Many of you are attending your first show this weekend. Here are some memories I have about my first show.
In order to avoid permit problems, this concert was billed as "The Straight Theater School of Dance." It was held at the Straight Theater, which was an old Vaudeville movie theater in the middle of the Haight that was renovated during the 1960's.
I joined the band during the second set. From some early tapes and folks who were there, we're pretty sure we opened with "Alligator" into "Caution." Some rare audio exists, but it is not easy to come by a digital version to share.
It was amazing and my life was changed forever – as many of ours are, once we've tasted life on the bus.
Over the next 50 years, my new friends and I would explore all that creativity had to offer. Complex, multi-rhythmic explorations, psychotropic drug use, and I even experimented with hypnosis. I used to try to hypnotize Billy to see if I could mesh our two drumming styles at a subconscious level.
I had met Billy earlier in 1967 through a customer of our drum shop: Sonny Payne, the drummer for Count Basie. Sonny was playing a gig at The Fillmore Auditorium. It was at this gig where I was introduced to Billy. After the gig was over, Billy, Sonny and I left the Fillmore to go check out Big Brother and the Holding Company at the Matrix. Sonny wasn't enjoying the show and left early. I, on the other hand, loved their style and spent the rest of the night hanging out with Billy. We bought a bottle of Scotch and wandered through the Haight, drinking and drumming on parked cars.
Shortly thereafter, Billy invited me to check out a Grateful Dead rehearsal. There was no GPS back then and I remember I could never find their rehearsal space. But when Billy invited me to their show at the Straight Theater, I knew exactly where that was. He invited me to sit in with the band during the second set. For nearly two hours we performed the song “Alligator." After that night, I moved into a closet in Billy and Phil's apartment on Belvedere and became the sixth member of the Grateful Dead.
In 1968 I was the first Grateful Dead member to move out of the Haight-Ashbury district. I rented a 32-acre ranch outside Novato, California. Pigpen and his girlfriend became my roommates and my barn became our rehearsal spot.
Our early years were some of the most exciting times for me. Being a student of Ustad Alla Rakha (Ravi Shankar's tabla player), I learned how to create new time signatures. I introduced this methodology to Billy and we started to create rhythms together that were never heard before. This was the birth of seven-count beats over five-count beats and eleven-count beats over nine-count beats. Some of the best music the Grateful Dead ever made would come from these techniques.
We'd go on over the next 50 years to celebrate anything and everything life could throw at us. Our creative juices knew no bounds. Our music, our friendships, our stage set-ups, our light shows, our ticketing — everything was uniquely ours. These Fare Thee Well shows are our way of saying thanks. To all of you, to all of my brothers who are no longer with us, and to our celebration of the music that's been shaking our bones for over 5 decades.
With love, humility and kindness, I'll see you this weekend for the ultimate jam session.
– Dedicated to Jerry, Pigpen, Vince, Brent, Keith, Owsley, and the countless others who've shaped my life. I know they are watching from above. Jerry would never miss the show of the century.