01 Sep GRATEFUL DEAD- “THEIR BUS CAME BY AND I GOT ON”
The GRATEFUL DEAD-
“THEIR BUS CAME BY AND I GOT ON”
by BEN UPHAM III
Written on September 1, 2011
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area I knew plenty of people who were really into the Grateful Dead. By 1976 I had heard a fair amount of their music, yet it never really grabbed me or made a fan out of me. I felt they sounded good, but they just didn’t rock with the intensity that my favorite bands of the day did (Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Grand Funk, Mahogany Rush etc.)
Because of this mindset I had never attended a Grateful Dead concert.
When I moved to Spokane, Wa. in August of 1976 I didn’t consider myself to be a Deadhead at all. That was to change in a big way when I went down to visit my parents for Christmas and New Years in 1977.
My good friend Chris (aka Brian) Mulhern convinced me to go see the Dead at Winterland on 12-27-77, the first of their 4-show New Years run.
I already had a ticket for the New Years Eve show in Oakland featuring Sammy Hagar and Heart, but was actually quite excited about seeing the Dead at Winterland, as I was curious as to what all of the buzz was about.
We arrived at Winterland a little early so we could hang out in line and get “ready” for the show. It had been a while since I had gone to a Winterland concert so it was nice spending time reconnecting to its Magical energy!
I figured that it would be a good show, but nothing could’ve prepared me for what was about to happen. It was indeed a show that would change my outlook on life…
One of the first things that I noticed once we were let into the venue was how happy everybody was! Huge smiles and wide grins were plastered over nearly everyone’s face. People were dancing while they walked and I was beginning to sense that something unusually interesting was about to happen.
At most of the Winterland shows I’d photographed over the previous 3 years I had opted for a favorite spot of mine, front row balcony, stage left, as it afforded a great unobstructed view as well as less bumping! Chris however, convinced me that I’d enjoy the show much better down on the floor, up close to the band and their energy. Not a problem!
We got situated about 15-20 feet from the stage, right in the center. At show time, the concert promoter, my neighbor Bill Graham, came out and introduced the band members one by one to the crowds roar of approval. I was starting to feel an interesting rush from all of the exuberant positive energy coming from the audience!
As the band started in with their opening song, “Bertha”, I realized that “everyone” was dancing! This caused my feet to “get happy” as well and I found myself moving to the sound. The band was loud and clear, the music was full of life and fresh joy. There was a constant stream of joints being passed and the vibe was getting higher by the second! Then Jerry Garcia started his first guitar solo of the evening. Stumbling and climbing, reaching and finding, grinning and glaring, Jerry’s fingers were starting to fly and the appreciative crowd was more than Grateful to be along for the ride!
I was really enjoying the sound, yet it was something much larger that was happening all around me that was really blowing me away. Like a huge dose of shared magic! It was beyond vision or sound, it was like Spiritual community! I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it all at this point but I was thoroughly enjoying my first Live Grateful Dead experience!
As the show progressed the energy continued to build at a nice, easy, and comfortable pace. The songs sounded only vaguely like the studio versions I’d heard. They had much more depth and vibrancy in their live presentation and the sound quality was stunningly clean and powerful.
I started to take a few pictures at that point and noticed myself mainly being drawn to shoot Jerry. His unique guitar style sounded like some form of “Cosmic Noodling”…
I noticed that Phil Lesh was playing bass in a way that I had only experienced from Tommy Caldwell of the Marshall Tucker Band, where the Bass would pulse and swell and fill the space around you with a very thick sounding bottom end. Bob Weir was the most unusual sounding rhythm guitarist that I had ever seen or heard as well, sometimes making his guitar sound like a chiming bell! Jerry and Bob were trading off on the lead vocals and both had distinct and pleasing vocal styles, not as “polished” as some lead singers that I’d heard, yet that was refreshing. There was something very interesting about those guys, they seemed to be both normal and unusual at the same time if that is possible.
Towards the end of the 70 minute first set the band pulled off an incredible trick! Jerry’s solo on “Friend of the Devil” started to “walk around my body”…At first I thought that it was just me, but then I noticed that many of the folks around me were spinning around and checking it out as well! The band had turned on some speakers at the back of the arena, and were playing with a quadraphonic mix! At that point the energy turned absolutely Unreal and I felt I was finally starting to connect with the Dead!!!
Their overall sound was quite different than any band I’d ever heard, which is a good thing. The Drummers, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart were in blissful cosmic synchronization. Keith Godchaux was delicately filling in the empty spaces with gentle, subtle piano fills, and his gorgeous wife Donna Jean was singing and dancing and radiating lots of great positive spirit!
The first set ended with a smoking energetic rendition of “The Music Never Stopped” from the “Blues for Allah” album. I was familiar with that song but had never heard it sound so good before!
The Second set really frosted my cake! Ask any Deadhead who possesses a recording of this show and you’ll hear about how fortunate I was to have had that be my first live show by the Dead. “Cold Rain & Snow”, “Lazy Lightning-Supplication”, “Scarlet-Fire”, “Estimated Prophet”, “He’s Gone”, “Truckin”, “Wharf Rat”, “Around & Around” and “Samson”!!!
After that concert I had a craving to hear more of the Dead’s Music and have obtained all of their official stuff and tons of live tapes as well! There’s a lot of it out there if you want it…
Sometime during the second set, I believe that it was during “Estimated Prophet” I had a very interesting epiphany of assumed understanding occur that has amazed me to this day. It seemed to me as if the band had purposely imploded a song with each of the musicians heading off into different musical directions? It made no sense and I could only follow each direction as I concentrated on that particular band member since nothing seemed in harmony. Then, it was like they were reconstructing the main theme of the song and repairing the implosions effects. The song was being rebuilt right in front of you! It was the witnessing of this phenomena that was so amazing. It’s like you were seeing a new song being born right there in front of you.
This was my initiation to the world of the Deadheads and I have met so many wonderful friends through this common appreciation that it’s been a long strange and very fine trip!
Click Here to see my Winterland 12-27-77 Dead Photos:
WINTERLAND 12-27-77 PHOTOS
My next Dead experience happened almost a year later when I saw the Bob Weir Band and the Jerry Garcia Band play a show in Cheney, Wa. on 10-27-78. Details and memoirs from that evening will be discussed in another article.
The next, and only other time that I saw the Grateful Dead in concert, was on June 14th 1980 at the Coliseum in Spokane, Wa. The Spokane show was equally impressive and I was an official Deadhead by that point in time so I understood what was going on a little bit better.
The morning of the show I headed to the Spokane Sheraton Hotel at around 10:00 A.M. with my wife Jessie and Son Jeremiah (Jerry). We were hoping that the band would be staying there and on arrival we were able to verify that they did have reservations! I had brought along some pictures that I’d shot at the Winterland show as well as four album jackets and a special gift for Jerry that was a picture I’d taken of the timberline on Mt. Spokane with Jerry’s face superimposed in the sky as the Sun… I called it “The Sun of Garcia”. At about 10:30 the band arrived and we approached them with photos in hand… The band huddled around us like a football team and they seemed genuinely interested in the pictures and having a chat. I was having good rapport with Jerry and everything else around me seemed to go out of focus. I asked Jerry if he would sign a few of my photos and the album covers and he said “Sure”. He signed the pictures and the “Terrapin Station”, and “Blues for Allah” and bootleg album “Farewell to Winterland” album jackets but refused to sign the final album as he claimed it was a “lousy recording”, (he was right). After about 10 minutes we said goodbye and were on our way. A short but very sweet encounter with the Grateful Dead that I will always remember fondly!
Whereas the first Dead concert at Winterland in 1977 had a local Bay Area crowd in attendance, the Spokane show had people that had come from Idaho, Montana, California, Oregon, West side of Washington and even Alaska! Although the show was sold out I really wonder how many in attendance were actually from Spokane?
The band were touring in support of their newest album, “Go to Heaven” and had one personnel change since my first Dead show. Brent Mydland had taken the place of Keith Godchaux on keyboards and was doing some of Donna Jean’s harmony parts vocally. Brent made his presence known from the very start of the show as he added a really nice bouncy keyboard solo to the opening song “Alabama Getaway”. He also played and sang one of his own compositions, “Far from me” from the new album later on in the first set.
The Spokane show was every bit as high as the Winterland show and featured excellent renditions of “Friend of the Devil”, “Lost Sailor”, “Looks Like Rain”, “Stella Blue”, and “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” among others! I didn’t bring my camera to the show and of course now, 31 years later, I sure wish I had…
The party continued on after the show and at around 12:30 A.M. I had the brilliant (& rather Stoned) idea to “call up Jerry’s room at the Sheraton” to thank him personally for the excellent show. I dialed the Sheraton and asked to “please be connected to Mr. Jerry Garcia’s room”. The phone started ringing and I knew he wouldn’t pick it up, and then he did! He said “Hello” and I nearly shit! I tried to compose myself and was barely able to utter, “Hi, is this Jerry”. The recognizable voice said, “Yeah man, who’s this”. I told him that it was Ben, the guy he’d met earlier that day in the Sheraton lobby and he said, “Oh yeah, thanks again for the cool photo”. I will admit that I was pretty high at that moment and it was all I could manage to barely squeak out, “Great show tonight Jerry, the Stella Blue made me cry it was so beautiful”. He thanked me and then there was SILENCE… I couldn’t even talk at that point because I was in a state of shock! Honestly, I really didn’t think I would get connected when I made that call. After what seemed like 30 seconds, but was probably 10, I heard pig-like “oinking” sounds, no kidding. This went on for about 5 seconds and then I heard a dial tone.
I saw Jerry play 3 more times as the Jerry Garcia Band (JGB) and he never failed to put a big smile on my soul with his incredible magical music. I have collected several hundred Grateful Dead & JGB concert tapes and now own all of their CD and DVD catalog.
The Grateful Dead are an American Treasure and I find it very interesting that people seem to either love them or can’t stand them, it’s pretty obvious where I stand, yet it took being there to convert me and make me a believer! That is how I got on their Bus and now it’s still going Furthur in 2011…
Ben’s Grateful Dead Recommendations:
Studio Album- “Blues for Allah” (1975)
Live Album- “Live Dead” (1969)
DVD- “Ticket to New Years” (12-31-87)
Favorite Song- “Dark Star”
GRATEFUL DEAD DISCOGRAPHY:
1967 The Grateful Dead
1968 Anthem of the Sun
1969 Live dead
1970 Workingman’s Dead
1970 American Beauty
1971 Grateful Dead (Skull & Roses)
1972 Europe ’72 (Live)
1973 History of the Grateful Dead (Bear’s Choice)
1973 Wake of the Flood
1974 Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel
1975 Blues for Allah
1976 Steal your Face (Live)
1977 Terrapin Station
1978 Shakedown Street
1980 Go to Heaven
1981 Reckoning (Acoustic Live)
1981 Dead Set (Electric Live)
1987 In the Dark
1989 Dylan & the Dead
1989 Built to Last
1990 Without a Net (Live)