August 31, 2018

A Rehearsal with Tom Constanten, Fall 1968


“My separation from the Air Force occurred on St. Cecilia’s Day, November 22, 1968,” Tom Constanten wrote. “After a few hours in the air…I was in Columbus, Ohio, joining the Grateful Dead on tour. The next night was my first at the organ with them, at the University of Ohio at Athens.” (1)

This was no spontaneous reunion. After his work on the Anthem of the Sun sessions, the Dead had planned to have Constanten join them as soon as he got out of the Air Force’s clutches, and they had been preparing for his arrival. Constanten had been using 3-day passes to join the Dead in studio rehearsals, so their more complicated material wouldn’t be new to him when he started playing on stage. Recently a rehearsal from 9/12/68 surfaced with the band going over Clementine, and TC sounds as familiar with the song as the rest of the band.

For many years, another studio rehearsal of the Dark Star>St. Stephen>Eleven suite has circulated, under various dates such as 11/6/68 and 12/10/68. Without paying much attention before, I made some mistaken assumptions about the tape – first, that it was Pigpen playing organ; then, that it was after TC joined. But it was actually recorded some time earlier, and the tape tells an interesting story about when it was made and how the Dead brought Constanten into their music.

(This is the most complete copy available, with useful text notes outlining what’s going on.)

First the location: this was most likely recorded at Pacific Recording Studios in San Mateo. Despite the circulating tape labels of “Pacific High” or “Alembic Studios,” the Dead had not yet moved to Pacific High Recording in San Francisco (which would later become Alembic). At this point in 1968, they were blithely indifferent to studio fees, and would spend days in the studio on loose jams and lengthy rehearsals, even recording them. (Some jams from 8/13/68 were released on the Aoxomoxoa CD reissue.)

The Dead were going through disarray in September ’68, making lots of noises about splitting up and getting rid of Weir & Pigpen. David Nelson was invited to jam with the band at some point as a possible replacement for Weir. Garcia, Lesh & the drummers even entered the studio on 9/21/68 with a couple guest guitarists (Vic Briggs & David Crosby) for some jamming – perhaps a spontaneous jam session, perhaps recruiting guests for the Aoxomoxoa recordings, or perhaps seeing what the band would sound like with different members.

By October, things settled down, Garcia & Lesh decided to try out the short-lived Hartbeats experiment instead, and Weir & Pigpen were accepted once more as indispensable members of the Dead. At least, Weir was – the Dead decided they had no use for Pigpen on the organ (he’s not known to have participated in any of the Aoxomoxoa sessions), and they would lose no time in getting someone else to play. Garcia later said, “We just didn’t want him playing keyboard, because he just didn’t know what to do on the kind of material we were writing. It seemed like we were heading someplace in a big way, and Pigpen just wasn’t open to it.” (2)
Though it may be around this time that they asked Constanten to join, he says it was months earlier during the Anthem of the Sun recordings when Garcia told him, “I think we can use you.” At any rate, the door was open for him and they impatiently waited for him to become available. Tellingly, they aren’t known to have tried out any other keyboard players at this time.

The date of this Constanten rehearsal is now thought to be 11/6/68 (two weeks before his discharge), although the music on the tape suggests it might be even earlier.

The tape cuts in mid-performance while the band plays Lovelight, and the instruments come in as the engineer adjusts the tapemix. It is clear pretty soon that Pigpen’s not playing – Constanten sticks to simple repetitive riffs on the organ, with a very stiff rhythm, and switches the organ tone a few times searching for the right sound. (He’ll keep doing this through the rehearsal.) Pigpen was far more assured in his playing, and through the rehearsal we can tell the Dead are taking a big step back in their keyboard parts – this material is new to TC. Pigpen being absent, Garcia sings a verse of Lovelight, and it comes to an end.
Someone shouts, “Get offa there!” and there’s some chatter – but in general I can’t make out the talking because it’s too far from the mics. Someone does ask the engineer, “Did you record any of that?” which indicates they wanted this session to be taped.

They spend a minute getting ready for Dark Star. Weir plays the backing chords for a bit, showing them to Constanten, who pokes around for the right accompaniment. After a couple minutes, there’s a cut, and the tape comes back during the Dark Star intro jam. Constanten is screwing up Pigpen’s infamous 8-note riff, so Garcia keeps repeating it for him for a minute on guitar until he gets it right. (This confirms that at the time, the Dead really did want that little riff going all through Dark Star; TC would continue playing it during the Dark Star intro for many months to come.)
Constanten tries changing the tone a couple times, apparently not happy with the way it’s sounding. (Later on, he’d protest frequently about the organ sound he was stuck with: “I couldn’t get behind the sound of the Vox organ they had for me to play when I first joined the band full time… In the context of electric guitars it came off as thin and nasal sounding.”) (3)
This is just a laid-back run-through of Dark Star, lacking the energy and spirit of the live versions. At 4:45, Garcia again synchronizes the 8-note riff with Constanten, who vainly keeps trying to change the organ tone, without much luck. When the jam starts getting more adventurous, Constanten is somewhat stuck and sticks gamely to that riff, even through the verse at 7:30. (It’s interesting that the Dead, with a new organist, didn’t ask him to play anything different here.) His accompaniment to the “shall we go” verse ending is a bit awkward, but it may be his first try. This is actually the same part that was played on the studio version, and that Pigpen played live – though Pigpen played it with a more natural, rhythmic feel.
The middle jam goes pretty smoothly, though Constanten is still trying for a more chintzy/warbly tone. (There are some more mix adjustments at 11:30, with Lesh & Weir turned up.) After 11:40 Garcia starts playing a short, primitive Sputnik riff, Constanten accompanying him with a little swirl, before Garcia breaks back into the Dark Star theme. Finally the jam has loosened up a bit, and Constanten plays a more free lead line before the second verse.

This little Sputnik section, though brief, helps narrow down the date for the jam, since it changed considerably from month to month in 1968. It was not played in any Dark Stars before the end of August – one of the earliest versions on 9/2/68 is very short, with Garcia playing the riff in normal-sounding notes. The versions in the Avalon shows in October sound more similar to this rehearsal – a bit more trippy and stretched-out, Lesh and Weir intertwining around Garcia. These live October Sputniks go farther-out than the rehearsal version, as you might expect, with more fuzzy overlapping notes – by 10/20 Garcia’s getting a more chimey, feedbacky sound. And by the 11/22 Dark Star, Sputnik has become longer, wilder & weirder, Garcia getting those metallic chimes that would make Sputnik distinctive.
So with no other date known, this would most likely place the studio rehearsal in early October or maybe late September.

After Dark Star ends, there’s a pause before they tackle St. Stephen. Lesh & Weir play Stephen’s intro chords out for Constanten before they count off a “real” start – track 3 is a complete version. He had some familiarity with Dark Star, but St. Stephen would have been new to TC since the Dead didn’t write this song until after the Anthem album was finished. He stabs out a simple chord backing for the verses, and stays out during the bridge. Pigpen’s playing in Stephen was much more rhythmic and worked-out, even back in August – heck, even back in June! From the start, Pigpen was playing several lines in the song that Constanten hasn’t picked up yet.
Then they go over the last verse linking to the “William Tell” section, a few times – this seems to be for Constanten’s benefit so he can work out the right timing to his organ part. (The vocals are turned up in track 5.) They chatter briefly about how it should be played, then at last play into a sloppy William Tell transition (track 7). While they practice that, TC tries finding the right organ tone – Lesh asks him to make it “sound like a bagpipe.” (track 8) Then there’s a brief Mickey/Bill drum practice in track 9, which cuts, and the tape returns to more St. Stephen attempts. They try the Stephen “ladyfinger” bridge a couple more times in tracks 10-11 (the glockenspiel can be heard), but despite a few stabs Constanten doesn’t seem to have any luck finding the right organ accompaniment for this.
In track 12, after “one man gathers what another man spills,” someone tells Constanten, “You’re invited to sing along on that.” There’s another demonstration of the main lick and some faint chatter on the song’s arrangement in track 13 (the tape is stopped again), then they try Stephen from the start again – “take it from the top.” After a false start (track 14), Weir asks, “Can we have some more monitors, please?… More monitors on the voices, or get it real good… Does anybody hear me, does anybody care?” They make it all the way through Stephen again in track 16 – TC stays out during the bridge.

The way they play St. Stephen also helps to date this rehearsal. Stephen is not as speedy as it is in the August and 9/2/68 versions; Garcia’s guitar phrasing is a little more nuanced. And at this point St Stephen is still straightforward with no big jam – in mid-January ’69 they would extend the intro, and add a jam after “another man spills.”
There’s one small touch that narrows down the date range even more. In August, September, and the October Avalon shows, in the pause after “another man spills,” the band all return to the main riff at the same time (or try to). But on 10/20/68, a single drumbeat is cracked out before the riff – the band must have liked this, for they kept it in all subsequent versions. This drumbeat is not played in either Stephen in the rehearsal, which again suggests that it may come from early October.

This Stephen segues without a pause through the William Tell bridge into a complete Eleven (track 17), the longest continuous piece of music in this rehearsal. This Eleven has the same structure as all of the late-’68 Elevens (though they could vary widely in length at each show). Weir is very low in the mix, but has an unusual distorted guitar tone in this performance, fuzzier than I recall him using live. (There’s a funny moment at 9:05 – someone yells “aw, fuck!” before they start the vocals.)
TC seems a little uncertain in the bridge, but once they finally start the Eleven, it sounds like they just let Constanten play what he wants, and he turns up and is much freer than in St Stephen. I think he was familiar with the Eleven since they were playing this during the Anthem shows in early ’68. Sometimes he really steps out (particularly at the beginning & end), though at other points he does stop playing from time to time, or awkwardly tries to find the right chordal backing on the fly as the band steams along. As the Eleven starts he’s co-leading with Garcia for a bit; that and the last minute of the Eleven are probably his best playing in this session (and not so different from how Pigpen played the Eleven, except that Pigpen had a choppier touch).
It stops at the point where they’d usually start transitioning to the next tune. The band sounds upset as it ends, and there’s some bickering in track 18 – Lesh yells, “Bullshit, it happens every time!” Weir and the drums practice the Eleven for a bit before the others join back in, and then Weir sits out while the rest of the band goes over a lengthy 7-minute section of the Eleven again (track 20, mislabeled). Constanten sounds more at home by now, mostly playing a solid chord backing (filling in for Weir), though after 5:20 he tries out off-beat syncopated chords, which is distracting. As it ends the band has another heated discussion; Lesh says, “I still can’t play twelve all by myself… That’s the trouble with having schizophrenic drummers.”
The tape stops again, and resumes with another bit of the Eleven in track 21 (it sounds like they’re jelling by now). Lesh is definitely in charge of the Eleven, guiding the others with instructions on what to do – it sounds like he and Garcia are working primarily with the drummers to straighten them out, not with the organ. There’s a bit of explanation of one part, as they count out the meter – Lesh says: “On the subdivisions of the Eleven, we’re dropping ones all over the place, we’re dropping the beat.”
Then Lesh, Constanten, and the drummers go over the same part again (track 23). Lesh tells Garcia to “play your lick,” and Garcia plays his ascending line over it (track 24). Someone says, “I’m sorry, you got it right, but I’m fucking up.” Lesh leads the drummers with the bassline of that one part over & over again (at one screwup he exclaims, “Aw fuck!”), and after a minute TC joins in, with Garcia contributing some rhythm stabs (track 25).
There’s some more discussion of the Eleven, too faint for me to make out, but concentrating on the meter: as someone taps a beat, Lesh explains, “You’ll notice it’s not quite exactly even…there’s slightly different phrasing between us and yourself.” Then they rehearse that part again, focusing on the ascending line which sounds increasingly like the Seven with its guitar/bass unison (track 26). TC sticks to a simple chord backing; Weir has been inaudible since track 20, so it’s almost Hartbeats-ish – perhaps Weir was accidentally turned down in the mix, but I think he may just have left early. Finally they lose interest and stop playing with some inaudible chatter, and the tape ends.

The skipping Seven-like part that Lesh is playing in the last few Eleven tracks did not appear in the live Elevens from September or October '68, or the early Hartbeats shows (at least, not that I caught). Its first live appearance is briefly in the 10/30/68 Hartbeats show during the Eleven jam, and then it is played in the Eleven on 11/22/68 and shows that December. So this would support an early November date for this rehearsal.

Lesh takes charge of the Eleven rehearsal, which was standard practice for him, and not always happy for the others - Constanten recalled his "autocratic high-handedness." One reviewer writes of this session, “Lesh can faintly be heard barking and scolding at his bandmates.” (4) Lesh could be quite bossy in rehearsals, as he writes about the Eleven: “I was so driven by this vision that I became somewhat, shall we say, insistent about going over and over these transitions… Sometimes these very intense rehearsal sessions would tip me over the edge and I’d start yelling at the drummers: ‘Let’s do it again – right this time.’” (The drummers eventually asked him to “back off with the pressure.”) (5) Lesh’s dominating style of rehearsal management can also be heard in the 9/12/68 Clementine rehearsal – though, to be fair, Clementine and the Eleven were both his compositions.

I don’t know if the tape was made for Constanten’s benefit, or if the Dead were just regularly recording practice sessions at the studio – we’ll only find out once more is known about their studio activities and surviving tapes from 1968. Although during much of the session the Dead are showing TC the material so he can learn it, once they get to the Eleven, he’s on his own and they’re practicing for themselves (despite Weir’s odd, abrupt disappearance).
In contrast to the lengthy section-by-section rehearsals of St. Stephen and the Eleven, they only run through Dark Star once. Partly this is because it isn't such a complicated arrangement; also, I think Constanten already knew this song from his time in the Anthem sessions, and they were just reminding him how it went. They may have also deliberately left Dark Star more "open," less rehearsed, for live performances.
Though the tape is confidently dated 11/6/68, musically some parts seem to be from a month earlier. I wouldn’t place too much emphasis on this – it’s possible for arrangements to regress a bit during a practice session, without the focus of a live show – but early October ’68 was a time when the band had few gigs and may have felt in need of extra rehearsal on a piece like the Eleven. (Perhaps people more closely acquainted with Eleven arrangement minutiae can tell where this rehearsal fits among the other Elevens that fall.) And if the supposed 9/12/68 Clementine rehearsal is dated correctly, it shows that TC was dropping in on the Aoxomoxoa studio sessions two months before he was free from the Air Force.

So what can we conclude about Constanten’s involvement here?
The standard story is that the band got sick of Pigpen’s playing, as he just couldn’t keep up with them – once Constanten was free from the Air Force, he was able to jump right in and contribute the kind of keyboard parts the band wanted. This tape shows it wasn’t that simple – Constanten needed to practice quite a bit with them before he could find his way into the songs and add anything more than what Pigpen had been doing. Something was lost as well as gained, since Constanten was never able to capture Pigpen’s natural feel for rhythm. This rehearsal actually documents an abrupt regression from Pigpen’s playing style, which illustrates either how little faith the band had left in Pigpen, or how much they were placing on Constanten. Fortunately, within a month or two Constanten would be much better integrated in the music.
Playing on stage was much more helpful for TC than the early rehearsals. He’d later say that live performance is “the best thing for your chops. One performance can achieve things impossible in a dozen rehearsals, in that so much attention is focused.” Arrangements could be worked out in practice, but only so far: “Much of what happened [in improvisations] was nailed down during our extensive rehearsals, but a lot was left flapping to the breeze,” to be discovered in performance. (6)

The comparisons with Pigpen on this tape are of course unfair – Pigpen had been playing this material for months, while TC’s captured in what might have been his first rehearsal of these songs. Later on, he was quite complimentary of Pigpen’s playing: “I copped some of his lines where they seemed to be part of the piece. He was pretty good actually; his playing was commensurate with the type of music he was playing… If anything, I was trying to pick up on some of the stylistic things he was doing, ‘cause…we came from such different traditions.” (7)
It’s noticeable that only sometimes does the band show TC what to play on this tape; he’s mostly figuring his parts out on his own. They might not have known what to tell him, other than showing him the arrangements and hoping he could work something out himself. TC later said he’d sometimes get “truculent directions” from the band, which were contradictory and not very helpful, and noticed later on that other organ players also had problems interacting with the Dead: “I began to suspect that some of the band members themselves didn’t have that clear an idea of the keyboard’s role in a guitar band context.” (8)

At the same time, even in this limited early sample he’s already showing some of the difficulties the band would be unhappy with a year later – a certain rhythmic stiffness, some out-of-place organ tones, and a reluctance to step into the lead. He’d always have trouble finding his own voice within the band: “I felt like a rookie joining a championship team when I joined the band. There’s a reluctance to mess with a winning formula.” He tried slowly over the months to create a style that worked with the others; Garcia would tell him to play “more like a source and less like a sideman…[but] my ‘thing’ wasn’t developed enough yet to stake out its territory in the texture.” (9)
Part of the difficulty, as it turned out, was that he could barely hear himself live: “Seeking relief from being positioned stage right, directly in front of four Jerry Garcia twin reverbs turned up to 10, I moved across the stage, there to be greeted by Mickey’s cannons.” Amid the blasting Dead, “on stage, I was chronically underamplified” and often inaudible. “Consequently I was never able to find a comfortable platform amid the band’s texture… I felt as if I were groping for [the music] in the dark… I felt baffled, remote, unable to get a fix on even my own contributions to the mix.” (10)

As far as tape-mixes indicate, this seems true in his early months with the band, as he can barely be heard on any tapes until 1/25/69! (And even his presence there is due to an accidentally askew mix.)
So it’s hard to evaluate how TC’s playing changed during his initial two months of Dead shows; but he's loud and clear on 1/25, and the Dark Star suite shows him to be more settled within the band and engaged with the jams (even though his tone is glaringly ugly). They’d started recording for Live/Dead, he felt a bit more secure and comfortable, and his playing had loosened to become more ornate and responsive to the music.
Some more of TC’s thoughts on his time with the band are here:


NOTES:

  1. Constanten, Between Rock and Hard Places, p.68
  2. Golden Road 1993, p.60
  3. BRHP p.81
  4. Taping Compendium, p.165
  5. Lesh, Searching for the Sound, p.132
  6. BRHP, pp.73, 79
  7. Golden Road 1993, p.61
  8. BRHP, p.80
  9. BRHP, pp.81, 80
  10. BRHP, pp.73, 80

(P.S.: There was a lot of talking on the tape I couldn't make out, so sharp-eared listeners are invited to add more band chatter.)

July 28, 2018

The 1976 Out-Of-Nowhere Jams

1976 was one of the loosest years for the Grateful Dead's improvisations. They still had a lot of freedom in their setlists, and as in 1974, they could drop an unexpected jam anywhere in the second set. (This looseness faded away in 1977, as the shows became tighter and more structured.) These jams often weren't linked to specific songs as in the past, but were individual pieces of their own, played one night only as between-song transitions and then disappearing.
1976 was full of unique improvs: several songs customarily had extended ending jams in 1976 – Scarlet Begonias, Crazy Fingers, St. Stephen – and other new pieces like Slipknot could be very jammed-out. (But these I won’t be discussing here.) The Dead also had a strong tendency towards mellow spaciness in ’76, with many drifting transitions between songs. Many versions of Playing in the Band this year dissolve into quiet, barely-there spaces. And some of the jams listed here are also rather low-key and lacking in energy, perhaps downright sleepy. But this isn’t a list of the Greatest Jams of 1976, just specifically the jams that are unique and not song-based.
A couple noticeable changes from 1974: the two drummers, creating a constant pitter-patter and sometimes musical dissension as they drive the band, but also still able to make quick shifts. Keith’s approach has also changed since ‘74, as he sticks mainly to basic chord backings in the jams – sometimes taking the lead, but more often creating a repetitive feel. Nonetheless, he still plays a large part in these jams.

6/28/76 Happiness Is Drumming
There’s a bass/drum interlude out of Eyes, which the drummers guide into Happiness Is Drumming. The band fully plays the piece, clearly familiar with it – they had played a brief, uncohesive tease of it in the 6/22 Playing in the Band (14 minutes in) – and it dissolves into Wharf Rat.
(Mickey had already recorded his own vocal rendition of Fire on the Mountain, but here the Dead play the instrumental piece as on the Diga Rhythm Band album, where Garcia had played guitar. Garcia had also played it live with the Diga Rhythm Band back on 5/30/75.)

6/29/76 Jam out of The Wheel
The Wheel is embedded in a lengthy Playing in the Band, but the Dead take a detour on the way out of the Wheel. Garcia starts hinting at the Other One six minutes into the Wheel, which turns into a new fast-paced jam with a driving piano riff from Keith. (He’d play it again on 7/17 and later shows.) This wraps up around 11:50, returning to a regular Playing jam.
(The Wheel was played inside Playing in the Band several times in 1976; another example was on 7/14/76, which has a lengthy spacy jam after the Wheel heading back to the reprise, but there I would argue that this is part of the usual Playing jam, not a distinct piece.)

7/16/76 Jam in Playing, Spanish Jam          
Eight minutes into Playing in the Band, Phil starts a new bass riff which sets the Dead tumbling off in a new direction. This has often been called a Stronger Than Dirt jam in the past, but it’s not – it’s a unique piece. After about six minutes, the Dead pass into a quiet space until Garcia starts Cosmic Charlie.
Later, after Samson & Delilah, the Dead drift into a few minutes of barely audible space; Weir starts up the Spanish jam (for the only time in 1976), and the Dead latch on for a full band jam, until stopping for a drum break.
(Also later on, the Wheel outro is unusually extended, though it doesn’t get into a new theme before turning back into the Playing reprise.)

7/17/76 Jam out of Comes A Time, Jam out of Eyes
First there’s an extended jam out of Comes A Time, which isn’t a new theme but stays within a two-chord structure. (Another extended Comes A Time to check out is 10/15/76, which all but explodes before seguing into Franklin’s Tower.)
An unusually expansive Other One (for the year) follows; then around 8 minutes into Eyes of the World, Keith starts a jaunty chordal riff which initiates a new jam. (This is the same part Keith had played back in the 6/29 Wheel.) The Dead linger there for a while, until Garcia feints at other songs – back to Eyes, then Goin’ Down the Road – and they tumble back into the Other One.

8/2/76 Jam out of Might As Well, Jam out of Wharf Rat
Instead of ending Might As Well, surprisingly, the Dead launch into a bluesy groove for a few minutes, wrapping it up with Samson & Delilah. Afterwards, Wharf Rat is part of the Playing in the Band suite; at first it seems like they’re heading back into a Playing jam after Wharf Rat, but instead it turns into a groovy bass/drums interlude. Phil starts a catchy riff, and the band joins in for an extended funky jam. This is outrageous - Garcia even uses a slide for part of it, before guiding the others into Goin’ Down the Road. After that song, they finally return to a great Playing reprise jam. Only audience tapes are available, so this wild set begs for an official release.

9/25/76 Post-Drums Jam
This is very short; after a bass/drums bit that sounds like it’s starting off Samson & Delilah, Phil kicks off the 8/2/76 riff again. The band joins in but they only play it for a minute before veering into the St. Stephen reprise.

9/28/76 Jam out of Samson, Jam out of Eyes
The entire second set is a Playing in the Band suite, I think for the first time in the Dead’s history. (Actually they’d done it before on 10/20/74, but with fewer songs, in a three-set show.)
An extended Wheel jam segues seamlessly into Samson & Delilah, but a surprise twist comes after Samson, when the Dead immediately start up a neat, virtually standalone jam. I’d call this a continuation of the Playing jam since it doesn’t have any distinct theme of its own; but in any case, it leads into Comes A Time.
Later, after a nice coda for Eyes of the World, the band again jumps into another jam (called the “Orange Tango Jam” on Dick’s Pick 20). Again, I think this is simply the Playing jam continued, but here the jam centers around a unique slinky rhythmic motif. Once this winds down, the Dead start Dancing in the Street, then return to the Playing reprise.

10/3/76 Jam out of The Wheel, Jam out of Good Lovin’
About 5:30 into the Wheel, the Dead start spinning off into another jam; eventually Keith sets the rhythm with a driving piano part (reminiscent of 6/29 & 7/17). It peters out after a few minutes, leading to a bit of uncertainty and some Dancing teases, before they spring the first Good Lovin’ since 10/20/74.
As Good Lovin’ ends, they just keep jamming; about six minutes in, Keith brings back that familiar piano riff again (and for a minute it almost sounds like ‘Take Five’ in 4/4 time). This winds down into Comes A Time, which doesn’t stretch out too far with a short transition jam before seguing into Dancing in the Street.

10/10/76 Jam out of Dancing, Jam out of The Wheel, Jam out of Stella Blue
About ten minutes into Dancing in the Street, Garcia breaks it down into a mellow little jam, very similar to Franklin’s Tower, and even brings out the slide for a bit. This turns into a lovely transition to Wharf Rat.
The second set features another big Playing in the Band suite. The Wheel carries into a few minutes of jamming, perhaps a Playing jam, which turns into a spacy Tiger (one of few in ’76) before collapsing into a drum break and the Other One. Later, after Stella Blue, there’s a couple minutes of jamming which could simply be part of the Playing reprise, but is more like a distinct piece in its own right (Keith’s familiar riff reappears yet again), before they yank it back to the Playing theme.


A few other short '76 jams are also worth mentioning - not really distinctive standalone pieces, but still unusual. 

7/18/76 Jam out of Let It Grow
A note for Dark Star watchers: this jam into Wharf Rat is all but a straight Dark Star for a couple minutes before it veers decisively into Wharf Rat. (You can hear it clearly after 4:20 in Let It Grow.)
There is also a strong Dark Star tease at the end of the 6/12/76 Wharf Rat, about 11 minutes in. No doubt these were accidental teases, since Wharf Rat and Dark Star are musically so close.

10/1/76 Jam out of The Wheel
The Dead have a little musical quarrel after the Wheel – the band starts up a Dancing in the Street reprise, except for Garcia who isn’t interested and wants to play a ballad instead, setting off on his own path. A couple minutes of musical searching ensues; nothing really gels, but it’s an interesting little transition jam, and Garcia finally gets the others to settle into Ship of Fools before they return to Dancing.  (This show is also notable for one of the longest Slipknots of the year.)
https://archive.org/details/gd1976-10-01.sbd.miller.112800.flac16

12/31/76 Jam out of Good Lovin’
A unique arrangement for Good Lovin': after a conventional solo, the Dead suddenly break into a new passage (from about 2:30 to 3:10) that sounds more like it belongs in the middle of Here Comes Sunshine; then when Good Lovin’ ends they return to it, turning it into a funky little Dancing-type jam, which after a couple minutes seamlessly blends into Samson & Delilah.
(Various odd jams are tucked into this show, from a Playing that gets more heavy and percussive as it goes along, to a Slipknot that suddenly turns into a quiet space midway through.)
https://archive.org/details/gd76-12-31.preFM.warner.18524.20760.sbeok.shnf
 

I’ve probably overlooked some other standout jams, so if another jam belongs on this list, let me know!

These kinds of surprise jams mostly died out in 1977, where the improvs were mostly contained within song structures and an occasional “space” transition. A couple notable exceptions:
3/20/77 – a classical Garcia/Lesh interlude at the end of the Other One
12/30/77 – a unique jam after Eyes of the World

It was common for Garcia to play long, spacy transitions into or out of his songs in ’76. I haven’t attempted to list these, since I don’t consider them distinct pieces – they’re generally just one or two minutes long, Garcia’s way of pausing and setting the mood before starting another song. (Wharf Rat, for instance, often had a spacy outro that would meander into the next song, and sometimes extended intros as well.)
One good example is the end of Eyes of the World on 7/14/76:

This tradition spottily continued into 1977. Often in early ‘77 Garcia would embark on a solo “space” passage within the Other One, but sometimes he did it as a transition between songs. Here’s a partial listing of those transitional ’77 spaces – sometimes Garcia solo, sometimes with the band:

3/19/77 – Eyes>Dead space>Dancing
5/3/77 – Eyes>Space>Wharf Rat (great duet with Phil)
5/11/77 - Uncle John>Garcia space>Wharf Rat
5/22/77 - Eyes>Garcia space>Wharf Rat
6/4/77 – Franklin’s Tower>Dead space>China Doll (could be labeled a Playing jam)
10/29/77 – Eyes>Dead space>Stephen (by now, much more like the Spaces of later years)

June 30, 2018

The Proto-Solomon Jazz Jam

In 1972 and ’73, a unique jazzy riff could be heard in many Other Ones and Dark Stars, introduced by Phil Lesh and developed into a recognizable theme jam by the Dead. It was born in the late summer of ’72, gradually altered and changed shape until reaching its fullest form in the summer of ’73, then passed away that fall. It’s never really had a good name to identify it, so for convenience I’m calling it the Proto-Solomon Jazz Jam.

Why that title? The origins of the proto-Solomon jam are hotly disputed. There are a couple possible antecedents Phil may have derived it from:

Footprints, the Wayne shorter composition (on the Miles Smiles album), which Phil quotes in the 4-11-72 Truckin’:

Or, the bridge bassline from Clementine, which Phil nabbed from Coltrane’s version of Greensleeves (on the Africa/Brass album). He plays it in the 11-19-72 Dark Star:
After a brief tease at 6:50, Phil starts the Clementine bassline at 8:50 and plays it off and on for a couple minutes.

Both pieces are in 6/8 time, and in Phil’s playing each is similar to the other (more than to the originals!), and sound related to the proto-Solomon jam. He may have come up with the new riff by playing around with either of these, or perhaps found it independently since he liked this kind of riff enough to play several different forms of it.

Although he stopped playing it after 1973, did the proto-Solomon theme evolve into anything else? I’ve thought it might be an early version of the Stronger Than Dirt riff – which is not quite the same, but then the proto-Solomon jam went through several forms onstage over the course of a year, and sometimes sounds awfully close to Stronger Than Dirt:   

Some call the repeated riff that ends Eyes of the World in 1973-74 “Stronger Than Dirt,” and the themes are similar (they’re repeated pairs of lines in 7/8 time), but they are separate riffs. See:
In some ways Stronger Than Dirt is a mashup of both earlier riffs, combining elements of both – given that Phil played all these variations on similar themes, it’s probably not possible to draw a straight line from one to the next and nail down their genealogy.

On the other hand, Phil might have just gotten the basic idea for Stronger Than Dirt from the Ajax TV commercial!

In any case, on the Blues for Allah album, Stronger Than Dirt was folded into a larger piece, inscrutably titled King Solomon’s Marbles, and even given a subtitle, Milkin’ the Turkey – as with Anthem of the Sun, it seems the Dead went wild naming subdivisions of their songs for the album, until no one could tell what name went with which piece.  
http://whitegum.com/~acsa/introjs.htm?/~acsa/songfile/KINGSOLO.HTM
Hence, the Proto-Solomon’s Jam seems as appropriate a title for the earlier theme as anything.

This is a list of all the known versions of the proto-Solomon jam.
I checked most shows from August 1972 through December 1973, and I’m pretty certain these are all the significant times the theme was played in that period. But if I’ve overlooked any instances, please comment!
I did not check Playing in the Band, so it’s possible Phil might have played the theme in those jams occasionally too, though I’ve never come across it there.
I didn’t list brief teases, only times when Phil plays the riff for at least ten seconds. There were plenty of other times when he’d flit through it in a few seconds, and these were not worth listing.
Timings are approximate and may vary.


1972

The theme first emerges in August 1972. 
8-24-72 Dark Star - Phil plays a clear early version near the end, starting around 22:00, off and on for a few minutes. (He inserts a pause in the middle of the riff, so it comes out in a jerky 7/8 rhythm.)
https://archive.org/details/gd72-08-24.sbd.miller.18093.sbeok.shnf

Phil also teases the riff in other shows:
In the 8/20/72 Other One, Phil plays it clearly but briefly around 17:20. At this point it almost sounds like the Seven (which he quotes a minute later). Then in the 8/25/72 Other One, there are a couple hints, most clearly around 8:10, but he only plays it for about 15 seconds.
https://archive.org/details/gd1972-08-20.sbd.miller.83733.flac16  
https://archive.org/details/gd1972-08-25.sbd.miller.92840.sbeok.flac16

In September it's played as a bouncy six-note riff in 6/8 time, but Phil switches it to a 5/4 line later in the fall, with mixed results.
9-19-72 Other One – Starts at 3:50 and keeps going for a couple minutes in a strong full-band jam; they switch to the Other One riff at 6:05.

9-23-72 Other One – First appears at 3:40, Phil plays it for about 15 seconds in scattered fashion; it returns at 7:10, more firmly stated in a band jam that lasts about a minute, and is then reprised at 9:05, continuing for another minute until around 10:00 it blends into an Other One jam. Phil doesn’t stick to the same line throughout, he keeps varying it.

A couple short teases:
9-28-72 Other One – After the verse, around 17:10 Phil plays the riff for about 20 seconds, then moves on. (He repeats it more quietly for a bit at 18:40 but drops it again.)
9-30-72 Other One – In the bass/drum solo, Phil plays the line at 12:25 for about 10 seconds, but passes right over it. (Note that at 13:40 he plays an early version of the end-of-Eyes of the World riff, for about 15 seconds.)

The theme then disappears in October ’72, except for one show:
10-27-72 Other One – Starts at 3:45 and continues in a neat little band jam until it dissolves into an Other One jam at 4:30. This one’s distinctive since it’s played in a slower, swinging 3/4 waltz time.

In the November ’72, the theme recurs in a few shows:
11-14-72 Other One – Phil starts it at 2:10 and continues for about 30 seconds. He sounds like he’s trying to remember how the line goes, or has reconfigured it, and it’s played in loose 5/4 time now. It returns briefly at 3:20 for ten seconds, then again at 4:50 for about 20 seconds, then again after the verse at 7:30, and continues off and on until about 8:50, mingling with Other One lines. The last time around, the band finally joins him in the jam. Phil sounds more stiff now that he’s playing the clipped 5/4 line, compared to the earlier bouncy 6/8 version.

11-17-72 Other One – Starts at 8:45 and continues to about 9:15, with Weir joining Phil, then comes back from 9:40-10:20 in a hot stretch of the jam; and then again after 10:50, Phil keeps repeating it for the next minute, but the others don’t join him. (He throws it in again for 15 seconds at 15:15, then again very briefly at 18:40.) The riff is still in 5/4 time, and despite Phil dropping it into the jam repeatedly, it doesn’t really take with the rest of the band this time.

It’s teased in the 11-22-72 Other One, at 7:50, but only for about 15 seconds.

Then the theme vanishes through December, until the last show of the year:
12-31-72 Other One – Coming out of the bass/drums solo, Phil introduces the theme in 5/4 and the band plays a solid little jam around it until it gradually dissolves into the Other One after a couple minutes (0:00-1:55). At this point it still wasn’t a distinctive theme jam so much as an occasional part of the Other One.


1973

Over the winter and spring of ’73, the jam’s structure becomes more settled as the rhythm changes. In time, it becomes obvious the band has prepared parts for this theme, it’s not fully improvised – Weir usually doubles Phil’s line (or tries), and Garcia frequently plays the same licks each time. Eventually, the jam resembles Eyes in a way, as Phil will repeat his riff a few times, then ‘float’ on one chord for a while before returning to the riff again.

The theme shows up several times in the February/March tour:
2-19-73 Other One – A short but sweet little band jam in 5/4, from 12:55-13:20.

2-21-73 Truckin' – Starts at 10:00; Phil plays it in a halting 5/4 rhythm like he’s practicing the line, and it starts and stops until about 12:00. The band drops out right away so it’s mostly just a bass/drum solo.

2-26-73 Dark Star – In a moment of silence at 10:15, Phil introduces the theme in 5/4, and the band gradually comes in. He pauses at 11:10, then resumes the riff in 6/8 time (adding an extra note – it’s more angular than the ’72 version). This time the band coheres immediately around the theme and they jam on it until 16:20, when Garcia returns to the Dark Star theme. The first full-fledged Solomon’s Jazz Jam. (The playing here reminds me of Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ – is Garcia quoting the melody?)

2-28-73 Other One – Starts at 4:40, back in 5/4 again. The band dives right into this one and it’s a nice jam, but ends around 6:00 when they return to the Other One theme.

3-15-73 Other One – Starts at 2:45 in a nice little band jam in 5/4 that shifts back to the Other One at 3:20. Then from 4:45 to about 5:50, Phil blends the line into the Other One jam in a very effective way – it actually sounds like it belongs this time, rather than sticking out.

3-21-73 Dark Star – Phil starts teasing it at 6:40, then fully starts it at 7:10, in 5/4 again. The rest of the band rather chaotically tries to join him, but it never comes together. (You can hear someone shouting, maybe an audience member: “Yeah, Phil!”) Phil keeps trying until about 8:20, but Garcia takes them into the Dark Star theme instead.

3-22-73 Other One – Phil teases it at 6:45 for about ten seconds, but there’s a full version from 11:05-11:30. The rest of the band doesn’t really try to join in, so it dies quickly. But this version is important since it’s finally in 6/8 time, and sounds very much like Stronger Than Dirt.

The theme returns briefly in May:
5-13-73 Other One – Just a tease: Phil plays it briefly at 6:45 in shifting time, for only about 15 seconds – it returns for a bit after 7:40, and Phil even switches to a different, higher key around 8:00, but then drops it.

5-20-73 post-Nobody's Fault jam – Phil blends the line into the jam around 5:15. Hard to say just when it “ends” as the bass-line changes but the jazzy jam keeps going.

In June the theme reaches its peak as the band finally plays several lengthy, fully-formed versions:

6-10-73 Dark Star – Phil keeps teasing it for about a minute after 4:55, but the band doesn’t commit, and by 6:20 it’s dropped. Coming out of the bass solo at 10:00 is a full-fledged band version in 6/8, but it only lasts a minute and ends at 11:05. (The band then works up a nice upbeat melodic jam.)

6-22-73 Truckin' – Phil hints it at 22:05, then commits to the theme at 23:00 for a full band jam. This is a very loose version in shifting time – Phil starts it in 5/4, then switches to 6/8. It continues until 26:00, when they head for the Other One.  

6-24-73 Dark Star – Starting at 6:20, this is a faster, more solid and assured version. The guitarists jump in and are committed, and they jam on the theme at length. (Keith seems to sit out until 11:30.) It’s in 6/8 throughout – that is, the bass-line is, but at times Phil will wander around in free time before resuming the riff. It finally winds down around 13:00, and Phil brings the jam to a finish at 13:55; a drum solo ensues.

6-29-73 Other One – There’s a brief Phil hint at :55, but a full-fledged band jam starts at 3:20. It’s very much like the 6-24 version, very structured and mainly staying in 6/8. (But this time, Keith drops out after 5:00!) It breaks down sooner, and the theme finishes at 6:40 as they move on to unstructured jamming.

7-1-73 Other One – There’s a brief ten-second Phil tease at 1:45, but the full band jam starts at 6:20. This is a lot like the last two versions, structured in 6/8 again, but it’s more loose and energetic tonight. (Keith is present throughout.) It continues to 9:30, then Phil switches to the Other One riff. (Just before the switch, he plays a couple shortened lines that sound just like Stronger Than Dirt.)

7-31-73 Truckin' – Coming out of the bass/drums break at 10:45, Phil starts the theme in 6/8; the rest of the band joins in for a loose little jam, not quite the Solomon’s Jazz Jam. Phil drifts out of the bass-line after about 11:15, and the jam ends a minute later.

After that, the theme is heard infrequently in the September & October tours. Over the next couple months, Phil gradually alters the riff again:

9-7-73 Truckin’ – After Garcia starts the Other One riff, Phil pushes his own riff in at 10:10, and the others try joining in, but it’s a scattered mess and they abandon it at 10:35 for a drum solo. Phil briefly toys with it again at 3:15 in the Other One jam, an interesting moment since he drops the line after a few seconds, but Garcia & Weir keep playing what sound like their theme parts for a little while longer until it transforms back to an Other One jam.

9-11-73 Dark Star – The band is vamping away without Garcia; Phil drops in his 6/8 riff at 10:55, and they others join right in and play it for about 40 seconds. This is notable as a Garcia-less version (they’ve fizzled out by the time he comes back at 11:50), and is pretty unremarkable.

9-21-73 Other One – Starting at 5:40, this is a fast, very loose version that doesn't stay in 6/8 but often sounds more like free time. It’s not very tight (Weir sounds rather lost and Phil is low in the mix), but the jam gets hotter as Garcia turns up the energy. It continues up to 9:40, then fades away. (Also note Garcia's great rhythmic riff after 10:30, which Weir turns into a Mind Left Body jam.)

10-23-73 Other One – Teased briefly by Phil at :20, for about 15 seconds, it returns at 1:20 and lasts until about 1:50 before dissolving into the Other One jam. A fast, loose version that actually sounds more like Slipknot in its short duration. Phil is not sticking to the familiar bass-line anymore.

10-30-73 Dark Star – Starting at 6:20, this is another loose & flexible version. It’s no longer in 6/8 or any regular time, and Phil plays around with the bass-line more with lots of variations. Mostly low-key, it gradually heats up, but the band calls a halt around 11:30 and heads in a different direction.

The theme’s last significant appearance is in November:
11-14-73 Truckin' – Starting at 11:45, Phil plays it only until 12:05. This time it sounds just like the old Clementine riff sped-up! (You could hear the previous October versions heading in this direction.) He hints at it again for just a few seconds at 16:10 in Truckin’, as they pass into the Other One; then it briefly pops up again at 4:45 in the second Other One.

After that, there were only a few brief teases of the Solomon's jazz jam for the rest of the year. Judging by its last few performances, the band had lost much enthusiasm for this theme. I don't think it was ever played as a full jam in 1974. (The 2-23-74 Other One has the last hint that I heard.) But if anyone hears it in later shows, let me know!