Dec 25, 2015

January 1971: Jerry Garcia Update


Jerry Garcia is the principal power plant and instrumental, as well as inspirational, leader of San Francisco's oldest continuing rock band, the Grateful Dead.
Garcia is also the hardest working and most musically catholic of the Bay Area's electric-rock musicians.
He represents in every way the very best of our contemporary music image - too bad more people couldn't have seen and heard him via TV from Winterland on New Year's Eve.
That KQED presentation was, I think, an unrecognized classic in portraying the remarkable musical abilities of such as Garcia as well as capturing the camaraderie of the Grateful Dead's loyal fans.
Garcia is best known for his electric guitar work, his band leadership, his lyric composition and his singing. And also, probably, for his image - the shaggy patriarch of all that's San Franciscan in hard rock.
He is also deeply into acoustic guitar playing, and is becoming a bright and inventive master of the pedal-steel guitar which he plays with the New Riders of the Purple Sage, a Dead subsidiary group.
Lately Garcia has been jamming at The Matrix (on Fillmore) with organist Merl Saunders, drummer Bill Vit, and John Kahn on bass.
What they have going in these sessions is experiments in sound. In the intimacy of a living-room full of good friends the audience and musicians alike have a chance to get to know each other through music.
The music is a revelation - free-form, pops, rock, blues, jazz, complex and basic. David Crosby, Dead and Jefferson Airplane members, blues and jazzmen also drop in for a jam.
The excitement comes from the appeal that any artistic experiments-of-combination represent. Confrontations in style and personality and musical approach.
Saunders, for instance, is out of the world of small combo night-club jazz, rich in blues and "soul" and variations on pop-tunes. He plays organ with emphasis on sound, not volume or flashy runs or ridiculously weird effects.
A performance by the Garcia-Saunders ensemble may last 20 minutes to an hour a crack and range from an initial blues statement to a combination of "Something" and "A Good Man Is Hard To Find."
"Where's today's music going?" Garcia repeated back to me during a break. "Hmmm - right now it's going in all directions at once, and I think that's where we're at right now.
"There isn't going to be any big trend toward some new thing or single style. There's too much happening, too much being discovered, too many great new sounds getting laid down.
"No, I don't think any of us are going to get trapped in any bag.
"Right now I'm doing more exciting things in music than I've done in my whole life. Recording with old friends like the Airplane, learning new things from people like Merl..."

(by Philip Elwood, from the San Francisco Examiner, 11 January 1971)

Thanks to


  1. This news piece on Garcia is short and not very well-written, but Elwood was clearly an admirer and it has some interesting tidbits. Garcia is quoted on 'where music is going' and is happy about diversifying into different styles ("all directions at once!") He briefly mentions recording with the Airplane, a reference to the PERRO sessions of '70-71 that also included Crosby.

    Elwood brings up the KQED TV broadcast of the Dead's 12/31/70 Winterland show - he laments that more people didn't see it. Sadly, the video vanished and hasn't been seen since.

    Garcia had been playing with Saunders at the Matrix for a few months (after Howard Wales split), and Elwood says "the music is a revelation." There was a discussion on a JGMF post somewhere (I forget which one) about what Garcia & Saunders played in their early months - did they play any songs before Tom Fogerty joined, or mainly just jams like we hear on the May '71 tapes? With no recordings or accounts for us to go on, Elwood gives us a little glimpse.
    He suggests it was all jams, experiments in sound, a melding of genres, mainly freeform variations on songs lasting "20 minutes to an hour," ranging from blues tunes to "a combination of 'Something' and [the blues song] 'A Good Man Is Hard To Find.'" (At first I thought Elwood misidentified the instrumental 'Imagine' for 'Something,' but 'Imagine' wasn't released til Sept '71, so early Garcia/Saunders shows may have had a unique repertoire that was later replaced. Elwood doesn't mention Garcia singing.)
    There is a tantalizing reference to guests in Garcia/Saunders shows: "David Crosby, Dead and Jefferson Airplane members, blues and jazzmen also drop in for a jam." This is vague enough, though, that it could refer to other Garcia appearances at the Matrix (like the David & the Dorks shows of Dec '70), and not Garcia/Saunders jams, and it leaves us wondering just which "blues and jazzmen" were jamming with Garcia.
    What's clear is that Garcia was playing a whole bunch of music at the Matrix in 1970-71 that has been lost to us; especially unfortunate since Garcia says, "I'm doing more exciting things in music than I've done in my whole life." (And he wasn't referring to the Dead.)

    1. This was the JGMF discussion: