While iconic guitarist and bandleader Jerry Garcia passed away nearly twenty-one years ago, his influence and high-esteem continues to mount. It’s miraculous that so many fans of the beloved guitarist and Grateful Dead bandleader never actually witnessed the legend perform. The expansiveness of his covers was equally impressive as his originals. That’s why Garcia and the Dead continue to grow their fan base, much like jazz music, there’s something ethereal about simply listening and taking in. The newest installment of the GarciaLive series, which was kick-started by the Garcia Trust a couple of years back, is certainly the finest (and rarest) yet. GarciaLive Volume Six: July 5th, 1973 – Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders is some of the most candid and expansive live recorded music from the guitarist and his frequent collaborator/mentor.
Garcia and Saunders relationship dated back to the early 1970s. While Garcia loved playing with Grateful Dead, sometimes the strains of being “Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead” wore thin on him, and he longed for more intimate gigs where he could investigate and rediscover his favorite cover tunes. Indeed, the Grateful Dead of 1973 were playing everything from medium-sized theaters to gargantuan sports arenas. The band’s popularity skyrocketed, generally acknowledged as being psychedelic rock’s pioneers. Additionally, two particularly strong country-inspired studio albums hurled The Dead into a scene beyond their control. When Garcia got together with Saunders, who further asserted his love for R&B, Soul, Motown, Gospel, and Jazz, it was the ultimate release from that other world.
This recording comes from one fiery, yet loose night of music from a band featuring Garcia’s lifelong bass collaborator John Kahn and Bill Vitt on drums, augmented frequently by multifarious horn player Martin Fierro. The Lion’s Share was a 200-person club in San Anselmo, California, just North of San Francisco in the reclusive borders of Marin County. Despite some very minor technical anomalies and a little bit of missing music, these recordings are a pivotal addition to the Garcia catalogue, and further testament to an already acknowledged creative peak.
Two weeks later this quartet would go on to play what has been a legendary recording for decades at The Keystone Club in Berkeley. GarciaLive Volume Six finds the Garcia/Saunders band with even jazzier and more exploratory motives. The thump-leaded intro that begins “After Midnight,” immediately sets the groove precedent. Perhaps an intentionally stark contrast from Eric Clapton’s famous cover of the J.J. Cale tune, it’s clear that Garcia’s time spent gigging with Saunders inspired him to reinterpret and heighten the classics. “Someday Baby,” would become a staple of their future project, Legion of Mary. Saunders’ led “She’s Got Charisma,” and “The System” reaches some of the deepest psychedelic bounds even recorded by any Garcia band. While some of the Grateful Dead’s deep psychedelia could be interpreted as experimental, Garcia & Saunders’ jams that July night in 1973 was much jazzier than the sonic-space of the Dead.
An inspired cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” was a different kind of soul song that fit in nicely. Many songs recorded that night would become career long staples of the Garcia Band. “I Second That Emotion,” “Money Honey,” and “How Sweet It Is,” would stand the test of time until Garcia’s last solo tour in 1994. Rare covers that wouldn’t continue into Garcia’s future projects, like the superlative take on the jazz standard “My Funny Valentine,” also highlight this performance.
The real nucleus of the performance is the ultra-chill yet monstrous jam, which would be dubbed “Merl’s Tune,” as originally named by the Keystone Sessions recordings. Garcia always possessed an apt approach of boundless musical empathy. This segment notably features future Legion of Mary horn-player Martin Fierro for the nearly seventeen-minute jam (seven of the albums fourteen cuts exceed the ten-minute mark.) Saunders soaring organ leads wove harmoniously with Garcia’s interpretive backbone. The ten-minute jam to follow entitled “Lion’s Share Jam,” evolves into a funkier method, similar to the tighter arrangements that would come with Legion of Mary the following year.
It’s no hyperbole that this is the rarest (never before circulated) and most inspired of the GarciaLive recordings yet. Garcia was in the busiest moment in his career to date, juggling multiple projects at once while absorbing all the diverse illustrious music he was collaborating on. The music here stands alone from the Live At The Keystone gigs from the same tour as roomier and heavier. This set is must own for any music lover. GarciaLive Volume Six: July 5th, 1973 Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders is available from music outlets and jerrygarcia.shop.musictoday.com on June 24th through Round Records & ATO Records.