If you ever wondered why the Dead needed two drummers, hear is your answer. Billy Kreutzmann played the straight man, jazz schooled, capable of thrills and fills but never far from the backbeat (for reference, listen to his performance on Jerry Garcia’s first solo album). Mickey Hart is a very different drummer; his is a cosmic journey to explore rhythm in all its various guises, from the natural to the supernatural. Rolling Thunder reveals that journey in its early going, although Dead fans will find plenty of familiar stops along the way, from jam sessions with Jerry Garcia (“The Chase,” “Deep, Wide And Frequent”) to actual rock songs (“Playing In The Band,” “Blind John”). If you have any expectations of what a Mickey Hart album would sound like, of course, you’ll need to leave those antiquated notions at the door. You weren’t expecting it to start with a howl and an Indian invocation. You weren’t expecting the Tower of Power horn section or the demented psychedelic pop of “Fletcher Carnaby.” While there is no such animal as a typical Mickey Hart album, his subsequent efforts have focused mostly on rhythms rather than traditional song structures. Thus, Rolling Thunder is, if not atypical of his later work, not representative of it either. It would seem that Hart was initially double minded as to whether he should make a proper solo album or use the opportunity to explore new musical realms, so he chose both paths. “Playing In The Band” and “Pump Song” will remind listeners of Bob Weir’s Ace, “Blind John” suggests a hippy-trippy Traffic featuring vocals from several key members of the Jefferson Airplane/Starship axis, and “The Chase (Progress)” points forward to future works such as Diga and Yamantaka. Ultimately, Rolling Thunder is a mixed bag featuring some famous buds, a few good songs and some interesting experiments interspersed.
Original LP Version
A1. Rolling Thunder/Shoshone Invocation (Rolling Thunder) (0:48)
A2. Marimbas and Rain Sequences / The Main Ten (Playing In The Band) (Music by Mickey Hart and Bob Weir, Words by Robert Hunter) (7:02)
A3. Fletcher Carnaby (Music by Mickey Hart, Words by Robert Hunter) (4:00)
A4. The Chase (Progress) (Music by Mickey Hart) (4:55)
A5. Blind John (Music by C.J. Stetson, Words by Peter Monk) (3:40)
B1. Young Man (Music by Mickey Hart, Words by Peter Monk) (2:25)
B2. Deep, Wide And Frequent (Music by Mickey Hart) (5:20)
B3. Pump Song (Music by Bob Weir and Mickey Hart, Words by Robert Hunter) (4:37)
B4. Granma’s Cookies (Music by Mickey Hart) (2:50)
B5. Hangin’ On (Music by C.J. Stetson, Words by Peter Monk, Arranged by Mickey Hart) (3:10)
Mickey Hart (drums, percussion, field drum, tympany), John Cippolina (guitars), David Freiberg (bass, piano, acoustic guitar, water pump, viola, vocals), Robbie Stokes (guitar, bass), Tower of Power (horn section) with Sam Andrews (guitar on A3), Bill Champlin (organ on B2), Greg Errico (drums on A5), Carmelo Garcia (timbales, conga on A2/B1/B2), Jerry Garcia (guitar on A4/B2/B4, insect fear on B3), Terry Haggerty (guitar on B2), Mike and Nancy Hinton (marimbas on A1), Zakir Husin (Hussain) (rain on A1, tabla on A4), Paul Kantner (vocals on A5), Phil Lesh (vocals on B1, bass on B3), Barry Melton (acoustic guitar & vocals on A5, guitar on B1/B5), Alla Rakra (rain on A1), Steve Shuster (flute on A3/A5), Grace Slick (piano & vocals on A5), Stephen Stills (bass on A2), Bob Weir (guitar & vocals on A2/B3, vocals on B1). Engineered by Dan Healy, Rick Davis, John Wollman, David Freiberg, Mickey Hart; mixdown by Phil Lesh, Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, David Freiberg, Dan Healy and Stephen Stills; direction by Rock Scully.
Cover art by Kelley/Mouse Studios. Art direction by Ed Thrasher. Photography by Ron Rakow and Bruce Baxter.
Released on elpee and 8-track in October 1972 in the US (Warner Bros., BS/M8 2635) with insert; reached #190 on the US charts. (8-track features different track listing.) Re-issued on black, marbled vinyl and limited edition picture elpee in 1987 in the US (Relix, RRLP 2026). Re-issued on compact disc in 1989 in Germany (Grateful Dead, GDCD 9.00647 O) and in 1990 in the US (Grateful Dead, GDCD-40112).
C.J. Stetson appears to be a pseudonym for Jim Staralow (a.k.a. “Curly Jim”). You can read more about it on the Dead blog, Hooterollin’ Around.