Mar 20, 2018

February 5, 1969: Kansas City Interview


4:15 P.M., February 5th

Phil Lesh, Tom Constaten, and Mickey Hart were having an early dinner in the motel restaurant when I found them. They didn't know I was coming. I had been informed earlier (by a Top-40 bigwig) that the Dead had refused interviews to local television and newspapers, and I hadn't been able to reach their manager by phone, so nothing was guaranteed. Suspecting they might be more apt to talk to a freak than some crew-cut cat from Channel 4, I introduced myself and told them what I was after. All three nodded a yes, and Phil said, "Sure, sit down." They bought me a coffee and I began with a question about the evening's concert. Mainly, how did the Grateful Dead feel about playing second bill to a group like the Iron Butterfly?
"We don't give a shit," said Phil, but he sounded a little disgusted. "How do you feel about it?"
I assured him that I thought it was wrong, but it was to be expected. The Who have been billed under Herman's Hermits, the Yardbirds under Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Hendrix under the Monkees. It's always that way. Phil wanted to know why.
"Well, you know," I started, trying to break it to him easy-like, "you guys haven't had A Hit Record."
"What have the Iron Butterfly done?" he demanded. "I've never heard anything by the Iron Butterfly."
"Never heard of it. Who are the Iron Butterfly? What do they do? Thud-thud."
I thought that answered my question pretty good.
Next question: why were the new members added? Did the Dead purposely set out to find an additional drummer and organist, or did it just happen that way? They sort of corrected me, pointing out that Mickey and Tom weren't really 'new members,' having been with the band for some time. But anyway, it just happened that way. Mickey told me his story.
It seems that one night Mickey walked into a place where the Dead were doing a gig, "stoned out of my mind," and registered that what was going down was something he wanted in on. He asked to sit in, was allowed to, and has been with the band ever since. Fine.
Writing? All write. Singing? "We all sing, but Jerry and Pigpen do it the best."
We talked of stage acts. Whereas many groups (the Jimi Hendrix Experience, in particular) seem to feel that if the audience isn't reacting heavily, the thing to do is to get showy (freak out!), the Dead think that the way to liven up a slow crowd is to play better. A better idea, from the Grateful Dead.
Did the group, or any members of the group, have any plans or desires to make a record with musicians outside of the group, something along the lines of Super Session? Phil said if they did decide to do that type of thing, it would be a very low-volume record, and not built up and blown out of all proportion. He thinks most of that that has been done so far is "a lot of pretentious shit."
My primary intention in coming to the Dead was to find out what side one of their latest record is all about. To my surprise nobody seemed to know. The fact that no member of the group could come anyplace near giving me a reason or a meaning was a tremendous joke to them. With titles and sub-titles like "Critical Envelopement" and "New Potatoe Caboose," I had thought, "Ah, there must be more to this than meets the ear; this is Very Deep Stuff." Apparently I'll never know how deep. One reason for the vagueness is that different people wrote different parts at different times. It just happened that it all fit together nicely. But the lyrical content was a mystery to all.
I did learn of one section, "The Faster We Go the Rounder We Get." Bob Weir wrote it about a friend of the band (Neal Cassady?) who used to drive their bus and carry the equipment around. Soon after the song was written, the friend died, and the song became all the more significant. But as to whether the driver friend is the subject of the entire piece, I couldn't say. Neither could the Dead. At any rate, nobody know exactly why "the boy had to die."
I was just getting to the really hot questions, questions on drugs, the draft, the Revolution, when a man named West came in to the restaurant and to our table and told the boys that it was time to film an interview for good old Channel 4. Or 9, or whatever it was. They must have changed their minds. So I had to split. Phil told me to come back and talk some more after the night's show. I asked him if 1:00 would be okay, and he said that would be fine.

1:30 A.M., February 6th

I was a little late.
The Grateful Dead were all sound asleep, or at least the lights were off. I knocked on the door of what I thought was Phil's room. Nobody kept answering, so I kept knocking until somebody did. The somebody finally got out of bed and pulled back the curtain and gave me a look that would kill a mule. I sort of ambled off.
The light was on in the manager's room. The manager was West. He told me the Dead were getting up at ten and leaving at ten-thirty, and they probably wouldn't have any time to finish the interview.

9:50 A.M., February 6th

I sat outside the Dead's motel rooms in my car, the local underground radio station turned all the way up in an effort to draw out one of the boys in the band.
Phil showed and I caught him. He had a few stops to make, then we'd go to the restaurant and join Jerry Garcia for breakfast. The first stop was a familiar one. We entered and Phil said to last night's angry face, "This is Harv. He was interviewing us last night."
The angry face was Bear, the road manager. Bear the road manager said, "Yeah, I know. He was here last night knocking on the door while I was balling some chick and I almost punched him right in the nose."
I apologized, but he still wasn't too happy about it. Phil realized it and we moved right along to the next stop, another room on the other end of the sidewalk, where Phil picked up his hat and said goodbye to a groupie with a headache. Then to the restaurant.
Mostly we just more or less chatted, there not really being time to carry on with the interview. They told me that the next album might include "Turn On Your Lovelight," which the Dead opened up with at the concert the night before. The show'd consisted of "Lovelight," a pause, side one of Anthem of the Sun, which led into another long highly improvisational segment, which led into side two of Anthem of the Sun, which led into and concluded with the "and I bid you goodnight" chorus from "A Very Cellular Song" by the Incredible String Band. Anyway, I took some pictures, and a flashcube went off all by itself in my hand and that amazed everyone no end. The waitress talked to Phil about the length of his hair, and Jerry read the funnies.
I had to be at traffic court at 10:30, and they were supposedly taking off for St. Louis any minute, so we did our goodbyes and I made a mad drive to get to court on time.
Just a few blocks (and fewer seconds) from the motel, I flashed that I had neglected to ask an all-important question: Were the Grateful Dead still friends with the Rock & Roll Double Bubble Trading Card Company of Philadelphia after their big hit with that nasty line, "Well, the Grateful Dead just leave me cold?"
I figured they didn't give a shit.

(by Harv Tawney, from Crawdaddy no. 22, May 1969)

Mar 15, 2018

1965: The Warlocks (Massachusetts)

Cash Box ad, June 5, 1965

NEW YORK - The Warlocks, the group that introduced the Temper Tantrum dance in a Boston night club, has recorded a single, "Temper Tantrum," for Decca.
The dance, introduced May 12 at the Forum, a Hub discotheque, was shown in film clip form on "The Tonight Show." It has received exposure on Boston radio and TV stations and in the local press.
Dick Jacobs, Decca a&r man, recorded the disk in Boston. Charlotte Holicker, one of the dance's inventors, explained the dance on "The Mike Douglas Show" Friday (28).

(from Billboard, 5 June 1965)

* * * 

BOSTON - Alan Ross of Decca Records may be responsible for a new dance known as the Temper Tantrum, by the Warlocks, ready for release on Decca. It grew out of a session at Boston's Forum with most of the record distributors present. Alan secured tape of music and film of the dance and sent it to New York. Presto! a new record and perhaps a new dance. Hub dancer Charlotte Hollicker will show it to Mike Douglas and Patrice Munsel on the Douglas Show soon.

(from Billboard, 12 June 1965)

* * *


NEW YORK — Decca Records has rushed into release a single record based on the new dance, “Temper Tantrum.” The dance was introduced last month at The Forum, a Boston discotheque, that had invited the Hub press, radio, television and the general public to the first public demonstration of this new “tension relieving” dance conceived by Charlotte and Joe Holicker. The room was jammed to capacity as the dancers stamped their feet and gyrated, as a small child in a fit of temper, in time to the music, as the patrons joined in and a new dance craze was born.
The next day the Boston press and radio-TV carried the message that this was the dance to do in Boston and the surrounding areas. “The Tonight Show” heard about the excitement generated by the dance and showed a film clip of the steps of the “tantrum” to a national viewing audience. At the same time it was brought to the attention of A&R staffer Dick Jacobs, who immediately flew to Boston to record “Temper Tantrum” with The Warlocks, the musical group that first introduced the dance.
The Decca record was cut, mastered and shipped all in the period of three days to keep pace with the national excitement being generated by the fad. Charlotte Holicker made a guest appearance on “The Mike Douglas Show” this past Friday (28) to tell the story of the dance to the show’s vast syndicated audience. Many national publications are now planning spreads on the dance.
Decca’s full promo forces are going all-out to garner similar reaction in all areas to “Temper Tantrum” as happened when first introduced in Boston.

(from Cash Box, 5 June 1965) 

from the Record Reviews:

WARLOCKS (Decca 31806)
THE TEMPER TANTRUM (2:25) - Easy driving beat behind smooth vocals on this outing make for possible clicking with  dance crowds. The free moving rhythm could connect with good sales and spins resulting.
I’LL GO CRAZY (2:46) - Pounding beat on this rock number.

The Temper Tantrum (by Joseph & Charlotte Holicker; A-side)
I'll Go Crazy (by James Brown; B-side)

October 1965...

Phil Lesh: "I was browsing in a record store and found a single by a band called the Warlocks, on Columbia. I brought the bad news to the guys, and we started to bandy new names about...but nothing really sounded right, and we just couldn't decide. Meanwhile, we were recording some demo songs for a local record label, and we needed not to be the Warlocks anymore. So we agreed on a temporary name - the Emergency Crew - for our first recording sessions. What on earth to call ourselves?..."

Jerry Garcia: "Our name was originally the Warlocks, [but] we discovered that there was a band back east or something like that recording under that name, and we decided, 'Oh, no, we can't have that. We can't be confused with somebody else.' So we were trying to think up names..."

Mar 8, 2018

1967: Album Review


Rating: *****

This album is possibly the finest yet by a group in the general area of white blues-rock. Those who prefer another sort of rock may disagree with the Grateful Dead's predilection for the blues, but no one could deny after hearing the record that the band is superb.
Jazz fans should find this LP a good introduction to some of the better rock music.
The Dead began, three men strong, as a jug band, and Minglewood and Viola Lee are from the repertoire of the old Gus Cannon Memphis Jug Stompers, best known for their Walk Right In. However, the Dead's versions of these tunes are a far cry from the Cannon sound.
Viola Lee is a 10-minute track with an unusual accelerando middle section. Toward the end McKernan's organ is flying, and the whole band is in such an orbit that the return to the initial tempo for the final vocal choruses is a shock.
Most vocals on the album are by Garcia, with a couple of significant exceptions: McKernan sings and plays harmonica on the chestnut Little Schoolgirl, and rhythm guitarist Weir sings lead on Jesse Fuller's Down the Line.
The rest of the material is in a more modern vein. In Tim Rose's superbly ominous Morning Dew, an excellent vocal is backed by lovely instrumental figures. The arranged nature of the instrumental breaks and leads for this and Cold Rain and Snow, while retaining the spontaneity of the usual blues band, demonstrates a way out of some ruts. Most of the originals on the album are collaborations, with Lesh doing much of the catalytic work; Garcia said that Cream Puff is the only song used by the group that he wrote by himself.
Sometimes the Dead's lyrics are written strictly for simplicity, avoiding "significance."
"The lyrics are nonsensical and banal," one of the group told a Ramparts reporter. The hit tune The Golden Road is noteworthy in this respect. Although performance is always predominant with this group, lyrics like those for Cold Rain and Snow certainly tell a story.
Instrumentally, Garcia's unusually round-sounding guitar lead, the full-toned organ of McKernan, and the very active bass lines of Lesh produce a powerful effect. Weir and Sommers are also excellent musicians, but greater than anything else is the unity of effect these men produce. In many rock bands the listener is tempted to imagine how much better the band would sound if only he could substitute some personal favorite of his. This feeling never occurs regarding this group, nor do people talk much about its stars or its outstanding members; it's just the Grateful Dead.
When the band first was approached about recording, Garcia and the others felt that the Dead was simply not a recording group.
"I don't believe the live sound, the live excitement, can be recorded," Garcia told Newsweek. In spite of these doubts, a superb record has been created. Engineer Dave Hassinger traveled to San Francisco to hear the group live several times before planning the date, and he has captured the sound of the band wonderfully well.
There are all sorts of rock or electric bands. Some emphasize melody, some stress poetic lyrics, some are more like jazz groups with a little singing added. Some are folk-derived, some are 90 per cent Negro blues influenced. Indian music, Nashville c&w, and countless other forms have their effect.
You simply find your way to the bands that derive from what you're used to and go on from there. But along with the recent Beatles albums, the Byrds, the Lovin' Spoonful, Paul Butterfield, and Bob Dylan, I find the Grateful Dead outstanding, and I especially recommend them to jazz fans.

(by Edward Spring, from Down Beat, 21 September 1967)

See also:

Mar 7, 2018

Cream / Jefferson Airplane: Brandeis University, Waltham, MA 1968

Impressions of Cream and Jefferson Airplane

The Jefferson Airplane and Cream appeared not long ago at Brandeis University in concerts a month apart. The concerts will be discussed here conjointly because they afford interesting and natural comparisons and because the rock of these two groups is representative of much currently important popular music. (My opening remarks are directed primarily at the jazz listener trying to ease his way into rock; those who have been digging it right along won't find much that is startling or revelatory.)
[ . . . ]
Maybe it wise to start with what won't be heard in contemporary rock - rhythmic complexity, for one thing. This has always been one of the salient ingredients of jazz, and it is lacking in rock, which for the most part is in 4/4 or free time, usually the former. Another generally missing factor is dynamic shading: rock is either loud or soft, usually the former, and until on-the-spot engineering techniques get a good deal more sophisticated - which they better had in the near future - the subtleties of rock have to be conveyed by the harmonics and voicings employed.
This brings up another point. By "loud," I do not mean Roy Eldridge loud or Count Basie loud. I mean you-have-never-heard-such-sounds-in-your-life loud, an effect that most of the recording studios minimize and that can only be apprehended in live performances. The rock musicians are into total, environmental sound in a way that players like Archie Shepp or Pharaoh Sanders can only approximate; this means that a first-time listener will not pick up on most of what he heard, because he is not used to differentiating sounds at that volume. It means that even the habitual listener may be partially deafened after a performance, sometimes for hours. Whether or not to subject yourself to such temporary or permanent discomfort is an individual decision. It is too easy to say, however, that rock is so loud that nothing of beauty or worth can be produced. That was said about certain other forms of music familiar to most Down Beat readers.
[ . . . ]
Cream and Jefferson are comparable in several ways . . . The first similarity is that both are composed of fine musicians - and are instrumentally perhaps the two most together outfits now playing.
The comparisons of virtuosity extend further.
Casady and Bruce are the only two interesting electric bassists I have ever heard. Likewise, few rock drummers, however dextrous, extend their rhythmic conceptions much beyond symmetrically divided 4/4; Baker and Dryden are exceptions. (Terry Clarke, John Handy's former drummer, now with the Fifth Dimension, and the Rolling Stones' Charlie Watts are others; significantly, all these percussionists have jazz roots.) Kaukonen and Clapton are among the handful of gifted guitarists, technically and conceptually.
Clapton in particular has few or no technical equals, in jazz or rock. He has to be heard to be believed. Kaukonen's chops are a cut below, although I wouldn't want to have to live on the difference, but he more than compensates for this - he has advanced harmonic understanding; a pronounced lyrical bent unusual among hard rock players; willingness to take improvisational chances; and, most important, the wit not only to know where he is going with a phrase but also how he got there.
Even Clapton, good as he is, could profit from studying Kaukonen's phrasing. Too often, rock guitarists concentrate on climaxing a sequence, building up to it with staccato bursts that the culmination echoes and expands upon. Kaukonen's lines, like those of a first-rate jazz soloist, make sense in and of themselves. For sheer power and impact, Clapton is close to nonpareil; he overwhelms. For sustained musical interest, Kaukonen is the most compelling; he fascinates.

A final note on the Airplane, before proceeding to the Brandeis concerts: their last album, After Bathing at Baxter's, seems to me the most unified and cohesive record yet produced by an American group - indeed, it demonstrates the kind of thematic and musical oneness spuriously attributed to the last two Beatles efforts. The latter are sides with brilliant songs on them; Baxter's is One Thing. The Airplane is currently out of favor, for the sock-it-to-me approach is in and the insinuate-it-to-me approach is out, for the moment anyway, and for this reason, and a couple of others, the Airplane concert was a disappointment. Its members did their songs (White Rabbit, Somebody to Love, etc.), but they didn't do their thing.
There was little collective improvisation, and except for some fine Kaukonen, little individual improvisation. Except, too, for Gracie Slick, who never seems to do a song the same way twice. There was a further problem in that the voice mikes could not compete with the amps, and much of her and Balin's work was lost. She has great range, firm tone, presence, emotional commitment.
Miss Slick is also a fine improvisor of counterpoint, as, to a lesser extent, are Balin and Kantner. Consequently, the Airplane employs more complex vocal harmonies than probably any American rock group I know of.
A good example in the Brandeis concert was Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon, two separate songs with the same chords (except for a couple of substitutions), sung together. It started with Balin and Miss Slick on Won't and Kantner sliding in with part of Saturday. When Saturday became dominant, Balin and Kantner duetting on it, Miss Slick began running some astonishing changes on Won't. It ended very free, with the words of both songs being interchanged by the three, so that the listener had trouble knowing which was which - which, of course, was the intention.
So that was nice. And Miss Slick did White Rabbit, a beautiful, bolero-rhythm exercise in crescendo that should never stop because it hurts so good. Miss Slick strayed profitably from the recorded version: the first four bars were sung on the afterbeat, providing a nice pulsation when contrasted with the bolero rhythm by Dryden, and she finished with a bluesy trail-off instead of the final held note on the record.
Kaukonen sang an unnamed, funky blues (he should have more vocal space; he's a fine blues singer) on which he made good use of his wawa pedal in accompaniment. His solos throughout the concert were consistently rewarding, but they and Miss Slick's vocal work were about the only things that were.
The Airplane group at its best is an improvisational group, though in an artfully controlled way; when it does not improvise, it is merely good. Somebody to Love, It's No Secret, Funny Cars. Yeah, nice. But we've heard them.

The Cream concert hardly could have begun less fortunately than it did. Orpheus, a group highly touted by a recording industry flack as representative of the "Bosstown Sound" (which, FYI, does not exist), was uninteresting and offensive. (I figured out about halfway through their set that they were really a plugged-in - but hardly switched-on - version of the Kingston Trio. Same dull harmony, same bad jokes, same pseudo-hipness. Feh.)
It was then announced that Cream had had airplane trouble (no pun intended) and would be "a little late." Another backup group was hurriedly imported. It did a set. Another announcement - "They're on the way." Another set.
Cream began its set at 2:15 a.m. The incredible thing was that of a sell-out crowd of 3,000 present from 8 p.m., fully 2,500 remained, for the most part placidly, until Cream arrived. Quite a tribute.
It was deserved. If anything was worth the five-hour wait, its set was. There are some groups that really should not perform live; they are displayed better in the electronic shelter of a studio. The Beatles, and maybe the Airplane at this point, are examples. For some groups, the opposite is the case, and Cream is one of these. In the first place there is the matter of volume. A trio - right? Wrong. Seven orchestras. Each of the two guitars has four amplifiers - big, five-foot-tall amplifiers. Ginger Baker's drums had to be miked very loud to compete. Cream's sound is just this side of physically tangible. It assaults, drowns, lifts, transports, and when it stops, one feels alone, insufficient somehow.
In the second place, Cream's records - which are quite good - present the group as predominantly vocal; there are very few instrumental breaks of longer than a chorus. In person, it gets the singing out of the way in a hurry and then gets down to business. This is just as well; some of the group's songs (Tales of Brave Ulysses, which it performed this night, and SWLABR, which it didn't) have memorable lyrics, but most don't, and as vocalists, Bruce is only good and Clapton adequate. As musicians, they are superb.
The group began with Ulysses, and Clapton put the gymnasium under pulsating currents of warm water with his unerringly sensitive use of the wawa pedal. Baker, here as throughout, laid down an unyielding beat, and the three got together on an accelerating coda, which is not on the album version. They followed with NSU, a deceptively simple tune . . . [The metrical reversal in the intro] was fascinating.
So was Clapton's guitar break: whines, cat meowing, other fragmentary sounds. (He owes something of his bottom-fret climaxes to B.B. King.) The solo alternated between legato runs, usually ascending, and hard-nosed chord work. Baker, who is the baddest-looking English cat I have ever seen, reminiscent of one of Dickens' innumerable low-life villains, performed an extended solo, showing strong, strong chops, and he never misses. But the solo was strangely dull. Someone sitting next to me said, "My God. It's Sing, Sing, Sing." He wasn't far off. Baker stayed almost exclusively with 16th-note divisions, done mostly on tom-toms. He plays much more complexly on records.
They did two instrumentals, a slow blues with another fine Clapton solo that switched from double-time to the original tempo a couple of times, and then an up-tempo, 16-bar blues, with Baker doing some good brush work behind a Clapton solo. I would like to describe that solo, but I can't. My notes say, "God!" That's all. I can only say that for the two minutes or 12 hours (I have no idea exactly how long it was) that Clapton soloed, I got as high up and far out as I ever have on jazz.
Then, with Clapton laying out, a freight-train blues featuring some Bruce pyrotechnics on harmonica, including a vocal-harmonica duet with himself that at its apogee found him singing an eighth-note, blowing an eighth, and so on for two or three choruses, a la Sonny Terry. It was a remarkable display, though musically not altogether rewarding. They finished the long set with Toad, an 18-bar line divided into repeated six-bar phrases, all based on one chord. A short Clapton solo and a long Baker exercise - again, mainly with 16ths - received a standing ovation.
Cream owes its repertoire to a number of sources. It does Skip James, Muddy Waters, and Robert Johnson songs. Some of its instrumentalism comes from contemporary r&b players, like Muddy Waters and B.B. King. It probably would not have been able to assimilate the blues concept without the pioneer imitative work of the Rolling Stones and Beatles. But the resulting amalgam is all Cream, and it is a moving, powerful, original sound.

(by Alan Heineman, from Down Beat, 25 July 1968)

Mar 5, 2018

September 19, 1970: Fillmore East, NYC


Fillmore East, New York City
This was the fifth engagement by the Grateful Dead at Fillmore East since the first of the year, yet every show was sold out. That's the way Grateful Dead fans are - they can't ever get enough. Even after five hours of music, they were still hollering for encores.
Recent performances by the Dead have been like a three-act play. First on the program is a rather quiet set of Marin County (where they live these days) acoustic/electric folk music. During this set, the Dead, minus one of their two drummers and plus such added friends as Dave Torbert, Marmaduke Dawson, and Dave Nelson, go through such standards as Deep Elm Blues and such contemporary material as Juggin', a Dead biography-itinerary-diary, and To Lay Me Down, a journey into the black soul-gospel where so much of today's music originated.
Act Two presents the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, with Jerry Garcia switching from acoustic guitar to pedal steel guitar and Mickey Hart replacing Bill Kreutzman on drums. The rest of the New Riders are Marmaduke Dawson, vocal and rhythm guitar; Dave Torbert, bass; and David Nelson, lead guitar and mandolin. The sound is more or less Nashville and revolves around Nelson's mandolin playing and Garcia's steel guitar. Garcia is not a traditional steel guitar man. You can forget all the country slides that have been heard so often they've become musical cliches; Garcia has made the steel guitar a creative instrument. At one point in the finale, the Rolling Stones' Honky Tonk Woman, I was looking around for the horn section only to discover that what I had heard was Jerry's steel guitar.
It should be just about time for the New Riders of The Purple Sage to do an album. They have some really fine material, especially Somebody Robbed The Glendale Train and Henry (who turns out to be a pusher spreading joy and destruction). I still find Marmaduke not as communicative a lead singer as I'd like to hear, but then I guess it's in the Nashville style to be detached from the music, and he is warmer than he was when I heard him here two months ago.

There is nothing uncommunicative about the Grateful Dead, by which I mean the original San Francisco band that closed this evening. Garcia has long been acknowledged and accepted as the founder of the San Francisco style of rock guitar playing. Sure, Jorma Kaukonen of the Airplane and some others may have taken it further, and it is also true that Jerry learned a lot from King Hendrix the First, but Hendrix is dead, long live Garcia - and if Jorma's done something good with it, at least he remembers where he got it.
Bob Weir is officially listed as rhythm guitar, but there's a lot more to Bob than that. Especially in the first act he does a lot of the singing, and there are moments of double guitar lead when it is questionable whether Garcia is leading Weir or vice-versa.
There are a great many good bassists in the business. Phil Lesh has been around longer than most, and plays as well as just about any. A bass player forms a foundation for a band that should be both a bottom layer of sound and a rhythmic assist to the drums. Bass players can get their solo breaks too, but for most of the time they belong in the background driving the band...pushing up from underneath and forward from Jimmy Blanton, Charlie Haden, and Phil Lesh.
Ron McKernan, the beloved and loveable "Pigpen," can usually be found at the piano or organ - though he's been known to assist on drums - and his harmonica work is an important fixture in today's Dead. Mainly Pigpen is a singer, a catalyst, a performer who can be counted on to get an audience in motion and emotion.
Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart are the drummers (individually in acts 1 & 2; in tandem for act 3). Together or separately, they are always driving and always swinging. That's the Grateful Dead. They started as Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions and worked as The Warlocks before they got where they're at today...and where they're at today is very together.

From the opening Morning Dew, it was obvious that this was to be one of those nights when the magnificence of the performance was to be surpassed only by the excitement of the audience. The Dead freak in front of me was on her feet with the first sound from her favorite band. From then on, for anything I wanted to see I would have to rise to the occasion as well.
For more than another hour, San Francisco's finest went through a whole history lesson of the music. From their folk (or neo-folk) repertoire came Bonnie Dobson's Morning Dew, Me And My Brother, and Cold Rain And Snow. From the new Workingman's Dead album came Easy Wind. From their rock and roll repertoire came Good Morning Little Schoolgirl and Not Fade Away. From Live Dead, which many consider their best album, came the whole first couple of sides: Dark Star, St. Stephen, Turn On Your Lovelight, and a couple of snatches of Feedback.
It was on Turn On Your Lovelight that Pigpen really took charge. Before he finished doing his thing the entire audience is caught up in it...clapping, dancing, singing along, screaming, shouting, involved - yes, involved. Involved with the apex of street bands that can get it together on stage at the Fillmore, at a street dance in Berkeley, at a be-in in Central Park or Golden Gate Park...just so long as the crowd is simpatico and the vibes and the drugs are right.
So after they had played for five hours (a few short breaks to attend to necessities) the crowd still screamed for more and booed when they were told they weren't getting more, only to be admonished by Pigpen: "Why don't you go home and ____?"
We finally did.

(by Joe Klee, from Down Beat, 26 November 1970)  

Mar 4, 2018

1969: Live/Dead Review


LIVE/DEAD - Rating: 2-1/2 stars
VOLUNTEERS - Rating: 4 stars

In a way, the Dead's double album is a valuable document: it's a typical set. A few moments of inspiration scattered amid more than 70 minutes of aimlessness. These are seven musicians who know their axes and know what all the others are likely to do, and can go with them. That's half the battle for an improvisation group; the other half is to improvise something of merit, and there's damn little of that here.
One has to like them - is obliged to. They were there are the beginning. Kesey, Trips Festival, Acid Test, the San Francisco Sound. (If there is one, theirs is it.) And the word on the Dead is always that they're erratic, but when they get it on, they're the best band in the world.
Damned if I've ever heard them get it on. Certainly not on record, where they've either been too hung up with electronic diddling to make music, or, as here, just not together.
From the opening seconds, it's clearly The Dead: rhythm setting up a static pattern while Garcia wanders with short, single-note, on-beat figures gradually expanding into longer lines emphasizing triplets, and creating a climax. If only those climaxes weren't so inevitable. And the first three sides of the album melt into each other, the separate tunes distinguished only by the tempo changes and the lyrics, which aren't notable. Until Lovelight, The Dead's standby, which is a gas - the only fully realized group performance on the records, everybody helping everybody else. Garcia playing his best guitar solo of the set, tough, hard drumming by Hart and Kreutzmann, insinuating bass lines by Lesh, funky vocal. Yes, yes, yes.
The last side is tighter than the first three. Nothing mindblowing, but Rev. Gary Davis' Death is effective, and the electronic play on Feedback makes some sense in spots.
I don't know; maybe this is the best band in the world. But they sure can keep a secret.

The Airplane, on the other hand, is at the very least the best band in America, and so it's difficult to rate this set. By any other standards, it's four stars and maybe more, but it's less good than Crown of Creation, and of course nothing can touch Baxter's.
Some of the songs are sensational, but there are too many throwaways: Shepherd, Farm, Turn My Life, Seasons. And the two revolutionary pieces, Together and Volunteers, while musically beautiful, are too self-congratulatory and facile. (The latter was originally titled Volunteers of America; RCA had the Airplane delete the last words from the title and the printed lyrics, though the line is sung intact at the end of the song. The printed lyrics for Together have been bowdlerized. And although the Airplane has done wonders for itself, RCA's recording techniques are still terrrible.)
But the good songs...oh my God. Frederick, in the same mood as Rejoyce, has gorgeously dense lyrics by Gracie, and she sings it brilliantly. The vocal is followed by an exciting Kaukonen guitar solo that builds to a long climax, then diminishes into a light, even 4/4 with a fine complementary piano line by Hopkins, and slides into a heavier 4/4 signaled by Casady. Crescendo and out and incredible.
Turn My Life is said, and Kaukonen's vocal is effective, but it's not a great song. Wooden Ships, conversely, is. Written by Kantner with Stills and David Crosby, it's a mournful, uncertain leave-taking of the silent dehumanized majority by the loud, musical minority. Kantner, Miss Slick, and Balin alternate the vocals, and each section slides inevitably, logically, breathtakingly into the next. At one point during some harmony, Gracie sustains the end of a verse, knifing into the next. Tear your guts out, Jim. The counterpoint at the end is typical Airplane, which is to say marvelous.
The last Slick song is perhaps the best, in terms of lyrics. Eskimo compares the vast natural forces to man's smallness; the middle verse suggests music as a possible bridge. The refrain, "But the human crowd/Doesn't mean shit to a tree" carries a double sense; the obvious, colloquial meaning, naturally, but also, "shit" makes trees grow, and why don't we acknowledge our links with nature instead of priding ourselves on our machines and sound-proofing and euphemizing our bathrooms? Another clean, sharp Slick vocal.

One of the points of reviewing these two sessions together, apart from the fact that these are the two longest-lived San Francisco bands, is that both started in more or less the same place. Kaukonen has freely admitted that his guitar style owes a great deal to Garcia's. But Miles Davis said the same thing about Ahmad Jamal, and while the Dead may have been, may even remain, a greater social presence than the Airplane, the latter has grown into a musical force that has long since outstripped its roots.

(by Alan Heineman, from Down Beat, 5 February 1970)

See also:

Mar 2, 2018

March 15-17, 1968: Carousel Ballroom

The Carousel, San Francisco

The cream of San Francisco rock - the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead - got together here for the first time in many months. Following a three-month Pacific Northwest tour, the Dead and the Airplane had returned as partners to open their own ballroom, the Carousel, in competition with Bill Graham's Fillmore Auditorium and Chet Helms' Avalon Ballroom.
The Dead had not played for either Graham or Helms in nearly a year, because they opposed the way most dance-concerts are conducted.
Both bands did two sets, each lasting more than an hour. Though the Airplane has by far the biggest national reputation, the Dead proved to be the stronger musicians.

Balin, in the group's early days, nearly carried the Airplane on the strength of his powerful vocals. And though the repertoire now is structured around the exceptionally versatile voice of Miss Slick, there are signs that this approach is wearing a bit thin.
Solos are longer than ever before, limiting the role of the lyrics, but the quality of playing has improved markedly. Casady is one of the finest bass players in rock - perhaps the finest - and his solos will surely wake up other groups to the fact that the bass can be more than just decoration for the lead guitar.
On one song, Casady played acoustic guitar and Balin played bass, an indication that the group is going in for more versatility.

But it was the Dead's second set that made the evening particularly important. It was one of the best sets the group has ever done in this city, and the light show, by underground filmmaker Ben Van Meter, caught the rhythm perfectly, turning the event into a total sensory experience.
In the first set, the Dead had indicated it was into something quite different from what it was doing even six months ago. At that time it was, like the Airplane, still dependent on lyrics as the basic ingredients of its songs.
Now it is the music that is important. It's more jazz than rock and aims at a peak experience instead of just a good time. On one song, McKernan, who also does fine vocals on Junior Wells' Good Mornin', Little Schoolgirl, launched into a kind of formless Joycean chant. As another forceful sound, it complemented the instruments.
The Dead has added a second drummer, Micky Hart, son of drummer Roy Hart, and new worlds of dynamics have opened up. Hart joined several months ago in New York. Sommers still seems to carry the weight in the drum solos, but Hart has excellent control.
Garcia is one of the unacknowledged greats of the rock guitar. He can make it sound like a horn and always plays as if entranced, his shaggy head wagging, his fingers fretting and picking as if they had a life of their own.
The set ended with fireworks and smoke-bombs that, in the hands of most groups, usually come off as a cheap gimmick. Not this time. Solos had built crescendo upon crescendo like layers in a foundation; each note had been wrung of the last drop of emotion. Something had to explode, and it did - literally. There followed a brief and incongruous bidding of goodnight, sung by the whole group in choir-boy fashion.
The Dead again proved that it is probably the tightest band in rock, despite the fact that there is now more improvising in its playing than ever before.

(by Geoffrey Link, from Down Beat, 27 June 1968)

Mar 1, 2018

June 13, 1969: Selland Arena, Fresno CA


At Selland Arena last night while the Grateful Dead was blowing everyone's mind with hard-driving acid rock, a teenage girl behind the stage was dancing.
This hippie chick, if you will, was twirling, pirouetting and carving great arches with her arms, and it was beautiful. She was simply grooving, doing her own thing, and everyone understood.
Her reaction to the primordial quality of one of San Francisco's best-known bands was simultaneously compulsive and spontaneous, old and new.
The Grateful Dead, after all, produces a sound that is simple and ancient. The Old Testament speaks of making a "joyful noise unto the Lord." Dancing out one's emotions is an impulse older perhaps even than the Bible.
Twang, twang, twang, ker-chunk. Leap, twirl, trist, ker-plop.
Nothing new or complicated about that.
Yet the sound of San Francisco rock is, of course, as new as tomorrow. And if you listen to it carefully - never an easy exercise and impossible in Selland Arena - it includes much more than a simple one-two-three pulse-beat rhythm.

The Grateful Dead sound is an outgrowth of Negro blues of the funkiest sort, standard rock-'n-roll, country-western of the type Gene Autry never knew, and finally the mind-expanding influence of ragas from India.
Ragas foster psychedelic improvisation, and this is where The Grateful Dead excel. Particularly good were leader Jerry Garcia's rapid runs on the guitar and a couple of numbers which featured Pig Pen, also known as Ron McKernan, on the organ and bongos.
Phil Leash, who sometimes goes by the name of "Reddy Kilowatt," was good on the bass, and Bob Weir played a mean rhythm guitar. Organist Tom Constanten and drummers Micky Hart and Bill Kruetzman at times expended more energy than PG&E.
The Grateful Dead is an outgrowth of Ken Kesey's Hashbury experiments and of the Jefferson Airplane. Thus there is a strong imitation of Negro blues, perhaps more than any other component of the sound.
The singing is guttural and the lyrics most often come out as "Ah luhv you, babuh."

It was clear last night that that love was not unreciprocated. The crowd of teeny-boppers and college students was appropriately grateful in their response.
Contributing to the trip-ish effect was the Brotherhood of Fillmore West who provided great swirling blobs of color and design projected behind the stage.
Sometimes the light show suggested messy brain surgery; other times it looked like St. Vitus dance with the yin and yang symbol clashing creepy blue blobs. It was, as they say, out of sight.
The Grateful Dead were preceded by two crowd-warming groups, Aum and Sanpaku, neither of whom seemed wildly original.

(by Gordon Young, from the Fresno Bee, 14 June 1969)