While the Grateful Dead has grown into an American cultural icon during the past fifty years, not many aside from the true Deadheads know about the Jerry Garcia Band. From 1965-1995 The Dead toured constantly playing more than 2,300 concerts. When they weren’t on the road, their leader Jerry Garcia put together various side bands that started by playing small venues in the Bay Area. Jerry jammed locally for a decade leading up to this when he wasn’t on tour with The Dead. 1972-1973 was the beginning of the “Jerry Garcia Band.” From the local shows Jerry and Merl Saunders (Keyboardist) added short tours to the East Coast to venues like The Bottom Line in New York and Paul’s Mall in Boston. In July 1973 the Grateful Dead had become a beast and played to 600,000 people in Watkins Glen, NY. Two weeks prior Jerry was jamming with Merl at their neighborhood club, the Keystone in Berkeley.
Thankfully the July ’73 Keystone shows were recorded and officially released on record later that year. It’s probably safe to say that for the next twenty years these recordings are what turned every Deadhead on to the Jerry Garcia Band and his other side project bands: Legion Of Mary and Reconstruction. In the early 1990’s when I started collecting tapes in high school, there were several crispy Grateful Dead soundboards available in trading circles, but high quality Jerry Band tapes were always hard to come by. To a certain extent, that still holds true today. Archive.org has thousands of streaming live Dead soundboards and none from Jerry Band. In the past ten years we’ve been treated to more remastered live releases, but prior to that, these Keystone shows served as the best sounding representation of the first “Jerry Garcia Band”. It featured several great cover songs reflecting the range of musical influences Jerry drew from. As leader of the Grateful Dead he was the shaman responsible for leading the band and audience through the cosmos every night. With his own band, Jerry was just jamming in the world’s best cover band.
The Keystone concerts featured the band playing a range of songs from Motown and Elvis, to Bob Dylan and Jimmy Cliff. One of the highlights of this set is Jerry’s rendition of Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come. Reggae was just beginning to expand beyond Jamaica in 1973. Both Cliff’s The Harder They Come and Bob Marley’s Catch A Fire were both released in the United States during that year. Marley hadn’t even become an international name yet. For Jerry to embrace reggae music in its infancy in 1973 and then continue to play it throughout his career is remarkable.
This reggae seed that Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders planted in 1973 had really blossomed by the Spring of 1978. The Grateful Dead’s Keith Godchaux had replaced Merl Saunders on keyboards and vocalists Donna Jean Godchaux and Maria Muldaur added background vocals. The majority of this band was formed in 1976 and was more stripped down from the previous Legion of Mary group. They were less spacey and less funky with piano replacing organ and the removal of the horn section. Bob Marley / Peter Tosh’s Stir It Up and Stop That Train were added to the band’s setlists along with another Cliff song, Sitting In Limbo. Where the reggae influence really materialized was in their 1978 album, Cats Under The Stars. The Robert Hunter /John Kahn (Bassist) composition Love In The Afternoon is set to a reggae groove and reminisces fondly about time spent during “Twilight time with a Kingston Lady.” The original new album compositions paired with the four or five (would-be classic) reggae cover songs on tour really reflected how much Jerry and bassist John Kahn were feeling the reggae vibes.
In 1978 the Grateful Dead didn’t start their Spring tour until April, so Jerry took his band on the road for a few months to support this upcoming album. It was the same band that recorded Cats Under The Stars with the substitution of Buzz Buchanan for Ron Tutt on drums. The final show of this tour took place on March 22, 1978 at the Veteran’s Hall in Sebastopol, CA. This fantastic two set performance in Sonoma County was captured in its entirety and released last week as Garcia Live Volume Four.
Those of us who’ve collected the Pure Jerry live releases in the past are no strangers to the Spring ’78 tour and are happy to have another show to dig into. The March 18, 1978 Warner Theatre show has been a quintessential performance and the tracks from this tour that were included in the Bay Area 1978 compilation release are no slouches either. When this band was first formed in 1976, their style of playing was a little too mellow, but they had an amazing list of songs and picked up the pace over the course of the next two years. By the Spring of 1978 they were energetic and tight. They had spent time on the road and in the studio and it showed in their playing. The Jerry Band has always been a different type of experience than a Dead show. While the Dead would take you through one sort of intense introspective psychedelic spiritual journey at a concert, a Jerry Band show had a looser vibe, a diverse cast of band members (both ethnically and musically), and a selection of songs ranging from Marley and Tosh to Bob Dylan and Smokey Robinson. Songs about faith, love and struggle were nothing new to Grateful Dead lyrics, but these were other people’s songs that Jerry was paying tribute to and putting his own unique personal stamp on.
Garcia Live Volume Four was recorded by Betty Cantor-Jackson known in Deadhead circles as a “Betty Board.” That’s the vulgate. What this means is we have terrific sound quality. I don’t know that much about the technical aspects and there aren’t real liner notes for this release, but I believe these concerts were recorded on two-track tapes. I think it’s the same set up Betty used to record the crispy Spring 1977 Grateful Dead shows which are legendary within these circles. You can expect the same type of sound and separation of instruments and vocals we love from this era. This show had actually circulated among the most devout collectors as a very muddy soundboard recording prior to the official release. I suspect what we are listening to came from those same original recordings that have been cleaned up and thankfully missing multiple cassette generations. After giving my prior copy a run a few weeks ago, I can appreciate the effort they put into making this release sound so crisp.
Let’s get into the music now. I’ve listened to this show a few times and took some notes along the way.
Set 1: How Sweet It Is
From the start of the show the mix sounds nice and balanced. Keith’s piano sounds really good. Kahn is dropping a nice bass groove. The female vocals with Jerry are nice; probably a result of their time in the studio. Jerry’s guitar sounds fat and clean. First solo is short and sweet and then Keith gets involved. The bass is prominent in the mix. They’re warming up. Jerry takes another solo. He’s heating up and feeding off Keith’s energy. Second set of solos have some more juice. Jerry drops a few little mini-cascading drizzles in there. Right from the first song you notice that all the vocals are together and Jerry and there’s some nice interaction among band members. Jerry gives his second verse a little more oomph. This is some clean, nice JGB right here. Jerry Solo > Keith Solo > Jerry / Keith Double Solo. What’s that called, a Dolo? Everyone is having fun. Jerry’s last solo is smoking hot and now he’s feeling it. He’s not fanning it yet, but getting close. This is a great opener that Jerry played in this slot throughout his solo career. It warms up the band and crowd right out of the gate. Great reason to get up and start dancing. Great Motown classic that Jerry played like a champ for twenty years.
This song was written by Bob McDill and Allen Reynolds and recorded by Johnny Russell as a fairly well-known country song in 1972. Once again we are treated to Jerry’s genius through his interpretation of this song. I can’t say that they’re playing reggae here, but the groove sounds Caribbean with some Southern blues to me. I don’t know shit about playing music, but I just looked up the chords to this song and Stir It Up and they are both variations of D, A, & E. Maybe this chord progression is tricking me into associating this song with reggae, although when the solos and improvisational passages come up Keith and Jerry dance all over this one in different styles of playing that I never heard coming out of Studio One in Kingston. Donna Jean also sounds right at home singing about the sweet Delta dawn here. Are we back in Muscle Shoals? Maria Muldaur went to Hunter College in NYC? Go figure. Buzz Buchanan is doing a nice job here too. He replaced Ron Tutt on drums in November 1977 and stuck around for a year. Keith knows what to play here with his solo. Jerry solo + Keith solo + combined solo once again is the formula and it sounds so good. Jerry’s little cascading waterfalls as Keith just lays it down is some great interplay. His guitar sounds great. Kahn begins dropping heavier basslines. They come back and into the “Born a slave…” verse perfectly and deliver a great rendition of this song. Not the best version ever played but very well done.
Simple Twist Of Fate
Jerry does Dylan brilliantly as usual. Those guys had a connection that I’ve never heard Dylan really talk about. Sit down and light up kids. Uncle Jerry is gonna tell us a little story that is friend Bob wrote. He sings and plays this one with such emotion. I almost can see this song as a short film with that hazy, smoky, sun lit motor lodge room look to it. Nice work by Keith once again. He’s shining at this show. Kahn asserts himself when he’s needed. That dude is smooth operator. Jerry is picking up the intensity in his second solo and Keith follows suit. This is Jerry’s song now. Great version. This is a version you can add to your Jerry Does Dylan playlist.
Second That Emotion
This is my least favorite track at this show. Compared to other versions played throughout the years, this one is a little too heavy on the piano and white women vocals for my taste. It sounds too much like a Presbyterian church band. I don’t feel like the band is totally in sync on this track. This version has moments when it clicks and moments when it seems like they’re figuring it out. It slows down and speeds up and just doesn’t do it for me. Keith’s style on the keys just doesn’t have the nuance that can be found in the rest of this show. It’s not a bad version, just not my favorite. No worries. There’s still a lot more to listen to.
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
If you’re not familiar with this song, I’m surprised you’re still reading this review, but more importantly YouTube The Last Waltz (directed by Martin Scorsese) immediately and watch Levon Helm and The Band’s seminal version of it. Jerry really slowed this song down over the years, but what it lacks in tempo is made up for in emotion. The Grateful Dead toured with The Band on the 1970 Festival Express and then again during the Summer of 1973. I always assumed the two bands were friendly so I asked David Gans once if there was a reason why The Dead weren’t involved in The Last Waltz concert and movie. It was filmed at Winterland in San Francisco in 1976 and I don’t believe The Dead was on tour at the time. Maybe Jerry had prior obligations that night? I thought this was just some question that crossed my mind once, but Gans’ response suggested that he’s been asked this question several times before by fans in search of some conspiracy theory or inside gossip. David told me that the two bands weren’t that close and that’s it. I’ll take his explanation considering he’s David Gans. This is a nice version to bring the first set to a close.
Set 2: The Harder They Come
This is the first reggae song of the night opening the second set. What stands out in this version is Keith’s piano work. In the 1973 Keystone version I mentioned earlier, this song was centered around Merl Saunders’ swirling organ playing. Here Keith is playing a reggae song on some sort of electric piano which means he has to approach it completely differently than what we’re used to hearing in earlier versions…or for that matter, later versions too. Ozzie Ahlers and Melvin Seals each had their own unique approaches as well. This constant evolution within the band coupled with this song becoming a genre-transcending classic over time are probably why it stayed in Jerry’s rotation for so long.
The other point I want to make is that I love when music serves as a portal to more great music. Whether it’s Jerry teaching me about reggae, or reading Blue Note liner notes, that’s something that I’ve enjoyed all my life. I just spent an hour on a website that lists every sample and reference in the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique album. In this concert we’ve already heard Jerry’s renditions of (what have become all-time classic) reggae, country, Motown, and Bob Dylan songs…and we’re only one song in to the second set.
Mission In The Rain
This is one of my favorite Garcia songs ever. If you can’t relate to this song you probably haven’t taken any risks in your life. If you can relate to this song, you must be a Deadhead. Either way a tear should come to your eye. The lyrics, the way Kahn’s bassline kicks in after the intro…it’s all very powerful stuff. It reminds me a little of Wharf Rat with the images it evokes. It’s a little more relatable to the common man. This song is why we fucking love Jerry. Sometimes the songs that he sings are just songs of our own.
“Some folks would be happy just to have one dream come true, but everything you gather is just more that you can lose…”
Jerry’s solos are an extension of his vocals. A broken angel sings from a guitar. I may need counseling judging by my reaction to this song. We know some come to laugh the past away and some come to make it just one more day.
Cats Under The Stars
This is the title track and first song they played from their new album tonight. Cats Under The Stars released in April 1978. The band sounds well rehearsed from their time practicing in the studio and touring consistently for the last two months. This is a sweet original composition with a nice groove. Female vocals sound great here.
“Anyone who sweats like that must be alright…”
The “Time is a stripper doing it just for you” breakdown must have been strange for people in the crowd hearing it for the first time, but this is another nice groove platform that moves around and is very entertaining. It doesn’t stray too far from the recorded version but the vocals actually sound better without all the processing added in the studio. Donna and Maria get pretty close to putting too much into it, but they’re able to keep it within the boundaries of the song.
Two new album songs in the row. Donna begins by adding “This is a true story.” Another mellow storytime tale from Jerry in this intimate setting. I’m sure great for those in attendance. This isn’t a song that ever got far out, so I enjoy the fact that it’s focused and concise here. The vocals are clear and the lyrics annunciated. This is well played. Not much else to say.
The booklet says that Ozzie Ahlers is on keyboards beginning with this track. There’s a quick splice before they begin Mystery Train which may be missing his introduction? Maybe I shouldn’t even be reviewing this show because my ears so bad, but what am I missing? I don’t detect two keyboards here and I certainly don’t hear any playing that resembles 1980 Jerry Garcia Band funkiness. Did he come out to shake his tambourine? Did Keith leave and Ozzie takeover here?
Nice placement of this song in the middle of the second set to pick up the pace and give the audience a chance to rock out. This is classic Elvis Presley. Donna worked in Muscle Shoals as a session singer and recorded with Elvis. Nice nerdy connection there. Jerry is flying all over the place as usual on this song. He’s shredding some shit with fat, rich guitar leads. Keith or Ozzie steps up solos after hearing this. Why don’t I hear two keys? Somebody help me. Between Kahn’s thumping bass, this being a perfect song for piano, and Jerry’s chunky-twangy tone here, we are getting down! Is this Jerry Lee Lewis on keys? Jerry takes off again after piano solo. Smoking hot. Ooonce-Ooonce, Ooonce-Ooonce, Kahn is keeping up. There’s a lot packed into nine minutes here; a lot of funky rock n roll.
Love In The Afternoon
Another one from the new album. It was nice of them to insert that Mystery Train to get our heart rate up before playing this one. These last two songs are my favorite twenty minutes in this release.
“Rhythm, wine, a touch of Jamaica. Twilight time with a Kingston lady…”
WTF dude? Jerry loved reggae so much that he wrote his own reggae song? Actually, this song is only credited to bassist John Kahn and lyricist Robert Hunter. I’ve heard Khan was the catalyst behind introducing new songs into the band’s repertoire and judging by this composition, I would assume he’s the guy who turned Jerry on to reggae music. The guitar and piano interplay here is magical. My wife was in the other room and stopped what she was doing to come take a closer listen. It’s all about the keyboard trickle on this track paired with Jerry’s reggae style chunky chords during the verses. The reggae chords turn into these beautiful cascading solos that seem too take you from the cliffs of Negril to Barcelona, Spain. We’re dancing around after dinner here. This is so nice and I never paid much attention to this song (or the studio version at least). This is gorgeous.
I’ll Be With Thee
This second set is all about the new album songs. This one features the ladies leading a Passover Seder. The Israelites, Joshua, Moses, Pharaoh, and the Wall of Jericho. The ladies do a good job here. It’s nice in the penultimate slot of second set. Almost in the realm of We Bid You Goodnight with some music behind it.
This is a great closer. What a way to end the show and send everybody on their way. It’s almost like an anthem. It’s like Jerry’s saying “Yes, you’re welcome and if you need more of this to get you through, just come find me. I’m here for you.” Ride the mighty high, my friend. The rhythm section is chugging along and I’m doing some sort of shoulder dance in my seat. Somebody bring me my spoons to play. You know the show is coming to an end here so enjoy it and rock it out while you still have the chance. Jerry has a lot to say with his guitar. Man, what a great send off. Only problem is the master tape ran out and this last track fades out with probably 30-60 seconds missing from end. Fades out during final “In the midnight moonlight..” verses.
That concludes another night with the Jerry Garcia Band. The more I listened to this show, the more I enjoyed it. The sound of the recordings, the piano playing, the clarity and balance of the vocals, the tightness of the new original compositions… It’s a solid show from a great tour that doesn’t blow the roof off the place, but is a great addition to your collection. You get this show to hear the Godchaux infused Jerry Garcia Band at their prime. Whether you’re a lifelong Deadhead or just a lover of great music, this release has plenty of nuggets for you to enjoy.
concert photos courtesy of Bill Fridl
Purchase Garcia Live Volume Four Here