Artist Spotlight::Grateful Dead, an American Beauty 1970

Today, I am beginning what will be a multi-part series on the Grateful Dead.I’ve been working on this series for a while. I knew it was time to post when I saw that the new Fader has Jerry on the cover. What I’m trying to do here is to give a sense of what they sounded like at a particular time, and furthermore what their music offered up. I’m not attempting to hyper-analyze or try to label or define them. Too many people have done that in the past, much to their detriment. I’ll be taking us through different years and highlights of this one of a kind band that has provided myself and so many others with endless enjoyment.

I don’t understand it, but there has always been a prejudice against the Grateful Dead. While there are a bunch of folks that always liked and respected them, they have always been a polarizing band. I’m not a hippy and I never wanted to be, but I do like good music and the Grateful Dead are undoubtedly one of the best bands ever. Some friends of mine will contend that they are the best band ever.

Let me also go on record and say that I generally don’t like jam bands. Most jam bands noodle around and have these things they refer to as songs that are really nothing more than masturbation. It might be fun to play, but for the astute listener it can often be less than engaging. Although, the Grateful Dead were the progenitors of this scene, I find it sacrilegious to lump them in with these bands. Let me clarify, the Grateful Dead were not a jam band. They were a band who jammed. They were sonic explorers and pioneers who were never afraid to veer off course, and then turn the ship right back around. Couple that with the fact that they had countless great songs, and it leaves them in a class by themselves.

The Grateful Dead weren’t a band that was really known for their records. More so, they concentrated on their live playing and excelled at taking themselves and the fans on many an amazing journey. However, in 1970, the Grateful Dead would release what many of us believe to be their two finest studio albums, Working Man’s Dead and American Beauty. Both records featured the Grateful Dead playing more orthodox song structures. In fact, many of the songs that the average person has heard came from these two albums. These two records are must owns.

The Dead made their record Working Man’s Dead at Pacific High Recording which was situated behind the Fillmore West in about 3 weeks. This was a stripped down version of the band, which Garcia thought of as a wing of the Buck Owens/ Merle Haggard Bakersfield sound. Up to this point, the Dead had been musically an untamable psychedelic beast which to say the least unnerved their record company to no end. As Dennis McNally(in Long Strange Trip) writes, when the record execs heard it they thought it must be the Dead playing a joke on them. They were expecting some “psychedelic opus”, but to their surprise they had a Dead record with singles, which was totally unexpected. A similar event occurred when Jerry and Bobby played the record at the Rolling Stone offices.

Their masterpiece American Beauty was recorded virtually live in August and September was first released to the world in November, 1970. The record followed in the line of Dylan’s John Wesley Harding and The Band’s Music from the Big Pink.</> My favorite song from American Beauty is Phil Lesh’s Box of Rain– written for his dying father.1970 was an eventful year in Grateful Dead history. There was the famous Truckin’ bust in Baton Rouge. It was also a time when Grateful Dead shows often began with acoustic sets, followed by a set by New Riders of the Purple Sage (with Jerry on pedal steel), and then a full on electric Dead set. 1970 was also the year of the Canadian Woodstock on wheels, which the Dead were a main feature. It was all captured in Festival Express, a must see for fans.

We’re lucky because they left behind countless recordings of their shows. Also, many a sound innovation was result of this enigmatic band, but we’ll talk about that in a later episode. For some, the Grateful Dead are the only band that matters. Personally, I can’t be such a reductionist, but I do see where they are coming from. The Grateful Dead gave to us a limitless amount of possibilities in terms of our listening experiences.

The Music
Here are several songs in different formats from their 1970 shows. It is really interesting to hear the unique takes and energy levels during different performances. On the player are Morning Dew, The Other One, & Black Peter from Dick’s Picks Vol. 8, from an amazing night at Harpur College, Binghamton, NY on 5/2/70. So double click on a song if you’d like.

The following shows and songs are in streaming audio. Click and get listening
Here is a great show from the 10th of January 1970 at the San Diego Golden Hall
this one is from July 16 1970, and includes a cool Lovelight with great interplay between Pigpen, Janis Joplin and Jerry

Candyman 30Aug1970 KQED studios
Brokedown palace 30Aug1970KQED studios
Uncle John’s Band 30Aug1970 KQED studios

check out Rosalie McFall, a great song that they rarely played.
To Lay Me Down 30July1970 The Matrix San Francisco
Dire Wolf 30July1970 The Matrix San Francisco
Candyman 30July1970 The Matrix San Francisco
Rosalie McFall 30July1970 The Matrix San Francisco

China Cat Sunflower 1Feb1970 The Wharehouse New Orleans *
Black Peter 1Feb1970 The Wharehouse New Orleans *
Me and My Uncle 1Feb1970 The Wharehouse New Orleans *
High Time 1Feb1970 The Wharehouse New Orleans *
*this was a benefit for the previous days bust – i.e. Truckin’:Busted down on Bourbon Street
Morning Dew 6June1970 Fillmore West San Francisco
Attics of My Life 6June1970 Fillmore West San Francisco

Don’t Ease Me In 24March1970 Pirates World Dania Florida
High Time 24March1970 Pirates World Dania Florida
St Stephen 24March1970 Pirates World Dania Florida

and a few more to download…Here is Morning Dew and a mind blowing Not Fade Away from a free show on the M.I.T. campus May 6, 1970, a few days after the famous Kent State incident.
Morning Dew
Not Fade Away

Here is Cold Rain and Snow & I Know You Rider from Springer’s Inn Portland on January 16, 1970.
Cold Rain and Snow
I Know You Rider

Festival Express Tour
Easy Wind
Hard To Handle
Don’t Ease Me In
New Speedway Boogie
Jerry on the train playing Jordan

For those interested, A Long Strange Trip:The Inside History of the Grateful Dead by Dennis McNally is an essential Grateful Dead read.

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