A History of Rock Music in 500 SongsMusic History

A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs

A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs

Episode 168: “I Say a Little Prayer” by Aretha Franklin

Thu, 28 Sep 2023

Episode 168 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “I Say a Little Prayer”, and the interaction of the sacred, political, and secular in Aretha Franklin's life and work. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.

Patreon backers also have a forty-five-minute bonus episode available, on "Abraham, Martin, and John" by Dion.

Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/


I say the Gospelaires sang backing vocals on Doris Troy's "Just One Look". That's what the sources I used said, but other sources I've since been pointed to say that the vocals are all Troy, multi-tracked, and listening to the record that sounds more plausible. Also, I talk about ? and the Mysterians' "96 Tears" just after talking about white rock hits, but don't actually say they were white themselves. To be clear, ? and the Mysterians were Latino.


No Mixcloud this week, as there are too many songs by Aretha Franklin. Even splitting it into multiple parts would have required six or seven mixes.

My main biographical source for Aretha Franklin is Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin by David Ritz, and this is where most of the quotes from musicians come from.

Information on C.L. Franklin came from Singing in a Strange Land: C. L. Franklin, the Black Church, and the Transformation of America by Nick Salvatore.

Country Soul by Charles L Hughes is a great overview of the soul music made in Muscle Shoals, Memphis, and Nashville in the sixties. Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm And Blues And The Southern Dream Of Freedom is possibly less essential, but still definitely worth reading.

Information about Martin Luther King came from Martin Luther King: A Religious Life by Paul Harvey.

I also referred to Burt Bacharach's autobiography Anyone Who Had a Heart, Carole King's autobiography A Natural Woman, and Soul Serenade: King Curtis and his Immortal Saxophone by Timothy R. Hoover.

For information about Amazing Grace I also used Aaron Cohen's 33 1/3 book on the album. The film of the concerts is also definitely worth watching.

And the Aretha Now album is available in this five-album box set for a ludicrously cheap price. But it’s actually worth getting this nineteen-CD set with her first sixteen Atlantic albums and a couple of bonus discs of demos and outtakes. There’s barely a duff track in the whole nineteen discs.


This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?


A quick warning before I begin. This episode contains some moderate references to domestic abuse, death by cancer, racial violence, police violence, and political assassination. Anyone who might be upset by those subjects might want to check the transcript rather than listening to the episode.

Also, as with the previous episode on Aretha Franklin, this episode presents something of a problem. Like many people in this narrative, Franklin's career was affected by personal troubles, which shaped many of her decisions. But where most of the subjects of the podcast have chosen to live their lives in public and share intimate details of every aspect of their personal lives, Franklin was an extremely private person, who chose to share only carefully sanitised versions of her life, and tried as far as possible to keep things to herself.

This of course presents a dilemma for anyone who wants to tell her story -- because even though the information is out there in biographies, and even though she's dead, it's not right to disrespect someone's wish for a private life. I have therefore tried, wherever possible, to stay away from talk of her personal life except where it *absolutely* affects the work, or where other people involved have publicly shared their own stories, and even there I've tried to keep it to a minimum.  This will occasionally lead to me saying less about some topics than other people might, even though the information is easily findable, because I don't think we have an absolute right to invade someone else's privacy for entertainment.

When we left Aretha Franklin, she had just finally broken through into the mainstream after a decade of performing, with a version of Otis Redding's song "Respect" on which she had been backed by her sisters, Erma and Carolyn. "Respect", in Franklin's interpretation, had been turned from a rather chauvinist song about a man demanding respect from his woman into an anthem of feminism, of Black power, and of a new political awakening.

For white people of a certain generation, the summer of 1967 was "the summer of love". For many Black people, it was rather different. There's a quote that goes around (I've seen it credited in reliable sources to both Ebony and Jet magazine, but not ever seen an issue cited, so I can't say for sure where it came from) saying that the summer of 67 was the summer of "'retha, Rap, and revolt", referring to the trifecta of Aretha Franklin, the Black power leader Jamil Abdullah al-Amin (who was at the time known as H. Rap Brown, a name he later disclaimed) and the rioting that broke out in several major cities, particularly in Detroit:

[Excerpt: John Lee Hooker, "The Motor City is Burning"]

The mid sixties were, in many ways, the high point not of Black rights in the US -- for the most part there has been a lot of progress in civil rights in the intervening decades, though not without inevitable setbacks and attacks from the far right, and as movements like the Black Lives Matter movement have shown there is still a long way to go -- but of *hope* for Black rights.

The moral force of the arguments made by the civil rights movement were starting to cause real change to happen for Black people in the US for the first time since the Reconstruction nearly a century before.

But those changes weren't happening fast enough, and as we heard in the episode on "I Was Made to Love Her", there was not only a growing unrest among Black people, but a recognition that it was actually possible for things to change. A combination of hope and frustration can be a powerful catalyst, and whether Franklin wanted it or not, she was at the centre of things, both because of her newfound prominence as a star with a hit single that couldn't be interpreted as anything other than a political statement and because of her intimate family connections to the struggle.

Even the most racist of white people these days pays lip service to the memory of Dr Martin Luther King, and when they do they quote just a handful of sentences from one speech King made in 1963, as if that sums up the full theological and political philosophy of that most complex of men. And as we discussed the last time we looked at Aretha Franklin, King gave versions of that speech, the "I Have a Dream" speech, twice. The most famous version was at the March on Washington, but the first time was a few weeks earlier, at what was at the time the largest civil rights demonstration in American history, in Detroit. Aretha's family connection to that event is made clear by the very opening of King's speech:

[Excerpt: Martin Luther King, "Original 'I Have a Dream' Speech"]

So as summer 1967 got into swing, and white rock music was going to San Francisco to wear flowers in its hair, Aretha Franklin was at the centre of a very different kind of youth revolution.

Franklin's second Atlantic album, Aretha Arrives, brought in some new personnel to the team that had recorded Aretha's first album for Atlantic. Along with the core Muscle Shoals players Jimmy Johnson, Spooner Oldham, Tommy Cogbill and Roger Hawkins, and a horn section led by King Curtis, Wexler and Dowd also brought in guitarist Joe South. South was a white session player from Georgia, who had had a few minor hits himself in the fifties -- he'd got his start recording a cover version of "The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor", the Big Bopper's B-side to "Chantilly Lace":

[Excerpt: Joe South, "The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor"]

He'd also written a few songs that had been recorded by people like Gene Vincent, but he'd mostly become a session player. He'd become a favourite musician of Bob Johnston's, and so he'd played guitar on Simon and Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme albums:

[Excerpt: Simon and Garfunkel, "I am a Rock"]

and bass on Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, with Al Kooper particularly praising his playing on "Visions of Johanna":

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Visions of Johanna"]

South would be the principal guitarist on this and Franklin's next album, before his own career took off in 1968 with "Games People Play":

[Excerpt: Joe South, "Games People Play"] At this point, he had already written the other song he's best known for, "Hush", which later became a hit for Deep Purple:

[Excerpt: Deep Purple, "Hush"]

But he wasn't very well known, and was surprised to get the call for the Aretha Franklin session, especially because, as he put it "I was white and I was about to play behind the blackest genius since Ray Charles"

But Jerry Wexler had told him that Franklin didn't care about the race of the musicians she played with, and South settled in as soon as Franklin smiled at him when he played a good guitar lick on her version of the blues standard "Going Down Slow":

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Going Down Slow"]

That was one of the few times Franklin smiled in those sessions though. Becoming an overnight success after years of trying and failing to make a name for herself had been a disorienting experience, and on top of that things weren't going well in her personal life. Her marriage to her manager Ted White was falling apart, and she was performing erratically thanks to the stress. In particular, at a gig in Georgia she had fallen off the stage and broken her arm. She soon returned to performing, but it meant she had problems with her right arm during the recording of the album, and didn't play as much piano as she would have previously -- on some of the faster songs she played only with her left hand. 

But the recording sessions had to go on, whether or not Aretha was physically capable of playing piano. As we discussed in the episode on Otis Redding, the owners of Atlantic Records were busily negotiating its sale to Warner Brothers in mid-1967. As Wexler said later “Everything in me said, Keep rolling, keep recording, keep the hits coming. She was red hot and I had no reason to believe that the streak wouldn’t continue. I knew that it would be foolish—and even irresponsible—not to strike when the iron was hot. I also had personal motivation. A Wall Street financier had agreed to see what we could get for Atlantic Records. While Ahmet and Neshui had not agreed on a selling price, they had gone along with my plan to let the financier test our worth on the open market. I was always eager to pump out hits, but at this moment I was on overdrive. In this instance, I had a good partner in Ted White, who felt the same. He wanted as much product out there as possible."

In truth, you can tell from Aretha Arrives that it's a record that was being thought of as "product" rather than one being made out of any kind of artistic impulse. It's a fine album -- in her ten-album run from I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You through Amazing Grace there's not a bad album and barely a bad track -- but there's a lack of focus. There are only two originals on the album, neither of them written by Franklin herself, and the rest is an incoherent set of songs that show the tension between Franklin and her producers at Atlantic. Several songs are the kind of standards that Franklin had recorded for her old label Columbia, things like "You Are My Sunshine", or her version of "That's Life", which had been a hit for Frank Sinatra the previous year:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "That's Life"]

But mixed in with that are songs that are clearly the choice of Wexler. As we've discussed previously in episodes on Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, at this point Atlantic had the idea that it was possible for soul artists to cross over into the white market by doing cover versions of white rock hits -- and indeed they'd had some success with that tactic. So while Franklin was suggesting Sinatra covers, Atlantic's hand is visible in the choices of songs like "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and "96 Tears":

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "96 Tears']

Of the two originals on the album, one, the hit single "Baby I Love You" was written by Ronnie Shannon, the Detroit songwriter who had previously written "I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)":

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Baby I Love You"]

As with the previous album, and several other songs on this one, that had backing vocals by Aretha's sisters, Erma and Carolyn. But the other original on the album, "Ain't Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around)", didn't, even though it was written by Carolyn:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Ain't Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around)"]

To explain why, let's take a little detour and look at the co-writer of the song this episode is about, though we're not going to get to that for a little while yet.

We've not talked much about Burt Bacharach in this series so far, but he's one of those figures who has come up a few times in the periphery and will come up again, so here is as good a time as any to discuss him, and bring everyone up to speed about his career up to 1967. Bacharach was one of the more privileged figures in the sixties pop music field. His father, Bert Bacharach (pronounced the same as his son, but spelled with an e rather than a u) had been a famous newspaper columnist, and his parents had bought him a Steinway grand piano to practice on -- they pushed him to learn the piano even though as a kid he wasn't interested in finger exercises and Debussy.

What he was interested in, though, was jazz, and as a teenager he would often go into Manhattan and use a fake ID to see people like Dizzy Gillespie, who he idolised, and in his autobiography he talks rapturously of seeing Gillespie playing his bent trumpet -- he once saw Gillespie standing on a street corner with a pet monkey on his shoulder, and went home and tried to persuade his parents to buy him a monkey too.

In particular, he talks about seeing the Count Basie band with Sonny Payne on drums as a teenager:

[Excerpt: Count Basie, "Kid From Red Bank"]

He saw them at Birdland, the club owned by Morris Levy where they would regularly play, and said of the performance "they were just so incredibly exciting that all of a sudden, I got into music in a way I never had before. What I heard in those clubs really turned my head around— it was like a big breath of fresh air when somebody throws open a window. That was when I knew for the first time how much I loved music and wanted to be connected to it in some way."

Of course, there's a rather major problem with this story, as there is so often with narratives that musicians tell about their early career. In this case, Birdland didn't open until 1949, when Bacharach was twenty-one and stationed in Germany for his military service, while Sonny Payne didn't join Basie's band until 1954, when Bacharach had been a professional musician for many years. Also Dizzy Gillespie's trumpet bell only got bent on January 6, 1953. 

But presumably while Bacharach was conflating several memories, he did have some experience in some New York jazz club that led him to want to become a musician. Certainly there were enough great jazz musicians playing the clubs in those days.

He went to McGill University to study music for two years, then went to study with Darius Milhaud, a hugely respected modernist composer. Milhaud was also one of the most important music teachers of the time -- among others he'd taught Stockhausen and Xenakkis, and would go on to teach Philip Glass and Steve Reich. This suited Bacharach, who by this point was a big fan of Schoenberg and Webern, and was trying to write atonal, difficult music. But Milhaud had also taught Dave Brubeck, and when Bacharach rather shamefacedly presented him with a composition which had an actual tune, he told Bacharach "Never be ashamed of writing a tune you can whistle".

He dropped out of university and, like most men of his generation, had to serve in the armed forces. When he got out of the army, he continued his musical studies, still trying to learn to be an avant-garde composer, this time with Bohuslav Martinů and later with Henry Cowell, the experimental composer we've heard about quite a bit in previous episodes:

[Excerpt: Henry Cowell, "Aeolian Harp and Sinister Resonance"]

He was still listening to a lot of avant garde music, and would continue doing so throughout the fifties, going to see people like John Cage. But he spent much of that time working in music that was very different from the avant-garde. He got a job as the band leader for the crooner Vic Damone:

[Excerpt: Vic Damone. "Ebb Tide"]

He also played for the vocal group the Ames Brothers. He decided while he was working with the Ames Brothers that he could write better material than they were getting from their publishers, and that it would be better to have a job where he didn't have to travel, so he got himself a job as a staff songwriter in the Brill Building. He wrote a string of flops and nearly hits, starting with "Keep Me In Mind" for Patti Page:

[Excerpt: Patti Page, "Keep Me In Mind"]

From early in his career he worked with the lyricist Hal David, and the two of them together wrote two big hits, "Magic Moments" for Perry Como:

[Excerpt: Perry Como, "Magic Moments"]

and "The Story of My Life" for Marty Robbins:

[Excerpt: "The Story of My Life"]

But at that point Bacharach was still also writing with other writers, notably Hal David's brother Mack, with whom he wrote the theme tune to the film The Blob, as performed by The Five Blobs:

[Excerpt: The Five Blobs, "The Blob"]

But Bacharach's songwriting career wasn't taking off, and he got himself a job as musical director for Marlene Dietrich -- a job he kept even after it did start to take off. 

Part of the problem was that he intuitively wrote music that didn't quite fit into standard structures -- there would be odd bars of unusual time signatures thrown in, unusual harmonies, and structural irregularities -- but then he'd take feedback from publishers and producers who would tell him the song could only be recorded if he straightened it out. He said later "The truth is that I ruined a lot of songs by not believing in myself enough to tell these guys they were wrong."

He started writing songs for Scepter Records, usually with Hal David, but also with Bob Hilliard and Mack David, and started having R&B hits. One song he wrote with Mack David, "I'll Cherish You", had the lyrics rewritten by Luther Dixon to make them more harsh-sounding for a Shirelles single -- but the single was otherwise just Bacharach's demo with the vocals replaced, and you can even hear his voice briefly at the beginning:

[Excerpt: The Shirelles, "Baby, It's You"]

But he'd also started becoming interested in the production side of records more generally. He'd iced that some producers, when recording his songs, would change the sound for the worse -- he thought Gene McDaniels' version of "Tower of Strength", for example, was too fast. But on the other hand, other producers got a better sound than he'd heard in his head. He and Hilliard had written a song called "Please Stay", which they'd given to Leiber and Stoller to record with the Drifters, and he thought that their arrangement of the song was much better than the one he'd originally thought up:

[Excerpt: The Drifters, "Please Stay"]

He asked Leiber and Stoller if he could attend all their New York sessions and learn about record production from them. He started doing so, and eventually they started asking him to assist them on records. He and Hilliard wrote a song called "Mexican Divorce" for the Drifters, which Leiber and Stoller were going to produce, and as he put it "they were so busy running Redbird Records that they asked me to rehearse the background singers for them in my office."

[Excerpt: The Drifters, "Mexican Divorce"]

The backing singers who had been brought in to augment the Drifters on that record were a group of vocalists who had started out as members of a gospel group called the Drinkard singers:

[Excerpt: The Drinkard Singers, "Singing in My Soul"]

The Drinkard Singers had originally been a family group, whose members included Cissy Drinkard, who joined the group aged five (and who on her marriage would become known as Cissy Houston -- her daughter Whitney would later join the family business), her aunt Lee Warrick, and Warrick's adopted daughter Judy Clay.

That group were discovered by the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, and spent much of the fifties performing with gospel greats including Jackson herself, Clara Ward, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

But Houston was also the musical director of a group at her church, the Gospelaires, which featured Lee Warrick's two daughters Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick (for those who don't know, the Warwick sisters' birth name was Warrick, spelled with two rs. A printing error led to it being misspelled the same way as the British city on a record label, and from that point on Dionne at least pronounced the w in her misspelled name). And slowly, the Gospelaires rather than the Drinkard Singers became the focus, with a lineup of Houston, the Warwick sisters, the Warwick sisters' cousin Doris Troy, and Clay's sister Sylvia Shemwell.

The real change in the group's fortunes came when, as we talked about a while back in the episode on "The Loco-Motion", the original lineup of the Cookies largely stopped working as session singers to become Ray Charles' Raelettes. As we discussed in that episode, a new lineup of Cookies formed in 1961, but it took a while for them to get started, and in the meantime the producers who had been relying on them for backing vocals were looking elsewhere, and they looked to the Gospelaires.

"Mexican Divorce" was the first record to feature the group as backing vocalists -- though reports vary as to how many of them are on the record, with some saying it's only Troy and the Warwicks, others saying Houston was there, and yet others saying it was all five of them.

 Some of these discrepancies were because these singers were so good that many of them left to become solo singers in fairly short order. Troy was the first to do so, with her hit "Just One Look", on which the other Gospelaires sang backing vocals:

[Excerpt: Doris Troy, "Just One Look"]

But the next one to go solo was Dionne Warwick, and that was because she'd started working with Bacharach and Hal David as their principal demo singer. She started singing lead on their demos, and hoping that she'd get to release them on her own. One early one was "Make it Easy On Yourself", which was recorded by Jerry Butler, formerly of the Impressions. That record was produced by Bacharach, one of the first records he produced without outside supervision:

[Excerpt: Jerry Butler, "Make it Easy On Yourself"]

Warwick was very jealous that a song she'd sung the demo of had become a massive hit for someone else, and blamed Bacharach and David. The way she tells the story -- Bacharach always claimed this never happened, but as we've already seen he was himself not always the most reliable of narrators of his own life -- she got so angry she complained to them, and said "Don't make me over, man!"

And so Bacharach and David wrote her this:

[Excerpt: Dionne Warwick, "Don't Make Me Over"]

Incidentally, in the UK, the hit version of that was a cover by the Swinging Blue Jeans:

[Excerpt: The Swinging Blue Jeans, "Don't Make Me Over"]

who also had a huge hit with "You're No Good":

[Excerpt: The Swinging Blue Jeans, "You're No Good"]

And *that* was originally recorded by *Dee Dee* Warwick:

[Excerpt: Dee Dee Warwick, "You're No Good"]

Dee Dee also had a successful solo career, but Dionne's was the real success, making the names of herself, and of Bacharach and David. The team had more than twenty top forty hits together, before Bacharach and David had a falling out in 1971 and stopped working together, and Warwick sued both of them for breach of contract as a result. But prior to that they had hit after hit, with classic records like "Anyone Who Had a Heart":

[Excerpt: Dionne Warwick, "Anyone Who Had a Heart"]

And "Walk On By":

[Excerpt: Dionne Warwick, "Walk On By"]

With Doris, Dionne, and Dee Dee all going solo, the group's membership was naturally in flux -- though the departed members would occasionally join their former bandmates for sessions, and the remaining members would sing backing vocals on their ex-members' records. By 1965 the group consisted of Cissy Houston, Sylvia Shemwell, the Warwick sisters' cousin Myrna Smith, and Estelle Brown.

The group became *the* go-to singers for soul and R&B records made in New York. They were regularly hired by Leiber and Stoller to sing on their records, and they were also the particular favourites of Bert Berns. They sang backing vocals on almost every record he produced. It's them doing the gospel wails on "Cry Baby" by Garnet Mimms:

[Excerpt: Garnet Mimms, "Cry Baby"]

And they sang backing vocals on both versions of "If You Need Me" -- Wilson Pickett's original and Solomon Burke's more successful cover version, produced by Berns:

[Excerpt: Solomon Burke, "If You Need Me"]

They're on such Berns records as "Show Me Your Monkey", by Kenny Hamber:

[Excerpt: Kenny Hamber, "Show Me Your Monkey"]

And it was a Berns production that ended up getting them to be Aretha Franklin's backing group. The group were becoming such an important part of the records that Atlantic and BANG Records, in particular, were putting out, that Jerry Wexler said "it was only a matter of common decency to put them under contract as a featured group". He signed them to Atlantic and renamed them from the Gospelaires to The Sweet Inspirations. 

Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham wrote a song for the group which became their only hit under their own name:

[Excerpt: The Sweet Inspirations, "Sweet Inspiration"]

But to start with, they released a cover of Pops Staples' civil rights song "Why (Am I treated So Bad)":

[Excerpt: The Sweet Inspirations, "Why (Am I Treated So Bad?)"]

That hadn't charted, and meanwhile, they'd all kept doing session work. Cissy had joined Erma and Carolyn Franklin on the backing vocals for Aretha's "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You":

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You"]

Shortly after that, the whole group recorded backing vocals for Erma's single "Piece of My Heart", co-written and produced by Berns:

[Excerpt: Erma Franklin, "Piece of My Heart"]

That became a top ten record on the R&B charts, but that caused problems. Aretha Franklin had a few character flaws, and one of these was an extreme level of jealousy for any other female singer who had any level of success and came up in the business after her. She could be incredibly graceful towards anyone who had been successful before her -- she once gave one of her Grammies away to Esther Phillips, who had been up for the same award and had lost to her -- but she was terribly insecure, and saw any contemporary as a threat. She'd spent her time at Columbia Records fuming (with some justification) that Barbra Streisand was being given a much bigger marketing budget than her, and she saw Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, and Dionne Warwick as rivals rather than friends.

And that went doubly for her sisters, who she was convinced should be supporting her because of family loyalty. She had been infuriated at John Hammond when Columbia had signed Erma, thinking he'd gone behind her back to create competition for her. And now Erma was recording with Bert Berns. Bert Berns who had for years been a colleague of Jerry Wexler and the Ertegun brothers at Atlantic. 

Aretha was convinced that Wexler had put Berns up to signing Erma as some kind of power play. There was only one problem with this -- it simply wasn't true. As Wexler later explained “Bert and I had suffered a bad falling-out, even though I had enormous respect for him. After all, he was the guy who brought over guitarist Jimmy Page from England to play on our sessions. Bert, Ahmet, Nesuhi, and I had started a label together—Bang!—where Bert produced Van Morrison’s first album. But Bert also had a penchant for trouble. He courted the wise guys. He wanted total control over every last aspect of our business dealings. Finally it was too much, and the Erteguns and I let him go. He sued us for breach of contract and suddenly we were enemies. I felt that he signed Erma, an excellent singer, not merely for her talent but as a way to get back at me. If I could make a hit with Aretha, he’d show me up by making an even bigger hit on Erma. Because there was always an undercurrent of rivalry between the sisters, this only added to the tension.”

There were two things that resulted from this paranoia on Aretha's part. The first was that she and Wexler, who had been on first-name terms up to that point, temporarily went back to being "Mr. Wexler" and "Miss Franklin" to each other. And the second was that Aretha no longer wanted Carolyn and Erma to be her main backing vocalists, though they would continue to appear on her future records on occasion. From this point on, the Sweet Inspirations would be the main backing vocalists for Aretha in the studio throughout her golden era [xxcut line (and when the Sweet Inspirations themselves weren't on the record, often it would be former members of the group taking their place)]:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Ain't Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around)"]

The last day of sessions for Aretha Arrives was July the twenty-third, 1967. And as we heard in the episode on "I Was Made to Love Her", that was the day that the Detroit riots started.

To recap briefly, that was four days of rioting started because of a history of racist policing, made worse by those same racist police overreacting to the initial protests. By the end of those four days, the National Guard, 82nd Airborne Division, and the 101st Airborne from Clarksville were all called in to deal with the violence, which left forty-three dead (of whom thirty-three were Black and only one was a police officer), 1,189 people were injured, and over 7,200 arrested, almost all of them Black.

Those days in July would be a turning point for almost every musician based in Detroit. In particular, the police had murdered three members of the soul group the Dramatics, in a massacre of which the author John Hersey, who had been asked by President Johnson to be part of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders but had decided that would compromise his impartiality and did an independent journalistic investigation, said "The episode contained all the mythic themes of racial strife in the United States: the arm of the law taking the law into its own hands; interracial sex; the subtle poison of racist thinking by “decent” men who deny they are racists; the societal limbo into which, ever since slavery, so many young black men have been driven by our country; ambiguous justice in the courts; and the devastation in both black and white human lives that follows in the wake of violence as surely as ruinous and indiscriminate flood after torrents"

But these were also the events that radicalised the MC5 -- the group had been playing a gig as Tim Buckley's support act when the rioting started, and guitarist Wayne Kramer decided afterwards to get stoned and watch the fires burning down the city through a telescope -- which police mistook for a rifle, leading to the National Guard knocking down Kramer's door. The MC5 would later cover "The Motor City is Burning", John Lee Hooker's song about the events:

[Excerpt: The MC5, "The Motor City is Burning"]

It would also be a turning point for Motown, too, in ways we'll talk about in a few future episodes.  And it was a political turning point too -- Michigan Governor George Romney, a liberal Republican (at a time when such people existed) had been the favourite for the Republican Presidential candidacy when he'd entered the race in December 1966, but as racial tensions ramped up in Detroit during the early months of 1967 he'd started trailing Richard Nixon, a man who was consciously stoking racists' fears. President Johnson, the incumbent Democrat, who was at that point still considering standing for re-election, made sure to make it clear to everyone during the riots that the decision to call in the National Guard had been made at the State level, by Romney, rather than at the Federal level.  That wasn't the only thing that removed the possibility of a Romney presidency, but it was a big part of the collapse of his campaign, and the, as it turned out, irrevocable turn towards right-authoritarianism that the party took with Nixon's Southern Strategy.

Of course, Aretha Franklin had little way of knowing what was to come and how the riots would change the city and the country over the following decades. What she was primarily concerned about was the safety of her father, and to a lesser extent that of her sister-in-law Earline who was staying with him. Aretha, Carolyn, and Erma all tried to keep in constant touch with their father while they were out of town, and Aretha even talked about hiring private detectives to travel to Detroit, find her father, and get him out of the city to safety. But as her brother Cecil pointed out, he was probably the single most loved man among Black people in Detroit, and was unlikely to be harmed by the rioters, while he was too famous for the police to kill with impunity.

Reverend Franklin had been having a stressful time anyway -- he had recently been fined for tax evasion, an action he was convinced the IRS had taken because of his friendship with Dr King and his role in the civil rights movement -- and according to Cecil "Aretha begged Daddy to move out of the city entirely. She wanted him to find another congregation in California, where he was especially popular—or at least move out to the suburbs. But he wouldn’t budge. He said that, more than ever, he was needed to point out the root causes of the riots—the economic inequality, the pervasive racism in civic institutions, the woefully inadequate schools in inner-city Detroit, and the wholesale destruction of our neighborhoods by urban renewal. Some ministers fled the city, but not our father. The horror of what happened only recommitted him. He would not abandon his political agenda."

To make things worse, Aretha was worried about her father in other ways -- as her marriage to Ted White was starting to disintegrate, she was looking to her father for guidance, and actually wanted him to take over her management. Eventually, Ruth Bowen, her booking agent, persuaded her brother Cecil that this was a job he could do, and that she would teach him everything he needed to know about the music business. She started training him up while Aretha was still married to White, in the expectation that that marriage couldn't last.

Jerry Wexler, who only a few months earlier had been seeing Ted White as an ally in getting "product" from Franklin, had now changed his tune -- partly because the sale of Atlantic had gone through in the meantime. He later said “Sometimes she’d call me at night, and, in that barely audible little-girl voice of hers, she’d tell me that she wasn’t sure she could go on. She always spoke in generalities. She never mentioned her husband, never gave me specifics of who was doing what to whom. And of course I knew better than to ask. She just said that she was tired of dealing with so much. My heart went out to her. She was a woman who suffered silently. She held so much in. I’d tell her to take as much time off as she needed. We had a lot of songs in the can that we could release without new material. ‘Oh, no, Jerry,’ she’d say. ‘I can’t stop recording. I’ve written some new songs, Carolyn’s written some new songs. We gotta get in there and cut ’em.’ ‘Are you sure?’ I’d ask. ‘Positive,’ she’d say. I’d set up the dates and typically she wouldn’t show up for the first or second sessions. Carolyn or Erma would call me to say, ‘Ree’s under the weather.’ That was tough because we’d have asked people like Joe South and Bobby Womack to play on the sessions. Then I’d reschedule in the hopes she’d show."

That third album she recorded in 1967, Lady Soul, was possibly her greatest achievement.

The opening track, and second single, "Chain of Fools", released in November, was written by Don Covay -- or at least it's credited as having been written by Covay. There's a gospel record that came out around the same time on a very small label based in Houston -- "Pains of Life" by Rev. E. Fair And The Sensational Gladys Davis Trio:

[Excerpt: Rev. E. Fair And The Sensational Gladys Davis Trio, "Pains of Life"]

I've seen various claims online that that record came out shortly *before* "Chain of Fools", but I can't find any definitive evidence one way or the other -- it was on such a small label that release dates aren't available anywhere. Given that the B-side, which I haven't been able to track down online, is called "Wait Until the Midnight Hour", my guess is that rather than this being a case of Don Covay stealing the melody from an obscure gospel record he'd have had little chance to hear, it's the gospel record rewriting a then-current hit to be about religion, but I thought it worth mentioning.

The song was actually written by Covay after Jerry Wexler asked him to come up with some songs for Otis Redding, but Wexler, after hearing it, decided it was better suited to Franklin, who gave an astonishing performance:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Chain of Fools"]

Arif Mardin, the arranger of the album, said of that track “I was listed as the arranger of ‘Chain of Fools,’ but I can’t take credit. Aretha walked into the studio with the chart fully formed inside her head. The arrangement is based around the harmony vocals provided by Carolyn and Erma. To add heft, the Sweet Inspirations joined in. The vision of the song is entirely Aretha’s.”

According to Wexler, that's not *quite* true -- according to him, Joe South came up with the guitar part that makes up the intro, and he also said that when he played what he thought was the finished track to Ellie Greenwich, she came up with another vocal line for the backing vocals, which she overdubbed.

But the core of the record's sound is definitely pure Aretha -- and Carolyn Franklin said that there was a reason for that. As she said later “Aretha didn’t write ‘Chain,’ but she might as well have. It was her story. When we were in the studio putting on the backgrounds with Ree doing lead, I knew she was singing about Ted. Listen to the lyrics talking about how for five long years she thought he was her man. Then she found out she was nothing but a link in the chain. Then she sings that her father told her to come on home. Well, he did. She sings about how her doctor said to take it easy. Well, he did too. She was drinking so much we thought she was on the verge of a breakdown. The line that slew me, though, was the one that said how one of these mornings the chain is gonna break but until then she’ll take all she can take. That summed it up. Ree knew damn well that this man had been doggin’ her since Jump Street. But somehow she held on and pushed it to the breaking point."

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Chain of Fools"]

That made number one on the R&B charts, and number two on the hot one hundred, kept from the top by "Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)" by John Fred and his Playboy Band -- a record that very few people would say has stood the test of time as well.

The other most memorable track on the album was the one chosen as the first single, released in September.  As Carole King told the story, she and Gerry Goffin were feeling like their career was in a slump. While they had had a huge run of hits in the early sixties through 1965, they had only had two new hits in 1966 -- "Goin' Back" for Dusty Springfield and "Don't Bring Me Down" for the Animals, and neither of those were anything like as massive as their previous hits. And up to that point in 1967, they'd only had one -- "Pleasant Valley Sunday" for the Monkees. They had managed to place several songs on Monkees albums and the TV show as well, so they weren't going to starve, but the rise of self-contained bands that were starting to dominate the charts, and Phil Spector's temporary retirement, meant there simply wasn't the opportunity for them to place material that there had been.

They were also getting sick of travelling to the West Coast all the time, because as their children were growing slightly older they didn't want to disrupt their lives in New York, and were thinking of approaching some of the New York based labels and seeing if they needed songs. They were particularly considering Atlantic, because soul was more open to outside songwriters than other genres.

As it happened, though, they didn't have to approach Atlantic, because Atlantic approached them. They were walking down Broadway when a limousine pulled up, and Jerry Wexler stuck his head out of the window. He'd come up with a good title that he wanted to use for a song for Aretha, would they be interested in writing a song called "Natural Woman"?

They said of course they would, and Wexler drove off. They wrote the song that night, and King recorded a demo the next morning:

[Excerpt: Carole King, "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (demo)"]

They gave Wexler a co-writing credit because he had suggested the title. 

King later wrote in her autobiography "Hearing Aretha’s performance of “Natural Woman” for the first time, I experienced a rare speechless moment. To this day I can’t convey how I felt in mere words. Anyone who had written a song in 1967 hoping it would be performed by a singer who could take it to the highest level of excellence, emotional connection, and public exposure would surely have wanted that singer to be Aretha Franklin."

She went on to say "But a recording that moves people is never just about the artist and the songwriters. It’s about people like Jerry and Ahmet, who matched the songwriters with a great title and a gifted artist; Arif Mardin, whose magnificent orchestral arrangement deserves the place it will forever occupy in popular music history; Tom Dowd, whose engineering skills captured the magic of this memorable musical moment for posterity; and the musicians in the rhythm section, the orchestral players, and the vocal contributions of the background singers—among them the unforgettable “Ah-oo!” after the first line of the verse. And the promotion and marketing people helped this song reach more people than it might have without them."

And that's correct -- unlike "Chain of Fools", this time Franklin did let Arif Mardin do most of the arrangement work -- though she came up with the piano part that Spooner Oldham plays on the record. Mardin said that because of the song's hymn-like feel they wanted to go for a more traditional written arrangement. He said "She loved the song to the point where she said she wanted to concentrate on the vocal and vocal alone. I had written a string chart and horn chart to augment the chorus and hired Ralph Burns to conduct. After just a couple of takes, we had it. That’s when Ralph turned to me with wonder in his eyes. Ralph was one of the most celebrated arrangers of the modern era. He had done ‘Early Autumn’ for Woody Herman and Stan Getz, and ‘Georgia on My Mind’ for Ray Charles. He’d worked with everyone. ‘This woman comes from another planet’ was all Ralph said. ‘She’s just here visiting.’”

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman"]

By this point there was a well-functioning team making Franklin's records -- while the production credits would vary over the years, they were all essentially co-productions by the team of Franklin, Wexler, Mardin and Dowd, all collaborating and working together with a more-or-less unified purpose, and the backing was always by the same handful of session musicians and some combination of the Sweet Inspirations and Aretha's sisters.

That didn't mean that occasional guests couldn't get involved -- as we discussed in the Cream episode, Eric Clapton played guitar on "Good to Me as I am to You":

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Good to Me as I am to You"]

Though that was one of the rare occasions on one of these records where something was overdubbed. Clapton apparently messed up the guitar part when playing behind Franklin, because he was too intimidated by playing with her, and came back the next day to redo his part without her in the studio.

At this point, Aretha was at the height of her fame. Just before the final batch of album sessions began she appeared in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, and she was making regular TV appearances, like one on the Mike Douglas Show where she duetted with Frankie Valli on "That's Life":

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin and Frankie Valli, "That's Life"]

But also, as Wexler said “Her career was kicking into high gear. Contending and resolving both the professional and personal challenges were too much. She didn’t think she could do both, and I didn’t blame her. Few people could. So she let the personal slide and concentrated on the professional. "

Her concert promoter Ruth Bowen said of this time "Her father and Dr. King were putting pressure on her to sing everywhere, and she felt obligated. The record company was also screaming for more product. And I had a mountain of offers on my desk that kept getting higher with every passing hour. They wanted her in Europe. They wanted her in Latin America. They wanted her in every major venue in the U.S. TV was calling. She was being asked to do guest appearances on every show from Carol Burnett to Andy Williams to the Hollywood Palace. She wanted to do them all and she wanted to do none of them. She wanted to do them all because she’s an entertainer who burns with ambition. She wanted to do none of them because she was emotionally drained. She needed to go away and renew her strength. I told her that at least a dozen times. She said she would, but she didn’t listen to me."

The pressures from her father and Dr King are a recurring motif in interviews with people about this period.  Franklin was always a very political person, and would throughout her life volunteer time and money to liberal political causes and to the Democratic Party, but this was the height of her activism -- the Civil Rights movement was trying to capitalise on the gains it had made in the previous couple of years, and celebrity fundraisers and performances at rallies were an important way to do that.

And at this point there were few bigger celebrities in America than Aretha Franklin. At a concert in her home town of Detroit on February the sixteenth, 1968, the Mayor declared the day Aretha Franklin Day. At the same show, Billboard, Record World *and* Cash Box magazines all presented her with plaques for being Female Vocalist of the Year. And Dr. King travelled up to be at the show and congratulate her publicly for all her work with his organisation, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Backstage at that show, Dr. King talked to Aretha's father, Reverend Franklin, about what he believed would be the next big battle -- a strike in Memphis:

[Excerpt, Martin Luther King, "Mountaintop Speech" -- "And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy—what is the other bread?—Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart's bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain. We are choosing these companies because they haven't been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying, they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right."]

The strike in question was the Memphis Sanitation Workers' strike which had started a few days before. 

The struggle for Black labour rights was an integral part of the civil rights movement, and while it's not told that way in the sanitised version of the story that's made it into popular culture, the movement led by King was as much about economic justice as social justice -- King was a democratic socialist, and believed that economic oppression was both an effect of and cause of other forms of racial oppression, and that the rights of Black workers needed to be fought for. In 1967 he had set up a new organisation, the Poor People's Campaign, which was set to march on Washington to demand a program that included full employment, a guaranteed income -- King was strongly influenced in his later years by the ideas of Henry George, the proponent of a universal basic income based on land value tax -- the annual building of half a million affordable homes, and an end to the war in Vietnam. This was King's main focus in early 1968,  and he saw the sanitation workers' strike as a major part of this campaign.

Memphis was one of the most oppressive cities in the country, and its largely Black workforce of sanitation workers had been trying for most of the 1960s to unionise, and strike-breakers had been called in to stop them, and many of them had been fired by their white supervisors with no notice. They were working in unsafe conditions, for utterly inadequate wages, and the city government were ardent segregationists. After two workers had died on the first of February from using unsafe equipment, the union demanded changes -- safer working conditions, better wages, and recognition of the union. 

The city council refused, and almost all the sanitation workers stayed home and stopped work. After a few days, the council relented and agreed to their terms, but the Mayor, Henry Loeb, an ardent white supremacist who had stood on a platform of opposing desegregation, and who had previously been the Public Works Commissioner who had put these unsafe conditions in place, refused to listen. As far as he was concerned, he was the only one who could recognise the union, and he wouldn't. The workers continued their strike, marching holding signs that simply read "I am a Man":

[Excerpt: Stevie Wonder, "Blowing in the Wind"]

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP had been involved in organising support for the strikes from an early stage, and King visited Memphis many times. Much of the time he spent visiting there was spent negotiating with a group of more militant activists, who called themselves The Invaders and weren't completely convinced by King's nonviolent approach -- they believed that violence and rioting got more attention than non-violent protests. King explained to them that while he had been persuaded by Gandhi's writings of the moral case for nonviolent protest, he was also persuaded that it was pragmatically necessary -- asking the young men "how many guns do we have and how many guns do they have?", and pointing out as he often did that when it comes to violence a minority can't win against an armed majority.

Rev Franklin went down to Memphis on the twenty-eighth of March to speak at a rally Dr. King was holding, but as it turned out the rally was cancelled -- the pre-rally march had got out of hand, with some people smashing windows, and Memphis police had, like the police in Detroit the previous year, violently overreacted, clubbing and gassing protestors and shooting and killing one unarmed teenage boy, Larry Payne.

The day after Payne's funeral, Dr King was back in Memphis, though this time Rev Franklin was not with him. On April the third, he gave a speech which became known as the "Mountaintop Speech", in which he talked about the threats that had been made to his life:

[Excerpt: Martin Luther King, "Mountaintop Speech": “And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."]

The next day, Martin Luther King was shot dead. James Earl Ray, a white supremacist, pled guilty to the murder, and the evidence against him seems overwhelming from what I've read, but the King family have always claimed that the murder was part of a larger conspiracy and that Ray was not the gunman.

Aretha was obviously distraught, and she attended the funeral, as did almost every other prominent Black public figure.  James Baldwin wrote of the funeral: "In the pew directly before me sat Marlon Brando, Sammy Davis, Eartha Kitt—covered in black, looking like a lost, ten-year-old girl—and Sidney Poitier, in the same pew, or nearby. Marlon saw me, and nodded. The atmosphere was black, with a tension indescribable—as though something, perhaps the heavens, perhaps the earth, might crack. Everyone sat very still. The actual service sort of washed over me, in waves. It wasn’t that it seemed unreal; it was the most real church service I’ve ever sat through in my life, or ever hope to sit through; but I have a childhood hangover thing about not weeping in public, and I was concentrating on holding myself together. I did not want to weep for Martin, tears seemed futile. But I may also have been afraid, and I could not have been the only one, that if I began to weep I would not be able to stop. There was more than enough to weep for, if one was to weep—so many of us, cut down, so soon. Medgar, Malcolm, Martin: and their widows, and their children. Reverend Ralph David Abernathy asked a certain sister to sing a song which Martin had loved—“Once more,” said Ralph David, “for Martin and for me,” and he sat down."

Many articles and books on Aretha Franklin say that she sang at King's funeral. In fact she didn't, but there's a simple reason for the confusion. King's favourite song was the Thomas Dorsey gospel song "Take My Hand, Precious Lord", and indeed almost his last words were to ask a trumpet player, Ben Branch, if he would play the song at the rally he was going to be speaking at on the day of his death. At his request, Mahalia Jackson, his old friend, sang the song at his private funeral, which was not filmed, unlike the public part of the funeral that Baldwin described.

Four months later, though, there was another public memorial for King, and Franklin did sing "Take My Hand, Precious Lord" at that service, in front of King's weeping widow and children, and that performance *was* filmed, and gets conflated in people's memories with Jackson's unfilmed earlier performance:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Take My Hand, Precious Lord (at Martin Luther King Memorial)"]

Four years later, she would sing that at Mahalia Jackson's funeral.

Through all this, Franklin had been working on her next album, Aretha Now, the sessions for which started more or less as soon as the sessions for Lady Soul had finished. The album was, in fact, bookended by deaths that affected Aretha. Just as King died at the end of the sessions, the beginning came around the time of the death of Otis Redding -- the sessions were cancelled for a day while Wexler travelled to Georgia for Redding's funeral, which Franklin was too devastated to attend, and Wexler would later say that the extra emotion in her performances on the album came from her emotional pain at Redding's death.

The lead single on the album, "Think", was written by Franklin and -- according to the credits anyway -- her husband Ted White, and is very much in the same style as "Respect", and became another of her most-loved hits:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Think"]

But probably the song on Aretha Now that now resonates the most is one that Jerry Wexler tried to persuade her not to record, and was only released as a B-side. Indeed, "I Say a Little Prayer" was a song that had already once been a hit after being a reject. 

Hal David, unlike Burt Bacharach, was a fairly political person and inspired by the protest song movement, and had been starting to incorporate his concerns about the political situation and the Vietnam War into his lyrics -- though as with many such writers, he did it in much less specific ways than a Phil Ochs or a Bob Dylan. This had started with "What the World Needs Now is Love", a song Bacharach and David had written for Jackie DeShannon in 1965:

[Excerpt: Jackie DeShannon, "What the "World Needs Now is Love"]

But he'd become much more overtly political for "The Windows of the World", a song they wrote for Dionne Warwick. Warwick has often said it's her favourite of her singles, but it wasn't a big hit -- Bacharach blamed himself for that, saying "Dionne recorded it as a single and I really blew it. I wrote a bad arrangement and the tempo was too fast, and I really regret making it the way I did because it’s a good song."

[Excerpt: Dionne Warwick, "The Windows of the World"]

For that album, Bacharach and David had written another track, "I Say a Little Prayer", which was not as explicitly political, but was intended by David to have an implicit anti-war message, much like other songs of the period like "Last Train to Clarksville". David had sons who were the right age to be drafted, and while it's never stated, "I Say a Little Prayer" was written from the perspective of a woman whose partner is away fighting in the war, but is still in her thoughts:

[Excerpt: Dionne Warwick, "I Say a Little Prayer"]

The recording of Dionne Warwick's version was marked by stress. Bacharach had a particular way of writing music to tell the musicians the kind of feel he wanted for the part -- he'd write nonsense words above the stave, and tell the musicians to play the parts as if they were singing those words. The trumpet player hired for the session, Ernie Royal, got into a row with Bacharach about this unorthodox way of communicating musical feeling, and the track ended up taking ten takes (as opposed to the normal three for a Bacharach session), with Royal being replaced half-way through the session.

Bacharach was never happy with the track even after all the work it had taken, and he fought to keep it from being released at all, saying the track was taken at too fast a tempo. It eventually came out as an album track nearly eighteen months after it was recorded -- an eternity in 1960s musical timescales -- and DJs started playing it almost as soon as it came out. Scepter records rushed out a single, over Bacharach's objections, but as he later said "One thing I love about the record business is how wrong I was. Disc jockeys all across the country started playing the track, and the song went to number four on the charts and then became the biggest hit Hal and I had ever written for Dionne."

[Excerpt: Dionne Warwick, "I Say a Little Prayer"]

Oddly, the B-side for Warwick's single, "Theme From the Valley of the Dolls" did even better, reaching number two.

Almost as soon as the song was released as a single, Franklin started playing around with the song backstage, and in April 1968, right around the time of Dr. King's death, she recorded a version. Much as Burt Bacharach had been against releasing Dionne Warwick's version, Jerry Wexler was against Aretha even recording the song, saying later “I advised Aretha not to record it. I opposed it for two reasons. First, to cover a song only twelve weeks after the original reached the top of the charts was not smart business. You revisit such a hit eight months to a year later. That’s standard practice. But more than that, Bacharach’s melody, though lovely, was peculiarly suited to a lithe instrument like Dionne Warwick’s—a light voice without the dark corners or emotional depths that define Aretha. Also, Hal David’s lyric was also somewhat girlish and lacked the gravitas that Aretha required.

“Aretha usually listened to me in the studio, but not this time. She had written a vocal arrangement for the Sweet Inspirations that was undoubtedly strong. Cissy Houston, Dionne’s cousin, told me that Aretha was on the right track—she was seeing this song in a new way and had come up with a new groove. Cissy was on Aretha’s side. Tommy Dowd and Arif were on Aretha’s side. So I had no choice but to cave."

It's quite possible that Wexler's objections made Franklin more, rather than less, determined to record the song. She regarded Warwick as a hated rival, as she did almost every prominent female singer of her generation and younger ones, and would undoubtedly have taken the implication that there was something that Warwick was simply better at than her to heart.

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "I Say a Little Prayer"]

Wexler realised as soon as he heard it in the studio that Franklin's version was great, and Bacharach agreed, telling Franklin's biographer David Ritz “As much as I like the original recording by Dionne, there’s no doubt that Aretha’s is a better record. She imbued the song with heavy soul and took it to a far deeper place. Hers is the definitive version.” -- which is surprising because Franklin's version simplifies some of Bacharach's more unusual chord voicings, something he often found extremely upsetting.

Wexler still though thought there was no way the song would be a hit, and it's understandable that he thought that way. Not only had it only just been on the charts a few months earlier, but it was the kind of song that wouldn't normally be a hit at all, and certainly not in the kind of rhythmic soul music for which Franklin was known. Almost everything she ever recorded is in simple time signatures -- 4/4, waltz time, or 6/8 -- but this is a Bacharach song so it's staggeringly metrically irregular. Normally even with semi-complex things I'm usually good at figuring out how to break it down into bars, but here I actually had to purchase a copy of the sheet music in order to be sure I was right about what's going on.

I'm going to count beats along with the record here so you can see what I mean. The verse has three bars of 4/4, one bar of 2/4, and three more bars of 4/4, all repeated:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "I Say a Little Prayer" with me counting bars over verse]

While the chorus has a bar of 4/4, a bar of 3/4 but with a chord change half way through so it sounds like it's in two if you're paying attention to the harmonic changes, two bars of 4/4, another waltz-time bar sounding like it's in two, two bars of four, another bar of three sounding in two, a bar of four, then three more bars of four but the first of those is *written* as four but played as if it's in six-eight time (but you can keep the four/four pulse going if you're counting):

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "I Say a Little Prayer" with me counting bars over verse]

I don't expect you to have necessarily followed that in great detail, but the point should be clear -- this was not some straightforward dance song. Incidentally, that bar played as if it's six/eight was something Aretha introduced to make the song even more irregular than how Bacharach wrote it.

And on top of *that* of course the lyrics mixed the secular and the sacred, something that was still taboo in popular music at that time -- this is only a couple of years after Capitol records had been genuinely unsure about putting out the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows", and Franklin's gospel-inflected vocals made the religious connection even more obvious.

But Franklin was insistent that the record go out as a single, and eventually it was released as the B-side to the far less impressive "The House That Jack Built". It became a double-sided hit, with the A-side making number two on the R&B chart and number seven on the Hot One Hundred, while "I Say a Little Prayer" made number three on the R&B chart and number ten overall. In the UK, "I Say a Little Prayer" made number four and became her biggest ever solo UK hit. It's now one of her most-remembered songs, while the A-side is largely forgotten:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "I Say a Little Prayer"]

For much of the rest of 1968, Franklin split her time between recording her next album and live performance. The album was a big band jazz project mistitled Soul '69 which was probably the least successful of her records from this period both artistically and commercially. It went to number one on the R&B albums chart, but Franklin was for most of her career, with one exception we'll talk about later, a singles artist more than an albums one, and the singles from the record sank without trace.

She was also going through a lot of personal stress. An article in Time magazine appeared which, while overall complimentary and a puff piece by most standards, revealed more of her personal troubles than she was comfortable having made public, and became the main reason she became extremely guarded about giving interviews in the future.

Her live performances were also a source of stress at this point. Franklin had been thrilled with the opportunity to go on tour in Europe, and arranged to record a live album in Paris, a city she would come to love. When they travelled over, in May, White was still her husband and manager, and he put together the live band she would use for the tour. Nobody was happy with the band. Carolyn Franklin said of the tour "The only problem was the band. Wexler didn’t put it together. Ted did. The band lacked the fire that we’d been used to in the studio. And then the band became another point of contention between Aretha and Ted. She accused him of hiring the wrong musicians. He accused her of slacking on her singing. It got bad, even as the crowds kept getting bigger.”

Wexler said of the resulting live album “She and the band aren’t on the same page. They’re out of tune, they miss their cues, and they’re struggling to find the right groove. Naturally she was excited to be performing in Europe for the first time, and naturally it had to be thrilling for her to see the international scope of her success, but when the music’s not right Aretha’s not right. Like Ray Charles, she hears every note being played by every band member. And when a note is wrong—and, believe me, there were scores of bad notes—for Aretha, it’s like squeaky chalk on a blackboard. It hurts. When she came home, she was hurting. Here you had the premier singer of our time touring the Continent with a ragtag band suitable for backing up a third-rate blues singer in some bucket of blood in Loserville, Louisiana. It was outrageous.”

In truth, to most ears, the recordings, which were presumably sweetened in the studio afterwards as most live albums were, sound... fine. But they're definitely not a patch on the studio versions, and Wexler refused to take a production credit, insisting instead on being credited as “supervisor”:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Chain of Fools (live in Paris)"]

Luckily, her marriage finally ended -- though even after they separated and she handed her management over to Cecil, Ted White insisted he had a management contract with her. With White's waning influence, Jerry Wexler had the perfect solution, and it was also someone he owed a favour to. We've mentioned King Curtis many times before in different episodes, because he was *the* premier tenor sax session player on the East Coast of America at the time. He'd started out with Lionel Hampton's band, but from the late fifties he played almost every important sax part on a hit record to come out of the East Coast, like Buddy Holly's "Reminiscing":

[Excerpt: Buddy Holly, "Reminiscing"]

The Coasters' "Yakety Yak":

[Excerpt: The Coasters, "Yaklety Yak"]

And all the other Coasters hits. He'd played on records by Ruth Brown, the Drifters, Ben E. King, Solomon Burke, the Isley Brothers, and Wilson Pickett. He'd played with Sam Cooke's band on the legendary Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963:

[Excerpt: Sam Cooke, "Twisting the Night Away (live)"]

He'd played on "Boys" by the Shirelles:

[Excerpt: The Shirelles, "Boys"]

And he'd also had encounters with future stars -- he'd played sax on the single Lou Reed had recorded as The Jades:

[Excerpt: The Jades, "Leave Her For Me"]

More importantly, he was a bandleader in his own right. He'd had hits with "Soul Twist", "Memphis Soul Stew", and his signature song "Soul Serenade":

[Excerpt: King Curtis, "Soul Serenade"]

And he'd had Jimi Hendrix in his band the Kingpins, for a while -- Hendrix had played on several of his records, like "Instant Groove":

[Excerpt: King Curtis, "Instant Groove"]

Curtis had also supported the Beatles on their 1965 US tour, including the legendary Shea Stadium gig.

He was also, obviously, the sax player on most of Franklin's records since she'd started working at Atlantic, and had been the one who had suggested the key change and sax solo on "Respect".

Wexler knew he was a great musician and a great bandleader, but he also literally owed Curtis his life.  In July 1968 there was a DJ convention in Miami, a promotional junket for record labels in the R&B market, which will come up a lot in future episodes. Various gangs -- what the great record man Henry Stone referred to as the "Black New York Mafia" chose that moment to try to take over many of the soul record labels. Stone himself had connections with a rival set of gangsters, led by Joe Robinson, the husband of Sylvia from Mickey and Sylvia. Stone got Robinson to organise protection for various people he considered under threat, and because of that protection he later agreed to go into a business partnership with Robinson which would revolutionise music a decade or so later. The convention also played a pivotal role in a change of direction for Stax Records. So you can be sure this will come up again.

But the person who was most threatened at the convention was Jerry Wexler, who was at one point during the event actually hanged in effigy. It was King Curtis who warned Wexler in the middle of the convention banquet that his life was in danger, and he and the singer Titus Turner, who were both armed with pistols, acted as Wexler's bodyguards to get him out of the event alive. Nobody would mess with Curtis, who as well as being armed was also six foot two, two hundred pounds, and one of the most respected figures in the business.

Wexler owed Curtis his life, and also knew that he led one of the best bands around -- and the Kingpins were already used to touring with the Sweet Inspirations as vocalists (though the Sweet Inspirations would only rarely perform live with Franklin, because they soon had one of the few artists bigger than her using their services regularly in a live situation). 

For the moment though, Franklin's records would still use the Muscle Shoals rhythm section -- and on several tracks a new friend of Curtis', a session musician whose contract Wexler had bought from Rick Hall at Muscle Shoals after hearing his playing on Wilson Pickett's version of "Hey Jude", Duane Allman.

Allman can be heard on two tracks on Franklin's next album, This Girl's In Love With You -- named after another Bacharach and David song, previously a hit for Herb Alpert. One of those tracks is one we heard in the most recent episode, her version of "The Weight":

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "The Weight"]

That was one of several songs on the album where Franklin was trying Wexler's strategy of recording songs by successful white acts in the hope of a crossover -- she also recorded versions of "Eleanor Rigby" and "Let It Be", the latter of which was the first version of the song to be released, Paul McCartney having sent her a demo a while before the Beatles got around to releasing their version. 

Another song on the album originally recorded by a white person was another example of Aretha working out feelings of jealousy towards a potential rival. "Son of a Preacher Man" had originally been written for her, but she'd turned the song down -- something that would happen with increasing frequency. In this case her reasoning was that the song might seem disrespectful to her father, who was himself a "preacher man". So Jerry Wexler had brought the track to the British singer Dusty Springfield, for whom he was producing a new album, Dusty in Memphis:

[Excerpt: Dusty Springfield, "Son of a Preacher Man"]

According to Wexler "There was also a little tension in that January session because I was coming off a hit album I’d done with Dusty Springfield, Dusty in Memphis. It was being called a soul classic and compared to Aretha. Aretha didn’t like me producing other chick singers. I told her that she was Dusty’s idol and Dusty was making no claims to her throne. Aretha smiled that little passive smile she’s famous for—the smile that told me she wasn’t happy."

So of course, Franklin recorded her own version of the song:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Son of a Preacher Man"]

Of course, what Franklin didn't know was that Springfield was far more insecure even than Franklin, and hated the idea of being compared to someone she realised was a much better singer. For the rest of her life she would always talk about how much better Franklin's performance was, and draw particular attention to the way Franklin phrased the words "reach me", and copy that phrasing in her own live performances. Still though I think in this case, for once, Franklin's version didn't quite beat Springfield's original.

The sessions for that album lasted quite a while, and in the middle King Curtis recorded another album of his own, which also featured Duane Allman on guitar on several songs, including Curtis' own version of "The Weight", and a version of "Games People Play" that won him a Grammy:

[Excerpt: King Curtis, "Games People Play"]

Around this time, King Curtis also discovered a new soul musician who would go on to become one of the most influential in the genre in the seventies, Donny Hathaway, and he produced several tracks on Hathaway's first album, and guested on guitar, rather than his normal saxophone, on Hathaway's version of Ray Charles' “I Believe to My Soul”:

[Excerpt: Donny Hathaway, "I Believe to My Soul"]

According to the biography of King Curtis that I used for this episode, Curtis got Aretha Franklin to sit in on piano on that album, but Franklin's not credited on it. I suspect that biography is misremembering a different occasion when Franklin acted purely as piano player on a session produced by Curtis, an album by Sam Moore that went unreleased until 2002 due to Moore's heroin addiction, and on which Franklin agreed to play piano partly so she could work with Hathaway, who was playing the other keyboard on the album:

[Excerpt: Sam Moore, "Get Out My Life Woman"]

The other musicians on that, other than Franklin and Hathaway, were the members of the Kingpins -- Cornell Dupree on guitar, Chuck Rainey on bass, and Bernard "Pretty" Purdie on drums.

Aretha's next album, Spirit in the Dark, was her first not to make the top twenty since she'd signed to Atlantic, though it had two more big hits -- "Don't Play That Song" and the title track. But it was a patchwork affair, recorded in sessions in different studios with three different sets of musicians -- the Muscle Shoals players she normally worked with, her own touring band, and a set of musicians Wexler had found in Florida, where he now lived. Increasingly Wexler was producing sessions in Florida and not wanting to travel, while Mardin and Dowd were producing sessions in New York.

But Franklin was dealing with things that were more important than music. Her family was going through serious problems. As well as her divorce from White, she was seriously concerned about her father. Rev. Franklin had become more radical since the death of Martin Luther King, and had started giving support to more radical elements of the Black Power movement. He was still a staunch believer in non-violence, but he would allow his church to be used by those who weren't, including the Republic of New Africa. This was a Black separatist movement whose vice president was Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malik el-Shabazz, the activist known for most of his life as Malcolm X. The organisation was founded to call for the secession of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, and for those states to become a Black ethnostate with no white people.

Rev. Franklin didn't agree with this view, but he thought solidarity with other supporters of Black liberation now more important than disagreements over strategy, so he let them use his church as a meeting place. On the twenty-ninth of March, 1969, they held a meeting to which some members of their paramilitary faction came armed with rifles. A police car drove past towards the end of the meeting and saw some of the armed men outside. The police approached, and while reports differ as to what actually happened, shots were fired and one of the police officers was killed. This led to the police storming the church, spraying bullets into the windows, and arresting the hundred and fifty people inside (many of whom were then held illegally without access to counsel) and confiscating large numbers of guns found on the premises.

Rev. Franklin was defiant when interviewed about this, saying “I do not denounce these people. Their goals are the same as ours, only they approach them from different directions.” He said he'd happily let them use the church again, so long as they promised not to bring guns in future.

This caused Rev. Franklin to become even more of a target for law enforcement himself.  On one flight shortly afterwards, his baggage got misplaced by the airline, and when it turned up it contained small amounts of cannabis, for which he was arrested, though the charges were later dropped -- he always claimed it had been planted. And he also found himself once again under investigation by tax officials. 

According to Cecil Franklin “My father was sought out and victimized by government officials, both national and local, who resented his political positions and were determined to humiliate him. He fought back, he answered every charge, he eventually paid his tax bill, and, as far as his congregation was concerned, he cleared his name. But I have to say that after what happened to him in that particular season of 1969, he was never quite the same.”

Another family strain in 1969 came when Aretha's sister Carolyn, who had written several songs for her and who Aretha was hoping would continue to just be a songwriter and backing vocalist rather than pursue stardom herself, got a record contract, leading to a flare-up of tensions between the sisters:

[Excerpt: Carolyn Franklin, "Boxer"]

Carolyn begged Aretha to write liner notes for the album, in the hopes that her famous sister's approval would lead to sales, but Aretha kept saying she would and then not doing it, jealous of her sister. Eventually Carolyn turned to their father, who also tried and failed to get Aretha to write notes. When she wouldn't, he wrote them himself, concluding with a claimed endorsement from Aretha that didn't sound convincing.

There was also some tension between the sisters because Carolyn, who was lesbian, had expressed support for the Stonewall riots and considered queer rights to be the logical next step in the progression that included Black civil rights and women's rights. Aretha would later become a vocal queer ally, but in 1969 this was a step too far for her.

Aretha did soften on Carolyn when her second solo album, Chain Reaction, came out, and she praised it privately:

[Excerpt: Carolyn Franklin, "Chain Reaction"]

But she refused to talk to the press about her sister's new record. This time it was because of more scandal in her private life, which by this time had made the press. Charles Cooke, Sam Cooke's brother, had come round to visit her at her home when her ex-husband had turned up, acting aggressive. Cooke had tried to protect Aretha, who was seven months pregnant at the time, and White shot him. Thankfully, Cooke survived, but Franklin was horrified by the publicity.

All of this happened in a short period from spring 1969 through early 1970, during which time she was also recording the albums Spirit in the Dark and Young, Gifted, and Black, the latter of which is often considered her greatest studio album by people who don't think it's Lady Soul. Both albums, like everything Aretha recorded in these first few years at Atlantic, are great, but they're not coherent artistic statements. 

As Jerry Wexler said "When you look back and see what are now considered the great Aretha Franklin albums of the late sixties and early seventies, they really aren’t albums at all. They’re compilations of singles. There was never any organizational principle. We just threw ’em together... For example, you could interchange the tunes on Spirit in the Dark with those on Young, Gifted, and Black. Mix and match as you please."

It was in her live shows that she was making artistic statements, shows that were structured with peaks and troughs, and that had a throughline. And so it makes sense that her two greatest albums of the early seventies are two very different live albums.

The first of these came about almost by accident. Ruth Bowen was organising a tour for Franklin and Curtis, and realised there was an uncomfortable gap in California that needed filling. She persuaded Bill Graham to book them into the Fillmore West for three nights, as both a way to plug the hole and possibly a way to bring Aretha to greater prominence with the hippie market. But Graham would only pay five thousand dollars in total for the three nights, and the normal fee for Franklin and Curtis would be five thousand dollars a night.

Franklin wouldn't budge on her fee -- she didn't want to play the Fillmore at all, seeing it as not her audience -- but Bowen thought this was important. She eventually got Ahmet Ertegun to agree to pay an extra five thousand dollars in tour support from the label, because Ertegun was well aware of the importance of the hippie market. But that still wasn't enough.

But then Jerry Wexler had an idea. They could put up the full ten thousand dollars difference, and use the shows to record a live album by Aretha. And why not record a King Curtis live album while they were at it? Almost as soon as he had the idea he regretted it -- in his words he "considered the musical tastes of the flower children infantile" and had no time for people who liked Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, thinking such people could never appreciate Franklin's music, but by that point the agreement had already been made.

Curtis put together the best possible live band he could for the tour. He used his regular Kingpins guitarist Cornell Dupree and drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, but rather than Chuck Rainey, who was his second-call bass player, he got in Jerry Jemmott, his first-call player, who normally only did studio work but made an exception for this special tour. They brought in vocal group The Sweethearts of Soul, as the Sweet Inspirations were no longer available for Aretha's live shows; the Memphis Horns who had played on so many great Stax records; and on keyboards was Billy Preston, who had recently become a minor star in his own right after performing with the Beatles, but who had originally trained with James Cleveland, the gospel musician who had also been Aretha's mentor.

And at the shows, Ray Charles also turned up, just to listen to the music, but Aretha dragged him out on stage for a surprise duet on her "Spirit in the Dark":

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, "Spirit in the Dark"]

King Curtis' set was a mixture of soul classics, both his own like "Memphis Soul Stew" and others like "Knock on Wood", and songs that were designed to appeal to the hippie crowd. The set was largely instrumental, but he had Preston sing vocals on "My Sweet Lord", the George Harrison song that Preston had played on and just released as his own single:

[Excerpt: King Curtis and Billy Preston, "My Sweet Lord"]

They also did instrumental versions of "A Whiter Shade of Pale", and a song that had just come out by a band of former session players that Atlantic Records had signed after Dusty Springfield had recommended them:

[Excerpt: King Curtis and the Kingpins, "Whole Lotta Love"]

Franklin's set was similarly geared towards the white rock audience, with many of her biggest hits missing in favour of funked-up or gospel versions of "Eleanor Rigby", "The Long and Winding Road", "Bridge Over Troubled Water", Bread's "Make it With You", and Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With":

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin and King Curtis, "Love the One You're With"]

That song, incidentally, took its title from something Billy Preston had said to Stills.

Both Curtis and Franklin's live albums are regularly ranked among the greatest live albums in soul music history, only matched perhaps by James Brown's Live at the Apollo, Otis Redding's Live in Europe and Sam Cooke's Live at the Harlem Square Club. There's a four-CD box set of the complete recordings which is *well* worth tracking down (and from which I took the recordings I just excerpted, rather than the original releases).

On the last night, the last song was one she hadn't done in the previous shows, a version of Diana Ross' first solo hit "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)", presumably chosen once again in a spirit of rivalry. That song was also used for band intros, and she said this when talking about Curtis:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin and King Curtis, "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)"]

Sadly, that was not to be. Rather than performing with Franklin for "many years to come", only a week after the release of the second album from the shows, King Curtis' one, Curtis was dead.

He'd spent the time between the shows and the albums' release a few months later productively and as in-demand as ever, playing on everything from the theme to Soul Train to John Lennon's forthcoming album, Imagine, on which he played on two tracks, produced by Phil Spector, with whom Curtis had worked before Spector became famous:

[Excerpt: John Lennon, "It's So Hard"]

Aretha had toured Europe again, this time with the Kingpins backing her, and while they were there Curtis had cut another live album, this time backing Champion Jack Dupree, who was playing on the same bill on some shows and got the Kingpins to back him. He played a one-off gig with his close friends Delaney Bramlett and Duane Allman, and started recording his next solo album, Everybody's Talkin', engineered by his friend Gene Paul, Les Paul's son, and he'd just bought a new mansion just off Central Park, he was earning so much money.

But the air conditioning was causing problems with the electrics in the house, causing the circuit breaker to go off.  On August the thirteenth 1971, King Curtis went out onto the street -- his house had two doors, and the easiest way to get to the circuit breaker to sort the problem out was to exit one door and enter the other. He was carrying a torch. A man named Juan Montanez was stood in the other doorway, arguing with a woman. Curtis asked him to move. Montanez pretended not to speak English and smirked. Curtis tried to intimidate him, using his size to try to get the man to move. Montanez continued smirking and pretending not to understand English. Curtis got so irate he ended up smashing the torch over Montanez's head, at which point Montanez pulled out a knife and stabbed Curtis. The wound proved fatal -- though before he collapsed Curtis managed to pull the knife from his assailant's hand and stab him back. It didn't kill Montanez, but it did mean that the police found him when he turned up wounded in the hospital.

Aretha was distraught. Bernard Purdie, who became her bandleader after that, said “It was a sad, sad time. And the strange part is that Aretha didn't even want his name mentioned; it was like she couldn't take the sadness. If someone happened to say anything about King, she went into her shell. I understood. She couldn't handle it. When Aretha was around, it was better to act like it had never happened.”

Franklin immediately went round to Curtis' house to look after his girlfriend, and stayed with her for several days, helping out and buying her dress for the funeral. 

Curtis' funeral was a mixture of the secular and the sacred, mourning and Black liberation. It was officiated by CL Franklin and eulogies were given by Cecil Franklin, himself now a Baptist minister at his father's church, and Jesse Jackson. Almost every star of Black music who could make it was in attendance, including the Isley Brothers, Brook Benton, and Dizzy Gillespie. The Kingpins played an hour long version of "Soul Serenade" while people entered and took their seats,  Stevie Wonder moved everyone to tears by singing a version of "Abraham, Martin, and John" which included a new extra verse starting "Has anybody here seen my old friend King Curtis?", and Aretha closed the service by singing the gospel song "Never Grow Old", which had been the first single she had ever released, when she was fourteen.

And it would be to gospel she would turn for what would be her own greatest artistic statement a few months later:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Amazing Grace"]

It was the perfect time for Aretha to go back to her gospel roots, because in the years since she had turned to secular music, secular music had turned towards gospel, largely thanks to her old mentor James Cleveland.

After Cleveland had stopped working for Rev Franklin, he had gone on to become one of the most important people in gospel music, both as a musician himself and as a talent scout for Savoy Records, who by this time were the biggest label in Black gospel.  He had recorded a string of successful records, had mentored many musicians, and had become the single most important figure in the music since Thomas Dorsey, changing the style of the music completely by introducing massed choirs.

These days the standard image of a gospel performance in the popular imaginary is a group of twenty to forty people, in robes, singing together, but up until the mid-sixties that was almost unknown in gospel music. We always say there's no first anything here, and I'm sure there are earlier examples, but it's generally considered that the first truly important gospel choir was Cleveland's "Angelic Choir":

[Excerpt: James Cleveland and the Angelic Choir, "I Stood on the Banks of Jordan"]

Before Cleveland, Black gospel music in America was small vocal groups like the Swan Silvertones or the Soul Stirrers, or solo performers like Rosetta Tharpe or Mahalia Jackson. Cleveland, a rigorous taskmaster, taught his vocalists to enunciate clearly and stay on pitch perfectly, so they could sing in unison in huge groups without the music turning into a mushy mess. The results revolutionised gospel music, especially after he had formed an organisation called the Gospel Music Workshop of America to promote that choir sound and encourage other similar choirs to form.

And then in 1967, Edwin Hawkins formed a fifty-piece choir in the Cleveland style, and recorded an album in his local church to use as a fundraiser to get the choir to a national competition. That album got picked up by the San Francisco underground radio station KSAN, and was reissued by Buddah records, a label that was mostly best known for putting out records like "Yummy Yummy Yummy" by Ohio Express and "Simon Says" by the 1910 Fruitgum Company. The single from it became a worldwide smash, becoming one of the few gospel singles to make the pop top ten:

[Excerpt: The Edwin Hawkins Singers, "Oh Happy Day"]

That song opened the floodgates for a whole lot of secular musicians to start using gospel styles in their work -- though mostly the older gospel styles of those earlier groups. The Beatles' "Let It Be" had a gospel influence, as did Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water". George Harrison always said his "My Sweet Lord" was influenced by "Oh Happy Day" (though of course it's actually closer to "He's So Fine" by the Chiffons).

And there were many more attempts to meld rock music and gospel. There was Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky":

[Excerpt: Norman Greenbaum, "Spirit in the Sky"]

There was Billy Preston's “That's The Way God Planned It”, backed by a supergroup of George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Ginger Baker, with Doris Troy and Madeleine Bell on backing vocals

[Excerpt: Billy Preston, “That's The Way God Planned It”]

There were the rock musicals Jesus Christ, Superstar and Godspell, and there were all sorts of weird attempts to jump on the bandwagon, like the Motown compilation Rock Gospel: The Key to the Kingdom, which as well as tracks by the Jackson Five, The Supremes, and Marvin Gaye, also contained this:

[Excerpt: Stoney and Meatloaf, "I'd Love to be as Heavy as Jesus"]

Yes, that is Meat Loaf, several years before his career took off, singing a Motown song about how he'd love to be as heavy as Jesus.

This meant that by early 1972, the idea of a secular artist recording religious music was, rather than a novelty, completely in the zeitgeist, to the point that around the same time Franklin recorded her album, the song she chose as a title track, "Amazing Grace" was a worldwide hit single for the Pipes and Drums of the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard:

[Excerpt: the Pipes and Drums of the Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard, "Amazing Grace"]

The song "Amazing Grace" has a disturbing history. The words were written by John Newton, a man who had been pressganged into working on ships, serving in involuntary servitude, but had then himself voluntarily gone on to work on ships transporting enslaved people from Africa for many years. After a life-threatening storm, he had a deep religious experience and immediately became an ardent Christian -- but carried on for years more taking part in the most evil activity imaginable. He did give up swearing though.

When he was thirty he became too ill to sail, though he continued to invest his money in slave ships, but slowly his conscience nagged at him, and by the time he was sixty he became an ardent abolitionist, and was one of the people whose campaigning eventually led to the end of the slave trade.

"Amazing Grace" was written between those two points, and so there's an ambiguity to its intended meaning. The song was picked up by many marginalised groups though, including enslaved people, and usually sung set to an American folk tune (Newton didn't publish any music with it, and the words are in common metre which meant it could be sung to many folk tunes -- it fits "House of the Rising Sun" perfectly, for example). 

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Amazing Grace"]

There's some confusion as to whose idea it was to do the album -- Franklin always said it was hers, while Wexler also always claimed the credit, and both are listed as coproducers with Mardin, the first time Franklin got an official co-production credit on one of her records. The album was recorded during two actual church services -- she insisted that it be recorded as part of a proper religious service -- and featured Franklin's normal rhythm section, plus James Cleveland's choir, with Cleveland on piano for most of it.

The material was largely the gospel of Franklin's youth -- songs like the title track, "Mary Don't You Weep", "How I Got Over", written by Franklin's de facto stepmother the great gospel singer Clara Ward, who sat in the front row, and "Precious Memories", which she sang as a duet with Cleveland:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin and James Cleveland, "Precious Memories"]

But she also included moments of the new gospel-influenced popular music, like Marvin Gaye's "Wholy Holy", George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord", and, interpolated into "Take My Hand Precious Lord", "You've Got a Friend", by Carole King who had earlier written "Natural Woman" for her:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin and the James Cleveland Choir, "Take My Hand Precious Lord/You've Got a Friend"]

Two weeks after the performances that made up the Amazing Grace album, Mahalia Jackson died, and Aretha sang "Take My Hand Precious Lord" at her funeral.

The Amazing Grace performances were also filmed, and you can see Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts in the crowd, which is otherwise made up of regular congregants and friends of the Franklins. Sadly, technical issues meant that the film went unreleased at the time, and when those were solved forty years later, Franklin sued to keep the film unreleased. It only got a release after her death, but it's a stunning piece of work which everyone should watch.

The album, which the label thought they were taking a chance on as a possible commercial failure, made the top ten on the album charts, and eventually went double platinum, becoming both the best-selling album of Franklin's career and the best selling live gospel album by anyone ever. It's often considered the greatest gospel album of all time, and Franklin's crowning artistic achievement.

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Climbing Higher Mountains"]

That was the peak of Franklin's artistic and commercial success. Two months after the Amazing Grace recordings, she had her thirtieth birthday party, hosting activists like Betty Shabazz and musicians like Cannonball Adderley and Quincy Jones. 

Jones was going to be the producer of her next album. Counting the live albums, the team of Wexler, Mardin, and Dowd had, together or separately, produced ten albums for her in five years, and she wanted to try something different. In particular, she was sick of those three getting all the credit for productions she felt -- with some justification -- she had contributed as much to as them.

But she was also at least half-aware of a truism in music which is that great singers rarely make great producers. A record producer has to be able to be dispassionate, to step back and listen to every element objectively, whereas a great singer has to put all their passion into the performance. So she looked around for other collaborators -- with Atlantic's blessing -- and chose Jones.

On paper, the combination made a lot of sense. Quincy Jones, as it turned out, was yet to have the career for which he is now best known, and had not yet rocketed to the superstar level at which he remains. But he had already produced and arranged classic records for Ray Charles, Betty Carter, Peggy Lee, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Little Richard and Billy Preston, and a string of early-sixties hits for Lesley Gore. 

He should have been a perfect collaborator for Franklin -- someone who knew great voices and had a foot in the jazz and crooner world that Franklin loved and one in the modern R&B world. But as it turns out, nobody was happy with the album that resulted. The one song everyone agrees is worthwhile on it is "Angel", written by Aretha's sister Carolyn, which would be the only song Aretha would sing in every single full concert for the rest of her career:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Angel"]

The album is a bit of a mess, which can't decide if it wants to be an album of jazz covers of songs from musicals or modern R&B, and succeeds at neither. It only made number thirty on the charts.

Wexler said "Carolyn saved Aretha’s ass on that record. If it weren’t for ‘Angel,’ the album would have been a total wash. Even with ‘Angel,’ the album was still seen as a flop. It slowed down Aretha’s momentum. Careers have trajectories, and, ever since joining Atlantic, Aretha’s was up, up, up... the issuance of that album represents the end of her golden age on Atlantic.”

Another blow came in January 1973 when Clara Ward, her father's partner and the singer who influenced her more than anyone, died. After her death, Ward's sister found a notebook containing her thoughts on the people in her life. Of Aretha, she wrote  “My baby Aretha, she doesn’t know how good she is. Doubts self.”

She returned to working with Wexler, Dowd, and Mardin for an album called Let Me Into Your Life. That album has its admirers, and did better than the album with Jones, but it wasn't the return to form she needed.

From this point on, she would have hits, and she would make great records, but the great records were rarely the same as the hits. Her next two albums, again with Wexler, had no top forty singles at all, though they did adequately on the R&B charts. She switched producers, working with Curtis Mayfield on an album of songs from a film he'd been involved in, Sparkle, which was more successful and the best thing she did in the latter half of the seventies. The rest of her albums from that period are largely best forgotten.

She rejected a whole series of songs that became hits for other people, including the people that Franklin thought of as bitter rivals. Most of Natalie Cole's early hits were songs that had been submitted to Franklin and she'd rejected. Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards of Chic came to her with backing tracks for songs like "Upside Down" which they later gave to Diana Ross, who had hits with them. Ahmet Ertegun tried to get her produced by Barry Gibb, but she turned him down -- he went off to write and produce Barbra Streisand's Guilty album, which contained the massive hit "Woman in Love".

Eventually, Franklin decided to change record labels. Clive Davis at Arista had revitalised the career of another old rival, getting Barry Manilow to produce an album for Dionne Warwick which had got her back in the top ten:

[Excerpt: Dionne Warwick, "I'll Never Love This Way Again"]

Maybe he'd do the same for her? She signed with Arista.

But then, on June the tenth, 1979, her father was shot twice in his home. As far as anyone knows it was a burglary gone wrong, though he had also made many enemies over the years. He survived, but he was in a coma, and would be for five years, until he finally died.  Another important man in her life -- the *most* important man in her life -- had died a violent death, even if his body was still alive for the moment.

Aretha moved back to the family home in Detroit to take care of him, and initially announced that her career was on hold, but soon started working again in order to pay for his medical bills. And she got the biggest profile she'd had for many years when she appeared in the film The Blues Brothers, singing her old hit "Think":

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin and the Blues Brothers band, "Think!"]

The Blues Brothers has received some criticism for its attitude towards Black music, with some going so far as to call it uncomfortably close to minstrelsy at times. But what's undeniable is that it provided a massive career boost for the Black artists featured in the film, all of whom were in lulls in their career and credited the film for their renewed success -- as well as Franklin there were John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, and James Brown, who in his appearance sang the gospel song "The Old Landmark", which Franklin had performed on Amazing Grace, and Brown too was backed by James Cleveland and his choir:

[Excerpt: James Brown and the James Cleveland Choir, "The Old Landmark"]

Her career started to rise again. Clive Davis didn't put her with Barry Manilow as she'd hoped, but he did get Luther Vandross to produce her, and she started having minor hits, and even major hits after she and Vandross stopped working together.

But these records were, largely, passionless. Whereas her old recordings had been made in Atlantic's studios, now she wouldn't leave Detroit for any length of time -- she wanted to be close to her father, and by the time he died she'd also developed a fear of flying that meant she would only travel by car or bus. For the rest of her life she didn't travel anywhere she couldn't be driven to, and rarely left Detroit at all.

This meant that increasingly, rather than record in the same room as the musicians and collaborate with them, working out ideas for arrangements and bouncing off each other, producers would record backing tracks for her in LA or New York, and bring them to Detroit, where she would cut a single vocal take on top of the pre-recorded track, rarely letting any producer criticise her.

But she had massive commercial success in the latter part of the eighties thanks to Davis' marketing skills, and a series of hit singles pairing her with other artists, like the Eurythmics:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin and the Eurythmics, "Sisters are Doing it For Themselves"]

And George Michael, whose duet with her became her second and final number one single:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin and George Michael, "I Knew You Were Waiting For Me"]

As Jerry Wexler said “If you put Aretha’s Atlantic material next to her Arista stuff, there’s no comparison. Artistically, Atlantic wins, hands down. But if you count up the money we made with Aretha as opposed to Clive, Clive is the clear winner. What makes his victory even more remarkable is the fact that he had to market her when she was clearly past her prime. And yet he still found a way to present and package her in products that sold big-time. Incredible.”

But eventually the duet formula started to dry up -- a duet with Elton John was only a minor hit, while collaborations with James Brown and Whitney Houston didn't make the top forty. She didn't record for much of the nineties, and then from 1998 through 2014 released a handful of albums at lengthy intervals, most of them the kind of record that gets called either "a return to form" or "a brave attempt to update her style to new fashions", all of them ultimately footnotes to her stunning body of work from the sixties and seventies.

But that didn't mean she wasn't still the great Aretha Franklin, and even though she no longer toured much, she would make special appearances. In the mid-nineties she honoured Lionel Hampton at the Kennedy Centre, saying “I have a rule about supporting Republicans, and Lionel was a lifelong Republican. But when it came to Hamp, I broke my rule, because my dad loved him. We all did. Hamp had worshipped at New Bethel, and during a concert in Detroit, where Daddy had taken me and Erma, Hamp asked us onstage to do a little dance while he played behind us. Outside of church, that was probably my first time on a public stage. So I had to break party lines and honor the great Lionel Hampton and forgive the fact that he voted for the wrong party.”

She also performed at Bill Clinton's inauguration, and other similar events. And she was still capable on occasion of performances that nobody else could have given. At the Grammy Awards in 1998, Aretha was only scheduled to perform "Respect", but then in her dressing room after her performance, the show's producer came to her, frantic. Pavarotti had been meant to perform "Nessun Dorma", but he'd been taken ill. They had an orchestra and twenty-piece choir there, waiting, and they needed to perform it in twenty minutes. She knew the piece of course, but the arrangement wasn't in her key. Could she possibly step in for Pavarotti?

Of course she could. She was Aretha Franklin:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Nessun Dorma"]

And in the last couple of decades of her life, that's essentially what she did -- she'd show up at Rosa Parks' funeral, or at the Kennedy Centre to honour Carole King, or at Barack Obama's inauguration and give an amazing performance that reminded everyone that she was still the queen of soul. She'd do occasional short tours of the biggest venues in the US, travelling only by bus. And then she'd go back to her home life, and to being an important part of Detroit's Black community.

She died in 2018 of cancer, the same disease that had earlier taken both her sisters. She'd been ill for many years, but had wanted the details kept out of the newspapers and had carried on performing, preserving her privacy to the end.

In the end, her career is probably best summed up by her old producer Jerry Wexler, who, like almost everyone in the story, predeceased her. He said (and I'm going to elide a couple of swear words here, because Wexler used language that would get me an adult rating) “You may not like all the stuff she did to stay popular. You may be bothered by cracks in her voice and the lapses of taste when it came to material. There was a lot of cheesy [shit]. But in the end, you got to give it to her. The woman is [fuckin’] fierce. In a half dozen different epochs of music, she managed to stay in the middle of the mix. She isn’t a Miles Davis, who kept breaking through barriers and never stopped innovating. And she isn’t a Duke Ellington or a Marvin Gaye, who never stopped writing brilliantly. She chiefly became an interpreter and an adapter of very diverse material. She studied the Billboard charts and, for over forty years, found a way to stay on those charts. That’s one hell of an accomplishment.”

It is indeed. 

But actually, no, there's a simpler way to sum her up, and that is just to say -- she was Aretha.

Episode 167: “The Weight” by The Band

Mon, 14 Aug 2023
Episode one hundred and sixty-seven of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “The Weight" by the Band, the Basement Tapes, and the continuing controversy over Dylan going electric. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.

Patreon backers also have a half-hour bonus episode available, on "S.F. Sorrow is Born" by the Pretty Things.

Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/

Also, a one-time request here -- Shawn Taylor, who runs the Facebook group for the podcast and is an old and dear friend of mine, has stage-three lung cancer. I will be hugely grateful to anyone who donates to the GoFundMe for her treatment.


At one point I say "when Robertson and Helm travelled to the Brill Building". I meant "when Hawkins and Helm". This is fixed in the transcript but not the recording.


There are three Mixcloud mixes this time. As there are so many songs by Bob Dylan and the Band excerpted, and Mixcloud won’t allow more than four songs by the same artist in any mix, I’ve had to post the songs not in quite the same order in which they appear in the podcast. But the mixes are here — one, two, three.

I’ve used these books for all the episodes involving Dylan:

Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties by Elijah Wald, which is recommended, as all Wald’s books are.

Bob Dylan: All The Songs by Phillipe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon is a song-by-song look at every song Dylan ever wrote, as is Revolution in the Air, by Clinton Heylin.

Heylin also wrote the most comprehensive and accurate biography of Dylan, Behind the Shades.

I’ve also used Robert Shelton’s No Direction Home, which is less accurate, but which is written by someone who knew Dylan.

Chronicles Volume 1 by Bob Dylan is a partial, highly inaccurate, but thoroughly readable autobiography.

Information on Tiny Tim comes from Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life of Tiny Tim by Justin Martell.

Information on John Cage comes from The Roaring Silence by David Revill

Information on Woodstock comes from Small Town Talk by Barney Hoskyns.

For material on the Basement Tapes, I've used Million Dollar Bash by Sid Griffin.

And for the Band, I've used This Wheel's on Fire by Levon Helm with Stephen DavisTestimony by Robbie Robertson, The Band by Craig Harris and Levon by Sandra B Tooze.

I've also referred to the documentaries No Direction Home and Once Were Brothers.

The complete Basement Tapes can be found on this multi-disc box set, while this double-CD version has the best material from the sessions. All the surviving live recordings by Dylan and the Hawks from 1966 are on this box set.

There are various deluxe versions of Music From Big Pink, but still the best way to get the original album is in this twofer CD with the Band's second album.


Just a brief note before I start – literally while I was in the middle of recording this episode, it was announced that Robbie Robertson had died today, aged eighty. Obviously I've not had time to alter the rest of the episode – half of which had already been edited – with that in mind, though I don't believe I say anything disrespectful to his memory. My condolences to those who loved him – he was a huge talent and will be missed.

There are people in the world who question the function of criticism. Those people argue that criticism is in many ways parasitic. If critics knew what they were talking about, so the argument goes, they would create themselves, rather than talk about other people's creation. It's a variant of the "those who can't, teach" cliche.

And to an extent it's true. Certainly in the world of rock music, which we're talking about in this podcast, most critics are quite staggeringly ignorant of the things they're talking about. Most criticism is ephemeral, published in newspapers, magazines, blogs and podcasts, and forgotten as soon as it has been consumed -- and consumed is the word .

But sometimes, just sometimes, a critic will have an effect on the world that is at least as important as that of any of the artists they criticise. One such critic was John Ruskin.

Ruskin was one of the preeminent critics of visual art in the Victorian era, particularly specialising in painting and architecture, and he passionately advocated for a form of art that would be truthful, plain, and honest. To Ruskin's mind, many artists of the past, and of his time, drew and painted, not what they saw with their own eyes, but what other people expected them to paint. They replaced true observation of nature with the regurgitation of ever-more-mannered and formalised cliches. His attacks on many great artists were, in essence, the same critiques that are currently brought against AI art apps -- they're just recycling and plagiarising what other people had already done, not seeing with their own eyes and creating from their own vision.

Ruskin was an artist himself, but never received much acclaim for his own work. Rather, he advocated for the works of others, like Turner and the pre-Raphaelite school -- the latter of whom were influenced by Ruskin, even as he admired them for seeing with their own vision rather than just repeating influences from others.

But those weren't the only people Ruskin influenced. Because any critical project, properly understood, becomes about more than just the art -- as if art is just anything. Ruskin, for example, studied geology, because if you're going to talk about how people should paint landscapes and what those landscapes look like, you need to understand what landscapes really do look like, which means understanding their formation. He understood that art of the kind he wanted could only be produced by certain types of people, and so society had to be organised in a way to produce such people. Some types of societal organisation lead to some kinds of thinking and creation, and to properly, honestly, understand one branch of human thought means at least to attempt to understand all of them. Opinions about art have moral consequences, and morality has political and economic consequences. The inevitable endpoint of any theory of art is, ultimately, a theory of society.

And Ruskin had a theory of society, and social organisation. Ruskin's views are too complex to summarise here, but they were a kind of anarcho-primitivist collectivism. He believed that wealth was evil, and that the classical liberal economics of people like Mill was fundamentally anti-human, that the division of labour alienated people from their work. In Ruskin's ideal world, people would gather in communities no bigger than villages, and work as craftspeople, working with nature rather than trying to bend nature to their will. They would be collectives, with none richer or poorer than any other, and working the land without modern technology.

in the first half of the twentieth century, in particular, Ruskin's influence was *everywhere*. His writings on art inspired the Impressionist movement, but his political and economic ideas were the most influential, right across the political spectrum. Ruskin's ideas were closest to Christian socialism, and he did indeed inspire many socialist parties -- most of the founders of Britain's Labour Party were admirers of Ruskin and influenced by his ideas, particularly his opposition to the free market. But he inspired many other people -- Gandhi talked about the profound influence that Ruskin had on him, saying in his autobiography that he got three lessons from Ruskin's Unto This Last:


1) the good of the individual is contained in the good of all.

2) a lawyer's work has the same value as the barber's in as much as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work.

3) a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living.

The first of these I knew. The second I had dimly realized. The third had never occurred to me. Unto This Last made it clear as daylight for me that the second and third were contained in the first. I arose with the dawn, ready to reduce these principles to practice"

Gandhi translated and paraphrased Unto this Last into Gujurati and called the resulting book Sarvodaya (meaning "uplifting all" or "the welfare of all") which he later took as the name of his own political philosophy. But Ruskin also had a more pernicious influence -- it was said in 1930s Germany that he and his friend Thomas Carlyle were "the first National Socialists" -- there's no evidence I know of that Hitler ever read Ruskin, but a *lot* of Nazi rhetoric is implicit in Ruskin's writing, particularly in his opposition to progress (he even opposed the bicycle as being too much inhuman interference with nature), just as much as more admirable philosophies, and he was so widely read in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that there's barely a political movement anywhere that didn't bear his fingerprints.

But of course, our focus here is on music. And Ruskin had an influence on that, too.

We've talked in several episodes, most recently the one on the Velvet Underground, about John Cage's piece 4'33. What I didn't mention in any of the discussions of that piece -- because I was saving it for here -- is that that piece was premiered at a small concert hall in upstate New York. The hall, the Maverick Concert Hall, was owned and run by the Maverick arts and crafts collective -- a collective that were so called because they were the *second* Ruskinite arts colony in the area, having split off from the Byrdcliffe colony after a dispute between its three founders, all of whom were disciples of Ruskin, and all of whom disagreed violently about how to implement Ruskin's ideas of pacifist all-for-one and one-for-all community.

These arts colonies, and others that grew up around them like the Arts Students League were the thriving centre of a Bohemian community -- close enough to New York that you could get there if you needed to, far enough away that you could live out your pastoral fantasies, and artists of all types flocked there -- Pete Seeger met his wife there, and his father-in-law had been one of the stonemasons who helped build the Maverick concert hall. Dozens of artists in all sorts of areas, from Aaron Copland to Edward G Robinson, spent time in these communities, as did Cage.

Of course, while these arts and crafts communities had a reputation for Bohemianism and artistic extremism, even radical utopian artists have their limits, and legend has it that the premiere of 4'33 was met with horror and derision, and eventually led to one artist in the audience standing up and calling on the residents of the town around which these artistic colonies had agglomerated:

“Good people of Woodstock, let’s drive these people out of town.”

[Excerpt: The Band, "The Weight"]

Ronnie Hawkins was almost born to make music. We heard back in the episode on "Suzie Q" in 2019 about his family and their ties to music. Ronnie's uncle Del was, according to most of the sources on the family, a member of the Sons of the Pioneers -- though as I point out in that episode, his name isn't on any of the official lists of group members, but he might well have performed with them at some point in the early years of the group. And he was definitely a country music bass player, even if he *wasn't* in the most popular country and western group of the thirties and forties. And Del had had two sons, Jerry, who made some minor rockabilly records:

[Excerpt: Jerry Hawkins, "Swing, Daddy, Swing"]

And Del junior, who as we heard in the "Susie Q" episode became known as Dale Hawkins and made one of the most important rock records of the fifties:

[Excerpt: Dale Hawkins, "Susie Q"]

Ronnie Hawkins was around the same age as his cousins, and was in awe of his country-music star uncle. Hawkins later remembered that after his uncle moved to Califormia to become a star “He’d come home for a week or two, driving a brand new Cadillac and wearing brand new clothes and I knew that’s what I wanted to be." Though he also remembered “He spent every penny he made on whiskey, and he was divorced because he was running around with all sorts of women. His wife left Arkansas and went to Louisiana.”

Hawkins knew that he wanted to be a music star like his uncle, and he started performing at local fairs and other events from the age of eleven, including one performance where he substituted for Hank Williams -- Williams was so drunk that day he couldn't perform, and so his backing band asked volunteers from the audience to get up and sing with them, and Hawkins sang Burl Ives and minstrel-show songs with the band. He said later “Even back then I knew that every important white cat—Al Jolson, Stephen Foster—they all did it by copying blacks. Even Hank Williams learned all the stuff he had from those black cats in Alabama. Elvis Presley copied black music; that’s all that Elvis did.”

As well as being a performer from an early age, though, Hawkins was also an entrepreneur with an eye for how to make money. From the age of fourteen he started running liquor -- not moonshine, he would always point out, but something far safer. He lived only a few miles from the border between Missouri and Arkansas, and alcohol and tobacco were about half the price in Missouri that they were in Arkansas, so he'd drive across the border, load up on whisky and cigarettes, and drive back and sell them at a profit, which he then used to buy shares in several nightclubs, which he and his bands would perform in in later years.

Like every man of his generation, Hawkins had to do six months in the Army, and it was there that he joined his first ever full-time band, the Blackhawks -- so called because his name was Hawkins, and the rest of the group were Black, though Hawkins was white. They got together when the other four members were performing at a club in the area where Hawkins was stationed, and he was so impressed with their music that he jumped on stage and started singing with them. He said later “It sounded like something between the blues and rockabilly. It sort of leaned in both directions at the same time, me being a hayseed and those guys playing a lot funkier." As he put it "I wanted to sound like Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland but it came out sounding like Ernest Tubb.”

Word got around about the Blackhawks, both that they were a great-sounding rock and roll band and that they were an integrated band at a time when that was extremely unpopular in the southern states, and when Hawkins was discharged from the Army he got a call from Sam Phillips at Sun Records. According to Hawkins a group of the regular Sun session musicians were planning on forming a band, and he was asked to front the band for a hundred dollars a week, but by the time he got there the band had fallen apart. This doesn't precisely line up with anything else I know about Sun, though it perhaps makes sense if Hawkins was being asked to front the band who had variously backed Billy Lee Riley and Jerry Lee Lewis after one of Riley's occasional threats to leave the label.

More likely though, he told everyone he knew that he had a deal with Sun but Phillips was unimpressed with the demos he cut there, and Hawkins made up the story to stop himself losing face. One of the session players for Sun, though, Luke Paulman, who played in Conway Twitty's band among others, *was* impressed with Hawkins though, and suggested that they form a band together with Paulman's bass player brother George and piano-playing cousin Pop Jones.

The Paulman brothers and Jones also came from Arkansas, but they specifically came from Helena, Arkansas, the town from which King Biscuit Time was broadcast.

King Biscuit Time was the most important blues radio show in the US at that time -- a short lunchtime programme which featured live performances from a house band which varied over the years, but which in the 1940s had been led by Sonny Boy Williamson II, and featured Robert Jr. Lockwood, Robert Johnson's stepson, on guiitar:

[Excerpt: Sonny Boy Williamson II "Eyesight to the Blind (King Biscuit Time)"]

The band also included a drummer, "Peck" Curtis, and that drummer was the biggest inspiration for a young white man from the town named Levon Helm. Helm had first been inspired to make music after seeing Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys play live when Helm was eight, and he had soon taken up first the harmonica, then the guitar, then the drums, becoming excellent at all of them. Even as a child he knew that he didn't want to be a farmer like his family, and that music was, as he put it, "the only way to get off that stinking tractor  and out of that one hundred and five degree heat.”

Sonny Boy Williamson and the King Biscuit Boys would perform in the open air in Marvell, Arkansas, where Helm was growing up, on Saturdays, and Helm watched them regularly as a small child, and became particularly interested in the drumming. “As good as the band sounded,” he said later “it seemed that [Peck] was definitely having the most fun. I locked into the drums at that point. Later, I heard Jack Nance, Conway Twitty’s drummer, and all the great drummers in Memphis—Jimmy Van Eaton, Al Jackson, and Willie Hall—the Chicago boys (Fred Belew and Clifton James) and the people at Sun Records and Vee-Jay, but most of my style was based on Peck and Sonny Boy—the Delta blues style with the shuffle. Through the years, I’ve quickened the pace to a more rock-and-roll meter and time frame, but it still bases itself back to Peck, Sonny Boy Williamson, and the King Biscuit Boys.”

Helm had played with another band that George Paulman had played in, and he was invited to join the fledgling band Hawkins was putting together, called for the moment the Sun Records Quartet. The group played some of the clubs Hawkins had business connections in, but they had other plans -- Conway Twitty had recently played Toronto, and had told Luke Paulman about how desperate the Canadians were for American rock and roll music. Twitty's agent Harold Kudlets booked the group in to a Toronto club, Le Coq D’Or, and soon the group were alternating between residencies in clubs in the Deep South, where they were just another rockabilly band, albeit one of the better ones, and in Canada, where they became the most popular band in Ontario, and became the nucleus of an entire musical scene -- the same scene from which, a few years later, people like Neil Young would emerge.

George Paulman didn't remain long in the group -- he was apparently getting drunk, and also he was a double-bass player, at a time when the electric bass was becoming the in thing. And this is the best place to mention this, but there are several discrepancies in the various accounts of which band members were in Hawkins' band at which times, and who played on what session. They all *broadly* follow the same lines, but none of them are fully reconcilable with each other, and nobody was paying enough attention to lineup shifts in a bar band between 1957 and 1964 to be absolutely certain who was right. I've tried to reconcile the various accounts as far as possible and make a coherent narrative, but some of the details of what follows may be wrong, though the broad strokes are correct.

For much of their first period in Ontario, the group had no bass player at all, relying on Jones' piano to fill in the bass parts, and on their first recording, a version of "Bo Diddley", they actually got the club's manager to play bass with them:

[Excerpt: Ronnie Hawkins, "Hey Bo Diddley"]

That is claimed to be the first rock and roll record made in Canada, though as everyone who has listened to this podcast knows, there's no first anything. It wasn't released as by the Sun Records Quartet though -- the band had presumably realised that that name would make them much less attractive to other labels, and so by this point the Sun Records Quartet had become Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks.

"Hey Bo Diddley" was released on a small Canadian label and didn't have any success, but the group carried on performing live, travelling back down to Arkansas for a while and getting a new bass player, Lefty Evans, who had been playing in the same pool of musicians as them, having been another Sun session player who had been in Conway Twitty's band, and had written Twitty's "Why Can't I Get Through to You":

[Excerpt: Conway Twitty, "Why Can't I Get Through to You"]

The band were now popular enough in Canada that they were starting to get heard of in America, and through Kudlets they got a contract with Joe Glaser, a Mafia-connected booking agent who booked them into gigs on the Jersey Shore. As Helm said “Ronnie Hawkins had molded us into the wildest, fiercest, speed-driven bar band in America," and the group were apparently getting larger audiences in New Jersey than Sammy Davis Jr was, even though they hadn't released any records in the US.

Or at least, they hadn't released any records in their own name in the US. There's a record on End Records by Rockin’ Ronald and the Rebels which is very strongly rumoured to have been the Hawks under another name, though Hawkins always denied that. Have a listen for yourself and see what you think:

[Excerpt: Rockin’ Ronald and the Rebels, "Kansas City"]

End Records, the label that was on, was one of the many record labels set up by George Goldner and distributed by Morris Levy, and when the group did release a record in their home country under their own name, it was on Levy's Roulette Records. An audition for Levy had been set up by Glaser's booking company, and Levy decided that given that Elvis was in the Army, there was a vacancy to be filled and Ronnie Hawkins might just fit the bill.

Hawkins signed a contract with Levy, and it doesn't sound like he had much choice in the matter. Helm asked him “How long did you have to sign for?” and Hawkins replied "Life with an option"

That said, unlike almost every other artist who interacted with Levy, Hawkins never had a bad word to say about him, at least in public, saying later “I don’t care what Morris was supposed to have done, he looked after me and he believed in me. I even lived with him in his million-dollar apartment on the Upper East Side."

The first single the group recorded for Roulette, a remake of Chuck Berry's "Thirty Days" retitled "Forty Days", didn't chart, but the follow-up, a version of Young Jessie's "Mary Lou", made number twenty-six on the charts:

[Excerpt: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, "Mary Lou"]

While that was a cover of a Young Jessie record, the songwriting credits read Hawkins and Magill -- Magill was a pseudonym used by Morris Levy.

Levy hoped to make Ronnie Hawkins into a really big star, but hit a snag. This was just the point where the payola scandal had hit and record companies were under criminal investigation for bribing DJs to play their records. This was the main method of promotion that Levy used, and this was so well known that Levy was, for a time, under more scrutiny than anyone. He couldn't risk paying anyone off, and so Hawkins' records didn't get the expected airplay.

The group went through some lineup changes, too, bringing in guitarist Fred Carter (with Luke Paulman moving to rhythm and soon leaving altogether)  from Hawkins' cousin Dale's band, and bass player Jimmy Evans. Some sources say that Jones quit around this time, too, though others say he was in the band for  a while longer, and they had two keyboards (the other keyboard being supplied by Stan Szelest. As well as recording Ronnie Hawkins singles, the new lineup of the group also recorded one single with Carter on lead vocals, "My Heart Cries":

[Excerpt: Fred Carter, "My Heart Cries"]

While the group were now playing more shows in the USA, they were still playing regularly in Canada, and they had developed a huge fanbase there. One of these was a teenage guitarist called Robbie Robertson, who had become fascinated with the band after playing a support slot for them, and had started hanging round, trying to ingratiate himself with the band in the hope of being allowed to join. As he was a teenager, Hawkins thought he might have his finger on the pulse of the youth market, and when Hawkins and Helm travelled to the Brill Building to hear new songs for consideration for their next album, they brought Robertson along to listen to them and give his opinion.

Robertson himself ended up contributing two songs to the album, titled Mr. Dynamo. According to Hawkins "we had a little time after the session, so I thought, Well, I’m just gonna put ’em down and see what happens. And they were released. Robbie was the songwriter for words, and Levon was good for arranging, making things fit in and all that stuff. He knew what to do, but he didn’t write anything."

The two songs in question were "Someone Like You" and "Hey Boba Lou":

[Excerpt: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, "Hey Boba Lou"]

While Robertson was the sole writer of the songs, they were credited to Robertson, Hawkins, and Magill -- Morris Levy. As Robertson told the story later, “It’s funny, when those songs came out and I got a copy of the album, it had another name on there besides my name for some writer like Morris Levy. So, I said to Ronnie, “There was nobody there writing these songs when I wrote these songs. Who is Morris Levy?” Ronnie just kinda tapped me on the head and said, “There are certain things about this business that you just let go and you don’t question.” That was one of my early music industry lessons right there"

Robertson desperately wanted to join the Hawks, but initially it was Robertson's bandmate Scott Cushnie who became the first Canadian to join the Hawks. But then when they were in Arkansas, Jimmy Evans decided he wasn't going to go back to Canada. So Hawkins called Robbie Robertson up and made him an offer. Robertson had to come down to Arkansas and get a couple of quick bass lessons from Helm (who could play pretty much every instrument to an acceptable standard, and so was by this point acting as the group's musical director, working out arrangements and leading them in rehearsals). Then Hawkins and Helm had to be elsewhere for a few weeks. If, when they got back, Robertson was good enough on bass, he had the job. If not, he didn't.

Robertson accepted, but he nearly didn't get the gig after all. The place Hawkins and Helm had to be was Britain, where they were going to be promoting their latest single on Boy Meets Girls, the Jack Good TV series with Marty Wilde, which featured guitarist Joe Brown in the backing band:

[Excerpt: Joe Brown, “Savage”]

This was the same series that Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent were regularly appearing on, and while they didn't appear on the episodes that Hawkins and Helm appeared on, they did appear on the episodes immediately before Hawkins and Helm's two appearances, and again a couple of weeks after, and were friendly with the musicians who did play with Hawkins and Helm, and apparently they all jammed together a few times.

Hawkins was impressed enough with Joe Brown -- who at the time was considered the best guitarist on the British scene -- that he invited Brown to become a Hawk. Presumably if Brown had taken him up on the offer, he would have taken the spot that ended up being Robertson's, but Brown turned him down -- a decision he apparently later regretted.

Robbie Robertson was now a Hawk, and he and Helm formed an immediate bond. As Helm much later put it, "It was me and Robbie against the world. Our mission, as we saw it, was to put together the best band in history".

As rockabilly was by this point passe, Levy tried converting Hawkins into a folk artist, to see if he could get some of the Kingston Trio's audience. He recorded a protest song, "The Ballad of Caryl Chessman", protesting the then-forthcoming execution of Chessman (one of only a handful of people to be executed in the US in recent decades for non-lethal offences), and he made an album of folk tunes, The Folk Ballads of Ronnie Hawkins, which largely consisted of solo acoustic recordings, plus a handful of left-over Hawks recordings from a year or so earlier.

That wasn't a success, but they also tried a follow-up, having Hawkins go country and do an album of Hank Williams songs, recorded in Nashville at Owen Bradley's Quonset hut. While many of the musicians on the album were Nashville A-Team players, Hawkins also insisted on having his own band members perform, much to the disgust of the producer, and so it's likely (not certain, because there seem to be various disagreements about what was recorded when) that that album features the first studio recordings with Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson playing together:

[Excerpt: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, "Your Cheatin' Heart"]

Other sources claim that the only Hawk allowed to play on the album sessions was Helm, and that the rest of the musicians on the album were Harold Bradley and Hank Garland on guitar, Owen Bradley and Floyd Cramer on piano, Bob Moore on bass, and the Anita Kerr singers. I tend to trust Helm's recollection that the Hawks played at least some of the instruments though, because the source claiming that also seems to confuse the Hank Williams and Folk Ballads albums, and because I don't hear two pianos on the album. On the other hand, that *does* sound like Floyd Cramer on piano, and the tik-tok bass sound you'd get from having Harold Bradley play a baritone guitar while Bob Moore played a bass. So my best guess is that these sessions were like the Elvis sessions around the same time and with several of the same musicians, where Elvis' own backing musicians played rhythm parts but left the prominent instruments to the A-team players.

Helm was singularly unimpressed with the experience of recording in Nashville. His strongest memory of the sessions was of another session going on in the same studio complex at the time -- Bobby "Blue" Bland was recording his classic single "Turn On Your Love Light", with the great drummer Jabo Starks on drums, and Helm was more interested in listening to that than he was in the music they were playing:

[Excerpt: Bobby "Blue" Bland, "Turn On Your Love Light"]

Incidentally, Helm talks about that recording being made "downstairs" from where the Hawks were recording, but also says that they were recording in Bradley's Quonset hut.  Now, my understanding here *could* be very wrong -- I've been unable to find a plan or schematic anywhere -- but my understanding is that the Quonset hut was a single-level structure, not a multi-level structure. BUT the original recording facilities run by the Bradley brothers were in Owen Bradley's basement, before they moved into the larger Quonset hut facility in the back, so it's possible that Bland was recording that in the old basement studio. If so, that won't be the last recording made in a basement we hear this episode...

Fred Carter decided during the Nashville sessions that he was going to leave the Hawks. As his son told the story:

"Dad had discovered the session musicians there. He had no idea that you could play and make a living playing in studios and sleep in your own bed every night. By that point in his life, he’d already been gone from home and constantly on the road and in the service playing music for ten years so that appealed to him greatly. And Levon asked him, he said, “If you’re gonna leave, Fred, I’d like you to get young Robbie over here up to speed on guitar”…[Robbie] got kind of aggravated with him—and Dad didn’t say this with any malice—but by the end of that week, or whatever it was, Robbie made some kind of comment about “One day I’m gonna cut you.” And Dad said, “Well, if that’s how you think about it, the lessons are over.” "

(For those who don't know, a musician "cutting" another one is playing better than them, so much better that the worse musician has to concede defeat. For the remainder of Carter's notice in the Hawks, he played with his back to Robertson, refusing to look at him.

Carter leaving the group caused some more shuffling of roles. For a while, Levon Helm -- who Hawkins always said was the best lead guitar player he ever worked with as well as the best drummer -- tried playing lead guitar while Robertson played rhythm and another member, Rebel Payne, played bass, but they couldn't find a drummer to replace Helm, who moved back onto the drums. Then they brought in Roy Buchanan, another guitarist who had been playing with Dale Hawkins, having started out playing with Johnny Otis' band. But Buchanan didn't fit with Hawkins' personality, and he quit after a few months, going off to record his own first solo record:

[Excerpt: Roy Buchanan, "Mule Train Stomp"]

Eventually they solved the lineup problem by having Robertson -- by this point an accomplished lead player --- move to lead guitar and bringing in a new rhythm player, another Canadian teenager named Rick Danko, who had originally been a lead player (and who also played mandolin and fiddle). Danko wasn't expected to stay on rhythm long though -- Rebel Payne was drinking a lot and missing being at home when he was out on the road, so Danko was brought in on the understanding that he was to learn Payne's bass parts and switch to bass when Payne quit. Helm and Robertson were unsure about Danko, and Robertson expressed that doubt, saying "He only knows four chords," to which Hawkins replied, "That's all right son. You can teach him four more the way we had to teach you."

He proved himself by sheer hard work. As Hawkins put it “He practiced so much that his arms swoll up. He was hurting.”

By the time Danko switched to bass, the group also had a baritone sax player, Jerry Penfound, which allowed the group to play more of the soul and R&B material that Helm and Robertson favoured, though Hawkins wasn't keen.

This new lineup of the group (which also had Stan Szelest on piano) recorded Hawkins' next album. This one was produced by Henry Glover, the great record producer, songwriter, and trumpet player who had played with Lucky Millinder, produced Wynonie Harris, Hank Ballard, and Moon Mullican, and wrote "Drowning in My Own Tears", "The Peppermint Twist", and "California Sun".

Glover was massively impressed with the band, especially Helm (with whom he would remain friends for the rest of his life) and set aside some studio time for them to cut some tracks without Hawkins, to be used as album filler, including a version of the Bobby "Blue" Bland song "Farther On Up the Road" with Helm on lead vocals:

[Excerpt: Levon Helm and the Hawks, "Farther On Up the Road"]

There were more changes on the way though. Stan Szelest was about to leave the band, and Jones had already left, so the group had no keyboard player. Hawkins had just the replacement for Szelest -- yet another Canadian teenager. This one was Richard Manuel, who played piano and sang in a band called The Rockin' Revols. Manuel was not the greatest piano player around -- he was an adequate player for simple rockabilly and R&B stuff, but hardly a virtuoso -- but he was an incredible singer, able to do a version of "Georgia on My Mind" which rivalled Ray Charles, and Hawkins had booked the Revols into his own small circuit of clubs around Arkanasas after being impressed with them on the same bill as the Hawks a couple of times.

Hawkins wanted someone with a good voice because he was increasingly taking a back seat in performances. Hawkins was the bandleader and frontman, but he'd often given Helm a song or two to sing in the show, and as they were often playing for several hours a night, the more singers the band had the better. Soon, with Helm, Danko, and Manuel all in the group and able to take lead vocals, Hawkins would start missing entire shows, though he still got more money than any of his backing group.

Hawkins was also a hard taskmaster, and wanted to have the best band around. He already had great musicians, but he wanted them to be *the best*. And all the musicians in his band were now much younger than him, with tons of natural talent, but untrained. What he needed was someone with proper training, someone who knew theory and technique.

He'd been trying for a long time to get someone like that, but Garth Hudson had kept turning him down. Hudson was older than any of the Hawks, though younger than Hawkins, and he was a multi-instrumentalist who was far better than any other musician on the circuit, having trained in a conservatory and learned how to play Bach and Chopin before switching to rock and roll. He thought the Hawks were too loud sounding and played too hard for him, but Helm kept on at Hawkins to meet any demands Hudson had, and Hawkins eventually agreed to give Hudson a higher wage than any of the other band members, buy him a new Lowry organ, and give him an extra ten dollars a week to give the rest of the band music lessons. Hudson agreed, and the Hawks now had a lineup of Helm on drums, Robertson on guitar, Manuel on piano, Danko on bass, Hudson on organ and alto sax, and Penfound on baritone sax.

But these new young musicians were beginning to wonder why they actually needed a frontman who didn't turn up to many of the gigs, kept most of the money, and fined them whenever they broke one of his increasingly stringent set of rules. Indeed, they wondered why they needed a frontman at all. They already had three singers -- and sometimes a fourth, a singer called Bruce Bruno who would sometimes sit in with them when Penfound was unable to make a gig.

They went to see Harold Kudlets, who Hawkins had recently sacked as his manager, and asked him if he could get them gigs for the same amount of money as they'd been getting with Hawkins. Kudlets was astonished to find how little Hawkins had been paying them, and told them that would be no problem at all. They had no frontman any more -- and made it a rule in all their contracts that the word "sideman" would never be used -- but Helm had been the leader for contractual purposes, as the musical director and longest-serving member (Hawkins, as a non-playing singer, had never joined the Musicians' Union so couldn't be the leader on contracts). So the band that had been Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks became the Levon Helm Sextet briefly -- but Penfound soon quit, and they became Levon and the Hawks.

The Hawks really started to find their identity as their own band in 1964. They were already far more interested in playing soul than Hawkins had been, but they were also starting to get into playing soul *jazz*, especially after seeing the Cannonball Adderley Sextet play live:

[Excerpt: Cannonball Adderley, "This Here"]

What the group admired about the Adderley group more than anything else was a sense of restraint. Helm was particularly impressed with their drummer, Louie Hayes, and said of him "I got to see some great musicians over the years, and you see somebody like that play and you can tell, y’ know, that the thing not to do is to just get it down on the floor and stomp the hell out of it!"

The other influence they had, and one which would shape their sound even more, was a negative one. The two biggest bands on the charts at the time were the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and as Helm described it in his autobiography, the Hawks thought both bands' harmonies were "a blend of pale, homogenised, voices". He said "We felt we were better than the Beatles and the Beach Boys. We considered them our rivals, even though they'd never heard of us", and they decided to make their own harmonies sound as different as possible as a result. Where those groups emphasised a vocal blend, the Hawks were going to emphasise the *difference* in their voices in their own harmonies.

The group were playing prestigious venues like the Peppermint Lounge, and while playing there they met up with John Hammond Jr, who they'd met previously in Canada. As you might remember from the first episode on Bob Dylan, Hammond Jr was the son of the John Hammond who we've talked about in many episodes, and was a blues musician in his own right. He invited Helm, Robertson, and Hudson to join the musicians, including Michael Bloomfield, who were playing on his new album, So Many Roads:

[Excerpt: John P. Hammond, "Who Do You Love?"]

That album was one of the inspirations that led Bob Dylan to start making electric rock music and to hire Bloomfield as his guitarist, decisions that would have profound implications for the Hawks.

The first single the Hawks recorded for themselves after leaving Hawkins was produced by Henry Glover, and both sides were written by Robbie Robertson. "uh Uh Uh" shows the influence of the R&B bands they were listening to. What it reminds me most of is the material Ike and Tina Turner were playing at the time, but at points I think I can also hear the influence of Curtis Mayfield and Steve Cropper, who were rapidly becoming Robertson's favourite songwriters:

[Excerpt: The Canadian Squires, "Uh Uh Uh"]

None of the band were happy with that record, though. They'd played in the studio the same way they played live, trying to get a strong bass presence, but it just sounded bottom-heavy to them when they heard the record on a jukebox.

That record was released as by The Canadian Squires -- according to Robertson, that was a name that the label imposed on them for the record, while according to Helm it was an alternative name they used so they could get bookings in places they'd only recently played, which didn't want the same band to play too often. One wonders if there was any confusion with the band Neil Young played in a year or so before that single...

Around this time, the group also met up with Helm's old musical inspiration Sonny Boy Williamson II, who was impressed enough with them that there was some talk of them being his backing band (and it was in this meeting that Williamson apparently told Robertson "those English boys want to play the blues so bad, and they play the blues *so bad*", speaking of the bands who'd backed him in the UK, like the Yardbirds and the Animals). But sadly, Williamson died in May 1965 before any of these plans had time to come to fruition.

Every opportunity for the group seemed to be closing up, even as they knew they were as good as any band around them. They had an offer from Aaron Schroeder, who ran Musicor Records but was more importantly a songwriter and publisher who  had written for Elvis Presley and published Gene Pitney. Schroeder wanted to sign the Hawks as a band and Robertson as a songwriter, but Henry Glover looked over the contracts for them, and told them "If you sign this you'd better be able to pay each other, because nobody else is going to be paying you".

What happened next is the subject of some controversy, because as these things tend to go, several people became aware of the Hawks at the same time, but it's generally considered that nothing would have happened the same way were it not for Mary Martin. Martin is a pivotal figure in music business history -- among other things she discovered Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot, managed Van Morrison, and signed Emmylou Harris to Warner Brothers records -- but a somewhat unknown one who doesn't even have a Wikipedia page.

Martin was from Toronto, but had moved to New York, where she was working in Albert Grossman's office, but she still had many connections to Canadian musicians and kept an eye out for them. The group had sent demo tapes to Grossman's offices, and Grossman had had no interest in them, but Martin was a fan and kept pushing the group on Grossman and his associates.

One of those associates, of course, was Grossman's client Bob Dylan. As we heard in the episode on "Like a Rolling Stone", Dylan had started making records with electric backing, with musicians who included Mike Bloomfield, who had played with several of the Hawks on the Hammond album, and Al Kooper, who was a friend of the band. Martin gave Richard Manuel a copy of Dylan's new electric album Highway 61 Revisited, and he enjoyed it, though the rest of the group were less impressed:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Highway 61 Revisited"]

Dylan had played the Newport Folk Festival with some of the same musicians as played on his records, but Bloomfield in particular was more interested in continuing to play with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band than continuing with Dylan long-term. Mary Martin kept telling Dylan about this Canadian band she knew who would be perfect for him, and various people associated with the Grossman organisation, including Hammond, have claimed to have been sent down to New Jersey where the Hawks were playing to check them out in their live setting. The group have also mentioned that someone who looked a lot like Dylan was seen at some of their shows.

Eventually, Dylan phoned Helm up and made an offer. He didn't need a full band at the moment -- he had Harvey Brooks on bass and Al Kooper on keyboards -- but he did need a lead guitar player and drummer for a couple of gigs he'd already booked, one in Forest Hills, New York, and a bigger gig at the Hollywood Bowl. Helm, unfamiliar with Dylan's work, actually asked Howard Kudlets if Dylan was capable of filling the Hollywood Bowl.

The musicians rehearsed together and got a set together for the shows. Robertson and Helm thought the band sounded terrible, but Dylan liked the sound they were getting a lot.

The audience in Forest Hills agreed with the Hawks, rather than Dylan, or so it would appear. As we heard in the "Like a Rolling Stone" episode, Dylan's turn towards rock music was *hated* by the folk purists who saw him as some sort of traitor to the movement, a movement whose figurehead he had become without wanting to.

There were fifteen thousand people in the audience, and they listened politely enough to the first set, which Dylan played acoustically, But before the second set -- his first ever full electric set, rather than the very abridged one at Newport -- he told the musicians “I don’t know what it will be like out there It’s going to be some kind of  carnival and I want you to all know that up front. So go out there and keep playing no matter how weird it gets!”

There's a terrible-quality audience recording of that show in circulation, and you can hear the crowd's reaction to the band and to the new material:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Ballad of a Thin Man" (live Forest Hills 1965, audience noise only)]

The audience also threw things  at the musicians, knocking Al Kooper off his organ stool at one point.

While Robertson remembered the Hollywood Bowl show as being an equally bad reaction, Helm remembered the audience there as being much more friendly, and the better-quality recording of that show seems to side with Helm:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Maggie's Farm (live at the Hollywood Bowl 1965)"]

After those two shows, Helm and Robertson went back to their regular gig. and in September they made another record. This one, again produced by Glover, was for Atlantic's Atco subsidiary, and was released as by Levon and the Hawks. Manuel took lead, and again both songs were written by Robertson:

[Excerpt: Levon and the Hawks, "He Don't Love You (And He'll Break Your Heart)"]

But again that record did nothing.

Dylan was about to start his first full electric tour, and while Helm and Robertson had not thought the shows they'd played sounded particularly good, Dylan had, and he wanted the two of them to continue with him. But Robertson and, especially, Helm, were not interested in being someone's sidemen. They explained to Dylan that they already had a band -- Levon and the Hawks -- and he would take all of them or he would take none of them.

Helm in particular had not been impressed with Dylan's music -- Helm was fundamentally an R&B fan, while Dylan's music was rooted in genres he had little time for -- but he was OK with doing it, so long as the entire band got to. As Mary Martin put it “I think that the wonderful and the splendid heart of the band, if you will, was Levon, and I think he really sort of said, ‘If it’s just myself as drummer and Robbie…we’re out. We don’t want that. It’s either us, the band, or nothing.’ And you know what? Good for him.”

Rather amazingly, Dylan agreed. When the band's residency in New Jersey finished, they headed back to Toronto to play some shows there, and Dylan flew up and rehearsed with them after each show. When the tour started, the billing was "Bob Dylan with Levon and the Hawks".

That billing wasn't to last long. Dylan had been booked in for nine months of touring, and was also starting work on what would become widely considered the first double album in rock music history, Blonde on Blonde, and the original plan was that Levon and the Hawks would play with him throughout that time.  The initial recording sessions for the album produced nothing suitable for release -- the closest was "I Wanna Be Your Lover", a semi-parody of the Beatles' "I Want to be Your Man":

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan with Levon and the Hawks, "I Wanna Be Your Lover"]

But shortly into the tour, Helm quit.

The booing had continued, and had even got worse, and Helm simply wasn't in the business to be booed at every night. Also, his whole conception of music was that you dance to it, and nobody was dancing to any of this.

Helm quit the band, only telling Robertson of his plans, and first went off to LA, where he met up with some musicians from Oklahoma who had enjoyed seeing the Hawks when they'd played that state and had since moved out West -- people like Leon Russell, J.J. Cale (not John Cale of the Velvet Underground, but the one who wrote "Cocaine" which Eric Clapton later had a hit with), and John Ware (who would later go on to join the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band). They started loosely jamming with each other, sometimes also involving a young singer named Linda Ronstadt, but Helm eventually decided to give up music and go and work on an oil rig in New Orleans. Levon and the Hawks were now just the Hawks.

The rest of the group soldiered on, replacing Helm with session drummer Bobby Gregg (who had played on Dylan's previous couple of albums, and had previously played with Sun Ra), and played on the initial sessions for Blonde on Blonde. But of those sessions, Dylan said a few weeks later "Oh, I was really down. I mean, in ten recording sessions, man, we didn't get one song ... It was the band. But you see, I didn't know that. I didn't want to think that"

One track from the sessions did get released -- the non-album single "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?"

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?"]

There's some debate as to exactly who's playing drums on that -- Helm says in his autobiography that it's him, while the credits in the official CD releases tend to say it's Gregg. Either way, the track was an unexpected flop, not making the top forty in the US, though it made the top twenty in the UK. But the rest of the recordings with the now Helmless Hawks were less successful. Dylan was trying to get his new songs across, but this was a band who were used to playing raucous music for dancing, and so the attempts at more subtle songs didn't come off the way he wanted:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Hawks, "Visions of Johanna (take 5, 11-30-1965)"]

Only one track from those initial New York sessions made the album -- "One Of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)" -- but even that only featured Robertson and Danko of the Hawks, with the rest of the instruments being played by session players:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan (One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)"]

The Hawks were a great live band, but great live bands are not necessarily the same thing as a great studio band. And that's especially the case with someone like Dylan. Dylan was someone who was used to recording entirely on his own, and to making records *quickly*. In total, for his fifteen studio albums up to 1974's Blood on the Tracks, Dylan spent a total of eighty-six days in the studio -- by comparison, the Beatles spent over a hundred days in the studio just on the Sgt Pepper album.

It's not that the Hawks weren't a good band -- very far from it -- but that studio recording requires a different type of discipline, and that's doubly the case when you're playing with an idiosyncratic player like Dylan. The Hawks would remain Dylan's live backing band, but he wouldn't put out a studio recording with them backing him until 1974.

Instead, Bob Johnston, the producer Dylan was working with, suggested a different plan. On his previous album, the Nashville session player Charlie McCoy had guested on "Desolation Row" and Dylan had found him easy to work with. Johnston lived in Nashville, and suggested that they could get the album completed more quickly and to Dylan's liking by using Nashville A-Team musicians.

Dylan agreed to try it, and for the rest of the album he had Robertson on lead guitar and Al Kooper on keyboards, but every other musician was a Nashville session player, and they managed to get Dylan's songs recorded quickly and the way he heard them in his head:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine"]

Though Dylan being Dylan he did try to introduce an element of randomness to the recordings by having the Nashville musicians swap their instruments around and play each other's parts on "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35", though the Nashville players were still competent enough that they managed to get a usable, if shambolic, track recorded that way in a single take:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35"]

Dylan said later of the album "The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album. It's that thin, that wild mercury sound. It's metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up."

The album was released in late June 1966, a week before Freak Out! by the Mothers of Invention, another double album, produced by Dylan's old producer Tom Wilson, and a few weeks after Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys.

Dylan was at the forefront of a new progressive movement in rock music, a movement that was tying thoughtful, intelligent lyrics to studio experimentation and yet somehow managing to have commercial success.

And a month after Blonde on Blonde came out, he stepped away from that position, and would never fully return to it.

The first half of 1966 was taken up with near-constant touring, with Dylan backed by the Hawks and a succession of fill-in drummers -- first Bobby Gregg, then Sandy Konikoff, then Mickey Jones. This tour started in the US and Canada, with breaks for recording the album, and then moved on to Australia and Europe. The shows always followed the same pattern. First Dylan would perform an acoustic set, solo, with just an acoustic guitar and harmonica, which would generally go down well with the audience -- though sometimes they would get restless, prompting a certain amount of resistance from the performer:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Just Like a Woman (live Paris 1966)"]

But the second half of each show was electric, and that was where the problems would arise. The Hawks were playing at the top of their game -- some truly stunning performances:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Hawks, "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues (live in Liverpool 1966)"]

But while the majority of the audience was happy to hear the music, there was a vocal portion that were utterly furious at the change in Dylan's musical style. Most notoriously, there was the performance at Manchester Free Trade Hall where this happened:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone (live Manchester 1966)"]

That kind of aggression from the audience had the effect of pushing the band on to greater heights a lot of the time -- and a bootleg of that show, mislabelled as the Royal Albert Hall, became one of the most legendary bootlegs in rock music history. Jimmy Page would apparently buy a copy of the bootleg every time he saw one, thinking it was the best album ever made.

But while Dylan and the Hawks played defiantly, that kind of audience reaction gets wearing. As Dylan later said, “Judas, the most hated name in human history, and for what—for playing an electric guitar. As if that is in some kind of way equitable to betraying our Lord, and delivering him up to be crucified; all those evil mothers can rot in hell.”

And this wasn't the only stress Dylan, in particular, was under. D.A. Pennebaker was making a documentary of the tour -- a follow-up to his documentary of the 1965 tour, which had not yet come out. Dylan talked about the 1965 documentary, Don't Look Back, as being Pennebaker's film of Dylan, but this was going to be Dylan's film, with him directing the director. That footage shows Dylan as nervy and anxious, and covering for the anxiety with a veneer of flippancy. Some of Dylan's behaviour on both tours is unpleasant in ways that can't easily be justified (and which he has later publicly regretted), but there's also a seeming cruelty to some of his interactions with the press and public that actually reads more as frustration. Over and over again he's asked questions -- about being the voice of a generation or the leader of a protest movement -- which are simply based on incorrect premises. When someone asks you a question like this, there are only a few options you can take, none of them good. You can dissect the question, revealing the incorrect premises, and then answer a different question that isn't what they asked, which isn't really an option at all given the kind of rapid-fire situation Dylan was in. You can answer the question as asked, which ends up being dishonest. Or you can be flip and dismissive, which is the tactic Dylan chose.

Dylan wasn't the only one -- this is basically what the Beatles did at press conferences. But where the Beatles were a gang and so came off as being fun, Dylan doing the same thing came off as arrogant and aggressive.

One of the most famous artifacts of the whole tour is a long piece of footage recorded for the documentary, with Dylan and John Lennon riding in the back of a taxi, both clearly deeply uncomfortable, trying to be funny and impress the other, but neither actually wanting to be there:

[Excerpt Dylan and Lennon conversation]

33) Part of the reason Dylan wanted to go home was that he had a whole new lifestyle. Up until 1964 he had been very much a city person, but as he had grown more famous, he'd found New York stifling. Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary had a cabin in Woodstock, where he'd grown up, and after Dylan had spent a month there in summer 1964, he'd fallen in love with the area. Albert Grossman had also bought a home there, on Yarrow's advice, and had given Dylan free run of the place, and Dylan had decided he wanted to move there permanently and bought his own home there.

He had also married, to Sara Lowndes (whose name is, as far as I can tell, pronounced "Sarah" even though it's spelled "Sara"), and she had given birth to his first child (and he had adopted her child from her previous marriage). Very little is actually known about Sara, who unlike many other partners of rock stars at this point seemed positively to detest the limelight, and whose privacy Dylan has continued to respect even after the end of their marriage in the late seventies, but it's apparent that the two were very much in love, and that Dylan wanted to be back with his wife and kids, in the country, not going from one strange city to another being asked insipid questions and having abuse screamed at him.

He was also tired of the pressure to produce work constantly. He'd signed a contract for a novel, called Tarantula, which he'd written a draft of but was unhappy with, and he'd put out two single albums and a double-album in a little over a year -- all of them considered among the greatest albums ever made. He could only keep up this rate of production and performance with a large intake of speed, and he was sometimes staying up for four days straight to do so.

After the European leg of the tour, Dylan was meant to take some time to finish overdubs on Blonde on Blonde, edit the film of the tour for a TV special, with his friend Howard Alk, and proof the galleys for Tarantula, before going on a second world tour in the autumn.

That world tour never happened. Dylan was in a motorcycle accident near his home, and had to take time out to recover. There has been a lot of discussion as to how serious the accident actually was, because Dylan's manager Albert Grossman was known to threaten to break contracts by claiming his performers were sick, and because Dylan essentially disappeared from public view for the next eighteen months. Every possible interpretation of the events has been put about by someone, from Dylan having been close to death, to the entire story being put up as a fake. As Dylan is someone who is far more protective of his privacy than most rock stars, it's doubtful we'll ever know the precise truth, but putting together the various accounts Dylan's injuries were bad but not life-threatening, but they acted as a wake-up call -- if he carried on living like he had been, how much longer could he continue?

in his sort-of autobiography, Chronicles, Dylan described this period, saying "I had been in a motorcycle accident and I’d been hurt, but I recovered. Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race. Having children changed my life and segregated me from just about everybody and everything that was going on. Outside of my family, nothing held any real interest for me and I was seeing everything through different glasses."

All his forthcoming studio and tour dates were cancelled, and Dylan took the time out to recover, and to work on his film, Eat the Document.

But it's clear that nobody was sure at first exactly how long Dylan's hiatus from touring was going to last. As it turned out, he wouldn't do another tour until the mid-seventies, and would barely even play any one-off gigs in the intervening time. But nobody knew that at the time, and so to be on the safe side the Hawks were being kept on a retainer. They'd always intended to work on their own music anyway -- they didn't just want to be anyone's backing band -- so they took this time to kick a few ideas around, but they were hamstrung by the fact that it was difficult to find rehearsal space in New York City, and they didn't have any gigs.

Their main musical work in the few months between summer 1966 and spring 1967 was some recordings for the soundtrack of a film Peter Yarrow was making. You Are What You Eat is a bizarre hippie collage of a film, documenting the counterculture between 1966 when Yarrow started making it and 1968 when it came out.

Carl Franzoni, one of the leaders of the LA freak movement that we've talked about in episodes on the Byrds, Love, and the Mothers of Invention, said of the film “If you ever see this movie you’ll understand what ‘freaks’ are. It’ll let you see the L.A. freaks, the San Francisco freaks, and the New York freaks. It was like a documentary and it was about the makings of what freaks were about. And it had a philosophy, a very definite philosophy: that you are free-spirited, artistic."

It's now most known for introducing the song "My Name is Jack" by John Simon, the film's music supervisor:

[Excerpt: John Simon, "My Name is Jack"]

That song would go on to be a top ten hit in the UK for Manfred Mann:

[Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "My Name is Jack"]

The Hawks contributed backing music for several songs for the film, in which they acted as backing band for another old Greenwich Village folkie who had been friends with Yarrow and Dylan but who was not yet the star he would soon become, Tiny Tim:

[Excerpt: Tiny Tim, "Sonny Boy"]

This was their first time playing together properly since the end of the European tour, and Sid Griffin has noted that these Tiny Tim sessions are the first time you can really hear the sound that the group would develop over the next year, and which would characterise them for their whole career.

Robertson, Danko, and Manuel also did a session, not for the film with another of Grossman's discoveries, Carly Simon, playing a version of "Baby Let Me Follow You Down", a song they'd played a lot with Dylan on the tour that spring. That recording has never been released, and I've only managed to track down a brief clip of it from a BBC documentary, with Simon and an interviewer talking over most of the clip (so this won't be in the Mixcloud I put together of songs):

[Excerpt: Carly Simon, "Baby Let Me Follow You Down"]

That recording is notable though because as well as Robertson, Danko, and Manuel, and Dylan's regular studio keyboard players Al Kooper and Paul Griffin, it also features Levon Helm on drums, even though Helm had still not rejoined the band and was at the time mostly working in New Orleans. But his name's on the session log, so he must have made a brief trip to New York to see his old friends.

There seems to have been a certain amount of overlap in personnel between You Are What You Eat and Dylan's Eat The Document, which sadly never saw an official release (though copies can be found if you look, and much of the footage ended up in a Martin Scorsese documentary on Dylan). Indeed, Dylan invited Tiny Tim to Woodstock to film some additional scenes for a film project which seems to have been an attempt to finish the documentary.

Robbie Robertson had already been making trips up there -- Robertson had always been interested in filmmaking, and was one of several people Dylan brought in to try and help him put a shape to the shapeless project -- and when Tiny Tim went up to film, so did Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, who were to act in some of the additional sequences being filmed. Danko, Manuel, and Tim performed some songs together, and stayed together in the Woodstock Motel. Tim was delighted to be reunited with his old friend Dylan, and would later use as a regular onstage anecdote the time during his stay when he had played Dylan a Rudy Vallee song in Dylan's style and a Dylan song in Vallee's:

[Excerpt: Tiny Tim, "Mr. Tim Recalls His Visit with Mr. Dylan (Live at Royal Albert Hall)"]

Tim was only there for a few days, but Danko and Manuel were there for longer. Danko later remembered “When I first moved up to Woodstock in 1967 I went up there with Richard Manuel and Tiny Tim to work on Bob’s movie Eat The Document. We stayed at the Woodstock Motel for a couple of weeks and, the country boy that I am, I realized that since I left Ontario and my home neighborhood I’d been living in cities for seven years, or however long it had been, and I realized I did not have to be in cities any more.”

Danko had something else in mind as well. Of all the Hawks he was the one who was most interested in the business side of things, and he knew it made no economic sense for them to keep staying in a motel in Woodstock for weeks at a time while they were making this film. And if they were going to make their own music, as they'd been saying for months that they needed to, they also needed to find somewhere to rehearse. Why not combine the two and rent a place in Woodstock for the entire band?

As it turned out, it wouldn't be for the entire band -- Robertson had got together with the woman who would become his first wife, and he moved in with her a couple of miles away from the rest, though he visited them every single day. But Danko, Manuel, and Hudson rented a large house together, which they nicknamed Big Pink because of the colour of the building.

The group started rehearsing together, first at Dylan's home, but soon moving to the basement in Big Pink, where Garth Hudson, who was a fastidious musician with an interest in engineering, set up a tape recorder to record parts of the rehearsals -- only parts, because tape was expensive and they didn't have much of it, and so they'd only record something when they were trying something particular out. It wasn't a professional recording studio, and much of the equipment they were using was borrowed from Peter, Paul, and Mary's PA system, but Hudson knew what he was doing and while it was only recorded to two-track in a fairly poor acoustic space, the results sounded remarkably good.

By this time it had already been ten months since they played together. They didn't have a drummer, so most of the time Richard Manuel would play drums, with Robertson occasionally taking over from him. These early sessions seem to have been about Dylan and the Hawks finding more musical common ground, and the Hawks themselves changing their style.

Up to this point, they'd been a loud, raucous, bar band. They were *great* at that -- that was why Dylan had hired them -- but they'd never had an incentive to be subtle, even though all of them loved different kinds of subtle music, from Danko's taste for country music to Hudson's love for old Anglican and Lutheran hymns. They all loved old R&B, and Dylan of course was an expert in folk music, a form of music none of the others had had any time for.

So at first, the recordings seem to show them just learning other people's songs -- the tapes from the very early sessions in Dylan's home show them doing a lot of Johnny Cash songs in particular, with Dylan leading the band through "Belshazzar", "Big River", and "Folsom Prison Blues":

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Hawks, "Folsom Prison Blues"]

There were a lot of country and rockabilly songs -- the music that they all shared in common, things like "I Forgot to Remember to Forget" and "My Bucket's Got a Hole in It" -- but Dylan was also trying to educate the rest of the musicians about the folk tradition he came from.

He and Robertson had had something between friendly discussion and outright arguments about Dylan's style of songwriting while on tour the year before. Robertson -- who, at this time, remember, had a body of songs that mostly consisted of things like "Uh Uh Uh" -- thought that Dylan's songs were too long, and the lyrics were approaching word salad. Why, he wanted to know, did Dylan not write songs that expressed things simply, in words that anyone could understand, rather than this oblique, arty stuff? He kept holding up Curtis Mayfield songs as a model, like "People Get Ready", which the group also rehearsed in these sessions:

[Excerpt: The Hawks, "People Get Ready"]

Of course, what Robertson didn't know, being relatively unfamiliar with Dylan's work prior to working with him, was that that song was in a way the grandchild of one of Dylan's own songs -- as we heard in the episode on it, that song was inspired by "A Change is Gonna Come", which was in turn inspired by "Blowin' in the Wind" -- but nonetheless Dylan thought that Robertson had a point. He was getting increasingly disenchanted with the counterculture which he was supposedly the figurehead for, and with psychedelic music. But also, he was aware that you could do a lot even with simple language -- more than his backing band perhaps understood. Because the folk tradition he came from had a very different attitude to language than either the Beat poets he'd been recently imitating or the R&B songwriters that the Hawks had been listening to. He started teaching them the old folk songs he'd played himself:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Hawks, "Young But Daily Growing"]

As Robertson said later “He would play songs, songs I had never heard, and after we’d heard it or played it I would say, ‘Did you write that?’ And he would say no, that’s an old song by blah-blah-blah, and frequently he would tell a little story of the song or what was behind the song. And that was interesting, learning some of these old-timey songs.”

As he also said "None of the guys in The Band were about folk music. We were not from that side of the tracks. Folk music was from coffee houses, where people sipped cappuccinos. Where we played as The Hawks, nobody was sipping cappuccino, I’ll tell ya. We were playing hardcore bars."

But Dylan was teaching the members of the Hawks how to write songs, and how to think about songs. They weren't just playing folk songs -- they were playing Carter Family songs, and "Work With Me Annie", and doo-wop songs like "Silhouettes", and Hank Williams and Hank Snow songs, and "Baby Ain't That Fine" (a Dallas Frazier song that had been recorded by Gene Pitney and Melba  Montgomery on Musicor, the label that had tried to sign the Hawks) -- but they were playing in a folk manner. Rather than set up as if they were on stage, when they played in the basement at Big Pink they would sit in a circle, all facing each other, singing harmonies face to face, everyone able to see what everyone else was doing, making music communally rather than as a collection of individuals.

It was a folk style, but these weren't folk musicians, and they weren't playing folk. While the Hawks were all Canadian, they'd been trained by Ronnie Hawkins and Levon Helm in how to play rock and roll, and that meant that they had picked up the way music was played in the Deep South. Not only that, but they'd played sessions in Nashville with Hawkins, and Robertson had played with A-team musicians on the Blonde on Blonde sessions.

The result was that they picked up an instrumental style that sounded like the music that came from what the writer Charles L Hughes refers to as the country-soul triangle of Muscle Shoals, Memphis, and Nashville -- a style that comes, ultimately, from white country musicians backing Black soul musicians, and which we've seen coming up time and again from Arthur Alexander to Aretha Franklin to Otis Redding. The Hawks' music doesn't sound anything like the more uptempo music from those musicians, all slashed guitar chords and stabbing horns, but it sounds very, *very* much like the ballads coming out of Memphis and Muscle Shoals, which were dominated by gospel piano, organ pads, and delicate picked guitar, records like Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" or James Carr's "Dark End of the Street":

[Excerpt: James Carr, "Dark End of the Street"]

When sung by white singers, rather than Black ones, and coupled with the folk-style lyrics that Dylan was introducing to the Hawks, that style became known as Americana.

As well as teaching the Hawks these old songs, though, Dylan was also teaching them how to write songs like that. He was furiously productive as a writer in 1967, writing something like a hundred songs, depending on what one counts as a song. Often during the basement recordings, what starts as an old folk song goes off in a new direction as Dylan comes up with new verses, while the rock and roll jams they engaged in produced new songs whose inspirations are very clear, like "See You Later, Alan Ginsberg", or "Open the Door, Homer", whose "open the door, Richard" chorus clearly comes from the Louis Jordan song of the same name. Other songs, like "Clothes Line Saga", are just parodies of contemporary hits (in this case "Ode to Billy Joe")

But he also started writing more focused songs. These were often in the simpler lyrical style that Robertson had wanted him to write in, and often showed a resurgent interest in the Bible and Christianity:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Hawks, "Sign on the Cross"]

The group and Dylan were doing two to three hours' *focused* performance and rehearsal every day, treating it the same way they'd treat a studio session, and Dylan was often writing material at a typewriter upstairs and then immediately bringing it in for the musicians to run through.

Slowly, the sessions started to become more serious. At some point soon Dylan was going to have to record another album -- though as it happened his next album would not involve any of the Hawks or any of the songs he recorded in the basement -- but Albert Grossman was pushing for some songs, independently of recordings. Grossman co-owned Dylan's publishing company, and much of the money they were making was from hit covers of Dylan's songs. Sara gave birth again in July 1967, and Dylan seems not to have wanted to go back into the studio properly straight away, but after a break for the birth, the group seem to have focused on getting some demos of new, commercial, songs, recorded for Grossman to pitch to other artists.

A fourteen-song demo tape was put together and pitched to various musicians. To start with, there were other clients of Grossman. Peter, Paul, and Mary got "Too Much of Nothing", which they took into the top forty:

[Excerpt: Peter, Paul, and Mary, "Too Much of Nothing"]

Ian and Sylvia got three tracks:

[Excerpt: Ian and Sylvia, "Tears of Rage"]

But the demo was sent out more widely, starting with people who had had hits with Dylan songs before. The Byrds took two songs for their Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, one of which, "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere", was released as a single:

[Excerpt: The Byrds, "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere"]

And the tape made its way to Britain, where it was initially only heard by a handful of musicians, but soon circulated widely enough that it got writeups in the music press, desperate for any news of Dylan at all. Brian Auger, Julie Driscoll, and the Trinity had a hit with "This Wheel's on Fire":

[Excerpt: Brian Auger, Julie, Driscoll, and the Trinity, "This Wheel's on Fire"]

The folk-rock group Fairport Convention took "Million-Dollar Bash" for their Unhalfbricking album:

[Excerpt: Fairport Convention, "Million-Dollar Bash"]

And Manfred Mann, who Dylan had called his favourite interpreters of his work, got their final number one with a basement tapes song, "The Mighty Quinn":

[Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "The Mighty Quinn"]

Indeed, Manfred Mann had been the first people in the UK to hear the tape, and they were so impressed with it that several years later, in 1972, Manfred Mann's guitarist Tom McGuinness, whose band McGuinness Flint had just split up, put together a new band, Coulson Dean McGuinness Flint, to record an entire album of Dylan songs, almost all of them basement tape songs. That album was produced by Manfred Mann – the person, not the group – and featured Mike Hugg from the group on piano:

[Excerpt: Coulson Dean McGuinness Flint, "Lo and Behold"]

That album was the first time many of those songs had seen an official release. As Billy Bragg later said "My first inkling of the Basement Tapes was an EP I bought by Coulson Dean McGuinness Flint. I was already into Dylan’s music but I didn’t really know anything about the Basement Tapes or where they were found. This is when ‘Jean Genie’ was a hit and ‘Angel’ by Rod Stewart was a hit. I fell for the Coulson Dean McGuinness Flint version of ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune.’ I noticed ‘Tiny Montgomery’ was on it as well, but when you looked at the Dylan LPs neither ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ nor ‘Tiny Montgomery’ were found."

(For clarity, "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" wasn't a basement tapes song, but "Tiny Montgomery" was)

The actual recordings didn't see an official release until 1975, when a double-album compilation of some of them (plus some new recordings by the musicians who had been the Hawks) was put out -- though oddly that compilation didn't include many of the more famous songs, on the grounds that people already knew them from the hit versions. That version also had several overdubs recorded in 1975, nearly a decade after the recordings. It wasn't until 2014 that an official release of the full sessions happened.

But note that I keep talking about an "official release". Because these were some of the first rock recordings ever to get an unofficial release, when in 1969 a bootleg double-album called Great White Wonder came out, mixing some tracks from those tapes with some older Dylan demos. That's now often called the first ever rock bootleg album, though as with all these things it depends on how you define many of those words.

Even before that, though, the tapes were circulating among musicians, and we heard last episode how the tapes inspired Eric Clapton to change his style of music. And of course, his copy of that tape was soon joined by another album:

[Excerpt: The Band, "The Weight"]

Things started to change around October 1967, in multiple ways. That tape started to circulate among musicians. Dylan went off to Nashville for a few days to record his next album, without the Hawks -- which we'll talk about in a future episode, even though it overlaps somewhat with this one -- and Levon Helm was back in the picture.

The Hawks were being managed by Albert Grossman, and Grossman had decided that he should make some serious attempts to get them their own record deal. As Dylan had been teaching them songwriting, they'd started to write a lot of songs together, like "Katie's Been Gone", written by Robertson and Manuel:

[Excerpt: The Band, "Katie's Been Gone"]

Grossman had recorded some demos with the group in September 1967 in New York. The sessions, by all accounts, went horribly, but the recordings were enough to get Capitol Records interested. If they were going to do anything, the group needed a drummer, and they wanted to get their old friend Levon back. They called him up and explained to him that they would be making their own music, not just backing Dylan, and he liked the sound of that, He also liked the sound of something else -- as Danko put it, “I said we’d be getting a couple of hundred thousand dollars we wanted to share. … He said, ‘I’ll be on the next plane.’”

Helm returned around the time that Dylan went off to record his album, though the expanded group still rehearsed regularly with Dylan. They also realised that the name they'd been using didn't match the sound they were playing now, and changed it, first to the Honkies, and then when they got some pushback from the record label, the Hawks became The Crackers.

Shortly after Helm moved up to Woodstock, the members of the Crackers moved out from Big Pink, as it was now getting too crowded, but before they did, one more album was recorded there -- a five-piece group called the Bengali Bauls were visiting Woodstock, and they came over to Big Pink to jam with the Crackers, and with Charles Lloyd, the former sax player with Cannonball Adderley, who was also visiting. However, it soon became apparent that the Western musicians didn't understand the Bengali music or culture well enough to gel -- one of the Crackers asked one of the musicians, Hare Krishna Das, if he was *the* Hare Krishna -- and eventually the Bengali musicians performed by themselves, and Hudson recorded them on the same equipment he'd used for the basement tapes. The recording was eventually released as At Big Pink:

[Excerpt: The Bengali Bauls, "Alone, I Have Caught a Fish"]

Around the same time as they moved into separate houses, the group also got to know John Simon, the music supervisor for You Are What You Eat, who had just come on board. Simon (who, coincidentally, shares a name with John Ruskin's doctor) had met Peter Yarrow at the Monterey Pop Festival. Yarrow had been impressed with an album Simon had produced -- Marshall McLuhan's "The Media is the Massage". That title was of course a pun on McLuhan's famous aphorism "the media is the message", and the album combined readings from McLuhan's writing with a collage of bits of music, sound effects, and spoken word:

[Excerpt: Marshall McLuhan, "The Medium is the Massage"]

Simon had had a big career already. He'd produced "Red Rubber Ball" by the Cyrkle, which had been a number two hit single:

[Excerpt: The Cyrkle, "Red Rubber Ball"]

He'd also produced music for the accordion-playing polka musician Frankie Yankovic -- no relation to the more famous accordion-playing occasional polka musician "Weird" Al Yankovic -- and had also done so much work with people in the Crackers' general circle that it seemed inevitable they'd end up working together. He'd produced for their friend Charles Lloyd, produced the first album for Leonard Cohen, who was managed by the group's old friend Mary Martin, and had been asked by Al Kooper to produce Blood, Sweat, and Tears' first album.

Yarrow had hired Simon to work on the film -- though this is another case where the timelines reported by various people don't quite match up, because the music that the Hawks and Tiny Tim had done for the film was months before Monterey by most accounts, and Simon seems to have both worked on those recordings *and* only met the former Hawks in October 1967 -- and Yarrow had introduced Simon to Grossman, and Simon rapidly became the producer of choice for Grossman's acts like Gordon Lightfoot, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and of course the Crackers.

The album Simon produced for them, titled Music From Big Pink after the house where they'd written most of the tracks, was recorded not quite live, but close to it. Simon explained his methodology as “We tried to get as many of the effects onto the tape as we could, as opposed to adding them afterwards. If we made a commitment, and put the effects on the track, we would be stuck with that and everything else would  conform to that. We would be painting a much fuller picture as we went along.”

The album was recorded on four-track tape, and the guitars, bass, piano, drums, and organ were all recorded live onto two tracks as a single performance. The other two tracks were used for overdubs -- one for horns, played by Hudson and Simon, and one for tambourine and vocals.

While Robertson would later go on to dominate the songwriting for the group, this album is very much a group effort arising from the Basement Tapes -- even including Dylan, though Dylan didn't perform on the album. He did, though, paint the cover, which significantly features six musicians, not the five in the group, and three of the songs, though not the performances, came from the Basement Tapes. One, the closing track "I Shall Be Released", was written by Dylan alone:

[Excerpt: The Band, "I Shall Be Released"]

The other two were collaborations on songs which, as we've already heard, had already been released by other people (or would have been by the time the album came out) -- "This Wheel's on Fire", written by Dylan and Danko, and "Tears of Rage", written by Dylan and Manuel.

Indeed on this album, Manuel writes almost as much as Robertson. Other than the three Dylan songs, the album features one cover -- a version of the country classic "Long Black Veil" -- three songs by Manuel, and four by Robertson. There would later be many arguments as to exactly who wrote what on the group's recordings, but whatever one's views on the later controversies, and we'll go into them in a future episode, it's clear that Robertson wasn't stealing any credit from anyone here.

But the song generally considered the album's best was definitely Robertson's work -- though it was such an advance from his earlier songs that he later recalled playing the track for Dylan and Dylan asking who it was by, not understanding that it was written by Robertson.

The inspiration for the song's first line came directly from Robertson's guitar. Martin, the guitar manufacturer, was based in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and Robertson saw the name inside the guitar's soundhole, and its Biblical resonances appealed to him:

[Excerpt: The Band, "The Weight"]

Nazareth made Robertson think of Nazarin, a film by Luis Buñuel, the great Spanish surrealist filmmaker, and he later explained “People trying to be good in Viridiana and Nazarín, people trying to do their thing. In ‘The Weight’, it’s the same thing. People like Buñuel would make films that had these religious connotations to them, but it wasn’t necessarily a religious meaning. In Buñuel, there were these people trying to be good and it’s impossible to be good... In ‘The Weight’ it was this very simple thing. Someone says, ‘Listen, would you do me this favour? When you get there will you say ‘hello’ to somebody or will you give somebody this or will you pick up one of these for me? Oh? You’re going to Nazareth, that’s where the Martin guitar factory is. Do me a favour when you’re there.’ This is what it’s all about. So the guy goes and one thing leads to another and it’s like ‘Holy [here he used an expletive], what’s this turned into? I’ve only come here to say ‘hello’ for somebody and I’ve got myself in this incredible predicament.’ It was very Buñuelish to me at the time.”

But while the song had that intellectual inspiration, it was also rooted in real people the group had known in Arkansas. Lee, for example, was Lee Paulman, and Helm went through the rest of the names -- “Young Anna Lee was Anna Lee Williams from Turkey Scratch.” – though here *I* would note that Dylan's daughter Anna Lea was born not long before the song was written – “Crazy Chester was a guy we all knew from Fayetteville who came into town on Saturdays wearing a full set of cap guns on his hips and kinda walked around town to help keep the peace. He was like Hopalong Cassidy and he was a friend of The Hawks. Ronnie would always check with Crazy Chester to make sure there wasn’t any trouble around town, and Chester would reassure him that everything was peaceable and not to worry, because he was on the case. Two big cap guns he wore, plus a toupee! There were also ‘Carmen and the Devil,’ ‘Miss Moses,’ and ‘Fanny,’ a name that just seemed to fit the picture (I believe she looked a lot like Caldonia). We recorded the song maybe four times. We weren’t quite sure that it was going to be on the album, but people really liked it. Rick, Richard, and I switched off on the verses and we all sang the chorus—‘Put the load right on me!’”

[Excerpt: The Band, "The Weight"]

The album was a revelation for musicians as soon as it came out, but of all the songs on it, "The Weight" is the one that had the most immediate impact. It was covered by all sorts of people over the years, many of them people in the Americana genre that the album spawned, like Little Feat or New Riders of the Purple Sage. But early on it was covered by more mainstream artists like Jackie DeShannon:

[Excerpt: Jackie DeShannon, "The Weight"]

And it was also, unsurprisingly, popular with soul artists. It was released as a single by Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations:

[Excerpt: Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations, "The Weight"]

And by Aretha Franklin, whose version was the biggest hit, making the top twenty:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "The Weight"]

But as the album was nearing release, there was one problem left -- what was the group actually going to be called? They were still called the Crackers when they backed Dylan on his one show of 1968, a multi-artist tribute show to Woody Guthrie, who had died recently:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Crackers, "Dear Mrs. Roosevelt"]

But Capitol Records decided they were uncomfortable with the band using that name. There are two stories as to how the final name came about. One story, the one later told by the band members, is that people around Woodstock just called them "the Band" because there were no other bands around and they liked it and thought it unpretentious. The other, which I find more believable, is that Capitol refused to put the record out as by the Crackers and just listed the musicians. On the label of the record it's credited to "Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Jaime Robbie Robertson, John Simon Producer", with no band name, and the back of the album gives the same credits in a different order, with "the band" written above them, and people just took that to be the name of the band.

Either way, whether by accident or design, the Crackers were now The Band.

Episode 166: “Crossroads” by Cream

Sun, 02 Jul 2023
Episode 166 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Crossroads", Cream, the myth of Robert Johnson, and whether white men can sing the blues. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.

Patreon backers also have a forty-eight-minute bonus episode available, on “Tip-Toe Thru' the Tulips" by Tiny Tim.

Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/


I talk about an interview with Clapton from 1967, I meant 1968. I mention a Graham Bond live recording from 1953, and of course meant 1963. I say Paul Jones was on vocals in the Powerhouse sessions. Steve Winwood was on vocals, and Jones was on harmonica.


As I say at the end, the main resource you need to get if you enjoyed this episode is Brother Robert by Annye Anderson, Robert Johnson's stepsister.

There are three Mixcloud mixes this time. As there are so many songs by Cream, Robert Johnson, John Mayall, and Graham Bond excerpted, and Mixcloud won't allow more than four songs by the same artist in any mix, I've had to post the songs not in quite the same order in which they appear in the podcast. But the mixes are here -- one, two, three.

This article on Mack McCormick gives a fuller explanation of the problems with his research and behaviour.

The other books I used for the Robert Johnson sections were McCormick's Biography of a Phantom; Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson, by Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow; Searching for Robert Johnson by Peter Guralnick; and Escaping the Delta by Elijah Wald. I can recommend all of these subject to the caveats at the end of the episode.

The information on the history and prehistory of the Delta blues mostly comes from Before Elvis by Larry Birnbaum, with some coming from Charley Patton by John Fahey.

The information on Cream comes mostly from Cream: How Eric Clapton Took the World by Storm by Dave Thompson. I also used Ginger Baker: Hellraiser by Ginger Baker and Ginette Baker, Mr Showbiz by Stephen Dando-Collins, Motherless Child by Paul Scott, and  Alexis Korner: The Biography by Harry Shapiro.

The best collection of Cream's work is the four-CD set Those Were the Days, which contains every track the group ever released while they were together (though only the stereo mixes of the albums, and a couple of tracks are in slightly different edits from the originals).

You can get Johnson's music on many budget compilation records, as it's in the public domain in the EU, but the double CD collection produced by Steve LaVere for Sony in 2011 is, despite the problems that come from it being associated with LaVere, far and away the best option -- the remasters have a clarity that's worlds ahead of even the 1990s CD version it replaced.

And for a good single-CD introduction to the Delta blues musicians and songsters who were Johnson's peers and inspirations, Back to the Crossroads: The Roots of Robert Johnson, compiled by Elijah Wald as a companion to his book on Johnson, can't be beaten, and contains many of the tracks excerpted in this episode.


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Before we start, a quick note that this episode contains discussion of racism, drug addiction, and early death. There's also a brief mention of death in childbirth and infant mortality.

It's been a while since we looked at the British blues movement, and at the blues in general, so some of you may find some of what follows familiar, as we're going to look at some things we've talked about previously, but from a different angle.

In 1968, the Bonzo Dog Band, a comedy musical band that have been described as the missing link between the Beatles and the Monty Python team, released a track called "Can Blue Men Sing the Whites?":

[Excerpt: The Bonzo Dog Band, "Can Blue Men Sing the Whites?"]

That track was mocking a discussion that was very prominent in Britain's music magazines around that time. 1968 saw the rise of a *lot* of British bands who started out as blues bands, though many of them went on to different styles of music -- Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After, Jethro Tull, Chicken Shack and others were all becoming popular among the kind of people who read the music magazines, and so the question was being asked -- can white men sing the blues?

Of course, the answer to that question was obvious. After all, white men *invented* the blues.

Before we get any further at all, I have to make clear that I do *not* mean that white people created blues music. But "the blues" as a category, and particularly the idea of it as a music made largely by solo male performers playing guitar... that was created and shaped by the actions of white male record executives.

There is no consensus as to when or how the blues as a genre started -- as we often say in this podcast "there is no first anything", but like every genre it seems to have come from multiple sources. In the case of the blues, there's probably some influence from African music by way of field chants sung by enslaved people, possibly some influence from Arabic music as well, definitely some influence from the Irish and British folk songs that by the late nineteenth century were developing into what we now call country music, a lot from ragtime, and a lot of influence from vaudeville and minstrel songs -- which in turn themselves were all very influenced by all those other things.

Probably the first published composition to show any real influence of the blues is from 1904, a ragtime piano piece by James Chapman and Leroy Smith, "One O' Them Things":

[Excerpt: "One O' Them Things"]

That's not very recognisable as a blues piece yet, but it is more-or-less a twelve-bar blues. But the blues developed, and it developed as a result of a series of commercial waves.

The first of these came in 1914, with the success of W.C. Handy's "Memphis Blues", which when it was recorded by the Victor Military Band for a phonograph cylinder became what is generally considered the first blues record proper:

[Excerpt: The Victor Military Band, "Memphis Blues"]

The famous dancers Vernon and Irene Castle came up with a dance, the foxtrot -- which Vernon Castle later admitted was largely inspired by Black dancers -- to be danced to the "Memphis Blues", and the foxtrot soon overtook the tango, which the Castles had introduced to the US the previous year, to become the most popular dance in America for the best part of three decades. And with that came an explosion in blues in the Handy style, cranked out by every music publisher.

While the blues was a style largely created by Black performers and writers, the segregated nature of the American music industry at the time meant that most vocal performances of these early blues that were captured on record were by white performers, Black vocalists at this time only rarely getting the chance to record.

The first blues record with a Black vocalist is also technically the first British blues record. A group of Black musicians, apparently mostly American but led by a Jamaican pianist, played at Ciro's Club in London, and recorded many tracks in Britain, under a name which I'm not going to say in full -- it started with Ciro's Club, and continued alliteratively with another word starting with C, a slur for Black people. In 1917 they recorded a vocal version of "St. Louis Blues", another W.C. Handy composition:

[Excerpt: Ciro's Club C**n Orchestra, "St. Louis Blues"]

The first American Black blues vocal didn't come until two years later, when Bert Williams, a Black minstrel-show performer who like many Black performers of his era performed in blackface even though he was Black, recorded “I’m Sorry I Ain’t Got It You Could Have It If I Had It Blues,”

[Excerpt: Bert Williams, "I’m Sorry I Ain’t Got It You Could Have It If I Had It Blues,”]

But it wasn't until 1920 that the second, bigger, wave of popularity started for the blues, and this time it started with the first record of a Black *woman* singing the blues -- Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues":

[Excerpt: Mamie Smith, "Crazy Blues"]

You can hear the difference between that and anything we've heard up to that point -- that's the first record that anyone from our perspective, a hundred and three years later, would listen to and say that it bore any resemblance to what we think of as the blues -- so much so that many places still credit it as the first ever blues record.

And there's a reason for that. "Crazy Blues" was one of those records that separates the music industry into before and after, like "Rock Around the Clock", "I Want to Hold Your Hand", Sgt Pepper, or "Rapper's Delight". It sold seventy-five thousand copies in its first month -- a massive number by the standards of 1920 -- and purportedly went on to sell over a million copies.

Sales figures and market analysis weren't really a thing in the same way in 1920, but even so it became very obvious that "Crazy Blues" was a big hit, and that unlike pretty much any other previous records, it was a big hit among Black listeners, which meant that there was a market for music aimed at Black people that was going untapped. Soon all the major record labels were setting up subsidiaries devoted to what they called "race music", music made by and for Black people.

And this sees the birth of what is now known as "classic blues", but at the time (and for decades after) was just what people thought of when they thought of "the blues" as a genre. This was music primarily sung by female vaudeville artists backed by jazz bands, people like Ma Rainey (whose earliest recordings featured Louis Armstrong in her backing band):

[Excerpt: Ma Rainey, "See See Rider Blues"]

And Bessie Smith, the "Empress of the Blues", who had a massive career in the 1920s before the Great Depression caused many of these "race record" labels to fold, but who carried on performing well into the 1930s -- her last recording was in 1933, produced by John Hammond, with a backing band including Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden:

[Excerpt: Bessie Smith, "Give Me a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer"]

It wouldn't be until several years after the boom started by Mamie Smith that any record companies turned to recording Black men singing the blues accompanied by guitar or banjo. The first record of this type is probably "Norfolk Blues" by Reese DuPree from 1924:

[Excerpt: Reese DuPree, "Norfolk Blues"]

And there were occasional other records of this type, like "Airy Man Blues" by Papa Charlie Jackson, who was advertised as the “only man living who sings, self-accompanied, for Blues records.”

[Excerpt: Papa Charlie Jackson, "Airy Man Blues"]

But contrary to the way these are seen today, at the time they weren't seen as being in some way "authentic", or "folk music". Indeed, there are many quotes from folk-music collectors of the time (sadly all of them using so many slurs that it's impossible for me to accurately quote them) saying that when people sang the blues, that wasn't authentic Black folk music at all but an adulteration from commercial music -- they'd clearly, according to these folk-music scholars, learned the blues style from records and sheet music rather than as part of an oral tradition.

Most of these performers were people who recorded blues as part of a wider range of material, like Blind Blake, who recorded some blues music but whose best work was his ragtime guitar instrumentals:

[Excerpt: Blind Blake, "Southern Rag"]

But it was when Blind Lemon Jefferson started recording for Paramount records in 1926 that the image of the blues as we now think of it took shape. His first record, "Got the Blues", was a massive success:

[Excerpt: Blind Lemon Jefferson, "Got the Blues"]

And this resulted in many labels, especially Paramount, signing up pretty much every Black man with a guitar they could find in the hopes of finding another Blind Lemon Jefferson.

But the thing is, this generation of people making blues records, and the generation that followed them, didn't think of themselves as "blues singers" or "bluesmen". They were songsters. Songsters were entertainers, and their job was to sing and play whatever the audiences would want to hear. That included the blues, of course, but it also included... well, every song anyone would want to hear.  They'd perform old folk songs, vaudeville songs, songs that they'd heard on the radio or the jukebox -- whatever the audience wanted. Robert Johnson, for example, was known to particularly love playing polka music, and also adored the records of Jimmie Rodgers, the first country music superstar. In 1941, when Alan Lomax first recorded Muddy Waters, he asked Waters what kind of songs he normally played in performances, and he was given a list that included "Home on the Range", Gene Autry's "I've Got Spurs That Jingle Jangle Jingle", and Glenn Miller's "Chattanooga Choo-Choo".

We have few recordings of these people performing this kind of song though. One of the few we have is Big Bill Broonzy, who was just about the only artist of this type not to get pigeonholed as just a blues singer, even though blues is what made him famous, and who later in his career managed to record songs like the Tin Pan Alley standard "The Glory of Love":

[Excerpt: Big Bill Broonzy, "The Glory of Love"]

But for the most part, the image we have of the blues comes down to one man, Arthur Laibley, a sales manager for the Wisconsin Chair Company.

The Wisconsin Chair Company was, as the name would suggest, a company that started out making wooden chairs, but it had branched out into other forms of wooden furniture -- including, for a brief time, large wooden phonographs. And, like several other manufacturers, like the Radio Corporation of America -- RCA -- and the Gramophone Company, which became EMI, they realised that if they were going to sell the hardware it made sense to sell the software as well, and had started up Paramount Records, which bought up a small label, Black Swan, and soon became the biggest manufacturer of records for the Black market, putting out roughly a quarter of all "race records" released between 1922 and 1932.

At first, most of these were produced by a Black talent scout, J. Mayo Williams, who had been the first person to record Ma Rainey, Papa Charlie Jackson, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, but in 1927 Williams left Paramount, and the job of supervising sessions went to Arthur Laibley, though according to some sources a lot of the actual production work was done by Aletha Dickerson, Williams' former assistant, who was almost certainly the first Black woman to be what we would now think of as a record producer.

Williams had been interested in recording all kinds of music by Black performers, but when Laibley got a solo Black man into the studio, what he wanted more than anything was for him to record the blues, ideally in a style as close as possible to that of Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Laibley didn't have a very hands-on approach to recording -- indeed Paramount had very little concern about the quality of their product anyway, and Paramount's records are notorious for having been put out on poor-quality shellac and recorded badly -- and he only occasionally made actual suggestions as to what kind of songs his performers should write -- for example he asked Son House to write something that sounded like Blind Lemon Jefferson, which led to House writing and recording "Mississippi County Farm Blues", which steals the tune of Jefferson's "See That My Grave is Kept Clean":

[Excerpt: Son House, "Mississippi County Farm Blues"]

When Skip James wanted to record a cover of James Wiggins' "Forty-Four Blues", Laibley suggested that instead he should do a song about a different gun, and so James recorded "Twenty-Two Twenty Blues":

[Excerpt: Skip James, "Twenty-Two Twenty Blues"]

And Laibley also suggested that James write a song about the Depression, which led to one of the greatest blues records ever, "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues":

[Excerpt: Skip James, "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues"]

These musicians knew that they were getting paid only for issued sides, and that Laibley wanted only blues from them, and so that's what they gave him. Even when it was a performer like Charlie Patton. (Incidentally, for those reading this as a transcript rather than listening to it, Patton's name is more usually spelled ending in ey, but as far as I can tell ie was his preferred spelling and that's what I'm using).

Charlie Patton was best known as an entertainer, first and foremost -- someone who would do song-and-dance routines, joke around, play guitar behind his head. He was a clown on stage, so much so that when Son House finally heard some of Patton's records, in the mid-sixties, decades after the fact, he was astonished that Patton could actually play well. Even though House had been in the room when some of the records were made, his memory of Patton was of someone who acted the fool on stage.

That's definitely not the impression you get from the Charlie Patton on record:

[Excerpt: Charlie Patton, "Poor Me"]

Patton is, as far as can be discerned, the person who was most influential in creating the music that became called the "Delta blues". Not a lot is known about Patton's life, but he was almost certainly the half-brother of the Chatmon brothers, who made hundreds of records, most notably as members of the Mississippi Sheiks:

[Excerpt: The Mississippi Sheiks, "Sitting on Top of the World"]

In the 1890s, Patton's family moved to Sunflower County, Mississippi, and he lived in and around that county until his death in 1934. Patton learned to play guitar from a musician called Henry Sloan, and then Patton became a mentor figure to a *lot* of other musicians in and around the plantation on which his family lived. Some of the musicians who grew up in the immediate area around Patton included Tommy Johnson:

[Excerpt: Tommy Johnson, "Big Road Blues"]

Pops Staples:

[Excerpt: The Staple Singers, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken"]

Robert Johnson:

[Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "Crossroads"]

Willie Brown, a musician who didn't record much, but who played a lot with Patton, Son House, and Robert Johnson and who we just heard Johnson sing about:

[Excerpt: Willie Brown, "M&O Blues"]

And Chester Burnett, who went on to become known as Howlin' Wolf, and whose vocal style was equally inspired by Patton and by the country star Jimmie Rodgers:

[Excerpt: Howlin' Wolf, "Smokestack Lightnin'"]

Once Patton started his own recording career for Paramount, he also started working as a talent scout for them, and it was him who brought Son House to Paramount. Soon after the Depression hit, Paramount stopped recording, and so from 1930 through 1934 Patton didn't make any records. He was tracked down by an A&R man in January 1934 and recorded one final session:

[Excerpt, Charlie Patton, "34 Blues"]

But he died of heart failure two months later.

But his influence spread through his proteges, and they themselves influenced other musicians from the area who came along a little after, like Robert Lockwood and Muddy Waters. This music -- or that portion of it that was considered worth recording by white record producers, only a tiny, unrepresentative, portion of their vast performing repertoires -- became known as the Delta Blues, and when some of these musicians moved to Chicago and started performing with electric instruments, it became Chicago Blues.

And as far as people like John Mayall in Britain were concerned, Delta and Chicago Blues *were* the blues:

[Excerpt: John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, "It Ain't Right"]

John Mayall was one of the first of the British blues obsessives, and for a long time thought of himself as the only one. While we've looked before at the growth of the London blues scene, Mayall wasn't from London -- he was born in Macclesfield and grew up in Cheadle Hulme, both relatively well-off suburbs of Manchester, and after being conscripted and doing two years in the Army, he had become an art student at Manchester College of Art, what is now Manchester Metropolitan University.

Mayall had been a blues fan from the late 1940s, writing off to the US to order records that hadn't been released in the UK, and by most accounts by the late fifties he'd put together the biggest blues collection in Britain by quite some way. Not only that, but he had one of the earliest home tape recorders, and every night he would record radio stations from Continental Europe which were broadcasting for American service personnel, so he'd amassed mountains of recordings, often unlabelled, of obscure blues records that nobody else in the UK knew about.

He was also an accomplished pianist and guitar player, and in 1956 he and his drummer friend Peter Ward had put together a band called the Powerhouse Four (the other two members rotated on a regular basis) mostly to play lunchtime jazz sessions at the art college. Mayall also started putting on jam sessions at a youth club in Wythenshawe, where he met another drummer named Hughie Flint. Over the late fifties and into the early sixties, Mayall more or less by himself built up a small blues scene in Manchester. The Manchester blues scene was so enthusiastic, in fact, that when the American Folk Blues Festival, an annual European tour which initially featured Willie Dixon, Memhis Slim, T-Bone Walker, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, and John Lee Hooker, first toured Europe, the only UK date it played was at the Manchester Free Trade Hall, and people like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones and Jimmy Page had to travel up from London to see it.

But still, the number of blues fans in Manchester, while proportionally large, was objectively small enough that Mayall was captivated by an article in Melody Maker which talked about Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies' new band Blues Incorporated and how it was playing electric blues, the same music he was making in Manchester. He later talked about how the article had made him think that maybe now people would know what he was talking about.

He started travelling down to London to play gigs for the London blues scene, and inviting Korner up to Manchester to play shows there. Soon Mayall had moved down to London. Korner introduced Mayall to Davey Graham, the great folk guitarist, with whom Korner had recently recorded as a duo:

[Excerpt: Alexis Korner and Davey Graham, "3/4 AD"]

Mayall and Graham performed together as a duo for a while, but Graham was a natural solo artist if ever there was one. Slowly Mayall put a band together in London. On drums was his old friend Peter Ward, who'd moved down from Manchester with him. On bass was John McVie, who at the time knew nothing about blues -- he'd been playing in a Shadows-style instrumental group -- but Mayall gave him a stack of blues records to listen to to get the feeling. And on guitar was Bernie Watson, who had previously played with Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages.

In late 1963, Mike Vernon, a blues fan who had previously published a Yardbirds fanzine, got a job working for Decca records, and immediately started signing his favourite acts from the London blues circuit. The first act he signed was John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and they recorded a single, "Crawling up a Hill":

[Excerpt: John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, "Crawling up a Hill (45 version)"]

Mayall later called that a "clumsy, half-witted attempt at autobiographical comment", and it sold only five hundred copies. It would be the only record the Bluesbreakers would make with Watson, who soon left the band to be replaced by Roger Dean (not the same Roger Dean who later went on to design prog rock album covers).

The second group to be signed by Mike Vernon to Decca was the Graham Bond Organisation.

We've talked about the Graham Bond Organisation in passing several times, but not for a while and not in any great detail, so it's worth pulling everything we've said about them so far together and going through it in a little more detail.

The Graham Bond Organisation, like the Rolling Stones, grew out of Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated. As we heard in the episode on "I Wanna Be Your Man" a couple of years ago, Blues Incorporated had been started by Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies, and at the time we're joining them in 1962 featured a drummer called Charlie Watts, a pianist called Dave Stevens, and saxophone player Dick Heckstall-Smith, as well as frequent guest performers like a singer who called himself Mike Jagger, and another one, Roderick Stewart.

That group finally found themselves the perfect bass player when Dick Heckstall-Smith put together a one-off group of jazz players to play an event at Cambridge University. At the gig, a little Scottish man came up to the group and told them he played bass and asked if he could sit in. They told him to bring along his instrument to their second set, that night, and he did actually bring along a double bass. Their bluff having been called, they decided to play the most complicated, difficult, piece they knew in order to throw the kid off -- the drummer, a trad jazz player named Ginger Baker, didn't like performing with random sit-in guests -- but astonishingly he turned out to be really good.

Heckstall-Smith took down the bass player's name and phone number and invited him to a jam session with Blues Incorporated. After that jam session, Jack Bruce quickly became the group's full-time bass player.

Bruce had started out as a classical cellist, but had switched to the double bass inspired by Bach, who he referred to as "the guv’nor of all bass players". His playing up to this point had mostly been in trad jazz bands, and he knew nothing of the blues, but he quickly got the hang of the genre.

Bruce's first show with Blues Incorporated was a BBC recording:

[Excerpt: Blues Incorporated, "Hoochie Coochie Man (BBC session)"]

According to at least one source it was not being asked to take part in that session that made young Mike Jagger decide there was no future for him with Blues Incorporated and to spend more time with his other group, the Rollin' Stones.

Soon after, Charlie Watts would join him, for almost the opposite reason -- Watts didn't want to be in a band that was getting as big as Blues Incorporated were. They were starting to do more BBC sessions and get more gigs, and having to join the Musicians' Union. That seemed like a lot of work. Far better to join a band like the Rollin' Stones that wasn't going anywhere.

Because of Watts' decision to give up on potential stardom to become a Rollin' Stone, they needed a new drummer, and luckily the best drummer on the scene was available. But then the best drummer on the scene was *always* available.

Ginger Baker had first played with Dick Heckstall-Smith several years earlier, in a trad group called the Storyville Jazzmen. There Baker had become obsessed with the New Orleans jazz drummer Baby Dodds, who had played with Louis Armstrong in the 1920s. Sadly because of 1920s recording technology, he hadn't been able to play a full kit on the recordings with Armstrong, being limited to percussion on just a woodblock, but you can hear his drumming style much better in this version of "At the Jazz Band Ball" from 1947, with Mugsy Spanier, Jack Teagarden, Cyrus St. Clair and Hank Duncan:

[Excerpt: "At the Jazz Band Ball"]

Baker had taken Dobbs' style and run with it, and had quickly become known as the single best player, bar none, on the London jazz scene -- he'd become an accomplished player in multiple styles, and was also fluent in reading music and arranging. He'd also, though, become known as the single person on the entire scene who was most difficult to get along with. He resigned from his first band onstage, shouting "You can stick your band up your arse", after the band's leader had had enough of him incorporating bebop influences into their trad style. Another time, when touring with Diz Disley's band, he was dumped in Germany with no money and no way to get home, because the band were so sick of him.

Sometimes this was because of his temper and his unwillingness to suffer fools -- and he saw everyone else he ever met as a fool -- and sometimes it was because of his own rigorous musical ideas. He wanted to play music *his* way, and wouldn't listen to anyone who told him different.

Both of these things got worse after he fell under the influence of a man named Phil Seaman, one of the only drummers that Baker respected at all. Seaman introduced Baker to African drumming, and Baker started incorporating complex polyrhythms into his playing as a result. Seaman also though introduced Baker to heroin, and while being a heroin addict in the UK in the 1960s was not as difficult as it later became -- both heroin and cocaine were available on prescription to registered addicts, and Baker got both, which meant that many of the problems that come from criminalisation of these drugs didn't affect addicts in the same way -- but it still did not, by all accounts, make him an easier person to get along with.

But he *was* a fantastic drummer. As Dick Heckstall-Smith said "With the advent of Ginger, the classic Blues Incorporated line-up, one which I think could not be bettered, was set"

But Alexis Korner decided that the group could be bettered, and he had some backers within the band. One of the other bands on the scene was the Don Rendell Quintet, a group that played soul jazz -- that style of jazz that bridged modern jazz and R&B, the kind of music that Ray Charles and Herbie Hancock played:

[Excerpt: The Don Rendell Quintet, "Manumission"]

The Don Rendell Quintet included a fantastic multi-instrumentalist, Graham Bond, who doubled on keyboards and saxophone, and Bond had been playing occasional experimental gigs with the Johnny Burch Octet -- a group led by another member of the Rendell Quartet featuring Heckstall-Smith, Bruce, Baker, and a few other musicians, doing wholly-improvised music.

Heckstall-Smith, Bruce, and Baker all enjoyed playing with Bond, and when Korner decided to bring him into the band, they were all very keen. But Cyril Davies, the co-leader of the band with Korner, was furious at the idea. Davies wanted to play strict Chicago and Delta blues, and had no truck with other forms of music like R&B and jazz. To his mind it was bad enough that they had a sax player. But the idea that they would bring in Bond, who played sax and... *Hammond* organ? Well, that was practically blasphemy. Davies quit the group at the mere suggestion.

Bond was soon in the band, and he, Bruce, and Baker were playing together a *lot*. As well as performing with Blues Incorporated, they continued playing in the Johnny Burch Octet, and they also started performing as the Graham Bond Trio. Sometimes the Graham Bond Trio would be Blues Incorporated's opening act, and on more than one occasion the Graham Bond Trio, Blues Incorporated, and the Johnny Burch Octet all had gigs in different parts of London on the same night and they'd have to frantically get from one to the other.

The Graham Bond Trio also had fans in Manchester, thanks to the local blues scene there and their connection with Blues Incorporated, and one night in February 1963 the trio played a gig there. They realised afterwards that by playing as a trio they'd made £70, when they were lucky to make £20 from a gig with Blues Incorporated or the Octet, because there were so many members in those bands.

Bond wanted to make real money, and at the next rehearsal of Blues Incorporated he announced to Korner that he, Bruce, and Baker were quitting the band -- which was news to Bruce and Baker, who he hadn't bothered consulting. Baker, indeed, was in the toilet when the announcement was made and came out to find it a done deal. He was going to kick up a fuss and say he hadn't been consulted, but Korner's reaction sealed the deal. As Baker later said "‘he said “it’s really good you’re doing this thing with Graham, and I wish you the best of luck” and all that. And it was a bit difficult to turn round and say, “Well, I don’t really want to leave the band, you know.”’"

The Graham Bond Trio struggled at first to get the gigs they were expecting, but that started to change when in April 1963 they became the Graham Bond Quartet, with the addition of virtuoso guitarist John McLaughlin. The Quartet soon became one of the hottest bands on the London R&B scene, and when Duffy Power, a Larry Parnes teen idol who wanted to move into R&B, asked his record label to get him a good R&B band to back him on a Beatles cover, it was the Graham Bond Quartet who obliged:

[Excerpt: Duffy Power, "I Saw Her Standing There"]

The Quartet also backed Power on a package tour with other Parnes acts, but they were also still performing their own blend of hard jazz and blues, as can be heard in this recording of the group live in June 1953:

[Excerpt: The Graham Bond Quartet, "Ho Ho Country Kicking Blues (Live at Klooks Kleek)"]

But that lineup of the group didn't last very long. According to the way Baker told the story, he fired McLaughlin from the group, after being irritated by McLaughlin complaining about something on a day when Baker was out of cocaine and in no mood to hear anyone else's complaints. As Baker said "We lost a great guitar player and I lost a good friend."

But the Trio soon became a Quartet again, as Dick Heckstall-Smith, who Baker had wanted in the band from the start, joined on saxophone to replace McLaughlin's guitar. But they were no longer called the Graham Bond Quartet. Partly because Heckstall-Smith joining allowed Bond to concentrate just on his keyboard playing, but one suspects partly to protect against any future lineup changes, the group were now The Graham Bond ORGANisation -- emphasis on the organ.

The new lineup of the group got signed to Decca by Vernon, and were soon recording their first single, "Long Tall Shorty":

[Excerpt: The Graham Bond Organisation, "Long Tall Shorty"]

They recorded a few other songs which made their way onto an EP and an R&B compilation, and toured intensively in early 1964, as well as backing up Power on his follow-up to "I Saw Her Standing There", his version of "Parchman Farm":

[Excerpt: Duffy Power, "Parchman Farm"]

They also appeared in a film, just like the Beatles, though it was possibly not quite as artistically successful as "A Hard Day's Night":

[Excerpt: Gonks Go Beat trailer]

Gonks Go Beat is one of the most bizarre films of the sixties. It's a far-future remake of Romeo and Juliet. where the two star-crossed lovers are from opposing countries -- Beatland and Ballad Isle -- who only communicate once a year in an annual song contest which acts as their version of a war, and is overseen by "Mr. A&R", played by Frank Thornton, who would later star in Are You Being Served? Carry On star Kenneth Connor is sent by aliens to try to bring peace to the two warring countries, on pain of exile to Planet Gonk, a planet inhabited solely by Gonks (a kind of novelty toy for which there was a short-lived craze then). Along the way Connor encounters such luminaries of British light entertainment as Terry Scott and Arthur Mullard, as well as musical performances by Lulu, the Nashville Teens, and of course the Graham Bond Organisation, whose performance gets them a telling-off from a teacher:

[Excerpt: Gonks Go Beat!]

The group as a group only performed one song in this cinematic masterpiece, but Baker also made an appearance in a "drum battle" sequence where eight drummers played together:

[Excerpt: Gonks Go Beat drum battle]

The other drummers in that scene included, as well as some lesser-known players, Andy White who had played on the single version of "Love Me Do", Bobby Graham, who played on hits by the Kinks and the Dave Clark Five, and Ronnie Verrell, who did the drumming for Animal in the Muppet Show.

Also in summer 1964, the group performed at the Fourth National Jazz & Blues Festival in Richmond -- the festival co-founded by Chris Barber that would evolve into the Reading Festival. The Yardbirds were on the bill, and at the end of their set they invited Bond, Baker, Bruce, Georgie Fame, and Mike Vernon onto the stage with them, making that the first time that Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce were all on stage together.

Soon after that, the Graham Bond Organisation got a new manager, Robert Stigwood. Things hadn't been working out for them at Decca, and Stigwood soon got the group signed to EMI, and became their producer as well. Their first single under Stigwood's management was a cover version of the theme tune to the Debbie Reynolds film "Tammy". While that film had given Tamla records its name, the song was hardly an R&B classic:

[Excerpt: The Graham Bond Organisation, "Tammy"]

That record didn't chart, but Stigwood put the group out on the road as part of the disastrous Chuck Berry tour we heard about in the episode on "All You Need is Love", which led to the bankruptcy of  Robert Stigwood Associates. The Organisation moved over to Stigwood's new company, the Robert Stigwood Organisation, and Stigwood continued to be the credited producer of their records, though after the "Tammy" disaster they decided they were going to take charge themselves of the actual music.

Their first album, The Sound of 65, was recorded in a single three-hour session, and they mostly ran through their standard set -- a mixture of the same songs everyone else on the circuit was playing, like "Hoochie Coochie Man", "Got My Mojo Working", and "Wade in the Water", and originals like Bruce's "Train Time":

[Excerpt: The Graham Bond Organisation, "Train Time"]

Through 1965 they kept working. They released a non-album single, "Lease on Love", which is generally considered to be the first pop record to feature a Mellotron:

[Excerpt: The Graham Bond Organisation, "Lease on Love"]

and Bond and Baker also backed another Stigwood act, Winston G, on his debut single:

[Excerpt: Winston G, "Please Don't Say"]

But the group were developing severe tensions. Bruce and Baker had started out friendly, but by this time they hated each other. Bruce said he couldn't hear his own playing over Baker's loud drumming, Baker thought that Bruce was far too fussy a player and should try to play simpler lines. They'd both try to throw each other during performances, altering arrangements on the fly and playing things that would trip the other player up.

And *neither* of them were particularly keen on Bond's new love of the Mellotron, which was all over their second album, giving it a distinctly proto-prog feel at times:

[Excerpt: The Graham Bond Organisation, "Baby Can it Be True?"]

Eventually at a gig in Golders Green, Baker started throwing drumsticks at Bruce's head while Bruce was trying to play a bass solo. Bruce retaliated by throwing his bass at Baker, and then jumping on him and starting a fistfight which had to be broken up by the venue security.

Baker fired Bruce from the band, but Bruce kept turning up to gigs anyway, arguing that Baker had no right to sack him as it was a democracy. Baker always claimed that in fact Bond had wanted to sack Bruce but hadn't wanted to get his hands dirty, and insisted that Baker do it, but neither Bond nor Heckstall-Smith objected when Bruce turned up for the next couple of gigs. So Baker took matters into his own hands, He pulled out a knife and told Bruce "If you show up at one more gig, this is going in you."

Within days, Bruce was playing with John Mayall, whose Bluesbreakers had gone through some lineup changes by this point.

Roger Dean had only played with the Bluesbreakers for a short time before Mayall had replaced him. Mayall had not been impressed with Eric Clapton's playing with the Yardbirds at first -- even though graffiti saying "Clapton is God" was already starting to appear around London -- but he had been *very* impressed with Clapton's playing on "Got to Hurry", the B-side to "For Your Love":

[Excerpt: The Yardbirds, "Got to Hurry"]

When he discovered that Clapton had quit the band, he sprang into action and quickly recruited him to replace Dean. Clapton knew he had made the right choice when a month after he'd joined, the group got the word that Bob Dylan had been so impressed with Mayall's single "Crawling up a Hill" -- the one that nobody liked, not even Mayall himself -- that he wanted to jam with Mayall and his band in the studio. Clapton of course went along:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Bluesbreakers, "If You Gotta Go, Go Now"]

That was, of course, the session we've talked about in the Velvet Underground episode and elsewhere of which little other than that survives, and which Nico attended.

At this point, Mayall didn't have a record contract, his experience recording with Mike Vernon having been no more successful than the Bond group's had been. But soon he got a one-off deal -- as a solo artist, not with the Bluesbreakers -- with Immediate Records. Clapton was the only member of the group to play on the single, which was produced by Immediate's house producer Jimmy Page:

[Excerpt: John Mayall, "I'm Your Witchdoctor"]

Page was impressed enough with Clapton's playing that he invited him round to Page's house to jam together. But what Clapton didn't know was that Page was taping their jam sessions, and that he handed those tapes over to Immediate Records -- whether he was forced to by his contract with the label or whether that had been his plan all along depends on whose story you believe, but Clapton never truly forgave him. Page and Clapton's guitar-only jams had overdubs by Bill Wyman, Ian Stewart, and drummer Chris Winter, and have been endlessly repackaged on blues compilations ever since:

[Excerpt: Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, "Draggin' My Tail"]

But Mayall was having problems with John McVie, who had started to drink too much, and as soon as he found out that Jack Bruce was sacked by the Graham Bond Organisation, Mayall got in touch with Bruce and got him to join the band in McVie's place. Everyone was agreed that this lineup of the band -- Mayall, Clapton, Bruce, and Hughie Flint -- was going places:

[Excerpt: John Mayall's Bluesbreakers with Jack Bruce, "Hoochie Coochie Man"]

Unfortunately, it wasn't going to last long. Clapton, while he thought that Bruce was the greatest bass player he'd ever worked with, had other plans. He was going to leave the country and travel the world as a peripatetic busker. He was off on his travels, never to return.

Luckily, Mayall had someone even better waiting in the wings. A young man had, according to Mayall, "kept coming down to all the gigs and saying, “Hey, what are you doing with him?” – referring to whichever guitarist was onstage that night – “I’m much better than he is. Why don’t you let me play guitar for you?” He got really quite nasty about it, so finally, I let him sit in. And he was brilliant."

Peter Green was probably the best blues guitarist in London at that time, but this lineup of the Bluesbreakers only lasted a handful of gigs -- Clapton discovered that busking in Greece wasn't as much fun as being called God in London, and came back very soon after he'd left. Mayall had told him that he could have his old job back when he got back, and so Green was out and Clapton was back in.

And soon the Bluesbreakers' revolving door revolved again. Manfred Mann had just had a big hit with "If You Gotta Go, Go Now", the same song we heard Dylan playing earlier:

[Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "If You Gotta Go, Go Now"]

But their guitarist, Mike Vickers, had quit. Tom McGuinness, their bass player, had taken the opportunity to switch back to guitar -- the instrument he'd played in his first band with his friend Eric Clapton -- but that left them short a bass player. Manfred Mann were essentially the same kind of band as the Graham Bond Organisation -- a Hammond-led group of virtuoso multi-instrumentalists who played everything from hardcore Delta blues to complex modern jazz -- but unlike the Bond group they also had a string of massive pop hits, and so made a lot more money. The combination was irresistible to Bruce, and he joined the band just before they recorded an EP of jazz instrumental versions of recent hits:

[Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"]

Bruce had also been encouraged by Robert Stigwood to do a solo project, and so at the same time as he joined Manfred Mann, he also put out a solo single, "Drinkin' and Gamblin'"

[Excerpt: Jack Bruce, "Drinkin' and Gamblin'"]

But of course, the reason Bruce had joined Manfred Mann was that they were having pop hits as well as playing jazz, and soon they did just that, with Bruce playing on their number one hit "Pretty Flamingo":

[Excerpt: Manfred Mann, "Pretty Flamingo"]

So John McVie was back in the Bluesbreakers, promising to keep his drinking under control.

Mike Vernon still thought that Mayall had potential, but the people at Decca didn't agree, so Vernon got Mayall and Clapton -- but not the other band members -- to record a single for a small indie label he ran as a side project:

[Excerpt: John Mayall and Eric Clapton, "Bernard Jenkins"]

That label normally only released records in print runs of ninety-nine copies, because once you hit a hundred copies you had to pay tax on them, but there was so much demand for that single that they ended up pressing up five hundred copies, making it the label's biggest seller ever. Vernon eventually convinced the heads at Decca that the Bluesbreakers could be truly big, and so he got the OK to record the album that would generally be considered the greatest British blues album of all time -- Blues Breakers, also known as the Beano album because of Clapton reading a copy of the British kids' comic The Beano in the group photo on the front.

[Excerpt: John Mayall with Eric Clapton, "Ramblin' On My Mind"]

The album was a mixture of originals by Mayall and the standard repertoire of every blues or R&B band on the circuit -- songs like "Parchman Farm" and "What'd I Say" -- but what made the album unique was Clapton's guitar tone. Much to the chagrin of Vernon, and of engineer Gus Dudgeon, Clapton insisted on playing at the same volume that he would on stage. Vernon later said of Dudgeon "I can remember seeing his face the very first time Clapton plugged into the Marshall stack and turned it up and started playing at the sort of volume he was going to play. You could almost see Gus’s eyes meet over the middle of his nose, and it was almost like he was just going to fall over from the sheer power of it all. But after an enormous amount of fiddling around and moving amps around, we got a sound that worked."

[Excerpt: John Mayall with Eric Clapton, "Hideaway"]

But by the time the album cane out. Clapton was no longer with the Bluesbreakers.

The Graham Bond Organisation had struggled on for a while after Bruce's departure. They brought in a trumpet player, Mike Falana, and even had a hit record -- or at least, the B-side of a hit record.

The Who had just put out a hit single, "Substitute", on Robert Stigwood's record label, Reaction:

[Excerpt: The Who, "Substitute"]

But, as you'll hear in episode 183, they had moved to Reaction Records after a falling out with their previous label, and with Shel Talmy their previous producer.

The problem was, when "Substitute" was released, it had as its B-side a song called "Circles" (also known as "Instant Party -- it's been released under both names). They'd recorded an earlier version of the song for Talmy, and just as "Substitute" was starting to chart, Talmy got an injunction against the record and it had to be pulled.

Reaction couldn't afford to lose the big hit record they'd spent money promoting, so they needed to put it out with a new B-side. But the Who hadn't got any unreleased recordings.

But the Graham Bond Organisation had, and indeed they had an unreleased *instrumental*. So "Waltz For a Pig" became the B-side to a top-five single, credited to The Who Orchestra:

[Excerpt: The Who Orchestra, "Waltz For a Pig"]

That record provided the catalyst for the formation of Cream, because Ginger Baker had written the song, and got £1,350 for it, which he used to buy a new car.

Baker had, for some time, been wanting to get out of the Graham Bond Organisation. He was trying to get off heroin -- though he would make many efforts to get clean over the decades, with little success -- while Bond was starting to use it far more heavily, and was also using acid and getting heavily into mysticism, which Baker despised.

Baker may have had the idea for what he did next from an article in one of the music papers. John Entwistle of the Who would often tell a story about an article in Melody Maker -- though I've not been able to track down the article itself to get the full details -- in which musicians were asked to name which of their peers they'd put into a "super-group". He didn't remember the full details, but he did remember that the consensus choice had had Eric Clapton on lead guitar, himself on bass, and Ginger Baker on drums. As he said later "I don’t remember who else was voted in, but a few months later, the Cream came along, and I did wonder if somebody was maybe believing too much of their own press".

Incidentally, like The Buffalo Springfield and The Pink Floyd, Cream, the band we are about to meet, had releases both with and without the definite article, and Eric Clapton at least seems always to talk about them as "the Cream" even decades later, but they're primarily known as just Cream these days.

Baker, having had enough of the Bond group, decided to drive up to Oxford to see Clapton playing with the Bluesbreakers. Clapton invited him to sit in for a couple of songs, and by all accounts the band sounded far better than they had previously. Clapton and Baker could obviously play well together, and Baker offered Clapton a lift back to London in his new car, and on the drive back asked Clapton if he wanted to form a new band.

Clapton was as impressed by Baker's financial skills as he was by his musicianship. He said later "Musicians didn’t have cars. You all got in a van." Clearly a musician who was *actually driving a new car he owned* was going places. He agreed to Baker's plan. But of course they needed a bass player, and Clapton thought he had the perfect solution -- "What about Jack?"

Clapton knew that Bruce had been a member of the Graham Bond Organisation, but didn't know why he'd left the band -- he wasn't particularly clued in to what the wider music scene was doing, and all he knew was that Bruce had played with both him and Baker, and that he was the best bass player he'd ever played with.

And Bruce *was* arguably the best bass player in London at that point, and he was starting to pick up session work as well as his work with Manfred Mann. For example it's him playing on the theme tune to "After The Fox" with Peter Sellers, the Hollies, and the song's composer Burt Bacharach:

[Excerpt: The Hollies with Peter Sellers, "After the Fox"]

Clapton was insistent. Baker's idea was that the band should be the best musicians around. That meant they needed the *best* musicians around, not the second best. If Jack Bruce wasn't joining, Eric Clapton wasn't joining either.

Baker very reluctantly agreed, and went round to see Bruce the next day -- according to Baker it was in a spirit of generosity and giving Bruce one more chance, while according to Bruce he came round to eat humble pie and beg for forgiveness. Either way, Bruce agreed to join the band.

The three met up for a rehearsal at Baker's home, and immediately Bruce and Baker started fighting, but also immediately they realised that they were great at playing together -- so great that they named themselves the Cream, as they were the cream of musicians on the scene.

They knew they had something, but they didn't know what. At first they considered making their performances into Dada projects, inspired by the early-twentieth-century art movement. They liked a band that had just started to make waves, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band -- who had originally been called the Bonzo Dog Dada Band -- and they bought some props with the vague idea of using them on stage in the same way the Bonzos did. But as they played together they realised that they needed to do something different from that.

At first, they thought they needed a fourth member -- a keyboard player. Graham Bond's name was brought up, but Clapton vetoed him. Clapton wanted Steve Winwood, the keyboard player and vocalist with the Spencer Davis Group.

Indeed, Winwood was present at what was originally intended to be the first recording session the trio would play. Joe Boyd had asked Eric Clapton to round up a bunch of players to record some filler tracks for an Elektra blues compilation, and Clapton had asked Bruce and Baker to join him, Paul Jones on vocals, Winwood on Hammond and Clapton's friend Ben Palmer on piano for the session.

Indeed, given that none of the original trio were keen on singing, that Paul Jones was just about to leave Manfred Mann, and that we know Clapton wanted Winwood in the band, one has to wonder if Clapton at least half-intended for this to be the eventual lineup of the band. If he did, that plan was foiled by Baker's refusal to take part in the session.

Instead, this one-off band, named The Powerhouse, featured Pete York, the drummer from the Spencer Davis Group, on the session, which produced the first recording of Clapton playing on the Robert Johnson song originally titled "Cross Road Blues" but now generally better known just as "Crossroads":

[Excerpt: The Powerhouse, "Crossroads"]

We talked about Robert Johnson a little back in episode ninety-seven, but other than Bob Dylan, who was inspired by his lyrics, we had seen very little influence from Johnson up to this point, but he's going to be a major influence on rock guitar for the next few years, so we should talk about him a little here.

It's often said that nobody knew anything about Robert Johnson, that he was almost a phantom other than his records which existed outside of any context as artefacts of their own. That's... not really the case. Johnson had died a little less than thirty years earlier, at only twenty-seven years old. Most of his half-siblings and step-siblings were alive, as were his son, his stepson, and dozens of musicians he'd played with over the years, women he'd had affairs with, and other assorted friends and relatives.

What people mean is that information about Johnson's life was not yet known by people they consider important -- which is to say white blues scholars and musicians. Indeed, almost everything people like that -- people like *me* -- know of the facts of Johnson's life has only become known to us in the last four years. If, as some people had expected, I'd started this series with an episode on Johnson, I'd have had to redo the whole thing because of the information that's made its way to the public since then.

But here's what was known -- or thought -- by white blues scholars in 1966.

Johnson was, according to them, a field hand from somewhere in Mississippi, who played the guitar in between working on the cotton fields. He had done two recording sessions, in 1936 and 1937. One song from his first session, "Terraplane Blues", had been a very minor hit by blues standards:

[Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "Terraplane Blues"]

That had sold well -- nobody knows how well, but maybe as many as ten thousand copies, and it was certainly a record people knew in 1937 if they liked the Delta blues, but ten thousand copies total is nowhere near the sales of really successful records, and none of the follow-ups had sold anything like that much -- many of them had sold in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

As Elijah Wald, one of Johnson's biographers put it "knowing about Johnson and Muddy Waters but not about Leroy Carr or Dinah Washington was like knowing about, say, the Sir Douglas Quintet but not knowing about the Beatles" -- though *I* would add that the Sir Douglas Quintet were much bigger during the sixties than Johnson was during his lifetime.

One of the few white people who had noticed Johnson's existence at all was John Hammond, and he'd written a brief review of Johnson's first two singles under a pseudonym in a Communist newspaper. I'm going to quote it here, but the word he used to talk about Black people was considered correct then but isn't now, so I'll substitute Black for that word:

"Before closing we cannot help but call your attention to the greatest [Black] blues singer who has cropped up in recent years, Robert Johnson. Recording them in deepest Mississippi, Vocalion has certainly done right by us and by the tunes "Last Fair Deal Gone Down" and "Terraplane Blues", to name only two of the four sides already released, sung to his own guitar accompaniment. Johnson makes Leadbelly sound like an accomplished poseur"

Hammond had tried to get Johnson to perform at the Spirituals to Swing concerts we talked about in the very first episodes of the podcast, but he'd discovered that he'd died shortly before. He got Big Bill Broonzy instead, and played a couple of Johnson's records from a record player on the stage.

Hammond introduced those recordings with a speech:

"It is tragic that an American audience could not have been found seven or eight years ago for a concert of this kind. Bessie Smith was still at the height of her career and Joe Smith, probably the greatest trumpet player America ever knew, would still have been around to play obbligatos for her...dozens of other artists could have been there in the flesh. But that audience as well as this one would not have been able to hear Robert Johnson sing and play the blues on his guitar, for at that time Johnson was just an unknown hand on a Robinsonville, Mississippi plantation.

Robert Johnson was going to be the big surprise of the evening for this audience at Carnegie Hall. I know him only from his Vocalion blues records and from the tall, exciting tales the recording engineers and supervisors used to bring about him from the improvised studios in Dallas and San Antonio. I don't believe Johnson had ever worked as a professional musician anywhere, and it still knocks me over when I think of how lucky it is that a talent like his ever found its way onto phonograph records. We will have to be content with playing two of his records, the old "Walkin' Blues" and the new, unreleased, "Preachin' Blues", because Robert Johnson died last week at the precise moment when Vocalion scouts finally reached him and told him that he was booked to appear at Carnegie Hall on December 23. He was in his middle twenties and nobody seems to know what caused his death."

And that was, for the most part, the end of Robert Johnson's impact on the culture for a generation. The Lomaxes went down to Clarksdale, Mississippi a couple of years later -- reports vary as to whether this was to see if they could find Johnson, who they were unaware was dead, or to find information out about him, and they did end up recording a young singer named Muddy Waters for the Library of Congress, including Waters' rendition of "32-20 Blues", Johnson's reworking of Skip James' "Twenty-Two Twenty Blues":

[Excerpt: Muddy Waters, "32-20 Blues"]

But Johnson's records remained unavailable after their initial release until 1959, when the blues scholar Samuel Charters published the book The Country Blues, which was the first book-length treatment ever of Delta blues. Sixteen years later Charters said "I shouldn’t have written The Country Blues when I did; since I really didn’t know enough, but I felt I couldn’t afford to wait. So The Country Blues was two things. It was a romanticization of certain aspects of black life in an effort to force the white society to reconsider some of its racial attitudes, and on the other hand it was a cry for help. I wanted hundreds of people to go out and interview the surviving blues artists. I wanted people to record them and document their lives, their environment, and their music, not only so that their story would be preserved but also so they’d get a little money and a little recognition in their last years."

Charters talked about Johnson in the book, as one of the performers who played "minor roles in the story of the blues", and said that almost nothing was known about his life. He talked about how he had been poisoned by his common-law wife, about how his records were recorded in a pool hall, and said "The finest of Robert Johnson's blues have a brooding sense of torment and despair. The blues has become a personified figure of despondency."

Along with Charters' book came a compilation album of the same name, and that included the first ever reissue of one of Johnson's tracks, "Preaching Blues":

[Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "Preaching Blues"]

Two years later, John Hammond, who had remained an ardent fan of Johnson, had Columbia put out the King of the Delta Blues Singers album. At the time no white blues scholars knew what Johnson looked like and they had no photos of him, so a generic painting of a poor-looking Black man with a guitar was used for the cover.

The liner note to King of the Delta Blues Singers talked about how Johnson was seventeen or eighteen when he made his recordings, how he was "dead before he reached his twenty-first birthday, poisoned by a jealous girlfriend", how he had "seldom, if ever, been away from the plantation in Robinsville, Mississippi, where he was born and raised", and how he had had such stage fright that when he was asked to play in front of other musicians, he'd turned to face a wall so he couldn't see them.

And that would be all that any of the members of the Powerhouse would know about Johnson. Maybe they'd also heard the rumours that were starting to spread that Johnson had got his guitar-playing skills by selling his soul to the devil at a crossroads at midnight, but that would have been all they knew when they recorded their filler track for Elektra:

[Excerpt: The Powerhouse, "Crossroads"]

Either way, the Powerhouse lineup only lasted for that one session -- the group eventually decided that a simple trio would be best for the music they wanted to play. Clapton had seen Buddy Guy touring with just a bass player and drummer a year earlier, and had liked the idea of the freedom that gave him as a guitarist.

The group soon took on Robert Stigwood as a manager, which caused more arguments between Bruce and Baker. Bruce was convinced that if they were doing an all-for-one one-for-all thing they should also manage themselves, but Baker pointed out that that was a daft idea when they could get one of the biggest managers in the country to look after them.

A bigger argument, which almost killed the group before it started, happened when Baker told journalist Chris Welch of the Melody Maker about their plans. In an echo of the way that he and Bruce had been resigned from Blues Incorporated without being consulted, now with no discussion Manfred Mann and John Mayall were reading in the papers that their band members were quitting before those members had bothered to mention it.

Mayall was furious, especially since the album Clapton had played on hadn't yet come out. Clapton was supposed to work a month's notice while Mayall found another guitarist, but Mayall spent two weeks begging Peter Green to rejoin the band. Green was less than eager -- after all, he'd been fired pretty much straight away earlier -- but Mayall eventually persuaded him. The second he did, Mayall turned round to Clapton and told him he didn't have to work the rest of his notice -- he'd found another guitar player and Clapton was fired:

[Excerpt: John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, "Dust My Blues"]

Manfred Mann meanwhile took on the Beatles' friend Klaus Voorman to replace Bruce. Voorman would remain with the band until the end, and like Green was for Mayall, Voorman was in some ways a better fit for Manfred Mann than Bruce was. In particular he could double on flute, as he did for example on their hit version of Bob Dylan's "The Mighty Quinn":

[Excerpt: Manfred Mann "The Mighty Quinn"]

The new group, The Cream, were of course signed in the UK to Stigwood's Reaction label. Other than the Who, who only stuck around for one album, Reaction was not a very successful label. Its biggest signing was a former keyboard player for Screaming Lord Sutch, who recorded for them under the names Paul Dean and Oscar, but who later became known as Paul Nicholas and had a successful career in musical theatre and sitcom. Nicholas never had any hits for Reaction, but he did release one interesting record, in 1967:

[Excerpt: Oscar, "Over the Wall We Go"]

That was one of the earliest songwriting attempts by a young man who had recently named himself David Bowie.

Now the group were public, they started inviting journalists to their rehearsals, which were mostly spent trying to combine their disparate musical influences -- Clapton was bringing in old Robert Johnson and Son House songs, while Bruce was thinking of the band as being somewhat akin to Ornette Coleman. Bruce had also started writing original material for the group, starting with a song called "NSU":

[Excerpt: Cream, "NSU"]

Apparently most people thought that song was about the NSU Quickly Moped, but Bruce was actually writing about non-specific urethritis. As he said later "it was about a member of the band who had this venereal disease. I can't tell you which one... except he played guitar."

The group basically took over all the venues that the Graham Bond Organisation had previously played, though while the Graham Bond Organisation had been getting paid £40 between four of them, Cream were getting £45 between three of them. It soon became clear that they were worth far, far, more than that.

Clapton had started to change his playing style drastically to fit the other two. As he put it at the time, "My whole musical attitude has changed. I listen to the same sounds and records, but with a different ear. I’m no longer trying to play like anything but a white man. The time is overdue when people should play like they are, and what colour they are."

But more important than that, he was trying to play *better* than the other two. As the group's friend, the TV director Tony Palmer, put it "They realised, quite early on, that they didn’t like each other and, to some extent, that helped them become the great group they became. And it was perfectly clear when you watched them, I think, that they’re not wanting to be outplayed by the other two. And that’s what made them really fire off."

According to Baker (other sources put this event later), even before they released their first single, Bruce had been trying to persuade Clapton to replace Baker -- though how likely this is given that in every other story about band troubles it's always Baker who's trying to kick someone out, I don't know. They stayed together with a promise that everything about the band would be split equally -- except the songwriting.

Baker thought that since both he and Bruce were composers, and since nobody in the band was a lyricist, they should bring in the poet Pete Brown, who the Graham Bond Organisation had sometimes backed doing his beat poetry, to write lyrics for them, and split the songwriting credits and royalties equally four ways. As Baker put it in his autobiography: "I invited him to come and write some songs with us, ‘us’ being the operative word! We were at a studio in Haverstock Hill and, although Pete had never met Jack or Eric before, they went off together and wrote ‘Wrapping Paper’. It was the most awful song and had absolutely nothing to do with what Cream was doing, but it got released."

It did indeed get released, as the group's first single -- but while "Wrapping Paper" is not really indicative of what Cream would do later, it's not as bad as its reputation, and it suggests that the idea of them being a dada group influenced by the Bonzo Dog Band might have still been in the back of some of their minds:

[Excerpt: Cream, "Wrapping Paper"]

Baker said "I was amazed to see that the songwriting was credited to Bruce and Brown – no mention of Eric or me. There was a big row, but I had promised I would never hit Jack again, though I often had to resort to drinking loads of alcohol instead in order to finish the session."

Baker did though start writing material on his own -- with Bruce's wife writing the lyrics.

Incidentally, I should note here that Pete Brown died in the early stages of me writing this episode. Normally I'd mention that at the end of an episode, when I'm wrapping things up, but because of the way this one is structured there's not really a good place for me to do so. Also because of the way this episode is structured , there's not really as much space given to the importance his lyrics had to Cream's success, so I'm going to acknowledge that here too.

"Wrapping Paper" was meant to be released at the same time as the group did their first big nationwide tour. That tour was a typical package tour of the time, and Cream were third on the bill. At the bottom were bands called MI-5 and The Fruit-Eating Bears (not the same Fruit-Eating Bears who were a punk band in the seventies who recorded "Door in My Face" -- those Fruit-Eating Bears took the original, even less-known, group's name), Then was Oscar, then Max Wall, an old music-hall comedian born in 1908, then the Magic Lanterns, a band that at various times featured Albert Hammond, Godley and Creme of 10CC, and a bass player called Oz Osbourne whose playing in the band caused a lot of confusion for future music historians who thought he was Ozzy Osbourne.

Above Cream were the Merseys -- the band formerly known as the Merseybeats -- who'd just had a big hit with "Sorrow":

[Excerpt: The Merseys, "Sorrow"]

And topping the bill were The Who, whose "I'm a Boy" was being released on Reaction simultaneously with "Wrapping Paper" and Oscar's latest single:

[Excerpt: The Who, "I'm a Boy"]

But everything went wrong. First there was a problem at the pressing plant which meant that ten thousand copies of "Wrapping Paper" had to be thrown out and the release rescheduled for a month later. Then the Who got an offer to do a ten-day US tour, and cancelled the entire UK tour -- only to then discover that a problem with their work permits meant they couldn't play the US tour anyway.

Instead, Cream quickly booked a lot of gigs in smaller venues while they waited for the revised release date of their first single. And on October the first, at a gig at the London Polytechnic, Chas Chandler asked if a new guitarist he was managing could sit in. As always, Ginger Baker didn't want to, but Clapton and Bruce thought it might be fun. After all, Clapton was "God", right? He could outplay anyone.

We don't have recordings of that night, but we do have recordings of that guitarist playing the song he played that night on other occasions:

[Excerpt: Jimi Hendrix, "Killing Floor"]

There was a new God in town.

Every guitarist in London was astonished and upset at the arrival of Hendrix -- Jeff Beck said "Suddenly, you couldn’t do anything remotely flash or clever, because people would just say you were ripping Hendrix off."

There had been a rivalry between the London guitarists. Up to that point there were basically six electric guitarists in London who mattered as far as innovation on the instrument went -- Clapton, Beck, Jimmy Page, Peter Green, Pete Townshend, and Dave Davies. As soon as Hendrix turned up, there was only one.

Clapton didn't take it well, *at all*.  He started trying to imitate Hendrix's guitar style in rehearsals, much to Bruce and Baker's disgust. Within a few months he'd grown his hair out into a curly perm inspired by Hendrix's Afro -- he would tell everyone who listened that he was actually copying Bob Dylan's hairstyle, saying "I liked Dylan’s hair I went and had my hair curled. Then Jimi came on with the curly hair and his band did it to complete the image, and everybody else did it because they dug Jimi and other people did it cos they dug me, I guess. It became quite a trend in England to have curly hair."

Except of course that Hendrix had his Afro *before* Clapton. According to Bruce "When Jimi Hendrix came on the scene, Eric said 'One of us has to have a hairdo like that.' I said, 'OK, so long as it isn’t me,' so Eric went and got a perm."

There's a *fascinating* interview from 1967, which I can't quote here because Clapton liberally uses racial slurs and also swears a lot, but you can find online if you search for the phrase "And Jimi came over and exploited that to the limit". In that, Clapton makes roughly three overlapping claims. The first is the rather patronising one that Hendrix was "a beautiful guitar player for his age" (Hendrix was three years older than Clapton). The second is the claim that Hendrix's showmanship was in direct opposition to his musicianship, that when Hendrix did all his chitlin' circuit tricks he'd look at the audience reaction and only really respected people who were listening rather than those who were impressed by pyrotechnics -- that one may well have been true, but given some of what I'm going to talk about later, it also reads to me very much as if Clapton was projecting his own feelings about his own audience onto Hendrix. And finally, Clapton claimed that the main reason everyone was impressed by Hendrix is that in Britain everyone believed that Black men had large penises.

Meanwhile, Cream were in the middle of recording their debut album, Fresh Cream, and "Wrapping Paper" had come out to excruciatingly bad reviews. Jack Bruce remembered performing the single on Ready, Steady, Go! and his old bandmates Manfred Mann also being on the show. He said "You could see them giving us looks, as if to say, 'They’ve blown it.'"

"Wrapping Paper" only reached number thirty-four on the charts, but the second single did much better:

[Excerpt: The Cream, "I Feel Free"]

"I Feel Free" was another song by Brown and Bruce, with Bruce on lead vocals, and it did much better in the charts, reaching number eleven. It was left off the album, as was "Wrapping Paper", and so Fresh Cream was a mixture of five originals, including Baker's extended drum solo "Toad", and five blues covers -- two of which, including a Robert Johnson one, had group members adding themselves to the credits as arrangers to get some of the songwriting money.

Stigwood seemed to be losing interest in Cream even before they'd really started. In January 1967 he entered into the agreement with Brian Epstein that we talked about in the episode on "All You Need is Love", and started managing NEMS artists. He signed the minor Merseybeat star Billy J. Kramer to Reaction and had him record a single for the label:

[Excerpt: Billy J Kramer, "Town of Tuxley Toymaker"]

That was written by three of the members of a new band that Stigwood had signed to NEMS -- but not to his own record label, which he eventually wound down as his new signing took up more of his attention:

[Excerpt: The Bee Gees, "New York Mining Disaster 1941"]

The Bee Gees would of course go on to have massive success and be Stigwood's biggest clients, but at the time Cream resented them for taking Stigwood's focus away from them.

Ahmet Ertegun was also getting a bit annoyed by Stigwood's loss of focus. Atlantic were distributing Cream's records in the US, and were about to release the first album over there, and he wanted Cream to play US dates in order to promote the record, but Stigwood just didn't seem that bothered. Eventually, though, they did get a series of US dates organised -- nine days performing five times a day for five minutes a time on a Murray the K package show in New York with Simon and Garfunkel, Mitch Ryder, Wilson Pickett, Smokey Robinson, Phil Ochs, and a disparate bunch of other acts.

Cream were actually only on there because Mitch Ryder really didn't want to do it. Ryder had told his agent to just keep making ridiculous demands until Murray the K said no, but Murray the K had been desperate to get him. Ryder had demanded a ridiculous fee, Murray had said yes. Ryder had demanded that his dressing room be repainted in blue. Murray had said yes. Finally Ryder had demanded that the Who, who had never played in the US before, also be on the bill, and Murray had said yes to that as well.

So Ryder's agent had called Robert Stigwood, who was handling the Who's bookings, and told him the situation -- Mitch Ryder really didn't want to do it, so Stigwood should make demands for the Who that would mean they wouldn't play, so then Ryder wouldn't have to. So Stigwood demanded $5000 for the Who -- a ridiculous sum. Murray agreed. So Stigwood added on that the Who would only do it if the Cream were also on the bill, and they'd cost another $2,500. Murray agreed to that. And so both Cream and the Who ended up making their American debuts in front of a load of bemused teenage kids who were there to see pop stars.

As John Entwistle described it "we’d done all the silly tours and mad packages, where you go out and find you’re supporting a dancing bear and a juggler. But Cream had never been in that environment – the Bluesbreakers, Graham Bond, the Yardbirds, they were club bands, playing to audiences who knew what they were about, and suddenly they were dropped into this Christmas Pantomime environment, with a couple of thousand thirteen-year-olds eating sweets and reading comics. It really was rather ridiculous."

As it turned out as well, the teenagers were unimpressed enough by the lineup that Murray didn't make anything like the money he'd expected, and none of the acts ended up getting paid at all, except the Who, whose manager Chris Stamp had insisted on per diems because they didn't have enough money to eat.

After that run of gigs, though, Cream were booked into Atlantic's studios for a session with Ahmet Ertegum producing them. That only produced one track, but a month later they flew back to the US to record more there, this time with the legendary Tom Dowd engineering and Ertegun's choice of producer, Felix Pappalardi, who had recently produced the debut album by the Youngbloods:

[Excerpt: The Youngbloods, "Get Together"]

Pappalardi almost immediately proved his worth to the band. The group had been playing a version of an old blues standard, "Hey Lawdy Mama", but after the first day's sessions Pappalardi had taken a copy of the instrumental track back home, and with his wife Gail Collins had written a new lyric and melody line to the track. The result, "Strange Brew", became the group's next single, and another UK top twenty hit:

[Excerpt: Cream, "Strange Brew"]

Bruce was never quite happy with the changes though, saying "There’s a bum note in there, and it annoys me every time I hear it. They grafted these lyrics on top of the backing track, and it had a different chord change. If you listen to the song, it sounds like I’m playing the wrong bass line. That’s because I’m playing a different tune! I cringe every time I hear it"

There were other problems as well. By this time Cream had realised that they needed to do different things in the studio and live -- they could show off their playing on stage, but they needed to have songs that would stand up to repeated listens in the studio, and were working on their songcraft.  Baker said "There were two bands. A lot of the studio stuff we hardly ever played live."

Ertegun, though, thought he'd signed a blues band and thought the music they were working on was "psychedelic hogwash" (other sources credit that comment to Jerry Wexler rather than Ertegun, but neither man was happy with the material). On top of that, all he'd really known about the band when he'd signed them was that Clapton was the former guitarist with the Yardbirds and John Mayall. He was the star of the group, so why was the bass player doing most of the singing?

The album, eventually titled Disraeli Gears, was many things, but it wasn't a blues album. It had songs like "Tales of Brave Ulysses" which featured a wah-wah pedal, mostly because Clapton had heard that Hendrix had just bought one; SWLABR" which Bruce later said was inspired by the Monkees; a version of the old music-hall song "Your Baby's Gone Down the Plug-Hole", retitled "Mother's Lament"; and the song that Ertegun and Wexler detested most of all, "Sunshine of Your Love":

[Excerpt: Cream, "Sunshine of Your Love"]

That had started out as a riff that Bruce had been playing on a double-bass, which Brown had found difficult to set lyrics to, until they got to the end of an all-night writing session and, staring out the window, Brown wrote the line "It's getting near dawn and lights close their tired eyes".

Clapton later added the chorus music, and the song had been in the group's set for a while before they took it into the studio, where Tom Dowd made the crucial suggestion that Ginger Baker play the downbeat rather than the backbeat. This fit well with Baker's jazz-influenced style -- it was the kind of thing that a lot of swing bands would do -- but Ertegun still hated the track. It was only when Otis Redding and Booker T. Jones heard it and thought it was great that Ertegun relented and allowed it to be released at all. Released as the second single from the album, several months after the album's release, it became the group's first and biggest US hit, reaching number five more than a year after it was recorded:

[Excerpt: Cream, "Sunshine of Your Love"]

But it took a long time for that hit to happen, and in summer 1967 there was serious consideration given to splitting up the band. And Jack Bruce even had another offer. Peter Green had quit John Mayall's Bluesbreakers after Mayall had fired his friend, Mayall's latest drummer Mick Fleetwood, and he was trying to put together his own supergroup in the manner of Cream, with the best players and singers on the scene. He got in Aynsley Dunbar on drums, Brian Auger on keyboards (though Auger can't be heard on the recordings that have surfaced, but Green said he was there), Bruce on bass and piano, and the Jeff Beck Group's singer on vocals to form Crazy Blue:

[Excerpt: Crazy Blue, "Stone Crazy"]

Unfortunately at this point everyone had so many entanglements and contracts that the record never came out, and Green had to get a new lineup for his supergroup, who debuted only a few days after that session. Rod Stewart and the rest had all lost their chance to be in the band that became Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac.

But soon after that, Cream made their first appearance at the Fillmore, and suddenly everything changed. In the UK they'd been used to playing relatively short club sets, and their only US appearances previously had had them playing only one song a show. But at the Fillmore they were expected to play for hours, and so they had to stretch out. As Bruce said "When we hit the Fillmore, we started to play those long improvisations . . . because we didn’t know hardly any songs! It was partly a repertoire, and partly a product of the times, because all the audiences were stoned out of their collective bonces."

The group went down a storm at the Fillmore, and what had been a one-week residency at one venue ended up becoming a major US tour, with the band being booked for long residencies in other major cities as a result of the Fillmore audience. When the tour hit New York, Clapton guested with Aretha Franklin on the track "Good to Me as I Am to You" on her Lady Soul album:

[Excerpt: Aretha Franklin, "Good to Me as I Am to You"]

and also guested on the Mothers of Invention's We're Only In It For The Money, though only speaking, not playing guitar:

[Excerpt: The Mothers of Invention, "Are You Hung Up?"]

While Clapton was on that album, Jimi Hendrix, who wasn't, was on the cover, a parody of the Sgt Pepper cover.

For much of the rest of the year and early into 1968, Cream led a strange double life. In Britain they were a pop group -- on the hip end of pop, the art school end, but definitely in the light entertainment industry. They played the Saville Theatre with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, the Marine Ballroom at the end of Morecambe Pier, and the Silver Blades Ice Rink in Streatham. They also made a guest appearance on Twice A Fortnight, a comedy show directed by Tony Palmer, a friend of Clapton's who later went on to be one of the most important rock music documentary makers of all time, and starring Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones.

That Twice A Fortnight appearance actually ended with Baker being rushed to hospital, with what was at first believed to be an ulcer -- he had all the symptoms -- but which turned out actually to be exhaustion.

But Baker was only in hospital for a week before it was back on the treadmill, and this time back to the US, where rather than being pop they were playing to a rock audience who wanted their extended solos and jamming. This disparity is reflected in their next album, Wheels of Fire, which they worked on through most of 1967 and early 1968. This was a double-album, and disc one was mostly made up of relatively short songs recorded in the studio by "the Cream Quartet" -- the three members of the group plus Pappalardi. As Clapton later said "The strange thing about Cream was that every time we went into the studios to record, we formed another group, adding violins or another guitar  or something."

These tracks were layered, orchestrated, pop songs that made use of Bruce and Pappalardi's multi-instrumental abilities and the eight-track equipment that Atlantic had (at a time when the best studios in the UK were still on four-track).  Bruce added cello, calliope, and recorder, Pappalardi viola, tonette, and trumpet, and Baker played a variety of tuned percussion as well as his drumkit. This disc was made up almost entirely of originals -- four by Bruce and Brown, and three by Baker and the group's friend Mike Taylor -- plus two blues covers suggested by Clapton, who was still not writing material himself.

Disc two, on the other hand, featured the core trio just playing their normal instruments, live in San Francisco. It was labelled as "Live at the Fillmore", but in fact three of the four tracks were recorded at the Winterland Ballroom. Side two features two extended improvisations -- a seven-minute version of "Train Time", the song Bruce had written for the Graham Bond Organisation, and a sixteen-minute version of Baker's drum solo "Toad".

Side one, meanwhile, spotlighted Clapton on two blues tracks, a seventeen-minute version of  Willie Dixon's "Spoonful", which they'd already recorded in a much shorter studio version on Fresh Cream, and a relatively concise, four-minute, version of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads":

[Excerpt: Cream, "Crossroads"]

While that didn't give the group the excuse for ultra-extended soloing the way some of the other tracks they recorded did, it did become Clapton's signature song, and possibly his most definitive guitar performance -- so much so that there's an often-told story about the great Irish blues guitarist Rory Gallagher being told he played "Crossroads" better than Clapton and replying "but Eric wrote it!"

Crossroads also became the title track to Clapton's career-spanning 1988 box set, and is still arguably the best example of him as a pure guitarist on record:

[Excerpt: Cream, "Crossroads"]

Those recordings, according to Bruce, were "a fair representation of the band on an average night, but not on one of the nights when we really took off". The rest of the band agreed -- their best shows were never recorded.

And there were a *lot* of shows. Those San Francisco shows were recorded on a long tour to promote Disraeli Gears, and they played more than seventy shows in four months.

But the shows were getting worse and worse. It was apparent that the audience was there to see the great musicians they'd heard about, but not actually to listen to the music. At one show they were drowned out by screaming feedback, and the audience loved it. Another show, the vocal mics didn't work. The audience didn't mind. Another show, Clapton's guitar wasn't in the mix. The audience didn't care.

The group hated performing for people who weren't listening, and started to play badly as a result -- if the audience didn't care, why would they? They were on a grinding treadmill, and getting on each other's nerves. Bruce and Baker were arguing about everything from politics (Baker was right-wing and Bruce was a leftist) to the PA systems. All of them were suffering from exhaustion, especially Baker. Bruce said later "I’m sure that a lot of people came to see Cream to see if Ginger would die. Whereas they’d go to see other bands because they thought the singer was sexy, they’d come and see us and shout through the window, 'You gonna die tonight, Ginger?'"

And there was another issue, too. Clapton was starting to think that maybe the whole direction the group were going in was wrong.

In late 1967, a tape had started to circulate in British music circles, of some new songs by Bob Dylan, who hadn't released any music since a motorcycle accident the previous year:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Band, "The Mighty Quinn"]

Originally, the only copy was in the hands of Manfred Mann, who'd been sent it in the hope that they might have a hit with some of the songs, as they had with "If You Gotta Go, Go Now", and "Just Like a Woman". Dylan had said in 1965 that of all the people who'd covered his songs, the best was Manfred Mann, and they did indeed record "The Mighty Quinn" and have a number one with it. But slowly more copies started to circulate, and more musicians started covering songs from it. The recording was *full* of great songs:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Band, "This Wheel's on Fire"]

Not only that, Clapton soon got an advance copy of the first album by Dylan's backing band on those tapes, a band who just called themselves The Band, and that contained remakes of some of those Dylan songs but also new originals like "The Weight":

[Excerpt: The Band, "The Weight"]

This music, which we'll be hearing more about next episode, had nothing to do with seventeen-minute drum solos or psychedelia. This, Clapton knew, was the music he actually wanted to be making. Maybe it was the music he *would* have been making if they'd got Steve Winwood in the band like he'd wanted at the start. He'd play the record, and the tape of Dylan's new songs, over and over on the tour,  wishing he was doing that instead.

Matters came to a head when Bruce suggested to Baker that the group needed their own PA system rather than using the awful venue ones. Baker, who was the band member most interested in their financial well-being, told him they couldn't afford one, and Bruce was horrified. What were they even doing this for if they were working themselves to death, having massive hit records, and still couldn't afford basic equipment?

Bruce said he was going home, and made his way to the airport, where two of the band's roadies found him and basically forced him to go back and play that night's gig. But they cancelled the next ten days' worth of shows.

That was in April 1968. But after those ten days, the group were back on the road, slogging their way through the rest of the US tour until June.

Their next single, "Anyone For Tennis", released while they were still working on the Wheels of Fire album, barely scraped the top forty in the UK and didn't even make the hot one hundred in the US. To my ears, it shows the influence of their friends the Bonzo Dog Band again, with the recorder part sounding not dissimilar to the Bonzos' recent hit "I'm the Urban Spaceman":

[Excerpt: Cream, "Anyone For Tennis"]

But the fundamental problem was, as Noel Redding said, that "The things that killed Cream were the same that killed Jimi. If one person had booed while Jack was tuning his bass, or Eric hit a bum note, then they’d have known that people still cared about what they played. Instead, they were allowed to get away with everything, until finally it didn’t matter what they did. And the moment they realised that, it was the end. "

The killer blow came when someone else expressed that for the first time in print. Jon Landau wrote a devastating review of the group in Rolling Stone that said in part "the greatest pitfall that stands before them is that an over-accepting audience in the United States will lull them into a complacency in which they increase their virtuosity at the expense of their own involvement. It would not be difficult for a group of this caliber to start making it all sound like scales."

According to Clapton, he literally fainted when he read that review.

They put the finishing touches on Wheels Of Fire, and it was released to a mixed reception.  "White Room", a Bruce and Brown song that was the single from the album, became a minor hit in the UK but a top ten hit in the US:

[Excerpt: Cream, "White Room"]

But most people seemed to think it was an album of two halves, and only liked one of the halves -- to the extent that in Britain, Polydor, their new label, released it as two single discs as well as a double album, so people wouldn't have to buy the one they didn't like. Rolling Stone loved the live disc, saying "This is the kind of thing that people who have seen Cream perform walk away raving about, and it’s good to, at last, have it on a record", but they absolutely savaged the studio disc, saying "Cream is good at a number of things; unfortunately songwriting and recording are not among them."

The album was released in July 1968, and went to number one in the US album charts. "Sunshine of Your Love" reentered the charts and belatedly became a massive hit, and Cream were finally having the massive commercial success they'd expected from the start.

But on the thirteenth of July, they announced they were splitting. They were going to do a final US tour at the end of the year, and release a contractual obligation album, and that was it.

That album, Goodbye, came out in 1969, and had three studio tracks, one written by each member, and three live tracks. The studio tracks included "Badge", a song Clapton had written with his good friend George Harrison, and which became the group's last single, making the top twenty in the UK but only number sixty in the US:

[Excerpt: Cream, "Badge"]

While the live tracks included Bruce and Brown's "Politician" and two old blues songs, Skip James' "I'm So Glad", and "Sittin' on Top of the World".  Those songs were also included in the group's final live show (other than a brief 2005 reunion) at the Royal Albert Hall, which was filmed by Tony Palmer for a documentary:

[Excerpt: Cream, "Sittin' on Top of the World (live Albert Hall)"]

That's where we'll be leaving Cream for now, but the members of the group will all turn up in future episodes, and we'll continue their stories then.

But another story also continued -- the story of Robert Johnson. Because the King of the Delta Blues Singers album had sparked a concerted search for information about Johnson among the community of white blues scholars and musicians, and people like Al Wilson of Canned Heat, Gayle Dean Wardlow, Paul Oliver, Peter Guralnick, Steve LaVere, and Mack McCormick started investigating Johnson's life and writing articles and books on him.

This investigation, at least initially, took a lot of time, and involved very few clues -- one way that McCormick tracked down information was writing down every single reference to a place name in any of Johnson's songs and then travelling to all those places, knocking on doors and asking people if they remembered a blues singer called Robert Johnson who'd been there thirty or so years earlier. This was time-consuming and slow going, and the information we have now took literally decades of work, but because of that work we now have, in the public domain, more reliable information about Johnson than pretty much any other Delta blues singer of his generation.

But it took a while to separate the wheat from the chaff. Johnson was a man who, like many of us, was different around different people -- just as for any of us our persona on social media is different from how we are when talking with our closest friends or romantic partners, and that again is different from how we are at work or how we are when talking to our grandparents. And so at first the information seemed to make Johnson more unknowable, rather than more known, as utterly contradictory information came through different sources.

This was combined with the inherent unreliability of the information -- and again this unreliability has many different causes. There were people who simply remembered things badly, there were people who exaggerated their own role in the story for their own reputation -- "I taught him everything he knew!" -- people who didn't want to speak to a strange white person they'd never met before, people who wanted to string these rather gullible young white men along and see what nonsense they could get them to believe, people who decided that they should just say whatever the young white kids giving them money wanted to hear whether it was true or not, people who told the truth but used idioms that weren't familiar to people of a radically different background, and every other way in which facts can be confused.

So for example, Son House talked to some researchers about how he'd known Robert Johnson when Johnson was just a kid, and he'd tried to play the guitar and been terrible, but then he'd gone away, come back, and been astonishingly good. This was mixed in the researchers' minds -- not in anything House actually said, though what House said was inaccurate in itself -- with a story that was told by relatives of another bluesman named Johnson -- Tommy Johnson -- which said that he'd sold his soul to the Devil. Add in a few references to crossroads and the Devil in Johnson's songs, and it soon became a legend, one known by everyone who knows of Johnson at all, that he'd been a terrible guitar player until he'd gone to a crossroads at midnight. There a strange black figure had retuned his guitar, giving him the power to play better than any man alive, in exchange for his soul.

The more prosaic truth, that when House first met Johnson Johnson was an early-career professional in his late teens, who was a decent player but completely outshone by the much more experienced House, so Johnson went off and spent several months taking lessons from a more accomplished player and practising constantly and got better, is rather less well-known.

So, let's take an abbreviated look at the actual life of Robert Johnson, King of the Delta Blues singers:

[Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "Cross Road Blues"]

Robert Johnson would not even have been born were it not for white men trying to steal from Black men.

One of the facts about the segregation-era South that is not as widely known among white people as perhaps it should be is the extent to which lynching was an *economic* tool of exploitation. It was not, as films usually portray, the poorest Black men who were lynched for the most part. Rather it was those who had managed to get something for themselves -- a plot of land, a small business -- that a rich white man wanted.

The normal thing was that the white man would make some kind of accusation against the Black man -- usually that the Black man had been trying to have sex with a white woman. This would anger the other white people, they would brutally murder the Black man, and the white man would be able to get the Black man's possessions after he died, buying them from the state for a fraction of what they were worth.

So in 1906 when Joseph Marchetti accosted Charles Dodds, a farmer who owned a small piece of land, in the street and accused him of talking to a white woman  -- the woman in question was actually mixed-race, as was Dodds himself, and there were rumours that Marchetti had an interest in her -- and slashed at Dodds' face with a knife, Dodds knew what was coming. He quickly ran home, explained the situation to his wife, and hid himself in a bramble thicket so thick that it would appear that nobody could get in there.

He waited in the brambles for almost two weeks until the lynch mob finally gave up looking for him, and then made his escape -- dressed in women's clothes, in case they were still looking for him. Dodds moved to Memphis and changed his name to Spencer. He and his wife still loved each other, but they couldn't be together, and Spencer remarried twice -- his second wife died after they had two children, and he married again and had two more.

He and his wife Julia had had five children, and in 1911, five years after they split up Julia had a sixth with her new partner, Noah Johnson. As a single mother, Julia had sent several of her older children to live with their father and his new wife, because they were doing better financially, and when her relationship with Johnson got bad she turned to her ex-husband for help for herself, their youngest child, and her child by another man.

Spencer took his ex-wife's son in, and Julia stayed at least for a while with him (and longer with her older daughter Carrie). Robert took on the name Robert Spencer, and as he grew up Spencer taught him the rudiments of music -- Spencer played guitar and fiddle, and was a big fan of country music, especially Fiddlin' John Carson and Uncle Dave Macon, and that would have been the music he taught his stepson to play:

[Excerpt: Uncle Dave Macon, "Death of John Henry"]

Robert's older half-brother, Charles Spencer Jr, known as Son, also played music, both guitar and piano, and  there's a photo of him in a suit, wearing a hat, playing a guitar with his wife by his side which looks *spookily* like the most famous photo of his brother.

Son also taught Robert some of what he knew on the guitar, and introduced him to a lot of music -- Son was a big fan of country music, like his father, but also liked ragtime and jazz, especially Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong.

While he was being brought up in Memphis, Robert also went to school, which set him apart from a lot of the other Delta blues singers, many of whom were illiterate, or who had been taught at most to write their names.  Robert's stepfather was a skilled tradesman, and that seems to have been his plan for his son.

Robert lived with his stepfather and his children until 1919, when his mother remarried and came to take her eight-year-old son back to live on a plantation in Arkansas, before moving again to Robinsonville, Mississippi. At this point, and until he was a teenager, Robert still had no idea that the man he knew as his father wasn't his biological father, and still called himself Robert Spencer. And he seemed to want to be more like his father and family in Memphis than the field hands he was now living among. He hated having to work the fields, and would complain about how much he missed Memphis with its music and the big-city life. He also became a voracious reader, and would often carry a notebook in which he'd jot ideas.

But his Memphis family weren't completely out of his life -- he would visit them whenever he could, often staying for long periods, and he became determined that he was going to be a musician, not a farmhand. His older sister Carrie moved back to the Delta to be with her mother and brother, and when his mother's new husband wouldn't buy him a guitar, first Robert built himself a diddley bow -- a rudimentary string instrument -- and then he and Carrie built a cigar-box guitar, before Carrie helped him save up enough to buy a real one.

He had a boost in his musical education when Willie Brown moved to Robinsonville:

[Excerpt: Willie Brown, "M&O Blues"]

Young Robert started learning from Brown, and sneaking out to watch him perform. Robert's mother's husband profoundly disapproved of him trying to make a living as a musician, but by the time he was seventeen he was playing in juke joints, playing whatever music people wanted to hear -- he'd play blues, folk songs, ragtime, polkas, and he particularly enjoyed the music of Jimmie Rodgers, the first big country music star:

[Excerpt: Jimmie Rodgers, "Waiting for a Train"]

It also seems to be around this time that he discovered who his biological father was, and started referring to himself as Robert Johnson as well as Robert Spencer -- and this seems at least in part to have been as a way of making himself more like two of his other musical idols, Tommy Johnson, the blues singer we've mentioned a couple of times already, and Lonnie Johnson, who straddled the line between blues, pop, and jazz, and influenced everyone from Elvis Presley (who recorded his "Tomorrow Night") and Lonnie Donegan, who named himself after him, to Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt, and who recorded guest guitar with Louis Armstrong in the late twenties:

[Excerpt: Lonnie Johnson and Louis Armstrong, "Hotter Than That"]

Robert would often refer to himself as "one of the Johnson boys", hoping that people would associate him with the more famous musicians.

He was a decent but not great guitarist and singer, making a living but not standing out -- this is the period Son House talked about later, where Johnson tried to challenge House as to who was the better guitarist but was wildly outplayed and seemed incompetent by House's standards. But then just before he turned eighteen, he married a fourteen-year-old girl he was in love with, and settled down and started mostly doing field hand work to support his new wife.

She got pregnant and went off to stay with family to have the baby. When it was about due, Robert hitch-hiked up to be there for the birth, but took some time out to play in a few juke-joints along the way and have a little fun, as a teenager would do.

He got there to find his wife and baby had died in childbirth, and her family were blaming his playing "the Devil's music" for him not having been there, and maybe for her death itself.

He was utterly devastated, and this seems to have changed his personality totally. He moved back in with his mother and her husband, but he was getting drunk and into fights with the older man, and regularly disappeared for days and weeks at a time. But he stayed around the plantations because there were so many musicians there to learn from. Willie Brown had introduced him to a variety of great musicians who Brown played with, including Charlie Patton:

[Excerpt: Charlie Patton, "You're Gonna Need Somebody When You Die"]

And Son House:

[Excerpt: Son House, "Preaching the Blues"]

Johnson was at this point *obsessed* with music -- after the death of his wife and child, he had nothing else in his life and he was absolutely driven.

But he was also driven to find his own birth father, and so he made his way to the small town where he'd been born, to search for Noah Johnson.

He didn't find him, but he *did* find an older man, Ike Zimmerman, who took him in for the best part of a year, and spent that year teaching him to play guitar better. The two used to go out to a nearby graveyard every night to play guitar together, because it was a quiet place where you wouldn't disturb anyone. It's this year, and the massive improvement in Johnson's technique that resulted, plus Johnson's changed personality as a result of the tragedy he'd suffered, that lent some tiny plausibility to the  posthumous rumours that he'd sold his soul to the Devil.

Around this time Johnson got a girl -- a friend of Zimmerman's daughter -- pregnant. She had the baby but refused to marry him because he was living an immoral vagabond life. Instead he married another, older, woman, and moved in with her in Clarksdale, but the marriage soon ended as Johnson became an itinerant musician, and his second wife died in 1933, less than two years after they married, apparently without him knowing or caring. He also never seems to have seen his son Claud -- indeed Johnson's family often claimed (and his surviving stepsister still does) that Claud's claim to be Johnson's son was fictitious, because they never heard mention of him until the 1990s.

The first evidence we have of Johnson's music on record is not actually a recording by him, but by his friend Johnnie Temple:

[Excerpt: Johnnie Temple, "Lead Pencil Blues"]

The boogie bass pattern on that record is something that Temple would always later say had been taught him by Johnson.

For the most part, though, Johnson was very secretive about his playing. He loved to play for audiences, but if he ever saw another musician watching him too closely he'd turn around and hide his fingers, so nobody could learn his tricks. one of the few musicians he ever taught anything to was Robert Jr. Lockwood, the son of one of Johnson's many girlfriends, who Johnson regarded as his stepson and helped build his first guitar:

[Excerpt: Robert Jr Lockwood, "Steady Rollin' Man"]

Lockwood would go on to play with Sonny Boy Williamson II, before having a career of his own.

In 1936, Johnson auditioned for Vocalion Records, and went to San Antonio, where they had a makeshift studio in two rented rooms, to record for them over Thanksgiving. They were recording in San Antonio because there was a large Mexican population, and so it was a good place to find Mexican musicians. Over the few days in which Johnson's first set of recording sessions took place, they recorded many other musicians -- the way labels making music for minority populations would operate in those days was that they would book a room somewhere and get as many local musicians as they could in the area to record in extended sessions that would give them material to release for six months or a year.

This led to a myth that grew up -- that Johnson recorded while facing a corner to get a better sound. In fact, Johnson recorded perfectly normally, facing a microphone in the middle of one room while the engineers worked the disc-cutter in the other. The only time he faced a corner was when the engineers invited in some of the Mexican musicians to hear their new discovery -- Johnson didn't want to show them his playing.

As always, the record company weren't interested in Johnson's performances of Gene Autry or Jimmie Rodgers songs -- they wanted original material, not the covers of pop hits that made up the bulk of Johnson's performances. So he obliged. In these initial sessions, over the course of a few days, Johnson recorded sixteen songs, two takes of each, including songs like "Cross Road Blues", "Ramblin' on My Mind", "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom", "Sweet Home Chicago" and his one hit, "Terraplane Blues", all of which became blues standards after they were rediscovered, as well as more idiosyncratic songs like "They're Red Hot", inspired by the local cuisine:

[Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "They're Red Hot"]

These songs are noteworthy because Johnson did two takes of each, and the songs were more or less identical each time. This was very, very unusual for Delta blues performers. Normally, Delta blues singers would alter their songs every time -- they were part of a folk tradition, and they used floating verses and improvised depending on how they felt at the time.

Johnson, on the other hand, was slightly younger and more modern than the previous Delta musicians. He'd grown up in a world where music came on records and the radio, and a song was the same every time you listened to it. He could also read and write -- unlike most of his contemporaries Johnson was fully literate and a voracious reader, and would write down his lyrics.

Johnson's songs were still very heavily inspired by other musicians' work. Compare for example Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago":

[Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "Sweet Home Chicago"]

With Kokomo Arnold's "Old Original Kokomo Blues":

[Excerpt: Kokomo Arnold, "Old Original Kokomo Blues"]

But in general, Johnson's songs have more of a coherent, thought-out feel than those of people like Charlie Patton, Skip James, or Son House.

Similarly, his "Come on In My Kitchen", while lyrically distinct, clearly owes a lot to "Sitting on Top of the World", the song first recorded by the Mississippi Sheiks:

[Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "Come on In My Kitchen"]

After those recordings, Johnson started to travel even more widely than he had before, often accompanied by a friend, another musician named Johnny Shines. Shines, like Lockwood, learned from Johnson, and the two were travelling companions off and on for two years. Shines was particularly impressed by Johnson's ability to play contrapuntal lines on the guitar. At the time, most songsters would perform with a second guitarist -- the one on vocals would play rhythm parts, while the other would play lead. Johnson, though, had learned piano and had particularly long fingers, as well as a sharp musical mind and dedication. He was playing the kind of parts on guitar that a piano player would play -- playing a melodic bass line and picking out chordal melodies at the same time.

Johnson would often strike out on his own though, because one of the things people remembered about him -- along with that he was a womaniser, a reader, and that he had an eidetic memory for music and could play any song after hearing it once -- was that he was extremely quiet, didn't like to get emotionally close to other people, and preferred his own company.

So when Johnson made his second trip to Texas to record, this time to Dallas in June 1937, Shines went part of the way with him, but he ended up making the last leg of the journey alone. That time, rather than recording Mexican artists, the record label were mostly recording Western Swing artists, including a session by the Light Crust Dough Boys, the band that Bob Wills had formed which we talked about back in episode three, though Wills had left by the time they recorded this session:

[Excerpt: The Light Crust Doughboys, "Sitting on Top of the World"]

The songs that Johnson recorded at this session would again include several songs that became blues classics, including "Me and the Devil Blues" and "Love in Vain":

[Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "Love in Vain"]

But by this time, blues listeners were more interested in full-band city blues than solo acoustic performers, and none of these recordings did very well. Six months later, Columbia Records bought Vocalion, and shut down the budget subsidiaries on which Johnson's records had most of their sales. Johnson was never invited back to record again.

For a big chunk of what turned out to be the last year of his life, Johnson and Shines travelled further than Johnson had ever been before. A cousin of Shines' had killed a man in self-defence, and had been advised that the best thing he could do would be to leave the US altogether, so Johnson, Shines, and Shines' cousin made a trip to Canada, by their usual methods of hitch-hiking, taking trains, and paying their way by performance. They travelled through St. Louis, Chicago, and Detroit, before hitting Canada, where they performed on a nationally-broadcast gospel radio show. Then Johnson and Shines headed back South to New York.

In Harlem, Johnson met another musician, who invited him to play his electric guitar, but after trying it, Johnson said he "couldn't make it sing like he wanted" and preferred his acoustic. Given the location and the time period, and the small number of people playing electric guitar in late 1937 and early 1938, it seems fairly likely that this other musician, whose name Shines didn't get, was Charlie Christian, who we talked about in the very first episode, and it's rather sad to think that if he had only known it, John Hammond, who knew Christian, could have met Johnson that night, and Johnson's subsequent life could have been very different, and possibly much longer.

Because on August the 16th 1938, Robert Johnson died of what was probably poisoning, probably poisoned by the jealous partner of a woman he'd been interested in:

[Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "Love in Vain"]

I say he was "probably" poisoned by a jealous partner, because in 2019 the most detailed account of that poisoning so far was published, in Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow's biography of Johnson, which is an exemplary piece of work and the most detailed book yet on the subject.

And then *last month* it came out that that account was false, because it was based on reports by Mack McCormick.

McCormick was one of the most dedicated of all white blues scholars, and he made more contributions to the general public's knowledge of Robert Johnson than almost anyone else. In the 1970s he tracked down many of Johnson's surviving friends and relatives, and interviewed them for what he planned to be the definitive biography of Johnson, Biography of a Phantom.

McCormick got Johnson's half-sister Carrie Thompson, the woman who'd helped him build his first guitar, and who before the discovery of Claud Johnson was presumed to be his heir, to do some interviews with him, and to sign a document saying that he had the right to use those interviews for his book. He also "borrowed" her family photos, including photos of Johnson which had never been published. Then another white blues scholar, Steve LaVere, came along and did the same thing.

LaVere also "offered" to help Thompson claim the copyrights in her brother's work, which turned out, according to Thompson's surviving half-sister Annye, to mean assigning LaVere most of her rights. But LaVere was at least interested in doing something with Johnson's music. There'd been a second album rounding up the tracks that hadn't been on King of the Delta Blues Singers, but LaVere wanted to do more -- working with John Hammond he tried to put together a box set containing every recording that Johnson had made, including all the outtakes. It would have liner notes by LaVere, and feature a photo Thompson had lent him:

[Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "Love in Vain"]

That box set was meant to come out in 1975. It came out in 1990, and the reason was Mack McCormick.

McCormick had a reputation as being possibly the best blues scholar in the world, but he was also someone with serious problems. He was furious that LaVere was pushing in to what he considered "his" territory, and started threatening Columbia records, firstly using the real documents that Thompson had signed, later using other, more expansive, documents he forged, to claim he had the rights to Johnson's life story and the photos they were going to use.

He also started to claim that he'd discovered extra heirs of Johnson's, who needed to be included in any legal settlement. McCormick held up the release -- and any royalties going to Thompson -- until 1990, by which point Thompson herself was dead. And legal repercussions continued on until the year 2000, two white men, neither of whom had ever met Robert Johnson or even known about him until long after his death, fighting over who got to own Johnson's sister's family photos, and which of them owned the "rights" to Johnson's life.

While Thompson had lent the two men several photos, this legal wrangling meant that none saw publication until 1986, after Thompson's death and more than a decade after she'd first loaned her photos out. Until then, the wider world had no idea what Robert Johnson looked like. since then, two more photos have been published, and there are rumours of a fourth in McCormick's collection.

When the box set did come out in 1990 it sold a million copies and won a Grammy. But Thompson had died seven years earlier, and her last years were spent distraught, as she was caught in a legal battle between two white men who she regarded as both being thieves and con artists out to exploit her dead brother. McCormick even started to claim that the Robert Johnson we know about wasn't the real Robert Johnson -- that he'd discovered another Robert Johnson who was the one who made the records -- just to throw LaVere off.

LaVere and McCormick both died in 2015, about a month apart, and McCormick's biography, which he'd been working on since the early 1970s, was left unfinished. It was finally published last month, by the Smithsonian Institute, after a *major* effort of going through McCormick's archives.

But what was published wasn't the complete book. Part of this was at the request of Johnson's surviving stepsister Annye Anderson. As the editors say in the afterword to the book "Mrs. Anderson requested that the Smithsonian transfer McCormick’s interviews of her sisters Carrie Thompson and Bessie Hines to the control of her family as well. For Anderson, what McCormick and LaVere took from her sisters—not simply through the financial losses accrued through legal costs, but also the years of stress, anxiety, sadness, nightmares, and trauma—delegitimizes any signed agreement between them and McCormick. In respect for her wishes, we expunged the stories her sisters provided to McCormick from this publication and have restricted public access to them."

But also the editors discovered, and revealed in conjunction with the book's release, that masses of what McCormick had been touting for years as his discoveries -- including his story of how Johnson was murdered -- were simply false, pure fabrications he'd made up because of his paranoid belief that other historians were stealing his work. The preeminent historian of Robert Johnson, the man who'd dedicated more than forty years to finding every detail of his life, had poisoned the well of history so thoroughly we may never fully know exactly what parts of the Robert Johnson story we have now are true.

That book, as it's available now, is incomplete but very valuable as a historical document, and edited with as much sensitivity as is possible. It's one of three books published in the last four years that have between them remade our understanding of Robert Johnson. One of the others is Conforth and Wardlow's book, which I'll also link in the notes. But there's one final one that *needs* mentioning here:

[Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "Cross Road Blues"]

Annye Anderson, Johnson's stepsister, is still alive and in her nineties. In 2020, she wrote a book, Brother Robert, telling her side of the story -- both all her recollections of her big brother's life, and the story of how white men who wrote blues music history destroyed her beloved sister's life in order to profit from her dead brother, while his family got no money but unending trauma. It's a heart-rending book.

And it's especially so when I consider my own position. I am a white man writing music history. I will literally profit from this episode -- I make my living doing this podcast. I believe what I'm doing with this podcast is, on balance, a good thing. But I'm sure that McCormick and LaVere could have said the same. Towards the end of Anderson's book she says "I understand that Steve LaVere has gone on, and Mack McCormick, too. But there are others and always will be: white men who don’t know us and think they own us. Steve LaVere may be resting in a golden casket that Brother Robert bought him."

I think it is incumbent on me -- I think it's *absolutely* necessary, given the story I've just told, to end this episode with a commercial of sorts. If you've been interested at all in anything I've said about Robert Johnson, then go out and buy a copy of Brother Robert by Annye Andreson, the last living person with a strong familial connection to Johnson, and read *her* words and *her* story.

I said at the beginning that white men invented the blues. And they did. The *music* was created by Black people, but everything we know about the genre and its history has been shaped by the tastes, the prejudices, and the misconceptions of white men like Arthur Laibley, John Hammond, John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Steve LaVere, Mack McCormick... and now me. You've heard what a white man has to say about this, now go and read what a Black woman who was actually there says, and pay her to do so. It won't fix a historical injustice, but it's a start.

[Excerpt: Robert Johnson, "Love in Vain" into theme music.]

Episode 165: “Dark Star” by the Grateful Dead

Sat, 20 May 2023

Episode 165 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “Dark Star” and the career of the Grateful Dead. This is a long one, even longer than the previous episode, but don't worry, that won't be the norm. There's a reason these two were much longer than average. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.

Patreon backers also have a twenty-minute bonus episode available, on "Codine" by the Charlatans.


I mispronounce Brent Mydland's name as Myland a couple of times, and in the introduction I say "Touch of Grey" came out in 1988 -- I later, correctly, say 1987. (I seem to have had a real problem with dates in the intro -- I also originally talked about "Blue Suede Shoes" being in 1954 before fixing it in the edit to be 1956)


No Mixcloud this week, as there are too many songs by the Grateful Dead, and Grayfolded runs to two hours.

I referred to a lot of books for this episode, partly because almost everything about the Grateful Dead is written from a fannish perspective that already assumes background knowledge, rather than to provide that background knowledge. Of the various books I used, Dennis McNally's biography of the band and This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead by Blair Jackson and David Gans are probably most useful for the casually interested. 

Other books on the Dead I used included McNally's Jerry on Jerry, a collection of interviews with Garcia; Deal, Bill Kreutzmann's autobiography; The Grateful Dead FAQ by Tony Sclafani; So Many Roads by David Browne; Deadology by Howard F. Weiner; Fare Thee Well by Joel Selvin and Pamela Turley; and Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads by David Shenk and Steve Silberman.

Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test is the classic account of the Pranksters, though not always reliable.

I reference Slaughterhouse Five a lot. As well as the novel itself, which everyone should read, I also read this rather excellent graphic novel adaptation, and The Writer's Crusade, a book about the writing of the novel.

I also reference Ted Sturgeon's More Than Human. For background on the scene around Astounding Science Fiction which included Sturgeon, John W. Campbell, L. Ron Hubbard, and many other science fiction writers, I recommend Alec Nevala-Lee's Astounding.

1,000 True Fans can be read online, as can the essay on the Californian ideology, and John Perry Barlow's "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace".

The best collection of Grateful Dead material is the box set The Golden Road, which contains all the albums released in Pigpen's lifetime along with a lot of bonus material, but which appears currently out of print. Live/Dead contains both the live version of "Dark Star" which made it well known and, as a CD bonus track, the original single version. And archive.org has more live recordings of the group than you can possibly ever listen to.

Grayfolded can be bought from John Oswald's Bandcamp


This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?


[Excerpt: Tuning from "Grayfolded", under the warnings]

Before we begin -- as we're tuning up, as it were, I should mention that this episode contains discussions of alcoholism, drug addiction, racism, nonconsensual drugging of other people, and deaths from drug abuse, suicide, and car accidents. As always, I try to deal with these subjects as carefully as possible, but if you find any of those things upsetting you may wish to read the transcript rather than listen to this episode, or skip it altogether.

Also, I should note that the members of the Grateful Dead were much freer with their use of swearing in interviews than any other band we've covered so far, and that makes using quotes from them rather more difficult than with other bands, given the limitations of the rules imposed to stop the podcast being marked as adult. If I quote anything with a word I can't use here, I'll give a brief pause in the audio, and in the transcript I'll have the word in square brackets.

[tuning ends]

All this happened, more or less.

In 1910, T. S. Eliot started work on "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", which at the time was deemed barely poetry, with one reviewer imagining Eliot saying "I'll just put down the first thing that comes into my head, and call it 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.'" It is now considered one of the great classics of modernist literature.

In 1969, Kurt Vonnegut wrote "Slaughterhouse-Five,  or, The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death", a book in which the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, comes unstuck in time, and starts living a nonlinear life, hopping around between times reliving his experiences in the Second World War, and future experiences up to 1976 after being kidnapped by beings from the planet Tralfamadore. Or perhaps he has flashbacks and hallucinations after having a breakdown from PTSD. It is now considered one of the great classics of modernist literature or of science fiction, depending on how you look at it. 

In 1953, Theodore Sturgeon wrote More Than Human. It is now considered one of the great classics of science fiction.

In 1950, L. Ron Hubbard wrote Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health. It is now considered either a bad piece of science fiction or one of the great revelatory works of religious history, depending on how you look at it.

In 1994, 1995, and 1996 the composer John Oswald released, first as two individual CDs and then as a double-CD, an album called Grayfolded, which the composer says in the liner notes he thinks of as existing in Tralfamadorian time. The Tralfamadorians in Vonnegut's novels don't see time as a linear thing with a beginning and end, but as a continuum that they can move between at will. When someone dies, they just think that at this particular point in time they're not doing so good, but at other points in time they're fine, so why focus on the bad time? In the book, when told of someone dying, the Tralfamadorians just say "so it goes".

In between the first CD's release and the release of the double-CD version, Jerry Garcia died. From August 1942 through August 1995, Jerry Garcia was alive.

So it goes.

Shall we go, you and I?

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Dark Star (Omni 3/30/94)"]

"One principle has become clear. Since motives are so frequently found in combination, it is essential that the complex types be analyzed and arranged, with an eye kept single nevertheless to the master-theme under discussion. Collectors, both primary and subsidiary, have done such valiant service that the treasures at our command are amply sufficient for such studies, so extensive, indeed, that the task of going through them thoroughly has become too great for the unassisted student. It cannot be too strongly urged that a single theme in its various types and compounds must be made predominant in any useful comparative study. This is true when the sources and analogues of any literary work are treated; it is even truer when the bare motive is discussed.

The Grateful Dead furnishes an apt illustration of the necessity of such handling. It appears in a variety of different combinations, almost never alone. Indeed, it is so widespread a tale, and its combinations are so various, that there is the utmost difficulty in determining just what may properly be regarded the original kernel of it, the simple theme to which other motives were joined. Various opinions, as we shall see, have been held with reference to this matter, most of them justified perhaps by the materials in the hands of the scholars holding them, but none quite adequate in view of later evidence."

That's a quote from The Grateful Dead: The History of a Folk Story, by Gordon Hall Gerould, published in 1908.

Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five opens with a chapter about the process of writing the novel itself, and how difficult it was. He says "I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book cost me in money and anxiety and time. When I got home from the Second World War twenty-three years ago, I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden, since all I would have to do would be to report what I had seen. And I thought, too, that it would be a masterpiece or at least make me a lot of money, since the subject was so big."

This is an episode several of my listeners have been looking forward to, but it's one I've been dreading writing, because this is an episode -- I think the only one in the series -- where the format of the podcast simply *will not* work. Were the Grateful Dead not such an important band, I would skip this episode altogether, but they're a band that simply can't be ignored, and that's a real problem here.

Because my intent, always, with this podcast, is to present the recordings of the artists in question, put them in context, and explain why they were important, what their music meant to its listeners. To put, as far as is possible, the positive case for why the music mattered *in the context of its time*. Not why it matters now, or why it matters to me, but why it matters *in its historical context*. Whether I like the music or not isn't the point. Whether it stands up now isn't the point. I play the music, explain what it was they were doing, why they were doing it, what people saw in it. If I do my job well, you come away listening to "Blue Suede Shoes" the way people heard it in 1956, or "Good Vibrations" the way people heard it in 1966, and understanding why people were so impressed by those records.

That is simply *not possible* for the Grateful Dead.

I can present a case for them as musicians, and hope to do so. I can explain the appeal as best I understand it, and talk about things I like in their music, and things I've noticed. But what I can't do is present their recordings the way they were received in the sixties and explain why they were popular.

Because every other act I have covered or will cover in this podcast has been a *recording* act, and their success was based on records. They may also have been exceptional live performers, but James Brown or Ike and Tina Turner are remembered for great *records*, like "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" or "River Deep, Mountain High". Their great moments were captured on vinyl, to be listened back to, and susceptible of analysis.

That is not the case for the Grateful Dead, and what is worse *they explicitly said, publicly, on multiple occasions* that it is not possible for me to understand their art, and thus that it is not possible for me to explain it.

The Grateful Dead did make studio records, some of them very good. But they always said, consistently, over a thirty year period, that their records didn't capture what they did, and that the only way -- the *only* way, they were very clear about this -- that one could actually understand and appreciate their music, was to see them live, and furthermore to see them live while on psychedelic drugs.

[Excerpt: Grateful Dead crowd noise]

I never saw the Grateful Dead live -- their last UK performance was a couple of years before I went to my first ever gig -- and I have never taken a psychedelic substance. So by the Grateful Dead's own criteria, it is literally impossible for me to understand or explain their music the way that it should be understood or explained. In a way I'm in a similar position to the one I was in with La Monte Young in the last episode, whose music it's mostly impossible to experience without being in his presence. This is one reason of several why I placed these two episodes back to back.

Of course, there is a difference between Young and the Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead allowed -- even encouraged -- the recording of their live performances. There are literally thousands of concert recordings in circulation, many of them of professional quality. I have listened to many of those, and I can hear what they were doing. I can tell you what *I* think is interesting about their music, and about their musicianship. And I think I can build up a good case for why they were important, and why they're interesting, and why those recordings are worth listening to. And I can certainly explain the cultural phenomenon that was the Grateful Dead.

But just know that while I may have found *a* point, *an* explanation for why the Grateful Dead were important, by the band's own lights and those of their fans, no matter how good a job I do in this episode, I *cannot* get it right.

And that is, in itself, enough of a reason for this episode to exist, and for me to try, even harder than I normally do, to get it right *anyway*. Because no matter how well I do my job this episode will stand as an example of why this series is called "*A* History", not *the* history. Because parts of the past are ephemeral. There are things about which it's true to say "You had to be there". I cannot know what it was like to have been an American the day Kennedy was shot, I cannot know what it was like to be alive when a man walked on the Moon. Those are things nobody my age or younger can ever experience. And since August the ninth, 1995, the experience of hearing the Grateful Dead's music the way they wanted it heard has been in that category.

And that is by design. Jerry Garcia once said "if you work really hard as an artist, you may be able to build something they can’t tear down, you know, after you’re gone... What I want to do is I want it here. I want it now, in this lifetime. I want what I enjoy to last as long as I do and not last any longer. You know, I don’t want something that ends up being as much a nuisance as it is a work of art, you know?"

And there's another difficulty. There are only two points in time where it makes sense to do a podcast episode on the Grateful Dead -- late 1967 and early 1968, when the San Francisco scene they were part of was at its most culturally relevant, and 1988 when they had their only top ten hit and gained their largest audience. I can't realistically leave them out of the story until 1988, so it has to be 1968. But the songs they are most remembered for are those they wrote between 1970 and 1972, and those songs are influenced by artists and events we haven't yet covered in the podcast, who will be getting their own episodes in the future.  I can't explain those things in this episode, because they need whole episodes of their own. I can't not explain them without leaving out important context for the Grateful Dead.

So the best I can do is treat the story I'm telling as if it were in Tralfamadorian time. All of it's happening all at once, and some of it is happening in different episodes that haven't been recorded yet. The podcast as a whole travels linearly from 1938 through to 1999, but this episode is happening in 1968 and 1972 and 1988 and 1995 and other times, all at once. Sometimes I'll talk about things as if you're already familiar with them, but they haven't happened yet in the story. Feel free to come unstuck in time and revisit this time after episode 167, and 172, and 176, and 192, and experience it again.

So this has to be an experimental episode. It may well be an experiment that you think fails. If so, the next episode is likely to be far more to your taste, and much shorter than this or the last episode, two episodes that between them have to create a scaffolding on which will hang much of the rest of this podcast's narrative. I've finished my Grateful Dead script now. The next one I write is going to be fun:

[Excerpt: Grateful Dead, "Dark Star"]

Infrastructure means everything. How we get from place to place, how we transport goods, information, and ourselves, makes a big difference in how society is structured, and in the music we hear. For many centuries, the prime means of long-distance transport was by water -- sailing ships on the ocean, canal boats and steamboats for inland navigation -- and so folk songs talked about the ship as both means of escape, means of making a living, and in some senses as a trap. You'd go out to sea for adventure, or to escape your problems, but you'd find that the sea itself brought its own problems. Because of this we have a long, long tradition of sea shanties which are known throughout the world:

[Excerpt: A. L. Lloyd, "Off to Sea Once More"]

But in the nineteenth century, the railway was invented and, at least as far as travel within a landmass goes, it replaced the steamboat in the popular imaginary. Now the railway was how you got from place to place, and how you moved freight from one place to another. The railway brought freedom, and was an opportunity for outlaws, whether train robbers or a romanticised version of the hobo hopping onto a freight train and making his way to new lands and new opportunity. It was the train that brought soldiers home from wars, and the train that allowed the Great Migration of Black people from the South to the industrial North. 

There would still be songs about the riverboats, about how ol' man river keeps rolling along and about the big river Johnny Cash sang about, but increasingly they would be songs of the past, not the present.

The train quickly replaced the steamboat in the iconography of what we now think of as roots music -- blues, country, folk, and early jazz music. Sometimes this was very literal. Furry Lewis' "Kassie Jones" -- about a legendary train driver who would break the rules to make sure his train made the station on time, but who ended up sacrificing his own life to save his passengers in a train crash -- is based on "Alabamy Bound", which as we heard in the episode on "Stagger Lee", was about steamboats:

[Excerpt: Furry Lewis, "Kassie Jones"]

In the early episodes of this podcast we heard many, many, songs about the railway. Louis Jordan saying "take me right back to the track, Jack", Rosetta Tharpe singing about how "this train don't carry no gamblers", the trickster freight train driver driving on the "Rock Island Line", the mystery train sixteen coaches long, the train that kept-a-rollin' all night long, the Midnight Special which the prisoners wished would shine its ever-loving light on them, and the train coming past Folsom Prison whose whistle makes Johnny Cash hang his head and cry.

But by the 1960s, that kind of song had started to dry up. It would happen on occasion -- "People Get Ready" by the Impressions is the most obvious example of the train metaphor in an important sixties record -- but by the late sixties the train was no longer a symbol of freedom but of the past. In 1969 Harry Nilsson sang about how "Nobody Cares About the Railroads Any More", and in 1968 the Kinks sang about "The Last of the Steam-Powered Trains". When in 1968 Merle Haggard sang about a freight train, it was as a memory, of a child with hopes that ended up thwarted by reality and his own nature:

[Excerpt: Merle Haggard, "Mama Tried"]

And the reason for this was that there had been another shift, a shift that had started in the forties and accelerated in the late fifties but had taken a little time to ripple through the culture.

 Now the train had been replaced in the popular imaginary by motorised transport. Instead of hopping on a train without paying, if you had no money in your pocket you'd have to hitch-hike all the way. Freedom now meant individuality. The ultimate in freedom was the biker -- the Hell's Angels who could go anywhere, unburdened by anything -- and instead of goods being moved by freight train, increasingly they were being moved by truck drivers. By the mid-seventies, truck drivers took a central place in American life, and the most romantic way to live life was to live it on the road.

On The Road was also the title of a 1957 novel by Jack Kerouac, which was one of the first major signs of this cultural shift in America. Kerouac was writing about events in the late forties and early fifties, but his book was also a precursor of the sixties counterculture. He wrote the book on one continuous sheet of paper, as a stream of consciousness. Kerouac died in 1969 of an internal haemmorage brought on by too much alcohol consumption. So it goes.

But the big key to this cultural shift was caused by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, a massive infrastructure spending bill that led to the construction of the modern American Interstate Highway system. This accelerated a program that had already started, of building much bigger, safer, faster roads.

It also, as anyone who has read Robert Caro's The Power Broker knows, reinforced segregation and white flight. It did this both by making commuting into major cities from the suburbs easier -- thus allowing white people with more money to move further away from the cities and still work there -- and by bulldozing community spaces where Black people lived. More than a million people lost their homes and were forcibly moved, and orders of magnitude more lost their communities' parks and green spaces. And both as a result of deliberate actions and unconscious bigotry, the bulk of those affected were Black people -- who often found themselves, if they weren't forced to move, on one side of a ten-lane highway where the park used to be, with white people on the other side of the highway.

The Federal-Aid Highway Act gave even more power to the unaccountable central planners like Robert Moses, the urban planner in New York who managed to become arguably the most powerful man in the city without ever getting elected, partly by slowly compromising away his early progressive ideals in the service of gaining more power. 

Of course, not every new highway was built through areas where poor Black people lived. Some were planned to go through richer areas for white people, just because you can't completely do away with geographical realities. For example one was planned to be built through part of San Francisco, a rich, white part. But the people who owned properties in that area had enough political power and clout to fight the development, and after nearly a decade of fighting it, the development was called off in late 1966.

But over that time, many of the owners of the impressive buildings in the area had moved out, and they had no incentive to improve or maintain their properties while they were under threat of demolition, so many of them were rented out very cheaply.

And when the beat community that Kerouac wrote about, many of whom had settled in San Francisco, grew too large and notorious for the area of the city they were in, North Beach, many of them moved to these cheap homes in a previously-exclusive area. The area known as Haight-Ashbury.

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Grayfolded"]

Stories all have their starts, even stories told in Tralfamadorian time, although sometimes those starts are shrouded in legend. For example, the story of Scientology's start has been told many times, with different people claiming to have heard L. Ron Hubbard talk about how writing was a mug's game, and if you wanted to make real money, you needed to get followers, start a religion. Either he said this over and over and over again, to many different science fiction writers, or most science fiction writers of his generation were liars. Of course, the definition of a writer is someone who tells lies for money, so who knows? One of the more plausible accounts of him saying that is given by Theodore Sturgeon. Sturgeon's account is more believable than most, because Sturgeon went on to be a supporter of Dianetics, the "new science" that Hubbard turned into his religion, for decades, even while telling the story.

The story of the Grateful Dead probably starts as it ends, with Jerry Garcia. There are three things that everyone writing about the Dead says about Garcia's childhood, so we might as well say them here too. The first is that he was named by a music-loving father after Jerome Kern, the songwriter responsible for songs like "Ol' Man River" (though as Oscar Hammerstein's widow liked to point out, "Jerome Kern wrote dum-dum-dum-dum, *my husband* wrote 'Ol' Man River'" -- an important distinction we need to bear in mind when talking about songwriters who write music but not lyrics). The second is that when he was five years old that music-loving father drowned -- and Garcia would always say he had seen his father dying, though some sources claim this was a false memory. So it goes. And the third fact, which for some reason is always told after the second even though it comes before it chronologically, is that when he was four he lost two joints from his right middle finger.

Garcia grew up a troubled teen, and in turn caused trouble for other people, but he also developed a few interests that would follow him through his life. He loved the fantastical, especially the fantastical macabre, and became an avid fan of horror and science fiction -- and through his love of old monster films he became enamoured with cinema more generally. Indeed, in 1983 he bought the film rights to Kurt Vonnegut's science fiction novel The Sirens of Titan, the first story in which the Tralfamadorians appear, and wrote a script based on it. He wanted to produce the film himself, with Francis Ford Coppola directing and Bill Murray starring, but most importantly for him he wanted to prevent anyone who didn't care about it from doing it badly. And in that he succeeded. As of 2023 there is no film of The Sirens of Titan.

He loved to paint, and would continue that for the rest of his life, with one of his favourite subjects being Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster. And when he was eleven or twelve, he heard for the first time a record that was hugely influential to a whole generation of Californian musicians, even though it was a New York record -- "Gee" by the Crows:

[Excerpt: The Crows, "Gee"]

Garcia would say later "That was an important song. That was the first kind of, like where the voices had that kind of not-trained-singer voices, but tough-guy-on-the-street voice."

That record introduced him to R&B, and soon he was listening to Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, to Ray Charles, and to a record we've not talked about in the podcast but which was one of the great early doo-wop records, "WPLJ" by the Four Deuces:

[Excerpt: The Four Deuces, "WPLJ"]

Garcia said of that record "That was one of my anthem songs when I was in junior high school and high school and around there. That was one of those songs everybody knew. And that everybody sang. Everybody sang that street-corner favorite."

Garcia moved around a lot as a child, and didn't have much time for school by his own account, but one of the few teachers he did respect was an art teacher when he was in North Beach, Walter Hedrick. Hedrick was also one of the earliest of the conceptual artists, and one of the most important figures in the San Francisco arts scene that would become known as the Beat Generation (or the Beatniks, which was originally a disparaging term). Hedrick was a painter and sculptor, but also organised happenings, and he had also been one of the prime movers in starting a series of poetry readings in San Francisco, the first one of which had involved Allen Ginsberg giving the first ever reading of "Howl" -- one of a small number of poems, along with Eliot's "Prufrock" and "The Waste Land" and possibly Pound's Cantos, which can be said to have changed twentieth-century literature.

Garcia was fifteen when he got to know Hedrick, in 1957, and by then the Beat scene had already become almost a parody of itself, having become known to the public because of the publication of works like On the Road, and the major artists in the scene were already rejecting the label. By this point tourists were flocking to North Beach to see these beatniks they'd heard about on TV, and Hedrick was actually employed by one cafe to sit in the window wearing a beret, turtleneck, sandals, and beard, and draw and paint, to attract the tourists who flocked by the busload because they could see that there was a "genuine beatnik" in the cafe.

Hedrick was, as well as a visual artist, a guitarist and banjo player who played in traditional jazz bands, and he would bring records in to class for his students to listen to, and Garcia particularly remembered him bringing in records by Big Bill Broonzy:

[Excerpt: Big Bill Broonzy, "When Things Go Wrong (It Hurts Me Too)"]

Garcia was already an avid fan of rock and roll music, but it was being inspired by Hedrick that led him to get his first guitar. Like his contemporary Paul McCartney around the same time, he was initially given the wrong instrument as a birthday present -- in Garcia's case his mother gave him an accordion -- but he soon persuaded her to swap it for an electric guitar he saw in a pawn shop.

And like his other contemporary, John Lennon, Garcia initially tuned his instrument incorrectly. He said later "When I started playing the guitar, believe me, I didn’t know anybody that played. I mean, I didn’t know anybody that played the guitar. Nobody. They weren’t around. There were no guitar teachers. You couldn’t take lessons. There was nothing like that, you know? When I was a kid and I had my first electric guitar, I had it tuned wrong and learned how to play on it with it tuned wrong for about a year. And I was getting somewhere on it, you know… Finally, I met a guy that knew how to tune it right and showed me three chords, and it was like a revelation. You know what I mean? It was like somebody gave me the key to heaven."

He joined a band, the Chords, which mostly played big band music, and his friend Gary Foster taught him some of the rudiments of playing the guitar -- things like how to use a capo to change keys. But he was always a rebellious kid, and soon found himself faced with a choice between joining the military or going to prison. He chose the former, and it was during his time in the Army that a friend, Ron Stevenson, introduced him to the music of Merle Travis, and to Travis-style guitar picking:

[Excerpt: Merle Travis, "Nine-Pound Hammer"]

Garcia had never encountered playing like that before, but he instantly recognised that Travis, and Chet Atkins who Stevenson also played for him, had been an influence on Scotty Moore. He started to realise that the music he'd listened to as a teenager was influenced by music that went further back.

But Stevenson, as well as teaching Garcia some of the rudiments of Travis-picking, also indirectly led to Garcia getting discharged from the Army. Stevenson was not a well man, and became suicidal. Garcia decided it was more important to keep his friend company and make sure he didn't kill himself than it was to turn up for roll call, and as a result he got discharged himself on psychiatric grounds -- according to Garcia he told the Army psychiatrist "I was involved in stuff that was more important to me in the moment than the army was and that was the reason I was late" and the psychiatrist thought it was neurotic of Garcia to have his own set of values separate from that of the Army.

After discharge, Garcia did various jobs, including working as a transcriptionist for Lenny Bruce, the comedian who was a huge influence on the counterculture. In one of the various attacks over the years by authoritarians on language, Bruce was repeatedly arrested for obscenity, and in 1961 he was arrested at a jazz club in North Beach. Sixty years ago, the parts of speech that were being criminalised weren't pronouns, but prepositions and verbs:

[Excerpt: Lenny Bruce, "To is a Preposition, Come is a Verb"]

That piece, indeed, was so controversial that when Frank Zappa quoted part of it in a song in 1968, the record label insisted on the relevant passage being played backwards so people couldn't hear such disgusting filth:

[Excerpt: The Mothers of Invention, "Harry You're a Beast"]

(Anyone familiar with that song will understand that the censored portion is possibly the least offensive part of the whole thing).

Bruce was facing trial, and he needed transcripts of what he had said in his recordings to present in court. 

Incidentally, there seems to be some confusion over exactly which of Bruce's many obscenity trials Garcia became a transcriptionist for.  Dennis McNally says in his biography of the band, published in 2002, that it was the most famous of them, in autumn 1964, but in a later book, Jerry on Jerry, a book of interviews of Garcia edited by McNally, McNally talks about it being when Garcia was nineteen, which would mean it was Bruce's first trial, in 1961. We can put this down to the fact that many of the people involved, not least Garcia, lived in Tralfamadorian time, and were rather hazy on dates, but I'm placing the story here rather than in 1964 because it seems to make more sense that Garcia would be involved in a trial based on an incident in San Francisco than one in New York.

Garcia got the job, even though he couldn't type, because by this point he'd spent so long listening to recordings of old folk and country music that he was used to transcribing indecipherable accents, and often, as Garcia would tell it, Bruce would mumble very fast and condense multiple syllables into one. Garcia was particularly impressed by Bruce's ability to improvise but talk in entire paragraphs, and he compared his use of language to bebop.

Another thing that was starting to impress Garcia, and which he also compared to bebop, was bluegrass:

[Excerpt: Bill Monroe, "Fire on the Mountain"]

Bluegrass is a music that is often considered very traditional, because it's based on traditional songs and uses acoustic instruments, but in fact it was a terribly *modern* music, and largely a postwar creation of a single band -- Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. And Garcia was right when he said it was "white bebop" -- though he did say "The only thing it doesn’t have is the harmonic richness of bebop. You know what I mean? That’s what it’s missing, but it has everything else."

Both bebop and bluegrass evolved after the second world war, though they were informed by music from before it, and both prized the ability to improvise, and technical excellence. Both are musics that involved playing *fast*, in an ensemble, and being able to respond quickly to the other musicians. Both musics were also intensely rhythmic, a response to a faster paced, more stressful world. They were both part of the general change in the arts towards immediacy that we looked at in the last episode with the creation first of expressionism and then of pop art. 

Bluegrass didn't go into the harmonic explorations that modern jazz did, but it was absolutely as modern as anything Charlie Parker was doing, and came from the same impulses. It was tradition and innovation, the past and the future simultaneously. Bill Monroe, Jackson Pollock, Charlie Parker, Jack Kerouac, and Lenny Bruce were all in their own ways responding to the same cultural moment, and it was that which Garcia was responding to.

But he didn't become able to play bluegrass until after a tragedy which shaped his life even more than his father's death had.

Garcia had been to a party and was in a car with his friends Lee Adams, Paul Speegle, and Alan Trist. Adams was driving at ninety miles an hour when they hit a tight curve and crashed. Garcia, Adams, and Trist were all severely injured but survived. Speegle died. So it goes.

This tragedy changed Garcia's attitudes totally. Of all his friends, Speegle was the one who was most serious about his art, and who treated it as something to work on. Garcia had always been someone who fundamentally didn't want to work or take any responsibility for anything. And he remained that way -- except for his music. Speegle's death changed Garcia's attitude to that, totally. If his friend wasn't going to be able to practice his own art any more, Garcia would practice his, in tribute to him. He resolved to become a virtuoso on guitar and banjo.

His girlfriend of the time later said “I don’t know if you’ve spent time with someone rehearsing ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown’ on a banjo for eight hours, but Jerry practiced endlessly. He really wanted to excel and be the best. He had tremendous personal ambition in the musical arena, and he wanted to master whatever he set out to explore. Then he would set another sight for himself. And practice another eight hours a day of new licks.”

But of course, you can't make ensemble music on your own:

[Excerpt: Jerry Garcia and Bob Hunter, "Oh Mary Don't You Weep" (including end)]

"Evelyn said, “What is it called when a person needs a … person … when you want to be touched and the … two are like one thing and there isn’t anything else at all anywhere?”

Alicia, who had read books, thought about it. “Love,” she said at length."

That's from More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon, a book I'll be quoting a few more times as the story goes on.

Robert Hunter, like Garcia, was just out of the military -- in his case, the National Guard -- and he came into Garcia's life just after Paul Speegle had left it. Garcia and Alan Trist met Hunter ten days after the accident, and the three men started hanging out together, Trist and Hunter writing while Garcia played music. 

Garcia and Hunter both bonded over their shared love for the beats, and for traditional music, and the two formed a duo, Bob and Jerry, which performed together a handful of times. They started playing together, in fact, after Hunter picked up a guitar and started playing a song and halfway through Garcia took it off him and finished the song himself.

The two of them learned songs from the Harry Smith Anthology -- Garcia was completely apolitical, and only once voted in his life, for Lyndon Johnson in 1964 to keep Goldwater out, and regretted even doing that, and so he didn't learn any of the more political material people like Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, and Bob Dylan were doing at the time -- but their duo only lasted a short time because Hunter wasn't an especially good guitarist.

Hunter would, though, continue to jam with Garcia and other friends, sometimes playing mandolin, while Garcia played solo gigs and with other musicians as well, playing and moving round the Bay Area and performing with whoever he could:

[Excerpt: Jerry Garcia, "Railroad Bill"]

"Bleshing, that was Janie’s word. She said Baby told it to her. She said it meant everyone all together being something, even if they all did different things. Two arms, two legs, one body, one head, all working together, although a head can’t walk and arms can’t think. Lone said maybe it was a mixture of “blending” and “meshing,” but I don’t think he believed that himself. It was a lot more than that."

That's from More Than Human

In 1961, Garcia and Hunter met another young musician, but one who was interested in a very different type of music. Phil Lesh was a serious student of modern classical music, a classically-trained violinist and trumpeter whose interest was solidly in the experimental and whose attitude can be summed up by a story that's always told about him meeting his close friend Tom Constanten for the first time. Lesh had been talking with someone about serialism, and Constanten had interrupted, saying "Music stopped being created in 1750 but it started again in 1950". Lesh just stuck out his hand, recognising a kindred spirit.

Lesh and Constanten were both students of Luciano Berio, the experimental composer who created compositions for magnetic tape:

[Excerpt: Luciano Berio, "Momenti"]

Berio had been one of the founders of the Studio di fonologia musicale di Radio Milano, a studio for producing contemporary electronic music where John Cage had worked for a time, and he had also worked with the electronic music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Lesh would later remember being very impressed when Berio brought a tape into the classroom -- the actual multitrack tape for Stockhausen's revolutionary piece Gesang Der Juenglinge:

[Excerpt: Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Gesang Der Juenglinge"]

Lesh at first had been distrustful of Garcia -- Garcia was charismatic and had followers, and Lesh never liked people like that. But he was impressed by Garcia's playing, and soon realised that the two men, despite their very different musical interests, had a lot in common. Lesh was interested in the technology of music as well as in performing and composing it, and so when he wasn't studying he helped out by engineering at the university's radio station.

Lesh was impressed by Garcia's playing, and suggested to the presenter of the station's folk show, the Midnight Special, that Garcia be a guest. Garcia was so good that he ended up getting an entire solo show to himself, where normally the show would feature multiple acts. Lesh and Constanten soon moved away from the Bay Area to Las Vegas, but both would be back -- in Constanten's case he would form an experimental group in San Francisco with their fellow student Steve Reich, and that group (though not with Constanten performing) would later premiere Terry Riley's In C, a piece influenced by La Monte Young and often considered one of the great masterpieces of minimalist music.

By early 1962 Garcia and Hunter had formed a bluegrass band, with Garcia on guitar and banjo and Hunter on mandolin, and a rotating cast of other musicians including Ken Frankel, who played banjo and fiddle. They performed under different names, including the Tub Thumpers, the Hart Valley Drifters, and the Sleepy Valley Hog Stompers, and played a mixture of bluegrass and old-time music -- and were very careful about the distinction:

[Excerpt: The Hart Valley Drifters, "Cripple Creek"]

In 1993, the Republican political activist John Perry Barlow was invited to talk to the CIA about the possibilities open to them with what was then called the Information Superhighway. He later wrote, in part "They told me they'd brought Steve Jobs in a few weeks before to indoctrinate them in modern information management. And they were delighted when I returned later, bringing with me a platoon of Internet gurus, including Esther Dyson, Mitch Kapor, Tony Rutkowski, and Vint Cerf. They sealed us into an electronically impenetrable room to discuss the radical possibility that a good first step in lifting their blackout would be for the CIA to put up a Web site... We told them that information exchange was a barter system, and that to receive, one must also be willing to share. This was an alien notion to them. They weren't even willing to share information among themselves, much less the world."

1962 brought a new experience for Robert Hunter. Hunter had been recruited into taking part in psychological tests at Stanford University, which in the sixties and seventies was one of the preeminent universities for psychological experiments. As part of this, Hunter was given $140 to attend the VA hospital (where a janitor named Ken Kesey, who had himself taken part in a similar set of experiments a couple of years earlier, worked a day job while he was working on his first novel) for four weeks on the run, and take different psychedelic drugs each time, starting with LSD, so his reactions could be observed.

(It was later revealed that these experiments were part of a CIA project called MKUltra, designed to investigate the possibility of using psychedelic drugs for mind control, blackmail, and torture. Hunter was quite lucky in that he was told what was going to happen to him and paid for his time. Other subjects included the unlucky customers of brothels the CIA set up as fronts -- they dosed the customers' drinks and observed them through two-way mirrors. Some of their experimental subjects died by suicide as a result of their experiences. So it goes. )

Hunter was interested in taking LSD after reading Aldous Huxley's writings about psychedelic substances, and he brought his typewriter along to the experiment. During the first test, he wrote a six-page text, a short excerpt from which is now widely quoted, reading in part "Sit back picture yourself swooping up a shell of purple with foam crests of crystal drops soft nigh they fall unto the sea of morning creep-very-softly mist ... and then sort of cascade tinkley-bell-like (must I take you by the hand, ever so slowly type) and then conglomerate suddenly into a peal of silver vibrant uncomprehendingly, blood singingly, joyously resounding bells"

Hunter's experience led to everyone in their social circle wanting to try LSD, and soon they'd all come to the same conclusion -- this was something special.

But Garcia needed money -- he'd got his girlfriend pregnant, and they'd married (this would be the first of several marriages in Garcia's life, and I won't be covering them all -- at Garcia's funeral, his second wife, Carolyn, said Garcia always called her the love of his life, and his first wife and his early-sixties girlfriend who he proposed to again in the nineties both simultaneously said "He said that to me!"). So he started teaching guitar at a music shop in Palo Alto. Hunter had no time for Garcia's incipient domesticity and thought that his wife was trying to make him live a conventional life, and the two drifted apart somewhat, though they'd still play together occasionally.

Through working at the music store, Garcia got to know the manager, Troy Weidenheimer, who had a rock and roll band called the Zodiacs. Garcia joined the band on bass, despite that not being his instrument. He later said "Troy was a lot of fun, but I wasn’t good enough a musician then to have been able to deal with it. I was out of my idiom, really, ’cause when I played with Troy I was playing electric bass, you know. I never was a good bass player. Sometimes I was playing in the wrong key and didn’t even [fuckin’] know it. I couldn’t hear that low, after playing banjo, you know, and going to electric...But Troy taught me the principle of, hey, you know, just stomp your foot and get on it. He was great. A great one for the instant arrangement, you know. And he was also fearless for that thing of get your friends to do it."

Garcia's tenure in the Zodiacs didn't last long, nor did this experiment with rock and roll, but two other members of the Zodiacs will be notable later in the story -- the harmonica player, an old friend of Garcia's named Ron McKernan, who would soon gain the nickname Pig Pen after the Peanuts character, and the drummer, Bill Kreutzmann:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Drums/Space (Skull & Bones version)"]

Kreutzmann said of the Zodiacs "Jerry was the hired bass player and I was the hired drummer. I only remember playing that one gig with them, but I was in way over my head. I always did that. I always played things that were really hard and it didn’t matter. I just went for it."

Garcia and Kreutzmann didn't really get to know each other then, but Garcia did get to know someone else who would soon be very important in his life. 

Bob Weir was from a very different background than Garcia, though both had the shared experience of long bouts of chronic illness as children. He had grown up in a very wealthy family, and had always been well-liked, but he was what we would now call neurodivergent -- reading books about the band he talks about being dyslexic but clearly has other undiagnosed neurodivergences, which often go along with dyslexia -- and as a result he was deemed to have behavioural problems which led to him getting expelled from pre-school and kicked out of the cub scouts.

He was never academically gifted, thanks to his dyslexia, but he was always enthusiastic about music -- to a fault. He learned to play boogie piano but played so loudly and so often his parents sold the piano. He had a trumpet, but the neighbours complained about him playing it outside. Finally he switched to the guitar, an instrument with which it is of course impossible to make too loud a noise. The first song he learned was the Kingston Trio's version of an old sea shanty, "The Wreck of the John B":

[Excerpt: The Kingston Trio, "The Wreck of the John B"]

He was sent off to a private school in Colorado for teenagers with behavioural issues, and there he met the boy who would become his lifelong friend, John Perry Barlow. Unfortunately the two troublemakers got on with each other *so* well that after their first year they were told that it was too disruptive having both of them at the school, and only one could stay there the next year. Barlow stayed and Weir moved back to the Bay Area.

By this point, Weir was getting more interested in folk music that went beyond the commercial folk of the Kingston Trio. As he said later "There was something in there that was ringing my bells. What I had grown up thinking of as hillbilly music, it started to have some depth for me, and I could start to hear the music in it. Suddenly, it wasn’t just a bunch of ignorant hillbillies playing what they could. There was some depth and expertise and stuff like that to aspire to.”

He moved from school to school but one thing that stayed with him was his love of playing guitar, and he started taking lessons from Troy Weidenheimer, but he got most of his education going to folk clubs and hootenannies. He regularly went to the Tangent, a club where Garcia played, but Garcia's bluegrass banjo playing was far too rigorous for a free spirit like Weir to emulate, and instead he started trying to copy one of the guitarists who was a regular there, Jorma Kaukonnen.

On New Year's Eve 1963 Weir was out walking with his friends Bob Matthews and Rich Macauley, and they passed the music shop where Garcia was a teacher, and heard him playing his banjo. They knocked and asked if they could come in -- they all knew Garcia a little, and Bob Matthews was one of his students, having become interested in playing banjo after hearing the theme tune to the Beverly Hillbillies, played by the bluegrass greats Flatt and Scruggs:

[Excerpt: Flatt and Scruggs, "The Beverly Hillbillies"]

Garcia at first told these kids, several years younger than him, that they couldn't come in -- he was waiting for his students to show up. But Weir said “Jerry, listen, it’s seven-thirty on New Year’s Eve, and I don’t think you’re going to be seeing your students tonight.”

Garcia realised the wisdom of this, and invited the teenagers in to jam with him. At the time, there was a bit of a renaissance in jug bands, as we talked about back in the episode on the Lovin' Spoonful. This was a form of music that had grown up in the 1920s, and was similar and related to skiffle and coffee-pot bands -- jug bands would tend to have a mixture of portable string instruments like guitars and banjos, harmonicas, and people using improvised instruments, particularly blowing into a jug. The most popular of these bands had been Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers, led by banjo player Gus Cannon and with harmonica player Noah Lewis:

[Excerpt: Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers, "Viola Lee Blues"]

With the folk revival, Cannon's work had become well-known again. The Rooftop Singers, a Kingston Trio style folk group, had had a hit with his song "Walk Right In" in 1963, and as a result of that success Cannon had even signed a record contract with Stax -- Stax's first album ever, a month before Booker T and the MGs' first album, was in fact the eighty-year-old Cannon playing his banjo and singing his old songs.

The rediscovery of Cannon had started a craze for jug bands, and the most popular of the new jug bands was Jim Kweskin's Jug Band, which did a mixture of old songs like "You're a Viper" and more recent material redone in the old style. Weir, Matthews, and Macauley had been to see the Kweskin band the night before, and had been very impressed, especially by their singer Maria D’Amato -- who would later marry her bandmate Geoff Muldaur and take his name -- and her performance of Leiber and Stoller's "I'm a Woman":

[Excerpt: Jim Kweskin's Jug Band, "I'm a Woman"]

Matthews suggested that they form their own jug band, and Garcia eagerly agreed -- though Matthews found himself rapidly moving from banjo to washboard to kazoo to second kazoo before realising he was surplus to requirements. Robert Hunter was similarly an early member but claimed he "didn’t have the embouchure" to play the jug, and was soon also out. He moved to LA and started studying Scientology -- later claiming that he wanted science-fictional magic powers, which L. Ron Hubbard's new religion certainly offered.

The group took the name Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Champions -- apparently they varied the spelling every time they played -- and had a rotating membership that at one time or another included about twenty different people, but tended always to have Garcia on banjo, Weir on jug and later guitar, and Garcia's friend Pig Pen on harmonica:

[Excerpt: Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Champions, "On the Road Again"]

The group played quite regularly in early 1964, but Garcia's first love was still bluegrass, and he was trying to build an audience with his bluegrass band, The Black Mountain Boys. But bluegrass was very unpopular in the Bay Area, where it was simultaneously thought of as unsophisticated -- as "hillbilly music" -- and as elitist, because it required actual instrumental ability, which wasn't in any great supply in the amateur folk scene. But instrumental ability was something Garcia definitely had, as at this point he was still practising eight hours a day, every day, and it shows on the recordings of the Black Mountain Boys:

[Excerpt: The Black Mountain Boys, "Rosa Lee McFall"]

By the summer, Bob Weir was also working at the music shop, and so Garcia let Weir take over his students while he and the Black Mountain Boys' guitarist Sandy Rothman went on a road trip to see as many bluegrass musicians as they could and to audition for Bill Monroe himself. As it happened, Garcia found himself too shy to audition for Monroe, but Rothman later ended up playing with Monroe's Blue Grass Boys.

On his return to the Bay Area, Garcia resumed playing with the Uptown Jug Champions, but Pig Pen started pestering him to do something different. While both men had overlapping tastes in music and a love for the blues, Garcia's tastes had always been towards the country end of the spectrum while Pig Pen's were towards R&B. And while the Uptown Jug Champions were all a bit disdainful of the Beatles at first -- apart from Bob Weir, the youngest of the group, who thought they were interesting -- Pig Pen had become enamoured of another British band who were just starting to make it big:

[Excerpt: The Rolling Stones, "Not Fade Away"]

29) Garcia liked the first Rolling Stones album too, and he eventually took Pig Pen's point -- the stuff that the Rolling Stones were doing, covers of Slim Harpo and Buddy Holly, was not a million miles away from the material they were doing as Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Champions. Pig Pen could play a little electric organ, Bob had been fooling around with  the electric guitars in the music shop. Why not give it a go? The stuff bands like the Rolling Stones were doing wasn't that different from the electric blues that Pig Pen liked, and they'd all seen A Hard Day's Night -- they could carry on playing with banjos, jugs, and kazoos and have the respect of a handful of folkies, or they could get electric instruments and potentially have screaming girls and millions of dollars, while playing the same songs.

This was a convincing argument, especially when Dana Morgan Jr, the son of the owner of the music shop, told them they could have free electric instruments if they let him join on bass. Morgan wasn't that great on bass, but what the hell, free instruments.

Pig Pen had the best voice and stage presence, so he became the frontman of the new group, singing most of the leads, though Jerry and Bob would both sing a few songs, and playing harmonica and organ. Weir was on rhythm guitar, and Garcia was the lead guitarist and obvious leader of the group. They just needed a drummer, and handily Bill Kreutzmann, who had played with Garcia and Pig Pen in the Zodiacs, was also now teaching music at the music shop. Not only that, but about three weeks before they decided to go electric, Kreutzmann had seen the Uptown Jug Champions performing and been astonished by Garcia's musicianship and charisma, and said to himself "Man, I’m gonna follow that guy forever!"

The new group named themselves the Warlocks, and started rehearsing in earnest. Around this time, Garcia also finally managed to get some of the LSD that his friend Robert Hunter had been so enthusiastic about three years earlier, and it was a life-changing experience for him. In particular, he credited LSD with making him comfortable being a less disciplined player -- as a bluegrass player he'd had to be frighteningly precise, but now he was playing rock and needed to loosen up.

A few days after taking LSD for the first time, Garcia also heard some of Bob Dylan's new material, and realised that the folk singer he'd had little time for with his preachy politics was now making electric music that owed a lot more to the Beat culture Garcia considered himself part of:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Subterranean Homesick Blues"]

Another person who was hugely affected by hearing that was Phil Lesh, who later said "I couldn’t believe that was Bob Dylan on AM radio, with an electric band. It changed my whole consciousness: if something like that could happen, the sky was the limit."

Up to that point, Lesh had been focused entirely on his avant-garde music, working with friends like Steve Reich to push music forward, inspired by people like John Cage and La Monte Young, but now he realised there was music of value in the rock world. He'd quickly started going to rock gigs, seeing the Rolling Stones and the Byrds, and then he took acid and went to see his friend Garcia's new electric band play their third ever gig. He was blown away, and very quickly it was decided that Lesh would be the group's new bass player -- though everyone involved tells a different story as to who made the decision and how it came about, and accounts also vary as to whether Dana Morgan took his sacking gracefully and let his erstwhile bandmates keep their instruments, or whether they had to scrounge up some new ones.

Lesh had never played bass before, but he was a talented multi-instrumentalist with a deep understanding of music and an ability to compose and improvise, and the repertoire the Warlocks were playing in the early days was mostly three-chord material that doesn't take much rehearsal -- though it was apparently beyond the abilities of poor Dana Morgan, who apparently had to be told note-by-note what to play by Garcia, and learn it by rote. Garcia told Lesh what notes the strings of a bass were tuned to, told him to borrow a guitar and practice, and within two weeks he was on stage with the Warlocks:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, “Grayfolded"]

In September 1995, just weeks after Jerry Garcia's death, an article was published in Mute magazine identifying a cultural trend that had shaped the nineties, and would as it turned out shape at least the next thirty years. It's titled "The Californian Ideology", though it may be better titled "The Bay Area Ideology", and it identifies a worldview that had grown up in Silicon Valley, based around the ideas of the hippie movement, of right-wing libertarianism, of science fiction authors, and of Marshall McLuhan.

It starts "There is an emerging global orthodoxy concerning the relation between society, technology and politics. We have called this orthodoxy `the Californian Ideology' in honour of the state where it originated. By naturalising and giving a technological proof to a libertarian political philosophy, and therefore foreclosing on alternative futures, the Californian Ideologues are able to assert that social and political debates about the future have now become meaningless.

The California Ideology is a mix of cybernetics, free market economics, and counter-culture libertarianism and is promulgated by magazines such as WIRED and MONDO 2000 and preached in the books of Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly and others. The new faith has been embraced by computer nerds, slacker students, 30-something capitalists, hip academics, futurist bureaucrats and even the President of the USA himself. As usual, Europeans have not been slow to copy the latest fashion from America. While a recent EU report recommended adopting the Californian free enterprise model to build the 'infobahn', cutting-edge artists and academics have been championing the 'post-human' philosophy developed by the West Coast's Extropian cult. With no obvious opponents, the global dominance of the Californian ideology appears to be complete."

[Excerpt: Grayfolded]

The Warlocks' first gig with Phil Lesh on bass was on June the 18th 1965, at a club called Frenchy's with a teenage clientele. Lesh thought his playing had been wooden and it wasn't a good gig, and apparently the management of Frenchy's agreed -- they were meant to play a second night there, but turned up to be told they'd been replaced by a band with an accordion and clarinet.

But by September the group had managed to get themselves a residency at a small bar named the In Room, and playing there every night made them cohere. They were at this point playing the kind of sets that bar bands everywhere play to this day, though at the time the songs they were playing, like "Gloria" by Them and "In the Midnight Hour", were the most contemporary of hits. Another song that they introduced into their repertoire was "Do You Believe in Magic" by the Lovin' Spoonful, another band which had grown up out of former jug band musicians.

As well as playing their own sets, they were also the house band at The In Room and as such had to back various touring artists who were the headline acts. The first act they had to back up was Cornell Gunter's version of the Coasters. Gunter had brought his own guitarist along as musical director, and for the first show Weir sat in the audience watching the show and learning the parts, staring intently at this musical director's playing. After seeing that, Weir's playing was changed, because he also picked up how the guitarist was guiding the band while playing, the small cues that a musical director will use to steer the musicians in the right direction. Weir started doing these things himself when he was singing lead -- Pig Pen was the frontman but everyone except Bill sang sometimes -- and the group soon found that rather than Garcia being the sole leader, now whoever was the lead singer for the song was the de facto conductor as well.

By this point, the Bay Area was getting almost overrun with people forming electric guitar bands, as every major urban area in America was. Some of the bands were even having hits already -- We Five had had a number three hit with "You Were On My Mind", a song which had originally been performed by the folk duo Ian and Sylvia:

[Excerpt: We Five, "You Were On My Mind"]

Although the band that was most highly regarded on the scene, the Charlatans, was having problems with the various record companies they tried to get signed to, and didn't end up making a record until 1969. If tracks like "Number One" had been released in 1965 when they were recorded, the history of the San Francisco music scene may have taken a very different turn:

[Excerpt: The Charlatans, "Number One"]

Bands like Jefferson Airplane, the Great Society, and Big Brother and the Holding Company were also forming, and Autumn Records was having a run of success with records by the Beau Brummels, whose records were produced by Autumn's in-house A&R man, Sly Stone:

[Excerpt: The Beau Brummels, "Laugh Laugh"]

The Warlocks were somewhat cut off from this, playing in a dive bar whose clientele was mostly depressed alcoholics. But the fact that they were playing every night for an audience that didn't care much gave them freedom, and they used that freedom to improvise. Both Lesh and Garcia were big fans of John Coltrane, and they started to take lessons from his style of playing. When the group played "Gloria" or "Midnight Hour" or whatever, they started to extend the songs and give themselves long instrumental passages for soloing.

Garcia's playing wasn't influenced *harmonically* by Coltrane -- in fact Garcia was always a rather harmonically simple player. He'd tend to play lead lines either in Mixolydian mode, which is one of the most standard modes in rock, pop, blues, and jazz, or he'd play the notes of the chord that was being played, so if the band were playing a G chord his lead would emphasise the notes G, B, and D.  But what he was influenced by was Coltrane's tendency to improvise in long, complex, phrases that made up a single thought -- Coltrane was thinking musically in paragraphs, rather than sentences, and Garcia started to try the same kind of thing.

And under him Lesh was slowly starting to innovate in his bass playing. Lesh was also thinking in terms of Coltrane, but also of the way classical and baroque composers would use bass lines contrapuntally. Of all the band Lesh had the least knowledge of what the norms of popular music forms like rock and roll and blues were, and so his use of the bass inadvertently paralleled the moves being made by a lot of other bass players around this time, now that recording techniques were improving and allowing much better definition of bass sounds on record. Up to about 1965 the bass on rock and roll records was almost always playing very simple lines -- at its most complicated it'd be something like a boogie walking bassline, but more often it would be the root and maybe fifth of the chord, simple whole notes dead on the beat, often locked in with the bass drum.

Lesh was one of the first bass players to start playing after people like James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, and Brian Wilson started coming up with more through-composed parts for rock music, and that became his natural idiom. What Lesh was doing was not what one might think of as conventional rhythm section work at all, and he would often syncopate his lines, only rarely coming in on the one of a bar as a normal bass player would, but often coming in half a beat later.

The group started to develop a conversational approach to performance, with the instrumentalists, especially Lesh and Garcia, entering into a dialogue with each other, all doing their own thing. They were particularly influenced by "Cleo's Back" by Junior Walker and the All-Stars, a Motown instrumental, and it's fascinating to listen to that record in this context. "Cleo's Back" is clearly an attempt to replicate Stax records like "Green Onions", but the Walker record has each of the musicians doing his own thing, rather than playing in tight lockstep. They're all paying attention to the groove, but they're riffing on it, coming in and out when they have something to say, playing off each other as if they all think they're the star soloist but still somehow working as an ensemble:

[Excerpt: Junior Walker & the All-Stars, "Cleo's Back"]

By the time the Warlocks had finished their stint at the In Room, the San Francisco psychedelic rock scene had exploded, almost without the group realising it, and record companies were on the lookout. San Francisco was clearly the next big thing to exploit, and Autumn Records was right there. After Sly Stone had had hits with the Beau Brummels and minor success with the Mojo Men, they were on a bit of a high and were auditioning bands left and right. The recording of the Charlatans we heard earlier was from a session they did for Autumn that didn't get released, and Sly Stone was just about to start work with the Great Society, but Stone was apparently not present when the Warlocks did their audition for the label in November 1965:

[Excerpt: The Warlocks, "Can't Come Down"]

But for that audition, the group actually performed under another name, The Emergency Crew, because Phil Lesh had been looking through records in a shop and found one by another group called the Warlocks. McNally in his biography suggests that this is likely the Warlocks who included two-thirds of ZZ Top, but as far as I can tell that band didn't release a record until a few months after this. Nor of course is it the Velvet Underground, who never released a record under that name. There were, it turns out, a lot of bands who decided in the mid-sixties to call themselves The Warlocks -- I've found evidence of at least ten, many of whom released singles.

My guess is that the record that Lesh had found was this one, an attempt by a band from Massachusetts to start a dance craze, released on Decca in June 1965. Lesh remembered the record he'd seen as being on Columbia, but otherwise this fits:

[Excerpt: The Warlocks, "Temper Tantrum"]

Oddly, the B-side to that track was a cover of James Brown's "I'll Go Crazy", which was a song that was also in the set of the Bay Area Warlocks.

The group got together in Phil Lesh's house and started throwing out names. When nobody liked any of anyone else's suggestions, they started thumbing through reference books -- dictionaries, books of quotations, and so on -- and eventually Garcia found what he and Lesh thought the perfect name, though Bob Weir wasn't so keen.

The Grateful Dead is a motif from many folk stories throughout the world.  To quote from Gordon Hall Gerould's book on the subject: "A man finds a corpse lying unburied, and out of pure philanthropy procures interment for it at great personal inconvenience. Later he is met by the ghost of the dead man, who in many cases promises him help on condition of receiving, in return, half of whatever he gets. The hero obtains a wife (or some other reward), and, when called upon, is ready to fulfil his bargain as to sharing his possessions."

Gerould identifies variants of this story all over the world, and sees it crop up as an element in many, many, stories. It exists in endless variations with no single canonical version, as so many folk stories and songs do.

None of the band knew much of this at the time, but Lesh in particular was so enthusiastic about the name that the matter was settled. The Warlocks were now the Grateful Dead:

[Excerpt: “Grayfolded”]

In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle, there's a religion made up by a calypso singer named Bokonon, which includes a concept called a karass. To quote from the book "We Bokononists believe that humanity is organized into teams, teams that do God's Will without ever discovering what they are doing. Such a team is called a karass by Bokonon"

A karass doesn't necessarily know it's a karass -- it's a collection of people whose lives are intertwined in ways they will never fully understand.

Later in the book he goes on to define another term: "A wampeter is the pivot of a karass. No karass is without a wampeter, Bokonon tells us, just as no wheel is without a hub. Anything can be a wampeter: a tree, a rock, an animal, an idea, a book, a melody, the Holy Grail. Whatever it is, the members of its karass revolve about it in the majestic chaos of a spiral nebula. The orbits of the members of a karass about their common wampeter are spiritual orbits, naturally. It is souls and not bodies that revolve."

In Vonnegut's twice-fictional religion, there are always two wampeters for every karass, one waxing and one waning. And there's no doubt that one of the wampeters around which the karass that encompassed the Grateful Dead at this time was revolving was Neal Cassady:

[Excerpt: Bob Weir "Cassidy"]

Cassady is difficult to sum up, especially at a remove of nearly sixty years. He was a vital link between two different versions of the counterculture -- the Beats of the fifties and the hippies of the sixties -- and everyone who knew him talks about him as having been a great artist and a vital inspiration to them. He was regarded as a peer by Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Jerry Garcia.

But while Kesey and Kerouac's art was their novels, Ginsberg's was his poetry, and Garcia's was his guitar playing -- all things that one can point to and analyse and that exist as works of art, according to Garcia "Neal was a guy who was like an artist without an art. He was his art, you know?"

He meant that very literally. He said "If you’re doing something and eventually you’re doing it well enough to where there’s a flow to it, then you know when the flow is there and you know when it ain’t. And it’s that same thing. But like, most people do it the way I’ve done it—the way most conventional artists deal with it at that level is to take up a discipline, one specific thing, scope in on it, concentrate your energy on it, like an alchemist, and work on it and work on it, and that becomes the way of telling whether you’re on or not, and then all your energy goes into it.

Neal’s way of doing that was to eliminate the tool, you know, even though he probably wasn’t conscious of it initially and used to envy that discipline. Eventually he became that whole thing—all of his surfaces, if you imagine human beings as having many surfaces, all of his surfaces were on that edge of on-ness and off-ness, and being conscious of whether you’re on or off. That whole thing of balancing on the end of a stepladder, you know, the kind of stuff that Neal could do. I mean, when he was on, he could really, because he worked at it, man. He spent a lot of the time doing it. Everybody else thought it was crazy weirdness, but he was working on it."

Cassady had been a petty criminal for a great part of his youth, and had been arrested a number of times for car theft, shoplifting, and possession of stolen goods. But he was also mentored by a renowned educator, Justin Brierly, who saw potential in him. Through one of Brierly's other students, after getting out of prison when he was nineteen he met Jack Kerouac, and the two travelled across the country on several occasions -- with Cassady becoming the model for Dean Moriarty, the main character in Kerouac's On The Road. Cassady asked Kerouac to teach him how to write, though he never finished a completed work in his lifetime, but according to many sources while Kerouac was teaching Cassady, Cassady was also teaching Kerouac, and the prose style which made Kerouac famous was in large part an imitation of Cassady's style.

In 1962, Cassady read Ken Kesey's novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, and identified so strongly with the protagonist, Randle McMurphy, and his fight against a system that considers him insane and eventually breaks him, that he tracked down Kesey and the two became friends. By this time Kesey was a strong advocate for the use of LSD -- not in controlled, experimental, safe conditions like those advocated by Timothy Leary at this point, but for general, uninhibited, recreational use. 

When in 1964 Kesey needed to travel to New York in connection with the publication of his second novel, he and Cassady and a group of other people, who dubbed themselves the Merry Pranksters, decided to make it a ritual event -- they were going to retrace the East-West migration that had characterised white people's journey in America, and do it backwards. They were going to go on the road, and bring West Coast weirdness to the heartlands and East Coast. 

They got a bus, and painted it in psychedelic colours -- and note that this is in June 1964, before even A Hard Day's Night had come out, to give some perspective on where the general culture was at -- and where the destination should be they simply wrote "Furthur" (spelled with a u instead of an e, apparently as a mistake, but taken as serendipity), and went out on the road. 

They attempted to make a film of the journey, and they filmed extensive material. So extensive, indeed, that the task of going through it thoroughly became too great for the unassisted Kesey, and a film didn't come out until 2011. But the Merry Pranksters' journey and attempted film did, as the Tralfamadorians among you will know, become the inspiration for another film that was released:

[Excerpt: The Beatles, "Magical Mystery Tour"]

After this, Kesey's home became something of a commune with various of the Pranksters often in attendance. In 1965 a young journalist named Hunter S. Thompson, working on a book about the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, decided that it might be interesting to bring them along to meet the Pranksters, and a party was thrown for the Angels at Kesey's house, with Allen Ginsberg and Ram Dass also attending.

This went well enough that there started to be *weekly* parties organised by the Pranksters, and just after the Warlocks changed their name to the Grateful Dead, in November 1965, several of them attended one of these parties, where they took acid and had a great time with people like Kesey and Ginsberg. 

Shortly after that, the Pranksters decided to do something a little bigger -- they were going to turn their parties into full-blown Happenings, in the way we talked about last episode, and the Grateful Dead were going to be involved, providing music.

Part of the reasoning for this was that the film that had been made of the road trip was clearly not yet ready, but they could show bits of it in these Happenings as essentially guerilla marketing, establishing an underground reputation for when it was finally released.

These Happenings were to be called Acid Tests, and the main way they were distinct from the other happenings we've talked about was that everyone involved would be on acid. Or at least, almost everyone -- a small number never indulged, notably Pig Pen, whose drug of choice was always alcohol, not anything psychedelic. 

At a typical one of these acid tests, the Grateful Dead would play their music, which from the few surviving recordings of them in 1966 was a mixture of fairly standard R&B:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "I'm a Hog For You Baby (acid test)"]

And rather unformed psychedelic jamming:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Caution (Do Not Step on Tracks) (acid test)"]

Film of the Pranksters' road trip would be shown, some of the Pranksters would make their own music (though they couldn't play instruments), Kesey would write messages on slides which would be projected while the band were playing, and Neal Cassady would juggle hammers.

After the first of the Acid Tests involving the Dead, they quickly found themselves with a team -- co-managers Rock Scully, who they met at the Acid Test, and Danny Rifkin, and sound man Owsley Stanley, who became interested in doing the band's sound after an acid trip in which he claimed he could see the patterns the sound was making and knew how to improve them.

Stanley was the first private individual in the world, outside industry and academia, to figure out how to synthesise his own LSD, and he used the money he made from this to help support the group in their career, buying equipment. He would also record all the group's shows (and others he engineered) to check his own work back, and he kept almost all of these recordings, starting a practice that would lead to the Grateful Dead being the most exhaustively documented live act of the rock era.

Within two months of the first Acid Test the group found themselves playing to six thousand people at the Trips Festival, and they soon built up enough of a following that they actually decamped with the Pranksters to LA, spending two months there holding acid tests while working on original material and trying to get a little privacy as they worked out how to deal with their new followers.

They returned to San Francisco after a couple of months, thoroughly disillusioned with LA, and in July they released a single on the tiny San Francisco-based indie label Scorpio Records:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Don't Ease Me In" (use single mix from YouTube as it has reverb)]

"people still laugh about as much as they ever did, despite their shrunken brains. If a bunch of them are lying around on a beach, and one of them farts, everybody else laughs and laughs, just as people would have done a million years ago.”

That's from Galapagos, by Kurt Vonnegut. The narrator in that novel is the son of Kilgore Trout, an unsuccessful and rather bad science fiction writer who appears in several of Vonnegut's novels as an inspirational figure who writes mostly for himself and doesn't really realise that he has any fans, let alone that some of his fans regard him as some sort of guru with great wisdom. There are two main models for Trout -- one is Vonnegut's friend Theodore Sturgeon, and the other is Vonnegut himself.

While the Dead had been working on original material, they apparently chose not to record any -- while both tracks on the single were credited to Garcia as songwriter on the label, they were actually traditional jug band songs that had been in their repertoire while they were still Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Champions.

The single was only released in very limited quantities, but at least they had now actually made a record, even if the only place to buy a copy was the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street.

The Grateful Dead by this point were just one of several bands in the Haight-Ashbury area, and not necessarily the most successful -- that would be jefferson Airplane, who were actually releasing records, or maybe the Great Society. Or Quicksilver Messenger Service. Or the Charlatans. Or Big Brother and the Holding Company. All these bands were regularly playing sets around a local circuit, with two venues in particular standing out -- the Avalon Ballroom, which was run by Chet Helms and the Family Dog commune, and the Fillmore, run by Bill Graham. The Avalon was a friendlier venue, and everyone liked Helms more, and it had a better light show, but Graham was a better businessman, the Fillmore had a better sound system -- bought from Owsley during one of his periodic fallings-out with the Dead -- and Graham was also more interested in putting on a wider variety of acts. Graham would listen to the musicians who played his venue, and would bring in outside acts that they suggested, and often juxtapose wildly different performers like the avant-garde jazz pianist Cecil Taylor and the Yardbirds. The reputation that Graham got was of someone who would rip off the artists who were performing for him, but was so good at business that they'd still end up better off than playing for anyone else.

By late 1966 the group were essentially living in two communes -- Garcia, Weir, Pig Pen, their managers, and assorted girlfriends and roadies in a house on Ashbury, and Lesh and Kreutzmann and their partners a couple of blocks away (they'd originally lived with the others, but Lesh had soon bolted after having to share a room with Garcia, who snored very loudly). That wasn't the only bodily function that was causing problems for the group. Weir had by this point given up on LSD -- joining Pig Pen, who'd never used it -- but while Pig Pen was drinking a bottle of whisky a day, Weir had given up in order to become healthier, and had taken up a vegetarian diet which led to a severe flatulence problem.

There were other issues starting to develop between Garcia and Weir as well. By this point a group of hippie anarchists called the Diggers had taken up residence in the area, and they were giving away free food, scrounged or stolen from local shops and cooked, as a combination of political act and performance art piece -- anyone getting their free food had to step through a frame, because inspired by John Cage they thought that the act of putting a frame round something made it art.

The Diggers also insisted that music should be free, and that it belonged to the people who shouldn't have to pay to get it. Garcia had some sympathy for this attitude, and the Dead would often play free shows, but he was also pragmatic enough to realise that if the Dead didn't get paid for their work he'd have to get an actual job, which would be horrifying.

The way Garcia squared this was to insist that the group needed to get good enough to be *worth* paying, and this led to him pressuring Weir, who was the youngest of the band members and the least facile on his instrument. Weir decided he needed to figure out a way for a rhythm player to function in a band with a soloist who was inspired by John Coltrane, and eventually hit on the idea of, rather than looking to rhythm guitarists like Steve Cropper, as most musicians in his position would, listening to McCoy Tyner, the piano player in Coltrane's quartet, and copying his style:

[Excerpt: John Coltrane, "My Favorite Things"]

"To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.

A true fan is defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce. These diehard fans will drive 200 miles to see you sing; they will buy the hardback and paperback and audible versions of your book; they will purchase your next figurine sight unseen; they will pay for the “best-of” DVD version of your free youtube channel; they will come to your chef’s table once a month. If you have roughly a thousand of true fans like this (also known as super fans), you can make a living — if you are content to make a living but not a fortune.

Here’s how the math works. You need to meet two criteria. First, you have to create enough each year that you can earn, on average, $100 profit from each true fan. That is easier to do in some arts and businesses than others, but it is a good creative challenge in every area because it is always easier and better to give your existing customers more, than it is to find new fans.

Second, you must have a direct relationship with your fans. That is, they must pay you directly. You get to keep all of their support, unlike the small percent of their fees you might get from a music label, publisher, studio, retailer, or other intermediate. If you keep the full $100 of each true fan, then you need only 1,000 of them to earn $100,000 per year. That’s a living for most folks."

That's from an essay called 1000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly, who along with Stewart Brand, one of the people who organised the Trips Festival, set up the early online community The WELL. Kelly later founded Wired magazine.  The essay appears in Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferris.

In late 1966 the Dead put out their first T-shirt, designed by Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse who did the group's early posters, which had an image of Pig Pen on it.

They also started to move away from their association with Kesey and the acid tests. The final break came when Kesey negotiated a plea bargain for some legal trouble, which involved him committing to doing a final acid test style show, but with a "don't do acid any more, kids" type message. Kesey announced that the Dead would be playing this, without asking them, and on a night when they were booked to play elsewhere. They still considered doing it until one of the Pranksters told Danny Rifkin that the plan for the event was to play one last big prank and dose the entire audience with LSD. Unlike many in the Dead's circle, Rifkin detested the idea of dosing people without their consent, and he was also worried that if the performance went ahead, Bill Graham, who was meant to be promoting it, would lose his promoter's license. The group pulled out, and Kesey ended up doing a much smaller event.

By this point the Dead were a powerful live band, though very far from the style that they would become known for in later years. Listening to live recordings from the summer of 1966, they're a conventional garage band, not a million miles away from other bands from the area like the Standells or the Count Five, though with a more imaginative guitarist than those bands:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Cream Puff War (live in Vancouver)"]

And it was that powerful live band that Joe Smith of Warner Brothers Records came to see, after being informed that the San Francisco scene was ripe with potentially successful bands that they could pick up for bargain prices. Over the autumn, Warners negotiated a deal with the group for a ten thousand dollar advance,  and assurances that they would be given a certain amount of special treatment. Rather than being put through their customary marketing machine, the label would treat them the way they treated country artists, giving them special marketing for their niche genre.

Smith was very eager to get the Dead signed -- other than the Everly Brothers, who were making great records but no longer having hits, Warners had few rock acts, and was mostly known for the artists on its Reprise subsidiary -- a label that had been started by Frank Sinatra and still mostly had artists of Sinatra's generation (plus the mildly successful teenpop band Dino, Desi, and Billy, two of whom were the sons of Sinatra's celebrity friends).

They were trying desperately to build up a rock roster, and San Francisco was the obvious place to turn, since LA had already been picked clean  -- as we heard in the episode on "Heroes and Villains" they also bought up Autumn Records around this time and got Lenny Waronker, Van Dyke Parks and their circle to work with that label's group of San Francisco artists.

Smith said later of signing the Dead “That was one of the two or three most important signings in all those years. It changed the nature and opinion of the record company. We were out in front. It was important to indicate we were more than Dean Martin and Sinatra—that we were hip.”

For this reason they made another important concession, which would have a profound impact on the way the group's sound evolved. The standard record contract at this time paid performers per song, and that made sense for a time when most songs were about two or three minutes long -- you'd need at least ten songs to make up an album, and so bands were being incentivised to produce as many of those two or three minute pop songs as possible.

But the Grateful Dead liked to stretch out and play long solos, and Rock Scully had heard that there was another way to structure these contracts. He'd worked at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and there he'd heard that jazz musicians were paid by the minute of recording, not by the song, which was how they could afford to do those long exploratory improvisational tracks that could last an entire side of an album.

Scully insisted on this being the case for the Grateful Dead's contract too, and Smith agreed.

By the time of the group's first sessions for Warners, Garcia at least had some studio experience. As we heard in the episode on Jefferson Airplane, Garcia had been involved in the recording of their album Surrealistic Pillow, at least according to most participants, though the record's producer always said he wasn't involved.  

Certainly some tracks sound very much like they have Garcia playing on them:

[Excerpt: Jefferson Airplane, "Today"]

In January 1967, the group made their first album. Garcia later said of it "At that time we had no real record consciousness. We were just going to go down to L.A. and make a record. We were completely naïve about it. We had a producer we had chosen because he’d been the engineer on a couple of Rolling Stones records that we liked the sound of; that was as much as we were into record-making."

Dave Hassinger had definitely engineered a lot of Rolling Stones records -- he'd been the group's main US engineer for the run of hit singles and albums they'd had in the previous couple of years -- but Garcia also knew him from working with Jefferson Airplane, as he'd engineered their album. 

Hassinger was a super-competent engineer who had worked on everything from the TAMI Show to the Chipmunks' album of Beatles covers, and he and Garcia had got on well. But Hassinger had only recently moved into production rather than engineering, and the rules of the studio they were working in meant that he had to use the studio's staff engineer rather than do the job himself as he wanted, and as Hassinger himself said the band didn't want to hear what a conventional producer had to say -- they just went in and bashed out versions of their live set of the time, though as always they found themselves unable to let loose and improvise in the studio without the feedback of the audience. The first single, "The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion)", failed to chart:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion)"]

That track was actually recorded in San Francisco later, after the record company said they needed a single. Other than that, the album, which was just titled The Grateful Dead, only took four days to record, including the time spent mixing, and for the most part it sounds like any other pop album of the period -- Bob Weir sounds spookily like Peter Tork at points. Despite Pig Pen being the band's frontman and most popular member, he only gets one lead vocal, on the blues standard "Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl", with the rest of the leads being shared between Garcia and Weir, but his keyboard is all over the album. 

At this point, the group weren't writing much of their own material, and other than the group composition "The Golden Road", the only original is Garcia's "Cream Puff War", with everything else being standard folk-club material like Bonnie Dobson's apocalyptic ballad "Morning Dew":

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Morning Dew"]

or jug band material they'd been playing when they were still the Uptown Jug Champions, like "Viola Lee Blues", originally written by Noah Lewis and performed by Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers, which at just over ten minutes long was the only truly extended track on the album:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Viola Lee Blues"]

Garcia said at the time "I think our album is honest. It sounds just like us. It even has mistakes on it. But it also has a certain amount of excitement on it. It sounds like we felt good when we were making it. We made it in a short period—four days—and it’s the material we’d been doing onstage for quite a long time. It sounds like one of our good sets."

Phil Lesh, not really getting the hang of this promotion business, said in an interview at the time "I think it’s a turd."

The album wasn't a success, and only reached number sixty-nine on the album charts. But the group's reputation as a live act was steadily improving. A couple of weeks before the studio dates they'd performed at the Human Be-In, a massive outdoor show in San Francisco with speeches from people like Timothy Leary and the political activist Jerry Rubin, food distributed for free by the Diggers (paid for by Owsley, who was also distributing the acid), security provided by the Hell's Angels, and performances by Jefferson Airplane, Blue Cheer, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. 

Twenty thousand people turned up for that event, and they were all astonished to find that there were *that many* people in what they all thought of up to that point as a rather small scene. The gathering of that many people in one place to hear the new psychedelic music got the biggest national and international media exposure the San Francisco scene had ever had, and soon everything that wanted to be cool and hip had the suffix "-in", in imitation of the Be-In -- there were love-ins, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In on TV, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono having bed-ins.

Soon San Francisco, and the Haight-Ashbury area, was once again being overrun by the kind of tourists who ten years earlier had come looking for beatniks, only this time they were looking for hippies, or trying to become hippies, as the Mothers of Invention would satirise the next year:

[Excerpt: The Mothers of Invention, "Who Needs the Peace Corps?"]

The Human Be-In was also one of the precursors to the Monterey Pop Festival, which of course, as we talked about in episode 151, was only possible because the Grateful Dead persuaded the other San Francisco bands to play, and where of course the Dead played what they considered an incredibly sub-par show sandwiched between the Who and Jimi Hendrix, both of whom blew them off the stage. The Dead's performance was so bad that none of it was used in the film. The Dead did, though, come out ahead from the show -- apparently they stole the PA system.

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Grayfolded"]

There is of course a reason that the Californian ideology became centred in California and developed in the way it did, and that reason is of course infrastructure.

Many people who were influential on the Californian ideology, like the postmodernist science fiction writer Robert Anton Wilson, would argue that if you plotted a timeline of the most innovative people in human history, that timeline would slowly move west and slightly north, accelerating over the centuries, as the most radical thinkers followed the Sun, so in the last few centuries the greatest innovations had come from Greece, then Italy, then France, then England, then New York, and then finally the West Coast of the USA. According to Wilson and his friends like Timothy Leary, now that wave had finally reached the Pacific there was only one place left to go, and so humanity would fulfil its manifest destiny and head up into the stars.

Other, less teleologically-minded, thinkers have suggested that the growth of that ideology had more to do with the fact that the Bay Area had... well, a bay. Which meant that it was a natural area for naval bases, and thus for much of the twentieth century a hub of military activity more generally. And this meant that when the US Government wanted to fund research into military technology -- like rockets, or like the computer systems that would be needed to guide missiles, or like a communications network that would allow those computers to communicate, the Bay Area's institutions of higher learning were the best places to turn to, and so places like Berkeley and Stanford got vast military research grants, and so became the cutting-edge institutions for those topics.

And so Berkeley, for example, counts among its alumni Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, Gordon Moore, the semiconductor researcher who co-founded Intel and coined "Moore's Law", and Eric Schmidt, a software engineer who went on to become the CEO of Google; while Stanford produced seventeen of the forty-four winners of the Turing Award for computer science to date, and was also the place where in order "to exploit new computer technologies to meet the needs of military command and control against nuclear threats, achieve survivable control of US nuclear forces, and improve military tactical and management decision making" as the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency put it, they developed what was then called ARPANET but later became known as the Internet -- the first ever ARPANET message, the word "login", was sent from CalTech to Stanford, though problems meant that only the first two letters arrived.

So many advances in computer science came out of the military-funded institutions in the Bay Area that soon corporations started building their own facilities there to hire all the bright young graduates, and Silicon Valley was built, starting with Xerox's Palo Alto Research Centre, where basically every personal computing technology of the nineties was invented in the seventies.

And so young men (and it was, sadly, almost all men, sexism in science and technology being what it is) flocked to the Bay Area to work with this cutting-edge technology. Many of these people were the kind of staggeringly bright, vaguely idealistic people who had been inspired by science fiction stories to build technology for a better, utopian, future. 

They wanted to go where the best tech was, to have the best toys to play with, but they often didn't like the idea of being funded by the defence industry, because these were young men at a time when the US was prosecuting an unpopular war in which their friends were being called up to fight. But they didn't *dislike* that idea enough not to take the money and play with the toys, especially when what they were doing wasn't *exactly* weapons research. I mean, yes, they were being funded by the Department of Defence, but they weren't building *bombs*. They were making computers talk to each other. 

And so, rationalisation being what it is, they leapt on any ideas that would let them do defence-department-funded work while still having a clear conscience. And one of those ideas was one that was very current among the hippies of the Bay Area, people like Stewart Brand. The idea was that all large institutions were just jokes, figments of the imagination that didn't really exist, that they're what Vonnegut in Cat's Cradle talks about as "a false _karass_... a seeming team that was meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done... what Bokonon calls a _granfalloon_... examples of _granfalloons_ are the Communist party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows--and any nation, anytime,anywhere.

As Bokonon invites us to sing along with him:

If you wish to study a _granfalloon_,

Just remove the skin of a toy balloon. "

So the Department of Defence and the government weren't real. What was real was individuals, taking individual actions -- and those individual actions would somehow coalesce into a collective higher purpose without organisation. Individuals all doing their own thing, together and leaderless, the same way the Grateful Dead all improvised their own parts and the sound gelled.

That idea appealed a *lot* to these bright young men. And this gentle hippie idea of freedom also fit in with the rugged individualist heroic idea of freedom that they'd read about in all their old science fiction magazines, a hypercapitalist pioneering libertarian idea promulgated by editors like John W. Campbell.

And it didn't hurt, of course, that those ideas of individual freedom also meant that you didn't have to feel guilty about becoming very, very rich...

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Grayfolded"]

There were several other changes to the world of the Dead in 1967, too. In March, on a trip to play in New York, Bob Weir reconnected with his old friend John Perry Barlow, who would become a major figure in the band's lives over the next few years. And there was a new band member too.

The story of how Mickey Hart came to join the Grateful Dead has never quite made sense. The way Hart always tells the story, he was at the Fillmore watching Count Basie and hanging out with Basie's drummer, Sonny Payne, who was one of *the* great jazz drummers of all time:

[Excerpt: Count Basie, "Ol' Man River"]

And Count Basie definitely did play the Fillmore in August 1967, as support to Chuck Berry on one of the wonderfully eclectic bills that Bill Graham put together. But Sonny Payne wasn't in Basie's band in 1967 -- he'd stopped working with Basie the previous year, and Basie's main drummer in 1967 was Ed Shaughnessey, before Harold Jones took over for a five-year stint. Possibly this was a situation like David Bowie and Lou Reed. Either way, Hart met Bill Kreutzmann at the gig, and the two hit it off immediately -- and that wasn't the only thing they hit. They spent much of the rest of the night going around the streets of San Francisco drumming on bins, cars, lampposts and so on together.  A little while later, Hart came to see Kreutzmann's band, and was impressed. Soon he was in the band as their second drummer.

This actually opened up a lot of possibilities for the group. Lesh didn't play like a conventional bass player, which meant that the group didn't have as firmly rhythmic a sound as other bands. Hart moved in with Kreutzmann and Lesh and Hart and Kreutzmann soon started spending hours playing together, learning each other's idiosyncracies. They even tried hypnotising each other so that they could be more in tune with each other, which led to some people in the band's circle wondering if Hart had hypnotised Kreutzmann into letting him join the band. (They also tried hypnotising Pig Pen, but it just made him walk into a door).

Shortly after Hart joined the band, the group decided they had to get away from Haight-Ashbury. What had seemed like an idyllic community soon became, in the words of George Harrison who had visited the area that summer, "like the Bowery". There were drug dealers getting murdered, teenage girls getting raped, and the group themselves got busted for dope possession. On October the sixth, the Diggers held a funeral for the hippie movement. The Summer of Love was over.

Most of the band moved to Marin County -- Pig Pen stayed behind at first, though he followed later -- and it's at this point that the band became the Grateful Dead as they are in the popular imaginary, the experimental psychedelic act.

Robert Hunter had been in Mexico for a while, but he'd been in touch with Garcia, and had sent Garcia some poems, which Garcia had set to music -- Garcia had never liked writing lyrics. Hunter had now returned to San Francisco, and was made a non-performing member of the band, with the job of writing lyrics for the band's music. The first song he wrote with the band, rather than at a distance, became the non-album single "Dark Star". Hunter heard the band rehearsing what was then an instrumental and came up with the first verse straight away:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Dark Star"]

Hunter would later acknowledge that he was inspired by the start of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock -- "Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky 

Like a patient etherized upon a table; 

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets, 

The muttering retreats 

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels 

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells: 

Streets that follow like a tedious argument 

Of insidious intent 

To lead you to an overwhelming question"

When "Dark Star" came out as a single, it wasn't a success, and was only a two-and-a-half-minute song. It wasn't even included on the album which they were recording at the time, Anthem of the Sun, though that did feature Hunter's first contribution to the band, a lyric called "Alligator" which was used on one of the two tracks for the "Pig Pen side" of the album:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Alligator"]

Anthem of the Sun was the first Grateful Dead album to consist entirely of original material -- material published by the band's own publishing company, Ice-Nine, which was named after a substance in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle. Ice-Nine, in the novel, is an allotrope of water that's solid at room temperature, and that makes any other water touching it become solid. One crystal of Ice-Nine dropped in an ocean would eventually freeze the entire ocean. Vonnegut always claimed the inspiration for this idea came from the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Irving Langmuir, but it was also an idea that John Campbell, the science fiction editor who worked with Theodore Sturgeon and L. Ron Hubbard, had been suggesting to authors since the 1940s (though Campbell may also have got it from Langmuir).

That album had a much more difficult genesis than their first album. They started sessions with Hassinger in LA, but soon moved to better studios in New York. And then to other studios in New York... when they started the sessions, they had two main songs they wanted to work on, "Alligator", and one they hadn't titled yet and just called "The Other One", which eventually became a suite entitled "That's it for the Other One".

Along with the new members Hart and Hunter, there was another addition to the group at this point -- Lesh brought in his old friend Tom Constanten, who at the time was in the military, working as a computer programmer on an Air Force base in Las Vegas, and secretly using their IBM machines to create electronic music, but who would take leaves of absence to join the group in the studio and help them create new sonic textures, with John Cage-inspired prepared pianos and electronic noises. (Constanten was famously a Scientologist, but he had his religion listed with the Air Force as Buddhist. Whenever he needed time off he'd make up a Buddhist holiday and get a pass).

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "That's it for the Other One"]

Hassinger soon got exasperated with the band's endless tinkering -- according to one story the final straw came when Bob Weir wanted to record some silence from the desert so they could get the sound of "thick air" to add to the recordings, though the story is told in different ways that make Weir's request seem more or less reasonable depending on who is telling the story and when -- and the group and their sound engineer Dan Healy began working on their own, recording an assortment of exotic instruments and sounds like a gyroscope spinning on a piano soundboard.

But the group still weren't happy with the sounds they were getting in the studio, and eventually Lesh hit on an idea -- they'd take the recordings of their live performances of these songs and create collages, mixing live and studio performance together, sometimes layering multiple performances from different shows on top of each other. It would be like Charles Ives, whose work often involved the orchestra playing two different songs at the same time. Lesh, Garcia, and Healy spent a huge amount of time in the studio, with Healy, who understood the equipment intimately, helping translate the ideas of Lesh and Garcia, who took charge of this editing process and kept asking things like "can we make a sound purple?"

The resulting album, with two tracks sung by Pig Pen, one by Weir, and two duets between Garcia and Weir, is probably the most experimental record the Dead ever made, and the polar opposite of their first album. It's the one time in their career that the Dead really used the studio to its full potential, and it's all the more surprising that they did that by using so much live material:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "That's it for the Other One"]

Those lyrics about "cowboy Neal" were written by Bob Weir on the fourth of February 1968, while the band were on tour. When he got back to San Francisco, he learned that that same day Neal Cassady had died. The night before he'd gone walking down a railway track trying to get from one town to another. He'd only been wearing a T-shirt and jeans, it was raining and he'd taken barbituates. He collapsed and was found comatose, and died of exposure. He was only forty-one. So it goes.

Anthem of the Sun was not a particular success, either critically or commercially, and is the kind of album that can only be appreciated with a little distance from its release. The album is very much of a part with other contemporaneous albums whose reputation have grown over the ensuing decades. Its experiments with tape and musique concrete put it somewhere in the same ballpark as the Beach Boys' Smiley Smile, which a few years later Garcia would cite as his favourite album of all time, but which at the time was dismissed as stoned nonsense that was trying too hard:

[Excerpt: The Beach Boys, "She's Going Bald"]

While its collaging and mixture of folk and psychedelia is very much the same kind of thing that the Incredible String Band were doing on The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter:

[Excerpt: The Incredible String Band, "A Very Cellular Song"]

By this time, many of the groups were getting sick of working with Bill Graham, and the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and some of the other groups decided to open their own venue, run as a collective. 

As Bob Weir later said "We were young and strong and high on ourselves. At that point, Bill Graham wasn’t the huge mogul that he became, and we thought, “There’s room in this town for us, too!” We were also acutely aware that Bill was stealing from us, and he made no bones about it, but he also made no bones about the fact that we’d never catch him. That said, we probably did better working for him than we would’ve done working for someone who wasn’t stealing from us, because he always managed to sell more tickets. He managed to get more people into the building and he knew how to get around the fire marshals and all that kind of stuff. So he was a crook, but he was a great one."

The Carousel Ballroom, however, only lasted a few months before they realised that musicians and business are not a good mixture. The ballroom closed, and soon reopened under a new name -- Bill Graham had set up a Fillmore East in New York, and now he closed down his original Fillmore -- largely because it was in a Black neighbourhood and the hippies were no more immune to racism than anyone else -- and rebranded the former Carousel as the Fillmore West.

At the group's first gig at the newly-renamed Fillmore West they spiked Bill Graham, giving him acid without his consent. This was sadly a common practice for the band -- and they didn't just do it to their human friends, but to animals, with Hart occasionally giving acid to a horse he owned. Graham, who didn't use the drug, knew this was a practice of theirs, so refused to eat or drink anything they had been near, and got his wife to put his own food and a thermos into a paper bag which was then sealed with wax, and would be the only food he'd touch while he was there, so he knew it was untouched.

But he thought he'd be safe with a can of 7-Up, because after all, it was a sealed can, he opened it himself and drank it down with none of them being able to touch it. Except that they'd used a hypodermic needle to inject LSD into all the 7-Up cans backstage, and then warned each other not to drink them if they didn't want to be dosed. They were *that* desperate to make sure that everyone around them used the same drugs as them, and *that* unconcerned about basic notions of consent. Remarkably, Graham continued to work with them for the rest of his life.

(That story, like many with the Dead, is told as happening in different ways at different times. I've placed it here because the other main version of the story places it at a time when Mickey Hart wasn't in the band, and he remembers it happening and Graham remembered him being there.)

The Carousel closed at the end of June 1968, the album came out in July 1968, and in August 1968 the group fired Bob Weir and Pig Pen.

Or at least they tried to. Lesh, and to a lesser extent the other three, had grown increasingly impatient with the two of them. Garcia was the leader, and he was a virtuoso guitarist by this point. The drummers were working together to investigate polyrhythms and were innovating on their instruments. Lesh was generally regarded as one of the most innovative bass players in the business. But Weir, the youngest and most naive of the band members, was not yet able to translate his McCoy Tyner ideas into playing, and Hart described him as playing "little waterfalls" rather than proper rhythm guitar. And Pig Pen, meanwhile, had never been into this psychedelic thing in the first place. He wanted to be a bluesman, and simply had no interest in doing extended spacey jams influenced by John Cage and Charles Ives and Edgard Varese and John Coltrane.

But somehow, even after sacking the two members who the rest regarded as deadweight, they just... stayed in the band. Garcia in particular was too nonconfrontational to actually properly sack someone -- or indeed to make any kind of decision at all. Everyone else thought of him as the leader, the guru, the person in charge. He thought of himself as just one of the band, and went to great lengths to avoid the responsibility everyone else was putting on him.

So the Grateful Dead carried on as a six-piece, but played fewer gigs, and instead Mickey Hart and the Heartbeats -- Garcia, Lesh, Hart, and Kreutzmann -- played their own separate gigs, with the idea that they would become the main band and the Grateful Dead would wither away.

That didn't happen, though. Lesh liked to compare the Grateful Dead to the characters in More Than Human by Sturgeon, how when they were working together -- bleshing in Sturgeon's term -- they were like a single organism rather than separate individuals. As Owsley later put it, "you can't fire your left hand just because it doesn't write as nicely as your right". And without Weir and Pig Pen, that feeling simply wasn't there.

So they came up with another solution.

By this point, Tom Constaten had left the Air Force, and so he was available to join the group. The decision to add Constanten to the band was made by Lesh and Garcia, without consulting the other members, and not everyone was happy about it -- they felt that Constanten was far too intellectual a player and was never really comfortable jamming, and some of them didn't like his abstinence from drugs (because they're banned by Scientology).  Constanten also found playing in a live band difficult because of the levels of amplification. But it meant that Pig Pen could play congas and harmonica and be more of a frontman for much of the show and not have to be the sole keyboard player, and that in turn gave Weir a chance to develop his style more now there was another avant-garde player on stage with Lesh and Garcia:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "That's It For the Other One, San Francisco February 1969"]

And Weir did eventually find his style, and as the band's instrumental jams grew more complex, he went from being dead weight to being hugely important to the group's sound.

Whereas in most rock bands the bass player would provide a steady harmonic root to keep the rest of the band in place, Lesh didn't play that way, and so both Garcia and Lesh were usually playing improvisational melody lines, twisting round each other and going in different directions. But any two notes played at the same time imply a chord, and the two were often implying all sorts of complex harmonics. Weir's job during an improvisation came to be to listen to what Lesh and Garcia were doing, figure out what chord they were implying, and play that chord -- *and* to figure out where both of them were going in their different directions, figure out what chords they were *going* to be implying, and figure out a smooth route between them that sounded musical and anticipated their decisions.

While Weir and Pig Pen were mostly out of the band, the group recorded their third album, provisionally titled Earthquake Country, and even though Constanten was involved, and on stage they were going steadily more experimental, in the studio the band were being influenced by the same return to roots music the Tralfamadorians among you will remember from other episodes, acts like The Band. It was essentially a Garcia solo album in all but name, with all the songs having Garcia singing lead, and all but one being Garcia/Hunter songs (the other, opener "St. Stephen", was by Garcia, Hunter, and Lesh). It was in many ways a return to the kind of music that Garcia had been doing before psychedelia, a nice simple album that would keep the record company happy after the massive cost overruns and general headaches caused in recording Anthem of the Sun.

And then they discovered that a sixteen-track machine existed, and scrapped the entire album and rerecorded it using the new technology, this time with Pig Pen and Weir involved (though not very heavily, and some sources say Pig Pen's not on the album at all), giving the rootsy Americana songs a little more of the oddness the band had live:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead. "Mountains of the Moon (original mix)"]

This made the album once again go massively over budget, and also ended up a little like a falling between two stools, and in 1971 Garcia and Lesh went back into the studio to remix the album, making it sound slightly more like a conventional country-rock album, though nothing could make a track like "What's Become of the Baby?" sound conventional:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "What's Become of the Baby? (remix)"]

The album, named Aoxomoxoa, was a failure both commercially and by the band's own standards, and is neither an album that has become beloved by the group's fans as some of the later ones have, nor a record that stands out as an interesting time capsule like Anthem of the Sun does. It has some songs that became well loved as part of the group's live sets, but it's the group in transitional mode. 

And then almost straight away came an album that did not go over budget at all, and that almost every Grateful Dead fan holds up as the peak of their vinyl career. After having used sixteen-track recording in the studio for the first time, they now decided to take a sixteen-track recorder into their regular gigs at the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore West, and record what is generally cited as the first live recording using sixteen tracks. It's also often claimed to be the first live double album, but as far as I'm aware the first popular music live double-album was actually the 1950 release of Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall shows, the ones we talked about in episode one.

Live/Dead mostly came about because Aoxomoxoa was so expensive that the group needed to record two cheap albums if they and Warner Brothers ever wanted to make a profit on their deal. Cutting a live double-album essentially gave them three records for the price of one. And Live/Dead was essentially two records for the price of one.

Sides three and four were a blues album -- though note that I say sides three and four, not disc two. In a very Tralfamadorian move, the record's order was shuffled about -- like many double albums at the time, it was set up for record-changers that could stack multiple discs, so sides one and three were on one disc and sides two and four were on the other. 

Side four was dominated by a ten-minute version of Reverend Gary Davis' blues classic "Death Don't Have No Mercy", along with an eight-minute experimental piece just titled "Feedback" and the old Bahamian hymn "I Bid You Goodnight", which the group probably learned from the Incredible String Band's recording. 

Side three was where Pig Pen got to shine for the only time on the album -- for much of it he's relegated to playing congas, in a band with two other percussionists. But side three is a single track -- a fifteen-minute hyperextended version of Bobby Bland's "Turn On Your Lovelight", presumably inspired by the similarly extended versions that Van Morrison's group Them used to do. It sounds utterly unlike the Grateful Dead as they're normally thought of, but it makes a lot more sense of their repeated statements that they were always more inspired by the Rolling Stones than the Beatles:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Turn on Your Lovelight"]

Side two was a medley of two songs -- an extended version of "St. Stephen" from Aoxomoxoa, and a song with lyrics by Hunter and, unusually, music by Lesh, who only very rarely contributed songs to the band. That song was called "The Eleven", because of its time signature, which is usually given as 11/8.  This sounds more complex than it is, as it's basically just three bars of three and one bar of two, repeated -- "one-two-three one-two-three one-two-three one-two one-two-three one-two-three one-two-three one-two one-two-three one-two-three one-two-three one-two":

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "The Eleven" (from about 5:40, record so it synchs with the rhythm at the end there)]

Robert Christagu called that medley "the finest rock improvisation ever recorded".

Though the band were less impressed with "The Eleven" generally. Garcia said of it "you’re trapped in this very fast-moving little chord pattern which is tough to play gracefully through, except for the most obvious [shit], which is what I did on “The Eleven.” When we went in to the E minor, then it started to get weird. We used to do these revolving patterns against each other where we would play 11 against 33. So one part of the band was playing a big thing that revolved in 33 beats, or 66 beats, and the other part of the band would be tying that into the 11 figure. That’s what made those things sound like “Whoa—what the hell is going on?” It was thrilling, but we used to rehearse a lot to get that effect. It sounded like chaos, but it was in reality hard rehearsal."

Lesh, its composer, was similarly in two minds, saying it "was really designed to be a rhythm trip. It wasn’t designed to be a song. That more or less came later, as a way to give it more justification, or something, to work in a rock ’n’ roll set. We could’ve used it just as a transition, which is what it was, really. It was really too restrictive, and the vocal part—the song part—was dumb."

But the opening track is the one that arguably defined the band in the minds of many listeners. The single version of "Dark Star", which had sunk without a trace the previous year, was an upbeat two-and-a-half-minute pop song. The version on Live/Dead was twenty-three minutes, and took up the whole of side one:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Dark Star (Live/Dead version)"]

In the months since the single's release, "Dark Star" had changed utterly. 

As Tom Constanten later said "“Dark Star” is a tremendously adaptable piece—I can’t think offhand of any other piece that is so comfortable to just ease into and work out for a while and leads to as many interesting places, and then you just ease out of it. It’s simple enough to be malleable but complex enough to be interesting. It isn’t like some of the jams … let’s say, one that has just one or two chords that alternate. You get into this sort of generic jam, which might be nice for shifting gears or moving to another piece, but it doesn’t engender as many ideas of its own. It doesn’t suggest as many as the changes of “Dark Star” do.

Certain motifs were integrated over time, almost like an aural tradition. I viewed the piece not so much as something written out, but as a galaxy that would be entered at any of several places. That appealed to me from my aleatoric sixties days—John Cage and all. And naturally, in the sense that every performance would be unique, with one-of-a-kind moments that were completely spontaneous. We were just exploring the map—the dimensional, capillarious intestine of … cosmic goop"

It was now, and would remain until 1974, the centrepiece of the group's live set, though the group didn't play it, or any song, every night. But it was a regular, and for much of that time, it and "Turn On Your Lovelight" would be the two poles around which the set was based -- "Dark Star" would be the track which would allow Garcia, in particular, to wander into new realms on the guitar, while "Turn On Your Lovelight"  would be the closer, a chance for Pig Pen to shine but also to leave the audience on a high with a straightforward, uptempo, upbeat, danceable song.

Of course, at this point, much of the Dead's set was built around improvisation anyway, and increasingly the group didn't have a planned-out setlist, or endings and beginnings of songs. Instead, the whole performance would be a continuous piece of music, with the group flowing from one song to another as the mood took them, ending songs by going into freeflowing jams which someone would usually then transition into the start of another song, with the rest of the group following him.

Live/Dead was not a commercial success, only reaching number sixty-five on the album charts, but for the first time it gave people who hadn't seen the group live some idea of what they'd been missing.

But soon after it came out, the group would have changed again:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, Grayfolded]

There were a number of disappointments for the group in the months after Live/Dead was recorded. As the Tralfamadorians among you will remember from episode 192, just as they had at Monterey the group turned in a well-below-par performance at Woodstock, not helped by Bob Weir getting literally blown across the stage by an electric shock caused by a badly-grounded mic. The Dead's performance was so bad that none of it was used in the film.

The group had also taken on Mickey Hart's father, Lenny, to help them with the business side of management. The Harts had been semi-estranged, and Lenny Hart had become an evangelical preacher, but Mickey knew that his father had a good head for money. What he didn't know, yet, was that Lenny Hart's good head for money was mostly a good head for getting money for Lenny Hart. Without the band's knowledge, Lenny had renegotiated their contract with Warner Brothers, and had claimed a seventy-five-thousand dollar advance, which he had kept for himself. They wouldn't find out about this for a while, and meanwhile things were happening like sheriffs coming on stage at the start of one show to repossess Pig Pen's organ because the band owed money they hadn't repaid.

Then the group tried to organise a free concert in London, with Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Stills, and Nash, who you will also remember from episode 192, which would have been the Grateful Dead's first show outside North America, but when Rock Scully flew over to the UK to organise the show, he was busted for possession of LSD -- which he later claimed had been planted by Lenny Hart to get him out of the way while Hart organised the Warner's deal. 

That show didn't get organised, but the Rolling Stones' team were involved in helping bail Scully out, and that created a tie between the two organisations. A tie which meant that when the Rolling Stones wanted to organise a free concert on the West Coast at the end of their US tour in late 1969, the Grateful Dead's management were involved in helping set it up, and Alembic, the company that Owsley had started to produce equipment primarily for the group, was put in charge of sorting out the sound. The Dead also helped the Stones liaise with the Hells Angels who provided security for the event. The Tralfamadorians among you will remember from episode 176 what happened at Altamont. So it goes. 

And then in New Orleans, the band -- apart from Pig Pen and Constanten, neither of whom used illegal substances -- and several of the crew were busted for drug possession. They eventually had the charges dropped after Joe Smith at Warner Brothers made a large campaign contribution to the re-election campaign of DA Jim Garrison, but this caused a lot of inconvenience for the group -- not least that it was not Owsley's first arrest, and it made it difficult for him to travel with the group for a while, causing one of his periodic steps away from the group.

Someone else who was stepping away from the group was Tom Constanten. He'd only been a member of the group for a little under two years, but he'd found playing in a live situation more difficult than he'd thought. He was fundamentally a studio musician, whose best work was planned, not improvised, and he often couldn't hear himself on stage because of the relatively primitive amplification of the time, even despite Owsley's best efforts. He'd also felt a little like a pawn in the band -- he'd been brought in by Garcia and Lesh without much consultation with the others, and he was viewed in particular as "Phil's man", and so criticising him, the new boy, was a good way for other band members to weaken Lesh within the group's power structure. He was also regarded as a bit holier-than-thou for his promotion of Scientology. While Garcia, Hunter, and Weir had all dabbled in it at one time or another, and Garcia, Lesh, Weir, and Constanten had even played benefit concerts for Scientology in a country band they had as a side project, Constanten was the only one who stuck with it, and that made him something of an outsider.

The decision for Constanten to leave the group was apparently mutual and amicable, and came in New Orleans at the time of the bust.

Constanten's first major work after leaving the Dead was to provide orchestrations on a track on the Incredible String Band's new Scientology-themed concept album, U:

[Excerpt: The Incredible String Band, "The Queen of Love"]

Constanten went on to work with many influential and experimental musicians, hold down some academic posts in music composition, and, in recent years, play with Jefferson Starship and sit in with a large number of Grateful Dead tribute bands. He is also the only one of the five keyboard players to have officially become full members of the Grateful Dead not to have died a horribly premature death. I mention this here because this is another of the many difficulties I have had putting this episode together, and another reason I have to let my own personality intrude in this episode and actually talk in it about the writing process. Normally when something happens over and over again to a band or artist, it becomes part of the structure of an episode or even a series of episodes. I can turn it into a neat pattern or a running joke. Oh look, here's another Ink Spots intro that sounds the same. Oh look, another band has turned Rod Stewart down.  Every instinct in my body as a writer tells me to do the same with the Grateful Dead's keyboard players. Every instinct as a human being tells me that to make light of the tragic deaths of four men who still have loved ones who are alive and might hear this episode would be abhorrent and monstrous. I have had to put in considerable effort with the structuring of this episode so that that does *not* become a running joke. But still, it is something that will repeat several times in the remainder of the episode.

But Tom Constanten is alive, and we can be thankful for that.

The time Constanten was in the band is considered by many fans to be the group's most interesting period as a live act (though there are partisans for various other points in their career), and it is certainly the most experimental period in the studio, and the change from the latter is part of the reason he left. When he had joined the group, psychedelia had been at its height, and every band wanted to push the limits of what could be done in the studio. But rather quickly after that, the tide had changed musically. As the Tralfamadorians among you will know from episodes 167 through 178 inclusive, and from many other episodes after that point, rock music from early 1968 entered a period, largely inspired by a band called The Band who we'll be talking about soon, in which musicians were no longer asking Alice when she's ten feet tall or picturing themselves on a boat on a river, but rather singing about steamboats and trains and a pastoral past. 

There was a convergence of hippie psychedelia with the blues roots of many of the newer British artists, and with the country and folk roots of many American rock stars. This was paralleling a new movement in country music which had its roots in the Bakersfield Sound of people like Buck Owens, and which would later become known as Outlaw Country, but at the time was being talked of as Progressive Country. The result was that you'd have albums like the Everly Brothers' Roots, which saw them covering the early San Francisco band the Beau Brummels and new songwriters like Randy Newman, but also country records by Glen Campbell, George Jones, Jimmie Rodgers and Merle Haggard, and giving it all a psychedelic sweetness:

[Excerpt: The Everly Brothers, "Sing Me Back Home"]

The Grateful Dead were as swept up in this movement as anyone, and at one point Garcia was even talking about the group as now being a Bakersfield Sound group -- though this seems to have been more overenthusiastic hyperbole than anything else. The Bakersfield Sound is hard to pin down, but pretty much everyone is agreed that the sound of Buck Owens and his Buckaroos is the epitome of the sound, and their tight, precise, disciplined playing, spiky Telecaster attack with few or no effects, and preference for highly-rehearsed simple clean lines, often played in unison, couldn't be further from the Dead's loose, individualistic, playing style, preference for Gibsons, and use of as many effects as they could:

[Excerpt: Buck Owens, "I've Got a Tiger By the Tail"]

It's hard to find examples of two guitar duos that are further apart than Buck Owens and Don Rich on the one hand and Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir on the other.

That said, Garcia was sincere in his love for this music, and he'd even taken up playing the pedal steel guitar, and had formed a country band, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, which at various times would also include Hart, Lesh, and very occasionally Weir, and where Garcia played pedal steel rather than electric guitar. They included many covers of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard songs in their early sets, though San Francisco's looser playing style didn't really fit the material:

[Excerpt: New Riders of the Purple Sage, "I've Got a Tiger By the Tail"]

Hart would soon leave the New Riders and be replaced by Spencer Dryden of Jefferson Airplane, and Garcia would also depart after their first album, but the New Riders of the Purple Sage, who continue performing to this day, would continue to be associated with the Grateful Dead over the coming years, often acting as a support act for them.

The Grateful Dead's stage show would still continue to involve long, improvised, jams, and those would be the things that the audience would most want to hear, but on record it was a different proposition. Garcia in particular had always loved country and folk music, and it couldn't have escaped anyone's attention that the studio experimentation on the last couple of albums had sent the group vastly over budget, while their friends in other bands were selling millions with albums that took a fraction of the time to record.

As Bob Weir said "From a record company standpoint and the way the media’s set up these days, it’s easier to sell songs than it is to sell improvisational long pieces. That’s one of the restrictions of the art of making a record encompasses the music, how long the piece is going to be, how appealing and how accessible it is to the audience. By accessible I mean easily understood. As opposed to John Coltrane, who played some dynamite music—I mean some really fantastic music—but he was never any superstar. And he had not much of an audience, because not many people could understand what he was playing.

It bugs you if you are playing music the best you can play it and not many people are listening. And just because you’re a performer, a performer wants people to listen. Generally, you might consider changing your material or finding a new sort of material that more people will be interested in listening to and at the same time you will be interested in playing it. That’s kind of where we settled down, at least with Workingman’s Dead."

The new stripped-down lineup of the Grateful Dead went into the studio with a new attitude -- they were going to cut an album like they had with their first record. Get it done in three weeks, keep it simple, make it about the songs. They could always be extended into jams on stage.

They went into the studios with their sound engineers Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor-Jackson, who acted as co-producers with the group. They cut simple demos of all the songs they had, and then the songs were put into a proper sequence, as the group had learned from Sgt Pepper that the flow of an album from one song to another mattered. They then went off and listened to the demo album, and rehearsed all the songs with the flow and feel of the finished album in mind.

The resulting album, Workingman's Dead, is considered by many fans to be their first truly great studio album, and it's one of the few that has a substantial number of defenders despite it sounding nothing like the extended jams they were known for on stage. It's a collection of relatively concise songs -- only one of them going over five minutes, and none going over six -- like "Dire Wolf", a song about fate and predestination, and how everything is predetermined, inspired partly by a viewing of the Basil Rathbone version of The Hound of the Baskervilles on TV, though little of that inspiration shows up in the finished song:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Dire Wolf"]

The influence of the Bakersfield sound on that track is very noticeable, but Tralfamadorians will also notice that the records we looked at in episodes 172 and 192 were hugely influential on the group's sound at this point. In particular, the Dead's newfound attention to their harmony vocals, on this album and the next one, was a conscious attempt to copy their friends Crosby, Stills, and Nash. As Weir put it "we’ve been hanging out with David Crosby and Stephen Stills, particularly, and listening to them sing together, and just blown out by the fact that they really can sing together; and we began to realize that we had been neglecting our own vocal presentation for instrumental presentation. And so we started working on our vocal arrangements, and choral arrangements. As it turned out, the next record we did had a lot of that on it. And it represented a marked change from the way we had sounded in the past, though none of us had really given it any thought."

The other most notable song on the album, "Casey Jones", also indirectly has a cinematic inspiration. The film Easy Rider had been a huge hit in the counterculture, especially among the elements of it that overlapped with the Hell's Angels and other biker groups -- Robert Hunter, for example, had gone to see the film rather than go to Altamont, as he'd had a bad feeling about the concert which proved to be accurate.

That film had had a number of huge effects -- it basically started the New Hollywood that would define cinema in the seventies, it made Jack Nicholson a star -- but Dennis Hopper summed up the biggest when he said “The cocaine problem in the United States is really because of me. There was no cocaine before Easy Rider on the street. After Easy Rider it was everywhere.”

Cocaine had gone from being an unpopular, unfashionable drug to almost overnight being *the* drug of choice for people who wanted to think themselves hip. And since "cocaine" rhymes with "train", it was inevitable that when Garcia and Hunter decided to update the legend of Casey Jones, that would get added to the legend:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Casey Jones"]

The group later disclaimed the idea that it was in some way promoting cocaine use, with Garcia in particular saying "It’s clearly an anti-coke song. The words aren’t light, good-time words—it’s just the feeling of it. We were manipulating a couple of things consciously when we put that song together. First of all, there’s a whole tradition of cocaine songs, there’s a tradition of train songs, and there’s a tradition of Casey Jones songs. And we’ve been doing a thing, ever since Aoxomoxoa, of building on a tradition that’s already there. Like “Dupree’s Diamond Blues.”

But the group were using cocaine a lot at this point, and initially it seemed to be a positive influence on the group, giving them additional energy in the studio. It was only later that it would start to cause real problems for them.

The new album was extremely popular with the record company. Joe Smith of Warners, when he heard it, hugged co-producer Bob Matthews and said "I can hear the vocals!" and allegedly ran into the corridors and grabbed people, ecstatically shouting "We've got a single! We've got a single!"

The single in question, "Uncle John's Band" was edited into a single mix that Garcia later called "an atrocity", with gaps left in the vocals where words like "goddam" were used in the unexpurgated version. Apologies for the poor sound quality of this. As far as I'm able to discover, that single edit has never been released on CD or as a download, and so I've had to use a vinyl rip from a YouTube channel called "scratchy 45s":

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead "Uncle John's Band (single mix)"]

But it did give the group their first entry onto the Hot One Hundred, making number sixty-nine on the charts. And the album itself did even better, making number twenty-seven on the album charts. After a string of flops, this new version of the Grateful Dead looked like they might be on to a winner.

And they needed one. The group were also busily rearranging their management team. Rock Scully would still be involved, but from this point on he was an advisor paid by the record label rather than being on the band's payroll himself. But the big change, and the one that meant they needed money, was that Lenny Hart had been revealed to have been stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the band. He disappeared with their money, and there was some talk of sending Hell's Angels after him to get the money back, but Garcia, who despite his passivity and unwillingness to take a formal leadership role was always informally accepted as their leader, decided that his karma would probably get him so they didn't need to take any action.

In early 1970, the group played the Fillmore supported by Miles Davis, who had just released his Bitches' Brew album, which was the most influential album on the new genre of jazz-rock:

[Excerpt: Miles Davis, "Great Expectations"]

The group were all amazed by Davis, and his performance renewed their interest in improvisation, though they were still for the moment even more interested in writing the kind of songs that would earn them enough money that they could make back the money Lenny Hart had stolen. They went on a big multi-artist tour across Canada with Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, The Band, Buddy Guy and others, all travelling by train, but the shows were disrupted by protestors who insisted that they should all be playing for free, not for money, and who were storming one of the venues, with thousands of people trying to get in for free.

Garcia eventually managed to calm the protests by organising a free show in a park, with some of the acts including the Dead playing both shows, but he -- understandably -- resented this. He said of the protests "I think the musician’s first responsibility is to play music as well as he can, and that’s the most important thing. And any responsibility to anyone else is just journalistic fiction, or political fiction. Because that [bullshit] about “the people’s music,” man—where’s that at, what’s that supposed to mean? It wasn’t any “people” who sat with me while I learned to play the guitar. I mean, who paid the dues? I mean, if “the people” think that way, they can [fucking] make their own music. And besides, when somebody says “people,” to me it means everybody. It means cops, the guys who drive the limousine, the [fucker] who runs the elevator. Everybody."

Much of the tour was spent with Janis Joplin trying to persuade the Grateful Dead, who other than Pig Pen were not big drinkers, to get drunk with her. She succeeded, but they got their revenge by spiking her and her band on the last day of the tour with acid. According to at least one book, the vector for the acid was Janis' birthday cake, which was shared with a number of members of the Calgary Police Department.

Some of the bands on the tour actually decided it would be a plan to hijack the train and drive it down to San Francisco after the tour, but luckily rather than "driving that train high on cocaine" they realised that the power had been switched off when they got to their destination, so they had no way to get it to move.

While the group were still playing big, multi-act, events like this though, they had also started a new style of touring, one that was designed to maximise money and also give them the time to play all the music they wanted.

Where up to this point the norm for a Grateful Dead show had been for them to go on as part of a bill with two or three other acts, now they started touring as "An Evening With the Grateful Dead". The show would start with a performance by the "acoustic Dead", performing largely their new song-oriented material:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "I Know You Rider (Harpur College Binghamton)"]

That would follow with a performance by the New Riders of the Purple Sage, featuring Garcia and Hart, and then to finish off an electric set -- or sometimes a show broken into two sets -- featuring as wide a variety of songs as they could fit in, from their long jams like "The Other One":

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "The Other One (Harpur College Binghamton)"]

To covers of James Brown songs:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "It's a Man's World  (Harpur College Binghamton)"]

These shows would last for five hours, and would require no other bands, just the Dead and the people in their immediate circle. This made them both more artistically fulfilling and, crucially, more fiscally rewarding, than playing on a package with other bands.

And these shows went along with another innovation, one that came from Rock Scully, and which eventually changed everything for the Dead, who at this point were an act with no hit singles and only one moderately-successful album, in a world where record sales and radio play were all. 

The Tralfamadorians among you have obviously heard other episodes in which I talk about the rise of FM radio, but in brief, frequency modulation, or FM, was an alternative way of transmitting radio to amplitude modulation, or AM, which had been the norm up until the late sixties and would remain important for a long time to come. Because of the bands allocated to the different types of radio in most countries, AM radio could be broadcast for thousands of miles, while FM radio could only be heard dozens of miles away at most, and so AM dominated among the big commercial broadcasters, while FM was at this point mostly only used by small community radio stations, college stations and the like.

But those stations were more likely to play obscure music than the big stations were, and they could also take advantage of one big difference that FM radio had -- there was a consistent standard for broadcasting stereo in FM, while at the time AM radio could only be broadcast in mono.

This made those small community stations perfect for a new format, Album Oriented Radio, which went on to define what in America is now known as "classic rock". Those stations didn't have to worry about pleasing massive audiences, so they could play stereo album tracks rather than just singles, which were only released in mono. And they also started broadcasting concerts. Indeed, one show at the Winterland Arena on October the fourth 1970 became the first ever *quadrophonic* broadcast, as two different FM stations, KQED and KSAN, both broadcast different simultaneous stereo mixes that you could play together (though here you're only going to hear it in mono of course):

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Till the Morning Comes (Live at Winterland Arena on 1970-10-04)"]

And this -- broadcasting of live shows -- became the Grateful Dead's salvation. Because as Sam Cutler, their road manager, who joined them from the Rolling Stones after Altamont, said "There was a way in which FM radio could be used to reach markets that hadn’t been touched.

So, for example, in Pennsylvania, you wanted to do a gig at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, which holds 18,000 people. The promoter would say, “We’d love to put you on at the Spectrum, but you aren’t even going to sell eight hundred tickets.” So how do we get this exposed to enough people that they can sell out the Spectrum? One of the keys to that was FM radio and college radio stations. We took Pennsylvania as a market area, and worked on playing at different colleges where there were 15,000 to 20,000 resident people, and used the FM radio station in that market to reach more people. You play in the state universities of Pennsylvania in order that when you play in a Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, people actually come to you. They’re drawn to you, and they know about you. Then you broadcast live for free. That just snowballed. The band, in those four years, went from not selling very many tickets to being very successful."

These radio broadcasts meant that over a period of a couple of years, the Grateful Dead went from playing to a few hundred people at most, anywhere but San Francisco, New York, and a couple of other major cities, to playing to huge crowds of thousands. And those broadcasts also started to be taped, and people started making copies of the tapes for their friends...

By 1971 this success was already causing problems of its own, with Garcia saying "The Grateful Dead has become incredibly popular and we can’t play a small hall anymore without having 3,000 people outside wanting to get in. Our classic situation the last six months has been people breaking down the doors and just coming in. We have to play 7,000 to 10,000 seats to be able to get people in at a reasonable price. Just to do it. It’s weird.

Here’s what we’re wondering: Do we really want to do that? When it comes down to it, we’re just heads. We’re not interested in creating a lot of [fucking] trouble and being superstars and all that [shit]. We’re just playing, getting off, out to have a good time and giving it all a chance to happen. And all of a sudden there are all these problems making it more difficult to do, and it’s getting to be where it’s not fun. We have to play shows like some military campaigns just to make sure the equipment guys don’t have to be fighting thousands of people to save the [shit]."

But back in 1970 it's a plan to save the band financially at all. Although at that point the hope of commercial success in recordings was also still alive. Indeed, right after the release of Workingman's Dead, the group went into the studio to record another album, one that would generally be considered the closest thing they came to a studio masterpiece:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Ripple"]

American Beauty was an album that was haunted by parental loss. There was the loss of Mickey Hart's father from the group's management, of course, an estrangement that hurt him deeply. But in August 1970 Garcia's mother was in a car crash, and died in hospital of her injuries a month later, and at the same time Lesh's father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. So it goes.

But rather than wallow, the band made their most optimistic album, and the most collaborative studio album they'd made to that point. They threw themselves into their work to distract themselves from their problems, and gathered as many of their friends around them as they could. Friends of theirs like Jefferson Airplane, David Crosby, Neil Young, and Carlos Santana were all recording in the same studio complex around that time, and Lesh described it as "jammer heaven". Those musicians weren't included in the sessions themselves -- though various members of the New Riders and other, less famous, friends of the band contributed additional instruments -- but they were around, and added to a family feeling for the sessions.

And while the previous two albums had been made up almost entirely of songs by Garcia and Hunter, the other band members contributed songs to American Beauty. The album opened with a song whose music Lesh wrote for his dying father, with lyrics by Hunter, and which featured Lesh's first lead vocal and guest appearances by a couple of members of the New Riders of the Purple Sage:

[Excerpt: Grateful Dead, "Box of Rain"]

In 1995 that became the last song the Grateful Dead ever played live.

The album also featured another song that would become a live favourite, "Sugar Magnolia", written by Weir and Hunter:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Sugar Magnolia"]

And what turned out to be Pig Pen's only solo songwriting credit on a Grateful Dead album, "Operator":

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Operator"]

Almost all the rest of the album was made up of Garcia and Hunter collaborations (with John Dawson of the New Riders collaborating with them on "Friend of the Devil").

But the song that was chosen as the single -- and once again released in a single edit, though this time that single has been included on official CD releases -- is the song that for the next eighteen years at least would be their most well-known song, and that had music that evolved out of a jam between Garcia, Weir, and Lesh. The lyrics to "Truckin'" were written by Hunter after he went out on tour with the band for the first time and got to experience what life on the road was like:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Truckin' (single edit)"]

From this point on, Hunter would be a regular backstage presence, as he was considered a non-performing member of the band. Indeed the backstage areas of Dead shows were growing somewhat crowded, as the band's crew became larger, and as more and more people got admitted to the Grateful Dead "family".

"Truckin'" was another minor hit like "Casey Jones" had been, reaching number sixty-four, and the album also made the top thirty. The group weren't having massive hit records, but they were doing much better than they had been.

Over the next few months, in between gigs, the band members, particularly Garcia and Hart, spent a lot of time in Wally Heider's studio, where they had recorded American Beauty, with the friends who had created that "jammer heaven". Garcia, Hart, and Kreutzmann all added parts to tracks on Blows Against the Empire, the science fiction concept album by members of Jefferson Airplane that became the first Jefferson Starship album, and which also featured David Crosby and Graham Nash:

[Excerpt: Jefferson Starship, "Have You Seen the Stars Tonite"]

Garcia, Lesh, Kreutzmann, and Hart also guested on several tracks on David Crosby's album If I Could Only Remember My Name, which also featured Neil Young, Nash, several of Jefferson Airplane, and Joni Mitchell:

[Excerpt: David Crosby, "What Are Their Names?"]

And Garcia and Lesh guested on Graham Nash's Songs For Beginners, which also featured Crosby, Young, and John Barbata, the former Turtles drummer who had just been working with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and would soon join Jefferson Airplane:

[Excerpt: Graham Nash, "I Used to Be a King"]

This music was all, as you can hear, very much in the same area as the two Grateful Dead albums of 1970, all acoustic guitar and pedal steel and vocal harmonies.

But live, the group were still spending at least as much of their time playing long pieces like "Dark Star" as they were the more commercial songs:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Dark Star (live at Port Chester, NY)"]

That performance of "Dark Star",which many fans of the group consider the best ever, is a historic one. That would be the last time that Pig Pen and Mickey Hart would both play on the same stage together.  February the eighteenth 1971 was the last performance by the lineup of the Grateful Dead that had made their most successful records.

Mickey Hart had taken his father's betrayal of the group very, very badly. While almost all the group were having drug problems at this time -- everyone except Pig Pen was using cocaine, and Pig Pen's alcohol dependency had by this point become even worse than the other members' more illicit habits -- Hart was spiralling. According to Kreutzmann's autobiography, Hart had developed a serious heroin habit at this point, and according to everyone he was depressed and feeling guilty over the way his father had betrayed the people he thought of as his brothers. 

Things came to a head on the eighteenth of February. Hart was simply too much of a mess, mentally, to play. Luckily for the group, they had a hypnotist on hand -- they were playing a short residency, and as part of that run of shows they were taking part in an ESP experiment where the audience tried to send images to a sleeping experimental recipient elsewhere. The hypnotist managed to get Hart into a state to play that show, and then he was driven back to his mother's house, where he was medicated and slept for three days. 

The group continued with Kreutzmann as their only drummer. But there was another change that happened that week, during the same run of shows. Bob Weir had been writing more music, and had of course been collaborating with the band's resident lyricist, Hunter. But Hunter thought that Weir was showing disrespect for his lyrics -- though Weir argued no more so than Garcia did. 

Backstage they got into a fight over the way the band were now playing "Sugar Magnolia", which had started out as a gentle country song but by this point had evolved into a fast rocker, and Weir would sometimes improvise new words:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Sugar Magnolia  (live at Port Chester, NY)"]

"Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear."

That's from A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, by John Perry Barlow, from 1996.

Backstage after the show was Weir's old friend John Perry Barlow, who by this time was a part-time writer who'd taken an advance for a novel he had no intention of writing and had used it to travel the world before becoming a cocaine dealer -- the capacity in which he was backstage. He was just about to travel to his family's ranch in Wyoming, because his father was ill and would die the next year. So it goes. Barlow would spend the next twenty years running the family business and living out his cowboy fantasies -- fantasies that would also appear in a lot of the writing he would do over that time period. He would also get very involved in Republican politics, including helping run Dick Cheney's first Senatorial campaign.

Much of Barlow's writing would end up being scripts for films that were never made, but for which Barlow was nonetheless paid, but the work he would become best known for -- at least up until his promotion in the nineties into the position of leading propagandist for Internet anarchocapitalism and the Californian ideology -- was started backstage in February 1971.

Hunter and Weir were having an argument about Weir's attitude to Hunter's lyrics, and Hunter turned to Barlow and after determining that Barlow had written poetry in college and thus could presumably write lyrics, said "Take him, he's yours."

From that point on there were two main songwriting teams for the Grateful Dead -- Hunter and Garcia and Barlow and Weir. 

1971 continued to be a year of changes and loss. Over the spring, both of Weir's parents died -- each on the other's birthday. So it goes. And while Bill Graham would continue to be the promoter who booked many of the Dead's most prominent gigs, the move in the rock world from bands playing theatres to amphitheatres and stadiums meant that his venues were no longer economical for him to operate, and so the Fillmores East and West, the two venues that had been most welcoming for the Dead, announced their closure. 

The bands who played the Fillmore East in its last weeks tended to bring on special guests to make the event special -- the Mothers of Invention brought John Lennon and Yoko Ono on, for example -- and the Grateful Dead were no exception, bringing another famous Californian band out to play a few of their own hits, and to jam on songs that both bands often included in their respective sets, like "Riot in Cell Block #9", "Johnny B Goode", and Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee":

[Excerpt: The Beach Boys and the Grateful Dead, "Okie From Muskogee"]

As the Tralfamadorians among us heard in episode 177, the Beach Boys were at a low ebb in their fortunes at this time, and the endorsement of the Grateful Dead helped them gain the appreciation of a hip college audience, which was a major part in the revival of their fortunes in the seventies.

By contrast, at the group's last performance at the Fillmore West, which was being filmed for Bill Graham's documentary The Last Days of the Fillmore, was so bad that they asked that none of it be used in the film, though Graham eventually persuaded them to let him use performances of "Casey Jones" and "Johnny B Goode":

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Johnny B. Goode (Last Days of the Fillmore)"]

Garcia was asked about that show the next year and said "We struggled to avoid getting into the movie because it was like really a notably bad night for us and the tapes were a drag, and everybody was out of tune and everything, and we were - it was that thing of not having played for a couple of weeks, you know, three or four weeks we'd been in the studio... But finally Graham just hassled us and hassled us and we finally went for it. We doctored 'em up a bit."

That said, while the band were notably out of tune at points during the show, it wasn't a completely meritless one -- indeed, a little over an hour of that show (not including the two songs used in the Fillmore film, recently got a release as a bonus disc on the fiftieth anniversary deluxe edition of the band's next album.

That album was a double-disc live album recorded mostly at the group's Fillmore East shows over the spring, and consisting, other than an extended version of "The Other One", largely of cover versions of blues, rockabilly, and country songs:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Me and Bobby McGee (Skull and Roses)"]

While that was billed as a live album, it actually had quite a few overdubs. Pig Pen's playing had been increasingly erratic, and he had become severely ill, suffering from delirium tremens. He'd started to cut down on the drinking, but he'd still ended up in the hospital in September, where he was treated for a perforated ulcer and hepatitis. Given Pig Pen's condition, organ parts were overdubbed on three of the songs by Garcia's friend and occasional performance partner Merl Saunders.

The album caused a major problem between the group and their record label. Not because it was a second double-live album -- that made sense, especially given there was no overlap in the repertoire on the two albums. No, the problem was the group's chosen title -- Skull[fuck]. 

Warner Brothers were adamant that you couldn't release an album with a title like Skull[fuck]. You simply couldn't use the word [fuck], or any of the other seven words you can't say on television or in a podcast with a clean rating, in a title and expect it to be stocked on shelves. The group were equally adamant that it couldn't be called anything else. Eventually Warners asked for a meeting about this. The group agreed, but said that as they were a democracy the meeting had to involve *everyone* in their organisation. All fifty-five of them.

Eventually the meeting hammered out a compromise -- the album would go out without a title, just labelled "Grateful Dead", which was taken as its title -- all the true Deadheads continued referring to it by its original name, f-word intact, while almost everyone else ended up referring to it as "Skull and Roses" after the cover image, to stop it being confused with their eponymous studio album from a few years earlier. In return for this concession, Warners agreed to give it a huge marketing budget, and it became their first album to go gold:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Big Railroad Blues"]

As 1971 came to an end, the group had a further change in lineup. Donna Jean Godchaux had been a member of a vocal group called Southern Comfort, who had become the go-to session backing singers at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, and we actually heard her singing in the episode before last:

[Excerpt: Johnny Jenkins, "I Walk on Guilded Splinters"]

She had also recorded backing vocals in several other studios in the South, including, as the Tralfamadorians among you will remember, on Elvis' number one hit "Suspicious Minds":

[Excerpt: Elvis Presley, "Suspicious Minds"]

(Incidentally, and as a sign of the kind of reason this episode took so very long to do, every source on the Grateful Dead I've read uses phrasing like "she’d been part of a female vocal group in her teens and worked as a session singer in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where she performed on such records as Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds.”" -- "Suspicious Minds" was famously recorded at American Sound Studios in Memphis, not in Muscle Shoals, with some extra work by Felton Jarvis in Las Vegas afterwards. This meant I had to take time out to find a source for Godchaux being on the record that *didn't* trace back to a source on the Grateful Dead. But she's credited under her maiden name in Ernst Jorgenson's book on Elvis' sessions, so anyone else who has that problem in future can relax).

She had given up on session work and moved to California, where she met her husband, Keith Godchaux. Keith was a resentful lounge pianist who was playing muzak he didn't like, but who desperately wanted to be playing modal jazz and bebop. However, after Donna Jean saw the Grateful Dead live, both of them became interested in the group, even though neither had any background in the Dead's kind of music. One day, a friend of theirs suggested they put on a Grateful Dead album, and Keith said he'd rather be playing the music than listening to it.

That gave Donna-Jean an idea. She took Keith to one of the small duo gigs that Garcia played when the Dead weren't playing -- Garcia would pretty much constantly perform live every chance he could get. This one was a performance with the jazz keyboard player Howard Wales, with whom Garcia had recently recorded the duo album Hooteroll:

[Excerpt: Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales, "Uncle Martin's"]

She grabbed Garcia between sets and told him "this is your new keyboard player".

What she didn't know, of course, was that Pig Pen was in the hospital and increasingly in no state to play even when he wasn't. Indeed, they'd actually tried auditioning Howard Wales, but come to the conclusion that while they liked his playing, they brought the worst out of each other -- the group egging Wales on to be too experimental, and him doing likewise for the group.

Garcia got Keith in to audition, first just for him, and then bringing in first Kreutzmann and then the whole band. Keith Godchaux was now the Grateful Dead's main keyboard player, though Pig Pen would still perform whenever he was well enough, and to the extent he could. Keith's playing was considered revelatory at this time -- he's been compared to the legendary Nashville session player Floyd Cramer for his playing on the country tunes, and called "a cross between Chick Corea and Little Richard" for his more experimental playing.

Within a few months, Donna Jean would also join on backing and occasional lead vocals, becoming the only woman ever to be a member of the group.

The new expanded lineup of the group got ready to head out on the road for their first tour of Europe, but before they did, there were some solo albums to get released:

[Excerpt: Jerry Garcia, "Deal"]

The band's contract with Warners allowed them to make solo albums, and Jerry Garcia's first true solo album, simply titled Garcia, had a simple motivation behind it -- he wanted to buy a house, and if he turned in an album relatively cheaply, the advance would be enough for a downpayment on one. As he said later, there was a reason that the first track on the album was called "Deal" while the last was "The Wheel" -- the album was him wheeling and dealing for a house. So in the summer it had been decided that Garcia and Weir would both do solo albums.

Garcia's solo album was actually recorded in July 1971, before Pig Pen's illness worsened. Garcia was a perfectionist in the studio and wanted to make an album where he had total control -- somewhat in the same spirit as Roy Wood's Boulders, although Garcia couldn't play drums or write lyrics, so there were a whole six people in the studio some of the time -- Garcia himself, playing everything except drums; the Dead's sound engineers Bob and Betty; Ramrod the guitar tech who everyone regarded as at least as much a part of the Dead's spirit as any band member -- sort of the Dead's equivalent of Mal Evans or Neil Aspinall, and who was given the job of co-producing the album, in part to give him an extra payday; Kreutzmann on drums; and Robert Hunter to write the lyrics.

The album was recorded at Wally Heider's studio, where the Dead and most of their friends regularly recorded, the "jam heaven" we talked about earlier, so to discourage the kind of party atmosphere that led to fun times but expensive records, they put up a sign saying "Anita Bryant Session" -- Bryant was a moderately-successful middle-of-the-road singer who had been heavily involved in campaigns to prosecute the Doors for indecency, and is now best known for being a raging homophobic bigot whose campaigns against gay people in the seventies featured exactly the same kind of language and accusations her ideological fellows are currently weaponising against trans people today.  Nobody wants to spend time around anyone like that, and so the sessions were safe from interruption.

The album was later more or less dismissed by Garcia, and it was disliked by the record label because even on the new album-oriented stations it was unlikely that the commercial tracks would get played -- there were plenty of commercial sounding tracks, like "The Wheel":

[Excerpt: Jerry Garcia, "The Wheel"]

But interspersed with those songs on the album were things like "Spidergawd":

[Excerpt: Jerry Garcia, "Spidergawd"]

And the album was mastered without much gap between the tracks, meaning that DJs cueing up a singalong that wasn't a million miles away from the stuff the Eagles would soon be having hits with might inadvertently get a blast of Varese-alike musique concrete.

Bob Weir's solo album, recorded around February 1972, had a very different story. While Garcia was so musically fecund that he could just turn out new songs in the studio, Weir had to be encouraged by Garcia to write at all, but by all accounts Garcia, who hated the responsibility that came with leadership and refused to take it even though everyone around him insisted that he was the leader of the group, wanted to encourage the band to have another focus other than just him. 

Weir's first solo album, Ace, came together in something of a rush. He had studio time set aside for the album, but had almost no songs, and drove up to Barlow's ranch for a frenetic writing session that led to a collection of songs that ended up almost all becoming staples of the Grateful Dead's repertoire:

[Excerpt: Bob Weir, "Cassidy"]

Weir and Barlow found writing together much more congenial than Weir and Hunter had. Often the process was far more collaborative than the simple music/lyrics split that Weir had had with Hunter -- Weir would bring Barlow just a chord sequence with no melody line, Barlow would come up with lyrics and sing them over the chord sequence, coming up with a melody line as he did so, and then Weir would rework Barlow's melody line into something different, while also changing the lyrics around and adding new ones.

The album did include two songs that Weir had already written with Hunter and erstwhile Dead drummer Mickey Hart, "Greatest Story Ever Told" and "Playing in the Band" :

[Excerpt: Bob Weir, "Playing in the Band"]

That had actually already appeared in live form on the Skull and Roses album, and Hart also did a version of that song on his own first solo album, released towards the end of 1972. There's also one song credited to Weir on his own, "One More Saturday Night", though apparently that started as a collaboration with Hunter before Weir rewrote it to get rid of Hunter's contributions. 

But the rest of the album is Weir and Barlow, and mostly shows the particular ideas of freedom that Barlow brought to the group -- he was equally influenced by the idea of cowboys and the Old West and the modern-day Easy Rider style bikers who would head out on the highway, looking for adventure and whatever came their way. People who lived free of government interference and age of consent laws, where men could be men and live as Americans should:

[Excerpt: Bob Weir, "Mexicali Blues"]

While Ace was released as a Bob Weir album, it is in fact a Grateful Dead album, and the single "One More Saturday Night" was released as by "The Grateful Dead with Bobby Ace". Weir initially started recording the album without the rest of the band other than Kreutzmann -- Dave Torbert, the bass player for the New Riders of the Purple Sage, contributed to the opening song -- but soon Rock Scully persuaded him that the easiest way to make the album would just be to persuade his bandmates to record it with him. 

Other than Pig Pen, who wasn't well enough to join them, all the other members of the Dead at the time -- Garcia, Lesh, Kreutzmann, and the Godschauxes -- contributed to the album, and other than Torbert's bass on "Greatest Story Ever Told" and some string and horn parts, all the parts on the album are played and sung by Grateful Dead members. It's just as much a Grateful Dead album as any of the group's previous studio albums, and contains as many of the songs that they became known for as any of the others:

[Excerpt: Bob Weir, "One More Saturday Night"]

The comic strip Dilbert, by Scott Adams, became in the 1990s a touchstone for a whole generation of tech workers, especially in the Bay Area, as the titular character, named by one of Adams' colleagues at Pacific Bell, the San Francisco-based telephone company that at that time was moving into computer networking and was a hotbed of the San Francisco hacker culture, came to symbolise the struggles of the software engineers who were being kept down and in their place by the pointy-haired boss, who didn't understand as much as the engineers he was in charge of. The message of the comic at that time was that the people in charge should step aside and let the people who knew what they were talking about -- the people who really knew computers -- do their thing.

In more recent years, the comic started to present the boss as a more and more sympathetic figure, and more of the jokes became about attacking what Adams would refer to as "wokeness", such as consideration for people of colour, trans people, and so on. Eventually this year the strip was cancelled -- in the actual, not metaphorical, sense -- as Adams was videoed making explicitly white-separatist remarks.

[Excerpt: Grayfolded]

The Dead's trip to Europe in 1972 saw Pig Pen returning to the group. He was still very, very ill, and could no longer drink alcohol at all -- and obviously he had not been taking recreational drugs anyway. He was very withdrawn, but apparently his gentle character shone through even more on that trip than normally. Pig Pen was pretty much universally considered the nicest person in the band, even though he was the scariest-looking of the band. While the others mostly looked like cuddly hippies but could be utterly cold-minded when they needed to be for the good of the band, Pig Pen was regarded by everyone who spoke about him in later decades as being practically a saint.

That's not really the case for the people he was hanging around with though. On the European tour, Pig Pen chose to spend most of the time with the crew rather than his bandmates, and the Grateful Dead were getting a reputation as having a crew you didn't want to mess with. The group's sound and lighting system were getting much more complex and much more physically difficult to get in place, and they were attracting the kind of crew who had to be good at quickly and efficiently dealing with physical problems.

The crew also had to deal with all the other problems that the rock stars didn't want to know about, and thus essentially became enforcers. There are lots of stories in this period of crew members cutting the microphone cords of people in the audience taping the shows, and of Sam Cutler threatening promoters with guns to make them pay up (though Cutler always denied those stories and said he'd never owned a gun).

They were temperamentally very different from the band members -- the iron fist around which the velvet glove of the band were wrapped -- and so a certain amount of natural separation happened. On the European tour there were two buses, and while there was no formal rule as to who sat where, and people could travel on whichever they wished, one bus had almost all the band, other than Pig Pen, and a couple of the crew, while the other mostly had the crew, plus Pig Pen.

As is the way of things, the two buses developed two ostensible characters, and the people on them got nicknames. The people on the band bus were "Bozos", partly because they sometimes wore clown masks to freak out the people of Europe as they drove past, and partly after I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus, a comedy science fiction album by the Firesign Theater parodying futurism, religious creation myths, artificial intelligence, and the idea of government by machines:

[Excerpt: The Firesign Theater, "I Think We're All Bozos On This Bus"]

The people on the other bus, by contrast, were Bolos. And over the course of the trip, Robert Hunter worked out a complex fake religion in the tradition of other comedy religions like Bokononism or Discordianism which were popular in the part of the counterculture that overlapped with science fiction fandom.

This religion, whose patron saint was St. Dilbert, saw Bozos and Bolos as two necessary opposing forces like yin and yang. Hunter named the religion Hypnocracy, as a parody of Technocracy, a movement that had reached its height of popularity in the 1930s but still clings on to life to this day, and to which a friend of Garcia belonged. 

Technocracy was a huge influence on Golden Age science fiction, particularly on writers who came up through John W Campbell's editing of Astounding magazine, like Theodore Sturgeon, L. Ron Hubbard, and Robert A. Heinlein, and held a lot of beliefs, but primarily that society should be organised scientifically, with scientists and technicians and engineers in charge, not politicians. 

This idea didn't tend to appeal to actual scientists, who could see the flaws in the argument, but did appeal to cranks who thought of themselves as scientists, and for a while had quite a widespread following in North America. The leader of the Technocracy movement in Canada, for example, was one Joshua Haldeman, a former rodeo performer turned chiropractor who later went on to campaign against Coca-Cola, before moving his family to apartheid South Africa because he thought Canada was morally degenerate. His thinking appears to have had an influence on his grandson, Elon Musk, a follower of the Californian Ideology who tweeted in 2019 that he was “accelerating Starship development to build the Martian Technocracy.” 

Obviously ridiculous people like this deserved mockery, and soon Hypnocracy became the philosophy of the people on the tour -- at least those on the Bozo bus. 

The European tour was regarded by everyone involved as one of the great experiences of their lives, and the group were playing better than ever before. Many fans consider their performance of "Dark Star" in Dusseldorf to be one of their finest ever:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Dark Star (Dusseldorf 1972)"]

While others point to the performance from London on the same tour:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Dark Star (Wembley, April 1972) "]

By this point "Dark Star" had become a massive event, something audiences looked forward to. You didn't get it every show, but when you did you knew you were going to get something special. It was considered something rather apart from the group's other material. Lesh once said "Dark Star is always playing somewhere. All we do is tap into it."

The group were all, other than Pig Pen, playing at their best, and band members have all especially pointed out how well Kreutzmann was playing at the time. Hart's departure had freed Kreutzmann up -- when you have two drummers, each drummer has to stay in sync with the other, and can't make the tiny adjustments to tempo and feel that a single drummer has the freedom to do. Lesh later said "Billy played like a young god. I mean, he was everywhere on the drums, and just kickin’ our butts every which way, which is what drummers live to do, you know."

Donna Jean agreed, saying "Billy was so there with what the Grateful Dead’s music was all about; he was always postured to play anything. He never set down a 2 and 4 that you couldn’t get away from; Billy’s left and right arm were always postured at any millisecond to take that rhythm anywhere that it needed to go. That’s the beauty of Billy Kreutzmann’s playing. He played like a dancer."

Of course, a massive touring operation like the Grateful Dead's was expensive to bring across to Europe, and the only sensible way they could do it was to release yet another live album -- this time a triple one. Although Europe '72 is, while often considered the pinnacle of the group's work, not exactly live. 

The group were pleased with their instrumental playing, but not with their vocals, and so most of the vocals on the album were rerecorded in the studio back in the US -- but not done the conventional way, with the band members using headphones and singing into the mic. Instead, to make sure that the vocal tracks sounded as they would have live, with instrumental bleed-through to make them fit the ambience, the group's entire stage setup was replicated in the studio, with the amps positioned as they would normally be and the mics spaced exactly as they would be in a live performance. The instruments were played back through the same amps they'd used on stage, and the group redid their parts, including a couple of vocals from Pig Pen:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "It Hurts Me Too"]

Those would be his last contributions to a Grateful Dead record. He played only one show with the group after the European tour, in June, and then he stayed at home, trying to get well. As Bob Weir would later explain "Pig Pen had been slowing down and gradually getting sicker, and his musical output was tapering, so by the time he had to stay off the road, he hadn’t been contributing that much so it didn’t have that major an impact. Coincidentally, I started to hit my stride around the same time, and with Pig Pen sick, there was a need for me to do more."

While he was at home, he was working on some songs for a possible solo album, or maybe to contribute to the next Dead album. But as it turned out, they would never see release. Pig Pen died, alone, at home, of an internal haemmorage brought on by too much alcohol consumption, on the eighth of March 1973. So it goes.

He was twenty-seven. And this leads me to another thing I need to say. There is an utterly pernicious concept called the twenty-seven club, based around the fact that several musicians died at that age. We've already seen one of these, Jesse Belvin, but we're sadly going to see a number more of them between now and episode two hundred, including one next episode. Various conspiracies and attempts at adding mystical significance have become attached to this idea -- an idea which has no basis in truth. Musicians, even famous ones, are no more likely to die aged twenty-seven than at any other age. But there *is* some suggestion that some of the later ones, especially those who died by suicide or overdose, were motivated in part by the romanticising of these deaths.

So I want to say clearly, this is the *only* time I will ever mention the "27 Club". Like the Grateful Dead's keyboard players dying, this is not a fun pattern that one can play enjoyable games with, this is talented, often troubled, young people, scarcely more than children, dying in horrible ways. I will have no part, however small, in adding to the belief that great art requires self-destruction or that one should die young and leave a beautiful corpse.

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "It Hurts Me Too"]

Pig Pen's death was, in many ways, the end of the Grateful Dead as they had been to that point. But there were other changes afoot. The group had decided to set up their own record label, Grateful Dead Records. Initially this was planned to be something that would allow the group to be totally independent and be distributed entirely through channels other than the mainstream record industry. 

As Garcia said "It’s dumb to complain about all that record company [bullshit]. I mean, if you’re enough of an [asshole] to stick it up where they can shoot at it, you can’t complain for getting shot. It was our blunder and we’ve been living with our mistake all these years. Now, hopefully we’re free to make our own mistakes."

As it turned out, their own mistakes would be just as bad as any that Warners had made, and Grateful Dead Records would shut down in 1976. It would later be revived in the nineties as an archive label. But it did mean that the band were in total control of their next few studio albums, with no oversight, which led to unfortunate missteps like Weir and Barlow's "Money Money", a song which complains about women being gold-diggers, but also about feminism:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Money Money"]

In truth, the group's studio albums were increasingly becoming afterthoughts -- as Garcia said in 1973 "There are a lot of people on our payroll, and we can’t really count that much on record royalties to take care of business. The live shows we do are the main source of income for the band, and we’ve been playing an awful lot to pay off our overhead."

Part of the reason for starting Grateful Dead Records had been to try to increase their share of the revenue from the records, but as it turned out they wanted neither to be in the record business nor to be in the studio. The group recorded six studio albums between 1973 and 1981, and of course as with every band of their size some of them have their ardent defenders, but even among that relatively small portion of Grateful Dead fans who defend their studio work, most agree that their great period in the studio ended with American Beauty.

But the band was becoming very successful on tour, and developing a devoted fanbase. They were helped in this by the packaging of the Skull and Roses album, which included a message saying "Dead freaks unite. Who are you? Where are you? How are you? Send us your name and address and we’ll keep you informed.”

Within a couple of years, the group had a mailing list of forty thousand people, who got sent "Dead Head Newsletters" (which popularised the term "Deadhead") which of course contained information about tour dates and new releases, but which also included the kind of stuff that bands would now have on their social media pages, the kind of thing that builds what is now called a parasocial relationship. Hunter was particularly involved in this, creating cartoons and anecdotes about Hypnocracy and the teachings of St. Dilbert, many of which involve him giving "hot foots", a kind of practical joke that involves setting the victim's shoes on fire when they're not looking.

Many of these stories also said a lot about the band's attitude to authority and to the kind of people who looked to them for authority, as in one that reads "St. Dilbert was walking in the market one day when up staggered a Bozo to ask his opinion on whether the king, Who had been caught with his hand in exchequer, ought to abdicate, be deposed, have his hand cut off, or be given a medal. With very little pondering, the Dilbert is said to have replied: "You Bozos slay me. You pick a king who best represents the sum of your individual lameness to rule you, and then complain because he has a big red nose." While considering this reply, the Bozo smelled smoke, and looking down realized that the Dilbert had, once again, placed a lighted match between his toes."

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Grayfolded"]

Even though they were only a middling success on record, the group were becoming ridiculously successful, to the extent that in 1973, on a bill with the Band and the Allman Brothers Band in Watkins Glen, they played to an audience which for decades held the Guinness record for the largest attendance at a festival ever, and according to some was the largest gathering of humans in American history to that point. The highways around the area had to be closed because of the traffic, with people making it on foot. A hundred and fifty thousand people had bought tickets, but most got in free. Estimates put the crowd size at somewhere near six hundred thousand, which if true and given the age of the people attending would mean that roughly one in every three people in their late teens and early twenties from the area stretching from Boston to New York were there.

The crowd for that event was so big that new technologies had to be introduced in the sound systems -- delay lines that allowed speakers to be placed further apart to account for the speed of sound.

And this kind of thing was the problem. The group were touring to try to make money, but to play to huge crowds you needed more equipment, and if you wanted crowds of this size to hear you properly, you needed equipment that had never been developed before. Eventually Owsley and sound engineer Dan Healey came up with a system they called the Wall of Sound which would give perfect sound in any venue. 

That is, in any venue it could fit in. It consisted of 641 speakers, and needed five trucks to get it to a venue. Many venues couldn't take its weight. It also took two days to set up. Which meant that they needed *two* walls of sound, and two whole crews -- one to go ahead to set up the next show while the Dead were playing one the other crew had set up. 

This is a period when the shows were generally considered exceptional, but the band were supposed to be doing this to earn a living, but they found that as the audience grew, the costs associated with playing to an audience that size grew. And it just wasn't fun any more, not least because half the band were dealing with serious cocaine problems by this point. So in October 1974 the group decided to just stop. They played a final concert at the Winterland, which was filmed for a film that Garcia later edited, and declared they were going on hiatus. Much to Kreutzmann's chagrin, Mickey Hart turned up and was invited to rejoin them for this last show:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Eyes of the World (live at the Winterland)"]

By this time there were creative and personal splits in the band and the crew, everything from the drugs they preferred (some of the Dead were by this point trying to be clean-living while others were taking everything they could, and several people involved were annoyed by the insistence of the crew at the last show that nobody could go on stage without taking acid first) to what kind of music they should be making.

They sacked a big chunk of the crew, dismantled the Wall of Sound, and spent eighteen months off tour, only playing a small number of one-off shows. But they found that they didn't know what to do if they weren't touring, and ended up getting back together, with Hart in the band once more, as he would be for the rest of its career, and touring again, starting off by playing smaller venues with a smaller crew.

But something was missing. Some of the shows were as good as they'd ever been -- a 1977 show at Cornell University is often cited as their best show ever:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Dancing in the Street"]

And there were other shows, like a performance at the pyramids in Egypt, which were fondly remembered for reasons other than the musical.

But something about the spirit of the shows was generally lacking, which can probably be summed up best by saying that between 1976 and 1984 they only played "Dark Star" five times. When asked about it, Garcia would say that he felt that the group had said everything they could say with that song, but that they felt obliged to try it every so often just in case. The sets tended to be far more structured, with rigidly defined areas of improvisation, rather than the loose, smooth, movement between ideas of the earlier performances.

Part of the problem was that several of the band had developed heroin addictions -- Garcia would struggle with his until the day he died -- and part of it was that after the hiatus, Keith Godchaux's playing no longer seemed to fit with the band the way it had. By mutual agreement, Keith and Donna left the band in February 1979, and formed their own band, but tragically Keith died in a car accident in July 1980. So it goes.

Keith's replacement was Brent Mydland, who had played in Bob Weir's side band Bobby and the Midnites, and he was considered a better fit, and that change led to the band being somewhat reinvigorated:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Grayfolded"]

In early 1976 Bob Weir had said "If it turns out that to avoid problems we have to play the big indoor places again, we just won’t do it. We won’t go out on the road. We’ll just stay home and make records."

By late 1976, the Grateful Dead were playing the big indoor places again. And they continued playing bigger and bigger places.

As the group were reliant on money from live shows, of course the venues they were playing grew, and they hit upon a totally different way of making money from what anyone else in the rock business was doing at the time.

They didn't make a studio album between 1981 and 1987, but in that time they became a bigger and bigger live act, because they finally figured out some of what was giving them a fanbase, and started to exploit it.

People had always traded tapes of Dead shows, but up until the early eighties, the group had discouraged this, as all bands did, fearing bootlegging. What they realised was that since they weren't making much money from records anyway, traded tapes weren't cutting into their profits much. What they *were* doing was acting as advertising for the live shows, where they *were* making money. They went from cutting the mics of tapers to setting up special "tapers areas" at shows, reserved areas where people could record the shows, so long as they only traded the recordings, never sold them.

These tapes being traded led to the creation of a whole fan culture, analysing the different shows, and commenting on what was the best version of each song, what was the best era of the band, and so on. People started to go to *every* show they could, travelling to see each show on a tour, sometimes seeing literally hundreds of shows. A thriving ecosystem of small businesses started to follow the group, selling home-made merchandise (and the group brought the best of these people in to make their own merchandise, which they sold through their mailing list) or food in the parking lots to concert-goers. The parking lots themselves became party spaces, so much so that a lot of people would follow the band from town to town not to go to the gigs, but to party in the parking lots.

The group encouraged this kind of thing by setting up their own ticketing company, and allocating chunks of tickets to people on their mailing list, which encouraged more people to sign up for the list, which encouraged them to think of themselves as "Dead Heads".

The Dead didn't understand their fanbase -- everything you read about them suggests that they didn't really get *why* this was happening  -- but between good luck and good management they'd managed to hit on a formula which is now the one used by every single artist who makes a living in the Internet era, thirty years before it started to become just the way you do things. Build a core audience by making work available for free or cheap, and then charge the true fans for extras, like live shows or merchandise or Patreon bonuses. 

And there's a reason that everyone working in a creative field is following the example set by the Grateful Dead:

[Excerpt: Grayfolded]

The Grateful Dead's fanbase were intimately connected with the Internet from even before the World Wide Web became a thing. LONG before. The group's geographic connection to the Bay Area, and its connection to psychedelic drugs -- many of the 70s generation of computer scientists were interested in expanding their own intelligence as well as that of their computers -- and vague science fictional leanings, meant that they were a natural fit for the kind of person who was online when there were only a handful of networked computers in the world.

The first web page came online in August 1991. The first Grateful Dead email list was started in the seventies, by researchers in the AI department in Stanford. When Usenet came along, originally there was just one newsgroup for music, but so many people were posting about the Grateful Dead that the moderators of that newsgroup eventually suggested that a separate Dead newsgroup be set up so anyone who wanted to talk about any other bands could get a word in edgewise, and they became the first band to have their own newsgroup. A 1994 book called Skeleton Key -- a guide to the culture of Dead fandom -- has a whole appendix called "How to Become a Nethead", which lists phone numbers of nineteen Grateful Dead bulletin boards along with their modem bitrates, and which says that there were at the time forty thousand subscribers to the Grateful Dead newsgroups, at a time when almost nobody was yet online. Rather charmingly, it says of the newsgroup "before you post your first message, take stock: Writing to tens of thousands of people at once is not quite like writing a personal letter. You should take care that the information you are publishing is accurate."

The bulletin board The WELL, set up in 1985 by Stewart Brand, one of the organisers of the Trips Festival, became a huge gathering place for Dead fans, and for people in the group's organisation, especially Barlow, who got into talks on the WELL that led to him co-founding the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the first civil liberties organisation devoted to speech on the Internet, and Brand sat on the board. Brand's slogan "Information wants to be free" became a rallying cry on the Internet well into the new millennium, and the culture of the Internet, and of Silicon Valley, grew up *heavily* influenced by the Grateful Dead's fan culture, and in particular by their encouragement of tape trading.

*Everything* about the way that music technology, and entertainment technology more broadly, evolved -- the growth of filesharing, the embrace by record companies of streaming as a way to provide music free at the point of listening to meet that demand, and the fact that where thirty years ago mid-level bands made a modest income from recordings and toured to promote them, while now they make a modest income from touring but release records to promote the tour... all of that comes back to the fact that it was Grateful Dead fans who were the first online, and who shaped the culture of the Internet in ways, good and bad, that we're still seeing today. It may not be an exaggeration to say that the Grateful Dead have had a more lasting, and greater, cultural impact than the Beatles, despite not even having a thousandth of their fanbase or their specifically musical influence.

The whole Californian ideology, in all its self-contradictory complexity, is in many ways an outgrowth of Deadhead ideology, for better and for worse.

And *that* is why I had to cover the Grateful Dead in such depth here. Because without them, the very model I use to fund this podcast would not exist. If it had been fans of Frank Zappa or the Velvet Underground who had been working in Stanford's AI lab, rather than the Dead, the world would be unrecognisable now.

[Excerpt: Grayfolded]

But while the Dead were growing their audience, they were not doing well. And much of that was down to Jerry Garcia. Garcia's heroin addiction was getting worse, to the point where he was nodding off on stage at times, and the man who had spent most of the seventies desperate to play music was now starting to resent being on stage, because the crowds had grown too big. Once again they were touring not because they wanted to, but because they had obligations to all their employees to keep the show on the road no matter what their health, playing more to support the crew than for pleasure.

Eventually, Garcia collapsed. His health had deteriorated thanks to his heroin use, he had undiagnosed diabetes, and he dehydrated on a hot day. He was rushed to hospital, and given Valium, which the doctors didn't know he was allergic to. He was in a coma for several days, and when he came out of it his memory was scrambled. He had to relearn how to play the guitar and banjo, spending months with the help of his friend Merl Saunders, slowly piecing his skills back together. And for a while, at least, he came off the heroin and controlled his diet. 

The group started rehearsing again, and at first it seemed like Garcia wouldn't be good enough, but then one day in October 1986, Mickey Hart came into the Dead's office smiling and saying "We just did a really good ‘Dark Star'. It's back." They started booking a comeback tour the same day.

Garcia's first show back with the group opened with a song which they'd been playing for ages, but which took on a new life as an anthem of Garcia's recovery, and which would become the lead-off single for their first studio album in six years:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Touch of Grey"]

And that, twenty-two years after the band formed, gave them their first and only hit single.

In part it was because the time was ripe. 1987 saw a lot of media coverage of the twentieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, and also as the Tralfamadorians among you will know, the late eighties saw mini career peaks for a host of the Dead's contemporaries, with the period between late 1986 and late 1989 seeing Paul Simon, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison all making commercially successful albums that were hailed as returns to form after a patchy decade, and Dylan and Harrison's supergroup the Travelling Wilburys become a minor phenomenon. 

Other than Simon, the Dead were very slightly ahead of the curve in appealing to an audience of Boomers starting to enter middle age and get nostalgic for the musicians of their youth, and while "Touch of Grey" is not an entirely happy lyric, lines like "a touch of grey kind of suits you anyway" will have given it appeal.

But the success was also helped, even more, by the video, the first one the group ever did, which was filmed after one of the group's shows and featured life-size skeleton puppets, modeled after the skeletons that had appeared on many of the group's album covers, playing the song in front of the audience (with a fun moment on the line "dog has not been fed in years" when a dog runs on to the stage and steals Mickey Hart's legbone, and a roadie has to chase the dog down and reattach the bone to the drummer) before turning into the real Dead lipsynching their hit.

It was huge on MTV, and got the record into the top ten, making the Grateful Dead finally a one-hit wonder:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Touch of Grey"]

But that success brought its own problems. The group's audience became even more massive, with an influx of new fans who the Deadhead culture found it difficult to absorb and enculturate. But at least at first, the Grateful Dead were enthusiastic about their new audience, and that enthusiasm was infectious. They did a co-headlining tour that year with Bob Dylan, acting as his backing band as well as his support act. The shows weren't great, and the live album that resulted has often been called the worst thing either the Dead or Dylan has ever done:

[Excerpt: Dylan and the Dead, "All Along the Watchtower"]

But Dylan was enthused enough by the experience of performing with the group, and by their evident enjoyment of performing on stage, that he started what has come to be known as the "Never-Ending Tour" the next year, and other than a break in 2020 at the height of the covid-19 pandemic he's kept an intense concert schedule ever since, having played over three thousand shows in the thirty-five years since then. 

The late eighties also saw a change in the sound of the Grateful Dead, as the group started to experiment more with MIDI controlled instruments. Oddly this meant that Brent Mydland, on keyboards, moved steadily more towards playing patches that sounded like "real" acoustic instruments, while Mickey Hart, for example, would be playing percussion that triggered a whole bank of different sounds. Garcia was particularly pleased with the ability to use his guitar as a MIDI controller and play sounds like a soprano sax -- he talked in interviews about how he would use it to imitate Eric Dolphy.

 For a while, "Dark Star" came back into the set, now augmented by MIDI, but its place as the part of the set that encouraged the group to improvise had been taken by a piece called "Space", and while they played it a lot it never took off the way it used to.

But the group were having problems. Now they had a hit, their already fanatical audience was being joined by another group of new fans, who hadn't previously been part of the Deadhead culture and didn't know its unspoken rules. And they were playing the biggest venues in America -- by now they were far and away the most financially successful touring act around.

By late 1987 Garcia was already saying "The audience requires the band, the band requires the audience, you know what I mean? And anything short of live performances is short of live performances. So some sort of video isn’t going to get it. Bigger venues isn’t going to get it. When you’re at the stadium, that’s it, that’s the top end, and that’s already not that great …

As far as I can tell, we’re at the cul-de-sac, the end of popular music success. It doesn’t mean there’s no place to go from here. But now we have to be creative on this level as well, and invent where we’re going to go."

MTV did a Day of the Dead, where they devoted a whole day to the group, and that included a lot of coverage of the party scene in the parking lots, and suddenly *those* became exponentially greater, filled with people who didn't even intend to see the group live, but were just there to hang out outside and get drunk and stoned. This started to cause problems for the infrastructure of any city and venue where the group played, and required yet more work from their staff. According to some in the Dead's management team at that point, if they played a sixty-thousand-seat stadium there'd be a further thirty-thousand people outside.

They were back in the position they'd been in in the seventies, playing to massive audiences not for the pleasure of playing, but because now they were a multi-million-dollar industry. They had to perform to pay the roadies, and the staff in their ticket company, and the promoters, and the staff on their mailing list... there were hundreds of people relying on the group for a pay-cheque, and the bigger they got, the bigger the organisation behind them.

By 1989 Robert Hunter was saying "This is our big, big problem now: what to do with the unruly factor now that’s causing a large group situation to become aggravated and exhibit mob behavior. I don’t know; I don’t know that anybody’s ever known, short of imposing absolute authoritarian control, and that is of course the opposite of what the Grateful Dead stand for. Will we be forced to become our own opposites? Interesting philosophical question."

[Excerpt: Grayfolded]

By 1989 the group started to clamp down on the people selling merchandise outside the shows, in order to cut down on the number of people outside causing a nuisance. This led to a huge backlash from the fans, which led to the group and their organisation deciding the fans were just entitled.

At the end of 1989, Brent Mydland had his first overdose. Like all the group's official keyboard players, Mydland was a retiring, quiet, submissive personality, and nobody in the band up to that point seems to have even known he was using heroin, though they all knew he also had a drinking problem. When it happened, he was put on probation by the band and told to clean up, but he didn't, and in July 1990 he had his second, fatal, overdose. So it goes.

Garcia was particularly hit by this death. He'd been the closest in the band to Mydland, but also, to quote Dennis McNally, who at the time was the group's publicist (and was closer to Garcia than to the other members) "My theory was that Jerry to some extent took some responsibility for Brent’s death. He recognized that the internal dynamics of the Grateful Dead—the way they treated each other as human beings—was a fraud, was non-supportive, non-anything that any human being would want to be a part of. Look how these guys managed to pick the same personality four times. Pigpen was the starter: all three of his successors had the same emotionally vulnerable personality... But they were so devastated, and being “manly men,” they wouldn’t talk about it, they wouldn’t confront it, they just tried to put themselves in total denial, get another keyboard player, and keep going. It was almost archetypal, the way they failed to deal with what had just happened to them. I think Jerry knew this, whether he wanted to admit it out loud or not, and it put him in a bad place, and you can hear it in his guitar playing for the rest of his life."

The group were meant to be on tour four weeks after Mydland's death, and they had such a huge staff that cancelling the tour was not an option. They had four weeks to find a keyboard player. They ended up choosing two.

The Dead had had two keyboard players for much the seventies -- even when Tom Constanten had left but before Keith Godchaux joined, various other players, especially Lesh's friend Ned Langin, had played with them on stage though hadn't formally joined the band, and Langin had played with the group consistently for a period up to the hiatus -- and they went back to this for their first summer tour of the nineties.

For many of the shows they were joined by Bruce Hornsby, a longtime Deadhead who had become a star a few years earlier with his hit "The Way it Is":

[Excerpt: Bruce Hornsby and the Range, "The Way It Is"]

Hornsby was a big star in his own right, but still played with the group for about a hundred shows in the early nineties. The official story as it's always told is that Hornsby was never an official member of the group and was just there to help them ease the new guy in, but reading between the lines of various statements -- always a dangerous thing to do -- it seems like Hornsby was trying to push the group out of their comfort zone and towards playing more experimentally, and the group were happy going through the motions, and he eventually tired of this. 

That new guy -- who did become a full member of the group, and would stay with them until the end -- was Vince Welnick. Welnick came from a very different sort of music to anything the group had done before -- he was a founder-member of the wonderfully camp art-pop proto-punk glam band the Tubes:

[Excerpt: The Tubes, "Don't Touch Me There"]

After seventeen years with the Tubes, Welnick had left them to tour with Todd Rundgren, who he played with for a few months before joining the Dead. Welnick wasn't hugely familiar with their music, but had been casually friendly with Garcia since the early seventies, when the Tubes had played on the same bill as Garcia when he did some solo shows. Welnick took a scholarly attitude to the music, and studied it carefully, listening back to shows every night and taking notes.

But Garcia's mental health went downhill after Myland's death, and it took a further knock when in October 1991 Bill Graham died in a helicopter crash. So it goes.  Soon Garcia was back on the heroin, and according to Welnick would sometimes fall asleep on stage in the middle of guitar solos, wake up, and then carry on playing.

Hornsby would occasionally rejoin them as the nineties went on, and he wasn't flattering about what he saw. He said later "I sat in with them a couple of times. In ’94, I remember playing with them at Giants Stadium, and it was just horrifically bad. They all knew it, the [band members] were all bummed and embarrassed. I’m looking out at the audience, I’m playing accordion, and I’m standing there in the midst of a sea of mediocrity on the bandstand. Everyone knew it—it wasn’t just me—and you’re looking out and seeing these people going completely crazy, and you’re going, “This is surreal and strange.” It was hard. It was tough for everybody, because no one seemed to be able to reach Garcia. That was tough."

The last time Jerry Garcia ever performed "Dark Star" was at the Omni in Atlanta in 1994. Far from the extended jams of old that could last forty minutes, it was only ten minutes long. He only sang the first verse. The song would remain forever unfinished:

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "Dark Star (Omni 1994)" same clip as at the start]

Garcia was clearly very ill at this point, and would only tour for another year or so before checking himself into a stint in rehab which, as it turned out, he would never leave, and which would end the Grateful Dead. But it wouldn't end their organisation, because having already invented the way that all new up-and-coming artists now have to build a career, they now invented, twenty years early, the way that all rock stars of their age monetise their intellectual property.

By the early nineties, the group had discovered that there was money to be made from their old live recordings, recordings that nobody had thought had any value. They started releasing albums of classic old shows, most of which most Deadheads already had tape copies of, and were astonished to find that they sold in phenomenal amounts, so much so that in the years after Garcia's death the group actually made more money from archive CDs and sales of merchandise than they had from touring while he was alive. 

Indeed, they were so successful that at one point many of the band members threatened to sue archive.org, the epitome of the "Information must be free" idea, which had a vast trove of the recordings the group had previously encouraged fans to share, to get them to take them down. But Lesh, who had become estranged from the other three, had something of a Damascene conversion to the Deadhead cause and now thought of himself as the fans' representative and a representative of integrity -- he had earlier said "The Grateful Dead have never accepted corporate sponsorship or venture capital money, and I remain unalterably opposed to any deal that would lease, license or otherwise collateralize the music in the vault”.

When he heard about the proposed lawsuit he went ballistic and posted a statement on his website saying “I was not part of this decision-making process and I was not notified that the shows were going to be pulled. I do feel that the music is the Grateful Dead’s legacy and I hope that one way or another all of it is available for those who want it,”

The group reversed course and came to a compromise which allowed archive.org to keep the soundboard tapes as streaming only, with the lower-quality audience recordings still available for free download, a compromise which is still in place.

They also tried to do some interesting things with the archive material, even before Garcia's death. For example Phil Lesh invited the avant-garde composer John Oswald, who made music using sampling in what he called "Plunderphonics", to do an extended composition using versions of "Dark Star", mixing and matching different performances from over the decades, putting some in reverse, layering them on top of each other. The result was the only Grateful Dead recording on which every official member of the band -- Garcia, Lesh, Weir, Kreutzmann, Constanten, Pig Pen, Keith and Donna-Jean Godchaux, Brent Mydland, and Vince Welnick, all appeared:

[Excerpt: Grayfolded]

In 2006, the Grateful Dead leased all their intellectual property to Rhino Records, a subsidiary of Warners, for thirty million dollars for a ten-year lease -- a lease that has since been renewed. Mickey Hart said “I think it was a common thought that if we got rid of the business, we might become friends again, we might actually play again. We really love each other, and, deep down, we’re tied at the heart."

The same week, Ram Rod, the roadie who had been considered the heart and soul of the group's crew, died of lung cancer. So it goes.

Vince Welnick had continued touring with Bob Weir's side band Ratdog for a while after the Grateful Dead had split, but had been sacked from Ratdog after a suicide attempt -- he was replaced by, of all people, Chuck Berry's old piano player Johnny Johnson. He'd been suffering from depression ever since the group split, and would struggle with it for the rest of his life.

He did play occasionally with some of the other ex-members for a couple of years after the split, but was not invited to take part in partial reunions advertised as "featuring the former members of the Grateful Dead", under names like The Other Ones and The Dead, and he'd been heartbroken not to be included. As far as he was concerned, he *was* a member of the Grateful Dead - he said “I am and always will be a member of the Grateful Dead. It’s a lifetime thing that Jerry bestows upon a person.” 

 Two weeks after the Vault was moved to Warners, Welnick, who hadn't spoken with the other members of the band in years, died by suicide. So it goes.

Phil Lesh performs with a group called Phil Lesh and Friends. Weir, Kreutzmann, and Hart have spent the last few years performing as Dead & Company with singer and guitarist John Mayer. They recently announced a farewell tour for this summer, and even more recently announced that Kreutzmann will not be joining the tour, though they didn't say why other than a "shift in creative direction".

In 1994, 1995, and 1996 the composer John Oswald released, first as two individual CDs and then as a double-CD, an album called Grayfolded, which the composer says in the liner notes he thinks of as existing in Tralfamadorian time. The Tralfamadorians in Vonnegut's novels don't see time as a linear thing with a beginning and end, but as a continuum that they can move between at will. When someone dies, they just think that at this particular point in time they're not doing so good, but at other points in time they're fine, so why focus on the bad time? In the book, when told of someone dying, the Tralfamadorians just say "so it goes".

In between the first CD's release and the release of the double-CD version, Jerry Garcia died. From August 1942 through August 1995, Jerry Garcia was alive.

So it goes.

Shall we go, you and I?

[Excerpt: The Grateful Dead, "I Bid You Goodnight" into very end of Grayfolded]

Episode 164: “White Light/White Heat” by the Velvet Underground

Mon, 03 Apr 2023
Episode 164 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at "White Light/White Heat" and the career of the Velvet Underground. This is a long one, lasting three hours and twenty minutes. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.

Patreon backers also have a twenty-three minute bonus episode available, on "Why Don't You Smile Now?" by the Downliners Sect.

Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at http://www.podnose.com/jaffa-cakes-for-proust and http://sitcomclub.com/


I say the Velvet Underground didn't play New York for the rest of the sixties after 1966. They played at least one gig there in 1967, but did generally avoid the city. Also, I refer to Cale and Conrad as the other surviving members of the Theater of Eternal Music. Sadly Conrad died in 2016.


No Mixcloud this week, as there are too many songs by the Velvet Underground, and some of the avant-garde pieces excerpted run to six hours or more.

I used a lot of resources for this one. Up-Tight: The Velvet Underground Story by Victor Bockris and Gerard Malanga is the best book on the group as a group. I also used Joe Harvard's 33 1/3 book on The Velvet Underground and Nico.

Bockris also wrote one of the two biographies of Reed I referred to, Transformer. The other was Lou Reed by Anthony DeCurtis.

Information on Cale mostly came from Sedition and Alchemy by Tim Mitchell.

Information on Nico came from Nico: The Life and Lies of an Icon by Richard Witts.

I used Draw a Straight Line and Follow it by Jeremy Grimshaw as my main source for La Monte Young, The Roaring Silence by David Revill for John Cage, and Warhol: A Life as Art by Blake Gopnik for Warhol.

I also referred to the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of the 2021 documentary The Velvet Underground. 

The definitive collection of the Velvet Underground's music is the sadly out-of-print box set Peel Slowly and See, which contains the four albums the group made with Reed in full, plus demos, outtakes, and live recordings. Note that the digital version of the album as sold by Amazon for some reason doesn't include the last disc -- if you want the full box set you have to buy a physical copy. All four studio albums have also been released and rereleased many times over in different configurations with different numbers of CDs at different price points -- I have used the "45th Anniversary Super-Deluxe" versions for this episode, but for most people the standard CD versions will be fine. Sadly there are no good shorter compilation overviews of the group -- they tend to emphasise either the group's "pop" mode or its "avant-garde" mode to the exclusion of the other.


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Before I begin this episode, there are a few things to say. This introductory section is going to be longer than normal because, as you will hear, this episode is also going to be longer than normal.

Firstly, I try to warn people about potentially upsetting material in these episodes. But this is the first episode for 1968, and as you will see there is a *profound* increase in the amount of upsetting and disturbing material covered as we go through 1968 and 1969. The story is going to be in a much darker place for the next twenty or thirty episodes.

And this episode is no exception. As always, I try to deal with everything as sensitively as possible, but you should be aware that the list of warnings for this one is so long I am very likely to have missed some. Among the topics touched on in this episode are mental illness, drug addiction, gun violence, racism, societal and medical homophobia, medical mistreatment of mental illness, domestic abuse, rape, and more. If you find discussion of any of those subjects upsetting, you might want to read the transcript.

Also, I use the term "queer" freely in this episode. In the past I have received some pushback for this, because of a belief among some that "queer" is a slur. The following explanation will seem redundant to many of my listeners, but as with many of the things I discuss in the podcast I am dealing with multiple different audiences with different levels of awareness and understanding of issues, so I'd like to beg those people's indulgence a moment.

The term "queer" has certainly been used as a slur in the past, but so have terms like "lesbian", "gay", "homosexual" and others. In all those cases, the term has gone from a term used as a self-identifier, to a slur, to a reclaimed slur, and back again many times.

The reason for using that word, specifically, here is because the vast majority of people in this story have sexualities or genders that don't match the societal norms of their times, but used labels for themselves that have shifted in meaning over the years. There are at least two men in the story, for example, who are now dead and referred to themselves as "homosexual", but were in multiple long-term sexually-active relationships with women. Would those men now refer to themselves as "bisexual" or "pansexual" -- terms not in widespread use at the time -- or would they, in the relatively more tolerant society we live in now, only have been in same-gender relationships? We can't know. But in our current context using the word "homosexual" for those men would lead to incorrect assumptions about their behaviour.

The labels people use change over time, and the definitions of them blur and shift. I have discussed this issue with many, many, friends who fall under the queer umbrella, and while not all of them are comfortable with "queer" as a personal label because of how it's been used against them in the past, there is near-unanimity from them that it's the correct word to use in this situation.

Anyway, now that that rather lengthy set of disclaimers is over, let's get into the story proper, as we look at "White Light, White Heat" by the Velvet Underground:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "White Light, White Heat"]

And that look will start with... a disclaimer about length.

This episode is going to be a long one. Not as long as episode one hundred and fifty, but almost certainly the longest episode I'll do this year, by some way. And there's a reason for that.

One of the questions I've been asked repeatedly over the years about the podcast is why almost all the acts I've covered have been extremely commercially successful ones. "Where are the underground bands? The alternative bands? The little niche acts?"

The answer to that is simple. Until the mid-sixties, the idea of an underground or alternative band made no sense at all in rock, pop, rock and roll, R&B, or soul. The idea would have been completely counterintuitive to the vast majority of the people we've discussed in the podcast. Those musics were commercial musics, made by people who wanted to make money and to  get the largest audiences possible.

That doesn't mean that they had no artistic merit, or that there was no artistic intent behind them, but the artists making that music were *commercial* artists. They knew if they wanted to make another record, they had to sell enough copies of the last record for the record company to make another, and that if they wanted to keep eating, they had to draw enough of an audience to their gigs for promoters to keep booking them.

There was no space in this worldview for what we might think of as cult success. If your record only sold a thousand copies, then you had failed in your goal, even if the thousand people who bought your record really loved it. Even less commercially successful artists we've covered to this point, like the Mothers of Invention or Love, were *trying* for commercial success, even if they made the decision not to compromise as much as others do.

This started to change a tiny bit in the mid-sixties as the influence of jazz and folk in the US, and the British blues scene, started to be felt in rock music. But this influence, at first, was a one-way thing -- people who had been in the folk and jazz worlds deciding to modify their music to be more commercial. And that was followed by already massively commercial musicians, like the Beatles, taking on some of those influences and bringing their audience with them.

But that started to change around the time that "rock" started to differentiate itself from "rock and roll" and "pop", in mid 1967. So in this episode and the next, we're going to look at two bands who in different ways provided a model for how to be an alternative band. Both of them still *wanted* commercial success, but neither achieved it, at least not at first and not in the conventional way. And both, when they started out, went by the name The Warlocks.

But we have to take a rather circuitous route to get to this week's band, because we're now properly introducing a strand of music that has been there in the background for a while -- avant-garde art music. So before we go any further, let's have a listen to a thirty-second clip of the most famous piece of avant-garde music ever, and I'll be performing it myself:

[Excerpt, Andrew Hickey "4'33 (Cage)"]

Obviously that won't give the full effect, you have to listen to the whole piece to get that.

That is of course a section of "4'33" by John Cage, a piece of music that is often incorrectly described as being four minutes and thirty three seconds of silence. As I've mentioned before, though, in the episode on "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag", it isn't that at all. The whole point of the piece is that there is no such thing as silence, and it's intended to make the listener appreciate all the normal ambient sounds as music, every bit as much as any piece by Bach or Beethoven.

John Cage, the composer of "4'33", is possibly the single most influential avant-garde artist of the mid twentieth century, so as we're properly introducing the ideas of avant-garde music into the story here, we need to talk about him a little.

Cage was, from an early age, torn between three great vocations, all of which in some fashion would shape his work for decades to come. One of these was architecture, and for a time he intended to become an architect. Another was the religious ministry, and he very seriously considered becoming a minister as a young man, and religion -- though not the religious faith of his youth -- was to be a massive factor in his work as he grew older.

He started studying music from an early age, though he never had any facility as a performer -- though he did, when he discovered the work of Grieg, think that might change. He later said “For a while I played nothing else. I even imagined devoting my life to the performance of his works alone, for they did not seem to me to be too difficult, and I loved them.”

[Excerpt: Grieg piano concerto in A minor]

But he soon realised that he didn't have some of the basic skills that would be required to be a performer -- he never actually thought of himself as very musical -- and so he decided to move into composition, and he later talked about putting his musical limits to good use in being more inventive.

From his very first pieces, Cage was trying to expand the definition of what a performance of a piece of music actually was. One of his friends, Harry Hay, who took part in the first documented performance of a piece by Cage, described how Cage's father, an inventor, had "devised a fluorescent light source over which Sample" -- Don Sample, Cage's boyfriend at the time -- "laid a piece of vellum painted with designs in oils. The blankets I was wearing were white, and a sort of lampshade shone coloured patterns onto me. It looked very good. The thing got so hot the designs began to run, but that only made it better.”

Apparently the audience for this light show -- one that predated the light shows used by rock bands by a good thirty years -- were not impressed, though that may be more because the Santa Monica Women's Club in the early 1930s was not the vanguard of the avant-garde.

Or maybe it was. Certainly the housewives of Santa Monica seemed more willing than one might expect to sign up for another of Cage's ideas. In 1933 he went door to door asking women if they would be interested in signing up to a lecture course from him on modern art and music. He told them that if they signed up for $2.50, he would give them ten lectures, and somewhere between twenty and forty of them signed up, even though, as he said later, “I explained to the housewives that I didn’t know anything about either subject but that I was enthusiastic about both of them. I promised to learn faithfully enough about each subject so as to be able to give a talk an hour long each week.”

And he did just that, going to the library every day and spending all week preparing an hour-long talk for them. History does not relate whether he ended these lectures by telling the housewives to tell just one friend about them.

He said later “I came out of these lectures, with a devotion to the painting of Mondrian, on the one hand, and the music of Schoenberg on the other.”

[Excerpt: Schoenberg, "Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte"]

Schoenberg was one of the two most widely-respected composers in the world at that point, the other being Stravinsky, but the two had very different attitudes to composition. Schoenberg's great innovation was the creation and popularisation of the twelve-tone technique, and I should probably explain that a little before I go any further. Most Western music is based on an eight-note scale -- do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do -- with the eighth note being an octave up from the first. So in the key of C major that would be C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C:


And when you hear notes from that scale, if your ears are accustomed to basically any Western music written before about 1920, or any Western popular music written since then, you expect the melody to lead back to C, and you know to expect that because it only uses those notes -- there are differing intervals between them, some having a tone between them and some having a semitone, and you recognise the pattern.

But of course there are other notes between the notes of that scale. There are actually an infinite number of these, but in conventional Western music we only look at a few more -- C# (or D flat), D# (or E flat), F# (or G flat), G# (or A flat) and A# (or B flat). If you add in all those notes you get this:


There's no clear beginning or end, no do for it to come back to. And Schoenberg's great innovation, which he was only starting to promote widely around this time, was to insist that all twelve notes should be equal -- his melodies would use all twelve of the notes the exact same number of times, and so if he used say a B flat, he would have to use all eleven other notes before he used B flat again in the piece.

This was a radical new idea, but Schoenberg had only started advancing it after first winning great acclaim for earlier pieces, like his "Three Pieces for Piano", a work which wasn't properly twelve-tone, but did try to do without the idea of having any one note be more important than any other:

[Excerpt: Schoenberg, "Three Pieces for Piano"]

At this point, that work had only been performed in the US by one performer, Richard Buhlig, and hadn't been released as a recording yet. Cage was so eager to hear it that he'd found Buhlig's phone number and called him, asking him to play the piece, but Buhlig put the phone down on him.

Now he was doing these lectures, though, he had to do one on Schoenberg, and he wasn't a competent enough pianist to play Schoenberg's pieces himself, and there were still no recordings of them.

Cage hitch-hiked from Santa Monica to LA, where Buhlig lived, to try to get him to come and visit his class and play some of Schoenberg's pieces for them. Buhlig wasn't in, and Cage hung around in his garden hoping for him to come back -- he pulled the leaves off a bough from one of Buhlig's trees, going "He'll come back, he won't come back, he'll come back..." and the leaves said he'd be back.

Buhlig arrived back at midnight, and quite understandably told the strange twenty-one-year-old who'd spent twelve hours in his garden pulling the leaves off his trees that no, he would not come to Santa Monica and give a free performance. But he did agree that if Cage brought some of his own compositions he'd give them a look over.

Buhlig started giving Cage some proper lessons in composition, although he stressed that he was a performer, not a composer. Around this time Cage wrote his Sonata for Clarinet:

[Excerpt: John Cage, "Sonata For Clarinet"]

Buhlig suggested that Cage send that to Henry Cowell, the composer we heard about in the episode on "Good Vibrations" who was friends with Lev Termen and who created music by playing the strings inside a piano:

[Excerpt: Henry Cowell, "Aeolian Harp and Sinister Resonance"]

Cowell offered to take Cage on as an assistant, in return for which Cowell would teach him for a semester, as would Adolph Weiss, a pupil of Schoenberg's. But the goal, which Cowell suggested, was always to have Cage study with Schoenberg himself. Schoenberg at first refused, saying that Cage couldn't afford his price, but eventually took Cage on as a student having been assured that he would devote his entire life to music -- a promise Cage kept.

Cage started writing pieces for percussion, something that had been very rare up to that point -- only a handful of composers, most notably Edgard Varese, had written pieces for percussion alone, but Cage was:

[Excerpt: John Cage, "Trio"]

This is often portrayed as a break from the ideals of his teacher Schoenberg, but in fact there's a clear continuity there, once you see what Cage was taking from Schoenberg. Schoenberg's work is, in some senses, about equality, about all notes being equal. Or to put it another way, it's about fairness. About erasing arbitrary distinctions. What Cage was doing was erasing the arbitrary distinction between the more and less prominent instruments. Why should there be pieces for solo violin or string quartet, but not for multiple percussion players?

That said, Schoenberg was not exactly the most encouraging of teachers. When Cage invited Schoenberg to go to a concert of Cage's percussion work, Schoenberg told him he was busy that night. When Cage offered to arrange another concert for a date Schoenberg wasn't busy, the reply came "No, I will not be free at any time".

Despite this, Cage later said “Schoenberg was a magnificent teacher, who always gave the impression that he was putting us in touch with musical principles,” and said "I literally worshipped him" -- a strong statement from someone who took religious matters as seriously as Cage. Cage was so devoted to Schoenberg's music that when a concert of music by Stravinsky was promoted as "music of the world's greatest living composer", Cage stormed into the promoter's office angrily, confronting the promoter and making it very clear that such things should not be said in the city where Schoenberg lived.

Schoenberg clearly didn't think much of Cage's attempts at composition, thinking -- correctly -- that Cage had no ear for harmony. And his reportedly aggressive and confrontational teaching style didn't sit well with Cage -- though it seems very similar to a lot of the teaching techniques of the Zen masters he would later go on to respect. The two eventually parted ways, although Cage always spoke highly of Schoenberg.

Schoenberg later gave Cage a compliment of sorts, when asked if any of his students had gone on to do anything interesting. At first he replied that none had, but then he mentioned Cage and said “Of course he’s not a composer, but an inventor—of genius.”

Cage was at this point very worried if there was any point to being a composer at all. He said later “I’d read Cowell’s New Musical Resources and . . . The Theory of Rhythm. I had also read Chavez’s Towards a New Music. Both works gave me the feeling that everything that was possible in music had already happened. So I thought I could never compose socially important music. Only if I could invent something new, then would I be useful to society. But that seemed unlikely then.”

[Excerpt: John Cage, "Totem Ancestor"]

Part of the solution came when he was asked to compose music for an abstract animation by the filmmaker Oskar Fischinger, and also to work as Fischinger's assistant when making the film. He was fascinated by the stop-motion process, and by the results of the film, which he described as "a beautiful film in which these squares, triangles and circles and other things moved and changed colour.”

But more than that he was overwhelmed by a comment by Fischinger, who told him “Everything in the world has its own spirit, and this spirit becomes audible by setting it into vibration.”

Cage later said “That set me on fire. He started me on a path of exploration of the world around me which has never stopped—of hitting and stretching and scraping and rubbing everything.”

Cage now took his ideas further. His compositions for percussion had been about, if you like, giving the underdog a chance -- percussion was always in the background, why should it not be in the spotlight? Now he realised that there were other things getting excluded in conventional music -- the sounds that we characterise as noise. Why should composers work to exclude those sounds, but work to *include* other sounds? Surely that was... well, a little unfair?

Eventually this would lead to pieces like his 1952 piece "Water Music", later expanded and retitled "Water Walk", which can be heard here in his 1959 appearance on the TV show "I've Got a Secret".  It's a piece for, amongst other things, a flowerpot full of flowers, a bathtub, a watering can, a pipe, a duck call, a blender full of ice cubes, and five unplugged radios:

[Excerpt: John Cage "Water Walk"]

As he was now avoiding pitch and harmony as organising principles for his music, he turned to time. But note -- not to rhythm. He said “There’s none of this boom, boom, boom, business in my music . . . a measure is taken as a strict measure of time—not a one two three four—which I fill with various sounds.”

He came up with a system he referred to as “micro-macrocosmic rhythmic structure,” what we would now call fractals, though that word hadn't yet been invented, where the structure of the whole piece was reflected in the smallest part of it. For a time he started moving away from the term music, preferring to refer to the "art of noise" or to "organised sound" -- though he later received a telegram from Edgard Varese, one of his musical heroes and one of the few other people writing works purely for percussion, asking him not to use that phrase, which Varese used for his own work. After meeting with Varese and his wife, he later became convinced that it was Varese's wife who had initiated the telegram, as she explained to Cage's wife "we didn’t want your husband’s work confused with my husband’s work, any more than you’d want some . . . any artist’s work confused with that of a cartoonist.”

While there is a humour to Cage's work, I don't really hear much qualitative difference between a Cage piece like the one we just heard and a Varese piece like Ionisation:

[Excerpt: Edgard Varese, "Ionisation"]

But it was in 1952, the year of "Water Music" that John Cage made his two biggest impacts on the cultural world, though the full force of those impacts wasn't felt for some years.

To understand Cage's 1952 work, you first have to understand that he had become heavily influenced by Zen, which at that time was very little known in the Western world. Indeed he had studied with Daisetsu Suzuki, who is credited with introducing Zen to the West, and said later “I didn’t study music with just anybody; I studied with Schoenberg, I didn’t study Zen with just anybody; I studied with Suzuki. I’ve always gone, insofar as I could, to the president of the company.”

Cage's whole worldview was profoundly affected by Zen, but he was also naturally sympathetic to it, and his work after learning about Zen is mostly a continuation of trends we can already see. In particular, he became convinced that the point of music isn't to communicate anything between two people, rather its point is merely to be experienced. I'm far from an expert on Buddhism, but one way of thinking about its central lessons is that one should experience things as they are, experiencing the thing itself rather than one's thoughts or preconceptions about it.

And so at Black Mountain college came Theatre Piece Number 1:

[Excerpt: Edith Piaf, "La Vie En Rose" ]

In this piece, Cage had set the audience on all sides, so they'd be facing each other. He stood on a stepladder, as colleagues danced in and around the audience, another colleague played the piano, two more took turns to stand on another stepladder to recite poetry, different films and slides were projected, seemingly at random, onto the walls, and the painter Robert Rauschenberg played scratchy Edith Piaf records on a wind-up gramophone. The audience were included in the performance, and it was meant to be experienced as a gestalt, as a whole, to be what we would now call an immersive experience.

One of Cage's students around this time was the artist Allan Kaprow, and he would be inspired by Theatre Piece Number 1 to put on several similar events in the late fifties. Those events he called "happenings", because the point of them was that you were meant to experience an event as it was happening rather than bring preconceptions of form and structure to them. Those happenings were the inspiration for events like The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream, and the term "happening" became such an integral part of the counterculture that by 1967 there were comedy films being released about them, including one just called The Happening with a title track by the Supremes that made number one:

[Excerpt: The Supremes, "The Happening"]

Theatre Piece Number 1 was retrospectively considered the first happening, and as such its influence is incalculable.

But one part I didn't mention about Theatre Piece Number 1 is that as well as Rauschenberg playing Edith Piaf's records, he also displayed some of his paintings. These paintings were totally white -- at a glance, they looked like blank canvases, but as one inspected them more clearly, it became apparent that Rauschenberg had painted them with white paint, with visible brushstrokes.

These paintings, along with a visit to an anechoic chamber in which Cage discovered that even in total silence one can still hear one's own blood and nervous system, so will never experience total silence, were the final key to something Cage had been working towards -- if music had minimised percussion, and excluded noise, how much more had it excluded silence? As Cage said in 1958 “Curiously enough, the twelve-tone system has no zero in it.”

And so came 4'33, the piece that we heard an excerpt of near the start of this episode. That piece was the something new he'd been looking for that could be useful to society. It took the sounds the audience could already hear, and without changing them even slightly gave them a new context and made the audience hear them as they were. Simply by saying "this is music", it caused the ambient noise to be perceived as music.

This idea, of recontextualising existing material, was one that had already been done in the art world -- Marcel Duchamp, in 1917, had exhibited a urinal as a sculpture titled "Fountain" -- but even Duchamp had talked about his work as "everyday objects raised to the dignity of a work of art by the artist's act of choice". The artist was *raising* the object to art. What Cage was saying was "the object is already art".

This was all massively influential to a young painter who had seen Cage give lectures many times, and while at art school had with friends prepared a piano in the same way Cage did for his own experimental compositions, dampening the strings with different objects.

[Excerpt: Dana Gillespie, "Andy Warhol (live)"]

Duchamp and Rauschenberg were both big influences on Andy Warhol, but he would say in the early sixties "John Cage is really so responsible for so much that’s going on," and would for the rest of his life cite Cage as one of the two or three prime influences of his career.

Warhol is a difficult figure to discuss, because his work is very intellectual but he was not very articulate -- which is one reason I've led up to him by discussing Cage in such detail, because Cage was always eager to talk at great length about the theoretical basis of his work, while Warhol would say very few words about anything at all. Probably the person who knew him best was his business partner and collaborator Paul Morrissey, and Morrissey's descriptions of Warhol have shaped my own view of his life, but it's very worth noting that Morrissey is an extremely right-wing moralist who wishes to see a Catholic theocracy imposed to do away with the scourges of sexual immorality, drug use, hedonism, and liberalism, so his view of Warhol, a queer drug using progressive whose worldview seems to have been totally opposed to Morrissey's in every way, might be a little distorted.

Warhol came from an impoverished background, and so, as many people who grew up poor do, he was, throughout his life, very eager to make money. He studied art at university, and got decent but not exceptional grades -- he was a competent draughtsman, but not a great one, and most importantly as far as success in the art world goes he didn't have what is known as his own "line" -- with most successful artists, you can look at a handful of lines they've drawn and see something of their own personality in it.

You couldn't with Warhol. His drawings looked like mediocre imitations of other people's work. Perfectly competent, but nothing that stood out.

So Warhol came up with a technique to make his drawings stand out -- blotting. He would do a normal drawing, then go over it with a lot of wet ink. He'd lower a piece of paper on to the wet drawing, and the new paper would soak up the ink, and that second piece of paper would become the finished work. The lines would be fractured and smeared, broken in places where the ink didn't get picked up, and thick in others where it had pooled.

With this mechanical process, Warhol had managed to create an individual style, and he became an extremely successful commercial artist. In the early 1950s photography was still seen as a somewhat low-class way of advertising things. If you wanted to sell to a rich audience, you needed to use drawings or paintings. By 1955 Warhol was making about twelve thousand dollars a year -- somewhere close to a hundred and thirty thousand a year in today's money -- drawing shoes for advertisements. He also had a sideline in doing record covers for people like Count Basie:

[Excerpt: Count Basie, "Seventh Avenue Express"]

For most of the 1950s he also tried to put on shows of his more serious artistic work -- often with homoerotic themes -- but to little success. The dominant art style of the time was the abstract expressionism of people like Jackson Pollock, whose art was visceral, emotional, and macho. The term "action paintings" which was coined for the work of people like Pollock, sums it up. This was manly art for manly men having manly emotions and expressing them loudly. It was very male and very straight, and even the gay artists who were prominent at the time tended to be very conformist and look down on anything they considered flamboyant or effeminate.

Warhol was a rather effeminate, very reserved man, who strongly disliked showing his emotions, and whose tastes ran firmly to the camp. Camp as an aesthetic of finding joy in the flamboyant or trashy, as opposed to merely a descriptive term for men who behaved in a way considered effeminate, was only just starting to be codified at this time -- it wouldn't really become a fully-formed recognisable thing until Susan Sontag's essay "Notes on Camp" in 1964 -- but of course just because something hasn't been recognised doesn't mean it doesn't exist, and Warhol's aesthetic was always very camp, and in the 1950s in the US that was frowned upon even in gay culture, where the mainstream opinion was that the best way to acceptance was through assimilation.

Abstract expressionism was all about expressing the self, and that was something Warhol never wanted to do -- in fact he made some pronouncements at times which suggested he didn't think of himself as *having* a self in the conventional sense. The combination of not wanting to express himself and of wanting to work more efficiently as a commercial artist led to some interesting results. For example, he was commissioned in 1957 to do a cover for an album by Moondog, the blind street musician whose name Alan Freed had once stolen:

[Excerpt: Moondog, "Gloving It"]

For that cover, Warhol got his mother, Julia Warhola, to just write out the liner notes for the album in her rather ornamental cursive script, and that became the front cover, leading to an award for graphic design going that year to "Andy Warhol's mother".

(Incidentally, my copy of the current CD issue of that album, complete with Julia Warhola's cover, is put out by Pickwick Records...)

But towards the end of the fifties, the work for commercial artists started to dry up. If you wanted to advertise shoes, now, you just took a photo of the shoes rather than get Andy Warhol to draw a picture of them. The money started to disappear, and Warhol started to panic.

If there was no room for him in graphic design any more, he had to make his living in the fine arts, which he'd been totally unsuccessful in. But luckily for Warhol, there was a new movement that was starting to form -- Pop Art.

Pop Art started in England, and had originally been intended, at least in part, as a critique of American consumerist capitalism. Pieces like "Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?" by Richard Hamilton (who went on to design the Beatles' White Album cover) are collages of found images, almost all from American sources, recontextualised and juxtaposed in interesting ways, so a bodybuilder poses in a room that's taken from an advert in Ladies' Home Journal, while on the wall, instead of a painting, hangs a blown-up cover of a Jack Kirby romance comic.

Pop Art changed slightly when it got taken up in America, and there it became something rather different, something closer to Duchamp, taking those found images and displaying them as art with no juxtaposition. Where Richard Hamilton created collage art which *showed* a comic cover by Jack Kirby as a painting in the background, Roy Lichtenstein would take a panel of comic art by Kirby, or Russ Heath or Irv Novick or a dozen other comic artists, and redraw it at the size of a normal painting.

So Warhol took Cage's idea that the object is already art, and brought that into painting, starting by doing paintings of Campbell's soup cans, in which he tried as far as possible to make the cans look exactly like actual soup cans.

The paintings were controversial, inciting fury in some and laughter in others and causing almost everyone to question whether they were art.

Warhol would embrace an aesthetic in which things considered unimportant or trash or pop culture detritus were the greatest art of all. For example pretty much every profile of him written in the mid sixties talks about him obsessively playing "Sally Go Round the Roses", a girl-group single by the one-hit wonders the Jaynettes:

[Excerpt: The Jaynettes, "Sally Go Round the Roses"]

After his paintings of Campbell's soup cans, and some rather controversial but less commercially successful paintings of photographs of horrors and catastrophes taken from newspapers, Warhol abandoned painting in the conventional sense altogether, instead creating brightly coloured screen prints -- a form of stencilling -- based on photographs of celebrities like Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor and, most famously, Marilyn Monroe. That way he could produce images which could be mass-produced, without his active involvement, and which supposedly had none of his personality in them, though of course his personality pervades the work anyway.

He put on exhibitions of wooden boxes, silk-screen printed to look exactly like shipping cartons of Brillo pads. Images we see everywhere -- in newspapers, in supermarkets -- were art.

And Warhol even briefly formed a band. The Druds were a garage band formed to play at a show at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, the opening night of an exhibition that featured a silkscreen by Warhol of 210 identical bottles of Coca-Cola, as well as paintings by Rauschenberg and others.

That opening night featured a happening by Claes Oldenburg, and a performance by Cage -- Cage gave a live lecture while three recordings of his own voice also played. The Druds were also meant to perform, but they fell apart after only a few rehearsals. Some recordings apparently exist, but they don't seem to circulate, but they'd be fascinating to hear as almost the entire band were non-musician artists like Warhol, Jasper Johns, and the sculptor Walter de Maria.

Warhol said of the group “It didn’t go too well, but if we had just stayed on it it would have been great.”

On the other hand, the one actual musician in the group said “It was kind of ridiculous, so I quit after the second rehearsal".

That musician was La Monte Young:

[Excerpt: La Monte Young, "The Well-Tuned Piano"]

That's an excerpt from what is generally considered Young's masterwork, "The Well-Tuned Piano". It's six and a half hours long.

If Warhol is a difficult figure to write about, Young is almost impossible. He's a musician with a career stretching sixty years, who is arguably the most influential musician from the classical tradition in that time period. He's generally considered the father of minimalism, and he's also been called by Brian Eno "the daddy of us all" -- without Young you simply *do not* get art rock at all. Without Young there is no Velvet Underground, no David Bowie, no Eno, no New York punk scene, no Yoko Ono. Anywhere that the fine arts or conceptual art have intersected with popular music in the last fifty or more years has been influenced in one way or another by Young's work.

BUT... he only rarely publishes his scores. He very, very rarely allows recordings of his work to be released -- there are four recordings on his bandcamp, plus a handful of recordings of his older, published, pieces, and very little else. He doesn't allow his music to be performed live without his supervision.

There *are* bootleg recordings of his music, but even those are not easily obtainable -- Young is vigorous in enforcing his copyrights and issues takedown notices against anywhere that hosts them.

So other than that handful of legitimately available recordings -- plus a recording by Young's Theater of Eternal Music, the legality of which is still disputed, and an off-air recording of a 1971 radio programme I've managed to track down, the only way to experience Young's music unless you're willing to travel to one of his rare live performances or installations is second-hand, by reading about it.

Except that the one book that deals solely with Young and his music is not only a dense and difficult book to read, it's also one that Young vehemently disagreed with and considered extremely inaccurate, to the point he refused to allow permissions to quote his work in the book. Young did apparently prepare a list of corrections for the book, but he wouldn't tell the author what they were without payment.

So please assume that anything I say about Young is wrong, but also accept that the short section of this episode about Young has required more work to *try* to get it right than pretty much anything else this year.

Young's musical career actually started out in a relatively straightforward manner. He didn't grow up in the most loving of homes -- he's talked about his father beating him as a child because he had been told that young La Monte was clever -- but his father did buy him a saxophone and teach him the rudiments of the instrument, and as a child he was most influenced by the music of the big band saxophone player Jimmy Dorsey:

[Excerpt: Jimmy Dorsey, “It's the Dreamer in Me”]

The family, who were Mormon farmers, relocated several times in Young's childhood, from Idaho first to California and then to Utah, but everywhere they went La Monte seemed to find musical inspiration, whether from an uncle who had been part of the Kansas City jazz scene, a classmate who was a musical prodigy who had played with Perez Prado in his early teens, or a teacher who took the class to see a performance of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra:

[Excerpt: Bartok, "Concerto for Orchestra"]

After leaving high school, Young went to Los Angeles City College to study music under Leonard Stein, who had been Schoenberg's assistant when Schoenberg had taught at UCLA, and there he became part of the thriving jazz scene based around Central Avenue, studying and performing with musicians like Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, and Eric Dolphy -- Young once beat Dolphy in an audition for a place in the City College dance band, and the two would apparently substitute for each other on their regular gigs when one couldn't make it.

During this time, Young's musical tastes became much more adventurous. He was a particular fan of the work of John Coltrane, and also got inspired by City of Glass, an album by Stan Kenton that attempted to combine jazz and modern classical music:

[Excerpt: Stan Kenton's Innovations Orchestra, "City of Glass: The Structures"]

His other major musical discovery in the mid-fifties was one we've talked about on several previous occasions -- the album Music of India, Morning and Evening Ragas by Ali Akhbar Khan:

[Excerpt: Ali Akhbar Khan, "Rag Sindhi Bhairavi"]

Young's music at this point was becoming increasingly modal, and equally influenced by the blues and Indian music. But he was also becoming interested in serialism.

Serialism is an extension and generalisation of twelve-tone music, inspired by mathematical set theory. In serialism, you choose a set of musical elements -- in twelve-tone music that's the twelve notes in the twelve-tone scale, but it can also be a set of tonal relations, a chord, or any other set of elements. You then define all the possible ways you can permute those elements, a defined set of operations you can perform on them -- so you could play a scale forwards, play it backwards, play all the notes in the scale simultaneously, and so on. You then go through all the possible permutations, exactly once, and that's your piece of music.

Young was particularly influenced by the works of Anton Webern, one of the earliest serialists:

[Excerpt: Anton Webern, "Cantata number 1 for Soprano, Mixed Chorus, and Orchestra"]

That piece we just heard, Webern's "Cantata number 1", was the subject of some of the earliest theoretical discussion of serialism, and in particular led to some discussion of the next step on from serialism. If serialism was all about going through every single permutation of a set, what if you *didn't* permute every element?

There was a lot of discussion in the late fifties in music-theoretical circles about the idea of invariance. Normally in music, the interesting thing is what gets changed. To use a very simple example, you might change a melody from a major key to a minor one to make it sound sadder.

What theorists at this point were starting to discuss is what happens if you leave something the same, but change the surrounding context, so the thing you *don't* vary sounds different because of the changed context. And going further, what if you don't change the context at all, and merely *imply* a changed context?

These ideas were some of those which inspired Young's first major work, his Trio For Strings from 1958, a complex, palindromic, serial piece which is now credited as the first work of minimalism, because the notes in it change so infrequently:

[Excerpt: La Monte Young, "Trio for Strings"]

Though I should point out that Young never considers his works truly finished, and constantly rewrites them, and what we just heard is an excerpt from the only recording of the trio ever officially released, which is of the 2015 version. So I can't state for certain how close what we just heard is to the piece he wrote in 1958, except that it sounds very like the written descriptions of it I've read.

After writing the Trio For Strings, Young moved to Germany to study with the modernist composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. While studying with Stockhausen, he became interested in the work of John Cage, and started up a correspondence with Cage. On his return to New York he studied with Cage and started writing pieces inspired by Cage, of which the most musical is probably Composition 1960 #7:

[Excerpt: La Monte Young, "Composition 1960 #7"]

The score for that piece is a stave on which is drawn a treble clef, the notes B and F#, and the words "To be held for a long Time". Other of his compositions from 1960 -- which are among the few of his compositions which have been published -- include composition 1960 #10 ("To Bob Morris"), the score for which is just the instruction "Draw a straight line and follow it.", and Piano Piece for David  Tudor #1, the score for which reads "Bring a bale of hay and a bucket of water onto the stage for the piano to eat and drink. The performer may then feed the piano or leave it to eat by itself. If the former, the piece is over after the piano has been fed. If the latter, it is over after the piano eats or decides not to".

Most of these compositions were performed as part of a loose New York art collective called Fluxus, all of whom were influenced by Cage and the Dadaists. This collective, led by George Maciunas, sometimes involved Cage himself, but also involved people like Henry Flynt, the inventor of conceptual art, who later became a campaigner against art itself, and who also much to Young's bemusement abandoned abstract music in the mid-sixties to form a garage band with Walter de Maria (who had played drums with the Druds):

[Excerpt: Henry Flynt and the Insurrections, "I Don't Wanna"]

Much of Young's work was performed at Fluxus concerts given in a New York loft belonging to another member of the collective, Yoko Ono, who co-curated the concerts with Young. One of Ono's mid-sixties pieces, her "Four Pieces for Orchestra" is dedicated to Young, and consists of such instructions as "Count all the stars of that night by heart. The piece ends when all the orchestra members finish counting the stars, or when it dawns. This can be done with windows instead of stars."

But while these conceptual ideas remained a huge part of Young's thinking, he soon became interested in two other ideas. The first was the idea of just intonation -- tuning instruments and voices to perfect harmonics, rather than using the subtly-off tuning that is used in Western music. I'm sure I've explained that before in a previous episode, but to put it simply when you're tuning an instrument with fixed pitches like a piano, you have a choice -- you can either tune it so that the notes in one key are perfectly in tune with each other, but then when you change key things go very out of tune, or you can choose to make *everything* a tiny bit, almost unnoticeably, out of tune, but equally so.

For the last several hundred years, musicians as a community have chosen the latter course, which was among other things promoted by Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, a collection of compositions which shows how the different keys work together:

[Excerpt: Bach (Glenn Gould), "The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II: Fugue in F-sharp minor, BWV 883"]

Young, by contrast, has his own esoteric tuning system, which he uses in his own work The Well-Tuned Piano:

[Excerpt: La Monte Young, "The Well-Tuned Piano"]

The other idea that Young took on was from Indian music, the idea of the drone. One of the four recordings of Young's music that is available from his Bandcamp, a 1982 recording titled The Tamburas of Pandit Pran Nath, consists of one hour, thirteen minutes, and fifty-eight seconds of this:

[Excerpt: La Monte Young, "The Tamburas of Pandit Pran Nath"]

Yes, I have listened to the whole piece. No, nothing else happens. The minimalist composer Terry Riley describes the recording as "a singularly rare contribution that far outshines any other attempts to capture this instrument in recorded media".

In 1962, Young started writing pieces based on what he called the "dream chord", a chord consisting of a root, fourth, sharpened fourth, and fifth:

[dream chord]

That chord had already appeared in his Trio for Strings, but now it would become the focus of much of his work, in pieces like his 1962 piece The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer, heard here in a 1982 revision:

[Excerpt: La Monte Young, "The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer"]

That was part of a series of works titled The Four Dreams of China, and Young began to plan an installation work titled Dream House, which would eventually be created, and which currently exists in Tribeca, New York, where it's been in continuous "performance" for thirty years -- and which consists of thirty-two different pure sine wave tones all played continuously, plus purple lighting by Young's wife Marian Zazeela.

But as an initial step towards creating this, Young formed a collective called Theatre of Eternal Music, which some of the members -- though never Young himself -- always claim also went by the alternative name The Dream Syndicate. According to John Cale, a member of the group, that name came about because the group tuned their instruments to the 60hz hum of the fridge in Young's apartment, which Cale called "the key of Western civilisation". According to Cale, that meant the fundamental of the chords they played was 10hz, the frequency of alpha waves when dreaming -- hence the name.

The group initially consisted of Young, Zazeela, the photographer Billy Name, and percussionist Angus MacLise, but by this recording in 1964 the lineup was Young, Zazeela, MacLise, Tony Conrad and John Cale:

[Excerpt: "Cale, Conrad, Maclise, Young, Zazeela - The Dream Syndicate 2 IV 64-4"]

That recording, like any others that have leaked by the 1960s version of the Theatre of Eternal Music or Dream Syndicate, is of disputed legality, because Young and Zazeela claim to this day that what the group performed were La Monte Young's compositions, while the other two surviving members, Cale and Conrad, claim that their performances were improvisational collaborations and should be equally credited to all the members, and so there have been lawsuits and countersuits any time anyone has released the recordings.

John Cale, the youngest member of the group, was also the only one who wasn't American. He'd been born in Wales in 1942, and had had the kind of childhood that, in retrospect, seems guaranteed to lead to eccentricity. He was the product of a mixed-language marriage -- his father, William, was an English speaker while his mother, Margaret, spoke Welsh, but the couple had moved in on their marriage with Margaret's mother, who insisted that only Welsh could be spoken in her house. William didn't speak Welsh, and while he eventually picked up the basics from spending all his life surrounded by Welsh-speakers, he refused on principle to capitulate to his mother-in-law, and so remained silent in the house. John, meanwhile, grew up a monolingual Welsh speaker, and didn't start to learn English until he went to school when he was seven, and so couldn't speak to his father until then even though they lived together.

Young John was extremely unwell for most of his childhood, both physically -- he had bronchial problems for which he had to take a cough mixture that was largely opium to help him sleep at night -- and mentally. He was hospitalised when he was sixteen with what was at first thought to be meningitis, but turned out to be a psychosomatic condition, the result of what he has described as a nervous breakdown. That breakdown is probably connected to the fact that during his teenage years he was sexually assaulted by two adults in positions of authority -- a vicar and a music teacher -- and felt unable to talk to anyone about this.

He was, though, a child prodigy and was playing viola with the National Youth Orchestra of Wales from the age of thirteen, and listening to music by Schoenberg, Webern, and Stravinsky. He was so talented a multi-instrumentalist that at school he was the only person other than one of the music teachers and the headmaster who was allowed to use the piano -- which led to a prank on his very last day at school. The headmaster would, on the last day, hit a low G on the piano to cue the assembly to stand up, and Cale had placed a comb on the string, muting it and stopping the note from sounding -- in much the same way that his near-namesake John Cage was "preparing" pianos for his own compositions in the USA.

Cale went on to Goldsmith's College to study music and composition, under Humphrey Searle, one of Britain's greatest proponents of serialism who had himself studied under Webern. Cale's main instrument was the viola, but he insisted on also playing pieces written for the violin, because they required more technical skill. For his final exam he chose to play Hindemith's notoriously difficult Viola Sonata:

[Excerpt: Hindemith Viola Sonata]

While at Goldsmith's, Cale became friendly with Cornelius Cardew, a composer and cellist who had studied with Stockhausen and at the time was a great admirer of and advocate for the works of Cage and Young (though by the mid-seventies Cardew rejected their work as counter-revolutionary bourgeois imperialism). Through Cardew, Cale started to correspond with Cage, and with George Maciunas and other members of Fluxus.

In July 1963, just after he'd finished his studies at Goldsmith's, Cale presented a festival there consisting of an afternoon and an evening show. These shows included the first British performances of several works including Cardew's Autumn '60 for Orchestra -- a piece in which the musicians were given blank staves on which to write whatever part they wanted to play, but a separate set of instructions in *how* to play the parts they'd written.

Another piece Cale presented in its British premiere at that show was Cage's "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra":

[Excerpt: John Cage, "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra"]

In the evening show, they performed Two Pieces For String Quartet by George Brecht (in which the musicians polish their instruments with dusters, making scraping sounds as they clean them),  and two new pieces by Cale, one of which involved a plant being put on the stage, and then the performer, Robin Page, screaming from the balcony at the plant that it would die, then running down, through the audience, and onto the stage, screaming abuse and threats at the plant.

The final piece in the show was a performance by Cale (the first one in Britain) of La Monte Young's "X For Henry Flynt". For this piece, Cale put his hands together and then smashed both his arms onto the keyboard as hard as he could, over and over. After five minutes some of the audience stormed the stage and tried to drag the piano away from him. Cale followed the piano on his knees, continuing to bang the keys, and eventually the audience gave up in defeat and Cale the performer won.

After this Cale moved to the USA, to further study composition, this time with Iannis Xenakis, the modernist composer who had also taught Mickey Baker orchestration after Baker left Mickey and Sylvia, and who composed such works as "Orient Occident":

[Excerpt: Iannis Xenakis, "Orient Occident"]

Cale had been recommended to Xenakis as a student by Aaron Copland, who thought the young man was probably a genius. But Cale's musical ambitions were rather too great for Tanglewood, Massachusetts -- he discovered that the institute had eighty-eight pianos, the same number as there are keys on a piano keyboard, and thought it would be great if for a piece he could take all eighty-eight pianos, put them all on different boats, sail the boats out onto a lake, and have eighty-eight different musicians each play one note on each piano, while the boats sank with the pianos on board.

For some reason, Cale wasn't allowed to perform this composition, and instead had to make do with one where he pulled an axe out of a single piano and slammed it down on a table. Hardly the same, I'm sure you'll agree.

From Tanglewood, Cale moved on to New York, where he soon became part of the artistic circles surrounding John Cage and La Monte Young. It was at this time that he joined Young's Theatre of Eternal Music, and also took part in a performance with Cage that would get Cale his first television exposure:

[Excerpt: John Cale playing Erik Satie's "Vexations" on "I've Got a Secret"]

That's Cale playing through "Vexations", a piece by Erik Satie that wasn't published until after Satie's death, and that remained in obscurity until Cage popularised -- if that's the word -- the piece. The piece, which Cage had found while studying Satie's notes, seems to be written as an exercise and has the inscription (in French) "In order to play the motif 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, by serious immobilities."

Cage interpreted that, possibly correctly, as an instruction that the piece should be played eight hundred and forty times straight through, and so he put together a performance of the piece, the first one ever, by a group he called the Pocket Theatre Piano Relay Team, which included Cage himself, Cale, Joshua Rifkin, and several other notable musical figures, who took it in turns playing the piece. For that performance, which ended up lasting eighteen hours, there was an entry fee of five dollars, and there was a time-clock in the lobby. Audience members punched in and punched out, and got a refund of five cents for every twenty minutes they'd spent listening to the music.

Supposedly, at the end, one audience member yelled "Encore!"

A week later, Cale appeared on "I've Got a Secret", a popular game-show in which celebrities tried to guess people's secrets (and which is where that performance of Cage's "Water Walk" we heard earlier comes from):

[Excerpt: John Cale on I've Got a Secret]

For a while, Cale lived with a friend of La Monte Young's, Terry Jennings, before moving in to a flat with Tony Conrad, one of the other members of the Theatre of Eternal Music. Angus MacLise lived in another flat in the same building. As there was not much money to be made in avant-garde music, Cale also worked in a bookshop -- a job Cage had found him -- and had a sideline in dealing drugs. But rents were so cheap at this time that Cale and Conrad only had to work part-time, and could spend much of their time working on the music they were making with Young.

Both were string players -- Conrad violin, Cale viola -- and they soon modified their instruments. Conrad merely attached pickups to his so it could be amplified, but Cale went much further. He filed down the viola's bridge so he could play three strings at once, and he replaced the normal viola strings with thicker, heavier, guitar and mandolin strings. This created a sound so loud that it sounded like a distorted electric guitar -- though in late 1963 and early 1964 there were very few people who even knew what a distorted guitar sounded like.

Cale and Conrad were also starting to become interested in rock and roll music, to which neither of them had previously paid much attention, because John Cage's music had taught them to listen for music in sounds they previously dismissed. In particular, Cale became fascinated with the harmonies of the Everly Brothers, hearing in them the same just intonation that Young advocated for:

[Excerpt: The Everly Brothers, "All I Have to Do is Dream"]

And it was with this newfound interest in rock and roll that Cale and Conrad suddenly found themselves members of a manufactured pop band.

The two men had been invited to a party on the Lower East Side, and there they'd been introduced to Terry Phillips of Pickwick Records. Phillips had seen their long hair and asked if they were musicians, so they'd answered "yes". He asked if they were in a band, and they said yes. He asked if that band had a drummer, and again they said yes.

By this point they realised that he had assumed they were rock guitarists, rather than experimental avant-garde string players, but they decided to play along and see where this was going. Phillips told them that if they brought along their drummer to Pickwick's studios the next day, he had a job for them.

The two of them went along with Walter de Maria, who did play the drums a little in between his conceptual art work, and there they were played a record:

[Excerpt: The Primitives, "The Ostrich"]

It was explained to them that Pickwick made knock-off records -- soundalikes of big hits, and their own records in the style of those hits, all played by a bunch of session musicians and put out under different band names. This one, by "the Primitives", they thought had a shot at being an actual hit, even though it was a dance-craze song about a dance where one partner lays on the floor and the other stamps on their head. But if it was going to be a hit, they needed an actual band to go out and perform it, backing the singer. How would Cale, Conrad, and de Maria like to be three quarters of the Primitives?

It sounded fun, but of course they weren't actually guitarists. But as it turned out, that wasn't going to be a problem. They were told that the guitars on the track had all been tuned to one note -- not even to an open chord, like we talked about Steve Cropper doing last episode, but all the strings to one note.

Cale and Conrad were astonished -- that was exactly the kind of thing they'd been doing in their drone experiments with La Monte Young. Who was this person who was independently inventing the most advanced ideas in experimental music but applying them to pop songs?

And that was how they met Lou Reed:

[Excerpt: The Primitives, "The Ostrich"]

Where Cale and Conrad were avant-gardeists who had only just started paying attention to rock and roll music, rock and roll was in Lou Reed's blood, but there were a few striking similarities between him and Cale, even though at a glance their backgrounds could not have seemed more different.

Reed had been brought up in a comfortably middle-class home in Long Island, but despised the suburban conformity that surrounded him from a very early age, and by his teens was starting to rebel against it very strongly. According to one classmate “Lou was always more advanced than the rest of us. The drinking age was eighteen back then, so we all started drinking at around sixteen. We were drinking quarts of beer, but Lou was smoking joints. He didn’t do that in front of many people, but I knew he was doing it. While we were looking at girls in Playboy, Lou was reading Story of O. He was reading the Marquis de Sade, stuff that I wouldn’t even have thought about or known how to find.”

But one way in which Reed was a typical teenager of the period was his love for rock and roll, especially doo-wop. He'd got himself a guitar, but only had one lesson -- according to the story he would tell on numerous occasions, he turned up with a copy of "Blue Suede Shoes" and told the teacher he only wanted to know how to play the chords for that, and he'd work out the rest himself.

Reed and two schoolfriends, Alan Walters and Phil Harris, put together a doo-wop trio they called The Shades, because they wore sunglasses, and a neighbour introduced them to Bob Shad, who had been an A&R man for Mercury Records and was starting his own new label. He renamed them the Jades and took them into the studio with some of the best New York session players, and at fourteen years old Lou Reed was writing songs and singing them backed by Mickey Baker and King Curtis:

[Excerpt: The Jades, "Leave Her For Me"]

Sadly the Jades' single was a flop -- the closest it came to success was being played on Murray the K's radio show, but on a day when Murray the K was off ill and someone else was filling in for him, much to Reed's disappointment. Phil Harris, the lead singer of the group, got to record some solo sessions after that, but the Jades split up and it would be several years before Reed made any more records.

Partly this was because of Reed's mental health, and here's where things get disputed and rather messy.

What we know is that in his late teens, just after he'd gone off to New York University, Reed was put through a course of electroconvulsive therapy, and that for the rest of his life he resented his parents for putting him through that. According to Reed himself, the primary "illness" for which he was being treated was his sexual attraction to other men, and he was forced to undergo it by his domineering, abusive, father. According to Reed's younger sister, who is now herself a mental health professional, the shock treatment was not for his sexuality, and their father was a kind, liberal, man with enlightened attitudes about sexuality for the time period. According to her, the treatment was for anxiety and depression, which he had been suffering from for several years.

Whatever the truth, Reed's memory suffered as a result of the treatment (which was much, much, stronger than the similar treatments used today) and whatever it was intended to treat it did the opposite -- Reed's personality became much bleaker and more cynical, his depressive phases got worse, and he started registering copyrights on songs with titles like "You'll Never, Ever, Love Me" and "Kill Your Sons".

After the treatments he didn't go back to NYU, but instead started to study at Syracuse, where among other things he had his own college radio show, "Excursions on a Wobbly Rail", named after a jazz piece by Cecil Taylor he used as the theme tune:

[Excerpt: Cecil Taylor, "Excursion on a Wobbly Rail"]

The show was ostensibly a jazz show, but it was actually just based around Reed's personal tastes, so it combined the free jazz of people like Ornette Coleman with soul and R&B records by groups like the Marvelettes and doo-wop records by Dion, his favourite singer at this point. Reed later described his musical influences by saying “I was a very big fan of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp. Then James Brown, the doo-wop groups, and rockabilly. Put it all together and you end up with me.”

Reed was still trying to make it as a rock and roller. He formed a band at university, LA and the Eldorados, who played various college and fraternity parties, and he also went back to Bob Shad to record a couple more tracks, clearly showing the influence of Dion, though those wouldn't get released for decades:

[Excerpt: Lewis Reed, "Your Love"]

But at the same time he was trying to become a writer, and one influenced by serious writers like William Burroughs. He was studying under the acclaimed poet Delmore Schwartz, who thought Reed had great potential as a writer, and the two became very close. Reed took Schwartz's teachings about writing, and about integrity, very seriously, but also found himself having to hide many of his own ambitions and huge chunks of his own life, because Schwartz had a deep loathing for rock and roll music and found it contemptible, and was also virulently homophobic.

Reed, who was having affairs with both men and women, and was playing rock and roll music, found himself feeling split in two. He was also, by this point, a serious user of heroin. And it was his experiences buying and using the drug that gave him the ideas for some of what would become his best-known songs.

At this point, Reed was still absorbing all the popular music of the time. He would later emphasise the influence of Brill Building songwriters like Goffin and King, and Bacharach and David, of Steve Cropper and the other writers at Stax, and of Brian Wilson's writing for the Beach Boys, and one can see all those absolutely in his later work. But one huge influence he always pretended had never influenced him at all was Bob Dylan, and around this time Reed was slavishly imitating him:

[Excerpt: Lou Reed, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right (home recording 1963)"]

And as Dylan was broadening the definitions of what could count as a rock and roll lyric, Reed saw ways to push it further. He said later “I thought, look, all these writers are writing about only a very small part of the human experience,whereas a record could be like a novel, you could write about this. It was so obvious, it’s amazing everybody wasn’t doing it. Let’s take Crime and Punishment and turn it into a rock-and-roll song! But if you’re going to talk about the greats, there is no one greater than Raymond Chandler. I mean, after reading Raymond Chandler and going on to someone else, it’s like eating caviar and then turning to some real inferior dish. Take the sensibility of  Raymond Chandler or Hubert Shelby or Delmore Schwartz or Poe and put it to rock music.”

So Reed started to write songs about the kind of dark, real-life, topic a Chandler might write about -- like going to buy heroin:

[Excerpt: Lou Reed, "Waiting for the Man (May 1965 alternate version)"]

But these Chandleresque songs were not going to get recorded any time soon -- indeed that recording we just heard is from May 1965, roughly two years after Reed wrote "Waiting for the Man". Reed's move into the rock and roll business was going to be with lyrics that were a little less challenging:

[Excerpt: The Beach Nuts, "I've Got a Tiger in My Tank"]

Don Schupak, the manager of LA and the Eldoradoes, had gone to work for Pickwick Records after leaving university, and Schupak got Reed a job as a staff songwriter, performer, and producer. For twenty-five dollars a week, he and three other staffers, Terry Phillips, Jerry Vance, and Jimmy Sims, would write and record whatever Pickwick needed. Often Pickwick would have managed to license one or two early tracks by someone who'd just had a big hit, and then they'd need to fill out a compilation with recordings by other supposed bands in the same style.

As Reed told it “There were four of us literally locked in a room writing songs. We just churned out songs, that’s all. They would say, ‘Write ten California songs, ten Detroit songs,’ then we’d go down into the studio for an hour or two and cut three or four albums really quickly, which came in handy later because I knew my way around a studio, not well enough but I could work really fast. While I was doing that, I was doing my own stuff and trying to get by, but the material I was doing, people wouldn’t go near me with it at the time. I mean, we wrote ‘Johnny Can’t Surf No More’ and ‘Let the Wedding Bells Ring’ and ‘Hot Rod Song.’ I didn’t see it as schizophrenic at all. I just had a job as a  songwriter. I mean, a real hack job. They’d come in and give me a subject, and we’d write."

Reed and his collaborators, and a handful of session singers and musicians, would sometimes be the Beach Nuts:

[Excerpt: The Beach Nuts, "Cycle Annie"]

Sometimes the Hi-Lifes:

[Excerpt: The Hi-Lifes, "Soul City"]

Sometimes The J Brothers:

[Excerpt: The J Brothers, "Ya Running, But I'll Getcha"]

And, fatefully, they'd become The Primitives:

[Excerpt: The Primitives, "The Ostrich"]

Reed, Cale, Conrad, and de Maria had a very brief career playing as the Primitives, but while they played in front of the normal audiences of screaming girls, the record didn't do anything on the charts, and the group, such as it was, soon split up. Cale also developed a dislike of de Maria's style of drumming, which was very influenced by jazz. If he *was* going to do any more rock and roll, he wasn't going to do it with someone who played so much on the ride cymbal.

But as well as Cale and Conrad continuing to perform together with Young, Cale and Reed continued to hang out together, and even started writing songs together. Their first collaboration, written with Reed's normal partners Phillips and Vance, was this, released as a B-side by The All-Night Workers, some friends of Reed's:

[Excerpt: The All-Night Workers, "Why Don't You Smile Now?"]

Reed kept trying to get Cale to listen to the *other* songs he was writing, the ones that he'd played for Pickwick but they'd turned down, but at first Cale was totally uninterested. Reed was playing them on an acoustic guitar, in a Bob Dylan style, and Cale *despised* the folk music scene and everything about it. He refused to listen.

But eventually Reed wore him down. Cale said later "He kept pushing them on me, and finally I saw they weren’t the kind of words you’d get Joan Baez singing. They were very different, he was writing about things other people weren’t. These lyrics were very literate, very well expressed, they were tough.”

He later explained “I recognised a tremendous literary quality about his songs which fascinated me—he had a very careful ear, he was very cautious with his words. I had no real knowledge of rock music at that time, so I focused on the literary aspect more.”

[Excerpt: Lou Reed, "Heroin (1965 demo)"]

And Reed also introduced Cale to the life he was writing about. As Cale put it “before I met Lou, I had snorted, smoked, and swallowed the best drugs in New York, courtesy of La Monte, but I had never injected anything. We smoked pot, took acid and other pills, mostly downs or Benzedrine. Now dime and nickel bags of heroin were added to the menu.”

Reed moved in with Cale, after Conrad moved out of the flat they shared, and they started jamming with the Eternal Theatre's percussionist Angus MacLise, who lived in the same building. By this point Reed was no longer working for Pickwick -- he was determined to make the music he wanted to make -- and the two of them scraped together money by giving blood, and by having their photos taken to be used in fake tabloid newspaper articles, where they were accused of being child molestors and serial killers. Reed also around this time had a sideline in selling powdered sugar to gullible people and telling them it was heroin, then hanging around with them pretending to be stoned, as he put it, "watching carefully to make sure they didn’t OD on sweets".

The fourth part of their new group, which they called The Warlocks, came when Reed happened to bump into an old friend, Sterling Morrison, on the subway. Morrison was someone he had known at Syracuse, though Morrison hadn't been a student there, but they'd been introduced by a mutual friend who was, Jim Tucker, and had bonded over a shared love of the guitar and of the music of Ike and Tina Turner.

The new group thus had two contingents with different influences. The rhythm section -- Cale played bass as well as viola -- were from the experimental tradition, while Reed and Morrison's tastes ran to Brill Building pop, the Beach Boys, hardcore R&B and doo-wop.

One thing they were all agreed on though was what they were *not* going to do, which was turn into one of the white blues bands that were starting to spring up.

“We actually had a rule in the band,” Reed explained. “If anybody played a blues lick, they would be fined. Everyone was going crazy over old blues people, but they forgot about all those groups, like the Spaniels, people like that. Records like ‘Smoke from Your Cigarette,’ and ‘I Need a Sunday Kind of Love,’ the ‘Wind’ by the Chesters, ‘Later for You, Baby’ by the Solitaires. All those really ferocious records that no one seemed to listen to anymore were underneath everything we were playing. No one really knew that.”

[Excerpt: The Solitaires, "Later For You Baby"]

Reed was very vehement about his love of these forms that were already starting to fall out of fashion somewhat. In an essay he wrote around this time for a literary magazine -- he was still trying to make it as a writer as well -- he wrote “How can they give Robert Lowell a poetry prize? Richard Wilbur. It’s a joke. What about the Excellents, Martha and the Vandellas (Holland, Dozier, Jeff Barry, Elle Greenwich, Bacharach and David, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, the best songwriting teams in America). Will none of the powers that be realize what Brian Wilson did with the CHORDS. Phil Spector being made out to be some kind of aberration when he put out the best record ever made, ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.’”

Another inspiration for the group came from the records that Cale would bring back from his regular trips to the UK -- bands like the Who and the Kinks who weren't having hits in the US at this point but were big in Britain.

On his trips home, Cale also brought a tape of the new band, now renamed the Velvet Underground, and tried to get some interest from Andrew Loog Oldham, thinking some of the songs might be suitable for Marianne Faithfull:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Venus in Furs (demo)"]

Faithfull was not interested in recording "Venus in Furs", even though there was a family connection -- her great-great uncle, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, from whose name we get the word "masochism", had written the novel on which that song was based.

The group's new name also came from a book -- in this case a cheap sexploitation book that Tony Conrad had literally found in a gutter. The group liked the book's title because it implied a connection with underground film, the only art form at this point that was really called underground, and indeed the group's first performances were as live accompaniment to projections of silent underground films at various happenings.

Indeed it was at one of these performances that the group were filmed for the first time, for a TV piece about underground film. Shortly after that Al Aronowitz, the pop music correspondent for the New York Post, offered to manage the group.

Aronowitz booked them as the support act for another group he managed, The Myddle Class -- and MacLise quit the group. The idea of showing up *at a specific time* to play music, and then *finishing* at a specific time to let the next band go on, was completely alien to him, and he wanted no part of this at all.

With only days to go, the group needed a new drummer *fast*, and they found what they assumed would be a temporary replacement in Jim Tucker's sister Maureen.

Moe Tucker, as she was always known, was nineteen at the time and didn't play in a band, but she did have a drum kit, which she played at home along with Rolling Stones and Bo Diddley records:

[Excerpt: Bo Diddley, "Bo Diddley"]

Tucker's style was a unique one. As she put it herself "I always hated drummers like Ginger Baker, oh my God, every possible moment smashing something. I just hated that, even before I started playing drums. So, when I started to play, Charlie Watts was a big influence on me, and I don’t think I even  realised at the time why I liked him so much. He plays so simply. He never does anything that is unnecessary. I just find it so much more effective." -- and when she started playing, that's what she did too.

Her musical tastes in R&B went in much the same direction as Reed and Morrison, but there was a problem -- Cale was adamant. There would be "no chicks", in the wording he used, in his band. Eventually he was placated by the idea that she would be only temporary, just for this one gig. And as it turned out, Tucker's style was one that the rest of the group all appreciated for their own reasons.

Cale, as I've said already, strongly disliked the overuse of ride cymbal, and Tucker didn't use cymbals at all, just snare, tom, and bass drum -- which she turned on its side and hit with a stick like she would the other drums, while playing standing up.

This lack of cymbals actually resonated with two of Reed's musical passions, too. While Al Jackson at Stax records did play the cymbals, he stuck to the hi-hat and barely ever played the ride, and his hi-hat was never miced and only showed up on the recordings through leakage -- Steve Cropper always said that women bought most records, and women's ears were more sensitive to high frequencies than men's, so high-pitched noises from cymbals were a bad idea.

Similarly, when Brian Wilson was producing the Beach Boys' records, from 1964 onwards he got the session drummers to play without cymbals -- if there was going to be any high-frequency percussion on any Beach Boys records, it would be hand percussion like sleighbells or tambourines, not ride cymbal or hi-hat.

The new lineup of the group gelled almost instantly. Moe Tucker played simple but powerful rhythms, holding down the bottom end, steady as a rock. Reed and Morrison would play twin guitars, in styles taken from the R&B records they loved, but also employing the feedback techniques Cale had been using with La Monte Young. Cale would either play bass -- in an unconventional style, as he was unfamiliar with the cliches of rock bass playing and so never resorted to them -- or, more often, his electric viola, creating ear-splitting sheets of sound. And Reed would sing his lyrics about heroin and sadomasochism in a monotone voice that bore some resemblance to his Bob Dylan impression, but was much less emotional and inflected than Dylan ever was.

There was a large improvisational component to the music, but in contrast to the style of the bands becoming successful on the West Coast, where improvisational instrumental sections were a vector for individual self-expression in the eyes of the music's fans, or self-indulgence in the eyes of detractors like the Velvets, this was collective improvisation in the service of the overall sound, with individuality sublimated to the collective:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Heroin (Factory Rehearsal)"]

After the gig supporting The Myddle Class, Aronowitz thought the group needed to get a good solid run of live performances behind them, and so he booked them into a residency at the Cafe Bizarre. There the group played a mixture of their own material and as many cover versions as they could work up in the time -- songs like Chuck Berry's "Little Queenie" and Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights, Big City". This R&B core to the Velvets' work is overlooked, but if you listen to the few recordings that have surfaced of their rehearsals from this period, you can hear a clear link between, for example, them running through Bo Diddley's "Crackin' Up":

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Crackin' Up (Factory Rehearsal)"]

And the early arrangement of Reed's song "There She Goes Again":

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "There She Goes Again (Factory Rehearsal)"]

At one of the group's early shows at the Cafe Bizarre, Barbara Rubin, an underground film-maker the group had worked with, came to see them and brought an acquaintance, Gerard Malanga. Malanga loved the band's music, and got up and started dancing, using a bullwhip in his dance. During a break Reed and Cale came up to Malanga and told him that he could come back and dance any time.

Malanga loved this -- he was someone who desperately desired recognition and attention -- and so he became a big fan of the band. The next day he and Rubin came back with two more friends -- Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol.

Warhol was by this point one of the most famous artists in the world, possibly *the* most famous, but he'd actually given up for the moment on paintings and screen-printings. According to Morrissey, who was Warhol's business manager, this was to create an artificial scarcity in the market and make his paintings appreciate in value so when he did do more they'd make more money.

But of course, he still needed to be creating *something* to keep his reputation, and thus his earning potential, alive, and he'd also needed to do some expensive work so he could write the costs off against tax. So he'd bought some film equipment and gone into a new medium -- underground film. Partially inspired by La Monte Young's minimalism -- Warhol was a big fan of Young's work -- he'd created a series of films like "Sleep", a five-and-a-half hour film of Warhol's then-boyfriend sleeping; "Eat", a forty-five minute silent film of the painter Robert Indiana eating a mushroom (to which La Monte Young had performed a live soundtrack when it was shown); "Taylor Mead's Ass", a seventy-six-minute film of Warhol's friend Taylor Mead's buttocks (including some "special effects" shots that make it look like he's shoving dollar bills, magazines, and books up his anus); and "Empire", a film he co-directed with John Palmer which consists of eight hours and five minutes of footage of the top of the Empire State Building from a single fixed location.

In total, Warhol directed somewhere in the region of a hundred and fifty films. Many of them were conceptual ones like those I've just listed, but there were also quite a few that had attempts at conventional narrative, though done deliberately shoddily, and often using characters from pop culture which Warhol didn't bother to get permission to use, like his 1964 film Batman Dracula, or 1963's Tarzan and Jane Regained... Sort of.

These films, which helped establish the camp and trash cinema aesthetic, attracted to Warhol a crowd of wannabe stars, who flocked to The Factory, Warhol's studio, which had been painted all in silver by Billy Name, the photographer and artist who had been part of the first lineup of the Theatre of Eternal Music. Warhol referred to these people as his "superstars" -- a term he got from the underground filmmaker Jack Smith, and which Warhol popularised.

These "superstars" saw appearing in Warhol's underground films as their ticket to fame and fortune. Most of them got neither, and there is an argument to be made that Warhol exploited these people, many of whom were vulnerable in one way or another -- mostly queer at a time of repressive laws against their sexualities, often drug addicts, often mentally ill, all younger than him. Warhol and his defenders on the other hand would point out that he always encouraged those people to look after their own careers, and to use the publicity he got them the way he did himself, to further their ambitions. After all, *he* wasn't making money directly from the films a lot of the time himself, just indirectly from what they did for his reputation.

That reputation was now at the point where he was a major celebrity, and as you may remember from the episode on "The Twist", one thing that happened to celebrities at this time was that when nightclubs wanted publicity, they would pay celebrities to go to the club.

Michael Myerberg, a Broadway producer with a penchant for the slightly arty -- he had been the first person to produce Beckett's Waiting For Godot in the US -- had decided he wanted to open his own discotheque, and offered to pay Warhol to go there every night.

According to Morrissey, he made a counteroffer. "I immediately said, ‘I have a better suggestion. There’s no real reason to just come out and sit there and get paid.’ (It wasn’t much money anyway.) ‘The only reason Andy will go is if he could be like Brian Epstein and present a group he managed."

According to Morrissey, Myerberg liked the idea, so Morrissey expanded on it: "‘Not only will Andy’s presence be justified because his group is there, but behind the group we’ll be projecting two or three images of film footage,’ because we were making all these movies that we’d been showing at the Cinematheque that had no commercial value, and I thought this would be a good way to have them generate some money too. This was agreed upon and I was set to go out and find a rock’n’roll group. I didn’t know what group it was going to be."

The Velvet Underground seemed the perfect group for Warhol to manage -- Warhol and Cale had even appeared together in underground films before -- but there was one problem. Morrissey thought that Lou Reed couldn't sing and had no charisma. Luckily, almost simultaneously, a solution presented herself, someone who Warhol described as "a new kind of Superstar":

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground and Nico, "Femme Fatale"]

Nico's life before her late teens is difficult to untangle. By all accounts, she lied all the time, about everything. Some of this seems to have been just for fun, telling a good story rather than the truth, but other parts seem to have been a psychological defence mechanism -- she was born in Cologne in 1938 and grew up just outside Berlin, her earliest years being those of the Second World War, and she never seems to have fully recovered from the trauma of the war and occupation. Many who knew her have said she was suffering from what we would now call PTSD, and that seems to be borne out by things she said herself. She later said "I cannot be surprised by hell, which I do believe in. I have seen hell, I have smelt hell, which was in Berlin when the bombs destroyed it. Hell is like a city destroyed, and it is beautiful to see."

Of herself, she said "Yes, I remember the war years very well. But that was not me, that was another girl. I seem to myself to be a criminal who spends her entire life with faked documents. I can’t identify myself with the past. Life consists of experiences which one accepts or refuses; you are formed by the things you accept. My memory consists of shreds and short flashes, never the whole picture."

One thing she did remember was the music she listened to as a child. Her mother would regularly take her to the Berlin Opera House, which was kept open after the war with very cheap tickets, as a propaganda tool for the Soviets, who ran that section of occupied Berlin. Her mother was also a fan of Zarah Leander, the Swedish schlager singer whose career had been promoted by Goebbels, and who became the German equivalent of Britain's "Forces' Sweetheart" Vera Lynn. In later years, Nico's own vocals would bear a remarkable resemblance to Leander's:

[Excerpt: Zarah Leander, "Ich weiß, es wird einmal ein Wunder gescheh’n", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76wGnsMUgOQ ]

Nico was first discovered as a teenager. She had started hanging around a prestigious German shop called the KaDeWe, because she thought that fashion designers and photographers went there regularly. Eventually one did, and she became a model, at first working as a "mannequin" -- someone who shows off dresses in expensive shops for upmarket customers.

She soon moved to Paris, though, and became an in-demand photographic model. There she made two changes. The first was to change her name to Nico, after Nico Papatakis, a nightclub owner who one of her gay friends lusted after. She liked the idea of having a male name, and later made many comments like "The most beautiful boys were interested in the most beautiful boys – I can understand that. I wanted to be a boy myself. I mean, why should I want to be a woman? I liked my homosexual friends the best" and "I gave the impression of being a boy, with my short hair and low voice. In those days I had a weakness for gay men and wanted to be one myself, so I told everyone that I was."

The other change she made was to start dying her hair blonde. She would later always claim that she started doing this after an encounter with Ernest Hemingway, saying "He had just won the Nobel Prize and I thought that if a winner of the Nobel Prize told you to do something about your hair, there is something to consider. I could be a Nobel blonde. I did this eventually. It was not so easy then as it became, to keep your hair blonde. But it was good for me to do it. Don’t they say “blondes have more fun”? Well, I don’t agree. It is more correct to say “blondes have more money”.’"

Whether that's true or not, nobody can know, but it *is* true that throughout her life Nico would have many, many, encounters with famous men -- and that most of them, unlike that one, caused her a great deal of harm.

In Paris, she started hanging around with a much artier, more sophisticated, crowd than she had in Berlin, including people like the DaDaist artist Tristan Tzara, and started thinking of herself as a beatnik. She said of the beatniks "It took me a long time to understand anything, because it was a foreign language inside a foreign language, but I knew I was not alone in my thinking."

The beatniks also widened her musical interests. Now as well as opera and schlager, she was listening to the modern jazz of Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell, and to the chansons of singers like Jacques Brel and Georges Brassens:

[Excerpt: Georges Brassens, "Le Gorille"]

She particularly liked the simplicity of this style, with just a singer and a guitar, and when she eventually started to do her own musical performances that was the style she liked to go back to.

She was also given a small part in Fellini's film La Dolce Vita, playing a model called Nico. This was actually a problem for her -- the way Fellini saw it, she was just playing herself, so it should have been easy. The way Nico saw it, though, "Nico" was herself a character, so she was playing a character playing a character, and she had no idea how to do this. Eventually Fellini hit on the solution of having her play a character utterly *unlike* herself, though still using the same name -- Nico was very quiet and didn't say much, so Fellini insisted she be talking constantly every time she was on screen, getting her to babble nonsense words which were later overdubbed with sensible dialogue.

She only had a small role in the film, but she was a hit, and she appeared in another, more conventional, film, with Alain Delon.

She then started a relationship with the man she'd named herself after, Nico Papatakis, and they spent two years together, moving to New York where she studied acting at Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio, and where she developed a nodding acquaintance with Allen Ginsberg. But then she had a brief fling with Delon, which resulted in a child who Delon disowned, but who was eventually adopted by Delon's mother, and she moved to Ibiza to be near her own mother.

In the suite above hers was a jazz band, led by Victor Brox, who I have to mention here attended the same school as I did, though many decades before me, and who died last month. Brox is now most famous for having played the role of Caiaphas on the original concept album version of Jesus Christ Superstar:

[Excerpt: Jesus Christ Superstar cast, "This Jesus Must Die"]

But he had a very long career in blues and jazz, as both a singer and an instrumentalist. Brox and Nico had a brief affair, but his main importance to her was teaching her about music. He said later "She’d been curious about the free music group I ran and she wanted to know everything about jazz and blues, absolutely everything. She started to come upstairs and I’d talk her through the history of the forms, the styles, the key musicians, the singers like Bessie Smith – just everything I could tell her and play her. She just sat there and listened intently, though I had no way of knowing how much she took in. Then she came over to the improvisation sessions. There was a rule for entry – you had to bring an instrument. Nico brought her tape recorder."

For the rest of her life, she credited Brox, the "professor of jazz" as she called him, with introducing her properly to music and teaching her how to sing.

She then moved on to Paris, where she was introduced by a mutual friend to Bob Dylan, with whom she had a brief affair. She'd been aware of him, though she didn't think much of his music, saying she didn't understand his lyrics. "Twing, twang, twing, twang, baybee: that’s how it went" was Nico's summary of Dylan's work at that point.

Dylan did though write a song while they were together for those few days, supposedly about Nico, which she later recorded:

[Excerpt: Nico, "I'll Keep it With Mine"]

According to Nico, "he didn’t like it when I tried to sing along with him. I thought he was being chauvinistic and a little annoyed that I could sing properly – at least in tune – so he made me more determined to sing to other people."

Dylan did, though, suggest that if Nico wanted to become a singer, she should try the Blue Angel club in New York, and the next time she was in the city, in autumn 1964, she got herself a booking there, doing torch songs. Her favourite song to sing in the show was "My Funny Valentine", a song she would keep in her solo sets for the rest of her life, and which she modelled on the version by the jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, who she said introduced her to heroin:

[Excerpt: Nico, "My Funny Valentine"]

At the end of 1964, she moved again, this time to London, because Swinging London was becoming the centre of the new youth culture and she wanted to be a part of it. Unfortunately, at twenty-six she was already past her prime as a model, and she was also no longer the fashionable type of figure.

She was, though, still a good-looking woman, and she got herself introduced to Andrew Oldham, who she had heard was looking for another female star to go with Marianne Faithfull, who he was managing. Oldham was interested, especially after she told him about being in La Dolce Vita and having Dylan write a song for her, but he took a while to decide on what to do with her.

In the meantime, she started dating Brian Jones, in what turned into an on-again, off-again relationship for the next couple of years. At first, it was very much on, and she travelled with the Stones to France, where she met Andy Warhol for the first time, and to America on their 1965 US tour.

Unfortunately, Jones treated her the way he treated all the women in his life, and while they seem to have at times enjoyed a relationship that was at least partly based around consensual BDSM, from reading the accounts of it he also crossed a line, several times, into some quite horrific nonconsensual physical and sexual abuse of her. As Nico put it, "He was charming, until he locked the door."

But her relationship with Jones did keep her around Andrew Oldham, and Oldham eventually offered her a record deal with his new label, Immediate. Nico decided that her first single should be the song Bob Dylan wrote for her, and handily Dylan was soon in London playing the last shows of his 1965 tour:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan, "Mr Tambourine Man (live in London)" ]

Nico missed the gig, but did manage to get to the aftershow party, and there she asked Dylan to let her record the song (not realising he'd just given it to Judy Collins, who would soon release it as a single, or that Dylan had told Collins he'd written the song about *her*).

She tried to persuade Dylan to let her record the song, and at first he wasn't keen -- according to Nico, he had been put off the idea of having women sing his songs by Joan Baez. But eventually Dylan told her he was planning to go into the studio with some British musicians after a few days in Portugal, and they could try it then.

That session had to be put off, due to the illness and/or bad trip we talked about in the episodes on "Brand New Cadillac" and "Like a Rolling Stone", and when the session did happen, with Dylan attempting to record with members of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, with Nico present, it didn't go well, and only a fragment of that recording circulates, and not a fragment featuring Nico:

[Excerpt: Bob Dylan and the Bluesbreakers, "If You Gotta Go, Go Now"]

She also had a talk with Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, who agreed to manage her, but only in the US.

At the session, they did cut a quick, one-take, demo of "I'll Keep it With Mine", with Dylan on piano and Nico singing, and Nico played it excitedly to Oldham, but Oldham said that while it was a good song, it should be her second single, not her first. The first should be something more uptempo. He decided on a song by another of Grossman's clients, Gordon Lightfoot:

[Excerpt: Nico, "I'm Not Saying"]

The B-side, "The Last Mile", was written by Oldham and the record's producer, Jimmy Page, and is a simple track with just Nico and two guitars. Discographies differ over whether Page, Brian Jones, or both of them play the guitars, though the simple acoustic strumming could be anyone:

[Excerpt: Nico, "The Last Mile"]

Nico made an appearance on Ready, Steady, Go! performing "I'm Not Saying", on an episode with Jonathan King and the Walker Brothers, but that wasn't enough to get the record into the charts, and while Immediate Records would soon become successful, Oldham didn't ever get round to making the promised second record.

Nico left for New York, to try to connect again with Albert Grossman. But she also had the business card of Gerard Malanga, who had visited her in London and remembered her from her meeting with Warhol in Paris. She visited the Factory, just as Warhol and Paul Morrissey had decided to start managing the Velvets, and just as Morrissey was trying to persuade the group that they needed a new frontperson. After she played them her new single, and her acetate copy of the demo she'd made with Dylan, Morrissey was convinced. Instead of dull, uncharismatic, Lou Reed, the group's singer should be Nico, who was going to be the latest Warhol "Superstar".

The group were unsure about this. They already had some doubts about Warhol -- Cale said of him "So much of what Andy did seemed to be a diluted version of the Downtown avant-garde scene. I had previously worked with the composer La Monte Young and we were concerned with philosophical attitudes to art. La Monte was concerned with durations and longevity, and so we viewed Andy’s dollar bills and Elvises and soup cans with grave suspicion. La Monte’s work was about long duration, and Andy dealt in repetition. We got the feeling that strong ideas were being recycled and thinned out by people like Andy."

Now they were having another member foisted on them -- and to make matters worse, it was another "chick". But also, Warhol was going to be their ticket to the big time. They eventually compromised -- Nico could perform with them, but would be billed separately. They would be The Velvet Underground And Nico:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground and Nico, "Femme Fatale"]

Reed, in particular, was unhappy with this, but none of the band were happy. In particular, they all felt that her voice just didn't suit most of the group's material, but she wanted to sing it all. According to Tucker, Nico “was a schmuck, from the first. She was this beautiful person who had travelled through Europe being a semistar. Her ego had grown very large. The songs Lou wrote for her were great, and she did them very well. Her accent made them great, but there was a limit! I kept to myself until she wanted to sing ‘Heroin.’ But then I had to speak my piece."

Things got a little better when Reed and Nico started a brief affair, and Reed wrote a handful of songs specifically for her to sing, like the lovely ballad "I'll Be Your Mirror":

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground and Nico, "I'll Be Your Mirror"]

But that affair soon ended, and Reed became more resentful of her than ever, especially after she made antisemitic comments about him.

The new expanded lineup of the group made their first appearance on January the thirteenth, 1966, at a psychiatrists' convention. Warhol had been asked to give an after-dinner speech at the convention, and had offered instead to show some of his films. What they got for their after-dinner performance was a happening, which started with Barbara Rubin rushing in and pointing a film camera with a bright light directly in the faces of the diners and loudly asking them personal questions about their penis size and sex lives. Then on came the Velvet Underground, performing their songs about BDSM and heroin in front of the shocked audience.

Soon this became the basis of a multimedia happening, first titled Andy Warhol's Up-Tight, and then later renamed first the Erupting Plastic Inevitable and then the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Several of Warhol's films were projected simultaneously, including on to the performers, while the Velvet Underground played and Gerard Malanga and another of Warhol's "superstars", Mary Woronov, danced improvised dances in fetish gear, brandishing a whip. Warhol also put together a series of slides and a coloured light show which were also projected onto the stage, and used a mirrorball and strobe lights, a decade before such things became commonplace. Nico sang the three songs Reed had written for her, sang along with her demo recording of "I'll Keep it With Mine", and banged a tambourine out of time the rest of the time.

After the psychiatrists' convention, a brief run at the Cinematheque in New York, and some out-of-town tryouts in places like Ann Arbor Michigan, the group were ready for their residency at the new club. But then Morrissey was informed by the manager the day before the residency that Myerberg had decided to book the Young Rascals instead.

But then someone overheard Warhol and Morrissey talking about their lack of a venue in a cafe, and recommended somewhere called The Dom, which they could rent relatively cheap for a residency.

The shows at the Dom went down a storm, taking in somewhere in the region of $18,000, and soon the group were in the recording studio, putting together an album that Warhol, who would be the credited producer, hoped to sell to Columbia Records:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Venus in Furs (alternate version)"]

Warhol knew a man named Norman Dolph, who at the time was working for Columbia, though he'd given his notice, working for the division that pressed up records for small independent labels with no pressing plants of their own. On the side Dolph ran a mobile disco and provided music for art shows, which he'd do in exchange for free paintings, and he'd also done the sound at the Dom.

Dolph got in touch with John Licata, an engineer at Scepter Records, who had their own studio. The idea was that the group would record a quick album in four days, and Dolph would use his connections at Columbia to get it released. The job of producer was split multiple ways, though Warhol is the only one to get label credit. From all accounts, Licata took charge of the technical aspects, Dolph acted as "line producer", doing all the organisational work, Cale supervised the arrangements, Reed, who was the only member of the band with any real studio experience, made sure that the sound Licata was getting on tape was the same sound the band wanted, and Warhol, in Reed's words, was "behind the board gazing with rapt fascination at all the blinking lights", doing little or nothing of the actual production.

Though Reed would go on to qualify this, saying "In a sense he really did produce it, because he was this umbrella that absorbed all the attacks when we weren’t large enough to be attacked … as a consequence of him being the producer, we’d just walk in and set up and do what we always did and no one would stop it because Andy was the producer. Of course he didn’t know anything about record production—but he didn’t have to. He just sat there and said “Oooh, that’s fantastic,” and the engineer would say, “Oh yeah! Right! It is fantastic, isn’t it?”"

They recorded a ten-track album in four days -- two days to record, one to play back and choose takes, and one to mix -- featuring the three songs Nico sang with the band -- "All Tomorrow's Parties", "Femme Fatale", and "I'll Be Your Mirror" -- plus seven other songs, ranging from the abrasive "Black Angel's Death Song", which unlike most of the album has Cale credited as a co-writer:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Black Angel's Death Song"]

to the poppy "There She Goes Again", which shows Lou Reed's experience as a writer of catchy three-minute pop songs:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "There She Goes Again"]

According to Dolph "There were three separate ambiences. One was when Lou sang “Heroin” and “Waiting for the Man,” and he was deeply concerned that it not break down—that he got it all down in one shot… and in those there was a great deal of intensity in the room. In the songs that Nico sang, there was a very delicate, deferential “let’s see what we have to do to get this done” ambience … and the third was a workmanlike attempt to recreate just what they had done the night before in the live gig."

Everyone was convinced the album was a masterpiece, but in quick succession Columbia, Atlantic, and Elektra Records, the three labels with a substantial East Coast presence that would have been most likely to take it, turned the album down.

Luckily, they were about to go to the West Coast, for a booking at the Trip on the Sunset Strip followed by the Fillmore, where they were sure they'd go down well. They were sure of this right until they turned on the radio in California for the first time:

[Excerpt: The Mamas and the Papas, "Monday Monday"]

The Velvet Underground, all of them, *loathed* the hippie scene and everything about it, and hearing the Mamas and the Papas on the radio seemed to summarise everything they despised about the hippies and about the West Coast. As Reed put it “The West Coast bands were into soft drugs. We were into hard drugs.”

The booking at The Trip was a bust -- on their opening night, plenty of celebrities turned up, but most of them reacted like Cher, who left early and was quoted saying their music wasn't "going to replace anything except suicide". Though a young student named Jim Morrison also attended, and seemed very taken with Malanga's leather persona.

The club was closed down by the police after three days of their residency, but by musicians' union rules, so long as they stayed in LA and remained theoretically available for work for the full length of the residency, they would get paid as if they'd played, so they spent the time in LA *not* working, and staying at The Castle, a large mansion house in Los Feliz where lots of rock groups stayed. Which, just to make life difficult for people like me, is *not* The Castle, the large mansion house in Los Feliz that Love moved into around the same time and which also hosted other rock musicians. (This explains, incidentally, the rumours that Bob Dylan stayed at the "Love" Castle, which Johnny Echols denies -- he didn't, he spent time at the Velvets Castle, in 1965).

After that, they went on to the Fillmore, where they played third on the bill to Jefferson Airplane and the Mothers of Invention.

They did not go down well there. Ralph Gleason, whose word was taken more or less as gospel by the San Francisco scene, said of their performance “Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable show was nothing more than bad condensation of all the bum trips of the Trips Festival. Few people danced (the music was something of a dud, the Velvet Underground being a very dull group). It was all very campy and very Greenwich Village sick. If this is what America’s waiting for, we are going to die of boredom because this is a celebration of the silliness of cafe society, way out in left field instead of far out, and joyless.”

The feeling was mutual -- Reed said of the West Coast bands “We had vast objections to the whole San Francisco scene. It’s just tedious, a lie and untalented. They can’t play and they certainly can’t write. I keep telling everybody and nobody cares. We used to be quiet, but I don’t even care anymore about not wanting to say negative things, ’cause somebody really should say something. Frank Zappa is the most untalented bore who ever lived. You know, people like Jefferson Airplane,  Grateful Dead, all those people are just the most untalented bores that ever came up. Just look at them physically. I mean, can you take Grace Slick seriously? It’s a joke.”

Oddly, in all their discussions of their hatred of the San Francisco scene, all of the Velvet Underground lumped Frank Zappa in with the San Francisco groups and indeed single him out as being an example of the "love and peace" music they despised, even though he was an LA musician who shared all their criticisms of the San Francisco scene and would articulate them viciously, and more publicly than they did, on songs like "Who Needs the Peace Corps?":

[Excerpt: The Mothers of Invention, "Who Needs the Peace Corps?"]

Lou Reed would later retract some of his criticisms, and indeed would posthumously induct Zappa into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but at the time the two groups had an intense, vicious, rivalry that seems at least in part to have been the narcissism of small differences. Both of them had similarly cynical attitudes, both namechecked many of the same old doo-wop records, both were influenced by the same avant-garde composers and free jazz musicians -- of *course* they hated each other!

And both bands turned out to have the same producer.

It seems to be on this first LA trip -- I say "seems to be" because there are some nuances of the timeline that just don't fit right -- that the Velvet Underground first encountered Tom Wilson. Wilson had just moved from Columbia Records to MGM/Verve, and in 1966 as well as producing the Mothers he was working on everything from live albums by Connie Francis to the Blues Project's Projections album:

[Excerpt: The Blues Project, "You Can't Catch Me"]

More interestingly, he worked on two separate projects that might have appealed to Warhol's Pop aesthetic, both of them combining experimental music with a cash-in on the popularity of the Batman TV show. One was an album of instrumentals, titled Batman and Robin, performed by "The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale":

[Excerpt: The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale, "Batman Theme"]

The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale were, in this instance, actually a supergroup consisting of members of the Blues Project and of Sun Ra's Arkestra, with Sun Ra and Al Kooper sharing keyboard duties. The album has since been reissued as by "Sun Ra and the Blues Project".

Then there was "Boy Wonder I Love You":

[Excerpt: Burt Ward, "Boy Wonder I Love You"]

That was the one single released by Burt Ward, who played Robin in the TV series, and was written for Ward by Zappa, who also conducted the orchestra.

Given Wilson's background in the experimental jazz music the Velvets loved, his production of Dylan's folk-rock records which were probably the closest thing to their music in the commercial realm, and his current work with Zappa, who despite what they all said was a very similar artist to them, he was clearly the one producer in the world who was working for a major label and likely to actually be receptive to the Velvet Underground.

Wilson immediately started work on fixing up their first album for release. He started producing overdubs and editing the tracks they'd recorded in New York for release. The first thing to come out of these sessions was a version of "All Tomorrow's Parties", edited down to three minutes and released as a single in July 1966 backed with "I'll Be Your Mirror":

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground and Nico, "All Tomorrow's Parties (single version)"]

Wilson also produced new recordings of what he thought were the three weakest performances on the album -- "I'm Waiting for the Man", "Venus in Furs" and "Heroin":

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Heroin"]

While all this was going on, though, the band were in crisis. The Exploding Plastic Inevitable show basically ended in May, because it became unsustainable to tour a show with lights, dancers, and projections. There would be occasional shows for the rest of the year and into the next but with decreasing frequency and diminishing returns.

After the shows in California, Reed ended up in hospital for six weeks with hepatitis, and the rest of the group (minus Nico, who'd gone off to Ibiza) had to pull together a show they could perform without him as they were booked in for a week-long stint in Chicago.

For those shows, Angus MacLise returned to the band on drums, allowing Moe to take over the bass, so Cale could play Reed's guitar parts and sing lead. After performing again with the group, MacLise started pushing to rejoin, realising he had made a mistake in quitting the group. Reed refused to even countenance the idea, and lectured MacLise from his hospital bed while yellow with jaundice, telling him that he was only back temporarily and not to get any ideas.

Reed was already beginning to realise that there was a tension in the band between his pop songwriting, however dark the subject matter, and Cale's avant-garde tendencies. Not only was he loyal to Tucker on principle, but this meant that if he allowed MacLise to take over from her, Cale would have an ally in the group.

There was another problem as well -- the group had lost the Dom. While they'd been away on their disastrous Californian adventure, the agent who'd booked them for the California shows had gone behind their back and worked with Albert Grossman to take over the club, which they renamed the Balloon Farm. They then offered to let the Velvets play there, but just as a regular band, not with Warhol and Morrissey promoting, so they'd make much less money for the same thing.

The group refused the offer, and indeed were so disgruntled that this most New York of bands didn't play in New York again for the rest of the sixties, making their musical base in Boston, where they would build up their biggest following.

While Nico was still performing with them on some occasions, more and more Reed in particular was resenting this. When Tom Wilson suggested that they needed another commercial track for the album before it could be released, to put out as a single, and that it should be sung by Nico like the first single had been, Reed initially agreed, and wrote a song for Nico to sing, but eventually insisted on singing it himself on the record, though Nico would sing it live. That single, "Sunday Morning" was inspired by Warhol suggesting that he write a song about paranoia -- but some have pointed out that it also seems to have been inspired by that Mamas and Papas song the group had hated so much in California:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Sunday Morning (single version)"]

Nico was a semi-detached part of the band, but she was trying to build a career in her own right -- she had spent part of the summer starring in a film Warhol and Morrissey were making, Chelsea Girls, about the Chelsea Hotel. Reed had been asked to write a song for her to sing for its theme, but had been dragging his feet, and the film was eventually released without its song.

There was a space below the Balloon Farm which was looking for an act. According to Morrissey its reasoning was quite awful -- the owner of the venue thought they were getting too many Black customers and not enough white ones. The owner decided to ask Nico to perform there while the group weren't playing live much, as he thought she'd put Black people off.

But when Morrissey asked the group members if any of them would back Nico on solo electric guitar  -- he didn't want them to be seen as folk musicians -- for her solo performances, all any of them would do was record some tapes for her to play. She had to bring a tape player on stage with her and press play at the start of each song, and stop at the end. Apparently Cale or Morrison would occasionally show up and back her, but not very often.

Eventually, Danny Fields -- who you may remember from the episode on "All You Need is Love" as the managing editor of Datebook Magazine when the "bigger than Jesus" story made its cover, but who was by this time working for Elektra Records and with the Doors, suggested that they get in an Elektra artist, Tim Buckley, as both Nico's support act and her guitarist:

[Excerpt: Tim Buckley, "Sally Go 'Round the Roses"]

Buckley played with Nico for a while, before being replaced by another Tim, Tim Hardin:

[Excerpt: Tim Hardin, "If I Were a Carpenter"]

Hardin caused problems though -- he quickly got nicknamed "Tim Heroin" -- but luckily a replacement was at hand, a teenage fan of Tim Buckley's who had been coming to all of the shows that Buckley had played, and had got to know Morrissey. Soon Nico's accompanist was Jack Browne:

[Excerpt: Jackson Browne, "These Days"]

Browne would of course soon start going by his full name, Jackson Browne.

After extensive delays, the Velvet Underground and Nico album finally came out in March 1967, almost a year after it was recorded, in an expensive package designed by Warhol showing a banana skin. The skin, on these early pressings, was a sticker you could peel off to reveal a very phallic, pink, banana underneath.

There's a line attributed to Brian Eno that the record only sold thirty thousand copies (it actually sold about twice that) but that everyone who bought a copy formed a band. That actually, if anything, undersells its influence, because the record was starting to influence musicians *even before it was released*. A British manager called Kenneth Pitts had visited the Factory in November 66, and had been given an acetate of the album.

The band The Riot Squad, who had been working with Joe Meek up until Meek's suicide, took on a new lead singer who was a client of Pitt's after Meek's death, and they started performing "Waiting For The Man" live with the new singer, who would not perform under his own name but only as "the Toy Soldier", months before the record even came out. And shortly after the album did come out, the Riot Squad went into the studio to cut an original written by "the Toy Soldier", titled "Little Toy Soldier". Well, I say an original... this verse may sound very familiar:

[Excerpt: The Riot Squad, "Little Toy Soldier"]

That track didn't get released at the time, and soon David Bowie was back to being a solo artist.

However, while the album immediately started influencing people, it was a commercial failure. It looked at first as if it might be a success, but then one of the Warhol "superstars", Eric Emerson, sued because the back cover included a photo of the group performing in front of a Warhol film in which Emerson's face was visible. He needed money and hadn't given likeness permission, and so sued hoping to shake down MGM Records. Instead they recalled the album, expensive packaging and all, and reissued it with an airbrushed version of the photo. But the album not being available during the crucial period when it was just beginning to become popular killed all of its momentum.

By that point, though, work had started on Nico's first solo album, titled Chelsea Girl after the theme song Reed had belatedly co-written with Morrison:

[Excerpt: Nico, "Chelsea Girls"]

The album was produced by Tom Wilson, and contained songs written for Nico by Reed, Cale, and Morrison, plus one by Tim Hardin, her version of "I'll Keep it With Mine", and a few by Jackson Browne. For the initial sessions, Nico was backed by one or two accompanists -- Reed and Cale, Reed and Morrison, or Cale alone for the songs written by them, and Browne on the other songs -- but then as he had done successfully with Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel, Wilson supervised an overdub session to which the artist was not invited, this time adding strings and flute:

[Excerpt: Nico, "Chelsea Girls"]

Nico said later "I cried when I heard the album. I cried because of the flute. I hate it so much! It is a great mistake. The arrangements in general were not so good. Even so, I could bear the string sound. But I wish I could take the flute off. There should be a button on record players, a “No Flute” button. There could be an “Add drums” button, too, why not? You would think they could do this. It would be fun to orchestrate some things and to un-orchestrate some things. Well, I wish I could un-orchestrate Chelsea Girl. The flute, anyway. "

Reed agreed, saying “If they’d just have allowed Cale to arrange it and let me do more stuff on it. I mean everything on that song ‘Chelsea Girls,’ those strings, that flute, should have defeated it, but the lyrics, Nico’s voice, managed somehow to survive."

Nico's romantic life had grown ever more complex -- after dating Reed for a while, she'd had a brief affair with Cale, and then had dated Browne, and was now in the process of dumping him for Jim Morrison. Partly to escape from these increased entanglements, and partly to seek medical treatment for a problem with her ears, she flew off to London.

She turned up at the house of an acquaintance, the photographer David Bailey, expecting to be able to stay with him, but he panicked when he saw her on the doorstep with her suitcases, and instead suggested she go to stay with Paul McCartney, who he knew.

She did, and was with him around the time of the release of Sgt Pepper:

[Excerpt: The Beatles, "A Day in the Life"]

That track caused a bit of a faux pas, though. In Nico's words:

"There is a song I liked on Sgt Pepper, called ‘A Day in the Life’. It has a beautiful song and then this  strange sound like John Cale would make (he told me it was an orchestra, actually) and then this stupid little pop song that spoils everything so far. I told this to Paul, and I made a mistake, because the beautiful song was written by John Lennon and the stupid song was written by Paul. It can be embarrassing when you speak the truth."

After Nico had stayed with McCartney for a couple of weeks, Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey turned up in London, wanting to speak with Brian Epstein about the possibility of Epstein promoting a Velvet Underground tour, having heard that he liked the album. When they realised that Nico was trying McCartney's patience, they dragged her back to America, telling her that there was a Velvet Underground gig she had to be at in Boston.

There *was* a Velvet Underground gig in Boston, but when they got there the group refused to let Nico on stage, saying they'd been doing fine without her. Nico essentially told them they could stick their group -- after all, she'd recorded an album by herself and they hadn't -- and flew off to California, where she met up again with her on-again off-again lover Brian Jones and went with him to the Monterey Pop Festival.

This brought to a head things that had been brewing for some time. The group had been getting more and more convinced that Warhol, who had been such an advantage for them early on, was losing interest in them, while Morrissey was always more interested in Nico than in the rest of the band.

The group sacked Warhol and Morrissey at a business meeting the day after the Boston gig, and there are conflicting reports about how amicable the split was, with everyone involved saying different things at different times. There seems to have been some bitterness over some of the business affairs, but still some remaining friendship, if slightly strained, between Reed and Cale on one side and Warhol on the other.

By this time, the group had already been performing, for months, much of the material that would make up their second album -- an album that wouldn't have had any room in it for Nico anyway:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "White Light/White Heat"]

White Light/White Heat was the first studio album just to be released by the Velvet Underground, without any additional members. As it turned out, it was the *only* studio album to be released by the original pre-Nico lineup of the Velvet Underground -- there were five studio albums credited to the group between 1967 and 1973, and no two of them had the same lineup.

Where The Velvet Underground and Nico had been an eleven-track album where Lou Reed's pop sensibility and Cale's avant-garde experimentalism were in a creative tension, here the entire band were united in a drive to make a record that was, in Cale's words, "consciously anti-beauty". Where the majority of the songs on the first album had been credited to Reed alone, as he had brought in the words, chord sequences and melodies around which the band had created the arrangements, this time three of the six songs were credited either to all four of the group members or to Reed, Morrison and Cale, suggesting (and interviews about the album back this up) that they evolved from jam sessions and improvisations.

The lengths of the tracks also bear this out, with two of the three collaborative tracks coming in at mammoth lengths. One, "The Gift", is over eight minutes long and features a rare vocal from Cale. That track was originally an instrumental the group had titled "Booker T.", but Cale suggested that over the instrumental he should recite a short story Reed had written a few years earlier. The story had originally been written as a letter to a long-distance girlfriend of Reed's, with whom he was in an on-again, off-again, relationship for much of the time covered by this episode, and was about a man in a similar relationship who mails himself as a surprise present to his girlfriend -- who then in her haste to open the box and see what's inside stabs it, killing him:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "The Gift"]

The other extra-long track on the album is "Sister Ray", included partly as a favour to Warhol, who while he was no longer the group's manager was still close enough to them to design the cover of the album, uncredited. Warhol apparently told them they had to include that "sucking on my ding-dong song", and so they did, all fourteen minutes of it:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Sister Ray"]

The album is relentless, dark, and brooding. It's a paranoid, angry, scary album, and one that can partly be explained by the change in the principal band members' drug of choice in the two and a half years since the writing of the first album from heroin -- a drug which pacifies you -- to amphetamine, which puts you on edge and makes you, as their original Warhol show had put it, "uptight".

And nowhere could that be seen more than on the title track, which was also the opening track and first single. "White Light/White Heat" is an intense evocation of the amphetamine experience, jittery, hard, and twitchy:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "White Light/White Heat"]

The material on the album was the closest the group ever got to fully expressing the artistic vision that John Cale had for the band, but much like with Chelsea Girl the group, and Cale in particular, were unhappy with the production, again by Tom Wilson.

This time, though, it was not because Wilson took charge of the record and changed it, but because he *didn't* take charge.

Wilson was, without a doubt, one of the great record producers of the 1960s. And he could at times be one of the most imaginative and innovative -- it was him who had turned Dylan electric, and who had turned Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence" from a folk flop to a folk-rock hit.

But he was only a creative producer when he needed to be -- when he was working with musicians who didn't know what they wanted, who needed their ideas shaped. Wilson had come up in jazz, producing records for Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane and others, and in those situations the job of the producer was much the same one that Andy Warhol had performed on the Velvets' first sessions -- to get out of the way, and to stop anyone else getting *in* the way, and let the artists take control. This was what Wilson did, for example, on the early Mothers of Invention albums. Frank Zappa knew what he was doing, and Wilson's job was to let Zappa do it and shield him from record company nonsense.

For White Light/White Heat, Wilson was working with an accomplished engineer, Gary Kellgren, and with musicians he respected, who he'd worked with before, and who he knew had a very clear idea of what they wanted.  Lou Reed had been a staffer at Pickwick -- he knew his way around a studio. John Cale was one of the most highly trained and experienced musicians in the world, not just in rock music. Both those men knew what they were doing, so Wilson stayed out of their way. They didn't have much of a budget, because their first album had been very expensive and sold poorly. They only had a few days' time in the studio, not enough time to do anything fancy, so the best thing to do was let them get on with it.

The problem was that they were used to playing *loud* and wanted the record to sound like they did when they played live, and they insisted on playing at the same volume in the studio that they did on stage, to replicate that sound. Gary Kellgren tried to explain to them that the volumes they were playing at simply couldn't be recorded accurately by the equipment in the studio -- it was overloading and distorting. But they didn't take that in properly -- wasn't distortion what they wanted, anyway?

But when they listened back to the finished record, they realised what Kellgren had been saying. The record sounded flat and overdistorted, and not like they wanted it to at all:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Sister Ray"]

The group were all unhappy with the finished production, but three of the members were particularly unhappy with the mix on one song, "I Heard Her Call My Name":

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "I Heard Her Call My Name"]

The problem with that track, according to Cale, Tucker, and Morrison, was that Reed had gone behind their backs and remixed it, boosting his own vocal. Morrison went so far as to briefly quit the group when he discovered what had been done, which he thought ruined one of the group's best songs.

It's likely that Reed was encouraged in this by the group's new manager, Steve Sesnick, who John Cale described as "a real snake". Cale said of this period "Lou was calling us ‘his band’ while Sesnick was trying to get him to go solo. Maybe it was the drugs he was doing at the time. They certainly didn’t help. Basically, Sesnick just became an apologist for Lou. He was just a yes-man, and he came between us. It was maddening, just maddening. Before, it had always been easy to talk to Lou. Now you had to go through Sesnick, who seemed pretty practiced in the art of miscommunication. We  should have been able to sort out our own problems. He should never have been brought in. Things had been bad between us for a while, but when Sesnick arrived, they got worse."

Despite these problems though, the production on White Light/White Heat has since been praised as an early example of lo-fi recording, and the Velvet Underground's mistake has since been intentionally embraced by generations of garage bands -- something which, if nothing else, must have had some appeal for Cale, as a big part of the avant-garde tradition he came out of comes from John Cage's understanding of Zen, which says there is no such thing as a mistake:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "White Light/White Heat"]

The album came out in early 1968, preceded by the title track, released as a single. Neither was a success, and 1968 was a tough year for the Velvet Underground in many ways. Shortly after the release of the album, Tom Wilson left MGM, meaning they no longer had an advocate with the label.

Then in June, Andy Warhol was attacked by Valerie Solanas, a radical feminist writer and author of the SCUM Manifesto -- SCUM standing for Society for Cutting Up Men. This manifesto argued for the replacement of the capitalist wage-work system with what the kids today would call Fully Automated Luxury Communism, but also argued that all men are inherently genetically inferior and need to be eliminated for the good of womankind.

Solanas was also convinced that Warhol -- to whom she had given a copy of a script she had written, which he had misplaced -- was in a conspiracy to steal her ideas, and shot him. He was actually pronounced dead, but was later revived, though he had severe organ damage, had to wear a surgical truss for the rest of his life, and some have argued that the health problems that eventually led to his death nineteen years later could be traced back to, or at least were exacerbated by, the shooting.

Reed was at first afraid to even phone Warhol in hospital, given how strained their relationship was, but the two soon found themselves gossiping as if nothing had happened. Reed later talked about wanting to execute Solanas for what she'd done, and it also affected his attitudes to his own work. He said  “I had to learn certain things the hard way. But one of those things I learned was work is the whole story. Work is literally everything. Most very big people seem to have enemies, and seem to be getting shot, which is something a lot of people should keep in mind. There is a lot to be said for not being in the limelight.”

But the group struggled on, and went back into the studio, first recording a relatively light poppy song, "Temptation Inside Her Heart", and then the more avant-garde "Hey Mr. Rain", on which Reed's lighthearted melody and Cale's modal viola seem almost to be part of different records:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Hey Mr. Rain"]

That was left unreleased, and would be the last song Cale would record as a member of the band.

Ever since Sesnick had become the group's manager, he had been working at the existing tensions between Reed and Cale's views of the band. Sesnick had been convinced that the Velvet Underground could be the next Beatles -- and he had even worked on Brian Epstein to try to get Epstein involved with their career, before Epstein's death. But he didn't believe that anything like that could happen while John Cale was in the band.

While all the band members made invaluable creative contributions to the records, the core of what made the band so exciting for listeners at the time was the way that Reed would write commercial, hooky, melodies and riffs -- albeit with transgressive lyrics -- but then Cale would twist those melodies in the arrangement, adding incongruous elements that made them sound different from any other band. But in Sesnick's view, it would be even better if they *just* had the commercial, hooky, melodies and riffs.

And he was starting to win Reed round. Reed, of course, had a longstanding relationship with Cale, and had always been eager to incorporate his ideas. But also, it's very hard for even the least egotistical of people -- something nobody has ever accused Reed of being -- to resist being told that they're a genius and that everyone else is hanging on to their coat tails. It's even harder when you're struggling financially and someone points out that your ideas are the kind that will make money, while your collaborator's ideas are the kind that lose money. Why not... just be the boss? Why shouldn't Reed just do things his way without Cale?

This was a persuasive argument, and Sesnick needled at Reed for months, exploiting every tiny interpersonal conflict. Eventually, Reed gave an ultimatum to Morrison and Tucker -- either Cale went or he would. Morrison was given the task of delivering the news of his dismissal to Cale, and never truly forgave Reed, who had previously been his closest friend in the group.

Cale's last show with the group was in September 1968, and that month he also started work on another project -- Danny Fields was by now managing Nico, and she was about to record her second solo album, her first made up of her own songs which she'd started writing after Leonard Cohen had given her a harmonium. Fields asked Cale to act as arranger and de facto producer on the album (Frazer Mohawk, the credited producer, has said that he spent most of the sessions using heroin and not paying attention).

The album, The Marble Index, has been described as the first Goth record, and as the precursor to the experimental music Scott Walker would later do:

[Excerpt: Nico, "Facing the Wind"]

According to Cale, “When we finished it, I grabbed Lou and said, ‘Listen to this: this is what we could have done!’ He was speechless.”

Cale and Nico more or less leave the episode here, but they'll be back in future episodes.

Meanwhile, the Velvet Underground had a new bass player, Doug Yule. Yule was a very good musician, but a far more conventional one than Cale -- he played melodically, and he also sang melodically, having a sweet voice. He was somewhat younger than the rest of the band, and looked up to Reed, and started copying his mannerisms -- though Tucker always thought that Reed had little time for Yule as a person outside of work.

The next album, just titled The Velvet Underground, isn't completely free of the band's more challenging side -- very few people will have thought of the nine-minute-long track "The Murder Mystery" as a hummable piece of bubblegum pop, for example:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "The Murder Mystery"]

But on the whole it was much... *prettier* than the previous album. The album opens with "Candy Says", a song about Candy Darling, a trans woman who was one of Warhol's superstars. Yule sings it gently, and Reed called it "probably the best song I’ve written":

[Excerpt, The Velvet Underground, "Candy Says"]

That would actually be the last song Reed would sing in public, in a performance in 2013, when he knew he was dying, performing with the Johnsons, whose singer, Anohni, came out publicly as trans herself shortly afterwards.

The album is, for the most part, gently melodic, and contains some of the band's most-loved songs. "Jesus" shows that Cale wasn't the only one in the band to be influenced by the Everly Brothers' harmonies:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Jesus"]

"Pale Blue Eyes" is actually a song that Reed had demoed in 1965, and it's quite astonishing that what became one of the group's most loved and most covered songs had been left off their first two albums:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Pale Blue Eyes"]

And "After Hours" features a rare lead vocal by Tucker, as Reed thought the song was too innocent and pure for his voice:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "After Hours"]

Sadly, no matter how commercial they had tried to make the record, it did even worse than its predecessor on the charts, even though it was released on the main MGM label rather than the Verve subsidiary. And once again there was a mixing issue.

The band were all credited as co-producers on the album, but Reed supervised the final mix himself, and did the same thing that he'd done on "I Heard Her Call My Name", pushing his own vocals up in the mix and moving the other musicians back. Sterling Morrison said the result sounded like it was mixed in a closet. The album was pulled and replaced with another mix, approved of by the other members, which has become the standard version of the album -- though Reed's version, labelled the "closet mix", has been included as a bonus on some expanded reissues of it.

Morrison was by this point utterly sick of Lou Reed -- between his shenanigans with the mixes and him getting Morrison to do his dirty work, Morrison had no time for him at all any more, and would barely speak to him for the rest of the group's career.

With the failure of The Velvet Underground, the group decided they needed a new record label. This was especially true since MGM had just taken on a new CEO, Mike Curb, who was obsessed with the bottom line, and who was also shortly to be given an award by President Nixon for his work in cleaning up music and getting rid of drug-influenced lyrics. They started looking for another label, but they still owed MGM fourteen tracks, so shortly after the release of The Velvet Underground, they went back into the studio, with a returning Gary Kellgren, and cut an album that they already knew was likely not to be released.

It says something about the group that this album, the tracks from which didn't come out until the 1980s, is still a solid record with several tracks that are now regarded as classics.

"Lisa Says" was one of several songs from the album that Reed would later reuse for his first solo album:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Lisa Says"]

While "I'm Sticking With You", another song with a Moe Tucker lead vocal, would be used as a basis for an entire career by about a million twee indie-pop bands in the nineties and early 2000s:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "I'm Sticking With You"]

The album wasn't released, as they knew it wouldn't be, and the group moved on to Atlantic Records. But by this point, Sesnick had been up to his tricks again. Doug Yule had quickly become a hugely popular member of the band -- he had a pleasant voice, he was good-looking, and unlike the other members he would do the traditional rock musician act on stage. And he'd also idolised Reed so much that he'd picked up a lot of Reed's mannerisms and attitudes, including his desire to be in charge.

Sesnick started to wonder if the Velvet Underground really *needed* Lou Reed. Reed was a difficult man to work with, and Yule was far more pliable. Sesnick started to manipulate Yule in exactly the same way he'd previously manipulated Reed, talking about how he was the star and should be the leader.

Yule was in an even better position when it came to recording the next album, Loaded. Tucker had got pregnant, and couldn't physically reach the drums in her normal position because her belly was in the way. She had to take maternity leave, and in her place came Doug's brother Billy, who drummed with the band for six dollars a day -- though several other people also provided drum tracks for the album, none of whom could replicate Moe Tucker's sound.

Sterling Morrison *was* on the album, but by this point he was also a part-time student, and for large parts of the album left Reed and Yule to get on with it.

The result is arguably the closest thing the group ever did to a commercial record.

"Rock and Roll" shows that there's less distinction between the Velvets and Bruce Springsteen than fans of either might want to admit:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Rock and Roll"]

"Who Loves the Sun", with Doug Yule on lead, showed that Reed hadn't forgotten the songwriting lessons he'd internalised when he was making Beach Boys knockoffs years earlier:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Who Loves the Sun"]

And "Sweet Jane" became one of the group's most covered songs:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "Sweet jane"]

The album was meant to be a fresh start for the group, but by the time they finished recording it, Reed was out of the band. Reed said later "There were a lot of things going on that summer. Internally, within the band, the situation, the milieu, and especially the management. Situations that could only be solved by as abrupt a departure as possible once I had made the decision. I just walked out because we didn’t have any money, I didn’t want to tour again—I can’t get any writing done on tour, and the grind is terrible—and I’d wondered for a long time if we were ever going to be accepted on a large scale. Words can’t do justice to the way I got worked over with the money."

The group were playing again in New York. They had a residency at Max's Kansas City, Andy Warhol's favourite nightclub, during the recording of Loaded. Brigid Polk, one of Warhol's "superstars", happened by pure coincidence to record the night of Reed's last gig:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "White Light/White Heat (live)"]

Even more coincidentally, Moe Tucker had decided to turn up to watch her bandmates perform. Reed hadn't told any of the band members that he was quitting, and she was the first he told. The others only found out when Reed's parents came to pick him up -- they were taking him back home to Long Island.

When Loaded came out, Reed found that Yule had done what the other band members had always been upset at Reed for doing -- he'd radically remixed and edited several of Reed's songs, without telling him.

The group struggled on without Reed for a while -- Moe did rejoin the group after her maternity leave. But first Morrison left the group, and then Sesnick fired everyone except Doug Yule. The final Velvet Underground album, Squeeze, which came out in 1973 is a Doug Yule solo album, with Yule playing everything except the drums, which are played by Ian Paice of Deep Purple, and a little bit of saxophone:

[Excerpt: The Velvet Underground, "She'll Make You Cry"]

Doug Yule hated the final mix of the album, which was done by Steve Sesnick, who ignored his input.

There's one final anecdote about the group that's worth telling though. I'm going to quote an English fan here, talking about a gig he attended:

"I was singing along with the band, stuck right there at the apron of the stage. 'Waiting For The Man', 'White Light/ White Heat', 'Heroin'...All that kind of stuff. And then after the show, I went back stage and I knocked on the door, and I said "Is Lou Reed in? I'd love to talk to him, I'm from England, cos I'm in music too, and he's a bit of a hero to me." This guy said "Wait here". And Lou comes out and we sat talking on the bench for about quarter of an hour about writing songs, and what it?s like to be Lou Reed, and all that...and afterwards I was floating on a cloud, and went back to my hotel room.

"I said to this guy that I knew in New York: "I've just seen the Velvet Underground and I got to talk with Lou Reed for fifteen minutes", and he said, "Yeah? Lou Reed left the band last year, I think you've been done." I said, "It looked like Lou Reed" and he said "That's Doug Yule, he's the guy that took over from Lou Reed." I thought what an impostor, wow, that's incredible. It doesn't matter really, cos I still talked to Lou Reed as far as I was concerned. "

David Bowie, who told that anecdote, was inspired by the idea that a fake rocker could be a real one. That was the missing piece he needed to go with his thoughts about Vince Taylor and a rock and roll messiah. Soon after that meeting, he created Ziggy Stardust.

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