Album Review

Long Dead, Jerry Garcia's More Alive Than His Former Band

Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders - Garcia Live: Volume Six

Jerry Garcia has been buried in the literal sense since 1995, but lately his former bandmates have been topping his grave with a pile of manure. While one could make a strong case that The Grateful Dead should have stopped playing together the moment Jerry drew his last breath, their recent decision to hire masturbation enthusiast John Mayer and his white supremacist penis is musically and morally reprehensible. Sure, Mayer’s a fine guitarist (not that you’d know it from his solo output), but his insertion as the Dead's de facto frontman is like the French Laundry hiring Guy Fieri as head chef.

But if you’ve soured on what the Dead have become, head back to a time in place when Jerry was very much alive, gigging at a small San Anselmo (Calif.) club in 1973 with a four-piece he'd just formed alongside Merl Saunders. They were an R&B cover band, mainly, consisting of Garcia on guitar, Saunders on keys, John Kahn on bass, and Bill Vitt on drums, along with the occasional talented interloper. Whereas the Dead’s sound was more about the musicians simultaneously heading into the wilderness only to spontaneously regroup at an aural campsite, the members of Garcia and Saunders’ band took turns taking hikes. The journey, while more linear, was no less intoxicating.

Jerry was permitted to explore more than his comrades, a notion reinforced by the recently released Garcia Live: Volume Six. The triple-disc includes hallmarks of the quartet’s like “Second That Emotion” and “How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You,” but it’s the opener, “After Midnight,” that really cinches the collection. At a leisurely pace, Garcia sings the first few lines before constructing an epic, expertly calibrated guitar solo that turns up the temperature just a bit every 30 seconds or so. 

What was it your boss wanted you to do this afternoon? Where were you planning to have lunch? Which kid has a Little League game tonight? What day is it, even? The music doesn’t merely distract you; it teleports you to another sphere of reality. You’re lost out there with Jerry, uninterested in heading home. You forget about life for awhile, which isn’t too far removed from being gratefully dead.

 

The first release by this band was "Live at the Keystone" recorded over two nights at the Keystone in Berkeley, California in 1973. I was there for one of those nights and it was magical indeed. I'm glad to learn that more recordings by this band are being released so thanks for the information.

However, I'm a little mystified by your John Mayer bashing. I don't follow celebrity gossip and I'm not a big fan but I own his "Paradise Valley" which I got after seeing what a great guitarist he is somewhere and discovered he can play the blues with the best. When I clicked on your link to see just what the hell you meant by "masurbation enthusiast and white supremacit penis" and saw it was a whole "Playboy" interview I wasn't about to read it and find out. You had me thinking he had become a Trump supporter or something but I doubt Bob Weir would have connected with him if that were true. So it just seems like a cheap shot at someone you happen to dislike and calling Weir's invitation for him to join the current incarnation of the Dead as "morally reprehensible" is ...well, morally reprehensible.

When I clicked on your link to see just what the hell you meant by "masurbation enthusiast and white supremacit penis" and saw it was a whole "Playboy" interview I wasn't about to read it and find out. 

 

You need to read it and find out, Dennis. Otherwise, you will have failed to explore the validity of my point, thus rendering your entire retort completely invalid.

I read it Mike...I'll just say he's a great guitarist...the interview...let's just say the guy has taken "overthink" and "navel gazing" to a whole new level...although as you noted, his personal focus is mostly aimed a bit lower than his navel.  I guess that can happen if you are young, famous, and can screw anyone you want (and he has)...the truth is, he appears to have not gotten past that uh-oh moment most of us reach at age 9-10 where we suddenly realize we aren't the center of the universe...I found the Jessica Simpson comments even more interesting that the comments about his unit..."Sexual Napalm"

Musicians tend to care more about meshing musically when they are playing, and Mayer can play...a lot of the musicians (male) in the business would admit if they were telling the truth that they got into music to get laid as much as anything, no matter how passionate they are about the music part of it. These days, it doesn't surprise me that what is left of the Dead would bring someone in who is musicially capable, yet well known in his own right...sell a few more tickets?  I don't know...I don't call it sacrilege myself because I never liked the Dead that much...I doubt Mayer will ruin whatever it is now...

 

You nailed it, Jim. He is a great guitarist; I concede as much in my lead. He just has no place joining forces with The Grateful Dead. His presence in the band is an insult to its fans.

I edited my response after you posted this comment...I admire your writing because you aren't afraid to express your opinion, controversial or not...I don't like the Dead all that much (though I would concede that moments are brilliant), so for me it amounts to less than sacrilege...but I can see why you are saying what you are saying...even if I thought some of the things he is thinking about, I don't know that I could say them out loud...some place where I knew they'd get back to past loves and lovers...seems pretty cheap while you are still claiming to be a really good guy...

Okay Mike, I admit I should have read the interview before condemning your description of Mayer but the truth is I'm just not that interested. I know he has been condemned by a lot of people and I've read that he regrets being so open with the media and decided to shut up and play his music instead which is certainly a good idea. I suspect that most of us would be condemned by someone if we were totally honest about our every thought. As Dylan says in one of his great songs, "..if my thought-dreams could be seen/ they'd probably put my head in a guillotine." Still, it was foolish of me to condemn your condemnation without having all the facts. It just struck me as a glaring incongruity in the midst of an informative post about this new Garcia/Saunders release. I suppose enough people agree with your assessment of Mayer that it seemed like a safe rant on your part. I always like your posts and find them informative and interesting so you just really surprised me with this one.

Thanks, Dennis. As this comment section indicates, there are also plenty of people who share your opinion. Both are valid, I just wanted to expose you to the "full Mayer," so to speak, so you at least knew where I was coming from. The guy is an incredible guitar player, but has no business playing with the Dead.

Hey Dennis...I'm pretty sure Mike isn't as old as we are...when you hit 60, sometimes you look at an interview like that, see the length...well let's face it, no one knows how much time they have left...you start to look at things like that interview and say, "you know, if this sucks, I can't ever get the time back I spent reading it"...so I understand your initial reaction as being one of looking at the source material and the length and deciding that you weren't going to read it...Mike's written some really good stuff in the past, so I bit...it was worth it in the sense that you realize how unequipped the average young person is to deal with fame, fortune, guitar God status...and how at 32, after being famous for a while, he really has over analyzed himself to the point where it's completely unhealthy, he's so far up his own butt he can't see anything, and he badly needs to talk to someone else, and about half of the interview is about how much time he spends alone over analyzing himself or jacking off...I had a friend who played basketball at a major college after being a high school star in Indiana, which is like being a teenage god here...the high school where I went has a gym that seats 9,000 people, and people know about it all over the world...he was a decent college player but not a pro level player...he told me that it took at least 5 years for him to get over just being a high school star and college athlete, the adulation that you get...he expereinced about 1/100th the fame that Mayer has, and no one ever considered him the best basketball player anywhere...like he said, you wake up one day and you have to pay the rent and start saving for the kids college fund...that was his center of the universe moment...Mayer has mentioned lately that he's just going to shut up and play guitar, and that's probably a good thing...

Good writers stir the pot once in a while...I don't think Mike would have linked that particular interview expecting not to get some blowback...I don't know if Mayer belongs in the Dead or not, but I know where Mike stands...there's always been controversy about being the Dead...lots of Dead fans never did give poor old Brent Mydland a chance...

You're right Jim. I only go to this site at work while I'm on my breaks so I'm not about to waste what little time I have to read an old, lengthy interview with an overwhelmed young celebrity who is self-analyzing himself to the point of nausea and parody. Plus I know how easy it is to say things one later regrets. There have been many times I've commented on this site and wondered later why the hell did I reveal so much about myself and expected a lot of ridicule the next time I revisited. But I must admit, I'm tempted to read the interview just to see what Mike meant by "white supremist penis." (Did he say he likes black women but his penis doesn't??)

On a completely different subject Jim I was trying to find the post where you and Hal encouraged me to go to the Donovan concert here in Seattle in October since I keep defending him but I can't find it. (The search engine doesn't work for names dropped in conversation apparantly.) Well, I guess I'm not the only Donovan fan in Seattle since the venue just announced they have added a second show. They mentioned this was his 50th anniversary tour for the release of "Sunshine Superman." The time she flies...

Yes...Donovan does 2 shows...that's great!!  And you had to know you aren't alone...

As for "white suprmeacist penis", Mayer at one point notes that black people love him, which leads to several inane back and forths...like him having a "hood pass" like Kid Rock...eventually Playboy asks him if black women throw themselves at him and he says "he doesn't open himself to it", which I guess means white women appeal to him more on a pure attraction level...he refers at another point that his heart is a Benneton but his penis is David Duke...then he talks about black women he finds attractive...he goes on and on an on...he says he'd rather stay home now and masterbate while thinking about sexual expereinces he's already had...?  It's pretty insufferable...and I have just scratched the surface...

Maybe I did waste my time reading the whole thing...

 

Yeah, I think I've heard enough but thanks for wasting your time and clearing up the mystery for me.

one of the things I loved most about the Grateful Dead was that they seemed to avoid overt politics compared with some of the bands at that time. Garcia came out of a rich tradition of American folk or roots music, and genuinely loved music without asking who supports this or that politician. I was not at the Keystone, but had the album. As good as it is, and as great as those musicians were, it was never my favorite. Sometimes, a tune just doesn't work as well as another.

 

What people think of John Mayer being in Dead and Co, in my view, has little relevance to the merits of this fine Garcia Saunders release because it stands on its own quality and doesn't need a comparison to something far removed in time to boost its goodness.

I also don't agree with you about John Mayer being musically or morally reprehensible, so know that you are not speaking for all Deadheads (I saw the Grateful Dead over a hundred times).

That Mayer interview was from six years ago and people, especially young famous ones, are prone to say things they later regret.  People can change. Mayer in fact explained himself regarding those comments that I don't think are that bad any way.  http://abc7.com/archive/8670616/

I understand why a lot of Heads don't like Mayer and really don't like him playing in Dead and Co (and many who wouldn't like Dead and Co no matter who was in the lead guitar role) because Dead and Co just don't come anywhere close to the intensity, power, and gravitas of the Grateful Dead in their peak years (and that is far from Mayer's fault.  I'm talking to you Bob Weir, of the sluggish tempos).  I also understand those more tolerant accepting Heads who want to go see whatever version of the Dead some of the founding members want to put out there. There is no doubt that Mayer is a passionate and dedicated student of the music, and even if he doesn't do more than produce a competent version of Grateful Dead lead guitar playing, he deserves credit for what I detect as the reverence and sincerity that he approaches the task with.

There is plenty of room for everyone to listen to what they like without resorting to needless judgements of what is right and wrong.  Its just music.  Thankfully, the music of the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia's side projects are probably the most thoroughly recorded of any musical group ever.  There is no shortage of fine archival releases to listen to for years to come for those that prefer that.

Jeezuz, Mike, you sound like one of those sad,old Deadheads that would bring a raging college houseparty to a complete halt by inserting a 5th generation bootleg tape of their performance at Altoona. Look, we all love Jerry, but that doesn't mean the new variation of the band has no merit. No matter what you think about John Mayer (apparently, from your comments, not much), he  and Oteil and Ratdog-approved Jeff Chimenti, have been great additions to the band, have reenergized Bill, Mickey and especially Bob and their recent performances have been mostly positive experiences for those of us not still stuck in the 70s. And before labeling me as some Abercrombie & Fitch Dead "fan", I'm 55 and saw the original band multiple times. Not sure why somebody can't like both this Garcia Saunders release AND say the Dead & Company show that I saw in Boulder   just a couple of weeks ago, but maybe some of us are just too sanctimonious about their musical tastes and feel the need to sh!t on stuff that others might like. Despite your disaproval, Mayer seems to "get" what the Dead are supposed to be about on stage, that's perhaps more than I can say for you and your trying too hard to preserve the sanctity of a band's legacy when it is so unnecessary. 

I think it is necessary. I saw the "Dead" with Warren Haynes several years ago and thought they sounded great. But without Garcia, they're just a really good Dead cover band, which made John Kadlecik the perfect stand-in for Jerry. They should have stuck with him instead of adding Mayer to the mix. And don't get me started on the "Fare Thee Well" racket. Don't fans who shelled out for those "last" shows now feel scammed?

From reading that Playboy article it's apparent that Mayer hasn't lost any of his douchiness.

Did not see Fare Thee Well so I really can't comment there although I'd much rather hear Mayer lend his voice to those handful of Dead songs each night than let Phil Lesh anywhere near a mic. As with any art, it can exist in a vacuum if we desire and I might be in the minority here, but I just never bought into the idea that a band or artist that continues to work, even in a diminished state, can somehow tarnish their own past efforts. Especially in the case of the Grateful Dead and their extensive, seemingly endless supply archival recordings.

I think this Pitchfork review of the Fenway show somehow splits the difference between fans like you and fans like me: http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/1233-coming-to-grips-with-dead-bro-john-ma...

Yeah, I saw one of the Boulder shows, but I think that review is fairly accurate to what I saw on stage and the fan vibe that was also present.

"...during his time among the Dead, Josh’s guitar playing has evolved from soloing on Garcia’s favorite scales to more soulful inventions."

 I also think this quote sums up Mayer's playing as in talking with fans that had seen some of last fall's shows as well as some prior to Boulder, his playing and his fit with Dead & Co. just keeps working better and better as he and the group have moved on.

I vaguely recalled the fuss about Mayer and while he may have been a prat he's nothing on the scale of a Paul Simon or Eric Clapton.

I've been a Deadhead a long time, but never considered it a sacrament.  I passed on the FTW shows last year (did the webcasts instead) as I didn't think Anastasio would be up to the job.  Weir, Hart and Kreutzmann can play with who they want - no-one is being sold a pig in a poke here.  That's the essence of it - you can be on the bus if you want get off when you want.

When I clicked on the MusicToday link for Vol 6 of the Garcia Live series I was a bit taken back to find it under the banner of the "Garcia Family Provisions" which has a whiff of Bleak House about it - buy this so we don't have to work.

The recording's been on youtube for quite a while and likely available online likewise.  It's a good show - especially with the jamming mystery (or at least uncomfirmed) trumpet player.

Anyway it seems the family has spent that lot as I got an e-mail a couple fo days ago syaing Vol 7 is on the way.

    I bought the first 2 LP release of Garcia/Saunders back in the early seventies. I really liked it. The one song you posted did not sound that great to me. I liked the 70s Jerry Garcia Band. I was never a huge fan of John Mayer. I listened to him playing some songs @ Bonneroo and as surprised at how well he sounded with them. These guys are just playing for fun, They sound incredible for their age.

     I love the Dead's 70s music best.

Here is some Dead and Company at Bonneroo.

       

 

Mayer's guitar playing is pretty good, and his vocals are brutal. And it absolutely kills me as someone who grew up loving this band to see him on the same stage.

I also couldn't help but notice the high-end timepiece on Mayer's left wrist. Here's another must-read for Dead fans interested in getting to know the Full Mayer: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/01/fashion/mens-style/john-mayer-watches....

Anyone interested in this release might also be interested in Merl Saunders' 1997 release by Merl Saunders & Friends called  "Keepers." It collects 13 cuts recorded from 1971 to 1975. Jerry Garcia plays on 9 of those cuts and on 3 of those 9 he is joined by David Grisman on mandolin and Vasser Clements on fiddle. But these aren't Old and in the Way bluegrass songs but blues songs. Hearing Vasser's blues fiddle is sweet indeed. On one of those 3 Geof Muldaur joins them to sing on "Gee Baby, Ain't I Been Good to You." One of the great cuts is a 11:35 minute version of "Georgia On My Mind" with just the quartet featured on this release which was a 9/2/73 KSAN radio broadcast.

Does that album have Mystery Train on it?  I have it from a radio broadcast. Its like an electric Old and In The Way with Grisman and Clements and then add in electric piano and electric guitar and electric bass from Merle and Jerry and John Kahn, now that is a smoking band!

Yes, MWEST, "Mystery Train" is one of those 3 cuts. The other was "That's All Right" the Arthur Crudup song and the 3rd was the one I mentioned with Geof Muldaur doing the singing.

 Here is Jerry at one of his peaks in 74, what years did you see Garcia Mike?

Early to mid-'90s, when I was of age. Obviously not his peak, but there were flashes of greatness. Heard all the killer '70s recordings, though. Wish I was there, but wasn't born 'til '74

At this point I would rather see a Dead (or Dylan) cover band.