Monday, March 29, 2010

Phil Lesh's Alembic F-2B Tube Preamp

Artifact of the Week: Phil Lesh's Alembic F-2B Tube Preamp
Tape of the Week: Video of 6/21/71 (Le Chateau d'Herouville, France)

This week's Artifact of the Week comes directly from the Grateful Dead's equipment vault! Originally housed at the Dead's Front Street rehearsal studio and equipment storage facility in San Rafael, the "gear vault" moved north to Novato in the early 1990's, just a few years before Jerry checked-out.  When that facility closed down in 2006 after the Dead finally dissolved and resolved their business issues, it seems that the band decided to give a sort of "severance package" to key crew members in the form of the band's old gear (this is my theory anyway).

I originally saw a few interesting pieces of gear start to trickle up on ebay by the same seller up in Santa Rosa, California. The items included old Alembic gear, custom Hard Truckers amp cases, McIntosh MC2300, MC275 and MC75 tube amps, Hard Trucker PA cabinets, Meyer bass cabs, etc.  It sure LOOKED like this stuff came directly from the Dead...especially as most of the items had old backstage passes, Steal Your Face logos, etc. all over them.  And.... they were all beat to hell like they had been on the road for 30 years!  Well, after winning one of the McIntosh amp auctions, I drove up to Santa Rosa to pick it up and to scope out the rest of the gear to see if this guy's stash was in fact... the real deal.

When I walked into the seller's house, my jaw dropped to the floor.  Everywhere I looked, it seemed like there was a page from the Grateful Dead Gear book come to life. After taking with the seller, it seems he had bought the entire stash in a lump sale directly from "a guy who worked for the Dead." He said he had forgotten his name. It sounds like the crew member didn't have room to store all the gear, and wanted to sell it en mass.  This guy had seen a craigslist ad for the gear by him, and while not into the Grateful Dead at all (I've dumped a slew of tapes on him since that time!), he was a film score composer who owned his own recording studio and wanted the gear for his studio.  He was selling off the extra pieces that he didn't need.  

Over the course of the next 3 years, I did everything in power to try to buy the rest of the Dead gear from this guy. He had sold several of the pieces before I met him, so I was unable to try to do a large purchase all at once.  In retrospect, he wouldn't have done that, and actually, I wouldn't have had the money to buy it all anyway.  So month after month, I'd check in with him and see if he "needed some extra cash" and wouldn't he "want to make more room at his house by getting rid of that large MC2300!"  To make the story short, we ended up being great friends and now trade cds of our band's latest studio experiments.  By the end of the 2009, Dark Star Palace had been able to scoop up a good chunk of the Grateful Dead's old PA/amp systems from the late 1960's - 1980's: (2) MC2300s, (2) MC75s, (1) MC275, (2) custom PA cabinets, (2) custom ESS Heil tweeter cabinets, various experimental UltraSound rack equipment, and of course, one of Phil Lesh's old Alembic F2B tube preamps!  Look forward to future posts on the rest of this gear.

The stereo preamp that the Palace owns is serial number 105.  When I discussed this with Alembic, they believe this to be one of the first one's manufactured (likely #5 as they started at 100). They didn't have records of which serial numbers were sold to what band/individual. The circuit board inside the F2B seems to date the preamp to October of 1972...which is much later than I had expected.  Perhaps earlier F2B's were custom made and un-numbered?  In any case, the first photos of Phil Lesh using the F2B as a replacement for his trusty old Fender Dual Showman amps was in November / December 1972, before he switched over to the Alembic preamp 100% by early 1973.  This unit is all original and still includes the original tubes. It was manufactured at Alembic in San Francisco on Brady Street...before they moved north to Santa Rosa.

There are some great shots of Phil's rack of F2B's (he had 4 units that were paired with 4 MC2300 amps) in the Winterland 1973 box set that came out on Rhino recently.  He seemed to use channel A with more treble than unit B (see photo). The unit was missing a few red knob caps when I got it, but Alembic hooked me up with some new old stock..last of their original order! You have to love those guys....  Anyway, Phil loved this preamp and used it for both studio sessions and on tour with the Dead from late-1972 until 1979 when he changed his entire bass rig. This F2B is loaded up in my current studio and bass rig and paired with an Alembic Superfilter. For more info on the Alembic F2B, please see:

This week's Tape of the Week is actually from a VHS tape. In a very interesting twist of events, I was just getting a digital copy of this video last week (when this began to hit wider circulation in the trading community) when a member of my band sent me a text that "I must check this video out!" Check it out I did..and wow!  Bobby looks like he's 16 years old. Pigpen is skinny but doesn't look super-sick yet.  Jerry looks relaxed and like he is having a ball.  Many folks know of this video, but it seems the new version is an upgrade.  I had it up-scaled on my PS3 to 1080p and all I have to say is, check it out!  Here is some more info:
Grateful Dead
Le Chateau d'Hérouville (a.k.a "The Honky Château), France
June 21, 1971

The group's "most exotic gig in 1971 was a one-shot in France."

"We went over there to do a big festival, a free festival they were gonna have, but the festival was rained out. It flooded. We stayed at this little chateau which is owned by a film score composer who has a 16-track recording studio built into the chateau, and this is a chateau that Chopin once lived in; really old, just delightful, out in the country near the town of Auvers sure Oise, which is where Vincent Van Gogh is buried. …"  --Jerry Garcia--

"We were there with nothing to do: France, a 16-track recording studio upstairs, all our gear, ready to play, and nothing to do. So, we decided to play at the chateau itself, out in the back, in the grass, with a swimming pool, just play into the hills. We didn't even play to hippies, we played to a handful of townspeople in Auvers. We played and the people came — the chief of police, the fire department, just everybody. It was an event and everybody just had a hell of a time — got drunk, fell in the pool. It was great." --Jerry Garcia--

Some of the Grateful Dead show at Hérouville was broadcast in France by the "The Second Channel" of the ORTF (French Radio and Television Broadcasting) on the July 24, 1971 edition of the rock program "Pop 2." A second part of the show was broadcast in Black & White on the November 27, 1971. Audio has been captured in Mono.

Part 1
Black Peter
Hard To Handle
Sugar Magnolia

Part 2 (in B&W)
Morning Dew
Sing Me Back Home
China Cat Sunflower
I Know You Rider

For more info on the audio and video, check out:

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Roots of the Dead

    Artifact of the Week: Roots of the Grateful Dead Picture Disc LP
    Tape of the Week: 4/10/82

    This week's post was delayed a bit as I fulfilled a lifelong dream of heading down into the heart of the Mississippi Delta with some of my oldest friends and band mates. It's also going to be a bit short as I've gotta throw on my dancing shoes and head out the door for Phil Lesh's 70th birthday bash.  70!  Can you believe Phil is 70?  Let's leave that show for another post.  Ok, so, I thought it would be fun to post some of the photos from the delta blues trip and tie them in with a tape of the only day Jerry Garcia was known to perform solo (a la the old blues men) and pair this with a rare Shanachie "Roots of the Grateful Dead" picture disc LP. 

    This week's Artifact of the Week is a 12" picture disc LP that was put out in the fall of 1995 after Jerry Garcia passed away.  The American roots label, Shanachie, put the limited edition disc out.  It is a gorgeous disc as they commissioned the freaky-good cartoon artist, Robert Crumb, to do the artwork.  As many of you may know, Crumb has his art roots going back to the mid/late 1960's Haight-Ashbury scene.  Among other great characters, he is famous for creating the "Truckin" cartoon, which ended up on stickers, posters and postcards (Jerry Garcia even had one of these Truckin' stickers placed on his Wolf guitar for a brief period in 1973).  More recently, Crumb has produced artwork for playing cards, books and CDs that feature noted southern folk and blues artists.  It is a real treat to see Crumb's artwork on this Dead disc.
    One of the special features of this picture disc is the fact that Bob Dylan allowed "Its All Over Now Baby Blue" to be featured on this compilation.  At the time, Bob had always refused to be on any compilation record, so it turned out that this feat was only achieved after the President of Shanachie gave Bob several rare roots 78's that Bob was missing from his collection.  Gotta love the way the bard barters!  The picture disc was only released as a limited run of, I believe, 10,000 copies.  The copy that the Palace has is number 47.  The CD of this album is still in print.
    1Obray Ramsey - Rain and Snow3:25
    2Merle Haggard - Mama Tried2:10
    3Dixie Cups - Iko Iko2:00
    4Gary Davis -  Samson & Delilah4:03
    5Cannon's Jug Stompers - Big Railroad Blues3:18
    6Marty Robbins - El Paso4:20
    7Bob Dylan - It's All Over Now, Baby Blue4:13
    8Charlie Patton - Spoonful3:11
    9Howlin' Wolf - The Red Rooster2:23
    10Chuck Berry - The Promised Land2:26
    11Henry Thomas - Don't Ease Me In2:59
    12Jimmy Reed - Big Boss Man2:49
    13Bobby "Blue" Bland - Turn on Your Love Light2:36
    14Bonnie Dobson - Morning Dew4:05
    15Buddy Holly - Not Fade Away2:20
    16Woody Guthrie - Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad2:47
    17The Pindar Family w/ Joseph Spence - I Bid You Good Night2:47

    This week's Tape of the Week is from the early show on April 10, 1982 in Passaic, New Jersey.  Between Grateful Dead tours, Jerry Garcia was embarking on an acoustic tour with his partner-in-crime, John Kahn.  There are conflicting accounts about how these shows came to pass, but as I have heard it, Kahn did not get into New Jersey that day and Garcia was forced to either cancel the afternoon and evening shows, or go on alone.  Despite being extremely nervous (a real surprise if you ask me) he decided to go on alone.  So, for the first and only time in Jerry's history, he played solo.  The set list on the tape shows Jerry's wonderful folk and blues selection.  Most Deadheads consider this a real treasure in their collections, so I hope you will check it out if you don't have it already. Until next week!
    Jerry Garcia
    April 10, 1982
    Early Show
    Capitol Theater
    Passaic, NJ
    1.  Deep Elem Blues
    2.  Freight Train-> 
    3.  Babe, It Ain't No Lie                
    4.  Gomorrah               
    5.  Dire Wolf                 
    6.  Little Sadie       
    7.  Stagger Lee              
    8.  Valerie           
    9.  Been All Around This World  
    10. To Lay Me Down         
    11. Run for the Roses         
    12. Ripple           
    13. Reuben & Cherise                

    Roots trip photos from top to bottom:  
    • Dockery Farms (Dockery, MS)
    • Charlie Patton 78 record (Clarksdale, MS)
    • The original acetate of "Rocket 88" that kicked off Rock and Roll (Memphis, TN)
    • Elvis's original Sun Studios Shure microphone (Memphis, TN)
    • Beale Street (Memphis, TN) 
    • Charlie Patton's Grave (Holly Ridge, MS) 
    • Cutting heads in front of one of Robert Johnson's old Juke Joints (Helena, AK)
    • Sonny Boy Williamson II's original corn meal ad trailer (Helena, AK)
    • Sun Studios window reflection (Memphis, TN)
    • Elvis's engraved microphone from the '70's (Memphis, TN)
    • Elvis's grave at Graceland (Memphis, TN)
    • Old Highway 61 by Memphis Minnie's grave (Walls, MS)
    • Johnny Cash, Sun Studio (Memphis, TN)
    • Robert Johnson's grave (Greenwood, MS)
    • Robert Johnson's grave and pecan tree (Greenwood, MS)