Rider. Comfort was a serious enterprise, nonetheless. On December 5, 1977, at a Monday night "Fat Fry" on Gilroy's KFAT-fm, Hunter financed a live broadcast of Comfort at the Keystone Palo Alto, engineered by no less than Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor. This live performance, including the complete "Alligator Moon," stands as Comfort's best musical legacy.

In March of 1978, the Jerry Garcia Band toured the East Coast, in anticipation of the release of Cats Under The Stars. They were joined by Robert Hunter and Comfort, presumably still expecting to release Alligator Moon. Comfort opened nine JGB shows at theaters and arenas, and also played some club dates. They returned East in May for a few more club dates. For all Rodney Albin's long history in the San Francisco scene, the 1978 East Coast tour with Comfort seem to have been his only true rock road trip.

Many aspiring musicians, or nostalgic fans, wonder what it would have been like to have been in on the ground floor of something like San Francisco in the 60s. Rodney Albin was right on that ground floor. He introduced David Nelson to both bluegrass and Jerry Garcia, he found Garcia and Hunter and brought them to the Boar's House, and Pigpen as well. He was in on the founding of Big Brother and The Holding Company and Sopwith Camel, and he made and sold instruments to San Francisco throughout the 60s and early 70s. Yet he did not accelerate his musical career with any of these connections until a dozen years later.

Rodney Albin had introduced Nelson, Garcia and Hunter, and the trio had formed the Wildwood Boys in 1962, the first of Jerry Garcia's many bluegrass aggregations. After many curves in the road, the JGB tour found itself at an old hockey arena called the Suffolk Forum, in Commack, NY, on March 12, 1978. The bill was Jerry Garcia Band/New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Robert Hunter and Comfort, the only time all three original members of the Wildwood Boys played in separate bands on the same bill. By this time, by my count, they had 31 albums between them. I speculated in the past on whether the three of them even noticed backstage how far they had come from their first gigs in the South Bay. I also wonder now whether they recognized that Rodney Albin was there, too, and without Rodney, there wouldn't have been any Wildwood Boys at all, and no giant gig at a hockey arena in Long Island.

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However, because Hunter, Rodney and Comfort were invited to join the Jerry Garcia Band tour, they played the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ on March 17, 1978. At the Capitol at the time, every show was videotaped, even the opening acts, and the tapes have finally surfaced. Thus we get a chance to see Rodney Albin in action, in Comfort's opening set for the Garcia Band. Rodney Albin plays fiddle and mandolin, and his featured appearances are his fiddle solo on "Tales Of The Great Rum Runners" and his lead vocal turn on the Johnny Horton classic "Battle Of New Orleans." It's nice to be able to put a face and a style to such an important figure who otherwise remained in the background.

Rodney Albin, 1940-84
Comfort ground to a halt in June 1978. The Alligator Moon album was not going to be released, and Hunter could no longer afford to keep supporting the band. Rodney Albin had married singer Marlene Molle, and they had a child. While there is no doubt that Rodney continued to play music, he retired from his very brief sojourn as a touring rock musician, leaving that to his old friends Hunter, Nelson and Garcia.

By 1984, Rodney Albin was very sick with stomach cancer. Just 44 years old, with a wife and a child, it must have been a shocking intrusion of mortality. Many rock and rollers pass from excess or recklessness, but Rodney by all accounts lived a quiet, sensible life and yet left far too soon. Amongst the old San Francisco crowd, there had been a few tragedies in the 60s and early 70s, but by and large everyone was around from back in the day. After Rodney's death, a benefit concert for Rodney's wife and child was arranged at Wolfgang's, on Columbus Street, Bill Graham's primary nightclub venue at the time. Psychedelia was at a low ebb, and most of the San Francisco legends barely had paying gigs, but they all showed up. The one with paying gigs was Jerry Garcia, but he was there, too, just as he had been for Janis and would be for Bill Graham. Jerry played an acoustic set with John Kahn, and seemed pretty out of it, but for once he could hardly have been blamed.

Rodney Albin's final musical legacy was on the Robert Hunter album Amagamalin Street, released in 1984 on Relix Records. Hunter had brought recording gear to Rodney's hospital room, and Rodney recorded a mournful violin solo, perhaps his last musical performance. He died soon after, but his legacy remained with his friends. George Newton summarized it best in his book. Newton, by his own admission an indifferent guitar player, had received a mandolin as a gift in 1963, but he didn't really know how to play it. Rodney taught him some chords, some fingering and a few songs. Not only that, now that Newton could play the mandolin, Rodney invited him to join the Liberty Hill Aristocrats, as well, when they played a gig at The Top Of The Tangent with Garcia and Nelson. Newton protested that he wasn't that good yet, but Rodney didn't care. In his book, he said
That was Rodney, he got people going, and he included them, even if it affected the professionalism of the music. He had his priority list, and friends were higher up than professionalism. You had to love a guy like that, and I did.
Music for friends, a sound concept. Rodney Albin's friends--David Nelson, Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter, Peter Albin, Pigpen, Chet Helms and all of us, were all the better for it,
My notes from the Rodney Albin Memorial Concert at Wolfgang's in San Francisco on August 28 1984, written down as soon as I got home.
Appendix: Notes from The Rodney K. Albin Memorial Concert
August 28, 1984 Wolfgang's, San Francisco, CA: Rodney K. Albin Memorial Concert Dinosaurs/Jerry Garcia and John Kahn/Country Joe and Friends/David Nelson/Rick and Ruby/others
Since there seems to be no other record online of the concert, I am publishing my notes from the concert, along with what I recall. I did not take notes at the show, but I wrote everything down as soon as I got home, so they are pretty accurate. The list of performers is approximately in the order which they appeared. Songs are what I could remember that evening. The Garcia, Dinosaurs and Country Joe setlists are complete to my knowledge. Garcia appeared early in the show, and the Dinosaurs were the "headliners." After the Dinosaurs set, various friends came on stage to play songs on the Dinos equipment. I left before the jam session ended, as it was 2:00am or later (an additional partial list of the show can be seen here).

Wolfgang's. 901 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA
Wolfgang's in the heart of North Beach in San Francisco, had a variety of prior lives. It had been a place called The Village, which advertised itself as "The Fillmore West for The Gay Set," and Garcia/Saunders had played there back on September 1971. It was a disco for a while (Dance Yer Ass Off) and eventually it became the "new" Boarding House. Robert Hunter had played there a few times. Eventually the new Boarding House failed, and Bill Graham took the club over, naming it Wolfgang's, a variation of his birth name, (Wolodia, in Hungarian). For a few years, Wolfgang's was Bill Graham Presents' "prestige" club, where hip acts played to impress tuned-in fans and industry people. Mostly, that did not include anyone associated with the Grateful Dead or old hippie bands, although Robert Hunter and the Dinosaurs had played there a few times.

MCs: Peter Albin, Bill Graham, Chet Helms
Every act had something nice to say about Rodney Albin, as did the MCs, but it has been so long I no longer remember what they said. Apparently, Peter Albin read a poem that Rodney wrote shortly before his death, but I do not actually recall that. Nonetheless, I very much got the impression that even though I only recognized Rodney as Peter Albin's brother and Robert Hunter's bass player, he was far more important than that. Some tapes have circulated of the concert, and some fairly primitive video is available on YouTube. If there are better links, please add them in the Comments.

David Nelson Band
  • David Nelson-acoustic guitar, vocals
  • Ed Neff-fiddle, mandolin, vocals
  • Tom Grant-banjo, vocals [probably Tom Stern]
  • Sara ?-bass
Ashes Of Love/ Dim Lights, Thick Smoke/ Teardrops In My Eyes/ Diamond Joe/ other songs
David Nelson opened the show with a bluegrass quartet. I only recognized a few songs, but it wasn't a long set.

The Rick And Ruby Show
  • Rick-guitar, vocals
  • Ruby-vocals
  • Righteous Raoul (Josh Brody)-piano
Rick and Ruby were a sort of parody lounge act. They were alright, but somewhat out of place with a bunch of old hippies.

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>Jerry Garcia and John Kahn

Jerry Garcia and John Kahn
Deep Elem Blues
I've Been All Around This World
Friend Of The Devil
Little Sadie
Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie
Goodnight Irene
To the surprise of most, Garcia and Kahn came out early. This was not uncommon at Bay Area benefits. Garcia generally wanted to do his bit and leave, rather than hang out. While everyone of course hoped that Jerry would stick around and jam, he never actually did that at when he played acoustic at a benefit. The set was short, and Jerry seemed out of it. Unlike some other shows, you could hardly blame him this night. Jerry, as usual for him but alone amongst the performers, said nothing about his lengthy friendship to Rodney Albin, but Jerry's presence said plenty.

Country Joe McDonald And Friends
Country Joe McDonald-lead vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica
Peter Walsh-lead guitar, vocals
David Bennet Cohen-lead guitar, organ, piano
Boots Stuart Houston-tenor sax
Dorothy Moskowitz-electric piano, vocals
Bruce Barthol-bass
Chicken Hirsh-drums
Chet Helms introduced the band. No one introduced Chet--everyone seemed to recognize him except me, and even I quickly figured it out. He went through the players, and the crowd was wondering why Barry Melton wasn't on stage. Little did we know there was a long-running dispute between Barry and a member of the band. Still, when he finished introducing each player, Chet said "you know these guys--they used to play the Avalon every New Year's Eve: Country Joe McDonald [dramatic pause] And Friends.

The lineup was 4/5 of the band from Avalon days, and two regulars from Joe's band. They absolutely, positively killed it. Joe always delivers the maximum, and they were the best set of the night. They got the only encore of the evening, and knocked it out of the park again.

Flying High
[instrumental-probably Masked Marauder]
Feel Like I'm Fixin To Die Rag
LSD Commercial
Rock and Soul Music
Not So Sweet, Martha Lorraine

Ed Bogas-violin
Gary Cohen-piano
Canon In D
Ed Bogas was a neighborhood friend of the Albin brothers. He had even been the fiddle player in The Liberty Hill Aristocrats, at least some of the time. By now, Bogas had been a highly regarded jazz producer for Fantasy Records for many years. For a change of pace, Bogas played some carefully rehearsed classical music, just to give some breadth to Rodney's musical interests.

Marlene Albin And Friends
  • Marlene Molle Albin-vocals, congas
  • Kevin Morgenstern-guitar
  • Gary Cohen-piano
  • Paul Scott-bass
  • Pat Lorenzano-drums
In My Life/ Me and Eddie/ other songs
Rodney's wife fronted a band that included two other former members of Comfort (Morgenstern and Lorenzano). There were some original songs and some covers. Many of the audience seemed to know her personally.

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  • John Cippolina-lead and slide guitar, vocals
  • Barry Melton-lead guitar, vocals
  • Robert Hunter-acoustic guitar, harmonica, vocals
  • David LaFlamme-electric violin, guitar (*), vocals
  • Merl Saunders-electric piano, Korg synthesizer, vocals
  • Peter Albin-bass, vocals
  • Spencer Dryden-drums
Who Makes The Moves [Melton and Hunter, lead vocals]
The Dance [Melton]
Boogie On Reggae Woman [Saunders]
Better Bad Luck [Hunter]
Blind Man [Albin]
Who's Gonna Love Me Now* [LaFlamme]
[unknown to me at the time] [Cippolina--may have been "Motel Party Baby"]
Turn It Up [Melton]
Promontory Rider [Hunter]

The Dinosaurs were the headliners, meant to rock out the house for the night. At the time, the Dinosaurs were a pretty regular act in clubs and small halls around the area. Other than the Grateful Dead, there were no other bands playing old-school psychedelic music, and there was no kind of jam band scene. It really did seem like the Dead and the humorously named Dinosaurs were the last of their kind.

The Dinosaurs were in a transitional stage. Robert Hunter had "officially" left the band, more or less replaced by Merl Saunders (the Dinosaurs had actually been playing around for a while with Saunders and without Hunter, but under another name). David LaFlamme, ex Its A Beautiful Day, had also been announced in BAM Magazine as a new member. So this show was Hunter's last with the Dinosaurs, his only one with Saunders, and LaFlamme's second. In contrast to a typical Dinosaurs set, Hunter had a higher proportion of songs. At the end of their set, they announced that some friends were going to jam, but the crowd thinned out pretty heavily.

After Hours Jamming
"Howard Hughes Blues"
  • Michael Wilhem-lead guitar, vocals
  • John Cippolina-slide guitar
  • David LaFlamme-electric violin
  • Merl Saunders-electric piano
  • Peter Albin-bass, vocals
  • Spencer Dryden-drums
Michael Wilhem had been in The Charlatans, who had started the whole thing at the Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, NV in the Summer of '65.

"Rock And Roll Music"
  • [ex-Charlatans?]-lead vocals
  • Michael Wilhem-lead guitar, vocals
  • John Cippolina-slide guitar
  • Merl Saunders-electric piano
  • Peter Albin-bass, vocals
  • Fritz Kasten-drums
Someone was introduced, but I didn't figure out who, and sang a Chuck Berry song. My note says "ex-Charlatan?" It may have been Richard Olsen. Fritz Kasten had been the drummer in Joy Of Cooking.

"That's How Strong My Love Is"
  • John Cippolina-slide guitar
  • Snooky Flowers-baritone sax
  • B. Vaughn-alto sax
  • Merl Saunders-electric piano
  • Mitch Holman-bass, vocals
  • Chuck Jones-drums
Snooky Flowers had been in Janis Joplin's band (in '69) and various other aggregations. Mitch Holman had been in Its A Beautiful Day, and Chuck Jones had been the original drummer in Big Brother, way back in the 1090 Page Street days. He had played one or two shows before Dave Getz took over the chair permanently.

There were still musicians coming and going, but we were at our own witching hour and headed home.

Appendix 2: Rodney Albin Farewell Message
A number of correspondents sent me Rodney Albin's "Farewell Message." I think this was read at the concert, although I no longer remember precisely. In any case, it captures Rodney's generous spirit and good humor

[Text Of The Letter]
Dear Family And Friends,

At this moment you probably all know where you are, most of you anyway, but you're not too sure about where I am.

Since for the time being it's unlikely we'll meet fact to face, I'll tell you where to look for me. Look for me in a well made guitar, and in a well played violin. Find me wherever good rock & roll is being played, or at any performance of a Wagner opera. I'll be anywhere a kind word is being spoken, or a kind act performed. I'll be there when someone speaks out against dogmatic foolishness, or stands up in defense of science against superstition. When you open your heard, broaden your mind, lift your spirit to embrace life, I'll be there.

If you wish to remember me, join the Academy of Science, spare the life of an insect, or put one under a microscope. Stay out of the sun. Remember me by giving money to a street musician, unless he's no good, in which case tell him to get off the street. Pick up a derelict and treat him to the opera. Read an Uncle Scrooge comic. Finally, in remembrance of me, wear the same clothes for two weeks running, and be kind to ducks.

Cheers and farewell,

Now and eternally,

Rodney Kent Albin