Sometime in 1969, Mickey Hart moved to an unused ranch near Novato Road in Novato, CA, in Marin County. Neither Hart nor the Grateful Dead had much money at the time. Nonetheless, land in rural Novato was cheap in those days--believe it or not--and Hart found a way. According to McNally, the land belonged to the city of Novato, and Hart was technically the caretaker, for the princely sum of just $250 a month. The ranch rapidly became a clubhouse for the boys in the band and their crew. Apparently some members of the crew lived on the ranch between tours. At least some key crew members were from the tiny cattle ranching town of Hermiston, OR. Hart was actually an experienced horseman, surprisingly enough, but I suspect the crew members must have introduced the suburbanites who made up the rest of the Grateful Dead to the pleasures of rural Oregon: riding horses, shooting off guns and so on.
Sometime in late 1970, a studio was built on Hart's ranch, in the barn. At this time, home studios were not really viable propositions, so a band member having his own studio was a radical concept. Having a home studio in a room big enough to include a whole rock band was even more radical. The Dead's finances were even worse in 1970 than they were in 1969, so how the studio was financed is also in question. JGMF found some evidence that Columbia Records helped to put down some money for it. My own thesis was that producer Alan Douglas was romancing the Dead on behalf of Columbia president Clive Davis, in the hopes that the Dead would sign with Columbia when their Warner Brothers Records contract expired. [Update: McNally said that Dan Healy provided the designs for the electronics, and former Carousel Ballroom carpenter Johnny De Foncesca Sr actually built the renovations.]
Mickey Hart left the Grateful Dead in February, 1971, but he didn't leave the Grateful Dead orbit. Hart's studio, alternately called The Barn or Rolling Thunder on the backs of albums, was the first studio facility that was completely in control of a member or members of the Grateful Dead. It was followed by the studio in Bob Weir's garage (usually called Ace's), and then by Club Front.
In the early 1970s, recording studios in San Francisco were doing big business. Places like Wally Heider's, Columbia Studios and many others were making a lot of records. However, while those studios were excellent, they were also expensive and had to be booked far in advance. Hart's Barn in Novato offered a low-key alternative for the Grateful Dead and their friends and fellow travelers.
It's my contention that the Grateful Dead's ill-fated but fascinating effort to go independent in late 1972 was predicated on the availability of Mickey Hart's studio. Something like a Jerry Garcia solo album could be recorded at a major studio, but some of the more quixotic projects that the Dead were involved in had different financing and scheduling issues, and The Barn was perfect. This post will review the various album projects that appear to have been undertaken at The Barn from 1971 through 1976, considered in the context of Round Records and the music industry, rather than specifically with reference to the music that was produced. For clarity, I have chosen to refer to the studio as The Barn rather than as Rolling Thunder.
The Grateful Dead's plan to have their own record companies, Grateful Dead and Round, was years ahead of its time. The idea to have a dedicated studio at The Barn was also years ahead of its time. Both plans were too far ahead of their time to make economic sense. A few decades later, many acts had their own record companies and worked out of home studios, recording whatever they liked--David Grisman is a great current example--but the Dead started the train rolling before the track was finished. This post will look at the Dead's effort to be a forward looking, independent music company from the point of view of the album projects recorded at The Barn in Novato from 1971 through 1976. (source)
August 21, 1971 Mickey Hart's Barn, Novato, CA
The Jerry Site references a circulating tape of a jam at Mickey Hart's barn in Novato on August 21, 1971, featuring Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, David Crosby, Bob Weir and John Cipollina. Yet what were all those fine players doing there? Although the great guitarist John Cipollina died far too early in 1989, his personal and musical impact was so widespread that his musical career has been very well documented. When looking up the history of the August 21 jam on the Cipollina site, a comment from correspondent "Rick" explains the history of how the barn jam tape was made. My focus here is not on the barn jam, but on what the players were doing there in the first place. Note my bolded text in the following quote from 'Rick.'
The New Riders of the Purple Sage were going to be taped by KQED (PBS) at Mickey Hart's Ranch in Novato and a friend asked me if I wanted to go (thanks Michael!). When we arrived, a stage was setup outside and there were lots of familiar San Francisco music scene people and their families present. The vibes were hip, and good, to say the least. The opening group was Shanti, followed by the New Riders. When the taping was finished some musicians meandered into Mickey's barn where he had a modest recording studio set up. When I walked in Jerry Garcia and David Crosby were trying some things out (Fresh Green Grass). I turned on my cassette recorder, lashed my mic to an open mic stand, and sat down to enjoy a remarkable early evening of music. Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Bob Weir, John Cipollina and others floated in and out of the lineup. At some point Crosby left, then Garcia. John had come in and had picked up a Rickenbacker slide guitar* that he detailed with his characteristic Quicksilver sound. He went to his car for his ax and came back to do his part in this recipe for jam. I taped until they all stopped, we all said good-bye and left.. Enjoy this recording of a spontaneous day. Recorded on a Sony TC-24 with supplied Sony stereo mic**. Not a bad unit for the day.
Thus it seems that KQED-tv, the Public Television station for San Francisco (Channel 9) was recording a performance of the New Riders. Hart's Novato ranch was not a concert venue, so the public would not have been invited. The implication seems to have been that Grateful Dead families and friends acted as the audience. This would not have happened by accident. TV equipment in the seventies was quite bulky, so any pro-shot video would have been a major production. I know of no trace of an audio or video recording of this event, and I have never seen the date listed on any NRPS concert or performance list. What might be the context of this event, and where might there be a trace of it? (source)