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!)

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Joined: Nov 6 2007
Phly Phamous Mockingbird

Phly...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fR2GQr_RqM4&feature=related

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Joined: Nov 6 2007
Fly Famous Mockingbird

Fly...

Fly...

Fly...

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Joined: Mar 8 2009
One more addition...

In the (general) realm of the singer-songwriter I'd add Vusi Mahlasela to the list. One can almost feel the passion in his songs they're so visceral. Any of his records are good. Also, I would recommend the film Amandla!, which documents the centrality of music in the struggle for civil rights in South Africa. Do check it out!

"Is maith an scéalaí an aimsir." Time is a great storyteller. -- Irish Proverb

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Joined: Jan 9 2011
Tool! I second that Tool

Tool! I second that Tool emotion katedog! I also have a friend from my Dead days who is a huge Tool fan also. The ability to tap into that darker side is what thrills me about the Dead and Tool. Good call!

J.T. Gossard http://thehallucinogenicbible.blogspot.com/

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Joined: Nov 2 2010
sometimes you get shown the light

The biggest post-Jerry kick for me musically has been Tool. Most of my Dead friends find Tool much too aggressive, but the musicianship, emotions and songs hit me in a way I hadn't been hit since getting on the bus in Providence in the fall of '79.

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Joined: Nov 2 2010
sometimes you get shown the light

The biggest post-Jerry kick for me musically has been Tool. Most of my Dead friends find Tool much too aggressive, but the musicianship, emotions and songs hit me in a way I hadn't been hit since getting on the bus in Providence in the fall of '79.

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Joined: Aug 21 2007
agree with blair

never really found anything that grabbed my attention in most other jam bands. i like the grateful dead (a lot) but that sound is very particular. doesn't sound similar at all to other "jam bands". none of the jam bands have the combo of roots, blues, folk, country, etc. that initiall attracted me to the dead. i was raised on bluegrass, blues and country, seeing many shows in that genre before leaving grade school, including muddy waters who was my brother's godfather and sonny terry, with whom my father toured in 1974 when brownie's wife died. so for me, that is a significant part of the draw. and the emotional quality of the dead is unparalleled in the "jam band scene". call me a stick in the mud, a musical snob....many people do, but i know what i like and will not be "into" something just because it supposedly fits my taste or is lumped together with the dead in some way i can't feel.

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Blair said...." When it

Blair said...." 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."

When it comes down to it, this is what it comes down to. Reading these posts, I am amazed by what some people love, like, praise, do not like, etc. I won't name band names, but some of the stuff that is praised here I cannot stomach for a variety of reasons. It is great that others do, but in my subjective musical world, no can do for most of the jam bands worshipped in these posts.

For me, the absolute amazing thing is one common thread that ties all these diverse opinions together: The Grateful Dead. The music united so many diverse music fans. The scene brought together so many diverse personalities and careers and spirtualities and outlooks. The legacy continues to inspire us and haunt us and motivate us and sadden us for days that are lost. Reading these posts, you realize how many bands have, in some way or fashion, tried to emulate what the Dead achieved; and yet reading these posts, and recognizing that pretty much no two people can agree on the same thing, you realize that no band has been able to acheive that. That Universality. That Transcendence. That All Encompassing Musical Spirituality that the Dead were somehow able to tap into.

This may be a post for the Religion and Spirituality thread, but then again, almost every forum post on this site could fit under that thread. Ranting here, I am, but as I sit back on this Memorial Day and enjoy the jam bands that move me- Dead, moe., and well, that's about it for today- I am once again thankful I was alive when I was.

J.T. Gossard http://thehallucinogenicbible.blogspot.com/

skwimite's picture
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Joined: Feb 17 2008
Jammin

Thanks to a David Grisman radio show decades ago, I got turned on to Oscar Peterson/Stan Getz, and some New Orleans All-Stars on the Mosaic label. Yeah, I know it's it old, but they have that x factor going. The Dead were unique in their weirdness and all those who have followed the path, while decent in their own right, just don't do it for me. Probably a poor analogy but it's sort of like Star Trek. The series could be pretty corny and had cheesy special effects. The subsequent films and spin-offs are superior in acting and production values, and I like them OK, but I will always prefer the original. Energize!

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Joined: Jun 7 2007
Hal knows it!

Just like Oroboros, I agree 100% with Hal R - he couldn't have put it better. The only so-called Jambands that I listen to are Kimock's various aggregations and the David Nelson Band (and the New Riders). I am aware that Blair finds Kimock just a bit too funky - I find his style(s) just perfect. As regards the generation gap, I feel that this is valid, but not in the sense of a jump from one generation to another - rather a gradual but continuous change over the years. One only has to listen to different era Dead to hear how they changed with time and the same applies to other long-lived bands and to the whole music scene in general. And don't forget: Be alert - this world needs lerts!

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