Nov 3, 2017

December 29, 1969: Boston Tea Party


A week ago last Thursday, the Grateful Dead, who last night opened a three-night stand at the Tea Party, sat down to a normal day's work at their digs in San Francisco.
They had just received a screenplay that demanded immediate theme music. Bob Hunter, the group's lyricist, flipped through the script and jotted down some lyrics. Jerry Garcia, the Dead's leader, glanced down at the lines and began to improvise a few chords on his guitar. The five other Dead joined in.
By the time they stopped playing, the group had composed a powerful number, based on a beefy chord progression, called "The Mason Song." The movie company decided the song didn't suit them, but last night The Dead used it to bring their first set to a crashing finish.
Which goes to show that things move fast and loose in the rock world, a world in which the Grateful Dead have been prime movers. Riding the crest of the San Francisco love wave in 1966, they inaugurated the custom of giving free concerts and provided the music for Ken Keysey's first Acid Test. They became legendary for their flair at combining rock professionalism with exemplary communal living.
They play unfrilly, straightforward body music. If their vocals are feeble and fuzzy, their arrangements are hefty and inventive - particularly when the three guitars work together. Bob Weir plays one of the most prominent and satisfying rhythm guitars in rock.
Last night they opened with an old Everly Brothers song, "Mama Tried," and proceeded through a number of Garcia's new songs, including a full-chested blues and a wonderful, bouncy instrumental. For the first time in weeks, people danced at the Tea Party.
One blessing about this bill at the Tea Party: no warm up acts. No wear and tear straining to pick a few nice riffs out of somebody's half-baked repertoire.
On New Year's Eve, the Dead will join forces with Cambridge's Proposition to bring in the New Year. They promise to kick off the decade in a properly jubilant style.

(by Timothy Crouse, from the Boston Herald Traveler, 30 December 1969) 

* * * 
The first of a three-night engagement for the Grateful Dead at the Boston Tea Party last night proved highly entertaining for the enthusiastic audience. 
The concert began at 9:10 with a fairly moving tune only to be halted by an equipment failure, which caused a delay in the performance. After that, however, everything then went well. The San Francisco-based sextet did some country and Western tunes with solid, well executed bass patterns and swift guitar work by Jerry Garcia. 
Simultaneous leads between rhythm and lead guitarists were frequent, all the while complemented by Hammond organ backup and steady beats by the two drummers. 
Two and three-part harmonies were polished, especially in "The Mason Song" as Garcia, lead vocalist, led the group through many tunes from past LP's. 
The New Year's Eve show, starting at 7, will include The Proposition and old films along with the Dead.
(by Charles Martin, from the Boston Globe, 30 December 1969)  

Thanks to Dave Davis.
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  1. A short but remarkable piece. I can't think of any other article from the early years that gives a detailed description of how the Dead wrote a brand-new song - one the reporter hadn't heard before. The Dead had debuted Mason's Children on 12/19/69, and this article declares they'd written it on the 18th! Well, that might not be quite true, but the account of writing the song may be how it happened - he could only have heard it from the Dead themselves - and they might have called it "The Mason Song" at the time.
    The song was for the rock-Western film Zachariah that they were supposed to appear in, but later pulled out of. (Being put together rapidly for the film, with lyric ideas drawn from the screenplay, may explain why it's a little out of keeping with the other Workingman's Dead songs, and why the Dead dropped it after just a couple months.) A few days later, at the Fillmore East on 1/3/70, they introduced the song with a joking story of its origins:
    Phil: This here song we wrote for a movie which was gonna be shot in a parking lot – no, it was a drive-in restaurant – no, it was a drive-in movie – in downtown Albuquerque, was it? (Jerry: Something like that.) Yeah, with parked cars for an audience.
    Jerry: We decided not to do it finally.
    Bob: But we’re gonna do the song anyway.

    The article also briefly covers the Dec 29 show, where Mason's indeed brought the first set to a crashing finish. Mama Tried was the second song (on tape) - funny that the writer calls it an old Everly Brothers song, since Merle Haggard had released it just a year earlier (the Everlys covered it on their Roots album).
    At that point, the Dead were moving into a more straight rock-oriented style, which is reflected in the description here: "unfrilly, straightforward body music." (The jamming on the next night wouldn't fit this!) I assume the "full-chested blues" is Easy Wind, but I don't know what the "wonderful, bouncy instrumental" could be - our tape might be missing some of the second set, or the reporter might have been drifting in and out...
    As usual, the Dead get people dancing - very unusually for such an early review, Weir's guitar-work is praised.

  2. I added a very short review from the Boston Globe that I overlooked earlier. It's notable that both reviews only specifically mention songs in the first set, so it's quite possible neither reporter stayed for the second set. At the end of the first set Garcia says, "We're gonna take about ten minutes' break and then come back and play for several hours." (The Dead don't fulfill this promise, but you can see how it might scare off reporters on a deadline.)

    This review's positive although very generic in how it treats the Dead, they could be any old band. The writer's lack of knowledge is revealed when he says they did "many tunes from past LPs"....well, actually only three in the whole show. But oddly enough, he does know the name of one of the unreleased tunes, "The Mason Song." This wasn't introduced in the show, so I can only guess he conferred with the other reporter!
    He says they started "with a fairly moving tune only to be halted by an equipment failure" - this was probably Cold Rain & Snow, after which the Dead complain about equipment problems (as usual) and Bear stops the tape to fix them. So the delay isn't as long on tape as it was at the show.

  3. Ahh, I just sent you the Crouse piece, but you are way ahead of me!