In honor of seeing Bill Kreutzmann’s Billy and the Kid slast night in Philly and tonight in Port Chester… and of having just finished his memoir, Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, and Drugs with the Grateful Dead… and of reading now the excellent upcoming book So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead… I present the following:

Once upon a time, Guitar World did an issue dedicated to 1969, proclaiming it the best year in rock history. I contributed plenty of pieces, and will be digging up and posting some. Here, I took a look at the Grateful Dead’s two great 1969 albums, Aoxomoxoa and Live Dead.

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The Grateful Dead released two very different albums in 1969. Aoxomoxoa, released in June, struggles to create a psychedelic experience, vainly attempting to recreate the tripped-out vibe of the Dead’s live shows. Live Dead, which came out in late December,skips the artifice and dives right into the belly of the beast, proving an obvious truth: the best way to capture the feel of a live show is to record some live shows.

Despite their differences, the two albums were recorded at virtually the same time and were viewed by band members as being two sides of the same coin. “Live Dead was recorded about the same time we were working on Aoxomoxoa,” Jerry Garciatold Rolling Stone in a 1973 interview. “If you take them together, you have a picture of what we were doing at that time.”

Aoxomoxoa continues down the same path as the band’s previous album, Anthem of the Sun, with the Dead spending copious amounts of studio time and money weaving odd, drug-fueled sonic tapestries.

Aoxomoxoa is really a continuation of Anthem of the Sun …in the sense of having a complex record,” Garcia explained. “When we started, Aoxomoxoa was an eight-track record, and then all of a sudden, there was a 16-track recorder in the studio, so we abandoned our eight-track version and started over with a 16-track. At the time, we were sipping STP [a sort of supercharged LSD, which produces 72-hour trips] during the sessions, which made it a little weird – in fact, very weird.”

MSG, 1979 Photo by Jay Blakesberg

In a 1978 interview with writer Blair Jackson, Garcia again spoke about the band’s drug use during the making of Aoxomoxoa. Trying to explain one of the album’s craziest tracks, he said, “If you want to make ‘What’s Become of the Baby’ work, I’ll tell you what to do: get a tank of nitrous oxide. All of a sudden it works! When we were doing our mixes on that we had a tank. We were all there with hoses. All kinds of weird shit was happening, it was totally mad, total lunacy.

“I like that record, personally, just for its weirdness. There’s a certain feeling and a certain type of looseness that I kinda dig. That was one my pet records ‘cause it was the first stuff that I thought was starting to sound like how I wanted to hear songs sound. And the studio [experimentation] was successful.”

Despite Garcia’s optimism, even the most hardcore Deadheads do not consider the album a catalog highlight. It is significant for several reasons, however. Most notably it marked the first album consisting entirely of songs co-written with lyricist Robert Hunter. However, his songs had not yet matured into painting vivid pictures of a slightly surrealistic Western landscape. In fact, the songs on Aoxomoxoa are as spaced out lyrically as they are sonically.

“Hunter and I were both being more or less obscure,” Garcia explained to Rolling Stone. “There are lots of levels on the verbal plane in terms of the lyrics being very far out. Too far out, really, for most people.”

Too far out even for some of Garcia’s bandmates, evidently. “A lot of that record is gratuitous and complex for the sake of being complex,” guitarist Bob Weir told Melody Maker in 1974. “It was over-produced and over-arranged.”

The band spent almost eight months in the studio working on the album, which didn’t sell very well, leaving them in debt to Warner Bros to the tune of $180,000. Meanwhile, while they were struggling to capture their psychedelic visions and create elaborate sonic journeys on studio tape, on stage the Dead were doing so with ever-greater ease and frequency. A key advancement was their new practice of stringing songs together into one continuously moving, evolving whole, linked by shifting rhythmic passages. It would remain a trademark throughout their career, but the technique was just being perfected in ’69.

Armed with a new 16-track recorder (one of the first made by Ampex), the band began recording shows, capturing this new approach in all its glory. The result was Live Dead, unquestionably one of their recorded highlights. The double album audaciously began with a side-long track, the 23-minute “Dark Star,” an exploratory, ever-shifting sonicscape in itself. Side three was devoted to an extended workout of “Turn On Your Lovelight,” arguably the recorded highlight of Pigpen McKernan’s tenure with the band.

“We only recorded a few gigs to get that album,” Garcia recalled. “We were after a certain sequence of the music. It’s our music at one of its really good moments.”

Also notable on the album is Weir’s emergence as a musical presence. For the first time, his distinct rhythm playing makes itself known, as he plays bizarre chordal counterpoints to Garcia’s leads and Lesh’s basslines, as well as odd fills and quirky motifs.

“He’s an extraordinarily original player in a world full of people who sound like each other,” Garcia said of Weir in a 1982 with The Record. “I don’t know anyone else who plays guitar the way he does, with the kind of approach he has to it. That in itself is, I think, really a score, considering how derivative almost all electric guitar playing is.”

Another strength of Live Dead is the way it captures the band playing through complicated passages, most notably on “Dark Star” and “The Eleven” (so named for its odd 11/4 time signature) with ease and loose-limbed precision. It was, contrary to popular opinion, the product of many hours of rehearsal time, according to Garcia.

“You can’t play confidently and fluidly in those [odd time signatures] without really knowing what you’re doing… without working at it,” he said in The Record. “It’s not something that just happened to us. There was a long, slow process that really brought that into being.”

It was a process, which reached its fruition on Live Dead, the ultimate chronicle of the early-era Grateful Dead.

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Stevie and Buddy jam, 1989

by AlanPaul on March 26, 2015

Foto by Kirk West

Yep. More rare video of the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan has suddenly appeared on YouTube: Buddy Guy jamming with Stevie on July 30, 1989, at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago.

This was Guy’s 53rd birthday party.

Have fun kids.

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Allman Brothers at the Fillmore East, 3-13-71

March 20, 2015

Well, this is pretty cool. I’m not sure of the origin of the video, but it’s been around a bit, originally with no audio. Serious Allman Brothers fan (and excellent British guitarist) Jules Fothergill was able to decipher what was being played and sync the audio. I think it adds up to a pretty great […]

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Jimmy Herring takes one of Jerry Garcia’s guitars for a spin.

March 18, 2015

Check this out: Jimmy Herring played Jerry Garcia’s Travis Bean TB500 guitar that was sold for almost $250K in a 2013 auction. Garcia played the guitar extensively in the mid 70’s. the following video and picture were posted on the instagram accounts of Widespread Panic and Dave Schools, respectively. #JimmyHerring taking the #TravisBean500 for a […]

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Weir and Garcia on Letterman

March 15, 2015

Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir on Letterman, 4-13-82. Cool stuff. Includes performances of “Deep Ellum Blues” and “Monkey and the Engineer.” Jerry and Bob both display pretty crackin’ senses of humor. “I’d like to apologize for having no memory.” // ]]>Amazon.com Widgets

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Win this photo!

February 27, 2015

Less than 24 hours left to enter to win an 8 x 10 copy of the final image in the One Way Out paperback! Kirk West captured this shot just after the final note of the Allman Brothers Band career, Beacon Theatre, 10-28-14. Prize is an 8 x 10 signed by Kirk. Enter here. Buy […]

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The Trail He Blazed: RIP Earl Lloyd

February 27, 2015

Original Old School: The Trail He Blazed  I was very sad to hear about the death of Earl Lloyd yesterday. He broke the NBA’s color barrier over 60 years ago. I spoke to him years ago, for  SLAM Issue 94.  He came into the league in 1950, with Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton and Chuck Cooper. I went to high […]

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Layla vocals and lead guitar only – Wow

February 27, 2015

I just came across the video below, which includes the audo of Layla, stripped down to lead guitar and vocals. Or so it says; certain lead tracks are definitely not there. You will hear what’s missing. But it is a fascinating and sometimes eerie listen. Check out what happens at around the 2:00 mark, with […]

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TTB + Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings To Tour this summer

February 23, 2015

The Tedeschi Trucks Band is joining forces with modern soul legends Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and acclaimed guitarist and longtime TTB friend and collaborator Doyle Bramhall II for a summer tour. The Wheels of Soul 2015 tour starts rolling on June 5th in Paso Robles, CA – one of four nights in the Golden […]

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Win a One Way Out paperback signed by me and Derek Trucks

February 17, 2015

Well, here it comes on February 24: the paperback edition of One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band, updated with an extensive new chapter on the Allman Brothers Band‘s tumultuous final year, and 15 new photos by Kirk West, Danny Clinch Photography, Derek McCabe – and Derek Trucks! The latter are exclusive shots […]

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