Friday, August 24, 2012

Album Projects Recorded at Mickey Hart's Barn, Novato, CA 1971-76

Reputedly the entrance to Mickey Hart's ranch, somewhere in Novato (photo: JGMF)
Sometime in 1969, Mickey Hart moved to an unused ranch near Novato Road in Novato, CA, in Marin County. Neither Hart nor the Grateful Dead had much money at the time. Nonetheless, land in rural Novato was cheap in those days--believe it or not--and Hart found a way. According to McNally, the land belonged to the city of Novato, and Hart was technically the caretaker, for the princely sum of just $250 a month. The ranch rapidly became a clubhouse for the boys in the band and their crew. Apparently some members of the crew lived on the ranch between tours. At least some key crew members were from the tiny cattle ranching town of Hermiston, OR. Hart was actually an experienced horseman, surprisingly enough, but I suspect the crew members must have introduced the suburbanites who made up the rest of the Grateful Dead to the pleasures of rural Oregon: riding horses, shooting off guns and so on.

Sometime in late 1970, a studio was built on Hart's ranch, in the barn. At this time, home studios were not really viable propositions, so a band member having his own studio was a radical concept. Having a home studio in a room big enough to include a whole rock band was even more radical. The Dead's finances were even worse in 1970 than they were in 1969, so how the studio was financed is also in question. JGMF found some evidence that Columbia Records helped to put down some money for it. My own thesis was that producer Alan Douglas was romancing the Dead on behalf of Columbia president Clive Davis, in the hopes that the Dead would sign with Columbia when their Warner Brothers Records contract expired. [Update: McNally said that Dan Healy provided the designs for the electronics, and former Carousel Ballroom carpenter Johnny De Foncesca Sr actually built the renovations.]

Mickey Hart left the Grateful Dead in February, 1971, but he didn't leave the Grateful Dead orbit. Hart's studio, alternately called The Barn or Rolling Thunder on the backs of albums, was the first studio facility that was completely in control of a member or members of the Grateful Dead. It was  followed by the studio in Bob Weir's garage (usually called Ace's), and then by Club Front.

In the early 1970s, recording studios in San Francisco were doing big business. Places like Wally Heider's, Columbia Studios and many others were making a lot of records. However,  while those studios were excellent, they were also expensive and had to be booked far in advance. Hart's Barn in Novato offered a low-key alternative for the Grateful Dead and their friends and fellow travelers.

It's my contention that the Grateful Dead's ill-fated but fascinating effort to go independent in late 1972 was predicated on the availability of Mickey Hart's studio. Something like a Jerry Garcia solo album could be recorded at a major studio, but some of the more quixotic projects that the Dead were involved in had different financing and scheduling issues, and The Barn was perfect. This post will review the various album projects that appear to have been undertaken at The Barn from 1971 through 1976, considered in the context of Round Records and the music industry, rather than specifically with reference to the music that was produced. For clarity,  I have chosen to refer to the studio as The Barn rather than as Rolling Thunder.

The Grateful Dead's plan to have their own record companies, Grateful Dead and Round, was years ahead of its time. The idea to have a dedicated studio at The Barn was also years ahead of its time. Both plans were too far ahead of their time to make economic sense. A few decades later, many acts had their own record companies and worked out of home studios, recording whatever they liked--David Grisman is a great current example--but the Dead started the train rolling before the track was finished. This post will look at the Dead's effort to be a forward looking, independent music company from the point of view of the album projects recorded at The Barn in Novato from 1971 through 1976.

The cover to Mickey Hart's 1972 Warner Brothers lp Rolling Thunder
Rolling Thunder-Mickey Hart (Warner Bros BS 2635, released September 1972)
Warner Brothers gave Mickey Hart a three-album deal in 1971, soon after he left the Grateful Dead. Why would a record company give a three-album deal to a drummer, one who had neither sang nor composed with his prior group? I have written at length about my theory that with the Grateful Dead's popularity rising and their Warner Brothers records contract expiring, both Warners and Columbia were trying to offer incentives to sign with them. Warner Brothers had offered solo deals to Garcia and Weir, and by offering one to Hart they probably figured that the Dead would be well-disposed towards them.

In Fall '72, the Grateful Dead shocked the industry by going completely independent. Warners released Hart's first solo album, Rolling Thunder, while the Dead were still under contract to them. Probably Warners still hoped that the Grateful Dead could be talked out of their madness. Rolling Thunder is a fascinating album and period piece in many ways, but it did not have a radio-friendly sound and it rapidly disappeared.

Rolling Thunder was apparently recorded over a period of 18 months, and features an All-Star cast of San Francisco-based musicians, including Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Stephen Stills, members of the Jefferson Airplane, the Tower of Power horns and many more. Although the record was recorded in The Barn, it was mixed at Alembic Studios in San Francisco. Alembic, at 60 Brady Street,  had formerly been known as Pacific High Recorders. The Dead had recorded Workingman's Dead at PHR, and the room had a reputation as a particularly fine venue for mixing tapes. The Barn was designed as a place to record, rather than as a place to finish off albums, a task more suited to the equipment of full-time studios.

"Fire On The Mountain" album project-Mickey Hart (1972-73)
For the second album of his deal, Hart produced a more conventional album. Although its impossible to know for certain what was intended, a circulating version has about 13 tracks, and the first song is an early version of "Fire On The Mountain." The vocals appear to be by Robert Hunter, and they are sung in a sort of chanted rap--not exactly Gil Scott-Heron, but definitely spoken rather than sung. Presumably, "Fire On The Mountain" was intended as the title track of the proposed album.

The rest of the prospective album had fairly conventional songs, with few of the strange sonic and musical experiments (like "Insect Fear") that had characterized Rolling Thunder. Vocals were by the likes of David Frieberg and Barry Melton. A few other Hunter compositions turned up on the tape, as well, such as "I Heard You Singing." The musicians were part of the same Marin County suspects that had played on Rolling Thunder, but somewhat less high profile players. The "Fire On The Mountain" tape that I have heard would have made a much better record than Rolling Thunder, but Warner Brothers rejected the album.

By mid-1973, the Grateful Dead had fully left Warner Brothers, and presumably Warners had no corporate interest in a loss leader project that supported the band's now departed drummer. Since Warner Brothers didn't hear an obvious hit on the proposed album, I presume they simply passed. Hart probably recognized the reality of what was happening.

[Soundtrack album for 'The Silent Flute' film]-Mickey Hart (1973)
The third album that Hart submitted to fulfill his contract was the soundtrack to a martial arts film. Supposedly this tape was rejected by Warners without being listened to, but the story may be apocryphal. I have to assume that Hart expected them to reject the album anyway, and that he simply submitted a tape from a project he was working on. I'm sure Hart made interesting music for the film, but I have to doubt that Warners would ever have been truly interested.

Does anyone have any idea of the title of the martial arts film? Was it even released? Was it a Bruce Lee type action movie, or some sort of documentary or training film? I know that Hart was interested in various kinds of martial arts, so his connection isn't surprising, but it's fascinating to think that there may have been some late night Kung Fu flick that has "Soundtrack-Mickey Hart" in the credits.

Update: thanks to a Commenter, we know that the album project was called The Silent Flute. A tape circulates, featuring ambient music played by Hart, Garcia and others. Thanks to another Commenter, we know that there was a1973 Bruce Lee project called The Silent Flute, which was halted when Bruce Lee passed away. The project was remade and released in 1978 as Circle Of Iron, with David Carradine (of Kung Fu fame) in the starring role. Was Hart's Silent Flute music intended for the Bruce Lee project?

The cover to Area Code 615's 1970 Polydor album Trip In The Country
"Area Code 415" album project (1973)
A tape has circulated that was made concurrently or shortly after the "Fire On The Mountain" project, generally labeled as "Area Code 415." At the time, the entire Bay Area was area code 415, including the East Bay (now 510), Contra Costa County (now 925), the Peninsula (now 650), San Jose (now 408) and the Santa Cruz area (now 831). Thus all Bay Area musicians would have used area code 415.

A band of Nashville session musicians had made some excellent country rock albums under the name Area Code 615, which was the area code for Nashville. Some heavy Nashville session men, led by guitarist Wayne Moss, who had played on many rock albums such as Blonde On Blonde, had decided to record as a rock group. Area Code 615 released two albums, Area Code 615 (1969) and Trip In The Country (1970). The albums were not huge hits, but they got played on FM radio and were well known amongst musicians and industry pros. Area Code 615 only toured a little bit, since they all made so much money from recording, but they did open once at the Fillmore West from February 12-15, 1970 (Country Joe and The Fish and The Sons topped the bill). Many of the members of Area Code 615 went on to form the group Barefoot Jerry, who had a sort of FM hit with the great song "Watching TV With The Radio On."

Thus, a tape of Bay Area musicians working together in a loose aggregation could be called Area Code 415, and locals and industry professionals would have gotten both the joke and the business concept. I have to think that the tape we know as Area Code 415, which is about 22 songs, including some from "Fire On The Mountain" and other projects on this list, was at least informally circulated amongst record companies for possible release. If so, their must have been no bites. While I find the Area Code 415 material enjoyable, it has a flatter sound that was a bit dated compared to 70s acts like The Doobie Brothers or Steely Dan, who sounded much brighter.

The cover to an Old And In The Way live cd, recorded in October 1973
Old And In The Way album project (Spring 1973)
The most interesting, most mysterious and completely unheard project recorded at The Barn was the Old And In The Way studio album, apparently recorded in March or April of 1973. The recording can be dated by a reference in a review found by JGMF. The timeline suggests that Old And In The Way got together and recorded an album almost immediately after forming, perhaps thinking that they could get an independently released album out within a few months. Yet the tape has never surfaced, in any form. At various times, members of the band have alluded to the fact that they were unsatisfied with the results. Ultimately, Owsley recorded Old And In The Way's next-to-last show live, and those tapes were the source of both the February 1975 album and two archival cds released in the 1990s.

What was wrong with the Old And In The Way studio album? Of course, if it was recorded in March or April 1973, the band had only been together a short time, and some of the arrangements may not have been fully fleshed out. (It's my current hypothesis, by the way, that lacking a fiddle player, Old And In The Way brought in the great John Hartford for the recording, thus accounting for the peculiar situation where Hartford is constantly referred to as a former member although there seems to be no evidence of a gig where he played live.)

Nonetheless, for experienced musicians, bluegrass arrangements come quickly. Bluegrass is recorded live--it wasn't Terrapin Station. Are we to believe that not a single take of any song was worthy of release, even as a bonus track 20 years later? I believe there were no contractual problems associated with anyone in Old And In The Way, so no lawyers would have gotten in the way of a release. Why have the Old And In The Way studio tapes disappeared?

The most plausible explanation for the Old And In The Way studio tapes staying in the vault would be that the actual recorded sound was very unsatisfying. Musicians are considerably more bothered by poor recordings than civilians, and if the band members didn't like the recorded sound, they would have simply buried the tape. In general, tapes recorded at The Barn had a kind of tinny, 60s feel to them. Sometimes a thin sound can be very effective on a recording, such as on Electric Music For The Mind And Body, Country Joe and The Fish's 1967 debut album. Mind And Body didn't have the sheen of Revolver, but it had an immediacy that makes the record very powerful.

If the sound for a recording is wrong, however, no amount of studio trickery can really fix it. Up until this time, no truly acoustic project had been recorded at The Barn. Notice also that the Old And In The Way was the first genuine Garcia project recorded at The Barn. Garcia had been involved intermittently with Rolling Thunder, but Old And In The Way would have been his first full project. Given that the Dead were self-financing in 1973, working at Mickey Hart's studio would have been a lot cheaper than recording in San Francisco at The Record Plant (I am confident that Hart was paid for the use of his studio, by the way). I would note, however, that the Old And In The Way project was Garcia's last project at The Barn before they got a new mixing board (see below).

I think The Barn was falling behind as a professional studio in 1973, and it was a particularly poor room for acoustic music. I think both Garcia and Grisman, and probably one Mr. Owsley Stanley, were very unhappy with the sound quality of the Old And In The Way recording, and seem to have buried it where it can never be found. I hope it remains intact as part of Owsley's taped legacy, whatever its quality.

The cover to Barry Melton's 1975 album The Fish, a UK only released on UA Records
The Fish-Barry Melton album project (1973-74)
Betty Cantor engineered and produced a Barry Melton solo album at The Barn entitled The Fish. By the time the album was released in 1975, however, it had been entirely re-recorded in Wales. I take this chain of events to suggest that the record industry did not like the sound of tapes recorded at The Barn, and the history of The Fish is one of the indirect reasons that I hold to my theory that Garcia, Grisman and Owsley rejected the sound of the Old And In The Way tapes. I have speculated at length about the history of the recording of this album, so I won't recap it all here.

The cover to Robert Hunter's 1974 album Tales Of The Great Rum Runners, the first release on Round Records
Tales Of The Great Rum Runners-Robert Hunter (Round Records RX-101, released June 1974)
The first release on Jerry Garcia's Round Records label was thoroughly unexpected, as it was an album by the Dead's hitherto mysterious lyricist Robert Hunter. I have quite a lot to say about the reasoning behind this release, but that is a subject for another (no doubt lengthy) post. Since Tales Of The Great Rum Runners was released in June 1974, the album must have been recorded at The Barn earlier in 1974. Jerry Garcia and a few other Grateful Dead members make appearances, and numerous other Bay Area locals--the Area Code 415 crowd--play on it as well.

Then and now, Tales Of The Great Rum Runners was a fascinating if flawed album. One of its major flaws was that it just didn't sound that great by 1974 standards. Jerry Garcia mixed the album, but over at Alembic. Hunter's semi-electric music may have been more amenable to the sound of The Barn than Old And In The Way, but it can't have been completely satisfying. Round Records was independent, however, so working at The Record Plant wasn't really a financial option.

Roadhog album project (1974)
A recent and curious tape has surfaced of what appears to be some sort of album project for the band Roadhog. Robert Hunter played around the Bay Area with Roadhog in 1976, but the band had existed for sometime before that. A 39-minute, 15-track tape has surfaced that features mostly Hunter compositions, recorded by Roadhog. Hunter himself sings lead on several of them. Six of the tracks were different versions of songs that turned up on Rum Runners, and a few more songs are now known from later Hunter albums or performances. A few tracks, like the song "Roadhog" itself, were unheard up until now.

Where do the Roadhog tapes fit in with Tales Of The Great Rum Runners? This, too, is mysterious, making my upcoming Rum Runners post even longer. Did the Roadhog project precede Rum Runners, and get superseded? Was it a parallel project, with the idea that Hunter would write the songs for Roadhog as well as the Dead? JGMF found an ad for Roadhog at the Inn Of The Beginning on September 27, 1974, where they are listed as playing "songs by Robert Hunter." All quite fascinating material for contemplation.

For the purposes of this post, however, it's simply worth noting that the Roadhog recordings have a demo tape feel. I wouldn't be surprised if the Roadhog tape was also shopped to record companies with no bites. In any case, Roadhog are thanked on the Rum Runners liner notes, which confirms that the band already existed prior to the record, so there must have been some parallel development, but that will have to wait for another post.

The cover to Robert Hunter's 1975 album on Round, Tiger Rose
Tiger Rose-Robert Hunter (Round Records RX-105, released March 1975)
I believe that Mickey Hart's Barn studio was intended as an important linchpin in the Round Records plan. In order for the members of the Grateful Dead to record the albums they wanted to make, their had to be an affordable, friendly studio. Local studios like The Record Plant, Wally Heider's and Columbia Studios were fine facilities, but they were expensive to use and heavily booked. The Barn had seemed like a perfect solution, but it's hard not to look at the recorded evidence and think that the sound quality of the recordings at The Barn were not up to 1974 standards.

At some point in 1974, Alembic Sound sold Alembic Studios to producer Elliott Mazer. Alembic was a sound company that was intimately connected to the Grateful Dead, though in fact a separate business entity. Alembic had purchased the old Pacific High Recorders studio at 60 Brady Street, where the band had recorded Workingman's Dead, and re-named it Alembic Studios. Alembic was generally only used for mixing, rather than recording. Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead mixed "Skull And Roses," Europe '72 at Alembic, and Garcia had re-mixed Anthem Of The Sun and Aoxomoxoa there, as well.

Alembic had decided to get out of the studio business, however, and focus on making instruments and other live performance equipment. Mazer would upgrade the studio's equipment and re-name it His Master's Wheels. Many albums were recorded at His Master's Wheels, including the Jerry Garcia Band portions of Reflections. As part of the upgrade, however, the old mixing board was sold off, and it ended up in The Barn. I don't know what the financial arrangements were--were old mixing boards desirable commodities in 1974?--but there's no question that the sound of albums recorded at The Barn improved after that. I'm sure other technical changes had been made as well, which would be way beyond me, but I like the synergy that the board used for Workingman's Dead became the platform for recording several projects on Round Records.

I suspect that Tiger Rose was the first project recorded on the old PHR board. I suspect that it was an implicit condition of Jerry Garcia acting as the producer and arranger for the album. Notwithstanding Garcia's fine musical contributions, the sound of Tiger Rose is far superior to the Barn-recorded albums that preceded it. It can't have been an accident.

The cover to the album Seastones, released in 1975 on Round Records, recorded by Ned Lagin and members of the Grateful Dead, including Phil Lesh, Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart
Seastones-Ned Lagin and Phil Lesh (Round Records RX-106, released April 1975)
Keyboardist Ned Lagin had come out to California in 1973 work with Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and others on a variety of electronic music projects. The "Seastones" performances with Phil Lesh and the accompanying album on Round were just a portion of what was recorded, much less what was intended. For record company reasons, a sticker on the album cover presented Seastones as a joint collaboration between Lagin and Lesh, and that was apparently a bit misleading, though not incorrect. The project was really Lagin's, but Lesh's name was attached to it to make it into a "solo album." Lagin did not object, by any means, but Garcia and Hart played big roles in the composition, development and recording of the album as well, and that has apparently been somewhat lost over time. A two cd set of Seastones is due sometime, and that should help lend some clarity to the scope and intentions of the project.

Seastones was not a typical recording project in any way, so it is all but fruitless to compare it to anything else. Nonetheless, The Barn seems to have been one of four recording studios for the work. Lagin had spent some time in California earlier in the 70s, and some recording on Seastones related projects had taken place at The Barn in 1971-72. The project re-started when Lagin returned to Califronia in 1973. In some personal correspondence, Lagin alluded to studio time being rushed and limited by record company finances, so that is one way I have been able to assume that projects recorded at The Barn were paid and paying work, not just larks. Of course, there were three other studios, one of them in Bob Weir's garage, so there may be some other nuances to this as well.

It's hard to compare Seastones to, say, a Hunter album, but I have to assume that Lagin aslo appreciated the upgrades associated with the PHR mixing board. Seastones was mixed in Quadrophonic, the hi-fi of it's time, ironically enough at His Masters Wheels.

The cover to the Round Records album Pistol Packin' Mama, by the Good Old Boys, recorded in 1975 and released in 1976
Pistol Packin' Mama-Good Old Boys (Round Records RX-109, released March 1976)
Jerry Garcia produced a bluegrass album for Round, featuring New Rider David Nelson and three genuine bluegrass legends: Frank Wakefield (mandolin), Don Reno (banjo) and Chubby Wise (fiddle). Limited evidence suggests that the album was actually recorded in about February 1975, even though it was not released until March 1976. I think the Grateful Dead's financial problems intervened, and there was not enough cash to release the album until the Grateful Dead had signed a distribution deal with United Artists Records at the end of 1975.

Pistol Packin' Mama is a beautiful sounding album, bluegrass like it should be recorded. With musicians as accomplished as The Good Old Boys, the key for the producer was simply to record the music as clearly as possible, and Garcia and engineer Dan Healy seem to have achieved that. I have to assume that the long lost Old And In The Way studio album did not sound nearly as good as Pistol Packin' Mama, and I have to think that a variety of technical upgrades must have made all the difference. Without knowing much about recording, I have to think that the mixing board from PHR was a big part of that.

The cover to the 1976 Round album Diga Rhythm Band
Diga Rhythm Band (Round Records RX-110, released April 1976)
Throughout much of 1975, Hart was apparently working on his Diga Rhythm Band project. The album was finally released in early 1976, but I do not think United Artists was very happy with it. When they agreed to distribute Grateful Dead and Round Records, UA must have been thinking about Garcia and Weir solo albums. They did get Reflections (RX 107) and Kingfish (RX 108), but UA can't have been happy about an electronic music album best heard in quadrophonic (Seastones), an album of cover tunes in a nearly forgotten country subgenre (Pistol Packin Mama) and finally a percussion album that you can't dance to (unless you are very, very limber). Hart apparently spent a lot of UA's money re-mixing Diga to get it just exactly perfect.

In June, 1976, the Grateful Dead returned to full-time touring, with Mickey Hart back on board. By the end of 1976, Grateful Dead and Round Records were no more. By the middle of 1977, "Le Club Front," which was initially the Jerry Garcia Band's rehearsal studio, had become the primary in-house recording venue for the Grateful Dead and its members. The Barn studio receded into the background. Once in a while, if Hart was not on tour, it seems to have been put to good use: a local Marin band featuring future JGB drummer Johnny De Foncesca recorded a demo there in 1978, and some Rhythm Devils sessions were held there in March, 1980.

In general, however, I have to assume that The Barn at Hart's ranch simply became Mickey Hart's home studio, available to put down ideas or record jams as the mood struck him. At some point the studio was dismantled, although I don't know the exact story. A fellow blogger interviewed Hart and Hart not only confirmed the fact that the PHR mixing board went to his studio, he commented on its own aftermath. Sometime in the 1980s, apparently, the mixing board was donated to a studio in Hunter's Point in San Francisco that was run as part of the San Francisco Public Schools. Somewhere out there, in the aether where there is a Kung Fu movie with a Mickey Hart soundtrack, there are some tapes by aspiring teenage rappers in San Francisco in the late 80s with a whiff of Workingman's Dead on them. As far as I know, the actual barn itself that housed the The Barn studio has since been dismantled.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Jerry Garcia Acoustic Bands 1969-1994

The 1988 Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band album over
Jerry Garcia was a largely acoustic musician throughout the early 60s. While he seems to have occasionally played electric bass or something for the odd paying gig, for the most part he was a true folk musician. This dynamic reversed itself in mid-1965, when the Warlocks formed and Garcia became a full-time electric musician. As Garcia's career became more professionally stable, however, and he had more control over some of his choices, it is notable that he kept returning to acoustic music. In particular, besides simply playing the occasional formal or informal session on an acoustic instrument, Garcia seems to have regularly taken on acoustic projects every few years. The timeline suggests that Garcia felt a musical need to have some sort of acoustic project periodically, independent of his other musical goals.

This post contains almost nothing in the way of new information. I am attempting to look at the arc of Garcia's acoustic projects from 1969 through 1995, with respect to their duration. This post is
  • not a list of every Garcia acoustic appearance
  • not a list of every Garcia acoustic configuration
  • not a platform for discussing variant lineups or disputed or vague dates
Rather, it is an attempt to consider the ongoing arc of acoustic projects throughout Garcia's career, once they became truly optional. The focus here will be on the timeline and the output of the projects, such as it was, rather than the specific performances that comprised each configuration. In a recent interview, Sandy Rothman said
When you walked into Jerry’s living room, the banjo was always right there in the case, next to the TV set. Acoustic music was never far from Jerry – it was always like that through the years, no matter what else was going on. 
A careful analysis of the arc of Jerry Garcia's acoustic projects from 1970 through 1995 bears Rothman out. A closer look also suggests that Garcia's most focused acoustic projects were implicitly designed to produce an album. Once that album came out, Garcia seemed to largely drop the prior acoustic configuration, moving on to another one a few years later. Many, if not most Deadheads, myself included, often wished that Garcia would return to the music and arrangements of an earlier presentation, but clearly he had little interest in doing so, embodying the restless searching in his music as a whole.

The cover to the 1970 album Workingman's Dead
Jerry Garcia And Bob Weir (Late '69-Early 70)
First show: December 26, 1969-McFarlin Auditorium, SMU, Dallas, TX
Last show: March 1, 1970-Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
Jerry Garcia-acoustic guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-acoustic guitar, vocals
In late 1969, Garcia and Bob Weir started performing a portion of Grateful Dead sets as an acoustic duo. This wasn't completely without precedent: Garcia had played acoustic guitar on stage with the Dead in early 1969 (on "Mountains Of The Moon"), the New Riders Of The Purple Sage had an acoustic feel even if they weren't acoustic, and there had been the mysterious "Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom Show" from June 11, 1969, for which we have a setlist but no tape.

In late 1969, however, Garcia and Weir elevated some of these experiments to a regular part of Grateful Dead shows. Songs by Buck Owens and The Everly Brothers joined the many R&B and old-timey songs in the ranks of Grateful Dead covers. I believe that on occasion, other members of the Dead added instrumentation to the acoustic guitars, but in general the performances were just Jerry and Bob.

My limited understanding is that Garcia (and probably Weir) were unhappy with the ways that the guitars were amplified, and dropped the configuration by the end of February 1970. Nonetheless, I think the effort was fruitful. The very first instrumental performances of "Uncle John's Band" present a pretty spaced out jam, and yet the album version on Workingman's Dead is a melodic sing along in the style of Crosby, Stills and Nash. I'm not trying to make any argument about which was the chicken and which the egg, but given Workingman's Dead, I feel confident that Garcia and Weir's experiment as an acoustic duo was quite serious, and was not undertaken because a drummer was late.

The album cover for 1970's American Beauty lp
An Evening With The Grateful Dead (Mid-1970)
First show: April 17, 1970-Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
Last show: September 26, 1970-Terrace Ballroom, Salt Lake City, UT
Jerry Garcia-acoustic and electric guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-acoustic gutar, vocals
Phil Lesh-electric bass
Bill Kreutzmann-drums
plus: John Dawson and David Nelson-vocals
An acoustic format returned to the Grateful Dead in the Spring of 1970. The basic configuration of the acoustic sets had Garcia and Weir on acoustic guitars, backed by Lesh on bass and Kreutzmann  on drums. Different members would join in sometimes, including Pigpen on occasional piano or harmonica and Nelson and Dawson on harmony vocals. I have never gotten a convincing answer on whether Kreutzmann or Hart played drums, whether they switched or shared, and so forth, but I believe that Kreutzmann played drums for the acoustic set and Hart played the New Riders sets.

Garcia has commented on occasion that he was greatly influenced by the fantastic English band Pentangle, who had opened for the Dead during the Live/Dead stand at Fillmore West. Similar to Pentangle, Garcia would play a little bit of electric guitar on certain numbers, but the basic frame was two acoustic guitars and a rhythm section. This acoustic configuration of the Grateful Dead appears to have been a significant influence on the sound of the American Beauty album, recorded in the Summer of 1970. While American Beauty is dominated by electric instruments, all but one or two songs seem rooted in the basic format of the acoustic Grateful Dead at the time.

However, the acoustic format that seems to have been the genesis of American Beauty disappeared in the Fall of 1970. Garcia had commented some years later that he was unhappy with the amplification, and I'm sure that was true, given that the Dead were playing bigger and bigger places. However, Garcia was not one to return much to his acoustic forays, so I don't think the band and its engineers made any effort in the ensuing years to actually solve the problem of acoustic instruments in a rock setting.

The album cover for the 1975 lp Old And In The Way, recorded in 1973
Old And In The Way (1973)
First show: March 2, 1973-The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA
Last show: November 4, 1973-Gym, Sonoma State College, Cotati, CA
Peter Rowan-acoustic guitar, vocals
David Grisman-mandolin, vocals
Jerry Garcia-banjo, vocals
John Kahn-acoustic bass
Richard Greene, John Hartford or Vassar Clements-fiddle
The acoustic Grateful Dead dropped out of the picture in late 1970, but Garcia seems to have been unable to do without acoustic music for too long. In late 1972, he started playing bluegrass music for fun with his neighbors David Grisman and Peter Rowan. By early 1973, they had decided to form a bluegrass band, and Garcia invited John Kahn to play with them. In the arc that I am considering here, it is worthy of note that there was neither a sound nor sensible reason for Garcia to start performing with a bluegrass group. The Dead were finally making a little money, and the Garcia/Saunders were developing into a popular club attraction, so Garcia could make a little money and have a little fun on the side without a bluegrass group.

The fact that Garcia formed a bluegrass band in early 1973 was a clear sign that Garcia had an artistic need to play acoustic music periodically. Bluegrass music, unlike electric music, can be played quite well in the living room, so Garcia clearly needed to play for an audience rather than just with his friends. I have detailed the history of Old And In The Way's formation at some length elsewhere, so I won't recap it here, but the variety of FM broadcasts and recording projects associated with the band was a clear sign that Old And In The Way was a serious and sincere enterprise for Garcia. However, at the end of 1973, Old And In The Way reached its end (notwithstanding a sort of 'reunion' show at the April 28, 1974 Golden State Country And Bluegrass Festival in Marin).

Great American String Band (Spring 1974)
First show: March 10, 1974-Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA
Last show: June 14, 1974-Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA
David Nichtern-acoustic guitar
David Grisman-mandolin
Richard Greene-violin
Jerry Garcia-banjo
Buell Neidlinger or Taj Mahal-acoustic bass
Old And In The Way appears to have been a finite project, intended to only exist throughout 1973. Having spent '73 transforming bluegrass, Garcia and Grisman decided to spend 1974 transforming all American acoustic music. To that end, Grisman coordinated the formation of the Great American String Band. Garcia did not play every show with the group, who also used the name Great American Music Band. The group debuted on March 9, 1974, and Garcia's first appearance with them was the next day. Garcia's busy schedule only allowed him to stay in the group for a few months, and he left after June '74. Ultimately, the group evolved into the David Grisman Quintet and they indeed change American acoustic music.

Following his departure from the GASB in June 1974, Garcia went six years without a serious acoustic project. This interregnum was the longest period of Garcia's career where he didn't play acoustic music on a regular basis. Garcia did play banjo at two low-key performances in February 1975 by The Good Old Boys, his last performance on banjo until the 1990s. Garcia also played acoustic guitar on a few studio recordings, and there was the one-off benefit in Chicago in 1978, but Garcia had no serious acoustic outlet until 1980. I have read that Garcia was uncomfortable with the technical difficulties of amplifying acoustic instruments, so perhaps that was a significant factor. As both the Dead and Garcia had become a bigger attraction over the years, concerns that Garcia may have had over amplification would have been magnified.

The cover to the 1981 double lp Reckoning
Acoustic Grateful Dead (Fall 1980-Spring '81)
First show: September 25, 1980-Fox Warfield Theater, San Francisco, CA
Last show-May 22, 1981-Fox Warfield Theater, San Francisco, CA
Jerry Garcia-acoustic guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-acoustic guitar, vocals
Brent Mydland-grand piano, harpsichord, vocals
Phil Lesh-electric bass (John Kahn on acoustic bass for the two 1981 shows)
Bill Kreutzmann-drums
Mickey Hart-drums
To the delight of everyone, the Grateful Dead made an unequivocal return to acoustic performance in the Fall of 1980. Garcia commented that he was finally happy with the quality of the amplification and monitors of his acoustic guitar, and this presaged his general willingness to play acoustic guitar on stage for the balance of his career, if somewhat intermittently. In an early 80s Guitar Player interview, Garcia also commented on his appreciation for the band Pentangle, which is how I found about it.

The new acoustic Dead took the time to learn a variety of songs the band had not played in many years, as well as learning some numbers that had never been played acoustically, like "Bird Song." Their willingness to rehearse was a clear sign that the Dead took the acoustic project seriously. However, it's my contention that the band learned and performed the acoustic numbers in order to record and release  Reckoning, and never had any intention of going beyond that.

Although the Grateful Dead played a few dozen shows at the Fox-Warfield in San Francisco, the Sanger Theater in New Orleans and Radio City Music Hall between September 25 and October 31, 1980, they all but completely dropped the format afterwards. The Dead played at a children's hospital, and then opened their 1980 New Year's Eve show with an acoustic set, and a hybridized version of the band with John Kahn played two benefit shows in 1981, but no configuration of the Dead would play acoustically again until 1994.

One of the key lessons Garcia seems to have taken from the Fall 1980 acoustic Dead performances was the ease with which he could make an acoustic appearance without saddling up the entire cavalry. Following the Spring 1981 shows, Garcia made regular appearances at Bay Area benefits as an acoustic duo or trio, with Bob Weir and/or John Kahn and Rob Wasserman. Fascinating as those miscellaneous performances could sometimes be, they were not projects and thus are outside the scope of this analysis.

The acoustic Grateful Dead produced the 1981 double lp Reckoning, the band's definitive acoustic statement. Just about every song they performed in their Warfield/Radio City run was included, and while you can argue about performances, in general I thought the choices on the album were excellent. Sure, they left off the acoustic version of "Aiko Aiko," but I saw it (or one of them) and it was just a lark. I think the Fall 1980 shows were a conscious plan by Garcia and the Dead to get their acoustic selves on record and they did so. Having done it, they moved on.

In one way, Reckoning was very much a return to the American Beauty era "An Evening With The Grateful Dead" sound. Yet the 1970 acoustic shows had featured largely new and even unheard songs--they played an acoustic "Truckin'" one night--and the Reckoning version was mapping familiar territory, with no new originals and no covers that were truly new to the band. From one point of view, Reckoning could be seen as unfinished business. Now that the technology was in place, the Grateful Dead were recording the live acoustic album--unplugged, anyone?--that they should have recorded in 1970. Once the month of Reckoning shows were complete, however, acoustic shows were soon off the table for the rest of the band's career.

Joan Baez with the Grateful Dead (Fall '81)
First show: December 12, 1981-Fiesta Hall, San Mateo County Fairgrounds, San Mateo, CA
Last show: December 31, 1981-Oakland Auditorium Arena, Oakland, CA
Joan Baez-vocals, acoustic guitar
Jerry Garcia-acoustic and electric guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-acoustic guitar, vocals
Brent Mydland-grand piano
Phil Lesh-electric bass
Bill Kreutmzann-drums, percussion
Mickey Hart-drums, percussion
People mostly forget the Grateful Dead's relatively extensive collaboration with Joan Baez, and those people who saw the live performances know why. Mickey Hart and Joan Baez were a couple at this time, and Weir was always a big fan of Joan's, so the Dead actually recorded an entire studio album where they backed Baez on mostly original material. Most of it has remained unreleased. Baez and the Dead also performed together three times in December 1981. I have written about that at length, so I won't recap it here. In the context that I am considering Garcia's acoustic work, the Baez album was a serious, sincere project involving a lot of original material, not just a few old folk songs. It didn't work out, but Garcia made much more of a commitment to it than just a one-off benefit.

Jerry Garcia and John Kahn (1982-86)
First show: April 10, 1982-Capitol Theater, Passaic, NJ
Last show: November 14, 1986-Veterans Memorial Auditorium, San Rafael, CA
Jerry Garcia-acoustic guitar
John Kahn-acoustic bass
The acoustic pairing of Jerry Garcia and John Kahn presents an interesting conundrum in the context of this analysis. On one hand, Garcia and Kahn played many acoustic shows together over several years, possibly more than any other combination listed here. From another perspective, however, a good case could be made for the proposition that the Garcia/Kahn duo was not a project at all, just a sort of stripped-down version of the Jerry Garcia Band. The duo never recorded as such, and I am aware of no plans that were ever afoot to even attempt a live recording or release.

In the early 1980s, the Grateful Dead's finances were not good. At the same time, Garcia was interested in various film projects, and as a result his own performances had to be cash-positive. Apparently Garcia was told (correctly in my opinion) that his fans would see him endlessly as long as he varied his presentations. Thus Garcia played some East Coast shows as an acoustic duo with Kahn (I'm aware that the first show on April 10, 1982 was actually solo, but it's a tangent to this post), and it became a nice counterpoint to Garcia Band shows. When Garcia and Kahn came through a town after the Garcia Band, they played a different set with different interpretations, and Garcia's fans were always good for another go-round.

That being said, however, Garcia and Kahn's repertoire added nothing new to the Garcia canon. They played some Garcia Band songs, and some 'acoustic Dead' songs, but nothing really new turned up. Here and there a somewhat forgotten song like "Going Going Gone" made an appearance, but on the whole it was more of the same. By the mid-1980s, while Garcia/Kahn shows had a comparable number of songs to JGB shows, they were shorter, so there was some implicit dissatisfaction amongst Garcia fans. I know that for myself, while I enjoyed seeing the Garcia/Kahn duo, having seen them a few times I felt no need to go out of my way for them.

It's also true that shows by Garcia and Kahn must have been quite profitable. This was no small thing during a cash squeeze. With just two band members and a modest amount of equipment--and therefore crew--smaller venues were definitely in play, particularly if tickets could be sold to both early and late shows. On the other hand, Garcia was never without options, palatable or not, and he would not have played so many acoustic shows with Kahn if he had not enjoyed making music in that format. Garcia's next acoustic iteration proved this point. 

Ragged But Right, the second album by the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, scheduled for release in 1989, though it was not released until 2010
Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band (1987-88)
First show: March 18, 1987-The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
Last show: July 9, 1988-Frost Amphitheater, Stanford U, Palo Alto, CA
Jerry Garcia-acoustic guitar, vocals
David Nelson-acoustic guitar, vocals
Sandy Rothman-banjo, dobro
John Kahn-acoustic bass
with: Kenny Kosek-fiddle (Fall '87)
        David Kemper-drums (Fall '87)
In July of 1986, Jerry Garcia had a life-threatening episode, and he had to re-learn the physical aspects of playing guitar. He played some acoustic during this period, and even made a guest appearance at a Grateful Dead Thanksgiving party as part of an acoustic trio with Sandy Rothman and David Nelson. When Garcia was asked to play a benefit at the Fillmore for various 60s poster artists, he could have chosen to simply do the show with John Kahn, but he brought along Nelson and Rothman. The quartet played a brief set of old-time music, rather than the contemporary or original material that was part of the Garcia Band repertoire.

While I think that the Garcia/Kahn pairing of the early 80s had an element of financial convenience to it, I also think that Garcia genuinely liked playing acoustic. According to oft-told legend, Bill Graham was so impressed with the quartet's appearance that he said "I've gotta do something with this group!" and Garcia wryly said "take us to Broadway, Bill." Graham in fact did that. After a few Bay Area shows, the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band opened for the (electric) Jerry Garcia Band for 15 shows at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in New York on West 46th Street (a dozen subway lines converge on it).

in complete contrast to the Garcia/Kahn duo, the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band learned all new songs, or, more correctly, re-learned songs that the core trio had not played in many, many years. When they played Broadway, drummer David Kemper was added to the group playing a minimal kit, and legendary fidller Kenny Kosek joined as well. The JGAB went on to open some JGB shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and some of the best material was used for the excellent album Almost Acoustic. There were plans to release a second album, as well, although that was delayed about 23 years, when Ragged But Right was finally released.

According to a recent interview with Sandy Rothman, the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band trusted their memories and musical abilities:
Most everything we played during those shows, we’d played at some point – although in a couple of cases, they were songs we’d last played back in the ‘60s. We might’ve gone over them quickly backstage – not the whole song, but a verse and a chorus just to see if we knew it – and then we’d improvise on stage.
There was that telepathic thing going on between the original three of us – Jerry, David, and I – and Kenny fit right into that. He was really careful to not step on what we already had going on. Plus, John Kahn had played a lot with Jerry, so he knew what was going on there. There was also the telepathy thing going on vocally; we rarely worked out beforehand whether there was going to be another chorus or whether there was going to be another verse or repeat the chorus twice at the end … most often that was strictly on the fly.

Interestingly, as a marker of Garcia's approach to his more fully realized acoustic projects, having completed their enterprise by December, 1987, the Jerry Garcia Band disappeared. By the time the album came out in December 1988, the band had ceased to exist. The Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band did play an odd, one-off show at Frost Amphitheater in Stanford on July 9, 1988, but I am convinced that was a late minute addition because the University did not want an electric Garcia show.

The pattern of Garcia's acoustic projects seems to have been that the serious ones existed for a relatively brief period of time in order to create some kind of album, and then the configuration or band dissolved. Any configuration that existed intermittently for a long time, like Garcia's duos with Weir or Kahn, were not designed by Garcia with any particular intent. By that standard, the Garcia/Kahn duo was not a serious project at all for Garcia, however much fun he may have had actually performing. Conversely, the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band was a much more meaningful project for Garcia, but that very fact seems to have limited its tenure.

The cover to the Jerry Garcia/David Grisman album Shady Grove, released in 1996, and recorded from 1990-93
Jerry Garcia and David Grisman (1990-95)
First show: December 17, 1990-The Sweetwater, Mill Valley, CA
Last show: May 5, 1994-The Warfield, San Francisco, CA
Jerry Garcia-acoustic guitar, vocals
David Grisman-mandolin, vocals
Jim Kerwin-acoustic bass
Joe Craven-percussion, fiddle
The latterday collaboration between David Grisman and Jerry Garcia has a unique standing from the perspective of Garcia's acoustic projects. In retrospect, Garcia's partnership with Grisman provided an outlet for Garcia to record acoustic music in a relaxed setting with diverse accompanists, rather than existing as a primarily live vehicle. Since Grisman's excellent studio was in the garage of his Marin home, and Grisman was willing to coordinate sessions and even release the albums on his own label, all Garcia had to was show up and play. On some level, that was Garcia's goal, particularly with acoustic instruments: just show up and play. By the time the 80s ended, Garcia's appearance anywhere, even a recording studio, attracted enormous interest. Grisman's house was one of the few places he could hide out and just play, and with Grisman he had a rare partner who was on Garcia's own level as a player.

Garcia and Grisman had apparently had some kind of falling out in 1975 after the release of the Old And In The Way album on Round. As always--whatever people may say--it seems to have been about money. In a late 70s interview with BAM Magazine, Grisman complained that Vassar Clements was owed a few thousand dollars that he had never recieved, and (to paraphrase) "one member of the band owned the record company." Of course, Garcia probably lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the Round/GDR debacle, but he had the Grateful Dead to fall back on.  Nonetheless, time wounds all heels, and by the end of the 1980s, the bridge between Garcia and Grisman had been rebuilt. They started to hang out and jam--there's reason to think that perhaps Garcia was just looking to get out of the house--and once Grisman realized that only the Dead, not Garcia, were contracted to Arista Records, the door was open to release Garcia/Grisman albums on Grisman's new Acoustic Disc label.

The actual performing debut of this ensemble was at Mill Valley's tiny Sweetwater club (at 142 Throckmorton) on December 17, 1970. For most people, however, the coming out party was on February 2 and 3, 1991 at The Warfield. To some extent, Garcia kept to the Pentangle-style configuration of two guitars and a rhythm section, although of course Grisman mostly played mandolin and percussionist Joe Craven mostly played well amplified tablas (and on occasion, himself). However, performances by the Garcia/Grisman band were few and far between, if rapturously received.

As it turned out, however, it seems that pretty much every time Garcia went over to Grisman's house, they went to the garage to play and the tape deck was switched to "on." While Craven and bassist Jim Kerwin were the most regular in attendance, all sorts of formal and informal configurations were in play. A wide variety of material was covered, too: James Brown, Miles Davis, Missisippi John Hurt, you name it. Grisman's studio and record company allowed Garcia to play the acoustic music he wanted to with some kind of intimacy. Since Garcia, by nature, was always "on," there weren't rehearsals, in that sense. The pair just played. If the take wasn't right, they played it again, but every take was for all the marbles. In that respect, although unfinished, the Garcia/Grisman canon on Acoustic Disc gives us the broadest and clearest perspective on what Garcia wanted to do with acoustic music, and we are the richer for it.

Since the Garcia/Grisman partnership was not conceived as a performance vehicle, they seem to have approached their musical projects differently. It appears that they worked on different thematic albums, such as children's music, jazz standards, old-time music and so on. Not all of these were complete before Jerry's departure, unfortunately, but Garcia and Grisman's music still points toward a tendency to organize his acoustic ventures into specific projects.

Some remarkable video was released in 2001 of Garcia and Grisman recording in the latter's  studio, as part of the video Grateful Dawg. Garcia is quite comfortable with both the audio and video recorders running, a mark that he was used to being the center of attention after a few decades. While Garcia was always guarded in certain ways, I don't think he was any different on camera than he would have been at Grisman's house in any circumstances, as Garcia had been the center of attention wherever he was since the late 60s.

The most revealing part of the video, to me, is where Garcia and Grisman stop picking for a minute and start talking about old bluegrass songs that they like, and for a minute they are fans like everyone else, talking about their favorite records. Garcia, whatever his other problems may have been at the time, is animated and excited like you or I would be when talking about our favorite music. Then Grisman says (approximately) "we should get all those [bluegrass] guys together and make an album." Garcia's shoulders instinctively sag and he turns his head--"then we'd have to make all these arrangements and everything," he says, dismissively. Grisman, hopefully, says "I'd take care of it." But Garcia shakes his head, and Grisman drops it. At least he tried.

By the early 1990s, I think Garcia wanted to play electric music to as large as audience as possible, loud and vibrant with sound ringing out from all sides. But acoustic music was chamber music to him, and there weren't any living rooms left for him to play in peace, nor even anything like The Boarding House (capacity under 500), much less the Stinson Beach Community Center (even smaller). All he had was Grisman's home studio. Garcia had started out as a professional musician practicing bluegrass in David Nelson's parent's living room, and he wound it up in his friend's garage, a final refuge from the legend he himself had created.

Phil Lesh And Friends (September 24, 1994)
September 24, 1994-Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA
Jerry Garcia-acoustic guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-acoustic guitar, vocals
Vince Welnick-piano, vocals
Phil Lesh-acoustic bass guitar, vocals
I'm not much for the counterfactual, trying to guess what might have been. Jerry Garcia died on August 9, 1995, and sad as it was, his health was not great, so it wasn't just bad luck. It's remarkable that the man created so much music in his time as a musician. Nonetheless this survey wouldn't be complete without a glance at the last acoustic Grateful Dead performance. Phil Lesh agreed to do something for the Berkeley High School music program, where he himself had learned music in the late 1950s. The Berkeley Community Theater was also the school's auditorium, and Phil packed the place with an acoustic show featuring Bob Weir, Vince Welnick and Garcia. As well as being the first Phil And Friends show, it was also the last glimpse of the acoustic Grateful Dead, since the ten song set featured some actual Grateful Dead numbers that had not been performed in a while.
Walking Blues
Lazy River Road

KC Moan

Dupree's Diamond Blues

Childhood's End

When I Paint My Masterpiece

Attics Of My Life


Bird Song

Throwing Stones
Did this lineup of Phil And Friends actually rehearse? If they did, I'll bet it wasn't more than once, in the dressing room. Nonetheless, the presence of "Dupree's Diamond Blues" and "Attics Of My Life" meant that the members had to at least discussed what they were going to play, a sign of a little more seriousness on Garcia's part than knocking off "Little Sadie" again. It's not farfetched to think that Garcia was ready for another acoustic Grateful Dead episode. The Grisman/Garcia partnership seemed to meet Garcia's need to create acoustic music, but they were never going to tour much. With all the improvements in live sound and monitors, Garcia might have been amenable to another Reckoning-type project, but like many other possibilities it was not to be.

Jerry Garcia's Acoustic Legacy
Jerry Garcia began the 1960s trying to be an acoustic "folk" musician, and from one point of view he failed. Of course, he has a well-deserved legend as both a guitarist and, for lack of a better term, a signpost to new space. Yet as a result of Garcia's status as an electric guitarist and San Francisco icon, he had a far larger acoustic legacy than is usually realized.
  • The Grateful Dead were psychedelic legends by the end of the 1960s, even if they weren't that popular. Thus when "Uncle John's Band" lead off Workingman's Dead, the fact that a 60s guitar avatar was sounding a lot like Crosby, Stills and Nash was an invitation to many musicians and fans that it was OK to like that sort of stuff. Songs like "Friend Of The Devil" are now bluegrass standards, played in pizza parlors on Bluegrass Tuesday all over America.
  • Old And In The Way only played a few dozen show in 1973, and only released an album 16 months after their last performance, but they were a profoundly influential band in modern bluegrass. Certainly John Hartford and many others were making progressive bluegrass in the early 1970s, but it wasn't reaching a wide audience. With Garcia on board, Old And In The Way opened the door to bluegrass to numerous listeners, not coincidentally including me. They were a great band, of course, but they were also the first bluegrass band to publicly sing songs about weed, a much more significant divide in the 1970s that is worthy of another post. Thanks to Garcia, Old And In The Way opened the door to long haired pot smokers liking bluegrass, and that is Garcia's biggest acoustic legacy and contribution.  The popularity of bluegrass music today is a testimony to the beauty and depth of the music itself, but Jerry Garcia had a huge role in getting young music fans to check it out in the first place.
  • The David Grisman Quintet is one of, if not the, most important ensembles in American acoustic music. All credit due to Grisman and his cohorts, but they might have had a harder time getting off the ground without Garcia's participation in the early days of the Great American String Band. 
  • David Grisman's Acoustic Disc label, separate from but including the Quintet, has been an important force in promoting everything good about both traditional and new American acoustic music (not to mention a few other countries). Without some best selling Garcia/Grisman albums to kick off the label, some of the more fascinating but less lucrative releases may not have been so viable. 
Paradoxically, Jerry Garcia's most serious acoustic music projects from 1969 onwards seem to have been finite. He had an idea, he worked with other musicians--inside or outside of the Grateful Dead--to do some live work in preparation for some recording, and then the configuration faded away. The longest running collaborations, the duos with Bob Weir or John Kahn, for example, were more of an expression of Garcia's enjoyment of playing acoustically while retaining some fiscal sanity. Garcia's formidable accomplishments and recorded legacy as an electric guitarist have minimized his remarkable contributions to popular modern American acoustic music.