Frank Zappa: Hot Rats Sessions Trio Edits

The 2019 Frank Zappa boxed set, “The Hot Rats Sessions,” is a cornucopia of delights for fans of Zappa’s serious early work and admirers of the players he assembled for the sessions.

The set is full of formative rehearsals, mature outtakes, unedited master takes, extended jams, and other pleasures.

Three tracks provide a documentary experience of Zappa directing two trios toward the master take. Zappa’s cogent, playful direction and the musicians’ adept responsiveness are really impressive. 

The tracks presented in this post are edits of those documentary tracks, combining as many of the fragmentary musical pieces as possible into continuous instrumentals. That means they do not take the same form as Zappa’s compositions, and they sometimes repeat the same passage – but performed again, after additional direction, so you’re hearing the evolution as a performance. 

If you’ve got the box, these are bonus tracks. If you don’t have the box, consider that these are made from the smallest scraps on it, and visit the Zappa store for the main course.

12-minute mp3 mix zipped up here

Transition (20 Small Cigars) (session edit) 2:50

It Must be a Camel (session edit) 4:57

  • Ian Underwood: piano
  • Max Bennett: bass
  • John Guerin: drums

Peaches en Regalia (session edit) 4:29

  • Ian Underwood: piano
  • Shuggie Otis: bass
  • Ron Selico: drums

Grateful Dead Shortlist: January 24-26, 1993 - Oakland, CA

Anyone who attended the Dead’s 1993 Chinese New Year run started the year lucky.

As is often the case after time off, the band was rusty on some details, but they had a great time playing in the band again. Carlos Santana contributed some wonderful stuff on the third night.

This mixtape provides a lot of wide-open playing and groovy jamming that admirably represent the post-Hornsby band. The struggles of 1992 are behind them, everyone is game and spry, and the great aspects of 1993-1994 are already apparent. 

Trust me on the opening sequence, and enjoy the ride thereafter. If you want more commentary on how this mix was conceived, you'll find it under the track list.

2.5-hour, mp3 mix zipped up here (dates and Santana involvement noted in song tags)

Set One (76 minutes): 

  • Gloria
  • Black Peter
  • Around & Around Blues (edit)
  • Shakedown Street (edit)
  • Estimated Prophet Jam >
  • Terrapin Station >
  • Jam After Terrapin >
  • Playin’ Jam >
  • Crazy Fingers (instr. edit)
  • The Music Never Stopped Jam

Set Two (72 minutes):

  • Improv: Gorgeous Jam >
  • Improv: Tropical Jam >
  • The Other One >
  • Stella Blue
  • Playin’ in the Band >
  • Uncle John’s Band
  • Bird Song
  • All Along the Watchtower

Cover art from Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away”

Additional commentary:

  • The overall arc here has “Gloria” serving both as an incendiary show-opener and as a way to fast-forward you to a place somewhere like the final third of a second set - ready for a chill Jerry number, after an over-the-top Bobby rocker. But instead of dwindling to a standard second set ending, the polarity is reversed, and “Black Peter” leads to two hours of second set dilations and thrills.
  • The first stop on that imaginary journey is a particularly long and excellent version of the wonderful, low-key, blues-jazz jam that the band pursued in the later years of playing “Around and Around.” Sequentially, it picks up on the blues elements of “Black Peter.” The later-years “Around and Around” jam was a unique zone in the Dead’s history, and worth considering alongside the also-divergent jam they developed for “Eternity” at this time. The jazzy character of the second half of “Estimated Prophet” jams and the "Bird Song" jam/breakdown – including the ones included here – are also cousins within the distinctive character (and delights) of the final band. 
  • A very sleek and mighty “Shakedown” follows, a song that has a blues seed in it, with its repeated complaint lines, two-line verses, and call-and-response takes on this town. But I’m not making a big argument about this thought; it’s simply time for the energy to get big again, at this point in the mix, riding the wave that ends the “Around and Around" jam. The verses weren’t consistently great on this version, so I reduced it to an instrumental edit that retains the two important chorus sections.
  • Beyond “Shakedown,” the sequence more or less established itself, based on continuous chunks of playing and me wanting to end up with two sequences, each of which was shorter than a CD.
  • The “Stella Blue” is wonderful one, even allowing for the fact that it was rarely less than excellent in this era. 
  • I think of the latter-day “Jam After Terrapin” reaching its full, muscular form in 1994, and this gentle version seems like an early step on the way to that. 
  • As with nearly any era and lineup of the Dead, the final formation had its core personality of collective improvisation. I think this mix highlights that, insofar as you can move among the open spaces of all of these songs without feeling like you’re changing channels. You can go from a “Playin’ jam” to a “Terrapin jam” to a “Music Never Stopped jam,” and it feels approximately like a coherent 1970 passage that wove together “Dark Star,” “Feelin’ Groovy jam,” “Tighten Up jam,” etc. It’s one jam, with a lot of themes. Different band, 25 years later, but also the same band, 25 years later. 
  • The 1990s performances also included many spectacular, unique passages. I’d say these two Santana-enhanced Space jams are among those.
  • Some performances from this run didn't make it onto this curation because their soundboard mixes had some failure, including Garcia being way too quiet. One place where I thought that defect was effective was on this "Watchtower." It emerges from Space with Weir and Welnick being dominant, and Garcia being very quiet. The result is very cool for as long as it lasts, and there's no lack of Garcia as things proceed. 
  • Tired take: 1/26 was the best show of the run and 1/24 the least of the run. Wired take: The 1/24 "Bird Song" was the "Dark Star" of the run, as it often was in this era.

Grateful Dead Shortlist: April 15, 1983 - Rochester, NY

This 44-minute mix captures the funky, disco side of the Dead on 4/15/83. It was the only show they ever played that included “Feel Like a Stranger,” “Shakedown Street,” and “Supplication” - and they’re all very nice takes!

Additionally, the “Brother Esau” is superb and slinky, and the “Deal” is fiery. 

This is a hit and miss show: Great sound, but frequent annoying performance errors, some creaky vocals, and some slow songs that really droop. Dave Lemieux added the show’s “He’s Gone > Bob Star” as a bonus track to “Dave’s Picks” #39.

I think that with these additional tracks, you’ve probably got all you need from this show.

44-minute mp3 mix zipped up here

  • Feel Like a Stranger
  • Shakedown Street
  • My Brother Esau
  • Supplication
  • Deal

Cover image swiped from Wicked Grateful. You can buy a sticker here.

Grateful Dead: 1982 Summer Tour Mixtape #5 (Fire)

This 5th (of 5) Grateful Dead Summer ’82 mixtapes focusses on jams and improvisation. 

It draws heavily from the only released show from this tour – 7/31/82, Austin, TX. On that basis, the mix might be of less interest to some, but I’ve attempted to mutate things into a unique trip.

The Austin “Eyes” and “Dew” appear unaltered. The “Estimated” and “Truckin’” appear in jam-only edits, because their song-stems were nothing special, while the variable parts were. The “Scarlet > Fire” has been interrupted to include all three of the “Scarlet” jams from the tour, so if you’ve ever wanted to listen to that jam for 19 minutes straight, here you go.

From other shows, I have included two free-standing jams, a silky “Supplication,” and a 20-minute “Playin’”. This “Playin’” is an edit of the 7/27 Red Rocks performance, which was played in three pieces across the second set; I’ve put those pieces together. Look out for Weir and Mydland improvising vocals early in the jam.

110-minute mp3 mix zipped up here (dates and cities included in mp3 tags)

  • Scarlet Begonias
  • Scarlet Jam
  • Scarlet Jam
  • Scarlet Jam >
  • Fire on the Mountain
  • Eyes of the World
  • Playin’ in the Band
  • Supplication
  • Jam
  • Jam after Terrapin
  • Estimated Prophet Jam
  • Jam > Truckin’ Jam >
  • Morning Dew

You can find all five of the mixtapes from the tour here.

Grateful Dead: 1982 Summer Tour Mixtape #4 (A Real Good Time)

This 4th (of 5) Grateful Dead Summer ’82 mixtapes is exactly what the subtitle indicates. It corrals mostly up-tempo, feel-good numbers on which fiery performances and good soundboard mixes combined to create a real good time. You get to slow down your dancing and catch your breath at “Tennessee Jed” and “They Love Each Other.” 

There’s a bit of a 1st-set > 2nd set trajectory, with “Playin’ in the Band” making one of three appearances on these tour mixes, because it was a very good moment for that jam. This mix also includes another fine example of Jerry’s enthusiasm for cooking up interesting leads in “Space” during this tour. "Not Fade Away" makes its second (and final) appearance on the mixes, in the most jammed-out version.

This mixtape is the fourth of five drawn from the tour, which I’m numbering and posting in no particular order. Each tries to provide a different angle on the music. They’ll collect under the blog tag GD Summer ’82. 

106-minute mp3 mix zipped up here (dates and venues included in mp3 tags)

  • China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
  • The Music Never Stopped (reprise)
  • Cumberland Blues
  • Franklin’s Tower
  • Tennessee Jed
  • They Love Each Other
  • Playin’ in the Band >
  • Iko Iko
  • Improv: Jerry Has Some Ideas > 
  • Improv: Jerry’s Big Idea >
  • Not Fade Away
  • Sugar Magnolia
  • Casey Jones

Rolling Stones: Some People Tell Me (R&B rehearsals 1977-1979)

The Rolling Stones’ late-1970s studio sessions were packed with casual demonstrations of the band's core competency as a rhythm & blues outfit. Nearly all of it must have been about limbering up and just having some fun, though there are a few tracks suitable for b-sides. Regardless, the relaxed, spontaneous character of the performances is one of the most appealing features.

The death of Charlie Watts caused me to pull this mix out, because I remembered being impressed with how many different blues and R&B modes he dropped into effortlessly, from extremely subtle, almost jazz-like minimalism to propulsive thumping. It’s his drums that give shape and drama to many of these tracks.

76-minute mp3 mix zipped up here

  • Petrol Gang
  • Some People Tell Me
  • My First Plea
  • Little Cocksucker (inst.)
  • Blues with a Feeling
  • After Hours Blues (instr.)
  • I Ain’t Superstitious
  • Jimmy Reed Jam (instr.)
  • What Am I Living For
  • Armpit Blues (instr.)
  • When You’re Gone (Red Eyes)
  • Sweet Little Rock’n Roller (instr.)
  • The Fat Man
  • Shame Shame Shame
  • Broken Head Blues (instr.)
  • Up Against the Wall (instr.)
  • Sweet Home Chicago 1
  • Sweet Home Chicago 2
  • You Don’t Have to Go

Grateful Dead: 1982 Summer Tour Mixtape #3 (Starlight)

This mix offers a single-CD-length trip through exceptional performances from the Grateful Dead’s second set at the Starlight Theatre, in Kansas City, MO, on 8/3/82. The soundboard mix is as great as the music.

Listening intently to the Dead’s Summer ’82 tour, I didn’t find any continuous stretches of performance as exceptional as this night's second set. (The Austin show’s second set is close - possibly a tie.) Additionally, there are a number of great first set performances from Kansas City that I sprinkled across the other SYF Summer ’82 mixtapes. 

The tracks included here are a continuous performance with two omissions: “Drums” are distorted on the soundboard, and the wonderful “To Lay Me Down,” which appeared between “Samson” and “Let It Grow,” has been relocated to the lead song position on this mix, where it can shine more brightly. I was able to create a seamless segue between “Let It Grow” and “Jam.”

The result is a huge, one-night jam that begins with what is arguably the single best live execution of “Shakedown Street,” all factors considered – Garcia's vocals being the toughest box to check. This whole Summer ’82 excavation began with David Leopold (@pknot) pointing me at this “Shakedown,” so, many thanks to him.

This mixtape is the third of five drawn from the tour, which I’m numbering and posting in no particular order. Each tries to provide a different angle on the music. With exceptions for “Playin’” and “The Other One,” no songs are repeated. They’ll collect under the blog tag GD Summer ’82. 

76-minute mp3 experience zipped up here (date and venue included in mp3 tags)

  • Shakedown Street >
  • Samson and Delilah
  • Let It Grow
  • Jam >
  • He’s Gone >
  • The Other One >
  • Stella Blue

Grateful Dead: 1982 Summer Tour Mixtape #2 (Sing Me Sweet & Sleepy)

This 2-LP-length mix gathers together wonderful Summer ’82 takes on the Grateful Dead’s subtler, slower, prettier songs. The band was tight, the singers were in strong voice, and the soundboard mixes put it all together very nicely. 

It’s a great moment to check in on these songs and on the band’s capacity for beauty and nuance in the early 1980s.

In performance, these songs were flanked by utterly different material and vibes - bombast on all sides. On this mix, birds of a similar feather get to vibe together. 

When you pull aside an artist’s gentler material, the dynamic range of that material expands to fill the listening universe. But even without that effect, I wouldn’t call the material on this mix “mellow,” by any measure. It is tremendously muscular music, thanks to the combination of snug grooves, well-narrated tales, synchronized turns, fine detailing, and good soundboard mixes.

I’ve arranged things to provide an accelerated first-set > second-set arc (without consideration for where the songs appeared in the actual shows).

This is the second of five mixtapes drawn from the tour, which I’m numbering and posting in no particular order. Each tries to provide a different angle on the music. With exceptions for “Playin’” and “The Other One,” no songs are repeated. They’ll collect under the blog tag GD Summer ’82. Please don’t complain until all five mixes have posted.

102-minute mp3 mix zipped up here (dates and venues included in mp3 tags)

  • Improv: Jerry’s Whimsy (Austin)
  • To Lay Me Down
  • Althea
  • It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
  • Black Peter
  • Peggy-O
  • Row Jimmy
  • Looks Like Rain
  • Friend of the Devil
  • Bird Song
  • Improv: Jerry’s Whimsy (Red Rocks)
  • Improv > The Wheel
  • Lost Sailor >
  • Saint of Circumstance

Grateful Dead: 1982 Summer Tour Mixtape #1 (Skullfu*k Revisited)

This 2-LP-length mix approximates 1971’s “Skull and Roses” album using selections from the Grateful Dead’s 1982 Summer Tour. Substitutions have been made to round out the affect/effect and anomalies included to honor some as-performed continuities. 

The 1982 Summer Tour was very strong, and the soundboard mixes are mostly quite satisfying, though their ambiance varies. (I skipped one audience-only show and one soundboard-sounds-weird show - both Red Rocks at the start of the tour.)

This is the first of five mixtapes drawn from the tour, which I’m numbering and posting in no particular order. Each tries to provide a different angle on the music. With exceptions for “Playin’” and “The Other One,” no songs are repeated across the mixes. They’ll collect under the blog tag GD Summer ’82. Please don’t complain until all five mixes have posted.

For this mix, the basic Skullfu*k recipe holds: half a crackling, short-song, high-on-cocaine, rock-and-roll-cowboy album, and half a deeper dive into more expansive territory. 

97-minute mp3 mix zipped up here (dates and venues included in song tags)

  • On the Road Again
  • Mama Tried
  • Big Railroad Blues
  • It’s All Over Now (I Used to Love Her)
  • Me & My Uncle
  • I Need a Miracle >
  • Bertha
  • Don’t Ease Me In
  • Playin’ in the Band
  • Jam > The Other One >
  • Not Fade Away
  • Wharf Rat
  • Goin’ Down the Road, Feelin’ Bad
  • Johnny B. Goode
  • Satisfaction >
  • Brokedown Palace

Cover art: Hilgart, a high-resolution scan of a detail of a classic comic book ad, channel-shifted.

Jerry Garcia: “Shakedown Street” Demo (c. 1978)

Check out Jerry Garcia’s dulcet-toned, falsetto vocals, on top of his one-man-band backing track demo. It’s tragic he didn’t add a lead guitar part to this recording.

Garcia struggled to sing this melody live, possibly to a greater degree than any other song he wrote for himself to sing. That’s reasonable, given the ask. The challenging portions of the vocals are just three short verses, but they are demanding. They each require a zero-to-correct, hard-hitting start, and all the lines end in melisma. When you get to the chorus, it’s nearly foolproof, but the verses…

Hard to do, when you’re singing loudly on top of cranking live Grateful Dead, and you can’t just adjust things to suit wherever your Jerry-voice happens to be this year or this tour. This demo gives Garcia all the repose he needs to execute a disco vocal to match his musical disco vision - in a more expressive way than on the highly-processed studio album recording. 

He probably should have shopped the song out to the major disco acts of the era, who could have supercharged the vocals and made it a hit. It should have been a hit. It’s one of the great disco compositions, but there’s no single recording that backs up that assertion.

I have no issues with the way the Grateful Dead played the song – it’s one of my top five GD vehicles – but there aren’t many performances on which you’d give Garcia an “A” for his execution of the verses. Which is unfortunate, given the greatness of the song and its stature in the Dead canon.

Cover art: Detail of Gilbert Shelton watercolor, 1978

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