JG on CD: A Critical Discography
Many Deadheads believe that Garcia's musical legacy is best represented by the thousands of hours of bootleg tapes that are in circulation among collectors. Fundamentally I agree with that view, but because the quality of traded tapes varies so much and it's so difficult to amass a good collection, I'll limit myself to commenting on available CDs, which are of uniform quality and available to everyone. For info on tapes I suggest you consult three exhaustive — and superb — books devoted entirely to reviews of tapes in circulation: The Deadhead’s Taping Compendium, Vol. 1 (1959-1974),Vol. 2 (1975-85) and Vol. 3 (1986-1995), compiled by Michael Getz and John Dwork and published by Owl/Henry Holt. Besides detailed tape reviews, each book presents fascinating interviews with Grateful Dead sound personnel through the years and with tapers. And Vol. 1’’s lengthy discussion of the Acid Tests by Nick Meriwether is by far the most comprehensive discussion of the musical and technical apsects of those events I’ve seen. I would also recommend that you pick up Deadbase: The Complete Guide to Grateful Dead Song Lists, now in its tenth edition. It remains an invaluable resource for the serious or casual tape collector.
While most of the CDs below can be easily found in record stores, some Grateful Dead Records (GDR) releases can be purchased only through Grateful Dead Merchandising: (800) 225-3323. Grateful Dead and solo albums are rated on a five-star system and reflect all my biases. If it seems like I’m an easy grader, its because I think most of these CDs really are quite good. As a child of the pre-bootleg tapes vinyl records age, I also probably have a much higher opinion of the Dead’s studio albums than those weaned on live tapes exclusively. For years, the studio records and official live albums are what sustained me between shows, so I think fondly of them.
I've chosen not to rate Garcia's appearances on other people's records with a star system. (Would I be rating Garcia’s performance? The album as a whole? Too confusing.) However, I've noted my favorites in that category with a .
In each grouping, the albums are listed chronologically by performance, not by release date.
Grateful Dead Releases
The Grateful Dead (1967, Warner Bros.)
A fun and fast-paced glimpse of what the Dead were like in their ballroom days. The most successful cuts are the extended ones — "Viola Lee Blues," "Morning Dew" and "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl." "The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion)" almost sounds like a mainstream rock track, circa '67, and though Garcia didn't like "Cream Puff War," I do. "Beat It on Down the Line" and "Sitting on Top of the World" are manic but still effective. "Cold Rain and Snow" is also faster than the group played it in later years.
Songs: The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion); Beat It on Down the Line; Good Morning, Little School Girl; Cold Rain and Snow; Cream Puff War; Morning Dew; New, New Minglewood Blues; Viola Lee Blues
Anthem of the Sun (1968, WB)1/2
A wild, ambitious, hallucinatory mixture of live and studio tracks. Some of the editing and layering of tracks is a bit messy, and it sounds dated today, but the playing is fiery all the way through. There are better versions of "That's It for the Other One" and "New Potato Caboose" on Two for the Vault, but the "Alligator" > "Caution" jam has yet to be topped on CD. Thirty years later, I'm still puzzled by Weir's odd "Born Cross-Eyed," but "New Potato Caboose" remains one of my favorite Dead tunes, and one I'd love to see Bob or Phil (who co-wrote it with Bobby Petersen) revive someday.
Songs: That's It for the Other One > New Potato Caboose > Born Cross-Eyed; Alligator > Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)
Two from the Vault 1/2
A potent mixture of mature, fabulously played renditions of some of the Anthem material ("That's It for the Other One" and "New Potato Caboose") and early versions of four of the songs from Live Dead — "Dark Star," "St. Stephen," "The Eleven" and "Lovelight." "Dark Star" isn't the monster it would become just a few months later, but "The Eleven" is particularly inspired, possibly even topping the epic Live Dead version. Pigpen struts his stuff on fine versions of "Good Mornin' Little Schoolgirl" (not truncated a la the first album) and "Lovelight." The "Morning Dew" encore gets cut when the police pull the plug on the concert! Highly recommended! Two CDs.
Songs: Disc One — Good Morning Little Schoolgirl; Dark Star > St. Stephen > The Eleven > Death Don't Have No Mercy
Disc Two — That's It for the Other One > New Potato Caboose > Turn on Your Love Light; Morning Dew
Fillmore East: 2/11/69 (Released 1997, GDR)
Two complete sets, each about an hour, from a series when the Dead opened for Janis Joplin. Concise playing (at least for the Dead) is the order of the day here. There's a strong "That's It for the Other One," graceful acoustic versions of two songs from Aoxomoxoa (then a work in progress) — Dupree's Diamond Blues" and "Mountains of the Moon" — and a surprisingly strong (if slightly shortened) "Dark Star" > "St. Stephen" > "The Eleven." The unexpected gem in the collection is the always underrated "Doin' That Rag." Pigpen has a number of strong tunes here, though his version of "Hey Jude" is much better in concept than execution; Wilson Pickett he's not. Two CDs.
Songs: Disc One — Good Morning Little Schoolgirl; That's It for the Other One > Doin' That Rag; I'm a King Bee; Turn on Your Love Light; Hey Jude
Disc Two — Dupree's Diamond Blues; Mountains of the Moon > Dark Star > St. Stephen > The Eleven > drums > Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks) > feedback > We Bid You Goodnight
Aoxomoxoa (1969, WB) 1/2
Quirky but nicely recorded and performed versions of early Hunter-Garcia songs, including "St. Stephen," "China Cat Sunflower," "Cosmic Charlie" and others. Garcia sings lead throughout and dominates the instrumental sound, as well. This is the early '70s remixed version of the album, so we get the uncluttered "Mountains of the Moon." The downside is that the otherwise excellent "Doin' That Rag" doesn't have it grand a capella ending: "Everywhere I go / The people all know / Everybody's doin' that raaaaag!" "What's Become of the Baby" stands as a noble failure.
Songs: St. Stephen; Dupree's Diamond Blues; Rosemary; Doin' That Rag; Mountains of the Moon; China Cat Sunflower; What's Become of the Baby; Cosmic Charlie
Live Dead (1969, WB)
The Dead's first live album, culled from two early '69 shows, is the greatest psychedelic record ever made, in my opinion. The sequence of "Dark Star" > "St. Stephen" > "The Eleven" > "Lovelight" hits so many peaks and visits so many interesting spaces that I still hear new things in it three decades after I first bought it. "Death Don't Have No Mercy" is one of Garcia's finest blues performances. The CD packs all four sides of the original double-album onto a single CD. A must!
Songs: Dark Star > St. Stephen > The Eleven > Turn on Your Love Light; Death Don't Have No Mercy > feedback > And We Bid You Goodnight
Dick’s Picks Vol. 16: Fillmore Auditorium 11/8/69 (Released 2000, GDR) 1/2
The fall of ‘69 was an interesting time for the Dead because they still played magnificent, jammy, seriously psychedelic versions of their great late ‘60s triumverate — “Dark Star” > “St. Stephen” > “The Eleven” — but they were also beginning to integrate some of the shorter, countrified tunes that would reshape their sound to a degree through 1970. This show, on three discs, includes big jamming tunes plus early (and at points tentative) versions of five tunes that would appear on Workingman’s Dead in the spring of ‘70 — “Casey Jones,” “Cumberland Blues,” “Dire Wolf,” “High Time” and “Easy Wind.” A sixth Workingman’s song, “Uncle John’s Band,” is played as an instrumental during a sensational “Dark Star” sandwich (the two verses are split by other songs and jams) that also includes a percolating section of “The Other One,” which was rarely played outside of the full “That’s It for the Other One” suite in those days. The first disc is ragged in places and there are times when I wish the there was greater definition of the intsruments (it’s quite an aural assault!). Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find another show on CD that better demonstrates the spellbinding telepathy between Garcia and Lesh; indeed, the whole band is on fire. The long, circuitous version “Caution” goes to some amazing psychedelic places, though it might not be everyone’s cup o’ spiked tea. A nice bonus on disc three is the “Love Light” from the previous night’s show at the Fillmore.
Songs: Disc One—Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Casey Jones, Dire Wolf, Easy Wind, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, High Time, Mama Tried, Good Lovin’, Cumberland Blues
Disc Two—Dark Star > The Other One > Dark Star > Uncle John’s Band jam > Dark Star > St. Stephen > The Eleven
Disc Three—Caution > Main Ten jam > Caution > Feedback > We Bid You Goodnight, Love Light
Dick's Picks Vol. 4: Fillmore East 2/13-14, 1970
There's lots to like on this three-CD set. The "Dark Star" is widely considered one of the band's best (I agree); "Dancing in the Streets" contains some wonderful R&B-flavored jamming and grooves, and the entire third disc is phenomenal, particularly the sequence of "Not Fade Away" > "Mason's Children" > "Caution." The version of "Love Light" sags in places, and the "Alligator" doesn't match most late '60s versions. Still, that's nit-picking and not enough to prevent me from hearily recommending this superb three-CD set.
Songs: Disc One — Casey Jones; Dancing in the Streets; China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > High Time > Dire Wolf; Dark Star >
Disc Two — That's It For the Other One > Turn on Your Love Light
Disc Three — Alligator > drums > Me & My Uncle > Not Fade Away > Mason's Children > Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks) > feedback > We Bid You Goodnight
Bear's Choice: History of the Grateful Dead Vol. 1 (1970 performances, released 1974, WB) 1/2
A single disc, also taken from the same February '70 Fillmore East run as Dick's Picks #4. Until Dicks Picks #8 (see below) was released, this was the only "official" record documenting the Dead's '70 acoustic sets, though it didn't even do that very well. The highlight is definitely the electric "Hard to Handle," intended as a tribute to Pigpen when it came out. Pig and the Dead's meandering "Smokestack Lightning" is less successful, but also contains some hot moments.
Songs: Katie Mae; Dark Hollow; I've Been All Around This World; Wake Up Little Susie; Black Peter; Smokestack Lightning; Hard to Handle
Workingman's Dead (1970, WB)
A flawless studio album with no weak cuts and at least three acknowledged classics: "Uncle John's Band," "Casey Jones" and "Cumberland Blues." Mostly it's country-flavored folk and rock, quite a departure from their previous release, Live Dead. The most jammed-out tune here is "Easy Wind," sung by Pigpen. This album and American Beauty are many Deadheads' favorite studio albums. Essential.
Songs: Uncle John's Band; High Time; Dire Wolf; New Speedway Boogie; Cumberland Blues; Black Peter; Easy Wind; Casey Jones
Dick's Picks Vol. 8: Harpur College 5/2/70
A favorite show among tape collectors for many years, this three-CD package contains a lively acoustic set — probably the best from beginning to end I've ever heard — and two powerhouse electric sets. Standouts include one of the last versions of "Viola Lee Blues," a 29-minute voyage through "That's It for the Other One," and stellar jams on "Dancing in the Streets" and "It's a Man's Man's World." The vocals are fairly rough in spots (no surprise there), but the playing is the Dead at their best. The version of "St. Stephen" is cut at the beginning (the master tape was incomplete) and both electric sets are in mono, while the acoustic set is stereo, for reasons unknown. Mono or stereo, it's awesome.
Songs: Disc One (acoustic) — Don't Ease Me In; I Know You Rider; Friend of the Devil; Dire Wolf; Beat It on Down the Line > Black Peter; Candyman > Cumberland Blues; Deep Elem Blues; Cold Jordan; Uncle John's Band
Disc Two — St Stephen > That's It for the Other One > Cosmic Charlie; Casey Jones; Good Lovin'
Disc Three — It's a Man's Man's World; Dancing in the Streets > Morning Dew; Viola Lee Blues > We Bid You Goodnight
American Beauty (1970, WB)
The most poetic and musically lyrical album to come from the Hunter-Garcia partnership, it includes "Ripple," "Brokedown Palace," "Friend of the Devil" (at its original fast clip) and "Attics of My Life," as well as Phil and Hunter's beautiful "Box of Rain" and the rockers "Sugar Magnolia" (with a great pedal steel guitar line by Garcia) and "Truckin.'" "Till the Morning Comes" is the only less-than-great song on the record, and it ain't bad. Much of it is positively transcendant. Definitely a soul-lifting desert island pick. Essential.
Songs: Box of Rain; Friend of the Devil; Sugar Magnolia; Operator; Candyman; Ripple > Brokedown Palace; Till the Morning Comes; Attics of My Life; Truckin'
Ladies and Gentlemen…The Grateful Dead: Fillmore East 4/25-29/71 (Released 2000, GDR)
quality soundboard tapes of 4/26-29 have been in circulation among traders
forever, it seems, but this exquisite package goes a step further, by offering a
sort of “greatest hits” of the five-show run beautifully mixed by Jeffrey
Norman from the original 16-track masters (previously we all had conventional
stereo SBD mixes), and by including tracks from the virtually unheard 4/25 show.
These concerts had their ups and downs and a zillion repeats (there was lots of
new material that winter/spring, including “Bertha,” “Wharf Rat,”
“Loser,” “Bird Song” and others, and they played many of them night
after night), but this generous four-CD set culls the cream of the crop and
gives us a wonderful glimpse of the band in that transitional time following the
departure of Mickey Hart, but before the ascension of Keith Godchaux to the
keyboard chair. With the exception of the notably sluggish “El Paso,”
everything on here is fairly high-energy and very well-played. Pigpen is heavily
represented, with standout versions of “Good Lovin’” (complete with
hilarious rap), “Lovelight,” “Next Time You See Me,” “King Bee,”
“Ain’t It Crazy,” “Hard to Handle” (one of the best versions I’ve
heard) and the final “Alligator.” That last tune kicks off one of the most
famous jams in the Dead’s history — and you’ve never heard it this clean!
Disc Three features a “Dark Star > St. Stephen” sequence that reunites
the band with former keyboardist Tom Constanten, and a fine version of “Sing
Me Back Home,” a song previously available only on the pricey So
Many Roads box set. All in all it’s a superb document of a justifiably
Disc One — Truckin’, Bertha, Next Time You See Me, Beat It On Down the Line,
Bird Song, Dark Hollow, Second That Emotion, Me & My Uncle, Cumberland
Blues, Good Lovin’
Two — Sugar Magnolia, Loser, Ain’t It Crazy, El Paso, King Bee, Ripple, Me
& Bobby McGee, Uncle John’s Band, Lovelight
Three — China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, It Hurts Me Too, Sing Me
Back Home, Hard to Handle, Dark Star > St. Stephen > Not Fade Away >
Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad > Not Fade Away
Four — Morning Dew, New Minglewood Blues, Wharf Rat, Alligator > drums >
jam > Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad > Cold Rain and Snow, Casey Jones,
Midnight Hour, We Bid You Goodnight
Grateful Dead ("Skull & Roses") (1971, WB)1/2
A double-LP when it came out, it's now a single CD that has some of the contour of a real Dead show from that era, with the short songs up front and longer pieces toward the end. The second half, with "The Other One," "Wharf Rat" and "Not Fade Away" > "Goin' Down the Road," captures the lean, post-Mickey, pre-Keith band at a peak. Some of the shorter pieces are less impressive, and the long drum solo has never done much for me. When it came out I played it constantly, in part because it contained the only versions of "Bertha" and "Playing in the Band" up to that point, but it's been eclipsed by better discs since. Sonically it's very impressive, capturing Phil's bass especially well.
Songs: Bertha; Mama Tried; Big Railroad Blues; Playing in the Band; The Other One; Me & My Uncle; Big Boss Man; Me & Bobby McGee; Johnny B. Goode; Wharf Rat; Not Fade Away > Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad
Dick's Picks Vol. 2: Columbus, Ohio, 10/31/71
The lone single-disc release in the "Dick's Picks" series features a powerful second set that includes a fantastically variegated and high-energy "Dark Star" which, after a zillion twists and turns, rolls into "Sugar Magnolia," and is then followed by "St. Stephen" > "Not Fade Away" > "Goin' Down the Road" > "Not Fade Away"; outstanding versions all. Though it's one of Keith Godchaux's first shows, he's barely audible on most of the disc, so a lot of it sounds like the nimble GD Quartet — Garcia, Weir, Lesh, Kreutzmann.
Songs: Dark Star > Sugar Magnolia; St. Stephen > Not Fade Away > Goin' Down the Road > Not Fade Away reprise
Europe '72 (1972, WB)1/2
Originally a three-album set, now on two CDs, Europe '72 offered the first recorded versions of a number of fine tunes, such as "Brown-Eyed Women," "Tennessee Jed," "He's Gone," "Jack Straw" and "Ramble On Rose," as well as muscular workouts on "Truckin'" and "China Cat" > "I Know You Rider." Tight, well-executed performances throughout (actually they sound as if there might have been a little cosmetic tweaking, particularly in the vocals, here and there), though the two lengthy jams are not among my favorites. I loved this album in the '70s, but it hasn't worn as well as some others for me, and it sounds a little flat to me sonically. For years the version of "Morning Dew" was one of my favorites, but listening to it again recently it sounded a bit slow for my current taste in "Dew"s. Go figure.
Songs: Disc One — Cumberland Blues; He's Gone; One More Saturday Night; Jack Straw; You Win Again; China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider; Brown-Eyed Women; It Hurts Me Too; Ramble On Rose
Disc Two — Sugar Magnolia; Mr. Charlie; Tennesse Jed; Truckin' > jam; jam > Morning Dew
Hundred Year Hall: Frankfurt, Germany, 4/26/72
This two-CD set is almost like a combination of "Skull & Roses" and Europe '72, but it's better than either. Crackling with energy from beginning to end, it contains a nicely circuitous "Playing in the Band," a ferocious "Lovelight" that is unlike any other I've heard (it's heavy on the jamming and light on Pigpen's rapping), and superb versions of "Truckin'" "Comes a Time" and "Goin' Down the Road." I love the section where Garcia and Weir battle over whether to play "Not Fade Away" or "Goin' Down the Road"! At more than 36 minutes, "The Other One" is a jam-lover's delight, alternately spacey and driving; a remarkable ensemble piece. A winner from top to bottom.
Songs: Disc One — Bertha; Me & My Uncle; Next Time You See Me; China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider; Jack Straw; Big Railroad Blues; Playing in the Band; Turn on Your Lovelight > "Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad"; One More Saturday Night
Disc Two — Truckin' > jam > The Other One > Comes a Time; Sugar Magnolia
Dicks Picks Volume 11: Jersey City, New Jersey 9/27/72
This full-concert CD from the beloved Stanley Theater is further proof that 1972 was one of the best years ever for the Dead. With Keith Godchaux fully comfortable in the keyboard chair and Billy K. playing "like a young God," as Phil put it, this edition of the band swings confidently. This is three discs with virtually no down spots at all. Opening with "Morning Dew" is the first tip-off that there was magic in the air this night. All the songs are performed with power and verve. The first set offers the relatively rare fast electric version of "Friend of the Devil," a magnficently exploratory "Bird Song," a solid "China Cat > Rider" and 15 minutes of growling, propulsive jams through "Playing in the Band." The still-new (and peppy) "He's Gone" provides a mellow entry into a second set dominated by a long, typically dissonant (for '72) "Dark Star," which then skitters beautifully into "Cumberland Blues." "Attics of My Life" is a great late-set choice, delivered with considerable emotion, and from there it's a mini-set of rockers, including a fine "Uncle John's Band." There are shows with more continuous threads running through them (like the second set the following night at the Stanley), but this one definitely has the goods in spades, and shows the Dead at a peak.
Songs: Disc One — Morning Dew; Beat It on Down the Line; Friend of the Devil; Black Throated Wind; Tennessee Jed; Mexicali Blues; Bird Song; Big River; Brokedown Palace; El Paso
Disc Two — China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider; Playing in the Band; He's Gone; Me & My Uncle; Deal; Greatest Story Ever Told; Ramble On Rose
Disc Three — Dark Star > Cumberland Blues; Attics of My Life; Promised Land; Uncle John's Band; Casey Jones; Around and Around
Wake of the Flood (1973, GDR)
The Dead's first album on their independent label is full of strong tunes, including "Mississippi Half-Step" (with Vassar Clements on fiddle), "Here Comes Sunshine," "Eyes of the World," "Stella Blue" and Weir's "Weather Report Suite" (augmented by horns). A worthy follow-up to American Beauty and still one of the best Dead studio records, even though all of the songs sounded much more developed live — See Dick's Picks Vol. 1 below.
Songs: Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo; Let Me Sing Your Blues Away; Row Jimmy; Stella Blue; Here Comes Sunshine; Eyes of the World; Weather Report Suite
Picks, Vol. 19: Fairgrounds Arena, Oklahoma City
The big news on this complete-show, 3-CD
set is the fabulous “Dark Star” > “Morning Dew” on Disc 3. The
“Star” is perhaps a little less “outside” than some ’73 versions, but
to my ears that’s a positive. This one has a real nice, dreamy momentum
throughout and the added bonus of a “Mind Left Body” jam (named after a
chord progression Garcia evidently purloined from Paul Kantner’s “Your Mind
Has Left Your Body,” from the Kantner-Grace Slick-David Freiberg album Baron
Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun, recorded during 1973, and featuring
Garcia). “Morning Dew” is one of the best to appear on disc yet
(and there’ve been a bunch); it and the “Dark Star” are a knockout pair
worth the price of the set. Disc 1 is a decently played but ultimately boring
selection of first set material—I can’t imagine playing it much at all.
Where the first set takes off (as it often did) is with the extended romp
through “Playing In the Band,” which opens Disc Two. This one stretches out
confidently and features a good blend of driving, rhythmic jamming and more
dissonant spaces, with the payoff of a particularly lilting reprise. I sure did
love that song as a first set ender in the early/mid ‘70s: you’d kind of
flop back into your seat sweaty and tired because you’d really been through
something profound. The rest of Disc Two (which is the first part of set two)
has lots of energy and crisp playing, as well. The “China Cat” is,
customarily, excellent. Also worth noting is the “Eyes” > “Stella”
combo on Disc Three: the former blasts into a cool “Stronger Than Dirt” jam;
the latter beautifully captures what that song was about in its early days.
Songs: Disc One — Promised Land,
Sugaree, Mexicali Blues, Tennessee Jed, Looks Like Rain, Don’t Ease me In,
Jacks Straw, They Love Each Other, El Paso, Row Jimmy
Disc Two — Playing in the Band, China
Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, me & My Uncle, Mississippi Half-Step,
Disc Three — Dark Star > jam > Morning Dew, Sugar Magnolia, Eyes of the World> Stella Blue, Johnny B. Goode
Dicks Picks Vol. 14: Boston Music Hall 11/30 and 12/2/73
I know Dick Latvala was very excited by this release, but good as it is, it seems somewhat redundant with other Dicks Picks to me, and it breaks very little new ground. That said, there are many high moments here, including one of those smoldering, twisted, dissonant "Playing" jams that completely melts down at one point (actually not my favorite style of "Playing" jam for repeated listenings); an excellent "Here Comes Sunshine," somewhat similar in style to the epic Tampa version on Dick’s Picks Vol. 1 (below) recorded a couple of weeks later; a fine "Nobody’s Fault But Mine" jam following "Truckin’"; and an interesting "Dark Star" jam that comes out of one of the two versions of "Weather Report Suite." There are also two versions each of "Morning Dew" and "Playing in the Band"; in each case they’re different enough from each other to warrant their inclusion. All things considered, my favorite tracks are probably "Wharf Rat" (a second set opener!) and "Eyes of the World"; both are exceptional. But a lot of what’s on these four discs is a tad slow and "soft" for me. Perhaps it will grow on me more, as other Picks have, over time.
Songs: Disc One — Morning Dew; Mexicali Blues; Dire Wolf; Black-Throated Wind; Don’t Ease Me In; Big River; They Love Each Other; Playing in the Band
Disc Two — Here Comes Sunshine; Weather Report Suite > Dark Star jam > Eyes of the World > Sugar Magolia
Disc Three — Cold Rain and Snow; Beat It on Down the Line; Brown-Eyed Women; Jack Straw; Ramble on Rose; Weather Report Suite; Wharf Rat > Mississippi Half-Step
Disc Four — Playing in the Band > jam > He’s Gone > Truckin’ > Stella Blue; Morning Dew
Dicks Picks Vol. 1: Tampa, Florida, 12/19/73
(Released 1993, GDR)
The 14-minute version of "Here Comes Sunshine" that opens this set is one of my all-time favorite Dead performances, a masterpiece of mellow but incredibly focused jamming loaded with masterful interplay by Garcia, Lesh and Weir. Disc 1 of the two-CD set also includes an excellent "Weather Report Suite" and a spacey 21-minute "Playing in the Band" that meanders in some very interesting directions, with Garcia's wah-wah guitar leading the charge. I don't listen to the second disc as often, but it's every bit as potent, with a fine combination of "He's Gone" and "Truckin'," the rarely played "Nobody's Fault But Mine" (an old Blind Willie Johnson tune from the '20s), "The Other One" and "Stella Blue." An auspicious start to the Dick's Picks series, to say the least!
Songs: Disc One — Here Comes Sunshine; Big River; Mississippi Half-Step; Weather Report Suite; Big Railroad Blues; Playing in the Band
Disc Two — He's Gone > Truckin' > Nobody's Fault But Mine > jam > The Other One > jam > Stella Blue; Around & Around
Grateful Dead From the Mars Hotel
One of the Dead's best-recorded studio albums, with excellent, live-sounding performances of "Scarlet Begonias," "Ship of Fools," "U.S. Blues" and "China Doll." It also contains "Unbroken Chain." I've never liked "Money Money" or "Pride of Cucamonga" much. This was one of Garcia's favorite studio albums.
Songs: U.S. Blues; China Doll; Unbroken Chain; Loose Lucy; Scarlet Begonias; Pride of Cucamonga; Money Money; Ship of Fools
Best of (Skeleton's from the Closet) (1974, WB)
Useless single disc containing some bona fide "hits," such as "Casey Jones," "Truckin'" and "Uncle John's Band," as well as inexplicably odd choices such as "Rosemary," "Black Peter," "Mexicali Blues" and an edited version of the Live Dead "Love Light." The Dead's best-selling record! It's the only Dead record I've never owned.
Songs: the Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion); Truckin'; Rosemary; Sugar Magnolia; St. Stephen; Uncle John's Band; Casey Jones; Mexicali Blues; Turn on Your Love Light; One More Saturday Night; Friend of the Devil.
Dicks Picks Vol. 12: Providence 6/26/74 and Boston 6/28/74
There's an awful lot to love on this three-CD set, which combines most of a second set from a Providence Civic center show and the entire second set two nights later from the Boston Garden. The first time I hear a Dick's Picks release, I try to guess what it is about the show (or shows) that compelled Dick to to release it. Here, there are two obvious reasons: Disc One opens with the band snaking its way into a lovely melodic jam that eventually rolls into a full-on "China Cat" jam followed by "China Cat" itself; as far as I know it's a unique jam. The other jewel here that undoubtedly had Dick going ga-ga is the 28-minute romp that erupts after a sparkling "Weather Report Suite." The jam moves through all sorts of different musical landscapes, from deep space to unusual chordal progressions that almost sound like familiar songs but are still somehow elusive. The group moves from one idea to the next with seeming ease, never losing the forward momentum for a second. The interplay between the players is crystal clear; it's truly the Dead at their best. And once again special mention must be made of Bill Kreutzmann's incredible drumming, which anchors everything at the same time it pushes the music in new directions. Finally, the jam chugs into a passage that foreshadows "U.S. Blues" for more than three minutes before arriving at that tune. There are many other highpoints on this set, too, including a beefy "Eyes of the World" (the encore of the Providence show!), "To Lay Me Down" (always a rarity), a smokin' "Goin' Down the Road" and another unusual encore choice — "Ship of Fools," which ends the set with class. Worth noting for historical purposes is the fact that the 6/28 show marked the first time the Dead split "Sugar Magnolia" and "Sunshine Daydream." The former opens the Boston second set; the latter closes it. There's a tiny bit of distortion on the vocals of the Boston material, but the recording of the instruments is power-packed.
Songs: Disc One— jam > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider; Beer Barrel Polka; Truckin' > Other One jam > Spanish jam > Wharf Rat > Sugar Magnolia
Disc Two — Eyes of the World; Seastones; Sugar Magnolia > Scarlet Begonias; Big River; To Lay Me Down; Me & My Uncle; Row Jimmy
Disc Three — Weather Report Suite > jam > U.S. Blues; Promised Land > Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad > Sunshine Daydream; Ship of Fools
Dick's Picks Vol. 7: London, England, September '74
A three-CD composite from three shows at the Alexandra Palace in London, this set shows the full range of the mid-'70s Dead, from concise rock 'n' roll to ballads to spectacularly inventive jams that defy categorization. Fans of the Dead's spacey side will love "Playing in the Band," the combo of "Truckin'" and "Wharf Rat," and the out-of-this-world "Dark Star." Other hot selections are "Not Fade Away," "Scarlet Begonias," "Weather Report Suite" and a stirring, highly emotional "Morning Dew." Though a number of songs here also appear on Vol. 12 (above) the overall feeling of the shows is completely different and each is worth owning on its own merits. This sure doesn't sound like a band that was thinking about retirement in the fall of '74. Spectacular!
Songs: Disc One — Scarlet Begonias; Mexicali Blues; Row Jimmy; Black-Throated Wind; Mississippi Half-Step; Beat It on Down the Line; Tennessee Jed; Playing in the Band
Disc Two — Weather Report Suite > Stella Blue; Jack Straw; Brown-eyed Women; Big River > Truckin' > jam > Wharf Rat
Disc Three — Me & My Uncle; Not Fade Away; Dark Star > jam > Morning Dew; U.S. Blues
Steal Your Face
This one definitely takes the Who Needs It award among all the Dead's live CDs. It's mostly first-set material sequenced very strangely and not even recorded particularly well. There are a few decent selections — "Cold Rain and Snow" and "Sugaree" are probably my favorites — but there's nothing here that can't be found in much better live versions elsewhere. Not recommended.
Songs: Disc One — Promised Land; Cold Rain & Snow; Around & Around; Stella Blue; Mississippi Half-Step; Ship of Fools; Beat It on Down the Line
Disc Two— Big River; Black-Throated Wind; U.S. Blues; El Paso; Sugaree; It Must Have Been the Roses; Casey Jones
Blues for Allah (1975, GDR)
One of the Dead's most unified-sounding albums, it was born in Bob Weir's then-new recording studio during the Dead's hiatus from performing. The material represents a distinct new phase in the band's development, with the triumverate of "Help on the Way" > "Slipknot" > "Franklin's Tower" leading the way. There's plenty of strong ensemble playing on those tunes, the instrumental "King Solomon's Marbles" and parts of the strange but intriguing "Blues for Allah" suite. "Crazy Fingers" is as delicate as a dew-covered rose petal.
Songs: Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower; King Solomon's Marbles; The Music Never Stopped; Crazy Fingers; Sage and Spirit; Blues for Allah > Sand Castles and Glass Camels > Unusual Occurences in the Desert
One From the Vault: Great American Music Hall, S.F.,
This famous show, one of four during the Dead's hiatus, took place at an 800-seat San Francisco club in front of an invited audience of Dead family and friends a week before Blues for Allah came out, and was broadcast nationally over the radio. Dan Healy remixed the tapes and it sounds magnificent. It includes all the songs on Blues for Allah, as well as "It Must Have Been the Roses," "Sugaree," "Eyes of the World" and a few others. Parts of it sound a little constrained for my taste — after all the band had not been gigging during this period — but it's certainly well played. I especially like Keith's keyboard work on the record, and Garcia lays into the new material with admirable fire and conviction. The 21-minute "Blues for Allah" capper is way strange; to this day I don't know how I feel about that suite.
Songs: Disc One — Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower; The Music Never Stopped; It Must Have Been the Roses; Eyes of the World > drums > King Solomon's Marbles; Around & Around
Disc Two — Sugaree; Big River; Crazy Fingers > drums > Other One jam > Sage and Spirit > Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad; U.S. Blues; Blues for Allah Suite
Picks, Vol. 20 Capital Centre, Landover , MD 9/25/76 and Onondaga County War
Memorial, Syracuse, NY 9/28/76
I used to believe that 1976, when the
Dead returned to performing after their year-and-half hiatus, was an “off”
year for the group. The tempos of so many songs seemed too slow to me and the
jamming was more restrained. But the deeper I get into ’76, and as fate would
have it I listened to a lot of ’76 during 2000, the more I appreciate its
particular charms. In part because the band essentially reinvented itself again
with the re-addition of Mickey, and because the first tour of ’76 took the
band into small theaters where they could really hear each other in a way they
couldn’t when they were playing huge venues under the Wall of Sound, there’s
a care and sensitivity to their ensemble work that is unique to this year.
Garcia, playing a Travis Bean guitar, sounds as though he’s reveling in both
his new axe and the intimacy of the new arrangements. Keith sounds invigorated,
playing some of the best piano of his life. For better or worse, it’s a
largely new repertoire the band played in ’76, and much of it is represented
on this outstanding four-disc, two-show collection. There were a number of
breakouts that year— “Samson,” “The Wheel,” “Cassidy” (OK, it was
played once in ’74), “Lazy Lightnin’ > Supplication”; a few radical
re-arrangements — “St. Stephen,” slowed down and extended, “Cosmic
Charlie,” slowed down and ruined by terrible harmonies, the disco “Dancing
in the Streets”; and several songs that had been barely played since the early
‘70s, including “It’s All Over Now,” “Not Fade Away,” “Candyman,”
“Friend of the Devil,” “Minglewood” and “Comes A Time.” With the
exception of the aforementioned “Cosmic Charlie,” I like everything on this
set—yes even the two versions of “Minglewood.”
Songs: Disc One — Bertha, New
Minglewood Blues, Ramble On Rose, Cassidy, Brown-Eyed Women, Mama Tried,
Peggy-O, Loser, Let It grow, Sugaree, Lazy Lightnin’ > Supplication
Disc two — Mississippi Half-Step,
Dancing in the Streets > Cosmic Charlie, Scarlet Begonias, St. Stephen >
Not Fade Away > drums > St. Stephen > Sugar Magnolia
Disc Three — Cold Rain & Snow, Big
River, Cassidy, Tennessee Jed, New Minglewood Blues, Candyman, It’s All Over
Now, Friend of the Devil, Let It Grow > Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad
Disc Four — Playing in the Band > The Wheel > Samson & Delilah > jam > Comes A Time > drums > Eyes of the World > jam > Dancing in the Streets > Playing reprise, Johnny B. Goode
What a Long Strange Trip It's Been (1977, WB)1/2
Longer and better than Skeletons From the Closet, this collection from their Warner Bros. years has some of the requisite "hits" and a few unusual selections and baffling choices. Collectors might want it for the single version of "Dark Star"; otherwise, save your money. Two CDs.
Songs: New New Minglewood Blues; Cosmic Charlie; Truckin'; Black Peter; Born Cross-Eyed; Ripple; Doin' That Rag; Dark Star; High Time; New Speedway Boogie; St. Stephen; Jack Straw; Me & My Uncle; Tennessee Jed; Cumberland Blues; Playing in the Band; Brown-Eyed Women; Ramble On Rose
Terrapin Station (1977, Arista)
The music on this album is so precisely played and cleanly recorded it scarcely sounds like the Grateful Dead. Credit producer Keith Olsen with making a solid commercial effort. "Estimated Prophet" and the "Terrapin" suite are the primary draws here, but the latter, with its Paul Buckmaster arrangement and very British chorale, is a bit overripe. The disco "Dancing in the Streets" has none of the charm of the band's live versions of the tune. "Passenger" kicks a little booty and features a sharp Garcia slide guitar line. Personally I'd like to hear the pre-Buckmaster mixes of "Terrapin," if only to hear the drum duel between Mickey and Billy before it was buried under completely inappropriate dross.
Songs: Estimated Prophet; Dancin' in the Streets; Passenger; Samson & Delilah; Sunrise; Terrapin Station, Part One
Dick's Picks Vol. 3: Pembroke Pines, Florida, 5/22/77
The highly regarded spring '77 tour produced so many superb shows it's a shame that only one has made it to CD so far. But at least it's a great one. The first disc of the two-CD set features an excellent "Sugaree," Weir's jazzy "Lazy Lightning" > "Supplication," a "Dancing in the Streets" that completely blows away the Terrapin Station version, and "Help on the Way" > "Slipknot" > "Franklin's Tower." The real fireworks are in the second set, however, where we find transcendent versions of "Estimated Prophet," "Eyes of the World," "Wharf Rat" and then part of the "Terrapin" suite followed by a heartfelt "Morning Dew." A few mistakes here and there, but still fabulous. Two CDs.
Songs: Disc One — Funiculi Funicula; The Music Never Stopped; Sugaree; Lazy Lightning > Supplication; Dancin' in the Streets; Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower
Disc Two — Samson & Delilah; Sunrise; Estimated Prophet > Eyes of the World > Wharf Rat > Terrapin Station > Morning Dew
Picks Vol. 15: Englishtown, New Jersey 9/3/77
The Dead were famous for blowing the Big Ones (Monterey Pop, Woodstock, Egypt), but at this concert, played for more than 100,000 people at a racetrack in New Jersey, they rose to the occasion and kicked ass. Set one is not my favorite selection of tunes, for the most part, but the playing is often spectacular, particularly on the definitive versions of “Mississippi Half-Step” and “The Music Never Stopped.” Yow! The second set is a scorcher, too, with a rousing “Bertha” > “Good Lovin’,” charged run-throughs of “Estimated Prophet” and “Eyes of the World,” a relentless 19-minute “Not Fade Away,” and a “Terrapin” encore. There’s an energy to this entire affair that is positively electric, and something of a departure from the typical, somewhat mellow ’77 vibe. A great show.
Songs: Disc One — Promised Land, They Love Each Other, Me & My Uncle, Mississippi Half-Step, Looks Like Rain, Peggy-O, New Minglewood Blues, Friend of the Devil, The Music Never Stopped
Disc Two — Bertha > Good Lovin’, Loser, Estimated Prophet > Eyes of the World > Samson & Delilah
Disc Three — He’s Gone > Not Fade Away > Truckin’, Terrapin
Dick's Picks Vol. 10: Winterland 12/29/77
One of the things that strikes me about the 12/29/77 show is that there's an overwhelming mellowness to much of it. That doesn't mean there isn't dissonant space and the requisite complement of uptempo moments, but there's an evenness of mood that permeates much of the show (and of many '77 shows). There are relatively few raucous highs. Jams build deliberately and methodically. But there's also a hypnotic intensity that can't be denied, and that's where the real power lies. The historic aspect of the 12/29 show is that it marked the return of "China Cat Sunflower" > "I Know You Rider" to the repertoire for the first time since the October '74 "retirement" shows. Anyone who was at Winterland that night can tell you how special a moment it was when, during the second set, the "Playing in the Band" jam dissembled and fell off to almost nothing, and then the familiar opening of "China Cat" emerged — mirage-like at first — from the void. It is a great "China Cat > Rider" (especially the "Rider"), though on the CD (and thus the source soundboard tape) Garcia's vocals are somewhat buried in the mix, mitigating some of its power. The entire second set (Disc Two) has a remarkable flow, from the opening "Bertha > Good Lovin'" through the final reprise of "Playing in the Band." I'm a big fan of the slower, more easy-going '77 versions of "Not Fade Away," and the one on here is a pretty good one. Disc One is the entire first set of 12/29 and though there's nothing that's going to blow anyone away — the set list is pedestrian — it's all well-played with occasional flashes of brilliance. Disc Three presents the double encore — a concise "Terrapin" along with"Johnny B. Goode" — and then jumps ahead in time to the second set the next night (12/30) for an outstanding sequence of "Estimated Prophet" >"Eyes of the World" > "St. Stephen" > "Sugar Magnolia" that has as much energy, if not more, as most of the 12/29 show.
Songs: Disc One — Jack Straw; They Love Each Other; Mama Tried; Loser; Looks Like Rain; Tennessee Jed; New Minglewood Blues; Sugaree; Promised land
Disc Two — Bertha > Good Lovin'; Playing in the Band > jam > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > China Doll > Playing jam > drums > Not Fade Away > Playing reprise
Disc Three — Terrapin Station; Johnny B. Goode; Estimated Prophet > Eyes of the World > St. Stephen > Sugar Magnolia
Dick’s Picks Vol. 18: Madison, Wis.
2/3/78 and Cedar Falls, Iowa 2/5/78 (Released 2000, GDR)
This fabulous “Pick”
comes from the relatively underrated and unheralded winter of 1978, a tour that
took the Dead from Southern California (where Garcia was unable to sing because
of severe laryngitis) to the frozen tundra of the Midwest. In terms of their
overall character, early ’78 shows are similar to the beloved ’77 sound, but
there is also a very noticeable edge in Garcia’s playing that makes many of
his solos seem even more dangerous and exciting. It’s amazing that it’s
taken so long for a “Scarlet-Fire” from this era to make it onto an official
CD, but it was worth the wait. This one, from Cedar Falls, absolutely smokes
from beginning to end, while still clocking in at about 30 minutes. Veterans may
look at the “Other One > Wharf Rat > Around and Around” sequence and
shrug, but all three have inventive wrinkles and breathtaking surges that
elevate them. Likewise, Disc Two’s “Playing > Wheel > Playing”
hoagie from Madison is packed with dynamic interplay of the highest order.
Listen to Keith’s exceptional work on “Playing” and the way he meshes so
beautifully with Weir and Lesh. By ’78, Keith was on a downhill slide, but
here he sounds as fresh and inspired as his glory days of ‘72-’74. Disc
One combines tunes from first sets of the two shows and a pair from a Milwaukee
concert in between. There’s nothing earth-shaking here, but it’s all very
well executed (OK, the harmonies on “Dupree’s” are wince-inducing), and a
few—including “Passenger” and “The Music Never Stopped”—are
downright great. Don’t let this one pass by!
Songs: Disc One— Bertha
> Good Lovin’, Cold Rain and Snow, New Minglewood Blues, They Love Each
Other, It’s All Over Now, Durpree’s Diamond Blues, Looks Like Rain,
Brown-Eyed Women, Passenger, Deal The Music Never Stopped
Prophet > Eyes of the World > Playing in the Band > The Wheel >
Playing reprise, Johnny B. Goode
Disc Three— Samson and
Delilah, Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain, Truckin’ > drums >
The Other One > Wharf Rat > Around and Around
Shakedown Street (1978, Arista) 1/2
There are plenty of good songs on this Lowell George-produced studio effort — "Fire on the Mountain," "Stagger Lee," "If I Had the World to Give," "I Need a Miracle" and the title cut — but the performances are somewhat lackluster and it's devoid of any sort of cohesiveness. "Fire on the Mountain" and "Shakedown Street" are so abbreviated they never approach their potential. It's a mystery to me why the Dead were unable to cut loose in the studio the way counterparts like the Allmans and Little Feat could. This is my least favorite Dead studio album.
Songs: Good Lovin'; France; Shakedown Street; Serengetti; Fire On the Mountain; I Need a Miracle; From the Heart of Me; Stagger Lee; All New Minglewood Blues; If I Had the World to Give.
Dick's Picks Vol. 5: Oakland Auditorium Arena, 12/26/79
This three-CD set is nicely representative of the early days of Brent's tenure with the group. The first set (Disc One) doesn't contain many of my own favorites, but it's very well played and filled with energy. Disc Two is a mind-blower, however, with sparkling versions of "Uncle John's Band" and "Estimated Prophet," lots of inventive jamming after "Estimated" and "He's Gone," and a gritty, rough-and-tumble "Other One." The third disc contains a rare late-set "Brokedown Palace" and a surprise encore — "Shakedown Street" into the final instrumental/vocal reprise of "Uncle John's Band"; a slam-bang one-two punch.
Songs: Disc One — Cold Rain and Snow; C.C. Rider; Dire Wolf; Me & My Uncle > Big River; Brown-Eyed Women; New Minglewood Blues; Friend of the Devil; Looks Like Rain; Alabama Getaway > Promised Land
Disc Two — Uncle John's Band > Estimated Prophet > jam > He's Gone > The Other One > drums
Disc Three — Jam > Not Fade Away > Brokedown Palace > Around & Around > Johnny B. Goode; Shakedown Street > Uncle John's reprise
Go to Heaven (1980, Arista) 1/2
Producer Gary Lyons did a nice job of recording the band; unfortunately most of the material hadn't been played much onstage yet, so the songs sound "young" in Grateful Dead terms. The zippy "Alabama Getaway," which was nearly a hit single, is still fun and frisky. Most of the other highpoints are in Weir's songs — "Lost Sailor," "Saint of Circumstance" and "Feel Like a Stranger."
Songs: Alabama Getaway; Far From Me; Althea; Feel Like a Stranger; Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance; Antwerp's Placebo; Easy to Love You; Don't Ease Me In
Reckoning (1980 performances, released 1981, Arista)1/2
A wonderful live acoustic record culled from the Dead's 15th anniversary concerts at the Warfield Theater and Radio City Music Hall. (You can tell which songs were recorded where by listening to how noisy the crowd is — the New York cuts have more whistling, clapping and a higher noise floor in general.) Originally a double-album, it's now a single CD (with "Oh, Babe It Ain't No Lie" dropped from the original lineup so it could fit on one disc). It mixes traditional folk and country tunes such as "Deep Elem Blues," "The Race Is On," "Rosalie McFall" and "Been All Around This World," with cleverly acousticized Dead tunes including "China Doll," "To Lay Me Down," "Bird Song," "Cassidy" and "Ripple." A personal favorite; great on Sunday mornings!
Songs: Dire Wolf; The Race Is On; It Must Have Been the Roses; Dark Hollow; China Doll; Been All Around This World; Monkey and the Engineer; Jack-A-Roe; Deep Elem Blues; Cassidy; To Lay Me Down; Rosa Lee McFall; On the Road Again; Bird Song; Ripple
Dead Set (1980 performances, released 1981, Arista) 1/2
I was tremendously disappointed by this electric counterpart to Reckoning when it came out. It consists mostly of unadventurous (and edited) versions of first-set tunes, though the band stretches out a bit on "Feel Like a Stranger," "Franklin's Tower" and "Fire on the Mountain." A double-album when it was released, it now fits on one-CD (minus "Space") and it flows much better as a show on CD. But considering what was available to the Dead from the Radio City and Warfield shows, this still feels overly safe and tame.
Songs: Samson & Delilah; Friend of the Devil; New Minglewood Blues; Deal; Candyman; Little Red Rooster; Loser; Passenger; Feel Like A Stranger > Franklin's Tower; rhythm devils (drums); Fire on the Mountain; Greatest Story Ever Told; Brokedown Palace
Dicks Picks Vol. 13: Nassau Coliseum 5/6/81
It's obvious that Dick picked this show mostly because of the long, furious jam following "He's Gone" (which Weir dedicates to Irish Republican Army hunger-striker Bobby Sands, who died that day). There are hints of "Caution" in the jam and a fine Spanish section as well; overall it's a serious group excursion into the unknown. The rest of the show only occasionally matches that level of intensity. The first set is wild and woolly, with a good blend of uptempo and slower numbers and a powerful "Let It Grow" near the end that flies all over the place. On Disc Two, the beginning of the second set, there appear to be just four songs. On "High Time" (a treat at any show) you can hear that Garcia is very slightly out of sync with the rest of the band, and that feeling crops up at other points in the show as well. But Disc Two also contains a "hidden" unlisted filler track (which begins almost two minutes after the supposed "end" of track four, "Saint of Circumstance") — a version of "Scarlet Begonias" > "Fire on the Mountain." It starts out very slowly, but by mid-"Scarlet" the band is cooking, and then the jam between "Scarlet" and "Fire" is the Dead in exploration mode, and the "Fire on the Mountain" has many exciting moments. Presented with the opportunity to pick any "Scarlet > Fire" from the early '80s as filler I don't think I would've chosen this one, but hey, everybody's a critic! Disc Three after the "Bobby Sands" jam contains more solid playing, including a churning, if abbreviated, "Other One."
Songs: Disc One — Alabama Getaway > Gretaest Story Ever Told; They Love Each Other; Cassidy; Jack-A-Roe; Little Red Rooster; Dire Wolf; Looks Like Rain; Big Railroad Blues; Let It Grow; Deal
Disc Two — New Minglewood Blues; High Time > Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance; Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain
Disc Three — He's Gone > Caution/Spanish jam > drums > jam > The Other One > Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad > Wharf Rat > Good Lovin'; Don't Ease Me In
Dick's Picks Vol. 6: Hartford Civic Center, 10/14/83
The weakest of the "Dick's Picks" series in my estimation, this three-CD set still hits some amazing peaks on "Scarlet Begonias" > "Fire on the Mountain," "Estimated Prophet" > "Eyes of the World" and in a Spanish jam before "The Other One." A few flubs here and there, and the sound isn't as good as on other CDs in the series. Jerry and Brent both sound hoarse here and there, making some of the harmonies pretty difficult to listen to. There are dozens of superior shows from the early '80s waiting to be tapped.
Songs: Disc One — Alabama Getaway > Gretaest Story Ever Told; They Love Each Other; Mama Tried > Big River; Althea > C.C. Rider; Tennessee Jed; Hell in a Bucket > Keep Your Day Job
Disc Two — Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain; Estimated Prophet > Eyes of the World
Disc Three — Drums > jam > The Other One > Stella Blue > Sugar Magnolia
Dick’s Picks: Vol. 21-- Richmond
This “Pick” certainly must rank with second gen Vaultmeister David Lemieux’s most inspired choices. Nineteen eighty-five was a great year for the group, with the summer and fall tours producing a number of excellent shows. What makes this Richmond concert special is a combination of really unusual song choices and placement in the second set and the sheer force of the Dead’s playing. The first set is relatively straightforward but very well executed and full of energy. After the double-barreled opening of “Dancing in the Streets” and “Cold Rain and Snow,” the set mostly ambles through peppy historical pieces — superb versions of “Stagger Lee” and “Brown-Eyed Women,” and the gunslinger tunes “Me & My Uncle” and “Jack Straw.” The second set opener, “Samson & Delilah” continues the scorching ways of the first set, but then veers unexpectedly in a different direction. Garcia offers a fine, emotional reading of the relatively rare “High Time,” then follows with another ballad, “He’s Gone.” That then veers into a transitional “Spoonful,” which rolls into yet another Garcia ballad, “Comes A Time” — revived in June of ’85 and always an emotional tour de force. I can’t recall another show with three Garcia ballads before “drums.” (This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it!) “Comes A Time” moves smoothly into a strong “Lost Sailor,” which instead of blasting into its usual pairing with “Saint of Circumstance, leads into wondrous “drums” and “space” segments and then the triumphant “Saint” — this marks the only time those two songs were split by “drums.” Following a smashing “Gimme Some Lovin’,” there are two more surprises—a lovely, heartfelt version of Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me” (which Garcia performed only in 1985) and a raucous, set-ending “Gloria,” with Bob at his high octane best stretching out the spell-along chorus. I’m not a fan “Day Job,” but must acknowledge this encore version is one of the better ones I’ve heard. All in all a fascinating show—a few stumbles along the way show that they weren’t operating at 100 percent telepathy, and there isn’t much jamming, but there’s heaps of raw power and emotion. As a bonus, this set’s “filler” on Disc Three (from an ’80 Rochester show) features a fantastic, melodic “space” moving into a rather slow and unremarkable “Iko,” and then a “Morning Dew” that is stratospheric — one of the best yet on CD in my view (but then I’m partial to ’85). A rockin’ “Sugar Mag” then brings this often mind-blowing CD to an end. By the way, the sound throughout is killer; a beautiful mix and recording by Dan Healy, particularly the Richmond show.
Songs: Disc One — Dancing in the Streets > Cold Rain and Snow, Little Red Rooster, Stagger Lee, Me & My Uncle > Big River, Brown-Eyed Women, Jack Straw > Don’t Ease Me In
Disc Two — Samson and Delilah, High Time, He’s Gone > Spoonful > Comes A Time > Lost Sailor > drums >
Disc Three — space > Saint of Circumstance > Gimme Some Lovin > She Belongs to Me > Gloria, Keep Your Day Job, (from 9/2/80) space > Iko-Iko > Morning Dew > Sugar Magnolia
In the Dark (1987, Arista)
Considering most of the songs on this record were ones the band had been playing for several years, the performances sound surprisingly fresh. "Touch of Grey" is here, of course, as are "Throwing Stones," "West L.A. Fadeaway" and "Hell in a Bucket," to name a few. If I were to buy one late-period studio CD however, it would be The Arista Years, which contains the best tracks from each of their Arista albums, including five from In the Dark.
Songs: Touch of Grey, Hell in a Bucket, When Push Comes to Shove, West L.A. fadeaway; Tons of Steel; Throwing Stones; Black Muddy River
Dylan & the Dead
(1987 performances, released 1989, CBS)
Taken from the '87 Dead/Dylan tour, this generally disappointing disc only hints at the synergy the pairing occasionally achieved. Dylan made the selections himself, so who knows what his criteria were? My favorite cuts are the simmering "Slow Train Coming" and "Gotta Serve Somebody." "All Along the Watchtower" features some Garcia guitar pyrotechnics, but "Joey," about mobster Joe Gallo, is lumbering and tedious, even more than on Dylan's Desire album.
Songs: Slow Train; I Want You; Gotta Serve Somebody; Queen Jane, Approximately; Joey; All Along the Watchtower; Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Built to Last (1989, Arista) 1/2
The Dead's last studio album is a motley affair dominated by Brent's songs, two of which — "Just a Little Light" and "I Will Take You Home" — are excellent. The percolating "Foolish Heart" is Garcia's best track on the album. "Standing on the Moon" is a great song, but it isn't nearly as emotional on the album as it always was live. Putting "Blow Away" and "Victim or the Crime" on the same album was more than I could bear when the record came out, but I came to like "Victim" for the most part. The best songs from this CD are also collected on The Arista Years.
Songs: Foolish Heart; Just a Little Light; Built to Last; Blow Away; Victim or the Crime; We Can Run; Standing on the Moon; Picasso Moon; I Will Take You Home
Terrapin Station Benefit CD
A limited edition three-CD set put out to raise funds for the Dead's prospective Terrapin Station museum/performance space, this beautiful package features the entire 3/15/90 show from the Capitol Centre in Landover, Maryland, which fell on Phil's 50th birthday. It's a rip-roaring good time from beginning to end: The first disc contains fine versions of "Jack Straw," "Sugaree," "Althea," "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" and "Cassidy." The second set, which is spread over two discs, offers "China Cat Sunflower" > "I Know You Rider," a majestic "Terrapin" worthy of naming the CD after, and "Wharf Rat," among other delights. It's one of those shows where you can hear that the band is having a great time onstage, and their joy and playfulness is infectious. Garcia even plays a few notes of "Happy Birthday" to his bandmate at the close of "Just like Tom Thumb's Blues." The recording by John Cutler is flawless. If I had to choose just one of the four 1990 live CD sets available, I'd take this one.
Songs: Disc One — Jack Straw; Sugaree; Easy to Love You; Walkin' Blues; Althea; Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues; Tennessee Jed; Cassidy; Don't Ease Me In
Duisc Two — China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider; Samson and Delilah; Terrapin > jam > drums
Disc Three — Space > I Will Take You Home > Wharf Rat > Throwing Stones > Not Fade Away; Revolution
Dozin' at the Knick (1990
performances, released 1995, GDR)
"The Knick" is Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, New York, one of the best East Coast venues the Dead frequented in the '90s. This three-CD set was taken from the band's March '90 shows there. For me, the first disc is spoiled by two Brent tunes I never cared for, "Never Trust a Woman" and "Blow Away," though I like the versions of "Dupree's Diamond Blues," "Just a Little Light" and "Jack-A-Roe." It's a strange, disjointed first set they've put together here. Disc Two is outstanding, with "Playing in the Band" segueing into "Uncle John's Band," and a powerful "Terrapin" that leads into a long, melodic jam before "drums." (This jam is frequently referred to by Deadheads as the "Mind Left Body" jam, referring to a very similar chord progression found in Paul Kantner's 1973 song "Your Mind Has Left Your Body," on the album Baron Von Tollbooth and The Chrome Nun, and which featured Garcia. On this CD the jokesters at GDP call it the "Mud Love Buddy" jam; a silly name I refuse to use. Knowing the notoriously frugal Dead, they're probably afraid they'd have to pay Kantner royalties if it were called the "Mind Left Body" jam.) Disc 3 contains the post -"drums" of two different shows (3/24, 25) — one featuring well-played versions of "The Wheel" (still the only official live version available), "Watchtower" and "Stella Blue"; the other "I Will Take You Home," "Goin' Down the Road" and "Black Peter." Solid all the way around.
Songs: Disc One — Hell in a Bucket; Dupree's Diamond Blues; Just a Little Light; Walkin' Blues; Jack-A-Roe; Never Trust A Woman; When I Paint My Masterpiece; Row Jimmy; Blow Away
Disc Two — Playing in the Band > Uncle John's Band > Terrapin > jam > drums > space
Disc Three — space > The Wheel > All Along the Watchtower > Stella Blue > Not Fade Away; We Bid You Goodnight; space > I Will Take You Home > Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad > Black Peter > Around and Around; Brokedown Palace
Without a Net
Considering the wealth of great multitracked material there was to choose from, one could certainly quibble with a number of the choices made (by Phil) for this two-CD live set. Still, most of what's here is quite good, especially "Let It Grow," "Bird Song" "Eyes of the World" (with guest Branford Marsalis) and "Help on the Way." "Dear Mr. Fantasy" stands as a nice tribute to Brent, but the versions of "Looks Like Rain," "Victim or the Crime" and "Saturday Night" seemed unnecessary. The other three 1990 live CDs surpass this one, though again, the recording by John Cutler is top-notch.
Songs: Disc One — Feel Like A Stranger; Mississippi Half-Step; Walkin' Blues; Althea; Cassidy; Bird Song; Let It Grow
Disc Two — China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider; Looks Like Rain; Eyes of the World; Victim or the Crime; Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin's Tower; One More Saturday Night; Dear Mr. Fantasy
Dick's Picks Vol. 9: Madison Square Garden, 9/16/90
Like many people, I would have loved to have seen either (or both) of the final two Garden shows (9/19 and 9/20) from this epic series come out on CD; in my view they are superior shows. But this set still shows the septet with Vince Welnick and Bruce Hornsby at its combustible best during what many acknowledge was one of the Dead's best runs in the '90s. Excellent versions of "Cassidy," "Deal" and "Cold Rain and Snow" appear in the first set, though that set is marred for me by an annoying reverb slap on one of the snare drums that gives a number of songs a leaden quality, and over-loud keyboard lines by newcomer Vince (not his fault; it's the mix). Fortunately that echo-y snare is nowhere to be heard in the second set, which is a marvel, loaded with spectacular jamming after "He's Gone," before and after "Standing on the Moon" and during "Iko Iko." Garcia coaxes all sorts of interesting MIDI sounds out of his axe, from horns to pipe organ. "Morning Dew" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" are delivered with great authority and sensitivity.
Songs: Disc One — Hell in a Bucket; Cold Rain and Snow; Little Red Rooster; Stagger Lee; Queen Jane, Approximately; Tennessee Jed; Cassidy; Deal
Disc Two — Samson & Delilah; Iko-Iko; Looks Like Rain; He's Gone > jam > drums
Disc Three — Space > Standing on the Moon > jam > I Need A Miracle > Morning Dew; Revolution
Dicks Picks Vol. 17: Boston Garden,
unconventional choice from a famous run of shows (9/26 would have been the
obvious crowd-pleaser), this three-CD set captures the Hornsby-Welnick era in
full bloom. The septet has a big, dense sound, with Bruce laying down a
commanding, sometimes ornate carpet on the grand piano, while Vince pads around
the edges adding color. Listen, for example, how Hornsby transforms the usually
sleepy “Walkin’ Blues” with his confident pounding. I also really like the
combo of “Roses” and an ultra-peppy “Dire Wolf.” It’s a strong show
from beginning to end, with power-packed, nearly flawless versions of many
favorites, including “Help On the Way,” “The Music Never Stopped,”
“Crazy Fingers” (one of the finest modern versions), “Playing in the
Band” and “Terrapin” (which is followed by an exciting jam sans Garcia).
“China Doll” never quite finds its correct tempo, but otherwise its all
quite wondrous—sort of modern rococo Dead. An added bonus is the inclusion of
“Samson and Delilah” and “Eyes of the World” from
3/31; the latter tune has
some spectacular moments in it.
Songs: Disc One— Help on
the Way > Slipknot > Franklin’s Tower, Walkin’ Blues, It Must Have
Been the Roses > Dire Wolf, Queen Jane Approximately, Tennessee Jed, The
Music Never Stopped
Disc Two—Victim or the
Crime > Crazy Fingers > Playing in the Band > Terrapin > jam >
drums > space
Disc Three—That Would Be
Something > Playing reprise > China Doll > Throwing Stones > Not
Fade Away, Samson and Delilah > Eyes of the World
Infrared Roses (1991, GDR)
Produced and assembled by Bob Bralove, Infrared Roses is a fascinating hour of "drums" and "space" distilled from late '80s and a few 1990 concerts. Most of the pieces (which were titled by Robert Hunter) were constructed by Bralove from multiple performances and there's plenty of musical diversity here. At its heart it's completely free-form improvisation, which gives the CD an exciting and unpredictable edge. Branford Marsalis appears on "Apollo at the Ritz." Sonically it's a masterpiece. Not for every taste.
Assemblages: Crowd Sculpture; Parallelogram; Little Nemo in Nightland; Riverside Rhapsody; Post-Modern Highrise Table Top Stomp; Infrared Roses; Silver Apples of the Moon; Speaking in Swords; Magnesium Night Light; Sparrow Hawk Row; River of Nine Sorrows; Apollo at the Ritz
Grayfolded (1996, Swell)
For those who can't get enough of "Dark Star" from conventional tape and CD releases, here's a two-CD set that is nothing but "Dark Star" (OK, there are portions of "The Other One" and a few other themes worked in here.) This bizarre effort is the work of John Oswald, who is noted for his ingenious guerrilla deconstructions/reconstructions of songs by everyone from The Doors to Michael Jackson, usually without the artist's permission. He snips tape, combines, repeats and deletes different elements to create "new" compositions — sort of an audio Robert Rauschenberg. Here, the Dead let Oswald go wild with dozens of versions of "Dark Star" from their tape vault, which he molded into a two-hour "Super Dark Star" that incorporates shows from 1968-1992. Frankly, it's a bit much for me, but I appreciate the effort and spirit of the attempt, and the liner notes by Rob Bowman are insightful.
The Arista Years (1996, Arista)1/2
Rare indeed is the "hits" package that actually reflects the best of a group's output for a label, but this two-CD set really does contain almost every track worth owning from the Dead's Arista studio albums (as well as a few from the three live Arista releases). The only conspicuous omissions are "Lost Sailor" and "Althea."
Songs: Disc One— Estimated Prophet, Passenger, Samson & Delilah; Terrapin Station; Good Lovin'; Shakedown Street; Fire on the Mountain; I Need A Miracle; Alabama Getaway; Far From Me; Saint of Circumstance; Dire Wolf; Cassidy; Feel Like A Stranger > Franklin's Tower
Disc Two — Touch of Grey; Hell in a Bucket; West L.A. Fadeaway; Throwing Stones; Black Muddy River; Foolish heart; Built To Last; Just a Little Light; Picasso Moon; Standing on the Moon; Eyes of the World
Fallout From the Phil Zone (1997, GDR)
Phil chose these 11 unrelated live tracks, which range from a remarkable, at times hilarious, 32-minute workout on "Midnight Hour" from 1967 (with Pigpen in peak form, trying to play matchmaker to members of the audience and even attempting to get Weir paired up— "C’mon, Bobby!" Pig chides), to "Visions of Johanna" in 1995. There's also a phenomenal "Dancing in the Streets" from 1970, the justly famous Hollywood Palladium "Hard to Handle" from '71, a 20-minute, completely psychedelicized "Viola Lee Blues" from '69 and very different-sounding "Jack-A-Roe" from 1977. A bit disjointed, but it contains some spectacular peaks. How 'bout more, Phil?
Songs: Disc One — Dancin' in the Streets; New Speedway Boogie; Viola Lee Blues; Easy Wind; Mason's Children; Hard to Handle
Disc Two — The Music never Stopped; Jack-A-Roe; In the Midnight Hour; Visions of Johanna; Box of Rain
So Many Roads (1965-1995)
(1999, GDR) 1/2
As co-producer of this 5-CD
box (with David Gans and Steve Silberman) I should probably disqualify myself
from any sort of critique, but it’s a strong package that deserves mention.
The set contains more than six hours of music spanning the Dead’s entire
career, from their first studio demos (including Garcia’s Dylanesque “I
Can’t Come Down”) to the group’s final show in Chicago in July 1995 (the
deeply moving title cut). The box effectively demonstrates the broad spectrum of
styles the band was capable of. Among my favorites are the punky Weir rarity
“You Don’t Have to Ask” (‘66); a sultry version of “The Same Thing”
(‘67); a beautifully-sung studio version of “Mason’s Children,”
originally intended forWorkingman’s Dead
(‘69); a trippy “That’s It for the Other One” (‘69); a passionate live
take of Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home” (‘72); the justly famous
“Soundcheck jam” from Watkins Glen (‘73); a classic “Eyes of the
World” from the Dead’s Winterland “retirement” shows (‘74); a volcanic
“Playing in the Band” (‘88); an unfinished studio version of “Believe It
or Not” (‘89) and a joyous “Scarlet > Fire” from ‘90. Disc 5
contains powerful and intimate rehearsal versions of several of the Dead’s
later unrecorded tunes, including “Days Between,” “Eternity” and “Lazy
River Road,” plus a song the band never played live — the old Irish folk
tune “Whiskey in the Jar,” charmingly rendered by Garcia. There’s plenty
here for every taste. You might not love it all, but much of it is first-rate,
and it tells quite a musical story. Also, it comes packaged with a book
containing a number of fine essays about the Dead, as well as many previously
unpublished photos of the band.
Songs: Disc One—Can’t
Come Down, Caution, You Don’t Have To Ask, On the Road Again, Cream Puff War,
I Know You Rider, The Same Thing, Dark Star > China Cat Sunflower > The
Eleven, Clementine, Mason’s Children, To Lay Me Down
Disc Two— That’s It For
the Other One, 2/18/71 jam, Chinatown Shuffle, Sing Me Back Home, Watkins Glen
soundcheck jam, Dark Star jam > Spanish jam > U.S. Blues
Disc Three— Eyes of the
World, The Wheel, Stella Blue, Estimated Prophet, The Music Never Stopped,
Disc Four— Cassidy, Hey
Pocky Way, Believe It or Not, Playing in the Band, Gentlemen Start Your Engines,
Death Don’t Have No Mercy, Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain, Bird
Song, 9/8/90 jam
Disc Five— Terrapin, 9/18/90 jam, Way to Go Home, Liberty, Lazy River Road, Eternity, 2/19/93 jam, Days Between, Whiskey in the Jar, So Many Roads
Solo Albums, Splinter Groups and Offshoots
Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions
For years there have been a couple of songs from this 1964 Top of the Tangent show by the pre-Warlocks jug band in circulation among tape collectors, but this complete set appeared out of nowhere in the winter of ‘99, and what a delight it is! It gives the most complete picture yet of the jug band’s anarchic spirit. During its brief existence, the jug band’s membership was fluid, though the core of Garcia, Weir, Pigpen and Dave Parker was a constant; here, they’re joined by Tom Stone and Mike Garbett. The repertoire is largely lifted from the Jim Kweskin Jug Band (the reigning juggers of the day) with a few additions — a couple of Pigpen-sung numbers and two tunes from the Bay Area’s eclectic folk-bluesman Jesse Fuller, "The Monkey and the Engineer" and "Beat It On Down the Line," both of which were later played by the Dead. Garcia is the clear leader of the group, though lead vocals get passed around liberally. It’s interesting to note that Tom Stone, rather than Weir, sings "Beat It on Down the Line." There’s little instrumental virtuosity on display here; quite a change from Garcia’s forays into bluegrass. Still, it’s a rollicking good time from beginning to end. And the disc closes with a wonderful backstage interview with the band that shows how little Garcia’s and Weir’s personalities changed through the years. A must for GD history buffs and fans of fun music.
Songs: Overseas Stomp; Ain’t It Crazy (The Rub); Yes She Do, No She Don’t; Memphis; Boodle Am Shake; Big Fat Woman; Borneo; My Gal; Shake That Thing; Beat It on Down the Line; Cocaine Habit Blues; Beedle Um Bum; On the Road Again; The Monkey and the Engineer; In the Jailhouse Now; Crazy Words, Crazy Tune
Garcia (1971, WB) 1/2
Garcia plays all the instruments except drums (Billy K.) on this maiden solo effort. It contains superb early versions of "Bird Song," "Sugaree," "Deal," "The Wheel," "Loser" and "To Lay Me Down," plus several minutes of cool sonic collages/weirdness. A classic.
Songs: Deal, Bird Song; Sugaree; Loser; Late for Supper; Spidergawd, Eep Hour; To Lay Me Down; An Odd Little Place; The Wheel
New Riders of the Purple Sage (1971, Columbia)
The only New Riders album recorded when Garcia was in the group is mostly a showcase for the songs and singing of John Dawson (aka Marmaduke), but Garcia's pedal steel is the dominant instrumental coloring. Whether he was a classically great steel player or not, Garcia definitely had his own sound on the instrument, and this record shows his versatility. "Dirty Business," with Jerry on fuzzed steel, is worth the price of the CD, but there are several other outstanding songs, too, including "Henry" and "Last Lonely Eagle."
Songs: I Don't Know You; Whatcha Gonna Do; Portland Woman; Henry; Dirty Business; Glendale Train; Garden of Eden; All I Ever Wanted; Last Lonely Eagle; Louisiana Lady
Side Trips, Vol. 1: Howard Wales and Jerry Garcia Live
What a nice out-of-the-blue surprise this was when it was released last year—a previously unknown performance by the all-instrumental quartet of Garcia, jazz keyboardist Howard Wales, bassist John Kahn and drummer Bill Vitt. There's no documentation about when or where the performance was, but we can presume that this is the sort of music the foursome made week after week at the Matrix club in San Francisco during much of 1970 — when Garcia wasn't on tour. (The following year, Wales dropped out and Merl Saunders came into the group.) It's easy to understand why Garcia enjoyed playing in this unit. Wales' compositions, such as they were, were open-ended enough to allow for almost endless improvisation, and the keyboardist was an inventive player himself with serious jazz and rock chops. The shortest of the four tunes on this CD is a little over nine minutes, the longest is 24-and-a-half, so there's oodles of noodling — much of it purposeful and inspired, some it clearly just messing around in hopes of stumbling onto some thread or idea. I always felt that Garcia's playing in the Saunders-Garcia groups bore only scant resemblance to his playing in the Dead; that by choice he constructed his solos differently and pursued different melodic and rhythmic paths than he did with the Dead. His playing here, however, perhaps two years before the famous Saunders-Garcia Keystone Berkeley recordings, still sounds as if he is in Grateful Dead mode. There are even hints of "Dark Star" at around the halfway point of the opening track, "Free Flight." It's a fascinating glimpse of Garcia in transition, searching for an instrumental voice outside his gig with the Grateful Dead. Like all the Wales-Garcia music that's surfaced, a lot of this is pretty dense stuff, but there are moments of tremendous inspiration and clarity that show the magic of this short-lived but important collaboration. And it sounds great.
There are so many different Garcia group lineups worthy of a "Side Trips" treatment, let's hope this is the first of many discs of solo material.
Songs: Free Flight; Space Funk; All For Life; Venutian Blues
Howard Wales and Jerry Garcia:
This all-instrumental album is more Wales' show than Garcia's, though Jerry plays tasteful leads throughout. Each piece captures a different mood, ranging from quiet spaces that recall Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis, to percolating funk. I would have liked to hear these players stretch out more. John Kahn and Bill Vitt played bass and drums respectively, marking their first appearances on record with Garcia. It was also the first time Garcia played with Martin Fierro.
Songs: Morning in Marin; Da Bird Song; South Side Strut; Up From the Desert; DC-502; One A.M. Approach; Uncle Martin's; Evening in Marin
at Keystone Vol. 1
Most of what's on this disc and Vol. 2 were part of a double-album released in 1973. In 1988, Fantasy Records split the album in half, added an unreleased track from the same shows at the Keystone Berkeley to each, and also put together a third disc called Keystone Encores. Unfortunately the three are sold separately, rather than as a box. Vol. 1 contains several gems, most notably an extended jam called "Merl's Tune," a rollicking take on Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come," and Dylan's "Positively 4th Street," which is augmented by David Grisman on mandolin.
Songs: Keepers; Positively 4th Street; The Harder They Come; It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry; Space; It's No Use; Merl's Tune
at Keystone Vol. 2
My favorite of the three Keystone CDs, this one shows the Saunders-Garcia band at its best, with a pair of rockabilly numbers —"That's All Right" and "Mystery Train" — a long, liesurely and very spacy romp through the standard "My Funny Valentine," the funky "Someday Baby" and, best of all, "Like A Road," which is dripping with feeling.
Songs: That's All Right, Mama; My Funny Valentine; Someday Baby; Like A Road; Mystery Train
This one doesn't hang together as well as the other two discs, but there's still plenty of good jamming here. I particularly like the confident versions of two Motown classics, "I Second That Emotion" and "How Sweet It Is," and Blind Lemon Jefferson's bluesy "One Kind Favor." Today, many bands tip their hats to Motown, but in the early and mid-'70s relatively few groups did, much less did it as imaginatively as Saunders and Garcia did.
Songs: Hi-Heel Sneakers; It's Too Late (She's Gone); I Second That Emotion; One Kind Favor; Money Honey; How Sweet It Is
Old & In the Way
The original live album from this brilliant, short-lived bluegrass group. Peter Rowan handles most of the lead vocals and he wrote three of the best songs — "Midnight Moonlight," "Panama Red" and "Land of the Navajo." Garcia plays perky banjo and adds to the vocal harmonies throughout, but Vassar Clements is the group's strongest soloist. Their version of the Stones' "Wild Horses" alone makes it worth owning. Great fun.
Songs: Pig in a Pen; Midnight Moonlight; Old & in the Way; Knockin' On Your Door; The Hobo Song; Panama Red; Wild Horses; Kissimmee Kid; White Dove; Land of the Navajo
Old & in the Way: That
High Lonesome Sound
Another 48 minutes of first-rate music from the same October '73 shows that yielded the group's first disc. (There are no repeats between the two.) This one leans more toward classic bluegrass repertoire, but also contains a pair of strong Rowan tunes, as well as a version of "Catfish John" (which soon after became part of Garcia's electric songbook) and an inspired reworking of the '50s rock 'n' roll song "The Great Pretender."
Songs: Hard Hearted; The Great Pretender; Lost; Catfish John; High Lonesome Sound; Lonesome Fiddle Blues; Love Please Come Home; Wicked Path of Sin; Uncle Pen; I'm On My Way Back to the Old Home; Lonesome L.A. Cowboy; I Ain't Broke But I'm Badly Bent; Orange Blossom Special; Angel Band
Old & in the Way: Breakdown
With nearly 70 minutes of music, this disc may be the best buy of the group's three live albums. It features alternate versions of six cuts from the first album, but the rest are previously unreleased tunes, including more numbers from Bill Monroe and other bluegrass greats, and a pair of Garcia-penned instrumentals, "Old & in the Way Breakdown" and "Jerry's Breakdown." This set and That High Lonesome Sound contain informative liner notes about the band and the songs, as well as rare photos.
Songs: Home Is Where the Heart Is; Down Where the River Bends; On and On; The Hobo Song; Old & In the Way Breakdown; Till the End of the World Rolls 'Round; Panama Red; You'll Find Her Name Written There; Kissimmee Kid; Goin' to the Races; Midnight Moonlight; Working on a Building; Muleskinner Blues; Pig In a Pen; Drifting Too Far From the Shore; Jerry's Breakdown; Wild Horses; Blue Mule
Compliments (1974, Round/GDR) 1/2
Garcia's second solo album finds him singing a wide variety of R&B-flavored tunes backed up by L.A. session players and a few Bay Area friends. Some of John Kahn's arrangements are interesting, but Garcia rarely cuts loose on guitar, and his vocal style isn't really suited to a few of the songs. A curiosity with some highpoints (I've always loved Peter Rowan's "Mississippi Moon"), but hardly essential listening.
Songs: Let It Rock; When the Hunter Gets Captured By the Game; That's What Love Will Make You Do; Russian Lullaby; Turn on the Bright Lights; He Ain't Give You None; What Goes Around; Let's Spend the Night Together; Mississippi Moon; Midnight Town
Reflections (1976, Round/GDR)1/2
I play this album more than any Grateful Dead studio albums. Half of the disc is Garcia fronting the Dead; the other half is dominated by players from his mid-'70s solo group, with Nicky Hopkins shining on piano. "Comes a Time" and "Might As Well" are the strongest of the Dead tunes, but my favorite cuts are with the solo band — "Mission in the Rain" and Allen Toussaint's beautiful "I'll Take a Melody."
Songs: Might As Well; Mission in the Rain; They Love Each Other; I'll Take A Melody; It Must Have Been the Roses; Tore Up Over You; Catfish John; Comes A Time
Jerry Garcia Band: Don’t Let Go (Orpheum Theater, SF, 5/21/76)
I was at this show but have zero memory of it — whereas the Dead’s triumphant return to San Francisco at the Orpheum a few weeks later (following their hiatus) is still etched on my frontal lobes. Maybe it says something about the way I, and many Bay Area fans, regarded the two entities: Jerry and his solo groups were always around; you could usually get in without a sweat, and once you were inside it was a pretty casual affair. I always dug it, but I never left the club or concert hall feeling as though my life had been changed…that I had become a new being, which is how the best Dead shows affected me. I had been a big fan of the Jerry band with pianist Nicky Hopkins that preceded this lineup, so I recall my first reaction to seeing this group was thinking that Keith Godchaux was a much more subdued choice. But the good news that this fine two-disc set reveals is that Keith was great in this group! And Donna sounds better than she usually did in the Dead, mostly, I suppose, because she could actually hear herself onstage. The material here is kind of standard mid-‘70s Jerry, with wickedly played mid-tempo R&B material (“Tore Up Over You,” “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” “The Way You Do the Things You Do”) offset by slow and slower songs, including a snail-paced version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” that practically makes “Lucky Old Sun” sound like “Johnny B. Goode.” But you know what? It works. As does the slower “My Sisters and Brothers.” The real treasures here are the relaxed “Sitting In Limbo”; a pair of great tunes Garcia had recently recorded for his excellent Reflections album — “Mission in the Rain” and “I’ll Take A Melody”; and the set’s two jamming songs, “Don’t Let Go” (not as “out” as later versions) and “Lonesome and a Long Way From Home,” which contains a cool proto-“Fire on the Mountain” jam. The bonus track, “Mighty High,” nicely shows the group’s formidable gospel chops. Lots to groove on here, though I prefer the later lineup with both Donna and Maria Muldaur.
Songs: Disc One — Sugaree, They Love Each Other, That’s What Love Will Make You Do, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Sitting in Limbo, Mission in the Rain, Don’t Let Go
Disc Two — After Midnight, Strange Man, Tore Up Over You, I’ll Take A Melody, The Way You Do the Things You Do, My Sisters and Brothers > Lonesome and a Long Way from Home, Mighty High
Jerry Garcia Band: Cats Under the Stars
Several strong Hunter-Garcia originals debuted here, including "Reuben and Cherise," the title track and "Gomorrah." "Palm Sunday" is a little jewel, and Donna Godchaux's "Rain" builds powerfully. This was Garcia's favorite solo record. It's a tad laid-back, but it has a an agreeable and cohesive feel and it's worn well.
Songs: Ruben and Cherise; Love In the Afternoon; Palm Sunday; Cats Under the Stars; Rhapsody in Red; Rain; Down Home; Gomorrah
Run for the Roses (1983, Arista) 1/2
An uneven selection of tunes performed without much passion. The title cut, "Valerie" and "Midnight Getaway" are all well-written songs, but there's something slightly bloodless about the performances. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" is a snooze, and the reggae-ized "I Saw Her Standing There" is just a bad idea.
Songs: Run for the Roses; I Saw Her Standing There; Without Love; Midnight Getaway; Leave the Little Girl Alone; Valerie; Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band: Almost Acoustic
A bounty of acoustic folk, blues and old-timey tunes served up engagingly by Garcia, Sandy Rothman, David Nelson, John Kahn, Kenny Kosek and David Kemper. From Mississippi John Hurt songs to numbers popularized by the Blue Sky Boys and Elizabeth Cotten, there's plenty of variety on this disc. Highlights include Jimmie Rodgers' "Blue Yodel #9," a harmony-filled take of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "Oh, The Wind and Rain" and a sweet version of "Ripple" to close. I'd love to hear a Vol. 2 with all the songs the group performed that didn't make it onto this disc.
Songs: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; Deep Elem Blues; Blue Yodel #9; Spike Driver Blues; I've Been All Around This World; I'm Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail; I'm troubled; Oh, the Wind and Rain; The Girl at the Crossroads Bar; Oh, Babe, It Ain't No Lie; Casey Jones; Diamond Joe; Gone Home; Ripple
Jerry Garcia Band: Shining
Good soundboard tapes of latter day JGB shows are few and far between, so it’s a treat to dig in to this two-CD set, thoughtfully compiled by David Lemieux, and featuring 15 songs, none of which have appeared on official JGB releases before (a couple were on Saunders-Garcia discs). Though the songs come from different shows over a five-year span (the particulars are not listed, as per the Dead’s pointless and annoying tradition), this could easily be one very hot show — the sound quality is reasonably consistent (though there are songs where I wish Garcia’s vocals were more prominent) and this is a group that really changed little sonically through the years so, for example, ’89 shows don’t sound much different than ’93 shows in terms of the playing. Disc One is very R&B-heavy, with the moving title cut, Van Morrison’s biting “He Ain’t Give You None” and a long workout on the Solomon Burke classic “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” (which sound suspiciously “Scarlet”-like in Garcia’s hands) being the clear standouts. Jimmy Cliff’s “Struggling Man” bops along at a crisp clip and “Second That Emotion” is a perennial favorite. For my money, though, Disc Two is where the hot action is, as well as the emotional center of the set. After a blistering workout on “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” we finally get a true ballad, Peter Rowan’s gorgeous “Mississippi Moon”; it’s a truly lovely performance. The disc’s two other ballads — Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street,” which is faster than the old Jerry-Merl version, and Daniel Lanois’ beautiful and lyrically mysterious “The Maker”— are also deeply affecting. Melvin Seals plays both piano and organ on “The Maker,” a nice touch. I find myself listening to this track over and over; what a knockout! “Let It Rock” gives Jerry a chance to do his midtempo Chuck Berry shred, and “Midnight Moonlight” will have you kickin’ up your heels as the disc comes to a close. Though this set doesn’t have quite as high a batting average as the two previous live JGB CDs in my view, it’s still an admirable compilation and a “must” for fans of the Garcia’s solo work. Don’t let the hideous cover scare you off. The music is the real deal!
Songs: Disc One — Shining Star, He Ain’t Give You None, Second That Emotion, Money Honey, Struggling Man, Russian Lullaby, Everybody Needs Somebody to Love
Jerry Garcia/David Grisman (1992, Acoustic Disc)
An eclectic acoustic masterpiece. It's all over the map stylistically, with timeless folk ballads alongside tunes written by Hoagy Carmichael, Grisman, Hunter/Garcia and others, but it sounds remarkably unified. "Grateful Dawg" is a playful instrumental romp written by Garcia and Grisman, and Grisman's moody and mysterious, 17-minute "Arabia" is a stirring blend of Spanish and Middle Eastern textures. The rhythm section of Jim Kerwin (bass) and Joe Craven (percussion) adds immeasurably to the music. Not to be missed!
Songs: The Thrill Is Gone; Grateful Dawg; Two Soldiers; friend of the Devil; Russian Lullaby; Dawg's waltz; Walkin' Boss; Rockin' Chair; Arabia
Jerry Garcia Band
This live two-CD set brilliantly captures the latter day JGB and shows how they effortlessly moved from ballads to rockers to reggae to gospel to R&B rave-ups. With tunes by Dylan, The Band, Peter Tosh, The Beatles, Smokey Robinson and others, the discs cover wide terrain, and Garcia gives his all on every track. I especially like "Dear Prudence," "Waiting for a Miracle," "Don't Let Go" and "Tangled Up in Blue"; but it's all great.
Songs: Disc One — The Way You Do the Things You Do; Waiting for a Miracle; Simple Twist of Fate; Get Out of My Life; My Sisters and Brothers; I Shall Be Released; Dear Prudence; Deal
Disc Two — Stop That Train; Senor; Evangeline; The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down; Don't Let Go; That Lucky Old Sun; Tangled Up in Blue
Jerry Garcia Band: How
Sweet It Is
Though this single CD consists of performances that were passed over when the earlier JGB live album was made, it's definitely on a par with that set. Besides the title track, it contains sterling versions of Dylan's "Tough Mama," "Cats Under the Stars," Hank Ballard's "Tore Up Over You," the R&B chestnut "That's What Love Will Make You Do" and, most affecting of all, "Like a Road."
Songs: How Sweet It Is; Tough Mama; That's What Love Will Make You Do; Someday Baby; Cats Under the Stars; Tears of Rage; Think; Gomorrah; Tore Up Over You; Like A Road
For Kids Only
The spotlight here is on charming old folk tunes performed with children in mind. Garcia's singing is warm, friendly and at times wit-filled — I can picture him pickin' these tunes on a porch in rural Virginia. Grisman effectively joins in on harmony vocals on a number of tracks, and his arrangements are imaginative throughout. "Jenny Jenkins, "There Ain't No Bugs on Me," "Teddy Bear's Picnic" and "Hot Corn, Cold Corn" are delightful, and the disc-ending "Shenandoah Lullaby" is lovely and serene. I should note that my young children loved this CD; yours will, too.
Songs: Jenny Jenkins; Freight Train; A Horse named Bill; Three Men Went A-Hunting; When First Unto This Country; Arkansas Traveler; Hopalong Peter; Teddy Bear's Picnic; There Ain't No Bugs On Me; The Miller's Will; Hot Corn, Cold Corn; A Shenandoah Lullaby
Garcia/Grisman: Shady Grove (1996, Acoustic Disc)
Taken from some of the 40 sessions Garcia and Gisman recorded, this posthumous release collects 14 folk cuts, including "Stealin'" ( a tune both Mother McCree's and the Dead also played), the affecting murder ballads "Louis Collins" and "Wind and Rain," "Jackaroo" (the same song as "Jack-A-Roe") and "Hesitation Blues." The duo are joined by various other players on several tracks, but even so it has a spare, bare-bones feel to it. The inclusion of some studio dialogue is a nice touch. Garcia's vocals on a few tracks are a little rough and weary-sounding; otherwise it would earn a five-star rating. An attractive and informative booklet helps makes this a very appealing package.
Songs: Shady Grove, Stealin'; Off to Sea Once More; The Sweet Sunny South; Louis Collins; Fair Ellender; Jackaroo; Casey Jones; Dreadful Wind and Rain; I Truly Understand; The Handsome Cabin Boy; Whiskey in the Jar; Down in the Valley
Garcia/Grisman: So What (1998, Acoustic Disc)
Ever since the first Garcia-Grisman album was released in 1991 and it didn't include a version of Miles Davis' "So What" — a favorite at the first Garcia-Grisman live shows— Deadheads have been clamoring for it to be released. Well, "all good things in all good time," as Jerry sang in "Run for the Roses." Three years after his death, Grisman released this CD of their acoustic group (including Mssrs Kerwin and Craven) excursions into the jazz world. The CD includes three studio takes of "So What" (one each from 1990, '91 and '92) and all three are cool little cookers with different personalities. The tempos differ and the interior solos vary considerably, as befits a pair of musicians who never really "learned" the piece beyond the head and the basic structure, and didn't play it enough to get in any ruts with it. I'm not always a fan of alternate takes on a CD, but these are all keepers. Likewise, Miles Davis' "Milestones" and Milt Jackson's "Bag's Groove" (which was also in Miles' repertoire for a while) are presented in two versions each; all are swinging. There's just one take of Grisman's "16/16," but the group nails it. This is easy listening in the best sense of the term—it's a light-hearted, groovelicious romp.
Songs: So What; Bag's Groove; Milestones; 16/16
Rice: The Pizza Tapes (1993
performances, released 2000, Acoustic Disc)
Six seconds into the first
song, Garcia stops, laughs and says, “I done fucked it up already!” But then
he, Grisman and guitar great Tony Rice ease into a chilling version of “Man of
Constant Sorrow.” That’s the pattern throughout this fine 74-minute trio
CD—there’s great jocularity between songs, but when it gets down to pickin’
it’s serious business! Rice and Garcia mesh beautifully throughout; Rice’s
silvery lines contrasting nicely with Garcia’s more rough-hewn approach.
There’s wonderful improvisation on an instrumental “Summertime” (with just
Rice and Garcia) and before “Shady Grove,” and their frolic through “So
What” is a joy. “Amazing Grace” is surprisingly moving, even with
Garcia’s creaky vocals. Some harmony vocals would have lifted the set even
higher, but this is raw and unadorned—a fascinating glimpse at three master
musicians at work...and play.
Songs: Man of Constant
Sorrow, Louis Collins, jam > Shady Grove, jam > Summertime, Long Black
Veil, Rosalee McFall, Drifting Too Far From the Shore, Amazing Grace, Little
Sadie, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, So What, House of the Rising Sun
Selected Garcia Sessions and Appearances on Others' Records
Jefferson Airplane: Surrealistic Pillow (1967, RCA). Garcia plays electric guitar on "Today" and acoustic guitar on "Comin' Back to Me," "Plastic Fantastic Lover" and "My Best Friend." JG's role is definitely supportive rather than featured.
Jefferson Airplane: Volunteers (1969, RCA). Garcia plays pedal steel guitar on "The Farm."
Country Joe & The Fish: Live! Fillmore West 1969 (Released 1996, Vanguard). Jerry, Steve Miller and Jorma Kaukonen trade licks on a big jam session called "Donovan's Reef" recorded in January '69. A lot of aimless noodling, but some good, intense moments, too.
Soundtrack: Zabriskie Point (1970, TCM/Rhino) The original soundtrack album for this Michaelangelo Antonioni film included an excerpt from the Live Dead "Dark Star" and Jerry's stark, haunting "Love Scene," cut solo on electric guitar in January 1970. The 1997 two-CD version of the soundtrack contains those plus four complete takes Garcia improvised for the "Love Scene." Fascinating.
Crosby, Stills & Nash: Deja Vu (1970, Atlantic). Garcia plays the steel guitar break on "Teach Your Children."
Paul Kantner & Jefferson Starship: Blows Against the Empire (1970, RCA). Kantner's ambitious hippie sci-fi epic benefits greatly from Garcia's electric guitar and pedal steel on several tracks. A personal favorite, but probably not everyone's cup of psychedelic tea.
David Crosby: If I Could Only Remember My Name (1971, Atlantic). Garcia is given a co-writer's credit and plays electric guitar on "What Are Their Names" and contributes one of his prettiest steel lines to "Laughing." A great, critically underrated album featuring many of the top players from the San Francisco/Marin music scene. Take a chance on it; you won't be disappointed.
Graham Nash: Songs for Beginners (1971, Atlantic). Jerry lends his pedal steel touch to "I Used to Be a King" and "Man in the Mirror."
Paul Kantner and Grace Slick: Sunfighter (1971, RCA). Garcia's wiry guitar lines stand out on three tracks — "Million," "Holding Together" and "When I Was a Boy I Watched the Wolves."
Bob Weir: Ace (1972, WB). For my money, Weir never topped this first solo effort, which features the Grateful Dead (minus Pigpen) and a few other players backing him. The version of "Playing in the Band" is one of the best studio performances ever by the band. Garcia also excels on "Looks Like Rain" (where he plays steel), "Greatest Story Ever Told" and "Black Throated Wind." A fine album that has held up well.
Graham Nash/David Crosby (1972, Atlantic). Jerry plays hot lead guitar on "The Wall Song" and pedal steel on "Southbound Train."
Mickey Hart: Rolling Thunder (1972, WB; CD: Relix). Another Marin all-star affair, it naturally includes Garcia, who plays guitar on two tracks and is credited with "Insect Fear" (presumably some form of electronic processing) on a third. With so many great players on board, this should've been a better album than it is.
Merl Saunders and Friends: Fire Up+ (1971, '73; released on CD in 1992; Fantasy). This combines two Saunders LPs — Heavy Turbulence and Fire Up — on a single CD. The band on most tracks is the Saunders-Garcia-Kahn-Vitt-Tom Fogerty lineup that was playing in Bay Area clubs in the early '70s, with Garcia on guitar and occasional lead vocals. Jerry's best work is on "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and the old Doc Pomus tune "Lonely Avenue." There's also a moving instrumental version of John Lennon's "Imagine."
Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg: Baron von Tollbooth & The Chrome Nun (1973, RCA). This record, which was not a best-seller when it came out, has been virtually forgotten. That's a shame because it contains several good songs and strong performances from Garcia on "Walkin'" (lead guitar and banjo), the ultratrippy "Your Mind Has Left Your Body" (one of Jerry's last pedal steel sessions) and "Sketches of China," among others.
David Bromberg: Wanted Dead or Alive (1973, Columbia). Garcia plays electric and acoustic guitar on this folk-country set by the talented singer-guitarist. Other Dead members also appear.
Merl Saunders & Friends: Keepers (1971-75 performances, released 1997, Fantasy). Merl goes into the Fantasy Records vaults and unearths a whole CD of previously unreleased gems, including nine tracks featuring Garcia in various group configurations. On "Mystery Train" and the bluesy take on "That's All Right," Jerry trades licks with Vassar Clements. Other highlights include fantastic live instrumental versions of Stevie Wonder's "I Was Made to Love Her" and Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia On My Mind" by the 1973 Saunders-Garcia-Kahn-Vitt lineup, and a long, spacey 1974 studio jam called "Bolinas Brown," which also features Martin Fierro on saxophone.
Robert Hunter: Tales of the Great Rum Runners (1974, Round; CD: Ryko). Hunter's rough but spirited first solo LP features Garcia's lead guitar on two cuts, "Standing at Your Door" and "Keys to the Rain." Jerry also mixed the record. Worth owning, if not for Garcia's contributions particularly.
Keith and Donna Godchaux: Keith and Donna (1975, Round). Jerry plays lead guitar throughout and also harmonizes effectively with Keith and Donna on the gospel song "Who Was John?" Spotty, but with some fine moments.
Robert Hunter: Tiger Rose (1975, Round; CD: Ryko). Garcia is on every track, contributing electric and acoustic guitars, pedal steel, synthesizer and occasional background vocals. He also produced and arranged the record.
Ned Lagin: Seastones (1975, Round; CD: Ryko). Garcia's voice and electric guitar appear in heavily processed, nearly unrecognizable form on this odd electronic album.
Diga Rhythm Band: Diga (1976, Round; CD: Ryko). This wonderful, high-spirited percussion extravaganza features Garcia on two cuts: "Razooli" and the proto-"Fire on the Mountain" track "Happiness Is Drumming." One of the my favorite projects to come out from the Dead family.
Merl Saunders and the Grateful Dead: Original Soundtrack from the TV Series The Twilight Zone (1985 performances, released 1998, Silva Screen America). Merl Saunders and the Dead (especially Mickey Hart) cut a lot of interesting, varied music for the short-lived revival of the classic TV series, but I’m afraid there isn’t a helluva lot of it on this CD, which is only intermittently engaging. Some OK spacey stuff but not much else that’s compelling. On the plus side, the liner notes offer synopses of the stories for which the music was composed.
Robert Hunter: Liberty (1988, Relix). Garcia is all over this winsome effort by his songwriting partner. The title track is Hunter's version of the tune the Dead later played. An underrated album.
Ornette Coleman: Virgin Beauty (1988, Portrait). Three tracks feature Garcia: "Three Wishes," "Singing in the Shower" and "Desert Players." This is dense, complex music but it's still accessible.
Pete Sears: Watchfire (1988, Redwood; CD: GDM). There's lots of starpower on this politically conscious disc by the former Starship keyboardist. Garcia is on three cuts: "Let the Dove Fly Free," "Nothing Personal" and "One More Innocent."
Merl Saunders: Blues From the Rainforest (1990, Sumertone). Jerry and Merl reunited for this exotic New Age instrumental album. Garcia plays electric, acoustic and MIDI guitar. Nice melodies and textures.
Bruce Hornsby: A Night on the Town (1990, RCA). Garcia has a blazing lead on the radio hit "Across the River" and also appears on "Barren Ground." One of Hornsby's best records.
Country Joe McDonald: Superstitious Blues (1991, Ragbaby/Ryko). Garcia plays acoustic lead guitar on four songs. A fifth tune from the same session with Garcia came out on Joe's Carry On, released in 1996.
Ken Nordine: Devout Catalyst (1992, GDR). The word jazz pioneer returns with a stimulating album of Beat-ish thoughts/poems/tales, backed by an acoustic group featuring Garcia, Grisman and others. Some wild, improvised music that fits Nordine's mind-bending words perfectly.
Bruce Hornsby: Harbor Lights (1993, RCA). Jerry helps out his buddy on "Pastures of Plenty" and "Passing Through." Another strong effort.
Rob Wasserman: Trios (1994, GRP). The trio of Wasserman, Garcia and Edie Brickell have two unusual but compelling tunes on this delightfully eclectic affair: "Zillionaire" and "American Popsicle."
Soundtrack: Smoke (1995, Hollywood). The JGB perform "Cigarettes and Coffee" and "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." Not their best work.
Bruce Hornsby: Hot House (1995, RCA). Jerry cranks it up one more time on "Cruise Control."
Sanjay Mishra: Blue Incantation (1995, Raindog). Garcia is on three tracks of this pleasant instrumental CD by the Indian guitarist.
Second Sight (1996, Shanachie). Two compositions on this all-instrumental album feature Garcia on lead guitar: "Dangerous Dream" and "Rosetta Rock." Among the players in this exciting fusion group are Bob Bralove and Henry Kaiser.
Various Artists: Live on Letterman: Music from 'The Late Show'(1997, Reprise). Garcia and Grisman's spry, abreviated version of "Friend of the Devil" from '93 kicks off this fine anthology of performances from the late night television program.
Various Artists: The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute (1997, Columbia). Garcia's final recording session, just weeks before his death in 1995, finds him fronting David Grisman, John Kahn, Sally Van Meter and George Marsh on a version of "Blue Yodel #9." Garcia sounds shaky but soulful.
The following are commercially available videos only. As with audio tapes, there are many bootleg videos of the Dead's concerts and television appearances traded by collectors.
The Grateful Dead Movie(1977)
One of Garcia's greatest achievements was supervising the making of this film, usually called "The Dead Movie," shot at Winterland in October '74. Nothing else comes close to "explaining" the magic of the Dead's music and the mystical bond between the band and the Deadheads as well as this. Both the music and the visuals are superb. Standout tunes include "Playing in the Band," "Eyes of the World," "Morning Dew" and "Goin' Down the Road."
Dead Ahead (1981)
This video was shot at Radio City Music Hall in October 1980 and it nicely documents the Dead at the 15-year milestone. There are acoustic and electric numbers, first- and second-set songs. Among the highlights: "On the Road Again," "Lost Sailor" > "Saint of Circumstance" and "Not Fade Away."
So Far (1987) 1/2
Not all of the myriad visual approaches Garcia and director Len Dell'Amico attempted on this hour-long video are successful, but it's always a visual feast and the music is consistently hot. "Playing in the Band," "Drums" and "Not Fade Away" are my favorites here.
The Making of "Touch of Grey" (1988)
Justin Kreutzmann directed this half-hour behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Dead's video for "Touch of Grey" (which was directed by Gary Gutierrez). Some nice sections, but a little rough. Probably for hard-cores only.
Backstage Pass (1992)
Though it's just 36 minutes long, this Justin Kreutzmann-directed video is packed with great music and never-before-seen footage of the band from every era. Using snippets from home movies along with rare, professionally shot performances, Kreutzmann offers a dazzling mini-history of the band. "Hard to Handle" and "Easy to Love You" work well as tributes to Pigpen and Brent respectively. The one song shot specifically for the video, a version of Dylan's "She Belongs to Me" by Garcia, Weir and Lesh, is a disappointment.
Ticket to New Years (1987 performance, released 1996) 1/2
An excellent high-energy New Year's Eve show from the beginning of the Dead's final golden era, '87-'91. The band is in top form on "Bertha," "Bird Song," "The Music Never Stopped," "Uncle John's Band," "The Other One," "Wharf Rat" and other tunes. The video also contains some cute comedy bits from the national telecast of the concert. Unfortunately, the heavy-handed use of visual effects during the last third of the concert mars the overall effect of the video. 145 minutes.
Downhill From Here (1989 performance, released 1997)
Taken from two concerts at Alpine Valley in the summer of '89, this two-and-a-half-hour video, directed by Len Dell'Amico, takes the viewer onstage for an intimate look at the band in action. The sound is crisp and clear, though Weir is a little low in the mix for my taste. The first set contains strong versions of "Feel Like a Stranger," "Built to Last," "Cumberland Blues" and "Deal." The second set is a monster from beginning to end, with great versions of "China Cat Sunflower" > "I Know You Rider," "Uncle John's Band," "Standing on the Moon," "The Wheel," "Gimme Some Lovin'" and more. Outstanding.
Anthem to Beauty (1997)
Directed by Englishman Jeremy Marre, this brilliant documentary about the making of Anthem of the Sun and American Beauty mixes rare archival footage with contemporary interviews with Weir, Lesh, Hunter and others and goes a long way to show what made this band tick. I particularly like the segments in which the multitrack master tapes of songs such as "That's It for the Other One" and "Sugar Magnolia" are broken down by individual tracks to show what each member of the group plays. The interviews were completed after Garcia died, so there is a wistful and at times melancholy feeling to some of the comments, particularly Hunter's. At 75 minutes, the video version contains 15 minutes not shown on the PBS version that aired in the summer of '97, and 30 minutes more than the emasculated VH-1 version. Not to be missed!