Grateful Dead

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Blair’s Golden Road Blog - Sittin’ In

By Blair Jackson

I only got to see Duane Allman in person once—at the Fillmore East when he sat in with the Dead for three numbers on 4/26/71: “Sugar Magnolia,” “It Hurts Me Too” and “Beat It on Down the Line.” I had recently fallen in love the Allmans' Idlewild South album, which served as my introduction to the band, so I was thrilled to see Duane rockin' with my favorite group!

As a suburban New York teenager completely enamored with the mystique of '60s San Francisco, I figured the Dead probably had musicians joining them onstage at their concerts all the time, not to mention endless late night jam sessions with Jorma, Carlos, Cipollina and whoever else was around when they were back in the Bay Area. When Tom Constanten (T.C.), whom I'd never seen play with the Dead, turned up as a guest at the Fillmore two night later, it reinforced my (incorrect) notion that sit-ins with the Dead were a common occurrence. For a while, I half-expected someone cool to show up every time I saw the band. But aside from another Allmans sighting the following year at Dillon Stadium in Hartford (7/16/72; Jerry and Bob reciprocated by playing with the Allmans the next night at Gaelic Park in the Bronx; equally thrilling!), it would be many years before I saw another outside musician with the Dead—could it really have been the “From Egypt with Love” shows, with harmonica ace Lee Oskar from War, in October of '78? I think so.

As my tape collection grew in the late '70s and early '80s, I finally got to hear some of the more famous guest appearances, such as Janis joining Pigpen for an endless and not particularly great “Lovelight” at the Fillmore West on 6/7/69, and the Fillmore East late show from 2/11/70, featuring Duane Allman and Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac (and a bunch of others banging on various percussion instruments) jamming on “Dark Star,” a ferocious “Spanish jam” and “Lovelight.” That one's got lots of inspired playing, but also sounds wandering and extremely cluttered in places. It's the classic “too many cooks” jammer's dilemma—the musicians want to both shred and be deferential to the others onstage. Also, not everyone is miked equally well, so some parts unfortunately get lost in the mix. Still, imagine the excitement of being there and actually witnessing this sonic tsunami gushing off the stage in giant waves!

As a serious Jefferson Airplane fan, I was also ecstatic when the somewhat muffled audience tapes of the 11/20/70 Rochester Dead show appeared, with Jorma adding his stinging leads to a few songs (such as a fantastic “All Over Now” and “Darling Corey”) and jams. I guess if a soundboard version of that existed it would have materialized by now; sniff, sniff. Oh, well—thank God Marty Wienberg taped it!

By the '80s, it seems that most of the guest shots were song-oriented rather than jam-oriented, for better or worse. Etta James' appearances with the Dead 12/30-31/82 at Oakland Auditorium were a blast—it was great to hear her and the Tower of Power horns tackle “Hard to Handle” and “Lovelight” and “Tell Mama,” and fortunately they'd rehearsed at least a little. I also dug the tapes of Stephen Stills' loose but intense appearances at Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey 4/16-17/83. But I was disappointed by the melding of the Dead and much of The Band for a short, sloppy uninspired third set at the SF Civic on New Year's Eve '83.

E Street sax man Clarence Clemons sat in at a number of shows in the late '80s (and played several entire concerts with the Garcia Band in '89; a better match) and added some nice touches to some songs, but was distracting and “off” on others. Branford Marsalis' first appearance with the Dead at Nassau Coliseum on 3/29/90 was perhaps the greatest single sit-in ever with the Dead, in my view. No other guest “got” the band and its many facets as well as he did. I wasn't at that one, but I did get to see him with the Dead on New Year's Eve '90-'91 and I can attest to their strong connection. I am not a huge fan of saxophonist David Murray and what he added to the group, but Ornette Coleman blew me away with powerful reeds work at the Oakland Coliseum on 2/23/93.

Jerry and Branford Marsalis at Nassau Coliseum, March 29, 1990. Photo: Michael A. Conway ©2012

Other cool guest spots I enjoyed (on tape or in person) include Carlos Santana at Calaveras 8/22-23/87 and Las Vegas 4/28/91 (“Bird Song”!); Suzanne Vega fronting the Dead for a version of Robin Hitchcock's "Chinese Bones" at the rainforest benefit at Madison Square Garden 9/24/88; all of Steve Miller's appearances with the band in the summer of '92 (he even elevated “Morning Dew” at Giants Stadium on 6/14/92); blues harmonica legend James Cotton at Soldier Field 6/25/92; the supremely soulful Bonnie Raitt on “Big Boss Man” NYE '89-'90; Neil Young leading the band through an emotional “Forever Young” at the Bill Graham memorial concert in Golden Gate Park on 11/3/91; Bruce Hornsby anytime he showed up to play; and, much to my surprise, Spencer Davis at the Forum in L.A. (along with Hornsby) on 12/10/89. I'm like a broken record singing the praises of Halloween '91 with Quicksilver's Gary Duncan and Ken Kesey, but it's worth mentioning again. One of the weirdest I personally saw was when Bob Dylan showed up for the encore at MSG on 10/17/94 and mumbled his way through “Rainy Day Women.” What an odd duck. Still, it was kinda fun screaming out “Everybody must get stoned!” along with Jerry.

I have to admit that sometimes, once the initial rush of excitement over the unexpected appearance of a guest had subsided, I sometimes found myself wishing I was just hearing the Good Ol' Grateful Dead instead. Having an extra person onstage invariably changed the way the group played and at times actually brought the energy level down as the band struggled to mesh with a foreign element. It was one thing to have someone out there playing on a blues or “Midnight Hour” or something simple, but when the band carried on with “Terrapin” or “Stella Blue” or something the guest clearly didn't know, it could sound awkward and forced. But at least it was almost always interesting, and weren't we all craving new and different things? I was!

I don't want to leave out Mickey and Bill's many percussionist friends. Airto, Flora Purim, Olatunji, Hamza El Din and others were always welcome visitors, and, truth be told, usually fit in with the flow of things even more than guest guitarists and singers.

It's interesting that in the post-Grateful Dead world, the surviving band members are all about playing with anybody and everybody, anywhere anytime! They are flexible in ways the Grateful Dead were not, for some reason—anyone care to speculate why?

Lastly, I am occasionally asked why there hasn't been a Grateful Dead & Friends box set, or more releases featuring guests. After all, there are more than enough outstanding tracks to make up a cool release. I don't have a good answer for you, except to note that obtaining rights from outside artists can be difficult—dealing with managers, record labels, the families of deceased players, etc.—and expensive. Of course the Dead wanted to put some Duane Allman or Beach Boys tracks from those '71 Fillmore East concerts on the Ladies and Gentlemen...The Grateful Dead package; couldn't work out a deal. Someday, perhaps.

What are some your favorite guest appearances with the Dead? Or, conversely, tell us about ones you think didn't work. What would you put on a Grateful Dead & Friends box?


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Joined: Jun 14 2007

Funny the things one remembers. I was at the show when Delaney Bramlett sat in, and all I remember is that he seemed very dressed up to me. Of course he would have, with anything dressier than a t-shirt and jeans on.

smarcus's picture
Joined: May 20 2010
Two very interesting "guest sit ins"

First off I would like to mention the extremely strange guest sit in of Bob Dylan at The LA Forum in 1989...basically refusing to sing on his songs except when Bobby faked going up on the lyrics to Memphis, and then Dylan only finished one verse!

The other was when the entire Grateful Dead and the entire Huey Lewis and The News and John Fogerty did a few songs all together at The Bammies (1988?) Two Basses, Three Drummers...overload!

I've mentioned my Clarence Clemons story before, but at the 12/27/89 show he and I were talking and he talked about how much he liked sitting in with GD and told me, "you can call me The Big Dead Man for now on!" Then he told me he was going out to the parking lot to score some acid! He walked out the door and the next time I saw him that night his eyes were blazing!

slo lettuce's picture
Joined: Jul 20 2012
"i got a fevah.....

and the only prescription is more.........." :D lol

marye's picture
Joined: May 26 2007
now there's a story

that cries out for video.

bolo24's picture
Joined: Nov 25 2009

My favorite guest appearance! I was hanging out backstage at the Oakland Coliseum Arena way back when and somehow ended up underneath the stage (!). In trying to get out of there, I found some stairs and went up, only to discover I was now onstage! This occurred during the drums segment of the show, so, noticing some percussion instruments nearby, I picked up a cowbell and started playing it. I got a few looks, as in, "Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?" But, since I was on the beat, no one seemed to care all that much. My few minutes of fame ended abruptly when I noticed Steve Parish staring at me as he was headed my way. I escaped unscathed, but, alas, my time as a member of the Dead was over.

Man, I sure miss those days!

Underthevolcano's picture
Joined: Feb 6 2008
john cippolina

wished he had joined them more often but we get to see and hear him on the Closing of Winterland.

Joined: Apr 14 2012
Sitting In

Blair is right; not as many guests as you would expect during much of the Dead's tenure. I was at 2/11/70, BTW--15 people on stage including Duane/Greg/Barry Oakley (and maybe others; it's been a whle) from ABB, all of the Dead, plus Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac--3 hours of monster jamming. Delaney Bramlett in September 1970, also at the Fillmore East; Cippolina on NYE in 1980, and that's it. When Sting opened for the Dead at Soldier's Field in 1993 (1994? again, i'ts been a while), I expected him to come back on and play with the band, but he didn't. The "sitting in" that I suspect many Deadheads who dabble at the guitar themselves will own up to is DREAMING of playing with the Dead. It's only happened a few times for me, and not for years, but that's one heck of a way to spend nighttime in your sleep.

Joined: Nov 12 2007
Loggins & Messina Sittin' In?

Loggins & Messina Sittin' In?

sailbystars's picture
Joined: Oct 27 2010
Fogerty and Santana

I really liked the Fogerty set with Bob and Jerry sitting in with him at the AIDS benefit. I was up pretty close and remember Jerry having a lot of fun backing him up. John Fogerty was the show though, and ran off a number of classic guitar parts, so there wasn't any deep jamming, but it was very high energy, Fogerty had the full catalog of CCR hits at his disposal, and they played the crowd, smiles all around. For those who weren't at the Oakland AIDS benefit show, the entire lineup was phenomenal. The Grateful Dead played last, Fogerty third-to-last. Who was in the unenviable middle slot between those two Rock Legends? A completely solo Tracy Chapman. Unlike the Dead at Monterey Pop (sandwiched between the Who and Hendrix, of course), Tracy Chapman delivered the goods. She held the masses in the palm of her hand. She was mesmerizing.

My first Dead show was at Calaveras in 1987, so like Blair I thought special guests must be more common than they really were. Carlos Santana, to my ears, forced Garcia to greater heights - the watchtower was a no-brainer, and the Birdsong was unique in its intensity. It couldn't be called the definitive version, just because of the way the Dead members had to cater to the outsider a bit, but it was a fresh take. David Lindley opened those two shows and was also fantastic.

Joined: Nov 3 2010
Matt Kelly in '85

That was 3-28-85 and 3-29-85 at Nassau Coliseum. I LOVE the first set from 3-28 with Matt Kelly on the Smokestack Lightning that came out of the Truckin' opener. The China Rider to close the set blazes. Its solid all the way through to my ears.

The drumsticks being hurled at Matt Kelly is to me a very shameful story in the Dead history. I don't know firsthand all the circumstances that lead to the apparent hatred and violence between Matt Kelly and the drummers, but I find the whole thing shocking. If he knew Billy and Mickey were so pissed off at him, what led him to still sit in?

I wish I could forget all that stuff, because I love to hear a harp player sit in with the Dead on a blues tune and Matt Kelly was a good harp player.


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