JERRY GARCIA, SOLO, GETTING IT ON
If you have never seen Jerry Garcia playing guitar in front of a live audience, you might snicker when I say that he's probably the finest rock guitarist working in an American band today.
Listening to his lead work on any of the 7 currently available Grateful Dead albums won't give you much of a clue, either. The albums range from too-perfect to too-bad and the glimpses of the Garcia genius which glimmer through the album cuts are few. In fact, I suspect that the albums are purchased by Dead freaks who use them as a pale reminder of how good the band can be on the right night.
In an album released in January and in another released some months back, we have an opportunity to see Garcia working outside the context of the Dead. The results are not up to Garcia in concert, and in some ways they fail terribly, but they are fascinating experiments.
In his most recent work, an album simply titled "Garcia" on Warner Brothers label, Jerry joins drummer Bill Kreutzmann and Dead lyricist Bob Hunter in what amounts to a one-man tour de force. It's Jerry and his 16-track recorder against the world, with Kreutzmann sitting in because Jerry can't play drums. He plays everything else on the album and Hunter writes the words.
Although I expected experimentation on the solo Garcia album, I found a sound very similar to the Dead's - sort of the Dead without the Dead. On keyboards, Garcia double-tracks his own leads much like Pig Pen McKernan would. His bass work isn't as good as Phil Lesh's, but it's similar in style. Ditto on the rhythm guitar work.
On Side Two, the first cut, entitled "Late For Supper," uses electronic gadgetry and is out of context from the loose, country-style swinging on Side One. The 2 very different styles don't work together, and if you're not a fan, you might put the whole thing down as a 16-track ego trip.
The earlier Garcia album is experimentation in quite another direction. Titled "Hooterool?", it features Jerry with jazz keyboard man Howard Wales and his side men. The album came about as kind of a pleasant goof between Garcia and Wales, who have been known to stay up until all hours jamming in certain San Francisco Bay area saloons.
This is most definitely not a rock album, but it is an almost-unrecorded side of Garcia, the jazz guitarist playing some perfectly astral lines. Although Garcia's contribution is subtle on some cuts, his work on a piece called "One A.M. Approach" ought to put to rest that old bromide about rock musicians being helpless in the face of "real jazzmen."
Jerry is still tops on my list among American rock guitarists. In a musical world filled with hype and nonsense, too many value the wrong things among lead guitarists. They seem obsessed with technical aspects, the sheer fingering speed of a Johnny Winter or an Alvin Lee, and they never seem to ask, "Is that guy just showing off or does that particular speedy line really mean anything to that song or that particular lyric phrase?" Like most everything else in this world these days, technology seems to be valued over feeling.
Garcia avoids this kind of speedy showmanship, and the incredible power of his best work is astounding because of its understatement. Where three notes would overwhelm you, he'll hang one or two up there and they're the right ones. Like a good race driver, he wins the race at the slowest possible speed.
(by Jon Clemens, from the "Pop Scene" column, Salina Journal, 19 March 1972)
Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com