Just in time for Record Store Day on November 22nd, a truly under-sung live masterpiece is to be re-released. Many fans know of Jerry Garcia & Howard Wales 1970 memorizing fusion studio album Hooteroll?, which was notable (aside from the inspired flowing free-jazz) as Garcia’s first studio recording outside of the Grateful Dead since the band’s inception. Indeed Garcia saw something remarkable about Wales playing. “Howard did more for my ears than anybody I ever played with because he was so extended and so different.” This early exploration outside of the potent psychedelic jams of Grateful Dead would pave the way for a solo career notably different from his playing with the Dead. The backbone behind Hooteroll? was a lineup that experimental jazz/funk keyboardist Howard Wales assembled for a Monday night jam at San Francisco’s The Matrix club on Fillmore Street. Along with Garcia, Wales invited gifted bassist John Kahn and drummer Bill Vitt to play in a new fusion outfit. The results were explosive and the rest is recorded history.
Side Trips: Volume One was originally released in 1998. While highly regarded by critics and fans upon initial release, these jams from The Matrix in 1970 might not have been featured as prominently as merited, for both historical posterity and the marvelous jamming. While Grateful Dead was a unit open to boundless exploration, there were still individuals that contributed discernable qualities in that playing. With Howard Wales, Garcia let his guard down and was able to explore another embedded musical interest that had been developing simultaneous to Grateful Dead music; jazz fusion. Garcia undoubtedly admired the music of Miles Davis, who was transitioning his eclectic hard-bop during this exact period to fuse with electric elements of rock ‘n’ roll. Wales invited Jerry to come as a session player alongside John and Bill to jam at a small club. The results are captured within the inspired four tracks of Side Trips: Volume One.
Rather than a track-by-track analysis, as all were purely improvisation, with foundational elements of funk, jazz and swing, it’s important to note that particular moment as a cornerstone to Garcia’s development as a player. With Wales encouragement, Garcia was able to play free, outside of the expectations that came along with Grateful Dead. Just as the music was free so was Jerry. No song requests, no expectations. His relationships with Kahn and Vitt would materialize over the years, most famously with Merl Saunders at The Keystone Club in 1973-74. Howard Wales, who continues to perform stunning fusion music to this day, still honors this fruitful period of his career in both performance and interview.
Now for the first time, audiophiles can dig into this exceptional set from San Francisco in 1970 on vinyl and thru streaming services. Even hardcore fans of Hooteroll? will be surprised at the deep twists and turns the grooves take. Head out to record store day on November 22nd to get ahold of the first vinyl release of Jerry Garcia & Howard Wales, Side Trips: Volume One.