aired April 22, 1977
Featuring: Van Morrison, Etta James, Dr. John, Carlos Santana, Tom
This show epitomized everything that was great about The Midnight
Special : spontaneity, virtuosity, soul, and an unpretentious
love for great music. It was also a milestone for the program
because it was the first showing by two legends : Van Morrison and
Etta James. The show also boasted one of the finest aggregations of
talent the program had ever seen. But the story goes that Morrison's
appearance on the show was either thanks to -- or in spite of -- a
little help from the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir.
It was a tribute to The Midnight Special's good reputation to
have Van Morrison on the show, and before an expectant audience,
host George Benson announced, "Over the 20-year history of rock
music, only a small group of writer/performers have left a permanent
stamp on the contemporary scene. Now as the history of rock is being
written by various experts, my next guest is being universally
recognized as one of those personalities. Please welcome, making a
very rare television appearance, Van Morrison."
Morrison performed three tunes from his 1977 LP A Period of
Transition. Co-produced by Dr. John, the album was Morrison's
first release in three years, and was celebrated as a comeback for
the heralded songwriter. Everyone in attendance was glad he returned
to the public eye.
Benson would introduce R&B pioneer Etta James with even more
deference, calling her "a legendary performer and a strong influence
on us all." James would perform the explosive, organ and electric
guitar-spiked "Tell Mama", then sang a duet with Dr. John on a song
of reconciliation called "I'd Rather Go Blind". Other highlights
included two Benson/Santana duets on the Benson instrumentals
"Breezin' " and "Valdez in the Country." Santana was not wholly
familiar with the songs, but his technical acuity, combined with
Benson's "trial-by-fire" tutelage on the tunes' complex themes,
would help the pair get through with a near-seamless precision.
The whole ensemble would get together for versions of Morrison's
classic "Moondance" and Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home to Me." On the
former song Santana would take a blazing solo, then turn the
spotlight to Benson, who would scat-sing the notes he was playing.
The next solo was taken by Dr. John, who would yield to saxophone
phenom Tom Scott, who blew a blazing, upper-register solo before
giving way to James, who took the song to the next level with her
entrancing scat singing.
George Benson: "Everything Must Change", "Gonna Love You More"
Van Morrison: "Joyous Sound", "Heavy Connection", "Cold Wind in August"
Carlos Santana/George Benson: "Breezin' ", "Valdez in the Country"
Etta James/Dr. John: "I'd Rather Be Blind"
(Everyone): "Moondance", "Bring It On Home to Me"
the above article on Episode 214:
by Rocco Urbisci, co-producer
"We thought we had a chance to get the Grateful Dead and Van Morrison
on the show, so Stan (Harris) and I flew to Mill Valley to meet
with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. I wasn't convinced the Dead were
gonna do The Midnight Special, but hey, I was gonna go to Mill
Valley and meet Jerry and Bob and then Van Morrison. We took the
'copter over and a car picked us up and took us to Garcia's house.
So here I am sitting with Jerry and Bob, and doing my best pitch
about getting them on the show. Bob and Jerry showed us a ton of
concert footage that they had filmed of themselves. We explained
that Sugarman and the network wouldn't accept concert footage and
wanted them to do the show live.
"Finally Jerry says 'Television? Let me explain something to you.
The reason we're the Grateful Dead and we have longevity is
because we don't do TV and people come and see us in concert. But
you're a cool kid and I like this guy, so why don't we smoke a
"So they bring out a doob, and I take a hit, and I pass it to Stan.
It's the kind of dope that makes you laugh. Also, your hearing
diminishes when you get high, so Stan goes deaf. (Harris had a
well documented and often-joked about hearing problem since he was
in his early twenties). So I say 'Thank you very much, we have to
go meet with Van Morrison now.'
"The deal was that the Grateful Dead driver would take us down to
Morrison's house. And by the way, the Grateful Dead driver had
serious dreads and was in some kind of 1951 Buick with hot pink
dice hanging from the mirror. We get to Morrison's house and it
was like a Frank Lloyd Wright kind of house. We walk in and it has
no furniture in it. Zero furniture, except for two chairs, and at
the end of the wall is an old 1950's swing which really creaks.
Stan and I are sitting there laughing -- and if you ask me what
about, I don't remember. Finally a girl comes in and says, 'Mr.
Morrison will meet with you.' So in comes the first guy, wearing
Farmer Johns, beard down to here, looking like a bad Woodstock
character. Three or four more guys come in, and finally in comes
this red-headed guy on crutches. Stan and I laugh, and then
suddenly realize, this is Van Morrison.
"You guys want to come over here?" he said.
"Now I'm going to tell you the exact conversation, :
'Hi Van, my name is Rocco Urbisci, I'm with The Midnight Special
and we're really glad you're going to be on the show.'
Then Stan said, 'We're with The Midnight Special.
"So I can feel my eyes are welling up red, and I suddenly realize
that Stan is now stone deaf.
"Then Van said, 'How many songs do you want me to do on the show?'
"I said, 'We'd like you to do about four.'
"Then Stan said, 'We'd like you to do about four songs.'
"Then Van turned to Stan and said, 'I suppose you would like one of
my songs to be Moondance?'
"To which Stan replied, 'I would really love it if one of those
songs was Moondance.'
"Finally, I said, 'We've gotta stop. I'm f**ked up, he's f**ked up,'
and I explained about what happened back at the Dead camp with
Jerry and Bob.
"Van laughed and said 'I'll tell you what, when you get un-f**ked up
and you get back to LA, give me a call.'
"Then Van turned to Stan and said 'I hope you're not the audio man.'
And Stan turned to me and said 'What did he say?' "