Monday 22 June 2015

Grateful Dead: Official Live/Solo/Compilation/One-Off Albums Part One: 1966-1976

'High Time - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Grateful Dead' is available to buy now by clicking here!

"Birth Of The Dead"

(Rhino, Recorded 1965-67, Released March 2003)

CD One (Studio): Early Morning Rain/I Know You Rider/ Mindbender (Confusion's Prince)/The Only Time Is Now/Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks)/Can't Come Down/Stealin' (x2)/Don't Ease Me In (x2)/You Don't Have To Ask /Tastebud (x2)/I Know You Rider/Cold Rain And Snow (x2)/Fire In The City (backing Jon Hendricks)

CD Two (Live): Viola Lee Blues/Don't Ease Me In/Pain In My Heart/Sitting On Top Of The World/It's All Over Now Baby Blue/I'm A King Bee/Big Boss Man/Standing On The Corner/In The Pines/Nobody's Fault But Mine/Next Time You See Me/One Kind Favour/He Was A Friend Of Mine/Keep Rolling By

"The oldest juveniles in the state of California - The Grateful Dead!"

“Who you are and what you do don’t make no difference to me!” The release of this album was the equivalent of opening Tutankhamen's tomb and instead of finding mummified bodies there are boogie-ing skeletons everywhere, looking not a day older than when they were entombed. Originally included simply as an extra in the comprehensive box set 'The Golden Road 1965-72' to cover the band's early years, 'Birth Of The Dead' was successful enough to get a separate release soon after. Admittedly none of the music is quite up to what will come later, being mainly a mix of blues, folk and jugband covers, but it's all remarkably familiar despite sounding so...different. Impressively for an archive release, very few of these recordings had ever been made available before (and what had hadn't been legally available since the 1960s) and despite the extensive coverage of the many bootlegs about the band not much of this set had been heard unofficially either.

The Dead had a surprisingly long apprenticeship in the studio before recording their first, self-titled album almost two years after these first studio dates. Lovingly collected by fan Dennis McNally over a period of years, these 16 unreleased recordings (some of them repeats) finally saw the light of day on Rhino as ‘The Birth of The Dead’ along with 14 variable live tracks from this early period and a curio backing one third of Lambert Hendricks and Ross on a jazzy pop song (which became a – very – minor hit in early 1967, though Jerry’s guitar sound at all like ‘our’ Dead). Some of them are junk, it has to be said, lazy blues that were done by a whole host of other people of the time better (and having four of the songs as ‘backing tracks’ in addition to finished versions seems like cheating). But the rest: the Dead are already flying, turning in some tentative but already completely original songs with a literary, hippie twist with band-written highlights such as ‘Mindbender’ ‘Can’t Come Down’ and especially the glorious pop of ‘You Don’t Have To Ask’ with Garcia and Pippen on especially good form as good as anything on their first album, if not a little better. There’s also an early version of the later epic ‘Caution (Do Not Stop On The Tracks)’ which, for fans of the ‘Anthem of the Sun’ album like me, is a must hear with a fully functioning blues song going on without all that feedback and sound effects.

The set is split into 'studio' and 'live' sides to give listeners the flavour of both sides of the Dead's story - the performances in front of an audience are clearly better (this is already a band made to be cheered on like a football team, who don't take kindly to the microscope of austere studio clarity) but both have their moments. The set begins with the earliest known recordings of the Dead, six songs that have come to be known as 'The Autumn Sessions' and recorded in demo-form by the band under one of their 'temporary' post-Warlocks names 'The Emergency Crew'. Sounding not unlike Simon and Garfunkel, they reveal a much folkier flavour than anything we've had before, with many of the songs sung in harmony although the vocalists providing them tend to switch with every song (opener 'Early Morning Rain' for instance is the only duet between Phil and Bob in the band's history!) The sessions include two very primitive versions of songs that will become legendary amongst Deadheads: a jolly 'I Know You Rider' with shaky vocals and even shakier tambourine work played with all the unfocussed enthusiasm and speed of the first album and Pigpen's 'Caution' - which for now is a three minute burst of jazz and blues that's more about the song's few words than the spaces in between. More interesting than either, though, are the original songs the band never ever returned to again, most of which deserved to have a long and happy life in their set lists. 'Can't Come Down' is the clear winner, a hard-edged pop song on similar lines to 'Cream Puff War' (whilst credited to the whole band it's clearly mainly written by Jerry) with some odd 'Dylanesque nursery rhyme' lyrics that go on and on ('...Some are trying to tell me where it's at, how I do this and how I do that, with secret smiles like a Cheshire cat and leather wings like a vampire bat, I fly away to my coldwater flat and I eat my way through a bowl of fat, while saying to the man in a funny hat...') and a punchy chorus that's about the closest the Dead ever came to writing their manifesto and appeal to fans down in song (and no the future 'Golden Road' can't compete; 'I can't come down it's plain to see, I can't come down I've been set free, who you are and what you do don't make no difference to me!') 'Mindbender' is sweet too, a swirling ballad by Jerry and Phil that opens with a crib from the James Bond theme before turning into Hammond Organ-based hammer horror, while the band-written 'The Only Time Is Now' is Peter Paul and Mary backed by drums. All six songs (the other is a timid version of Gordon Lightfoot's 'Early Morning Rain', picked by the producers more used to hearing folk and dropped as quickly as possible by the band once outside the studio door) aren't quite up to what the band will do but they already have a certain chemistry and magic about them that other 'pre-fame' sets (even those by other AAA bands) can't often match.

The bulk of the studio disc comes from what have become known as 'The Scorpio Sessions' after the band released a sole single on the minor label ('Don't Ease Me In' backed by 'Stealin') in mid-1966: the very first official releases the band ever made). The single was such a flop that the other four songs recorded at the same session were never released (and rumours, corroborated by manager Rock Scully's book 'Living With The Dead' suggest there were dozens more songs that have never been heard). To be fair you can see why - the band sound far less at ease on these recordings, as if they've just realised what a big deal this is for them and play a lot simpler and a lot more like other bands, never really finding their telepathic groove. Recording practices of the day (making backing tracks first and adding vocals later) means that all but two of the songs can be heard the way the band first played them, as slightly doddery backing tracks. First up 'Stealin' is a Jerry-led cover of a Gus Cannon song where he tried to be Pigpen and fails (while Pig, curiously, stays silent and rooted to his oh-so sixties sounding organ). 'Don't Ease Me In' is a little better, with a real swing and pizazz, although you have to say the band sound awfully cowed - especially compared to the band's 1980 re-recording on 'Go To Heaven'. Pig's 'Tastebud' isn't one of his better songs, a clichéd blues song that's livened only by some nice piano tickling. A much rougher 'I Know You Rider' is about the flattest the band ever played the song. Even future standout cover 'Cold Rain and Snow doesn't sound much here, with the groove slowed down and Jerry sounding almost posh on his vocal delivery. It takes another rare group original, the lovely Bob-sung pop song 'You Don't Have To Ask' to save the band's reputation - this is a lovely song, simpler than most admittedly but full of the same cheer as 'The Golden Road' with the band already telling their audience that they don't need the band to give them direction on how to live their lives because in their heart of hearts 'you already know!' This song, first released on the 'So Many Roads' box set in 1999, really should have been re-cut for the first album.

The first disc then ends with a final oddity, the Dead acting as backing band to a singer named Jon Hendricks (once a third of renowned trio Lambert Hendricks and Ross - bet you can't guess which third!) Sounding a little like Lou Rawls despite his reputation as a jazz pioneer, Hendricks is no Pigpen and the band restricted to backing vocals are far more convincing. The song is a good one though, full of mid-60s vigour and featuring a stomping Jerry Garcia lead solo that's a good rehearsal for his similar one on 'Viola Lee Blues' later in the year. The Dead equivalent of The Beatles backing Tony Sheridan, this is a fascinating one-off with the band surprisingly convincing at aping a style and sound that wasn't naturally their own. The song was released as a single on the minor label 'Verve' but can more famously be heard, briefly, in the soundtrack of rare-to-find Vietnam protest film 'Sons and Daughters'.

For many fans it's the live disc recorded in July 1966 by soundman 'Bear' that's the more convincing. The Dead are already learning how to stretch songs out, with three lengthy covers ('Viola Lee Blues', sounding much like it will on record, a sleepy 'I'm A King Bee' and the traditional number 'Keep Rolling By' that starts off folk and turns into frenetic rock) quite unlike anything else anybody was doing at the time (except perhaps old friends Jefferson Airplane and - far away in Britain - Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd). Of the fourteen songs here there are barely any that will last in the band's setlist: apart from 'Viola Lee' and a much more on-it 'Don't Ease Me In' than the studio take Jerry's Bob Dylan favourite 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue', a ragged 'Sittin' On Top OF The World' and a slightly slower and more cowering 'Big Boss Man' are the only three. The other nine songs are all unique to this period and in most cases this album and reveal that the band were still trying to find their style. Pigpen sounds hopelessly wrong singing soul on Otis Redding's first hit 'Pain In My Heart' and there are better versions of folk song 'In The Pines' around than the Dead's slow blues waddle. However at times - especially when Pig takes centre stage - everything comes together. 'Next Time You See Me' is a convincing blues cover where the Dead sound their most Yardbirds-ish, 'I'm A King Bee' is superb, all Billy-drum-rolls chaos up against the mind-blowing authenticity of Pig's performance and a truly gorgeous harmonica solo and the lovely traditional folk song 'He Was A Friend Of Mine' features the best Dead harmonies until at least 1968. No The Dead can't match the intensity or the prowess of their later years, but neither is this an album made only for historical not musical listening. At its best 'Birth Of The Dead' showcases not just how good the Gratefuls were even before 99% of their audience had noticed but how eclectic their tastes were, how many different directions their long strange trip could have gone in. Kept in the vaults for so long partly because the Dead were unsure about how good they sounded, 'Birth Of The Dead' is far from perfect but enhances their reputation ten-fold: for all the occasional mistakes and dead-ends this is a band that's clearly going places and have audibly travelled many of their several roads before they even made it to a studio that first time in late 1965 almost two years before their first record. Above all, across these recordings  the Dead already sound like a ‘band’ – albeit a band of beginners still – and back each other up nicely, heading in roughly the same direction throughout, unlike say the early Byrds and Beach Boys tapes where the bands sound like they’ve only just met.  How different things might have turned out if Warner Brothers had got to them sooner...

"Vintage Dead"

(Sunflower, Recorded 1966 Released October 1970)

I Know You Rider/It Hurts Me Too/It's All Over Now Baby Blue/Dancing In The Street//In The Midnight Hour

"Whatever you wish to keep, better grab it fast"

Despite the fact that the Dead will go on to create one of the longest and most successful archive series of them all, their first pair of retrospective releases weren't actually what might be called 'official'. Both this and 'Historic Dead' were recorded (for the most part anyway) at the Avalon Ballroom on what is generally agreed to be a gig the pre-fame played there on September 19th 1966 (dates are a bit hazy in the Dead's early days). Originally these tapes were recorded by Avalon boss Robert Cohen as part of a five-album run he was planning to 'promote' his club with recordings by unsigned bands (the others were Jefferson Airplane - whose tapes have still sadly never come out - and The Charlatans). However when the Dead got their big break the following year the tapes got shelved. However with the Dead suddenly so big in 1970 the label MGM bought them and released them by dividing them into two for their 'Sunflower' label 9weith a couple of other recordings 'borrowed' from elsewhere), with a blitz of publicity that confused many fans into thinking they were 'legitimate' releases. Technically, of course, they are - the Dead knew they were being recorded and nominally gave their blessing to them being released so this isn't strictly a bootleg - and yet fans have treated them as such ever since because the band weren't consulted about their release then and there or the packaging (which, while cheap, is still convincing and official looking enough to fool more than one fan into believing it was a 'proper' new release). Most fans also tend to dismiss these shows as being worthless early relics, but fans of the first album and Pigpen especially will find a lot to love in both of them. This first set, for instance, features some terrific examples of Pig's early charisma and basically features the rest of the band as his back-up blues band, with Garcia very convincing as a blues guitarist. Interestingly all of the selections from this record will appear later in the Dead's career, although they all sound quite different to how they do here, with an extended 'School Girl', a version of 'I Know You Rider' with a full start (rather than it's usual place in a medley with 'China Cat Sunflower'), a more traditional sounding 'Dancin' In The Street' than the disco monstrosity that will appear on 'Terrapin Station' in 1977 (with a very nasally Bob on lead and Hammond organ swirls) and an early Dylan cover that will still be in the band's setlist in their final days. While the band were rightly horrified that these albums were out at just the moment they'd finally got away from these-blues cover beginnings and were now seen as 'proper writers', hearing them now shows off a whole other side to the Dead fans don't often get to see and Pigpen especially comes out the experience with his reputation more than intact. The Best Song: A terrific smoky 'It Hurts Me Too' with Pig's harmonica playing really mind-blowing while the rest of the band keep the tension of this 12 bar blues cooking right till the end A Worst song: While far from bad, this quick and quirky 'Schoolgirl' lacks the menace of the best live versions and at eleven minutes she's practically an old maid  by the time the song ends This Biggest Talking Point: The Dead are born! Heard some nine months before the release of the debut album this is the Dead as they started but not how many people remember them - a pure blues band with folky twinges, little sign of extended jamming and nothing in the way of original material just yet. Longest Song:At 11:12 this is one of the longest  'Good Morning Little Schoolgirl's out there Best Speech: None Front Cover: A bottle of wine sits next time to an old bill poster - the first use of the 'Skulls and Roses' logo on a Dead record! Overall rating - A fascinating historical document that's also more impressive musically than you might think 9/10

"Historic Dead"

(Sunflower, Recorded 1966 Released June 1971)

Good Morning Little School Girl/Lindy//Stealin'/The Same Thing

"Must be that ol' same thing that makes a preacher lay his Bible down"

The second of the two glorified bootlegs is even better than the first and again seriously deserves to be re-released. Pigpen doesn't sing he glows, with his harmonica playing particularly impressive  and he's even more of the star here, with lead vocals on three of the four songs. Once again there's some debate about when this show was recorded but it's most likely the first two songs come from a performance at the Avalon Ballroom on September 16th 1966, with the last two tracks more puzzling (though most fans' best guess is The Matrix on November 29th 1966). The album is very hard to get hold of (it never has appeared on CD and disappeared relatively quickly on release in 1971) but well worth it if you can get hold of it, revealing all sorts of nuances about the band's early years you won't get from the 'official' releases alone. This is a smoky, shadowy set with three blues songs alleviated only by the whimsical folk of 'Stealin' and all four songs are excellent to differing extents.  Best Song: 'Good Morning Little School Girl' has a swing and a leer that's far more mischevious than the version that came out on record. 'Stealin' is cute too. Worst song: 'The Same Thing' isn't bad by any means, with a nice purr from Pig showing a new side to his personality, but it's not quite up to the power of the other three songs here.  Biggest Talking Point: It's the Dead, but not as we know them. Heard some nine months before the first album and with a far more raucous blues feel than anything that made it onto 'Birth Of The Dead' this is an exciting find for any fan who considered 'Love Light' 'Hard To handle' and 'Smokestack Lightning' the definitive Dead. Of the four songs here only 'School Girl' was released in the band's lifetime, with 'The Same Thing' exclusive to this set. Longest Song: 'The Same Thing' at 12 minutes exactly Best Speech: None Front Cover: Truly bizarre, with what looks like the silhouette of a bird etched onto the top right hand corner of a blue background. Overall rating - This is the Dead equivalent of discovering Tutankhamen's Tomb from pre-history and finding that it really rocks! 9 /10

"Rare Cuts And Oddities 1966"

(Grateful Dead Records, March 2005)

Walkin' The Dog/You See A Broken Heart/Promised Land/Good Lovin'/Standing On The Corner/Cream Puff War/Betty And Dupree/Stealin'/Silver Threads And Golden Needles/Not Fade Away/Big Railroad Blues/Sick And Tired/Empty Heart/Gangster Of Love/Don't Mess Up A Good Thing/Hey Little One/I'm A King Bee/Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks)

"Well things don't seem to be the way they used to seem to be"

Or 'Birth Of The Dead' part two, another double-disc set split the same way between studio and live recordings from 1966. However the sources for the material is slightly different this time around: 'Bear', still working as the band's sound engineer, taped these recordings privately to see what the band would sounded like from the audience and what needed to be done to improve the sound, setting a microphone up during both gigs and rehearsals and keeping the tapes safe in his collection for several years (meaning that longterm fans are less likely to have these songs in the collection than the ones on 'Birth Of The Dead'). As before there's a wide range of material, mainly of the bluesy variety which Jerry or more normally Pig sing with aplomb even this early on. The material ranges from early arrangements of live favourites that will last the course of the band's lifetime (songs like Chuck Berry's 'Promised Land' and folk protest 'Big Railroad Blues') to many songs that the band never ever played again (including two songs learnt from the early Rolling Stones catalogue - Jagger and Richards' own 'Empty Heart' and Rufus Thomas' 'Walkin' The Dog', which are both very interesting if not that good). The biggest shock - though probably the weakest track here - comes in the form of folk song 'Betty and Dupree', which will mutate into the band's own 'Dupree's Diamond Blues' in three years' time and features the same story about a bank robbery made for love (this song is even more repetitive than the Dead's version!)

The most interesting songs here though are already the originals although for now there are only three: 'Caution' finds the Dead caught somewhere halfway between the nervy blues song in miniature heard on 'Birth Of The Dead' and the ten minute jam closing behemoth that will shake the musical world to its foundations in 1968. With more emphasis on Phil Lesh's hard-hitting bass lines, Pig sounds every bit the blues wailer from out of town and has really got into his stride here, with the whole band finding much more power and adrenalin than before. 'Cream Puff War', one of Garcia's earliest songs, sounds completely different to the version on the debut album however, being slightly calmer and less intense and with a quite different (though not exactly better) set of words: 'You can't be straight with each other for more than a minute at a time,  though it's all in the past you just won't leave it behind, yeah!' 'Standing On The Corner', premiered on 'Birth Of The Dead', sounds much the same, a plodding blues song with a cute riff, with Jerry still the wrong singer for this song (it needs Pig sweating and strutting, not Jerry thinking) but a welcome find nonetheless seeing as the song will be dropped from live shows within the year.

Even this early on the live versions are arguably the more comfortable, the Dead clearly enjoying 'playing' off their audience and the second disc is arguably the better. 'Hey Little One' (sung by an audibly husky sounding Garcia) and Oliver Sain's thudding country song 'Don't Mess Up A Good Thing' (sung by a shrill sounding Pig - perhaps the two singers should have swapped songs?) in particular deserved to become part of the band's regularly rotating setlist. Once again the star of the entire set is not Jerry or Bob as per 90% of the band's released work but Pigpen who takes the lead on nearly half of this set and is at his smouldering best, making the most out of teasing blues songs and playing some exquisite solos on his harmonica throughout (Jerry, by contrast, is very much the second instrument here). As with 'Birth Of The Dead' it's a real shame that a 'proper' producer didn't get the band inside the studio to record this early repertoire quick while it was still fresh as many of these cover songs are better than what appeared on the first album, if a little more dated and that bit closer to what every other good young covers act in America was making at the time. Once again, though, far from being the musical equivalent of 'baby photos' - interesting only for what the band will become not what they are - the Dead already sound like a band to watch. Overall, a nice release and amazing to think that a band can wait till their 40th anniversary before releasing an archive set this tasty and almost entirely unheard by most fans!

 Various Artists Featuring Jerry Garcia "Zabriskie Point" (Film Soundtrack)

(MGM, February 1970)

Heart Beat Pig Meat (Pink Floyd)/Brother Mary (Kaliedescope)/Dark Star (Grateful Dead)/Crumbling Land (Pink Floyd)/ Tennessee Waltz (Patti Page)/Sugar Babe (Youngbloods)/Love Scene (Jerry Garcia)/I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again (Rosie Holcomb)/Mickey's Tune (Kaliedescope)/Dance Of Death (John Fahey)/Come In Number 51 Your Time Is Up (pink Floyd)

The Deluxe Edition double-disc CD set (Released 199&0 also includes the four original performances of 'Love Song' by Jerry that were edited together to make the final product

"Glass hand devolving to ice petals revolving"

A measure of how successful the Grateful Dead had become by 1970, Jerry Garcia was the person film director Michaelangelo) Antonioni went to when he effectively sacked Pink Floyd from scoring the whole of his dippy hippie parable and all possible replacements had checked. Let me re-iterate that point: the Dead are beginning to seem like an institution in 1970 rather than a bunch of clueless amateurs and a legendary film director actually went to one in the band, cap in hand, because he considered them reliable. How times have changed! To be fair, Antonioni seems to have been unsure of exactly what he did want from this famous failure: it seems to skirt with politics (the film starts with a mass student protest), moves on to becoming a romance when the main protagonist falls for a fellow pot-smoking rebel and ends up a Romeo and Juliet tragedy when he is shot trying to prevent a policeman from shooting her (from a psychedelic airplane - maybe they should have hired the Jeffersons?!) Pink Floyd went through all sorts of ideas, a lot of which were gathered together on the CD re-issue and lots more still only available on bootleg, before having what was originally meant to be a complete score reduced to three songs. Most of the rest of the space were filled with various already-existing records, including a two-and-a-half-minute extract of the 'Live/Dead' version of 'Dark Star' which serves as a rather odd choice of background music during some typical middle-aged-man's-idea-of-hippie-talk banter. However Antonioni (then a big name thanks to 'Blow-Up' in 1966) really liked the song, which he hadn't really known before (music wasn't his strong point - he only hired Pink Floyd because they'd already released the well received film score for 'More' the year before) and set off trying to see if the band could deliver something for the 'missing' sex scene in the desert in a hurry. Jerry duly arrived guitar in hand and spent a single afternoon improvising away while the surprisingly graphic (by 1970 standards) scene played out on the big screen behind him. Legend has it that despite never having heard of the film before taking the phone call that week Jerry was already 'on it' and delivered the director what he wanted from the start, eventually recording apparently eight passes at the acoustic guitar instrumental which was edited together into one long seven minute piece (though to date only four takes have come to light). The result doesn't really work as mere soundtrack filler - Jerry sounds less of himself playing solo for pretty much the first time in a professional setting - but is perfect for the film, Jerry's tender guitar rolls suggesting a tenderness that isn't actually there on screen (one of this film's many problems was the fact that the two leads hated each other, with actor and then unknown Mark Frachette arrested for violent robbery and sent to prison just three years later reportedly threatening all sorts of unpleasant things to his co-stars). It's a noble piece, proving again what inherent and natural musicality Jerry possessed, although for my money the film-makes lost a trick by not simply getting Jerry to keep going - to my ears each pass is better than the first as Jerry gets more into the film and they should have just used the version listed on the box as 'Love Scene Improvisation #4' or perhaps gone for an even better take. Certainly the resulting music - and Antonioni's respect, which so many other leading bands had failed to receive - did the guitarist a lot of good and it's a shame that, surprisingly, the only film soundtracks Jerry will make from here-on in will be his own.

 Jerry Garcia "Garcia"
(Warner Brothers, January 1972)

Deal/Bird Song/Sugaree/Loser/Late For Supper//Spidergawd/Eep Hour/To Lay Me Down/An Odd Little Place/The Wheel

"If I had a gun for every ace on this album I could arm a force the size of half the world..." 

Big as the Grateful Dead had become by the first half of the 1970s, Jerry's profile was arguably bigger. He appeared on just about every must-have record from the first two years of the decade and was clearly on a creative roll that couldn't be kept quiet with the band's live albums  where new and old material were jumbled up together. Warner Brothers were keen enough to let him have carte blanche to make a solo album on his own terms and Jerry - free of the need to fit to a 'Dead' style for the first time in his career and excited to have been assigned a 16-track machine - readily agreed (the label offered the deal to any member of the Dead in return for them extending their original contract by three records after 'American Beauty', although they were particularly hot on a Garcia album). An additional stipulation - unheard of at the time - was that the rights for the album would revert back to Jerry after a seven year period and he could do with them what he liked. Usually in bands the moment when a band member first decides to make a solo album is a sticking point which leads to cries of 'why can't they do this sort of thing with the band?' or 'what happens if they become bigger than us?' which saw the disintegrations of all sorts of other AAA bands from The Hollies to The Rolling Stones. However the Grateful Dead never batted an eye - they knew that Jerry was the sort of person who would always return to his day job eventually and that creatively speaking the more time he spent on his 'night job' the happier he'd be when he got back with them. Indeed Billy even helped Jerry out on the album (drums being the one instrument he couldn't play convincingly) and receiving several co-credits on the songs that came out of jamming sessions for his troubles, while Bob's response was to be inspired to make his own album. Jerry realised too that fans would be awfully curious about what he was up to so almost nobody except the band's inner circle even knew he was making a record (the sign outside the studio doors at Wally Heiders' smallest studio in San Francisco read 'closed session - Anita Bryant' because the band figured there couldn't possibly be a fan who liked them both!)

Many fans were expecting a totally 'bonkers' solo album, given the directive that Warner Brothers had given the guitarist and the short three-and-a-half-week period the record took to make, but a few sound collages aside ('Late For Supper' 'Spidergawd' and 'An Odd Little Place') the result was surprisingly traditional. Jerry and Robert Hunter were at the peak of their telepathic songwriting powers and came up with several traditional sounding Dead songs that were duly embraced into the band's main set lists over the next few days anyway. The experiments in tape loops and the rather odd piano jam 'Eep Hour' aside, what's impressive is how consistently excellent the album is, poetic and thoughtful as if Jerry (and Hunter) had been working away at it for years, not just piecing it together in a matter of weeks. As soft a spot as I have for Jerry-led albums like 'American Beauty' and 'Wake Of The Flood' this might well be his best album in terms of songwriting. The album starts with the typical card game of 'Deal' which features one of Jerry's most convincing shuffle rock rhythms. We then move on to 'Bird Song', one of the pair's prettiest ballads that was in part a tribute for fallen comrade Janis Joplin although like the pair's best ballads brings hope and comfort to any listener who needs it without being too specific. In concert 'Sugaree' tended to ramble, stretched out beyond all reason as Jerry just liked singing it too much to stop, but heard here on record at a mere (!) six minutes it's painful goodbyes from a narrator who doesn't really want to go is one of Garcia-Hunter's more poignant lyrics. And then there's 'Loser', another card game favourite but this time written so cleverly that the song could go either way - is this is a fast-talking conman trying to talk you out of your hard-earned cash or the desperate pleas of an addicted gambler who can't believe he's lost such money and knows his luck has to turn soon? For now the song is nicely aimed right in the middle between laughter and tears but in concert both sides of the coined will be mined superbly on different shows. After a bit of a sojourn into self-indulgence land things bounce back with 'To Lay Me Down', one of the greatest ballads Jerry ever wrote in which he imagines his own death and accepts it as part of the natural cycle of life. Only then at the album's end do we hit the best song, the philosophical turning of 'The Wheel', where all of the pair's usual subject matters (oppression, entrapment, faith and optimism) combine in one glorious metaphor that's truly beautiful. Had these songs appeared on a Dead album - perhaps with the best of the 1971/72 period ('Wharf Rat' 'Jack Straw' 'Playin' In The Band' etc) this would have been one of the greatest albums ever made, no question. In case you hadn't already guessed, I'm rather fond of this album which despite being well received and surprising everyone by nearly matching the sales of the band's albums never receives the accolades it deserves. Garcia was unbeatable as a writer between 1970 and 1973 and this is  him right slap bang in the middle of his rosiest period. The fact that most of the actual 'songs' on this album were statistically performed more times in concert than any actual Dead LP discounting 'Live/Dead' points to what a fine collection they are. However while the songs themselves are exemplary, it's a shame in many ways that Jerry didn't take the 'Ace' method of making an album and plays on the album thanks to the wonder of overdubbing and precision rather than the Dead-groove where everything works simultaneously - generally speaking it's the later live Dead versions of these songs that are best recordings of them, although the beauty of 'To Lay Me Down' is hard to beat.

Of course, having a hit album with no problems would be too easy and not the Jerry way. Whilst Warner Brothers had effectively given Jerry carte blanche about the music they still felt that the record needed to be packaged in something suitable and Bob Seidman's album design shows off the 'other' side of Jerry's nature - the mischievous school kid who can't resist ruffling feathers. The original album cover merges the twiddling knobs of his beloved synthesiser (used to puzzling effect on the three 'experimental' songs), a patch of sky, yet another playing card (the ten of diamonds - the same card Jerry is holding on the sleeve of final Dead album 'Built To Last') and a naked female torso, complete with public hair. Whilst censorship laws have relaxed slightly down the decades this cover still probably wouldn't get printed today - and in 1972 caused an outrage. Amazingly, though, the cover was only ever changed for the South African market - and they weren't exactly a key audience for Dead spin-off albums in the first place. Instead the label got round public censorship laws by putting a sticker over the bottom half of the picture - which was additionally handy as Jerry had never actually got round to giving his masterwork a title and which has since become known as 'Garcia' thanks to the heavy lettering on this peelable label. Against all odds the same packaging was used on the CD re-issues too and talking of which this now makes a near-perfect album edge ever closer to faultlessness, with several gorgeous alternate versions of the songs that made the album (including three versions of 'The Wheel'!) Overall, then, first class and the one Dead solo spin-off that every casual fan needs in their collection.

'Deal' sounds like the most straightforward song on the album - it's a poker player debating what cards to play to clinch a deal. However as the song moves on it takes on more and more symbolism as it's hinted more and more that this is no mere card game the narrator's playing but trying to work out what is the best move from the 'hand' he's been given in life. Ultimately he's urged just to play something and stop procrastinating, with a bouncy chorus of 'don't you let the deal go down' which turned into an extended singalong in concert but here sounds almost gentlemanly. Jerry might have 'borrowed' this bit from a tradi9tional folk song titled just that! There are some great lines with the narrator talking away to his sub-consciousness ('Since it cost a lot to win and even more to lose, you and me bound to spend some time wondering which to choose') and a nicely rocky melody that sounds both traditionally bar-saloon style and early 70s rock. Jerry also plays one of his best guitar solos on the album, passing up the rest of the song's erudition for some straightforward screaming from his soul, bouncing this way and that between the two main notes of the rhythm, still unable to decide what to do. An excellent start to an excellent album. Live Performances: 421

The sweet 'Bird Song' is the song that changed the most between the studio and the stage, starting here as a rather tough ballad with more emphasis on the central riff and Billy hammering his drum parts down. For many years fans assumed it was written for a fictional lonely figure who 'sang for a while and then flew off' destination unknown, but when he collected his lyrics together for 'Box Of Rain' Bob Hunter added the dedication 'To Janis' and later admitted that he'd had Joplin in mind all along. While not musically obvious a tribute, the lyrics make much more sense when you realise that Hunter is trying to make people see past Joplin's public image, that she was a bird who sweetly sang and that 'anyone who sings that sweet is surely passing by' i.e. not long for this world. Like 'Stella Blue' and 'China Doll' to come, Garcia and Hunter try desperately to put things right by contrasting a sad and isolated verse structure with a chorus that just oozes warmth and comfort, especially in concert where the rest of the band added some lovely harmonies. The tricky finger-snapping central riff is highly memorable too, sounding very like bird song - only a slightly down-in-the-dumps-and-in-the-mix Garcia leads vocal prevents this recording from being perfect too.  Live Performances: 299

'Sugaree' is a shrug of the shoulders set to music: the narrator knows this liaison was a bad idea, he suspects the partner he's just spent the night with knows it too and so he sets to flee - asking only 'please forget you knew my name'. However the fact that the narrator then calls his missus 'darling' and spends a full six minutes prolonging a goodbye that could have been done through a peck of a cheek points to how deeply committed he secretly is to this relationship - and how much he hopes the pair will bump into each other again. Another idea - thanks to the setting of people 'bringing that wagon down' is that this is a romance that isn't 'allowed' by the powers that be, taking place to the backdrop of a war or a plague - in which case Hunter might again be mining Jerry's complex love life, juggling various wives and mistresses so that they never met. Even the term of affection 'Sugaree' sounds like a nickname shared between two people who are close (again Jerry or Bob may have pilfered it from another song, 'I've Got A Secret (Shake Sugaree)' by Elizabeth Cotton) and the lines 'Shake it, Sugaree!' must result in one of Jerry's weirdest choruses in his career! Heard as a sweet six minute ballad it's quite likable, if not perhaps up to the other classics from this album - but in concert, stretched sometimes to twenty the song had a tendency to drag and was a strange choice as this record's first single, cut to just under three minutes (it flopped). Live Performances: 356.

The sad and reflective 'Loser' makes it sound as if the narrator from 'Deal' got the wrong hand (he even repeats the chorus 'before that deal goes down'). Interestingly Garcia sings this 'first' version of his song as a sad and weary ballad, a self-despising loser 'only in it for the gold' who is at the end of his tether and willing to beg for 'ten gold dollars' from anyone who'll listen although he knows in his heart of hearts that his luck will never turn. However in concert this narrator changed every night - generally depending on how fast the drummers set about the song's main rhythm - with this 'Loser' becoming a fool, a conman preying on the weak and a mastermind criminal depending on the gig. There are already hints of that here in another exemplary Hunter lyric: 'Don't you push me, baby!' he snaps as his wife tries to pull him away from the gambling table, adding that he has a 'trick' to play the system, that 'I can tell the Queen of Diamonds by the way she shines'. So should we believe him when he cries 'I got no chance of losing this time'? No - run for the hills, even Jerry's wistful narrator knows he's going to come a cropper but, desperate as he is, he just can't say no if there's any chance of things going right. Together with Jerry's sad and lonely and rather bitter melody, which starts in a dark place and tries to reach for the sky the entire song before ending on a note even lower than when he started, the message comes over loud and clear, another brilliant example of subtle songwriting at its finest. As a recording, though, many of the Dead live performances beat this one, played with a lot more muscle although Billy nails the complex ever-switching drum pattern from the first. Live Performances: 348

'Late For Supper' ends an otherwise perfect side one on a peal of complex electronic noises, kind of like a 1970s version of the 'concrete musique' links on 'Anthem Of The Sun' but not quite as convincing. The unusual title comes from engineer Bob Matthews, who asked Garcia what to call his experiment so he could label it on the tape box. After saying he hadn't got a clue he asked Matthews for an idea. Feeling rather hungry, he said 'well call me anything but late for supper' and the song got its title. A self-indulgence too far, about three or four years on from when bleeping squeaking synthesisers were new and this sort of thing was acceptable, nevertheless it's nice to hear Jerry expanding his musical toy box and refusing to be pigeon-holed as 'merely' a writer of emotional 'message' songs. Live Performances: 0

'Spidergawd' is even weirder, more like the 'Space' improvisations on Dead concerts to come, with what sounds like mewing cats and the endless babbling of a political election via a radio transmission thrown into the bleeps and whoops. Closer in feel to an actual 'song' rather than just a mess of ideas, it's similar in many ways to The Beatles' brilliant (and oh so misunderstood) 'Revolution #9; but doesn't quite have that song's 'message' (the sort of sounds a typical baby can hear without being able to process, which then provide a sharper more penetrating insight into modern life than older ears attuned to the madness, if you believe what Lennon was hinting at in interviews). Live Performances: 0
'Eep Hour' is a more traditional instrumental, with Jerry at the piano and adding occasional bits of guitar and synths while Billy kicks up a racket on the drums. This could in fact have been turned into a rather nice song, with a Chuck Berry style riff and sounds rather unfinished left like this. This song's rather odd title came from another conversation with Bob Matthews, who compared it to the sort of booming organ pieces composed by E Power Biggs. The song got known as 'E Power' for short and somehow transmogrified into the 'Eep Hour' written on the sleeve.

No such qualms about 'To Lay Me Down' which is simply stunning, a song about death I already have pencilled in for my own funeral. The narrator, perhaps a close relative of 'Black Peter' from 1970, is waiting for death to sweep in and take him as he knows it must and dreams of a happier, more peaceful time in death, laid to rest 'near sparkling clover', ready to 'let the world go by' comparing death to being 'lost in dreaming'. There's also the hint that he's keen to reunite with someone whose passed before him, imagining her there ready to welcome him, ready to 'ay down' with his wife one last time. Written by Hunter the same night he composed Dead classics 'Ripple' and 'Brokedown palace' this may well be the best of the trio, with Jerry putting a lovely tune to these songs of hope and sorrow all mingled as one. Like 'Sugaree', though, the sheer amount of times the chorus is repeated points at how reluctant the narrator may secretly be to go, willing to imagine death but still reluctant to welcome him in. This is one song on the album the performers got right straight away and rarely matched in concert (although there are one or two exceptions, listed on the various archive sets). Jerry seemed to have something of an ambivalent love for this song, performing it several shows in a row and then dropping it from his setlists altogether for years at a time. As a result this song was never as famous as it deserved to be, one of Garcia-Hunter's true carat gold classics and as moving a song as any in their canon. Live Performances: 64

'An Odd Little Place' is just that,  as we hear the sound of Billy apparently testing his drum kit whole Garcia has more fun on the piano. Lasting a mere a hundred seconds, this is perhaps the weirdest inclusion on the album, simply because it doesn't add even the bleeping newness of 'Spidergawd' et al but works ok as a palette refresher. Live Performances: 0

Just when you think this album might not be quite as well-crafted as you remember, in rushed the delightful jazzy jam that opens 'The Wheel' before the song suddenly opens up from its boogie woogie riffs into a heavenly cascade of echo, piano and one of the last times Jerry played his lovely pedal steel guitar. The lyrics are even better, summarising a life that always rolls on no matter how much you want it to slow, Garcia sighing that we're hit from all sides by short-terms and long-term problems and that it's impossible to juggle both ('If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will!') For all that though this is a happy song: every move of the wheel edges us that little bit closer to our goal - and given this album's debate over death perhaps the final destination everyone secretly longs to see, if not quite just yet. Hunter, in this period a committed atheist before turning to Scientology, gets almost religious in his phrases: 'Small wheel turning by the fire and rod, big wheel turning by the grace of God...', the closest the Dead ever come to tackling religion as a subject matter (even 'St Stephen' doesn't do many saintly things!) Once again the recording is impressive but still not quite as enthralling as the Dead's live arrangement with the 'So Many Roads' box set version from 1976 particularly strong. Live Performances: 259

Overall, then, what an album: Jerry never sang sweeter or wrote so many lovely melodies all at once and while you miss the band's harmonies (this would have been a glorious album if done the same way as 'American Beauty') this is a particularly strong album for Robert Hunter who manages to say so much with just a flick of the pen and a simile or metaphor here and there. Equally impressive whether you come to this album after some nicely rocking singalong tunes, a spiritual experience or to hear how weird 70s synthesisers sounded, 'Garcia' has a little something for everyone. Sadly even Jerry can't sustain this impressive workload and after a last great outpouring for 'Wake Of The Flood' his writing will suffer, with none of his future solo albums coming anywhere close to this. Ah well, how can you beat perfection? Easily one of the top five Dead-related albums of all-time and goodness knows there are a lot of good ones to choose from.
 Bob Weir "Ace"

(Warner Brothers, May 1972)

Greatest Story Ever Told/Black Throated Wind/Walk In The Sunshine/Playin' In The Band//Looks Like Rain/Mexicali Blues/One More Saturday Night/Cassidy

"Well it's one in ten thousand that come to the show!"

'Ace' is in many ways the Grateful Dead album that got away. Made as part of a 'side-deal' with Warner Brothers after the band agreed to hang around with them from 1972, this was a tremendous opportunity for Bob Weir to shine and prove that the Dead wasn't a two-horse race and he rightly received many plaudits for his work on this album. However unlike 'Garcia' Bob needs a band to back him and hired the one band he knew he could rely on - the good ol' Grateful Dead - turning this into less of a solo album and more into a group album with one vocalist (the adverts for the single 'One More Saturday Night' even billed the release as 'The Grateful Dead with Bobby Ace'). What's more all of these songs, with the lone exception of 'Walking In Sunshine', will appear in the Dead's setlists over the coming years, while the older Hunter co-writes 'Greatest Story Ever Told' and 'Playin' In The Band' additionally appear in instrumental form on Mickey's album 'Rolling Thunder' recorded around the same time. All of the 1972 era band play (including new member Keith Godchaux, with still part-time member Donna Godchaux popping up on three of the album's songs) and in many ways this is the other 'half' of the album that should have been, filling in the gap between 'Skulls and Roses' and 'Europe '72' (along with 'Garcia'). Once again, what a fine album it would have been with several of Bob's best songs played with real gusto by a band at the peak of their powers - 'Playin' In The Band' especially is the epitome of what the Dead can do that no other band can, gradually looping further and further out into the stratosphere before crunching back into the main refrain (great as many of the future live versions of this epic here, nothing will beat this first time which is just spooky in its accuracy).

While both records came out of the same deal and both have plenty of the usual Grateful Dead imagery, in many ways they show how different Bob is as a writer to Jerry. Most of Garcia's work was improvised, his collaborator Hunter hanging round to get the 'feel' of where a song was going and tapping into its sub-conscious. Bob's songs were on the one hand more prepared (this album was recorded even quicker, with a well rehearsed band) and in some cases less so (Bob and his new collaborator John Barlow struggled to write the album to a deadline - which is why though the contract was signed at the same time as 'Garcia' this record took a lot longer to do). Garcia's album is overflowing with ideas and shades of tempo colour and texture, including some experiments that don't work while 'Ace' is paired back to the barebones - just eight songs and all of them either 'fast' or 'slow' with little in between.  Whilst the pair of records tackle many of the same themes (philosophy, card playing gangsters and tributes to members of the Dead's extended family long past - though this time it's Neal Casady not Janis Joplin) and both have elements of that Grateful Dead sound (notably Jerry's guitar and the drums) they couldn't be more different: 'Ace' is earthier, tougher, with songs that rock out as well as save the planet. This is very much an album that looks to the past too with its subject matters of cowboys and Mexicans, Biblical fables and 50s rocking parties, while Garcia's tended to be more about the future, weird synthesiser bleeps and all. However one thing both records have in common is that they're easily the best of the pair's solo work, amongst their most consistent and impressive solo works. Just in case you doubt that these records are intertwined, just take a look at the album artwork for 'Ace', which again has a picture of a card in a prominent place, only this time it's a 'spade' and typically Weir it's upfront with a half-naked girl sitting on the logo clutching a four-leaf clover and with more playing cards coming out of her, as eye-catching as it can be, not hidden in a sea of other images (the hint might also be that the one needs the 'other' to work - that Garcia's Diamonds and Bob's spades complement each other and are needed to form half a hand, presumably with the rest of the band - although given that both albums are better than anything the band had done together for a couple of years disputes that theory!)

There's a theme on this album of weather, with winds, sunshine and rain all passing through this album. However 'Ace' actually digs a bit deeper than that - this is about mass movements between people when they get together, the sense that civilisation is dictated by the general mood swings of a mass of people. 'Black Throated Wind' points towards a wind that keeps changing direction depending how people think, 'Walking On Sunshine' is a determined effort to put on a cheery persona to change the course of events and 'Looks Like Rain' is about standing up to problems and realising they're not so bad as you feared. Elsewhere too 'Playin' In The Band' is about the synergy that takes place at any musical gig though particularly at a Dead one between band and audience, when everyone is involved in the moment and the crowd have as much input into where the songs goes as the musicians (many bands think like this, but the Dead think about it most, often quoting the audience as the extra member of their band). 'Cassidy' too is a variation on this theme, with a death and birth in the band's extended circle so close together that a baby was named 'Cassidy' in memory of a 'Casady' to keep their spirit alive: the cycle of birth and death is clearly something that fascinated Weir and crops up in a few of his songs (or perhaps it's more Barlow's thing - either way it's there).

'Ace' is where Bob finds his voice - or at least finds his lyricist. Weir had of course written several fine tunes on his own and in collaboration with Robert Hunter, but while the results were huge success stories ('That's It For The Other One' 'Sugar Magnolia' and 'Truckin'), not a bad trio in anybody's book, the scholarly Hunter was not a natural pairing with the younger, more impatient Weir (though they stayed friends long eno8ughy to compose two last songs together on this album). Robert knew how to write words that would fit Jerry's mouth, having spent so much time with him, but Bob was merely a friend not a bosom buddy and the collaboration was a little more difficult. Bob desperately needed his own Hunter, someone who'd known him for years and knew how he thought - and got lucky with school friend John Barlow, who was pal enough to hang out with the band backstage sometimes. Hunter himself unwittingly caused the partnership after storming out of a writing session backstage to see Barlow waiting to see his old mate; 'have him - he's yours!' Hunter snapped, meaning that the room was free, but in that moment Barlow became Bob's mouth too. He excels himself on this album, sailing close to Hunter's lyrical style without ever parodying it and adapting his more grandiose pursuits to Weir's love of Chuck Berry and chunky guitar chords. Great as the performances are, it's the songs that are the real revelation on this album, with an emotional content that had never been heard from Weir's half of the stage before and showing that there was a big heart and a big mind going on behind those good looks. The record even got it's name 'Ace' from Barlow, who remembered it as a nickname Bob had at high school and fitted the Dead's 'playing card' motif rather well. What's even more surprising is that the band wrote so well so quickly, the deadline sailing past without many songs done and with all eight pieces written  at speed when the pair could no longer delay anymore. In order to get the album done without distractions, the pair retreated to Barlow's house in Wyoming, but they had another problem: a noisy poltergeist who'd clearly taken the 'Grateful Dead' name literally and tried to 'impose' himself on the songs - almost taking over Weir's spirit as he lay in bed there one day and scaring his dog silly. The pair then had to conduct exorcism spells twice a day to keep him out, so that he gurgled happily in the water heater (he should have hung around with Billy and Mickey!); not surprisingly another link that 'Ace' has with 'Garcia' is the threat of death, hanging over the heads of cowboy heroes, the metaphor of 'rain' for mankind and the birth-death life cycle of 'Cassidy' (aka 'Casady').  However there's one stand-out star across this record and that's Bob himself, delivering some great melodies, career-best vocals and some excellent chunky rhythm guitar in the process too.

Now here's an ear-catching opening line for a record: 'Moses come riding up on a quasar!' Weir Hart and Hunter's 'Greatest Story Ever Told' isn't your usual tale of squabbling biblical characters, giving them a futuristic setting and a retro Chuck Berry-style riff. Hunter, typically, sums up the confusion of some biblical passages that last for chapters in a few pithy sentences ('His brain was boiling, his reason was spent, his motto nothing is borrowed nothing is lent') and tying in to the album cover by informing Abraham and Isaac that they need to help him 'with a monkey wrench' instead of 'sitting there on a fence' (the cover girl does indeed carry a wrench in her left hand!) Like Jack Straw, though, the song ends with the whole cast of character boozed up after turning the water into wine and is more about the characters' comradeship than a re-telling of the Bible straight. A thunderous rocker often used to open the band's set lists, the first official Dead release came on 1981's 'Dead Set' where Brent, not Jerry, takes the harmony part. Mickey's credit came about because the song was first written for his album, based around the beat of a pump he was using in his well at home and had turned into a drum loop. He gave the tape first to Weir who fattened out the texture with guitar chords and then to Hunter and appears simultaneously on Mickey's period 'Rolling Thunder' album. Apparently Bob's original title was the more cheeky and less grammatically correct 'Greatest Story Ever Wrote' but got 'corrected' without his knowledge by the Warner Brothers art department! Live Performances: 280

'Black-Throated Wind' is my favourite song on the album, a Barlow collaboration that, while simple, seems wonderfully profound. The sleepy narrator is trying to get home, 'blind in the light of the interstate cars', comparing the vehicles shooting past him to planets circling the Earth. The wind itself is the buzz of mankind that hits the narrator whenever he's out in the crowd of other people, 'speaking of a life that passes like dew', but it's a wind that's blown so many times before and the people sound stuck in the same old places no matter what changes in society. A pithy comment about the 'failure' of the hippie dream at changing everything (more people dream than before, but everyone's still stuck in tin boxes of homes and cars), the narrator urges everyone to get outside and 'dance' - but what comes over strongest is the lazy lethargicness of the track, with the narrator starting off so determined to go in and change things - before wearily turning home and escaping it all for his own sanity. A lovely recording with a great Bob vocal is nicely enhanced by some lovely Godchaux keyboard work and some excellent horn overdubs by Snooky Flowers. Live Performances: 155

'Walk In Sunshine'  - a neat contrast to the forthcoming 'Looks Like Rain' - is perhaps the weakest song on the album and the only one the Dead didn't appropriate for their own. Not that this song is bad, just one-dimensional, a sunny song about optimism because it's a sunny day and things are working out well, with one of the lesser melodies on the album to boot. Opening with the spoken word 'Look out because here comes some free advice', Bob tries to tell us all that acting happy will soon make you happy, along with the curious suggestion to 'six feet your wrist watch' and ending that 'I ain't crazy and I ain't lazy, I just want to find out what's right and what's wrong'. Not as good as the similar 'Here Comes Sunshine' on the Dead's next studio LP, which starts off in misery before giving us reasons to be cheerful.

No such problems with 'Playin' In The Band', though, which is easily the album's standout moment and a cornerstone of the Dead's second sets right up until their final year. Lasting some seven and a half minutes, this song features some truly inspired jamming and is easily the best version of the song even with rather off-putting double-tracking on Bob's voice. The Dead excel on this one, especially Keith and Jerry who between them make the most out of the song's hypnotic quick-stepping riff (perhaps the best in the Dead's canon after 'Truckin') , change the nuances bit by bit and then end out as far from each other as they can get before finally crashing back together right on cue. Lyrically this is a song that sails close to The Who's 'Won't Get Fooled Again' (released about the time this album was being written) about how many things are there in the human psyche to trip them up, but in keeping with this upbeat album everything can be put right with a dose of music. Bob tells us 'I can't stop for nothin', I'm just playin' in the band' and later that the power of music and people listening to him makes me 'stand up on a tower, world at my command', but ultimately this is a shared experience between musician and listener, both trying to hang on to the 'truth' of life. This is the second of two songs written first for Mickey's album (where it appears as 'The Main Ten') and fleshed out by Bob with some guitar chords and technical know-how before being given to Robert Hunter. The result is one of the band's best songs, already recorded and released on the 'Skulls and Roses' live set three months earlier (though this studio take is better) leaving lots of wide open spaces for them to improvise the way they do so well and this song began one of their most performed in concert although it's at its stunning best here. Live Performances: 733

'Looks Like Rain' is this album's other concert favourite, a slow weepie played here with distinct country overtones thanks to one of the last Jerry Garcia pedal steel parts. In concert the song became more of a pop number, a nice intimate moment when the band drop the tempo and Weir tries to call back an old lover ('The covers were still warm where you'd been layin'). Some of Barlow's lyrics are a little odd ('Did you ever wake to the sound of street cats making love?' isn't your typical love song chorus!) but Weir's melody is one of his best, rich and warm and pointing at a heart of love that's going begging. Fans have often wondered about one line in particular: 'I'll still write you love songs written in the letters of your name' - Hunter was forever leaving 'clues' in his work but less so Barlow unless this is the exception; is there an LLR in Weir's life we don't know about or is this a red herring? (One of rock's most famous bachelors, he married for the first time as late as 1999 although he did have a long-term girlfriend in Frankie Azzara (whose initials spell out, erm, sweet FA to me!) An alternate version - which Bob teased fans with during an introduction to the song  at a 1980 performance - is that it's the song's chordal structure he was referring to, though good luck working out who GADEC might be (fans have gone on to have fun about Weir being abducted to an alien planet called Gadec Minor and mating with an alien, although they're only joking - I think). Live Performances: 414

'Mexicali Blues' sounds like those old cowboy songs Weir used to love singing ('Me and Bobby McGee' 'Me And My Uncle' 'El Paso' etc) but is a real Weir-Barlow original. Perhaps a little too lively for it's own good, this jumpy song lacks the subtlety of many of the others but was still popular enough to become a live regular. The narrator finds himself in a saloon, interested in the giggles of passing girls and trying to shove off the poor boys trying to shine his shoes for spare change. He's been riding in from Bakersfield, 'thinking and drinking' in equal measure, remembering the love of his life Billie Jean who 'wore all the French perfume you could care to name'. An outlaw then 'rose into town' to take her away so there's a high noon shootout and the narrator soon finds himself the luckless victim in a conspiracy, hanged for his murderous crime so no one gets the girl. A clever pastiche of all the saloon-bar songs the Dead were performing at the time, this sounds more like a warm-up for two writers who can't think what to write next with a deadline looming than a properly thought out song. The lyrics came first, actually, written many months before and given to Weir to compose music to - Barlow was imagining some slow sombre piece more fitting with the tone of the song rather than the country jaunt it was given! Live Performances: 432

The hard-rocking 'One More Saturday Night' is a high point of many a Dead gig, usually performed near the end of the first set or as a final encore, allowing the band and audience to let off some steam. The song was composed by Bob alone - his second and last lyric after 'Born Cross-Eyed'. The song shares that earlier pieces' frenetic rhythms and gently unfolding chaos and was another song born for the stage where the Dead could get more out of this song's Chuck Berry riff and Jerry Lee Lewis honky-tonk piano via extended jams than they can here on record., usually ending in a squeal of feedback for good measure. Though simply a simple invitation to party, it's notable that this song too fits into the album 'theme', the narrator 'looking into the heavens and seeing a mighty sign' - that even God is about to take a rest at the end of the sixth day so for now it's party time! However, unusually, the studio version doesn't rock at all well - this version is too slow, too stilted and with some excessive double-tracking on Bob's voice, without the roar of the Dead at their best (see the storming version on the next official Dead release 'Europe '72' for starters). Live Performances: 334

'Cassidy' ends the album on a sweet note, a folk rock song on the album but played as a more straightforward Dead song when the band get their teeth into it in concert. This is also one of the first opportunities to hear Bob and Donna effectively co-singing the lead, something they'll do much more of as the decade gets going. Neal Cassady, famous beatnik and hippie, was a big name in Haight Ashbury circles, responsible for promoting hippie ideals and drugs and famous enough to be featured in Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road' as the character Dean Moriarty. He died in 1968, about the same time that Dead road manager Rex Jackson and sales manager Eileen Law had their first child, named Cassidy in his honour (the closest they could get to his surname with an existing baby name). Fooling around with his guitar the night the Dead got the call that she's been born, Bob was struck by the name she'd been given and suddenly found himself writing a first draft of the song, effectively a re-telling of the old tales about a stork bringing babies. This baby though comes to him in a dream, carried by a 'wolf' whose clearly a re-incarnation of Casady, touched by his 'mark' and fated for a similar life (Struck by 'what you are, who you were meant to be'). Imagining a corpse coming back to life, a 'quick beat in an icy heart', Bob and Barlow manage to successfully convey the idea that life never really goes away - it just changes its form and is re-born every generation or so. The closest to a Dead song about re-incarnation, the narrator then backs away, adding 'let your life proceed by your own design' and asking the baby to speak the rest of the song with her actions - 'Let the words be yours, I'm down with mine'. 'Cassidy' has, not surprisingly, become a favourite name for Deadhead babies everywhere thanks to this sweet song with a lovely acoustic guitar riff and a nice calming feel unusual for a Weir song. Live Performances: 339

Overall, then, 'Ace' is an interesting and usually impressive album that really does much to add to embellish Weir's reputation. The album may only have eight songs, but it covers an awful lot of ground from cowboy songs to epics about life and death and presents an extra half a dozen of fan favourites that were often heard in concert. Whilst not quite as groundbreaking or poetic as 'Garcia' this is another sublime album that shows the Dead were in fine health in 1971-1972 with too much creativity for one single band to contain. Alas, like Jerry, Bob will never quite be able to replicate the success of this album again and sadly will never return to the idea of using the Dead as his 'backing band'. Once again a member of the Dead got things so right with the first album he had no chance of following it up. For now, though, this album is 'ace' indeed...

Mickey Hart "Rolling Thunder"

(Warner Brothers, September 1972)

Rolling Thunder-Shoshone Invocation/The Main Ten (Playin' In The Band)/Fletcher Carnaby/The Chase (Progress)/Blind John//Young Man/Deep Wide And Frequent/Pump Song/Grandma's Cookies/Hangin' On

"You know he said to me, just how special life could be, if everybody else could see as clear as me"

The fourth record to be released on the Dead's own label, this is the first return to music that Mickey had made after the trouble the band had had with his own father and its a sign of how much love there still was for the drummer that the Dead not only released this album but supported it greatly too, with three of them guesting and the album getting regular 'plugs' in the Grateful Dead newsletters. Mickey's debut is actually his most basic and primitive, despite featuring a stellar cast that always seemed to be hanging around San Francisco making albums (this is the return of what the Airplane's Paul Kantner dubbed 'The Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra' and featured member of his band, the Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Serbvice, Sanatana and various parts of CSNY). This album alone features not only Jerry, Bob and Phil but also Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Stephen Stills, John Cipolina, Janis Joplin's guitarist Sam Andrews and jazz percussionist Carmelo Garcia (no relation!) However the main collaborator - who should have got co-billing for his work - is David Freiberg, here between shifts as a founder of Quicksilver Messenger Service and joining Jefferson Airplane, his distinctive growly vocals and piano and bass work adding a distinctive  'toughness' to this LP. The album is also recognised for introducing Dead favourite 'Playin' In The Band' to the setlist, although this early version - still titled 'The Main Ten' - actually came out after Bob's fleshed out recording and for now is just the song's distinctive rhythm played out without the melody or lyrics to go with it. Another track, 'The Pump Song', also became the source of Bob's solo song 'The Greatest Story Ever Told', although it's not exactly recognisable if you didn't know being based n the 'rhythm' of a pump on his ranch (and turned here into a bog band jazz rumba!)

The result is a curious record, one that most fans rate as Mickey's masterpiece but often comes across as if it's trying too hard. The record starts with Mickey's off key yelling, an invocation to the spirit of Indian Chief Rolling Thunder, but judging by the record it seems as if he was out that day: this album lacks the mixture of hard-hitting rhythms and poetry of Mickey's later albums and all the guest stars in the world can't turn this collection of interesting drum patterns into 'proper' songs. 'The Main Ten' is Eastern psychedelia, with criss-crossing tablas. The range of styles is pretty impressive: the Jefferson Airplane-guesting 'Blind John The Guitar Player' (a semi-regular in their concert shows) works best, a traditional folk tune with the twist of Mickey's high-handed military-style drumming. 'Fletcher Carnaby' is heavy rock with Quicksilver guesting and an unusually hoarse Frieberg (here in the process of joining the Airplane)on lead vocals. 'Young Man' is modern 'Creedence Clearwater Revival' style rock. 'Deep Wide and Frequent' sounds like an early 70s commercial. 'The Pump Song' and 'Hangin' On' are big band jazz. Any one of these styles would have done (Mickey is notorious for his love of every style going) and sometimes compilation albums like this can work, but in the same way that pic and mix sweets taste better separate rather than overlapping so they all taste the same, so this album isn't quite separate enough for the elements to work and the whole is only slightly more interesting than the sum of its sorry parts. I do like a lot of Mickey's albums, especially the ones based around a set theme or central idea and when he starts working with lyricist Robert Hunter post-Garcia the results are often brilliant: this album, though, is the sound of someone huffing and puffing and trying to knock our senses down, rather than the genuine inspired cry of 'Rolling Thunder'.

 Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders "Heavy Turbulence"

(Fantasy Records, '1972')

My Problems Got Problems/The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down/Save Mother Earth/Imagine//Welcome To The Basement/Man Child

"You take what you need and leave the rest, but they should never have taken the very best"

More of the same from the jazz duo, with Tom Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival as special guest. The songs have turned more mainstream for this album, with the first ever cover by anyone anywhere of John Lennon's 'Imagine', then just a year old - and then just a ballad that was only known to Beatle freaks, a long way from the 'work of genius' every critic claimed it to be after the re-issue when Lennon died (John, who regarded it as his favourite song, even looked out Garcia backstage to say 'thankyou' when Legion of Mary played a gig in New York City!) Apparently that was deliberate - minor label Fantasy reckoned all they needed was a 'crossover' pop hit with one of their comparatively obscure jazz musicians and 'encouraged' Saunders to play along. The result is actually not as bad as that makes it sound, with only a slight nod towards Fogerty's 'swamp blues' but less full-on jazz here (which is a good thing, I think). This time around Jerry is mainly used simply as a hired hand guitarist and plays less of a role than on the other 'joint' LPs, but it's interesting to hear him meshing with a rhythm guitarist in the jazz idiom and Fogerty has quite a different 'slashing' style to the more laid-back Bob Weir. Historically this album is probably more important than it is musically, featuring not just a rare cast of characters and the first cover of 'Imagine' but one of the first ever uses of the Yamaha synthesisers, then brand new on the market, which must have been quite an 'alien' sound at the time! Though not currently available on CD under the record's original name all tracks are available complete on the Merl Saunders CD 'Fired Up...Plus!', a re-issue of the album's sequel from 1972.

"The History Of The Grateful Dead: Bear's Choice"

(Warner Brothers, July 13th 1973)

Katie Mae/Dark Hollow/I've Been All Around This World/Wake Up Little Susie/Black Peter//Smokestack Lightning/Hard To Handle
Crowd: "Be solemn!" Pigpen: 'What do you think I'm trying to do? I can make my mistakes on my own, man!"

I have a dream, dear Deadheads, that one day we will have that elusive solo album Pigpen was working on out in the shops as part of the Dead's archive series. Admittedly Pig never finished the album he was working on near the end of his life, when his failing health meant he stayed at home more than he played with the Dead, but along with all the many great unreleased demos there are out there that could be added there's still plenty of material out there for a solo album. Till then 'Bear's Choice', is the closest we have, an album that sets the template for the Dead's archive releases to come (this is the first to be made up of material from older shows), ends the existing contract with Warner Brothers that stretches back to 1967 and sounds completely unlike any other Dead record out there. The Dead's engineer Stanley Owsley, better known by his nickname 'Bear', had already been asked to compile an album out of all the tapes in his collection when Pig passed away in March 1973, months into the project. The band then made the decision to turn the record from a hastily made bit of contract filler into a tribute to their fallen friend and draw a complete line in the sand between the 'old' Dead and the 'new'.

I'd love to have known what Bear was planning to release before Pig died - and the fact that this record is subtitled 'Volume One' suggests he may have been planning his original intentions for a second volume that sadly never came. For the shows recorded at the Fillmore East on February 13th and 14th 1970, while a sensible choice in the fact that Pig was on great form for more or less the last time, weren't particularly highly regarded at the time. This is the era of the Dead's shortlived acoustic setlist, which at least means Bear can release almost an entire album's worth of unreleased songs (the exception being a rather poor and feeble version of the, erm, poor and feeble man 'Black Peter'), a coup for the band (can you imagine any other band releasing a 'contract filler' and stuffing it with unreleased cover songs?) There's certainly proof here that the band didn't need electric power to sound powerful and the intensity of traditional folk tune 'Katie Mae' is equal to anything on the 'other' side. The second side though is entirely electric and built around the two biggest Pig showstoppers that hadn't been released yet: the sultry Howling Wolf cover 'Smokestack Lightnin' and  Otis Redding's fiery 'Hard To Handle', both of which give a real feeling of Pig's chemistry and charisma although there are better versions of both around from other shows (Note: listen to how Jerry's solo at around the eight minute mark in 'Smokestack Lightnin' sounds like what will become the main riff of 'New Speedway Boogie', a song he still hasn't written yet!) Pig's opening acoustic cover 'Katie Mae' too is charming, Pig having a rare chuckle with the heckling crowd and admitting to not knowing the song but performing well in a rare solo outing. It's the rest of the acoustic side that doesn't stand up to scrutiny: the Jerry and Bob-sung 'All Around This World' 'Dark Hollow' and 'Wake Up Little Susie' that are interesting only for showing where the influences of the forthcoming 'Workingman's Dead' were coming from. After the shocking trippy heights and adventuring of 1969, though, this sounds like a Dead-end and must have come as a shock to fans who hadn't been prepared for such a swift change.

In a way it's quite apt that 'Bear's Choice' ends up being something of a curate's egg, with true first-class gems nestling shoulders with performances that are more ordinary because that's neatly set the tone for all the 'Dick's Picks' 'Dave's Picks' 'Road Trips' and 'Download Series' to come (indeed 'Dick's Picks Volume Four' will feature the 'other' songs played across these two nights), full of great surprises but all too often simply rambling. Pigpen deserved better, in other words, although he does indeed sound mighty fine across several passages on this LP - its the rest of the band who aren't quite there. The best thing about this album for many Deadheads is the sleeve - no the curiously archaic swirling skull insignia on the front but the picture on the rear with the 'dancing bears', each with a spiky colour and in their own lurid hues of psychedelic colour. The 'symbol' for Owsley's productions they make their first appearance here but have since become the 'favourite' Dead logo after the skeleton and the rose, printed on many a waved banner at Dead concerts.

Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders "Live At Keystone"

(Fantasy, Recorded July 1973, Released Autumn 1973)

Keepers/Positively 4th Street/The Harder They Come//It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry/Space/It's No Use//That's Alright Mama/My Funny Valentine//Someday Baby/Like A Road Leading Home

Bonus tracks added to the CD re-releases now split into 'Volume I' and 'Volume II': Merl's Tune/Mystery Train

"When the road gets too long and you run out of song, the pain gets too much for you to bear, turn around - I'll be there"

More from what was always one of Jerry Garcia's more rewarding extra-curricular activities away from the Dead,  with the fire of Legion of Mary, the subtlety of The Jerry Garcia Band and the focus of the work with David Grisman. Jazzier than usual, with a soulful sound in there too, both men are on fine form on these live concerts recorded on July 11th and 12th 1973 - the last of these merely a day before the release of the soft, subtle, flowing 'Wake Of The Flood', a record that couldn't be less like this live recording! This is about as lively as Garcia ever sounded outside the Dead and most of these songs are a joy . There are highlights however: the full-on rock of 'Keepers', a song credited to Saunders and Jerry's right-hand bassist John Kahn, Jimmy Cliff's 'The Harder They Come' (recorded way before most bands picked up on it!) and easily the best of the handful of generally shoddy Garcia attempts at reggae and the sweet closing ballad (on the original version at least) 'Like A Road Leading Home', which sounds like a Garcia-Hunter ballad with its metaphors of roads much travelled and journeys, but isn't (Jerry only gets a single co-writing credit, in fact). Dead fans will be most interested in the fact that something called 'Space' has finally made it to a record (although this bluesy version is quite different from any of the Dead's aural experiments) and in two Dylan covers Jerry never actually played with the Dead (both of which will appear on the 'Jerry Sings Dylan' compilation where they're about the best thing there).  Only a bizarre blues plod through 'It's No Use' (not the Byrds song, even though both Wikipedia and All Music have listed it as such) and a cheeky eighteen minute extension of Rodgers and Hart's My Funny Valentine (here eighteen minutes long!) don't really work - and even they aren't as bad as some Garcia concerts out there. Merl Saunders is a great foe for Jerry, a talented organist who really keeps him on his toes throughout, the backing band made up of old friends of both men are on cracking form and the material is pretty exciting too.

 Jerry Garcia in "Old And In The Way"

(Round Records, Recorded October 1973, Released February 1975)

Pig In A Pen/Midnight Moonlight/Old and In The Way/Knockin' On Your Door/The Hobo Song//Panama Red/Wild Horses/Kissimmee Kid/White Dove/Land Of The Navajo

"The ocean is howling for things that might have been"

Despite being all of 31, Jerry was clearly feeling the pull of his earliest childhood songs come a knocking and a feeling that rock had moved on perhaps a bit too far from its origins, hence this live album of traditional bluegrass material and that witty title, named after a new Grisman original. The band featured Garcia, his old pal David Grisman (the mandolin player on 'Ripple'), Jerry's regular and eclectic bassist John Kahn plus guitarist Peter Rowan and Fiddle player Vassar Clements. The band never did play many shows together, what with all their other commitments, and until Jerry's death this show from October 8th 1973 was all that fans could buy - although now there's been hundreds of the flipping things all recorded live the same month. Though Jerry seems to have treated this record like all his other 'additional' releases, even sticking it in the vaults for seventeen months while the band decided what to do with it, this was easily his most successful non-Dead record. Released at just the right time, when a craze for 'roots' music made records like this acceptable, this album sold in so many numbers that it remained the best selling bluegrass album ever for a quarter of a century, right up until the year 2000 (and as that's a film soundtrack, for 'Brother Where Art Thou?', with a much bigger budget, this is still an incredible achievement, eclipsing the sales of albums by the likes of Byrd Chris Hillman, Boz Scaggs and Bill Monroe).

In retrospect you do wonder why. The band play superbly and Jerry has never played so quick or so clean, sounding more like Byrd Clarence White as steam seems to come away from his banjo at times. There are some truly sublime moments too, such as the re-arrangement of the Stones' 'Wild Horses' (written, un-credited, by Byrd country star Gram Parsons, something that wasn't common knowledge at the time but which Old and In The Way seem to have 'guessed'), the traditional 'Knockin' At Your Door' and Garcia's take on the down-trodden standard 'The Hobo Song'. Additionally there's a superb album cover, drawn by cartoonist Greg Irons, featuring excellent caricatures of all five members (that's Jerry upfront, with banjo on his knee and half-missing finger, a corn pipe sticking out of his mouth, with a hairy grinning Grisman and a morose John Kahn over his right shoulder plus Rowan and Clements to his left). But there's not really that much happening on this album you can't get better from other bluegrass albums (check out Hillman's the Desert Rose Band for a start) and everything here is perhaps just a shade too traditional: it would have been a much better album had the band 'gone Pentangle' and updated the stories a little. Some tracks, such as the closing 'Land Of The Navajo' are awful - cod-McGonagall tales of Indians that last for hours and sound like bad parodies of the card games heard in Dead songs, whilst 'Pig In A Poke' is far more childish than any of the songs recorded for Garcia's later 'Not For Kids Only' LP. As it is I'm surprised bluegrass aficionados weren't sniffy about the whole exercise, given that of the five players only two of them really had day jobs in this sort of music. Far from being the best bluegrass recordings from across a twenty-five year period, these aren't even the best songs from these shows, as later recordings by this band will be largely more interesting and all the more fascinating for the inter-band chatter and the odd failed note. 'Old and In The Way' isn't bad by any means and Garcia's ability on the banjo is as astonishing as his ability on the guitar, while the small handful of vocals he gets across this shared record are excellent, wistful and full of character. However this is really the sound of five friends jamming and being accidentally 'overheard' rather than a true bona fide, best-selling blockbuster release. The fact that even the prolific Garcia doesn't write any songs for the album (which features just four originals total - two by Rowan and one each by Grisman and Clements) and that only one of them ('Midnight Moonlight') will ever be played by him again (and then very sparingly) shows you how much thought he'd probably invested into this band, which seems to have taken on an almost awed aura since. 

Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders "Fire Up"

(Fantasy Records, '1973')

After Midnight/Expressway To Your Heart/Charisma/Soul Roach//Chock-Lite Puddin'/Benedict Rides/The System/Lonely Avenue

"After midnight we're gonna shake your tambourine"

More hot stuff from Jerry and Merl who find their inner Pigpen and turn in an album that's more soul than their usual jazz. Jerry is in good voice throughout and gets two great vocals here ('After Midnight' and 'Lonely Avenue') rather than being used 'just' as a guitar player. The pair also hire the services of Billy Kreutzmann, making this only the third solo project to feature more than one member of the band - and the last to feature the 'original' band as opposed  to Keith and Donna. Billy, who trained as a jazz drummer and who'd never really got the chance to indulge in his favourite genre, is on top form here with some of the best performances of his career too. However it's not just the Dead pair on form - this album sports some of Merl's greatest subtlest playing too and the pair have never sounded more on the same wave-length than here. Opener 'After Midnight' might well be the best of the pair's work together in fact - Jerry only gets  a verse in before Merl's soulful and sweeping organ comes in for a solo and is turn swept aside by an aggressive and feisty Garcia guitar riff before the musical ball bounces between them over and over - never before has the combination of the pair's mutual laidback aggression made more sense (Jerry liked the song enough to keep in his solo setlists till the 1980s). That said 'Lonely Avenue' isn't far behind, a mammoth nine minute jazz epic where Garcia howls 'I could die!' with more passion than he's managed since 'Cryptical Envelopment' while the band hit one gorgeous solo after another.

The pair also bonded while making this album like never before and you can tell - we've dealt before with what Fantasy were trying to make Merl do to come up with a 'hit', but for this record Garcia - the superstar - was Merl's bodyguard, telling the company who were trying to meddle with Merl's lyrics about ecology and environment that they were too good to change and pushing his friend to stick to his guns. Even the occasional album clodhoppers like 'Expressway To Your Heart' (a riff in search of a song) and the characteristic big band jazz horror 'Soul Roach' don't get in the way as often as the lesser moments on the pair's other records - Jerry is stretching himself out with a whole new style and sounds rather convincing as some sort of jazz guru. All in all, though, this is arguably the best album from arguably the best of Jerry's extra-curricular projects and - the special case of 'Garcia' aside - the highest of our recommended Garcia non-Dead albums with a real groove and a 'proper' partnership between the pair of old friends who sound highly fired up indeed. You can hear this album on CD complete as part of the 'Fire Up Plus' re-issue, which additionally contains the complete 'Heavy Turbulence' and another non-Garcia LP entitled 'Light Up.

 "Skeletons From The Closet"

(Warner Brothers, February 1974)

The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)/Truckin'/Rosemary/ Sugar Magnolia/St Stephen/Uncle John's Band//Casey Jones/ Mexicali Blues/Turn On Your Love Light/One More Saturday Night/Friend Of The Devil

"Hey hey come right away, come join the party every day!"

Making a Dead best-of was clearly a doomed exercise - how do you capture the essence of a band in half an hour when live most of their best material lasts that long anyway? And isn't 'American Beauty' the most accessible Dead recording anyway? Warner Brothers were clearly going to upset a lot of people with this album's tracklisting and even given that they only had the pick of the band's material up to 1972 it's a rather odd beast that mainly ignores the band's live material altogether  (the exceptions being the 'Live/Dead' version of 'Ste Stephen' and 'Mexicali Blues') in favour of studio songs and even then skimps on some of the obvious selections (is 'Rosemary' really a better or more popular song than 'Ripple' or 'Brokedown Palace'? Can there really be a Dead best of that doesn't include 'Dark Star' at all, even the compact single version? is there any sane reason why fans would rather hear 'Mexicali Blues' in order that 'Turn Your Love Light' can be edited down to smithereens? Why on earth is curio 'Rosemary' here instead of popular and hummable original 'China Cat Sunflower'?) It's a shame, too, that more room isn't given over to at least one of the Dead's extended jams couldn't be here - so there's no 'That's It For The Other One' 'The Eleven' or, well, most of what true fans would have been hoping for really. That said, any compilation that includes 'Truckin'  'Sugar Magnolia' 'St Stephen' and 'Friend Of The Devil' can't be bad, while even in shortened form Pigpen's star number 'Turn On Your Love Light' is highly welcome (when re-issued on CD they sensibly included the full twenty minute 'Live/Dead' version intact by the way). Against all the odds Warner Brothers also got the packaging right, hiring artist John Van Hamersveld - who'd never worked for the band before - to come up with something 'Dead like'. While lacking the originality of Mouse, he succeeded with this record's cover art full of skeletons smoking joints, card games and roses, as if all the Dead's characters have somehow met up and fallen through a hole in the space-time continuum together. I can't quite explain the presence of Venus the Goddess of love, Marlon Brando or the 1933 Dymaxion model car though (perhaps they'e seeped through from a nearby realm?) For all it's faults, enough people were intrigued by this album to turn it platinum and against all odds (and the big successes of the 1980s) this remains the band's highest selling album in their US homeland. Enough curious newcomers seem to have taken enough from this album to stick around too, with a slight rise in the number of Deadheads after this album's release in 1971. Put simply, the Dead needed a bigger closet!

Jerry Garcia "Compliments Of Garcia"

(Round Records, June 1974)

Let It Rock/When The Hunter Get Captured By The Game/That's What Love Will Make You Do/Russian Lullaby/Turn On The Bright Lights//He Ain't Gave You None/What Goes Around/Let's Spend The Night Together/Mississippi Moon/Midnight Town

"We could have fun just groovin' around (and around and around round round round round...')"

Released a mere three weeks before 'From The Mars Hotel' and during an incredibly frenetic period, Jerry Garcia's second album is a curious beast. A loud album of muted largely unmemorable songs, this record couldn't be less like the casual brilliance of 'Garcia' - rather than an outpouring of creativity this is 'covers' album project a good few year before they became the 'norm'. Sounding slightly unfinished (the album doesn't even have a 'proper' title, being officially titled 'Garcia' again, but fans have taken to using the 'Compliments' name after a message on the back cover) this was album was clearly made just to be a 'record' rather than because it was something Jerry was dying to say (he even got bassist and longterm companion John Kahn to pick the songs for him), so we can't even say, for example, that this album features Jerry's favourite Chuck Berry song or that Irving Berlin's 'Russian Lullaby' brings back any particular memories. Really Jerry is just being a session guitarist and singer who just happens to get his name and face on the front of the record.

That said, it's surprising how enjoyable this record often is. Jerry is on bouncy vocal form, a million mile away from the metaphorical weight he'll sing with in later years and his guitar work is of course excellent throughout (especially 'Russian Lullaby', which is an acoustic tour de force. None of the Dead are here, with Merle Saunders (guest overdubber on 'Skulls and Roses') the only familiar name here and out of all the ten song album the tracks will be played a grand total of once in a Dead setlist between them (a rather chaotic rendering of 'Chuck Berry's Let It Rock' as heard as an extra on the 'From Mars Hotel' CD). However the chance to hear an on-form Jerry do something different is in many ways not to be missed, however unimportant this record seems to be. Jerry's arranging touch is showed with an enthralling cover of The Stones' 'Let's Spend The Might Together' which is improved ten-fold from a pure adrenalin shot into a song of grace, beauty and pleading, complete with a calypso/reggae lilt and one of the best uses of backing singers arou7nd. Purely as a singer Jerry has rarely been better than on Peter Rowan's slow orchestral ballad 'Mississippi Moon' . The closest thing on the album to an original song - Robert Hunter and John Kahn's first collaboration 'Midnight Town' - is a welcome burst of gospel, sounding like the gorgeous middle eight o 'Wharf Rat' turned into a whole song ('I'll get back on my feet, find a new start...') Incidentally, is the sweet William Robinson cover 'The Hunter Gets Captured By His Own Game' about an old friend a pun on Mr Hunter, whose left rather redundant for this record? ('Like a fox that preys on a rabbit, I've come to know you and all your habits'). Only an irritating cover of Dr John's 'What Goes Around' and the miscast blues plod 'Turn On The Bright Lights' fail to work. Though meant as a one-off experiment, the record was enjoyable enough to make for Jerry to turn the basis of this record into his first Jerry Garcia Band, a troupe that were perhaps a little slicker and less gifted than the Dead but could still play a ridiculous array of styles. Perhaps in hindsight, though, this album's greatest addition to the Dead canon is poster artist turned album designer Victor Moscoso, who turns in a very 60s looking deign of Garcia holding a guitar while pink birds soar overheard and will later go on to draw covers for  Jerry's 'Run For The Roses' and 'Bobby and the Midnites'.

Keith and Donna Godchaux "Keith And Donna"

(Round Records, March 1975)

River Deep Mountain High/Sweet Baby/Woman Makes You/When You Start To Move/Showboat//My Love For You/Farewell Jack/Who was John?/Every Song I Sing

"I got a feeling deep down in my soul, the baby's awake and the bell's gonna toll, yes I gotta love deep down in my soul"

The long lost classic in the Dead canon, Keith and Donna's only solo album sold far less copies than the other Dead solo records doing the rounds (literally seeing as the name was Round Records) on the band's spin-off label. Never re-issued on CD, to this day it's so rare that even many of the biggest Deadhead have never heard a copy. However that probably hasn't kept as many fans awake at night as if, say, the Dead albums proper had gone missing as this record was soundly trashed on release as a self-indulgent set of piano-based ballads without that much of the Dead signature sound. Certainly it's a record very much of its mid-70s time, when an album could afford to coast and drift without grabbing the listener by the ears with tempos that never get past a canter. However, there's a place for albums like this - serene, intimate, melodic - and I have to say I've become rather a fan of this album down the years. Sounding not unlike how the future Garcia album (on which both (Keith and Donna play) 'Cats Under The Stars' will sound (quiet, gentle, with gospel fringes and made for Sunday mornings) but with far less fuss and adulation, this album points that the mellow sound the Dead suddenly discovered shortly after the duo joined the band circa 'Wake Of The Flood' may not have been entirely accidental.

Both Billy and Jerry guest on various parts of the album, adding their unique tones and some lovely subtle touches, although the duo's regular drummer is Denny Seiwell, fresh from flying out of Paul McCartney's band Wings. Jerry especially tuerns up a lot, enjoying the chance to indulge the gospel side of his personality ('Who Was John'? features him and Donna singing a capella) also provided the album's 'artwork', using the Godchaux's newborn's son Zion's forehead as his canvas  - the close up on the startled baby's head is one of the more memorable Dead sleeves of the 70s!) This record also contains one of the single greatest sleeve credits in musical history ('Baby Zion's thoughts translated by Jerry Garcia!') This suits the album's mood of pastoral gentleness and cozydom, with several songs by the pair with Keith's brother Brian (plus a few choice covers) about themselves or their newborn baby. Most of the album was recorded, Brian Wilson style, at their house in Stinson Island, in between looking after the new-born - the recording equipment were set up in the living room, part of the kitchen housed the recording machines and Jerry was on regular standby for when they needed him for a song, having recently moved to a house just a couple of minutes' walk away. 'Keith and Donna' sounds like it too:  almost every song is about the pair, their newborn baby or - in one case - a family friend. Most Dead fans, used to hearing rocking grooves and exotic experimentation heard the soft-rock lush of opening cover 'River Deep Mountain High' (turned into a sweet ballad) and went 'yuk', but there was more to the band than simply playing loud and fans of the Dead's quieter folk-rock approach (i.e. 'Stella Blue' and 'Jack Straw' et al) will find much to like (if only they can track this album down at all!), although the closest in 'feel' to this album are the parts of 1978's 'Cats Under The Stars' on which Jerry doesn't play, full of the same quiet gospel beauty.

I always felt that Keith and Donna were poorly used during their time in the band - Keith's talent was slotting between whatever musicians wanted to play and making them sound better rather than grooving on his own, whilst Donna only really began singing lead vocals with the band a couple of years before the pair left the band. Both get to add a whole load of new levels to their personality across this album. Keith gets to dominate the band sound and reveals a nice blend of jazz, blues and folk in his piano playing, which can switch in an instance from free-wheeling pretty-playing to heavy block chords. He also gets to play organ which he rarely did with the Dead (it was more of a Pigpen sound), although it's his occasional lead vocals that are perhaps the revelation of the album, Keith sounding far more at home on sleepy ballads like 'Woman Makes You' than he did on his one lone Dead lead vocal 'Let Me Sing Your Blues Away'. Donna too sounds so much better than she does on a lot of Dead recordings, able to find her own path instead of fitting between other singers and there's none of the occasional off-key wailing that mars the live albums. Instead Donna sounds in command, finding a new aggression in her voice occasionally as well as occasionally hitting that serene groove that makers her other work on such songs as 'Sunrise' and Jerry's solo 'Palm Sunday' so inviting - hearing this you wonder not why she was one of Muscle Shoals' favourite backing singers on sessions from her teens but why they didn't have her out front singing lead. Dead fans tend to 'stick' to their favourite eras based around who happened to be on the piano hot-seat at the time: for me Pigpen will forever be the king, but anyone who doubts the sheer natural musicality of Keith and Donna have clearly never heard this record.

Admittedly not quite everything works. While many of the album songs are unusually short (by Dead standards anyway) both sides on the album end on lengthy songs that try a little too hard to be epic, pushing the songs further they want to go and ending up with the duo and drummer noodling on chords to not much effect (even the Dead struggle with these kind of wide open spaces, so no wonder the duo on their own are having problems too). However the five other songs - including the much maligned 'River Deep Mountain High' - are truly lovely, mainly classy ballads made with a lot of care and thought. The two highlights are the twin love songs, written John and Yoko style from Keith to Donna and Donna to Keith. His 'Woman Make You' and her 'My Love For You' are really lovely, both pointing to how much genuine affection was there between the pair, despite reports that the pair were already at each other's throats quite often backstage at this point. The one exception to the general rule of slow pacing, 'Sweet Baby', is also pretty fine: a blues song made with a very then-modern sounding synthesiser that makes the same sort of bleeping sound effects heard on the 'Mars Hotel' album, but which make more sense in the context of the song. Overall, one of the better Dead solo albums of the era showing a lot of character, a lot of soul and a lot of melodic touches. Never released on CD, Donna has talked often about wanting to re-release it but with the deaths of first Keith and then Jerry to push the record through things have gone quiet - let's hope something is done to change that soon so more fans can appreciate this overlooked and under-appreciated effort.

Ned Lagin (with Grateful Dead members "Seastones"

(Round Records, April 1975)


"Ugh! This one heap big pile of stones - but me no get music from them like me can with rocks!"

If you're enough of a fan of the Dead to have got this far through the book then you probably have a healthy idea of what weird music is - you'll have sat through the sonic weirdness of 'Caution (Do Not Step On The Tracks)' on 'Anthem Of The Sun', you'll have sat through eight minutes of 'Feedback' on 'Live/Dead' and heard the opening minute of 'What's Become Of The Baby?' on 'Aoxomoxoa' before getting impatient and skipping through to 'Cosmic Charlie'. That surely is enough weirdness for anyone, so you might want to skip this entry which makes all of those songs look like they could feature on Top Of The Pops. Ned Lagin was a fellow graduate of the classical music course that had turned Phil Lesh and Tom Constanten into avant garde nuts. He was even an occasional performer at Grateful Dead gigs, appearing with them three times on stage in 1970, twice in 1971 and a full 22 times in 1974, while the Dead turned up to support Ned at a concert in 1973 (where, unhappy with the sound of the venue, he even got Phil to 'mix' the concert live!) 'Seastones' is Ned's only recorded work in a career that also involved stints as a photographer and scientist and is composed on what Lagin refers to as an 'open mobile non-linear form' - which means in practice that the notes, clangs, bangs and funny whistly noises are all performed at random. Performed as one long song, split in two only by the need to change the record over, it was released by the Dead on their 'Round Records' label and largely recorded across four busy years at Mickey Hart's ranch recording studio with guests like Phil and Jerry plus David Crosby and Airplaners Spencer Dryden, Grace Slick and David Freiberg dropping in to help out.

'Seastones' had a mixed reception on release. For some fans it was the logical culmination of where the Dead themselves might have gone by 1975 had the side-journey into American folk-rock music not got in the way. Others saw it as a self-indulgent mess of random bleeping noises, like a Grateful Dead record being played either too fast or too slow (no actually thinking about it that just describes 'Shakedown Street'!) Even the Dead's own newsletter described it as 'taking their art really slowly but surely to the further reaches of its limitations which, of course, are impossible for the human intelligence to define' which pretty much says it all - it might be the very greatest album ever made if only someone could explain it to me, but when an album has to come with an explanation to work it no longer succeeds as music however great it may be as an 'art-form'. One thing that does make sense is the central idea: that this is the musical equivalent of stones gathering on a sea shore, each one randomly collected after journeying from another country from a whole different era, chobbled and fragmented by passing waves of different sorts. The problem comes in getting that idea across in the music, which is sporadically interesting (usually when the recognisable voices of Jerry, Grace and Crosby come in) but whose range of unusual sound effects and moody soundscapes become grating before too long and ends up sounding like a sci-fi TV programme soundtrack without the pictures. The CD version released in 1990 combines both the original recording and a longer re-mix from December 1975 that includes six additional 'movements'.

The Diga Rhythm Band Featuring Mickey Hart "The Diga Rhythm Band"

(Round Records, '1976')

Sweet Sixteen/Magnificent Sevens///Happiness Is Drumming/ Razooli/Tal Mala

"In the beginning was noise and noise begat rhythm and rhythm begat everything else!"

When Mickey Hart first joined The Grateful Dead in 1968 he was a student at the Ali Akhbar College Of Music under tabla player Shankar Gosh. Many of the lessons he learnt in oriental music and rhythms would play a key role in the 1968-69 era of The Dead and results in the unusual time signatures of 'The Seven' 'The Main Ten' and most famously 'The Eleven'. Many Deadheads have speculated on just how wonderful a whole album of this sort of music could be - but they had to wait until 1976 to find out. By now a full-time member of the Dead once again and with access to their 'secondary' record label 'Round Records', Mickey was keen to explore the concept and help out some old friends Mickey had stayed in touch with one of his teachers, Alla Rakha, and was especially close to his son Zakir Hussain. Zoom forward so approached him for help in making this percussion-heavy record. Zakir's group - originally called The Tal Vadyum Rhythm Band - formed in 1975 and for a time were the 'warm up' act for Jefferson Starship's tour. Their aim was to 'turn Westerners on' to the sport of 'gamelan' (ie Indonesian percussion) music heard at home but they struggled to replicate their sound in concert. Hart offered to help out, offering his studio, pa system and collection of western drums that would help 'combine' the two practices and make the sound a little more palatable to Western ears. Figuring that the band had now changed and needed a new name both Hart and Hussain agreed on the name 'Diga', a reference to a make of drum they both admired. Somewhere along the line Jerry Garcia got involved too, guesting on perhaps the two most important songs for Deadheads: 'Razooli' ('Prophet' in Arabian), the one track that came with vocals(sung by a guesting David Freiberg of Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Starship) and 'Happiness Is Drumming', an early wordless template for what will become the 1979 Dead song 'Fire On The Mountain' (though it sounds much slower and sleepier here, with the guitar riff switched to the drums as Garcia plays along). However the best song is arguably the opener 'Sweet Sixteen', the closest the album comes to the other-worldly improvisations of the Dead (and based on about the only complicated time signature left the Dead never tackled!) Though largely forgotten today, 'Diga' is an excellent world music album, with some stunning playing and a real sense of scope and size - much more so than the better received 'Rolling Thunder'. Although nothing here quite matches 'The Eleven' for sheer sonic power, this is a very interesting album and if drumming is your happiness then it might well put a smile on your face although more casual fans of the Dead might want to steer clear.

Jerry Garcia "Reflections"

(Round Records, February 1976)

Might As Well/Mission In The Rain/They Love Each Other/I'll Take A Melody//It Must Have Been The Roses/Tore Up Over You/Catfish John/Comes A Time

"I turn and walk away then I come round again, it looks as if tomorrow I'll do very much the same"

Jerry's third album tends to get overlooked surrounded by much better known albums. Recorded during the Dead's hiatus, it features a band reunion on five of the songs and hints towards what a 'missing' album in the period just before 'Blues For Allah' would have been like. 'Quiet' is the answer: this is a muted collection of Garci/Hunter songs, very much in the acoustic folk vein despite the presence of the electric guitar on the front (in which Jerry 'reflects' his face). The album was originally intended to be the first to feature the Jerry Garcia Band who play on the other three tracks, but the early sessions didn't go well according to bassist John Kahn and Garcia requested the help of his old band to help him fulfil his obligations. There is the slight jazzy feel of 'Allah' too though, with Jerry using the same angrier more distorted sound of his guitar too. In total six of these songs appeared in the Grateful Dead setlists at some point or other (with a seventh, 'I'll Take A Melody' a regular for the Garcia Band spin-off) with only 'Tore Up Over You' left behind on the album. The Dead even recorded their own studio take of the folk standard 'Catfish John' for next album 'Terrapin Station', suggesting Jerry hadn't quite got the song out of his system yet (he tend to become obsessed with old folk songs for certain periods, then discarding them to make way for a new discovery!) However, unlike the first two albums, there are no real fan favourites here with Hunter's solo 'It Must Have Been The Roses' coming closest (performed live 158 times).

The result is a rather odd, muted little album that  hints for the first time that Garcia's incredible creative streak might be coming to an end. Few fans who owned a copy of 'Garcia' would have guessed at such a fall from grace so quickly, with Jerry's only release in 1976 notable only for the slight calypso lilt of 'They Love Each Other' (a sweet song rather mangled here) and sweet ballad 'Comes A Time', an under-rated track full of some of Hunter's loveliest homespun philosophy on similar but less graphic terms than 'China Doll'('Comes a time a blind man takes your hand and says 'don't you see?'...I can't see much difference between the dark and the light'). As for the other original songs, 'Roses' proves that Hunter has more of a problem with melodies than lyrics and doesn't really stick in the memory, 'Might As Well' is an ugly jazz-rock song without the pair's usual flair and 'Mission In The Rain' is the sort of flaccid mid-paced song that punk was put on the earth the same year to destroy. The cover songs too are a pretty awful bunch: Allen Toussaint's 'I'll Take A Melody' is one of the most trying of all of Jerry's covers, returning over and over to the same too-cute chorus, Hank Ballard's noisy country-blues 'Tore Up Over You' has the same plodding chords over and over that lack Jerry's usual invention and panache and 'Catfish John' features one of the roughest studio leads Garcia ever made. As it happens this is a pretty accurate reflection of Jerry in the years when his control over his life and art begins to slip little bit by little bit - lots of filler, with the odd burst of inspiration covering to make it sound like the good old days (It could have been worse too: bonus tracks on the CD re-issue reveal even more turgid cover songs tried out at the sessions - 'Mystery Train' 'All By Myself' (the Fats Domino one) 'Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie' and another 'You Win Again'). Thankfully better is to come.

Bob Weir and Kingfish "Kingfish"

(Round Records, March 1976)

Lazy Lightnin'*/Supplication*/Wild Northland/Asia Minor/Home To Dixie*/Jump For Joy//Goodbye Yer Honour/Big Iron/This Time/Hypnotize/Bye And Bye

Songs By Bob Weir are marked *

"It's either lunacy or lighnin'"

Bob was busy during the band's hiatus, joining a second San Francisco group who went to become quite a cult name releasing two studio albums and two live ones after this debut. Other band members came from such Dead friends as Matthew Kelly (no not the Stars In Their Eyes presenter but a favourite guest musician on several San Francisco-made albums) and Dave Torbert (once a member of Dead spin-off group and favourite opening act New Riders Of The Purple Sage). Weir was only a member for these sessions and had left the band to return to the Dead by the time of the second, although he plays a key role on this debut writing three songs for the album and arranging the fourth. With its stark striking cover (the God Neptune sitting on a throne that has a pair of wings for some reason - shouldn't it have gills?), it was a favourite in second-hand shops for many years, many curious Dead fans having bought it and then found it wasn't to their tastes. The record is best remembered now for being the source of the classic 'Lazy Lightning > Supplication' number (defined as two tracks even here, though almost always coming as a pairing) that will become a live Dead regular even though they sound rather stilted here (the latter sounds like slowed-down jazz!)More interesting is the collaboration with Kelly that never made it to the Dead's setlists, the typical  mid-70s country-rocker 'Home To Dixie' that sports a lovely melody and some nice lyrics about being adrift from home ('This sure ain't the promised land and I ain't hangin' around!') Bobby also covers the Marty Robbins classic 'Big Iron' which fans of his 'cowboy covers' will love, although it's not a particularly inventive cover and adds a reggae arrangement to the traditional folk tune 'Bye and Bye' that really doesn't work at all (see Ronnie Lane for the definitive AAA take on this song). As for the rest of the album, it just sounds like The New Riders typically do, with the rambling of the latter-day Dead combined to their 1970 'harmony' period and isn't really up to much. That said, Tim Gilbert's 'Jump For Joy' is a pretty song with some nice Garcia-style guitar work and the rollicking 'Goodbye Yer Honour' (with the 'feel' of 'Greatest Story Ever Told' about it) are nice bonuses if you're buying this record just to hear Weir's work. Overall though you don't really need to hear this and it must have been with a sigh of relief that Bob made his way back to the Dead instead of having to struggle at making this band his new career.

"Steal Your Face"

(United Artists/Grateful Dead Records, Recorded October 1974, Released July 1976)

Promised Land/Cold Rain And Snow/Around And Around/Stella Blue//Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo/Ship Of Fools/Beat It On Down The Line//Big River/Black Throated Wind/US Blues/El Paso//Sugaree/It Must Have Been The Roses/Casey Jones

"Trouble ahead...Trouble behind"

There are so many questions to ask about this curious release: When is an official Dead album not a Dead album? When it's a record created under duress. Why name an album after a song lyric which doesn't even appear on the album and makes no sense (it's a line from 'he's Gone' if you were wondering). Oh and when is a soundtrack album not  a soundtrack album? When it's 'Steal Your Face'. Despite the fact that the band worked harder than just about any group past their tenth anniversary and had their own record label (this is the fourth and last release on 'Grateful Dead Records') they were still under pressure to deliver product. The Grateful Dead Movie, shot for the last shows in 1974 but not screened until 1977, was costing a fortune and taking forever so this sort of hodgepodge halfway house was put together featuring the cream of the Winterland 'farewell' shows. In many ways this record ought to be more loved than it is: the band are on good form and the track listing makes a better fist of being a 'highlights' package than the extended and too-often rambling 'Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack' released twenty-five-odd years later (despite having even less in common with what appears in the film!) What's more, this is arguably the closest release yet to getting the essence of a Grateful Dead concert into one place - previous live albums like 'Live/Dead' 'Skulls and Roses' and 'Europe '72' tended to feature the 'newer' songs rather than an overview of the band's entire setlist as per here. Sometimes, as per the gorgeous 'Morning Dew' and a beautiful 'Stella Blue', the record reaches glorious heights, even if the record struggles to stay anywhere near the band's best. Additionally there are several live favourites you couldn't find anywhere else until the 'archive' sets released in the wake of the band's split: fun versions of Chuck Berry's well known 'Around and Around' less known 'Promised Land', Johnny Cash's 'Big River' and Marty Robbins' 'El Paso', plus two songs only released by Garcia solo: 'Sugaree' (mercifully reduced to seven minutes compared to some twenty minute live versions doing the rounds) and 'It Must Have Been The Roses' and one by Weir in 'Black Throated Wind' None of these recordings are exactly essential, but they do offer a little something you couldn't get anywhere else until the 1990s or 2000s.

However for all that you can see why this record was deemed 'regrettable' by the band, why it's never made an appearance under this name on CD (though most of the tracks are on the five-CD 'Soundtrack' set) and why this album is missing from the 'Beyond Description 1973-1989' box set (alongside 'Without A Net'). The band are often clumsy, tripping over each other's feet, there's barely any of the extended improvisory jamming the band made their name with, the Winterland arena - so glorious a venue for those who were there - is not built for live recording (the acoustics are echoey and muddy) and goodness only knows what both Phil Lesh and 'Bear' (nominally in charge of this project) were thinking by including so many under-par and 'sleepy' versions of great songs. 'Cold Rain and Snow' has never sounded more dazed and confused, 'Ship Of Fools' has never run further aground and 'Casey Jones' never sounded more like a train wreck (apt I know, but hardly built for enjoyable listening). The only lasting legacy of this record, the only thing fans have embraced, is the 'thunderbolt' skull logo designed by Bear himself which has become known to fans as the 'Stealie'. Title-wise too 'Steal Your Face' could hardly have been better named, this is an unfortunate hit-and-run cash-in release that for the first time ever revealed the Dead being stingy with their fans whilst trying to pad out a record contract. Thankfully we won't see it's like again for the rest of this book. 

‘Live/Dead’ (1969)

'Workingman's Dead' (1970)

'American Beauty' (1970)
'Blues For Allah' (1975)

'Terrapin Station' (1977)
'Shakedown Street' (1978)
'Go To Heaven' (1980)
'In The Dark' (1987)

'Built To Last' (1989)
Surviving TV Clips 1966-1994
The Best Unreleased Recordings 1966-1993
The Last Unfinished Album 1990-1995
Live/Solo/Compilations Part One 1966-1976
Live/Solo/Compilations Part Two 1978-2011
A Guide To The CD Bonus Tracks
Dick's Picks/Dave's Picks
Road Trips/Download Series/Miscellaneous Archive Releases

Essay: Why The ‘Dead’ Made Fans Feel So ‘Alive’
Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Versions

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