Jerry Garcia Band is a lot harder to get into than the Grateful Dead. First of all, the shows aren't on archive.org (often accessed by the relisten app these days) so you have to use bt.etree.org to download via torrent software. Much harder to quickly sample, you have to commit! Or you can buy the handful (albeit a terrific handful) of official releases from Round Records/ The Official Garcia Site. So its much harder to devour a bunch of the music quickly to learn the ropes and figure out what you want to focus on. Secondly, there is a real lack of scholarship compared to the Grateful Dead. All of my favorite Dead blogs do get into it a bit (Hooterollin Around, Lost Live Dead and Dead Essays). Jerry Garcia's middle Finger is probably the foremost internet JGB scholar with a ton of show reviews and some really interesting and insightful research. So while you can find reviews, if not detailed analysis of countless dead shows, there just isn't nearly as much Garcia Band scholarship.
|Oberlin College 3/23/76 Dennis Dockton|
|Oberlin College 3/23/76 Dennis Dockton|
|The 1976 line-up (Kieth Godchaux out of frame). Ed Perlstein, Rolling Stone|
The secret power behind this line up, in my onion, is the masterful drumming of Ron Tutt. One of the more interesting career paths in American Music, the Texan started playing Western Swing and Dixieland early in his career. In 1969 he successfully auditioned for the Elvis Presley TCB Band, an unprecedented amalgam of musicians with different musical styles that came to Elvis in a dream (or so the story goes). He backed Elvis for the rest of his career until the King left the building in 1977. After that, he went on to be Neil Diamond's drummer. A gig he still holds down. While Still Elvis's drummer in 1976 and early 1977, he took another gig: The Jerry Garcia Band. A gig he really didn't need considering Elvis must've payed pretty well. Something about Jerry or the music he wanted to play must've been compelling. In an interview with Ron Tutt, he sites Elvis's charisma as something that drew him in to want to play music with him. Jerry Garcia was certainly very famous for his charisma (though of a COMPLETELY different flavor) so maybe it was just a matter of being drawn in by compelling and creative individuals?
We're lucky to have a recent Rolling Stone interview with Tutt talking about his time playing in and recording with the Jerry Garcia Band. Check it out here.
Throughout the entirety of Jerry Garcia's solo career, John Kahn was there. Lost Live Dead does a phenomenal job documenting his career both with and without Jerry Garcia if you want to delve deeper. He was a popular studio musician and could play bass in nearly any style of music. Interviews with the man are few and far between however. Here's one taken shortly before he died. There's a bit of conversation in David Gans and Blair Jackson's beautifully compiled This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead but I can't seem to find any of his own words anywhere else. This sets up a lovely segue:
Who was John?
Who was John? was originally recorded in 1936 by the Mitchell Christian Singers an A Capella group from North Carolina. According to their Wikipedia: "They pioneered a 'primitive' idiosyncratic style of A Capella gospel singing: curiously wailing, syncopated spirituals, with a "down home" quality, featuring with an interplay of voices that anticipated the sound of post-war gospel quartet."
It's well documented that Jerry Garcia was obsessed with American folk and traditional while John Kahn's love of Black American music is well known. While suitably obscure for both of their tastes it made perfect sense as a song to bring to the Jerry Garcia Band's repertoire. Especially in 1976 where there was a clear focus on gospel music.
The song was in the JGB orbit before that however. It was recorded on the Kieth and Donna Solo album in 1975. It's lovely to think of the band set up in the Godchaux's living room in Stinson Beach with little Zion napping away. Garcia and Mountain Girl were living up the coast a bit so he could pop down any time and work on it. They apparently hung out a lot during that time listening to gospel records. The Album cover is a picture of Zion with a doodle by Jerry of his idea of what Zion's thoughts were like. Zion followed in his parents footsteps and is in Boombox who are jamband festival staple.
According to my count using the Garcia.com setlists, Who Was John? was played by the Jerry Garcia Band about 26 times with its first known live performance at the Keystone Berkeley on 1/27/76. There's a rehearsal tape from 1/25/76 from Club Front where they run through it along with most of the 76 line up of tunes. It's last known performance 11/16/76 at Sophie's in Palo Alto. There are a number of missing setlist's from this time period which would lead me to believe we're missing at least another one or two performances. It was overwhelmingly played in the first set or early show, almost always the fourth or fifth tune. It's best known performance can be found on Gracia Live 7: 11/8/76 also at Sophie's. It doesn't survive 1976 which is curious to me considering what a great tune it is. There doesn't appear to much else shaken up in the repertoire and Tutt doesn't leave until the end of the summer of 1977. Who knows? You can't exactly jam it so maybe that has something to do with it. Perhaps its better it didn't survive the year though...the tune retains that 1976 magic.
|Calderone Concert Hall 3/30/76|