Sunday, December 15, 2019

a week in Jan 1979 (put on the snow tires)

There's been a lack of serious Dead listening 'round here lately, but this little project oddly pulled me out of a slump.  I am drawn to periods that are generally overlooked or underrated, both out of a desire to find some buried treasure and also, it must be said, out of a weirdly perverse attraction to the mundane.  The Jan-Feb 1979 tours have not gone down in the books as the band's best, and justifiably so.  And yet here I am, always on the lookout for buried treasure.  You already know that this was the Godchauxs' final stand, and that several of these shows were makeups for Dec 1978 shows that were canceled because of Garcia's illness.  A week after their final blowout at Winterland, I am sure that none of them were too jazzed to be touring the northeast in January.  I was born in New Haven in January 1979 and have been told repeatedly by my family how horrible the snow was.  An online buddy Pig Street attended some of these shows and reports similar conditions.  Party on!

Spoiler: none of these shows is top-to-bottom great.  Many of them have something worth hearing and revisiting.  Isn't finding those gems what it's all about?

1/5/79 - The Spectrum

The band's history at the Spectrum is notable, and this was their first two-night stand there, rescheduled from December and split over two weeks, presumably working around the hockey season.  It's a pretty run-of-the-mill show, captured on a solid if not amazing aud tape (all respect to the uncredited taper).  Two unfortunate tape cuts excise Jerry's climactic Sugaree solo and most of the Music Never Stopped jam.  Weir's slide solo in Sugaree sounds truly and unbelievably terrible.  An unexpected highlight is the last stretch of All Over Now, when Garcia and Lesh decide it's time to lift the roof for a few moments.  The second set jam begins with a somewhat sluggish Estimated, which perks up during an unusually colorful segue into a very long Eyes of the World: 16 1/2 minutes of legitimate jamming.  Nothing earthshaking happens, since Garcia sounds happy to take it at a mellow pace, but it's still a pleasant ride.  A loud, raucous Space (all hands on deck and making noise) sets up a more energetic post-Drumz: it sounds like they're having fun on Truckin', and then they attempt the first Nobody's Fault But Mine in a while -- it's a full band effort, not just Garcia playing the melody -- but Garcia's mic gives out and they're forced to make it an instrumental.  Black Peter sounds quite good, though Garcia seems to be making room for Weir's slide again (whyyyyy), and Around and JBG feel unusually goosed.  "Thank y'all, we're gonna see you in a week or two."  Not bad, but overall it's a so-so show.  At least the local reviews were good.

high times at MSG, by Bob Minkin.

1/7/79 - Madison Square Garden 

Another historical first: the band's first MSG shows (again rescheduled from December).  Boy howdy, do they sound glad to be there: the run blasts off with a truly titanic Jack Straw, with a jam for the ages.  Mama mia!  The rest of the set is wholly unremarkable, which feels almost cruel given that opening salvo.   There's a pretty nice Cassidy and Jack-a-Roe; Garcia sings "kicked my eye and blacked my dog" in Tennessee Jed, and delivers on a solid Passenger closer.  True to their we-always-blow-the-big-ones form, the second set is marred by PA problems: the opening Miracle has some sound issues, Shakedown feels perfunctory, and repeat Estimated > Eyes finally finds a groove but is also on the shorter side.  Space is an unexpected highlight, with a kind of "world music" vibe as Garcia improvises more melodically with Hart's marimba.  But Not Fade Away feels bloated and overlong to me, although there's an interesting bit where everyone is trading fours, and Black Peter (another repeat) is going well until the PA craps out again, never to fully recover.  Blah.  Hear this Jack Straw over and over, and maybe the Space.  Full disclosure: Bob Wagner's aud tape is solid, but boomy and a little unfocused, which may be tilting my general opinion here.

1/8/79 - Madison Square Garden 

The first set is great!  Good selection, great energy: a very fine Half Step > Franklin's kicks off with a satisfying peak to the Half Step jam and a nice transition.  Everything has the extra edge, and even the more obvious flubs sound more like over-enthusiasm than carelessness.  Lazy > Supplication, another good combo, closes things out.  Promising start!  As much as I really want to love this second set, however, I am just not feeling it.  On paper it's great, and Charlie Miller has repeatedly said that this is one of his particular favorites.  So your mileage, obviously, may vary.  Scarlet > Fire features an unusually prominent Donna "solo" in the transition jam, more forward than her other occasional moments of glossolalia -- you go ahead, Donna! -- and Jerry bumbleebeing his way through the rest of it.  Hmm.  He steps it up for FOTM with one well-crafted solo after another, but the rest of the band sounds like they're plodding along.  Maybe it's just me?  This S>F certainly has its proponents (e.g. here), so perhaps you all will like it more than I do.  Nothing much moves me either in Terrapin or Playing, and they skip Space altogether tonight for some noodling right into the Other One, which doesn't feel like it fully comes together before the vocals.  Wharf Rat, at least, is a powerhouse.  It's interesting that all three of these shows so far have had an energy bump after the Drums, but haven't quite delivered the goods beforehand.

MSG, by Bob Minkin.
1/10/79 - Nassau Coliseum

And another historical moment: the Dead return to Nassau, which they had sworn off in 1973 after heavy police presence and arrests.  A few good pulls were made, but Keith Gatto's aud tapes of both nights are spectacular, which I admit may contribute to my higher opinion of these shows.  The first set mostly lopes along without much spark (the B-grade song selection is partially to blame), but ends well with quality versions of Passenger and Loser before a hot Music Never Stopped finale that burns through both jams to a big finish.  Shakedown is a much better performance than MSG's (prompting Phil to crack, "you know it well!" to all the Long Islanders), but then a workmanlike Miracle > Bertha > Good Lovin' seems like they are settling in for another unremarkable 2nd set jam.  But oh no: a full blown Dark Star.  How?  Why?  Huh?  Remember that they had brought this back ten days earlier for the closing of Winterland blowout (and would play a shorter one again 10 days later), but this one takes the full ride for over 18 minutes, complete with a nice climax in the second half.  imho this vies with the 1984 Greek Theater encore for the best of the "lost years" Dark Stars, and what a nice surprise it is.  Space, thankfully, is another full-blown skronk-fest (crazier than 1/5) with another big climax, dropping off into a decent but unremarkable Wharf Rat.  They have one more ace to play: St. Stephen, another reprise from Winterland (and the last one they would play until 1983), a pretty on-point and fired up version.  Thank you, boys!  Dark Star through the end of the show is well worth hearing.

1/11/79 - Nassau Coliseum
(a rare sbd also circulates, though the aud is the better bet)

I wasn't expecting much from this more pedestrian looking setlist, but surprise surprise, the first set felt pretty solid.  A big ol' Sugaree opener boasts a great final jam (and less egregiously bad Bob slide), and there's also a nice Cassidy and a solid-if-not-amazing Jack Straw > Deal finisher, both with some slippery spots but an all-around good feeling.  The second set opens with a very long, jammy Miracle, by far the longest (10+ minutes) of this period, with a nice, easy, quasi-Truckin' shuffle.  The band goofs around wishing happy birthday to everyone ("the Birthday Brothers & Sisters Band!") before setting sail into the best Estimated so far (though check out Jerry pulling the e-brake hard in the bridge solo) with a lovely, nearly composed transition into He's Gone.  They groove on a long Truckin' tease before Drums, then noodle around for bit before Truckin' proper.  They give this one another good reading and make their way roundabout to the Other One, with a great transition to the intro and a short but very punchy jam, and finally a very slow but steady Stella Blue with an extra long outro solo -- not a true stunner, but a worthwhile trip -- before wrapping up the night a fine Casey Jones encore that I hope was a little parting fuck you to the Nassau police.  Start to finish, this may be the most consistent second set of these six shows, though nothing jumps out enough to make it one for the books.  A worthwhile specimen, nevertheless.

1/12/79 - The Spectrum

Back at the Spectrum for night 2, with Eddie Claridge's and Jim Wise's sweet, up-close FOB as the only circulating recording.  The first set is mostly pretty ho-hum (the opening Jack Straw doesn't hold a candle to the MSG version), but things settle into place with a nice Peggy-O, and a great one-two punch of Passenger and Deal.  The energy spills over into a nice Samson, though Garcia's voice isn't in good enough shape for Roses.  Yikes.  Dancing in the Streets had become far less common than it had been in spring '78, and while it seemed like the band's interest in stretching this one out had been waning, this one pulls a rabbit out of its hat: after a brisk, tight jam, they bring it back around and then wander off into a looser groove; it's nice them exploring an unexpected direction at this stage in the game.  Garcia manages to tie it back into the Dancin' reprise, they wrap up the tune, and then Garcia sets off again as everyone else takes a break.  Hart eases off, and the next few minutes are just Garcia and Kreutzmann playfully sparring with each other -- nothing like John Coltrane/Elvin Jones intensity, but it's pretty cool to hear these two having a rare 'alone together' moment.  Hart returns for a low-key Drums, which ushers in a Not Fade Away that (after another grimacey slide solo) is elevated by Garcia powering through the rest of the band's laconic groove with a stronger attack.  A bonus GDTRFB and Sugar Magnolia (no ballad) keep the energy and good vibes up high.  It's worth hearing this Dancin>jam, and worth sticking around for the rest of it if you're not in a rush.

1/12/79? by unknown

None of these six shows is a powerhouse from start to finish.  With the exception of 1/8/79, all of these first sets are pretty skipable, barring a couple highlights.  The first two shows are generally pretty low-gear and low priority.  I keep hoping that 1/8/79's second set will turn my crank someday, but it hasn't happened yet.  Things get genuinely engaging for me with the second set of 1/10 Nassau, 1/11 maintains the energy for an all-around generally solid show, and 1/12 delivers with an overlooked strong second set jam.  But I'm not feeling inspired to keep going, so this symmetrical six-show run will suffice.   fwiw, the second set from 1/15/79 in Springfield is probably the best single set of this final winter 79 period (though, again, the first set was mostly a snoozer, iirc).  2/3/79 Indianapolis is another real diamond in the rough, and I presume most folks know the final Keith & Donna show on 2/17/79 has some very spirited (if messy) playing and a host of setlist surprises.

The "problem" with these shows has less to do with any obvious flaws and more of a kind of settled but indifferent professionalism (well, professionalism by the Dead's standards).  "We used to play for acid, now we play for Clive," perhaps.  Jerry's and Donna's voices sound pretty blown out more often than not, Keith never sounds too engaged in any of it (though the tone of the electric piano he was playing isn't doing him any favors), and everyone else just kind of plays on through.  As much as history has firmly attributed this to the Godchauxs, it sounds to me more like a cloud had settled on the band in late 78 that didn't fully clear until Brent Mydland was fully settled in a year later. 

1/9/79: Keith is not amused (Bob Minkin)

Friday, November 1, 2019

update re 2/19/69

Heads up: I was reading an article about the remnants of a record collection from the 60's commune at Rancho Olompali, which led me roundabout back to Light Into Ashes' post about the 2/19/69 Celestial Synapses show (and some very helpful recent comments), and I was nerdily inspired to updated my own post a bit.  Pictures! Local history!  Hippie entrepreneurs and lurid drug stories!

See here:

Monday, October 7, 2019

Jerry Hahn, Moses, and Merl

courtesy discogs
Jerry Hahn was a guitarist who was active in the 60's San Francisco jazz scene.  His first big gig was with saxophonist John Handy's group (perhaps not well-known to many casual jazz fans today, but Handy was big at the time, having been signed to Columbia by John Hammond), and then with rising star Gary Burton.  Hahn's own debut (Are-Be-In, 1967, for Arhoolie) touched on the same jazz-raga-rock vibe as stuff like Butterfield's East-West, Gabor Szabo's Jazz Raga, or Pat Martino's East.  In 1970, he released the cult-classic The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, by his group of the same name, on Columbia, which to this day has still never been reissued.  The JHB seems to have worked a lot around the Bay Area, and opened for some major acts on the Fillmore circuit, and Hahn also got the call to play on Paul Simon's debut (post-Garfunkel) album.

Three years later, Hahn recorded a 'solo' album, Moses, for Fantasy Records.  The band was his JHB rhythm section -- Mel Graves on bass, George Marsh on drums -- and Merl Saunders as a last-minute addition, on organ and synthesizer.  Moses is a good record, though not one that I personally return to a lot as a whole album.  Stylistically it's a little all-over-the-place: the title cut (which I can listen to all day) is wonderful, a midtempo funky groove with a vibe that would have fit Garcia/Saunders perfectly; ditto the cover of Donovan's "Sunshine Superman."  Hahn's originals have an edgier, fusion/jazz-rock feel; two of them are 'suites' that jump around even more.  Then there are a few 50's-era standards, played well but comparatively straightforward.  It's kind of an odd mix when taken as an entire album, imho.  But all of it is very good.  imho, if they had cut less material and just stretched out more, it might be even better -- most of the tracks are under five minutes.  Like the JHB album before it, Moses has so far never been reissued in any digital form, anywhere.

So what does this have to do with this blog?  I am curious about the brief intersection of Jerry Hahn and Jerry Garcia and am wondering if there was more to it than is generally known.  I am also interested in this album as it relates to Merl Saunders' own involvement with the scene around Fantasy Records.  But there are no concrete conclusions to draw; so for now, consider some inchoate observations:
  • per George Marsh: “[Garcia] had his own group and I met him then and I was in the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood and we played [the Matrix] also ... So one of those times, it was set up that Mel Graves, the bassist, and myself and Merl Saunders played with Jerry one of the nights at the Matrix” (here).  He elaborated in an interview with Jake Feinberg that Saunders played on both of these nights: one night with Marsh, Graves, and Hahn, the next night with Marsh, Graves, and Garcia.  The Chicken On a Unicycle list of Matrix shows (which I realize is both outdated and probably incomplete), don't show Hahn and Garcia ever performing on the same night; there's a back-to-back booking in April 1970 (Garcia Monday night jam on 4/20, Hahn on 4/21-22), but I am pretty sure that Saunders wasn't in the mix at that point [can't be 4/20-21-22; Howard Wales is on the bill for 4/20].  Marsh does dimly recall to Feinberg that he jammed with Howard Wales at one point, but the details are lost.  The JHB also played the Matrix a lot -- 26 times in 1970, according to that list -- so it could easily have been some other time.  At one time, Corry Arnold thought that this Garcia-Saunders-Graves-Marsh performance was that December.  Re: this same general time period, Corry has also speculated whether Hahn might be the mystery guitarist who sat in with the Dead for a brief but unique jam at Winterland on 4/15/70.  Hmm.
  • We do know for sure, however, that the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood played at Pepperland in San Rafael on 12/21/70, along with the New Riders, the very short-lived Crosby-Garcia-Lesh-Kreutzmann ensemble, and, possibly the acoustic Dead (per Michael Parrish's eyewitness account -- with pictures! -- plus more via jgmf).  So that's at least two Garcia/Hahn connections, albeit fairly minor ones for two guitarists who were both pretty busy.
  • The Moses sessions were Jan 8-11, 1973 at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley.  Four sessions seems like a lot of time for an album like this, but what do I know?  Marsh recalls in the Feinberg piece that the group went in as a trio, but recruited Merl in passing to play on the record.  Corry Arnold also relates that "Hahn was set to record at Fantasy as a trio with Marsh and Graves. However, they saw Merl Saunders in the Fantasy cafeteria, and invited him to play on the album," but also that Saunders was recruited by the producer "so that [Hahn] wouldn't go completely off to Mars" -- for what it's worth, however, the back of the record says Hahn produced the album himself -- which may explain why a fairly small-group jazz record took four sessions to record.  
  • Is it possible that Garcia was hanging out at any of these Jerry Hahn sessions with Merl at Fantasy Studios?  Garcia was working on Baron Von Tollbooth with Kantner, Slick & co. on Jan 8-9  (thank you jgmf), but is it possible that Merl mentioned these unplanned studio dates to Jerry, and that Jerry swung by to check it out?  Marsh doesn't say anything about it in the Feinberg interview, so I'm inclined to think not -- but then again, he doesn't mention the Pepperland thing, either, so it's not out of the question.  Given that Jerry circa 1973 seems to have rarely spent an idle day doing something non-musical, it seems conceivable.  Or maybe he was pickin' with Grisman and Rowan on his front porch (pretty likely, actually, per Corry's pre-OAITW timeline), or rehearsing the new batch of Wake of the Flood-era tunes with the Dead, or hanging with Healy and the sound crew working out kinks in the Dead's new PA, or something else entirely.  
  • Or could it also be possible that maybe Merl invited Jerry Hahn to come to the Keystone where Garcia/Saunders were playing on Jan 12th-13th?  or perhaps to some other gig?  There are a lot of Jan 73 Garcia/Saunders show that are unrepresented by any tape, and personnel was still fairly fluid in that group at this point.  Second guitarist George Tickner was added for a few shows that spring, as was singer Sarah Fulcher.
  • update, Dec 2019: speaking of Sarah Fulcher, Jesse Jarnow interviewed her for the release of the 1/23/73 Boarding House show.  She reveals, "me and Merl and John and Bill Vitt did some recording [at Alembic Studios] with another guy playing guitar, and he sounded just like Garcia.  Well, as much as anyone can."  Jarnow adds this note: "My esteemed colleague Corry Arnold suggests this guitarist might be Jerry Hahn, house guitarist for Fantasy Records."  As far as I  know, Hahn isn't credited on any other Fantasy albums besides his own, but I would be very interested in finding out more.  Wouldn't it be fascinating is this is really what happened?  [JGMF, to the rescue yet again, notes that "On 3/13/73, Betty [Cantor-Jackson] did a session noted as Sarah, Merl, Bill Vitt, 16 track playback," as per files in the GD Archive]
  • It is worth repeating that Merl Saunders was a total pro and a master musician.  Anyone who knows something about Garcia's life outside of the Dead has some understanding of the profound influence that Merl had on Garcia's development as a musician, but I still don't know that many Garcia/Saunders fans listen all that closely to Merl as a soloist -- I don't see much in the way of comment about him, at any rate.  Merl apparently just walked in and played here.  I'm sure it was no sweat for him to reel off standards like "All Blues" and "Joy Spring," or the funk of "Moses," but some of Hahn's stuff is pretty spiky and Merl adds just what is needed.  It is also worth noting that Merl is playing some synthesizer on Moses.  The Jan 73 G/S shows are, I believe, the only times that we hear Merl playing a synth in performance (allowing, again, there are big gaps in our knowledge of many of these shows).  On stage, the effect was a bit underwhelming, but he sounds far more comfortable with the instrument in the studio. 
So I dunno: some speculation, some more insight into the musical prowess of Merl Saunders, some interesting musical digressions.  Never a bad thing.  I would certainly like to learn more about Merl's relationship with Fantasy Records/Studios and the influence, direct or not, that it had on the Garcia/Saunders band -- starting, I presume, with Tom Fogerty, and extending into the general influence that the label's output had on Reconstruction (more later, someday).  But, for now, it's just another piece of the puzzle. 

Sunday, October 6, 2019

What good is spilling blood? It will not grow a thing

I would never argue with anyone who says Workingman's or American Beauty, but my favorite Dead studio album for personal listening has always been Blues for Allah.  I feel very at home within the sound of this record.  This afternoon I was feeling at home with it in my Listening Cave (on an LP passed on by a college roommate who did not own a turntable; thanks, Obie) when I noticed that the inner sleeve helpfully provides Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian translations of the title lyric:

Just in case you needed to know. 

Who knows all the lyrics to "Blues For Allah" off the top of their head?  Like nobody, I'll bet.  There are some real Hunter gems are buried in there, though: Let's see with our heart / these things our eyes have seen / and know the truth will still lie / somewhere in between, and so on.

I also had forgotten and/or never knew that the songwriting credits for the instrumental portions of the album are more finely sliced than most heads (or me, at least) probably think:

Every instrumentalist but Mickey got a credit for Slipknot, but it's nice to see that Donna got one for Sand Castles & Glass Camels -- there's a good one for GD Trivia Night.

The thousand stories have / come round to one again.

Friday, October 4, 2019

make good money, five dollars day

Um, did you know about this?  I did not.  Among other things I learned: PARCO is a big chain of Japanese department stores.  This is from 1993.
courtesy GDAO
And, if that wasn't weird enough:

Interesting, indeed.  I hope this paid for at least a year of college for one of his kids.

That is all.  Carry on.

Monday, September 30, 2019

10/1/76: some slipknot

courtesy gdsets

I took in the bulk of the 2nd set jam while cooking dinner, and then again just now.  The sbd is just dandy, but this great aud tape is the way to go:

(it's even better than the Jerry Moore sourced tapes, imho, although either this tape must be from the same source, or the taper must have been set up right near him?)

  • Slipknot!  Oh Slipknot!  This is masterful.  After about 9 minutes, it seems like everyone else is ready to wrap things up and move on -- but Jerry waits, defers, then slowly spreads his tendrils off in another new direction.  This is a beautiful moment of Grateful Dead communication.  The nudge from the drummers and Phil's little slide at 11:40 cues the walk-up into the ending very nicely. 
  • 11 minutes of Franklin's Tower is just enough.  I'm sorry, but this feels, you got it, just exactly perfect.  Not an all-timer, not blowing the roof off, not just cruising either; just the right amount of bounce and Jerry heats it up just when he needs to.  I am happy.  
  • They didn't really have the whole disco Dancin' thing down until 1977, and a lot of the earlier 76 ones feel more clunky than funky to my ears.  This one has found its groove, though it doesn't have the same git down as it did in 77-79.  Jerry uses his wahwah pedal to great effect here, giving the jam a more smeary, psychedelic feel than the cleaner wompwompwomp of his trademark Mutron.  Again, it's short and sweet, but not too short: a hair below 8 minutes total before they break the jam off for Drums.
  • After 5 minutes of the Wheel, everyone is clearly rarin' to get back into Dancin', but Jerry ignores it and wanders off the path.  The next 3 minutes are yet another of those low-key, only in '76 kind of jams: everyone is game to just see what happens, and Jerry's in no hurry to get them anywhere in particular.  And what happens is quite lovely -- shades of Crazy Fingers in spots, but really just another one of those funny '76 corners, like finding a room in your house that you didn't know was there.  Jerry lands it right in Ship of Fools, not a tune that I typically get excited about.  But after that trip, it's a welcome arrival.  It ends, and after some uncertain splashing about, Jerry guides them all back into the Dancin' reprise.  Kinda messy in spots, but hey man, they're just making this up as they go along.
  • But it's not quite over.  Why not slide a little bonus GDTRFB in there just for good measure?  Why yes, thank you, I will.  All of it is great, but I find myself rewinding to 7:14 when Phil does that great tumble down into the AWBYGN riff and they're all playing everything all at once.  They even finagle a slick little transition into the closing Saturday Night, something they definitely did not have to do.  But they did stuff like that in 1976.

I do like 1976.

PS: This was the first of three times that they played at the Market Square Arena.  Each show was very good, and there is fantastic aud tape of each one.  How 'bout that.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

RIP Robert Hunter

Rest in peace, Robert Hunter.  Right now I can think of no better tribute than this: tonight I sang his words to my kids before they fall asleep, which I have done nearly every night now for over a decade.