Road Trips Vol. 1 No. 2

October '77

Released: 2008

Tracks

Let It Grow [10:17]
Sugaree [17:41]
The Music Never Stopped [8:59]
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo [11:53]
El Paso [4:52]
Help On the Way [5:48]
Slipknot! [4:02]
Franklin's Tower [14:59]

Playing In the Band [17:12]
Drums [3:09]
The Other One [8:24]
Good Lovin' [5:53]
Terrapin Station [11:29]
Black Peter [13:17]
Around and Around [9:08]
Brokedown Palace [5:51]
Playing In the Band [5:23]


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Liner Notes:

Counting Stars by Candlelight

There's a sequence of events in the supercharged version of "Let It Grow" that opens this set which reveals the source of the power that sustained the Grateful Dead and their passionately loyal audience for nearly 30 years.

The performance starts strong, with Phil Lesh dropping a series of bass bombs hinting at the ferocity to come. At the five-minute mark Jerry Garcia really digs in, emphasizing a cry in his tone with judicious use of guitar effects, and the whole band catches fire. But the best is yet to come. Then, Bob Weir leans hard on a particular chord three times as if to echo the lyrics, "Listen to the thunder shout, 'I am, I am, I am.'" The rest of the band picks up on it, and suddenly a tune that the Dead played hundreds of times is born anew as undiscovered territory.

You can imagine how the lucky Dead Heads in Norman, Oklahoma, that night must have looked at each other when the lights came up for the set break: "What was that?" (Followed by "Holy Shit, what's next?")

That thrill of discovery was the essence of the Grateful Dead experience: the unspoken promise that any song, in any venue on any night of the week, could turn out to be the most powerful performance you'd ever heard, even if you had dozens of tapes stashed away at home. No matter how obsessively deep into the Dead you were, they always had more to show you, more savage beauty to be revealed in a lightning strike of inspiration.

For a band that was a model of continual evolution, it may seem like hype to claim that the fall of 1977 was a period of exceptional change and development for the Dead. There's no doubt, however, that there was a lot going on for the group--both onstage and behind the laminated curtain--that would shape its future direction.

Two years earlier the Dead had been forced to admit that their ambitious dream of retiring from the road to launch their own independent record company had resulted in creative success but financial failure. Even after downsizing during their nearly two-year hiatus from touring, they had a huge extended family to support; but unscrupulous management and the herculean labor of editing down The Grateful Dead Movie from more than 125 hours of concert footage had left them under a mountain of debt. After releasing the brilliant Blues for Allah album in 1975--along with a bevy of side projects ranging from Garcia's bluegrass gem Old and In the Way to Lesh and Ned Lagin's Seastones--the Dead brokered a five-album deal with Arista, a new label launched by legendary hit-maker Clive Davis.

Though Davis--who signed the likes of Janis Joplin and Bruce Springsteen to Columbia during his tenure there--had coveted the Dead for years, it became clear that he expected hits from them too. His strategy was to match them up with a producer with a proven ability to get songs on the radio: Keith Olsen, who recorded Fleetwood Mac's breakthrough album. At one time the Dead would have laughed at the notion of working with a Top 10-minded producer. Now bringing in a set of "fresh ears," as Garcia put it, seemed like a fine idea.

The album that resulted from this collaboration, Terrapin Station--released in July 1977, a month after The Grateful Dead Movie--was a mixed bag. Most of the new songs on it were magnificent. "Estimated Prophet" churned in an ingenious reggae-influenced 7/4 (or was it 14/8?) time signature that offered innumerable points where the "one" could be made to float as Weir gave voice to the tormented spirit of a self-appointed avatar of God. Lesh had always wanted the band to be able to rock out, and with "Passenger," he gave them a righteous ass-kicking vehicle. While the revamped "Dancing In the Streets" pissed off the "disco sucks" crowd, in concert, the sleek new arrangement morphed into mind-bending chord changes reminiscent of the great '74 "Eyes of the World" jams.

Garcia's monumental addition to the songbook was the "Terrapin" suite which itself was born in a lightning flash of synchronistic inspiration. At nearly the same moment that Robert Hunter was prompted by a storm over San Francisco Bay to scribble eight pages of lyrics, Garcia was rushing home to transcribe melodies that had appeared spontaneously in his head. Beginning with an invocation of the muse, the suite ascended through a series of landscapes reminiscent of the haunted folk ballads that Garcia and Hunter grew up singing (the lovelorn sailor's tale), Arabian classical music ("while you were gone…"), to an extended coda that sounded like the majestic anthem of some interplanetary monarch.

Alas, in a misguided attempt to make the band commercially palatable to '70s audiences, Olsen tarted up this new music with everything from L.A. session-meister Tom Scott's synthesized sax to a pompous orchestral arrangement for "Terrapin"--with full English chorus--that Garcia would later describe as "the Grateful Dead in a dress." Luckily, all the new material would shine in live performance, and by the fall of 1976, the band was back on the road full time.

The reconstituted Dead was a slightly different animal than the band that had played its celebrated farewell shows at Winterland two years earlier. Just as the group had downsized its venues of choice and sonically ambitious (but logistically impractical) Wall of Sounds PA, the post-hiatus Dead seemed to pull in the reins a bit musically. At the same time, though, they were listening to each other more closely than ever.

This intensified focus on interaction was due in part to the complex task of bringing percussion wizard Mickey Hart back into the fold after his own personal hiatus of nearly four years. As Weir explain to David Gans at the time, "We've had to do a lot of conscious work on dynamics because Mickey missed out on years of tacit agreements and understandings. So we finally had to start talking about it, because otherwise he'd go banging and crashing through the quiet parts, or wouldn't know when the sudden sucker punch is coming. We had to tell him, which means we had to be thinking about it."

Meanwhile, the band members were coming up with ways to give this new version of themselves as much range and horsepower as possible. Weir in particular seemed to rejoice in devising knotty chord changes that generated unbearable tension followed by ecstatic release, as he did in "Estimated" and "Lazy Lighting" > "Supplication." Jamming opportunities like "Slipknot!" and the improvised bridges from "Scarlet Begonias" to "Fire On the Mountain" took the Dead to realms where no band, in any genre, had gone before. It's fine to say that this music was jazz-influenced--but where are the precedents in jazz? Wes Montgomery's "4 On 6" filtered through Ornette Coleman's harmolodics filtered through Miles Davis' Bitches Brew… but it was really just Grateful Dead music, sui generis.

To broaden the palette of colors available to them, the guitarists became enamored of applying effects to their basic sound, tapping the design expertise of Ibanez luthier Jeff Hasselberger--who later crafted Weir's beloved sunburst "Cowboy Special"--to create custom arrays that put radical amounts of control at the players' feet and fingertips. "There are times I wish I was a combination of a French horn and an oboe," Garcia told Guitar Player magazine in 1978. Even when he was ported through Mu-Tron III--an envelope filter that gave Garcia that fat "thwack!" tone for "Estimated" and "Fire On the Mountain"--his nimble phrasing and voicins were still unmistakably his own.

There were changes afoot on the dance floor too. The culture of tape trading exploded during the hiatus, when precious cassettes were passed hand-to-hand and mailed coast-to-coast by member of underground clubs like Harvey Lubar's Hell's Honkies. Now that the band was back on the road, the stealth audience-taping campaign began en masse, blossoming into a forest of mic stands in front of the soundboard. The Dead Head mandala was quickly evolving into a peripatetic village of its own self-contained economy, willing to migrate anywhere the band played. A year after these shows were recorded, tie-dyed Heads space-danced with turbaned locals at the foot of the Great Pyramid in Egypt.

For listeners attuned to the whole arc of the Dead's 30-year journey of discovery, there are many treasures here.

After opening the first set of the Oklahoma show on October 11 with "Help On the Way" > "Slipknot!" > "Franklin's Tower," the Dead wouldn't play that golden triad again for more than five years. The 1977 revival of "Brokedown Palace," culminating with this performance at the Hofheinz Pavilion in Houston on October 14, was brief; the heartbreaking ballad wouldn't reappear until December 26, 1979, at the sparkling Oakland show released as Dick's Picks Volume Five. For the second set in Baton Rouge on October 16--here represented by "The Other One" > "Good Lovin'" and "Terrapin Station" > "Black Peter"--Garcia and Weir broke with tradition by each singing lead on pairs of songs back-to-back, instead of alternating every song. If Weir's performance was particularly spunky that night, it's because he was celebrating his 30th birthday.

All in all, 1977 was a great year to be a Dead Head, from the legendary May 8 sets at Cornell to the September 3 show in Englishtown (Dick's Picks Volume Fifteen), played before an audience of 100,000 and broadcast to millions. Cassette dubs of both shows circulated widely, providing many Heads with their first taste of the excitement of tape trading.

But the spirit of the music on this collection has nothing to do with nostalgia or trying to live in the past. At their best, the Dead were about looking forward--to the next molten moment where something new is always waiting to be born.

--Steve Silberman

 

Credits:

Grateful Dead:
JERRY GARCIA: Lead Guitar, Vocals
DONNA JEAN GODCHAUX: Vocals
KEITH GODCHAUX: Keyboards
MICKEY HART: Drums
BILL KREUTZMANN: Drums
PHIL LESH: Electric Bass
BOB WEIR: Rhythm Guitar, Vocals

Produced by GRATEFUL DEAD
Compilation Produced by DAVID LEMIEUX & BLAIR JACKSON
Recorded by BETTY CANTOR-JACKSON
Edited and Mastered by JEFFREY NORMAN at GARAGE AUDIO MASTERING
Cover Art: SCOTT McDOUGALL
Package Design: STEVE VANCE

 

 



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This album was released in February 2008.



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