The Closing of Winterland

A Live Recording from December 31, 1978 at Winterland in San Francisco

Released: 2003

Tracks

Sugar Magnolia --> [7:21]
Scarlet Begonias --> [11:55]
Fire On the Mountain [13:12]
Me and My Uncle --> [3:11]
Big River [7:05]
Friend of the Devil [10:48]
It's All Over Now [8:55]
Stagger Lee [8:03]
From the Heart of Me --> [3:49]
Sunshine Daydream [3:15[

Samson and Delilah [9:17]
Ramble On Rose [9:35]
I Need A Miracle --> [11:19]
Terrapin Station --> [12:23]
Playin' In the Band --> [13:06]

Rhythm Devils --> [19:23]
Not Fade Away --> [19:34]
Around and Around [9:19]

Dark Star --> [12:05]
The Other One --> [4:45]
Dark Star --> [1:15]
Wharf Rat --> [11:00]
St. Stephen --> [7:52]
Good Lovin' [11:00]
Casey Jones --> [5:17]
Johnny B. Goode [4:42]
And We Bid You Goodnight [1:30]


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Liner Notes:

I Would Tear This Old Building Down

By Gary Lambert

Before we get all teary-eyed about the Closing of Winterland, dear reader, you must remember this: The place was a dump. Ah, but WHAT a dump!

Built not too long after the great earthquake and fire of 1906, Winterland (an ice-skating arena and home of the Ice Follies) stood out like a very large, very sore thumb in its rundown San Francisco neighborhood: a great, hulking thing of no particular architectural distinction. When rock impresario Bill Graham started using it in 1967, to accommodate acts that had gotten too popular for his Fillmore Auditorium a few blocks away, Winterland (capacity 5,200) was derided by audiences as "too big." In the 1970s, as rock grew into a gigantic industry and bands got ever more popular, it became too small - often hellishly oversold and overcrowded. When the heat wasn't on, the hall was cold and drafty. When it was on, it could be stifling, and the walls became damp with condensation. (Graham fondly likened the joint to a shvitz, or steambath, citing its communal friendliness, but the comparison may have been more apt than he intended). "Comfort" was not a word that came to mind when describing Winterland.

Musicians also had their problems with the building. Bob Weir called it an "acoustical snakepit," and his co-conspirators in the Grateful Dead were forever trying to talk Graham into custom-building them a dream venue to the band's exacting specifications. That wish unfulfilled, the Dead exacted their own sonic revenge on Winterland, helping prematurely with the building's demolition during its later years: sometimes, when things got really loud - and especially when Phil Lesh loosed the low-frequency thunder of his mighty bass - chunks of plaster would break free from the ceiling and rain down to the floor (or the heads of patrons) below.

And yet...when Graham announced in 1978 that Winterland had deteriorated beyond affordable repair and would close at year's end, musicians and fans alike began to express something unexpected for the crumbling old heap: affection. Why? Quite simply, the music. In spite of its drawbacks, Winterland had a mysterious way of inspiring extraordinary performances from the artists who played there. In its nearly twelve years under Bill's direction, the hall may have played host to more memorable rock shows than any other venue in history: The Who and The Rolling Stones, both of whom played there in the 70s, long after they had outgrown rooms of that size; The Band's all-star Last Waltz on Thanksgiving night, 1976; the Sex Pistols' notorious onstage flameout in January of 1978; Bruce Springsteen's two Winterland performances in December '78, still numbered among the greatest of his career; and far too many more to mention here.

And then there was the Grateful Dead. No band was more closely associated with Winterland. They played there far more often than anyone else (59 times, or about 10% of all shows presented). And despite their oft-stated reservations about the place, the Dead adapted, to the point that they usually played better at Winterland than anywhere else, harnessing the temperamental resonances of that big, boomy room to transform it into something that sounded and felt more like a majestic cathedral. When time came to shut the old rink down, there was no doubt as to the right band for the job - especially since the big blowout was to take place on New Year's Eve, a night inextricably entwined with the shared histories of the Grateful Dead, Bill Graham and Winterland.

To no one's surprise, Bill pulled out all the stops, planning a non-stop blast from dusk 'til dawn (with breakfast served to everyone in the house at the party's end). In addition to the Dead, the bill would feature: the Blues Brothers (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in their Jake and Elwood personae, fronting a great band including Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn and a young Paul Shaffer); longtime Dead pals the New Riders of the Purple Sage; the wonderful neo-vaudevillian juggling troup the Flying Karamazov Brothers. And prominently featured on the Winterland marguee was another indispensable group of participants - the Dead Heads - who really made all this possible.

Speculation ran rampant on the big night: How will Father Time (aka Bill Graham) make his midnight entrance? Who will sit in? What will the Dead play? Will they finally satisfy the obsessed longing of those guys with the banner, counting the days (1,535 on that date) since the last San Francisco performance of Dark Star? What's for breakfast?

It's all here (Well, except the breakfast. Digital technology can only do so much): Virtually every note of the Dead's three sets, much as it sounded (actually, quite a bit better than it sounded, thanks to the new mix from the multitrack master tapes you are hearing today) to those who caught the simulcast of the show on San Francisco's public television station, KQED, and the pioneering FM rock radio station, KSAN.

Gary Lambert has lurked on the music biz fringe for most of what he laughingly calls his "adult life." Since 1993, he has been writer/editor of the Grateful Dead Almanac, official newsletter of a certain well-regarded rock combo.

It's All Over Now

By Glenn Lambert

In 1970, I made my Dead Head pilgrimage from New York to San Francisco. On my first day in town, I saw Garcia play a club date at the Matrix - and I heard KSAN-FM everywhere. You could spend a day going from store to store, from one friend's house to another's, and never miss a song.

Starting at KMPX in 1966, then moving to KSAN, the "Jive 95," in 1968, Tom Donahue created the hippest, most influential FM radio station ever. Musically, KSAN was as eclectic as, well, the Dead. The foundation was rock, with an ever-changing mix of blues, jazz, Bach, country, movie soundtrack, Indonesian ketjak dance, or whatever the DJ felt like stirring in just then. (For all the groovy deejays and keen stories, go to http://www.jive95.com.) Then there were the brilliant "gnus" guys, including Scoop Nisker with his signoff, "If you don't like the news, go out and make some of you own."

Listening to KSAN made me want to go out and make some radio of my own, which I subsequently did as a DJ and program director back east. And then, a few years and a few simple twists of fate later, I was a KSAN DJ myself.

I was incredibly lucky to be there, and to add my own musical tastes to the stew, as KSAN took the lead in a new musical revolution: we were the first to air Elvis Costello, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Devo, The Police, and on and on.

Oddly, though, KSAN never played much Dead. (They kind of took the home team for granted.) So I happily got to be the resident Dead Head, playing the fellers every day. And of course, I jumped at the chance to host our live broadcasts of Dead shows, including this one.

Unfortunately, as that old 78 spun into its final groove, KSAN was spiraling toward its demise as a progressive station. The corporate owners were tightening the screws, uneasy with the freewheeling music and radical newscasts. There were heavy-handed memos, lists of new rules, and later, the literal locking up of 90% of the thousands of records in KSAN's incomparable library - followed by the kicking out of most of the air staff, and the end of the station as we'd known it. But that was still a few months in the future.

In the midst of the clampdown, I was asked to host this broadcast with my fellow DJ and close pal Norm Winer, This show would be even bigger than the usual New Year's behemoth: a TV/radio simulcast on KQED and on KSAN. (In those days before stereo TV, you'd turn down the sound on your TV set and listen on your FM radio.)

In 1978, live rock broadcasts on TV were scarce, and the production primitive - with all the excitement of a PBS pledge drive. But ah, the sound (digitally prestidigitated for this release). And ah, the performance!

In the first ring were the New Riders, followed by the Blues Brothers (who brought half the cast of Saturday Night Live in their clown car). Somewhere in between were the Flying Karamazov Brothers, juggling torches, cleavers, frying pans, and a chicken. (Later, they came on camera with Norm and me, and flung knives inches from our ashen faces.)

At a few minutes past midnight (in accordance with the law "it's the New Year when Bill says it's the New Year"), the giant rocket joint sputtered overhead, carrying Uncle Bobo as Father Time...Dan Aykroyd led the cubist countdown...pandemonium erupted...and the Dead kicked into that killer "Sugar Magnolia." Then they kept on rockin', goin' round and round til six-thirty a.m., their longest show in ages. That works out to four and a half hours of music - plus two hours of break time, during which Norm and I desperately filled.

I've done plenty of incoherent babbling at Dead shows, but this was of a different kind altogether. With 45 minutes to fill at a clip, we nattered on, while madly semaphoring to the herds of rival producers who were milling about (from KSAN, KQED, Bill Graham's organization, the video people, and for all I know, the caterers) for somebody to send an interview our way. When they did bring people over to us, more than one interview was preceded by the last-second warning "I think he's tripping." (In contrast, Norm and I had been threatened with instant firing, not only if we breathed one word about KSAN's turmoil, but also if we breathed anything else suspicious. So we had our wits about us. Now, there was a first in my Dead show experience.)

Let's just say there was a range of viewpoints expressed - in conversations ranging from straight to twisted, with Ken Kesey, Bill Murray, Wavy Gravy, the columnist Herb Caen (who looked like he was visiting from 1958) and other I've forgotten or repressed. I do faintly remember talking with Bobby and Mickey. I think I called Mickey "Phil" by mistake.

25 years after that wild night, it's not only Winterland that's long gone, but sadly, Jerry Garcia and Bill Graham, and KSAN too. These CDs bring it all back, whether you heard it then, or (like me), you're a first-time member of the audience.

This is a true record of one of the all-time stupendous New Year's revels, wherein the Dead blows the roof right off the big top. There are many peak moments, one of my favorites being the instant when the intro to "Dark Star" echoes though Winterland for the last time - crash & dissolving that "1535 days since last SF Dark Star" sign into atoms, and rendering the crowd bananas. I would expect you to be rendered the same.

Glenn Lambert was a KSAN DJ through its late 1970s, or Twilight of the Gods, era. He has had a checkered career as a writer, producer, and free-lance aesthete. Donations may be sent to McGannahanSkjellyfetti@secretwoid.com.

 

Credits:

Grateful Dead
The Closing of Winterland
December 31, 1978

Grateful Dead:
Jerry Garcia: Lead Guitar, Vocals
Donna Jean Godchaux: Vocals
Keith Godchaux: Keyboards, Vocals
Mickey Hart: Drums
Bill Kreutzmann: Drums
Phil Lesh: Electric Bass, Vocals
Bob Weir: Rhythm Guitar, Vocals

With Special Guests:
Bill Graham: Master of Ceremonies
Dan Aykroyd: Midnight Countdown
John Cipollina: Guitar
Matthew Kelly: Harmonica
Greg Errico: Drums
Ken Kesey: Thunder Machine

Produced by: David Lemieux & Jeffrey Norman
Rhythm Devils Segment Engineered and Mixed by: Tom Flye & Mickey Hart
Archival Research: Eileen Law/Grateful Dead Archives
Cover Art by: Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley
Liner Notes by: Gary Lambert & Glenn Lambert
Principal Still Photography by: Ed Perlstein/musicimages.com
Additional Photography by: Michael Zagaris & Steve Schneider
Package Design & Production by: Robert Minkin/minkindesign.com

 

 



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The Closing of Winterland was released in 2003. It is a live recording of 12/31/78 at Winterland Arena in San Francisco, CA. Matt Kelly joins in on "I Need A Miracle." Lee Oskar, Greg Errico, and Ken Kesey join in on "Rhythm Devils (Drums)". John Cipollina joins in after "Rhythm Devils" for "Not Fade Away" and "Around & Around." Last, but not least, at midnight Bill Graham flew in on a giant joint to start the whole show! This is a classic New Year's show. If you want to partake this show with visual, you had better get the DVD which includes The Blues Brothers opener.



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