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Blair’s Golden Road Blog - Sittin’ In
By Blair Jackson
I only got to see Duane Allman in person once—at the Fillmore East when he sat in with the Dead for three numbers on 4/26/71: “Sugar Magnolia,” “It Hurts Me Too” and “Beat It on Down the Line.” I had recently fallen in love the Allmans' Idlewild South album, which served as my introduction to the band, so I was thrilled to see Duane rockin' with my favorite group!
As a suburban New York teenager completely enamored with the mystique of '60s San Francisco, I figured the Dead probably had musicians joining them onstage at their concerts all the time, not to mention endless late night jam sessions with Jorma, Carlos, Cipollina and whoever else was around when they were back in the Bay Area. When Tom Constanten (T.C.), whom I'd never seen play with the Dead, turned up as a guest at the Fillmore two night later, it reinforced my (incorrect) notion that sit-ins with the Dead were a common occurrence. For a while, I half-expected someone cool to show up every time I saw the band. But aside from another Allmans sighting the following year at Dillon Stadium in Hartford (7/16/72; Jerry and Bob reciprocated by playing with the Allmans the next night at Gaelic Park in the Bronx; equally thrilling!), it would be many years before I saw another outside musician with the Dead—could it really have been the “From Egypt with Love” shows, with harmonica ace Lee Oskar from War, in October of '78? I think so.
As my tape collection grew in the late '70s and early '80s, I finally got to hear some of the more famous guest appearances, such as Janis joining Pigpen for an endless and not particularly great “Lovelight” at the Fillmore West on 6/7/69, and the Fillmore East late show from 2/11/70, featuring Duane Allman and Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac (and a bunch of others banging on various percussion instruments) jamming on “Dark Star,” a ferocious “Spanish jam” and “Lovelight.” That one's got lots of inspired playing, but also sounds wandering and extremely cluttered in places. It's the classic “too many cooks” jammer's dilemma—the musicians want to both shred and be deferential to the others onstage. Also, not everyone is miked equally well, so some parts unfortunately get lost in the mix. Still, imagine the excitement of being there and actually witnessing this sonic tsunami gushing off the stage in giant waves!
As a serious Jefferson Airplane fan, I was also ecstatic when the somewhat muffled audience tapes of the 11/20/70 Rochester Dead show appeared, with Jorma adding his stinging leads to a few songs (such as a fantastic “All Over Now” and “Darling Corey”) and jams. I guess if a soundboard version of that existed it would have materialized by now; sniff, sniff. Oh, well—thank God Marty Wienberg taped it!
By the '80s, it seems that most of the guest shots were song-oriented rather than jam-oriented, for better or worse. Etta James' appearances with the Dead 12/30-31/82 at Oakland Auditorium were a blast—it was great to hear her and the Tower of Power horns tackle “Hard to Handle” and “Lovelight” and “Tell Mama,” and fortunately they'd rehearsed at least a little. I also dug the tapes of Stephen Stills' loose but intense appearances at Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey 4/16-17/83. But I was disappointed by the melding of the Dead and much of The Band for a short, sloppy uninspired third set at the SF Civic on New Year's Eve '83.
E Street sax man Clarence Clemons sat in at a number of shows in the late '80s (and played several entire concerts with the Garcia Band in '89; a better match) and added some nice touches to some songs, but was distracting and “off” on others. Branford Marsalis' first appearance with the Dead at Nassau Coliseum on 3/29/90 was perhaps the greatest single sit-in ever with the Dead, in my view. No other guest “got” the band and its many facets as well as he did. I wasn't at that one, but I did get to see him with the Dead on New Year's Eve '90-'91 and I can attest to their strong connection. I am not a huge fan of saxophonist David Murray and what he added to the group, but Ornette Coleman blew me away with powerful reeds work at the Oakland Coliseum on 2/23/93.
Jerry and Branford Marsalis at Nassau Coliseum, March 29, 1990. Photo: Michael A. Conway ©2012
Other cool guest spots I enjoyed (on tape or in person) include Carlos Santana at Calaveras 8/22-23/87 and Las Vegas 4/28/91 (“Bird Song”!); Suzanne Vega fronting the Dead for a version of Robin Hitchcock's "Chinese Bones" at the rainforest benefit at Madison Square Garden 9/24/88; all of Steve Miller's appearances with the band in the summer of '92 (he even elevated “Morning Dew” at Giants Stadium on 6/14/92); blues harmonica legend James Cotton at Soldier Field 6/25/92; the supremely soulful Bonnie Raitt on “Big Boss Man” NYE '89-'90; Neil Young leading the band through an emotional “Forever Young” at the Bill Graham memorial concert in Golden Gate Park on 11/3/91; Bruce Hornsby anytime he showed up to play; and, much to my surprise, Spencer Davis at the Forum in L.A. (along with Hornsby) on 12/10/89. I'm like a broken record singing the praises of Halloween '91 with Quicksilver's Gary Duncan and Ken Kesey, but it's worth mentioning again. One of the weirdest I personally saw was when Bob Dylan showed up for the encore at MSG on 10/17/94 and mumbled his way through “Rainy Day Women.” What an odd duck. Still, it was kinda fun screaming out “Everybody must get stoned!” along with Jerry.
I have to admit that sometimes, once the initial rush of excitement over the unexpected appearance of a guest had subsided, I sometimes found myself wishing I was just hearing the Good Ol' Grateful Dead instead. Having an extra person onstage invariably changed the way the group played and at times actually brought the energy level down as the band struggled to mesh with a foreign element. It was one thing to have someone out there playing on a blues or “Midnight Hour” or something simple, but when the band carried on with “Terrapin” or “Stella Blue” or something the guest clearly didn't know, it could sound awkward and forced. But at least it was almost always interesting, and weren't we all craving new and different things? I was!
I don't want to leave out Mickey and Bill's many percussionist friends. Airto, Flora Purim, Olatunji, Hamza El Din and others were always welcome visitors, and, truth be told, usually fit in with the flow of things even more than guest guitarists and singers.
It's interesting that in the post-Grateful Dead world, the surviving band members are all about playing with anybody and everybody, anywhere anytime! They are flexible in ways the Grateful Dead were not, for some reason—anyone care to speculate why?
Lastly, I am occasionally asked why there hasn't been a Grateful Dead & Friends box set, or more releases featuring guests. After all, there are more than enough outstanding tracks to make up a cool release. I don't have a good answer for you, except to note that obtaining rights from outside artists can be difficult—dealing with managers, record labels, the families of deceased players, etc.—and expensive. Of course the Dead wanted to put some Duane Allman or Beach Boys tracks from those '71 Fillmore East concerts on the Ladies and Gentlemen...The Grateful Dead package; couldn't work out a deal. Someday, perhaps.
What are some your favorite guest appearances with the Dead? Or, conversely, tell us about ones you think didn't work. What would you put on a Grateful Dead & Friends box?
Great review. I know there's so many. Don't forget David Hidalgo at Laguna Seca '88.
I found the David Murray/James Cotton sit in at 9/22/93 to be really great.
Listening to King Bee from 12/08/93. I kinda wish that Vince had been just a guest. No comment on who is was as a person, but as a professional musician (and perhaps arranger[?]), he wasn't of the same level as the boys. He was evidently powerfully courageous to take on the challenge, but while the boys share one of the greatest blues moments of their career, Vince just walked and stomped all over the band that eventually overwhelmed and buried the very real music happening at that time. It would have been fine to either fire him, or hire a front-line keyboardist to follow Hornsby, as Vince knew how to flourish and embellish better than to hold his own with Jerry, Phil and Bob. We can't change the past, but man... I got to wonder... on certain shows, it would be really interesting to remove Vince from the mix, and add him in when his playing was relevant and unobtrusive. I think that his tone and timing make the late-age GD hard to hear, but when you really listen, you can hear that Jerry, Phil, Bob and the drums are playing the finest music of their lives. The conversation got so incredibly deep. They could have been fine had they gone as a quintet for a while.
To be fair, overall, Vince did learn a lot of material in a short time, enter deep into a very intricate, complex and sophisticated musical landscape more implicitly subtle than explicit, and within his limited range of technique and overwhelming constantly changing keyboard tones, he had it very very rough. And when Jerry's health began to really fall in '94, the band began to get more comfortable, and Vince got more comfortable within the groove. Hence, as Jerry declined, Vince rose. But who permitted Vinny to sing Samba in the Rain? It's almost as though the principles that had governed the Dead to success no longer existed. Man, those had to be hard times.
Fortunately, for 9/22/93, Vince was on his best behavior, only getting lost for a spell during the transition from Estimated into Dark Star (he didn't really have a great sense for the chromatic and dissonant rises and falls, even if he had a small vocabulary to work with through the changes. I think of the last show I saw, June 4, 1995 at Shoreline. Vince sounded great throughout set 1, and his annoying cliche's during Cassidy rippled across the rhythm like a beautiful wave. Yes, over 5 years, he grew immeasurably and assumed his role. There were even nights in '95 when Jerry was on, and the whole band plays their asses off start to fin. Try June 30, 1995 for a generally beautiful show. Or Summer '94 Chicago, with a near perfect first night, and an epic Samson->Eyes->Eternity->He's Gone that is one of the truly spectacular passages of the final years. I even heard a version of Samba from around that time where Jerry nailed his part (did that happen more than once? It might have been the Chicago one, I didn't take note).
Anyway, we're talking about guests. But if one were to discuss releasing Vince shows, make sure to master the shrill aspects out of his tone, and at least bring his good qualities to light, as a night when Vince was on was definitely not a bad show. I seem to recall 5.5.91 being a very tight show at Cal Expo, and I don't recall Vince offending my ears at any time on 12/31/91. Hell, on 12/28/91, I felt so happy for him because that was the first time that I heard him come out of his shell and really make a difference in that Playin'->Same Thing->jam. I'll bet if you shed a positive light, you will find that there are reliable qualities of Vince that are up there with the best qualities of any of the guys who played with the band. Even if he seemed like the guest who overstayed his welcome, he was chosen by the band He's part of the "warts and all" experience, and he grew a lot during his tenure. It was truly a difficult job to be the new keyboardist in the GD at that time, and I think he deserves some credit again.
Heard a version of West LA Fadeaway on Sirrius XM where one of the guys from Los Lobos sat in and totally shredded it. Must have been from '87 or '88. Def worth checking out.
I remember Edie Brickell at MSG 93 or 94. That was fun. I wasn't there, but I love to listen to the Bo Diddley jams from Dicks Picks 30. That "I've Seen Them All" is AWESOME!! I wish that I could have been there!! Summer tour '94 when Traffic opened was nice to see Jerry sit in with them for a very nice "Mr. Fantasy". I think it always sounded better when they played special guests songs, rather than special guest playing Dead music.
My brother Rick was there. I love the recording. As for later day jam sessions in the spirit of the Fillmore era I think of the Neville Brothers with the Dead in February 86, Oakland. Was there and it was thrilling. Also 10/27/91 with Santana and Gary Duncan on "Hey Bo Diddley", not to mention 10/31/91, there both nights. And the man himself Bo Diddley in March 72. Bo was wild, hilarious, crazy and animated. Was very lucky to be there that night. As far as the old time spirit it was Nevilles 86, Santana and Gary Duncan 10/27,31/91 and also Carlos Santana jamming with the Dead on Bird Song 4/28/91, Las Vegas. Carlos took flight that day. Looked like a mackaw playing his Paul Reed Smith guitar.
4/27/71 Fillmore East- The Beach Boys made a classic guest spot. The Beach Boys were still in prime form in '71 and they add a lot of fun fun fun stuff to the set.
Quite recently, the entire after show jam from Watkins Glen Summer Jam 7/28/73 has surfaced, which contains a lot more than what previously circulated. Rick Danko of the Band starts off the festivities with some extended solo vocals, but soon Jerry joins him on guitar. Eventually more musicians from the Allman Brothers Band and the Band appear and they settle into a nice "Mountain Jam."
By the way, if you see the Allman Brothers Band these days, they seem to have guest musicians EVERY night!!! I mean every night. I don't think the current lineup of the ABB ever go out onstage anymore without some outsider helping out. When Dickey Betts was in the band, there were more shows with just the core members.
I had the chance to see the Dead with guests on two occasions.
My first guest occasion was the first time Bruce Hornsby sat in on accrdian for two songs at Buckeye Lake 6/25/88. This show is a prime example of an underrated performance from an underappreciated, underrepresented year, of a show that a soundboard doesn't circulate. Maybe someday...
The second guest occasion I attended was the Soldier Field show with Steve Miller and James Cotton. To see Chicago native Cotton harmonica genius and legend sit in on a few blues numbers, with the Dead, in Chicago on a perfect summer evening outside was a beautiful experience. The first set from this show is perfectly executed. My personal favorite of the 12 shows I attended in '92.
The following year at Soldier Field, Jerry actually sat in with Stings band, which was cool. I wouldn't mind finding a tape of that opening set!
As far as the Santana sit-ins, they were always among my favorite tapes. Somebody please make these happen as official releases!
Finally, Branford from Nassau 3/29/90....what more needs to be said about that show? I don't know why this hasn't been THE top priority release. If this one is to someday be released as part of the possible someday Spring '90 Box #2, I wouldn't mind, though I think would be accessable and popular as a stand alone release on store shelves...which reminds me...
I can't help but to notice that...
1. many of the releases in the Dead Store that are listed are unavailable to purchase, with many shows dropping like flys from the online catalog.
2. My local stores where I purchase music from in person, like Best Buy, doesn't have much stock of Grateful Dead CDs. Is the business model for Grateful Dead marketing in the process of fazing out "in person" sales? Even the standard catalog seems to be absent from store shelves...? Whats up with that?
Agree with Blair about Clarence and Grateful Dead - sometimes it worked, most times seemed awkward.
Springsteen and the E Street Band were my first lesson in how powerful and beautiful a live concert experience could be, and Clarence was larger than life in that band. He seemed timid - a word rarely associated with him! - with GD.
But I remember the thrill of seeing him onstage with JGB when the stage lights went on at Alpine in fall of '89. I had no idea he was going to be there. And his sax worked well in that context.
I remember digging when Hornsby joined the band for the first time (I think) on accordion in summer of '88. Not mind-blowing, but fun and unique.
I was about halfway back on the floor of the Medowlands when Stephen Stills took the stage for Black Queen. That was a pretty cool show. This was back before I met Patty Harris and Dennis McNally so unlike the shot of Brandford above, the Stephen Stills images are pretty soft and I wasn't close enough to fill the frame.
Blair, I am not so sure that the Martin Fierro/Joe Ellis shows won't get released. When the Dave's Pick series was first announced, over a year ago, Dead.net had some graphic of different show dates(floating about on the page) that may eventually be included. One of the dates was 9/11/73(at William & Mary). So, I'm still hopeful of getting a release someday.
Guest guitar players were the worst of the guests usually in my view. The Santana stuff a big exception. And the Bonnie Raitt "Big Boss Man" was killer. But the Steve Miller or Halloween 91 gigs are prime examples of what I personally don't care for.
Steve Miller in particular...it's like, ugh, you're making a weak show even worse, dude.
Sax, harmonica, percussion all worked better than more wandering guitars...we had the King of wandering guitar already.
I liked David Murray at MSG. The other guy, Coleman? Didn't like it at all.
I was there at Autzen in 93 when Huey Lewis came up. Too bad they didn't turn him up!
The one artist that I find it a tragedy they never toured with or jammed with...SRV.