Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol. 1, No. 1, Fall '79

Doug Collette By

Sign in to view read count

Grateful Dead

Road Trips Vol. 1, No. 1, Fall '79

Grateful Dead Productions


Road Trips is a new series of Grateful Dead archive releases only available through the band's merchandise web site. The first such project since the merchandising agreement with Rhino Records, though not directly affiliated with the label, it differs from most previous archival work in that instead of presenting complete shows—as on the now discontinued Dick's Picks—each release will collate highlights from a particular Grateful Dead period.

Fall 1979 is the focus of the debut edition, and it's a well-conceived choice since it brings some welcome attention to the time keyboardist/vocalist/songwriter Brent Mydland was part of the band. During his eleven year tenure, before an untimely demise, Mydland, migrating from guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir's solo band, brought an infectious, fresh level of enthusiasm to the Dead.

Mydland acted as catalyst for a new sense of musicianly chemistry in the Grateful Dead and Road Trips Vol., 1 No. 1 illustrates this with clarity. The band never forgot their sources of original inspiration fourteen years earlier, however: they continued to perform Chuck Berry's "Promised Land," as if to illustrate the roots of "Alabama Getaway," and the two songs are here tellingly juxtaposed by compilers/producers Dave Lemieux and Blair Jackson.

Brent Mydland's high-level of enthusiasm—especially in the way he renewed guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia's interest in later years—contributed to a level of internal excitement, one that translated directly into Grateful Dead improvisation as well as they way they began consciously to structure their sets as mini-suites of songs. Here that adventuresome spirit manifests itself in some unlikely segues, such as the warhorse "Dancing In The Streets" coupled with a pinnacle of early 1970s writing, recording and performing, "Franklin's Tower."

Material from all Dead epochs also found new life at the end of the 1970s. Older material like "Deal" displayed a panache that comes only with being sufficiently familiar with the material to sound positively nonchalant. This can't be all due to Mydland's presence since he had just joined, but note the way his Hammond organ lines flow in, out and around the other instruments.

The response Garcia would get when beginning "Wharf Rat" was an indication of the way the audience responded to the affecting vulnerability of his singing as much as the Grateful Dead's renewed vigor. There may not be more dynamic versions of this song or of "Bertha" thanks in no small part to Mydland prodding the band and its titular leader: the hirsute musician not only fit in, he made a place for himself in the group, not always the same thing.

The breadth of recordings, not to mention song choices, represented an advantage for the band throughout their career. Today's archivists, Lemieux and Jackson, also benefit because there are any number of tunes, from a variety of Dead epochs, from which to pick: the rarely played "Passenger" for instance, by bassist/vocalist Phil Lesh, is novel for its very inclusion and also for the means by which this muscular rocker affords drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart to flex outside their solo percussion spots.

The exceptional sound quality of these discs, rendered through the original recording by Dan Healy and the remastering expertise of Jeffrey Norman, belies the disclaimer on the cover. The band was keenly conscious of this aspect of their music practically from its inception, so it's no surprise the audio is so fully resonant on titles like this.

Likewise, the meticulous archiving of their work was in process early on. The packaging of Road Trips, in earth-colored faux bootleg style, is an updated version of the generic aesthetic that graced the aforementioned Dick's Picks, but rises above that by dint of the detail in the credits, not to mention Jackson's knowledgeable essay affording accurate historical perspective on the set. Particularly noteworthy is Jackson's reference to the comparatively limited breadth of the Dead's audience at this point, some years before their entry into the mainstream via their hit "Touch Of Grey."

There is a third, bonus disc available with the package proper that distinguishes itself by the inclusion of instrumental interludes titled "jams." The first is located in the middle of seven performances take from the same autumn tour and works as a smooth segue. Its counterpart near the end of the CD finds the Dead teasing "Gloria" for some time without ever crystallizing the theme. Consequently, the individual listener may want to impose his own circular logic by reprogramming the sequence of tracks: to begin in the middle enacts a fluid progression centered on "China Cat Sunflower."

Perhaps a logical step for this series next time out might be to focus on that period in which Bruce Hornsby stepped in to substitute on keyboards for a protracted period after Brent Mydland's death in 1990. The beauty of Road Trips, however, is similar to that of the best Grateful Dead improvisations such as those on Vol. 1, No. 1 during "Playing In The Band" and "Not Fade Away:" you never know where the band is going to go.

Tracks: CD1: Alabama Getaway; Promised Land; Jack Straw; Deal; Dancing In The Street; Franklin's Tower; Wharf Rat; I Need A Miracle; Bertha; Good Lovin'. CD2: Shakedown Street; Passenger; Terrapin Station; Playing In The Band; Not Fade Away; Morning Dew. Bonus Disc: China Cat Sunflower; I Know You Rider; Lost Sailor; Saint Of Circumstance; Jam; Althea; Estimated Prophet; He's Gone; Jam.

Personnel: Jerry Garcia: guitar and vocals; Mickey Hart: drums, percussion; Bill Kreutzmann: drums, percussion; Phil Lesh: bass, vocals; Brent Mydland: keyboards, vocals; Bob Weir: guitar and vocals.

Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Grateful Dead/Rhino | Style: Jam Band


More Articles

Read Alex Cline's Flower Garland Orchestra: Oceans of Vows Extended Analysis Alex Cline's Flower Garland Orchestra: Oceans of Vows
by John Kelman
Published: March 23, 2017
Read Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis: The Stone House Extended Analysis Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis: The Stone House
by John Kelman
Published: March 4, 2017
Read Jazz Is Phsh: He Never Spoke A Word Extended Analysis Jazz Is Phsh: He Never Spoke A Word
by Doug Collette
Published: March 3, 2017
Read Tim Bowness: Lost in the Ghostlight Extended Analysis Tim Bowness: Lost in the Ghostlight
by John Kelman
Published: February 19, 2017
Read Way Down Inside: Songs of Willie Dixon Extended Analysis Way Down Inside: Songs of Willie Dixon
by Doug Collette
Published: February 18, 2017
Read Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix) Extended Analysis Chicago II (Steven Wilson Remix)
by John Kelman
Published: February 12, 2017
Read "Holger Czukay: Movie!" Extended Analysis Holger Czukay: Movie!
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: May 14, 2016
Read "The Traveling Wilburys Collection" Extended Analysis The Traveling Wilburys Collection
by Doug Collette
Published: September 4, 2016
Read "Van Morrison: It's Too Late to Stop Now - Volumes II, III, IV & DVD" Extended Analysis Van Morrison: It's Too Late to Stop Now - Volumes II,...
by Doug Collette
Published: September 3, 2016
Read "King Crimson: Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind)" Extended Analysis King Crimson: Radical Action (To Unseat The Hold of Monkey...
by John Kelman
Published: September 10, 2016
Read "Buena Vista Social Club presents Ibrahim Ferrer" Extended Analysis Buena Vista Social Club presents Ibrahim Ferrer
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: April 24, 2016
Read "Jim Ridl: Door in a Field V2, Songs of the Green River" Extended Analysis Jim Ridl: Door in a Field V2, Songs of the Green River
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: October 17, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus


Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!