Category Archives: Jerry Garcia

Jerry Garcia Discography

The greatest nine-fingered guitarist of his generation, which is probably not how history will remember the man, since one can only hope that history has more respect for the dead than I do. Speaking of which, yes, the Dead. Garcia was the great big teddy bear in the middle, his crazy fingers moving along the strings like lazy lightning while he walked his way through the american songbook. On the off chance that you live past 100, there is a lifetime of recorded music by the Dead to enjoy, with Garcia fixed firmly at its center.

As if that weren’t enough (and, honestly, it were and thensum), Garcia has also recorded more than a dozen albums of solo music over the years, including two incarnations of the Jerry Garcia Band as well as ongoing releases with longtime, local collaborators like David Grisman and Merl Saunders. Generally, the solo albums became less essential with time, with Jerry Garcia (1972) being very, very essential.  Perhaps fittingly (or maddeningly, depending), Garcia’s live recordings have also received the attention of tireless archivists, so the rest of us can experience the magic of hearing Garcia sing Hank Snow’s “I’m Here To Get My Baby Out of Jail” on a Friday night at some community college.

In navigating through Garcia’s discography, keep in mind that his major-label recordings tend to mimic his music with the Dead at the time (e.g., Cats Under The Stars doesn’t sound radically different from Shakedown Street). The collaborations, on the other hand, can run the gamut from experimental (Hooteroll?) to country/folk music (which would describe most of the collaborations with Grisman). While some are better than others, all of Garcia’s releases reveal a deep affection for american music matched only by a bottomless generosity to share it with others.

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Jefferson Airplane: Surrealistic Pillow (1967)

Kronomyth 2.0: HELLO DALI. You’re standing at the gilded gateway to the psychedelic revolution, the twin spires of “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit” beckoning you with open mind. The Airplane’s second trip stands as the first truly great achievement in the cultural exodus to San Francisco. You could call it a groundbreaking record, but it’s more of a sky-opening one: the potentialities of popular music were significantly expanded with Surrealistic Pillow. Much of its genius stems from the different personalities within the band, all of whom brought something unique into the mix (including departed drummer, Skip Spence). There are the fragile, unreal ballads from Balin (“Today,” “Comin’ Back To Me”), the ambitious adventures of Paul Kantner (“D.C.B.A.—25”), the combustible rockers (“3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds”) and even an acoustic oasis (Jorma’s “Embryonic Journey,” which served as a sort of template for countless guitar interludes from “Embryo” to “The Clap”). Truly, the bands that came before appeared as men on a chessboard, moving in predictable fashion. Surrealistic Pillow’s charm is its unpredictability; you simply don’t know what’s coming next. The same could be said for the Airplane itself, which was flying straight into heavy turbulence, but here it’s all part of a fantastic journey. In 2003, the album was remastered and expanded with six bonus tracks, including a second Skip Spence song (“J.P.P. McStep B. Blues”) and Kantner’s “Go To Her,” both of which had turned up earlier on the catchall compilation, Early Flight.

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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Déjà Vu (1970)

A heavier, earthier, more ragged record than their debut, the cause of which is called Neil Young. His voice adds a not unwelcome sourness to the choirboy harmonies of CS&N’s debut, his cranky guitar work pushes the band squarely into the rock half of the folk-rock movement. And yet Neil Young isn’t the story here, just an interesting chapter in it. Déjà Vu is one interesting chapter after another. The opening “Carry On” aligns with the multi-part “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” in form, and perfectly sums up the contrast in styles between the two records: the harmonies are lower but no less beguiling, the music more informed by Santana than Simon & Garfunkel. Turn the page and you get the first of Graham Nash’s lovely fables, “Teach Your Children,” featuring the steel guitar of Jerry Garcia. We keep our guard down for “Almost Cut My Hair” only to discover that David Crosby has much more on his mind. It’s really an anthem, marvelous because it questions its own motives for allegiance even as it praises the cause. When Neil Young’s “Helpless” rolls around, we’ve already made the acquaintance of his cantankerous electric, so this disarming country song is met with a raised eyebrow. The real Neil emerges on the opening moments of “Woodstock,” kicking up dust like a bantam rooster, and it’s here that you get an idea of what the first album might have sounded like had he been aboard. The title track weaves its familiar spell, and just as we’re convinced that the album couldn’t get any better, it does. “Our House” is simply one of the prettiest songs ever written, on a par with any of Paul McCartney’s romantic confections (“I Will,” “When I’m Sixty-Four”). To me, it’s the peak of a nearly perfect album. Things unravel slightly at the end, beginning with the Stills solo piece “4 + 20.” The three-part “Country Girl” from Neil Young is very good, but his ambitions have always been a little larger than his skill as an arranger. The closing “Everybody I Love You,” credited to Stills and Young, sounds like a holdover from Buffalo Springfield. As brilliant as it is, Déjà Vu is a balancing act. CSN&Y wasn’t a band so much as an open market where each member could shop their finest wares. Competitive natures may have spurred them on, and they clearly benefited from bartered skills, but we should have seen the planets slowly slipping from alignment. They wouldn’t approach this level of artistry again as a unit, instead splintering off into solo ventures and earlier couplings. But the serendipitous moment was captured for eternity, and Déjà Vu won’t let us forget.

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Stephen Stills 2 (1971)

The critical consensus is that the five records that Stills released on Atlantic (six if you count Stills Live) represent his best work. No argument there. Where I tend to part ways with critics is in the put-down of Stills 2 as inferior to the works before (Stephen Stills) and after (Manassas). It is not the beneficiary of stockpiled songs; only “Change Partners” and “Know You Got To Run” are leftovers, to my knowledge anyway. Second albums are often disappointing for this reason. But Stills 2 doesn’t back down from the challenge; it charges into the breach with a dozen new songs that offer something for everyone: ravers (“Relaxing Town”), CSN-styled harmonies (“Singin’ Call”), the blues (“Open Secret”), guitar duels (“Fishes And Scorpions”) and a smartly arranged return to the old buffalo hunting grounds on “Bluebird Revisited.” Honestly, I think these songs stack up fine against the material on the double-album Manassas and rise above Down The Road. As with his first record, Stills invites some of the world’s best guitarists (Eric Clapton, Jerry Garcia and a young Nils Lofgren) and more than holds his own in their esteemed company. While the first album had a genuine hit to rally around, Stills 2 has more surprises in store: the retro raver “Marianne” (it’s a shame Stephen Stills and Steve Miller didn’t play together), the funked-up blues of “Nothin’ To Do But Today,” the sweet southern sound of “Sugar Babe.” Unfortunately, it was “Change Partners” that was tapped as the first single, and listeners may have compared it to “Love The One You’re With” and extrapolated the album’s quality from that single data point, which would be a mistake. On Stills 2, I hear Stephen Stills growing more comfortable as a singer, songwriter and arranger. I know, I did pick on Stills for his lackluster performance on 4-Way Street but, as Stills 2 shows, he’s still a significant talent when fully engaged.

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Howard Wales & Jerry Garcia: Hooteroll? (1971)

Kronomyth 0.5: CAREFUL WITH THAT AXE, CLIFFORD. If Jerry Garcia had joined Pink Floyd, I imagine it would have sounded something like this. Hooteroll? owes its existence to the late 60s jam sessions led by Howard Wales and featuring Garcia, Bill Vitt and John Kahn. It’s really a Howard Wales record in disguise; Jerry is the draw, but Wales is the main musical architect. Like Tom Constanten before him, Wales appears to have been a very experimental cat. Many of these songs sound like they could have come from Floyd’s first two albums: “Morning In Marin,” “Da Birg Song,” “One A.M. Approach.” A couple of them favor the mellower side of Jefferson Airplane (“Evening In Marin,” “Up From The Desert”), and a few are relatively conventional R&B numbers that suggest later collaborations with Merl Saunders (“South Side Strut,” “DC-502,” “Uncle Martin’s”). All in all, Hooteroll? is one of the strangest Jerry Garcia side projects you’ll hear. If the Dead’s sonic spelunkering appeals to you, this album might just blow your mind. Wales is an amazing organist, Kahn really gets into it, sax/flute players Martin Fierro spices things up and Garcia is just the cherry on top of this sonic sundae. The idea that much of this music was probably improvised on the spot makes it even more amazing. For some reason, the original elpee lineup was reshuffled and renovated for the Rykodisc reissue, with “A Trip To What Next” replaced by “Morning In Marin” and “Evening In Marin.” Subsequent reissues reconciled all of the tracks on a single disc. In whichever form you find it, Hooteroll? is an absolute hoot, especially if you come with open ears and an open mind.

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Jerry Garcia (1972)

Kronomyth 1.0: AMERICAN BEAUTEROLL. If you enjoy the Garcia/Hunter compositions from this period, you’re in for a wheel treat. His first album (casually called The Wheel to distinguish it from his other eponymous album) features a handful of classic songs that have comfortably insinuated themselves into the Deadshow over the years: “Deal,” “Loser,” “Sugaree,” “To Lay Me Down,” “Bird Song.” Together with the complete contents of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, they rank with some of the best songs to come from the Dead. Despite its strong resemblance to the Dead, this is a true solo project: Garcia plays everything but drums (provided by the brilliant, underrated Billy Kreutzmann). The Wheel is also notable for the extended sound collage on side two, which suggests a psychedelic amalgam of The Beatles (“Revolution No. 9”), Hooteroll? and Pink Floyd. The brief instrumental, “An Odd Little Place,” is just a postlude to the previous song, while the mellow, tuneful title track showcases Jerry’s pedal steel to good effect. Fans of Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty (which I’m pretty sure is everyone) will find plenty of the same magic here. As songwriting partners, Garcia and Hunter had few peers. “Deal” and “Loser” use cards as a metaphor for life, “Bird Song” finds Hunter again beguiled by beauty, “To Lay Me Down” is a worthy candidate for the last-song-before-I-die list. Playing everything himself, Garcia doesn’t strike upon the same clever interplay as his bandmates (e.g., the bass guitar is pretty basic), but he does a remarkable job of approximating the feel of the Dead on his lonesome. In fact, The Wheel makes a compelling case that Garcia’s most sympathetic collaborator is himself.

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Merl Saunders, Jerry Garcia, John Kahn, Bill Vitt: Live At Keystone (1973)

Kronomyth 1.5: ORGANIC JERRY. Jerry Garcia jammed with two very different organ players, Howard Wales and Merl Saunders, during the early 1970s, with very different results. Hooteroll? was an experimental trip. Live At Keystone is a leisurely walk through the American songbook, from Bob Dylan (“Positively 4th Street”) to Rodgers and Hart (“My Funny Valentine”). Honestly, I find this to be one of the least interesting avenues in the Jerry Garcia journey. The recording mix is poor, the performances often perfunctory (in large part, it would seem, because the band was working out the arrangements as they played). There must be countless official bootlegs that will be of more interest to Garcia’s fans. In the 1980s, Fantasy split the original double album into two volumes and added an unreleased performance to each. (Perhaps because of better mixing, the two “new” tracks are noticeably better than the original 10 tracks, suggesting a return to the vaults may be in order.) While it’s always fun to hear Jerry thumb through Bob Dylan’s back pages, the band’s sleepy rendition of “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry” is a missed opportunity. Midlights (there really are no highlights) from the double-elpee set would include Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” and the opening instrumental, “Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers” (credited simply as “Keepers” on the Volume II reissue). For that, you’ll need to sit through an 18-minute version of “My Funny Valentine” and an almost 10-minute version of The Byrd’s “It’s No Use” that sucks the life out of the original. Fantasy returned to the scene of the crime for a pair of Encores, which aren’t any more or less interesting than what made the first cut here.

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Jerry Garcia: Garcia (1974)

Kronomyth 2.0: KAHNSESSION STAND. Jerry Garcia was no stranger to cover songs, and yet his first studio album as a cover artist turned out to be surprisingly, wonderfully strange. Produced and arranged by John Kahn, Garcia’s second eponymous solo album—often referred to as Compliments because of a sticker that appeared on the original elpee which read “Compliments of Garcia”—featured the Dead vocalist/guitarist in a number of unexpected settings, from Van Morrison (“He Ain’t Give You None”) to the Marvelettes (“When The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game”). The arrangements are likewise unusual: boozy horns that recall The Kinks (“What Goes Around”), orchestral settings (“Mississippi Moon”) and a version of The Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend The Night Together” that’ll charm your socks off. Jerry Garcia has always been a fan of other people’s music, but his interpretations tend to stay faithful to the originals. Here, Garcia (under the able direction of Kahn) interprets the material in his own unique idiom. The result has more in common with the musical revisionism of Bryan Ferry and David Bowie than Keystone, as it makes you hear the music in new ways. Garcia has never made another album quite like it. Together with his first eponymous album, an acknowledged classic, Compliments forms a complementary pair of bookends. The first was all about the Dead; this album is Garcia the Undead, transporting his voice and guitar into new and unfamiliar settings. In 2004, Rhino re-released this album with ten previously unreleased (and completely predictable) R&B covers that add not one iota to the record’s charm. In 2015, the original Compliments was re-issued in a limited-edition version to commemorate Record Store Day, proving yet again that record stores know more about good music than record labels.

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Jerry Garcia: Reflections (1976)

Kronomyth 5.0: MIRROR MORTALS. In my temporal distraction, I’ve taken to playing Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning lately. It’s a good RPG composed of endless multi-part quests. You talk to a gnome to find a key that unlocks a chest that contains a crystal that opens a gate to—well, you get the point. It’s ironic that I would use something like this as an escape from reality, since my reality these days is little more than a series of mundane quests. I visit an appliance store, pick out a stove, battle with the installation department to have it delivered, fend off early and unscheduled delivery of said stove, pursue the installation department again over mountains of red tape, ad nauseum. In the end, I’ll complete the quest, the beneficiary of more experience points, and move on to the next quest. All of which would seem to have little to do with Jerry Garcia’s fifth solo album, except that we’ve been down this road before, and I find myself musing whether I pursue his solo works as a Dead distraction or a redaction. For me, the best parts of the Dead are the Garcia/Hunter compositions, for their minor-key melodies, pearls of wisdom and Garcia’s kind and craggy voice. And so, for me anyway, a Garcia solo album promises a distillation of what’s best about the Dead. Only distilleries aren’t an exact science, and I often feel as though Garcia should filter his product a little better. When Garcia sings “I’ll take a melody and see what I can do about it / I’ll take a simple C to G and feel brand new about it” (from Allen Toussaint’s “I’ll Take A Melody”), you wonder whether the head Dead might be revealing his hand on Reflections. Garcia and Hunter could probably write these songs in their sleep, yet they’re still the stuff of dreams. I could listen to “Mission In The Rain” for hours, invariably perk up when I hear “Might As Well” or “They Love Each Other,” grow quiet when I hear “Comes A Time” and feel a lump in my throat at every blooming of “It Must Have Been The Roses.” The Dead albums around it (Blues For Allah, Terrapin Station) are better, but the whole gang is here, making Reflections something of a hybrid Garcia/Grateful Dead record. It’s not as essential a purchase as The Wheel, not as fun as Compliments, but a better bet to please Deadheads than the Jerry Garcia Band albums that followed (which otherwise take a similar approach in their mix of covers and originals).

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Jerry Garcia Band: Cats Under The Stars (1978)

Kronomyth 6.0: GOIN’ DOWN THE ROAD FELINE BAND. Somewhere between Terrapin Station and Shakedown Street, Jerry Garcia and the Godchauxes found time to release a new album of material as the Jerry Garcia Band. Rounded out by some of Jerry’s regular sidemen (John Kahn, Merl Saunders, Ron Tutt) and featuring lyrics by Robert Hunter, Cats Under The Stars sounds a lot like those two Dead albums distilled down to their Garcia/Hunter and Godchaux songs.  It’s not on a par with the last Dead album, and may be at least partly responsible for the subpar Shakedown (to which Garcia contributed only three new tracks), but it’s still a solid addition to the Dead’s Arista output (a period not synonymous with the band’s best work, lest you take that as a hearty endorsement). As for me, my heart tends to light up a little when I see the words Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter together, since the pair have been the source of much joy. “Rubin And Cherise,” “Gomorrah” and “Cats Under The Stars,” I’m happy to say, are right in line with what you’d expect from the Dead’s most enduring songwriting partnership. Although the album is a little light at eight tracks (including the short instrumental piece, “Down Home”), it makes up for it some with variety. The Kahn/Hunter reggae song, “Love In The Afternoon,” is one such surprise, Donna’s pretty pop song, “Rain,” another, and the airy “Palm Sunday” reveals that even Garcia and Hunter can still surprise us after all these years. Without a proper producer, the arrangements occasionally unravel (Run For The Roses, by contrast, felt overproduced), and you won’t find the same piquant instrumental interplay on Stars that you do with the Dead. On your way from the station to the street, however, there’s no harm done if you look this one up.

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