Grateful Dead Music

 

 

Grateful Dead - Intrepid musical exploration at it's finest. A malignant experiment that spawned several generations of cosmic seekers. Although the members of the band placed emphasis on the music, the Grateful Dead's fans (known as Deadheads) found much more. The Grateful Dead extends beyond the music that was generated by the members of the band. It is an ongoing entity that will continue to rise in various incarnations in future years.

The Grateful Dead's success rose out of the freeform exploration of psychedelic consciousness of the 1960's. Along with Ken Kesey and many others, the Grateful Dead offered an alternative to the standard record industry music fare. Their concerts were a living experience that demanded interaction between the band and the audience. As the size of the audiences expanded, the musical formula was always in a state of flux. Despite the band's desire to downplay cosmic and spiritual references to their music, several generations of Deadheads found a source of community, sharing, and a form of cosmic enlightenment through the music of the Grateful Dead.

While the recorded music of the Grateful Dead could never capture the full magic of their concert experiences, their albums offer some glimpses of their grandeur. The true seeker can still find some secret doorways to other astral realms in the subtle nuances of their recorded music. Although the music was influenced by psychedelic exploration; use of these substances is not needed to find our way through the often rugged terrain into other worlds.


Europe '72 - The double CD live album "Europe '72" is what I consider to be most significant of the Grateful Dead's works. Within the music spaces, their are in fact doorways to other astral worlds. Within the proper set and setting, the listener can in fact embark on a journey to other realms of cosmic understanding. The most significant third eye visions that I have had and then seen realized in my lifetime, I had while listening to this album.

Beyond my own cosmic appreciation for the Grateful Dead's music on Europe '72, the album is important for several other reasons. This is the most solid representation of the band. It contains the last formal recordings of the vocals and harmonica, of the deceased Pigpen "Ron McKernan". It also served to introduce the contribution of the husband and wife team, Keith (Keyboards) and Donna Jean (background vocals) Godchaux, to the Grateful Dead's concert sound in the 1970's.

Having perfected the "Wall of Sound" floor to ceiling speaker system, the band was able to play classic old halls with near perfect tonal qualities. The musical notes seem to hang suspended in the air. Meanwhile Jerry Garcia (Lead Guitar), Bob Weir (rhythm guitar), Phil Lesh (Bass Guitar), Bill Kreutzmann (drums), and Mickey Hart (percussion) where at one of their magical, musical peaks. They had taken their experiences from the 1960's, fine tuned, and improved the musical foundation. Narcotic drug use had not succeeded in undermining "the boys" and they were at a zenith of dexterity and creativity.

The mix and album production is very clean. It accurately captures the concert experience of the 1972-1973 time frame. The clean separation of musical channels was revolutionary at the time of the album's release. The subtle density of the overdubs brings complexity to the sound, while not detracting from the "Live" feeling of the music. In addition the clarity and quality of the vocal arrangements on "Europe '72" are very clean and well delivered.

The album was the brain child of the Grateful Dead family, as to how to take an all expense paid vacation in Europe. The band and their extended family traveled around Europe in two buses. One bus was for the "Bozos" and the other bus was for the "Bolos". Lots of fun and rich history unfolds on the album's tracks.


Live at Hundred Year Hall
- This is the raw stuff that "Europe '72" was created from. Released over 20 years after this concert in Germany's "Hundred Year Hall", the raw music with mistakes and all, is available on CD. Disc 2 of this album provides the opportunity for countless hours of study and mind expansion. The "Truckin" to "Cryptical Envelopment" jam provides the listener with 54 Minutes of nonstop musical exploration and improvisation. This is the full on mind-screw without the polish of the earlier album.

Listening to this CD in combination with meditation has provided me with entry points to the collective unconscious. I know that others have found similar experiences in their review of these recordings.

The CD contains liner notes by Robert Hunter (songwriter), where the listener can learn about the dynamics that were at work the night of this concert.

[Cover Art]
Skull and Roses - Vintage Grateful Dead circa 1970. One of the most important albums as it defines the cusp of an era and the transition from 1960's to the 1970's. Coming out front with their folk/rock/country/blues background, this album redefined the sound of the Grateful Dead. Embracing their roots in Americana; the band stepped forward with the likes of Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers, etc. to bring a new sound to Rock n' Roll. This is the concert experience that was happening during the timeframe that the band was working on "American Beauty" and "Workingman's Dead" in the studio.

There are many spaces to explore on this album. The Grateful Dead express some of their most heartfelt moments here. Pigpen wails out the blues on "Big Boss Man". Bob paints a tapestry of the American west with songs by Merle Haggard, John Phillips, and Kris Kristofferson. A drum solo builds, merges with Phil's bass, and then extends into the trippy passages of "The Other One". As Jerry tells the story in the haunting delivery of "Wharf Rat"; you can hear him pouring his heart and soul into every line. But all bets are off when the band closes the album with a priceless jam from "Not Fade Away" into "Going Down the Road". Listening to the jam gives the listener a peek into the dynamics that were the foundation of the band members listening and reacting to each other during freeform improvisation.


Blues for Allah - The 1960's were over and the beautiful people had been trampled by sharks bent on exploitation and capital gains. In 1974, the Grateful Dead called it quits. Yet a year later, they were back at it again with the release of "Blues for Allah". An often overlooked and misunderstood album, "Blues for Allah" set the tone for what would transpire in the next 3 years of the band's growth.

The album begins with a string of accessible compositions that were the mainstay of the Grateful Dead's concert experiences in the late 1970's. The music had more of a jazzy feel than some of their earlier material. They showcased both their ability to write lyrics, as well as demonstrated they could compose structured instrumental passages. The suite of "Blues For Allah / Sand Castles & Glass Camels / Unusual Occurrences In The Desert" was an artistic statement that few bands would dare to make. This piece (while not very accessible) contains the basic essence of the Grateful Dead.

"Blues for Allah" was a very important stepping stone to the most important concert of the Grateful Dead's musical journey "Live at the Pyramids in Egypt, 1978".

LIVE DEAD - As the 1960's came to an end; the Grateful Dead found themselves in need to make a good album quickly. Making of the album "Anthem of the Sun" had run into serious overtime and studio costs. Their relationship with their record label (Warner Brothers) was strained over their approach to using the recording studio. Meanwhile they were running up more studio time in the making of "Aoxomoxoa" . The Grateful Dead experience required an audience for interaction, studio albums were not working for them. So to bridge the gaps, the Grateful Dead made the album "Live Dead".

The approach to making album was radical for the time. Sixteen track mixing boards for recording studios had just come out. In order to make a good live album quickly, a 16 track mixer board was taken to a series of concerts and the album was recorded at a very low cost. The process also captured the raw flowing energy that the Grateful Dead generated during that time period.

The original vinyl release featured an extended jam that spanned several songs and 3 album sides. In this album the band showcased their extended improvisational techniques in the song "Dark Star". Find here a murky journey of light and sound... In fact, Dark Star could change in composition at any moment. The album "Live Dead" captures but one mood of many different moods of the song. Dark Star spins along and unwinds into a screaming version of "St. Stephen" which eventually sequels into "Turn on your Lovelight". This is the Grateful Dead as they began to gain confidence and move out of their days of earlier experimentation. The listener can hear how the band was struggling to bring a more professional technique to chaos.

This is fire and brimstone psychedelic rock n' roll, played with conviction. Their belief in what they are doing is evident in the attack of the complex musical compositions, arrangements, and holy hell jam sessions.


One from The Vault


Two from the Vault

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Copyright 2001 W. Dire Wolff