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?
Being like Palmer Eldritch, another 68-74 head - I would only like to have Duane with the Dead. Guests usually disturbed the tightness of the band. Although, like you Blair, I love variety, but on repeated listening it seems too distracting and not THE music that we all love. I did like Stephen Stills' Black Queen with the Dead, and Steve Winwoods organ with the Dead - but not his botched up NFA. Sure, pure Grateful Dead is better anyday.
I really don't know why 3/29/90 wasn't released with the Spring 1990 box. Maybe it's because we already had Eyes and Bird Song, or maybe they couldn't get the rights. Either way, it was a crying shame. Perhaps somewhere down the line the 90 NYE is scheduled for a release and they didn't want two full shows with Branford?
The Grateful Dead with guest stars, yeah, baby.
#1 sit in is the Dicks Picks with Bo Diddley (I can't beleve I ate the whole thing)
#2 Bob Dylan, the Front street rehearsal tapes are a gas.
#3 Spencer Davis at the Great Western Forum (twice ) second time he quipped about hiding in the dressing room since dec. 88
#4 Bob Dylan 2/12/89 at the Forum (best moment when Bobby stranded the Bard at the mic during StuckIOMWTMBAgain. CLASSIC.
#5 Maria Muldar in 73 with You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man.
#6 Carlos at Mountain Aire '87 (both days).
#7 Branford at NYE 90 (Why are these shows not released ?)
#8 Etta & TofP Horns at NYE 82
#9 Joan Baez at NYE 81
#10 Cippolina on Not Fade Away at the Greek in '83
Jerry and Bob back up John Fogerty with Randy Jackson on Bass and Steve Jordan on Drums at The AIDS Benefit in 89
Clarence comes by for the encore of Suzie Q.
And the list goes on and on and on......
Second set featured a surprise guest appearance by the Neville Brothers . They sat in from Aiko-Aiko through Knocking on Heaven's Door and crushed it. During the intro to Aiko Phil "burped out" one note that was so loud it shook the entire arena. I was there and the energy in that place was unbelievable! My favorite of several guest appearances I witnessed over the years. Listen to the version on the l.m.a. Great memories!!
Really, I'd love a '73 horns release. Frankly, I just don't buy into the myth that there were "bad" shows during 68-74. I think this is just a myth, perpetuated in part by the band itself. People like the myth, since it refutes the notion that Deadheads are uncritical "sheep". I've never heard a 68-74 show that I didn't love. Sure, there's a whole spectrum there. Some shows seem relatively uninspired, some are pure magic. But the band always sounds the same. The band's chemistry is always the same and their uncompromising approach is always the same. I'd take the "worst" 68-74 show over the "best" post-hiatus show. It was a true golden age.
I'll always prefer the Dead alone, without guests. But even sketchy horns can't ruin the warm, beautiful sound of 1973 Dead.
The Grateful Dead have released around 500 hours of music over the years. I love almost all of it, but while I look forward to each release, it is hard to break really new ground when there is that much out there already in official releases. And then of course there is archive/etree/etc. I have long been an advocate for a "Friends of the Dead" release, because it would be more unique than most other choices. I just don't think TPTB would ever spend the legal time and dollars as well as share the royalties with a bunch of guest stars, especially for a Dave's Picks 13,000 unit offering. This is a business, after all, and mastering a soundboard has got to be way, way easier than negotiation with a bunch of artists and then doing individual mastering of songs.
If, however, TPTB *did* decide to go this route, I think the choices would be:
1) A major 2 or 3 disc release (whatever you call the kind of release that ends up at Best Buy, etc.) of guest artist highlights, which is a low probability in my opinion, or
2) A release of a single show, which involved only one outside company negotiation for the guest artist. This would likely be 6/10/73 with the Allman's or 3/29/90 with Branford. Whoops, 6/10/73 would also involve Merl.
I emailed David L. about releasing a 9/73 horns show, but he felt that none of the performances were release worthy, despite being unique. I think a Best of 9/73 release would be awesome, but I don't know if DL would be able to piece together tracks he felt were worthy. I'm sure I could... :-)
It's just so much easier for TPTB to release a show without these complications and revenue sharing arrangements, I don't think there will be much incentive to take this on until individual shows stop selling.
In answer to this question, I would have to go with The Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers RFK '73. A while back, I transcripted part of an article from an Allman Brothers fanzine "Hittin' The Note" with an interview between Dick Latvala and Kirk West talking about a plan they had to put out the '73 RFK run. It obviously didn't get the nod. If tptb want this bad enough, they can make it happen.
I'm sure there are at least 10,000 eager Deadheads who would throw down the money for this, and another 10,000 eager Peachheads who would do the same. I would, and I'm a huge fan of both bands. Throw in the full sets and soundchecks from Watkin's Glen, and you got yourself the next Big Box surprise! Count me in!
Blair, I'm not sure commercial viability should be such an issue for the limited releases ~ I think the 12-13K limits should allow the Vault-meisters to indulge the "fetishists".... And '73 is wildly popular regardless, so I can't imagine one of the "horns" releases not selling. What I've heard I think is really fun ~ or I should say, hearing Jerry having fun playing with them. I think a best-version anthology would be great.
As to my own sit-in experiences ~ caught the Spencer Davis surprise appearance at Philly '87, as well. The band had to insert the "Hey!"s (which they didn't do at that time) and make a few other minor adjustments to tailor "their" version to his classic one, but it was quite a fun way to begin a 2nd set. And then Jerry hit the opening notes to "ChinaCat -> Rider," and the set started over again. So it was like a freebie ~ you got the guest slot, AND "just the boys"....
My only other sit-ins (not counting the band backing Dylan in '87) were both Bruce. First at Buckeye Lake '88 ~ and the "Accordion Sugaree" was a big UGH for me and my friends, I must admit. For one thing, it stunted the Jerry long-buildup-jam factor, and also I had no appreciation for the instrument at that time. Having now bonded in a band with an accordion player, I have a great love for the instrument these days.
The other Bruce was RFK Stadium, summer '89 first night, 2nd set. That was where Brent shared the bench with him for a jam and they both dualed it out on piano. Very fun and memorable. And how tragically symbolically prescient in retrospect. (Also the only time I ever saw the Dire Wolf guitar in action, I think for post-Space only but I wouldn't swear...)
I actually caught one more Bruce guest-spot (on accordion for "Know You Rider") in '93, but by then he was a full on ex-member so it didn't quite feel like a guest so much as a returning hero ~ a big "Bruuuce!" chant greeted his appearance : )
As you said, lots of guests in more recent incarnations. For New Year's 2003, in addition to Greg Osby on sax for most of the night, there was a mystery percussion player for the Countdown and opening "Sugar Magnolia." Turned out to be Bill Walton!
...what all the Vince-bashing has to do with the topic, but each to his or her own, I guess... You sound kinda confused, Dan... But hey, "we're all confused"!
Great review. I know there's so many. Don't forget David Hidalgo at Laguna Seca '88.
I found the David Murray/James Cotton sit in at 9/22/93 to be really great.
Listening to King Bee from 12/08/93. I kinda wish that Vince had been just a guest. No comment on who is was as a person, but as a professional musician (and perhaps arranger[?]), he wasn't of the same level as the boys. He was evidently powerfully courageous to take on the challenge, but while the boys share one of the greatest blues moments of their career, Vince just walked and stomped all over the band that eventually overwhelmed and buried the very real music happening at that time. It would have been fine to either fire him, or hire a front-line keyboardist to follow Hornsby, as Vince knew how to flourish and embellish better than to hold his own with Jerry, Phil and Bob. We can't change the past, but man... I got to wonder... on certain shows, it would be really interesting to remove Vince from the mix, and add him in when his playing was relevant and unobtrusive. I think that his tone and timing make the late-age GD hard to hear, but when you really listen, you can hear that Jerry, Phil, Bob and the drums are playing the finest music of their lives. The conversation got so incredibly deep. They could have been fine had they gone as a quintet for a while.
To be fair, overall, Vince did learn a lot of material in a short time, enter deep into a very intricate, complex and sophisticated musical landscape more implicitly subtle than explicit, and within his limited range of technique and overwhelming constantly changing keyboard tones, he had it very very rough. And when Jerry's health began to really fall in '94, the band began to get more comfortable, and Vince got more comfortable within the groove. Hence, as Jerry declined, Vince rose. But who permitted Vinny to sing Samba in the Rain? It's almost as though the principles that had governed the Dead to success no longer existed. Man, those had to be hard times.
Fortunately, for 9/22/93, Vince was on his best behavior, only getting lost for a spell during the transition from Estimated into Dark Star (he didn't really have a great sense for the chromatic and dissonant rises and falls, even if he had a small vocabulary to work with through the changes. I think of the last show I saw, June 4, 1995 at Shoreline. Vince sounded great throughout set 1, and his annoying cliche's during Cassidy rippled across the rhythm like a beautiful wave. Yes, over 5 years, he grew immeasurably and assumed his role. There were even nights in '95 when Jerry was on, and the whole band plays their asses off start to fin. Try June 30, 1995 for a generally beautiful show. Or Summer '94 Chicago, with a near perfect first night, and an epic Samson->Eyes->Eternity->He's Gone that is one of the truly spectacular passages of the final years. I even heard a version of Samba from around that time where Jerry nailed his part (did that happen more than once? It might have been the Chicago one, I didn't take note).
Anyway, we're talking about guests. But if one were to discuss releasing Vince shows, make sure to master the shrill aspects out of his tone, and at least bring his good qualities to light, as a night when Vince was on was definitely not a bad show. I seem to recall 5.5.91 being a very tight show at Cal Expo, and I don't recall Vince offending my ears at any time on 12/31/91. Hell, on 12/28/91, I felt so happy for him because that was the first time that I heard him come out of his shell and really make a difference in that Playin'->Same Thing->jam. I'll bet if you shed a positive light, you will find that there are reliable qualities of Vince that are up there with the best qualities of any of the guys who played with the band. Even if he seemed like the guest who overstayed his welcome, he was chosen by the band He's part of the "warts and all" experience, and he grew a lot during his tenure. It was truly a difficult job to be the new keyboardist in the GD at that time, and I think he deserves some credit again.