Grateful Dead

Blair’s Golden Road Blog— Phish, WSP, Derek and Other “Fellow Travelers”

I don’t dig Phish. Lord knows I’ve tried. Through the years I’ve had so many people attempt to convert me. I dutifully auditioned live CDs fanatical fans would pass to me. I checked out every studio album that came my way, wondering if this would be the Phish album that would have songs that actually resonated with me. I recall when one came out a number of years ago a Phish Head pal proclaimed it “Phish’s American Beauty.” Uh, no. I watched most of a live Phish DVD a while ago, wondering if perhaps the visual element would get me off. Nope. “But you gotta see a show, man!” No doubt. I’m still open to that. But at this point, I really have heard many hours of Phish and it just doesn’t do it for me. The songs don’t sing to my soul, and even though the musicianship is clearly amazing on a technical level, it doesn’t hit me emotionally.

I’ve been through similar scenes with other jam bands (and my friends who like ’em). I can at least understand why Phish appeals to people, but in the case of Widespread Panic I don’t have a clue. They sound completely ordinary to me. Again, I’ve given them multiple chances to show me something — live and studio CDs — but the song craft isn’t there for me, the guitar playing does not blow my mind, and they lack even that quirky dimension that Phish has (way too much of). I suppose I have to see them live, too. So, who’s got my 10th row-center miracle ticket for that show? ’Cause in this era, with ticket prices what they are, I ain’t spending my concert money on a headliner there’s a good chance I won’t enjoy.

But here’s the thing: I root for both of those bands, and really, just about all jam bands, because they are “fellow travelers.” No, not fellow communists, as that term was originally applied decades ago, but musicians out of the mainstream dedicated to playing improvisational music before spirited and adventure-seeking crowds. I like any crowd that will dance—sorry, just standing there doesn’t count; gotta shake it at least a little — and any band that will get people up and moving. To me, it’s the highest form of musical communion. The Grateful Dead completely spoiled me, because not only did they inspire you to dance, they had perhaps the greatest song catalog (originals and covers) of any band ever, so every part of your body-mind-spirit was engaged. At this point, I’ve learned to go to shows not expecting that sort of soul-elevating trifecta, so I am often pleasantly surprised when I get one or two, and if not for an entire evening, at least in spurts.

It’s not like I want or expect bands to sound at all like the Grateful Dead. Yes, I love Furthur—it’s those guys and those songs, brought into The Now. But, as I’ve noted before, Dark Star Orchestra, who sound more like the Dead than Furthur, don’t do it for me. Even so, I still want them to do well, because they’re fellow travelers fighting the good fight and providing a space for the people who like them to experience something soulful and true.

My favorite of the first wave of jam bands — moe.— doesn’t sound anything like the Grateful Dead. Nor does String Cheese Incident, who I’ve enjoyed intermittently through the years. SCI and moe. also have made studio albums I love: Untying the Not and Wormwood respectively, and have written many fine songs. A group that I’ve come to love the last few years who go to some similar musical places as the Grateful Dead but in a completely different way is Railroad Earth. Again, it’s good songs as vehicles for inspired jamming, but more from the bluegrass side. Yonder Mountain String Band is often lumped into the loose jamgrass category, too, but for whatever reason I have not gotten into them in the same way. But I root for them, too!

The other night I went to the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and they totally knocked me out with their alternately tight and jammy rock, R&B and soul sound. The crowd was great — hanging on every wail from Derek Trucks’ slide, and movin’ to the big, big sound of a surprisingly flexible 11-piece band, with Derek’s wife, Susan Tedeschi, out front with gritty lead vocals that at times recalled Bonnie Raitt, Bonnie Bramlett and other belters. Opening for the TTB was the married duo Tim and Nicki Bluhm (he’s best known as leader of the Mother Hips and also toured with the Rhythm Devils last year), and they were definitely not a jam band. They played short, catchy, country-flavored original songs—just two voices and one acoustic guitar—but you could tell they were fellow travelers because you could hear their roots in folk and old-time music, feel that the characters in their songs were flesh and blood, and that as performers they were connecting with each other and the audience. It was real. They got a tremendous reception from a crowd that was there to rock—but also open to being moved.

When it comes down to it, I guess what I’m really looking for, whether it’s from so-called jam bands or a solo singer with one instrument, is some sort of connection. When you find it, you know it—you can’t miss it! And when you get it, you want more. So the search continues…

OK, jam fans — tell us who you like and why! (And yes, I will take recommendations for THE Phish or Widespread Panic disc or download I have to hear!)


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Joined: Jun 6 2007

That's quite a list; many folks I have not heard of... though I must say in all honesty, I have zero interest in Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Anthony Braxton, etc.--"free" though they may be, I just don't care for noisy avant-garde jazz. Not my thing at all. Never has been. Ornette is even border-line for me. Archie Shepp-- not my idea of a good time...

Joined: Jun 4 2007

I agree with Picnic, I don't see how no one mentions the Radiators. The only other band I ever connected with in a way similar to the Dead.

Joined: Jun 3 2011
folks I try to never miss

Notably, a lot of these folks have Dead/Furthur connections, but I always get great music plus that something extra from Bruce Hornsby, Branford Marsalis Quartet, David Byrne, John Prine, Taj Mahal and John Wesley Harding.

tphokie1's picture
Joined: Jun 9 2007
"Working" at it

A number of years ago I returned to college as an adult to finish what I started many years ago. I took a music appreciation course primarily because I thought it would be an easy way to fill an elective requirement! I knew music pretty well and wasn't expecting to really learn a whole lot. The text book for the course was a book by Aaron Copeland (my favorite American composer) and in it he talked about not being lazy when listening to new music. That was the focus of the course and it helped open new musical experiences to me. I have applied that to my experience of the new crop of jam bands. Railroad Earth required no work, they grabbed me immediately! Keller Williams has required more effort but I appreciate him more as I listen more. Phish is a work in progress for me. They still don't blow me away but I'm finding more gems the more I listen. Of course there will always be some music that doesn't do it for me no matter how much I listen but I've found that making the effort has expanded my mind, and isn't that a key part of the whole Grateful Dead experience!

gratefaldean's picture
Joined: Jun 22 2007
Don't want to

Hijack this into a Shoot Out the Lights thread, but it's still a Rhino thang. The $40 price tag is somewhat more distressing as I've just preordered Richard and Linda Live at BBC, a 4-disc set from Universal (UK) for what amounts to about $55 including shipping (Amazon has it for sale currently in the low-mid $60s range). Four discs, not two. Not a fantastic bargain, but compared to the Shoot reissue, a steal.

Ahh, it's just money...

Let me put in a plug for my all-time favorite jam band...the Grateful Dead! You gotta hear these guys, trust me. And the best fans on the face of the earth!

jonapi (not verified)
Ripple in still water....

Thank the God of your choice for this blog!
Before i go any further, i am in complete agreement with the sentiment. Even if i don't dig a particular artist, i wish them every happiness, every spark of creativity, every right to continue expressing THEIR soul in that beautiful language we call MUSIC (or vibration if you prefer...). So, with that in mind, please allow me an indulgence; no offense is meant to any artist or fan that i disagree with. It's just my own personal thoughts and opinions; respect and tolerance for all.
However!!!! This blog does bring up a number of points that do bug me about certain Dead Heads' (my fellow travellers indeed) approach to other music. It verges on the way radio is guilty of spoon-feeding the public the same ol' same ol'.
You know there is a wider spectrum of music out there if you investigate and trust that intuition that we are all born with, yet lose so quickly. Some people just can't peek around the curtains of this "Jam" scene to see what's behind. Hence, this incestuous claustrophobia that permeates other fellows' tastes. There ARE magazines out there other than Relix; impossible to believe you say, yet my newsagents' shelves seem to be bulging.
Many appear to have a wider interest in other musics, true; yet, and YET, it always seems to involve just a smattering of the usual high profile artists (damn fine artists they are too). Jazz? just Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Ornette Coleman (even the musical equivalent of beige, Branford Marsalis). Where is the championing of Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, David S. Ware, Kaoru Abe, Evan Parker, Anthony Braxton, Peter Brötzmann, John Butcher, Frank Wright, Arthur Doyle, Matthew Shipp?
This awful, overabundance of cheesy "electronica"/supposed psychedelic dance infestation? Sorry Eoto, Disco Biscuits. No thank you....
I do fully appreciate that some people only have a limited amount of time to investigate deeper into certain styles, but this is where certain publications are profoundly guilty. When the journalists themselves have a fairly limited musical palette, this will get passed on the the readers. "But hang on" you say, "they cover Folk, Country, Blues, Jazz, Rock; that's hardly narrow minded". True, but it's the same ol' same ol'. (or a variation on the same ol' same ol').
Whatever happened to experimentation? To pushing the boundaries? To the endless journey? To knowing that the right-hand path is the correct one and damn well pursuing that left one as if your life depended on it?
But lets not end on a negative note; I mean for this post to be signpost as it were; a source of inspiration if i may (am probably going the wrong way about it, but i'm passionate, that's all).
Before my humble list, i AM a fan of a lot of the bands in the "jam" (shudder at that term boys and girls...) scene; I love Phish, String Cheese, Widespread, Railroad Earth (good call Blair), Allman Brothers, Gov't Mule etc. etc. It's just not all there is.
As Blair mentioned in his next post, out of print is virtually unheard of in the age of internet. EXPLORE!!!

Firstly, for fans of this "electronica"/"trance" scene, try these, especially the early 90's recordings:
Etnica, Doof, Infinity Project, Astral Projection, Eat Static, Banco de Gaia, Orichalcum & The Egg, Cosmosis, Psychaos, Man With No Name, X-Dream, Slide, Koxbox, Cwithe, Anesthesia, Saafi Brothers, Shin-Ra.
Labels such as Transient, Blue Room, T.I.P. Records, Psy Harmonics.

Other random artists deserving of appreciation and support, by no means comprehensive:
Toru Takemitsu, Group Doueh, Coil, Akio Suzuki, Ruins, Chrome Hoof, Taj Mahal Travellers, Henry Cow, Derek Bailey, Yabby You, Boredoms, Tom Zé, Art Ensemble Of Chicago, Throbbing Gristle, Olivia Tremor Control, Susie Ibarra, Duck Baker, Biosphere, No Neck Blues Band, Faust, Konono No.1, Stan Kenton, Curd Duca, Milford Graves, Os Mutantes, Aube, Juan Atkins, Omar Souleyman, The Orb, The Congos, Headhunter, Drexciya, Davy Graham, Stock Hausen & Walkman, Amon Duul, Goatsnake, Jacob Kirkegaard, Augustus Pablo, Raz Mesinai, Phil Niblock, Philip Jeck, Derek Bailey, Nick Drake, Neu, David Kristian, Paul Westerberg, Oren Ambarchi, Derrick May, Chris Watson, Can, Squarepusher, DJ Olive, Otomo Yoshihide, OOIOO, David Toop, The Focus Group, Volcano The Bear and a whole helluva lot more!!

Touch, Aum Fidelity, Important, Editions Mego, Incus, Zero Gravity, Erstwhile, Warp, Leo Records, Tzadik, Ninja Tune, Compost, ESP-Disk, Emanem and Captain Trips.

Lastly, i urge ALL of you to subscribe to one of THE visionary, informative publications on the market - The Wire. (Their Editor, Biba Kopf is THE biggest Dead fan. This is a man who filled his iPod with only versions of "Playing In The Band" to compare their transformation through the years.......).

Everything above written with the purest of intent; to fill the friends i haven't met yet's minds with glorious sound.
Apologies for the length and any dissing; i want Eoto and Disco Biscuits to continue for many years. Good luck and happiness to them both. It's just me who doesn't get it, that's all.

Peace and respect.

bruno14's picture
Joined: Sep 18 2007
Thanks Mary

For the Richard and Linda tip. One of the great honors of my life was getting to produce a Richard Thompson solo acoustic show shortly after his last tour with Linda. Unfortunately, he was so little known that we got a very small house (a group rather than a crowd?), knowledgeable but small. Anyway, he made a lot of beautiful music come from one wooden guitar. Check out Valerio - maybe not jamming but an amazing performance. Small Town Romance is from that era.

Also, while Richard does not do many extended jams, the 1975 Richard and Linda Live has excellent, and pretty long, versions of Calvary Cross and Night Comes In. And more live albums have been released over the last few years. I love More Guitar, from 1988 shows.

Deadicated's picture
Joined: Jun 4 2007
Shoot Out the Lights

I guess the reason for the 40 dollars is the state-of-the-art packaging. Is it worth it? I was undergoing my own failed relationship at the time and this just helped build more character. "Walkin' On A Wire" & "It's Just the Motion" are two of the most emotional songs ever. I would love to hear the live stuff. Major plunge though. Quandry. Thanks marye.

" Steal Your Jazz "

miroth's picture
Joined: Feb 8 2008

Sorry about the double post.... dunno how that happened! Anyway, if anybody here is into the AK FAM, hit me up, I've some stickers I'll send for free as well as lots of live shows to trade or kick down. Peace, Michael

miroth's picture
Joined: Feb 8 2008

Has anyone mentioned Akron/Family yet? (

These guys are definitely "fellow travelers" which you get a sense of from this quote taken from a recent interview with AK FAM guitarist Seth Olinsky: "Part of the creative process is that it doesn't know completion—it just knows creativity. It keeps creating, it keeps reinventing itself. It's more cyclical and just process-oriented. Look at all living things: nothing's static. There is no stasis in life." (

I know a lot of folks around here probably won't like them due to their extremely chaotic and noisy style, but I have come to love them. As the Dead did when I first discovered them, Akron/Family has turned me onto a whole new level of understanding and appreciation of "what music is." They are fearless improvisers and masters of dynamics.

Now you can check out a lot of their recent live music at (, but I do not see how you can possibly "get" this band until you experience a show live in person. Lots of crowd involvement with clapping, chanting, singing, and dancing with reckless abandon.

Recommended albums: "Love Is Simple" and "Set 'em Wild, Set 'em Free"


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.