March 29, 2014

1972 Melodic Jams

One unusual trait of the Dead’s long jams in 1972 was that they would sometimes end Other Ones or Dark Stars with unique melodic sequences. Out of spacy or abstract passages, chord patterns would emerge that sounded rehearsed or familiar, but you couldn’t quite place where you’d heard them before, and generally they were never played again.
Of course this kind of jam happened in other years as well – I might just mention the 2/18/71 “Beautiful Jam” or the end-of-Dark-Star jam on 2/24/74 as examples – but for some reason there was a whole cluster of them in 1972.

Though they were improvised, I suspect these pieces may have been based on themes the Dead tried out in rehearsals, so when one bandmember suggested a chord sequence, the others could quickly latch on. Since ’69 the Dead had worked out a frequent technique of following a spacy or tense section of the jam with a “happy” chord sequence, relieving the tension and adding structure & dynamic contrast to the jam. They also had enough practice playing together that if Kreutzmann started tapping a new beat, or another player laid out a few chords or new melodic line, the rest of the band could rapidly form around it.
As I wrote elsewhere (about the Tighten Up & Feelin’ Groovy jams in 1970), “The Dead had a knack for doing these sequences that sounded familiar even if you couldn't quite place them, and their habit was often to play these after a passage of formlessness or building tension, so that these happy melodic passages would be kind of a release for the audience.”
Audiences frequently cheered these thematic jams, responding to them with joy even though they probably couldn’t have recognized the riffs. One reader suggests that this may have been a subconscious process that the Dead intentionally aimed for: “I think the Tighten Up jam as used by the GD worked a really cool magic trick on the listeners - it made a seemingly improvised piece of music suddenly sound perfect and just-right and totally satisfying… It is a pretty good trick to produce the enjoyment of something familiar within the framework of an improvisation. In other words, for a "typical" listener in 1970, the Tighten Up jam would have the best of both worlds - the newness and excitement of improvisation combined with the familiarity and satisfaction of a known theme, and without the listeners being aware of the precise reasons for their response.”

Weir described the Dead’s jams in a September 1972 Crawdaddy interview:
“We play cues to each other, and depending upon whether or not anybody’s listening, or whether anybody cares to second the motion, we’ll go that way. If you can get two on a trip, you generally go there. It can be something we all know or a completely new idea introduced within the context of what we’re doing. If the movement gets adopted, then we can go to a completely new place. Or if somebody introduces a familiar line from an old place – it may be a song or a passage that we’re more or less familiar with – we can go that way… Sometimes we know what we’re doing. Sometimes we’re completely lost in what we’re doing, and maybe it just grabs us and takes us there too. It seems to fall into place a lot to me also. It’s a tenuous art of trying to make format out of chaos, of course. As we get better practiced at it, we can get looser and freer in our associations, and let the music more or less move us in a given direction. Sometimes, if what we’re doing just really wants to go somewhere and the air is just pregnant with it, it’s undeniable, we’ll just go there. On a really good night, it’ll happen a succession of times. No one will even play a cue, yet bang we’re just off.”

Blair Jackson wrote about this process at work at the end of the Other One on 4/21/72 (in the CD liner notes): “The band doesn’t seem to have any idea about what, if any, song they might play next…so the Dead just float from one musical notion to the next. Squealing feedback gives way to a brief, lilting jam. At one point Billy clicks into a little groove and the others follow, and it develops into one of those lovely passages that feels familiar but isn’t quite – are those hints of Wharf Rat? is Sugar Magnolia around that bend? Instead they keep drifting about – Jerry gets into a hypnotic fingerpicking pattern at one point – until it all just peters out.”

Sometimes the band was not so successful, of course, and jams could peter out, drift away, or die undeveloped. They didn’t always play in perfect unison. There are plenty of instances when Weir & Lesh would play a chord pattern for Garcia, and he would ignore them. But there was also another side to “making format out of chaos” – the band generally had a strong sense of structure in the jams, keeping their destination in mind and listening to each other’s cues. A long jam would pass through several varied movements – a jazzy combo feel, a noisy Tiger jam, a peaceful quiet space, perhaps a bluesy interlude or fast rock shuffle – before ending in a new song or reprise. This broad outline could give even long Dark Stars a feeling of direction rather than aimlessness. And one of the Dead’s central techniques was to contrast sequences of noise, space or atonality with balancing sequences of melody and rhythm, bringing audiences from the void back to familiarity, as it were.

There were a few memorable times in 1972 when the melodic passages used to “climax” a jam took on a brief life of their own apart from the larger jam; when the groupmind took over and new themes poured out, never played before yet somehow familiar.
I thought I would make a list of the main unique structured jams from ‘72. I had a few rules for defining them:
- they almost always occur at the end of an Other One or Dark Star, often after a chaotic or spacy section, or around the verse.  
- they sound like distinct composed songs, with particular melodies or chords, and are sustained for more than a minute. Often they sound like familiar Dead tunes “recombined” and played in a new way.
- Feelin’ Groovy is not included. By 1972, the regular “thematic jams” the Dead had been playing back in ’70 were mostly gone. A couple early examples of the Mind Left Body theme are included, since the Dead wouldn’t develop that into a regular repeated jam until fall ’73. It’s possible some of these other themes could have turned into repeated jams, had the Dead chosen to do that; but clearly they decided not to play them more than once.

3/22/72 end of Caution [on the Rockin’ the Rhein bonus CD] – After a tense space and ominous conclusion to Caution, Garcia segues into a gentle Bobby McGee-type melody (at 3:30 on the CD), joined instantly by the band. This closely resembles the Bid You Goodnight theme, but is clearly a developed melody of its own. The fragile beauty lasts just three minutes before Phil awkwardly switches to Uncle John’s Band.
3/23/72 end of Dark Star, after 16:10 – Kicked off by Phil, this goes through several phases, including a Feelin’ Groovy and a country-picking Sugar Magnolia-type finish before returning to the Dark Star theme at 20:50.
4/8/72 end of Dark Star [28:10 on the official CD] – This comes out of a scary meltdown and has an ecstatic start similar to the 3/23 jam, with Garcia starting it off and the others immediately backing him. Weir & Garcia transition into an early descending Mind Left Body theme, and after four minutes Weir deftly blends in the Sugar Magnolia intro at the same tempo. (On a personal note, I broke down in tears the first time I heard this.)
4/21/72 end of the Other One [18:20 on the official CD] – After the verse ends, the Dead head into a short feedback space before Garcia enters a passage of Love Scene-type picking. As they float freely, Kreutzmann starts tapping a beat, and the band conjures a unique little jam from the air. Within two minutes Garcia brings it to an end with a repeated fingerpicked arpeggio in high notes.
7/25/72 Other One – Unusually, this jam is played before the first verse, from about 12:35-19:15. Growing out of a beautiful Garcia/Lesh duet, a beat materializes and something like an Allmans-style Spanish Jam emerges (some people also hear shades of St Stephen in there). Garcia even plays slide until Phil nudges them back into the Other One.
8/20/72 end of the Other One – After a jazzy Phil/Keith-dominated passage, they enter a stomping jam from about 18:45-20:30, structured by Phil’s chords, before falling back into the Other One theme.
9/21/72 end of Dark Star [30:35 on Dick’s Picks 36] – After a searching passage, Garcia starts a fingerpicking pattern; the band joins in and it turns into a Cumberland Blues-type jam that soon morphs into another lengthy, forceful Mind Left Body theme. Garcia emulates slide playing near the end (foreshadowing the late-’73 versions of this jam), before moving into Morning Dew around 36:50.
12/31/72 end of the Other One – After the verse ends, Garcia heads immediately into a peaceful, bluesy jam, the others & Crosby accompanying him so closely it must have been planned. They bid farewell to the year in amazing style (from 21:00-26:20), until Garcia finally volume-swells his way into Morning Dew.

One repeated theme that’s unique to 1972 is the Philo Stomp. In summer ’72 Phil had been playing inchoate solos in the Other One – in the fall these bloomed into the Philo Stomp, a distinct chordal riff in which the rest of the band would join. This was played in a few shows in Dark Star and the Other One (10/18, 10/24, 10/28, 11/13), but was dropped in the shows after that. Phil’s solos in later months would quote the theme, but remained more meandering and free-flowing. He also started frequently playing a jazzy 6/8 riff which would become a regular feature of 1973 jams (for instance, in the 6/24/73 Dark Star, after 6:20).

One thing about the Dead’s style of jamming was that the band would often coalesce around little structures within the flow of a longer jam. These might soon evaporate, or they could develop for a few minutes as short mini-jams. So there are plenty of shorter semi-structured jams that could be considered here. A few examples, at random:
4/17/72 Dark Star – jam after 24:20, lasts about 4 minutes
5/4/72 Dark Star – jam starts about 7 minutes after the drum solo (there’s a slight family resemblance to the 4/8 jam, til Phil starts a Feelin’ Groovy jam at 9:50)
5/10/72 end of the Other One – from roughly 32-33:30 minutes in (Weir’s chord pattern gives a solid structure to an airy space section)
11/19/72 Dark Star – from about 22:20-24:45 (a spontaneous chord structure is born and passes away; then from the void Weir pulls a familiar Prelude)
https://archive.org/details/gd1972-11-19.122784.sbd.miller-gans.flac24 
12/10/72 Other One – from about 18:00-22:35 (out of space, a rhythmic, jazzy proto-Eyes of the World jam)
https://archive.org/details/gd72-12-10.sbd.gorinsky.5801.sbeok.shnf

One reader also suggested a jam in the 9/10/72 Dark Star, which loosely builds from around 7:15–12:50. (This Dark Star also features small sub-themes at 4:20-5:10 and 17:00-18:15, and ends with an Other One-type jam after 27:55.)
https://archive.org/details/gd72-09-10.sbd.winters.17690.sbeok.shnf 
Earlier sections in the 12/31/72 Other One could also be considered: out of the bass/drums break, a fast jazzy jam lasting about 6 minutes; then later, a chordal jam from about 13:40 that blends into an Other One jam. Parts like these I think of more as rhythmic grooves rather than distinct melodic themes.
I haven’t done a comprehensive search, and I’m sure many more examples could be found. Perhaps someday we’ll have a complete catalog of these little structured sub-jams. (On the other hand, going too far down this path with numerous possible examples might obscure the structured melodic jams that are really distinctive and memorable.)

I may have missed some good ones – please let me know if there are other jams you think should be included here.

22 comments:

  1. The idea for this post came out of a past thread on the Archive forum:
    https://archive.org/post/1009954/pet-erasyears-or-tours-that-are-somewhat-overlooked

    I have no plans to expand this list outside 1972 for now, nor did I want to include brief little jam fragments or riffs that didn't get developed. However, it's possible a more comprehensive listing of the various rhythmic sub-jams the Dead did can be made - a lot of these wouldn't necessarily repeat from one Dark Star or Other One to another, but there's clearly a family resemblance between many of these '72 jams, and maybe over time we'll be able to find more specific groupings of particular jam types.
    I regard this list as basically just a start of maybe a bigger, more extensive eventual project. (Although I don't think the main list of the truly unique "peak" jams could be expanded too much.)

    This reminds me of a comment Phil Lesh made in '83 to Gans:
    "You don't ever repeat the exact musical details, but you go to the same place. And it's a recognizable place. 'This is the highest we've been on this song, and now we're back here again.' You recognize that you're there again in the context of that particular piece of material... I wouldn't even want to try to be able to do that exact thing again. But I know that when it's right, I'll be able to do something very similar, and something that will have that effect...on the music." (Conversations with the Dead p.200-01)

    ReplyDelete
  2. From another angle, Garcia once talked about the Dead's '80s Spaces in 1984:
    Space is "our most free-form stuff, the stuff that's not really attached to any particular song. It's not rhythmic, it's not really attached to any musical norms; it's the completely weird shit. The last couple of years we've been picking themes...and thinking of that like being a painting or a movie... Sometimes they're terribly detailed, sometimes they're just a broad subject. We do this when we think about it; when we remember to. It's not a hard, fast rule. It's made that part of the music at times have some tremendous other level of organization that pulls it together and makes it really interesting. It provides a sort of invisible infrastructure than anybody can interpret however they want and it still provides a centerpiece for us all to look at. It's provided for us more interesting shapes for that nonformed music, that shapeless music. Before we started using that idea, that music would sometimes get dispersed so far you couldn't relate to it all. And sometimes it would make an effort to turn into something familiar real fast, so it would hover between these two poles and there was something not quite juicy about it; not quite as promising as it could be."
    http://blairjackson.com/chapter_seventeen_additions.htm

    Though he's talking about a very different time & format in the Dead's music, I think this has some conceptual bearing on the early '70s jams as well. While they were improvising, the Dead usually didn't want to drift & disperse for too long, nor turn into a familiar song too soon; so the structured points provided poles that the improv could be organized around. The Dead were rarely that freeform for very long in the big jams - in this period there's usually some centerpoint like a Feelin' Groovy or a Tiger jam that they'll aim for, rather than throwing off all structure.
    I think the idea of incorporating familiar, grounded melodies in the jams was also partly related to the Dead's habit of following the big jams with simple country tunes or ballads: the Dead wanted to bring their audience with them, not lose people in long weird jams. The Dead made very clear in interviews that they didn't want to lose audiences - if they took you to space, they'd bring you back again before long. Also, I think you can tell that some simple theme jams like Feelin' Groovy were as thrilling for the band to play as for the audience to hear.
    So that's another way to think about the theme jams. It's hard to say how much was worked out in rehearsal, though (we know nothing at all about the Dead's '72 rehearsals), or how many of these spontaneous-sounding pieces were already familiar to the band, or were attempts to get to a particular place in the music. Possibly at that stage in the Dead's development they just naturally fell into "automatic" structures of one type or another whenever they jammed for long. But I think they also gave a lot of thought to the effect these pieces would have within the music.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The so-called Philo Stomp resurfaces in the 12/19/73 Other One. Ironically, Phil insisted that his solo be cut from the Dick's Picks 1 release.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True, Phil resurrects the Philo Stomp in that solo - I think it's the only time in '73 where he goes all the way with it rather than just teasing the riff? The others don't join him, though.

      Phil told Blair Jackson in 1994 about Dick's Picks 1:
      "I had them cut a bass solo I didn't like. I think I played two bass solos during that period, and one was okay and the other wasn't, and this is the one that wasn't. It was not usable. There was absolutely nothing to it; nothing happened in it. It was just a bunch of strumming. The other I remember being much more interesting, though I haven't heard it in a long time... The rest of [the show] is amazing. In fact, I can't imagine how I managed to play such a bad bass solo in the middle of it!... The '73-74 period was interesting to me because we were so together. Frankly, I don't remember us being so together musically. The other thing that really blew my mind was Billy's drumming... I'd forgotten he played like that. Since we have two drummers now, I suppose he doesn't need to play that way anymore... [And Keith] was a fine player. He was the perfect guy for our music at that time. It's like he came forth fully grown. He didn't have to work his way into it... [And] I was really impressed by the sound quality. I couldn't believe that Kidd had mixed it at the same time he was doing Keith's keyboards and whatever else he had to do onstage."

      Delete
  4. Garcia said in the 1971 Rolling Stone interview about Dark Star, "There are certain structural poles which we have kind of set up in it, and those periodically we do away with."
    I wonder if he was thinking of things like the Feelin' Groovy jam that served kind of as periodic signposts for the band to gather round in the jams. On the other hand, maybe he was just thinking of the song verses! (Which they did sometimes "do away with" in late '71.)

    I was thinking of earlier possible examples of these structural jams in late '71 - they were a bit more improvisationally flighty in that period, hurrying from one idea to the next in the jams - and I was struck by the 10/21/71 Dark Star where Garcia starts this great new melodic jam which only lasts briefly before it turns into a Feelin' Groovy jam. There are a few examples of that here in '72 as well - they'll head into a spontaneous new creation and then it will settle back into something familiar. (Like the Feelin' Groovy episodes on 3/23 or 5/4, or the Mind Left Body jams.)
    I think that may be a revealing trait of the Dead at work - they weren't staying in the unknown as much as listeners might think, but in a way "playing it safe" by falling back on repeated, practiced structures. The reasons for that could be complicated - it may not be intentional so much as "automatic" playing in the heat of improv. Or perhaps they knew they could rely on particular themes that would have an uplifting effect on the music & audience.
    By '74 I think they were relying less on thematic jams (though there were still all the Spanish Jams & Mind Left Bodies, not to mention regular Tigers at every show) and sometimes playing freeform, more abstractly, for longer periods....but the hiatus put an end to that development.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wild, a friend of mine sent this great post today because over the weekend I'd written this on a specific thenatic jam from 73 I love:
    http://listeningnotes.tumblr.com/post/81220260170/the-deads-elastic-ping-pong-jam-during-dark

    You describe it as "...a jazzy 6/8 riff which would become a regular feature of 1973 jams (for instance, in the 6/24/73 Dark Star, after 6:20)" -- I use the much less sophisticated "Electric Ping Pong Jam" ... :-)

    Either way, glad to see your reference.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That jam does need a name, for sure... Other listeners have just called it the "nameless jazz jam" or "the spooky riff," which is not too helpful in narrowing it down!

      Nice writeup on 6/24/73. I haven't done any attempt to locate all the versions of it, because it pops up so often in the '73 jams - sometimes Phil just lightly touches on it, sometimes they jam it out for a while. It first shows up in Sept '72, in a primitive form - there it is in the 11/19/72 Dark Star, as you noticed - but often in a different meter than they settled on in '73. For instance, the jam out of the bass/drums break in the 12/31/72 Other One is the same riff, but a little more primordial.
      It turns up in the 2/28/73 Other One too (around 4:40) - similar to the 2/26/73 version, Phil starts it as a 5-beat riff and then switches to 6/8. Someone more musically knowledgeable would have to tackle all the metrical variations of that riff, it was pretty fluid...
      I agree this jam may have been the origin of the "Stronger Than Dirt" riff, though Phil had a bunch of similar riffs going on around that time...the end-of-Eyes jam, & the Unbroken Chain jam.

      Delete
  6. I also wept upon hearing 4/8/72 DS>SMAG for the first time. Greatest moment in GD history in my book. Thanks for the write-up.

    ReplyDelete
  7. the electric ping pong jam is a cool name, i'd like to add that it is very similar to "footprints" by wayne shorter, he recorded this on his "adams apple" record, then miles davis recorded it with shorter on "miles smiles", it was a staple in miles' setlists from 67 through 70 including when he opened for the dead at the fillmore, then 1000s of other jazzers recorded this absolute standard of post bop jazz, thank you j. leedes, richmond va

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Other people have also said this jam is similar to Footprints - I don't hear the resemblance, but Phil did play the Footprints riff in some '72 jams (for instance, the 4/11/72 Truckin' jam). It does vaguely remind me of Take Five - which Phil also quoted sometimes.
      (Some examples here - https://archive.org/post/383446/more-quotes )
      Phil & Friends also played Footprints on 8/21/99.

      Delete
    2. yes that 4/11/72 is pretty blatantly footprints from miles smiles studio record, the "elastic ping pong jam" from 6/24/73 is more like some of the live miles versions, which is to say varied from the straight theme, will have to check out the phil and friends version you mention, I assume they actually play the melody... not just the bass line

      Delete
  8. btw that 6/24/73 version is awesome, ive recentlty become very familiar with 6/22/73 but not sure I have ever paid close attention to 6/24/73 before now, thanks

    ReplyDelete
  9. This blog will be on hiatus for the next month.

    ReplyDelete
  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that's a Tighten Up jam (listed in my Early Thematic Jams post), but it's certainly stunning.

      Delete
  11. The second of the three Dark stars played on 6/24/70 would have to qualify as a melodic jam. This is my go-to jam when I want to experience some of the best Dead I know of.

    ReplyDelete
  12. With few exceptions (none that I can think of offhand), I'm not a big fan of the relatively polished and practiced segments that the band would insert into otherwise improvisatory jams. That treacly "downward" or "feelin groovy" jam that first began appearing regularly in Dark Star in 72 and a bit later (also in 72) as the "climax" to the China-Rider segue was almost always a mood- and momentum-killer for me.

    The Dark Star from Paris 5/3/72 is one of my favorites simply because of the band's refusal to "go there." Instead they dance around the "groovy" jam and the unresolved tension creates something unique and much better (in my opinion) than any of their efforts to play that jam "straight".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It seemed like a pretty straight Feelin Groovy jam to me in the 5/4/72 Dark Star, coming 10 minutes after the drum solo.

      Delete
    2. Never trust a quick google search to confirm your suspicion of a concert date. Of course I meant 5/4/72.

      Better yet, I also hear the resolution you're talking about. It's not long at all ... about thirty seconds startiing at 10:20 or so and it's played very tentatively by Jerry who bails out pretty quickly. They don't "jam it out" but head right back into Dark Star. I must have blocked it from my memory. It's that 10 minutes before the moment we're discussing (where they jam hard around the "feeling groovy" rhythm without settling into the actual notes ... for a long time) I was thinking of. And the jam which follows, which eclipses all else (for me, apparently!).

      Delete
    3. This is also a good example of the Dead's technique of following a morose space with a "happy" sequence, which in this case is the highlight of the Dark Star. Some might say this Star only really starts gelling towards the end.

      Delete
  13. This is great stuff. 1972 is such a great year, not only were they playing at an incredible level, there are thankfully a bunch of high quality recordings. I'm looking forward to going back and listening to some of these again and getting the ones I haven't heard before.

    ReplyDelete