Grateful Dad
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Grateful, Dad  
2004 Evan S. Hunt


Tay Music
Evan is the visionary of Tay Music. For those not familiar with the Tay label, they selectively offer diverse musical offerings that range from  contemporary and smooth jazz; folk, progressive rock and R&B; techno and electronica-based pop and urban hip-hop; New Age and world beat; Celtic, Latin, Middle Eastern, and Indian music.

Stories about the Grateful Dead

In the winter of 1967 I lived in the town of Lafayette, a suburb 25 miles east of San Francisco. I was a senior in high school, and I was on the Wrestling team. My dad came home one night with a handful of tickets to the Mamas and the Papas January 13 performance at the Berkeley Community Theater.

At that time, there wasn't a lot of rock and roll on FM radio, and few people really knew much about FM, and even fewer had them in their cars. Stereos were mostly sold in consoles and there weren't many Interstate Highways. Most of the kids in my high school had big hunks of gas-gulping Detroit-built iron to cruise Main Street on Friday night. I mostly hitchhiked to get around.

My taste in music was mainly top 40 AM radio. That's what we had-KYA am 1260, KEWB am 910, KDIA am 1310, and, at night, we tuned into XERB, which broadcast Wolfman Jack from a 50,000 watt flame-thrower pirate station across the Mexican boarder. In 1967 Wolfman Jack was the very epitome of "white-boy" cool.

FM rock stations did not make it out to Lafayette-the signal was too weak to get past the East Bay hills. The Mamas and Papas were one of the number one top 40 groups of that era, and along with soul music from Motown, and the Beatles, were one of my favorites. I was excited at the prospects of seeing the Mamas and Papas in concert because I was energized by their amazing, folk-soaked vocals.

There in the second week in January I had a big weekend planned. On the Friday night my dad and I would attend the Mamas and Papas Concert with my two older brothers. Then on Saturday night, my buddies Ray, and Jim and I were going to the Fillmore to see Junior Wells. We three loved Junior Wells because we had been turned-on to his music by listening to KDIA, a soul music station out of Oakland. Black music, especially the blues, was really "it" for us then, and we needed to be cool.

Even as unsophisticated as we were, it wasn't too hard to dig the Chicago blues style of Junior Wells and his all-star band. They played danceable rhythm and blues with a lot of emphasis on electric guitar, and it was a lot more accessible to us than Motown and the Supremes because it was looser. Junior Wells jammed. The Supremes never jammed.

My brothers had their own apartment and when Dad would drop by to visit he would sit and listen to the music they had on the stereo. Dad liked the Beatles, and the Jefferson Airplane, and the clever word craft and three-part harmonies of the Mamas and Papas. When Friday night came we borrowed my mom's car and one of my brothers drove us to the Mamas and Papas concert. We found our seats in the balcony and before long the Master of Ceremonies came out on stage and informed us that the opening act had to cancel and that in their stead they were going to give us the Grateful Dead. We had all heard of the Dead, and I'd even seen them live a number of times in the hip San Francisco ballrooms of the day, but none of us were anticipating such a fortuitous change.

The Dead played about 35 minutes and all I recall about their set was that they played "Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)" and a 20-minute version of "Viola Lee Blues."
Then the Mamas and Papas came on and played about 70 minutes-all their hits. They were quite good and I enjoyed their set immensely. The Dead didn't really do much for me, but the impression they made on my dad was unforgettable.

In the car on the way home we were talking about the show, and my brothers and I were jazzed on the Mamas and Papas. Then, noticing the quietness emanating from my dad, I asked him what he thought of the show and I'll never forget his reply. He said, "Oh, the Mamas and Papas were all right, but that first group really knocked me out." So enraptured was he by the Dead's epic version of "Viola Lee Blues" and how they started the song slow and then built it higher and higher to an explosive crescendo, then dropped back into the slow and steady riff of the song's main theme; he just couldn't get it out of his head. He went on and on about it-comparing it to Beethoven.

The next morning a ringing phone awakened me out of a sound sleep-no one was home so I had to stagger to get it. On about the fifteenth ring I finally answered and it was one of my wrestling teammates. "There's no practice today." He said. (We used to have Saturday wrestling practices). I hung up the phone and greedily went back to sleep. Awhile-later dad knocks on my door. "Get up. There's going to be a 'Be-in' over in the city today. I'll give you a ride to Berkeley, and you can thumb the rest of the way, but hurry up 'cause I gotta get going." Apparently, dad had read about it in Ralph J. Gleason's column in the previous Sunday San Francisco Chronicle and had forgotten to tell me until the last minute. Gleason was a renowned jazz writer and was the integral music critic to focus on the psychedelic music scene, which came strongly to the forefront of pop music in the mid and late 60's.

My father used to always tell me about these events because he regularly read Gleason's column. Also he would hear about them from an acquaintance that attended services and did work around the Vedanta Center. The guy was part of the Beat Scene in San Francisco and Berkeley and was privy to the word-of-mouth skinny that came down the pipeline from hanging out in the Haight/Ashbury in San Francisco and Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. He and my father were members of the Vedanta Society, which have a temple directly across the street from People's Park, one block east of Telegraph Avenue. (Vedanta is a system of Hindu monistic philosophies based on the Vedas, the ancient, sacred books of Hinduism.) He would tell dad about "happenings" in the San Francisco area, and dad would tell me.

The day dawned wide, bright and sunny and I hurriedly dressed in jeans, tennis shoes, a football jersey, and, grabbing a light jacket, hustled out the door with a double peanut butter sandwich wedged into my mouth. Dad was going to be doing some chores at the Vedanta Center that day and gave me a ride in his truck to the corner of Ashby and Claremont Avenues in Berkeley-a good hitchhiking spot in those days. When we got to Berkeley he pulled over and let me off in light, mid-morning traffic. Before I shut the door he reached into his pocket and pulled out a ten-dollar bill and thrust it into my hand. I said thanks, goodbye, and turned around with thumb out. A split second later I got a ride from a carload of patchoulied hippies all the way to San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. I offered to pay for gas and bridge toll and it made me instant friends with the driver. I gave the guy $1.50.

We parked on Kennedy Drive and began walking to the Be-in site at the Polo Fields. It was fortunate that we had an early arrival because we were certainly not alone. More and more people came from all directions-and it turned into a large crowd. The day became warmer and I removed my jacket and tied it about my waist. I remember there were mostly longhaired, younger people. Some were my age, but most were older by 5 to 10 years. There really were all types there, though-little kids, old ladies, folks of all cultures, creeds and walks. Although I'd been traveling to the city on my own for almost two years and had been exposed to a number of different people it was still a bit of a shock for little ol' suburbanite me because of the sheer numbers of the crowd. With my football jersey and short hair I felt out of place initially, but everyone I met was so friendly and giving, and once the music started I began to leave emotional insecurities behind. We positioned ourselves not more than 20 feet from stage right.

Then I lost track of the people I'd come with and got caught in the moment of all these whacked-out looking freaks dancing and smoking pot and beating on tambourines and wine bottles. I was handed joints and pipes and tabs of acid and beers and wine, and even offered a hose from a hookah, but I did not consume any of those items, and no one pressured me to accept. I do recall people offering sandwiches and cokes and I tried to pay for them but my money was no good to them. They were so sweet-honestly sweet and caring. No one seemed to care that I was, or how I was dressed, or what my thing was. I quickly got the sense that I was one of them. It was an incredibly comforting and reassuring sensation.

I recognized the music of the Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Country Joe and the Fish (from Berkeley!) and Quicksilver Messenger Service, but I did not recognize the speakers or poets, nor did I much care for what they were saying. The P.A. system was not that great, and I don't think I heard much of what any of the poets or speakers said because a few of them turned their moment in the sun into a fun-chilling tirade which probably would not have interested me anyway even if I could have deciphered what they were going on and on about. I was into only one thing-the music.

As the afternoon wore on I was dancing with all my newfound friends. The sun was abundant and luxuriating upon my skin. The grass was green and dry. The people I met were the best I'd ever met. I definitely remember the Dead's set, and looking up at them, squinting in the sun, was kind of surprised that there they were playing, as I'd only seen them the night before. I recall two things about "our" set: Pig Pen singing and me: dancing like I'd never danced before. I was a part of the Grateful Dead that afternoon. Just like that it was over. It was all over way too fast.

They closed up the Be-in and everybody who was left started migrating towards the exits. A bunch of people started walking west toward the beach for the sunset, but it was time for me to go. As I was walking toward the east end of the Polo Fields I overheard some people talking about UC Berkeley and so I asked them if they were going to Berkeley and they gave me a ride all the way back to the brightly-candled intersection of Ashby and Claremont. Not ten seconds elapsed from the moment I alighted from my city ride until I spotted the familiar outline of my dad's truck coming up Ashby towards me. It was dark by now so I frantically waved at him and he picked me up with the most utterly surprised expression on his face that I had ever seen. I got home around 6:00 pm.

Later that evening, Jim and Ray came over and picked me up and we faux sped off to the city in Ray's '54 Volkswagen (it always looked and sounded like it was going faster than the 45 mph it was going). We went to the Fillmore and saw The Doors (who opened their set with "Light My Fire."), the Junior Wells All Stars, and yep, that's right, the Grateful Dead. The Doors blew me away. I loved Jim Morrison and the keyboards sounds of Ray Manzarek. They were very competent and confident and seemed to be challenging the San Francisco music audience, whom they seemed to consider as being smug. I distinctly recall Morrison's in-your-face treatment of what he presumed was the "too savvy" San Francisco rock music crowd. His disdain for San Francisco was quite pronounced, but I didn't care because the music was entrancing and sucked me into its sway.

I liked the Doors much more than the Dead (until I finally "heard" the Dead in late 1969). Junior Wells was absolutely fantastic although I don't remember a single detail about their set except the wild guitar histrionics of Buddy Guy. We left before the Dead finished playing and went to eat hamburgers at the Hippopotamus on Van Ness. Ray had an ice cream Hippo burger, which consisted of a couple of scoops of ice cream atop a big, raw hamburger patty. Jim and I opted for more traditional faire i.e. cheeseburgers, fries and shakes. We hung out in the city all night, raving, running amok, totally high on life, and did not return to Lafayette's soft bedroom until moments before sunrise. Later on, after my pockets and discovered I still had the 10-dollar bill. The entire previous day's frivolities had cost me all of $1.50.

Three separate times within a 27 hour period I had feasted upon the phenomenon which was to eventually nourish my life in untellable ways: The Grateful Dead and all that they and theirs brought to the table.

Thanks for all that you did for me. I'm grateful, dad.

Stories about the Grateful Dead

 

 

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