May 3, 2024

The Transitive Spaces of 1973

In 1973, the Grateful Dead started playing more spacy, graceful transitions between songs. This had not been a big feature of their music in the previous years – there are not many such cases in 1972, for instance, when the Dead’s segues tended to hop straight from one song into another. Spacy transitions weren’t new to the Dead, of course: back in the sixties they were common features in, say, the Other One>New Potato Caboose suites of ’68, or Mountains of the Moon>Dark Star in ‘69. But as the Dead added more songs to their repertoire and phased out the Cryptical ending jam, spaciness retreated to the internal portions of Dark Star or the Other One, and spacy transition jams were rarely played from 1970-72.
Some songs were built for transitions: China>Rider was a regular link (though usually not jammed out very much at the time); Truckin’ in 1972 frequently headed down the road to an Other One; and He’s Gone steadily expanded in fall ’72, swelling into a giant end jam that would kick off an extended suite. But these usually weren’t very spacy jams, being built on steady grooves (though there are some Truckin’>Other One jams from the Europe tour that became their own meandering voyages). It just wasn’t that common in ’72 for the Dead to float gently from song to song.
There are still some rare moments in 1972 where the Dead would enter quiet reflective spaces between songs:
5/25/72 Uncle John’s Band>Wharf Rat
A lovely little glide where they spend almost 2 minutes contemplating possibilities before settling on Wharf Rat.
7/18/72 Truckin’>Dark Star
The last 90 seconds of Truckin’ are like a gently bubbling stew in which the Dead float placidly until Dark Star kicks off.
8/21/72 El Paso>space>Deal
Some quick tuning turns into a 3-minute lonesome space, mostly a Garcia/Lesh duet with volume swells and a wistful bass melody, until Garcia hops into Deal. (This is like a quiet continuation of Dark Star that got stranded outside of El Paso.)
Sometimes in 1972 the Dead would use a unique melodic jam as a transition – for instance, the three-minute Caution>Uncle John’s Band jam on 3/22/72, where a beautiful and seemingly composed melody appears from nowhere and then vanishes again:
Some more examples of this type of jam are here:
You might think Dark Star would have lots of spacy transitions, being designed for open-ended journeys to space and beyond. Once the second verse was dropped, all kinds of songs could find themselves emerging from the distant galactic reaches. But in 1972, Dark Star segues tended not to be distinct transition jams per se, but rather sudden shifts to a different dimension. Most typically Dark Star would wind up in a big Tiger freakout or a post-meltdown swirl, and once the noise subsided the next song would rise out of the ashes – think of how Sugar Magnolia appears on 4/14 or 4/17, or El Paso on 8/27. But other times the Dead would be jamming along and a new song would just be dropped abruptly into the proceedings, making a quick juxtaposition – for instance China Cat or Cumberland Blues on 9/24 & 9/27. So there usually wasn’t a prolonged in-between passage bridging Dark Star and another song; it was more often like a swift jump out the exit hatch.
But sometimes the Dead would prepare for the next song with a quiet transitional glide out of Dark Star:
5/11/72 Dark Star>Sugar Magnolia
At the end of Dark Star (after an abandoned Truckin’ tease, some hasty Garcia tuning, and a Bird Song quote from Lesh) they drift into a nice gentle 2-minute guitar-trio interlude before Sugar Magnolia begins.
8/24/72 Dark Star>Morning Dew
Dark Star fades in the last 90 seconds to a quiet elegant passage with volume swells and wisps of feedback, until Morning Dew rudely intrudes.
9/16/72 Dark Star>Brokedown Palace
The Dead slow down after a fast jam and the last minute of Dark Star becomes a very pretty prelude to Brokedown Palace.
12/15/72 Dark Star>Morning Dew
After the obligatory Tiger jam, the music calms and the last minute of Dark Star is a rather eerie, melancholy glide towards Morning Dew.
Of course I can’t go without mentioning the unique ending of the 10/23/72 Dark Star – following a fierce Tiger & feedback, the final 3 minutes find the Dead transformed into a haunted orchestra playing a tune of dignified sadness. John Hilgart calls it “arguably the greatest example of…Dead ‘chamber music.’ Suddenly the band is a string trio, it sounds like they are bowing their instruments, and the piece they are playing is moody and gorgeous.” One of the most beautiful endings of any Dark Star.
As for the Other One, in 1972 it was almost always played with both verses and the conclusion, and the Dead tended to go abruptly from the closing lick to the next tune without much drift. The Other One, like Dark Star, could have any number of spacy passages within its jams, but unlike Dark Star its ending remained a stable destination in 1972, so it’s rare to find extended transitions out of the Other One that year. One fine exception starts the year with the 12/31/71 jam>Black Peter – Garcia’s starting Black Peter as the Other One ends, but they have to stop for some tuning, so instead they melt into a sweet little pretty jam for 2 minutes before Black Peter restarts.
Sometimes we find great internal transitions in the Other One sandwiches – for instance, the Other One>He’s Gone>Other One on 10/24/72, where He’s Gone is preceded by a nearly 2-minute spacy passage of spiky delicacy, almost sounding like they’re trying to reprise the piece from the Dark Star the night before.
(Other transitional highlights from the Other One sandwiches of ’72 include the lead-ups to El Paso on 4/7, Me & Bobby McGee on 5/10, and Black Peter on 8/12.)

But the Other One wasn’t invariably played with its ending in ’72. The 9/26/72 Other One, for instance, has just one verse (missing on the SBD tape due to a reel flip). After the Tiger, the last two & a half minutes are another evocative space, Lesh plucking loudly over Garcia’s wistful notes until they land in an unexpected Baby Blue.
On 10/27/72, the Dead skip the second verse again in a laid-back Other One, and the last minute is a pretty but foreboding transitional bridge (peppered by audience screams) that ends up in an incongruous Mississippi Half-Step.
The Dead ended the year on 12/31/72 with another incomplete but magnificent Other One. After the first and only verse, they drop right into a lovely soothing slow piece with David Crosby. Full of Garcia sweetness, it sounds composed, but I don’t think it was ever heard again. Once it reaches a conclusion, the last 45 seconds are a heavenly volume-swelled bridge to Morning Dew.
In 1973 the Dead started leaving out the second verse of the Other One in many versions – out of 22 Other Ones that year, I think the second verse only appeared in 6 of them. This opened up more possibilities for the Dead to jam their way into the next song like they did in Dark Star. Sometimes a song would pop right out of some Other One jamming without much of a transition. But often the Other One ended with noisy Tigers or blasts of Feedback, then a new song would timidly creep forth – 12/19/73 would be a classic example of this – so the Other One doesn’t appear very often on this list.
What I was looking for in 1973 were distinctive or unusual spacy transitions between songs (not the spaces within longer jams) – I call these Transitive Spaces. The Dead took an increasingly “floaty” approach in 1973 with new jam suites and more varied song segues, often making pillowy clouds for 20 or 30 seconds at the end of one song to clear the way for the next. True, most segues were still quick jump-cuts or sudden shifts; but I focus here on the transitional spaces at least a minute or two long that became interesting pieces of music in their own right. (Admittedly some of these transitive spaces are not much different from spacy passages in the middle of an Other One, except for where they’re located!)


2/15/73 Dark Star>Eyes of the World
Lesh takes a big bass solo after the verse in Dark Star, playing with his quad system (each string going to different speakers), and the solo’s more bouncy and tuneful than usual for him. In the final minute, Garcia joins him for a short but sparkling duet, creating a sunny melody before Lesh nudges them into Eyes. This isn’t a spacy transition, but is one of the brightest and most memorable of the year.
2/21/73 Truckin’>Eyes of the World, Eyes>Stella Blue
Near the end of Truckin’, the band starts to dive into Eyes of the World without Garcia, but evidently change their minds and call it off. When Garcia returns in the final minute of Truckin’, suddenly they enter an intimate little space of sweetness & bliss, Garcia & Lesh coupled in harmony. With that out of the way, they start Eyes for real.
Then in the last two minutes of Eyes, the jam ends and they slide into another space, this one not so melodic, mostly guitars & piano drifting aimlessly while Lesh makes noises. Lesh rounds it out with some conclusive chords before Garcia makes a very awkward switch to Stella Blue.
2/24/73 – Truckin’>Eyes of the World, Eyes>Sugar Magnolia
This murky audience tape had largely vanished for two decades and was little-heard until it resurfaced again a few years ago, revealing its treasures. A hot Truckin’ jam starts heading in the Other One direction, but the Dead change course with a drumroll at 10:30, the main jam fading into a magical Garcia/Lesh duet. For two minutes they’re coupled in a sonata of piercing beauty, clouds parting to the music of the angels. At the end, a sudden burst of feedback announces Eyes of the World like the cold world breaking in on a heavenly dream.
But the show’s surprises aren’t over. Eyes wraps up with an excited finish by 9:30, then Garcia takes off in another solo space (interrupted by a tapecut and the taper confidently announcing “the Other One!”). When Lesh joins in, that indeed sounds like their destination and there’s a little Other One duet accompanied by drums. (Here’s where the available SBD tape cuts in, after 11:20.) But they veer away from the Other One, Garcia drops out, and Lesh starts another cheerful bass solo, backed by drums at first but then on his own, banging out chords in quad stereo. He invites the others back in, and they join him in a happy rhythmic groove that soon turns into a Feelin’ Groovy jam. Once that ends, they’re not sure what’s next and stumble around for a couple minutes trying to rekindle the momentum, Godchaux not quite in sync with Garcia. Lesh lays down some closing chords and they drift into a pretty space which only lasts briefly before Weir strikes up Sugar Magnolia. (mislabeled SBD fragment - it’s the post-Eyes jam)
Nothing else quite compares to the duet at the end of Truckin’ – this post covers many other beautiful pieces throughout 1973, but for me it doesn’t have an equal. There are similar moments from the period though: the space at the end of Truckin’ on 2/21 is in much the same vein (though briefer). There’s also a short spot in the post-verse space of Dark Star on 2/22/73 (after 10:45) where Garcia & Lesh are in the same kind of brooding place for a minute before a snarling Tiger approaches. (You can even go back to the end of the 5/10/72 Other One for a short but strikingly close passage.)
As for the Feelin’ Groovy jam, at the time it was usually an internal Dark Star jam but hadn’t been played since November ’72. It had made one appearance as a transitional jam outside Dark Star, on 10/2/72 where it followed Truckin’ in a unique joyful jam leading up to a chiming space & Morning Dew (you can hear the family resemblance to 2/24/73’s Eyes jam, though the ’72 jam is a bit more giddy & sloppy).
In March ’73 the Feelin’ Groovy jam would be absorbed into the China>Rider transition, but it would take a surprising turn in the 3/31/73 Other One, where it follows a long wah space, substitutes for the return to the Other One theme, and serves as an impromptu bridge to (where else) I Know You Rider. Not a spacy transition at all, but one of the most unique endings of any Other One, like the Dead suddenly skipped a song.
(The 3/24/73 Truckin’ jam could be considered a marginal case on this list – the Dead go into a quiet drift once the proper Truckin’ jam is through, and later pass through several minutes of underwater wah warbling before the Dark Star verse, so those are spacy transition points – but it could also be regarded as one long jam moving through different phases. Personally I consider the pre-Dark Star space to be part of an inverted Dark Star.)
3/26/73 Truckin’>Weather Report Suite Prelude
Garcia unusually takes up the slide in the Truckin’ jam for a bluesy touch (an occasional habit of his in early ’73), then they flirt with the Other One for a bit; but in the last two & a half minutes they suddenly slow down into a quiet, pretty introspective space – mostly Garcia & piano with a bit of Weir backing. Weir brings up the Prelude he’s been kicking around, and they use that as the jumping-off point to a longer mellow jam. This is nice but never takes off; finally in the last minute Garcia twirls into a sweet Wharf Rat prelude before starting the song.
(Weir’s Prelude was played a few times in early ’73 – on 3/21 and 3/28 it’s used as a prelude to Dark Star, and on 4/2 it serves to introduce Eyes of the World. The Prelude had also appeared earlier as one of a series of jams within the 11/19/72 Dark Star; but it wouldn’t find a home until being attached to the Weather Report Suite in September ’73.)
3/30/73 Truckin’>Eyes of the World
A meandering slide jam in Truckin’ turns into a more uptempo jazzy groove; but then the Dead seem to run out of direction and sputter out. The next two minutes are mostly Godchaux tinkling on the piano pretty much by himself with just some quiet noodling from the guitarists, until Eyes arrives. Not very interesting.
(The 4/2/73 Here Comes Sunshine jam is another marginal entry here. Although this is almost the only Here Comes Sunshine with a transition jam, it’s more like a typical 10-minute Other One jam stuck onto the end of Sunshine, climaxing with the ever-present Tiger. The last minute does get into some spacy swoops before Bobby McGee, though.)
5/26/73 Other One>Eyes of the World
In the wake of the Tiger, the Dead relax for a final couple minutes of subdued wah beauty, the band keeping up a busy patter while Garcia plays his lonesome keens. (The 5/13/73 Other One takes a very similar course in the Tiger aftermath at the end, but is a little edgier and not as relaxed.)
6/9/73 Truckin’>Playing in the Band
After the drums & bass section in Truckin’, the band embarks on a luscious 4-minute voyage to unmapped inner realms. At first the jam centers on the quad bass, cymbals, Weir’s phased harmonics & strums, and then becomes a delicate wah tapestry. In the last minute after Garcia’s brief Here Comes Sunshine tease, they seem to be forming a stately new melody on the spot; but Garcia’s in a hurry to move on to Playing in the Band and keeps pushing the opening lick until the others join him. But they could have stayed in this dreamy space… (AUD: there’s a cut at the start of this section around 8:30, but the sound is phenomenal – for otherworldly beauty, this is as good as it gets)
7/1/73 Other One>Wharf Rat
Once the last growls of the Tiger subside, the Dead quietly hover in a peaceful still ocean for a glorious 2 minutes before Wharf Rat arrives. A wonderful passage.

7/28/73 Truckin’>El Paso
A typical Nobody’s Fault jam closes Truckin’, but rather than a straight segue to El Paso they take a 2-minute detour into a quiet, spacy Garcia/Lesh duet.
9/15/73 Let It Grow>Stella Blue
After a hectic Let It Grow jam, the Dead drop into 3 minutes of quiet warbling with hushed wah & Rhodes touches, setting the stage for Stella Blue. (The next Let It Grow>Stella segue on 9/17 is a more sudden shift. Only a few Let It Grows from fall ‘73 would segue into other tunes.)
9/26/73 Truckin’>Eyes of the World
Truckin’ unwinds into a jazzy drums/bass/piano segment, but then in the final minute the mood shifts, the band hushes, and Garcia & Lesh reach a place of unexpected beauty, very reminiscent of 2/24/73.
10/23/73 Other One>Weather Report Suite
After the verse, the short Other One quickly peters out for a drum solo. The band comes back with a flurry and a calmer direction – Garcia’s playing with a slide now, and with Godchaux’s shimmering Rhodes and Lesh’s soft bass pings, they sail into 4 minutes of beautiful melancholy. One of the year’s high points.
10/30/73 Eyes of the World>Weather Report Suite
Most Eyes come to quick ends, but here for over a minute the Dead drift leisurely on a mellow sea in an unusually relaxed ending, until an impatient Weir jumps into his Prelude.
You may have noticed few post-Eyes of the World jams on this list since February ’73. Once the song’s jam structure solidified, Eyes rarely opened up to spaciness at the end. Usually, Garcia would put on the brakes and slow it down so there would be at most a quick 15 or 20-second glide to the next song, not a prolonged transition. So Eyes of the World doesn’t have many distinctive segues this year.
One exception is the 12/4/73 Eyes which basically substitutes for the Other One as the big second-set freakout in that shortened show – when Eyes itself comes to an end around 13:30, they dive straight into noisy weirdness, a long buzzing space, powerful feedback drones, and a skittering near-Tiger at the end. (Lesh unfortunately drops out for the last few minutes.) It’s kind of a test run for the 12/6/73 Dark Star – not very pretty, but unique for an Eyes.
(I should also mention one earlier oddity, the 6/10/73 Eyes where in the last 40 seconds, the Dead seamlessly switch to playing an impromptu little blues jam. It only lasts half a minute before they drop it for Stella Blue, but it foreshadows some ’74 moments like the 6/18/74 It’s A Sin jam.)
The Dead started playing the Mind Left Body jam regularly in fall ’73. At the time it mainly appeared within Dark Star and didn’t usually connect straight to other tunes, unlike in ’74, so I won’t say much about it here (it has its own post anyway). For instance the famous 12/2/73 version in Playing in the Band is followed by a 2-minute choppy, upbeat jam before they segue to He’s Gone. But I’ll point out the 11/20/73 Other One, where Weir introduces the theme at the end and the Dead go through a few hurried passes, then Garcia steers them through a brief simple melody to Stella Blue.
Other late-’73 deep-space Other Ones with fine endings:
11/23/73 Other One>Me & Bobby McGee
After exploring the depths of Feedback, in the last minute Garcia & the others peer back into the sunlight with a brief Bach-like interlude that coasts into Bobby McGee.
12/8/73 Other One>Wharf Rat
An even deeper dive into Feedback fades to a final minute of drone-haunted beauty. Wharf Rat comes too soon.
Meanwhile, it was still common for Dark Stars in 1973 to end with Tigers or Feedback episodes, but an increasing number of Dark Stars also ended on a gentler spacy note, providing the audience a little cushion before the next tune. Some of the best examples of these include:
3/28/73 – after a demented Slipknot-type section, the Dead quiet down with a minute of calming wah glitter before starting Eyes.
10/19/73 – following a frantic Tiger, the Dead float quietly on soothing volume swells for a minute before Morning Dew.
11/11/73 – after the rousing Mind Left Body jam finishes, the Dead glide prettily towards Eyes.
11/30/73 – the Dark Star jam ends with 2 minutes of a jazzily abstract Garcia/Weir duet.
12/18/73 – as the Feedback settles, Garcia & Weir weave some gently enchanting arpeggios and craft a final closing melody for the last Dark Star of the year…then they step aside for a drum solo!


I’ll stop there and leave 1974 for another day… Be sure to comment if there are some tasty transition jams I’ve overlooked!

February 29, 2024

Mason's Children

 “Let’s make a movie, boys!”

 With these words (or something like them) Lenny Hart exhorted the Grateful Dead to appear in a Hollywood musical. A psychedelic western about rock & roll cowboy outlaws? Perfect for the Dead! They could even write songs for the movie that would be heard in movie theaters and drive-ins across the land.

 Biographer Dennis McNally writes that while Lenny was managing the Dead, he persuaded them to appear in “the film Zachariah, a bizarre western with electric guitar-slinging cowboys. Arguing that it would provide good exposure, Lenny briefly convinced them that the idea could fly. In the end, they didn’t trust Hollywood and opted out of the movie… but before that…they toured the MGM back lot and were fitted for costumes, and then Mickey, the experienced rider, took the band out for lessons at his ranch.” (1)

 Tom Constanten remembered, “We were supposed to be the band in the movie Zachariah. It got as far as touring the MGM back lot, getting fitted for costumes, and impacting the script, but no farther. The band even went horseback riding as a group a couple of times out at Mickey’s ranch in Novato.” (2)

 Rosie McGee wrote in more detail: “When the band committed to appear in a movie – a musical western called Zachariah – they had to learn to ride. I believe Mickey and Bill were the only two band members familiar with horseback riding. Everyone showed up for riding lessons at Mickey’s with varying degrees of enthusiasm… They were all game and gave the riding lessons a try.” Some of the Dead adapted to horseback better than others – Lesh & Weir were at ease and Pigpen liked to pose on horseback, but Constanten was “very uncomfortable,” and Garcia was “terrified of horses” and even fell off his horse. “That was the last time he ever rode.” (3)

 McNally suggests that it was Garcia’s horse mishap that “ended his interest in the project.” It can readily be imagined what Lenny’s interest in the project was – the Dead working on a movie meant checks from the movie studio that he could personally deposit. (He got his chance a few months later when Garcia played on the soundtrack for “Zabriskie Point,” and the check from MGM promptly vanished into Lenny’s bank account.)

 The time was late fall ’69. The film had been in the works since 1968, under the hand of producer Joe Massot: by spring ’69 it was supposed to feature Ginger Baker and the Band; but then the Band passed, and the opportunity went to the Dead. In the Grateful Dead Archives there is a script for Zachariah, an “original screenplay by Joe Massot & The Firesign Theatre,” dated 11/28/69. (4) I think the participation of the Firesign Theatre writers helped draw the Dead’s interest – they were likely already fans (the Firesign’s 1971 album “I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus” would become part of the Dead’s self-mythology). David Ossman of the Firesign was also the voice on many Warner Bros. radio ads in ‘69 (including the Dead’s ads for Aoxomoxoa). (the last 3 tracks) ("If I were able to pronounce it, I'd tell you the title of the LP...")
(Incidentally, in the ‘80s Phil Austin of the Firesign would write a screenplay for the Grateful Dead – a Hollywood comedy featuring the Dead that never got made – which Garcia insisted on calling “The Dead Sell Out.”

 Manager Jon McIntire was interviewed about the movie sometime in late ’69, for an article that appeared a few months later:
‘Their upcoming movie is Zechariah, described as a kind of fantasy cowboy flick with a plot line closely resembling Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. Costuming has been completed for the Dead; filming may begin in April, either in Mexico or in the old back lots of MGM.
Zechariah was written by screen veteran Joe Massot (“a good flowing script,” former actor MacIntire reported), and will be produced by George England...
“If it’s done as we originally heard about it,” MacIntire said, “the movie really won’t be a western, but will be an interesting piece of surrealism. For example, when the Dead ride in on their horses they’re wearing holsters with electric guitars shoved in them and electric amplifiers strapped on the backs of the horses.
“The movie’s star (Ginger Baker) is Zechariah – the Dead have their segment of the picture when Zechariah interacts with them, lusts after the kind of lives they live and wants to be a part of them. We’re really looking forward to filming it.”’
(David Harris, “Rock’s First Family: Grateful Dead,” Circus 3/70) (5)

 But Hollywood was up to its usual tricks. Some of the film’s reviewers have pointed out that much changed between the original script and the eventual movie:  
“Firesign Theatre have distanced themselves from the film, having spoken of a script they wrote for a comic western ‘that was never made.’”
“AFI reports that the Firesigns publicly rejected the film because their original script had been changed so much. Massot, who was to be the director, resigned over artistic differences.”
“In reading interviews with various members of the comedy team, the Firesign Theatre wrote *the first draft* of this movie which was meant to be a comedic adaptation of Siddhartha, set in the old west. Then what seems to have happened was that the studio executives assigned another writer to do a re-write (and probably tinkered a bit with the script themselves) and the final product bore only a passing similarity to the original script. I do not think that the Firesign Theatre are in any way proud of this movie and don't mention it on their website.”

 One history of the group relates the tale: “The Firesign Theatre was contracted to help write a screenplay for the first psychedelic western, Zachariah (1970), produced by ABC Pictures and it was their official introduction to Hollywood, and the world of control... For the first time Firesign were being told what to do and the project slipped out of their grasp, producing mixed results. Although 90% of the remaining dialogue is in their own words, most of the hippie concepts and the scene they wrote for themselves...fell to the merciless power of the well known, unsuitable, veteran director George Englund. How could the establishment understand The Firesign Theatre? [Phil] Austin walked, but the remaining three traveled to Mexicali, Mexico for on-location rewrites and smoke-ins...”

 Director Joe Massot quit over “differences of opinion” with the studio. The Dead themselves dropped out of the film production by the end of December ’69. And even Ginger Baker found better things to do. Replacements were found, and filming continued without them. Here’s a report on the progress of "Zachariah" in February 1970, from Cash Box magazine:
"Last weekend we visited the set of "Zachariah." The flick, a rock western, is a perfect merging of the two artforms, with the music and musicians skillfully blended into the plot (as opposed to the old idea of building a plot around the musicians).
"Ginger Baker, the first rocker cast for the film, is out, being replaced by jazz drummer Elvin Jones... After a series of scheduling problems with the Grateful Dead, the film's producers switched over to Country Joe & the Fish. If the Jones move works out as well as the Fish switch, the movie will be a monster, for the Fish playing an unsuccessful but happy outlaw gang, turned in outstanding performances. When we left, one of the ABC Pictures execs was already mulling over a TV series idea with the Fish recreating their movie roles as the Crackers."
(“Meanwhile, Back on the Ranch…” Cash Box 2/21/70) (6)

 The article mentions that "the group played the Fillmore West this past weekend" (February 12-15), so the Fish were filming that month. The "scheduling problems" with the Dead were probably a polite coverup; but Country Joe & the Fish made respectable substitutes as a gang of comical rock & roll bandits. Elvin Jones stayed in the film as a gunfighter, as fast on the drums as he is on the draw; the James Gang and fiddler Doug Kershaw also appeared. (Trivia note: Banjo player Obray Ramsey of ‘Rain and Snow’ fame was also involved in the soundtrack, recording one tune called ‘Shy Ann’: )

 But it must be said, the movie’s terrible. The Dead were lucky to escape this tedious crap. It was eventually released in January 1971, to not much acclaim, and flopped. The desperate and morbidly curious can see it here:

 So much for “Zachariah.” “Yes, but what about Mason’s Children?” you ask. Luckily, a newspaper review from December ’69 describes how the song was written for the movie:

 “A week ago last Thursday, the Grateful Dead, who last night opened a three-night stand at the Tea Party, sat down to a normal day's work at their digs in San Francisco.
They had just received a screenplay that demanded immediate theme music. Bob Hunter, the group's lyricist, flipped through the script and jotted down some lyrics. Jerry Garcia, the Dead's leader, glanced down at the lines and began to improvise a few chords on his guitar. The five other Dead joined in.
By the time they stopped playing, the group had composed a powerful number, based on a beefy chord progression, called "The Mason Song." The movie company decided the song didn't suit them, but last night The Dead used it to bring their first set to a crashing finish.”
(Timothy Crouse, “Grateful Dead Resurrect Dancing at Tea Party,” Boston Herald Traveler 12/30/69) (7)

 The Dead had debuted Mason's Children on Friday Dec 19th, and this article declares they'd written it on Thursday the 18th! Well, that’s probably not quite true, but the account of writing the song may be close to how it happened (the story could only have come from the Dead themselves), and it was actually called ‘The Mason’ at the time. They’d just received the screenplay from Nov 28 and lost little time composing a song for the film. But it’s also said that the movie studio rejected the song for “Zachariah” – perhaps one of the reasons the Dead pulled out of the production by the time this review was written. (Being put together rapidly for the film, with lyric ideas drawn from the screenplay, may help explain why the song's a little out of keeping with the other Workingman's Dead songs, and why the Dead dropped it after just a couple months.)

 At their next stop at the Fillmore East on 1/3/70, they introduced Mason’s Children with a joking story of its origins:
Phil: “This here song we wrote for a movie which was gonna be shot in a parking lot – no, it was a drive-in restaurant – no, it was a drive-in movie – in downtown Albuquerque, was it? (Jerry: Something like that.) Yeah, with parked cars for an audience.”
Jerry: “We decided not to do it finally.”
Bob: “But we’re gonna do the song anyway.”

 Mason’s Children was one of a pair of songs Robert Hunter wrote in December ’69, along with New Speedway Boogie – they debuted at almost the same time, Mason’s on Dec 19, New Speedway on Dec 20. Both songs were inspired by the aftermath of the ill-fated Altamont festival. Hunter wrote in his Box of Rain lyric collection that Mason’s was “an unrecorded song dealing obliquely with Altamont” – very obliquely, since it’s hard to see the connection! Though the lyrics are almost like a nursery rhyme and seem to tell a simple tale, they remain obscure and have given rise to much interpretation. Could Hunter have taken inspiration from “Finnegans Wake?” “Stranger in a Strange Land?” “The Cask of Amontillado?” or the secret rites of Freemasonry? The debate continues… (I’m tickled by one summary: “rather morbid lyrics about a burial of a beloved friend that goes wrong.”)

 The notion that Hunter may have just pulled ideas for the song from an early screenplay for “Zachariah” remains an unexplored angle. But I’m not sure if he really did get anything from the script – the finished film bears no relation to Mason’s Children. (There is an old hermit, mentor to the young Zachariah and equivalent to Siddhartha’s ferryman, who dies, leaving his pupil to tend his garden; but that’s a slim resemblance.) Hunter himself remembered Mason’s as an Altamont song and seems to have forgotten the “Zachariah” connection. When Blair Jackson asked him about it, “Hunter recalled that around that time the band had written a tune for a rock Western they were approached to appear in called Zachariah, and perhaps ‘Mason's Children’ was that song.” (8)  

 The song was originally called ‘The Mason’ – note that the newspaper article called it ‘The Mason Song,’ and Hunter still just called it ‘The Mason’ in the ‘90s. (The Dead even sing "the mason" and "the mason's children" in the song. They might never have called it ‘Mason’s Children’ before tape-collectors gave it that name.) Garcia was asked about old outtakes in one 1981 interview: “There wasn’t a whole lot, no. There were one or two tunes that we were working on – ‘The Mason.’ It’s sometimes called ‘The Mason’s Children.’ It’s been circulated some in the underground tape circles in the United States. I don’t know where the hell they got a tape of that from! We may have done it in the studio but I don’t remember really.” (9)

 Mason’s Children didn’t last long in concert. There are only 19 known live versions – the Dead played it in almost every show for about a month in Dec ‘69/Jan ’70, then less frequently to the end of February, before dropping it. Let’s take a look at the performances:

Eager to play the song, they start the electric set with it – a new fun rocker! It’s a little rickety, but they’ve rehearsed the song well and they have it down. The playing’s somewhat tentative and rigid compared to later performances, but this isn’t very noticeable, and Garcia’s solos are strong & snappy. The harmonies are about the same as they’d always be, without many changes, and the arrangement of this song was also fixed from the start: two verses & chorus, solo, two verses & chorus, solo, repeat chorus.

Mason’s starts the show – this one’s much the same, but a little more sluggish. TC’s organ swirls atmospherically, and Garcia soars in the second solo.
(Released on Dave’s Picks 6.)

Phil teases the bassline, and they jump into the song. This one’s a little more punchy as they’re getting tighter, but Garcia’s solos are a lot weaker than the night before. Still, the solo breaks are really propulsive – you can feel the energy jump up when they stop singing.
(Released on Dave’s Picks 6 bonus CD.) (6:20)

From a rowdy outdoor festival performance, this one has a false start, stopped when Pigpen urges the crowd to move back: “You can either move back or you can stay, but if you stay you might get smashed. So it’s your decision.”
Lesh: “Now we told ya, all right?”
Pigpen: “The warning is there, we have – ah well, forget it, just do what you want!”
A boisterous Mason’s with loud vocals follows (someone yells “turn it down!” after the first verse). The first solo is already extra-excited; but then Garcia launches into a nearly five-minute-long second solo which takes off into nearly Other One-type spaces, opening up the song for some real jamming.
Another brief false start while they work something out and Pigpen taps on his conga drums (I don’t think he plays these during the song, though). The vocals seem tighter in this one; I think the drumwork’s getting busier, and there’s a little more variation in dynamics. This time, it’s the first solo that Garcia stretches out into a four-minute-long wiry jam, breaking the boundaries of the song. The second solo’s pretty powerful too, though it trails out and he has trouble getting back to the song – apparently he broke a string!  
This ends the first set – Garcia announces afterwards, “I gotta fix a string…  We’re gonna take a ten-minute break and come back and play for several hours.” (The announcement’s cut on the Archive copies.) This version’s the “crashing finish” mentioned in the review above. This would be my pick as the most exciting Mason’s, or a close second to 12/28 which has the edge in energy.

Garcia starts it right out of Uncle John’s Band. It’s a solid take, maybe a little subdued, but it seems like there’s increasingly more ‘breathing room’ and variations in the playing. The first solo’s longer in this one too, but Garcia’s more restrained tonight and doesn’t step out as much; the second solo’s quite short. In a hurry, he zips right into China Cat when the song’s over.

This one has a longer intro as Garcia lays out the groove with a slinky New Speedway-style line – overall it’s a better, punchier performance than 12/30. Garcia digs into repeating patterns in his playing, with two strong solos. (You can hear the audience howl after the first solo!) The song in general is improving, not so much because the vocals are getting better, but the playing’s getting more textured and hard-hitting, swirling densely in the jams. Things are looking up for 1970…

This one opens the new year with a dramatic twist, bursting out of the “Also Sprach Zarathustra” orchestral intro. Bear’s Fillmore East mix is also much clearer than his rather congested mixes in December ’69, so this is a good one to hear the organ and drums in wide separation. The effect is to make it sound more clattery & bare than the earlier versions. (Bear’s still adjusting the mix as it progresses, so Weir’s guitar also gets turned up in the second half.)
But performance-wise, they’ve stripped out the jams and this is the shortest version yet. There’s been a change in Garcia’s approach: his first solo simply restates the vocal melody (which will be the norm going forward), and even his second solo is a lot more subdued than he’d been playing before. The trend in 1970, it seems, is to turn this into a shorter pop song.
(The SBD has the first few seconds clipped.)
(Released on Fallout from the Phil Zone & Dave’s Picks 30.)

After China>Rider, they abort High Time and decide on Mason’s instead, and Phil gives the audience a little introduction to the song (quoted above). This one comes in the middle of the late show rather than opening the early show, so you’d expect a more expansive performance. Far from it! They zip through this one in a hurry, even skipping the last chorus, and Garcia pares his solos down to the minimum, making this an even shorter Mason’s. It seems they want to tighten the song to album length. On the other hand, it’s also the best-recorded version so far, sounding very crisp; the drumming stands out, and you can tell they have the vocal harmonies down.
(Released on Dave’s Picks 30 bonus disc.)

A tight & punchy Mason’s – this one’s even more rushed; it’s like they’re trying to see how quickly they can finish, speeding up each transition. (They've also changed the intro to a more straightforward rock riff.) But for me, even if they have it more ‘album-ready’ the song’s potency is reduced when all the jam action is limited to the second solo, which is cut down to a minute, before it can really get going. When the song ends, Garcia immediately segues to a slow Black Peter.

The stage announcer checks to see if the audience have taken their shoes off on the gym floor. This done, it’s time for another Mason’s – this one’s much like 1/10, except more energetic, sloppy & exuberant. (The second solo almost takes off before they rein it in.) Pigpen’s congas are very audible in this one, which I didn’t notice in earlier versions; along with the busier drumming it makes this version extra-percussive. This time, Garcia segues to a slow High Time.

This one’s slower-paced, and one of the drummers is trying out a steady tumbling drum-roll through the song. Constanten’s very low in the mix. This version feels tired and sluggish, though the second solo tries to reach liftoff until Garcia gives up and awkwardly yanks the band back to the last chorus. One of the weakest versions. Black Peter follows once again.
(Released on Download Series vol. 2.)

A tight version with more spring in its step; this is the best Mason’s of January ‘70. The second solo finally opens up again to a little three-minute jam, revisiting the December ’69 energy and stomping to a climax. Garcia segues to Black Peter again after some quick tuning.
This would be the last version with Tom Constanten, who left the band a week later in New Orleans. The song would lose a little charm without his jaunty organ whistling round the vocals and chirping through the chords.
(Released on Workingman’s Dead reissue CD & Dave’s Picks 19.)

Counted off at a brisk clip, this is a raucous post-bust performance, one of the most energetic & crunchy Masons. The second solo catches blazing fire – but has a significant cut in the middle at 4:40 just as Garcia’s heading into a new space (it was probably at least as long as 1/24). Garcia plays the little descending line at the end which Constanten used to play.

This is the first Mason’s to be part of a big jam suite, and it has an odd entrance. St. Stephen falls apart after “another man spills” – it sounds like the drummers are trying to start Alligator, but the others reject that and pummel their way into a jam instead, which isn’t quite the usual Stephen jam but is more like a Mason’s jam. So Garcia starts Mason’s proper and they blaze through it. The tumbling drum style is sounding more natural by now; the second solo is quite hot, but unfortunately cut very short. (This could be due to the reel flip, which is undetectable on the CD release.) After the song Weir announces they had an equipment failure: “Mickey went right through his drumhead.” But they carry on.
(Released on Dave’s Picks 6.) (4:42)

The Fillmore West audience is calling requests; Weir replies, “Just relax and take what you get.” The Dead deliver the longest Mason’s of 1970 – but sadly, a troubled one. Garcia stretches out the first solo: not because he’s feeling inspired, but because he’s trying to tune his guitar on the fly, so it’s the sound of a struggling Garcia. The band’s doing their best to create a surge, and the second solo starts better, more exploratory – but then Weir’s sounding very out-of-tune, and then there’s a source cut to a murky audience tape during the second solo at 7:12, muffling the climax, and then Garcia forgets to play the little lick at the end of the song. Oh well, time for tuning! On the bright side, the drums are recorded very well, so this is a good one to hear the drum interplay – Mickey brings out the cowbell.

Mason’s finds itself embedded in another jam suite. This time, Garcia starts it out of a colossal Not Fade Away, substituting Mason’s where you might expect the NFA chords. It’s amazing how quickly the Dead switch to the new song – they’re singing the verse within 15 seconds. But this isn’t a great Mason’s – the singing isn’t so good, the playing not so dramatic, and the solos are very short. Garcia had already been playing in this style through Not Fade Away, so he felt no need to stretch out the solos here. Instead of finishing the song, he heads straight for Caution from the solo. Though this was one of the first well-known Masons, it’s mainly just notable for its unusual placement between two giant jams.
(Released on Dick’s Picks 4.)

Mason’s comes out of Not Fade Away again. As NFA is ending, Lesh is pushing the Mason’s bassline (starting at 12:50); the others come to a stop and Weir tries suggesting Good Lovin’ instead, which the drummers agree to, but Lesh overrules them and they continue with Mason’s. This awkward start is soon rendered moot by a giant tapecut at :38 which wipes out half the song, and almost all the vocals. The tape returns in time for the second solo, which is all right but not too exciting. The highpoint of this Mason’s comes at the end, when Garcia & Lesh play the final descending lick in counterpoint. This ends the show: “Goodnight now.”

Once again, Mason’s is part of a rock & roll jam suite – Weir starts it up after the Other One. And the opening arrangement has changed! It’s now the ‘Jumping Jack Flash’-style riff they’ve worked up in the studio, and the song is taken at a much slower pace. The slow tempo emphasizes the harmony vocals, but even some enthusiastic singing doesn’t really bring this tepid version to life. Then, like on 2/14, Garcia & Lesh exit the loopy second solo into Caution; but this time Caution lasts less than a minute before they decide to wrap up the show-opening Lovelight instead.

 So what were they up to in the studio? During February 1970, they’d started recording Workingman’s Dead, and Mason’s Children was one of the songs intended for the album. Sometime during the sessions, they came up with the slower arrangement – per Jerrybase, recording started on February 7 at Pacific High Recording (perhaps a lost initial demo session), but the date of the outtakes we have is unknown. I believe they devised the new studio arrangement after Feb 23 – it doesn’t make much sense for them to be playing the slow version in the studio earlier on while reverting to the old arrangement live. (For instance, notice how on 2/28 Lesh plays the bubbly bass part at the beginning that he did in the studio, and on no earlier live version. The little turnaround Lesh & Weir play at the ends of the verses also comes from the studio arrangement, and hadn’t been heard earlier.)

 About three minutes of false starts of Mason’s Children in the studio can be heard in the Deadcast:
The basic track isn’t for a demo (Garcia isn’t even playing) – they’re trying to get an album take. (I think someone calls take 23!) The trouble is, one of the drummers (probably Mickey) is trying a complicated drum syncopation which is throwing everything off, though it’s neat to hear.

 Sometime afterwards, they dropped that idea, got rid of a drummer, and simplified the opening, finishing a basic track that they dubbed their vocals onto:
The So Many Roads version: (edited to 3:27 – solo break cut)
The instrumentation is ‘live’ without overdubs (Garcia may have recorded his guitar separately), but it’s odd to hear the song given the full Workingman’s vocal treatment with double-tracked voices. The arrangement is shortened from the live versions –the second solo break & final chorus are dropped. (Garcia also never got around to recording a lead guitar part, hence the lack of a solo.) Note that the So Many Roads version is a completely different mix with more vocals. In the circulating outtake, you can hear Garcia’s two vocal parts on left & right (with the other vocals more buried).

 The Deadcast asserts there were “a dozen-and-a-half takes of Mason’s Children;” but as the album sessions progressed, the Dead stopped working on this song, deciding not to put it on the album. Producer Bob Matthews recalled, “We looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve got an extra tune,’ and left it at that… It did not fit with all the other tunes, as far as the general artistic feel, the type of music.” He remembered it being discarded during the initial demo rehearsals for the album, but I think the tune made it at least to the end of February before it got zapped.

 Later on, Robert Hunter would play it frequently in his solo shows over the years. On 8/18/83 Hunter introduced it: “Here’s that other Altamont song, the one that was never recorded.” On 10/11/97, following its release on Fallout from the Phil Zone, he talked more about the Altamont connection: “Seriously, it’s nice to have that song get out on a record at long last – I was always saying, ‘Why don’t you put ‘The Mason’ out?’ ‘Well man, it sounds like a hit record.’ Pardon me! Now it’s very safely dated; that’s the other Altamont song. The mysterious verse – it goes, ‘Take me to the reaper man to pay back what was loaned / If he’s in some other land, write it off as stoned.’ The Stones ran up an immense phone bill on Altamont, from Mickey’s ranch, and they stuck us with the damn thing and split off to England. ‘Course, you don’t need to know that, erase that from the tape… The Stones don’t need to pay their own fuckin’ phone bills, man, they’re the Stones! One of the perks is having the Dead pay your phone bill.”

 Whether this verse really refers to the Stones’ phone bill, it’s illuminating to hear that Hunter wanted the song released, but the Dead rejected it because it sounded too much like “a hit record!” (Of course, they’d crafted it that way.) While Workingman’s Dead has other pop songs that might have been hits, Mason’s Children does stick out as being the least Dead-like – as Matthews said, “It didn’t seem to fit.” In a way, it’s the counterpoint to the equally short-lived and little-regarded ‘Till the Morning Comes’ on American Beauty, which is almost a remake of Mason’s in the same style.

 It’s interesting to hear Hunter’s later solo versions of the song. In 1978, Hunter played it in a medley of New Speedway Boogie>Mason’s Children – a pairing of his Altamont songs. (He also plays it with a kind of ‘Wake Up Little Susie’-style rhythmic lilt that’s missing in the Dead’s version.)
Later examples from 1997 where Hunter played Mason’s on its own:

 Despite Hunter’s pleas, the Dead lost interest in Mason’s before the album sessions even finished. They abandoned the song immediately after recording it – not even bothering to finish the recording, and later forgetting they’d even taped it. One sign of their lack of attachment to the song was that once they decided not to put it on the album, they were done with it, and promptly stopped playing it live.

 Garcia later shrugged, “‘Mason’s Children was an almost song. I guess it’s got a famous underground reputation, but really it never quite collected itself into a song. I never was that happy with the lyrics.” (10) Phil Lesh felt that “the song was a lot of fun, but it wasn’t enough fun for us to keep doing it – I think it sorta got lost in the shuffle.” (11) And he wrote when he included it in Fallout from the Phil Zone, “Maybe we just decided we didn’t dig it all that much at the time (maybe we never performed it that well, either).”






(Times aren’t exact, this is just to compare approximate lengths of the guitar solos between versions.)

                        FIRST             SECOND        SONG TIME

12/19/69        2:05-3:10        4:40-6:00       (6:27)
12/20/69       2:00-3:30       4:55-6:20        (6:47)
12/21/69        2:00-3:30       4:55-5:50        (6:20)
12/28/69       2:15-3:25         4:45-9:25        (9:55)
12/29/69       1:55-5:55          7:10-9:05        (9:30)
12/30/69       2:05-4:30        5:45-6:55        (7:20)
12/31/69        2:45-4:50        6:05-7:35        (8:02)
1/2/70            1:40-2:35        3:55-5:35         (6:00)
1/3/70            1:50-2:35        3:30-4:35         (5:03)
1/10/70          1:20-2:00       3:10-4:15          (4:40)
1/17/70          1:20-1:55         3:05-4:05         (4:35)
1/18/70          1:35-2:05        3:25-4:50         (5:22)
1/24/70         1:25-2:00        3:15-6:05          (6:32)
1/31/70          1:20-2:00       3:15/5:40          (6/06)
2/2/70           1:30-1:55         3:05-4:10         (4:42)
2/5/70           1:25-3:45         5:00-7:45         (8:10)
2/14/70         1:30-1:55         3:00-3:45         (3:47)
2/23/70         (xxx cut)         1:05-3:10          (3/37)
2/28/70         1:50-2:25        3:55-5:10          (5:10)



1.       McNally, Long Strange Trip p.307
2.      Constanten, Between Rock & Hard Places p.77
3.      McGee, Dancing with the Dead
6. (p.28) - The article also mentions that the Fish would appear in "Arrowfeather, a Roger Corman sci-fi movie about a gas that wipes out the adult population." (This would be released later that year as "Gas-s-s-s - or - It Became Necessary to Destroy the World In Order to Save It," and Country Joe & the Fish play in a concert scene.) It was filmed in December 1969. According to Corman, he was originally going to have the Grateful Dead in the movie, but just before filming they asked for more money to appear, so the budget-conscious Corman replaced them with Country Joe & the Fish.
9.      Ken Hunt, “Jerry Garcia: Folk, Bluegrass & Beyond” part 2, Swing 51 #7 -
10.  Steve Marcus interview, October 1986
11.   Lesh, AOL forum online chat, June 1997