Dawn of the Dead

A Tour of the Grateful Dead's Midpeninsula

Collected from rec.music.gdead

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Poster unknown

"Dawn of the Dead- A Tour of the Grateful Dead's Midpeninsula roots"

excerpt from a cover story in the Palo Alto Weekly on May 12, 1993

without permission

by Brian Bothun and Monica Hayde
Also gone is the Tangent, located on University Avenue above where Rudy's Pub is today. It was a popular coffeehouse, dark inside with wood tables and a small stage.

Jerry Garcia and his first wife, Palo Altan Sara Ruppenthal, played there as a duet, as did the jug band, Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. Pigpen and Cool Breeze also frequented the place, performing and reading poetry.

"Ron and I spent lots of time together there; he would be playing the harp and I'd be playing the kazoo," Cool Breeze says. "And we both did poetry readings. The Tangent was a major hangout."

"It was like having your friends getting up and playing," Karen Huntsberger remembers. "It was so small the audience wasn't that far away from the people playing."

Partying and jam sessions didn't only take place in bars and coffeehouses, though. Some of the most memorable gigs took place on Perry Lane, a little street located between Vine and Leland. This was Menlo Park's "little Bohemia." Author Thorstein Veblen lived there, and so did Ken Kesey, while he was writing "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Kesey and his cohorts, known as the Merry Pranksters, would often close down the street for the festivities. Garcia and Lesh would come there to party and jam.

"They were big block parties, starting around noon and going into the night. Musicians would often show up," remembers Vic Lovell, 58, a Menlo Park psychologist who was at several of them. "We used to have Afro-Cuban jazz jam sessions."

The parties would often have a theme, like a Hawaiian Luau or the "Perry Lane Olympics" on the Fourth of July. "I remember Phil Lesh (the Dead's bassist) showing up to play the jazz trumpet. That's where I got the idea he wanted to be a serious musician," Lovell says. "He was tall and lean, playing modern jazz."

Palo Alto resident Bob Cullenbine was also there for the Perry Lane Olympics. "We had treasure hunts, games, partying, smoking and drinking," he says.

There were also plenty of games and partying over at a large house on Santa Cruz Avenue, near Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park. It was home to various members of the scene, including Garcia and his songwriting collaborator, Robert Hunter, today a lyricist for the Grateful Dead.

The house, which still stands today, was known as the Chateau, and the site of numerous parties and jam sessions.

We used to sit on the front porch of the Chateau and jam. Jerry was always the leader, it was quite the weave," Williams says. "Jerry was the finger man."

Lovell remembers the three-story house with lots of rooms as one of the first "hippie-group-living-together" situations. "They had loud, wild parties, and lots of people were drunk. Sometimes somewhat out of hand."

One of the Grateful Dead's earliest Palo Alto gigs, on Dec. 11, 1965, came seven days after they first performed as the Grateful Dead. Held in a metal warehouse on Homer Street, west of the railroad tracks, the event at the "Big Beat Club" was one of Kesey's Acid Tests.

"There were lots of people with their faces painted and a real carnivalesque feeling," remembers Nelson, now a San Francisco songwriter. "It was like a burgeoning rave scene, a million raves thrown into one."

"The Big Beat came out of nowhere. This is where everybody played, the next step from the coffeehouses," Williams says.

By 1966, the next step for the Grateful Dead was San Francisco. Haight Ashbury was the place to be for all the up-and-coming psychedelic bands...

As Grateful Dead textbooks tell the story, Garcia was strumming his guitar in the back of the store one New Year's Eve (1964 by most accounts), waiting for his students, but oblivious to the fact that none would probably show up given that it was New Year's Eve. Young Bob Weir was strolling through Palo Alto, perhaps looking for a bar that would let him in to see some folk music. He heard Garcia playing the guitar and stopped in to rap. They started talking about bluegrass music and about forming a band. Bob could play the guitar, Jerry could play the banjo and another guy they knew, a wild child called Pigpen, could play harmonica. Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions was born.

In the space of a year, the Jug Champions had become the Warlocks and Dana Morgan Jr. was playing bass. The Warlocks borrowed their instruments from Dana Morgan Sr. and practiced in the store.

Soon, though, Morgan was out and Phil Lesh was in. With his son out of the band, Morgan Sr. was getting tired of the Warlocks practicing in his store. Besides, he was worried they were starting to smoke marijuana, he said in a 1988 interview.

"I decided I just hated the noise they were making," Morgan said in the same interview. "I can't understand why they're famous today. I put them out in the carport (to practice), but they kept sneaking back in. Finally, I got so tired of them, I sold the instruments." (Dana Morgan closed his shop in the early 1980s and retired. He died about three years ago.)

More and more, the band began borrowing their instruments from Swain's House of Music. Pauline Swain, who still works in the music store at 451 University Ave., says she and her husband, Robert, lent instruments to the band "because we liked to help young musicians." Sometimes the band would practice in the store. Other times, they would take the instruments up to La Honda, where they would hang out with Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. More often than not, "when the instruments were returned, they came back looking like they had been in a pig pen," says Swain, making reference to McKernan's nickname.

Swain, who keeps a file of newspaper clippings on the Dead, also remembers when Garcia asked her secretary how to spell "grateful." He didn't know if the word was "greatful" or "grateful."

"All my secretary could say was, 'Jerry, with a name like that, you'll never go anywhere.'"

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