On April 12, 1960, Jerry Garcia joined the United States Army. Jerry was a drifting dreamer, but never in his wildest thoughts could he have imagined that ten years later, on the same date, he would be the leader of a rock and roll band that was the headline act at one of the premier music venues in the Bay Area, and that legendary trumpeter and jazz innovator Miles Davis would be the opening act for his band. On 4-12-70, Mile Davis opened for the Grateful Dead in the Fillmore West, a few weeks after releasing his seminal double album, Bitches Brew. At the same time, the Grateful Dead were performing songs from their yet to be released albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty.
Although the groundbreaking jazz of In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew had been influenced in part by James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone, Miles found himself in unfamiliar surroundings as he played for stoned white kids in the Fillmore West. Miles was an intimidating person to strike up a conversation with, and Jerry was the only member of the Dead who had the nerve to rap with him. Reflecting on this conversation in his autobiography, Miles, Davis said, “It was through Bill (Graham) that I met the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia, their guitar player, and I hit it off great, talking about music—what they liked and what I liked—and I think we all learned something. Jerry Garcia loved jazz, and I found out that he loved my music and had been listening to it for a long time.” Jerry’s charisma seemed to enchant everybody.
Miles opened for the Grateful Dead in the Fillmore West on four nights from April 9 through April 12. Joining him on stage were Chick Corea (keyboards), Dave Holland (bass), Steve Grossman (sax), Jack DeJohnette (drums), and Airto Moreira (percussions). The performance on April 10 was recorded and released as a double album, Black Beauty. It’s a scintillating blitzkrieg of fusion. The Dead watched in dumbfounded amazement as Miles led his band fearlessly into uncharted waters at an improbable tempo. And then in an instant, the band delicately dropped into the sentimental ballad, “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” Garcia was especially impressed with the way Miles manipulated silence. The Grateful Dead absorbed various influences better than any band, and I hear the Miles influence in many of their “Dark Stars” from ’72–’74.
Deadheads experienced in listening to long improvisational pieces embraced Miles’s music, and on 4-12-70, they experienced some magic from their heroes. The show kicks into rarified air in set two following four raw electric performances of songs that had been appearing in acoustic sets: “Candyman” “Deep Elem Blues, “Cumberland Blues,” and “Dire Wolf.” This pleasing run gives no hint of the brilliance waiting to be born in the next number, “Dancin’ in the Street.”
The Fillmore West is hopping as the Dead push forth a funky groove with catchy group harmonizing. The “Dancin’” jam takes off briskly, and Garcia steams towards an early peak. Phil’s bubbling bass redirects the flow of the jam against the continuity of Pigpen’s organ, which is turned up louder than usual. The crisp tempo never wanes as Lesh and Garcia take turns rebuilding and deconstructing. Garcia’s guitar sears as the band races along cohesively. At times, the jam sounds as if its veering back and forth from “Dancin’” to “Hard to Handle.” Just as it seems they’ve milked this for all it’s worth, Phil and Bobby bounce into a “Feeling Groovy” jam, thereby luring Garcia into one more rampage. The 4-12-70 “Dancin’” was properly identified as special, and immortalized on the 1997 CD release Fallout from the Phil Zone.
A few tunes down the line, the Dead cover “It’s a Man’s World.” This James Brown classic, which debuted three nights earlier, was played all four nights during this Fillmore West run and played a total of eleven times before being retired later in the year. The 4-12-70 “Man’s World” is more ambitious than great. Pig does a wonderful job channeling his inner James Brown, but there’s nothing like the real thing. Garcia spices this up with funky riffs and leads in response to Pig’s singing. It was a worthwhile venture, yet “Man’s World” doesn’t land a permanent rotation spot. And neither did “Viola Lee Blues,” the final jam of the night. “Viola” begins with a leisurely pace and spins madly out of control at the end. Pig’s organ cushions the frenetic sting of Garcia’s guitar. It’s not an elite version, but the screeching climax is noteworthy.
Looking at the track listing and song times from the Dead’s 4-12-69 show in the Student Union Ballroom at Utah University, I surmised it might be an off night for the band. “Morning Dew” was less than ten minutes, and “Lovelight” was only fourteen and a half minutes. I’ll never underestimate an April 1969 show again. “Morning Dew” is confident without any wasted time, and the jams smoke. The show progresses nicely with “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and “Doin’ That Rag,” and then Jerry mesmerizes the Student Union with “He Was a Friend of Mine.” “Cryptical Envelopments” follows, and if the reprise jam is any indication, “The Other One” must have been unbelievable. Sadly, the only known soundboard recording is missing “The Other One” in its entirety.
It’s impossible to rank ’69 “Dark Stars” unless you make that your sole purpose in life for a year, but after a few listens, this has become a favorite of mine. For twenty minutes, Garcia balances creativity and tenacity. The pulsing electricity burns through St. Stephen > Eleven. The latter tune is unbelievable as the Dead deal a psychedelic blow to the Mormon ballroom. “Turn on Your Lovelight” doesn’t need to be twenty-five minutes to be effective, as this sublime 4-12-69 version proves. This has all the thrills you’d expect from a ’69 show without excess meandering.
The Grateful Dead experience must have resonated with the campus crowd in Utah on 4-12-69. Universities of “higher learning” would always prove fertile grounds for Deadhead recruitment through the years. Fourteen years after their Student Union Ballroom gig, Captain Garcia led an army of Deadheads into the Broome County Arena, in the college town of Binghamton, New York, on April 12, 1983. At the time, I was in Garcia’s army and a part-time college student at Rockland Community College. That morning, I headed up to the State University of Albany to pick up some good friends who were rabid Deadheads. We didn’t have tickets for the show, and my anxious amigos suggested that I increase my driving speed. Fifteen minutes away from Binghamton, a state trooper pulled me over because my maroon Chevy Caprice Classic was clocked on radar at 95 mph. I was driving high on cocaine and weed, and we had every illegal drug known to man in the car, but somehow, I remained cool and collected, and the cop was content to give me a ticket for excessive speeding (no pun intended). Nothing could deter our rendezvous with the Dead.
It was an unusually tight ticket scene. I managed to score one for forty dollars, the most I ever paid to see the Grateful Dead. The crowd energy was insane. The band played tremendous shows in the Broome County Arena on 11-6-77 and 5-9-79, and the Dead’s performance at Binghamton’s Harpur College on 5-2-70 is iconic. The first set of 4-12-83 kicks off with an Alabama Getaway > Greatest Story, and the remainder of the set is loaded with desirable songs. The finest performances came mid-set as Jerry croons a sweet “Peggy O,” and “Cassidy” unwinds with an intense pressure cooker jam. A moaning blues solo offsets Jerry’s weakening voice during “Loser.” The effort is there during a lengthy “Let it Grow,” but the band synergy is absent—lots of noodling, but the jam never clicks. In the audience, I was overwhelmed by the set.
Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower was played for the first time in six years on 3-25-83 in Compton Terrace Amphitheatre, Tempe, Arizona. I saw the sanctified trio for the first time in Hampton, Virginia, the first night of the East Coast tour on 4-9-83. In Binghamton, the Dead thrilled the faithful with Help > Slip > Frank again, and this is a stronger version than the one from Hampton. It took the band a little while to get cooking in 1983, but as the tours progressed, Garcia had one of his premier years as a guitarist, despite his addiction to Persian, and his health problems, which included noticeable weight gain with each tour.
Everybody was overjoyed on 4-12-83 as “Franklin’s” was followed by Lost Sailor > Saint. The music came to a halt, and after a little deliberation, “Terrapin Station” became the next destination. Overwhelming in the moment, the second set developments continued the halo effect of the show. It was a dreamlike experience, except the tape didn’t hold up like 4-6-82 Philly Spectrum. As much effort as the band and audience put in on this night, the X factor was slightly out of reach.
After Drums, there’s a standard Other One > Wharf Rat > Not Fade Away with a thrilling twist at the end. The drummers kept the beat alive as the crowd continued to chant, “You know our love will not fade away.” It caught me by surprise, and I believe this is the second time the band and crowd ended the show with this tribal chant that would become a ritual that I would despise by the time this tour was over. This became a too predictable and easy way for the Dead to end a show. But in that crowd, and on that night, it was absurdly exciting, especially when they reprised the chant upon their return to the stage. I had no idea what was happening. I thought they might be coming back for a mini set.
The “NFA” reprise nimbly segued into “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” When Jerry sang, “The highway is for gamblers you better use your sense,” it reminded me of my brush with the law on Interstate 88 West before the show. This “Baby Blue” has poignant vocals and a biting guitar solo. With deep emotion, Garcia seemed to be addressing the audience when he crooned, “Forget about the Dead you left they will not follow you!” Whenever I’m in the mood to hear a great “Baby Blue,” I go back to this tape. Teasing the audience one more time, the drummers lead the audience into a final NFA chant after “Baby Blue.”
Five years prior to the Binghamton show, the Dead invaded the campus of Duke University for a gig on 4-12-78. It’s become a popular show thanks to the black-and-white video that can be accessed on YouTube. There’s a content buzz in the air as the evening commences with “Jack Straw.” Donna sways softly between Weir and Garcia. Bobby looks like a student teacher at Duke, and Jerry’s presence is that of a gray-haired, middle-aged guitar guru. He looks older than his age at the time, thirty-five, but he appears reasonably healthy. After a battle with laryngitis earlier in the year, his voice is recovering nicely, and the band is heating up on their Southeast tour. “Loser” is the screaming highlight of an otherwise unremarkable first set. Garcia slices, dices, and shreds this solo that is met with a rapturous roar from Deadheads and the student body.
Bertha > Good Lovin’ kicks off set two. Energy ripples through a smiling, head-bopping Garcia. “Eyes of the World” is the pre-drums highlight. The band delivers a relaxed intro that swirls into an exciting jam before Jerry sings the first verse. Solo one pops and takes off with Garcia working his repetitious riff magic. Jam two starts off leisurely and precedes into a skimming stones chord sequence, and then Jerry and the Boys bring the heat. It’s an enjoyable version, but not as meaty or ambitious as most ’77 “Eyes.” This is a must-see Drums because Garcia and members of the crew play percussion alongside Billy and Mickey. A standout “Wharf Rat” is the post Drums delight.
The encore of 4-12-78 Duke is “U.S. Blues.” Usually this isn’t worthy of mentioning, but as those of you who have seen the video know, Garcia goes wild. Jerry hops and bops to the beat and starts to shout/sing the lyrics until he settles into a pattern of alternating soft and loud delivery as the band follows his lead and alters the volume of the music. Continually shrugging his shoulders, Garcia looks like he’s wrestling his guitar. After Jerry sings, “Wave that flag, wave it wide and high,” he peels backward and delivers a Pete Townsend windmill before striking his guitar. And the final “my oh my, oh my, my, my” is rendered over-emphatically as the leader of the band raises his arm and punches the smoky air in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Grateful Deadheads shower the band with love. Between 1971 and 1982, the Dead played Duke five times, as they continued to build and secure their fanbase throughout the land.
For more on this date in GD history and other essential dates of GD History, check out Deadology.