A San Francisco Music Chronicle
Important works are in yellow.
1966: Vintage Dead. 1967: The Grateful
Dead. 1968: Anthem of the
Aoxomoxoa. 1970: Live/Dead * Workingman's Dead * American Beauty. 1971: The Grateful Dead. 1972: Europe `72. 1973: Wake of the
Flood. 1974: From the Mars
Hotel. 1975: Blues
for Allah. 1976: Steal Your Face. 1977: Terrapin Station. 1978: Shakedown Street. 1980:
Go to Heaven. 1981: Reckoning * Dead Set. 1987: In the Dark. 1989: Built to Last * Dylan and the Dead. 1990: Without a Net. 1991: One From the
Vault * Infrared Roses. 1992: Two From the Vault.
1993: Dick's Picks, Vol. 1. 1995: Dick's Picks, Vol. 2. * Hundred
Year Hall * Dick's Picks, Vol. 3. 1996: Dick's Picks,
Vol. 4 * Live at
the Knick. 1997: The Phil Zone * Live at the Fillmore.
JERRY GARCIA AND JERRY GARCIA BAND:
1972: Garcia. 1974: Garcia (Compliments). 1976: Reflections. 1978: Cats Down Under the
Stars. 1982: Run For the Roses. 1988: Almost Acoustic. 1991:
Jerry Garcia and David Grisman * Jerry Garcia Band. 1993: Not for
Kids Only. 1997: How Sweet It Is.
1972: Ace. 1978: Heaven Help the Fool. 1998: Bob Weir and Rob Wasserman.
1972: Rolling Thunder. 1976: Diga (with the Diga Rhythm Band)
1973: Tales of the Great Rum Runners. 1974: Tiger Rose. 1979: Jack O'Roses. 1982: Promontory Rider. 1984: Amagamilin Street * Rock Columbia. 1985: Live `85. 1987: Liberty.
KEITH AND DONNA GODCHEAUX:
1975: Keith and Donna.
One of the first extended (very extended) improvisational units in a rock-that-was-often-an-unusual-form-of-jazz format (discounting, for instance, Cream who were sinners in the art of improvisation, and Hendrix who seldom had the right backdrop and left a lot of ugly live work behind him, though he was obviously capable), the Grateful Dead were perhaps the most artistically sublime of units, with band interaction that must be equated with genius given their unflagging devotion, prodigious output and unparalleled resourcefulness. The trick was in absorbing influences from absolutely every direction imaginable, from the "simple" forms of country, bluegrass, rural blues, pop and soul, to the esoteric realms of avant garde, classical, jazz, and cultural music from around the globe. Channellers with gates wide open, spirit, music and life flowed forth. Beatific and reverent, unplanned and contrived, sloppy and perfect, erratic (day to day) and consistent (ultimately), clumsiness only enhanced their high wire act. Analytical rigor mortis was held at bay by refusing to chart destinations; simplistic redundancy was eluded by big, complex, ideas. Communication was clear, if elliptical. The Grateful Dead were a stunning mixture of the hearts of simple music lovers with the minds of self-conscious, ambitious aesthetes. Like the best music careers, the band flowered, year by year etching out a broader list of achievements. Prosaic scenesters looked at the Dead and saw only aging hippies; pop-loving radioheads found the music too troublesome, lacking immediacy; critics would superficially read and dismiss their latest releases - Rolling Stone, despite an initial infatuation, never paid attention to them until they had made a certain amount of money (and predictably Rolling Stone upgrades their status in each new edition of Rolling Stone Record Guide). Ascendency is never pure and simple. Critic Dave Marsh, an extraordinary rock conservative, found them to be fellow travelers and enemies of the people. Robert Christgau has managed a few coherent paragraphs on the Dead, but never felt inclined to really risk his neck. Greil Marcus offered avoidance as he pursued the arcane.
The Grateful Dead had an ethos as profound as any sixties' band. They were lucky to have Robert Hunter as a lyricist. Hunter seems to be a poet in the traditional sense of a linguist/language stylist rather than a poetic song lyricist in the Bob Dylan manner, which meant that Hunter could prove as troublesome to the posters as the musicians in the band. When Hunter was purveying a realistic slant to his writing - "Loser," "Deal," "Wharf Rat," "Cumberland Blues," "Black Peter," "To Lay Me Down" are fine examples of the form - the Dead were considered to be in their classic era (circa Workingman's Dead). If they had pursued this road, they might have found more immediate gratification with the perks of capitalism. But the essence of Hunter and the Dead is better represented by "Ripple" (American Beauty). The song suggests and eludes meaning. It's not unusual to grow quite close to a Hunter lyric only to have it fade from view the closer you look at it. The Dead reinforced the tentative nature; interpretation was constant. Not that there aren't easy roads into Deadian wilderness. Friendships, hardship, love, death, work, faith, hope and charity all figure into the text. Among other subtexts, the Dead's depictions of outsiders are masterful: outsider status becomes an expansive, encompassing all.
Even after their untimely demise, the Grateful Dead have continued to release classic music; i.e. One From the Vault, Dick's Pick, Vol. 4, and Fallout From The Phil Zone. What Dead heads have always argued - that the band was best represented on stage - probably will prove true, but this argument has helped disguise the fact that the band's original releases, given the band member's individual musical styles, and their rarified ensemble playing, are generally underrated. The work that started with Live/Dead (1970) and ended, four years later, after seven albums and various solo projects, is one of the most sustained periods of creativity for any sixties' rock band. Even ignoring their voluminous definitive versions of traditional or classic songs, and superior live renditions of their own tunes, the Dead boast a list of songs that are among the most vital rock has produced: examples are "Viola Lee Blues," "Caution: Do Not Step on Tracks," the entirety of American Beauty and Workingman's Dead,"The Wheel," "To Lay Me Down," "Bird Song," "Cassidy," "Row Jimmy Row," "Stella Blue," "Weather Reports, Pt. 1 and 2," "Here Comes Sunshine," "Unbroken Chain," "China Doll," "Ship of Fools," "Crazy Fingers," "Franklin's Tower," "I'll Take a Melody," "They Love Each Other," "Mission in the Rain," "Terrapin Station," "Estimated Prophet," "France," "Stagger Lee," "Don't Ease Me In," "Lost Sailor," "Saint of Circumstance," "Althea," "Touch of Grey," Dead Set, Without a Net, "Standing on the Moon," and "Built to Last."
People who once didn't care for the Grateful Dead, seem to be coming around. The trend is likely to continue.
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