The Golden Road Part Two: David Crosby, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and More Reflect on the Grateful Dead
In continuing with our celebration of fifty years of the Grateful Dead, we asked musicians from all corners of the record bin to reflect on a particular show or moment that helped shape their musical life. In part two, read thoughts from Lenny Kaye, Geologist, Tim Carbone, Jorma Kaukonen, Michael Travis, David Crosby, Alex Bleeker, Derek Trucks, Scott Devendorf, Ira Kaplan and Susan Tedeschi. Read part one here. This story originally appeared in the July_August issue of Relix. To subscribe, click here.
Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith Group) 6/6-11/67
I was no stranger to the magic of the Grateful Dead when they debuted in New York City during the first week and a half of June 1967. Long fascinated by the Fillmore poster on my wall for the New Year’s Eve inaugurating 1967— where the Dead were billed between Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service— and after buying the first album as soon as it appeared in March of that Spring of Love, I followed their siren call to the crossroads of Haight-Ashbury in August. I was able to see the band at a wake for Hell’s Angel Chocolate George in Golden Gate Park; and when their upcoming appearance was announced at the Café Au Go Go on Bleecker Street, I was ready to welcome them to my hometown. It was a strange moment in time; during their run, both Bobby Kennedy and Andy Warhol were shot. The club was where I’d witnessed the Blues Project, as well as a late summer appearance in 1966 by a guitarist named Jimmy James, stopping by from his gig at the nearby Café Wha, soon to migrate to London and restore his birth name, Hendrix. It was not the best place to see rock-and-roll music—a long narrow rectangle with the stage in the middle facing the near wall, and most of the seated audience spread out on the sides. For the Dead, it was hardly conducive to dancing or, as the button on my jacket proclaimed, freaking freely, but I didn’t let that stop me.
Geologist (Animal Collective) 10/12/68
I put Oct. 12, 1968 [at the Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, Calif.] at the top because it was the first live tape I got when I was 14. There was a guy who worked at my school cafeteria, and if he knew you liked the Dead, then he would dub you a tape if you brought him a blank. (The same guy also turned me on to Syd Barrett.) This was the first one he gave me, and when I put it on, I realized “Dark Star” was the song I’d heard in middle school when my friend Scott’s older brother played it in his car. That was the first Dead music I’d heard aside from “Uncle John’s Band,” and that version made a huge impression on me. Not knowing the song at the time, but knowing it was live, I bought Europe ‘72 mistakenly thinking it’d be on there. When I got the tape of 10/12/68, I knew it was the same “Dark Star,” and if it wasn’t, it didn’t really matter because it was the same feeling/experience. Since then, I’ve always gravitated toward longer exploratory songs, be it the Dead or anyone else. From this show, I can connect my love of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive,” Can’s “Mother Sky” and even live versions of Pavement’s “Fight This Generation” and the second disc of 330,003 Crossdressers by Sun City Girls.
For a while, thanks to this “Dark Star,” a perfect song for me was around 20 minutes long, largely instrumental, slightly sinister and preferably with some heavy spacey moments. Filler in honor of the Playboy After Dark “MountainsoftheMoon” performance that was the filler on this tape: I considered choosing the only show I saw, 10/6/94 at the Philly Spectrum. I remember “Other One”> “Wharf Rat” being super special; however, I’ve still never listened to it.
Tim Carbone (Railroad Earth) 10/31/70
My favorite Grateful Dead show was my first: the early show at Stony Brook University in New York on Halloween 1970. I was a freshman in high school. My earliest influences were The Beatles and the jump blues of Louis Jordan and Wynonie Harris that I heard on my father’s 78s. One day, my brother came home with a record simply titled The Band. Listening to it changed me. A friend’s sister had a copy of Workingman’s Dead. It had a similar effect and, when the Dead rolled in to our local college, some of us decided to check them out. I don’t remember exactly what they played, but I do remember this: I was not ready for the impact of Pigpen. When he sang, he owned the place. He prowled the edge of the stage like a cat, but when he sang, it was no purr; it was a roar of pure emotion. I remember loving the show but being blown away by the energy of Pigpen. I saw them next at Dillon Stadium in Hartford, Conn., in 1972. Alas, Pigpen was too sick to make the trip. I never saw him again.
Jorma Kaukonen (Hot Tuna/Jefferson Airplane) 11/20/70
The Palestra, University of Rochester on 11/20/1970—The Airplane was doing a gig at the War Memorial and, after our show, I headed over to The Palestra and sat in with the boys. We did “It’s All Over Now” and “Darlin’ Corey.” The boys played a dynamite show and let me play, too. How good does it have to get?
Michael Travis (The String Cheese Incident/EOTO) 4/29/71
My favorite Dead show is 4/29/71 [at Fillmore East]. In college, I started listening to a recording of that show around 1986. It was hugely influential to my understanding of improvisation. I found the passage from “Alligator”> “Drums”> “Space”> “Going Down the Road” mesmerizing. They seemed to turn impossibly sharp corners together and end up in the same mental place— kind of where I first started seeing improv as a potential for spontaneous composition. It really had a profound effect on me. So much of what I brought to the String Cheese table is a result of this show.
David Crosby 12/31/72
I first started hanging out with the Dead when they were living out in Haight-Ashbury and playing free shows around San Francisco. The Byrds were anti-Hollywood in Hollywood, but I just loved how anti-establishment the Dead were. I played with them a couple of times. At this one show, I took my 12-string rig out there. I was way too loud, and Jerry came over to help me. I think we played best together in the studio—Jerry is all over my solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name. People like to drop the line that [CSN] taught them how to sing, and that is nonsense. They were brilliant musicians, and they listened.They saw what we were doing and saw how much fun it was to sing harmonies. If I had to pick one guy to speak for all musicians, then it would be Jerry Garcia.
Alex Bleeker (Real Estate) 7/27/73
I love the folklore behind this Watkins Glen soundcheck turning into a full-on performance. You can literally hear all of the different instruments get mixed in while the band is playing—“Promised Land” starts out so bare bones and then slowly fills in over time. As a musician and a nerd, it’s fun to hear the meat and bones of the Dead exposed like that. At one point, presumably after a considerable amount of fans had amassed to watch a soundcheck that would turn into an impromptu show, you can hear Bob joke on the mic, “This is still a test, folks...”
Derek Trucks (Tedeschi Trucks Band/ The Allman Brothers Band) 12/18/73
There was something about the sound of the band at that time. I was listening to this show [from Curtis Hixton Convention Hall, Tampa, Fla.] on SiriusXM recently. It struck me: “That’s why the shows lasted so long.” There was this living, breathing thing happening with the band. The songwriting hit me in a new way—there is no mistake why this thing has lasted and affected people in that way. You can hear the way Phil, Jerry and Kretuzmann could wander, musically, together. It reminded me a little bit of the Ornette Coleman Quartet when it was at its peak. Everyone is somehow in lockstep, but it’s also free.
Scott Devendorf (The National) 9/18/74
One of my favorite Dead recordings is Sept. 18, 1974 from Parc des Expositions in Dijon, France. I only recently listened to this show on The Deadpod podcast in September of 2014, but I have revisited it often. Recorded during the Wall of Sound era, it features tight, inventive, highly accented and nimble playing from all—especially between Phil (heard strongly in the mix) and Billy. I love the crisp, clear and defined instrument/vocal balance, and it’s great to hear the Godchauxs fully integrated in the vocal harmony and keyboard departments. An amazing and wide-ranging setlist with many highlights: “To Lay Me Down,” one of the last up-tempo “Friend of the Devil”s, “Black-Throated Wind,” “Uncle John’s Band,” “Eyes of the World” and Phil and Ned Lagin’s keyboard/ bass/sonic excursions! A bonus during its broadcast onThe Deadpod were three tracks from the soundcheck: Jerry’s instrumental/space, “Cumberland Blues” and “Brokedown Palace.”
Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo) 6/14/76
With all due respect to the second-set finale of “Sugar Magnolia,” “He’s Gone,” “Truckin’,” “Going Down the Road” and “Sunshine Daydream” at Roosevelt Stadium [in Jersey City, N.J.,] in August ’74—the Internet informs me that “The Other One” was in there, too, but unfortunately not in my recollection—my most enduring memory took place before the show began on June 14, 1976. Punk rock had distracted my attention from the Dead, but when my brother got two tickets to one of the back-from-hiatus Beacon Theatre dates, I wasn’t going to turn that down. We were comfortably seated in the balcony, well in advance of the first song, when one of the fire exits popped open and dozens of ticketless Deadheads flooded in. It was bedlam: Security simultaneously attempting to secure the perimeter and eject the interlopers while the new arrivals sought to elude The Man by grabbing the nearest empty seat and acting natural. (I also enjoyed getting to hear “Cold Rain and Snow” and “Cosmic Charlie.”)
Susan Tedeschi (Tedeschi Trucks Band) 12/31/01
They invited me to play with them one of the very first times they got back together without Jerry [on 12/31/01] in Oakland. It was a Phil & Friends date and Bobby, Mickey and Billy came floating across the audience onto the stage. It was mayhem and craziness and everyone was really sweet. We did a great version of “Hard To Handle.” I got to tour with The Other Ones in 2002 when I was pregnant with my son Charlie—the Dead wives threw me a baby shower backstage. We did Madison Square Garden; Jimmy Herring was in the band and so was Rob Barraco, who is the biggest Grateful Dead fan who was in the Grateful Dead. He’d say: “Do you want to do a version from ‘79 or ‘81?” It is such a trip—he knew the songs better than they did, and all the different versions from all these different years.