While 1977 was a storied year for the Dead, the JGB wasn’t hitting the same stride. There seems to have been some experimentation with personnel — pedal steel guitarist John Rich was apparently offered a spot in the band and played three gigs with them in Dec 1976 (he turned down the offer), and there is an unknown rhythm guitar player who plays at a few shows in early ’77. Keith was also experimenting a bit with a Moog synthesizer, which didn’t last for long (he also played it intermittently on some of the earlier GD spring tour shows). The Dead were working on Terrapin Station in Los Angeles and playing their typical amount of shows, and Ron Tutt was also on the road a lot with Elvis in the first half of ’77. My guess is that they just weren’t in their usual groove, and I think this shows in a lot of earlier ’77 JGB shows, most of which leave me pretty cold. Given how up in the air things seem to have been, I can see why there weren’t a lot of sweet spots.
Not that there aren’t any: the 6/23/77 benefit gig and the first Pure Jerry release from July 1977 have their moments, and I’ve always been partial to 8/7/77 (this older source). For the past couple of days, I’ve been relistening to 7/3/77 at the Keystone Palo Alto, a wonderful Bettyboard tape of the second set, and it’s as sweet as can be. It’s not perfect, but it’s got a lot going for it, particularly if your summer priorities are pretty modest.
It's five songs in just under 70 minutes. The Harder They Come is a tune that doesn’t always do it for me — more than other songs, it often seems to reveal the weaknesses of whatever lineup was playing it — but this one is, oh yes, just exactly perfect to my ears. Ron Tutt must been brushing up on his reggae chops and sounds excellent here, throwing down like, well, not like Kingston’s finest, but about as well as a first-call Nashville session guy in 1977 was going to sound on this stuff. Jerry and Keith are both in top form, and, unusually, Maria Muldaur appears to be providing the sole backing vocal. I believe Donna was recovering from an illness and didn’t make the band's brief east coast trip a few days later, and she appears to have skipped these two Palo Alto gigs as well (July 2 and 3). Muldaur was no stranger, of course, but I don't think she had sang onstage with Garcia since '74. She was still involved with John Kahn, but maybe she was also returning the favor for the band's appearance at her recent benefit? I wonder if her presence did something to inspire them tonight. Simple Twist is also a cut above: again, Tutt rises above his usual excellence, keeping things dynamic and interesting, and Jerry gives it his all vocally (check the “he woke up, the room was bare” verse). Mystery Train chugs and simmers like the best ’77 GD Big Rivers in slow motion. Knockin’ is the only blemish: it sounds like they were still ironing out the kinks in the newer arrangement that the JGB played for the rest of their career (straight tempo verses > reggae chorus), and, like most other versions, it doesn’t really need to be 16 minutes long, but all is forgiven when Jerry starts pouring out his heart in those solos. An early Tangled closes the night, with a much lighter feel than later versions, and some quietly strong solos that are hitting the spot for me today. Three Dylan tunes out of five? That may be some kind of record.
Did I mention that this tape sounds fantastic? Thanks again, Betty!
|Muldaur's then current album|