What made the Grateful Dead so special


Truckin ’in Andalucia

Although for us the Grateful Dead is the best US band and one of our favorite bands ever, it took us a while to get started with this series of articles. It's often harder to write about something that you really like. Because one is more concerned with exploring new perspectives and going beyond hackneyed journalistic clichés like ‘Grateful Dead, the hippie band’ and ‘Grateful Dead, the drug band’. The clichés aren't wrong, but they are only part of the story. A breath of fresh air brought us a DVD called ‘Grateful Dawg‘(2000): Behind the title, which sometimes refers to a rural pronunciation for the word dog alludes, a documentary sheds light on the early musical roots of the Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, namely Bluegrass. So actually archetypal folk music. Not the predominant commercial form of today country music which hardly differs in sound and production from mainstream pop music, but music that comes from rural, rather poor areas of America and is still played today, similar to 100 years ago, with banjos, violins, mandolins, acoustic guitars at parties and in taverns . It's fascinating to see pictures on the DVD of a young, slick looking Jerry Garcia before the formation of the Grateful Dead, with obscure bands like Asphalt Jungle Mountain Boys. Our approach for this series is to examine Grateful Dead's role as a modern folk band, albeit an electrified, experimental, groundbreaking folk band. Grateful Deads Art of folk music not only tells centuries-old stories but also stories from the recent past: For example, about attempts at alternative ways of life, with all sorts of disasters and successes. We will talk about characters like Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey and Tom Wolfes classic ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test '(1968). However you stand at those times and people, it is hard to deny that the Grateful Dead and their environment are more interesting than many of today's bands who are apparently designed on the rice board by marketing companies. If folk music is something that tells stories rather than speculating on big bucks, then the Grateful Dead could be said to be shared dreams, feelings and experiences from a now historical period. With corners and edges. For artists, poets and adventurers have been trying for centuries to break through the boundaries of monotonous everyday life and ways of thinking through risky, sometimes Dionysian experiences. What if they sometimes fail? OK. A whole series of legends and folk songs also tell of this

First song in our top 10 Grateful Dead? When we started to choose our 10 favorite songs here in Andalusia, as well as songs that readers can put together as a souvenir for home use as an album at the end of the series, we noticed that it was more difficult than with other bands. Especially when you try to hear the songs like someone who doesn't know the band yet. Grateful Dead turns out to be a kind of overall concept that is difficult to reduce to the size of a bite. The songs sound without the context of an album or a certain Lifestyle, not very catchy at first sight and not even as mystical as one might assume based on the striking LP cover with skulls & roses etc. Grateful Dead rarely uses the familiar identifiers of rock music, such as cement block guitar riffs, loud backbeats or those loaded with double entenders Boy-meets-girl-Song lyrics. Certainly with their cover versions of older rock classics, but with their own compositions the band has a very own style lyrically, musically and vocally. Not everyone immediately likes Jerry Garcia's and Bob Weir's voices, which sound like their speaking voices, atypical of rock and unaffected. It is noticeable that the band's songs that the late keyboardist Ron McKernan sang sound a lot more like a typical blues rock band á la Canned Heat - great, but also a bit more conventional. Not every listener likes lengthy improvisations or the syncopated one swing created by two drummers. Grateful Dead is not a streamlined product that is easy to pigeonhole. Our first song selection, ‘Jack Straw‘From the live album‘Europe ‘72‘Is one of the most beautiful songs by the band. And also a good example of the style of Robert Hunter, the text writer of the Grateful Dead, who, as it were, played an important role as a "non-playing-but-traveling-member" of the band. That Hunter also had volumes of poetry with his translations of Rilkes Duino Elegies and The sonnets to Orpheus made it clear that we are not dealing with 0815 rock stars. Let's take a closer look at a song with a bizarre story about outlaw cold bloodedness and underdog romance

What is the Grateful Dead song Jack Straw about? The song consists of fragments of conversation between two fugitive criminals named Shannon and Jack who make their way through America in the early 20th century as stowaways on freight trains. Bizarrely, they mix - almost á la Travoltas ‘pulp Fiction‘- Details of robbery murders with idyllic descriptions of eagles in the blue summer sky, brotherly shared wine bottles and ... brotherly shared women! It all comes to a bitter end, however, as Shannon is apparently on his way to settle bills with an old buddy. The song leaves open whether: 1. The intended victim may even be Shannon's current interlocutor, Jack Straw, or whether 2. Someone else is to be murdered in Tulsa, or whether 3. In the murder of this person, Shannon may have been caught and hitched . The ambiguity comes from the fact that at the end of the song it says, Jack Straw ‘cut his buddy down., and dug for him a shallow grave’- which can mean either that Jack Straw ended up killing Shannon and hiding the body or cutting him off the gallows and laying him in a grave

Which stylistic elements of a folk song does Jack Straw have? Since progressive rock of the 60s and 70s, songwriters have tended to write in the 2nd or 3rd person, although their own feelings or views are obviously being described, for example: ‘He’s a real nowhere man... ’(Beatles, Nowhere Man). Or: ‘All you touch and all you see, is all your life will ever be’(Pink Floyd, Breathe). With country and folk songs it is often the other way around, there is the perspective of the first person although the song cannot possibly be about the singer himself. For example because the protagonist of the song is dead and sings from the afterlife, as in The Long Black Veil or in The Deserter. Also the verses of the Grateful Dead song ‘Jack Straw ’ have personal storytellers with Jack & Shannon, i.e. the copywriter Robert Hunter writes I and we although, let's guess, he hasn't killed anyone yet. Another interesting peculiarity of Hunter's texts is the frequent use of place names and proper names such as Santa Fe, Tulsa, Cheyenne,Witchita (that with its rhyme on Jack Straw the hook or refrain supplies) or the name of the Great Northern Railroad. Something that gives songs a folk-typical documentary feel. Many Dead songs get additional ones On the road-Authenticity through the inclusion of milieu-specific idioms: In ‘Jack Straw is it [called 'We done shared ' instead of the correct ‘We have shared’. Intentionally used ‘simple-people-language’, similar to the southern slang that has become a hippie catchphrase Truckin’. One of the most remarkable things about the song and the band in general is that these archetypal hippies never struggled to fly a little patriotic flag. Or rather, they managed to reclaim the positive sides of the American myth ’. This is how in Jack Straw the line ‘from sea to shining sea‘ is quoted from a poem from the 19th century that became the quasi-national anthem America the Beautiful has been

History of the creation of the Grateful Dead song Jack Straw? Apparently singer and guitarist Bob Weir saw a film adaptation of Steinbeck's novel one evening at home ‘Of mice and humans’(1937) and was so impressed by it that he and Robert Hunter's lyrics turned it into a song about two hopeless outsiders in the American Heartland. We estimate it must have been the film version from 1939, since a new TV film was not made until 1981. We take the story with the film from a Bob Weir interview from an old music magazine. We collect things like that!

How is ‘Jack Straw’ interpreted musically by Grateful Dead? With over a dozen chords, the song is musically more complex than it initially seems. Not so much a typical one jam but sophisticated compositions. The partly three-part vocal harmonies of Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia and bassist Phil Lesh are so good here that they can even compete with perfectionists like Crosby, Stills & Nash. The idyllic music tempts you to spontaneously classify the song as a romantic ballad. Only when you listen carefully do you notice that this is actually a rather bizarre robber story. Because Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia on the version of ‘recorded live in ParisJack Straw‘Sing different lines (Weir sings main voice at the beginning of the song and Garcia's main voice starts with the line‘I just dropped the watchman... ’), however, it becomes clear that this is a very serious dialogue between the dubious characters Shannon and Jack. The version of Jack Straw filmed in Copenhagen on YouTube is not 100% identical to the version from the album ‘Europe ’72‘, But pretty similar. The calm tempo of the song, which varies between approx. 68 and 72 bpm, allows the band to insert small solo melodies between the verses, even between individual vocal lines. As usual, bassist Phil Lesh doesn't let this fun be taken away. The piano tinkles relaxed and unobtrusive. Jerry Garcia's guitar playing sounds sunny, fluid, melodic, almost childish, due to his way of always playing a fraction of a second past the beat and looking for unusual melodies and harmonies. Need more guitar info? Next paragraph

Speaking of musical instruments, which Grateful Dead guitars do we like best? Although Jerry Garcia's specially hand-built guitars named 'Wolf' and 'Tiger' are most famous, not least because they were auctioned for the equivalent of over half a million euros each in 2002, we have to admit that we are less fans of one-off guitars prefer classic brands like Fender and Gibson. Especially since we both have the dark brown tiger and the shape of the yellow wolf are not completely balanced. Heresy, but only our opinion. Wolf is almost continuously in the concert film ‘The Grateful Dead Movie'(Shot 1974 / published 1977) on display. The 2-DVD set with loads of extras is unfortunately only available in America. Garcias tiger, which only came to the public around 1979, admittedly sounds very good, e.g. B. on the Rock palace- 1981 appearance that some readers will know. But we still prefer Garcia's natural-colored or sunburst Fender Stratocasters and the dark red Gibson SG from the Woodstock gig. As seen in the Jack Straw clip above, the Stratocasters were played on Tour Europe ‘72. The fenders Sunburst, through whose varnish the wood grain shimmers through, can be seen on the phenomenal, albeit incomplete, live film document ‘At Old Renaissance Faire Grounds, 1972 ′, which we have on DVD.

Here you can also see Phil Lesh's semi-acoustic alembic bass with his glorious dozen (or more) tone controls. As for guitar amplifiers: In the documentary ‘Anthem To Beauty‘Garcia is like Bob Weir during‘China Cat Sunflower’With case amplifiers brand Fender Twin reverb, whose loudspeakers are covered with colorful batik cloths. Co-singer Bob Weir, who mainly plays rhythm guitar, is mostly with a Gibson ES-345 in the 60s and 70sSemi-acoustic to see. The Ibanez with beautiful mother-of-pearl inlays was not added until the mid-1970s. B. on ‘Dead Ahead Live, Radio City concert‘, 1980. Both guitarists, especially Weir, play with a relatively natural sound with no masses of effects. Garcia often used a wah-wah pedal (on ‘Renaissance Faire Grounds’ we could use the brand ‘Colorsound’Recognize) and is on songs like‘Help on the Way / Slipknot’Can also be heard with distortion. As for acoustic guitars, we saw an advertisement from Bob Weir in a trade magazine for a good-looking Yairi WY1 with cutaway and internal mic / pickup. Readers interested in such things might enjoy the book ‘Grateful Dead Gear, The Band’s Instruments, Sound Systems, and Recording Sessions from 1965-1995' to have

Do the Grateful Dead sound better live than in the studio? Fans will say logo, rhetorical question! But we find some songs, maybe almost the whole album ‘American Beauty‘(1970), best as a studio version. On the other hand, ‘soundsMorning Dew’Live on‘Europe ‘72‘Better than the slightly funny version on the debut LP‘The Grateful Dead‘(1967). Other songs, such as ‘Jack Straw’, have never appeared on studio LPs at all. There are also many cover versions like ‘Me and Bobby McGee'Or Floyds'Wish You Were Here’Only as live recordings. Some Dead songs not only sound a little different live but also take on a completely new character, such as B. ‘Friend of the Devil’Which is played much slower on‘ Europe ‘72 ′ than the bluegrass version on the studio LP. But no doubt Jams, that is, improvised passages as they often appear in the Grateful Dead, naturally work better in front of an audience. In addition, another interesting aspect of the band is reflected in the success of the Dead concerts and live albums. On the one hand, the excellent and huge Concert equipment (good in the movie The Grateful Dead Movie to see) that it allowed the band, due to very sophisticated technology, in front Playing the PA speakers instead of behind them, as bands usually do. So, through Owsley Stanley's famous Wall of Sound, the band heard the music as did the audience. In addition, the Grateful Dead had an almost unique control over her in the music business product, namely the master tapes from their recordings. Most bands, then and now, make the Faustian pact with media groups, which seals the advance money in exchange for ownership of the recordings and the music rights. Ironically, it was the hippie principle of ‘Independence from the system‘Etc, the Grateful Dead - the never really chart-Succeeded - turned it into a pretty good business over the decades. Many musicians are falsely or simply marketed to death, often due to poor compilations over which the bands have no control. As for the live classic ‘Europe‘ 72 ′ with the song Jack Straw, the album, which once consisted of three vinyl LPs, was technically revised and partly re-recorded by the band after the tour. More on the famous ‘Live’ sound of ‘Europe‘ 72 ′ in the next paragraph

Making & Marketing of the Europe ‘72 Live Album? Two interesting anecdotes that we ‘Europe ‘72 'found in Grateful Dead biographies: The perfect' live sound 'of the album was allegedly achieved by the band playing some studio recordings of songs through the loudspeakers of their live equipment and then, with a kind of concert ambience, new and 'live’Sounded back on tape. As for the marketing of the album, the band reportedly did not want Warner to sell the album for an expensive $ 12, given the unusual size of three vinyl LPs. This could only be prevented by the band accepting a greatly reduced percentage of royalties. Things like this were apparently one of the reasons the band decided to start their own record company Grateful Dead Records to found. Which, however, also brought problems, among other things. because office work was one of the band's lesser talents. The live classic ‘Europe‘ 72 ′ with the song ‘Jack Straw’ discussed above has, by today's standards, a highly incorrect cover with a contemporary who hits his forehead with an ice cream cone. This is reminiscent of bitter jokes and was indeed replaced by an alternative cover for years.However, the latest edition has rehabilitated the boy and the double CD set, now with 7 bonus tracks, a total of 25 songs is a must

What kind of person was Jerry Garcia? For such questions, if you do not know a person personally, you can refer to biographies. The problem is that these are sometimes controversial and often have some kind of agenda, e.g. B. to present a person sensationalist (and promotional) as "particularly problematic". With Jerry Garcia, some writers seem to focus particularly on drug stories, something that sells better than analyzing songs. Our personal impression, based on films and interviews (e.g. in the excellent DVD ‘Anthem To Beauty‘, A 75 min. Grateful Dead documentary) by Jerry Garcia is that the man was primarily shaped by a great love for music. Garcia, who sometimes appears serious and absent on the concert stage, visibly blossoms in interviews on the subject of music and speaks about it with an infectious, almost childish enthusiasm. An interesting scene in the documentary ‘Anthem To Beauty‘Is an interview in a TV show from the 60s, with strange, artificial decor, branded cardboard: Garcia is chatting here, ultra-freaky with long hair - and an Indian poncho! - completely open-hearted with the slick presenter in a suit and tie, without the hippie arrogance that was sometimes present at the time towards ‘normal people’. As for anecdotes about Garcia's drug use, we're more interested in the public works of artists. The scribes' obsession with the difficulties people struggle with in their private lives seems, at its core, to simply binge on other people's problems rather than assisting anyone. Instead of jokes, secret admiration, or flaunted indignation, the next paragraph will briefly outline our view of drug use

Why do drugs almost always lead to big problems? Drugs existed in various forms for millennia among many peoples in the context of religious and shamanistic rites. Interesting facts on this in the book ‘High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture (2009). Modern drugs such as LSD, which was not yet illegal at the beginning of the hippie era in the 1960s, were initially used by musicians in an idealistic, communal, perhaps even quasi-religious context, perhaps partly as an opposition to the stark materialism and militarism in the time of the Vietnam War and the nuclear arms race. Since the ritual, religious context of drug experiences no longer exists in modern societies or is difficult to implement, even intelligent people with drugs very often and very soon find themselves in a similar misery as any poor eater. Or in the plight of the many people who are now dependent on tranquilizers and other publicly available drugs. It is no coincidence that this statement comes before the brief presentation of a book in which drugs play a role - and in which the Grateful Dead have some guest appearances

Tom Wolfes megaclassics Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test ’and Grateful Dead? The band plays at least a minor role here. The book is mostly about Ken Kesey, often referred to as a pioneer in the field of psychedelic drugs, and his circle of friends and followers called ‘The Merry Pranksters‘. In this series we will appear more often on ‘The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test‘(1968) come back and today only retell one passage - freely and in part - from the original. Tom Wolfe sees that Trips Festival from 1966 as a direct forerunner, even a catalyst for modern multimedia entertainment: Here he sees a direct connection to the kind like that Acid tests Light and film projections, stroboscopes, tapes, rock'n'roll, UV light and Acid rock combined. And the forerunner of all of this for him was the Grateful Dead with them Acid tests. For him, the band was the acoustic image of the light projections of Merry Prankster Roy Seburns. And Wolfe also sees sound engineer Owsley Stanley as being indirectly responsible for some of it. He had started to put money into the Grateful Dead and buy equipment like no band had had before, including the Beatles. Our comment: A book worth reading about the former counterculture. The interesting thing is that Tom Wolfe (born 1931), who is today, one could say, a pillar of the conservative establishment, even back then, at his early thirties, was the gentleman journalist in a suit and tie and his travels and experiences in the acid- and described the hippie scene largely with critical distance plus humor. We also found his impression of Ken Kesey revealing, who came less from the intellectual, urban bohème á la Timothy Leary than that he was more of a country man, an All-American country boy and back then, as Wolfe describes it, always a few more red neck Had characteristics. That would make sense insofar as that to the Merry Pranksters Not only sensitive artists but also people from biker gangs and former Vietnam soldiers belonged

Opportunity for readers of this series to participate? We look at everything readers and fans write about the Grateful Dead.

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