Week of July 1, 1996
Ratdog, from Furthur (Hybrid Recordings HY20012, 1996)
I NEED A MIRACLE
Grateful Dead 11/20/78 Cleveland Music Hall
PLAYING IN THE BAND->
IF I HAD THE WORLD TO GIVE
"I Need a Miracle" is a studio recording by an early lineup of Ratdog: Bob Weir on guitar and vocals, Rob Wasserman on bass, Jay Lane on drums, and the great Johnnie Johnson on piano.
Johnson's story is a colorful one: He was playing jazz and blues in St. Louis in 1952, fronting the Sir John Trio. When his guitarist fell ill on New Year's Eve, according to Wikipedia, "Johnson, searching for a last minute replacement, called a young man named Chuck Berry, an ex-convict and the only musician Johnson knew who because of his inexperience, would likely not be playing on New Years Eve. Johnson was right. Although a limited guitarist, Berry added vocals and showmanship to the group. Since Bennett would not be able to play again because of his stroke, Johnson hired Berry as a permanent member of the Trio."
Chuck Berry was destined to become one of the legends of rock'n'roll music. He went to Chicago and got himself a record deal, and from then on Johnson was in Berry's band rather than vice versa. He is said to have been the inspiration for the song "Johnny B. Goode," even though he was a piano player and not a guitarist. (But it was Lafayette Leake who played on Berry's original recording of "Johnny B. Goode."). In addition to "Johnny B. Goode," Chuck Berry contributed "Around and Around" to the GD songbook, and "Let It Rock" to the Garcia Band repertoire. The GD tried "Let It Rock" exactly once, in Florida in 1974; I thought it was a cool performance, but it never happened again, for whatever reason.)
There's a great tribute film on Chuck Berry, Hail! Hail! Rock'n'Roll! It's available on DVD. Taylor Hackford directed the film, which features footage of a tribute show plus interviews with many of the performers. Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Bo Diddley, Roy Orbison, Linda Ronstadt, Etta James, and many other greats appear.
I'm not sure how Bob Weir and Johnnie Johnson crossed paths - I emailed Bobby but haven't heard back yet. But Johnson was in Ratdog for around a year; he was replaced by Jeff Chimenti, who continues in the keyboard chair to this day.
The piece of tape from 11/20/78 is of unknown provenance, given to me by Jim Wise. According to DeadLists.com only this passage circulates in soundboard form - but it's an absolutely unique Grateful Dead set: opening set 2 with a jam into "Jackaroe," the sequence of "Playing in the Band" into "Shakedown Street," and the rarely-played Hunter-Garcia ballad "If I Had the World to Give." I've never heard the audience recording of this show, but it seems like it might be worth pursuing. You just gotta poke around.
You can browse and/or search the Grateful Dead Hour program logs on the show's home page, gdhour.com. Let us know if there's a particular show you'd like to hear, and feel free to post requests and comments here or by email to gdhour [at] dead.net
Thanks for listening!
gdhour [at] dead.net