Friday, October 9, 2020

Hartbeats update, again

I did another major-ish update to the Mickey Hart & the Hartbeats mega-post (coincidentally timed for their anniversary), mostly concerning two hidden-in-plain-sight sources -- a Rolling Stone article from 1969 and Dick Latvala's recollection of a mysterious setlist for 10/30 -- plus other little doodads.

Will that post ever be complete?  Not likely.  We're just thrown together by fate, so we're playing Fate Music here, folks.

Stay tuned, though, for a reconsideration of the Oct 74 Winterland shows, which I have been revisiting and reevaluating.  One of these days... #gratefuldeadstandardtime

Saturday, August 22, 2020

8/22/81 JGB and Phil

First, rest in peace to Jim Vita, taper of many fine GD and JGB shows in the early/mid 80's, including this one.  We all owe him and all tapers a great deal.

So what's the deal with this show?  It sticks out because Phil Lesh is playing bass with the JGB (and a Fender Jazz Bass, at that), which had also happened that June for a small run of shows that John Kahn missed in order to travel Europe with his mother.  JGMF has posts on 6/24/81 and 6/25/81, and Lostlivedead has an eyewitness account of 6/26/81 (also officially released in part).  But Lesh popped up again at this show two months later, in a place Garcia had never played before or again, in the middle of a normal weekend run of Keystone shows where Kahn was otherwise present.  

Why would Kahn play Friday, Saturday, and Monday, but miss the Sunday gig?  My uninformed guess is that it had something to do with the show itself, a benefit for "Fairfax schools" (and a pricey one at that: $15 as compared to $7-10 for the average JGB or Dead show that month).  The venue was the Fairfax Pavilion, a community rec center in the heart of tiny downtown Fairfax, right next to the little league field.  Phil Lesh happened to be a Fairfax resident since 1968 and, at this stage in his life, a regular patron of Fairfax's drinking establishments (although he moved to San Rafael around this time, according to his book, so I don't know if he was still getting mail there or what).  It seems like a strange coincidence that he just happened to play a one-time gig with Garcia at his local community center that was a benefit for a local community interest.  Dave from Grateful Seconds saw this show and remembers knowing in advance that Lesh would be playing, so the "subbing for Kahn" idea seems even less likely.  Does anyone know more about that one?

There are a number of well-circulated Bob Minkin photos from this night (some here) of Garcia beaming at Lesh and both of them looking pretty happy (compared with Minkin's pics of two nights earlier at the Keystone, where Garcia and Kahn both look like overcooked seafood).  Unfortunately, though, according to some attendees, it was a weird night with heavy police presence and a phoned-in death threat (see Jerrybase comments).  And I am sorry to say that musically it isn't great, either.  The brief 38 minute first set is the worse of the two.  Garcia totally loses the changes during his first solo in How Sweet It Is and blows the "open my eyes at night" verse after his second one, neither of which seems like a good sign at all.  Mission in the Rain has some tempo issues at first, but is otherwise decent.  Keyboardist Jimmy Warren is not having a particularly good night either, and fizzles through most of his solos.  Sugaree lifts off a bit during Garcia's second solo.  Tangled Up in Blue has more tempo issues, wobbling from 125 to 135bpm from the beginning to the first solo, more lyric flubs, then Garcia sparks a quick two minute jam before punching out quickly.  The second set (about 45 min) is a bit more together.  I'll Take a Melody isn't bad (I hear some scatting from one of the singers in the jam), but the highlight is The Harder They Come, a tune I usually feel more ambivalent about than not.  As was usual for this lineup, Warren and Melvin Seals lay down a bubbling, interlocking two-keyboard groove for the jam, which Lesh complements with a minimal bass accompaniment (compared with Kahn's typically more bustly part), and Garcia rolls out the carpet over it.  Not bad!  Knockin' sounds fine to me, if a little stiff at first, and Midnight Moonlight finds a solid, steady tempo for itself.

Like the June shows, it's hard to say anything specific about Lesh's bass playing.  You would think he would stick out for his trademark unusual style, but he mostly plays it pretty safe here and (probably wisely) sticks to the parameters of the songs.  Occasionally something pops out as an only Phil would play that moment, but those are few and far between.

Also of note, this weekend were the last shows drummer Daoud Shaw played with the band.  Kreutzmann seems to have filled in for the September gigs (there's a picture of him at the next JGB show on 9/7/81), and then Ron Tutt returned for the November '81 east coast tour (and presumably two Keystone warm-up gigs immediately beforehand, which do not yet circulate on tape).  And Phil Lesh never played with the JGB again after this one strange night in downtown Fairfax.

photo by Bob Minkin

Monday, August 17, 2020

Merl Saunders & Friends 8/23/78

While googling images for the last post, I came across this (from the site of Bolerium Books):

Robert Pruzan, photo & David Wilts, design


I know, I know.  Every time the words "Merl Saunders" and "special guest" appeared together, it was obviously code for only one thing.  Still: just for John Kahn's presence, this is one more piece to add to the pre-Reconstruction puzzle.  The Shady Grove was the club where Garcia joined Saunders & Friends for a benefit (to keep the club opened) on 10/3/78.  He hadn't played onstage with Saunders since July 1975, though Saunders apparently did a week of recording with the JGB in Sept 1977, per JGMF (mysterious).

But... Garcia doesn't seem to have been doing anything on 8/23/78, except for maybe working with John Kahn on overdubbing and mixing Shakedown Street.  Just in case you were going to look that up.

I would love to know what Kahn was up to in 1978 when not playing with the JGB, if anything.  Lostlivedead had a great series of posts (almost 10 years ago) on Kahn's work history, but the last one ended with 1974.

The Shady Grove was (as far as I can tell) the local Haight-Ashbury club and hangout for a time until it closed in 1980.  According to the Facebook page of Leif Grafix,"the Haight Street Fair evolved out of a cooperatively run night club on Haight Street called Shady Grove. Merl Saunders & Friends performed regularly at SG and as the street fair formed they essentially became its house band, performing at every fair for decades."  Robert Hunter played there regularly in 1976 (and later).  And in his book Skeleton Key, Steve Silberman recalled that, circa 1979-80, "Garcia would occasionally be seen at the bar in a Yankees jacket."  Seems like the perfect disguise for an incognito San Francisco rock star.

Le Front Street Sheiks -> Reconstruction

"whaddya think, John, is that a flatted 5th or a raised 4th?"

 

Some inchoate notes on Jerry and jazz circa mid 1978:

Thanks to JGMF, we now have some public documentation of a very brief but very interesting moment in the JGB story, a brief side trip into a parallel universe where Garcia, Kahn, and Godchaux were a jazz piano combo.

JGMF once quoted (edit: here) an interview with John Kahn from 1987 where he casually mentioned the eyebrow-raising fact that, since 4/5 of the JGB lived near each other, they would regularly get together at the Godchauxs' house (mostly without Ron Tutt) and just play:

"We'd go through everything. We had Dylan songbooks and we'd do stuff like play everything from Blonde on Blonde. Then we'd do all sorts of Beatles songs. It was great. Most of it never even got past that room.
"We were real close for a while. We had this trip where we'd call ourselves the Front Street Sheiks and we'd play dumb piano jazz and stuff like that. We did some recording down at the rehearsal place [Front Street in San Rafael] right after they got their 24-track, just to see if the machine worked. We'd be down there every night of the week playing these old songs like "All the Things You Are," "Night in Tunisia," things like that." (Golden Road, Winter 1987, 29-30)

Tantalizing!  Both Kahn and Godchaux had jazz backgrounds, and Garcia of course had dabbled in jazz a bit under the guidance of Merl Saunders.  But now thanks to information that has been shared at the wonderful new Jerrybase site (seriously: it is wonderful), the picture comes slightly more into focus with four documented sessions at Club Front in June 1978 as either "Le Trio Clube" or the "Front Street Sheiks."

 

Repertoire

6/13/78: My Funny Valentine, Satin Doll, Georgia On My Mind

6/14/78: Satin Doll, Georgia On My Mind

6/26/78: Instrumental, Satin Doll

6/27/78: Don't Blame Me

The "repertoire" is made up of some pretty old and conservative standards; Kahn mentioned using songbooks and it's possible that one of them owned a copy of The Real Book (a popular grey market 'fakebook' of common practice jazz tunes). Garcia was already comfortable with "My Funny Valentine" and "Georgia On My Mind" from the Garcia/Saunders days.  "Satin Doll" (Ellington) and "Don't Blame Me" (a 1930's showtune recorded by dozens of singers and instrumentalists) are things that Godchaux would have likely played many times in his pre-Dead life as a cocktail bar pianist. Although Donna Godchaux is not mentioned in the Jerrybase info, Kahn did mention "Keith and Donna were always together, so Donna sang with us, too" and all of these songs were standards for vocalists as well as jazz instrumentalists.  Kahn also mentioned "A Night in Tunisia" and "All the Things You Are," both bebop-era warhorses. That instrumental could be anything. A few months later the JGB played Miles Davis' "So What" live, seemingly out of the blue, but perhaps that was in the mix here as well.

Timeline

Corry and Joe have done the heavy lifting with the late 1978 timeline as it relates to Reconstruction, when a lot was happening on both the GD and JGB fronts. It is worth familiarizing yourself with:
http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2012/11/reconstructing-reconstruction-january.html
http://jgmf.blogspot.com/2014/11/risky-reconstruction.html

But for my own purposes, I will reiterate a bit from their posts:

  • Garcia, Kahn, and Godchaux are messing around with jazz standards sometime in June 78 (and possibly earlier?).
  • The gear at Front Street is upgraded from a 16-track to a 24-track machine in June 78 (presumably for the Dead to record Shakedown Street there) and GKG take advantage of this to hang out and lay down some of these jazz tunes.
  • The Dead then get busy for most of August (recording Shakedown Street, with Kahn pitching in on overdubs and mixing duties) and September (going to Egypt, then canceling shows in London to return home and finish the album).
  • Garcia sits in with Merl Saunders' band for a one-off benefit gig at a Haight/Ashbury club on 10/3/78.  afaik, this is mostly still a mystery.  The band's style is fairly similar to Reconstruction (no horns, though), but the setlist includes a somewhat stylistic outlier: "So What."
  • The Keith & Donna JGB play their last known gig on 11/3/78 and, for the first known time, play "So What."
  • The Dead are on tour in November, Garcia is hospitalized with bronchitis, shows are postponed, and the Dead are back on the road intermittently from mid-December through January.
  • Reconstruction debuts with Garcia on 1/30/79, after a week of rehearsal during a break in the Dead's touring schedule.

 

So what?

Kahn described Reconstruction as a project he put together in Dec 1978 to play more jazz and to be able to gig when Garcia was on the road with the Dead, but also to potentially include Garcia when he wasn't: "I wasn't really planning on Jerry being in the band originally, and then when he was in the band it sort of changed everything from what the plan was" (Jackson, Garcia, 306).  It must have been an appealing fit for Garcia, who for the first time in eight years had no side-band of his own: the timing was good, the environment was appealing (a no-commitment, no-hassle gig), and the both concept and the material were fresh and challenging.  As the narrative has it, Garcia rose to the occasion for nine months in a final flash of inspired glory, but GD politics pulled him away, and Reconstruction's breakup symbolically marks an end to Garcia really pushing himself musically and settling into a more complacent rut for most of the next decade (see also: heroin; Garcia had moved in Rock Scully in this same period).

Is that narrative this changed by the fact that Garcia was actually "playing jazz" of his own accord six months before Reconstruction began?  It might be, it might not.  Given that Kahn seemed to suggest a lot of Garcia's material (starting with Compliments in 1974), it would make sense that he nudged Garcia this time as well.  Maybe it was just for laughs -- or maybe the idea of a JGB that incorporated jazz tunes (as Garcia/Saunders and Legion of Mary had done) was a viable option in their minds in mid-1978?

Also: I feel like "Russian Lullaby" is always left out of these discussions of Garcia engaging with jazz, but it's a jazz tune by pretty much any metric, and he played it regularly before, during, and after this period.

Also: This "Front Street Shieks" era of jazz is very different from the stripe of jazz that Reconstruction played -- I have more to say at some point re: Reconstruction as a jazz band -- which was different, for that matter, from "So What," and from the slightly earlier 20's-era swing Garcia played in the Great American Music/String Band in 1974 (see here).   And heck, also from some of the other jazz tunes played by the Legion of Mary.  That's a wider range of jazz music than I had expected and may warrant a separate post.

Also: One thing that did also come to mind was a story that drummer David Kemper told about working with Bob Dylan.  Dylan would assemble his band to rehearse for a tour and they would spend days playing in a certain style and carefully learning material that Dylan didn't seem to intend for performance.  Garcia and Kahn playing old jazz chestnuts doesn't seem to quite fit that model, but I don't know.

Or, of course, it's possible that all this timing is a coincidence and that we shouldn't make too much of these few "jazz sessions" in the bigger scheme of things.  But, for now, please to add refutations, corrections, additions, speculations, etc.

Monday, July 13, 2020

8/21/71 setlist clarification

tape box courtesy Ned Lagin

There is a tape labeled 8/21/71 and some variation of "Mickey Hart's barn" that is a recording of an informal jam session that followed a radio (and possibly television) broadcast performance by the New Riders of the Purple Sage and Shanti, an Indian/rock "world music" band featuring Zakir Hussain.  An aud tape has been in circulation for a long time.  The first digital transfer has extensive notes and info, and a more recent transfer purports to be from John Cippolina's own sbd reels ("this comes straight from the John Cipollina's collection, i personally made a copy of his reel and his notes" [sic]), even though it's the same aud tape.  More recently (2018?), Ned Lagin shared a sbd reel of most of the performance on his website and added his recollections about the jam to the NedBase page.  There is considerable overlap, though not exactly, between Ned's tape and the aud tape, and I had patched together a composite for my own listening and shared it in a couple of places, so that may still be floating around out there somewhere.  In the interest of creating a definitive setlist, I am only now getting around to posting this fleshed out version of my notes.  I am not going to even attempt to parse out who is playing what, nor do I have any comments on the music itself.  It's a big ol' jam session -- and, um, Garcia doesn't play for most of it -- so don't go expecting transcendence exactly.  But, y'know, it's got a vibe.  To my ears, the long Wall Song jam is the best thing here, since Gar & Cros already had a really nice hookup happening on this tune (digression: see the Nash/Crosby album outtake version!  the Matrix Dec 1970 performance!  I'm stopping now).

Corry has laid out in depth what is known about the circumstances of the gig here:
http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2012/03/august-21-1971-mickey-harts-ranch.html

And, a few months ago, Sam Cutler shared a 44 second video clip of the NRPS performance, which we can see was on a stage setup outdoors before a small audience of folks relaxing on lawn chairs.  Nice dye, Jerry!  But, according to the taper who recorded the jam,
"When the taping was finished, some musicians meandered into Mickey's barn where he had a modest recording studio set up. When I walked in Jerry Garcia and David Crosby were trying some things out (Fresh Green Grass). I turned on my cassette recorder, lashed my mic to an open mic stand, and sat down to enjoy a remarkable early evening of music."
THE PERSONNEL is all over the place.  To aggregate what is out there: the following folks were pretty definitely involved, based on the Lagin's tape box that was notated by Phil Lesh (which Lagin says is not complete).
Jerry Garcia (partially)
John Cipollina
David Crosby
Phil Lesh
Ned Lagin - piano, organ
Mickey Hart
Robbie Stokes - guitar
David Freiberg - bass, organ

Less certain:
Jorma Kaukonen (Lagin's memory)
Barry Melton (Lagin's memory, though the taper doesn't remember him)
Paul Kantner (Lagin's memory)
Jack Casady (Lagin's memory)
Merl Saunders ("maybe" per Lagin's memory)
Frank Lupica - drums (from Shanti, per the taper's memory)
Spencer Dryden (possibly, per aud tape notes)

It looks like the Airplane was on the road on Aug 21 (there was even a planned Dead/Airplane festival show in St. Paul, MN that day that was canceled); so if that is the case, scratch Kantner, Kaukonen, and Casady... unless the date on the tape is incorrect.  Someone else's ears can determine if they hear Jorma or Jack anywhere in here.  Nicky Hopkins' name has also been attached to this jam, but Lagin doesn't remember him and is doubtful he was there (as is the aud tape notes). 


THE MUSIC on the two recordings overlaps, but not completely.  Here is what was played:

Jam #1 = "Fire On the Mountain theme."  On the aud tape only.  Garcia is present here.

Other One Jam > The Wall Song = The O1 jam is not on aud tape, but is on Ned's tape.  It sounds like Ned's tapes starts at the beginning of the jam (or very close to) and after 1:50 or so, the jam segues into the Wall Song.  The aud tape cuts in a few minutes after the Wall Song has started (sorry, I don't have an exact time).  The "Cipollina tape" labels this "Wall Song > Fresh Green Grass Jam > Wall Song" but I have no idea what "Fresh Green Grass Jam" is, besides the cryptic reference to it in the taper's recollections (above) -- I don't hear anything in here that would warrant a separate label, fwiw.  Ned's tape has a cut that loses about a minute of music, which can be patched in seamlessly from the aud tape.

The music concludes and on Ned's tape, Garcia is heard saying, "I gotta go play."  The NRPS had a gig that night in Cotati, all of 20 miles away.

Jam #2 = this is on Ned's tape just labeled as 'Jam'.  The aud tape supplies the first 2:50, where Ned's tape cuts in.  The jam plays to completion on both the aud and Ned's tape.

"Noodle pt 1-2" = on the aud, but not Ned's tape.  "Pt 1" is 27 secs of guitar, piano, drums before the tape fades, and "Pt 2" continues after the cut for a few more seconds, then the musicians stop playing and other folks to tune up.

Jam #3 = on both aud tape and Ned's tape (apparently labeled "Blooz" on Ned's).  Both aud tape and Ned's tape have the same music here, with nothing missing.

Jam #4 = on both aud tape and Ned's tape (apparently labeled "R&R Jam" on Ned's).  Note that Ned's tape cuts after 5 minutes, while the aud tape contains 7 more minutes of music before fading.

Jam #5 = aud tape only; this cuts in and I think it's the conclusion of Jam #4 (albeit with a fair amount of music lost in the cut).  The music stops around 2:30, then the tape cuts.

Everything else that follows is only on the aud tape.  It's all pretty succinct in comparison with the expansive jams the preceded it.

"Carousel Song" = 44 seconds: this is the same melody as "Be Kind To Your Web Footed Friends" (or whatever it's called) that the Dead would sometimes play between songs, so I presume Bob Weir is to blame.

Ghost Riders in the Sky "Jam" = <3 min of the cowboy/surf standard "Ghost Riders in the Sky" played instrumentally, followed by some applause.

Winin' Boy Blues = the Jelly Roll Morton song (as done by Hot Tuna).  It sounds like Weir sings the vocal (it's not Jorma, another indication that he may not have been here at all).  It's about 3:40 total, and complete.

Bye Bye Blues = a <1 min fragment of a blues instrumental that sounds a lot like Les Paul's recording of "Bye Bye Blues."

Tore Down = a Freddie King tune.  Unknown vocalist, guitars, bass, piano, and drums.  About 6:45 total, and complete.

And then, according to the aud tape notes, that was the end of things.






So, I propose that the official record of this show look like this:
Jam (Fire On the Mountain theme)
Other One Jam >
The Wall Song (Crosby/Garcia vocal)
Jam
Jam ("Blooz")
Jam ("R&R Jam")
Ghost Riders in the Sky
Winin' Boy Blues (Weir vocal)
Bye Bye Blues
Tore Down (unknown vocal)


3/30/76: the first Don't Let Go meets Sugar Magnolia

4/1/76 by Jim Anderson

3/30/76 at the Calderone Concert Hall in Hempstead, NY is a show that probably doesn't get much airtime in our age of digital abundance: the aud tape of the early show is rough quality and the late show is even worse.  It's a little surprising that there is only one recording of a NYC-area Garcia show out there, but it's what we've got for now.  If the reward for braving a poor 76 JGB aud tape is something you need to be convinced of, then I direct you to this Don't Let Go, currently the earliest known performance.  Warning up front: there's a big ol' cut of death that truncates this one mid-jam (judging from later versions from this tour, they still had a while to go).  Blarg.

So why bother?  Because this version is the only time I've heard Garcia do this unusual thing: the jam, like all of them, begins with him grinding around the A blues scale, but at around 7 minutes, he shifts gears into A mixolydian.  For you non-modal types, that's a different scale that he used more frequently in more 'major' sounding jams.  There is plenty of stuff online about the modes and approaches that Garcia tended to favor in his improvisations, and I am not the person to go into depth about it.  But what struck me -- and what may strike you, even if you don't play or usually think about this stuff -- is how Garcia's decision changes the color and direction of the jam, giving it a flavor that sounds a lot like Sugar Magnolia, of all things.  Keith Godchaux picks up on it and, though I wouldn't quite label it a "Sugar Magnolia jam," it does sound like they are both thinking along those same lines.

Later Don't Let Go's made that modal shift a standard thing: versions from the 80's-90's start in the blues scale (or pentatonic, I guess) and then usually shift gears into a "jazzier" jam with Garcia centering on a different mode (paging any more experienced musicians here).  But he never did it like he does here, as far as I know.  All other 1976-78 versions that I know of either stick to that blues feel straight through, or jump ship at some point for freer spacey playing.  Which makes this debut version unique in my book.

The rest of the show is cool, too, if you're inclined to listen through the aud tape realities.  After Midnight has a hot jam, Who Was John is a good time as always, and there is some beautiful Keith/Jerry counterpoint (a 76 hallmark) happening in Sitting in Limbo.  If you're eying the text file suspiciously, fear not: Knockin' is not really 24 minutes, just a glitched file with some cuts and repeated sections (although the climax is excellent).  Plus, this is probably the best they ever pulled off the Stones' Moonlight Mile, with Tutt and Kahn thundering away before a nice vocal climax.  All in all: worth it for all you 76 JGB lovers.  All 11 of you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

improvisational music should not be recorded

Summertime.  Uncertain reassertion of degrees of normalcy in pandemic times.  While pondering my treatise on the merits of the JGB circa 1976, I was distracted by my record collection and, for no reason whatsoever, pulled out Miles Davis' Filles de Kilimanjaro to have a gander at it.  I looked at the liner notes on the back and did a doubletake when I saw that Ralph J. Gleason namechecks Dannie (sic) Rifkin, "longtime student of improvisational music" -- or, to you and I, manager and family member of the Grateful Dead.  Besides Danny Rifkin, Gleason quotes Gil Evans, AndrĂ© Gide, Edgard Varèse, and David LaFlamme in his assessment of Miles' latest directions in music.  I am not sure what to make of that.



Rifkin seems to have been slightly overshadowed by other personalities in the Grateful Dead story, but a cursory look at the literature reminded me that in addition to managing the band on and off through the decades, he was the guy who originally managed the house at 710 Haight-Ashbury, instituted the Dead's mail-order ticket service, and spearheaded the creation of the Rex Foundation.  But a manager of the Grateful Dead saying improvisational music should not be recorded but only heard once?  Say it ain't so.