The openness and vulnerability within Jerry Garcia
's singing voice is an often-overlooked virtue among all the others for which he's distinguished, including his ever-so-precise (acoustic and electric) guitar playing as well as his songwriting collaborations with lyricist Robert Hunter. Nevertheless, those vocal qualities also resonate in the best of his solo work and Garcia Live Volume Seven
is a prime example.
A palpable sense of comfort radiates from this show, recorded at Sophie's in Palo Alto in November of 1976, no doubt the result of a deliberate decision by the bandleader to stabilize the band lineup and his solo projects in general after an extended period of fluctuation dating back to the Legion of Mary in 1974.
Following that interval, Nicky Hopkins, famed British sideman (most conspicuously for The Who
and The Rolling Stones
)had toured with Garcia and his departure initially opened the door for New Orleans keyboardist James Booker
. But, as noted in archivist Nicholas G. Meriwether's loving and historically-detailed essay, the chemistry with the titular leader of the Grateful Dead
simply wasn't there (tested and confirmed, it turns out, at this very same venue earlier in the year of this recording).
With members of the parent group, keyboardist Keith Godchaux and vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux, in the Jerry Garcia Band, the repertoire still remained somewhat in flux. The Dead's "Friend of the Devil," from American Beauty
(Warner Bros., 1970) appears here within an eclectic range of cover material, including Peter Rowan's "Midnight Moonlight"-at a markedly more sprightly pace than much of this set-and a stellar Hunter/Garcia number, "Mission in the Rain." The innate familiarity of the ensemble thus became a conduit to stretching themselves as they do here: six of the thirteen tracks extend into double-figure duration, largely at purposefully deliberate tempos.
The JGB was beginning to develop the habit of delving into the world of reggae by way of Bob Marley
("Stir It Up") and Peter Tosh ("Stop That Train") and this reach also extended in the direction of two great poets of the time, William 'Smokey' Robinson, leader of Motown's Miracles, and Bob Dylan
: the former's "The Way You Do the Things You Do," in all its easygoing charm, made for an effective contrast with the latter's doleful "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," treated to a Jamaica-rooted arrangement.
And the comparatively conventional structure of those numbers also provided natural respite from the novel rhythms of the aforementioned Wailers' tunes, in so doing keeping the whole unit alert as they navigated the changes, particularly bassist John Kahn and drummer Ron Tutt, . Certainly too, the variety of material, also benefited the leader as he played his main instrument, whether he was soloing on the traditional "Who Was John?" or savoring a support role to Godchaux, who favored the acoustic piano during tunes like "Strange Man." Donna Jean also had ample opportunity to draw upon her Muscle Shoals, Alabama singing experience, particularly with the delicate vocal accompaniment she provides Garcia during J.J. Cale
's "After Midnight."
Coming out in such quick succession after the last edition of this archive series, Garcia Live Volume Six
(ATO, 2016), reaffirms the wealth of material ready and waiting in the vault.. Yet as Meriwether also relates, the tapes for this title were discovered by Donna Jean Godchauz among her own possessions, miraculously in acceptable condition from Betty Cantor-Jackson's original recordings and ripe for expert mastering from Fred Kevorkian that illuminates and preserves not just the intimacy of Sophie's, but that of the Jerry Garcia Band itself.