Dec 24, 2012

November 1974: Garcia & Dead Projects


Sure, all good things must come to an end, or so they say, but even as such, any reports of the dissipation of the Grateful Dead must be taken with jaundiced eye, one colossal grain of salt, and a Heineken chaser, for the Dead are in truth forty-odd people, a cooperative functioning Gestalt group survival unit within which dwells the definitive live rock ensemble to have ever graced the earth.
So when told of any de-Deading, merely respond that after ten years people tire and it's time to advance backwards; time to go fishing. And anyone who does want them to keep it up is wanting them to drop dead on the spot through a collective weariness only a total change can combat.
Accordingly, Bob Weir's got solo projects, Phil Lesh and Ned Lagin are headed for the stratosphere by way of electronic cybernetic biomusic, the Godchauxs have a son, while Jerry Garcia's fishing trip is an electric combo with Merl Saunders, Billy Kreutzman, John Kahn and Wake of the Flood sax man Martin Fierro.
It's like scratching an itch; just like pedal steeling with NRPS, banjo with Old and In The Way, and playing on Starship and other LPs, taking this band on the road is. Good times still being the key to all of it, Uncle Jer's gonna do what he likes and little else, which is how it all came about anyway.
Cause there really ain't nothing Garcia'd rather do anyhow than pick guitar (or banjo or whatever) with musician friends; just playin' what's there, doing other's things to an extent the Dead never could, like reggae, r&b, blues, gospel, anything.
A good example is Fire Up, a Merl Saunders album with Garcia, Kahn and Tommy Fogerty featured. Two years old at least, it's a stellar example of upbeat and electric California jamming.
The Garcia-Saunders vinyl experience is Live at the Keystone, a two-record delicacy, truly live, where Jer and the boys get real loose and cook all night. It's one of those albums that really never ends, and as good a guide as any to what material they'll be playing this Saturday at the Tower Theatre.
But the point is that there is no predictability; Garcia's instinctual pursuit of a pretentiousless, fully artistic, unself-conscious life style precludes pigeonholing and explains the essence of the whole thing.
Not to imply that the Grateful Dead have ever been time-, style-, or anything-bound, but after ten years can "El Paso" possibly stay fresh? Assuredly no; the consciousness that is the Dead simply won't let it, it would stop everything first, and that is precisely what's happened.
So perhaps the principal vibe going for this band is not its musical expertise (taken for granted with Garcia anyway), but rather the absolute new and refreshing artistic maneuverability providing yet another opening to another space, room to move if you will; elbow and breathing room which became constricted over time as regards the Dead proper.
If nothing else, Garcia's best guitar playing of late has come not with the Dead, but in his further adventures. Garcia [the LP] lets him stretch mightily considering its frequently tight context, while Live At is essentially one scintillating guitar passage after another, far more fluid and relaxed than the staccato choppiness on Dead LPs of late.
Perhaps at once point rock's premier lead guitarist (and now if nothing else its most versatile), Jerry Garcia, and the rest of le Dead appear headed toward places that will only enhance the band and themselves; the drag energy will be eliminated.
Meanwhile, with a new Dead LP due spring-ish and a Weir as well, everyone's Earth Uncle truly keeps on keepin' on, getting back to his and other roots, making the fishing all the better and the eventual rendezvous inabouts a year only the more sublime. Prosit!

(by Richard Vaughn, from the Drummer/Daily Planet, November 12 1974)


  1. Though the writing is rather clumsy, this author is very familiar with Garcia's various bands (and even quotes the last Dead newsletter). Clearly a fan.

    Of particular interest is when the writer prefers Garcia's playing on Live at the Keystone to his "staccato choppiness" with the Dead!

    Though it's suggested Weir is coming out with a new LP, actually Weir started playing with Kingfish in 1975, and they didn't release an album til '76.
    The upcoming Garcia show mentioned is the 11/16/74 Upper Darby show.

    The writer predicts that the Dead will reunite in about a year...
    This article also asks the immortal question: "After ten years can 'El Paso' possibly stay fresh?"

  2. Around this time, Keith & Donna started recording their album at home with Garcia, which would be released in March '75.
    I'll quote part of an interesting review of their album here (since I don't really have a spot for it anywhere else), giving one fan's view of the Dead at this time -

    No Cosmic Solos or Weird Electronics
    (by Richard Lang, from the Rutgers Daily Targum, April 2 1975)

    It doesn't matter where you go, what city you're in, or what time of day it is: given a crowd of five or more people, at least one is a "Dead Freak." It staggers the imagination to think about it sometimes, about the large numbers of faithful fans who have turned the six members of the Grateful Dead into almost religious objects. "Jerry Garcia is God." "I was at one of their Frisco shows and we didn't get out til 7 AM. Whatta trip!" "Did you hear about the time..." And somehow, when Dead Freaks are together, the conversation hints that their music is transcendental, untouchable and very holy. Being a Dead Freak for the last nine years, I tend to agree most whole-heartedly. Many's the night - but wait a second. We're here to review Keith and Donna's album, not to reminisce about trippin' at the Fillmore or Winterland.
    But it's all connected somehow. Now, that itself is a mystical message I contemplated many times while listening to the Dead... Keith and Donna Godchaux first appeared on record with the Dead back on Europe '72, fully integrated as members of the band and somehow adding a depth that was never missed until they came along. Keith's keyboards filled the gap left when Tom Constanten left, and Donna's vocals completed the circle of harmony the Dead had been learning from David Crosby and Graham Nash. Now the band was no longer simply capable of upward trips through the mental musical stratosphere, but beautiful down-to-earth landings, as well. Personally, I don't know a Dead freak who wasn't delighted with their addition.
    So much for history. The crux of this review is the rave you're about to read for Keith & Donna...

    [The rest is a very positive review of the album, calling it "a fine, friendly album" and praising "ole cosmic" Garcia's restrained guitar-work. Note that he still uses the term "Dead freaks," which by this time was being replaced by "Dead heads."]