Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Chronicle of Dylan and Garcia Performing Together

1. November 6, 1980...John Lennon was still among the living when Jerry Garcia joined Bob Dylan on stage for the first time on November 16, 1980, during Dylan’s twelve-night residency at San Francisco’s Fox-Warfield. Bob was still singing songs of faith, but he mixed in some old classics and cut back on the number of gospel songs for his backup singers. Prior to Garcia’s appearance, Carlos Santana played with Dylan on 11-13, and Mike Bloomfield joined him on stage two nights later. It was the last time they’d see each other. Bloomfield died three months later from a drug overdose.
After a slippery start, Dylan rallied to give Garcia a flattering introduction: “Well, I don't know exactly what to say here. Different peoples been coming down to the theater every night so far. And this night is no exception I guess. Anyway this is, keep . . . here’s a young man I know you know who he is. I’ve played with him a few times before. I’m a great admirer and fan of his and support his group all the way, Jerry Garcia. He’s gonna play with us, in the key of C.”

The song was “To Ramona,” and Garcia unleashed an A+ jam in the key of C. It was a long solo by Dylan standards. Garcia remained on stage for eleven songs, including a song covered by the Jerry Garcia Band, “Simple Twist of Fate,” and a tune that would later be covered by the JGB, “Senor.” After his spirited outburst in “To Ramona,” Garcia dutifully fit in as just another guy in Dylan’s band. Everything from Dylan’s performance to the sound of the band was spot on during this Fox-Warfield residency.

2. July 2, 1986… At the second concert of the tour, in the Rubber Bowl in Akron, Ohio, on July 2, Dylan joined the Grateful Dead on stage for three songs during the first set. Dylan played along on “Little Red Rooster” before the Dead played their only version of “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.” It was a rocky adventure because the Dead had a slow, methodical style that didn’t naturally match with Dylan’s unpredictable cadences and rhythms. Garcia adjusted to Dylan’s style nicely, but more practice was needed if Dylan and the Dead were to play together. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” was in the Dead’s rotation as an encore, but with Dylan on stage, they gave it a go in the opening set. Garcia took lead vocal and made space for Dylan to join him, but Bob’s voice was rough, and didn’t mesh with Garcia’s polished, high-pitched interpretation. Deadheads roared lustily as Weir thanked Dylan for joining them on stage. “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” showcased that Dylan and Garcia could easily adapt to each other, however, the three-song preview hinted that a possible Dylan/Dead affair wouldn’t be as smooth as Dylan’s transition to playing with Tom Petty.
 Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate @ Amazon

3. July 7, 1986… Deadheads, Dylan & Petty, and the Grateful Dead reconvened for a pair of shows at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC on July 6 and 7. The temperature at showtime was 100 degrees with hazy sunshine and stifling humidity for both concerts. Survival and hydration took precedence over transcendent music. The Grateful Dead performances were abysmal. The jams were short, the song selections were unimaginative, and Garcia’s performances were consistently lethargic. Dylan seemed to deliver a better show with Petty & the Heartbreakers, but Dylan added to the Grateful Dead’s dilemma by joining them for horrible renditions of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Desolation Row.” As Dylan’s abrasive voice croaked along with Garcia and Weir, it was obvious the Dead had a better handle on these songs. What happened to the confident performer from the Hard to Handle video earlier in the year?

Commenting on this tour, Garcia said, “I found myself in the weird position of teaching Dylan his own songs. It’s just really strange! It was funny. He was great. He was so good about all this stuff. Weir wanted to do Desolation Row with him, y’know, and it’s got a million words. So Weir says, ‘Are you sure you’ll remember all the words?’ And Dylan says, ‘I’ll remember the important ones.’”

4. July 4, 1987...The Grateful Dead became Dylan’s backing band for six shows and their debut collaboration was a star-spangled debacle. The Dead opened for Dylan in Foxboro and played a sluggish and unimaginative one-set show—not a good omen for the upcoming Dylan/Dead set. This was Dylan’s first show in eleven months, and he was rustier than an old dirt shovel in a porous toolshed. This gig is only noteworthy because Dylan played his first live versions of “Queen Jane Approximately and “Joey,” and he also performed “John Brown” and “Chimes of Freedom” for the first time since 1963 and 1964 respectively.

5. July 10, 1987… Dylan and the Dead greeted a fired-up Philadelphia crowd with “Tangled Up in Blue.” The Dead played it in the style of Jerry Garcia Band, and Dylan strung the lyrics out in an interesting chant that might have worked if a different band backed him. Garcia, a considerate player, was cautious about jamming and stepping on Dylan. Garcia played pedal steel guitar on “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” something he hadn’t done prior to this tour since 1970. Wearing a red jacket and black beret, Dylan was bobbing and weaving like a dazed fighter as he shouted lines and hung onto syllables uncomfortably long, in a self-mocking manner. Dylan’s live debut of “Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” was solid as he managed to remember most of the words. There was still room for improvement, but the JFK show was worth seeing.

6. July 12, 1987…This Giants Stadium gig was easily the best of the Dylan/ Dead shows, and the most thrilling concert I’ve ever seen. I dedicated a chapter in my book, Dylan & the Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate, to analyzing this show. Garcia had a sensational night on guitar, inspiring Dylan to raise his intensity. Dylan’s debut live performance of “Wicked Messenger” might be the premier tune of this overwhelming show which was ignored when Dylan selected the tunes for the subpar Dylan & the Dead album (1989). Dylan and the Grateful Dead: A Tale of Twisted Fate @ Amazon

7. July 19, 1987…After a week layoff, the tour reconvened in Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon. There were some interesting moments at this show, but this is weak compared to their Giants Stadium masterpiece.

8. July 24, 1987…The Oakland show features outstanding versions of “I Want You” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Jay Blakesberg captured some great photos at this show including the photo on the cover of my new book, and this one.

9.July 26, 1987…No reason to get excited. The last Dylan/ Dead show in Anaheim went by like a puff of wind.

10. February 12, 1989… Dylan/Dead relations took their strangest turn when Bob joined the Dead on stage for the second set of their show on February 12 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood. Dylan played guitar out of the spotlight in between Garcia and Weir as the band opened with “Iko Iko.” That was followed by unusual selections: “Monkey and the Engineer,” “Dire Wolf,” “Alabama Getaway,” “Cassidy,” “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.” Most of these were tunes that the Dead played in the first set, and the band had never played an electric “Monkey and the Engineer” before. Dylan added meager backing vocals in places, and showed no interest in singing his own song. The music had no spark, and it was bizarre to see Dylan this passive on stage. (This can be seen on YouTube.) After the Dead finished off the second half of their set, Dylan re-emerged for a “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” encore, and grunted the lead vocal. It was fine for a novelty version, but Dylan’s odd phrasing clashed with the lush, methodic pacing of the Dead’s version of “Heaven’s Door.”

The day after his guest appearance, Dylan phoned the Grateful Dead office in San Rafael to ask if he could join the band. This was a serious request. The band members voted on the proposition, and if the vote were unanimous, Dylan would have been a member of the Grateful Dead for at least a tour. One no vote shot down the dream. Weir has publicly stated that he voted to give it a go, and we know how Garcia voted. The no vote likely came from Lesh or one of the drummers, and it was a great business decision, nothing personal. Dylan tried to fit in as one of the boys the night before, and it was awkward at best. Even in a legendary line-up like the Traveling Wilburys, Dylan was a huge presence. The Dead would have had to, on some level, restructure what they were comfortable doing, and there was little benefit to having Dylan in the band, except for the fact that Garcia and Weir greatly admired Dylan. It turned to be a fortuitous no-vote for Dylan who went down to New Orleans and recorded Oh Mercy with Daniel Lanois.

11. May 5, 1992…Garcia joined Dylan on stage for “Cats in The Well,” and one of four rare 1992 performances of “Idiot Wind.” Some tapes and CDs of this are in circulation, but I’ve yet to hear one. Garcia and Dylan were going through tough times in ’92, but I bet this must be a compelling listen.

12. October 17 1994… Dylan and the Dead were reunited on the stage at Madison Square Garden. This was their first get-together since February 12, 1989, which was followed by Dylan’s request to become a member of the Grateful Dead. Dylan was in town to play at the Roseland Ballroom the following night, so he dropped by for a “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” encore. Dylan seemed to be in fine form as he began to sing, but his vocals were barely audible as he sang into Weir’s microphone. Apparently, Dylan’s mic gets turned up much louder at his shows. Garcia took a weak stab at singing a verse, Vince played some lame keyboard, and another Dylan/Dead debacle was in the books. Individually, Garcia and Dylan had created some of the most memorable moments in the history of Madison Square Garden. Together, the soul brothers bombed.

13. June 25 1995…Dylan opened for the Dead five times in 1995; one in Highgate, Vermont,  twice in Giants Stadium, and twice in RFK Stadium. On their final night, Garcia grabbed his axe and joined Dylan on stage. This was just like their first time on stage together in 1980, when Jerry joined Dylan on his stage in the Warfield. Garcia added a solo to one of his favorite Dylan tunes, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” and the results were much better than the last few times Dylan tried to join the Dead. Garcia would have benefited from leaving the Dead to do something with Dylan more than the other way around. It was fitting that Jerry and Bob shared this final moment together in the nation’s capital.

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