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Grateful Dead - St. Stephen (Playboy After Dark 1969)

Checking for Matches…

The Grateful Dead Dose the House Playboy After Dark, Jan 18th 1969

This is huge in part because it was taped just a week before their historic January 26th Avalon Ballroom show which became Live Dead (along with the Fillmore West a month later). This is essentially a lost music video for the first double-live album ever released – which was the first time someone could listen to an entire hour-and-a-half concert on one record, and was the first live album ever recorded on 16 tracks. It was one of the albums that changed the course of music, and ever since its release has been listed as one of the most influential records ever. And here you get the visual of what they looked & sounded like a week before recording it.

This was the Grateful Dead’s only American television appearance until Saturday Night Live in 1978. (Hard to imagine why they didn’t become more popular in the mainstream!)

The Dead may have been the first shareware viral band –– where everything was just put out there for free –– where every show was taped and copied between fans, and the band did more free shows than they could keep track of. It was a word-of-mouth creation that was rarely on TV, never had hits on the radio, or expensive ads or splashy articles in glossy magazines -- yet by the early 80s they were selling out football stadiums every summer for the next 15 years.

This is also valuable in general because there’s so little early live footage of what became one of the most popular live acts in the history of music (see: Pollstar charts of concert grosses from their inception thru 1995). The only way to see this band was to go to a show. There were short performance snippets in some documentaries of the time, but they weren’t in the Woodstock, Monterey or Gimme Shelter movies except for a few seconds, and never appeared on any of the gazillion different music TV shows in their entire career. One reason might have been because of how the President of Warner Records, Joe Smith, put it, “The Dead used to frighten everybody at Warners. The name frightened people, the way they were. When they’d come to see me in my office, everybody would hide and lock the doors of their offices.”

How can ya not love a band that does that to a record company?

Also significant: This was the original “Magnificent Seven.” That became a nickname for the band in 1990 after keyboardist Brent Mydland died and was replaced by both Bruce Hornsby and Vince Welnick, making it a seven piece unit. But this was the original quintet – Garcia, Pigpen, Lesh, Weir, and Kreutzmann, plus Micky Hart on drums, and Tom Constanten on additional keys. This incarnation didn’t last very long, and there’s not much other footage of the seven of them together (see: Woodstock outtakes). Nor any of Pigpen playing the congas (normally lead vocals and/or organ), nor any with Garcia without glasses (!) and Phil Lesh with glasses!  

Another typically Grateful Dead thing –– the only TV show they ever did appear on wasn’t even really a show! “Playboy After Dark” was just in syndication, not on any network, and only ran at its peak in 23 cities (due in large part to it’s "racy" content and the eternally puritanical American fear of pleasure and nature). This wasn’t Sullivan. Or even Laugh-In. Very few people saw this when it originally aired -- and it mostly only existed as a Deadhead-shared bootleg VHS tape until it’s DVD release in 2006.

You gotta give props to Hefner –– nobody else saw these guys as the true voice of the musical revolution in San Francisco, which they were. Hefner’s also the guy who during this same decade published, gave voice to, and advocated for Lenny Bruce and Jack Kerouac. Besides printing some pretty pictures, the guy also tapped the leading transformational author, comedian and rock band of the time –– when nobody else was touching any of the three.

In this case, it was the humorous poet, cartoonist and songwriter Shel Silverstein (“Cover Of The Rolling Stone”) who was a friend of both Hefner and Garcia, and suggested to Hef he invite the Dead.

This is a pretty animated and lively performance –– considering they’re in the unfamiliar environs of a TV soundstage -- with an audience of about 50 L.A. "extras" picked for their looks, and who apparently knew about as much about the Dead as their parents might have.  

St. Stephen was a Dead anthem at the time –– I always called it their Sunshine Of Your Love. But it never quite achieved that pinnacle during it’s day, and was dropped from regular rotation by ‘71. It wasn’t really until years after Jerry died that bassist Phil Lesh brought it to it’s full feet-off-the-ground, fist-in-the-air potential. But you can certainly feel it’s power in this coitus interruptus Playboy version.

Note the wide dynamics within the song (just like good lovemaking) –– how it quiets down to pin-drop a capella, then Bang! explodes into chaos -- thrashing psychedelic punk –– for instance, at the end of the very first verse. :- ) Or during the Garcia vocal solo with guitar –– a return to the campfire folk composer in the middle of the song –– and then POW! The Grateful Dead!

This jarring juxtaposition was something Garcia and Lesh intentionally and constantly strove for in their music, and song selections.  Enjoy this ka'boom after the Mountains of the Moon set-up. 



The Grateful Dead (left to right): Tom Constanten (harpsichord); Jerry Garcia (lead guitar, lead & harmony vocals); Phil Lesh (bass); Bob Weir (rhythm guitar & harmonies); Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart (drums); and Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (on congas!! normally lead vocal and/or organ).


albertkaufman's picture

wow, so much fun. I can't wait to view all of the clips you've collected. Thanks so much for doing this work - I imagine this will be a great site for anyone who loves Rock history to come to. Will be sharing this with my friends.

Guest's picture

Hardly wait to watch all the clips...unbelievable work...expecting more...

Retrieved from Wikipedia:
St. Stephen on Wikipedia
"St. Stephen"
Single by Grateful Dead
from the album Aoxomoxoa
RecordedJune 1969
GenrePsychedelic rock
LabelWarner Bros.
Writer(s)Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Robert Hunter
ProducerBob Matthews and Betty Cantor

"St. Stephen" is a song by the Grateful Dead, written by Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Robert Hunter and originally released on the 1969 studio album Aoxomoxoa. The same year, a live version of the song was released on Live/Dead, their first concert album. Unlike the studio version, live versions usually included a section of the song called the "William Tell Bridge," which was used to segue into "The Eleven." After being played frequently in live concerts from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, the song fell out of regular performance; subsequent live performances of St. Stephen were thus considered a special event by Deadheads. The song also makes reference to the last days and trial of the 1st century AD saint, Stephen, the first martyr of the New Testament of the Bible, who was stoned to death.


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