Santana, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane … Oh my

Jazz was music critic Ralph J. Gleason’s passion, but the man who co-founded Rolling Stone magazine with Jann Wenner was keenly interested in the connection between song, society and culture, and that got him into some hot water.

During the turbulent ’60s, Gleason’s fascination with the protest movements of the time exposed him to more a rock-oriented crowd, and his writings reflected a change in the wind.

Toby Gleason 092307-1.jpgAccording to his son, Toby (pictured at right), Gleason’s penchant for mixing politics and music in his music column for the San Francisco Chronicle drew the ire of his editors. “They were always saying, ‘You’re a music critic. Write about music. Don’t write about stuff that’s not music,'” recalls Toby. “He felt that since music was just part of a socio-cultural development, that it was all the same thing.”

Gleason’s stances didn’t win him any friends at the White House either. Reportedly, Toby says, he made President Richard Nixon’s third published enemies list. Gleason was actually quite proud of that.

“He actually called it I believe in a television news interview the highest honor this country could bestow upon him and the only one an honest man would accept,” says Toby.

Though Gleason did help found Rolling Stone and did serve as associate editor, Toby explains that his dad was “not strongly influential in the content of the magazine. He was instrumental, if you’ll pardon the pun, in getting the magazine the record business advertising in its initial stages, which was responsible for its survival. And certainly, to the reading public, he was intimately intertwined in the creation and history of early Rolling Stone, but it was always Jann’s thing. If anything, what my father hoped to do was guide Jann.”

FamilyDog-DVD-3Dskew.jpgGleason was highly regarded as a music critic and also, was a noted television producer. It was he who pulled the strings that made A Night At The Family Dog possible. Not familiar with that show?
It aired in 1970 and featured amazing performances from Santana, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane at the legendary San Francisco music venue The Family Dog. Eagle Rock Entertainment has released concert footage from that show in a DVD called “Ralph J. Gleason Presents A Night At The Family Dog.”

Toby says his dad loved the show, and so does Toby.

“He thought it was fabulous, as do I,” says Toby. “It’s a great show. It is actually just about my favorite performances of every band — not necessarily of Santana; I’m a big fan of Santana, and he did later performances that I also liked, but for the time, it’s one of the best performances of each band. It’s Carlos when, gosh, he was a speck. He’s like 12 years old — not really, but he looks really, really young.”

Another highlight of the DVD is the presence of Ron “Pigpen” McKernan playing keyboards with The Grateful Dead. He would later die, and the Dead would abandon much of its blues character while opting for a more jammy, bluegrass feel.

For more information about the DVD, visit www.eaglerockent.com. And to read more about the concert, which was originally closed to the public, read the Jan. 4 issue of Goldmine.

What were some amazing concerts you witnessed? Respond to this blog and we’ll discuss.

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