March 20, 2010

Garcia & Volunteers

Some of you may know, there's a quote from Garcia in the 'mock newspaper' on the inside of Jefferson Airplane's album Volunteers, claiming to be from the mythical "PAZ Chin-In":
"I broke a string so why don't you wait a minute & talk to each other. Or maybe talk to yourself, to your various selves. Can you talk to yourself? Do you even know you have various selves to talk to?"

What's less-known is that this is an actual quote. It comes from Michael Lydon's article on the Grateful Dead, published in Rolling Stone (August 23, 1969). This is perhaps the best early article on the Dead - Lydon followed the Dead around for several shows at the end of May '69, watching what went down, interviewing the band about their history.
One of the shows he was at was the Portland Springer's Inn show on May 30. He describes Garcia breaking a string during Doin' That Rag, and then comes the famous quote. (Later on, before Dark Star, he says that someone in the audience shouted, "Play the blues!" To which Mickey Hart replied, "Fuck you man, go hear a blues band if you want that.")

What's more, now that we have the tape of this (newly circulating) show, we can hear it for ourselves. The end of Doin' That Rag indeed goes haywire - but what Garcia actually says is not quite the same: "I broke another string, so I'm gonna change this one. Meanwhile, you can talk amongst yourselves - or maybe it's talk amongst yourself - or you can talk to yourself." The rest isn't there. (Neither can Mickey's 'intro' to Dark Star be heard.) Maybe the tape stopped, maybe Lydon heard more words off-mike, maybe he made it up....

Lydon is pretty accurate about the rest of the show; the only song he misses is Cosmic Charlie. He describes a couple other shows as well - the first is the Winterland May 28 benefit. Apparently it was a lousy show, the band unable to get it together. (Garcia said afterwards, "I can get behind falling to pieces before an audience sometimes. We're not performers - we are who we are for those moments we're before the public, and that's not always at the peak.")

The next show is the Robertson Gym May 29 show - the way Lydon has it, they were stuck with the student PA, played Lovelight for 40 minutes and then stormed off the stage in disgust. (If accurate, this makes it clear that our "5/29/69" tape is actually from the 5/11 San Diego show. There is no mention of Santana, nor any reason he'd be at this little gig; whereas reviewers of the 5/11 show remember the jam with Santana there.)
Garcia to the audience: "Sorry, but we're gonna split for a while and set up our own PA so we can hear what the fuck is happening."
Garcia offstage: "We should give the money back if we don't do it righteous. Where's Bear? Listen man, are you in this group, are you one of us? Are you gonna set up that PA? Their monitors suck, I can't hear a goddamn thing out there. How can I play if I can't hear the drums?"
Pigpen: "Let's just go ahead. I can fake it."
Garcia: "I can't."
Pigpen: "It's your decision."
Lesh: "Yeah, if you and nobody else gives a good goddamn."
Lesh to the audience: "We're really sorry. We burned you of a night of music, and we'll come back and make it up."
Weir: "If we dare show our faces in this town again."
It's too bad Lydon didn't make it to the May 31 Eugene show with the Pranksters; a description of that would be great.... But his account of their May 30 plane flight to Portland is priceless, and too long to quote.

By the way - the Volunteers album also has Garcia playing pedal-steel on the mock-country song The Farm - the first of his pedal-steel guest appearances in the studio. (He'd only been playing it a few months.) It also seems to be his only involvement on a '60s Jefferson Airplane album after Surrealistic Pillow, in which he was practically a band member - playing guitar on several songs, arranging others, and perhaps even naming the album, but simply labeled as the "spiritual advisor".
(You could also count the "official bootleg" Jefferson Airplane at the Family Dog Ballroom released a couple years ago, a show recorded Sept 6, 1969 after the Dead's set, in which Garcia and Hart play in a long show-ending jam - Garcia even plays the Darkness Darkness melody! The Airplane actually play The Farm at this show too, but Garcia's not on it.)

There's also another connection between the Volunteers album and the Dead - the main Volunteers/We Can Be Together riff is taken from St Stephen!
It could be a case like the Mind Left Body riff where the two bands just shared a common riff, not caring or remembering where it originated. Or perhaps it was a little tribute to the Dead?
In any case, there's quite a difference between "up against the wall" and "ladyfingers dipped in moonlight"....

Garcia '69: "We are trying to make things groovier for everybody so more people can feel better more often, to advance the trip, to get higher, however you want to say it - but we're musicians, and there's just no way to put that idea, 'save the world', into music - you can only be that idea, or at least make manifest that idea as it appears to you, and hope maybe others follow. And that idea comes to you only moment by moment, so what we're going after is no farther away than the end of our noses....
"I've been into music so long that I'm dripping with it; it's all I ever expect to do. I can't do anything else. Music is like yoga, something you really do when you're doing it. Thinking about what it means comes after the fact and isn't very interesting. Truth is something you stumble into when you think you're going someplace else, like those moments when you think you're playing and the whole room becomes one being - precious moments, man. But you can't look for them and they can't be repeated. Being alive means to continue to change, never to be where I was before. Music is the timeless experience of constant change."

March 9, 2010

Cream and the Dead

Jack Bruce: "San Francisco! The first time we went there, that was pretty mind-expanding."
Ginger Baker: "I haven't recovered from San Francisco yet, we really had a ball."
Eric Clapton agreed: "The right place at the right time. There was definitely nothing else like it, and we fit in perfectly.... We loved it. It was like coming home. And we used to stay out in Sausalito, across the bay, and it was just what we wanted. I made tons of friends. People that seemed to have the same philosophy. It was the time of my life."
Clapton had fond memories of "the hippies in Sausalito, meeting the Grateful Dead, meeting Big Brother. All night long in Sausalito, where it was very hippy, these guys would be outside our window with bongos and congas..."

Cream's first near-brush with California came when their manager turned down an invitation to play at the Monterey Festival.
Clapton: "He didn't tell us that we'd been invited, which pissed me off. He told us after he turned them down, but he said, 'I have a reason for that. I want to break you in San Francisco independent of this festival, so that you have more of an impact.'"
Bruce: "Stigwood might take the credit, but he made terrible decisions. I expect we were asked to play all kinds of other big events that we never got to hear about... Instead, we were doing some terrible little gig somewhere.... We were too busy working to notice the places where we weren't working."
Cream was never an 'underground' band in the UK, kept apart from the new 'happening' scene, and didn't play at the psychedelic clubs there, instead staying on the normal club circuit. Their only shows in the US had been a "Murray the K Show" in NYC in spring '67, a ridiculous multi-band revue where they had to play five brief sets a day, starting at 10 am!
Bruce: "We started off with two songs, then they said, 'Sorry, you'll have to cut it to one.' Then they said, 'That song's too long, you'll have to cut it down a bit....' By the end, we were playing half a song a set."
However, they were thrilled at being in New York, soaking up the scene, going round and jamming with numerous musicians at the clubs. As Clapton said, "New York is incredible. I'd love to live there. Everybody is so much more hip to the music scene." They were especially struck by New York's first Human Be-In in Central Park, "20,000 people just having a good time," complete with dosed popcorn....

Back home, the band was unhappy at their lack of progress in the summer of '67, as they puttered around doing little UK gigs while the release of Disraeli Gears was delayed for months (the record company considered it 'psychedelic hogwash'). Clapton mentioned in June, "It's a big bring-down for me to be in this country at the moment. Everybody's obsessed with Jimi Hendrix... Honestly, we were getting on much better in the States. Sometimes I feel like cutting out on Britain for good." Jack Bruce agreed: "We've reached a bit of a strange state as a group. We're not sure exactly where we are going now." As Bruce said later, "It just wasn't really happening in England - we were stagnating."
Things were starting to look hopeless, when Bill Graham booked them at the Fillmore for a long run, from August 22 to September 3, 1967. This was quite a long stay for an unknown English band - apparently word had reached him of their live reputation; and Clapton would already have been a known name in the US. They were billed with a couple other electric blues acts, the Butterfield Blues Band and Electric Flag.

Bruce: "The place was crammed. I think we played there for ten days... We were blown away by the fact that people knew who we were." Most importantly, the Fillmore "had the best sound system we'd ever used up to that point, which was crucial."
"The Fillmore had a great PA, and a really good guy doing it called Charlie Button who did the sound for the Dead. It was great to hear the wonderful sound. That was when we first started doing the extended improvisations, which was new to the band. We usually played very short three, four, five-minute versions of the songs. Quite simply, we were fed up with doing that, and the audience was so great at the Fillmore. They were all so out of it, so laid-back, and would shout, 'Just play!' They wouldn't let us go. So we just started jamming, and that turned into what we became known for."
"We expected that it would be the same kind of thing [as England]: nobody knowing us or wanting to know us... We were very, very nervous because this was something really big for us, and it was almost the first time we had played to a full house (the others were festivals, with loads of bands, or else they were tiny pubs and clubs). But all these kids had actually come to see us, and it was the first time we'd had our own audience on that scale, and they were just shouting out things like 'play anything, just play, we love you' and stuff, and the whole thing ended with us just playing these incredibly long, improvised things."
"That was the influence San Francisco had on us... When we hit the Fillmore, we started to play those long improvisations... All the audiences were stoned out of their collective bonces. That was what they wanted us to do, they just encouraged us to do that, and it was very successful. It just sort of happened."
Clapton: "We were told by Bill Graham that we could play anything we liked for as long as we liked, even if this meant playing til dawn... We soon realized that no one could see us because they were projecting light shows onto the band, so that we were actually in the light show. It was very liberating. We could just play our hearts out, without inhibition, knowing that the audience was more into whatever scenery was being projected onto the screen behind us. I'm sure a good deal of them were out of their heads...but it didn't matter. They were listening, and that encouraged us to go places we'd never been before. We started doing extended solos, and were soon playing fewer and fewer songs, but for much longer. We'd go off in our own directions, then hit these coincidental points in the music when we would all arrive at the same conclusion...and we would jam on it for a little while and then go back into our own thing. I had never experienced anything like it. It had nothing to do with lyrics or ideas; it was much deeper, purely musical. We were at our peak during that period."
There's an exciting audience tape from their last Fillmore show on September 3 - among other songs, Sweet Wine now has a great freeform jam, and the Spoonful features an incredible droning-raga solo from Clapton (perhaps influenced by Michael Bloomfield's East/West solos).

Clapton was excited at first by SF audiences, saying that September: "In San Francisco there is more encouragement and less competition from musician to musician.... San Francisco has about the best audience anywhere... Every little note you play is being noticed, being devoured... You know you have to do it right."
But Cream shared a low estimate of the local music scene in San Francisco. As Ginger Baker said, "Maybe they were surprised to find out we could play our instruments? There are some very good groups out there - the Electric Flag and the Butterfield band."
Clapton had the same opinion: "As much as I saw of the bands that were killing them there - I mean Big Brother and the Jefferson Airplane - I was very unimpressed." The only thing he liked was Butterfield's blues band ("fantastic") and Electric Flag ("just the heaviest thing around, an incredible band"). (Bloomfield, in return, seems to have been quite frightened by Clapton's playing.)
Jack Bruce also disliked California bands: "They were crap. All those bands - none of them were any good, they were all so many weekend hippies. Not so much the Grateful Dead, I never saw the Dead at that time, but all those other bands....the Doors, crap."
Clapton mentions that even before he went to California, "I was actually pretty contemptuous of the West Coast rock & roll scene.... I thought they sounded pretty second-rate. I liked the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield, and I had heard a great album by Moby Grape, but I had never seen them play live. Basically, I thought most of the so-called psychedelic stuff that people were talking about was pretty dull."
(Michael Bloomfield also had a harsh opinion of the local scene, saying in early 1968: "I think San Francisco music isn't good music, not good bands. They're amateur cats... I don't dig Good Morning Little Schoolgirl by the Grateful Dead. I don't Pigpen trying to sing blues; it don't sound like blues. It sounds like some white kid trying to sing blues. It drags me; they're not funky. They don't have a good beat....it's not the real shit and it's not even a good imitation. It's not even like the Stones. I don't dig the Airplane - I think they're a third-rate rock & roll band. I don't dig Country Joe & the Fish - I find them an abomination, a fraud perpetuated on people. I don't dig Big Brother - I dig Janis, but I think Big Brother is just a wretched, lame group of cats who she carries for no reason at all." It's worth noting that fellow Butterfield Band guitarist Elvin Bishop was much more positive about the Dead...)
Keep in mind that the members of Cream were 'grizzled veterans' of the UK club circuit - they'd been considered masters of their instruments back in '64 when folks like Jorma and Jerry were plunking away in acoustic coffeehouses - and as professionals, they may have been taken aback by the shambolic amateurism of San Francisco's psychedelic music. (Jack Bruce didn't like Pink Floyd, either, though Clapton did.)

In September '67, Clapton mentioned one surprise in San Francisco: "The first thing that hit me really hard was that the Grateful Dead were playing a lot of gigs for free. That very much moved me. I'd never heard of anyone doing that before."
Cream didn't see the Dead live, though. At some point Clapton heard the Dead's first album, but didn't have a positive reaction. "I don't think the quality of their music is as high as a lot of other good recording bands. People are more concerned with live music, maybe, than recording. If the Grateful Dead are one of the best, they're not doing a very good job on recording....they're not really my bag."

Of course, Clapton being a blues fanatic, he was going to be most impressed by the American blues bands - he seemed to have the idea that straight blues artists should be much more popular. "I was shocked at how many people weren't aware of what they had on their doorstep."
He somehow got the mistaken idea that local bands were unaware of the blues, and that Cream's blues-based repertoire was quite new to these audiences. "There weren't many bands doing what Cream did... Even though there were the Grateful Dead, and the Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and all that, they were kind of playing pop music. They weren't relating to their roots too well. They were trying to get away from it all. What we were doing, basically, was bringing their music back home and showing it to them for the first time." (Hearing Cream's version of the "blues", it's hard to know what he's talking about!)
At the same time, he was quite impressed by American radio. "You could be in a car and tune the radio to a country music station, a jazz station, a rock station, a blues station, or an oldies rock station. The categorization was so wide, there seemed to be room for anyone... When I came home, it seemed in England there wasn't really room for more than one person to be popular at a time." (Jack Bruce was also surprised to hear FM stations playing entire albums - "that was great, that was a nice thing to do.")

As a result of their Fillmore experience, Cream's sets changed - rather than playing short sets of blues covers & some original pop songs, now they played just a few old songs with 10-20 minute jams everywhere. The songs themselves were now irrelevant. (Tapes of their American tour show the jams becoming ever lengthier and more explosive after the Fillmore run.)
Clapton said in October '67: "We don't do anything straight. We're into music much more now, as much as jazz musicians are. There are no arrangements, except for arrival and departure points. Sometimes, we just play free for half an hour."
Baker (also that October): "We are getting further out in playing different things every night. We even did the same number twice some nights, and the versions were so different we got away with it."
Clapton: "The idea is to get so far away from the original line that you're playing something that's never been heard before."
One thing Cream prided themselves on was that, as Bruce said, "Any instrument could be the lead instrument." They were not playing jams in the 'psychedelic' sense, but more as virtuosos, all of them taking simultaneous leads. The idea was to bring an improvisational jazz sensibility into loud rock music. Clapton himself was not so much into jazz; but Baker and Bruce both came from jazz backgrounds and considered live Cream to be a jazz band. "We just didn't tell Eric!"
Clapton spoke recently about the jazz influence: "The atmosphere and spontaneity, the creativity of it, was what we drew from when we got onstage in Cream, a lot of [our] freeform stuff, although it was still pretty limited in its tonality. Everything I was playing was only coming from the blues scale, and moving out of blues & rock phrasing. But the intention was to try and escape that. A lot of that came out of the listening I did to early Coltrane."

To a Dead-attuned listener, Cream shows were quite noisy, even by the standards of '68 Dead - full of shouting, power chords, heavy rock songs. Cream liked to keep the music at a deafening high pitch, rarely slackening the intense onslaught for quiet moments. Although they were fans of Chicago blues, their blues covers tended to be unrecognizable. Their jams may seem static compared to the Dead's, in that there's not much direction, no progression of moods, no transitions between songs, little feeling of a cosmic journey culminating in a climax, and absolutely no spaciness - there's just straight-out jamming, then suddenly an unrelated song reappears.
The Dead at the time, though (late '67), were not yet so utterly different in their approach, and were still working out their own improvisational techniques. Their shows of that year are full of energy, even frantic, and they're happy to turn up the noise, though they're friendlier at heart than Cream. They were also turning blues covers into a new kind of rock music, with emphasis on the instrumental interplay. There is a definite kinship between, say, their Viola Lee Blues and Cream's I'm So Glad. (The one song both bands had in common, Sittin' on Top of the World, shared no resemblance! But it's so easy to imagine what a Dead Spoonful might have been like with Pigpen...)
The Dead started jamming from a different perspective - as skilled amateurs, learning their instruments together, trying to fuse band & audience in a transportational acid-fried music, encouraged by other like-minded bands around them. Highly ambitious, in those days they always had a goal of what the music should be like, and were constantly self-improving. Cream was more aloof, torn by bickering and loss of harmony, and somewhat lacking in goals - they were lucky to find a sympathetic producer in the studio; but onstage, once they got tired of the new improv-heavy format, they were stuck and had no idea how to change or get out, except to quit.

Cream had a huge impact on people who saw them. Today, when they're considered "classic rock" predecessors to even noisier bands like Led Zeppelin, it's easy to forget that their first audiences were blown away by a kind of playing they'd never seen before - even in a city that already had its share of jam-bands. (Cream attracted a much bigger audience in their few months of US touring, and more tapers in the audience, than the Dead had in their first four years!)
I'll be quoting some audience reactions at the end, but for now I'll mention that many new listeners were so amazed they came back repeatedly to see Cream as often as they could. One fan remembers, "Most of the audience there that night was local people who had seen Cream the night before, perhaps even the previous weekend as well. This was in San Francisco - these were people who saw the best bands in the world, and they were really excited. The charged atmosphere at a Cream concert was unique in my experience."
Another witness of the first Fillmore run: "The Bay Area bands who were hot at the time were (including the sacred Dead) a joke in comparison. I heard them, I think, for 3 or 4 nights in a row, caught all the sets, and each night was better than the last. You could almost see the guys hit their stride as the nights went on, getting tighter and tighter and more experimental at the same time."
As Blair Jackson says, "The group's long, noisy, distorted jams made most bands sound positively mousy in comparison, and there's no question that the Dead and the Airplane were impressed by the volume and intensity of Cream's live assault."
Jorma Kaukonen: "When I saw Cream for the first time, I thought they were the most incredible performing band I had ever seen in my life. That might still be true. As a guitar player, I wanted to be able to do stuff like that." Seeing Cream inspired the Airplane to delve further into long improvisations. As Jorma says, "It was a growth period. I was starting to use multiple amplifiers. There were different kinds of fuzztones and the wah-wah pedal....you hear a wah-wah and you're thinking Cream."
Marty Balin: "We'd been playing the songs the same way for about a year, and then one night Jorma just took off. He started playing amazingly, just real free. We realized that once everybody knew the arrangement you could just take off like that... Pretty soon we got to a place where the music was playing us, we weren't playing it."
Jack Casady: "Probably the single most important event was when Eric Clapton came over with Cream and played the Fillmore. That and Jimi Hendrix electrified every musician as far as playing in a rock band that would just peel paint off the walls. Everybody got louder and harder and tougher after that."
(Of course, the Airplane had already been getting heavier with things like the feedback-drenched Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil before they saw Cream.)
Owsley also went to lots of Cream's shows. Clapton: "He showed up at all our gigs... We did a lot of acid, took a lot of trips.... I don't know how many times we tried to play while using acid, but there were a few... I don't really know how I got through it, because I didn't know if my hands were working, what the guitar was, or even what it was made of..."
Even Jerry Garcia was impressed by the power-trio format: "Me and Jack Casady and Mickey were gonna form a power trio one day... We actually got together one afternoon... We ended up with a tape that was about two and a half hours.... We could kick some ass...but it just sort of petered out."

Cream themselves were very surprised by their enthusiastic American reception.
Clapton said during the tour: "We seem to be a lot more popular here than I had imagined. I heard that we'd been heard of through the underground thing. Yet I really didn't imagine that we'd be this popular, or that we'd be accepted as readily as we were, because an American band like Butterfield can go to England now, and just die at all the places."
Bruce said in January '68: "It amazes me how well known we are [in America]. It is an underground thing." He had plans for the next album - "If the record company will let us, we'd like to make it a double album...one would contain the tracks we are working on now, the other would be an album recorded live at the Fillmore."

Soon after Cream left the Fillmore in September '67, they decided to record a live album there. They'd wanted to record a live album for some time, realizing that their studio recordings were never going to capture their live power; and they all agreed they played best at the Fillmore.
Bruce: "Cream was like two bands: there was a studio band, where we had the ability to overdub, and there was the live band. Some of the things worked very well live, but some things were very difficult to realize live with only three people." There was a huge gap between studio Cream and live Cream. In the studio they got to experiment with strange little songs, but didn't do the extended improvisations they'd become known for; and on the stage, they virtually ignored all the new songs they were recording, sticking mostly to a few jammed-out tunes they'd been doing since '66.
Cream played another 10-day run at the Fillmore & Winterland at the beginning of March '68, recording several shows for their next album. Unfortunately, by March '68 they were already burning out - on top of which they may have 'played it safe' when being recorded.
Bruce: "The best of Cream live was never captured on record. We were at our peak when we did our first big American tour [but by the recording] we had slipped over the peak." "It was pretty representative of the band on an average night, but not on one of the nights when we really took off - like the very early Fillmore gigs."

Most of the official live Cream recordings come from the Winterland shows on March 8-10. (As it turned out, their selection for the Wheels of Fire live album was diabolical, one side entirely taken up by harmonica & drum solos - perhaps a combination of LP time limits & band politics - but more songs were released on a couple 'posthumous' live albums. Unfortunately, the unreleased shows were then burned up in a vault fire.) There was even a BBC film crew filming some of the San Francisco shows - a few snippets were used in the "All My Loving" rock documentary, but all outtakes of course were junked by the BBC.
From March 10 '68, here's a picture of Clapton & Garcia, taken in Sausalito:
http://www.dead.net/features/jerry-garcia-eric-clapton-pose
Cream and the Dead played one show together after Cream's Winterland run - March 11, 1968, in Sacramento. Here's the poster:
http://www.deadlists.com/posters/1960s/19680311.html
Apparently, Tom Constanten (on leave from the air force) also joined the Dead for this show! The Dead opened for Cream (being much less popular at the time), so they may have played a shortened set. Their setlist is said to be: Cryptical>Other One>Cryptical>New Potato Caboose>Born Cross-Eyed>Caution Jam. McNally says in his bio, "After a brilliant Dead set, Cream came out to top them and attacked their instruments so hard they blew out their speakers; the Dead had to lend them equipment to get through the show."
This must have been quite an evening - listen to Cream's Winterland recordings of March 8-10, and the Dead's shows of March 16/17, and you can imagine the noisy night in Sacramento!
There's a story that after Garcia and Hart saw Cream, Hart said, "This is the best band in the world!" Garcia replied, "They are tonight."
I don't know what Cream made of the Dead, though I remember seeing a comment by Clapton that they spent a long time struggling to get a good sound....
There was an interview (which I can't find now) where Clapton said the Dead had a lot of skill but no idea what to do with it - a common complaint in those days. On the other hand, as an older guy in '97 he said, "I would have loved to have played with them actually. That would have been great fun, just to pick up some of that vibe and figure it out."

Later on, of course, the Dead became an institution, inspiring a whole jam-band scene. Cream are perhaps more often remembered as early burnouts on the road to heavy metal, or as a brief bright spot in Clapton's checkered career. So it may be worth gathering a few quotes from people who saw them at the time, to understand why they were an instant success in the US and Wheels of Fire became one of the biggest albums of '68. (Remember that when they were recording shows, Clapton had to turn down his volume for the microphones to cope, which seriously changed the band's sound on the live albums.)

"I was immobilized. I couldn't believe the power of their music. It was revelatory, thunderous and overwhelming."
"Eric was a revelation, as was the band as a whole. Nobody had ever graced that stage with such power and musicianship and originality. Eric especially created spellbinding solos that seemed to ebb and flow - his tone, touch and sheer inventiveness took your breath away."
"At the end, I was completely drained of emotion. It didn't seem humanly possible for anyone to play that well, with such intensity, technical clarity, lyricism, and emotion. It was the closest thing in my life that approached a religious experience. I have never again heard anything that sounded so good, or which drilled right through you, as Clapton's SG played through Marshall stacks."
"I was grabbed by the sheer sound pressure, like being pinned up against the wall by volume, and the sound of Clapton's guitar. He was playing an SG, and he made a sound I had never heard before, like a cross between a violin and a guitar."
"Cream was very loud. I was astonished at the volume. I had the Fresh Cream album, and had read articles about what Cream did 'live', and I just had to go. I was still not prepared. They were astonishing, and completely different from any other band I had heard. They just roared. I just recall being flat-out blown away by the intensity of the whole show. The atmosphere before the show was electric with anticipation--everybody was so excited, in a state of high suspense, just waiting for Cream to start. Everyone expected something incredible to happen when Cream took the stage, and they got it."
"I will never forget the awesome power and thrilling musical high of that performance. My reaction was one of shock, first of all just hearing a guitar that massive and loud to the extent of almost vibrating your spinal column! Clapton's notes absolutely resonated through your entire body and when he hit those high register notes, they had a sound that has never been reproduced by any recording. They soared high in the air, and when he would bend a high note, it felt as if you were flying it was so intense."
"I was overwhelmed, by the power/volume and force they projected. Eric played so LOUD, I could barely hear anything else. After we left the concert arena all of us were in awe. For weeks after the show all we did was play Wheels of Fire and reflect on what we had witnessed."

These stories, and lots more, can be found at the best Cream website: http://gpatt.customer.netspace.net.au/cream/contents.htm

March 8, 2010

Pigpen

A selection of Pigpen videos:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_aX1Z_pHBQ (Hard to Handle 7-3-70)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oa9kWiiuV_s (Easy Wind 7-1-70)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V752p6IMWjw (Hurts Me Too 4-17-72)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8B_YY327Pk (Next Time You See Me 4-17-72)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIwhr_S4gAc (Chinatown Shuffle 4-17-72)

Phil Lesh:
"He cultivated a biker image, but he was more the Marlon Brando Wild Ones sensitive, brooding type. But funkier, way funkier - he had a leather shirt that I saw him wear every day I knew him. Never was Pigpen more at home than with a bottle of wine and a guitar, at home or at some party, improvising epic lues rant lyrics, playing Lightnin' Hopkins songs, and doing Lord Buckley routines. For him, joining the Mother McCree's jug band with Bob and Jerry was just a small step away from what he did anyway. Garcia told me it was Pigpen's idea to turn Mother McCree's into an electric blues band. When the band turned into the Grateful Dead, Pig became our keel, our roots, our fundamental tone. Pig was the perfect front man for the Dead: intense, commanding, comforting; but I don't think he enjoyed doing that quite as much as sitting on a couch with a guitar and a jug."

Jerry Garcia:
"Pigpen was the only guy in the band who had any talent when we were starting out. He was genuinely talented. He also had no discipline, but he had reams of talent. And he had that magical thing of being able to make stuff up as he went along. He also had great stage presence. The ironic thing was that he hated it - it really meant nothing to him; it wasn't what he liked. We had to browbeat him into being a performer. His best performances were one-on-one, sitting in a room with an acoustic guitar. That's where he was really at home and at his best.
"Out in front of the crowd he could work the band, and he'd really get the audience going. He always had more nerve than I could believe. He'd get the audience on his side, and he'd pick somebody out (like a heckler) and get on them... He was the guy who really sold the band, not me or Weir. Pigpen is what made the band work."

Mickey Hart:
"Pigpen was the musician in the Grateful Dead. When I first met the Grateful Dead, it was Pigpen and the boys. It was a blues band... Pigpen was a kind man. He looked so hard, but he was a kind, soft man. That's why he had to look so tough, because he was so kind, he would get stepped on... If there was one black chick in the audience, he'd always go home with her. Somehow he'd always have her up by his organ...by the end of the evening, she'd be up sitting on his stool. He just loved black women... He was the blues: he lived it, and he believed it, and he got caught in that web and he couldn't break out. And it killed him... He was just living the blues life: singing' the blues and drinkin' whiskey. That's what all blues guys did."

Tom Constanten:
"Pigpen's father was a blues DJ who went by the name 'Cool Breeze'. Pigpen had an encyclopedic knowledge of all the blues artists, and Pigpen was a remarkable blues singer. The world never got to see the full measure of Pigpen. He could do so many things - he was so deep, so broad. I used to room with him on the road and I shared a house with him in Novato. I mean you'd look at him and see this Hell's Angel sort of character who sings this narrow band of music, and he was really into so many more things. Pigpen had a different inner and outer image. While his outer image was kind of like Pirate Pete who would shoot his gun at your feet to make you dance, yet he was also the guy who brought a portable chess game along on the road because he liked to play."

Ned Lagin:
"I was very surprised at who Pigpen actually turned out to be, given what I had seen of him... I thought Pigpen would probably be on the opposite side of the planet from me, blues tough, but he turned out to be a very sweet person. To him, I was one of those whiz-kid rocket scientist genius kids that he always wanted to meet, but was on a different school bus going to a different place... But we could sit together and play piano together and hang out together. I think there was a great sensitivity in Pigpen that was the opposite of his down & dirty Lovelight personality."

Pigpen:
"Can't think what to write, but there's an ant hobbling around on this table. Absquatulate with the funds, will ya? Had any prune-tang lately? There's a broken helicopter outside the door, looking bum-tripped after having fallen down on Happy Land St. and belonging to the people who work in the hangar next door. Poot, still at a loss. I like fun and making people happy. Sue just loves my blue bow."

Bob Seidemann:
"It was obvious to everybody Pigpen was dying. I photographed him a few days before he died and he was so weak he had to be helped from the front door of his place to the car. I wanted to do one more picture of Pig with the Dead, so I picked him up and we drove out to Bolinas where they were rehearsing. I said, 'Look, I've got Pig here. Let's go outside and do a picture.' And everybody just said, 'Uh, no, Bob. Thumbs down.' So I put Pig back in the car and on the way back he said, 'Seidemann, will you take my picture?'... It was a sad moment when those cats wouldn't do it, and I had to drag Pig back to his apartment."

Here's one of Pigpen's last songs, called No Tomorrow. (Sorry about the poor quality.)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2R03IDGo3E

Robert Petersen (Phil Lesh's friend & cowriter) wrote a poem for Pigpen in 1973, here's part of it:

& pigpen died

my eyes tequila-tortured
4 days mourning
lost another fragment
of my own self
knowing
the same brutal
night-sweats & hungers
he knew
the same cold fist
that knocked him down
now clutching furiously
at my gut

shut my eyes
& see him standing
spread-legged
on the stage of the world
the boys prodding him
egging him on
he telling all he ever knew
or cared to know

mike hand cocked like
a boxer's
head throwed back
stale whiskey blues
many-peopled destinations
neon rainy streets
& wilderness of airports
thousands maybe millions
loved him
were fired instantly
into forty-five minutes of
midnight hour
but when he died
he was thin, sick, scared
and alone

like i said to laird
i just hope he didn't hurt
too much

March 1, 2010

Dark Star 1971

1971 is not a year known for its Dark Stars. Audiences used to the Live/Dead album shrieked ecstatically whenever those first notes were played, but in '71 the Dead were concentrating more on being a straightforward rock & roll band. This is an important year for Stars, though - they become more loose and unpredictable, in fact full of surprises. There is more variety in the Stars of '71 than in '70, as the Dead experiment with the structure. The jams become more expansive through the year - especially after Godchaux joins, the Dead take a leap closer to the unearthly improvisations of 1972.

From a 1971 interview, Garcia talks a bit about Dark Star -
Reich: Each time it comes out in a different way?
Garcia: Yeah, pretty much. There are certain structural poles which we have kind of set up in it, and those periodically we do away with. That's why we came up with such a thing; there are a few things that we do which are vehicles for that openness.... There's something on our new album [the Other One] that unfolds in the Dark Star tradition, so to speak. This new one is even more amazing. It is really some of the best playing that we've ever done...
(Signpost to New Space)

1971 saw Dark Star stripped down and rebuilt - many of the themes familiar from 1970 Stars are no longer present in '71. They didn't play it as often, and early versions are often sparse, almost minimal, as if the Dead are holding back from their epic 1970 voyages. By contrast, as Garcia indicates, they were more excited about the directions the Other One could go in as it opened up and became spacier. The Other One was a regular set-II setpiece that year; whereas Dark Stars uniquely could be dropped into either set, when the mood struck. The Stars of this year are also generally less 'complete' than the giants of '69/70, as the Dead made a habit of exiting early into one song or another.
But after Hart left, the music became more dynamic and open-ended with Kreutzmann alone on drums. This year has numerous examples of turn-on-a-dime jams where the Dead can suddenly wheel in unison like a flock of startled birds. And by the fall, with Godchaux onboard and a new instrument in the mix, the jamming was much less straightforward and closer to the telepathically trippy jams that would come next year. Though their jams might have progressed the same way without Godchaux, he was obviously an inspiration to the others, giving them a richer, fuller sound and expanding the ideas they could pursue. By the end of the year, the Dark Stars are extremely loose and open, mining the realms of the unconscious....

To illustrate how the Dark Star format developed, we'll first take a look at a sample late-1970 Star. This one follows the usual '70 pattern: thematic jam > first verse > a weird space > a melodic theme > the second verse.

10/11/70
This is a poor tin-can AUD tape even by 1970 standards, complete with obtrusive audience chatter.
The Dark Star is very energetic tonight. The beginning is lost in a tapecut, so the Star comes fading in as they jam on the theme. The music is upbeat, the band revved-up, the drums very active - it sounds like we're already in the middle of the Star, as the band quests for a climax. Garcia tries to bottle the energy back up in the Dark Star theme, and they settle down for the verse. After the verse, gong crashes drop us into a tense space, which sounds a bit like a horror soundtrack...percussive string scrapings, cymbal splashes, feedback hums, hanging dissonant chords... Eventually Garcia starts slowly plucking his strings, so he sounds like a koto! The space turns into demented Japanese ghost-chamber music, the notes twangy and shimmering. (This gets the chatty audience to shut up!) Lesh storms in with a dense thundering drone, and electricity surges through the music. Garcia flashes like metallic lightning into a Sputnik jam, wah-bending his lines. The madness over, he switches to his usual tone (signaling the others that the 'space' is over) and they slowly ease into a regular melodic Dark Star jam. This builds gradually - it doesn't hit the heights of ecstasy like some other Stars, but it's satisfying and very rhythmic. The music become bright and happy-sounding, driven forward by the rhythm. Caught up in the mood, Lesh hints at Feelin' Groovy, but Garcia swerves back into the Dark Star theme instead, and the band quiets down for a slow reentry to the verse. The jam-ending is different than usual - Garcia prolongs it, drifting on trebly chords a while before he starts the verse.
Dark Star segues into St Stephen, much to the crowd's delight. (It's strange to remember that Live/Dead listeners at the time wouldn't have heard the full segue, as it was split across sides on the album!) Anyone hoping for the Eleven, though, would have been surprised by the quick turn into Not Fade Away, and after that, the first performance of Goin' Down the Road. Not Fade Away is turned into a mere three-minute bookend to the new song, which is how it would stay through the first half of '71....the days of the giant 1970 NFAs ended on this night!
(This show also has a fine Dancing in the Streets jam, which sounds at times like a wah'ed Playing jam of two years later, though the sound is too poor to be sure what's happening....)
http://www.archive.org/details/gd70-10-11.aud.cotsman.9500.sbeok.shnf

(Note: For those who're wondering what a "Sputnik jam" is, it's a label for the eerie, fingerstyle repeated chiming notes Garcia plays in many Dark Stars [and some Other Ones] from late '68 through '72. The best-known example is after 11:40 on the Live/Dead Star. This jam was most extensive in '69/70, but the examples we'll see in '71 are often just Garcia on his own, doing variations.)

2/18/71
The Dead were in high spirits for this show, the first in a long run at one of their favorite places, the Capitol Theater. They even brought multitrack recording equipment to catch any moments of magic that might arise. The first Dark Star of '71 is one of the most unusual - for starters, it's the only Star with Mickey Hart, and the last time we'll hear him playing that guiro (or 'scratcher') in the intro jam. Not only that, but there's another instrument tinkling like little bells throughout, giving this Star a very distinctive atmosphere. I used to think this was Mickey Hart on glockenspiel (something we'd heard in the 11/8/70 Star) - but it turns out it's actually Ned Lagin on clavichord! His first show with them had been the Boston 11/21/70 show (where he can't be heard); now that they were in the area again, he found himself onstage again.
(As Lagin said, "I brought my clavichord down precisely to do acoustic music with Jerry. And I sat in the first night.... I did not sit in after the first night because everyone was adjusting to Mickey's departure from the band... Jerry and I jammed during the days, clavichord and acoustic guitar." You can also hear him occasionally later in the set, as in Candyman.)

Dark Star comes early, in the first set - the crowd screams when they recognize it. Garcia loses no time after the intro in taking the music to a more 'mystical' level with a few carefully chosen high notes. The feeling is calm, meditative - but the jam flows like a liquid surge into a brief burst of ecstasy after just a couple minutes, provoking more screams from the audience. Garcia quickly calms it down for the verse, which he sings very emphatically. (Then Weir completely blows his usual post-verse notes!) Rather than going straight to a space, the band tests the waters for a bit, Garcia trying a couple different approaches as the others drop out. This is where Lagin enters the jam, with some ringing chimes. Garcia finds a high note he likes and stays there (with one delightful peal of feedback). The music slides into a luscious harmonic space (Weir echoing Lagin's chimes), but Garcia quickly bursts into the Wharf Rat chords, and the others follow - the crowd realizes they're in another song now, and cheers. This is certainly one of the most dramatic Wharf Rat entrances.
The sad tale of August West unfolds for the first time. Garcia's singing is strong, and though Wharf Rat has a few rough edges in its first outing, there's so much conviction in the song, it's still spine-chilling. (It's also uncharacteristic for a Dead song, in that Garcia just strums the chords throughout, while Weir plays the melodic part.) The little solo at the end morphs before our ears into a Dark Star space, and with a little twist of the riff Garcia brings us back to the Dark Star theme. The music speeds up, and they start a new melodic jam around two alternating chords. (Many people say this is a Tighten Up jam due to the chord resemblance - but it's not.) Garcia uses a breathtakingly piercing tone; and his playing is especially ethereal with some swoops of harmonized feedback. But Weir and Lesh also play perfectly in support, the music guiding them, all playing with one voice. The jam goes through several variations, pausing and resuming - once Garcia has had enough, he heads straight to the second Dark Star verse while the audience whistles. As the outro slowly unwinds, everyone wonders what will come next - of all things, Weir starts Me & My Uncle. After this, the band decides it's time for a break - Weir announces, "We're going to take a break, and you can watch our dust."
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1971-02-18.sbd.cantor-crouch-diebert-gmb.85478.sbeok.flac16

As it is, this is the least-jammed Dark Star in a long time - they wouldn't play it again for two months. It's hard to say if they just weren't in the mood for another Star, or if Hart's departure after this show made them more conservative in their song selection, or if recording the shows made them decide to focus more on songs; but the shows after this were not very adventurous. A couple days after Hart split, Weir explained to the audience, "Mickey's under the weather....he hasn't been feeling well for the past few nights." (Garcia adds, "It's strange.") Lesh says in his book, "Mickey's departure left a big hole in the band's aura...and for the first few months after that, we didn't play as well as we could have. We were in essence tiptoeing around the hole he'd left."

The main innovation of this Dark Star is not in the Beautiful Jam (if they planned that to be a regular part of Dark Star, it was short-lived since they never played it again), but in the way it breaks into a different song. In '69 and '70 they sometimes segued into a song in the middle of the jam; but they'd try it a lot more frequently during '71.
These are some earlier Dark Stars in which they'd done a mid-jam segue:
5/30/69 Dark Star>Cosmic Charlie
6/22/69 Dark Star>Other One
7/12/69 Dark Star>Other One
8/16/69 Dark Star>High Time
11/8/69 Dark Star>Other One>Dark Star
2/11/70 Dark Star>Spanish Jam
5/8/70 Dark Star>Dancing in the Streets
6/24/70 Dark Star>Attics>Dark Star>Sugar Magnolia>Dark Star
11/8/70 Dark Star>Main Ten>Dancing in the Streets
Weir's juxtaposition of a cowboy song out of the delicate grace of Dark Star was also new - they liked the effect, and would explore it a lot more in '71/72.

And finally, a discussion of the Beautiful Jam wouldn't be complete without Phil Lesh's reaction. David Gans played it for him when Lesh appeared on the "Dead to the World" radio show in 1997:
Gans: Well, you asked me to turn you on to some Grateful Dead music, Phil, and that's about the prettiest passage I know.
Lesh: Wow. Ah. Ah. When was that from?
Gans: February 18, 1971, Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY. It was coming out of the first "Wharf Rat" ever and back into "Dark Star."
Lesh: Ohhhh....
Gans: Pretty stuff.
Lesh: Oh, that's just gorgeous.... Aw, that, that -- I'm sorry, that just, that brought tears to my eyes.
Gans: Well, good. I'm glad you liked it!
Lesh: Yeah, that's gorgeous. Is it longer than that? I mean, is there more of it?
Gans: No, that's pretty much it....

4/8/71
This Dark Star is more conventional, even restrained. Garcia doesn't seem to be in top form like he was on 2/18. (Weir, by contrast, is very high in the mix, so he jumps right out.) The big surprise of this Star is that Ned Lagin is playing electric piano! He's very quiet in the background (picked up only by vocal mikes?), but definitely present and influencing Garcia's playing. In fact, they may have played Dark Star just because he was there. (Actually, hearing him was a big shock for me, since he was completely inaudible on my old tape underneath the hum - when I listened to a digital stream and heard this mellow vibes-like sound in the intro, I first thought, "That can't be Pigpen?!")

Dark Star opens the second set. The intro is similar to 2/18, brief but dynamic - there isn't a long jam, but it swells up and fades down again on a dime; the group is tuned in and synchronized. After the verse, a big space seems to be coming, but Garcia skips it and starts a new gentle melodic pattern. The music almost dissolves into noodling - there's a cool spacy sputnik-type bit where Garcia and Lagin echo each other. As they amble quietly, Garcia keeps adjusting tones - at one moment he hits the '72 watery tone, but moves on. Almost indiscernibly, the band builds up into a jam - they turn it up, Weir slashes chords, Garcia finds a stinging tone, and before you can tell how it happened, they're in the midst of a nice, fiery climax, Garcia wailing away. Suddenly they drop to quietness again, and Garcia hones in on four soft descending notes (sort of like Feelin' Groovy). The others pick this up, and it segues into a soothing chordal jam, sounding much like an extended Wharf Rat intro, with Weir playing arpeggios around Garcia's chords. But there's no Wharf Rat this night - Garcia returns to the Dark Star theme. There's a brief cut in the second verse, then the usual transition to St Stephen.
The following Not Fade Away is very laid-back, but notable for the long Weir/Garcia dual solos into Goin' Down the Road. It's also unusual for being in the middle of the set - after a few more songs they close the show with a punchy Good Lovin'.
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1971-04-08.sbd.deibert.83756.sbeok.flac16
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1971-04-08.sbd.unknown.14397.shnf (the loud hum is filtered out more, sounds cleaner)

4/26/71
This is the first of only two Dark Stars the Dead played as a quartet. It comes in the first set again, after one of their ridiculously extended tuning breaks. Within moments they sound much more energized than they had on 4/8 - everyone plunges right into the jam. This Star has that mysterious quality - purposeful, questing, exploring little corners of the music. They're easily diverted, in no hurry to reach the verse - Garcia plays a line then dances away into something else. The ever-shifting jam becomes trancelike, and time slips away - finally when the theme returns, they speed up quite a bit as they approach the verse! After the verse, they start zooming into a jam, but pull up and halt the momentum as Lesh rumbles and cymbals tap. We enter a space, the audience cheering - Garcia plays a little silvery Sputnik that opens the door to another realm of bass drones and frantic guitar notes trying to escape - Lesh slams big bass chords as Garcia's guitar twists & howls. Then the cloud lifts - Garcia changes tone and leads them out of space into a lilting, bittersweet jam, which is all too short before it peters out. Kreutzmann is right on top throughout, cruising through the guitarists' changes almost telepathically. After a few moments' indecision, Garcia starts Wharf Rat - the song still feels a bit rushed, but by now the ending solo is much more extended. This time, instead of going back into Dark Star, they just end Wharf Rat and start Casey Jones instead.
This is another pointer to the future - a Dark Star without a second verse. It's a bit disappointing that after such a promising start, Garcia would bail out midway, making this one of the shortest Stars of the year. It's also rather sad that with Duane Allman standing by, they didn't invite him on for Dark Star! [Beat It On Down The Line isn't the first song I'd think of to use his talents...]
4/26/71 isn't available for streaming on the Archive, even though apparently not a single song was used on the Ladies & Gentlemen set. (This Wharf Rat was used for the "Grateful Dead" live album, but with many alterations, so it slightly resembles the original live version.)

4/28/71
Just two days later, the New York faithful were treated to another Dark Star. (This was quite a bonus in a set that had already included tremendous jams in Morning Dew, Hard to Handle, and the Other One!) The ghosts of '69 stalk the stage as Tom Constanten joins the band, though he mostly stays in the background, and the Dead are not as expansive as the days of yore. The intro jam is short and concise tonight, the music calm but insistent. The space after the verse is more relaxed and pretty than on the 26th; there's more space between the notes. Constanten adds a lot to the space with his swirly organ sound. Garcia quietly enters a Sputnik at the edge of hearing and turns it up - it's extended this time with the others poking in. This shifts into a kind of Cumberland-style jam - Lesh starts hammering Tighten Up (as in a Dancing climax), Weir goes wild on top of this, and the music explodes in a frenzy. But all too soon they drop back into a moment of unrelieved stasis - here they fall into a second jam that slowly teases its way into the second verse. This was another very economical Dark Star! They'd already played Wharf Rat after the Other One; so with Constanten aboard, what else could follow Dark Star but a nice, rowdy St Stephen?
Released on the Ladies & Gentlemen CD. (Note that the 4/28 Other One was used for the '71 Grateful Dead live album, and the following Wharf Rat was put on Ladies & Gentlemen.)

7/31/71
This Dark Star is something special. The Stars we've seen so far in '71 wouldn't make any of the 1970 versions break a sweat - but this is the first '71 Star to pass 20 minutes, and it finds the band on a new level. (Either they did a lot of practicing since April, or they're much more confident.)
Until recently, the only recording known of this boisterous show was a decent but audience-heavy AUD, until an SBD miraculously surfaced for the Road Trips release, revealing new depths in the music. (The AUD tape used for a patch here, perhaps the master, sounds good enough to have been an excellent release on its own....) One thing the Road Trips omits is Playing in the Band - one of the early, heavier jam-free versions, which the audience claps all the way through. Surprisingly, the moment it ends, the Dead launch right into Dark Star.
Though it's been three months since they last played Dark Star live (and only five shows in the interval), it's clear right away they're getting to a new space. The playing sounds much more dense, even jazzy, the band diving into the depths of the music - in the first few minutes they flirt with several jam ideas without settling on anything. As they start the verse riff, Garcia changes his mind and they wander off again into a mini-space, the momentum suspended for a little side-trip into the void, where the music floats over a dark sea. (The audience loves this.) Lesh nudges the theme again as the music gets heavier, but Garcia is reluctant, and instead pushes the band into a remarkable, heavy little sheets-of-sound jam - finally singing the verse over 10 minutes into the song!
They're playing roughly, forcefully - the space is menacing, Lesh booming, drums rattling, Garcia doing volume swells and weird glassy chimes, the tension building up. The jam that ensues is more turbulent and raging than usual. Garcia marches out of this with a run of anticipatory notes, which in no time becomes a triumphant, soaring Feelin' Groovy that's like rockets bursting in the air. (It's worth checking out the AUD just to hear the audience shrieks here!) Garcia is so energized at this point he almost bursts into Bertha (!), but they manage to channel their focus into a new melodic jam that sounds like a new song being born. This slowly settles down into a Lesh-grounded pause, out of which Garcia starts the Dark Star theme again as the audience goes crazy. He sits out for a while as the others gently groove on the theme, and comes back for yet another jam, calmer this time, sounding more like a soothing Bird Song... Then the unbelievable happens - Garcia decides to screw the second verse, signals the others to stop, and they BLAST right into Bird Song instead!
As it happens, they're too revved-up for Bird Song to have that enchanting lullaby quality it had in the spring; but Garcia plays a mighty nice solo to end it. (And they still haven't finished the first set of the show!) There were two more Bird Songs this summer, on 8/5 (not on tape) and 8/23 (AUD only); they even rehearsed it with Godchaux, but it wasn't played live again til 7/18/72.
The SBD is on the Summer '71 Road Trips; the AUD is here -
http://www.archive.org/details/gd71-07-31.winberg.weiner.5678.gdADT05.sbefail.shnf

Unfortunately, the Dead didn't play Dark Star in their August '71 shows, though they did some amazing Other Ones. (Ned Lagin apparently joined them again, though unheard, on the two Berkeley Other Ones.) In September they picked up a new piano player who would radically change the nature of their jams. Although, sadly, we don't have a Dark Star in the circulating tapes of Godchaux's rehearsals, they must have worked on it as they started featuring it much more frequently in the next tour. There are as many Dark Stars in Godchaux's first month as there were in the first eight months of '71! It wasn't yet the every-other-night regular it would become in '72, but you can hear the band's excitement with the music on this tour. Just hearing the progression in these first three Dark Stars is quite impressive, as they go from good to great to awesome...

10/21/71
Dark Star starts at a slower tempo now - it sounds somewhat tentative, as if the band is feeling out the new player. Godchaux fills in the spaces between the guitars, but he's not just backing the band by sketching out chords, he's also taking a kind of dual lead with Garcia, following him down odd melodic paths. At the same time, his playing is very percussive - with his choice of acoustic piano rather than organ (the instrument the Dead had always used before), he doesn't go for sustain very much. (This is something the band would get rather tired of, seven years down the road!)
The music is very spacy, kind of ambient without going anywhere. Though subdued, it's interesting to hear everyone follow each other as Godchaux throws out little teases. After a few minutes, Garcia turns up the heat with a little bit of frenzy before they climb into the Dark Star theme. As the others play the theme, Garcia riffs off it for a minute, delaying the verse. Afterwards, there's no real space, they just quietly noodle for a while. There even seems to be a duel - who can play the softest? - as they get quieter and quieter. There's a nice brief bit where Garcia's volume-swelling his notes as the others tinkle like windchimes (!). Finally Garcia starts stringing some rhythmic notes together and starts a cheerful melodic jam - the way they tear into this, it's a clear embryonic ancestor of the 4/8/72 jam, with Godchaux giving more density to the rhythm. This turns into a stomping Feelin' Groovy climax that's just mind-blowing. (It's even more impressive coming after such a long stretch of quiet low-key aimlessness.) This quiets down and gives way to a short passage of atonal discordancy. In a sudden turnaround, out of nowhere Garcia starts Sittin' on Top of the World, and everyone jumps on it right away. (This was the first version since 11/5/70. I suspect they planned it; Lesh hints at it earlier.) Garcia forgets some words, but sounds enthusiastic, and Godchaux adds strong honky-tonk rhythm. Over the last chord, Lesh neatly slips in the Dark Star theme - and without any more jamming, Garcia quickly sings the last verse. As the outro ends, Weir smoothly starts Bobby McGee.
One Compendium reviewer (who was at this show) said, "Their performance was so lethargically abysmal, I thought they might as well just hang it up." (He spoke too soon! Two other Compendium reviewers, though, note this as a blissful, fantastic Star, which goes to show how subjective all this is.) Except for a few minutes in the middle, this is definitely a lazy Star, but it does point at things to come. This was the first time a country song was placed in the middle of Dark Star; and there's also some early similarity to their 1972 style, in the way they pass quickly from quiet meanderings to bursts of melodic intensity. (True, they'd been doing that in 1970 as well, but the melded focus and sudden transitions seem different now.)
http://www.archive.org/details/gd71-10-21.sbd.cotsman.5071.sbeok.shnf

1971 was the year where the Dead went wild with the idea of a jam>country song>jam medley. The first Other One>Me & My Uncle>Other One of the year was actually the famed 8/6/71 show. The Dead were happy enough with it to try it a couple more times that August (8/15 and 8/23); then it became a constant feature of the fall shows, and we'd see some variations in the Europe '72 tour as well.
There was a precedent in 1970 though, at the spectacular July Fillmore East shows:
7/10/70 Other One>Attics of My Life (!)>Other One
7/12/70 Other One>Me & My Uncle>Other One
It's odd that it took them a year to pick up on this idea again! As we saw in the earlier list, Dark Stars were being 'interrupted' by other songs long before the Other One was. But fall '71 was when the Dead started messing with audiences by diving from unhinged Dark Star jams straight into traditional country tunes, and back again.

10/24/71
Just three days later, there's a big improvement. There's more tension in the music; Garcia is playing with more bite. This Dark Star is more of a voyage, constantly going in unexpected directions, never slowing down for long - there's always a feeling that something's around the corner. On my copy, Weir and Godchaux are in the same place in the mix, so it's hard to differentiate them; they blend into one big rhythm machine.
The long intro jam climbs imperceptibly, taking its time, poking around here & there. There's a nice transition to the Dark Star theme as Garcia throws out sparkly lines over the riff. After the verse, once again there's no space, the jam simply continues uninterrupted! It starts out unhurried, then Garcia starts playing fast runs, and the others speed up with him, and soon we get that Cumberland feel. All of a sudden, the band jumps into the Tighten Up rhythm, but it's soon dropped in their fervor as they race ahead. Things get even more exciting when Garcia changes the direction of the jam and the music seems about to explode, Garcia barely able to keep up with himself. Nearing escape velocity, they quickly hit the brakes and swerve into a breezy, calming Feelin' Groovy. It soon ends, and they recharge for some moments, Lesh bubbling away high on the frets while Garcia paves the way to a new jam. The music pours out insatiably, Garcia spilling over with melodies. He repeats a pretty bright riff, and the band rips into another bout of white-hot jamming. Garcia cuts it off with a little flourish, and they suddenly coast down to a half-speed glide to prepare for a beautiful re-entry into the verse. Once again, from the outro Weir quickly segues into Bobby McGee.
This Star is much more consistent than on the 21st - rather than having one big climax, it's steadily inventive all the way through. (Garcia in particular is nonstop tonight.) It's also notable for being the last '71 Star to include both verses. (There would only be a few more in '72.) It was also one of Dick Latvala's favorite Stars.
http://www.archive.org/details/gd71-10-24.sbd.clugston.3292.sbeok.shnf

10/31/71
Having heard this Star so many times, it's hard not to hold it in special reverence. The playing seems especially calm, possessed, focused. From the start, Garcia's lighting a path to infinity with unimprovable playing - for example, check out the repeated notes he hits after first introducing the Dark Star theme, about five minutes in. He takes a long, piercing detour around the riff, then blazes right into into the Star theme again. After the verse, there's still no space; Garcia plays a cyclical pattern (similar to a '68 Cryptical), then he picks up on Lesh's bobbing line, and bang, they're in the middle of a hot jam. But he quickly lets it go, searching for a different approach; the others follow him, trying to establish solid ground. Garcia's very restless in this performance - he keeps shifting around, gets a handle on one line and then reaches for something else, dropping jams before they can build - so this Star doesn't have the driving forward momentum that 10/24 had. The other guys seem to be just keeping up!
Finally Garcia starts the Tighten Up riff, the first full-fledged Tighten Up in Dark Star for a year. Once the others have picked it up, he solos over the chords. In the middle it pauses, then resumes; at the climax Garcia holds onto one repeated note for several bars, then soars into a higher pitch. As the jam winds down, he changes styles, playing a sputnik-type pattern that slows to a smooth stop. It's the perfect opening for the second verse, and they hint at the Dark Star theme, but Garcia's not yet ready. He's still switching tones, nudging the others; the music gets wiry, with a more frantic edge, and they take it into a little discordant-flamenco bit (a distant ancestor of the Tiger jam). They're building up to something, tensely sustaining their notes. Godchaux brings in a stabilizing chord, and the band coalesces around it, all their overtones blending into one giant drone. Garcia holds feedback over the piano notes as Weir and Kreutzmann start Sugar Magnolia beneath the din - and a moment later, they're all in the new song. It's one of the most amazing segues they ever pulled off. (In the Europe '72 tour they'd try the Dark Star>Sugar Magnolia segue frequently - 4/14 is another striking example like this one, with Weir boldly cutting to Sugar Mag while Garcia's off deep in space.)
(Note that Godchaux is very quiet in the mix; so he sounds like more of a background player in this performance, though he does get louder as it goes along. The Compendium reviewer, by the way, called this Star flat and lifeless! "Too careful and pensive, void of any feeling," he says...)
Later on, the last St Stephen for many years is rather stiff, but Garcia pulls off some very unique soloing. He's not through for the night, either; Not Fade Away was going through a tremendous revival this fall, and his solos in this Not Fade Away will - as they say - steal your face right off your head....
Released on Dick's Picks 2.

11/7/71
Although this show is famous, the Dark Star is not one of its highlights. This Star is more condensed and fragmentary than the last two - their technique of flitting from one little jam to the next doesn't pan out so well this time around, as it seems they're not all sharing the mood. (Godchaux is a bit low in the mix here too, reduced to an echoey presence in the back.)
It starts well to audience screams - Garcia sustains a nice feedback note at the start. The intro jam is gentle, introspective, Garcia playing gracefully. Lesh is feeling rowdy tonight, playing quirky solo lines off on his own, and ignores Garcia when he tries introducing the Dark Star theme. Garcia returns to it; they digress into a little jam, and then come back a third time. The verse drops right into spacy string-scrapings, which doesn't last long as Garcia quickly abandons that idea and heads for a jam. This comes together, Garcia playing a pretty lead; but a unified jam doesn't cohere for long, as Lesh seems to want to travel his own path. After a bit of melodic noodling, finally Garcia starts playing the Other One riff - the others agree to this, and they stop for the drum solo.
By contrast, the Other One is tight and coherent. They drift into a quick spiralling space after the verse, and Weir throws in a Me & My Uncle - then the Other One resumes again in a mellow fashion as if nothing had happened. After some nice spacy jamming, they return to the verse, and come to a stop. Lesh explains: "We probably wouldn't have stopped there but we got a broken string." (The Not Fade Away to end the set isn't too shabby, either - Garcia revisits the same zone as on 10/31.)
http://www.archive.org/details/gd71-11-07.prefm.kaplan.9570.sbeok.shnf

11/15/71
Dark Star returns to the first set tonight for the last time - this version is exceptional, the closest yet to their '72 style. It's taken at a faster pace, and the intro jam is very wide-ranging. Garcia is on, his guitar lines like streaks of silver - the music ebbs and flows easily, carrying the audience down a soft transitive river. The jamming soon loses any reference to the song and becomes pure instrumental bliss, the band merging into one being - it's almost a surprise when Garcia returns to the Dark Star theme. The verse out of the way, the band plunges right into space with a boom - Lesh rattles the walls with feedback as the others enter a frantic bluegrassy jam. Weir tries to start El Paso at that tempo, but the others drown him out in a clash of wills, and the jam flows on. Garcia plays some beautiful lines to a drone string; then he & Lesh get into a brief demented duet. Weir starts El Paso again, resolved to have his way - this time Lesh joins him, and Garcia comically scratches his way into country-pickin' mode.
El Paso is a hot, dreamy version, carrying the intensity of the Dark Star jam. They come to a stop at the end, then Garcia starts a new exploration, noodling off into the unknown. Weir and Godchaux join him for a spacy interlude. (This is very much like a Europe '72 space, not really Dark Star-related but its own entity.) It soon heats up - the music percolates and things start to get hairy. Lesh goes ape in a mini-meltdown - Garcia trills his way out of this into a dark zone where the bass booms scarily over frantic guitar warbles (much like Tigers to come). But Garcia abruptly changes the scene, and slams into some hard r&b chord chops over Godchaux's piano riffing. Weir and Lesh take it up, and Garcia plays a fiery Lovelight-type solo. Eventually they calm down, and bring the jam to a trilled finish; then seem to be looking around for a transition. Garcia hints at Dark Star, but after a pause he jumps right into a surprise Casey Jones instead, the second verse of Dark Star once again forgotten.
We get another unexpected jam in the second set, in Not Fade Away - once Weir hits the China Cat jam, NFA is left behind in an uncontrollable wave of pure jamming, and it's a shock when Garcia comes back to earth & signals Goin' Down the Road.
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1971-11-15.sbd.set2.jupille.7735.shnf

12/5/71
This is a strong, unique Dark Star which doesn't have any verses! Whenever you think one's coming, they head for a country song instead. It's also very spacy - the Dead continue in the same vein as 11/15, of pure jamming without structure. Here the music is a lot like it would be in '72, flowing unconsciously into realms of extended moodiness. The FM broadcast has a very rich sound - like a matrix, it includes audience mikes, though they're turned down during the songs.
The crowd is delighted to hear Dark Star. It starts out relaxed and confident - there's a very jazzy feel in this one, enhanced since the piano and drums are mixed louder than in other versions. Lesh is in a melodic mood, Kreutzmann drumming circles around everyone, and the music drips like butter, never staying still for long... The band gets so involved in the jamming they don't even bother with a verse. They build up to a mini-Feelin' Groovy jam, then slide helplessly into a wild little meltdown. Out of that, it seems like they're heading into a melodic jam, but it suddenly turns into a blazing Me & My Uncle, an incredible segue.
The last chord of Uncle returns instantly to the Dark Star jam, the tempo guided by Kreutzmann. But immediately, before you know it, they're back in a reflective quiet zone. The music floats weightlessly, notes lingering in space - Garcia plays pretty, melancholy lines, culminating in violin-like volume swells, as Lesh presses in threateningly. They all enter an intense space, high-pitched notes echoing off each other and the drums kicking in. Godchaux pushes upfront with mad clusters of notes while Garcia becomes more frenetic (in another proto-Tiger). Garcia scrubs the way into another drawn-out meltdown of scrapes, rattles, hums & drum-blows. They emerge into another ominous space, Lesh droning while Garcia trills. The music teeters on the edge until they reach a crescendo of primordial noise. Godchaux insistently repeats a little riff over and over, until the others form a new jam around him - but it quickly dissolves and returns to the void. They hover in stillness, dominated by bass and drums. Finally, Lesh starts the Dark Star theme, but Garcia's found a chiming trance-riff and ignores it. They head for another jam, but Weir seems to be having trouble, as his amp is just making strange buzzing noises. Disregarding him, they go into the Dark Star theme anyway, sounding a bit hyper and speedy. When Weir returns, it seems like they're ready at last to start the verse - but Garcia doesn't feel like it and instead nags the others with the Sittin' on Top of the World intro until they catch on, then they dive into that song - an awkward segue, though the crowd appreciates it!
(It's not the best Sittin' either, as Garcia sounds unready for it and it takes a while to build up steam. They hadn't played it since 10/21, though it became a little more common for a few months after this.)
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1971-12-05.fm.matera.100316.sbeok.flac16

12/15/71
Dark Star starts the second set tonight - this one's more conventional, but just as inspired. It starts out smiling, with a long ten-minute intro jam that streams along intuitively. It's amazing how closely they follow each other - they pounce on the slightest hint and change directions in an instant, weaving like a school of fish. The band often drops out to let Garcia take the lead; there's one quiet section where he leads, that builds astonishingly to a loud, intense climax - this gradually unwinds in a rushing cascade that sounds like it's heading for an Other One. About nine minutes in, it's like the heavens suddenly burst open as a frantic jam pours out - then Garcia drops the energy in an instant and switches to the Dark Star theme.
There's a very nice, quiet space after the verse (you can hear the crowd digging it). To a backdrop of Weir and Godchaux's tinklings, Garcia rides some volume swells, then trembles his strings with a slide. Their notes are swallowed up by darkness, as the space fills with silence. In the stillness, Garcia starts noodling and gets into a little quasi-sputnik, but in the meantime Weir, Kreutzmann, and Lesh are piecing together bit by bit an odd, unique lounge-style instrumental (sounding more like something from '73). Once the band has eased into this, they play it at length, til it slowly dissolves and transforms into a more spirited, driving jam. Garcia brings this to a finish with some high notes and quickly hops right into a honky-tonk Deal - which is unremarkable.
The set is notable for ending with a rare late-'71 Lovelight in which Pigpen is back on form, including a blues jam in the middle and ending with a wild raveup.
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1971-12-15.sbd.miller.97718.sbeok.flac16

3/23/72
After our little tour of '71, it might also be worth taking a look at the first Dark Star of 1972. Turns out, this Academy of Music Star is not much like the half-hour monsters that would soon follow in Europe. It most closely resembles the 10/21/71 Star, in being mainly aimless until redeeming itself in a climactic jam. By now Garcia has developed the Tiger jam - he'd been doing some meltdowns in his January '72 shows with Wales, and this Star has a distinct resemblance to some of those crazed jams. (Sonically, Garcia's tone sounds thinner here than in '71. He and Lesh are way up in the mix here though, so this Star is mainly their show - it doesn't sound like Weir is doing much.)
The intro jam is much shorter than in late '71, less than five minutes. It stays close to the Dark Star theme - Garcia tries out a quiet sputnik variation, then awkwardly launches into the Dark Star riff. He has a hard time adjusting the tempo and strays off-time, so they keep coming back to the riff. After the verse, they settle down into space and drift quietly, Garcia and Godchaux tinkling high notes. Garcia starts a lightly wah'd trickle, while Lesh putters around off on his own, testing out the speakers. Garcia digs into an aggressive repeating riff, and the others join in for a little jam which immediately dies down. Here the mayhem starts as Garcia starts spiralling around, Lesh spurts out atonal bass grunts, and Kreutzmann kicks into action. Lesh, determined to go farther out than Garcia, turns up the volume and disgorges random, bizarre chunks of ground-up bass innards. (Or as the Compendium puts it: "Bonk, bonk, BONK!") The band descends into a meltdown while Lesh revs like a motorcycle - Garcia launches a short Tiger, and discordancy rules the stage. Lesh rams in loud chords as if trying to drown out everyone, but the others have calmed down and a more normal mood is returning. (This was much hairier than the Tiger they did in the 3/21 Other One!)
Around the 15-minute mark, a more structured jam finally starts - out of this, Lesh starts a 'happy' chord run. Garcia picks it up right away and soars spontaneously into a waterfall of melody. The band catches fire, and out of nowhere this tremendous jam turns into Feelin' Groovy. After a few minutes Garcia gracefully winds it down - but then unexpectedly bursts back into a Sugar Magnolia-type variation. For a few moments any direction is possible as the music opens up (Weir even hints at China Cat) - but Garcia drops back into the Dark Star riff instead of going further. We get the second verse, which would be a rarity in '72, then they totally screw up the outro. Kreutzmann sounds like he wants to start the Not Fade Away drumbeat, but the others just stop.
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1972-03-23.sbd.miller.100000.sbeok.flac16

(There's a possible early version of that ending jam: it's a short, laid-back 40-second jam in the tuning break after Sugar Magnolia, in this show:
http://www.archive.org/details/gd71-12-02.sbd.lai.6255.sbeok.shnf
The tracking isn't very good - the jam starts in the last 10 seconds of Sugar Mag, and continues at the start of "tuning" - just when it starts to take off, they stop it dead for tuning, of course. But it's possible to hear a similarity...)

That last Dark Star makes me wonder how much they'd practiced it over the winter months - while a song like Playing in the Band had grown by leaps & bounds from its '71 counterpart (probably due to rehearsals for Weir's Ace album), the Dark Star is uncoordinated and hasn't progressed much since '71.
They didn't do any more Stars in the Academy of Music run - however, they did do three Other Ones. (Unfortunately, the one from the 26th still doesn't circulate, being locked in the Vault, but it's an enticing-looking Other One>Me & My Uncle>Other One>Wharf Rat that hopefully will see daylight soon.)
These shows, in hindsight, were something of a test run for the Europe tour [they were meant to help finance the trip], and we can hear the band growing in confidence even in the shows we have. Check out the astonishing jump from the relatively restrained 3/21 Other One to the spectacular blowout on 3/28! (Which is then put in the shade by the next one on 4/7.)

Our next Dark Star, from the damp shores of England, takes the music to a new level. One reason the Dark Stars of 1971 are often ignored is because of what would happen in Europe. Not only are the Stars performed much more often, at twice the length of most '71 Stars, they're touched by the fires of inspiration and filled with the songs of the spheres. But that's a story for another day....

Garcia, 1971: "If it were possible for us to be able to survive playing music that was as potentially free and open as Dark Star, it's likely that we would do that... We're trying to guide ourselves into a place where we can become more music, where we can play more music and have it get to higher places and express finer and subtler things."