|Greg Errico drumming in Sly And The Family Stone around 1968, laying it down for people who only need a beat|
Interspersing some of Errico's music history with his participation with the Dead gives a nice overview of how Errico was so much more than just another drummer. It will not provide an exhaustive list of all of Errico's music, since that post would be too long. However, despite his low-key presence, Errico has had a fascinating musical career, and the music he has participated in offers some surprising contrasts to the music he has played with members of the Dead.
|A photo of San Francisco's VIPs, performing in the 1960s, from the site of saxophonist Donald DeWitt (Greg Errico is not the drummer in this photo).|
Greg Errico went to Mission High School in San Francisco, and one of the hottest bands in town was a dance band called the VIPs, featuring lead singer Leon Patillo. The VIPs were a popular group, probably playing R&B hits of the day, and making decent money. Errico was still in high school, but starting in about 1964, when the regular drummer couldn't make a gig, Errico would deputize for him. So even before he had left school, Errico had played some relatively big shows for the time, and obviously acquitted himself well.
This post is as good a place as any to clear up some confusion about the first Bill Graham show at the Fillmore on December 10, 1965, (the second Mime Troupe Benefit), when the Grateful Dead were billed as "Formerly The Warlocks". Due to a mistake in Ralph Gleason's review of the show, the VIPs were credited with performing at the show. However, it was actually a Palo Alto group called The Vipers (a predecessor of Mt. Rushmore and Phoenix), so there's no chance that Errico actually played the Fillmore that night, since the VIPs didn't play. The VIPs were a popular local group, and Leon Patillo went on to sing with Santana in the 70s, so it seems logical that they would play the Mime Troupe show at the Fillmore, but in fact it was The Vipers.
Freddy And The Stone Souls
Sometime after leaving high school, probably in mid-1965, Greg Errico joined a group with guitarist Fred Stewart, later to become famous as "Freddie Stone." The group was mostly known as Freddy And The Stone Souls, and apparently mostly played R&B covers. They were a very popular group locally (they played the Fillmore on Sunday evening, April 3, 1966, with the VIPs and The Invaders). They played around the same circuit as Freddie's brother Sylvester, then known locally as the popular DJ Sly Stone on KSOL-am ("K-Soul") out of Oakland. Sly's band was known as Sly And The Stoners, but they did not play around as as much, In early December 1966, Errico went to a Stone Souls rehearsal, only to find Freddie and Sly hanging out, and plans afoot to start an entirely new band.
|Sly And The Family Stone, early 1967. Drummer Greg Errico is back row, middle|
Joel Selvin, quoting saxophonist Jules Broussard, said "there was Black Music before Sly, and there was Black Music after Sly" (Sly And The Family Stone: The Oral History. 1997: Dell Books). It couldn't be said better. Sly And The Family Stone were one of the most essential groups of modern music, not just the sixties. They merged all the virtues of sixties rock and sixties soul. They were a self-contained writing and performing unit, they were stylish and hip, and they could make any crowd dance to the music. Sly And The Family Stone's music still sounds great today, a fact we know because we hear it constantly on commercials and oldies stations.
Sly And The Family Stone began performing very quietly, in December 1966. Initially they only played one venue, a new joint called The Winchester Cathedral, on El Camino Real in Redwood City, a few miles North of Palo Alto. They played what were then called "Breakfast Shows," from 2-6am on Saturday and Sunday mornings (Friday and Saturday late night). In California, the bars close at 2am, so all the musicians would come to the Breakfast shows to hang out. Officially, liquor was not served at Breakfast Shows, but I'm sure some turned up somewhere. In any case, Errico played drums for the band. Brother Freddie Stone played guitar, cousin Larry Graham played bass, friends Jerry Martini (saxophone) and Cynthia Robinson (trumpet) were the horns, and Sly himself played keyboards and was the principal singer (sister Vaetta "Rose" Stone didn't join on vocals and piano until the end of 1967).
One of the many musicians who saw the formative Sly And The Family Stone at Winchester Cathedral in the early days was Mickey Hart. At the end of 1966, Hart was managing a drum store in San Carlos, with his father. Whether or not Mickey had any drum gigs at the time--a subject that has been elided over the years--like other musicians he found his way over to Winchester Cathedral for the Breakfast Show. Joel Selvin has written a great book about Sly And The Family Stone, full of eyewitness accounts, and Hart is quoted at length describing how powerful the original lineup was, a full year before the world found out.
According to an interview for a Jerry Garcia Band retrospective release that David Gans was kind enough to share with me, Hart and Errico became friends in about 1968. Hart simply invited himself over to Errico's house in Mountain View and introduced himself. They were both drummers, both in major Fillmore bands, and clearly had a lot in common, so they hit it off. In those days, both of them were constantly on the road, so they may not have had too many opportunities to spend time together, but the connection was made.
|Rolling Thunder, Mickey Hart's solo album, released on Warner Brothers in September 1972|
Greg Errico left Sly And The Family Stone in 1971. Although the band was more popular than ever, there were numerous financial and chemical problems swirling around Sly, and Errico decided to step aside. Having toured non-stop for years, Errico chose to focus on studio work, as both a producer and session musician. Around 1970, Errico had spent some time living on Mickey Hart's ranch in Novato. Hart and Errico already went back a ways, but this brought Errico more directly into the Grateful Dead orbit. Errico worked on some projects and appeared on a few albums throughout 1971-72, but mostly he kept a low profile.
Errico is credited with performing on the track "Blind John," on Hart's '72 Warner Brothers album Rolling Thunder. The song was written by "Curly Jim" Stalarow (who introduced Bob Weir to the song "Me And My Uncle") and Peter Monk (nee Zimmels) who would later write the lyrics to "Passenger" with Phil Lesh. Members of the Jefferson Airplane played on the track, and the Airplane even performed it live a few times in 1972.
The credits for "Blind John" were:
- Steven Schuster - flute
- Grace Slick - piano, vocals
- Mickey Hart - field drums, tympani
- Greg Errico - drums
- Tower of Power Horns
- Barry Melton - guitar, vocals
- David Freiberg - guitar, vocals
- Paul Kantner - vocals
Thus the track included members of The Grateful Dead, Sly and The Family Stone, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Tower of Power and The Fish--a true SF All-Star lineup.
|Carlos Santana & Buddy Miles Live!, recorded in Hawaii on New Year's Eve 1971, and released on Columbia in 1972. Santana and a few members of his band sat in with the Buddy Miles Express, while Errico played drums.|
By the end of 1972, Santana, another legendary San Francisco band, was falling apart as well. Santana guitarist Neal Schon teamed up with Errico and expatriate bassist Pete Sears and they informally had a kind of band. San Francisco had a thriving recording industry at the time, and the original idea was that the trio would become the SF version of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a recording unit for visiting artists. It was a good idea, but it never came to fruition in the way the members expected.
The Schon/Sears/Errico band played at least one show, on January 27, 1973, which was broadcast on FM radio.Whatever their plans, Pete Sears moved on, and seems to have been "replaced" by former Sly bassist Larry Graham. Graham had also left the Family Stone, and had agreed to produce a local funk band called Hot Chocolate (no connection to the British group of the same name). However, Graham liked the group so much, he ended up joining the band, and they changed their name to Graham Central Station.
However, before Graham Central Station became well known, they would play gigs at Keystone Berkeley, co-billed with Schon and Errico. It appears that Graham Central Station would play a set, and Schon, Graham and Errico would play some sort of funky jam set as well. Graham went on to huge success with Graham Central Station, and Errico faded away from working with Schon. Schon found other players, and they went on to form the monumentally successful Journey. Thus, Errico seems to have had opportunities to work with two hugely popular 70s bands in their infancy, and appears to have happily let them both pass by.
|The debut album by Betty Davis, released in 1973 on Just Sunshine Records, produced by Greg Errico|
Betty Davis, though not a well-known singer in her day, has a considerably higher historical profile now. Greg Errico produced her debut album, now an influential record that is widely sampled. At the time, Davis was known as being Miles Davis' ex-wife (she was pictured on the cover of Davis' 67 album Filles De Kiliminajaro). In fact, Davis was a remarkable composer and artist, years ahead of her time. Errico recorded her debut album at Wally Heider's studio in San Francisco in 1972 and 73, with a variety of San Francsico heavies. Musicians included Errico and Larry Graham from The Family Stone, Doug Rauch and Neal Schon from Santana, Pete Sears, Merl Saunders and numerous other hot players.
In mid-1973, Errico was asked to join the groundbreaking fusion band Weather Report. This was a real departure for both Weather Report and Errico. At the time, Weather Report was playing very forward-looking music, picking up where Miles Davis had left off with Bitches Brew. The hiring of Errico was the first whiff that Weather Report's founders had any funky interests. Errico toured with Weather Report for the balance of 1973. Though the band never released any material with Errico, some fine live tapes of Errico and Weather Report can be found at Wolfgang's Vault. Weather Report's late 1973 lineup was:
Wayne Shorter-soprano and tenor saxophonesWeather Report played electric jazz in a very open style, quite a departure for Errico at the time. Errrico had more or less replaced drummer Eric Gravatt, who was an excellent straight ahead jazz player. Head Weatherman Joe Zawinul recalled Errico's playing fondly, particularly on the song "Boogie Woogie Waltz"
Joe Zawinul-electric piano, synthesizers
Miroslav Vitous-electric and acoustic bass
Dom Um Romao -percussion
Zawinul has called “Boogie Woogie Waltz” “a hip-hop in 3.” Long before “hip-hop” entered the vernacular, he described its structure to Jazz Forum magazine. “There are only five sentences. There is an introduction, an interlude and a dance at the end. And in between, everything is free.” [JF76]David Bowie "Diamond Dogs" September 1974 tour
He has also said that former Sly And The Family Stone drummer Greg Errico played ‘Boogie Woogie Waltz’ better than anybody. [DB01] Errico manned the drum chair for Weather Report between Sweetnighter and Mysterious Traveller, but never recorded with the band. He told Glasser, “[Zawinul] still tells me that to this day! He was talking about that song ‘Boogie Woogie Waltz.’ He said, ‘I finally stopped playing that song because I could never get someone to play it like that once you left the group!’ It was in 3/4, but not in the traditional way. I mean, it was in three but I would play four against it, and played it aggressively.” [IASW, 157]
The ever-restless David Bowie had released the hit album Diamond Dogs in April of 1974, anchored by his classic song "Rebel Rebel." After an initial tour in the Summer, Bowie returned to the road for 12 dates in September of 1974, all in the Southern California area. His band included Errico on drums and Santana's Doug Rauch on bass. Guitarists Earl Slick and Carlos Alomar, and pianist Mike Garson headed up the front line, and there was an army of backing vocalists (including Luther Vandross). The tour continued on in October of 1974, but Rauch and Errico did not participate.
|The July 1975 Keystone Berkeley calendar. When Ron Tutt was drumming, the band was billed as Legion Of Mary (such as on Sunday July 6|
Errico's first known live appearance with a member of the Grateful Dead was on June 22, 1975 at the Keystone Berkeley, with Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders. It is not impossible, however, that Errico had already subbed at an occasional Garcia/Saunders show as far back as 1974.
At the time, shows billed as Legion Of Mary had to include Ron Tutt on drums, along with Garcia, Saunders, John Kahn and Martin Fierro. If there was a different drummer, as there was on occasion, the show was billed as Garcia/Saunders, even if the repertoire was the same. Errico was as high-class as you can get for a fill-in. Think about it for a minute: Jerry Garcia wasn't able to get Elvis Presley's drummer for a night, so he got Sly's instead, replacing the drummer for one American musical giant with another.
When the Grateful Dead were off the road in 1974 and '75, Jerry Garcia did not play New Year's Eve for Bill Graham. Instead, he played quiet shows for Freddie Herrera at the Keystone Berkeley both years. The Jerry Garcia Band did headline a weekend of shows for Graham at Winterland on December 19 and 20, supported by Kingfish, Keith and Donna Band and Clover. These were well attended, but not sold out. Per Graham's standard contract, the Garcia Band New Year's Eve could not be publicized prior to the 19th and 20th, but that was alright. Keystone tickets were only sold at the door, the place would be packed anyhow, and neither Herrera nor the City of Berkeley wanted a false rumor around that the Dead might be playing there on New Year's Eve. The Garcia Band New Year's Eve show was only publicized the regular way, by flyers on Berkeley telephone poles and notices in the regular newspaper listings of local papers like the Oakland Tribune.
However, on New Year's Eve, the JGB drummer had a conflict: his other employer, Elvis Presley, was playing the Pontiac Silverdome, to a crowd of 60,00 or so. Thus Garcia needed a substitute for that night, and Errico got the call. Bob Weir and Matt Kelly played guitars (and harmonica by Kelly) for the second set, and Mickey Hart joined in on cowbell, per Errico's interview . New Year's Eve 75 was Nicky Hopkins last show with the JGB, as his unreliability made him an impossible fit for the professionals in the Garcia Band. The entire show was released as an archival cd in 2014, and you can hear it for yourself (incidentally, both Jerry and Elvis played "CC Rider" that night). Errico has a different style than Tutt, but he handled the chair admirably.
It has recently come to light, via a Keystone Berkeley calendar (above), that the Jerry Garcia Band played the club on Wednesday, December 17, with Errico on drums. This was generally confirmed by Errico in the interview, although he didn't remember the exact date. Technically, listing Garcia on a Keystone Berkeley calendar was a violation of the band's proximity clause with Graham, but the Keystone calendar was just on Berkeley telephone poles, and a small mailing list, so even Graham would not have fussed about it. The Garcia Band's contract at the time required that Hopkins, Kahn and Tutt had to be named as performers along with Garcia, in type at least 75% the size of Garcia's name. Since Tutt isn't listed for either date, it is proof that he was not booked.
June 23, 1977 Santa Rosa High School Auditorium, Santa Rosa, CA: Maria Muldaur and Special Guest [Jerry Garcia Band] Benefit for Camp Meeker
[update] Commenter Nick reports that Errico sat in with the Jerry Garcia Band for a benefit show at the Santa Rosa High School Auditorium on June 23, 1977. JGMF has determined that the gig was probably added late, and since Ron Tutt was engaged with Elvis Presley in Des Moines, IA, Errico got the call.
|War harmonica player Lee Oskar's 1978 Elektra album Before The Rain, produced by Greg Errico|
In 1978, Errico produced a solo album for Lee Oskar, the harmonica player for the popular band War ("Why Can't We Be Friends," "Cisco Kid" and numerous other hits). Mickey Hart played on the record. Oskar actually had a variety of Bay Area connections from the '60s, but I believe the connection between Oskar and Hart came from the 1970s, possibly from Errico. The album was almost entirely instrumental, and covered a variety of jazz and funk styles. Of course, it was hardly the sort of hit that inspired a follow-up. However, since Errico produced the album, that seems to have been the connection that got Lee Oskar on stage with the Grateful Dead a few times at Winterland in late 1978.
December 31, 1978 Winterland, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead
In the Fall of 1978, starting at the October 1978 "From Egypt With Love" shows, it became common for various people to join Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann during their drum duet. Errico joined in on some occasions. Certainly, Errico was onstage during the drum solo on December 31, 1978, as captured by the Closing Of Winterland video (from the KQED-tv broadcast).
In 1979, director Francis Ford Coppola invited Mickey Hart to create soundtrack music for his Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now. Hart created a mainly percussion ensemble that improvised music to footage for the movie that was shown on a giant screen. Some of the music was edited into the movie, and a larger portion of the music was used on the 1980 album on Passport Records, The Rhythm Devils Play River Music. The sessions went on for some days.
The recording ensemble was:
- Mickey Hart - percussion
- Bill Kreutzmann - percussion
- Airto Moreira - percussion
- Michael Hinton - percussion
- Jim Loveless - marimba
- Greg Errico - drums
- Jordan Amarantha - congas
- Flora Purim - vocals
- Phil Lesh - bass
Hinton was a former drum student of Hart's. Hinton, Loveless and Amarantha had played with the Diga Rhythm Band. In 1980, music from the Apocalypse Now soundtrack sessions was released as an lp on the jazz label Passport Records. To publicize the album release, Micky Hart organized a concert of musicians playing in the style of the album, although of course the music was mostly improvised. The ensemble played two nights at the Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium in San Rafael, on February 13-14, 1980, billed as The Rhythm Devils. The shows were very well received. Musicians included Hart, Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh (on fretless bass), Airto Moreira and Flora Purim and Mike Hinton. Other musicians also joined in, and I wouldn't be surprised if Greg Errico had been one of them.
The Trio: Cochran/Bogert/Errico
Instrument manufacturers played a big, if hidden, role in the rise of rock music throughout the 1970s and '80s. Guitarist Bobby Cochran was a consultant for Ibanez guitars, and through Ibanez rep Jeff Hasselberger he met Bob Weir. Weir and Cochran initially performed together at some NAMM (National Association of Music Manufacturers) conventions in 1979. Cochran also had some bands that mostly played NAMM events, including a trio with bassist Tim Bogert from Vanilla Fudge and Errico on drums.
In Atlanta in the Summer of 1979, Bob Weir had played with Cochran and his other NAMM trio, featuring Alphonso Johnson on bass and Billy Cobham drums. They had such fun that they conceived of the idea of Bobby And The Midnites. However, it took a few years for the band to come together. In the interim, Cochran played a few dates with Kingfish. On at least one of these dates (possibly the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, CA on June 30-July 1, 1980), "The Trio," with Cochran, Errico and Bogert, opened for Weir, Cochran and Kingfish.
The Grateful Dead headlined a benefit organized by Joan Baez for the relief of Cambodian Refugees. The show was broadcast on FM radio, and also featured Jefferson Starship, The Beach Boys and guest appearances by Carlos Santana. A telethon raised money between acts. Djs mentioned that Greg Errico joined the Grateful Dead on percussion for their encore of "U.S. Blues."
July 18-August 9, 1980 member, Jerry Garcia Band (11 dates)
Greg Errico's first regular drumming assignment with a Grateful Dead member was with the Jerry Garcia Band for their Summer 1980 tour. Errico played 11 dates in total, including a few Keystone shows and a brief East Coast tour (Jerry Garcia Band #11b). The Garcia Band was in a transitional state at the time. They had reformed as a stripped-down four piece, with keyboardist Ozzie Ahlers and drummer Johnny d'Fonseca. Sadly, d'Fonseca had died in a car accident in the Spring, so Errico got the call to fill in. Ultimately Ahlers went off to focus on his own band (The Edge, with Lorin Rowan), and Garcia and Kahn probably knew that the configuration was short-time. Thus Errico was a perfect fit. A friend and a proven professional, Errico would not be looking for a permanent slot in the Garcia Band.
October 13, 1982-June 5, 1983 member, Jerry Garcia Band (36 Dates)
Errico's brief stint with the Garcia and must have been successful, because he got a return engagement. Once again, the Garcia Band was in transition after June 1982. Both female harmony vocalists (Julie Stires and Liz Stafford) had left the band, as had electric pianist Jimmy Warren. Errico played a few dates with the JGB as a quartet (Jerry Garcia Band #15a) and he also played the first shows with the new vocalists, who had been chosen by Melvin Seals (Jerry Garcia Band #15b). Errico played 36 shows in all.
Once again, Errico seems to have been intended as a fill-in player. We know that John Kahn was calling Los Angeles producers, asking who was a good drummer. Eventually his old friend Michael Stewart suggested David Kemper, who debuted on July 20, 1983 and Kemper stayed in the JGB for 10 years (Jerry Garcia Band #21a and #21b). So Kahn and Garcia knew they were looking for a permanent drummer, and Errico did not seem to have any such aspirations.
March 10, 1983 Perkins Palace, Pasadena, CA: Bob Weir And Friends
Errico's last known performance with a member of the Grateful Dead was with yet another member, Bob Weir. Weir played a benefit for Medical Aid To El Salvador, and while he had most of his band on board, drummer Billy Cobham and bassist Alphonso Johnson were seemingly not available, so the band was billed as Bob Weir And Friends rather than Bobby And The Midnites. The show was put on at an 1800-seat venue called The Perkins Palace, on 129 N. Raymond Ave in Pasadena. Originally built in 1921 as The Raymond Theater, the building had an interesting music history (it was Van Halen's rehearsal hall from 1976 to 1978, before they were famous). However, the building was sold to developers in 1985.
On the hotline, Greg Errico was announced as the drummer, along with lead guitarist Bobby Cochran, bassist Tim Bogert and pianist Nicky Hopkins. Bogert had been in the Midnites in 1980-81, when Alphonso Johnson had not been available, and of course Cochran, Bogert and Errico had played as The Trio. A tape eventually surfaced, broadcast by David Gans on the KPFA 1986 Marathon (Jan 28 '06). The band rocked through mostly standard numbers that would not have needed much, if any, rehearsal. It turned out that Midnites member Dave Garland also played tenor sax and piano, and a few other guests sat in (complete details are below in the Appendix 2).
Greg Errico had a unique musical relationship with the members of the Grateful Dead. As a certifiable rock legend of the same vintage as them, he was a personal as well as a musical peer. Since his primary focus was on production rather than performing, he was only interested in part-time work, which suited the structure of Garcia's bands until the arrival of David Kemper. Unlike most of Garcia's other part-time associates, Errico had an ongoing relationship with Mickey Hart and thus performed onstage with the Dead on occasion, making him a singular contributor to the kaleidoscope of associates in the band's musical universe.
Rolling Thunder-Mickey Hart (1972 release on Warner Brothers, recorded ca. 1971)
Errico played drums on the track "Blind John"
Garcia Live, Vol. 5: December 31st, 1975, Keystone Berkeley-Jerry Garcia Band with Nicky Hopkins (2014 release on ATO, recorded Dec 31 '75)
Errico played drums for the Jerry Garcia Band on December 31, 1975. Both sets were released on an archival cd. Guests Bob Weir, Matthew Kelly and Mickey Hart (on cowbell) joined in for some numbers.
Closing Of Winterland-Grateful Dead (2003 release on Rhino/Grateful Dead, recorded Dec 31 '78)
Errico joined Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann for the "Rhythm Devils" percussion jam on this 4 cd set. The concert was also released on DVD.
The Rhythm Devils Play River Music-Rhythm Devils (1980 release on Passport, recorded 1979)
Errico joined in Mickey Hart's percussion ensemble to help create soundtrack music for the movie Apocalypse Now.
Appendix 2: Bob Weir with Greg Errico
A Commenter sent in some details about the Weir show with Hopkins and Errico in Pasadena:
March 10, 1983, Perkins Palace, Pasadena, CA: Bob Weir and Friends with Nicky Hopkins Benefit for Medical Aid To El Salvador
d1t02 Big Iron
dit03 Feel So Bad
d1t04 CC Rider
d1t05 Dance On Baby
d1t07 Brother Bill
d1t08 Easy To Slip
d1t09 Book Of Rules
d1t10 I Found Love
d1t11 Women Are Smarter -> Drums//
-This show was also broadcast as part of the KPFA Marathon on Jan 28 '06.
Bob Weir - Guitar, Vocals
Bobby Cochran - Guitar, Vocals
Nicky Hopkins - Piano
Dave Garland - Keys, Sax
Tim Bogert - Bass
Greg Errico - Drums
Graham Smith - Harp
Freebo - Tuba
Mike Rogers - Steel Drums