Thursday, February 8, 2018

John Barlow RIP

"I can tell by the mark he left you were in his dream." -Cassidy
courtesy Relix
Aside from Owsley, I can't think of another key figure from the Grateful Dead's inner circle that could be remembered to posterity more for his work outside of the music biz than within (and let's face it, whenever someone talks about Owsley's central role in the counterculture spawned by the 60's, the Dead will most likely be mentioned).   John Perry Barlow, the internet thanks you for your service:

He did some great work that will continue to touch the lives of those who knew what he did and those who did not -- which, I suppose, is really all a person can hope for.

This isn't a subject I've touched on in this blog, but that Hells Angels post had me thinking about the Dead (mainly Garcia) vis a vis a sense of morality or responsibility.  Maybe I will go into it more someday.  But as I watched last year's mega-documentary on the band, John Barlow's comments weighed on me, particularly this one:
One of the things I don't think people have properly appreciated about the culture of the Grateful Dead is our utter comfort with paradox.  We were never an either/or kind of a culture, we were always both/and.  The deadheads had a very strong sense that there were good guys and bad guys, and they knew who they were.  With us, it wasn't so clear.  We had Hells Angels hanging around for ages, and those are people who don't even try to be good guys.  At one point I complained to Garcia about what I thought was the unnecessary presence of all the Angels thugging it up backstage, making everybody kind of nervous and making it even harder for women in a scene that was already misogynistic to the max.  And he said, "well, y'know, I don't think good means very much without evil."  Which is true, but that doesn't mean you always have to have a seat for evil at the table.
Too much to unpack for now -- not least how this same idea applies to (and informed?) Barlow's notions of how the internet functions -- but cheers to Barlow for laying this out plain and easy, whereas other folks in/close to the band find ways to dance around this basic idea, and for acknowledging the misogyny that went on in spades (more on that, also, maybe, someday).

Rest in peace, Mr. Barlow. You were such a badass, they had to kill you twice.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Hells Angels Forever tracks

Saunders and Garcia, 9/5/73

In a fit of obsessive completionism, I took it upon myself to rip the otherwise-uncirculating Garcia music [edit: see below] from a youtube video of the "documentary" Hells Angels Forever.  The movie has little to recommend unless you're already really in love with the Hells Angels, and I won't even begin listing the problems that I have with it.   Garcia was involved in financing it, and a number of familiar names are thanked in the credits (Richard Loren, Steve Parish, Ramrod, Bill "the kid" Kreutzmann), but I don't know the full story other than the fact that the production was apparently a total fiasco, taking ten years and three directors to complete.  But the movie remains precious for preserving a small few minutes of live footage of Garcia, Saunders, Kahn, and Kreutzmann performing outdoors on a boat at a Hells Angels party on 9/5/73 (there's no other known recording; the tape that circulates with this date is bogus, but [edit] according to JGMF there is an uncirculating tape of this show -- see comments).  There is barely any known footage of Garcia performing with Merl Saunders, and this was apparently also Garcia's debut performance on his iconic Wolf guitar. 

Unfortunately, there's not much music to hear, but what is here is interesting in its own way.  There is a small bit of them very quietly playing what sounds like Georgia On My Mind as accompaniment to a Hells Angel wedding during the party (the film is edited to look like it, anyway), and then a truncated version of That's All Right Mama, edited down to a small bit of the tune itself and one shorter Garcia solo.  Then, over the film's closing credits, there's a studio recording of It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry that I've never heard anywhere else, with some prominent piano [edit: the crowd noise beforehand is from the preceding song (by Willie Nelson) that ends the movie and fades into Train to Cry as the credits roll].  The credits list That's All Right and Train to Cry as being performed by the Jerry Garcia Band and, while That's All Right clearly is obviously not the JGB, I wonder if this Train to Cry might be the 1975 JGB with Nicky Hopkins?  It doesn't sound as much like Keith Godchaux to me, but I'm not positive.  The credits list Garcia's involvement as being from 1973-1977, so it's possible -- or maybe it could be a Compliments outtake with session pianist Michael Omartian?  or something else entirely?  It fades out with the end of the film, lopping off the final few seconds.  I'm not sure what to make of it.  The song was barely played live at all by any of the later 70's JGB lineups, and it had already been included on the original Live at Keystone 2LP, so it seems like an unusual choice for a studio recording.  But apparently the JGB did a lot more recording than initially saw the light of day, so who knows if this track was done specifically for the film or was something laying around that Garcia donated to the project. 

Midway through all this, I realized that actually was an official released soundtrack.  Discogs lists an Australian-only(?) RCA Victor LP release with That's All Right Mama and Train to Cry; the track lengths suggest that it's no more than the fragments of music actually used in the film.  I'm not holding my breath that the original tapes will surface, but it would be cool to get the LP to hear these tracks in better quality than VHS>youtube -- until then, though here are the three tracks that I ripped from youtube for you completists (I'm assuming there may be one or two of you).  It sounds like some speed correction wouldn't hurt, but I left it as it was.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

7/12/74 mystery mandolin

I had heard this 7/12/74 Keystone show years ago and slotted it in my mental fine/cool/whatever file.  But, in an obsessive need to close the Grisman/Garcia/GAS(M)B circle, I gave it a fresh airing because Grisman is noted by some as maybe sitting in with Garcia/Saunders on this night.  JGMF mentions Grisman in his older list of mystery guest appearances, anyway — other sources list the guest as possibly David Nelson.  Hmm: Grisman sitting in with the G/S band a month after Garcia last played with him, and five days after a GAMB gig that billed Garcia, but apparently never happened?  Had to check that one out, fer sure.

But I didn’t come up with much.  Musically, I don’t have a lot to say about it.  It’s a perfectly good performance, but standard-issue Garcia/Saunders: Garcia’s in fine fettle, nothing really stands out, and it’s a strong night-at-the-office kind of show.  Martin Fierro is MIA, making this (afaik) the only hometown show that he missed during his two-year tenure.  The recording is another Louis Falanga stage mic aud, not as sweet as 6/6/74, but not bad at all.  The material tends less towards jazz and more towards the R&B/rock end of the spectrum.  Hi-Heeled Sneakers was a rarity at that point (a good tune for a guest, though) and this was the last time they played it.  And there’s someone else joining them for the entire show who is playing… well, at first I couldn’t even tell if it was a guitar or a mandolin.  It has a more thin, plinky sound that I associate more with a mandolin, but these stage mic tapes don’t always have the best balance, so I wondered if it was just wasn’t coming through as loudly as Garcia’s guitar.  A mandolin onstage with a Hammond B3 organ and Garcia’s Alembicized Fender Twins would have some job of cutting through, but there were solid-body electric mandolins, so maybe that’s the answer?  Whoever it is does play on every song and takes occasional short solos, but most of what he plays sound to my ear more like guitar licks than mandolin things (but I claim no expertise about that).  The only thing that has me convinced it’s actually a mandolin is It’s Too Late (She’s Gone) which has some unmistakable mandolin “trickling” effects, and it sounds just like the same instrument that’s been playing all along.  So I just don’t know.

Even if it is a mandolin, I’m skeptical about it being David Grisman, and I’m assuming that the attribution is another case of someone just associating an instrument with a related musician who was close with Garcia (e.g. flute = Charles Lloyd, violin = David LaFlamme, etc).  Besides, Grisman doesn’t seem like a likely candidate given his own disposition.  From a 2010 interview:
…I had a brief flirtation with playing electric in the Earth Opera [1967-69] (solid body Gibson EM200 or Florentine and customized Johnny Smith pickup on my Gibson K4 mandocello), [but] I never liked the tone or the way amplification interfered with the dynamics. I remember lying in bed with my ears ringing after opening for the Doors at a coliseum in Toronto. It was just too darn loud.
What I am feeling confident about is that it’s one guest, not two — the recording is clear enough to make out that there’s only one additional musician.  Unusually, there was an opening band that night, a hard rock group from Hungary called Locomotiv GT, but it can’t be one of them — Garcia actually mentions the mismatched pairing in that Oct 77 interview and says they were too loud and not very good.  So I guess that puts us back at David Nelson as the likeliest candidate (the NRPS don’t appear to have been on the road), but that’s just another guess by association.  Any other ideas?  [edit: Come to think of it, I don't even know how much Nelson actually played the mandolin, outside of chipping in during some of those 1970 acoustic Dead sets -- was he enough of a mandolin player to play it instead of guitar for a whole show?  Gah!]

Monday, January 22, 2018

1/22/78 at 40


I first heard this jam when I was 15 years old.  It was broadcast on the Grateful Dead Hour which, to the extent of my adolescent ability, I think I tried to tape whenever I could (but I don't think I was very good about actually following through with this).  I have a very distinct memory of this one, however: the memory of lying in bed at night, lights out ("you've got school in the morning!"), boombox tapedeck running, headphones on, and having my mind BLOWN WIDE OPEN by this Other One>Close Encounters>St. Stephen>NFA>Around.  I can now see that it was sometime the week of May 2, 1994.  At that point in my nascent deadheaddom (deadheadness?), I was well versed in Live/Dead and Europe '72 and probably One From the Vault and had a shoebox-sized collection with some respectable tapes: but this, my goodness, this was a whole other thing.  I was already on the bus, but this was like finding a few back rows where the cool kids sat.  The excitement of the moment hasn't faded and the rush of feelings are still there on the special occasions when I revisit this show and this jam in particular (gotta start with the Terrapin, though).  Now I'm able to enunciate why: the deliriously intense segue out of Drums, the unusually extended Other One jam, the drippy Garcia solo space that climaxes with the famous Close Encounters quote, the spot-on perfectly timed segue into St. Stephen, that wild 'n wooly early '78 guitar tone, the spotless tape quality -- you know, you've heard it -- but I wasn't hearing any of that when I was 15.  What I was hearing is best summed up by this bit from Nick Paumgarten's 2012 New Yorker article on the band (one of the best single pieces of writing I've read about them), writing about the culture of tape collecting:
"Each [tape] had a character and odor of its own, a terroir. Some combination of the era, the lineup, the set list, the sound system, the recording apparatus, its positioning in the hall, the recorder’s sonic bias, the chain of custody, and, yes, the actual performance would render up a sonic aura that could be unique. Jerry Garcia claimed to be a synesthete—he said that he perceived sound as color. Somehow, I and others came to perceive various recordings, if not as colors, as having distinct odors or auras."
That’s the extra something this show will always have for me.  I can smell it.  I remember exactly what I imagined, laying there in dark, that the stage must have looked like: small stage, band soaked in sweat, air thick with smoke, amps piled high with beer bottles, roaches, cigarette stubs, crowd pressed right up to the band's knees.  I'm sure that is not at all what the stage actually looked like (in hindsight, I'm sure I had no idea that McArthur Court was a college gynanisum), but it's what it sounded like to me.  I had never heard anything so immediately, viscerally transporting.  Or maybe, probably, I had.  I must have.  I remember a lot of musical moments in many songs that made me jump and holler as a younger kid, but none of them stand out as vividly over 20 years later -- I remember that some serious flying leaps used to happen during the Eleven>Lovelight transition on Live/Dead, but I don't have any memory of feeling like I was standing there actually watching it.  Almost exactly six years later, I heard another show from this period for the first time, one that came to nearly equal this one in my personal canon, 2/5/78 (thanks Dick!)  But it didn't have that same terroir

May 1994 means that I already actually seen the band in person, once (3/27/94, at Nassau Coliseum).  This departs from all kinds of standard narratives about the band, but I don't remember being moved nearly as much by the show.  It was good, I treasure the memory of it, and I had fun -- I mean it was 1994, but I didn't (and still don't) think it was a bad show, given the circumstances (the Dew, man, the Dew!).  I'm sure I felt lot more strongly about it at the time.  But I was also 15, too dorky to catch more than a contact buzz, I stayed in my seat for most of the show, and I was pretty sleepy by the end of it (and, lest you think I was high out of my mind during that 1/22/78 epiphany: I assure you I was not).  While it seems lame in some regard to have more affinity for hearing a tape than for seeing an actual live performance, that's the way it's sorted itself in my memory. 

Anyways, I know what I'm doing tonight.  I recommend you do the same.

PS. Also, can you think of many post-77 shows where the major heavy-duty jamming all happens after the drum solo?  There are a few, but I can't think of very many.

PPS. The next week’s GDH episode was the Dancin'>Franklin’s from 10/27/79.  That and 1/22/78 made for a 100 min cassette that was pretty potent, to say the least.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

2/19/69 jam>jam>jam>jam

Rolling Stone, via
I took this jam for a walk in the greyness this afternoon and was inspired enough to sing its praises.  It’s a relatively little known show from a pretty epochal period, probably since it has long been misdated 6/19/68 and, unlike seemingly most other recordings that have long since been upgraded, is represented by one lone fileset that’s been in the digital realm since the early 00’s:  

The show itself wasn’t a usual Dead show: Light Into Ashes has done the best job of filling in the full picture, so go read up.  You would think that a quasi-Acid Test with one of their longest known stretches of uninterrupted jamming in the middle of prime early 1969, a week before the shows that begat Live/Dead, would attract a bit more attention, but apparently not.  I don’t have much to say about it by way of “review,” other than that it’s really good and pretty unique.  The tape is an hour and 50 minutes of what was apparently a four-hour show, and begins seemingly well into the middle of things.  Although the starting Lovelight>NFA>Lovelight is fine and has plenty going on within its 35 minutes, I think I’ve listened closely to it exactly once, which was enough.  Then there’s a break where Don McCoy of the Olompali commune takes the stage to do his thing and lead the crowd in a group chant, which devolves (or evolves, depending on your state of mind) into a bit of a mess — understandably, this is a skipper for most folks, but to me this portion drips with psychedelic goo that goes beyond period ambience and makes my teeth hum with a certain familiar… well, enough said about that.  You can hear Bill Graham marshaling the chaos as the band returns to the stage and slowly gets themselves together, deciding what they’re going to do as they start doing it. 

It’s not entirely clear at first who’s up there at first: Bob is initially driving things, and another guitarist who’s thought to be Gary Duncan is playing; Garcia doesn’t appear until 4:50 in (his entrance is pretty distinctive).  The first segment of this jam is a slow burning, smokey, laid back E-minor blues groove.  After a few minutes, Lesh starts the Main Ten riff and they drift back and forth between the two themes for a few minutes, then set off into a series of episodic jams for the next 20 minutes, much like many a 69-70 Dark Star, although there’s nothing explicitly Dark Starry about this, beyond the spirit.  I have no desire to map this out: it’s mostly two-chord vamps and various rhythmic ideas, all explored for a while and organically developed into something else.  Gary Duncan appears to take off at some point, maybe an extra percussionist joins in, and finally they land in the Other One (all instrumental) which gets a loose and pretty heavy, dark jam, before they wind down and stop cold.  The whole jam is nearly 50 minutes total and while it’s not as intense or hot as a lot of other Feb 1969 jams, oh man, it’s got the sound: I'm talking about If I Could Only Remember My Name, the Crosby Dec 1970 Matrix tape, Garcia/Saunders 5/20/71, the 1971 Mickey’s barn jam, that kind of vibe. 

While this isn’t going to burn new neural pathways like, say, 2/28/69, I do think it’s a way overlooked and underrated performance.  Well worth a listen.  And how many nearly 50 minute uninterrupted purely instrumental jams did they play?  Hell, just for that reason alone, you’d think folks would be flocking to this one.  Give it another spin!

Also, I can’t let it pass that, evidently, Garcia was playing some bluegrass at the Matrix earlier on 2/19.  It's not confirmed, but that seems to be the consensus. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Great American *Music* Band: loose threads

Since the last post was long enough, I figured I'd dump the rest of what I had to say here.

first: some history

It turns out that there was already as detailed a history of this group as any, hiding in plain sight in the liner notes to the Grisman's wonderful collection DGQ20: A Twenty-Year Retrospective 1976-1996 by Pamela Abramson.  I will take the liberty of quoting it in full here, with some additional notes.
The acoustic revolution that coincided with the advent of the David Grisman Quintet in 1976 wasn't planned, nor was it accidental.  New ideas had been brewing in the heads of creative bluegrass and folk musicians throughout the late 50's and early 60's, extensions of those original radical folk musical concepts of Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs, who were certainly radical when they altered the face of old-time string band music in America.  Blues and jazz had influenced bluegrass musicians, as European classical traditions had influenced black music, but the time was ripe for even more ingredients to be tossed into the melting pot of contemporary American roots music.

In 1974 mandolinist David Grisman and violinist Richard Greene, with Jerry Garcia, Taj Mahal and others, formed a loose aggregation called the Great American Music Band. [1]  The concept was simple: sophisticated folk and bluegrass instrumentalists creating a format to play and improvise without vocals.  The repertoire would draw on varied sources: traditional fiddle tunes, swing tunes from the Hot Club of France, and music from great American composers Bill Monroe, Fats Waller, and Duke Ellington.  David Grisman had also been writing music, mostly bluegrass style mandolin tunes, patterned after those of his heroes Monroe, Frank Wakefield and others.  Now, with this new vehicle, David started composing pieces with greater scope and a more personal stamp; "dawg" music had come into being.  By the end of the year, Grisman and Greene had settled in with their own band which included guitarists John Carlini and Ellen Kearney [2], with bassist Joe Carroll.  The group generated excitement opening shows for many headliners, from Bill Monroe and Maria Muldaur to the Grateful Dead.  By the spring of 1975 Greene had left the band to work as a sideman for Loggins and Messina. [3]  Dawg remained with a bunch of newly-composed tunes, a bass player and -- most importantly -- a concept.  Soon David's mandolin protege Todd Phillips was jamming with his teacher and Joe Carroll on Dawg's back porch.  One day Todd brought a friend, fledging fiddler Darol Anger, who soon became a regular dawgmaniac as well.  With Carlini touring with the Ice Capades, and Kearney off somewhere else, the new ensemble rehearsed without a guitarist.

In the spring of 1975, Tony Rice was leading his own flatpicking revolution as guitarist with J.D. Crowe's New South, arguably the finest bluegrass band of its time.  Tony met Dawg early one morning in Washington, D.C. after they had both arrived to play on banjoist Bill Keith's first solo recording project.  Rice was curious about the music of the Great American Music Band and, upon hearing a tape, expressed great interest in playing this new music.  By October, he had decided to leave Kentucky, move to California and play guitar at David's down-home rehearsals. [4]  He also named the band the David Grisman Quintet.  With more tunes coming all the time, two mandolins, bass, fiddle and the world's greatest flatpicker, the DGQ was born. [5]
 [1]  So there’s the official name for posterity, I suppose.  I opted for Great American String Band in the prior post, since that was how they were billed for the June ’74 shows.  Notice there's no mention here of David Nichtern at all, which I infer to mean that his involvement wasn't central to the group’s concept… but I wonder what he would say about it.  By November 1974, at any rate, he was leading his own band:

[2] Ellen Kearney, interestingly, has been noted as sitting in with the Garcia/Saunders band at the Bottom Line in July 1974, joining Maria Muldaur on vocals.  I can only hear Muldaur’s vocals on the circulating recordings, but that doesn't mean Kearney wasn't there.  She recorded and performed for a few years with Muldaur, including on her hit debut album (also with Nichtern, Grisman, Greene, etc), then seems to have dropped off the professional music scene a few years later and left California to focus on family.  Here's an article that fills in some biographical details about her: what little I've found about her seems to downplay her guitar playing, but she must have had some serious chops!

Also, a thread at the mandolincafe forum has some interesting responses that fill in some more specifics about the early days of the GAMB/DGQ.  I see some mention of tapes of the 1975-era GAMB, so this stuff is out there somewhere.

[3] Corry has a history of Richard Greene's early career here:
As busy as he may have been, he did continue to work with Grisman; he toured along with the DGQ in Japan in 1976, for example:

[4]  So here’s a fascinating moment of synchronicity, found on the the complete Pizza Tapes (Extra Large Edition) release, in the first track:
Grisman: It’s a trip seeing you guys together. 
Tony Rice: Should have happened a long time ago.
Grisman: Well, the funny thing, y’know, I was telling Jerry before, the day I came to get you at the airport, the first time you came out here, I guess the first time we got together out here, I ran into Jerry earlier that day and we were jamming at my house and then—
Rice: —then you had to pick me up at the airport— 
Grisman: —and then I had to pick you up, and that’s the last I played with Jerry for a bit, 17 years.
Um, wow.  Even if that’s not 100% accurate, it does indicate that Garcia and Grisman remained casually connected until well into 1975, around one year after Garcia left the GASB.  Dunno how that fits/contradicts any other narratives about their partnership, but there ya go.

[5] a later note in DGQ20 also indicates that the band rehearsed for four months prior to their Jan 31, 1976 debut performance.

Also, "fledging fiddler Darol Anger" is my new favorite tongue twister.

second: some tunes

I really like how those notes lay out Grisman’s musical vision very clearly while locating it within a broader 20th century tradition of blending different folk genres with more "sophisticated" or "cultured" traditions.  So, in that spirit, here are some specifics about the band’s repertoire circa mid-1974, broken down by genre.  I assume that they didn't have too many other tunes under their belt, since the setlists are fairly repetitive and they were playing Swing '42 twice each night.

traditional/old-time fiddle tunes:
  • Colored Aristocracy - info 
  • Methodist Preacher (Bill Monroe/trad) -- played mostly as a fiddle/mandolin duet; info 
  • Billy in the Lowgrounds (trad/Irish) --  played mostly as a fiddle/banjo duet.  OAITW also played this.  Note that Greene introduces Garcia as "Earl Spud," probably joking on Earl Scruggs' name (Scruggs did record this song).

country/bluegrass originals
  • Lonesome Moonlight Waltz (Bill Monroe) -- a classic bluegrass instrumental, which the DGQ continued to perform.
  • Maiden's Prayer (aka "Virgin's Lament") (Bob Wills/trad) -- this was also recorded by Buck Owens' Buckaroos featuring the great Don Rich, a major Garcia influence.
  • Bud's Bounce (Bud Isaacs) [thanks to anon commenter for the correction!] -- a popular country pedal steel instrumental.  It's a pity Garcia didn't break out the old Zane Beck!
Both Bob Wills and "Bud's Bounce," incidentally, could be classified as "western swing," which was arguably a stylistic precedent of dawg music (albeit electric).
  • Drink Up and Go Home (trad/Feddie Hart) -- deaddisc.  An outlier vocal tune; Garcia sang this in his pre-GD days, once with the acoustic GD in 1970, and with Garcia/Grisman.

David Grisman "dawg music" originals:
  • Cedar Hill (Grisman) -- DGQ20 notes this was Grisman's first mandolin composition, written in 1963, and was performed at the first DGQ concert in Jan 1976. OAITW performed this, as have other groups: deaddisc.
  • Dawg's Bull (Grisman) -- deaddisc 
  • Dawg's Rag (Grisman) -- deaddisc

David Nichtern originals:
  • I'll Be a Gambler If You Deal the Cards (Nichtern) -- vocal
  • My Plastic Banana Is Not Stupid (Nichtern) -- instrumental

Django Reinhardt and 20's-30's jazz standards:
There's only one actual Reinhardt original here, but most of these were recorded by the Hot Club and are associated by many with Django:
  • Swing '42 (Reinhardt)
  • Limehouse Blues (Braham/Furber) -- a 1920's showtune that went on to be a standard with many, many jazz musicians, including Django.  info 
  • Sheik of Araby (Snyder/Smith/Wheeler) -- info
  • Sweet Georgia Brown (Bernie/Pinkard) -- info 
  • Russian Lullaby (Irving Berlin) -- via Argentinian guitarist Oscar Alemán, an old favorite of Garcia's.  Grisman's Acoustic Disc label released a collection of Alemán's recordings, which I believe is the only American issue of his work?  Multiple jazz musicians have played it since; notably, John Coltrane recorded it on Soultrane (1958), a record that Garcia admired.   I don't believe Django ever recorded this.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

June 1974: Garcia on acoustic guitar

the Great American String Band, 5/5/74, courtesy jgmf
Even if you're a devoted listener to Garcia's music away from the Dead, I forgive you if you draw a blank on the Great American String Band.  Only a small few recordings circulate and Garcia's involvement didn't last more than a few months.  On paper, they may look a bit like Old & In the Way Mark 2, but the GASB was a wholly different group and differed in many interesting ways; Garcia's role in each is a minor point in the grand scheme of things, but since his brief intersection with the groups fits squarely in with the larger narrative of June 1974, so I think it's worth dwelling on.  From this Garciacentric perspective, the GASB gives us the change to hear something that Garcia almost never did in the 70's: solo on the acoustic guitar.

First, to connect some threads: OAITW, as has been well documented (here or here if you need a primer) grew out of Grisman's, Peter Rowan's, and Garcia's informal jams in late 72-early 73.  Garcia got his banjo chops up to speed, they played around for a few months, did one small tour, attempted a studio album (scrapped), recorded a wonderful live album, and were long gone by the time that album was finally released to considerable success and acclaim.  In early 1974, Garcia began recording Compliments and recruited a number of other musicians for the sessions: in addition to bandmates Merl Saunders and John Kahn, participants included Grisman, Richard Greene, and guitarist David Nichtern, who was then playing in Maria Muldaur's band and enjoying her hit recording of his tune "Midnight at the Oasis" (Muldaur and her ex-husband Geoff were in the mix at this time as well, but that's another post).  Grisman, in the meantime, must have been searching for a new band of his own, and one catalyst seems to have been the rehearsals for a shared gig that Grisman and Greene played in March 1974, which also (partially) included Garcia -- there's no tape, unfortunately, but there are a few minutes of those rehearsals that circulate (info) and Garcia sounds delighted to be playing the music of another idol of his: jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.

Django et Stephane

Unlike OAITW, the group that grew out of that gig played a more progressive amalgamation of styles that was more in line with Grisman's vision of his own music: a mixture of old-time fiddle tunes, bluegrass, and the Swing-era acoustic jazz perfected by Django Reinhardt's and Stephane Grappelli's Quintette du Hot Club de France in the 1930's ("gypsy jazz" or jazz manouche to some) — according to Grisman’s own description of the group, Duke Ellington and Fats Waller were in the mix as well, although no recordings survive of those songs (afaik).  Grisman dubbed it "dawg music" and built his subsequent career around this concept, continuing to join together many different threads of acoustic American music.  Garcia’s involvement time with the group was peripheral: he didn't make every gig they played, but they opened once for the Dead and apparently Owsley Stanley recorded them for a prospective live album (still uncirculating; fingers crossed!).  There are currently only six circulating recordings of GASB performances with Garcia: four shows plus two shorter festival sets.  Three of those shows were from another mid-week Lion's Share/Keystone run in June 1974, further proof if needed that it was a unusually powerful month of peak creativity.

Discussing these tapes from a Garcia-centric perspective isn't an accurate assessment of them, but that’s what I’m going to do.  I find that his banjo often recedes into the background (and, interestingly, none of Grisman's own later groups featured a banjo), and while his playing is strong, he's not at the same technical level of the other musicians -- one charming but telling moment is when we hear him practicing a particularly fast banjo run a few times right before they begin Limehouse Blues on the 6/13 tape.  What stands out for me isn't his banjo playing, but rather the relatively little-reported fact that he was also playing acoustic guitar during these three June gigs (he doesn't play any guitar on the April recordings; and, to be fair, Blair Jackson does mention that JG played both banjo and guitar with the group in his Garcia bio).  David Nichtern was a fine guitarist and well-suited to this style, so I think the idea of having two guitars was to recreate the distinctive Hot Club sound on a few songs, the relentless chunkchunkchunkchunk swing rhythm that Django's groups achieved using multiple guitars instead of drums.  But Jerry Garcia wasn't going to stand onstage next to a guitar all night without playing a little: he takes a few solos that are worthy of attention, but they may be easy to miss if you just assume it's Nichtern (one close listen should make it clear that it isn't).  Remarkably, I believe these shows are the only recordings of Garcia soloing on an acoustic at all in this golden era of his music: in the decade between the Dead's 1970 and 1980 acoustic performances, Garcia played acoustic in public only one other time, at the one-off benefit gig on 11/17/78.

Much like the Garcia/Saunders gigs the week before, this run started at the small Lion's Share up in San Anselmo, then moved down to the Keystone. 

6/12/74 The Lion's Share (thanks as always to jgmf for determining that this tape has been mislabeled with the wrong venue.)
Compared with the following night, this is a funkier quality sbd with a slightly uneven mix, although still a good listen.  Garcia seems to be getting his space together on guitar and working out the kinks on this first night -- he doesn't seem to be mic'ed as well, and his playing has a slightly more forced feel as if he's working harder to come through.  After starting the night on banjo, Garcia first gets on guitar for Lonesome Moonlight Waltz, leaning into it hard and sounding particularly sweet and soulful.  His work on the first Swing '42 (they played it in both sets every night) is a little rougher, especially next to Nichtern who sounds more comfortable and polished with this style.  In the second set, Grisman calls Russian Lullaby and it sounds like Garcia replies, "aw, no, really? aww" (I'm not totally sure of this, though) before setting off on his one vocal of the night.  Unlike all later JGB performances, it's played here in the Hot Club style arrangement used on Compliments (after Oscar Alemán's 1939 recording).  Garcia solos on the intro, and takes one chorus at the top and two more at the end before returning to the head.  He stays on guitar and takes two shorter solos (no Nichtern) on Maiden's Prayer, a lovely fiddle tune that they jokingly refer to as "Virgin's Lament" (it's a Bob Wills song, though Garcia must have also known this gorgeous Buck Owens version with Don Rich).  After another stretch on banjo, Garcia gets back on guitar for Sweet Georgia Brown (Nichtern takes the solo here) and the second Swing '42, with an even shorter solo this time.

courtesy jgmf; note the advertised personnel
6/13/74 Keystone, Berkeley, CA
info: (sbd), (aud)
This is both a more balanced recording and a better place to hear Garcia stretch out, if you only want to hear one of these shows.  The sbd has some cuts and is missing the end of the show, but Robert Castelli's excellent aud tape is complete.  Garcia's guitar is better mic'ed as well, which seems to allow him to play with a bit more sensitivity.  Lonesome Moonlight Waltz and the first Swing '42 sound even better tonight, but the real surprise comes in the second set with Russian Lullaby.  Garcia takes it at a sligher slower tempo and allows himself to really stretch out:

intro/Garcia solo > vocal > Garcia solo (1 chorus) > Grisman (1 chorus) > Garcia (2 choruses, after some uncertainty) > Greene (2 choruses) > Garcia (3 choruses; note the cool effect when the rhythm drops out at end his 2nd chorus) > vocal.

He sounds excellent on the second Swing '42, soloing for longer now, again serving to emphasize the differences between his and Nichtern's approaches.  Garcia then takes up the banjo for his second vocal for Drink Up and Go Home, a bluegrass number he would return to in the 90's with Grisman.  The set closes with Garcia on rhythm guitar for Sweet Georgia Brown, leaving the solo to Nichtern.

[edit: guest Bob Gurland sits in this night on "mouth trumpet," which I didn't realize at first actually meant a mouth trumpet... interestingly, the guy also sat in with the NRPS two months earlier in NYC]

6/14/74 Keystone, Berkeley, CA
The only recording is Castelli's excellent aud tape of the 1st set.  Again, Garcia solos on guitar for Moonlight Waltz and Swing '42, and sounds excellent and well-settled in the groove both times, but not substantively better than the night before.

And that was all she wrote: two days later Garcia was on the road with the Dead and wouldn't share a stage with Grisman for another 16 years.  The Great American String/Music Band lasted through a couple more iterations, including Greene finally decamping to tour with Loggins & Messina in 1975.  More musicians came and went, and by the end of 1975 Grisman had met Tony Rice and established the first David Grisman Quintet. 

PS: a quick word is due, too, for bassist Buell Neidlinger ("Flame Bombadine") who sounds fantastic throughout these shows.  I don't know how involved in the group he was (Taj Mahal plays bass on the April tapes,), but Neidlinger does an outstanding job here.  I'm particularly fascinated by the fact that Neidlinger's career at this point already included work with John Cage and several records with avant-garde jazz pianist Cecil Taylor (about as far from dawg music as it gets), and he went on to record and perform with a wide range of musicians -- look at this discography!  and a fine, extended interview is here.  He has impeccable time and a great swing, but also check out the wild bowed bass work in the outro of Maiden's Prayer on the 12th.  Between Neidlinger, Tony Saunders, Kahn, and Phil Lesh, Garcia certainly got to work with a full range of bass players that month!  Is it even possible that Garcia might have mentioned that he played briefly in a band with Neidlinger when Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman checked out a Dead concert in 1988?  Probably not, but ya never know.