Monday, June 20, 2016

Jerry Garcia Guitar Solos

If you want to plunge into Jerry Garcia's guitar playing, spring 1977 is a good place to base this study.  Jerry's playing was about as pristine, inspired and melodic as it ever got during this period.  Many of the Grateful Dead's best songs were already written by '77 and in the active repertoire.  Last Saturday I put together an ear-training playlist consisting of just the Jerry solo breaks from live recordings of over 30 Grateful Dead songs.  The idea is to have something to listen to, learn from, and play along with.
Jerry Garcia 1977 - photo by Rob Bleestein
The melodies to these Grateful Dead songs are very familiar to me and each one is distinctive and instantly recognizable.  Sometimes I slowed down these snippets to 85% of the speed but didn't change the key.  With a little bit of work I feel as though I could figure out the basic melodies to pretty much any of them, and then start to fill in around that based on things I might take away from what I hear Jerry doing.  The way Jerry fills out an otherwise sparse melody is of great interest to me.
I limited my sources to what is on Spotify with my focus on shows from May 1977.

From the 5/19/77 at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, GA I used China Doll, Looks Like Rain, Loser, Peggy-O, Ramble on Rose, Row Jimmy, and Terrapin Station (the instrumental part after "strategy was his strength and not disaster").  From 5/21/77 at Lakeland Civic Center in Lakeland, FL comes Bertha, Brown Eyed Women, Comes A Time, Fire on the Mountain, Jackaroe, Scarlet Begonias, and St. Stephen (intro).  The 4/30/77 show at the Palladium yielded Deal, GDTRFB and Stella Blue.  By poking around on Spotify I found a few other stragglers such as Franklin's Tower (5/22/77), Friend of the Devil (5/18/77), It Must Have Been the Roses (11/5/77), and Uncle John's Band (9/29/77).

After all that there were some more songs I was looking for that I couldn't find on the 1977 shows available (some weren't written yet) so I had to expand the search.  These include Been All Around this World (1980), Black Muddy River (1989), Crazy Fingers (1975), Deep Elem Blues (1982), Dire Wolf (1973), High Time (1980), Mission in the Rain (1976), Ship of Fools (1974), Sing Me Back Home (1972), Stagger Lee (1978), Standing on the Moon (1989) and To Lay Me Down (1974).
The uniting thing about each of the solos is that they are loose, melodic breaks based on the structure of the songs.  Some of them are traditional songs that the Grateful Dead added their unique touch to, and the rest are originals that seem directly evolved out of traditional music - like taking the same basic folk music concepts and adding one or two new levels to it.  This gives me another option when playing tenor banjo.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Getting Excited About Seeing Phish In Chicago

I've started to get that feeling again.  You know, that feeling of anticipation that comes when a Phish show is looming on the horizon just a few weeks or days out.  I've seen Phish 54 times over the last 22 years and it's always been like this.  The excitement builds until it's showtime and the band comes on stage for that first set.

The upcoming shows in Chicago at Wrigley Field later this month will be numbers 55 and 56 for me.  Chicago is definitely a city I would like to visit but never had the impetus to do so until now.  This should be especially cool because it's a destination event.  I'm not really expecting Phish at a major league baseball stadium to be all that mind blowing in and of itself.  The setup certainly won't be as conducive to a concert experience as a theater or outdoor music venue.  But it's more than that.

For one thing it's at Wrigley Field in Chicago.  That is exciting, unique and historic.  It's also a downtown setting meaning that you can walk from your accommodations to the concert while bar hopping along the way.  In my case, nobody has to worry about driving or working on the days of the concerts.  You're basically on holiday in a new city where the only thing for sure happening for two evenings in a row is Phish is playing.  We'll probably also go to breweries, Irish pubs, some jazz clubs, a few dive bars and ethnic restaurants.  Maybe an art gallery.  Who knows?

In a lot of ways this is like the perfect way to see Phish at this point in my life (short of the unbelievably awesome Riviera Maya trip earlier this year).  It inspires me to get a quick glimpse of a classic American city I haven't really been to yet.  This isn't a camping/festival situation, so you get to sleep as late as you want in a comfortable bed, if you are lucky enough to do so, with easy access to bathroom/showers.  Plus there are oodles of bars, restaurants, museums and other sights to check out.  In other words, "culture".  It won't be like Hampton Coliseum for example where, although the venue and music is almost guaranteed good, the environs are bland suburbia.

Basically you get to be a tourist and see Phish at the same time.  I can see myself doing more of this in the future -- integrating travel and Phish.  One thing I'm wondering is how much will a beer at Wrigley Field cost?