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Discovering the Grateful Dead in San Francisco with the Deviants - it's a gas gas gas....


Early on in our stay in ‘Frisco we were taken to what we were told would be the final gig at the venue which was in fact the original Filmore West before Bill Graham relocated it to a much bigger hall downtown. The band performing was the Grateful Dead; none of us were impressed. In fact I remember the night more for the gunfight outside than for the Deads’ set. The local cops and security wouldn’t let us out of the building and I have to say I remember thinking ‘If this was the great Grateful Dead what was all the fuss about?’. Obviously I wasn’t in a receptive enough mood, because a couple of weeks later all this was to change…

Bill Grahams new Filmore West was already up and running when the Grateful Dead topped the bill for the weekend. I can only imagine that the reason we all found ourselves there after the Deads’ disappointing showing at the previous gig was possibly because Humble Pie were in support. We Brits had to stick together - I guess we were there to cheer Stevie Marriot and Peter Frampton’s new band, both having quit the Small Faces and the Herd respecively (Marriot didn’t just fall asleep and burn himself to death you know… oh no, my man spontaneously combusted don’t you know?)

Somehow or other we’d managed to jib in on the guest list; next jib though was to get backstage. With no money for drink or drugs our only hope was to join the elite backstage and take advantage of any hospitality that might be going. Boss of the gang, also known as the King Of The Ilford Jibbers, soon found himself backstage taking advantage of the free beer and the joints of grass being passed around… lovely!

The backstage area was a long thin chamber of a room, along which were clusters of chairs for guests comfort. Circumnavigating the entire room from the floor level were two steps up onto a narrow walkway off which were several doors leading to the artistes dressing rooms.

Sitting around waiting for Marriot to tread the boards, aimlessly sipping Bud and getting high, I happened to notice that every so often a door down the far end in the right hand corner would open, a person would emerge with a dazed and confused expression on their brows, promptly tumble down the two steps and wander off with a stoopid grin on their faces. It wasn’t until this door opened one time and our Sandy tottered out and stumbled down the two steps looking pleased with himself that I had to find out what was going on… “OK Sand” sez I, “what’s going on in there?”

“Bosso, you’ve just gotta check it out…OK?” Inquisitiveness getting the better of me I decided to take one giant leap for youthful endeavour and naively tapped on the door… no answer, but before I could knock again some guy stumbled out and fell down the two steps, I was immediately ushered in.

I couldn’t have imagined what my innocent little brown eyes were taking in even if I’d wanted to… a tiny room really, packed with about ten standing people, each of whom had a gigantic tube protruding from their mouths. “Funny” I thought… “Funny” I was thinking as I traced the tubes back to their source. Just inside the door to the left was one enormous canister of gas standing a good five feet tall and directly behind it, and equally enormous in size, was a strapping great Oakland Chapter Hells Angel busying himself pulling the tangle of tubes leading from the tank out from peoples faces and stuffing them back into eagerly awaiting mouths… and then ‘PLUG’, in it went. The Angel rammed a vacant tube into my anticipating mouth… I looked worriedly about me wondering what one did - unworldly naive or what? Just as I’d sussed that one sucked like crazy, it was gone, pulled from my mouth and given to another. Luckily, phew, everyone got to go twice, so when my time came round again I sucked and sucked for all I was worth taking as much of the gas into my apprehensive lungs as the inflated organs of respiration in vertebrates would allow… if you catch my drift? I leant back against the wall simply because my knees were buckling, my head was suddenly alive with the humming of a thousand bees, or was that a dozen chainsaws buzzing loudly in my brain? My whole body tingled exquisitely… I’d died and gone to euphoric heaven. Absolutely. Fantastic. Long before I’d regained my faculties, Mister Hells Angel, having removed the long hollow cylinder from my mouth, gave me a shove in the direction of a gaping hole in the wall that used to be known as the door, and yes, like all the others, I lurched through the exit tottered towards the two steps looking somewhat bemused onto the floorspace below. Spotting our Sandy I enquired “Sandy, what the hell was in that tank?” “Nitrous Oxide old boy” replies Sandy “And they say it’s Garcias’ personal canister for his guests to enjoy”. hippie wedding dresses

“Wow, what a geezer” sez I… and then I heard him play. Somewhere in the mayhem I’d missed Marriots’ Pie, but there’d be other days for that. No, I’d become transfixed by a sound, a guitar sound - it flowed, soothingly, continuously, through the backstage walls… I followed the resonance out into the hall… I was under the spell… what had passed me by at the previous gig became all too clear to me now, I could see and hear what all the fuss was about… how does one even begin to define a psychic phenomenon masquerading as a rock n roll band? Back then the hippie in me might have exclaimed “Wow, what a mind blast man”, certainly theirs is the definitive music for mind and body.

Individually the members of the Grateful Dead playing together as a unit were, without doubt, the tightest band I’d ever had the privilege of witnessing at that point in time, and you’d best believe I’d seen ‘em all!

Bob Weir, the good looking front man and rhythm guitarist was definitely the bands pin-up. Phil Lesh’s bass was like having another lead guitar, but at a lower register, Not only did he hold the rhythm section down, he also flew off at tangents intermingling his bass patterns with Garcias’ guitar. Jack Bruce did a similar job in Cream. Pigpen, keyboards and vocalist, kept the flag flying on the R&B front, his gutsy vocals and earthy organ somehow seemed a little out of kilter with the others but he always kept his end up, and in doing so lent another dimension to their music. Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart, the two spectacular looking drummers not only looked like the backbone of the Dead onstage with their mountain of percussive equipment and gongs - they played like the backbone. Seeing two drummers in a rock band for the first time was an exciting experience and obviously planted a seed in our minds. Some weeks later the phone call from Montreal to Twink asking if he’d be interested in joining up if and when we finally got home gave birth to the two drummers in the original Pink Fairies line up.

And then there was Jerry Garcia, looking older than he probably was with a heavy growth of beard, whose vocals at first hearing didn’t sound particularly strong, but became more stalwart the longer one listened. But it was always his guitar that did it for me, sending shivers down my spine and lifting me spiritually. He was the ultimate expression of what was referred to as “The West Coast Sound”… others included Barry Melton from Country Joe and The Fish, Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane and John Cippolina from the Quicksilver Messenger Service to name but three. However Garcia did more to my brain and my nervous system than did most others. Like Hendrix, it was staggering imagining how anyone could dream up some of the solos he could play… mind bending in conception, beautiful in execution, making listening an exhilarating extrasensory experience - So there!

(Excerpted from a much longer piece written for and published in UHCK issue 9. Copyright Boss)