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Sunday, April 08, 2012

LN jg1974-03-09.jgms.all-1.sbd-alligator.33750.flac1644


Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders (JGMS)
Keystone
2119 University Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704
March 9, 1974 (Saturday)

The recent slow pace of posting is exceeded by the even slower pace of my listening. I have been able to do very little for quite some time.

I did manage to sneak in some notes on this one, with the added surreal property that I was sure I had done it before. Since I can’t seem to find an old trace of such notes, I do some new ones here.

Upshot: great recording, a personnel novelty and some really nice moments, but I have a hard time getting excited about this show. I have long thought that the January-February 1974 shows were, generally, dull. By June things are getting interesting (again), and for me they’d mostly stay that way through the end of Legion of Mary in 1975. Unfortunately, to my ears, on this listen, 3/9/74 is more like February 9th than the again-more-adventurous unit from June and after. The qualifier “this listen” could be key – my perceptions can vary a great deal across different engagements with the same fileset.

Anyway, let me just briefly say something about the recording provenance, the personnel novelty, and the musical moments.

Recording Provenance

What we have here is some prime cut, chunkalicious Betty Cantor-Jackson soundboard tape, from the Third Batch that re-emerged in the mid-1990s, after presumably having entered private (non-band-affiliated) hands sometime in the 1980s. There are lots of 10” 7.5ips ½-track reels of Garcia stuff in this batch, most of which remains out of circulation. There are mix and other issues, but the recordings are fundamentally beautiful. Betty is just a natural genius as a recording engineer, and given the state the tapes were in we should be grateful that Eaton preserved them so expertly. These are important historical documents.

It’s hard for me to make sense of the pattern of recording discontinuities. Set I runs, to my ears, like a continuous 90-minute piece, though I suspect there’s a reel change somewhere in there. I was not listening with headphones, and Betty’s tapes have so little noise that it’s easy to miss a reel change during a long tuning and talking. 90 minutes would be a quite long set for the era, though I haven’t directly compared timings.

Set II is stranger still, represented by two fragments. The first piece cuts in on Roadrunner and segues artfully (more below) into Harder They Come, a 26 minute piece. The second is the 22+-minutes covering It Ain’t No Use and Ain’t No Woman. We are told that there’s a Dixie Down to close the show, presumably based on tape box notations transcribed by Rob Eaton. If TNTDODD clocked in at like 12 minutes, we’d have a set of about an hour. Pretty short. I do find Dixie Down a reasonably unlikely show-closer for this period (maybe How Sweet It Is or Mystery Train would have been more likely). This all gives me the impression that we’re missing some material from this set, and/or that the pieces we have here are from tape fragments that are only uncertainly assigned a 3/9/74 dating. I tend to buy the former (missing material) argument first, but I don’t know.

I noted above that these tapes have mostly stayed out of the public realm. The history of this batch is basically 1) some process by which they left Betty’s possession and entered those of a private holder ca. 1986; 2) re-emergence in late 1995, with preservation by Eaton in 1996; 3) provision of DATs by Eaton to the GD/Garcia Vault at some subsequent point, I believe before Dick Latvala’s death in August 1999. I am about 95% confident around the second stage, much less so about stages 1 and 3.

This 3/9/74 tape came to the rest of the world via a mysterious benefactor named Alligator, who came on the scene via the Bit Torrent site Lossless Legs (shnflac.net). I want to say LL started up around mid-2005, and Alligator seems to have begun sharing choice uncirculated Garcia material from the Third Betty Batch not long thereafter. Here’s the list, as I know it, where the last number is the yyyymmdd on which the seed was entered into the etree database.


These generally listed "DATx3" in the lineage. Whether this is accurate is unknown to me.

Alligator also dropped some delightful uncirculated Grateful Dead, including some ’66 stuff and delicious board tapes of 4/4/71 and 4/17/72. All of those are beyond my scope here. I’ll just conclude by saying that I don’t know who Alligator is, nor where he/she obtained copies of these tapes, but I am deeply grateful to Alligator for sharing some wonderful-sounding and historically important stuff.

Personnel

One of the most interesting aspects of the Third Batch Betty tapes is how many of them include unusual personnel configurations. One hypothesis is that this is an accurate representation of all shows during the period. Since most of these tapes are from 1973-1974, a period during which what we refer to as Jerry Garcia – Merl Saunders (JGMS) was a relatively fluid aggregation, there were lots of wrinkles in terms of who was on stage at any given point in time. Bill Vitt or Bill Kreutzmann or, eventually, Paul Humphrey or Ronnie Tutt on drums (and sometimes backing vocals), Tom Fogerty or George Tickner on second guitar, the mysterious Sara Fulcher on vocals, conga players and unknown guitarists, mystery trumpet players, unknown harmonica players, etc. etc. Things were loose and the tapes reflect that.

A second hypothesis is that Betty “collected” the best (i.e., most interesting) tapes. She has said that one of the plans mulled by Ron Rakow at Round Records ca. 1974-1975 was to put together a “Jerry in all his styles” type compilation of great and interesting performances with great and interesting players. So Old and in the Way (OAITW) could have been in there; a variant on the Great American String Band, with Sandy Rothman onboard, playing a stunning version of “Wild Horses”; a sit-in with Garcia and friends by Jerry Jeff Walker; maybe some jazz/R&B/funk with Merl, etc. It’s a great idea, and I think that still today, such a compilation would be especially interesting if it were framed around Jerry and American music. Anyway, maybe the tapes that Betty kept in her basement, and which got inundated in the early ’82 floods, whence they went into storage, whence they were auctioned off, were precisely unrepresentative in various senses, including personnel.

I don’t have any evidence that discriminates among these two claims. The present tape features E.W. Wainwright playing drums. Based on the linked bio, Wainwright has had a fascinating and varied career that includes not only playing with and recording for many jazz greats, including McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, among many others, but also some really innovative music-in-communities kinds of work. It seems pretty clear that he came into the Garcia (and hence JGMF) orbit via Merl Saunders. Wainwright’s bio says he “served as Oscar Brown Jr.'s band leader in 1969”, and I do wonder if he was succeeded in that role by Merl, who served as Musical Director and arranger for the Broadway musical “Buck White” (starring none other than Muhammad Ali) in December of that year.

Wainwright seems to have spent 1970-1975 in the Bay Area. He got two performing credits on the eponymous Merl Saunders (Fantasy, 1973) before any direct Jerry connection that I can find. Tony Saunders has told me that E.W. played with Merl at the Sand Dunes, but it’s not clear if he and Jerry ever shared that stage (though Jerry definitely showed up a time or two). Three identifiable “shared stage” events between Jerry and E.W. can be dated to January-March, 1974. The liner notes from Merl’s Keepers have Garcia and Wainwright playing together at Fantasy Studios on January 12, 1974, late into the night on a number of tracks that appear on that album. Then we have the March 9, 1974 and March 14, 1974 dates at Keystone, on which E.W. “replaces Bill Kreutzmann”, according to TJS’s notes. Maybe Billy K. was in Hawaii, or working at CBS Studios on the GD’s Mars Hotel, or reading a book. I dunno. So three shared stages between Jerry and E.W. in a couple of months, and then nothing more. One of those folks who passes through our lives.

Musical Moments

Interesting things can happen when a relatively unfamiliar drummer enters the mix, and some interesting things do happen here. Wainwright is rock solid, and seems either to know the songs or to have minimal difficulty picking them up. I never really detect any rhythmic anomalies … things work pretty well like clockwork. I hear a little more hi-hat than I think I am used to with, e.g., Kreutzmann, on whom there’s a fair amount of tape. But observation effects or just plain bad ears could be driving that perception.

I organize this around “moments” because, on this listen, the show does not demonstrate any sustained distinction. The setlist looks really interesting, and a number of interesting things happen, but the whole thing doesn’t make me stand up and say “wow”, if you know what I mean.
The show starts off rather lackluster, to my ears. I like “Someday Baby” and “La-La”, but these versions strike me as unmemorable. I don’t object to Smokey Robinson’s “I Second That Emotion”, but it always struck me as worthless in a Garcia-Saunders set. It just doesn’t do anything for me.

Things get a little bit more interesting during “My Funny Valentine”, but, as is often the case, I find the idea of a 25 minute version of this song more appealing than the performance of it. I note an interesting dark turn around seven minutes in, Martin quoting Shorter’s “Footprints” a few times around twenty minutes in, and some nice empty space late in the song, but it just never reaches escape velocity. At the end it sounds like Garcia wants to noodle over to something else, but some verbal communication (I presume with the drummer) imposes itself and there’s no true segue into the next song. "That's All Right" (a.k.a., among Deadheads, “Who’s Loving You Tonight”) is a nice treat, Jerry sounding really mournful and everyone clearly on board with this treatment of a song they all knew. This is the last live version of the song catalogued at TJS. Martin at one point quotes “Lonely Avenue” quite directly to my ears (though it could be a coincidental musical similarity), and Jerry follows him for a little bit. This is interesting since that song hadn’t been played since May 4, 1973 (as far as we know), and would only appear again on August 10, 1974.

We return for “set II” (see above my slight question about what this material might actually be), with a working vocal mic for Jerry (it had been out during WLYT), a fatter tone on the bass, a cut into a spry version of “(I’m A) Road Runner”. Jerry doesn’t overdo the lyrics here the way he had tended to do, to quite distressing effect on me, in January and February. Good.

Next comes the most unique playing of the night, and something that stands up in terms of uniqueness to anything in the GOTS canon: Road Runner morphs from R&B to reggae, and for two solid minutes, from about 12 to 14 minutes into the song, Jerry is gently strumming and then picking the chords to Bob Marley’s "Stir It Up" [Allan | deaddisc]. This is really quite something. Deaddisc indicates that it was probably only widely released around 1973, and the fact that this is a Jerry-led interlude is further proof (along with Harder They Come, of course) of Garcia’s relatively early and focused engagement with reggae. Garcia wouldn’t publicly play the song proper until mid-1976 with the Keith and Donna era Jerry Garcia Band (JGB), in the sets of which it would appear regularly through the end of 1977. I have very mixed feelings about ca. 1976 JGB, but they do not center on the band's version of "Stir It Up", which is like cinnamon oatmeal on a cold morning, Donna Angelica brand. Check out the first known full/live version from July 9, 1976 at Keystone, to see what I mean. Oh yeah, in late '77 the song served as an improbable improvisational vessel, giving rise to no fewer than three (and the only three known) jams on the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun".

(The GD would also dabble twice with "Stir It Up," as an opening noodle on 3/26/88 (Hampton, VA) and as a nice little instrumental, out of continuous jamming out of "Fire On The Mountain" in Landover, MD on 3/21/91. The latter is a beautiful piece of musicality, inside a GD show that is unquestionably top-shelf stuff.) There aren't that many songs that fit this profile, a true rarity, but not a one-off, with instances appearing across more than fifteen years. This being the first known appearance of it makes it significant.

What follows is a real rarity in the GOTS canon: a nearly true segue into “The Harder They Come”. This may have been the intent all along, by bending Road Runner into a reggae number. Maybe “Stir It Up” was supposed to give some purchase on the road to HTC, or maybe Jerry was playing the melody to the wrong reggae song for awhile. Either way, the segue is “nearly true” in the sense that, while HTC does not emerge thread by thread out of the weave of the previous song, the previous song gets the band to the right key and tempo to drop into HTC. This version strikes me as good but not great, but there certainly is a lot to like in this piece of tape.

Rounding things out in terms of the tape, “It Ain’t No Use” (Jerry Williams, Gary U.S. Bonds, and Don Hollinger) never moves me that much. It’s a blues, it’s done bluesy, it’s fine. “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got)” [Allan] is the biggest novelty of the setlist. It’s a Dennis Lambert/Brian Potter soul piece that always reminds me a little bit, and a little incongruously, of The Guess Who’s “These Eyes”. The Four Tops released it as an A-side single in early 1973 (Dunhill D-4339) which peaked at #2 on the US R&B charts and #4 on the US pop charts (wiki). One of the very earliest released versions of the song appears to have been on none other than 1973’s Merl Saunders (Fantasy), with none other than E.W. Wainwright on the drums. March 9, 1974, with Wainwright on drums, brings the first known live performance of the song by JGMS, and March 14th, same place and personnel, is the second. It certainly makes one wonder whether Wainwright is drumming for the other two known versions, May 30, 1974 and/or August 11, 1974 [JGMF | TJS]. It’s a really interesting song, not just for its rarity, but also for illustrating Garcia’s willingness and ability to engage with a stunningly wide range of material across every indigenous American musical form.

Summary

Not much to do except reiterate that I think there are a number of interesting moments, worth documenting and thinking about, but that this is not a fileset that I’ll listen to, in its entirety, very often. Most of the action is in Road Runner, Harder They Come, and Ain’t No Woman, the three songs that set this show apart from the pack; those will reward more ear time, I am sure.

Listening Notes follow.

Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders (JGMS)
Keystone
2119 University Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704
March 9, 1974 (Saturday)
136 minute Betty Cantor-Jackson soundboard recording

--Set I (5 tracks, 87:03)--
s1t01. (d1t01) [0:10] Someday Baby [13:38] [2:22]
s1t02. (d1t02) La-La [11:23] [2:37]
s1t03. (d1t03) I Second That Emotion [14:35] [1:17]
s1t04. (d1t04) My Funny Valentine [24:21] [0:40]
s1t05. (d2t01) That's All Right [15:29] (1) [0:30]

--Set II (4 tracks, 48:43)--
s2t01. (d2t02) //(I'm A) Road Runner [#14:14] ->
s2t02. (d2t03) The Harder They Come [11:42] (2) [0:20] % [0:07]
s2t03. (d2t04) It Ain't No Use [10:36] [0:17]
s2t04. (d2t05) Ain't No Woman (Like The One I've Got) [11:22] [0:02] % [0:05]

[MISSING: The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down]

Lineup:
Jerry Garcia - el-g, vocals;
Merl Saunders - keyboards;
John Kahn - el-bass;
Martin Fierro - saxophone, flute (s1t02, s2t04);
E.W. Wainwright - drums.

JGMF:
! Recording: symbols: % = recording discontinuity; / = clipped song; // = cut song; ... = fade in/out; # = truncated timing; [ ] = recorded event time. The recorded event time immediately after the song or item name is an attempt at getting the "real" time of the event. So, a timing of [x:xx] right after a song title is an attempt to say how long the song really was, as represented on this recording.
! db: http://db.etree.org/shn/33750 (this source).
! R: Specs: "SMR > DAT3x > Delta DIO 2496 > Soundforge > WAV > CD Wave Editor > FLAC1644; seeded to Lossless Legs by alligator." db entry date of April 9, 2006. JGMF notation by set rather than by CD breakdown, which is how info originally traveled.
! R: Seeder (Alligator) note: "This show was originally seeded by www.shnflac.net (Lossless Legs). Please thank the moderators for encouraging fresh seeds."
! R: Tape History/Provenance: This comes from the "third" batch of Betty Cantor-Jackson soundboard recordings. While its early history is murky, this batch came into the light in around late 1995. Grammy award-winning sound engineer (and lead guitarist of Dark Star Orchestra) Rob Eaton was called in to rescue music from a batch of tapes in very sorry shape, caked with mud and filth, boxes rotted away and illegible, etc. I have narrated this story a little bit in a few places. Eaton supplied DAT copies of all of the GD- and Garcia-relevant material to the then- GD Vault, whence it has presumably been sorted into the successor GD and Garcia Vaults. The provenance of this particular fileset is something of a mystery to me, insofar as it came into circulation via the legendary "Alligator" (seeded to Lossless Legs). Who Alligator is and where he/she got these recordings is not known to me. But the important thing is that Alligator was responsible for bringing a number of key early Garcia tapes into the light xxx list of Alligator tapes.
! R: This is a gorgeous recording by the justly-revered Betty Cantor-Jackson. It comes in a little hissy at the start, but the mix settles in pretty well. There are some warts throughout the recording, the most notable of which are, well, noted. Recall that these tapes were caked in mud and filth and had to be hand-cleaned, inch-by-inch with Q-tips, by Rob Eaton.
! R: s1t01 @ 1:58 some bad digi-scratches.
! P: s1t03 I am not a fan of ISTE, and this version doesn't make me one. At 8-mins in, no-one seems to want to take the solo, so Martin tentatively (really!) wades in and takes it. Sounded to me like it was Merl's turn and he missed it, but I could very well be wrong. Anyway, I find this version of this song --as most of them-- totally uninteresting.
! Personnel: E.W. Wainwright is said to be drumming here. It's dangerous for me to comment on drumming styles, since I am so deaf to and ignorant of them, but I'd say that EWW uses more hi-hat than most other drummers.
! P: s1t04 MFV @ about 7-minutes in Garcia goes a little hot and bent and starts indicating that he wants to get a little jangly with it. Merl's solo is halfway to spooky, but only halfway, while Garcia does some darker stuff around it. Nice. @ 19:34, Martin clearly quotes Wayne Shorter's "Footprints", again @ 19:44, and still playing it past 19:52. Drops into some deep space in the 22-min mark, where it could have ended. As the song ends, sounds like Jerry wants to noodle right over to something else, but sounds like there needs to be some verbal communication to get there.
! R: s1t05 The vocal mics seem not to be working.
! P: s1t05 @ 11:25-12:15ish Martin is clearly playing "Lonely Avenue" for a little while, and Jerry definitely supports him by playing along, then bending things into the very similar WLYT.
! s1t05 (1) JG: "We're gonna take a break for a little while. We'll be back [inaudible]." He still strums a thing or two. I think he feels driven to the setbreak by the failure of the vocal mics.
! R: s2t01 Roadrunner cuts in.
! Recording/setlist: Unknown amount missing on either side of the material we have represented here as set II. We just don't have enough setlist data from this period to identify what (if any) patterns may have held. I assume the information about a TNTDODD closer comes from Rob Eaton's tape box transcriptions. It's possible the song is on another tape. If anyone ever gets a chance to try to reassemble the Third Batch of Betty tapes, it might be worth keeping an eye open for a show-closing TNTDODD as a tape snippet/fragment on another reel. Otherwise, when we factor in the splice after HTC, set II as given here is a 26-minute piece and a 20-minute piece.
! R: s2t01 the bass is thick and fat and delicious in set II here, more than set I.
! setlist: s2t01 JG noodles "Stir It Up" from about 11:56-13:56 of Roadrunner. This is pretty fascinating, to hear Roadrunner done reggae-style.
! P: s2t01-s2t02 And then, after the little "Stir It Up" thing, there's a great and totally unique segue from Roadrunner to HTC.
! s2t02 (2) band members are calling for water.
! R: s2t03 I can't tell if this fades down to a splice after the song.
! setlist: s2t04 Ain't No Woman is quite rare. This is the earliest-known JGMS version. Note that E.W. Wainwright drums on the version that appears on Merl’s 1973 self-titled album.

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