Monday, August 29, 2011

Long Time to be Gone, and a Short Time to be There

I'm kind of impressed it took me this long to write about my favorite band of all time. For those of you who recognize the lyrics in the title, you know what's coming. For those who don't, the title is from a song called Box of Rain by the godfather of all hippie jam bands, the prototype to modern file sharing, the Ken Kesey house band, the Grateful Dead.

I figure, this band is so important to me, I could do what I did for Rage Against the Machine and Blues Traveler by writing about each album I own...  but that may take a while and would probably end up being pretty repetitive and boring. Also, studio albums do not do the band justice. They are a good way to be introduced and get familiar with the songs, but the Dead were special because of their live show.

I'm not that old... Jerry Garcia died on August 8, 1995. That was nearly two months before the Dead were supposed to close out the Boston Garden, one final live performance before they tore the old Garden down. I was twelve and planned on buying tickets. The year before was my first and only show, my parents bought me tickets for my birthday. I went with my father.  In comparison to other fans, known as Deadheads, I'm basically an infant. Heads were known for following the band, some seeing hundreds of shows between 1965 and 1995. The counter culture that grew around the touring band is a legendary and very interesting social phenomenon. The documentary film Tie Dyed does a very good job presenting the fan base. I recommend watching it if you're interested in this sort of thing.

The catalog in my music collection is as follows:

The Ship of the Sun is Piloted by the Grateful Dead
Warner Brothers, 1967
produced by David Hassinger
Pig Pen - vocals, organ, harmonica
Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass guitar, vocals
Bill Kreutzmann - drums

singles-
  • Stealin'/Don't Ease me In
  • The Golden Road/Cream Puff War
  • Viola Lee Blues

Anthem of the Sun
Warner Brothers, 1968
produced by David Hassinger

Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Bob Weir - guitars, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, trumpet, vocals
Pig Pen - organ, vocals, percussion
Tom Constanten - piano
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion

singles-
  • Dark Star/Born Cross Eyed

Live/Dead
Warner Brothers, 1969
produced by Bob Matthews, Betty Cantor

Pig Pen - vocals, harmonica, organ
Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals
Tom Constanten - organ
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion

Workingman's Dead
Warner Brothers, 1970
produced by Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor

Jerry Garcia - guitars, pedal steel, vocals
Pig Pen - organ, piano, vocals, harmonica
Bob Weir - guiatrs, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion

singles-
  • Uncle John's Band/New Speedway Boogie
  • Casey Jones

American Beauty
Warner Brothers, 1970
produced by Steve Barncard

Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, pedal steel, vocals
Pig Pen - organ, piano, vocals, harmonica
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion

singles-
  • Truckin'/Ripple
Vintage Dead
Sunflower, 1970
produced by Robert Cohen

Pig Pen - organ, harmonica, vocals
Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals
Bill Kreutzmann - drums

Grateful Dead (Skulls and Roses)(Skull Fuck)
Warner Brothers, 1971
produced by Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor

Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, vocals
Pig Pen - organ, piano, harmonica, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Bill Kreutzmann - drums
Merl Sanders - organ

singles-
  • Johnny B Goode/Truckin'
Europe '72
Warner Brothers, 1972
Jerry Garcia - lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals
Pig Pen - organ, harmonica, vocals
Keith Godchaux - piano
Bill Kreutzmann - drums
Donna Jean Godchaux - vocals

singles-
  • One More Saturday Night/Bertha
  • Sugar Magnolia/Mr Charlie
Bear's Choice
Warner Brothers, 1973
produced by Owsley Stanley
Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Pig Pen - organ, harmonica, guitar, vocals, percussion


Wake of the Flood
Grateful Dead, 1973
Jerry Garcia - guitar, pedal steel guitar, vocals
Bob Weir - guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Donna Jean Godchaux - vocals
Keith Godchaux - piano, vocals

singles-
  • Let me Sing your Blues Away/ Here Comes Sunshine
  • Eyes of the World/Weather Report Suite
Shakedown Street
Arista, 1978
produced by Lowell George
Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Donna Jean Godchaux - vocals
Keith Godchaux - piano, vocals

singles-
  • Good Lovin'/Stagger Lee
  • Shakedown Street/France
Reckoning
Arista, 1981
produced by Dan Healy and Betty Candor-Jackson
Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Brent Mydland - keyboards, vocals
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion

singles-
  • Dire Wolf
Without A Net
Arista, 1990
produced by John Cutler
Jerry Garcia - guitar, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Brent Mydland - keyboards, vocals
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Branford Marsalis - tenor saxophone

Two From the Vault
Grateful Dead, 1992
produced by Dan Healy
recorded August 24, 1968 at Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles
Jerry Garcia - guitar, vocals
Pig Pen - keyboards, harmonica, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitar, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion

Hundred Year Hall
Grateful Dead, 1995
produced by John Cutler
recorded April 26, 1972 at Jahrhunderthalle, Frankfurt
Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Pig Pen - harmonica, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars
Phil Lesh - bass
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Donna jean Godchaux - vocals
Keith Godchaux - piano

Dozin at the Knick
Grateful Dead, 1996
produced by John Cutler
recorded March 24-26, 1990 at Kickerbocker Arena, Albany

Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars, vocals
Brent Mydland - keyboards, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion

Fallout from the Phil Zone
Grateful Dead, 1997
produced by Phil Lesh
Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Pig Pen - organ, harmonica, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars, vocals
Brent Mydland - keyboards, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Tom Constanten - organ
Keith Godchaux - piano

Good Morning Little School Girl
Grateful Dead, 1997
produced by John Cutler
recorded February 11, 1969 at the Fillmore East, New York
Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Pig Pen - harmonica, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion
Tom Constanten - organ, prepared piano

Nightfall of Diamonds
Grateful Dead, 2001
produced by John Cutler
recorded October 16, 1989 at the Meadowlands
Jerry Garcia - guitars, vocals
Bob Weir - rhythm guitars, vocals
Brent Mydland - keyboards, vocals
Phil Lesh - bass
Mickey Hart - drums, percussion
Bill Kreutzmann - drums, percussion

One can see that quite a few of the albums I own are newer posthumous releases of live shows. I did have a few tapes from random shows from the 70s courtesy of my hippie dentist. But, the quality wasn't very good, as most of them were copied from another master tape. My father had the entire catalog of Grateful Dead releases, up until Built to Last. He even had Infrared Roses, which is a bizarre collection of "space" jam sessions from live shows. So, I've heard everything released through a record company, except for the Dick's Picks releases (there must be like thirty of them), and now Dave's Picks (Dick died in 1999).

The Grateful Dead took up much of my adolescence. I read several books and interviews about them, including The Grateful Dead Family Album by Jerilyn Lee Brandelius, One More Saturday Night by Sandy Troy, Searching for the Sound by Phil Lesh, the Annotated Lyrics by David Dodd, Box of Rain by Robert Hunter, and even Harrington Street by Jerry Garcia. I have copies of the People Magazine and Guitar Player special Jerry Garcia editions, and the Rolling Stone tribute. It was kind of an obsession.

The music is unlike anything I've ever heard, unique for a few reasons. The first is the blending of genres never done quite the same. Its like that Osmonds song, a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll... a little bit blues, a little bit jazz, a little bit bluegrass. Lenny Kaye once said that they touch "on ground that most other groups don't even know exists".

Second, the individual members are fantastic musicians and they aren't like conventional rock stars learning how to play in the garage. Phil Lesh, the bass player, is a Berkley grad who studied classic piano and trumpet. Jerry Garcia was a well known Bay Area bluegrass banjo picker and this influences his style of guitar playing.  Mickey Hart studied percussion in a variety of different countries and cultures, and he plays with Bill Kruetsman, sometimes drumming in-sync, and sometimes blending different beats together. Add to this a young garage taught guitar player (Bob Weir), a crusty blues front man who also played harmonica and the organ (PigPen) and you have an interesting band.

Also noteworthy: the musicians rarely wrote lyrics. Robert Hunter and John Barlow wrote most of the lyrics in the Grateful Dead catalog. This means the other members had more time devoted to actually writing music, and usually the music writer would sing. Because of this, there is actually no true lead singer, as Garcia, Weir, PigPen and even Phil Lesh led songs, and most contributing backing vocals.

These things coupled with the drug induced '60s spirit of discovery, craziness, and experimentation leads to a unique live sound that really can't be truly described. In fact, the Grateful Dead sound changes (evolves?) as the band changes. This is pretty understandable, as they played constantly for 25 years and kept changing organ/piano players.

I like acoustic Dead, and when they kick out the blues with Pig Pen, or Brent and Bobby. They're also the best band Bob Dylan ever had. Some claim the best Dead era is the early '70s, specifically the Europe tour in 1972. I definitely recommend this band to anyone. Skip the first few albums and stay away from any 'best of' compilations. Start with the 1970 self title album (also known as Skulls and Roses, or Skull Fuck), Live Dead (live, duh), American Beauty, Workingman's Dead (acoustic), Europe '72 (live), Reckoning (acoustic and live, its a double whammy), Deadset (live), In the Dark (the album with their only hit Touch of Grey).

There is so much to be said about this band... but I've gone on long enough.

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