Dave's Picks Vol. 8

Recorded at the Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA (11/30/80)

Released: 2013

Tracks

Feel Like A Stranger [9:18]
Loser [8:17]
Cassidy [5:13]
Ramble On Rose [7:54]
Little Red Rooster [9:33]
Bird Song [9:21]
Me And My Uncle > [2:59]
Big River [5:54]
It Must Have Been the Roses [7:12]

Lost Sailor > [6:34]
Saint of Circumstance > [6:30]
Deal [8:02]
Scarlet Begonias > [11:37]
Fire On the Mountain [10:54]
Samson and Delilah [7:42]
Ship of Fools [8:48]

Playing In the Band > [15:54]
Drums > [11:22]
Space > [4:22]
The Wheel > [6:50]
China Doll > [6:48]
Around and Around > [4:00]
Johnny B. Goode [4:49]
Uncle John's Band [7:45]

dpv8.png

Liner Notes:

The Fox’s Dean

Bob Wagner was a senior at Syosset High School, on Long Island, when he saw his first Dead show, in 1972, at the Academy of Music in New York. The hook had set. After a concert in Richmond, Virginia, in 1977, he decided that he had to have this music for himself, and that there was no other way to have it except to tape it. It was hard to find tapes in those days. The trading scene was small, insular, abstruse. Some recordings of concerts that had been broadcast on the radio made the rounds, along with some audience tapes that tended to sound like crap.

Wagner went to medical school at the University of North Carolina, at Chapel Hill, and one night the deejay on the Duke radio station played an audience tape he had made himself of the Richmond show. (Thirty-five years later, Betty Cantor-Jackson’s soundboard recording of this particular gig, at The Mosque, would be the source for the first Dave’s Picks release.) Wagner called the deejay, who told him a few things about taping. Wagner studied the classifieds in Relix and was soon introduced to Jerry Moore and Barry Glassberg--lions of the taping scene, names as sacred to many Dead Heads as Jack Straw or August West. (Not to all, though. In much the same way that most Christians know the gospels but not the story behind their authorship, many Dead Heads are unfamiliar with the men--and they are almost exclusively men--who rescued all those nights of music, sublime or otherwise, from oblivion.)

In the fall of 1980, Wagner was still in med school. He drove up to the New York to catch one of the Radio City Music hall shows but found it a little dull. The Dead, during that stand, were recording for a pair of live albums (Reckoning andDead Set) and so there seemed to be, very generally speaking, a kind of restraint, almost a self-consciousness, to the performances. Afterwards, during the Thanksgiving break, the Dead did a quick swing though [sic] Florida and Georgia. Wagner packed up his taping gear and drove down to Lakeland, Florida, in his 1969 Mercury Cougar. he had an inkling that they were ready to bust out after the relatively staid performances in New York. And bust out they did. Maybe the drugs were good. Maybe the band felt freed of the multitrack recorders and movie cameras and the pomp of New York. For whatever reason, they blazed through the Southeast like General Sherman on his way to the sea. Wagner went to the show in Lakeland, Florida, a real barnburner, then slept in his car. (It was cold--the orange groves froze.) The next day, he drove on to Gainesville, caught a raging performance there, and then headed to Atlanta for a gig on November 30, at the Fox Theatre, an old Shriners Temple and movie palace. The number one song in America, as presented by Casey Kasem that night, was “Lady” by Kenny Rogers.

Wagner recorded the first set from the second-to-last row of the balcony, in the corner. The sound was thin. For the second set, he moved down to the third row of the balcony, just right of center. he stayed seated in the aisle, holding a pair of Nakamichi 700 microphones. The sound was meaty and clear, with a wide stereo range over the PA system. Dan Healy, the band’s soundman, was on his game--he’d got the measure of the room. The band was on too. years later Wagner would say, “Of the hundreds or up to a thousand tapes that I’ve made, this one is clearly dearest to me. it’s the best-sounding tape I’ve made, and if there’s a better tape out there, I’d love to hear it.”

Three years later, in the fall of 1983, I was a freshman at a boarding school in New Hampshire where the Dead were a big thing. I was new to it all. Before I’d even seen a show, I heard the tapes, or some of them anyway. The second bootleg I owned, and one of the first I’d listened to, was a much-degraded copy of Wagner’s recording of the second set of that November 30, 1980, show in Atlanta. Known simply as “The Fox,” it had by then acquired a mystique at the school. I’ve never been able to figure out how it got there, or why it was initially held in such high esteem. The best-generation recording was passed down each year to a couple of the adherents, who became the keepers of the Fox’s Den and of its four commandments, which were stenciled on a poster board and had to do with listening with the proper respect and attention to the transition between “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire On the Mountain.”

Sure, this was silly stuff, a farcical schoolboy cult, but a byproduct was that we listened to The Fox a lot, in various states of mind and at different times of day, until it had insinuated itself into our mind’s ear. At first it was just the one you knew, on among a handful of bootlegs that we novices all heard. Each era was represented skimpily, so that sound of one nth-generation 1971 tape from, say, Chicago, became the sound of 1971. This was the beginning of being able to tell one year from another.

The Fox had its own peculiar sound: thick, bass-y, a little slowed down maybe, a bit distant, as though the choruses were being sung by druids in a deep forest. (Really, I had very little idea then of what the band looked like onstage--images were scarce in those days. I hardly even knew who was making which sound.) The Fox had an aura, a stink. We had Dead Set and Reckoning as other specimens recorded in 1980, but The Fox didn’t sound much like those. it was its own planet, with its own set of moons. Even the intersections of the audience members who’d been standing near Wagner were part of the tapestry of sound: the guy shouting “It’s the best!” during the opening chords of “Scarlet,” another asking stonedly “What song is this?” during the spacey preamble to “The Wheel.” (There’s a moment on the recording where you hear a guy say, “I think Steve’s batteries must’ve died.” Steve, it turns out, was the Duke deejay who’d recorded the Richmond show and taught Wagner a few tricks. Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.)

That summer I saw my first shows and matched up the experience of being there with that of listening to an artifact of it. This infused the recorded music with an essence, gave ti a third (or was it a fourth?) dimension. I got to know who was who in the mix and above all what it was like to be in an audience of like-minded freaks when the whole thing lifted off. With a refinement of the ear and exposure to more and most tapes came some discernment. Some of those earlier ones proved to be relatively unremarkable, except to the extent that they induced nostalgia for those early listening days. yeah, I’m talking nostalgia for hissy tapes, not the concerts themselves, which we’d been way too young to have seen.

But The Fox held its own, against all comers. The more I listened to it, the more I heard. In some respects it felt like a composed piece of music—I came to know every note, and each tie I listened, there it was again, as though ordained by Beethoven or Thelonious Monk. (Even the miscues: pretty much every song in the second set has a conspicuous clam.) But it also had stretches of flashy and peculiar improvisation, and so each time I listened I marveled at how the band could have stumbled onto this particular way of playing these passages, in ways they never had before or would afterward. They may not have been aware of what they were making. When I asked Phil Lesh about the show, while I was working on a story recently for The New Yorker about the band and its legacy, he had no memory of it. He probably had never listened to it. Same has held true for many Dead Heads, except for those somehow infected over the years by the enthusiasm of envoys from the Den. It hardly rated.

For that New Yorker piece, I got to visit the Vault, outside of Los Angeles, and while there I came across the band’s official soundboard recording of the show, a regular old cassette like the ones we’d all used to mark up our own tapes. I’d only ever heard a soundboard of the first set, and of the “Scarlet” > “Fire.” It had seemed a little hollow without the sound of the hall. As for the rest of the second set, people who knew how to seek (and who were eager to find) said it was uncirculated, perhaps even nonexistent. A friend named Chris Chappell, a Fox freak, had make a matrix recording, synching up Wagner’s audience version with the available soundboard portion in an effort to improve the fidelity while retaining some of the atmosphere of the room. This lovable mutt made the rounds.

The first set was not included in our Fox cult, probably because of Wagner’s positioning. It was a kind of Gnostic gospel, a suppressed text. But multiple listens over the year have been a revelation. The band came out vigorous and sharp. The set is long (nearly 100 minutes) and chock full: a groovy “Stranger,” a strutting “Ramble On Rose,” a lush “Bird Song” (first electric version since 1973), a sneaky “It Must Have Been The Roses,” a Leshy “Lost Sailor” > “Saint,” and a blistering “Deal,” with the then-novel extend JGB paint-peeler coda. Fast or slow, Jerry or Bob, routine or rare: they nail them all.

Seven months earlier, the band had played the Fox and had turned in a rambunctious first set (see 4/29/80, “Brown-Eyed Women”), only to fade in the second. So maybe they felt, on their next swing through town, that they had to make amends. Exhibit A, this night’s showpiece, is the “Scarlet” > “Fire.” It has its devout following, as well as its skeptics. It starts crisply enough, but the serious swagger takes hold around “Ain’t nothing wrong with the way who moves,” and by the big guitar break, before the final verse, the music sounds monumental, purposeful, and robust, thanks in no small part to Brent Mydland, a year and a half into his tenure, and the muscular sound of him stalking the guitarists on the Hammond B3. Garcia’s solo builds with that elusive blend of coherence, nuance, and fury—he’s playing in paragraphs. The real sorcery occurs in the transition, a series of propulsive feints and teasing crescendoes that careen into an honest climax and then… Words are futile. I’m dancing about architecture here. Just listen to it, loud, maybe a few times. Thou shalt not press pause, stop, fast-forward, or rewind.

Really, the whole set it hot, from front to end. To my preconditioned ears, pretty much every track makes a canonical case. A keening “Samson and Delilah” (Jerry taming the feedback like Samson fighting the lion), a mournful, deliberate “Ship Of Fools” (with a shimmering Jerry solo), and then one of the wildest post-hiatus versions I know of “Playing In The Band”: psychedelic up-tempo bebop degenerating into wicked, mischievous noise, which further evaporates into a kind of Near Eastern dream. The noodling out of drums turns pretty, almost baroque, with a crepuscular segue into “The Wheel.” (Brent’s synth overlay is controversial among Fox scholars.) The “China Doll,” not as fragile or fractured as later versions, has the glom, but not the precariousness, of its Persian brethren and, once again, tremendous Jerry solos. (Every ballad sparkles, in both sets.) The encore is a big, strong, self-contained “Uncle John’s Band”—a final showcase for the Mu-tron III. The choice here of “Uncle John’s,” a rarity as a closer, seems like a surreptitious pat on the back. It suggests that maybe the band knew they had caught lightning in a bottle, even if they had no idea, or even wish, that Dr. Bob Wagner, and Dan Healy, might have too. Pop the cork.

Nick Paumgarten

 

Credits:

Grateful Dead

JERRY GARCIA: Lead Guitar, Vocals
MICKEY HART: Drums
BILL KREUTZMANN: Drums
PHIL LESH: Electric Bass
BRENT MYDLAND: Keyboards, Vocals
BOB WEIR: Rhythm Guitar, Vocals

Produced by GRATEFUL DEAD
Produced for Release by DAVID LEMIEUX
Executive Producer: MARK PINKUS
Associate Producer: DORAN TYSON & RYAN WILSON
CD Mastering by JEFFREY NORMAN at MOCKINGBIRD MASTERING, Petaluma, CA
Recorded by: DAN HEALY
Art Direction and Design: STEVE VANCE
Cover Art: TIMOTHY TRUMAN
Tape Research: MICHAEL WESLEY JOHNSON
Archival Research: NICHOLAS MERIWETHER/USCS Grateful Dead Archives
Photos: JAY BLAKESBERG
Special Thanks: Kate Dear, Julie Temkin, Steve Woolard, Tyler Roy-Hart

 

 



Add this Album to your Collection

 

 

 

This album was released in December 2013.



GD Songfinder | GD Reference Site | GD Album Reference