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Monday, September 01, 2014

Jerry Garcia of Garcia-Saunders



Love this for the Keystone Korner, ca. May 1, 1972, sounds like Selvin to me: "With Jerry Garcia of Garcia-Saunders out of town, not too much happening right now." (listing: Night Times, May 3-16, 1972, p. 5.)

In addition to reinforcing my point about the symbiosis between Jerry and Freddie, how quickly and deeply it forged in this period, the idea of "Jerry Garcia of Garcia-Saunders" tickles me, probably the only time these words have ever been written.

There are periods, such as the second half of 1974, at least, when he's on record with it, when all he might have wanted to be was "Jerry Garcia of Garcia-Saunders". That's a Jerry Garcia of more circumscribed professional ambition, mostly a local guy, one of those guys whose name you'd see year after year in combing through Bay Area music listings; a guy whose name you don't have to write in 36 point Marquee, or even in bold in the big City column, a guy who never visits the 3-Dot Lounge constructed wholly of legendary SF columnist Herb Caen's mentions. He's like Mike Finnigan of Finnigan & Woods, maybe. Probably super-talented, hopefully made a great and satisfying life for himself playing music. Had his moments of professional achievement and, as human, his fallow periods. Cool.

Musically, Jerry Garcia of Garcia-Saunders is probably playing more Merl stuff (or, as Night Times, perhaps Selvin? seems to have insisted on having it, as I insist on rednering it, "Merle [sic] Saunders" stuff), more black secular contemporary, R&B, blues, soul, jazz and funk and fusion, more Legion of Mary, eventually (1979), if the same path unfolds with Jerry that unfolded without him, something like Reconstruction, horns and disco elements. Tony Saunders growing into his bass, if the 1974-1975 material we have of them together is any indication, is gonna push Jerry all sorts of sideways as John Kahn, for all of his erudition and, when healthy, talent in these idioms could never do. In many ways, this is one of Garcia's key musical roads not taken.

Why didn't he take it? Quick answers to a huge question.

First, the most Garciacentric view: it would have limited him too much musically, or professionally, or both. I do not advocate this view, nor do I reject it. I won't even evaluate it here. I'll just say it's a a possibility. At the very least, it's possible that Garcia thought this, and/or that others around him advocated this view.

Second, the Grateful Dead just had too much pull - "This battle station is ... fully ... operational." That's a big part of the story. It's more complicated than the Death Star imagery implies, though. Garcia needed the Dead and the Dead needed Garcia, their DNAs were too interwoven, the fabric of their lives too mutually imbricated to permit for any clean extraction, clean separation. The Grateful Dead became the sine qua non of his life, more central than his wives, children, friends.

Third, maybe the same story as the first two: ego, ambition, drive. The need to stake claim to his name, his thing, proper. Is it any coincidence that The Jerry Garcia Band is borne at the latest within a couple of months of Jerry and Merl splitting up in mid-1975? Of course not. This was driven by claiming his name in many senses, the key but quotidian one of monetizing it and capturing those rents as well as the big, the-man's-life's-journey big picture. Let's call this "claiming his name".

Fourth, the Saunders-centric perspective: Jerry couldn't hang with where Merl and Tony were musically. Identified for the record and without comment.

Fifth, simply, it wasn't quite what he wanted in his non-GD musical life, repertorially and stylistically speaking. I think what he wanted was what he settled on (tautology alert!), neither predominantly black (as perhaps a Merl-Tony outfit would have been) nor too white (as NRPS, OAITW, GASB, were). JGB #21b was the combination of all of the relevant genres, with Melvin Seals, Gloria Jones and Jaclyn LaBranch bringing the black church feel that the Saunders outfits lacked --again, this was black secular contemporary-- with the whole band able to do that plus R&B, a little reggae, and all the white Americana that JGB sampled in cross-section, sipping from the pool. In equilibrium, Garcia's musical palette included all of these things (to say nothing of Grateful Dead music). A lifetime of Garcia-Saunders music was probably just off the equilibrium path of history.

There's of course more to say, but I'll stop repeating the questions: What would "Jerry Garcia of Garcia-Saunders" have looked like? Why might we have entered that alternate universe, or why didn't we?

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