Thursday, June 1, 2017

Jerry Garcia, Sneaky Pete Kleinow and The Avalon Ballroom (Pedal Steel Guitar)

A poster for the Grateful Dead and The Flying Burrito Brothers (and AUM) at the Avalon Ballroom on April 4-6, 1969. Jerry Garcia took an extraordinary interest in Burrito pedal steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow.
This blog has been largely devoted to analyzing available evidence to find new insights about the Grateful Dead, in particular for events that are poorly documented. Seven years ago I wrote a post arguing that Jerry Garcia's purchase of a pedal steel guitar in Colorado on or about April 14, 1969 was very likely to have been influenced by having seen "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow play one with the Flying Burrito Brothers the weekend before. My reasoning was pretty good, but it was inductive. My speculation was that Garcia had heard the Sneaky Pete's groundbreaking pedal steel sound on Owsley's sound system, and it had intrigued his ears. I am patient, however. Now, finally reading Volume 7 of the memoirs of the road manager of The Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, I have some concrete proof that this was true, and it isn't speculation, but rather an eyewitness account.

James "Jimmi" Seiter was the road manager of The Byrds from July 1966 onwards, except for most of 1969, when he was the road manager of The Flying Burrito Brothers. The Burritos released their groundbreaking debut album, The Gilded Palace Of Sin, in February of 1969. The two principal singer-songwriters of the Burritos, Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons, had been in the prior year's "country-rock" version of The Byrds, in the lineup that had produced 1968's Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. The Burritos, however, not only featured the songs of Hillman and Parsons, but also the unique and astonishing pedal steel guitar of Sneaky Pete. While Sneaky played in country and western bars throughout Southern California, he was the first major steel player to emphasize special effects and sonic nuances in the steel guitar that could be heard with loud rock amplification. Although The Gilded Palace Of Sin was not a hit album, it caught the ears of musicians.

Jimmi Seiter has been in the process of releasing his memoirs, called The Byrds: My Way. After six volumes of documenting his time with the Byrds, Volume 7 discusses Seiter's time as road manager of the Flying Burrito Brothers for most of 1969. Seiter's memoir rambles, and he is thorough rather than direct, but from the standpoint of rock prosopography his work is a motherlode of fantastic information. We have been all but devoid of eyewitness accounts of the April '69 stand with the Burritos and the Dead, but Seiter was intimately involved and backstage the entire time. He notes in great detail not only Jerry Garcia's intense focus on Sneaky Pete's pedal steel playing, but the remarkable fact that on at least one night, Garcia played a pedal steel behind the stage in an attempt to see if he could keep up with Sneaky Pete. In this context, the fact that Garcia bought a pedal steel guitar the next week hardly seems like a surprise.

A 1969 Zane Beck Custom D10, probably similar to the one Jerry Garcia bought in 1969. Per The Steel Guitar Forum, Tom Brumley seems to have played one, and that may have influenced Garcia's choice.

Jerry Garcia and The Pedal Steel Guitar
Grateful Dead fans know that Jerry Garcia had diverse musical interests, some of which took many years to rise to the surface. His old friend Peter Grant recalls them hearing the Buck Owens song "Together Again" on the car radio in 1964, with a pedal steel guitar solo by the great Tom Brumley, and Garcia declaring "we gotta learn pedal steel!" Garcia had actually obtained a Fender pedal steel around 1966, and there a few photos (although no recordings) of him playing that instrument. However, Garcia apparently found it difficult to keep it tune, and had Ramrod trade the instrument away (a story for another time). Grant, however,  had learned pedal steel, and had played it during the Aoxomoxoa sessions on the song "Rosemary." By early '69, Garcia's country roots were starting to re-assert themselves, with songs like "Diamond Dupree's Blues," so pedal steel must have been on his mind. Gilded Palace Of Sin had come out in February, just as Aoxomoxoa was being completed.

We know the story. Garcia bought a Zane Beck Custom Double-10 pedal steel guitar in a Colorado music store after a show in Boulder on April 13, 1969. I have assumed that Garcia went to a music store in either Boulder or Denver on April 14 (a Monday), although I guess it could have been the day before. He took it back to Novato and started to practice. John Dawson turned up at a rehearsal--what was Dawson doing there?--and wanted to hear Garcia play it. Dawson dropped by Garcia's house later and played his own songs, so that Garcia could have something to play along with, and when Garcia found out that Dawson was playing those tunes on Wednesday nights at a hofbrau in Menlo Park, he offered to accompany him. Mutual friend David Nelson was roped in, and the New Riders Of The Purple Sage arose from that trio. 

The implied narrative has always been that Garcia somewhat spontaneously decided to buy a new instrument out on the road, and from a chance meeting with Dawson the New Riders were created out of nothing. I always found that curious and unlikely, which is why I wrote my post some years ago. Jimmi Seiter's eyewitness account has confirmed my notion. Garcia was thinking about buying another pedal steel guitar, and hearing Sneaky Pete persuaded him. Garcia seems to have bought a pedal steel on the last day of the the April tour so that he could begin practicing immediately. It wasn't spontaneous. Garcia had plans.

The Gilded Palace Of Sin, by The Flying Burrito Brothers, released on A&M Records in February 1969.

Jimmi Seiter, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers
Jimmi Seiter is a pretty interesting character with a pretty interesting history, but he has told it himself in his (so far) seven volume autobiography. Thus, I will only recap it briefly. Seiter (b.1945) had been a teenage drummer in St. Louis, but after a stint in the US Navy he came to Los Angeles to study architecture. He became friendly with singer Dobie Gray ("The In Crowd"), and through Gray became the road manager of The Byrds starting in July, 1966. Unlike later bands, like the Grateful Dead, Seiter was the band's entire traveling crew. Seiter acted as road manager, booking agent and road crew. He booked the shows, made the arrangements, dealt with the promoters and set up the gear for the stage and the recording studio. From a Grateful Dead perspective, it's as if he were Rock, Danny, Ramrod and Bob Matthews, all in one.

Granted, the Byrds mostly had just four members, five at most, did not carry their own sound system and had no keyboard player. Seiter and the band flew by plane, with just guitars, drums and amplifiers. In some cases, they just rented backline amps, so Seiter never really had any need for a truck and a  crew. It meant, however, that Seiter was intimately involved in all the Byrds' activities on a day to day basis. Appealingly, he seems to have kept detailed notes of his tours. His memoirs are based on his tour notes, and while conversations are obviously reconstructed from the past, Seiter does not have to depend on his memory for the details of dates and bookings.

The Byrds were one of the best-selling and most beloved American rock bands of the sixties. The Flying Burrito Brothers, though never a hit act, were a profoundly influential country rock band, regularly cited by musicians into this century as a cornerstone of American music. As such, it is not surprising that their have been numerous books about both the Byrds and the Burritos. In particular, Burritos' co-founder Gram Parsons (1945-1973) has been idolized and eulogized since his untimely death as a lost genius of roots music. This characterization of Parsons may not be wrong, since he was influentially close to Keith Richards, Emmylou Harris and many other important figures, but Parsons has been given credit for all sorts of innovations that may not have been exclusively his own. An Amazon Book search of "Gram Parsons" will turn up a surprisingly large number of entries for a singer who never had a single hit record.

Jimmi Seiter, having had a long career in the music and entertainment industry, seems to have had a desire to set the record straight with respect to the Byrds and the Burritos. Seiter claims, with some justification, that many of the details about the Byrds and Burritos in numerous books are not correct, and he appears to have the documentation to back much of that up. On the other hand, the style of his memoirs assumes an encyclopedic knowledge of the bands, and can be confusing to follow. Seiter resolutely insists on telling the story as he knew it, without claiming to know what others claim to be fact, but it means that at times the reader has to follow the story in the dark if Seiter himself did not know it at the time. It may not matter, however--who is reading books about the Byrds in the 21st century? People like me, who know the contours of the story already.

For those like me who are interested in accurate 60s rock music history, Jimmi Seiter is like found gold. Sure, the prose is probably transcribed directly from an audio reminiscence, with all sorts of grammatical oddities, but so what? It's like the road manager of The Byrds is on your back porch, knocking back beers and telling you exactly how it was back in the day. Every book is like an entire twelve-pack, wandering from topic to topic and then repeating the same story from two or three different points of view, but it you're me, usually just hoping for the odd remark from some old hippie on a comment thread, the idea that a road manager will be telling the entire story of the Dead's stand at the Avalon in April 1969 is nothing short of incredible.

The Grateful Dead and The Flying Burrito Brothers at The Avalon Ballroom, April 4-6, 1969
When the Grateful Dead were booked at the Avalon in April of 1969, a number of transitions were underway. For one thing, Chet Helms' Family Dog had given up promoting shows at the Avalon, and shows were now booked by a different company. Helms was still welcome at the Avalon--Seiter mentions meeting him at the shows--but it wasn't his gig anymore. As for the Dead, they were currently booked by the Millard Agency, which was run by Bill Graham. Graham had loaned the Dead some money, and he got it back by requiring the Dead to work through his agency. Still, this was probably a benefit to the Dead as well, as the Fillmore mojo was starting to spread elsewhere, and Graham's agency was well placed to benefit from that. The band AUM, opening the Avalon bill, was another Millard client. AUM lead guitarist Wayne Ceballos, an old pal of the Dead's since the Warlocks days, would jam with the group a number of times when their groups shared a booking.

As for the Burritos, according to Seiter, they were actually in a precarious position. The Burritos were brilliant, but also unprofessional, and they had managed to irk their record company by running up numerous tour expenses without much to show for it. The band's initial tour consisted of taking a train to Chicago, for no good reason, to play a few shows. Some lucky patrons got to hear Gram Parsons in the bar car, but otherwise the band hadn't done much. The Burritos had played a week in New York at The Scene and then a few shows at Philadelphia's Electric Factory, mostly booked with Three Dog Night. Seiter had joined the band in New York. He had a promise from the band that he would have a management position, but Gram Parsons wanted Seiter to share the role with his pal Phil Kaufmann, an infamous character, and Seiter was not comfortable with that. Thus at the time, Seiter was effectively an uncompensated employee of the Burritos.

For various complicated reasons, the Burritos had poor relationships with their booking agents. Thus the early Burritos mostly played one nighters at Los Angeles nightclubs, rather than touring, The shows at the Avalon were a rare out-of-town booking for the band, and presented a huge opportunity for the group. Seiter, well connected to everyone in the fledgling rock industry, had every intention of turning the Avalon show into something much bigger. In particular, the Grateful Dead, through Bill Graham's Millard Agency, had a proposal on the table for the Flying Burrito Brothers to accompany them on a national tour as their opening act. Remember--this was before the New Riders had formed, or Garcia had a pedal steel, and a plan was afoot for the very first California country rock band to perform on a bill with the Dead throughout the Summer of 1969.
Jimmi Seiter was the road manager of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers in the 1960s. Volume 7 of his memoir The Byrds: My Way details his time with the Burritos in 1969.

Jimmi Seiter, The Byrds My Way, Vol. 7-Burritos
Seiter picks up the story in Chapter 28

The Burritos had a show to do in San Francisco at 'The Family Dog' [sic-Avalon Ballroom] and we were playing second to 'The Grateful Dead' this was thanks to Bill Graham and was to be the first of many as planned by management of the 'Dead' they were waiting for me to tell them the Burritos decision on the other shows. There was an opening act on the shows also called AUM that were a Blues/Rock Trio. Their setup was easy to work around once we figured out what to do with their keyboards. 
The unspoken part of this was that never had the 'Dead' had a band not respond to their request to open their shows before as we had done to touring with the 'Dead.' It was not something that was even considered by by some agents or managers. The Burritos agents had already penciled in dates and monies that were promised and they too could not believe the bands reluctance to respond to this offer... 
I had several discussions with Gram [Parsons] & Chris [Hillman] about this show in San Francisco and the potential tour. Gram was not at all interested because some of the future dates would take away from the west coast during the 'Stones' visit to LA. Gram was convinced that the Burritos would be able to work with the 'Stones' on their tour so he wanted to remain in town to solidify that deal.... 
The [Stones] tour might be a problem but the weekend at the Family Dog was a go for now. April 4,5 &6 were the dates a Friday, Saturday & Sunday...2 shows a night and we were politely asked to do just our 45 minute shows so that the 'Dead' could play a bit longer as their audiences preferred... 
The trip to San Francisco was pretty much as always just a short flight from Burbank airport then to the hotel and for me over to the 'Dog' to setup for the show. The stage was not as big as I might have liked but we fit fine along with the 'Dead's' own gear. They had some of their own sound system there added to the sound system 
The KPFA-fm radio remote crew were there setting up and would do a test tonight during the shows for the live show which was set for the Saturday night shows. There was a stage crew from the 'Dead' that were all familiar faces to me. They were doing a sound check in just a bit and wanted to get all ready and out of the way once had a radio sound check. 
I had only heard the 'Dead' play once before live and their sound check was pretty good I had to admit. The show was being recorded by the 'Dead' through the console and then they were feeding a stereo mix to the radio station. It all sounded pretty good and the mixer promised that he would not be recording the Burritos' sets [note: the mixer lied]. 
After the sound check was over I was setting up the Sneaky Pete steel guitar and Jerry Garcia wanted to check out our setup. He really liked the way Pete played and asked me a few questions about the effects that he used while I was setting up . The key element was the the fuzz device that Pete kept with him in his small bag of tricks. Jerry asked if the Burritos were doing a check and just then they were. He stayed on the stage and chatted to Sneaky a bit as he sat down and got himself prepared for the sound check. We got a drum sound then the bass then the acoustic guitar then the steel I wanted to get the best stereo that I could on the steel sound. 
Jerry Garcia just stood by and watched as Sneaky did his thing. The band played "Close Up The Honky Tonks" and sang to get a good mix in the monitors and then we were done pretty much with the sound check. The 'Dead' band were talking with the Burritos on stage and sharing some show comments... 
I had the Burritos on stage and plugged in while they were being announced. Gram said a brief hello and they were off and running. I made a short visit to the mixing position to see how it sounded to the radio feed then back to the stage. When I got back to the stage I saw Jerry Garcia there watching Sneaky intently from the side of the stage he was watching his every move and sort of mimicking his hand movements and his pedals as well. He seemed to get a real pleasure out of Pete and the way he played his steel... 
It was a really good show and got a nod from Mr. Garcia as he went backstage himself. I got the band to the dressing room and then reset the stage for the 'Dead' and it seemed that the radio station was recording all the shows just in case they had a failure during the live show which was changed to Sunday night due to a local sporting event or so I was told. 
The band was just relaxing backstage and Mr. Garcia came in to voice his approval of a great show. The band was a bit surprised and yet embarrassed by the the compliments he was giving them...[after the Dead completed their first set] Jerry admonished this audience to show the Burritos how much they liked their music when they came back for their show [the second set]... 
I reset the steel guitar and Sneaky came out to finish the tuning and he got a huge ovation as he did that which shocked him. Then with a towel on his head was Jerry Garcia to watch what Sneaky was doing. I reset the rest of the stage and had the drums ready as Sneaky went off to talk to Mr. Garcia at the side of the stage he seemed very interested in Pete's setup and how he played. 
Jerry Garcia was right there watching Pete through about 5 or 6 songs [of the second set] and then he went back to take some rest...but then he was back watching Pete again like a student watches a really good teacher. 
It was obvious that the steel guitar fascinated him and he was a bit amazed at the way Pete played the instrument. Sneaky Pete was not your typical steel guitar he had a very unique style of playing and Jerry Garcia was soaking that in like a sponge... 
[Upon returning Saturday afternoon] Inside I kept the steel guitar in the dressing room for Pete to tune and to keep it a bit out of site until show time. On the stage I noticed that there was a steel guitar setup for the 'Dead' as well. I was guessing that maybe Jerry Garcia wanted to try his hand at this instrument with Pete here to mentor him... 
When the opening act came off I went to the stage to set the Burritos with the steel guitar and there was Jerry Garcia setup back in the back of the stage with his own steel guitar tuning it with headphones. I setup Sneaky and then he joined me to finish and he looked over at Jerry who was behind the amps and they gave each other a knowing wave of approval... 
By the time they kicked off "Close Up The Honky Tonks" [the Burritos' perennial opener] Jerry was playing along into the headphones. He was totally out of view of the audience and the stage crew told me that was what he wanted to play along but not to be seen anyone at all. A picture of that would have been priceless.... 
[Later in the set] I went back to the stage now and Jerry had vacated his steel to go and watch Pete from the side of the stage again. He was intently watching his feet and hands as Pete made it look easy. The show was into its final song and at the end Jerry was like a cheer leader leading the audience from the side of the stage. It was a rousing send off for the Burritos and Jerry left the stage just ahead of the band... 
[Backstage] Jerry again stopped by to sing his own special praises as he was on his way to the stage. He really liked the band and liked their arrangements a lot as well. I am sure that 'Bear' had a special tape that was made for Jerry which had the steel guitar highlighted... [The Saturday night show] went on and on and soon [the Burritos] were into their final song [of the second set]. Jerry was back on the side of the stage but not for the entire show this time [at this juncture, Seiter, Sneaky Pete and Hillman get dosed, but that is another story. Jerry apologizes to them the next night].... 
[On Sunday night, April 6] About mid-show there was Jerry watching Pete play just off his side of the stage and when he saw him Pete just smiled at me. Mr Garcia had his steel guitar on stage for the 'Dead' show but I am not sure if he played it or not...

Sneaky Pete Kleinow (1934-2007). Accept no substitute. 
Sneaky Pete Kleinow (1934-2007)
"Sneaky" Pete Kleinow is remembered now as a pedal steel guitar pioneer, but in fact he mostly made his living as a stop-motion animator in Hollywood. He had a particularly important role as the primary animator for the Gumby series. In the 1980s, he worked on many movies and TV shows, including The Terminator. Sneaky's pedal steel innovations were honed at night, playing in Hollywood country bars when his day job was complete. Kleinow was older than his hippie contemporaries, and he had teenage children during the time he was in the Flying Burrito Brothers (and his children were kept at arm's length from the 60s indiscretions of the band).

I was lucky enough to see Sneaky Pete live on two occasions. The first time, he played with a reformed version of the Flying Burrito Brothers in June, 1976 at Stanford University's Frost Amphitheater, opening for The Band. Although this version of the Burritos was no match for the original Parsons/Hillman lineup, I can assure you that when Sneaky let it rip on "Devil In Disguise" there was no doubt that a master was at work, with his unique sound soaring over the grassy bowl. The second time, about a decade later, was in a dumpy nightclub where a part time band was backing the Cajun artist Jo-El Sonnier, but with an all-star lineup that included Garth Hudson, Sneaky and Albert Lee. Kleinow's style was much more disciplined, with so many players on stage, but it showed the breadth of his talent.

Sneaky Pete stood out as a pedal steel player, as he seems to have been the first to incorporate echoplexes, fuzzboxes and Leslie speakers into his rig. By the mid-60s, such gear was common for six-string electric guitarists, but Sneaky used those effects with his pedal steel. As rock sound systems improved and got louder, Sneaky's approach to his instrument had even more impact. Guitarist Bernie Leadon, a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers in 1970 and '71, and later a member of the Eagles, attempted to explain to writer John Einarson how different Sneaky's sound really was [included for any guitar players in the audience, since I don't really know what this means]
"Sneaky uniquely played an eight-string Fender cable pull steel tuned to B6 instead of the more common C6. He played an usually more jazz or swing tuning in a style that most other players use an E9 tuning for. His rationale was [that] B is the 'five chord,' or dominant chord, to the key of E. This resulted in absolutely-to-Pete steel licks. And no one else thinks like him anyway."
Sneaky Pete's unique tuning and rock accoutrements made him a pedal steel player like no one else in 1969. Completely steeped in country music from years of playing in honky tonk bars, yet with an imagination defined by his animation career, and using the newest available technology to bring out the sounds he heard in his head. Once that sound manifested itself on an Owsley-designed sound system, who couldn't be mesmerized? We have very little eyewitness evidence from the Avalon, with only the deliciously infamous Pamela Des Barres (I'm With The Band), the Burritos' biggest fan, describing the shows in the liner notes to an historic re-release of the Burrito sets at the Avalon. But now, thanks to Jimmi Seiter, we know one person who was mesmerized by Sneaky Pete.

I now feel confident that Jerry Garcia bought a pedal steel guitar in Colorado because he heard Sneaky Pete Kleinow playing one on Owsley's sound system at the Avalon. We know Garcia had liked the Burrito album, because he even played "Devil In Disguise" once, and mentioned the record between songs. And we know he had an interest in the pedal steel, and had even owned one a few years earlier. But after he heard Sneaky Pete, Garcia went to the trouble of apparently renting a pedal steel so he could play along with the band, and bought his own a week later. New Riders' producer Steven Barncard described Garcia's subsequent pedal steel setup (in a fine Blair Jackson article for Mix Magazine)
“He had a [Dunlop] Fuzz Face, a real cheap diode square-waver—that’s what sufficed for fuzz in those days,” Barncard says. “The pedal industry hadn’t matured, so they were hand-built and noisy, but they did what was advertised, which was distort the signal.” On [the New Riders' "Dirty Business"], Garcia combined the Fuzz Face with a wah-wah pedal, allowing him to bend both notes and raw fuzzed sound in unearthly directions beyond the steel’s conventional capabilities.
Garcia heard Sneaky through an Owsley filter, and as soon as he could he was on the same train. All that was missing, really, was the animation career, and given Garcia's interrupted talent for drawing, maybe he could have had that, too.

Could it have been the Flying Burrito Brothers instead of the Buddy Miles Express, opening for the Grateful Dead at the Kinetic Playground in Chicago on July 4-5, 1969?

Appendix 1: The Flying Burrito Brothers Touring With The Grateful Dead?
Seiter's fascinating story of the proposal that the Flying Burrito Brothers tour with the Dead was woven into his story of the trip to the Avalon. I have separated out the key paragraphs here. Keep in mind that while this was a serious proposition, agents and managers often went back and forth with various ideas, and even had the Burritos consented, there's no guarantee that it would have occurred in the way that it was originally suggested. It's still pretty intriguing, though.
The Burritos had a show to do in San Francisco at 'The Family Dog' [sic-Avalon Ballroom] and we were playing second to 'The Grateful Dead' this was thanks to Bill Graham and was to be the first of many as planned by management of the 'Dead' they were waiting for me to tell them the Burritos decision on the other shows. There was an opening act on the shows also called AUM that were a Blues/Rock Trio. Their setup was easy to work around once we figured out what to do with their keyboards. 
The unspoken part of this was that never had the 'Dead' had a band not respond to their request to open their shows before as we had done to touring with the 'Dead.' It was not something that was even considered by by some agents or managers. The Burritos agents had already penciled in dates and monies that were promised and they too could not believe the bands reluctance to respond to this offer. 
The shows in San Francisco were important to see what a 'Dead' based audience would be like for the Burritos to play too. The 'Dead' had already put a band together called 'The New Riders of the Purple Sage' [sic--it was two months later] that band was country sounding but the Burritos were closer to what the 'Dead' wanted to have open their shows so I was told when we met in San Francisco. 
I had several discussions with Gram [Parsons] & Chris [Hillman] about this show in San Francisco and the potential tour. Gram was not at all interested because some of the future dates would take away from the west coast during the 'Stones' visit to LA. Gram was convinced that the Burritos would be able to work with the 'Stones' on their tour so he wanted to remain in town to solidify that deal. 
Mr. Hillman was on the fence because he was having his own musical/artists issues with Gram already who seemed to be getting further and further into drugs and as that continued he was further and further from reality. It was almost like Gram was building himself for the 'Stone' and that was all he seemed concerned about. The bad news was that had [his associate] Phil [Kaufmann]right there with him and pushing him towards those shows with the Rolling Stones...The [Stones] tour might be a problem but the weekend at the Family Dog was a go for now. April 4,5 &6 were the dates a Friday, Saturday & Sunday. 
After the sound check and the bands were gone I was approached by the 'Dead' manager who was working in conjunction with Bill Graham Presents to put together their tour which we were being offered via the agents. We discussed all of this and it was actually to be an easy tour to do with a bus offered for the Burritos to travel in from city to city and the equipment would ride within the the tour equipment trucks from city to city.
At this time they were planning 20 dates that was what our agent had told me but there was a chance that some cities might play more than one day. It all seemed like a perfect fit and according to what I was hearing they really wanted the Burritos on these shows...The main tour was starring in August and into September and beyond which was exactly when the 'Stones' would be in LA. 
My guess was that any band would have jumped at the chance to tour with the 'Dead' but I could not make that decision without a signed management agreement [note: Seiter had been asked to be the Burritos manager, but no agreement had been signed due to various disputes] and the band had to convince Gram but he seemed determined to stay in L.A...there were scattered 'Dead' dates between now and the tour that they also wanted us to do but those details had to be worked out. Bear asked if we were going to be touring with them and I said that I hoped so...
In a previous volume of his memoirs (Vol 4), Seiter had described the initial meeting of Gram Parsons and Keith Richards, when the Byrds were touring England in 1968. The strange bromance had continued throughout the next year. The Rolling Stones were indeed planning to come to Los Angeles in 1969, and Gram obviously thought that they would show up in the Summer. I have no idea if that was really the Stones' plan, but of course bands changed their schedules all the time. In any case, the Stones did not turn up in Los Angeles until October of 1969, and it would not have interfered with the proposed plans to tour with the Dead, but that boat had already sailed well away from the harbor. At Parsons' insistence, the Flying Burrito Brothers opened the Altamont concert (on December 6, 1969), but that was the final straw for Seiter, who recognized a bad scene from miles away, and returned instead to the Byrds.

Appendix 2: Jerry Garcia and The Flying Burrito Brothers
Several years ago, I wrote a post speculating that Garcia hearing Sneaky Pete Kleinow had influenced his purchase of a pedal steel guitar in Colorado the next week. Here's what I said.

The Flying Burrito Brothers, led by co-singer/writers Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, along with pedal steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow, bassist Chris Etheridge and drummer Michael Clarke, only released two albums in their original incarnation (1969's The Gilded Palace Of Sin and 1970's Burrito Deluxe), yet these fine but poorly sellling albums have had a huge mythology built upon them. The early death (on September 19, 1973) of the hard-living Gram Parsons has helped ingrain the myth that Parsons was at the center of everything: the myth says that he introduced the Rolling Stones to country music, transformed the Byrds (on Sweetheart Of The Rodeo), invented country rock with The Flying Burrito Brothers (who spawned the Eagles and ultimately Garth Brooks) and "discovered" Emmylou Harris. Even Parsons' death was the subject of a movie (Gram Theft Auto), and he remains a fascinating figure.

All this is true, up to a point, although John Einarson's 2008 book Hot Burritos (Jawbone Press) shows that the less flashy Chris Hillman had a considerably larger role in the Byrds and Burritos migration towards soulful country-rock than has usually been assumed. In any case, thanks to the KPFA broadcasts and the 2007 release of the double cd Gram Parsons with The Flying Burrito Brothers Live At The Avalon Ballroom 1969, we have a very good idea what the Burritos sounded like when they opened for the Dead (note, incidentally, how Gram Parsons name figures more prominently in the re-release). The cd features the Burritos complete sets, recorded by Bear himself, from April 4 and 6, 1969. Besides great songwriting, Everly Brothers-style harmonies from Hillman and Parsons and a soulful rhythm section anchored by Chris Etheridge, the revelation in the performance is the unique pedal steel playing of Sneaky Pete Kleinow.

Sneaky Pete (1934-2007) was already 34 years old by 1969, quite aged by Avalon standards. He had spent most of the 1960s working as a stop-motion animator (he was a key animator for Gumby) while playing pedal steel in bars and studios with the "Bakersfield" country music crowd. The Bakersfield sound, led by Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, rocked harder and owed considerably more to Chuck Berry and the blues than Nashville country, which was why Jerry Garcia and other rockers liked it so much. Einarson's book includes an interesting interview with guitarist Bernie Leadon (ex-Burritos and ex-Eagles) who describes the complexity of Kleinow's approach to the steel guitar.

Sneaky Pete Kleinow was one of the first genuine practitioners of "rock" pedal steel guitar--I think Poco's Rusty Young was the only other one at this time. Although Kleinow could play all the country licks as well as anyone, the Avalon tapes show that his pedal steel was the Burritos lead instrumental voice, and Kleinow took full advantage of feedback and the dynamic range of amplified music. The Burritos were singing in what could be described as a "hippie Bakersfield" style, with Kleinow's unique steel guitar riding high. It sounds great on the cd, and it must have sounded pretty awesome on the Dead's sound system. I think Jerry liked what he heard--he bought a Zane Beck pedal steel guitar in Colorado the next week.

I'm not suggesting that Garcia's interest in pedal steel guitar and Bakersfield happened in a blinding flash after hearing the opening solo on "Close Up The Honky Tonks." Garcia had owned a Fender pedal steel in 1966, but had found it difficult to set up and tune, and sold it (to Banana Levenger of The Youngbloods). Certainly the Dead had dabbled with some hard driving country music since 1966, with songs like "Silver Threads And Golden Needles," and "Beat It On Down The Line" has a kind of Buck Owens/Don Rich feel to it (I know its a rocked-up bluegrass song; that's the essence of the Bakersfield sound). In an earlier post, I pointed out how the set up of rock concerts in the day encouraged bands to hear their opening acts (they didn't have much choice), and as a result Garcia was drawn to the sounds of Pentangle, who opened for the Dead at Fillmore West the month before.

Nevertheless, I'm convinced that Garcia's ears opened wide to the possibility of rock and roll pedal steel after he heard Sneaky Pete live, and when a chance to buy a pedal steel presented itself in Colorado, he jumped at it. I think Garcia's experiments with playing pedal steel live with the Dead in June 1969, particularly on seemingly inappropriate songs like "Hard To Handle" was an attempt to try on Sneaky's approach. Kleinow could have soloed on "Hard To Handle," but Garcia lacked the technique, having only played for a few months. The presence of John Dawson and his batch of newly-written songs in turn gave Garcia an outlet to work in a Burritos-like setting.

I think what Garcia got from Sneaky Pete and The Flying Burrito Brothers was a sound, and he heard the possibilities of the sound. He could have played electric guitar or banjo with Dawson, and that would have sounded great, too, but I think the sound of an amplified pedal steel on a huge  system flipped a switch in Garcia's ear, and made a passive curiosity about the instrument an urgent need. I'm sure if the Grateful Dead had been booked with Poco, and Garcia had heard Rusty Young, the same thing might have happened, but I'm convinced it was the Burrito show this weekend that re-activated Garcia's interest.

The long history of 20th century competition between San Francisco and Los Angeles was at its worst in the sixties, and while I don't think it affected the musicians themselves, many writers and partisans for the next twenty years or so rarely considered the history of Los Angeles and San Francisco bands relative to each other, so no one ever seems to have asked Garcia about the Burritos. While matters have improved (once Los Angeles gave back the Oakland Raiders, it was clear LA was ascendant), and West Coast music is now seen more correctly as part of a whole, the habit of dividing the state has left the Burritos/Garcia connection unexplored.

Hot Burritos, by John Einarson, the most complete of the many accounts of the history of the Flying Burrito Brothers (Jawbone Books 2008)
Appendix 3: Further Reading
I have only touched on the dense history of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers. There are more books than you can possibly imagine. With respect to the Burritos, I would recommend John Einarson's Hot Burritos: The True Story Of The Flying Burrito Brothers. It is the most coherent version that I know of, and has enough distance from the original event that all the participants are realistic about what went down at the time. Of course, Seiter's work post-dates Einarson's, and corrects some factual details with respect to himself, but Einarson's book is a great overview. 


39 comments:

  1. Fantastic! Thank you for this. One minor nit to pick: I haven't listened to that 1986 'Log Cabin Boys' recording in a while, but looking at my notes, I think David Nelson is the one who sings "Devil in Disguise" and that Garcia doesn't know it, but it does prompt some talk about the Burritos. I'll try and transcribe what's audible if I can.

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    1. yup, Nelson sings it, Garcia just plays banjo. Then afterwards:

      Garcia: Who's tune is that?
      Nelson: Gram Parsons. I always liked that tune. One of the Burrito Bros’ first tunes, when the Burrito Bros first came out...

      ...which prompts a little bit of talk about the FBB, which is mostly inaudible. Jerry says that when Gram sang, "hearts would stop in the audience, it was beautiful," but I can't make out any more.

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    2. Nick, thanks so much for running this down. I like to think that Garcia's reference to Gram singing was actually to the Avalon show.

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    3. Wow, that's amazing - thanks, Nick.

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    5. listen a bit closer and Jerry says, "that motherfucker, boy... hearts would stop..."
      how great is that

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    6. http://www.panicstream.net/vault/log-cabin-boys-11231986-san-anselmo-ca/

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  2. cool stuff! it's great to hear how transfixed Jerry was with Sneaky's playing, and not at all surprising. Jerry was obviously interested in playing steel ever since hearing "Together Again" with his pal Pete Grant back in '64 and Kleinow remains one of the most innovative steel players of all time, with his own unique tuning and use of effects to bring the steel into the realm of rock music.

    there's photos and footage from the house at 710 Ashbury and you can see Jerry's Fender steel set up facing the wall with the huge American flag. Fender steels are notorious for being subpar in quality, so it's no wonder that Jerry probably became frustrated with it and gave up for awhile. his purchase of the ZB steel in '69 was definitely a significant upgrade. he eventually purchased an Emmons guitar as well, the brand Buddy Cage and many others swear by, and Pete Grant eventually ended up with the ZB. when Jerry dusted off his steel chops in '87 for the Dylan/Dead tour, he played an MCI steel... another fine brand.

    it's also worth noting that Jerry spent time with both Sneaky Pete and Buddy Cage on the Festival Express tour in 1970, which eventually led to Cage taking over for Garcia in NRPS.

    one minor thing: Pete Grant's steel playing is featured on "Doin That Rag" from Aoxomoxoa, and there's an alternate mix where his steel is much more prominent. thanks for the heads-up about Garcia playing a version of "Devil in Disguise" in '86 with Nelson and Rothman... never knew that!

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    1. Scott, thank you so much for a detailed assessment about Jerry's pedal steel guitars. Supposedly the reason he got rid of his Fender in 67 was that it was impossible to keep in tune (although Sneaky apparently played one).

      I'm glad you sorted out the brands of his subsequent steels. I knew he replaced the ZB, but I didn't know with what. Any idea of what became of Jerry's Emmons?

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    2. I also had completely forgotten (if I ever knew) that the Burritos were on the Festival Express tour. It's fascinating to think of Sneaky and Buddy Cage both on the tour. No wonder Jerry decided to give it up.

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    3. yup

      Scott, great remarks, thanks!

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    4. no idea what happened to the Emmons or the MCI for that matter. would love to know.

      there's footage of Jerry playing an Emmons in the movie 'Fillmore' but I've never been sure if it was his or Cage's, since he's sitting in with the New Riders

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    5. The Fillmore footage with NRPS was filmed on July 2, 1971. Garcia was still the full time steel guitarist for the Riders so it would have been his own Emmons. Buddy Cage did not arrive in town until September or October '71.

      To promote the album, Garcia played with NRPS through Oct 31 71. The first Buddy Cage show with the Riders was Nov 11 71.

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    6. thanks for the info!
      pretty sure you can find photos of Jerry playing each of his 4 steels

      the Burritos are featured in the Festival Express film, performing Gram's "Lazy Days" even though Gram was no longer in the group.

      there are tales of Jerry and Buddy Cage playing "dueling" pedal steels on the train tour, with Jerry politely bowing out at some point, due to Buddy's monster chops. Cage was in Ian & Sylvia's Great Speckled Bird at the time, also featured in the FE doc

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    7. just found a pic of Jerry playing an MSA steel from the early/mid 70s as well. not sure if he owned one of those too, but it wouldn't surprise me

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  3. Thanks for this post. Been obsessed with the Burritos for a long time, great to hear a more complete story of the Avalon shows.

    I've often wondered about what would have happened if there was more opportunity for cross-pollination between the Burritos and the Dead -- clearly they shared a number of influences, with the Burritos performing a number of tracks the Dead also tried: Wake Up Little Susie (06.27.69), You Win Again (06.08.69, 06.27.69), Sing Me Back Home (06.08.69, 1970 @ the Troubadour). In particular, it woulda been interesting to see what Bob did hanging out with someone else really steeped in the country tradition.

    An interesting thought experiment for sure (only topped for me personally by the "did John Hartford ever play with O&ITW" question)

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  4. The answer to the latter is, unequivocally, "yes".

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  5. Tapes or it didn't happen :P

    But really, I would trade just about anything to be a fly on that wall.

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    1. Jimmi took lotsa notes during his manager time, the reporting is real accurate, told in more of an informal memoir style but entertaining!

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  6. buy all the Seiter books here http://www.cypresscowboy.com/byrds2.html

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    1. For the kind of rock fan whose willing to read my endless blog posts, the Seiter books are absolutely fascinating.

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  7. Great post, love it, I just read Ronnie Hawkins auto bio ' "last of the good ol boys "and he has a lot to say about gram parsons and the burritos that I'd never heard before, he has many great story's in his book, I'd recommend it highly!

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  10. There was a report on the 7/16/67 free show in the Seattle P-I. I have a copy of the article somewhere, but for the life of me I cannot find it. In the meantime, a bit of info here.

    http://www.historylink.org/File/8192

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  11. Sheesh, there was also a piece on the Times about it. Somewhere around here I have a folder of old paper microfilm printouts and the like of just GD, set apart. Can't find it.

    Bryant, Hilda. 1967. The Cool Brave Heat For 'Gentle Sunday'. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 17, 1967, p. 3.

    "Hippies, 'Straights' Attend Be-In," Seattle Times, July 17, 1967, p. 44.

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  12. No word on Jerry and the Pedal Steel and St Louis MO? Scotty's music?

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    1. Well, the Scotty's Music Tape is later--1970 as far as I know. Although I tend to go on at unbelievable (some would say unbearable) length, even I have to put a lid on my own timeframes.

      Do we know who is actually playing on the Scotty's Music Tape? We can hear Jerry and also Dawson singing, but who else is on it?

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    2. There was a discussion about the Scotty's Music Store tape here:
      http://archive.org/post/329204/scottys-music-store-jam

      Buddy Cage is believed to be on the recording (Scotty himself said so), along with Weir, Dawson, possibly other New Riders, perhaps Scotty on pedal steel, and perhaps an unknown guitarist.
      12/9/71 is currently thought to be the date, and it fits - the only time Cage was in St Louis with the Dead & New Riders.
      People used to think the tape was from 1970, but it includes 'Country Roads,' a song which was not released until spring 1971.

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  13. Here’s another tidbit I came across: on the Hooteroll +2 cd reissue, one of the bonus tracks is a live version (1/28/72) of Garcia singing “She Once Lived Here,” a George Jones hit written by Autry Inman — http://deaddisc.com/disc/Hooteroll_Plus_2.htm

    Lo and behold, on both sets of the Burritos’ live Avalon cd, Parsons sings “She Once Lived Here.” They never released their rendition, and Garcia must have been familiar with George Jones, so it’s maybe a stretch to assume that JG got this from GP… but what the heck, it seems worth pointing out.

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    1. Nick, this is completely fascinating. I confess I never looked at the track listings of the rerelease of Hooteroll. Did Garcia actually sing it, or was it just instrumental?

      I agree with you, this isn't causality, but nonetheless its a clear indication that Garcia was on the same musical train as the Burritos. At the very least, the Burritos showed Garcia that you could do a good rock version of a George Jones song.

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  14. He does indeed sing the hell out of it. I can't think of another time he performed it at all -- the fact that he was singing a George Jones song with the Howard Wales band (of all groups!) is pretty remarkable in itself.

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    1. Yeah, that piece is totally surreal.

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  15. I know I am late to the conversation but I just saw something that is relevant to this (I think). I was watching a KPIX 'documentary' about the Haight Ashbury scene that was produced in 1967... and lo and behold they stop by the GD house. There's footage of Michael McClure talking to Garcia, Garcia playing lap steel, Rock Scully, Pig and Weir.
    AND THEN starting at 20:20 the camera pans across a pedal steel guitar in the famous 'american flag' room... the camera continues to pan and we see Garcia's banjo and acoustic guitar....clearly this is Garcia's domain.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ukTfddRahA

    Thought you;d be interested in seeing this if you weren't already aware of it....

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  16. I haven't tuned into the blog in a while. Read this and a few other posts and must say that your scholarship is unbelievable and much appreciated. Love the Burritos and learned something new tonight. Thank you.

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  17. Throughout this stretch, we would be regaled by some pretty awesome light displays which bathed the whole coliseum with strobe and laser lights of different colors and designs. https://www.cheapest-concert-tickets.com/tickets/brantley-gilbert.html

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