I have been needing to revisit recordings of the very early Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders stuff, and with a bit of time I thought I'd give this show, from a Saturday in mid-January 1972 at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, some attention on its birthday. I am not sure who's drumming ... could have been Bill Vitt or could have been Kreutzmann .. anyone know? Anyway, it's a quartet, with Jerry, Merl, John and the percussionist.
The existing recording is actually mostly quite nice despite the lineage of MAR > 2 cassettes > digitalia, except for early in set II ("I Was Made to Love Her", "That's The Touch I Like", and "Who's Loving You Tonight?") when there is some awful warbling and such. Also, listener SP at DNC says that there are speed problems, which doesn't surprise me at all. I'd sure love to see this particular master (and any of its contemporaries!) come into the light. It's historically very important, as is every bit, piece and fragment of this early Jerry-on-the-side stuff.
"How Sweet It Is" starts things off and is a pretty complete trainwreck. This is the earliest version (of 428 as of this writing) listed at the Jerry Site, and even if there are earlier ones I doubt there are many ... it certainly sounds like this is a rough draft of what would become a Garcia-on-the-Side (maybe I'll just coin GOTS right now) staple.
After that rough start things do about a 180, both in terms of the possibilities being explored and their success -- "Save Mother Earth," a Saunders composition, is a freaking monster. It starts off within the structure of the song and pretty thoroughly maps that terrain for awhile before dropping off into *deep* space for a couple of minutes from 7:45. This is not unlike contemporary Grateful Dead deep space, and even has some proto-Tigering going on. I have to check the timings on this, but at one point Garcia starts strumming a sad, slow thing that I think might be "Imagine" ... you can hear him say something to the rest of the band (couldn't quite make it out), and then he changes tack and returns to the SME theme to end. Here's a great little piece of context (the revelation of which is one of the reasons I love audience recordings): after the song, a little kid, maybe 4 or 5 by the sound of it, exclaims "I don't know about that!" A woman (presumably mom) repeats the exclamation as a query and chuckles. It's awesome. The kid's mind has been blown, he's not sure what to make of it (and in any case he occupies that deeply psychedelic realm known as the child's mind), and he can't contain himself. The fact that he's there at all, one of the relatively few (less than about 300, which IIRC was about the capacity of the KK), is pretty neat all by itself.
"One Kind Favor" follows this up with the slinkiest, swampiest, spookiest country blues you have ever heard. I absolutely love this song, and I love the GOTS versions much more than the few (ca. 1966) GD versions in circ ... much slower and darker. "Expressway" is a wonderfully compact little barn-burner (not the lonnnggg trip it would become in a few years), and "Mystery Train" ends set I with some terrific rockabilly, done much more Elvis style (and complete with the repeated "sixteen sixteen coaches long" bit) than it sound later on.
"Train to Cry" bores me (blasphemy alert) and I can't really judge the next three songs because of the tape problems. Thank God whomever is taping changed batteries or whatever for what comes next, because it is a truly monumental "Man-Child," the Merl Saunders composition. If you don't know this number, go check it out. This song puts me in mind of a Sioux warrior in South Dakota, maybe only his ghost blowing through a high plains butte, but with a heroin-tinged urban twist. . Anyway, this is some very deep, dark and contemplative stuff. Jerry again flirts with the Tiger around the 15-minute mark. (I have it on good authority, from Peter Lavezzoli over on DNC, that the Tiger nearly appears in late '71 GD and makes a certain appearance on 3/23/72, so this is right in that window ...) There's a couple of minutes of deep space, the theme returns and is worked out, and then from 22 minutes in or so there's a beautiful engagement with "Summertime". That theme is crystal clear right before the 25 minute mark, and remains the basic thematic driving force for the rest of the tune, which clocks in around 32 minutes. Whew! Definitely two snaps up -- check it out.
The Jerry Lee Lewis number "She Even Woke Me Up To Say Goodbye" follows, with its somewhat more melancholy feel than I might expect from that author, for what little I know. It reminds me a lot of "Long Black Limousine." "Hi-Heel Sneakers" is a lot of fun and definitely works well in the context of a small club gig. Not sure anyone needed to bring their boxing gloves, but you never know.
A very rare (on tape) reading of "Tupelo Honey" follows ... it gets a wow from me for rarity, but not being a big Van fan I can say it doesn't knock me out. It reminds me a lot of "Crazy Love", which is fine, but I am just as glad that "And It Stoned Me" became the latter-day GOTS stape, rather than either of the other two. This song, though, is a reminder to me of how substantially overlapping the Van and Jerry circles were at this time. I know that Ozzie Ahlers and Daoud Shaw, both of whom would materialize in JGBs of the early 80s, both played with Van around this time. The Lion's Share was everyone's favorite haunt. I wonder why the never played together (if, indeed, they didn't)?
"That's Alright Mama" closes without much of a bang for this listener, though Jerry does go on a few pretty good tears.
All in all, very enjoyable. Check it out for the rarities, but keep it and return to it for the playing in the Saunders compositions "Save Mother Earth" and "Man-Child." Very deep, exploratory stuff going on there that would stand up well to some of the deepest explorations of the 1972 vintage GD (though not for as long, to be sure).
Listening to this also reminds me not to take the tapes we have for granted. As much as I try to hunt down new-to-me stuff, it's useful to remember that we are already blessed with a non-trivial amount of stuff to hear, even from this early in the game. Thanks to AJL for supplying this recording. And, recordist ... please ... come out, come out, wherever you are! Oh yeah, and don't forget to thank a taper while you're at it.