The Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra.
A great lost masterpiece of musical history is finally surfacing on YouTube.
In the late 1960's and early 1970's there was a great deal of collaboration among various southern California rock groups that included Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and assorted solo artists such as Joni Mitchell. Because of contractual problems based on the fact that most of the artists were on different labels, plus the break-up or personnel changes in many of these groups and the just plain passage of time combined to cause the tapes of those sessions to disappear.
Here is an abridged version of an already abridged version of The Planet Earth Orchestra sessions and how they were rediscovered as told by session witnesses Bill Parry, Steve Rowland, and Steven Barncard:
On August 23, 1991 a copy of the several PERRO reels were compiled onto a DT 120 DAT on request by Paul Kantner to Graham Nash (since the tapes where kept in the latter's vault) for a copy.
When the Crosby, Stills & Nash box-set was being put together, some mystery reels were found.
All of the CSNY tape collection was brought in to one place for the first time, including personal collections of Barncard, Joel Bernstein, Nash and Stills. One of the PERRO tapes had a small pipe with weed in it and somebody smoked it! It was still good.
The material on the PERRO tapes was very interesting, but had nothing to do with CSNY. There were 4 reels of 2 track mixes made in 1971 during the sessions (obviously there is more that has never been mixed). The tapes were put into storage in Nash's vault.
Paul called Nash in 1992 and requested DATs of those tapes. This was the first time they had been outside of the CSNY organization. They were copied at A&M Post Production audio and my personal DAT was made at that time.
The roots of PER&RO go back a lot further than 1971. 1 guess it had its inception in the early years of the '60s (prior to the Airplane, the Byrds et al) when Kantner, Crosby and Freiberg used to hang out, play music, get high and rap together around Venice Beach. That was the initial bond, the start of it all.
Later, when they were in bands of their own, there were occasional points of interaction - like Jerry Garcia sitting in on the 'Surrealistic Pillow' sessions, like Crosby giving "Triad" to the Airplane when he couldn't get the Byrds to record it, like Kantner, Crosby and Stills writing "Wooden Ships".
Then, as the '60s drew to a close, two sets of circumstances combined to bring the Planet Earth Rock And Roll Dream a whole lot nearer. One was the opening of Wally Heider's studio in San Francisco - because now the local SF musicians (Airplane, Quicksilver, Dead) had a place on their doorstep where they could record. This gave item freedom from the corporate studios to record and produce as they saw fit, to come and go more as they pleased and to invite the musical neighborhood in if they chose. (It hadn't been so easy when they were holed up at RCA's or Warner's studios in Hollywood.) The other catalyst was the state of flux that a lot of bands were falling into by 1969/1970, for Crosby had left the Byrds, the Airplane was a less cohesive force with Dryden out and Hot Tuna splitting off, and Dino Valenti's arrival had unsettled Quicksilver Messenger Service.
Things had come pretty much full circle by the end of the decade. Kantner was again hanging out with Crosby (quite often on the latter's yacht) and with David Freiberg -and, when Paul came to assemble musicians to record 'Blows Against The Empire', it wasn't just to his Airplane cohorts that he turned but also to Crosby and Garcia and even Graham Nash - who'd just bought a house in Frisco and ended up producing the whole second side of the 'Blows Against the Empire' album at Heider's studio. 'Blows..." was the first album by that collection of musicians whom Paul liked to term the Planet Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra.
The fact that he billed the album as being by Jefferson Starship shouldn't mislead anyone. Kantner, Crosby, Slick, Freiberg, Nash, Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, Phil Lesh, Jack Casady, Bill Kreutzmann, Micky Hart - these people were the Planet Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra, supporting each other on key projects.
As Grace Slick recalls, "These sessions were like 'Uh, do you wanna play guitar on this one?' 'No, man, I have to go to the bathroom.' 'Okay, David, you wanna play?' 'Sure'. Whoever felt like doing something did it. Parts interchanged, people interchanged."
Graham Nash says "They asked me my opinion and I just jumped right in. Grace, Paul, David - they let me do whatever I heard. I was searching for this kind of environment when I came to America and when I was mixing in the studio our imaginations were running rampant. We were creating virtual kingdoms with music."
The second such PER&RO project was David Crosby's debut solo album, 'If I Could Only Remember My Name', which features all of the above-mentioned Planet Earthers plus the likes of Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Greg Rolie and Mike Shrieve.
But enough of this preamble, and on to the tapes in question. They come from sessions at Wally Heider's San Francisco studios in 1971. Crosby had sailed his boat up to Sausalito harbor. Nash was resident in the Haight. Kantner and Slick had moved out to Bolinas and the Dead were in Mill Valley but they would all head for Wally's of an evening to work on PER&RO songs. Some of these things ended up on Crosby's solo, a couple on Garcia's solo, one on Grace's album, one on Paul's 1983 'Planet Earth...' album - and some have never seen the light of day....
The album released in 1983 (above) is NOT the material referred to here, but songs recorded in '83 that in some cases drew on material from the 1970's sessions but was not an attempt to re-create them.
What has now surfaced on YouTube in 2008 is a 1971 Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassady composition that at points resembles an instrumental that later appeared on the Jefferson Airplane album Bark.
Here's some background.
"Wild Turkey" (4' 20")(AKA "Leather Winged Bat"): An interesting improvisation with Jorma and Jack at the controls, this may or may not be an early styling of what became the dynamic duo's "Bark" instrumental. It certainly starts off that way, with Kaukonen roaring out some aggressive electric noise and Casady on a familiar rumble. But soon it settles into something much gentler, employing a more reflective chord progression. Jorma's playing rises and falls in a fairly relaxed manner - until the finale, when he stirs it back towards the "Turkey" structure with some more combative lead guitar. It could well be that Jack and Jorma decided the split-mood approach didn't work and restructured the number as the wholly aggressive strut we encountered on 'Bark'. Whatever, it's a nicely balanced piece and a pleasure to hear.
It is wonderful to see stuff from these legendary long lost sessions becoming available at last, but when can we get to hear the whole thing? May it be soon!
In some modern news from the same scene, here's Paul Kantner and his son Alexander, who sometimes appears as bass player with his Dad's band Jefferson Starship.
Today Jefferson Starship is essentially a Kantner solo band, but people from the band's past line-ups pop in and out, so you never know who will appear on stage.
Here is a picture of the Amherst Survival Center as it looks today.
This is a picture I found of what the building looked like 128 years ago in 1880 when it was a school.
When I was a crack addict I would not spend any money on food. All of my money had to be spent on drugs. Such behavior is common among crack addicts, research has shown:
Cocaine is the most addictive substance known, according to animal researchers, who have observed that animals ranging from mice to monkeys self-administer cocaine faster than any other drug and will continue until they die. Cocaine addiction in humans develops faster than addiction to opiates, and crack cocaine addiction is particularly rapid.
Even if you don't die from crack, you can suffer brain damage from malnutrition because you don't eat. I didn't suffer brain damage (not too much anyway) because of the free meals I got at the Amherst Survival Center. Every day I would go there to their free lunch, where they serve very nutritious hot meals, and I credit the food I ate there as well as the food I took home which they give away, with keeping me from damaging my brain and body more than I did.
Today I volunteer at the Amherst Survival Center. Here I am serving food.
I like the karma of volunteering there. People are poor for many reasons, but one of the most common is drug and alcohol abuse. Some of the people I see everyday remind me of myself and how I used to be - and what I will be again if I don't stick to the straight and narrow. I used to come needing help, but now I am the helper. I don't want to take that trip from helped to helper again, and frankly, I don't think I could do it again. If I ever go down again, I think I'll probably go down for good. Working at the Amherst Survival Center helps remind me of that.
At the Survival Center there is a free store. You can go in and take anything off the shelf you want without having to pay for it. The concept behind that reminds me of a line from a wise and funny poem by Allen Ginsberg called America. Here's a portion of that poem leading to that line:
America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can't stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don't feel good don't bother me.
I won't write my poem till I'm in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I'm sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
Ginsberg should be alive today so that he could come to the Amherst Survival Center, where he could see his dream has come true of a store where you can buy things with nothing but your looks, good or otherwise.
Or at least that is how it originally was. Now there are some restrictions on what you can take. I work in the kitchen, but I've heard stories about why those restrictions became necessary. I heard about the people that came in and took all of the denim in the store off the racks every day. I heard about the people that took all the housewares off the shelf, leaving nothing for anyone else. I heard about the people who came with big sacks which they filled with everything in sight.
The staff wondered why people were doing stuff like that. They discovered that there was a place that paid for denim by the pound. They discovered that the housewares were making appearances at yard sales with price tags on them. They discovered that people from Springfield were coming up and filling their sacks to take things back to the poor people in that city.
It is important to stress that 99% of the people who came to the Survival Center free store did not pull scams of these types. Yet it soon became apparent that some restrictions had to be put on how much people could take, or that small number of scammers would ruin everything for everyone else. So now when someone is seen to be taking too much, they are politely told to put some of it back.
It's no big deal, but it is still a shame to realize that the original concept of the totally free store as envisioned in Ginsberg's poem wasn't really practical in practice. Making a store totally free was pretty cool, indeed it was practically a miracle! But changing human nature, abolishing human greed, well that was a miracle that not even the Amherst Survival Center could pull off.