I may have to come to terms with the idea that I like some music as much for the backstory as for the music. Seems wrong, but that’s how it works sometimes.
That’s how it’s working for my current commute-and-free-time music — a recording of the Jerry Garcia Band performing a benefit concert in Santa Rosa, California, on June 23, 1977. The show itself is OK to pretty good, but the tidbits behind it are more interesting. (Some of this info comes from a post on the Dead-themed blog Jerry Garcia’s Middle Finger.)
-While a second set from this date has circulated, this is apparently the first time the first set has made it into collector-land.
Just to complicate things, the JGB apparently played two shows that night in support of Maria Muldaur. So what we have could be the first set of one show and the second set of the other.
No matter. Even after all these years, I enjoy the thought that unheard recordings are still making their way out of basements, attics and closets. I hope it continues for a while yet.
-The Jerry Band’s regular drummer in June 1977 was Ron Tutt, the powerful Texan who’d become a well-known name in 1969 when Elvis Presley picked him to anchor his TCB Band.
Tutt continued to play with Elvis as well as with Garcia … and on this particular night, he couldn’t make the JGB gig in Santa Rosa because he was backing Elvis in Des Moines. In fact, June 23, 1977, would be the last night Tutt ever performed with the man who launched his big-time career. (Elvis’s last show ever was June 26; he played his last two or three shows with fill-in drummers.)
Perhaps as tribute to their missing bandmate, the JGB played a nice version of “Mystery Train” on the newly circulating tape. Although the JGB was a much smaller outfit than the ensemble Elvis brought on stage, their version of “Mystery Train” catches a little of the vibe Elvis used to get when he opened with “C.C. Rider” — some of that all-American, white-gospel, go-to-meetin’, everybody-clap-on-two-and-four groove.
-The JGB’s fill-in drummer that night was a San Franciscan with a resume at least as interesting as Tutt’s: Greg Errico.
Errico is best remembered as the drummer on the classic records of Sly and the Family Stone. (Remember Sly singing, “All we need is a drummer / For people who only need a beat, yee-ah”? That’s Greg Errico. He’s the guy throwing down on “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” too.)
His other touring and recording credits are almost absurdly broad, ranging from David Bowie and Weather Report to David Soul and Bill Wyman. He would also spend a stint or two as the JGB’s full-time drummer a few years up the road.
Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear him drop any funk on this recording — his playing is professional but fairly anonymous. Which is just as well, since no one was there to hear Greg Errico anyway.
-The JGB and Muldaur played in the Santa Rosa High School auditorium. And while this might be a case of my mind hearing what it wants to hear, I think the tape sounds like a high school auditorium … it has a certain combination of low-end boom and high-end piano tinkle that just sounds to me like a high school auditorium.
If you’re a high-end audio buff, that idea won’t thrill you. If the idea of well-known musicians playing a small local room to support a cause close to their hearts appeals to you, you won’t mind the sonic shortcomings of the tape.
(I wonder if the JGB’s Keith Godchaux is playing the school’s piano? One wonders whether it would be worth it to truck his own grand piano to a high school just to play a charity gig.)
-So how’s the show itself? There are only six songs — all nine minutes or more — and they break down into three categories:
The ballads (“Sugaree” and “Catfish John”) work pretty well if you like slow Jerry ballads. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of either tune but I liked these versions.
The reggae tunes are pretty poor. The 12-minute cover of Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up” with Donna Godchaux on lead vocal is death by a thousand cuts. The version of Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting In Limbo” just kinda, well, sits in limbo; it doesn’t go very much of anywhere.
The “upbeat” tunes (“Mystery Train” and “The Way You Do The Things You Do” — and remember, “upbeat” is a very fluid and relative term when applied to the Jerry Band) are pleasant, even delightful in spots.
Not even stoned, lethargic hippies can deflate the pure pleasure of one of Smokey Robinson’s greatest pieces of work … and when Garcia starts channelling Chuck Berry in the closing jam, you get two American geniuses for the price of one.
Maybe I’ll go listen to that one again.