The Grateful Dead were known for their extended medleys. In the early ‘70s they had large jam suites which would be the centerpiece of their sets, but by the late ‘70s they had developed so that often the entire second set would be one long medley. At each show, fans would wait for the moment when the Dead would start to play and….not stop. Song would segue to song, jams would unfold, drum solos and spacy weirdness would be thrown in, until finally it all wound up with some rock tune. Sometimes the transitions between songs would be the most prized moments of the show.
But the Dead didn’t start out that way. The early Dead, like most bands, stopped after every song. Indeed, it took them two years before they started playing regular medleys, or any transitions to speak of. When, in early ’68, they started linking most of their songs into long improvisational suites, it was quite a turning point. How did it happen?
We’ll take a look from the beginning...
The first thing to note about the Dead’s few 1966 medleys is that all of them are based around blues songs. Of course, blues songs composed a large part of the Dead’s repertoire that year, but I think there’s more to it than that. There may be a couple reasons – one, the Dead may have seen blues or r&b acts linking songs in medleys at live shows. More importantly, blues songs in particular may have been easy to play together, linking one riff in E to another, without throwing off confused bandmembers.
The other thing to note is that there are no real transition jams – it’s just a matter of the band latching onto a new riff once Garcia starts it. (And Garcia typically seems to be the bandleader in these links.) While the band did expand their improvisational jams in ’66, those were always within their blues and r&b songs, and not between songs.
The earliest Dead ‘sandwich’ is from sometime in early 1966, a blues medley of Schoolgirl>You Don’t Love Me>Schoolgirl. Both these songs were taken off Junior Wells’ Hoodoo Man Blues album, which had been released a few months earlier. The Dead admired it, though they were barely capable imitators at this point – their sound is too thin, prickly, rhythmically stiff & lacking in nuance to be very bluesy. (Kreutzmann & Pigpen are musically far ahead of the others, actually; Lesh is almost adequate plunking away on bass, while Weir is all but inaudible. Yet it must be said, they did sound much better playing the blues songs earlier on 1/8/66, perhaps because they’d been playing those songs much longer, and were aided by the deep boomy sound of the Fillmore.)
After a couple verses of Schoolgirl, they vamp on the riff for a while, til Garcia switches to the You Don’t Love Me riff within the same rhythm. The band adjusts smoothly & Pigpen switches to organ so Garcia can sing. At the end of You Don’t Love Me, they move into a preplanned segue back to Schoolgirl, Garcia simply switching riffs again – Kreutzmann is driving them here, as the rest of the band seems uncertain about how to accomplish it! In all, pretty awkward and rudimentary, and it may not be surprising that we don’t hear anything like this for the rest of 1966. (In fact, there are no more Dead ‘sandwiches’ like this until 1969!)
1/8/66 Caution>Death Don't – As Caution comes loose, Garcia abruptly brings it to a halt and with a few runs, leads the band into Death Don’t, with no real transition.
3/12/66 King Bee>Caution – This is a neat segue, with the band picking up Caution’s surfer intro straight from the end of King Bee, and the two tunes match very well.
http://archive.org/details/gd1966-02-25.sbd.unknown.20346.sbeok.shnf (also includes the Schoolgirl medley)
11/19/66 Smokestack Lightning>King Bee – The band plays with MUCH more authority by the end of the year (something miraculous happened between July & November, though it’s also possible that this tape is actually from 3/17/67). As Smokestack winds down, Garcia & Lesh start strongly teasing King Bee til the band yanks itself into the right tempo.
This was a crucial year for the Dead’s songwriting, as they started creating open-ended jam songs with the potential to segue into other songs. This potential wasn’t quite achieved in ’67; instead, they focused on two composed medleys, each made of two songs designed to be linked together.
In May ’67, they wrote Alligator, and our first performance of it is from the Monterey Festival in June. The song leads into a long, wild jam – here, it’s similar enough to earlier tunes like Viola Lee or others which would “open up,” but then return to a reprise of the song at the end. That’s also how Alligator proceeds on several occasions in ’67 – on “5/5,” 8/5, and 9/3, the jam leads to the band shouting “Alligator!” and ending the song with a crash.
But Alligator was the first instance where the Dead gave themselves the choice of also extending the jam into a new song. And here, they resurrected Caution for the purpose – not heard since March ’66, it resurfaces at the Monterey show, now attached to Alligator by Garcia’s buzzsaw flurries. It was probably no great stroke of genius to connect Caution to Alligator – the Alligator jam seems to naturally have Caution tendencies, and lends itself to chaotic speeding-up and further Pigpen antics. After they shout “Alligator!” the crashing end segues seamlessly into the Caution bassline intro.
By the last taped Alligator of the year, the jam has developed a bit, but the segue to Caution is similar – now tougher & faster, and more indivisible.
In the meantime, the Dead were also working on another new suite, and our first performance of that comes from 10/22/67. For the Other One, they took the unusual Lennon/McCartney-type step of wrapping together separate Garcia & Weir songs – Weir’s song as the hard-edged center, and Garcia’s as the lyrical bookends. The transition point from Garcia’s intro into the Other One is both natural and abrupt, as the music suddenly turns darker (the drum break would not come til later in ’68, probably to emphasize the transition), but the Dead had to compose a little musical bridge to get from the final “coming around” back to the Cryptical reprise.
I don’t know how these two came to be inseparably joined, since each presumably could have been played separately – perhaps neither felt complete on its own, or the band felt they were rhythmically complementary. In the event, Garcia’s Cryptical tune started out as the longer, dominating final section, but over time dwindled and died; while Weir’s Other One took on a life of its own, and came to be played on its own in other medleys.
In its first performance, the Cryptical reprise is not as differentiated in style from the Other One section as it would become, having the same rhythmic focus. Note that the two sections also have the same ending (which was later dropped from the Cryptical reprise, as it became a segue-point).
The performance from the next month is pretty similar – Weir’s verses are just a small fraction of the suite, as they jam for over ten minutes on the Cryptical reprise, which is more like a long extension of the Other One. (Later in ’68 they would vary the style of the reprise, giving it a wider dynamic range from gentle to explosive.)
There is also one segue between unrelated songs in 1967:
“5/5/67” Golden Road>New Potato Caboose – This fragment is misdated and comes from a few months later than May; but it shows a new step in the Dead’s thinking, or at least, an odd moment in a very high show. Out of the last chord of a quick Golden Road, Garcia starts the intro to New Potato under Pigpen’s organ & Kreutzmann’s rattling; and the band quickly joins him. It may have been preplanned, it may have been a ‘groupmind’ moment, or it may have been Garcia in a hurry.
It also foreshadows New Potato’s later fate – in ’68, the Dead started consistently segueing into New Potato from the Cryptical reprise, liking the way the two songs worked together. (They didn’t do it in ’67, where New Potato usually starts cold and Cryptical stops with a flourish.) So the segue here is similar to their later practice.
That takes us up to November ’67 – and still the Dead are only doing occasional two-song medleys, without significant transitional jams; and the only extended combos in the repertoire are Alligator>Caution and the Other One suite. They can jam out Midnight Hour for a half-hour, but they’re not linking many songs.
The next month is silent on the tape front, but when more live tapes emerge in January ’68, the Dead are quite a different band. Now they can play practically their entire set as one long uninterrupted medley, one song jamming into another for 45 minutes or more, til no one in the audience could have told where one ended or another began.
So what happened between November ’67 and January ’68?
ANTHEM OF THE SUN
The Dead started studio sessions for Anthem of the Sun in September/October, working on recording the Other One suite, Alligator>Caution, and Lovelight:
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1967-xx-xx.sbd.studio.81259.flac16 (sometimes dated 10/20/67)
Things went slowly, though, and in November they tried out two new, shorter songs, Dark Star and Born Cross-Eyed. In December they headed to New York for more recording and a few live shows; and there the fed-up producer abandoned them, leaving the album unfinished. The Dead weren’t short on ideas, though – now they could command the studio themselves, and record their album without any interference from the suits!
At some point between late December and early January, they decided to record the rest of the album at live shows on their next tour, and mix that together with the fragmentary studio material. The result on Anthem of the Sun, we can all hear today. But it’s not often noted that this decision also affected the live shows – the Dead now had a conceptual “album” approach to their live material, and how it could be played.
Lesh is usually credited with the idea of merging live and studio Grateful Deads into “a hybrid...thousand-petal lotus.” But there was a correlated idea as well, which is that each side of the album would be a continuous medley of linked songs, with no track breaks. And from there (especially since they were going to record it live) it wasn't a big jump to think, why don't we start linking all the songs live?
The Other One and Alligator suites, of course, would compose the bulk of the album; but there were a number of other new songs as well – in fact, new material was now spilling out of the Dead – and those, too, would be played in long medleys on the next tour.
The new songs encouraged this type of linking – the Dead must have been pleased with how the Other One and Alligator suites had turned out, and tried for more extended pieces. The China Cat>Eleven suite is naturally open-ended (how often have you ever heard a China Cat or Eleven end, full stop?). Dark Star also begs for a segue; Clementine opens up and links easily; the Spanish jam is hardly going to be played as a standalone tune; Feedback was growing into a whole piece by itself; and Caution, by its nature, can also serve as a transition jam anywhere in a medley rather than being stuck after Alligator. In short, the new material being written at the end of '67 was designed to be jammed out and linked to other songs.
The Dead were not entirely alone. Even in the rock world, where the Dead’s type of improvisation was rare, 1967 was the breakthrough year for joining songs together on album. The Beatles were the most influential with Sgt Pepper, where several songs are notoriously linked together in clever segues, and gaps between songs are kept to a minimum. (Brian Wilson may have had the same idea with SMILE back in late '66, but since he didn't finish or release it, it would've had no effect on the Dead or anyone else, except possibly the Beatles...)
There was also Frank Zappa, who linked all his songs into nonstop side-long suites on Absolutely Free, released even before Pepper in May ’67 – although there, the songs are simply stuck together rather than having transitions between. And I don’t know whether the Dead listened to Zappa! There was definitely no social connection, especially considering the unfriendly rivalry between the L.A. and San Francisco scenes, and Zappa’s anti-drug, anti-hippie stance. For instance, in one interview from mid-’67, Zappa ridicules the “San Francisco bullshit scene,” and when asked about the Airplane & Dead, simply replies, “All I can say is that people who like the Jefferson Airplane like ‘em, and people who like the Grateful Dead, they like ‘em. People have different tastes.”
The Dead did at least see him in June ’67, when he was playing upstairs from them at the Café a Go Go; Lesh described this in his book with semi-admiration, calling Zappa a “true composer”: “Zappa’s music is brilliantly composed and precisely played – hey, he won’t let his band smoke pot – but short on any kind of improvised epiphanies.” (The only shows the Dead and the Mothers played together were back in June ’66 at the Fillmore. There was also a later show scheduled for 6/21/68 in San Jose with the Mothers and the Dead, but it was canceled.)
The Dead paid close attention to Jefferson Airplane, though, and in November ’67 After Bathing At Baxter’s came out. This was considerably more surreal than Surrealistic Pillow had been, and several songs on that album are arranged into suites, folding into each other. There are a few different types of segue used: a comedic avant-garde collage as an interlude, a direct cut, a smooth switch from an outro into a jam, and the blending of two songs into one with the two parts alternating. This seems to have been mostly studio experimentation – in contrast, the Airplane usually did not play medleys live. Though starting in late ’68 they ran their two Pooneil songs together, and there are some other instances, in general their songs stayed discrete.
The same, I think, was also true of other San Francisco groups. For instance, Quicksilver – though they had several extended pieces that went through different instrumental progressions, they seem to have done just one medley. At the start of ‘68, Maiden of the Cancer Moon was an instrumental extension of Mona, but by late in the year, they’d developed the Mona>Maiden>Calvary medley, possibly under the influence of the Dead. (Note the resemblance of Calvary, in its Happy Trails version, to a Spanish jam>Feedback! And also note the division of the side-long Who Do You Love into multiple tracks, just as the Dead had done with the Other One suite on Anthem… There were many cross-pollinizations between Quicksilver and the Dead as the two bands responded to each other, but that’s a subject for another day.)
The Dead may have heard jazz bands doing medleys live as well, though I’m not sure whom. They definitely listened to Miles Davis (Weir even based the Spanish Jam on a snatch from the Sketches of Spain album), and in his live shows he made the jump from single tunes to extended medleys just a few months before they did.
When Davis played Berkeley in April ’67, his band still left brief pauses between the tunes. But by the European tour in October/November, most of the tunes in the shows were all linked in one long medley, without pause. As wikipedia puts it: “the group began to play their live concerts in continuous sets, each tune flowing into the next, with only the melody indicating any sort of demarcation.” Or the All-Music Guide: “There are no breaks between tunes; rather, they simply segue seamlessly, one into another, until ‘The Theme’ signals a gig’s end.” (Some shows from this European tour were released on his Bootleg Series vol. 1.)
His studio albums were not like that at the time, though, so it’s questionable whether the Dead were influenced by this new pattern. I don’t know if Davis was playing in New York City in December ’67, when the Dead were there, so they may not have seen one of his shows until the April ’70 run. (On the other hand, they could possibly have seen reviews of his shows in a jazz magazine, or otherwise heard about what he was doing.) It does seem more than coincidental that Clementine and the Spanish Jam both surfaced in January ‘68, as the Dead suddenly got more jazzy – then again, they could’ve just been playing old jazz records at the time!
It seems to have been Miles’ later fusion period that really grabbed the Dead, but they might not have really ‘followed’ him before then. (Lesh does quote “Footprints” off the ‘67 Miles Smiles album in early ‘70s jams, though.) In all their comments, John Coltrane is unanimously named as the biggest jazz influence, and the early Dead closely studied the playing on his albums, such as Africa/Brass. When Garcia & Lesh appeared on an FM radio show in April ’67 to play some favorite tracks, the jazz tracks chosen were Charles Lloyd’s “Dream Weaver” and Charles Mingus’ “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting.” They had just played a run with Lloyd, and hoped to work more with him (he sometimes guested in their shows) – and little did Lesh know that in the upcoming trip to New York, Mingus would watch one of their park shows! Lesh has never really mentioned Mingus as an influence, but I have to think he’d feel an affinity for Mingus as a band composer, especially the big-band extended suites in different movements, such as the Black Saint & the Sinner Lady album.
It might be interesting to compare the two bands at this point, the Davis Quintet of Europe ’67, and the Grateful Dead of the Northwest Tour ’68. (Here I’m using Davis as an example; you could probably substitute many jazz bands of the time.) Aside from the style of music, there are a number of differences:
The Miles Davis band takes turns trading solos (trumpet, saxophone, then piano, and sometimes drums or bass) – whereas in the Dead, Garcia is always in the lead. (Weir is hardly about to take a solo in ’68, Pigpen certainly won’t, and Lesh rarely will either.) It’s rare enough for them to break into the pairs or trios you commonly hear in a Davis show. One result is that the band as a collective unit is more important than the solo; members of the band hardly ever take breaks, or stand out from the group (aside from the traditionally dominating role of Garcia). Here other collective-improv jazz groups would be more similar to the Dead than Davis’ band of soloists.
The role of rhythm is extremely different – in the Davis band, it’s very loose and fluid, traded between drums, bass, and piano (often not all together), so the tempo of a tune can be very elastic. The Dead, as a rock band, are a more driving force with a hard guitar/drums rhythm that often emphasizes a rigid beat. The point is not so much that the Dead are more limited as individual players (though two Dead drummers still can’t equal a Tony Williams), but that they so often choose not to follow the rhythm section/soloist format so typical of either jazz or rock groups, instead combining the whole band into a rhythmic unity in which each part enhances the others. (For instance, think of an Other One or Eleven from this time, where Garcia’s lead “solos” are at the same time emphasizing the rhythm, and Pigpen’s organ acts as a percussion instrument, while Weir & Lesh blend into one breathing organism… This is quite foreign to the more individualistic approach of the Davis band.)
Many live Miles Davis tunes also follow a typical structure: the ‘head,’ or announcement of the theme, then a series of solos or improvisational duets/trios, then a brief return to the main theme at the end. (So the band as a whole will only play composed, unified parts at the beginning and end.) The Dead’s songs were more flexible – some were traditionally structured like that (such as Dark Star), but most songs in the medleys opened up & never returned to the theme, instead jamming straight into a new song. The catch was, since the whole band played through the full jams and needed to follow each other round each tricky curve, they probably needed to rehearse even the ‘improvisational’ sections much more thoroughly than Davis’ band of seasoned pros. (I’m not sure there’s any equivalent in a Miles Davis show to, say, an Eleven gone wrong, or one of the live trainwrecks where the Dead just lose each other.)
Also, Davis was doing ‘standards,’ or at least tunes the audience was familiar with from albums (however rapidly & differently they were now done), and people would applaud when they recognized a familiar tune. Whereas in a ‘68 Dead show, most everything in the medleys was unknown new material (Lovelight excepted). At that point, with almost nothing on album, only the most dedicated Dead followers would have realized how much the Dead’s jammed material was changing & growing from month to month; but the Dead themselves would have been keenly aware of it.
The Dead had a slightly larger typical repertoire than Davis did at this time – most of his Europe ’67 shows focus on nearly-identical setlists of about 8 or 9 songs (with a couple others added on occasion), mostly played in the same order at each show. So the Dead were able to mix things up more, though as we’ll see, they also had ‘groups’ of songs that were usually played as a unit, and made up the bulk of the show.
I don’t know whether Davis pre-planned his transitions (likely enough when they’re repeated from show to show), or whether the band was just tight enough they could jump into any new tune the moment it started. With the Dead, this is also often an unknown! Many of their suites are of course the same from show to show, so everyone knows where they’re going, but sometimes an unexpected song will be thrown in, and sometimes you even get the feeling the band is making it up as it goes, catching up to whomever starts a song first. (I think this is more prevalent from ’69 onwards.)
Also note that Davis does not emphasize the transitions at all – the jams are usually within the tunes, not between them. In general the shifts are sudden, as Davis will just announce the new melody and there we are, hardly knowing just when the new tune started (and anyone not knowing them in advance will have no idea there even is a new tune).
In early ’68, the Dead didn’t play the transitions as expansively as they would later (or even by the end of the year), but several jams were designed as bridges between one song and the next. I feel even this early on, the Dead do signal the shift in mood from one song to the next (most markedly in, say, the Dark Star>China Cat segue, more subtly in other cases). However, due to my overfamiliarity with the material, it’s hard for me to say whether or not someone new to the Dead would be able to tell where most of the transitions & song changes were, or if it’s all just a blur!
And so, in the first show of 1968, we find the Dead trying out their new material. After an opening Lovelight on 1/17/68, the rest of the first set is two medleys: Dark Star>China Cat>the Eleven, then New Potato>Born Cross-Eyed>Spanish Jam. The second set has the inevitable Other One suite, which runs straight into Schoolgirl (Lesh starts the bass riff in the Cryptical reprise).
Our next show, on 1/20, is incomplete but has a couple other tunes added to the mix, so our tape is an unbroken Clementine>New Potato>Born Cross-Eyed>Spanish Jam>Caution jam>Dark Star:
(My theory is that the Other One suite preceded Clementine, and Dark Star was most likely followed by the usual China Cat>Eleven. It sounds like Garcia stumbles on Dark Star in the Caution jam, then insists on the opening lick til the others give way – it was unusual for Caution to be used just as a transitional riff like this.)
And the next show, 1/26 (aka “1/22”), tops even that in that the entire show (except the opening Alligator) is one long medley: Other One suite>New Potato>Born Cross-Eyed>Feedback>Spanish Jam>Dark Star>China Cat>Eleven>Caution (where the tape cuts off, but must have been near the end of the set):
http://archive.org/details/gd1968-01-22.sbd.miller.97342.sbeok.flac16 [this source mistakenly adds an ending from the 3/31 show]
Once again, Dark Star emerges from a jam – the Spanish Jam almost trickles out, but Garcia links it to Dark Star, keeping the music going.
1/27 is a show we have in fragments (and labeled as “1/23”), but the Dead continue their medley craze with an Other One suite>Clementine>New Potato>Born Cross-Eyed>Spanish Jam, and another Dark Star>China Cat>Eleven elsewhere in the show.
I don’t mean to go closely through the setlists of the whole tour, since as you can see, most of the basic medleys are the same – the Dead were generally not leaping with abandon from tune to tune with no preparation. Each night, the medleys contain more or less the same songs in the same order. There were two main groups of songs:
Dark Star>China Cat>the Eleven
New Potato>Born Cross-Eyed>Spanish Jam
When the tour started, most songs’ places in the medleys were settled, but Clementine had an uneasy spot. It fit easily into the set after the Cryptical reprise, so Cryptical>Clementine started out as a common pairing – on “1/23” and 2/2, Lesh starts it out of Cryptical, and on 1/20 and “1/23” Garcia segues from Clementine to New Potato; evidently its planned slot was between those two. (In fact, Clementine still came out of Cryptical when it was last played a year later, on 1/26/69.) But, despite its delights, the Dead seem to have tired of Clementine after just a few shows, so Cryptical>New Potato became the new pairing, and would stay that way for almost another year. You can see the transition here:
http://archive.org/details/gd1968-02-03.sbd.miller.97346.sbeok.flac16 (Cryptical>New Potato)
This 2/3 tape is unusual because Born Cross-Eyed is separated from New Potato (a very rare occurrence in this tour), and the space afterwards trickles out without turning into a full-fledged Spanish Jam. In other copies of this show, Born Cross-Eyed does follow New Potato immediately, so I am not sure which order is accurate.
On 2/2, Lesh & Garcia take Clementine into Schoolgirl (strongly teasing the opening first, so the others can follow). As on 1/17, Schoolgirl has to be signaled – Pigpen songs, you’ll note, were not core parts of the medleys, but (like Lovelight and Alligator) stood off on their own. Schoolgirl was used to close the medley only once more on our tapes, on 3/16 – this time Garcia signals it, as the Eleven winds down. The Dead would come to use it more often as a regular opener.
The Dead realized that some of Pigpen’s songs worked well in ending a medley, and started to use them more frequently as closers. Caution was one obvious choice, as on “1/22,” 2/22, and 3/17, where each time it comes out of the China Cat>Eleven medleys, continuing the momentum. The Eleven jam turns easily into a Caution jam, as the bassline follows naturally, so Lesh can flip it right around.
http://www.dead.net/features/tapers-section/february-12-february-18-2007 (includes 2/22/68 excerpt)
They also started putting Lovelight in the post-Eleven slot – as on 2/14, 2/23, and 3/30. As with Caution, it was a good choice to keep building on the high energy of the Eleven, and this was a placement they’d return to later in ‘68. Garcia shoves the band abruptly into Lovelight on 2/14, playing the riff until they follow; and the transition is a bit awkward on 2/23 as the band gradually shifts gears to Lovelight, but better on 3/30 – the Dead were not as adept at this switch as they would be later in the year. (Lovelight also evidently comes out of another tune on 3/17, but fades in on the Download Series release, so we can’t tell what tune – it wasn’t the Eleven, though.)
At this point Lovelight was still just as often played as a standalone tune. One strange placement is when, out of the raveup end of Lovelight on 3/29, Garcia segues to the Cryptical suite (which, as usual, then leads to a New Potato>Born Cross-Eyed). It would be April ‘69 before Lovelight was used again to start off a medley.
Surprisingly, Alligator>Caution is rare from our tapes of early ‘68 – it was played on 2/14 and 3/16. There is also a uniquely expanded version from 2/24: Alligator>China Cat>Eleven>drums>Alligator>Caution. China Cat fits so perfectly after Alligator, and the transition is so smooth, it seems to have been planned – the Eleven returns to the Alligator jam not directly, but via the drum break.
China Cat & the Eleven were, at this point, considered one indivisible tune. It’s rare to find China Cat>Eleven separated from Dark Star, but it also happens on 3/17, when the show-closer is China Cat>Eleven>Caution. (Dark Star seems to have been played in the first set.)
It’s even more rare to have the Eleven come to a stop and end with no transition, but it seems to on “1/23” (as heard on the Road Trips ’68 bonus CD). This sounds very awkward, as they actually never worked out an ending for the Eleven, so it always needs to segue. (On 1/17 and 2/3 they get around the problem by segueing into feedback!) On “1/22” the Eleven peters out almost to a halt, until Garcia & Lesh revive the music with Caution.
A couple times early in the tour, Dark Star comes out of a jam, on 1/20 and “1/22,” but the Dead may have had a little trouble coordinating the intro on the fly, so later on it’s always used as the first song in the medley. (3/30 being an exception.) Dark Star was very rarely played on its own, as it was on 2/2 and 3/29.
New Potato is also mostly inseparable from the Other One suite after the Northwest tour, so we get more Cryptical>New Potato medleys on 2/14, 2/24, 3/17, and 3/29. One surprising exception is on 3/30, when Garcia starts Dark Star out of the Cryptical reprise instead! (This catches the others off-guard.)
Born Cross-Eyed follows New Potato on 2/14 and 3/29, but not on 2/24 or 3/17, where New Potato just ends. (On 2/24 this is because Kreutzmann was sitting out, so they probably decided not to do Born Cross-Eyed without him. On the 3/17 Download Series CD, New Potato seems to go right into China Cat, but since that’s an edited official release – and is surprisingly smooth for a one-time transition – I suspect there may have been a break or another song in between; only the master tape can tell. The 1/30 New Potato included on the Road Trips ‘68 CD also seems to be a standalone, but may have been edited from a medley.)
Very occasionally, Born Cross-Eyed could be separated from New Potato and played on its own – for instance, possibly on 2/3; in the standalone Born Cross-Eyed>Spanish Jam on 2/23; or on 3/30, where Garcia segues from the Spanish Jam to Death Don’t Have No Mercy, an unusual twist. There’s also a report that on 3/17, Dark Star>Born Cross-Eyed was possibly played in the (missing) first set, which must have been quite a strange segue!
Born Cross-Eyeds without even an attempt at a following Spanish Jam seem to have been nonexistent (2/3 being the closest) – so far as we know, those two were an inseparable pair in ‘68, never played apart. One thing about the Spanish Jam is that it almost always ends the set, the exceptions being early on (1/20 and “1/22,” where it goes into Dark Star), and late (3/30, going into Death Don’t). Strictly speaking, 2/14 is another exception, but in that case following a giant Spanish Jam with another giant Alligator>Caution>Feedback is the height of extravagance!
There are a couple other brief observations to make about these sets.
The Dead’s playing is extremely jazzy, particularly in the earlier shows – I don’t think they would sound this jazzy again until 1973. For all the differences I listed between the Dead & Miles Davis, still, musically they are exploring very similar ground. Part of it’s the loose swing feel they get sometimes; partly in the drumming patterns, Garcia’s horn-like lines, and the light blend Weir & Lesh have; partly in the variety of tunes with odd time signatures. There’s a strong sense of the band pushing each other to keep up, and trying to play just outside their abilities. (Pigpen never played this well again!)
The Dead use a few different strategies for transitions between songs. Sometimes there are direct jump-cuts (Dark Star>China Cat, or New Potato>Born Cross-Eyed) – gentle intros out of decaying jams (Cryptical>New Potato, or Spanish Jam>Dark Star) – switching from one jam to a related jam (China Cat>the Eleven, or Eleven>Caution) – and forced starts, as a player signals a song in a jam and the others follow. (This is always Garcia or Lesh, who were acting as bandleaders.) Feedback is also often used – either as a dramatic ending to a set (the music dissolves in a primordial howl), or as a transitional “glue” between tunes (Born Cross-Eyed>Spanish Jam).
Most of the medleys were set in advance, but sometimes there were changes. After Clementine was tried out as a medley element at the start of the tour, the band dropped it and were much happier with the resulting Cryptical>New Potato segue. Songs could sometimes be separated from their usual companions, as I’ve outlined. The band was free to depart from the script when they chose – so we get some surprising instances like the mashup of Alligator>Caution and China>Eleven on 2/24, or Dark Star following Cryptical on 3/30. And on 1/20, we see a tease of the future when Caution is played as a short transitional passage rather than as a full-length statement. The Spanish Jam was usually a set-closer, but not always; there were sometimes further segues. There was also an open slot – out of the Eleven, any number of things could happen.
The Dead put some thought into the transitional jams before the tour, and we see that several songs were designed to be links. The hard-stop ending to the Cryptical reprise that was played in 1967 was dropped by ’68, so that it could segue more easily to other songs. Dark Star was made to segue, but was attached to China Cat before the tour started, so we don’t get to hear what the other possibilities could have been. The Eleven, as we saw, had no ending, nor did the Dead ever bother providing one, but left it up to the moment what the segue would be. (This was still true in ’69.) The Spanish Jam was open-ended by its nature, but the Dead apparently didn’t feel the combination of drawn-out spacy feedback and acid flamenco worked too well as a link to other songs.
Music students with more knowledge would have to report on whether certain songs were always paired together because they were in related keys. It’s worthwhile mentioning what we DON’T hear – they never play Dark Star>Spanish Jam, for instance, or Dark Star>Cryptical (which could’ve been a natural, but we don’t hear one til later in ‘68). New Potato never goes into anything other than Born Cross-Eyed; other possibilities are also left unexplored. The Dead must have had a sense before the tour of which songs should go together, and which shouldn’t – some juxtapositions must not have sounded right, or were difficult to play.
We can also see some changes in the music just in this two-month period – there’s a definite break between the February and March shows. Dark Star slowly expands of course, but the Elevens are also generally longer in March. (New Potato stays the same size, making me wonder if they were intentionally keeping it contained in length for the album.) Clementine vanishes from the tape record, though the Dead kept tinkering with it through ’68. Death Don’t Have No Mercy returns to the setlists, and is added to a medley for the first time. The Dead also start singing And We Bid You Goodnight at the ends of shows.
The Other One suite doesn’t change much in size in this period, but the Dead make some small & significant changes. The little drum break is added to the Other One in March, with far-reaching results. On the winter tour, the Dead were not always certain about how to segue out of the Cryptical reprise, but by March they have the transition to New Potato down, and the ending to the Cryptical reprise becomes more delicate, amorphous, and prolonged (and will keep expanding over the next months).
As an aside, the 3/3/68 Haight Street show offers quite a contrast to these Anthem-taped shows. When playing to the hometown crowd, and not recording for the album, the Dead seem to have set aside the medleys of new material and mostly played just old favorites: Viola Lee, Lovelight, Smokestack, Dancing in the Streets. (These last two are quite rare in this period; in fact we have only one version of each from ’68 on tape.) The mood was celebratory and the show unusual, but it shows that when the tapes weren’t rolling, the Dead could revert back to 1967 mode and roll out the crowd-pleasers.
Sadly, from April to August ’68 we enter a little black hole of Dead shows, from which only a few particles have escaped. But some fragments from the May/June period do reveal the Dead in the process of radically rearranging their sets, and seeing what new combinations might work.
The Anthem album is now finished, and the medleys that comprised the core of the winter shows have been dissolved. China Cat and the Born Cross-Eyed>Spanish Jam combo have disappeared since the March shows, and a brand-new song, St Stephen, has just been added. With China Cat gone, Dark Star and the Eleven now float freely from each other; and the Cryptical>New Potato suite is the only regular medley still remaining.
So the Dead have a new freedom in their arrangements, and it’s interesting to see what they do with it. The idea of the continuous medley still remains, but now that the preplanned segues have been dismissed, the band needs to decide at the end of each number what song to go into next. Sometimes (as on 6/14) you can tell the set was planned out ahead of time, but in general there is now more spontaneity in song choices, the band trusting each other to make the leaps.
The band’s style hasn’t changed that much since the March shows. Garcia’s using a slightly different guitar tone, a bit cleaner and less distorted, and his playing often has a more intimate feel now. Pigpen is still very prominent on organ in the May show, perhaps his last high-point on the instrument – he’s harder to hear in the June shows, and his tone and place in the music have diminished somewhat by August.
Our mid-‘68 fragments are mostly found in these “mystery reels”:
May (excerpt 1, tracks 1-11) - St Stephen>Other One suite>New Potato>Alligator>drums>Caution
First June show (excerpt 6, tracks 31-35) - St Stephen>Other One suite>Lovelight
Second June show (excerpt 7, tracks 36-41) - Dark Star>St Stephen>Lovelight
6/14/68 - Feedback>Eleven>St Stephen; Alligator>Lovelight>Caution
(We don’t know the dates of these particular reels, and can only approximate by comparing the Stephens – the last three Stephens are almost identical – but I’ve labeled them for convenience.)
In the May show, almost all of St Stephen is lost, but there’s an interesting, loose little transition jam after the last verse, in which the Cryptical intro is constantly teased. No surprise, Cryptical comes next. We’ll hear the same outro jam in the next two Stephens – after “answer man,” these early Stephens delve into a reprise jam that works its way into the next song. (It reminds me of the early Casey Jones intro jams in 1969!) This first one definitely sounds earlier, less worked-out & more tentative to me – though it has the same basic structure as the next two versions, many parts are lacking (for instance, the constant Stephen riff isn’t played, and Garcia doesn’t reprise the “answer man” riff). It’s also unique in its sweet, gentle feel, and in that Pigpen is as much in the lead as Garcia.
What’s notable here is that Stephen was originally designed to be open-ended and part of a medley – they could easily have given it an ending and played it as a solitary tune, like some of their ’67 songs, but instead it was meant from the start to be tossed into the medley stew. Here we see a particular emphasis on the transition jam, which is done at length and almost has its own identity. (The Stephen transition jams would soon be dropped, but they’d pick up the idea again the next year when China Cat was revived.)
The Cryptical reprise segue to New Potato is much more developed and melodic now. New Potato has also grown, with a new bass jam – when it ends, instead of a sudden segue to Born Cross-Eyed, there’s now a sudden segue to Alligator. (The Dead apparently felt Born Cross-Eyed was a song of limited possibilities, and only played it a few months; indeed it’s such a rigid and complex song, it’s hard to imagine it growing over time.)
In the first June show, St Stephen has a similar but longer & more developed outro jam. At the end of the jam, you can hear the Dead in a rare moment of decision-making, as Lesh & Garcia start to go into Dark Star but then pull up short, change their minds, and choose Cryptical instead. The segue out of Cryptical is also different: Garcia decides not to do the usual New Potato, so he skips the graceful Cryptical outro, and instead starts playing the Lovelight intro until the rest of the band (slowly) catches on.
The second June show has our first Dark Star>St Stephen, a historic moment – it seems like an obvious pairing, and must have shortly followed Stephen’s debut. Stephen has the same outro jam again, now even more extended & fiery; at the end there is another open moment of hesitancy where no one knows what to play next, and we hear Garcia in pause mode until Lesh starts the Lovelight riff.
All three Stephens have uncertain transitions at the end – the song was supposed to segue and link up to something else, but they didn’t know what yet, so they’re trying out different options. We rarely heard these little moments of uncertainty back in the winter shows – they could cover up times when they dropped the thread – but now they’ll start a song, not knowing how it will end. (This indeterminacy is actually more typical of the later Dead than of the ’68 band, which was trying to be tighter.)
Unfortunately, both of the earlier Stephens are cut, so there’s no telling what song they came out of. (Although in the first June one, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Dark Star.) The Dark Star>St Stephen linking sounds like it was meant to be, and yet our next show has a quite different entry into Stephen.
6/14 is quite radical, as our tape opens with Feedback bursting into life from a dead start. After a few minutes of the din, Lesh starts the ominous Eleven bass pattern, moving from formless noise to structure. The band dives into the Eleven – and in another remarkable moment, at the end Garcia & Lesh transition naturally & seamlessly from the Eleven into St Stephen. (Clearly they had done this more than once; it might even have been common that month.) After a fierce rendition of St Stephen, the band ends it with the ‘can you answer’ riff and a perfectly placed chord; no transition. (Again, I think they must have ended it like that at other times, to do it so neatly. Whether this date comes before or after the last two tapes, I can’t tell.)
Alligator follows after a tape pause, and it’s also unusual: after the verses, instead of the drum break, Lesh launches Lovelight, and after a full version of that, Garcia rushes straight into Caution, bypassing the Alligator jam altogether. Clearly the Dead were aiming for maximum excitement in this show (and it’s a far superior show, ironically, to these other clear SBD tapes).
One thing to note is that in all these shows, the medley ends with a Pigpen song – either Lovelight or Caution (or both).
After a couple more months of darkness, Dead tapes start emerging again in August ’68; and the band sounds closer to the “familiar” Dead sound – their playing is heavier, more forceful, confident, and densely textured. After a few more months playing their new songs, they’re getting deeper into the material, bringing out more nuances, and jamming more at length. The segueing exuberance from earlier in the year has diminished, and the Dead have now narrowed their possibilities to just a couple set medleys that they perform nearly the same way at every show.
From 8/21/68, we have our first Dark Star>St Stephen>Eleven>Death Don’t medley. (Closely followed by Lovelight, to uplift the audience from the death vibe.)
I’m not sure how much thought went into the ordering of the medleys in the early ’68 shows, whether certain songs just fell together. But now, the Dark Star medley is a planned progression of moods, from introspective exploration to catchy rock to thrilling metrical jams to slow blues. St Stephen now takes the place of China Cat between Dark Star & the Eleven, as the Dead return to the framework of the original medley.
Just two months after the last tapes, St Stephen is rapidly maturing. The Dead still take it at the same fast pace, but have added some new touches – Weir now co-sings the song with Garcia, the verse-endings are a cappella & there’s a little break after “another man spills;” and in general the rhythm’s a bit looser and the song breathes a little more. The song has also been radically shortened – the middle jam has now been cut out (though it’ll be restored later in ’69), so the last verse isn’t reprised anymore.
Stephen now ends differently as well – after “answer man,” the outro jam has been replaced by the vocal “high green chilly” bridge to the Eleven (this is our first performance of that). It would have been nice to hear the earlier Stephen outro jams go right into the Eleven, but this new section brilliantly builds up the tension before the Eleven explodes.
The Eleven’s transition to Death is not as smooth as it would be later on, as the Eleven almost trickles to a halt before Garcia ushers in Death, and the band has to roughly adjust their tempo. (Later they’d gradually slow down the end of the Eleven for a smoother transition.) After Death ends, the Dead then hop into Lovelight to close the set – Pigpen was usually the show-closer, but sometimes the Dead would just stop and leave the stage after Death Don’t, leaving the audience on a chilly note. (As Garcia later said to Blair Jackson, “We used to end with real dire things in the old days.”)
The Cryptical reprise has expanded quite a lot, but doesn’t segue into anything on 8/21, probably because the guitars are out of tune & they have to stop. (The audience is left uncertain as to when it actually ends! You can hear some confused clapping start during the tuning…)
They do play the full Cryptical>New Potato medley the next night (and the rest of the fall), though. The bridge to New Potato is now quite a luscious piece of music in itself, having grown immensely from early ‘68. (This is a good instance of the Dead expanding a specific transition over time.)
One notable medley change on 8/22 is that Dark Star is played separately from Stephen>Eleven>Death – it’s a standalone version, since there’s a pause before they start Cryptical. We seem to be missing the start of the first set; the intro of Stephen is cut, but it’s unlikely to have segued from some other song. (9/20 is the only other known instance from ‘68 where Stephen had a cold start, and that was a strange show.)
Pigpen sounds a bit more out of place now, as his Vox Continental sound doesn’t mesh too well with the guitars. One of the problems was that earlier in ’68, he was apparently playing the Hammond B-3 at shows, which had a much better sound, and he was able to swirl round the guitars more effectively. Now he seems to concentrate more on fills and percussive emphasis. (Constanten would also later complain that the Vox had a tinny sound next to the guitars, and bewailed not being able to play the Hammond more often. The rest of the Dead didn’t seem to care, or just couldn’t afford to keep a Hammond.)
One reason we have these August shows is that the Dead recorded them on 8-track; and this also explains why the Dead were now playing the same medley at every show. Even having just released a partially-live album, the Dead were already keen to record another live album with the new material. As Garcia later said, “We were after a certain sequence to the music - a serious, long composition, musically, and then a recording of it.” Hence, the Dark Star>St Stephen>Eleven medley remained the centerpiece of their shows for months to come, as they finetuned and perfected it. Not only was it “a serious, long composition” they were proud of and enjoyed playing, they also wanted to get it just right for the next live album, so few shows went without it.
As it turned out, Live/Dead ended up being recorded in early ’69, not in August ’68. In fact, the Dead were so disappointed with the tapes of these August shows, not only did they not release any of them, they decided to get rid of Pigpen & Weir! It was even announced that the 9/2/68 festival show would be Weir & Pigpen’s last show with the Dead. But over the next month, things were worked out and the Dead remained intact. It must have been sometime in September or October that they decided to have Constanten come join the band once he got out of the Air Force in November; and I suspect there was a deliberate choice to wait til he had settled in the band before they attempted to record shows for the live album again, at the end of December.
The Dead, by the way, were not alone in being keen to make a live album at that time. I don’t think it’s coincidental that Jefferson Airplane taped Bless Its Pointed Little Head during shows in October/November ’68, and Quicksilver also taped most of Happy Trails live in November. There seems to have been a hidden competition between bands here! Then again, Cream’s Wheels of Fire had come out that summer, and was such a huge success, record companies were probably begging for more live rock albums...
The different albums show different approaches – the Airplane were perhaps the most accessible and pop-friendly, with some well-known songs on their album and just one long jam. Quicksilver decided not to take that route, and instead took two Bo Diddley tunes and transformed them each into side-long jams (with a nod to the Dead). The Dead went even further and put out a double album of long jams – although in the future, they’d devote their live albums more to songs.
Live/Dead is also, of course, mostly one long medley, with the only break coming between Lovelight and Death Don’t. The effect was diminished a bit by the original LP format (having to flip the record at the end of each side), but the Dead definitely wanted it to be taken as a suite of connected songs, even editing together a Stephen>Eleven from two different shows to recreate the live flow. Coming after Anthem of the Sun, this was a statement that the extended medley was the Live Dead Format, and audiences would come to expect it at every show. (Sometimes to be disappointed – by the time the album actually came out in November ’69, the Dead were playing the full Dark Star medley much less often.)
In late ’68, though, the Dead’s medleys were quite rigid from show to show, and there are only a few variations to report:
On 10/12 and 10/13/68, the Dead were faced with playing the shows without Pigpen (who was staying at the hospital with his girlfriend, who’d had a stroke). This resulted in two shows with identical setlists, but also required some problem-solving: the first set ended with Death Don’t, but how to end the second without a big Pigpen raveup? On each night, they segue from New Potato into drums>jam>feedback – sort of a brief Caution jam without the Caution. (This is much more abbreviated on 10/13; in fact the Dead were in such a hurry that night they seem to have skipped the New Potato jam altogether.)
(New Potato was apparently a difficult song to segue from, with its complicated ending. Back in early ’68, Born Cross-Eyed was pretty much the only song to follow New Potato; otherwise the song just ended without a segue. The same held true in late ’68 – other than these October transitions into drum-breaks, the only other instance of a segue is on 8/24, into Lovelight, which is more of a stop & quick start. There was possibly a segue to Alligator on 11/1/68, as in the May show, but due to the tapecut there’s no way to know. 3/1/69 is the only later instance where New Potato occupies the middle of a medley, rather than the end.)
On 10/20/68, with Pigpen back, the Eleven segues into Caution to close the medley, instead of Death Don’t.
(They’d done this a few times in early ’68, and once again, this is such a natural transition, it’s strange they didn’t do it more often later; but there are only a few known instances of Eleven>Caution in ’69-70, like 2/5/69, 11/8/69, and 2/5/70.)
On 11/1/68, Dark Star is again separated from Stephen>Eleven, this time segueing into the Cryptical suite for the first time.
(The Dark Star>Cryptical segue is quite rare, the only later times on tape being on 2/22/69, 11/7/69, and 2/13/70. There were a few other times in ’69 Dark Star went into the Other One directly, bypassing the Cryptical intro: 6/22, 7/12, and 11/8/69, and 3/24/70. The reverse segue of Cryptical>Dark Star was also uncommon – after 3/30/68, we only have it on 2/28, 4/15, and 8/21/69, and 1/23/70. As for the Other One>Dark Star, aside from the unusual 11/8/69, it was practically a nonexistent transition, 11/5/70 being the only one I recall; and that had a full stop after the Other One so it barely qualifies.)
On 11/22/68, for the first time Death Don’t is left out of the Dark Star medley, and the Eleven segues into Lovelight instead. (Through early ’69, Lovelight and Death Don’t would trade places at the end of the Dark Star medley, with Death Don’t finally being phased out in the spring.)
On 12/21/68, there’s a surprise segue from the Cryptical reprise to It Hurts Me Too. This is unusual, even unique for ’68, but the band seems prepared for it. (This kind of sudden segue to the blues would become more common in April ’69, when the Dead started putting It’s A Sin into their medleys.)
There is a tapecut in the Alligator, and it’s been speculated that the Dead may have played Alligator>drums>Eleven>Alligator, with the tape cutting in drums and only catching the end of the Eleven jam. It’s hard to tell, but this would be quite novel for ’68 – it happened a couple times later in ’69 though, on 4/23 and 12/30.
And finally on 12/29/68, the Dead return for once to the nonstop method of early ’68 with a massive medley of Dark Star>St Stephen>Eleven>drums>Other One>Cryptical>short feedback>Goodnight. This was a festival show, and as we often see in those settings, the Dead are in a hurry, stuffing as much as they can into an hour-long set, and concentrating on audience favorites.
The Dead actually have some interesting strategies in this show – note how they start off with Lovelight, the catchiest number they had. At the moment, that crosses off Lovelight from the Dark Star medley (though later in spring ’69, they’d experiment with reprising Lovelight at the beginning AND end of the show). Time is short and momentum a priority, so instead of slowing the pace for Death Don’t, the Eleven segues breathlessly into a drum break, out of which they burst explosively into the Other One, skipping the Cryptical intro.
(This is the first time the Cryptical intro was dropped – the Dead would start doing that again sometimes in late ’69, using drum breaks to start the Other One directly rather than playing the full suite: 6/21, 9/30, and 12/21/69. By that time, the Other One was gradually being divorced from its Cryptical bookends, the reprise in particular shrinking and being played less often; while the drum break, in contrast, was ever-growing.)
I might also mention unfinished segues, where the Dead have to stop before finishing a medley. This is actually pretty rare in ’68, it seems. 8/21 was one example, where the Dead stopped to tune up in the Cryptical reprise. (It’s amazing there wasn’t more tuning in ’68, actually, given the Dead’s later habits.) But the Eleven is the principal culprit – on both 12/7 and 12/20, the Eleven ends awkwardly, sort of fading out due to problems onstage. On 9/20, it also abruptly stops midway, giving way to a long drum solo. (That, at least, seems to have been preplanned for the guest drummers.) This would also happen a couple times in ’69 – the Eleven stops early on 2/11 and 8/30/69 for a drum break (and on 6/27 for a deliberate country segue), though those medleys continue afterwards.
I won’t be looking at the Hartbeats sets, since the situation was different at those Matrix shows. But with the band pared down to a few key members, playing all instrumentals, the medley possibilities were greatly increased. The Hartbeats could spend long evenings segueing madly from one theme to the next, trying out pieces that were rarely touched in Dead shows. Instrumental versions of Lovelight, Dark Star, the Other One, the Eleven, the Seven, and Clementine might all mingle in rambling medleys, but without the sense of structure or variety you’d get in a Dead show – in fact there’s no direction in a ‘68 Hartbeats set at all, just a few members of the Dead practicing their improv themes.
I’ll have to stop here at the end of 1968, for now. The Dead would make a few refinements to the familiar medleys in January ’69, when some new Aoxomoxoa songs were introduced to the sets: Mountains of the Moon becomes an acoustic prelude to the Dark Star medley – Doin’ That Rag starts turning up at various points in the medleys – the Cryptical suite goes into Cosmic Charlie for the first time on 1/17/69, and then commonly starts segueing to Death Don’t as well.
April ’69 would be another turning point for the Dead’s medleys – after nine months of setlist stagnancy, the Dead finally decided, ‘we're not going to do the same old segues every single night!’ Then we start to see more odd combos being played. The Dead became much freer with their medleys, adding more new songs, splitting up or rearranging the old suites, trying out new adventurous combinations, and linking the most incongruous tunes they could think of. In fact, many of the elements of the Dead’s more spontaneous or free-flowing medleys and ‘sandwiches’ of later years would be born in their innovations of mid-’69, as they left the confines of the pre-composed medleys of ’68. But that’s a story for another day...