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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Garciaverse Musics

I'll just throw this out there for comment, spitballing, and eventual dismantlement as a putative mapping (for Garciaverse purposes) of Musics that Garcia directly and quasi-publicly performed.

Here are a few design principles (such as they are).

1) minimize the sum of the squared errors of the distances between where it's mapped and where it belongs on every dimension.

2) the core 2x2 is the same as above, the distribution is pretty similar, and I have added a crossover category.

3) not intended to be precise or rigorous - just impressionistic. The "musics" are musics that Garcia played, in the different font. Where a musical idiom came to him derivatively (e.g., Native American music through Bill Monroe, Hawaiian music through white country music (though he might have heard it directly on the radio with his grandmother?), African idioms via the banjo, etc. There's a story to tell about all of those that I hope to get too. Read it like a Humbead's Map, and don't expect linearity, monotonicity, etc. etc.

4) the core of the table are what can properly be called "American musics", though I am a little queasy about having Hawaiian and Native American on the outside. See my point about mediation in note #3 - I intend this to portray musics that Garcia directly and demonstrably engaged. So Indian and Latin musics get the special font, because he played in these traditions.

Have at it.

Older Versions below the fold.

v01 12/17/2016

v03 5/13/2017 19:07


  1. Or as Dylan put it, "There are a lot of spaces and advances between the Carter Family, Buddy Holly, and, say, Ornette Coleman, a lot of universes, but he filled them all without being a member of any school."

    As far as this chart, "electronic weirdness" is an awkward non-fit in the grid. Personally I'd put rock & roll in the intermediate zone between black & white, and electronic weirdness in the "contemporary white" category, but perhaps that needs more analysis. And I wonder how "blues" wandered over to "traditional white"? Admittedly this is all just hair-splitting...

  2. Yeah, of course, just a thought experiment.

    There are both black and white gospel musics, and black and white blues musics.

    I think of rock 'n' roll as following the rockabilly path out of the black world and more squarely in the white one (so to speak), as distinct from R&B, which, if forced to choose, I'd think of as a black form.

  3. There are definitely separate black & white spiritual-music traditions (both of which Garcia drew from) - but, to be picky, I disagree with the idea that there's a separate white blues tradition.
    While there have been white blues players since at least the '20s, by and large they were imitating or covering black performers.
    With jazz, perhaps you could have separate black & white jazz-music categories; but it still seems correct to categorize it as "black" music - and even more so with blues.
    Of course, there was the white blues-rock trend of the '60s, which Garcia was a part of; but that was a contemporary hybrid, not traditional music.
    (I could be mistaken - perhaps there were white blues composers you were thinking of. This is just for the sake of discussion & clarifying the map of the Garciaverse!)

    1. I appreciate this comment. There is a crossover category, I guess, and it includes true racial fusions as well as borrowings and outright theft. You are saying the black blues came first. Do you think it's net useful, or net counterproductive, to think in terms of a separate "white blues", or "white country blues", given that our words are but puny approximations of the richness of the real world?

    2. I'd consider "white blues" a limited and not very useful concept here. But it may apply to Garcia in a couple ways:
      - when he played blues songs that were composed or first performed by whites. (Not many examples, but there are a few.)
      - the white blues-rock genre of the '60s definitely had an effect on him, for instance 'Death Don't Have No Mercy' fits right in this style. Though I see it as a basically imitative trend, you could say there is a white blues-rock style that Garcia was part of.

      On further thought, Jimmie Rodgers' 'Blue Yodel No. 9' comes to mind. Again, a debatable example - this can easily be labeled a "white country blues," but (other than the yodel) is so close a copy of earlier black blues that Louis Armstrong could fit right in.
      Better examples are 'Deep Elem Blues' or 'Goin' Down the Road,' first done by country bands and I think definitely part of a "white blues" tradition - at least, we can't trace their origins earlier.

      But my ultimate point would be, white & black blues have been intermingled since the first blues recordings, and I'm not sure how useful it would be for you to separate the "white" and "black" traditions (take a song like 'Sittin' on Top of the World,' which exists in both) - it might be like dividing the "white" and "black" jazz songs that Garcia covered. Depends whether you're parsing it song by song, or just looking for the origins of Garcia's music idioms.

  4. This is helpful for me. I am just thinking out loud and looking for just the kind of feedback you are providing.

    A white blues tradition that's not derivative of black blues? I guess, now that you mention it, I can't really put a name in this category, meaning it's maybe not a good category!

  5. And, re electronic weirdness, I am open to think more about it. As white music we're talking John Cage and musique concrete and whatever. I wanted to leave some room for, like, late 60s Miles, but I don't think "electronic weirdness" is really accurate - it's jazz, it's funk, it's fusion. This is another case where I can't think of an artist --doesn't mean one doesn't exist-- who is well captured by that category. So, out it goes.

  6. There's another category missing here--non-American music, or at least non-American indigenous music. I don't think Garcia was hugely influenced by Indian music, Irish music or Classical music, but you can't say it wasn't there. In that respect, the "modern or electronic music" (Berio, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Cage etc) was more of a European tradition, even in when it was played by Americans in America.

    From the same point of view, blues as performed or transformed by UK musicians (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Van Morrison) was still an expression of an African-American tradition. Garcia heard Eric Clapton in the context of Buddy Guy and John Coltrane, and Clapton would have wanted him to.

  7. True, there are some Indian & classical music influences in Garcia's playing; but in his repertoire, he scarcely stepped outside American music genres (aside from British folk ballads).

    But the "electronic music" question looms up - it's certainly a significant part of the Garciaverse in the early '70s (with the Dead, with Ned, on his solo album). I don't think it has much to do with Miles-style weirdness, but is basically a white tradition. Not sure if it can be called specifically European, though, it was an international movement with both European (Stockhausen, Berio) and American (Subotnick, Cage, Riley) composers.

    Garcia was asked in 1982 about the electronic music on his first album:
    "It isn't something that I took up, really. With that record, I had a certain approach in mind, especially for the side that has stuff you could describe as electronic. You could describe it more accurately as audio collage. I don't see electronic pieces as songs. I wouldn't feel comfortable about having an electronic tune in and amongst more conventional music because it's not really a format that I'm comfortable with."

    1. "in his repertoire, he scarcely stepped outside American music genres (aside from British folk ballads)"

      Another big exception: reggae. 1973-1995, never stopped playing it.

  8. Yeah, these are mostly American musics that interest me. Reggae is the main non-American musical form that Garcia engaged.

  9. Punk and New Wave obviously shouldn't be classified as forms that Garcia played.

    1. I was wondering why they'd been added! Gone now, I see.

      "Americana" seems like a vague label to me, though I suppose the Band and the Dead can easily be tucked into Americana. Perhaps you could even consider Garcia one of the founders of this genre.

      If non-American music is being listed, old British ballads would certainly be an important part. I'm not sure what is meant by "Latin," or if Garcia played much of that.

    2. For Americana I was thinking of Dylan. And Canada is over in that neck of the woods because I want The Band and Bruce Cockburn close to that idea.

  10. "Latin" I have in mind the 8/2/89 Latino sessions. Latinos and Garcia, playing Latin music. It's a one-off, but he played it.

    1. Armando Peraza played congas with Garcia/Saunders in Spring 72. We have no tapes, to my knowledge. Nonetheless, the presence of Peraza may have lent a Latin jazz feel to some numbers.And some of the instrumentals from a few years later, featuring Martin Fierro, also had a sort of Latin jazz feel (Cal Tjader-type music), whether intentionally or not.

      Not sure if that counts as a genre, exactly, but Latin music wasn't completely absent from the Garciaverse.

    2. The Dead's Spanish Jam and cover of La Bamba also at least had Latino origins, though filtered through jazz & rock.

      There's also the case of 5/11/69, where Santana's percussionists joined the Dead for a big conga/drumming circle with Garcia joining in, though it would be a stretch to call it Latino music!

  11. This is all so back of the napkin on my end. How would you define Latin music in the Garciaverse? 8/2/89 seems to fit the bill, what with the billing (and the players, and the music).

    Now that I think on it, Garcia played African music directly with Olatunji and (separately) Hamza el-Din.

    1. The Latino Session is the prime example! Along with the other instances mentioned of a little Latino influence on music Garcia played. It's a small thread, a footnote really, but present.

      Garcia played at least one Nubian tune repeatedly with Hamza el-Din, and there was that 2/15/87 World Music benefit with Nigerian drummer Olatunji (who also guested in Dead shows).
      These are distant stars in the Garciaverse, though, which is predominantly American music. Mickey Hart was key in bringing the African musicians into Garcia's orbit, and his engagement with them remained on the "guest artist" level - Hart was much more engaged with "world music."

    2. Did Garcia play any Latino tunes at the 1/23/88 benefit with Santana & friends?


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