Guitarists Pay Tribute to Jerry Garcia
The cover of the first issue of Relix, a magazine started as a tape trading resource for Deadheads
In August, 2005 Relix/Jambands.com’s Mike Greenhaus and Benjy Eisen polled a number of guitarists about the Grateful Dead song they’d play if asked to sit in with the remaining members of the Grateful Dead. Since today marks the 15th anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s passing, we look back on the songs Keller Williams, Steve Kimock, Jake Cinninger, Jon Gutwillig, Jim James, Chuck Garvey, Stephen Malkmus and many others would pick if asked to pay tribute to the late guitarist. Several of the musicians included in this interview have gone on to join the remaining members of the Grateful Dead’s post-Garcia projects, while many others have paid tribute to Garcia and the Grateful Dead in their own way.
A.C. Newman (New Pornographers):
I would play the solo on, if memory serves me, the Louisville, July 17th, 87 live version of “Not Fade Away”. Some things you can only explain with your guitar.
Brad Barr (The Slip):
“New Speedway Boogie,” cause it’s a badass song; or “Stella Blue,” because it makes my throat tingle.
Brian Stoltz (funky Meters, PBS):
I’d have to pick “Shakedown Street.” Its just so funky. I always had it in my mind to record that songI have a take on it which is done real New Orleans-style. It’s real swanky and funky. I have a weird story about the night Jerry died too. A local news channel called to interview me since he knew we were friends and had played together. When they came over the guy asked if I had any tapes of one of the times I jammed with the Dead. I searched my row of cassettes and pulled out this tape from Oakland Coliseum in ’88 or something. I put it on and it happened to be right in the middle of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” It was really spooky.
Chad Urmston (Dispatch, State Radio):
Something off Mars Hotel like “Unbroken Chain,” “China Doll,” “Ship of Fools…” or maybe “Ramble on Rose” or “Jack-a-Roe.” In High School my brothers and I all slept in a loft above the kitchen “China Doll” never failed to lull us to sleepthat’s a good thing. ‘Cause in big families, sometimes sleep is hard to come by.
Chan Kinchla (Blues Traveler):
“Uncle Johns Band,” the Workingman’s Dead acoustic version. From the best Dead album period. In a moment I am back in high school, shirt off, walking through a sultry swirling parking lot on my fourth show in a row exhausted and flying. It also reminds me of my parents from whose record collection I stole Workingman’s Dead.
I’d cover “Shakedown Street..” It’s probably the closest in style to my band Particle and would be cool to remix into a dance style track.. I’d do it instrumental and add dance beats to it and simplify the structure of it.. One can’t really beat that stuff at its own game, so I’d want to make something new out of it.
Chuck Garvey (moe.):
That’s a tough one! I think I would love to do the whole “Terrapin” suite. Is that cheating? Is “Lady With a Fan” a song unto itself? I really love the epic proportions, symphonic heaviness and cinematic scope of this music. It gets me fired up. American Beauty is my favorite album (although Reckoning is a close second). The studio showed a side of this band that always existed, yet rarely came to full glory. I love the vocals, dry production and the overall feel of this period – maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe It’s only because I have brought it on my last three road trips!
David Lott (Licorice):
If I was to play with the Dead, I’m not sure I would get past the first note, let alone an entire tune, after I came to and realized who I was playing with. Those are the biggest guitarist’s shoes to step into EVER, and the most humbling. I might choose a song like “Black Peter” or “Stella Blue” to try and understand what it’s like to really get inside of those emotions. Then again, “Dark Star”>“Cryptical”>“Other One” would work too!
Jake Cinninger (Umphrey’s McGee):
I was just playing today, backstage, “Crazy Fingers” with Keller Williams. That’s one of the more complex, chordal arrangements. I’m really into the way that song sort of flowers out, and I used to do it with my old band, Ali Baba’s Tahini. So that one, definitely, to solo on and play overthat one feels like something I’d be into. That, or something simple like, “They Love Each Other.” Anything really, you know?”
Jamie McLean (Dirty Dozen Brass Band):
Musically “Help”>“Slipknot”>“Franklins Tower” would be my pick. The diminished runs that Jerry plays throughout “Slipknot” are unlike anything else in the song book. Beautiful, complex, inter-weaving and pure Garcia. There is room to blow over controlled chaos in “Slipknot” as well as the jammy, sunshiney “Franklins Tower.” Now if I were to sing something….too many beautifully haunting ballads to choose from.
Jim James (My Morning Jacket):
I’d do “Candyman,” there’s something about that song that’s so awesome. I’m more a fan of the real structured Grateful Dead songs, the acoustic Grateful Dead songs. On “Candyman,” it’s just like all the harmonies and all the amazing guitar parts and the lyrics…the whole thing. I’d do that or “Brown Eyed Women.” I’m not even that huge of a Dead fan, but there’s just something about Garcia that was so sweet and so awesome. The first time I ever heard him was on pedal steel on Teach Your Children” pedal steel, I think, is one of God’s gifts to people. I can sit there and listen to that song over and over and over and it makes me want to have kids and get married and cry. Just the way he emoted was to me more important than any song that he wrote or anything in particular. It was just his force and I think that’s why people loved him so much. There was just something about him that was insanely magical
Jon Gutwillig (the Disco Biscuits):
“Slipknot.” It sounds like one of the more difficult Dead tunes to play, and the most fun. Plus, we all loved the vocal parts. It was on Blues For Allah, which is my favorite Dead album.”
Michael Franti (Spearhead):
Well, what I would do if I was doing a tribute to the Grateful Dead there’s this quote that I read that was attributed to Jerry Garcia and I’m going to probably butcher it but what he said was, “Don’t try to be the best of the best. Just try to be the only one who does what you do.” And what I would do is I would take that quote and I would make my own song out of it, in the spirit of being the only one to do what I do.
Reid Genauer (Assembly of Dust):
I would want to play/sing on “Eyes of The World.” That song has always spoken to me. To start the groove is contagious. More importantly though—at least to me—the words are spine chilling. “Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world” I’m not 100% sure what that means but it touches me none the less.
Scott Metzger (RANA):
Holy shit, this is tough. Of all the great songs that the Dead played I would most like to sit in on “Sugaree.” The lyrics are totally classic Dead—-an outlaw on the run, one step ahead of the cops that are always after them, and the melody and chords work so well together it’s scary. The band was always killing under the solo section at the end and it was one of those tunes that they could really stretch out on if they were feeling it, but always kept that bluesy feel to it without going all the way out into space.
Scott Murawski (Max Creek):
I would want to play on “Help/Slip/Franklin’s.” The reason why is because I feel that this composition, as well as some of the other Blues for Allah material, represents the most collaborative work of the Dead. To my ears (which have been completely shot for years!), it seems like you can hear the influences of all of them in each piece, more so than on any of their other recordings except for maybe the very early stuff. I also feel that Garcia’s guitar work is some of the edgiest, and at the same time, technically complex, that I’ve heard on any of the recordings. And I like that! Besides, I think it would be a total BLAST to blow over the “Slipknot” jam!!
Stephen Malkmus (Pavement, The Jicks):
I’d like to work out “That’s it for the Other One” off Anthem of the Sun (and Two From the Vault)we could all get out of our heads in that west-coast peace-jam style. Garcia keeps it pretty bluesy on this one. The meandering seems to have a point top tune!!!
Tom Hamilton (Brothers Past):
“Terrapin Station,” hands down. A beautiful composition that presents a great challenge. The original studio version sounds nice, but very “produced” and sterile. After The Dead took this beast on the road, “Terrapin” reached certain emotional peaks and connections that the recorded version could not touch. I’d take the bull by the horns to bring that honesty and intensity into the studio and hope to come out with a more emotional and modern masterpiece that captures the potential of this song.
Adam Aijala (Yonder Mountain String Band):
I think I’d like to play on “Cumberland Blues” because it’s a great song on probably my favorite Dead studio album, Workingman’s Dead. I really like the country/folk edge of the entire album and especially the bluegrass feel of this song in particular (Jerry’s playing banjo). More importantly, the guitar playing is accessible to me and I feel that I could maybe do this song justice while other songs I’d leave to more competent guitar players.
Col. Bruce Hampton (Aquarium Rescue Unit/Codetalkers):
Well, I don’t consider myself as a guitarist and don’t really know any of their tunes. I do know “Lovelight,” but that was first written by Bobby Bland and Joe Scott and I played it back it ’63—-first song I ever played.
This is like going to a world-class restaurant and having to choose soup OR the entree OR dessert! But my choice would be “Terrapin Station” because it has several of the key elements: it starts with a folk tale set to a beautiful tune, includes a sweet opening for improvisation and then transitions into one of Jerry’s most majestic and original compositions, all in service of some of Hunter’s most incandescent writing (adapting a great folk song in the first part, and from his own visionary universe in the rest). This is a song I play in my “solo electric” show, so I’m prepared to play it and sing it with the passion it deserves.
Fuzz (Deep Banana Blackout):
I just participated in the tribute to Jerry Garcia at the Gathering of The Vibes along with The Zen Tricksters, The Dark Star Orchestra, Tom Constanten, Melvin Seals and others. We did “Easy Wind” and I sang and played it. I dig the tune a whole lot because it is simply a great blues… it makes me imagine I am ‘on the Bayou’ (as it is stated in the chorus). Seriously though, the real kicker for me is the way the feel alternates between the slow 6/8 and the 4/4 groove. The riffs really seem to wrap around that rhythm perfectly and it gives it a distinctive sound something that takes it out of the blues norm. There is also a great feel to open up with in the middle.
Jack Pearson (The Allman Brothers Band):
I’d like to do “Oh Glory How Happy I Am” by Gary Davis. I remember hearing them do another one of Rev. Gary Davis tunes before. Yeah— that would be great. Tell ‘em to come on —- let’s do it.
John Kadlecik (Dark Star Orchestra):
“Terrapin Station.” I think that one covers a lot ground great melodies, different improvisational sections with different moods to them and great lyrics. You could probably say that about most of them, but for me, that’s the one
“Bird Song,” “Scarlet>Fire,” “Brown Eyed Woman,” “Eyes of the World,” “Jack Straw, “Stranger, “Help,” “Slipknot,” “ “Franklin’s,” “St. Steven,” “The Eleven,” “Candy Man,” “High Time,” “Black Peter,” “Loser,” “So Many Roads,” “Dire Wolf,” “‘Till the Morning Comes,” “Looks Like Rain,” “Box of Rain” because they are all wrapped up together to be my favorite Dead song that I know and I can play them blindfolded with one leg tied behind my back while hanging by the other leg upside down on acid.
Mark Diomede (Juggling Suns/Solar Circus):
Well, for me, it would have to be “Dark Star.” Because for me that was the thing that hooked me. The first time I saw them I was 15 years old and in1973 and it was on Jerry’s birthday at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey. They were performing Dark Star, it was a general admission show and I was about 10 feet from the stage, in front of Jerry. They were doing what I used to call at the time their Insect Jam.’ It was similar to some of the stuff that Phish really started doing later where they would do this atonal sounding music and it would reach a crescendo and then they would drop it back down. And they were about to reach the top of that crescendo, Jerry was just looking straight up at the stars, he was almost perpendicular, leaning back, and I said to myself, Man, I want to experience what that man is experiencing right now the bliss and the music.’ That to me is why I would choose Dark Star to play with those guys. That was the song and the moment that I knew I was going to play guitar for the rest of my life.
Nat Keefe (Hot Buttered Rum String Band):
First of all, while we’re dreaming here, I would much prefer a live performance with the Dead. Their records are good but the concerts are great. Some of my favorite concerts happened in the early 70s. They used to play an amazing “Second That Emotion.” Laying into his solo, Garcia would leave a lot of space and let the counterpoint of Phil’s bass bubble up. In the music you can hear this youthful exuberance: “This is working! This is really working!” If I could channel a fraction of that energy for 15 minutes, I’d be a happy guy.
Marc Roberge (O.A.R):
This past spring we had the opportunity to actually back Bob Weir and Mickey Hart at a fundraiser for Senator Patrick Leahy in Washington DC. I was able to play guitar and sing on “Friend of the Devil.” What can I say? I remember enjoying this tune as a kid, and here I was playing it with Bob Weir.”
I would just run! I’d freak out. I don’t know if I could do it. Reid [Genauer] did Eyes of the World’ with Dark Star [at Gathering of the Vibes 2005], and I wouldn’t mind doing that one.
Samantha Stollenwerk (The Ritual): I would love to play on “Cassidy.” For one the song is close to my heart, since it was the first Dead song that really hooked me on them, so nostalgia plays a big part. The song was co-written by Bob Weir, so I identify with the rhythmic structure—-I am a rhythm player and write the main bulk of my own songs on the acoustic, and this is such a strong song when played on the acoustic guitar.
I’d like to play on “Crazy Fingers.” I first encountered the tune as an instrumental big band arrangement. I was reading a chart, creating my own chord voicings and was just enchanted by the harmony. You can imagine my surprise when I heard the original version, what a great tune! I would probably wind up playing it on the Hawaiian guitar or ukulele.
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