In March of 1981 I landed in London on tour with the band that my dad, Bill, was a founding member of, the Grateful Dead. The Dead were in England to play a four night run at the Rainbow Theatre as part of a short European trip. That came about because Pete Townshend had phoned Jerry Garcia and asked the band to play with The Who on a German television show called Rockpalast.
As odd as the pairing of these two 60s bands seemed, they had worked together before and the groups had a respect for each other, particularly Townshend and Garcia, who seemed to be two sides of the same 60s rock legend coin.
As the Rockpalast show neared the old stories started coming out. The Who and the Dead first met in 1967 when they both played at the Monterey Pop Festival. The Dead had the misfortune of having to go on between The Who and Jimi Hendrix!
In a 1994 interview Jerry Garcia recalls meeting The Who at Monterey:
We were scheduled to go on after The Who. They had been out at our motel all the previous night trying to get Pigpen (original Dead member) to come out. ‘Cause they’d heard about Pigpen and they wanted to party with the Pig. He wasn’t having any, he wasn’t opening the door for no English guys. Anyway, we’d heard a little about The Who by reputation but we had no idea what their act was like. So we’re standing there watchin’ and their music is good, they’re playing solid and Daltrey’s singing good. Then they do ‘My Generation’ and do their destructo routine. We didn’t realize they’d made an art of blowing shit up. It wasn’t just something they did, they were good at it. So we’re standing there amidst the debris and smoke and it’s time for us to go on. I don’t think anybody even saw us, they were still recovering from The Who. So we went on and played our set and then Jimi came on and just annihilated the place and then he destroyed all his shit, too. We might as well not have been there.
By the time 1976 rolled around both bands had achieved the unthinkable and remained together as groups, working night after night on the road since the mid-sixties. The two Day On The Green shows, put on by Bill Graham, were my first introduction to The Who.
Even though I was only 7 years of age I already had a frightful impression of these crazy hotel wreckers from England. My dad had to pull me from behind his leg, which I’d been using to hide behind, in order to introduce me to Keith Moon. To my surprise he seemed very sweet as he bent down so he could shake my hand and say hello. In the dressing room the two bands traded war stories. The Dead’s other guitarist Bob Weir asked Moon if it was true that he had driven a Rolls Royce into a swimming pool and Keith said “If you’ve got it, sink it.”
After the Dead’s set the second day Pete came up to Jerry and told him that he was amazed that after watching two different shows the Dead had not repeated one song. The Who had been doing the same show for the last year and a half, Townshend told him.
Sitting on my dad’s shoulders as The Who started playing, I got the feeling one gets just before a roller coaster ride speeds up. From my angle I could see WHO written in bold letters on the top of Pete’s amp and watched wide eyed when Keith stood on top of his massive drum set. Before The Who’s encore the second day Pete dedicated “Shakin’ All Over” to the Grateful Dead and their fans.
One time when both bands were at the Navaro Hotel in New York, Jerry Garcia heard what sounded like a bird thumping on his window. Minutes later the sound was more like a knocking, which wouldn’t be strange if he had not been on the tenth floor. Pulling open his curtains Garcia found Keith Moon peering at him from the small ledge outside.
Amazed, Jerry invited Keith into his room and Moon explained that since he had climbed out the window of his room he couldn’t get back in because it was dead bolted. Without another word Keith started tearing through the wall in Jerry’s closet until he had dug himself a hole big enough to crawl through. Mission accomplished, Moon and Garcia went out for a night on the town where Keith got away with things, such as biting pretty girls’ asses, that would get Jerry slapped if he tried.
So years later I’m sitting with some of the Dead family in the restaurant of our German hotel and keep looking at the loud table of Who people. Following my dad over he introduces me and my hand is pulled around the table by the band’s crew while John Entwistle and Kenney Jones continue to eat oblivious to their pranks.
When two crazy outfits like The Who and the Grateful Dead got together I’m surprised the hotel was still standing by the morning. I passed Roger Daltrey as he and two huge roadies were on their way to see if they could break into the hotel’s closed work-out room. My dad and the Dead’s other percussionist, Mickey Hart, sat on either side of Kenney Jones and they all tried to one up each other, story for story, drink for drink.
Garcia and Dead manager Rock Scully walked outside where they found Pete sitting alone on a bench. His mood was black as Pete told them The Who were finished and he couldn’t face going on with all the problems in the group. Doing what anyone from the San Francisco 60s scene would do, Jerry and Rock took some acid with Pete. As the effect of the drug started Pete’s mood seemed to lift when he looked around and said “nature, bloody hell, it’s still out here.”
Back inside the hotel’s two bars were almost completely destroyed by the crew members of both bands. The floor was carpeted with broken glass, the video games were smashed and if there was a single glass that had not been thrown against the wall it was because somebody had not seen it.
Next morning I was walking down the hall with one of the Dead’s girlfriends who asked if I was going to catch the early van to see The Who’s show. Saying no, the man in front turned and questioned: “You’re not going to go and see The Who?” Years later I recognized that he was Richard Barnes and got to thank him for convincing me to go to the show.
The Who’s set blew me away that night. From the laser lights during “Who Are You” to the sheer power of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” As they watched “Pinball Wizard” on the monitors backstage my dad told the Dead’s sound mixer that they really needed to play into the vocal and get as much punch as possible so they wouldn’t sound flat compared to The Who. After The Who’s encore they walked into the backstage area as Garcia was going into his dressing room. When Townshend sees him he yelled “GARCIA!” and then followed him inside his room.
Later during the Grateful Dead’s part of the show Pete came into our dressing room and sat down next to me. Pete looked edgy as he looked around and realised he was in the wrong room before walking out again. Towards the show’s end Pete got on-stage with the Dead and played three songs. Unlike most musicians who sit in, Townshend didn’t just stand to the side but got in the middle of the stage and jumped around. I was watching from the side and I thought he looked cool even when Pete was just lighting a cigarette and dancing to parts of the songs he didn’t know.
As the sun was rising the bus dropped us off back at the hotel after the very long Rockpalast show. Entering the lobby, who should be laying on the couch but Townshend who raised his arm and shouted “GARCIA!”
A year and a half later my dad and I were backstage at The Who’s 1982 concert at Oakland Stadium. Since getting back from Germany The Who flame had been burning so strong that nothing else seemed to matter to me. After the show we went into Townshend’s dressing room where he introduced us to his wife Karen. Pete said that sitting in with the Dead at Rockpalast was hard because he was having the chords shouted at him. He was also surprised at having trouble keeping up at some points because he thought the Dead never rehearsed. My dad asked why Rabbit is not playing with The Who this tour and Pete said “he’s got great ears but when he gets money it goes up his nose and into his brain.” Knowing what a Who freak I had become my dad asked Pete to sign a tour program. As he did I told him that he signs autographs like my dad and Pete looks up and says “what, you mean a scribble?”
The following year I had everyone in the Grateful Dead sign one of their programs for Pete. In his return letter Pete asked me to give his love to all the guys in the Dead and wrote that The Who had really ceased to function. Around that time Jerry Garcia told Musician magazine “The Who are one of the few truly important architects of rock ‘n’ roll. Townshend may be one of rock’s rare authentic geniuses.”