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.
[update: see below]

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 #1: 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!

edit #2 (Nov 2018): So it only now occurred to me to look further into this, and it's still possible that it's Nelson, but I'm doubtful.  He says (here) that he picked up the mandolin at Garcia's behest in 1962: "I tried my hand at mandolin for a couple years" ...which hardly sounds like a a guy who'd be playing a one-shot gig on electric mandolin years after his own band had taken off.  But then  again, Nelson also says (here) that he almost played mandolin on the Dylan & the Dead tour in 1987 (!), so I guess the mandolin never got put away entirely.  Gah!  

Another distant possibility might be another old associate of Garcia's, Ken Frankel, who (according to the GDH) had experience both playing electric rock guitar, classical mandolin, and electric classical guitar. 

edit #3 (Aug 2019): Oookay, so I feel like a supreme dumbass for not seeing what was in plain sight, but David Grisman did play electric mandolin with Garcia & Saunders once: the part he overdubbed on "Positively 4th Street" from the original Live at Keystone album.  Granted that was in a studio rather than onstage in a club, but take another listen to it (his solo starts at 5:07).  Much like the mando on 7/12/74, there are things he does that sound like "guitar licks," but with enough trademark mandolin things to make it clear what he's really playing.  So could it be Grisman on 7/12/74 after all?  It seems like an unusual move for him to make, but now I'm thinking that he's a viable candidate again.  Given that he and Garcia has been playing in such close proximity, it doesn't seem as far fetched to me.


  1. So cool it's a mando, not a guitar. I will try to update my post, which has long needed updating, and my files.

    I agree that if it were Grisman, we'd know by the style. I fee confident that I would. Beyond the default guess of Nelson, no idea. Now I want to check this one out again, no bad thing at all.

  2. So much fun! I love/hate these mysteries. I wonder what Sandy Rothman was doing that night ...