"We're gonna take a break from all this sweat & steam & uproar & tumult and we're gonna break out our acoustic guitars and regale you with some wooden music."
- Bob Weir, 4/9/70
The Dead had their origins in acoustic music - back in '61 Phil Lesh was impressed enough by Garcia as a folk-singer to get him his own radio show - and Garcia, Weir, and Pigpen first started playing together in the Mother McCree's jug-band in '64, after Garcia had tired of the local bluegrass circuit. If it hadn't been for their love of the Beatles and the Stones, perhaps they would have become a merry band of old-time traditionalists like the New Lost City Ramblers. But once they dove into rock & roll, there was no looking back - within a couple years they had shed their R&B influences, turned into a big, hairy, noisy psychedelic band, and dedicated themselves to acid-soaked weirdness. Early fans would have been puzzled to hear that Garcia had once been a banjo-player and folk connoisseur whose biggest ambition was to join Bill Monroe's band....
But once Garcia's old friend Robert Hunter started writing songs for the band with his own brand of weirdness, acoustic guitars would soon turn up in the Dead's music.
The first acoustic song the Dead introduced was Mountains of the Moon, in December '68. It was soon followed in January by a slew of new Aoxomoxoa songs - Cosmic Charlie, Doin' That Rag - and, more central to our topic, Dupree's Diamond Blues. Dupree's is actually a spin-off from the old blues song Betty & Dupree, which the Dead had been doing in '66 - one version can be heard in their 12/1/66 show (which also has a number of other songs that would be revived in '69).
Dupree's Diamond Blues was first played on Jan 24 (with Pigpen on harmonica) in electric guise. But starting on Feb 11, it became paired with Mountains of the Moon as an acoustic song, and all of its appearances in the rest of '69 would be acoustic. (I've talked more about the Dupree's/Mountains pairing in my Mountains of the Moon post.)
Garcia soon became unhappy with this experimental batch of Aoxomoxoa songs, and Cosmic Charlie was the only one that would make it past the summer of 1969. As he said later, "All those Aoxomoxoa songs, a lot of them are cumbersome to perform, overwritten.... A lot of tunes on there are just packed with lyrics, or packed with musical changes that aren't worth it....there isn't a graceful way to perform them."
Although Garcia liked the album and was happy with the way it sounded (especially after he remixed it in '71), he admitted, "We spent too much money and too much time on that record; we were trying to accomplish too much and I was being really stupid about a lot of it, because it was some new tunes that I had written, that I hadn't really bothered to teach anyone in the band and I was trying to record them from the ground up and everybody was coming in and doing overdubs... We didn't go about it as a group at all.... It was when Hunter and I were being more or less obscure...in terms of the lyrics being very far out. Too far out, really, for most people."
The Dead in general were also getting restless with the limited number of songs they had in their set - aside from the few new songs, their shows were much the same as they had been in summer '68. The band wanted to break out of the tight format of their shows over the past few months, and shake up the setlist a bit - but what they didn't have yet were more new songs - those wouldn't come til June - so in April they started digging up a lot of the old songs that they hadn't done, sometimes in years. I went into more details in my China>Rider post, but to summarize, these are the debut performance dates of the '69 revivals:
3/15/69 - Hard to Handle (they hadn't done this before)
4/5/69 - China Cat Sunflower, It's A Sin
4/6/69 - Viola Lee Blues, Beat It On Down the Line, It's All Over Now Baby Blue
4/12/69 - He Was A Friend Of Mine (last played 12/7/68)
4/15/69 - Sitting on Top of the World (and Hurts Me Too, last played 12/21/68)
4/23/69 - Not Fade Away (almost! - actually wouldn't be fully played until 12/21/69.)
4/26/69 - Silver Threads & Golden Needles, New Minglewood Blues
4/27/69 - Me & My Uncle
5/7/69 - Good Lovin', Smokestack Lightning
5/31/69 - Cold Rain & Snow, Green Grass of Home (a new one)
[And a couple more covers were added in June, Mama Tried on 6/21 and Big Boss Man on 6/27.]
So without having to write any new songs, the Dead went searching in their past repertoire and added about a dozen oldies to their setlists that spring, almost all of them 'traditional' tunes or covers. The shift to more country songs was just around the corner....
In early '69 Hunter and Garcia were living together, working on songs - as Hunter described it, "I'd be sitting upstairs banging on my typewriter, picking up my guitar, and singing something.... Jerry would be downstairs practicing guitar, working things out. You could hear fine through the floors there, and by the time I'd come down with a sheet and slap it down in front of him, Jerry already knew how it should go!" Garcia wanted a change in direction from his strange & complicated Aoxomoxoa efforts - so he and Hunter found themselves writing in a new vein of more straightforward, country-influenced songs.
In June '69 Garcia did a studio test, solo acoustic demos of three new songs - Dire Wolf, Casey Jones, and High Time. This only surfaced last year, and it's quite interesting:
At the Dead's shows, Dire Wolf was first played on June 7 - High Time on June 21 - and Casey Jones on June 22. Casey Jones was very different in its early form - since the arrangement was still unsettled, the early versions have the Dead jamming into the song. But Dire Wolf is more relevant to our topic, since the Dead played it acoustically in its first performances.
This was quite a burst of songwriting for Garcia - but though Hunter could pour out the words, Garcia was not a prolific composer. As he said in 1973, "Sometimes I can just crank 'em out and other times ....nothing. Like I could have a spurt in which I'd write four new songs in one week, and in the next six months I wouldn't be able to put two words together. It's that kind of thing."
A song written for Pigpen, Easy Wind, debuted on Aug 20 - but it was fall before more new Garcia songs emerged. Cumberland Blues (the Dead's closest approach to bluegrass) was first played Nov 8. A home demo from around this time shows them playing with the Uncle John's instrumental, as well as the first version of a song John Dawson co-wrote, Friend of the Devil:
Dec 4 saw two debuts - Black Peter, and the completed Uncle John's Band to end the show. Garcia apologized before they sang Uncle John: "Seems we blew most of the set just trying to remember how to play - and so we're going to blow this part of the set remembering how to sing a song we barely know."
Two more songs came out at the end of December - Mason's Children was first played on Dec 19, and New Speedway Boogie on Dec 20.
Friend of the Devil didn't show up in a Dead show until March 20, 1970, when it was played in the acoustic set. The April 3 acoustic set saw the debut of Candyman - and on May 24, they brought out a rough first version of Attics of My Life, another song that would alternate between acoustic & electric versions that year.
Garcia had another writing spurt that summer, and our first To Lay Me Down comes from the July 30 acoustic show. Then the Aug 18 acoustic set has a whole bounty of new songs - Truckin', Ripple, Brokedown Palace, and Pigpen's rare Operator.
In turning away from psychedelia and doing more country-influenced songs, the Dead were not being innovative - actually in 1968, country-rock was becoming quite the trend, with Dylan, the Band, and the Byrds just the most famous examples - even the Stones were flirting with country! But one specific influence on the Dead may have been the Flying Burrito Brothers with Gram Parsons - they played with the Dead at the Avalon from April 4-6, '69 (Bear's recordings of these shows have recently been released). Garcia would especially have taken note of their pedal-steel player, Sneaky Pete Kleinow.... "Pedal steel was an instrument that was on my mind since back in the days when I was a banjo player. I didn't think that I wanted to get that serious about it because I knew it was extremely difficult and that I'd have to spend a lot of time to actually get into it."
In fact, Garcia had owned a pedal steel back in the 710 Ashbury St. days in 1967. In a spring '67 interview, he announced that he was also getting an electric banjo: "My banjo is in the process of being electrified... I haven't used it yet cause it's not finished... I don't know how I'm
going to use it, but I'm going to use it. I also have another
instrument, pedal steel guitar. I've been working on it about a month,
and I should be using it with the band within about six weeks. This is
just an effort to broaden the scope a little, experiment a little. We're ready to experiment."
But as it turned out, he changed his mind and soon sold the pedal steel - apparently he was never able to tune it. (And the electric banjo never appeared.) It would be another couple years before the Dead's scope broadened enough to experiment with pedal steel. Perhaps hearing Sneaky Pete Kleinow in April '69 reminded Garcia that the Dead could now include pedal-steel material...
Garcia was a fan of the first Flying Burrito Brothers album - though years later when David Gans asked Weir if the Burritos influenced the Dead's embrace of country music, Weir recalled: "Not really; we'd been into that stuff since the beginning (Buck Owens,
George Jones...) and it was just gonna come out sooner or later. Jerry
and I had a bunch of country and gospel tunes we had worked up on days
off on the road for fun, and when the Burritos came out, I think we were
already doing these tunes..."
On April 13, 1969, while the Dead were in Denver, Garcia bought his own pedal steel guitar. "I played with the pedals a little bit, I dug the tuning, and I said, 'Oh, I see!' Suddenly I finally started to understand a little of the sense of it... I said, 'I want to buy this fucking thing, but can you send it to me in tune? I'll never remember this tuning.'"
He may have practiced it over the next couple weeks of the tour, for on the April 26 show in Chicago, the pedal steel turned up onstage and Garcia played it in a revival of Silver Threads & Golden Needles (a country song the Dead hadn't played since 1966). He doesn't sound too shabby.
Once the Dead were back home, Garcia took the pedal steel back to the bands' rehearsal hall, and started teaching himself how to play. "I could understand enough about the pedal steel to play along with simple stuff....so I went down there and set up my pedal steel in the corner and slowly proceeded to try and learn how to play it. I had a pretty good idea in my head of what I wanted it to sound like, but I didn't have any chops down. Pretty soon it started to sound pretty good, and a couple of other friends sort of fell into the scene."
One friend was Peter Grant, who had played pedal steel on Doin' That Rag on the Aoxomoxoa album. Grant recalls: "Before the Grateful Dead or even the Warlocks, Jerry and I were driving
in his Corvair up from Palo Alto to Berkeley to see the Kentucky
Colonels play. 'Together Again' came on the radio (by Buck Owens), with
that memorable solo by Tom Brumley. [First released in Feb '64.] We both
listened in reverent awe, and said, 'Man, we gotta learn pedal steel.'
Between the two of us, I was the first to get a steel and start playing,
and that's how I ended up playing on Aoxomoxoa. When Jerry came back
from a tour [in '69] with a brand-new ZB Custom double-10 pedal steel,
he absolutely immersed himself in the instrument. I remember going over
to his house to see it. He had me playing guitar as soon as I walked in
the door, and singing every song I knew, so he could boink around and
play backups and solos. Later that day, I showed him some things that I
had discovered on the steel, including parts of 'Together Again'. He got
good real fast and had a wonderfully unique style."
Another friend encouraging Garcia in this direction was John Dawson, who'd known Garcia since his early-'60s folkie days, but was more interested in straight country than rock music.
"When I heard that Jerry had bought a pedal steel, I boldly invited myself over to his house to hear what it sounded like. I brought my guitar along and I played him a couple of my songs and he literally sat there and dove into the pedal steel guitar.... We had a nice evening and that was really the beginning of the whole New Riders thing....
"At first, Jerry didn't have the slightest idea what the real steel players were up to. What he played was just his idea of what they were doing and what sounded good to him... He didn't read any books: he just sat down and played it. He was checking it out: 'Let's see, this goes here. If I do this, this happens. What if I do this?'...
"At that time I had a gig at this coffeehouse [May '69]....and I invited Jerry to come down and join me. It was just the two of us - me on guitar and Jerry on pedal steel. I would play my own songs and I was also doing covers - stuff like I Shall Be Released and Mama Tried.... [The Dead put the Haggard song in their own set the next month.] Once the word got out that it was me and Garcia there....we got some pretty big crowds that summer.... It got to be a nice little scene. After a while we decided to make a little band out of this."
On guitar, they recruited another of Garcia's old friends, David Nelson, who had played in bluegrass bands with Garcia in the early '60s. (In fact, Dawson, Nelson, and pedal-steel player Peter Grant had all appeared on Aoxomoxoa.) And with Phil Lesh on bass and Mickey Hart on drums, they started playing separate gigs as the New Riders of the Purple Sage in June & July '69.
One surviving example of a 1969 New Riders show comes from 9/18/69. It appears early NRPS was largely a showcase for Garcia's pedal-steel
playing, as he goes into solo after solo. It's also unique for his
harmony vocals (much sloppier than in the Dead), which he probably later stopped doing in NRPS sets because he usually has to pause on the pedal steel in order
At this point the New Riders were playing separately from the Dead, but there was one memorable show where the two bands combined - 6/11/69, at the California Hall in San Francisco. It was billed as "Bobby Ace and His Cards From the Bottom of the Deck" - Weir, Garcia, Lesh, Hart, and Constanten with John Dawson, David Nelson, and also Peter Grant (on pedal steel and/or banjo). As far as I know the show wasn't taped, but the setlist is tantalizing - lots of Everly Brothers!
Let It Be Me ; Silver Threads And Golden Needles ; Mama Tried ; Cathy's Clown ; Me And My Uncle ; Slewfoot: Dire Wolf ; Games People Play ; The Race Is On ; Green Green Grass Of Home ; Tiger By The Tail ; I've Just Seen A Face ; All I Have To Do Is Dream ; Wabash Cannonball ; Railroading The Great Divide
(A few comments on the songs' origins are here.)
Meanwhile, Garcia wasn't content to let his pedal-steel light shine under the New Riders bushel, but decided to freak out Dead audiences by opening Dead shows with some country songs!
The first example was on 5/31/69, when they introduced Green Grass of Home. Weir had a fatal attraction to maudlin country weepies (and would write one of his own, Looks Like Rain), and he was taken enough by this tune to play it again at the 6/6/69 show with Elvin Bishop, and far too many times thereafter.... Though Garcia's on electric guitar here, he does a remarkable simulation of a pedal steel.
On 6/7/69, they opened the show with an acoustic Garcia trio: the first Dire Wolf, Dupree's, and Mountains of the Moon.
6/20/69 is a lost show, but a newspaper review said that it opened with Dire Wolf (Weir on vocals and Garcia on pedal steel), and closed with an "acoustic spiritual" encore, probably Cold Jordan.
6/21/69 has many notable tunes - they open with Green Grass, after which Garcia says, "There will be a brief pause while we allow you to consider these new developments." Later on Garcia switches to pedal-steel in the first Slewfoot, a rowdy song they dive into straight out of the Cryptical reprise - an early example of a genre-bending Dead segue. (Oddly, this was the first time Garcia had brought out the pedal steel in a Dead show since 4/26.)
Weir opens the second show with the thankfully rare Old House - later on he sings an acoustic Dire Wolf, having taken over the vocals from Garcia! The show also features one of the last acoustic Dupree's, and the first High Time and Mama Tried, making for a very country-soaked show. (Showing how far the Dead had come in a few months - Aoxomoxoa was released the previous day.) The show closes with an unusual Lovelight -16 minutes in, Garcia plays an acoustic guitar solo for about a minute!
The next day, 6/22/69, Garcia brushed up his pedal-steel skills again for Silver Threads & Golden Needles - the Dead had done this song in early '66, and it had surprisingly popped up again on 4/26 as a pedal-steel showpiece.
On 6/27/69, they opened with Slewfoot, and closed the main set by jumping into Green Grass of Home from a shortened Eleven, another mind-twisting medley. (Peter Grant is said to play banjo on Slewfoot as well, but he's barely audible.) Weir sings Dire Wolf again with Garcia on pedal-steel, an unusual way to hear the song - and the last acoustic Dupree's is played - and Mama Tried>High Time is quickly becoming a fixture in the set. (This Mama Tried is interesting since it's quieter than the Dead would later do it, with Weir still on acoustic. Casey Jones, which had debuted on 6/22, still has its opening jam, which it would keep through August - and Big Boss Man has its first, tentative performance since '66 at this show.)
The next Santa Rosa show, 6/28/69, features both John Dawson and Peter Grant as guests. Another pedal-steel Slewfoot and Silver Threads start the show; after the slow-paced Mama Tried, Weir announces that Peter Grant has been "playing banjo back there"; then John Dawson comes out and sings Me & My Uncle with Weir, something they'd do in later New Riders shows as well. Then, surprisingly, Peter Grant plays pedal steel on Doin' That Rag (as he did on the album), while Garcia stays on guitar.
7/3/69 starts with the pedal-steel Green Grass and Slewfoot. It's worth noting that what we have of this show has only a couple original songs, all the rest covers - and 6/28 also had only two originals! Quite a transformation since the Live/Dead days a few months earlier.
7/4/69 has another Slewfoot and Silver Threads - Weir indulges himself with the infrequently-played ballad Let Me In, and sings his last Dire Wolf.
7/11/69, aside from the usual Silver Threads, also has Garcia playing pedal-steel on Hard to Handle, an interesting experiment! The show starts with the last Dupree's (done electric), and Garcia returns to singing Dire Wolf - a song he was very fond of later in fall '69, often asking the audience to sing along, and sometimes singing it twice in a row! He never did that with Dupree's....
7/12/69 opens with Green Grass and Slewfoot, and then has the last Mountains of the Moon.
8/2/69 has Garcia's last pedal-steel appearance of this tour, on Slewfoot and another of the sentimental ballads Weir was so fond of, Seasons of My Heart.
After this, the pedal-steel & several of these country covers were dropped from their shows. I was at first puzzled as to why they'd all of a sudden stop - but then I noticed that at the end of August, the New Riders were opening for the Dead for the first time, at the Family Dog. So with Garcia already on pedal-steel through the New Riders set, there was no longer any need for him to surprise the audience with it in the Dead's set!
But at the end of 12/31/69, when the weird '70s beckoned and they didn't want to end the show, they did a surprising electric-style medley of Weir's country covers: Seasons, The Race Is On, Silver Threads, and Slewfoot. (And a rare Big Boy Pete, too.) This is the only Slewfoot Garcia plays on regular guitar....
Some of you who have been patiently reading all this while may be wondering, "all this and still no acoustic sets?" But worry no longer - on 12/19/69 the Dead's first acoustic set appeared by accident, when Phil didn't turn up in time for the show.
Garcia announces to the audience, "Phil's stuck somewhere - he's on his way, he's gonna be here in some short time and we'll be able to play loud and all that. Meantime me and Bobby Ace here are gonna regale you with some old favorites." Weir adds, "We have yet to figure out what we're gonna do."
They do Monkey & the Engineer, Little Sadie, Long Black Limousine, and I've Been All Around This World. (Limousine is a neat Everly Brothers-style song. They start doing Wake Up Little Susie after Limousine, but decide not to.) Finally Phil shows up and they blast the house with the first Mason's Children.
12/26/69 follows a similar course, when Garcia tells the audience, "Bill is somewhere over Omaha right now on a plane....they assure us he's gonna be here in a matter of moments.... Bobby and I are going to regale you with some old standards....while we're waiting around. (to Weir) Okay, what are we gonna do?"
They do the same songs: Monkey & the Engineer, Little Sadie, Long Black Limousine, Been All Around This World, Gathering Flowers for the Master's Bouquet, Black Peter, and Uncle John's Band. (Master's Bouquet is positively Victorian.)
The set starts off with just Garcia & Weir; Lesh starts quietly playing bass in Black Peter. Kreutzmann arrives on stage
right before Uncle John's Band, and it sounds like Garcia & Weir ask
him to play; Weir also asks Hart to play congas, so the last song is a
full-band performance, though very ramshackle.
We would never get to hear Tom Constanten in an acoustic show. His last show with the Dead was on 1/30/70 in New Orleans. They'd been growing dissatisfied with him (Weir complained, "he wasn't really a rock & roll musician, and the whole group when we were playing with him sounded more like an experimental group than a rock & roll band") - but his exit was probably hastened by their drug bust that night! Almost by cosmic coincidence, another accidental acoustic set followed the next day, 1/31, when Phil's bass amp blew.
Weir explains, "We got a busted amplifier here - so you guys can hang out and chatter amongst yourselves and feel free to wander around and make friends....while we try to work it out." As frantic repair efforts take place, Garcia & Weir decide it's time for some acoustic songs. Phil's amp keeps sputtering sporadically through the acoustic set as he tries to join in, but eventually he gives up. They only have one acoustic guitar, so Weir plays a few songs with Garcia accompanying on electric (a nice blend), then Garcia plays a few by himself. Pigpen comes out for one song, and they close with an unusual Cumberland Blues, played with one guitar and handclaps.
Long Black Limousine, Seasons Of My Heart, Saw Mill, Old Old House, The Race Is On, Black Peter, Little Sadie, All Around This World, Katie Mae, Cumberland Blues
The Fillmore West shows in February '70 saw the pedal-steel brought out again, for some reason - and two shows start with the usual country tunes:
Seasons of My Heart & The Race Is On on 2/5;
Green Grass, Saw Mill, & Seasons on 2/7 (Sawmill is a fun song, quite the contrast to Weir's other slow ballads.)
Garcia snickers to the audience on 2/7, "And you thought you were going to hear rock & roll..."
In the 2/13/70 late show, for the first time, they have a planned acoustic set in the middle of the show. The earlier impromptu acoustic sets apparently showed them the possibilities, since they were fans of contrast - so through the end of April, the new format for a Dead show was electric / acoustic / electric, without set breaks. So they would introduce the acoustic segments - as Garcia said on 2/28/70, "We're gonna take everybody back about sixty billion notches, man, and play some acoustic guitars for a little spell, if it's all the same to you." Or Weir on 4/3/70: "We're gonna take a brief pause here and set up the stage so we can sit
down and play some acoustic guitars and play some nice quiet music for
all you people."
In February & March, the acoustic sets are pretty much just Garcia & Weir (though Pigpen might come out for a song, or play a little organ). In April, light drums & bass are added to the sets. The early acoustic setlists are fairly short and repetitive (typically about six or seven songs), but songs were gradually added over the months until the Dead were ready for longer, separate full-fledged acoustic sets in May, with help from the New Riders and a more electric 'country-rock' feel.
One influence on the acoustic sets was the new album they were making - in February after the Fillmore run, they went into the studio and recorded Workingman's Dead in ten days. It was clearly a huge change from their earlier psychedelic albums, in song-style and studio-time - but the Dead already regarded Aoxomoxoa as ancient history. Garcia explained, "We were out of our pretentious thing. We weren't feeling so much like an experimental music group, but were feeling more like a good old band." (Hence, Constanten's departure before they made the album.)
Of course, it also helped that the band was also deeply in debt to Warner Brothers, so for the first time they were feeling motivated not only to spend less time recording, but to try to record something commercial. Garcia said, "I was thinking, when we go into the studio next time, let's try a real close-to-the-bone approach, like the way they record country & western records - a few instruments, relatively simple and easy-to-perform songs. It was quite conscious, an effort to say, 'Let's not spend a year. Let's do it all in three weeks and get it the hell out of the way. And that way, if the record does at all well, we will be able to pay off some of what we owe to the record company.' So that worked very well. And it was a chance to expose a side of us that we hadn't exposed very much."
The Dead's acoustic roots and fondness for country certainly hadn't been exposed before (and their Crosby Stills & Nash-influenced singing was a shock to all). Garcia and John Dawson both had an interest in the Bakersfield-country sound - as Dawson said, they were "getting off on how they used electric guitars to make this real sparse but beautiful sound. Their harmonies were crisp and clean and the songs made good sense. If you were a guitar player and you wanted to play country, you had to listen to Don Rich (Buck Owens' guitarist). Everybody did, including Jerry, of course. We'd all listen to that Carnegie Hall record that Buck Owens did and try to figure out how Rich made those sounds." (Garcia himself had also switched to a Stratocaster guitar: "It was that clarity that I was looking for - that crispness that you associate with country & western guitar players.")
Garcia added, "We're part of that California-Bakersfield school of country & western rock & roll - Buck Owens, Merle Haggard. We used to go see those bands and think, 'Gee, those guys are great.' Don Rich was one of my favorites. I learned a lot from him. So we took kind of the Buck Owens approach on Workingman's Dead. Some of the songs in there are direct tributes to that style of music, although they're not real obvious."
Another possible inspiration for the acoustic sets was the band Pentangle. Garcia praised them in later years: "The combination of drums, electric bass, and acoustic guitars is a
really nice sound. In the ‘60s, there was a great-sounding band called
Pentangle with those two good English fingerpickers, Bert Jansch and
John Renbourn. They had a tasty jazz drummer who played brushes, an
excellent acoustic bass player, and a lady who sang in a sort of
madrigal, English voice. It was a lovely band that sounded great
onstage. We played a lot of shows with them, and I thought that
combination of two acoustic guitars and a standard rhythm section had a
lot of possibilities."
Pentangle had only opened for the Dead at one Fillmore West run in winter '69, but evidently left an impression on Garcia. (Musically the two bands have very little in common, though. Even the Everly Brothers had more of a direct influence on the Dead's acoustic sets.)
In the middle of April, the Dead had a run of all-acoustic shows at the Family Dog along with the New Riders - they were billed as "Mickey Hart & His Heartbeats / Bobby Ace & His Cards From The Bottom Of The Deck". Setlists were kept, but unfortunately no tapes circulated. On the last two nights, Pigpen gets several solo songs in a row!
Recently, a tape of the 4/18 show surfaced, returned to the Vault by Mountain Girl. It's possible Garcia kept these shows for his own listening, to hear how they sounded. Most likely the purpose of these shows was as a test run for the expanded full-length acoustic sets starting in May - the show we have sounds rather low-key and tentative. Here for the first time, John Dawson joins on a couple songs, and Garcia plays electric for a few.
Don't Ease Me In ; Long Black Limousine ; Monkey And The Engineer ; Deep Elem Blues ; Candyman > Cumberland Blues ; Me And My Uncle ; Mama Tried ; Cathy's Clown ; Wake Up Little Susie ; New Speedway Boogie ; Friend Of The Devil ; Black Peter ; Uncle John's Band
I Know You Rider ; Don't Ease Me In ; Silver Threads And Golden Needles ; Friend Of The Devil ; Deep Elem Blues ; Wake Up Little Susie ; Candyman ; Cumberland Blues ; New Speedway Boogie ; Me And My Uncle ; Mama Tried ; Katie Mae ; The Rub ; Roberta ; Bring My My Shotgun ; The Mighty Flood ; Black Snake
I Know You Rider ; Friend Of The Devil ; Candyman ; Sawmill ; Deep Elem Blues ; The Rub ; Katie Mae ; Roberta ; Big Breasa ; She's Mine ; Cumberland Blues ; Wake Up Little Susie ; Mama Tried ; Me And My Uncle ; The Race Is On ; Uncle John's Band
On 5/1/70, the Dead started their first eastern tour with the New Riders. (Their shows earlier in the year had been with a varied bunch of opening acts.) The shows were called "An Evening With the Grateful Dead" and typically ran for quite a while, arranged as an acoustic set / NRPS set / electric set. Many people in the audience, not familiar with the New Riders and seeing most of the Dead onstage with them, probably figured it was more Grateful Dead music!
Jerry said in a May '70 interview: "We're going through some transitions. Our music is not what it was: it's continually changing. What we've been doing in the States lately is having like 'an evening with the Grateful Dead.' We start off with acoustic music with Bobby and I playing guitars, light drums and very quiet electric bass. Pigpen plays the organ. Then we have a band we've been travelling with, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, where I play pedal steel, not guitar, Mickey plays drums, and three of our friends from the coast, musicians that we've known for a long time, are fronting the band. So we start off with acoustic music and then the New Riders of the Purple Sage -- it's like very snappy electric country-rock; it's kinda hard to describe -- and then we come on with the electric Dead, so it keeps us all really interesting, and it's six hours of this whole development thing. By the end of the night it's very high."
So starting in May, the acoustic sets generally became longer, and David Nelson & John Dawson usually joined the Dead for a few songs. They also added some gospel numbers to end the sets. Nelson typically plays acoustic guitar in Cumberland or New Speedway (while Garcia plays electric), and in the gospel songs, Nelson plays mandolin and Dawson sings.
Some changes came in the summer - Nelson added mandolin to Rosalie McFall, and gradually other songs as well, until he was playing it in quite a few songs. The Dead were working on the American Beauty album from August to October - a lot of new songs (covers and originals) got added to the acoustic set in August, so these later sets have a much more varied feel, with multiple instruments and that American Beauty vibe. Pigpen plays piano in the Fillmore sets, which adds a nice texture - piano generally wasn't heard in Dead shows until the Keith days.
One thing to note is that each acoustic set apparently had just one drummer. Bill & Mickey would alternate drumming for the acoustic sets,
seemingly at random. For instance, Mickey was the acoustic drummer on
4/10, 4/18, 5/15, 7/14/70 & possibly one of the July '70 Fillmore
East dates - and Bill on 6/5, 7/4, 8/17 & 8/19/70. (Other dates have
yet to be investigated.)
Guests in the acoustic sets were quite rare, compared to electric sets -
David Crosby plays guitar in two songs on 7/14/70 (not that anyone can
tell it's him), and David Grisman plays a second mandolin on 9/20/70.
Special mention should be made of 8/5/70, despite low vocals, since it was a rare all-acoustic show with Dawson & Nelson. I believe our tape of 8/5/70 is actually from a Bay Area club show, not from San Diego - there's no evidence that they even played in San Diego on that date. (There's also a short set of a few songs from 7/30/70 that's actually a Dead acoustic mini-set ending a New Riders show at the Matrix.)
In July & August, the Dead played several all-acoustic shows at various clubs, but our 8/5/70 tape is the only one that's survived. More details are here:
A couple songs in the September Fillmore East run are uniquely played. Deadlists suggests that the hard-to-hear 9/17/70 Box of Rain includes pedal steel & fiddle - it doesn't, but it does have David Nelson playing electric guitar, as on the album, while Garcia plays piano. Garcia also plays piano in the 9/20/70 To Lay Me Down.
Garcia talked about these shows later on: "We were in the Fillmore East for a
stretch, and Dave Grisman and Dave Nelson were both there, so I had
them both come out. See, Grisman does twin parts...on 'Ripple,' a double
mandolin part. So, Grisman just taught Nelson the second part. We had
the actual full thing, twin mandolins and everything, and we were able
to do 'Ripple' with the original instrumentation on the record. And also
'Box of Rain.' We were able to do 'Box of Rain' with the original
instrumentation on the record. Me playing piano, Dave Nelson playing
guitar. That was really fun."
Garcia also mentioned that they did "kind of a re-creation" of American Beauty: "We played the acoustic instruments, and I even
used different guitars on different songs - something I never do
onstage." This brings up the possibility that in earlier acoustic sets, when he brought out an electric guitar (for Cumberland or New Speedway) it might not have been the Gibson SG that he played in the electric sets. There's a picture of the 5/15/70 acoustic set in which Garcia has a Stratocaster propped up behind him - he may have preferred it in those songs for its country-twang sound; "the metallic clang...that crispness," as he put it.
In October they stopped playing the acoustic sets - for the rest of the year they seem to have played just electric sets, though the New Riders were still touring with them. The exception is the Capitol Theater run in November - perhaps the Dead felt that was a special audience. It may also have been due to the venue - Garcia said at the time that the Fillmore and the Capitol were the only "groovy" theaters in the country, partly due to their excellent PA systems.
It's hard to say why the Dead stopped doing acoustic sets; I haven't seen a good reason - perhaps they felt it was getting old & time for a change. I don't think bigger venues have to do with it - '72 is when they started getting into really big places - but aside from some bigger shows, they were still playing the Capitol Theater & Fillmores & college theaters in 1971, with the New Riders still opening; so in theory the acoustic sets could have continued into '71. Possibly they just decided the acoustic sets didn't sound right, and wanted to simplify the shows.
They seem to have streamlined their sets in general heading into 1971, Garcia's "regular shoot-em-up saloon band" phase. In late '70 sometimes they did two electric sets, sometimes one long set (maybe it depended on the venue). 1971, though it still has some one-set shows early in the year, is when they really settled on the first-set/second-set format that would become invariable (it's the last year for a long time you'd get Dark Stars in the first set!).
Garcia later suggested that the technology in 1970 wasn't ready for acoustic sets: "That was one of the reasons we didn’t do it for so long - we used to try
it with microphones, and it really didn’t work. It’s much easier now
that they have made vast improvements in amplified acoustic instruments.
The audience liked it a lot." (In 1980 Garcia & Weir would use acoustic-electric guitars, which sounded quite different.)
There are a few remaining acoustic tapes from late 1970; I don't think any of them are on the Archive.
There's Weir's "Garage Tape 1970", a 15-minute tape of a KSAN session from an unknown date:
The Race Is On, Silver Threads & Golden Needles, Let Me In, Dark Hollow - Weir, vocals & acoustic guitar; Garcia, pedal steel guitar; John Cipollina, slide guitar; Pete Sears, piano
11/21/70 Boston radio - a short acoustic set:
El Paso, Big River, I Know You Rider, instrumental, Dark Hollow, Anji, Let Me In - Garcia & Weir; Duane Allman on Anji
12/27/70 Pasadena radio - a short acoustic/gospel set:
Silver Threads & Golden Needles, Cold Jordan, I Hear A Voice Callin', Swing Low Sweet Chariot - Garcia, Weir, Dawson, Nelson
From 1969 to 1972, Garcia went into studios frequently with the pedal-steel, adding tracks to other people's albums (as well as the New Riders debut, and his own first solo album) - the song Teach Your Children being the most famous example. Some of his most significant work is on David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name, and Paul Kantner's Blows Against the Empire. Garcia felt, "I really think the nicest thing I did during that period was on Crosby’s solo album… I particularly like the pedal steel
on ‘Laughing.’ That was some of the prettiest and most successful of what I was
trying to get at at that time."
Kantner recalled, "Jerry was doing a lot of pedal steel for people around that time, experimenting, and so we let him be on it; he was overjoyed. So he went in and just experimented with sounds, seeing what kind of sounds he could get out of it, running it through various pedals and echoes and delays. We gave him a free hand, which made him happy. Before that he'd pretty much just been doing country licks on the steel, and this gave him the opportunity to get a little weirder, which he always appreciated."
But Garcia still felt unhappy with his playing: "It's so difficult, man, and my playing is so mediocre I can't begin to tell you how embarrassed I am about my playing on the damn thing, really it's lamentable."
He explained, "I haven't got it down... I'm going after a sound I hear in my head that the steel has come closest to. But I have no technique on the steel. I've got a little right-hand technique from playing the banjo, and I've listened to records. But my intonation with the bar is still really screwed up. I have to do it by ear....I'm really a novice at it, but I'm not really trying to become a steel player. I'm trying to duplicate something that's in my head."
In fall '71 Garcia stopped playing with the New Riders, who replaced him with Buddy Cage, a steel player they'd found on the Festival Express tour. Garcia said, "The New Riders are actually too good for me to be playing steel with. What they need is a regular, good guy who's been playing since he was three." His last show with them was 10/30/71, partway through the tour.
(There are a couple later recordings where Weir and Garcia appear with
the New Riders, though - the 12/9/71 Scotty's Music Store jam, and
3/18/73 Felt Forum.)
John Dawson added, "Basically, Jerry got to be too busy. But also, it was sort of understood that he was helping get what I wanted going. He dug what I was doing and he dug the fact that my trip let him do something different, because he was always looking to do different things. It gave him a chance to warm up and also to relax a little bit before he had to concentrate on the Grateful Dead's set. At some point he said, 'I don't think I can do this too much longer; I think you guys should get someone else.' But he knew at that point that we'd already met Cage.... When we changed from Garcia to Cage, the pedal steel playing got better. Garcia wasn't a steel player... We were after a more traditional kind of thing."
Garcia also later mentioned difficulties in playing shows with two instruments. Rock Scully recalled, "Jerry realized that playing pedal steel was screwing with his electric guitar playing. The instruments were so different from each other that his guitar playing was suffering." Garcia said, "It kind of became an either/or situation: I found it very hard to play half the night with a pedal steel and a bar in my left hand and then switch to straight overhand guitar. The difference between a solid finger configuration and a moving arm, wrist, and fingers was too great. It was painful to the muscles. It got to where I couldn't play either of them very well, and I realized it just wouldn't work. I don't consider myself a pedal steel player."
That wasn't the last chapter in Garcia's pedal-steel story. In early '72, he played it in Weir's new song Looks Like Rain for its first performances in the Academy of Music run & a couple shows in Europe - it's odd that they brought it to Europe just to be used in one song! In fact they dropped Looks Like Rain after only three performances - 4/14/72 was the last pedal-steel version. (Perhaps someone in the band thought the song wasn't working too well.)
Garcia also played pedal steel in the 11/23/72 show with Doug Sahm & Friends. After that, though, he gave it up (aside from briefly pulling it out in the 1987 tour with Bob Dylan, for a few performances of I'll Be Your Baby Tonight and Tomorrow Is A Long Time). "It's a hard instrument to play. I would love to play the pedal steel if I had another lifetime in which to play it."
But in this lifetime, he was busy enough playing with Howard Wales and Merl Saunders on top of the Dead's shows - as he said, "I'm a total junkie when it comes to playing. I just have to play. And when we're off the road I get itchy... If I had another life to live...I could dig playing with Howard for a long time, or Merl.... If I had more of me to go out and play those gigs, I'd do it immediately."
And in early '73, he started yet another musical trip, rediscovering his bluegrass roots by playing banjo in Old & In The Way. "It was like playing in the bluegrass band I'd always wanted to play in. It was such a great band and I was flattered to be in such fast company. I was only sorry my banjo chops were never what they had been when I was playing continually, though they were smoothing out near the end."
Also in 1973, songs from the Dead's acoustic sets were released for the first time. Bear went back to the Fillmore East Feb '70 tapes to pick some Pigpen and acoustic pieces for History of the Grateful Dead - they needed a final album in a hurry to finish their Warner Brothers contract, and decided to find some old material that hadn't been represented on record before. It was basically a typical early acoustic set; however, the Dead disliked the record. By 1973, it probably sounded prehistoric to them (though not quite as ancient as the '66 shows that were illicitly released in '71 as Historic Dead & Vintage Dead, much to the band's disgust).
Many years later, one more surprise acoustic set came out of the blue on 11/17/78, before their regular Chicago show. This short set was a last-minute billing as Bob Weir & Friends at Loyola University (without the Godchauxs), and saw them playing to a very small crowd - it's more spontaneous than the later 1980 acoustic shows, and has a number of unusual song choices that come out of nowhere. As Weir says, "We're gonna do yet another old country blues, seeing as that's all we can remember...."
In 1980, of course, they played a number of acoustic sets in smaller theaters ("the result of about three afternoons of rehearsal," Garcia said), and recorded them for Reckoning. I'll leave it to someone else to write about these (and later) acoustic shows, though.
Here is a listing of the 1970 acoustic sets, which I've made as complete as possible -
Monkey & The Engineer, Little Sadie, Wake Up Little Susie, Black Peter, Uncle John's Band, Katie Mae
Monkey And The Engineer; Dark Hollow; I've Been All Around This World; Wake Up Little Susie; Black Peter; Uncle John's Band; Katie Mae
Monkey And The Engineer, Little Sadie, Me And My Uncle, Black Peter, Seasons Of My Heart, Uncle John's Band
Monkey And The Engineer, Little Sadie, Black Peter
(monitor problems cut the set short)
Monkey And The Engineer, I've Been All Around This World, Me And My Uncle, Black Peter, Katie Mae > Impromptu Blues
Deep Elem Blues, Friend Of The Devil (first), Don't Ease Me In, Black Peter, Uncle John's Band, Katie Mae
Friend Of The Devil, Deep Elem Blues, Don't Ease Me In, Black Peter, Wake Up Little Susie, Uncle John's Band, Katie Mae
Friend Of The Devil, Deep Elem Blues, Candyman (first), Wake Up Little Susie, Black Peter, Uncle John's Band, Katie Mae
Friend of the Devil, Deep Elem Blues, Candyman, Black Peter, Uncle John's Band, Katie Mae
4/10/70 (no tape):
Friend Of The Devil; Deep Elem Blues; Candyman; Wake Up Little Susie; Black Peter; Uncle John's Band
4/11/70 (no tape):
Don't Ease Me In; New Speedway Boogie; Friend Of The Devil; Me And My Uncle; Deep Elem Blues; Candyman; Black Peter; Uncle John's Band
I Know You Rider, Monkey & The Engineer, Friend Of The Devil, Me & My Uncle, Candyman, Uncle John's Band
5/1/70 (first separate acoustic set):
Deep Elem Blues, I Know You Rider, Monkey and the Engineer, Candyman, Me And My Uncle, Mama Tried, Cumberland Blues, The Race Is On, Wake Up Little Susie, New Speedway Boogie, Cold Jordan, Uncle John's Band
Don't Ease Me In; I Know You Rider; Friend Of The Devil; Dire Wolf; Beat It On Down The Line; Black Peter, Candyman, Cumberland Blues; Deep Elem Blues; Cold Jordan; Uncle John's Band
Don't Ease Me In, I Know You Rider, Friend Of The Devil, Me & My Uncle, Deep Elem Blues, Candyman, Cumberland Blues, New Speedway Boogie, Black Peter, Uncle John's Band
5/3/70 (partial set w/ guest harmonica player):
Deep Elem Blues, Friend Of The Devil, Silver Threads, Black Peter
Don't Ease Me In, Friend Of The Devil, Deep Elem, Silver Threads, Candyman
(monitor problems & broken string, so the set's cut short)
Don't Ease Me In; I Know You Rider; The Rub; Friend Of The Devil; Long Black Limousine; Candyman; Cumberland Blues; New Speedway Boogie; Cold Jordan
The Ballad Of Casey Jones, Silver Threads, Black Peter, Friend Of The Devil, Uncle John's Band, Candyman, She's Mine, Katie Mae, I Hear A Voice Callin' (+ show encore: Cold Jordan)
Deep Elem Blues, Candyman, Silver Threads And Golden Needle, Friend Of The Devil, Black Peter, Cumberland Blues, Wake Up Little Susie, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Uncle John's Band
Dire Wolf, I Know You Rider, Silver Threads, Friend Of The Devil, Me & My Uncle, Black Peter, New Speedway Boogie
Don't Ease Me In, The Frozen Logger (a couple verses), Friend Of The Devil, Candyman, Deep Elem Blues, Cumberland Blues, Wake Up Little Susie, New Speedway Boogie
https://archive.org/details/gd1970-06-06.132157.miller.sbd.flac16 (just the first four songs)
Don't Ease Me In, Silver Threads, Friend Of The Devil, Candyman, Cold Jordan, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Cumberland Blues, Me & My Uncle, New Speedway Boogie
Dire Wolf; Don't Ease Me In; Attics of My Life; Friend Of The Devil; Let Me In; Candyman; Uncle John's Band
Big Railroad Blues; Deep Elem Blues; Monkey And The Engineer; The Rub; Silver Threads And Golden Needle; Friend Of The Devil; Candyman; Cumberland Blues; Cold Jordan (+ show encore Swing Low Sweet Chariot)
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1970-06-24.aud.lai.7467.sbefail.shnf (incomplete - only 6 songs)
Don't Ease Me In is in the Festival Express film - along with an electric New Speedway Boogie (and good shots of Pigpen on harmonica).
Also played in the acoustic set: Candyman, Dire Wolf, Uncle John's Band
There is also some interesting train footage: Garcia plays Cold Jordan along with Sylvia Tyson - the scene with Danko/Joplin/Garcia/Weir playing Ain't No More Cane is remarkable - and there's a bit of Delaney Bramlett singing Goin' Down the Road, which Garcia would adopt for the Dead a few months later.
7/9/70 (no tape):
possibly Friend of the Devil; Silver Threads And Golden Needle; Cumberland Blues; Dire Wolf; Swing Low Sweet Chariot
(We also don't have an acoustic set from 7/10/70, which is odd since Marty Weinberg taped that show, but that reel seems to have gone missing.)
The Monkey & The Engineer, Don't Ease Me In, I've Been All Around This World, Dark Hollow, Black Peter, El Paso, New Speedway Boogie, So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad), Rosalie McFall, A Voice From On High, Cold Jordan, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Dire Wolf, The Rub, How Long Blues, Dark Hollow, Friend Of The Devil, Candyman, Katie Mae, Bring Me My Shotgun > She's Mine, Rosalie McFall, Tell It To Me, Wake Up Little Susie, Cumberland Blues
Don't Ease Me In, Friend Of The Devil, Dire Wolf, Dark Hollow, Candyman, Black Peter, How Long Blues, Deep Elem Blues, Cumberland Blues, New Speedway Boogie
(David Crosby guest on last two songs)
7/30/70 (short Dead acoustic set in NRPS show):
To Lay Me Down (first), Dire Wolf, Candyman, Rosalie McFall, I Hear A Voice Callin', Swing Low Sweet Chariot
8/5/70 (all-acoustic show):
Candyman, El Paso, Rosalie McFall, Cocaine Blues, Drink Up And Go Home, I Hear A Voice Callin', Cold Jordan, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Deep Elem Blues, Dark Hollow, Friend Of The Devil, Mama Tried, To Lay Me Down, Dire Wolf, The Ballad Of Casey Jones
Truckin', Cumberland Blues, New Speedway Boogie, Dire Wolf, Candyman, Swing Low Sweet Chariot (These songs were mentioned in reviews; no tape survives.)
(partial tape): Let Me In; Attics Of My Life; Friend Of The Devil
This tape is a fake - it actually comes from 6/24/70.
Truckin'*, Dire Wolf, Friend Of The Devil, Dark Hollow, Ripple*, Brokedown Palace*, Operator*, Rosalie McFall, New Speedway Boogie, Cold Jordan, Swing Low Sweet Chariot
* - first available recordings. (Also note that Pigpen plays piano on several songs in these two Fillmore West shows, and also in the September Fillmore East shows.)
Monkey & The Engineer, How Long Blues, Friend Of The Devil, Dark Hollow, Candyman, Ripple, Brokedown Palace, Truckin', Cocaine Blues, Rosalie McFall, Wake Up Little Susie, New Speedway Boogie, Cold Jordan, Swing Low Sweet Chariot
Truckin', Monkey And The Engineer, Dark Hollow, Friend Of The Devil, Ripple, Brokedown Palace, Box Of Rain (first), Rosalie McFall, Cold Jordan, Swing Low Sweet Chariot
Truckin', Black Peter (set aborted)
Don't Ease Me In; Candyman; Silver Threads And Golden Needle; Friend Of The Devil; Deep Elem Blues; The Rub; Rosalie McFall; Cumberland Blues; New Speedway Boogie; To Lay Me Down; Cold Jordan; Swing Low Sweet Chariot
(Only the last two songs are available on the Archive - the rest circulated on tape, but is missing online.)
Uncle John's Band, Deep Elem Blues, Friend Of The Devil, Big Railroad Blues, Dark Hollow, Ripple, To Lay Me Down, Truckin', Rosalie McFall, Cumberland Blues, New Speedway Boogie, Brokedown Palace
(David Grisman adds an extra mandolin to several songs)
Candyman, Uncle John's Band, Attics of My Life, Drums and Phil (soundcheck).
Don't Ease Me In, Deep Elem Blues, Dark Hollow, Friend Of The Devil, The Rub, Black Peter, El Paso, Brokedown Palace, Uncle John's Band
Deep Elem Blues, Monkey and the Engineer, Big Railroad Blues, Operator, El Paso, How Long Blues, Ripple, Brokedown Palace, Uncle John's Band
Dire Wolf, I Know You Rider, Dark Hollow, Rosalie McFall, El Paso, Operator, Ripple, Friend Of The Devil, Wake Up Little Susie, Uncle John's Band