1976 was full of unique improvs: several songs customarily had extended ending jams in 1976 – Scarlet Begonias, Crazy Fingers, St. Stephen – and other new pieces like Slipknot could be very jammed-out. (But these I won’t be discussing here.) The Dead also had a strong tendency towards mellow spaciness in ’76, with many drifting transitions between songs. Many versions of Playing in the Band this year dissolve into quiet, barely-there spaces. And some of the jams listed here are also rather low-key and lacking in energy, perhaps downright sleepy. But this isn’t a list of the Greatest Jams of 1976, just specifically the jams that are unique and not song-based.
A couple noticeable changes from 1974: the two drummers, creating a constant pitter-patter and sometimes musical dissension as they drive the band, but also still able to make quick shifts. Keith’s approach has also changed since ‘74, as he sticks mainly to basic chord backings in the jams – sometimes taking the lead, but more often creating a repetitive feel. Nonetheless, he still plays a large part in these jams.
6/28/76 Happiness Is Drumming
There’s a bass/drum interlude out of Eyes, which the drummers guide into Happiness Is Drumming. The band fully plays the piece, clearly familiar with it – they had played a brief, uncohesive tease of it in the 6/22 Playing in the Band (14 minutes in) – and it dissolves into Wharf Rat.
(Mickey had already recorded his own vocal rendition of Fire on the Mountain, but here the Dead play the instrumental piece as on the Diga Rhythm Band album, where Garcia had played guitar. Garcia had also played it live with the Diga Rhythm Band back on 5/30/75.)
6/29/76 Jam out of The Wheel
The Wheel is embedded in a lengthy Playing in the Band, but the Dead take a detour on the way out of the Wheel. Garcia starts hinting at the Other One six minutes into the Wheel, which turns into a new fast-paced jam with a driving piano riff from Keith. (He’d play it again on 7/17 and later shows.) This wraps up around 11:50, returning to a regular Playing jam.
(The Wheel was played inside Playing in the Band several times in 1976; another example was on 7/14/76, which has a lengthy spacy jam after the Wheel heading back to the reprise, but there I would argue that this is part of the usual Playing jam, not a distinct piece.)
7/16/76 Jam in Playing, Spanish Jam
Eight minutes into Playing in the Band, Phil starts a new bass riff which sets the Dead tumbling off in a new direction. This has often been called a Stronger Than Dirt jam in the past, but it’s not – it’s a unique piece. After about six minutes, the Dead pass into a quiet space until Garcia starts Cosmic Charlie.
Later, after Samson & Delilah, the Dead drift into a few minutes of barely audible space; Weir starts up the Spanish jam (for the only time in 1976), and the Dead latch on for a full band jam, until stopping for a drum break.
(Also later on, the Wheel outro is unusually extended, though it doesn’t get into a new theme before turning back into the Playing reprise.)
7/17/76 Jam out of Comes A Time, Jam out of Eyes
First there’s an extended jam out of Comes A Time, which isn’t a new theme but stays within a two-chord structure. (Another extended Comes A Time to check out is 10/15/76, which all but explodes before seguing into Franklin’s Tower.)
An unusually expansive Other One (for the year) follows; then around 8 minutes into Eyes of the World, Keith starts a jaunty chordal riff which initiates a new jam. (This is the same part Keith had played back in the 6/29 Wheel.) The Dead linger there for a while, until Garcia feints at other songs – back to Eyes, then Goin’ Down the Road – and they tumble back into the Other One.
8/2/76 Jam out of Might As Well, Jam out of Wharf Rat
Instead of ending Might As Well, surprisingly, the Dead launch into a bluesy groove for a few minutes, wrapping it up with Samson & Delilah. Afterwards, Wharf Rat is part of the Playing in the Band suite; at first it seems like they’re heading back into a Playing jam after Wharf Rat, but instead it turns into a groovy bass/drums interlude. Phil starts a catchy riff, and the band joins in for an extended funky jam. This is outrageous - Garcia even uses a slide for part of it, before guiding the others into Goin’ Down the Road. After that song, they finally return to a great Playing reprise jam. Only audience tapes are available, so this wild set begs for an official release.
9/25/76 Post-Drums Jam
This is very short; after a bass/drums bit that sounds like it’s starting off Samson & Delilah, Phil kicks off the 8/2/76 riff again. The band joins in but they only play it for a minute before veering into the St. Stephen reprise.
9/28/76 Jam out of Samson, Jam out of Eyes
The entire second set is a Playing in the Band suite, I think for the first time in the Dead’s history. (Actually they’d done it before on 10/20/74, but with fewer songs, in a three-set show.)
An extended Wheel jam segues seamlessly into Samson & Delilah, but a surprise twist comes after Samson, when the Dead immediately start up a neat, virtually standalone jam. I’d call this a continuation of the Playing jam since it doesn’t have any distinct theme of its own; but in any case, it leads into Comes A Time.
Later, after a nice coda for Eyes of the World, the band again jumps into another jam (called the “Orange Tango Jam” on Dick’s Pick 20). Again, I think this is simply the Playing jam continued, but here the jam centers around a unique slinky rhythmic motif. Once this winds down, the Dead start Dancing in the Street, then return to the Playing reprise.
10/3/76 Jam out of The Wheel, Jam out of Good Lovin’
About 5:30 into the Wheel, the Dead start spinning off into another jam; eventually Keith sets the rhythm with a driving piano part (reminiscent of 6/29 & 7/17). It peters out after a few minutes, leading to a bit of uncertainty and some Dancing teases, before they spring the first Good Lovin’ since 10/20/74.
As Good Lovin’ ends, they just keep jamming; about six minutes in, Keith brings back that familiar piano riff again (and for a minute it almost sounds like ‘Take Five’ in 4/4 time). This winds down into Comes A Time, which doesn’t stretch out too far with a short transition jam before seguing into Dancing in the Street.
10/10/76 Jam out of Dancing, Jam out of The Wheel, Jam out of Stella Blue
About ten minutes into Dancing in the Street, Garcia breaks it down into a mellow little jam, very similar to Franklin’s Tower, and even brings out the slide for a bit. This turns into a lovely transition to Wharf Rat.
The second set features another big Playing in the Band suite. The Wheel carries into a few minutes of jamming, perhaps a Playing jam, which turns into a spacy Tiger (one of few in ’76) before collapsing into a drum break and the Other One. Later, after Stella Blue, there’s a couple minutes of jamming which could simply be part of the Playing reprise, but is more like a distinct piece in its own right (Keith’s familiar riff reappears yet again), before they yank it back to the Playing theme.
A few other short '76 jams are also worth mentioning - not really distinctive standalone pieces, but still unusual.
7/18/76 Jam out of Let It Grow
A note for Dark Star watchers: this jam into Wharf Rat is all but a straight Dark Star for a couple minutes before it veers decisively into Wharf Rat. (You can hear it clearly after 4:20 in Let It Grow.)
There is also a strong Dark Star tease at the end of the 6/12/76 Wharf Rat, about 11 minutes in. No doubt these were accidental teases, since Wharf Rat and Dark Star are musically so close.
10/1/76 Jam out of The Wheel
The Dead have a little musical quarrel after the Wheel – the band starts up a Dancing in the Street reprise, except for Garcia who isn’t interested and wants to play a ballad instead, setting off on his own path. A couple minutes of musical searching ensues; nothing really gels, but it’s an interesting little transition jam, and Garcia finally gets the others to settle into Ship of Fools before they return to Dancing. (This show is also notable for one of the longest Slipknots of the year.)
12/31/76 Jam out of Good Lovin’
A unique arrangement for Good Lovin': after a conventional solo, the Dead suddenly break into a new passage (from about 2:30 to 3:10) that sounds more like it belongs in the middle of Here Comes Sunshine; then when Good Lovin’ ends they return to it, turning it into a funky little Dancing-type jam, which after a couple minutes seamlessly blends into Samson & Delilah.
(Various odd jams are tucked into this show, from a Playing that gets more heavy and percussive as it goes along, to a Slipknot that suddenly turns into a quiet space midway through.)https://archive.org/details/gd76-12-31.preFM.warner.18524.20760.sbeok.shnf
I’ve probably overlooked some other standout jams, so if another jam belongs on this list, let me know!
These kinds of surprise jams mostly died out in 1977, where the improvs were mostly contained within song structures and an occasional “space” transition. A couple notable exceptions:
3/20/77 – a classical Garcia/Lesh interlude at the end of the Other One
12/30/77 – a unique jam after Eyes of the World
It was common for Garcia to play long, spacy transitions into or out of his songs in ’76. I haven’t attempted to list these, since I don’t consider them distinct pieces – they’re generally just one or two minutes long, Garcia’s way of pausing and setting the mood before starting another song. (Wharf Rat, for instance, often had a spacy outro that would meander into the next song, and sometimes extended intros as well.)
One good example is the end of Eyes of the World on 7/14/76:
This tradition spottily continued into 1977. Often in early ‘77 Garcia would embark on a solo “space” passage within the Other One, but sometimes he did it as a transition between songs. Here’s a partial listing of those transitional ’77 spaces – sometimes Garcia solo, sometimes with the band:
3/19/77 – Eyes>Dead space>Dancing
5/3/77 – Eyes>Space>Wharf Rat (great duet with Phil)
5/11/77 - Uncle John>Garcia space>Wharf Rat
5/22/77 - Eyes>Garcia space>Wharf Rat
6/4/77 – Franklin’s Tower>Dead space>China Doll (could be labeled a Playing jam)
10/29/77 – Eyes>Dead space>Stephen (by now, much more like the Spaces of later years)