Thursday, December 19, 2013

12/19/73 (thanks, Dick!)

It's maybe surprising, given my general GD-OCDness (is that in the DSM-5? it should be), that I'm not always great with remembering show anniversaries.  Today, though, it struck me right away that it was the 40th anniversary of 12/19/73 -- not the very best show of the year, but it's up there -- and therefore also the anniversary of the Dick's Picks series… which, as it turns out, is now 20 years old.  So here's to Dick Latvala, the patron saint of Deadhead tape collectors.

"you've gotta hear this!"

Lots and lots has been said about Dick and how he transformed the GD taping community, particularly after the flood of tapes that emerged after his death, so I won't go on about it.  His personal life seems to have been difficult and at times quite sad, yet also filled with many more hours of unbridled joy and happiness than I'd say most people ever bother to experience.  His own joy and enthusiasm still comes beaming through his own words and in the remembrances of those who knew him.  Today, it seems strange that he had to go to the mat with the GD organization over the idea of archival releases of "warts and all" 2-track tapes, but we should all be thankful that he did.

some links:
Dick's own show notes make for fun reading.  Here's his notebook for 1978:

lightintoashes' repository of all things Latvala functions more like an oral history of his life.  Great stuff!

Here's an early interview with Dick about 12/19/73 and, of course, other shows as well, from Dupree's Diamond News in 1994.  The pics of Dick mugging next to the Veneta and Feb 70 Fillmore reels are priceless.
"I really was finding a whole bunch of great shows in '73 that I sort of knew about, but hadn't really listened to for 10-15 years.  There were at least five I had in mind.  And the only reason 12/19 was the choice was because of Here Comes Sunshine.  When I first heard it, it was such a kick.  Jesus, what a monster!  So I thought, I have to go with this show.  I wanted something that people generally don't know about.  A lot of people do know, but they don't have good tapes of it, so this would be a treat, and people who know would relish it."

The Dick's Picks Vol. 1 release of 12/19/73 itself was truncated, edited (Phil nixed the bass solo), and rearranged to fit on two cd's.  While heads would be in an uproar about that now, at the time it was a godsend to me as a 15-year-old deadhead.  I wasn't in it deep enough to have a sense of what whole tours were like, so to me "fall 73" didn't mean much beyond 12/2/73 and 11/11/73.  But given the relative lack of ceremony that accompanied the initial Dick's Picks releases, right down to the simple faux-tape box packaging (which I still love), this show felt like a gift from the heart of a fellow traveler, a well-worn copy of a tape pressed into your hand and accompanied by a knowing look.

As I hear it now, though, 12/19/73 takes on a different meaning in context.  Now I hear it more like the final parting salvo from the mothership that came ever so close to Earth for a few precious weeks, particularly for a short spell in December.  We -- or at least I -- now know that the Dead had essentially completed their Wall of Sound by these December shows (before its "debut" in 1974), so next time you listen to any of them (why not today?), keep in mind that the sound was pouring out of a stack that looked like this:

the stage two weeks earlier on 12/6/73
That same stack arguably probably did as much harm as it did good for the band, so in a sense, December 1973 (and the following Feb 74 Winterland shows) really were like a farewell to a whole era -- in Dick's mind, the greatest -- of the Grateful Dead.

The music performed on 12/19 has been discussed at length in many other places, and hopefully you know it well yourself.  Nowadays I always go for the full show, but when I think of it, my mind still arranges it like Dick did for the release (and I'm still always caught off guard by that bass solo when I hear it).  Some have griped that Dick picked the wrong night, but I still think 12/19 blows 12/18 out of the water.  The 18th is a great show, but I can't get over the fact that it fizzles out right at the very heart of it (the second half of Dark Star, which fails to launch because of a blown speaker).  The 19th picks up the pieces and ends the year the way it needed to be ended: absolutely top-flight improvisation, topped with an extra-heavy blast of deep cosmic sound.  Possibly the most mind-blowing moment ever in the recorded history of creation, as Dick might have put it.

Thanks again, Dick!

PS.  Can't resist letting the boys have the last word.  This wasn't preserved on the sbd, but it's all there on the aud or the matrix:
Phil: Before we get started, I guess we gotta let you know that there's a really strict rule against smoking in this auditorium and, uh, you heard the fellow telling you all about it in his best CBS School of Broadcasting voice, and what I wanted to tell you was no matter what it is you're smoking, you're liable to get tapped on the shoulder by somebody that you don't want to see. So if you're gonna smoke anything, I don't care what it is, make sure you know everybody within ten feet of you at all times.

Bob: Last night there were people that were busted that were in the middle of great masses of people so they can see--

Phil: Right in the center of the mass of people, that's where it was... So nowhere is safe, comprende?

Bob: If you're gonna do something that they don't want you to do, you better make sure that they don't see you, and that's not easy to do.

Phil: In fact, it's impossible.

Jerry: So remember your hippie training, folks!  Be cool! Thank you.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

11/23/72 Doug Sahm & Jerry

I just saw a post about Doug Sahm's 1972 Thanksgiving Jam at the fine Aquarium Drunkard blog. As you may well know, Jerry, Phil, and (possibly) Billy all performed that night, and the recording has made the rounds for ages. I haven't listened to it in ages myself, but I remember it sounding much like you'd expect: a bunch of talented dudes drinking beer and jamming on a bunch of old country, r&b, and rock standards -- very much in the vein of Sahm's great Doug Sahm and Band album. A fun evening, but not a major deal in the Grateful Dead cosmology. Leon Russell was the other major guest star alongside a host of Austin locals, including guitarist Hank Alrich as well, who was nice enough to leave this comment at AD:
Doug was late to the gig. Jerry got asked if he wanted to start without Doug. Jerry said, “Let’s wait until Doug’s here, and we have a full band”.

I loaned Leon my Strat for the evening and he promptly stuck a cigarette under the strings at the headstock and burnt a memory mark into the guitar.

I’d been hanging backstage as part of support (“Anybody got a guitar I can use?”) when during a brief lull an AWHQ friend and cohort said, “Why don’t you go up and play your guitar? Everybody else has.” So I did, and as Leon kicked in to “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” rain began to fall on that old, big metal roof. This was before we’d gotten the underside insulated with spray-on paper foam, and the sound of the rain was the perfect touch to the intro. I tend to play more quietly than most on electric guitar, and when I was called for a solo Jerry turned down to make sure I got across. That’s the kind of jamming buddy he was.

It was an awesome night early on in what was already becoming a legendary venue. Youngsters lament some oldster’s ongoing affection for certain aspects of Austin’s heritage. Truth be told, they are clueless. Either one was there and can understand, or one was not and probably does not. Another truth is that there is nothing today in Austin’s famous music scene that compares with Armadillo World Headquarters, the venue that put the city on the international live touring map.

A lesser reported factoid is that Jerry was in the studio with Sahm almost a week later back in San Francisco. Two tracks are buried away among the host of bonus material on Rhino's Doug Sahm box set The Genuine Texas Groover, which appears to be long out of print. I don't know if this material is available elsewhere, so just in case, here's a link for the two tunes at Wally Heider's, 12/2/72. Interestingly, David Grisman is on the session as well, making this a rare pre-OAITW Garcia/Grisman sighting.

Monday, December 2, 2013

4/2/76 video

I saw this at jgmf but it certainly warrants a reposting here and everywhere: 45 min of the JGB at John Scher's Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ.

davidaron on Broadcast Live Free

A lot of heads aren't fans of the dinosaur's pace of the 76-77 era JGB and, while I can't exactly say I blame them (though I love it myself), I do think that actually seeing the band in action is pretty important. Maybe it's just me, but actually seeing what's going on can be the key to "getting" music that you maybe weren't connecting with before (this is what happened to me with Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra's Arkestra when I was a teenager: didn't get what the big deal was at all, then got to see them both play and something just clicked). Not saying that any 76-era JGB naysayers will necessarily be convinced by this, but who knows? If nothing else, this video certainly turns over the notion that Jerry & co. were simply stoned and slow rolling during this period. Look at how animated Jer looks! Look at his little truffle shuffle dance during Tore Up Over You! Look at how goddamn happy they all look just to be there. Look at the mind-meld going on with Kahn during Don't Let Go (did I mention that this vid has a complete Don't Let Go!?) and how Jerry's eyebrows show more life than his whole body would years later. Too much. So take 40 minutes to revel in this video, even if you're not a fan of this era. You may be surprised.

It's also the only circulating document of this show that we have (there's no audio yet), and the only video we have of this JGB lineup.

 fyi, 76 fans have been spoiled rotten lately. The mighty Voodoonola put these up not too long ago, also from the Capitol Theater:

Drink it up, folks.  Ain't the internet great?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Donald Bailey RIP

RIP to Donald Bailey (10/15/2013), who was the drummer on many of Jimmy Smith's early classic Blue Note albums, which means he nearly invented a style of soul-jazz drumming that became foundational/blueprint stuff for many of us (and certainly Merl and, by extension, Jerry)

Ethan Iverson of Do The Math has a typically excellent tribute that's enlightening in several ways.  Reading about the particularities of Bailey's drumming is fascinating, but I also had no idea that Bailey was one of Coltrane's first call substitutes for Elvin Jones!  And that there's a 1963 bootleg of Bailey playing with the Coltrane quartet... time to hit the interwebs.

There's no direct GD connection of course. While Jerry, Phil, and Bobby were all particularly open-eared listeners, I'd be surprised if any of them were really digging Jimmy Smith, who must have seemed fairly un-hip to the beatnik crowd of the early/mid 60's (but I've been wrong before).  Bailey had relocated to the west coast in the mid 60's, though, so there's certainly a chance that one of them came across him playing in a club.  Kreutzmann, I would imagine, must have known Bailey's work on some level, and I'm sure Pigpen had a Jimmy Smith record or two.  But the Jimmy Smith/Don Bailey combos were certainly one of the foundations that Merl Saunders built his early career on, so the indirect influence of this style on Jerry's early solo career is worth a passing mention.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Since this blog will likely focus mostly on the Dead and Jerry's various solo endeavors, it seems weirdly appropriate that the first post is on Bobby's birthday. I'm inclined to say that Kreutzmann took the cake for "best birthday shows," though Bob's birthday was marked by several good ones. While my tastes generally lean more towards 1974 than 1989, 10/16/89 is a show that is near and dear to my heart. When I was 15 or 16 I taped the second set off WBAI (NYC) and I was floored. It was one of those "okay, now I see what the big deal is" moments that really got my ass on the bus in a serious way.

The show was released officially, but is still up at LMA. I'm not always a matrix guy, but this one does this show proud, particularly the excellent sounding second set, which has just enough ambiance to counter the "late era" sbd sterility. Heads debate the merit of the whole show, but I think it's a great one, period. Nicely spirited runs through Half Step, Stranger, and Memphis Blues make the first set more than just enjoyable, and a killer Let it Grow > Deal really turns up the heat for the main event.

The second set... well, just listen.  It's a perfectly constructed whole, with just the right mix of light and darkness.  Jerry's MIDI effects sound fresh and playful, not yet a part of the stock bag of tricks.

It's one of the great ones of the period.  Happy birthday, Bob!