June 30, 2018

The Proto-Solomon Jazz Jam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


1972

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


1973

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 comments:

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

    I feel like the "stronger than dirt" line sounds more like Bobby's main riff in Estimated.

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  2. I added the earliest known sightings from August '72. They're short - at that point it was just a little riff without a jam. I must say, going through these August '72 Other Ones is a mind-bending experience.

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    Replies
    1. Thinking of making a Grayfolded version of TOO?

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    2. Fortunately for the curious, there's already a Grayfolded-style Other One mix here:
      https://www.shnflac.net/index.php?page=torrent-details&id=b5f82909c2f117ba5edaf2c760014590466724e9

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    3. Woah, awesome! Thanks for the link.

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