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the Band Family Tree | The Early Days

The Early Days of the New Riders (continued)


Early NRPS
(l-r): John Dawson, Dave Torbert and David Nelson 1970 Photo by Herb Greene

Let me fast-forward now to about March of 1969. I was back in the Bay Area and going to a junior college in Los Altos Hills called, amazingly enough, Foothill. One day, three friends (Chris Herold, Matt Kelly, and Dave Torbert) and I decided to take a trip to Pinnacles National Monument, a little more than an hour away, to take a trip on some Mescalin that Torbert had scored. For me, it was an enlightening, apocalyptic experience. But, like all enlightening experiences, I can't really tell you about it because you had to be me, there, experiencing it and you aren't and you weren't. I saw that I couldn't really explain what had happened to me because I had only just begun to draw lines between all the dots of information and experience that I had had in my life and, although it was clear to me at the time, a picture that I could share with others was impossible. All you can do is try to draw one or two of the lines between two or three of the dots that you know you have in common with somebody, (although with songwriters it's anybody who'll listen), and hope that that person can see the connection that you're trying to make. Not everyone will get it, and if they do, it's with their dots, not yours although we all come with the Human Kit and so lots of those dots are similar, which is why we can communicate at all.

So, I came back from Pinnacles thinking that I knew everything but realizing that it was hard to tell anyone about it. But I could do what I then realized that other authors had been doing forever, which was to leave little signposts lying around, to help me remember the way I had found to a place in my mind where at least I understood. I cried for the first time in years because I realized I was lonely. The Mescaline did that, but the signposts from everyone and everything else had been there all along. I just had to put them together for myself.

That doesn't make much sense, or does it? All I know is that we all need each other in this big, bad, hostile world and the Golden Rule is still the best one. I wrote "Last Lonely Eagle" a few days after Pinnacles. Then I got (and luckily wrote down) the idea for "Henry". A little while later, I heard a DJ on the radio station in San Francisco say something like, "Hey, you know, if you really think about it man, this IS the Garden of Eden. Right here. Right now." That, of course got "Garden of Eden" started.

Jerry Garcia 1970
Photo by Robert Altman

All during those times, the Dead had been doing their thing, and I mine. In May, 1969, I had got a job at a Little Hofbrau house in Menlo Park called the Underground. Every week on Wednesdays, I played my guitar and sang songs to the people as they munched their hand-carved roast beef or turkey sandwiches and drank their beer. One day I went up to Novato to visit the Dead at their practice hall. They had just got back from a road trip that included Denver, where Jerry had been to a store that sold them and had bought back a genuine Pedal Steel Guitar. Wow. I asked Jerry could I see it, could I hear it? He said, no, 'cause it was at his house in Larkspur, but I could come over that evening if I wanted and he'd have it all set up. I went over to his house that evening with my guitar and we started out just playing country and western songs that we both knew. This was Jerry's second pedal steel. Owsley gave him a Fender pedal steel when the band was all living at 710 Ashbury St. but he sold it within months. Now he had a much better one and he started to be able to do some of the stuff that he could hear in his head. When the evening got late, Jerry still wanted to play some more so we agreed that he would come down the next Wednesday and sit in on my gig at the Underground. We were a hit, sort of.

Matrix PosterFor the next several Wednesdays, almost a couple of months worth, I think, kids would empty out of the pizza shop a block up the street and come down to the Underground to hear Jerry (for sure) and me (I think they liked the songs; they applauded) play. Well, we decided that we would like a bigger band and that we would like to play in bars and Grange Halls, like a real country-western band. We called up David Nelson, who was playing in what was left of Big Brother after Janis left and they weren't doing much, I'd guess because they hadn't found a new girl singer. So David said sure, he would like to play lead guitar in a band with me as the singer and Jerry as the pedal steel. This country thing that Jerry was doing was beginning to get some notice in the Dead scene and Mickey Hart said he wouldn't mind playing drums. After Bob Mathews didn't work out on the bass, Phil Lesh said he'd give it a try. So there we had it: a full, five-piece band. And the neat thing was, the Dead would only have to buy two more plane tickets and we could go on the road with them, as an opening act. It would give Jerry, Phil and Mickey a chance to warm up before THEIR set and it would give our music and my songs a national audience. After doing more gigs than I can remember locally that summer, we did the two extra ticket thing and went on the road with The Grateful Dead in the fall of 1969.

Thanks to Owsley for his notes and to Janez Guna for being such a fan. And, of course, thank you, Richard, for IAN. (This seems like an afterthought but it has to be in here: thanks to Jerry for just being.)

It ain't over yet, folks. We got us a new century. I just got tired of going on the road all the time so I moved to Mexico.

Hasta luego, for now.

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