Haven’t done one of these posts in a long time, but really feeling like it’s time to give these guys the shout that they deserve. (And maybe you need a little something to listen to before the list goes up.) For starters, because not just anyone can take on the Midnight Rambler and do it justice.
What makes these guys such great cover artists? Well, you start with a southern boy with pipes to die for, (and Chris Robinson certainly has them) a definite requirement if you want to take on the likes of Mick, Joe Cocker, Stevie, Plant, etc. But you don’t do great Stones covers with pipes alone, and the band is more than up for the job. Brother Richie on guitar, and Chris on harp, do the Stones proud on this and many, many other Stones covers. (If i’m missing Mick and Co. at all here, it’s only because i’ve become addicted to the coke fueled live bootleg versions.)
A Magnetic Tape Reel Label: recording in the Steam Age
40 years ago, after almost two months in Yurp*, the Grateful Dead tribe of 50-odd (some very odd) musicians, roadies, managers, techies and associated ‘other halves’ packed up their equipment and belongings and headed back to the San Francisco Bay Area, taking with them an estimated 17 miles of music-coated magnetic tape. By all accounts, they had enjoyed themselves and accumulated good memories that would last for some considerable time. Continue reading →
In a first attempt to introduce some stability to their currencies in relation to the US dollar, the six member states of the European Economic Community (West Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) agreed, at a meeting in Basel 40 years ago today, to create a currency exchange rate system. It became known as the ‘snake in the tunnel’: the ‘snake’ being the various intra-European exchange rates and the ‘tunnel’ being the limitations created by the dollar’s exchange rate with them. Continue reading →
Beat-Club was a TV music program that ran from September 1965 to December 1972, broadcast from Bremen, in what was then West Germany. Many UK and US acts, and Kraftwerk, performed on it and a fair number of clips from the show – including performances from the likes of Alice Cooper, King Crimson, ELP, Deep Purple, The Doors, Canned Heat, BB King, Jethro Tull, Cream and The Who – can be found here.
[Achtung: Sie verlassen jetzt die Totenfreizone!] Continue reading →
Unlike television in their homeland, Danish TV was willing to broadcast the Grateful Dead live, in stereo and without numerous ad breaks. They didn’t air the hour-long Dark Star/Sugar Magnolia/Caution but a fair number of the earlier songs were supplied to the Danish public’s ears and eyes. What seems to be the full broadcast show from the second night at the Tivoli on April 17th 1972 is now on YouTube (see below).
To add some visual interest to the show (let’s face it, there’s not a lot of snazzy stagecraft in a Dead performance), they donned their Bolo and Bozo masks to play Big Railroad Blues (at the hour mark in the video).
On the same day that the penultimate voyagers to the Moon lifted off from Florida in Apollo 16, the Grateful Dead played a concert to 700 people in the very crowded cafeteria of Aarhus University. They opened the first set with Bob Weir’s speeding rocker, Greatest Story Ever Told, the first line of which is Moses come riding up on a quasar, setting up this post for me 40 years later, in which I connect their blazing start to that of Apollo 16 (and Moses).
Except they didn’t really blaze. Bobby stumbles over the lyrics, Garcia doesn’t hit it right and even Phil fails to nail it (although Keith makes a good fist of the piano part). Donna, whose vocals add to the mayhem of the song when it’s played right, went completely AWOL for the night. Typical! Continue reading →
The source I’ve been using for the ‘40 years ago’ events says of April 14th, 1972: The Grateful Dead played their first paying concert in front of a foreign language crowd, in Copenhagen, Denmark at the Tivolis Koncertsa. (They played a free concert in the grounds of the ‘Honky Château’ in Hérouville, France in 1971, meaning good old Wikipedia is technically correct). So, as I don’t need to construct a tenuous link today, I’ll just play a song from what was the first of two nights at the Tivoli.
This is one of several from Ace, the ‘solo’ album they’d been helping Bob Weir to record just before coming over the Atlantic: Looks Like Rain. Continue reading →
On April 11th, 1972, the United States Conference of Roman Catholic bishops was opened to the press for the first time and 75 reporters turned up to the meeting in Atlanta to hear Cardinal John Krol deliver his speech. In Latin.
The Cardinal told reporters, “We told you we’d let you in. We didn’t tell you what language we’d talk.” Pranksters can be found in the most unlikely of places, it seems.
There were also language issues when the Grateful Dead buses headed up to play the Newcastle-upon-Tyne City Hall on the same day, expecting that it wouldn’t be until they sailed across the North Sea that they’d have difficulty understanding the locals….
Almost everyone has used Elmore James’ version as a template for their cover – it’s more of a standard 12-bar blues song than Tampa Red’s earlier composition – and the Grateful Dead were no exception. But they played it slower than most and, as ever, their interpretation is not just the singer and lead guitar over a formulaic blues backing.
Despite Pigpen’s deteriorating health (he died a year later), he makes a valiant attempt to emulate his bluesmen heroes and plays some decent harmonica on this performance from Wembley on April 8th, 1972. Garcia set a much slower pace for most of the later versions on the tour, causing poor Ron to hold those harmonica notes even longer, but this is just about right, I reckon. The overall performance is subtly understated, delicate even, and what Ron’s voice lacks in power is made up for by the excellent tone and dynamics of the instrumentation.
…that Mormon Sunday School teacher and would-be FBI agent Richard McCoy Jr. boarded United Airlines Flight 855 under the alias ‘James Johnson’. By threatening to blow the plane up mid-flight, he struck a deal with the airline to have half a million dollars and a parachute ready for him at San Francisco airport. After landing there, collecting his loot and releasing the passengers, the plane returned to the skies and he jumped from it at 16,000 feet over Utah, landed safely and hitch-hiked home. He and most of the money were found two days later and he received a 45-year prison sentence. He escaped from jail two years later but when the FBI caught up with him again, they shot him dead.
At the same time as McCoy’s hijacking exploits, the Grateful Dead’s road crew were suspending parachutes from the ceiling of the Empire Pool in Wembley, in an attempt to improve its dire acoustics prior to the band taking the stage for the first concert of their first European tour…. Continue reading →
The first Hunter/Garcia collaboration (and the first Grateful Dead A-listing – for Surreal Songs, back in the Golden Age Of Maddy), China Cat Sunflower had a suitably odd conception.
Robert Hunter: “I think the germ of [the song] came in Mexico …. I had a cat sitting on my belly, and was in a rather hypersensitive state, and I followed this cat out to – I believe it was Neptune – and there were rainbows across Neptune, and cats marching across the rainbow. This cat took me in all these cat places; there’s some essence of that in the song.”
He also said that: “It was originally inspired by Dame Edith Sitwell, who had a way with words” (‘palace of the Queen Chinee’ is a direct quote from her poem, Trio for Two Cats and a Trombone). With its perky little tune and many half-references, it has the feel of an obscure poem for children whose complete meaning has been lost over time. Continue reading →
But how much poorer would the music scene be without them?
From Louis Armstrong to Tom Petty, Charlie Parker to Keith Richards, Syd Barrett to Lemmy, Lowell George to Fleetwood Mac, a vast amount of great music has been created by those under the influence of marijuana, heroin, LSD, cocaine and other substances that society has declared illegal. Not all of it, by any means, has been great but would Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Sgt. Pepper, Sister Ray, Dark Star and any number of jazz classics have been created by people sipping a glass of sweet sherry or a cup of tea? Frank Zappa famously abhorred them but was he right to keep his band away from them?
All the Grateful Dead music I’ve posted from Casey was produced under the influence of marijuana, LSD and cocaine in various permutations and, for the most part, that does not seem to have affected the performances detrimentally. But in Amsterdam Garcia, for one, got a little greedy and you can hear the effect in his playing in the first set. Most of the licks that he always plays, because they’re part of the song, are bungled or omitted. Yet when he gets past the opening verses of Playin’ In The Band, the music becomes quite sublime (and the Other One performance in the second set is astonishing). So, what do you think? Just say ‘no’?
The day after I’d seen the Grateful Dead at the Bickershaw Festival, my 19-year-old self wrote to a friend describing his impressions. This verbatim extract sums it up:
“They are just sooooo good. Their knowledge of how to play and what to play is so complete and assured – they just change so smoothly from one to the other & back & sideways.”
(L-R: Keith Godchaux: piano, Phil Lesh: bass, Bill Kreutzmann: drums, Bob Weir: 2nd guitar, Jerry Garcia: lead guitar, Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan: organ)
It was a chilly, wet weekend. Luckily I came across some people I’d met recently who had an old ambulance, so I could sleep in relative comfort rather than mud, and when Day 3 came round I wasn’t too bedraggled. I found a position by a scaffolding tower and stood/leant in front of it from around midday. Country Joe McDonald did a set in which we all joined in the Fish Cheer (F-U-C-K N-I-X-O-N), a chap set himself on fire and did a high-dive into a small tank of water (just what the mud in front of the stage needed!) and the New Riders Of The Purple Sage played for a couple of hours. Around 7pm, the Dead took the stage and, apart from a 20-minute break between sets, they remained there for the next 5 hours.
Another quote from that letter:
“I hadn’t eaten, drunk or smoked for 12 hours and had been standing and jumping around for 5 and didn’t feel hungry or anything really – the Dead just filled me in.”
Here are two little jewels and something altogether different from Casey, for your listening pleasure.
Ron McKernan, aka “Pigpen”, was the prime mover in ensuring The Warlocks became an electric rock band and his R’n'B raps were an essential part of the Grateful Dead experience. He went on this tour against doctors’ advice, making the words of Good Lovin’ uncomfortably apt (Doctor, Doctor, Mr. MD, can you tell me what’s ailing me?). Despite his health, he’s the one that gets the band in gear on more than one night. Robert Hunter wrote Mr. Charlie for him, as an affectionate tribute to those songs with nonsense choruses (Chuba, Chuba, Wooly Bully). Pigpen was also quite fond of cocaine.
El Paso is Marty Robbins’ tale of love, betrayal and murder, with a narrator who dies at the end. It’s a Tex-Mex confection, served with a glittering side order of Garcia. And played quite often as an interlude to…
…The Other One. This version was played in a TV studio in Bremen, at the end of an 80-minute set from which a song would be selected for broadcast (the station selected a short song, unsurprisingly). This is Casey’s real treasure, for me, when the band takes the music in directions rarely explored. Billy has just played a drum solo which sets up the opening rhythm for the song so, when everyone joins in, that’s the speed they run at. But Garcia wants to slow it down and, later, he just fancies seeing what will happen if he tries this or this or that… It’s the way the others deal with his ideas that it so wonderful: sometimes acquiescing, sometimes fighting, sometimes just going in a different direction. But, when Bobby finally agrees to sing the second verse, everything comes together again. The song ends officially at that point but Garcia still has ideas to try…
I will keep my urge to share Casey’s goodies with you to a minimum but I’d just like to give you a flavour of the thing.
The audio is the final 20 minutes of the first show, at Wembley on 7th April 1972. Bobby’s got a cold, it’s a huge, soulless arena only half full (due to a last-minute venue change), and they’ve only been playing for two hours, but this finale is a firm instruction to get up and dance. So wind the volume up high, follow Garcia’s twisting lead and twirl away!
Not Fade Away>Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad>Not Fade Away and an encore of One More Saturday Night. (Apologies for the small breaks between CD tracks: I can’t quite erase them.)
Who’s Casey? Not the raven. It’s what I’m calling my box set.
I’m pleased to announce the delivery of a bonny bundle of delight that started out as a a mere twinkle nine months ago and has now blossomed into a weighty little chap.
He seems well put together, with love and dedication, and I’m looking forward to getting to know him. From the small amount of time we’ve spent together so far, he seems to have a great set of lungs and all the bits you hope for appear to be beautifully formed.
Well, I’m just about to receive the musical equivalent: my 73-CD box set of the Grateful Dead’s 1972 European tour. All 22 concerts, originally recorded on 16-track tape and now lovingly re-mastered by people who love the Dead’s music. With a shedload of information and ephemera, packed in a ‘flight case’ with new graphics by Stanley Mouse (example on left) in the same vein as his work with Anton Kelley for the initial release, it certainly looks like a huge beast to tackle.
I will listen to the Bickershaw Festival performance first, as that’s the one I attended and I need to hear if my memory has been lying to me. But after that, I’ve no idea. There are some of the 60-odd songs I don’t need to hear multiple times (although only two songs were played every night) but, even then, the one I skip may be the best version….
Any suggestions? Other than ‘Seek psychiatric help’, obviously.
While you cogitate, here’s a version of Good Lovin’ from Bickershaw, one of the last examples of Pigpen doing his thang while the boys in the band do theirs.
I’m sorry, but I just can’t stop myself from posting this, having only just discovered it yesterday. Many of you must think I’m a fool for still going on about a band that ceased to exist 16 years ago but occasionally I come across something like this and I fall in love all over again.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Bob Dylan celebrated his 70th birthday. Well, today it’s the turn of Dylan’s co-writer on Together Through Life, Robert Hunter, seen here on the left of Jerry Garcia. Largely unknown outside the USA, Hunter is a singer/songwriter in his own right who also supplied lyrics to over 100 Grateful Dead songs (which is, of course, why I know of him). Almost all Jerry Garcia’s songs use Hunter’s lyrics.
Preferring allusion and metaphor to narrative, the precise meaning of Hunter’s lyrics generally remains elusive, but he is also fascinated by American history and has created some great three-dimensional characters, such as Jack Straw, Black Peter and August West (aka. Wharf Rat), rooted in harsh reality.
The playlist contains ten of my favourite Dead songs with words by Robert Hunter, played with little added jam.
I’m no scholar of lyrics and so won’t attempt any analysis. Should you wish to read what one scholar at the University of California at Santa Cruz thinks, there’s a link to the Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics from every song title.
Stumbled on this rare slice of psychedelic acid garage punk funk rap whatever and still can’t stop listening to it. Released as the B-side to San Franciscan Nights in the UK only. Can’t find any lyrics. Can’t find any other info on it online. No idea what the overlapping vocal track is. What i do know – thanks to this article courtesy of our intrepid Dead expert (thanks, Chris) – is that Eric and the Animals took the stage and did a set with the Dead’s equipment on March 26, 1967, and this song seems to be recorded soon after that show. I can’t imagine why they didn’t give this song a wider release, it’s the best thing i’ve ever heard in my life. Any further info on the song very welcome.
Jerry Garcia (3rd left): Lead Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Kazoo and Vibraslap Bob Weir (3rd right): Rhythm Guitar, 12 String Guitar, Acoustic Guitar and Kazoo Ron McKernan (far right): Organ and Celesta Claves Phil Lesh (2nd left): Bass, Trumpet, Harpsichord, Guiro Kazoo, Piano and Timpani Mickey Hart (2nd right), Bill Kreutzman (far left): Drums, Orchestra Bells, Gong, Chimes, Crotales, Prepared Piano, Finger Cymbals Tom Constanten (not shown): Prepared Piano, Piano and Electronic Tape
A beautiful acoustic version of Bird Song by The Grateful Dead.
This is one of my favourite Dead songs and I love this version from The Radio City Music Hall concerts in 1980, which were released on the 1981 live album Reckoning which I would urge anyone who is curious about the Dead to go and buy. Make sure you get the 2006 re-release because it has a second CD of bonus material, which contains some real gems.
Bird Song was written by Robert Hunter with music by Jerry and the song was dedicated to Janis Joplin.