Grateful Dead: Skullf*ckery (December 1970)

Here’s a big, happy, fake show curated from the December 1970 tapes – a very brief, interesting, unreleased musical moment.

The “American Beauty” songs are limbered up (LP released the previous month), the band is tilting toward the cowboy/“Other One” statement of their 1971 live album, and there are still two drummers in the band. Hart would leave prior to the March-April, 1971 recording of “Skullf*ck.”

What else is new and interesting about December 1970? 

  • “The Other One” had just started breaking out into true jams in November. It's flourishing in December.
  • “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Around and Around” debuted in November. This "Around" is smoking!
  • “Good Lovin’” was becoming a bigger deal, with extended jamming and episodes of great, free-form Pigpen storytelling. This mix presents the best of all of that.
  • Unique events in the December shows include the only electric “Monkey and the Engineer,” a very rare electric “Deep Elem Blues” (last ’til ’80), the last-ever performance of “Til the Morning Comes,” and the final performance of “Attics of My Life” until 1972. 

Jesse Jarnow pointed me at this month, and I had a fantastic time listening and re-listening to it. I was also primed for it by a 1970 mix from Mr. Completely. 

For this mixtape, I’ve arranged the stuff I really liked into four “sets,” so that it has manageable and coherent listening episodes that scratch particular itches.

While the month’s set lists don’t imply lots of jamming, it’s there, and it’s great. I edited together pieces of multiple versions of “The Other One” and “Good Lovin’” to create giant versions of the month’s big jam songs, without vocal repetition. The “NFA>GDTR” jam almost dissolves. The "Hard to Handle" is involved. There’s even a minute-long “Mountain Jam" that slides into a "St. Stephen" jam. My 45-minute “Good Lovin’” edit is mostly jamming, with just a few stretches of exceptional Pigpen rapping, plus both ends of the song itself. 

4-hour mp3 mix zipped up here (performance dates included in song tags)

Set One (66 minutes)

  • Truckin’
  • Sugar Magnolia
  • Cumberland Blues
  • Dire Wolf
  • Black Peter
  • Friend of the Devil
  • Attics of My Life
  • Easy Wind
  • Til the Morning Comes
  • Casey Jones
  • Brokedown Palace

Set Two (60 minutes)

  • Deep Elem Blues
  • Beat It On Down the Line
  • Me and Bobby McGee
  • It Hurts Me Too
  • Me and My Uncle
  • Hard to Handle
  • Mama Tried
  • Big Railroad Blues
  • Smokestack Lightning
  • Around and Around
  • The Monkey and the Engineer
  • The Frozen Logger

Set Three (66 minutes)

  • The Other One (3-version edit) (23 minutes - one track)
  • Good Lovin’ (5-version edit) (44 minutes - six tracks)

Set Four (48 minutes)

  • China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
  • St. Stephen >
  • Not Fade Away > Goin’ Down the Road
  • Darkness Jam > St. Stephen Jam
  • Morning Dew

I’ve also included a considerable amount of stage banter, longer bits as separate tracks, which I haven’t bothered to list above - but it adds a lot of personality to the performances!

The shows are:

  • 12/12 Santa Rosa, CA
  • 12/23 Winterland, SF, CA
  • 12/26-27-28 Legions Stadium, El Monte, CA
  • 12/31 Winterland, SF, CA

Grateful Dorks: Jamming at the Matrix (12/15/70)

This mix simulates a 28-minute live, instrumental jam session by David Crosby, Garcia, Lesh, and probably Kreutzmann - otherwise known as David & The Dorks or Jerry & The Jerks.

This improvisational quartet had its own identity, often quite different in mood and pulse from the Grateful Dead. All the players sound delighted, responding to each other with big ears.

There’s only one live tape, and it’s very much worth your time. (See source note, below.) The point of my edit/mix is to create an extended jam by this band.  I am very grateful to Jesse Jarnow for pointing me at the tape and inquiring if this kind of edit could work.

My edits remove the vocal sections from six songs, while retaining nearly every other second of the music (of those songs). Some excellent non-verbal Crosby vocalizing remains, as well as the final chorus of “Motherless Children.” 

The Dorks played live only four times, all in December 1970: Three official shows at the Matrix (12/15-17) and one unannounced set in San Rafael a few days later. The only known live recording is this one from the 15th.

The Dorks are so nearly an apocryphal band that there is no photograph of the whole quartet on stage together. I made a live band image for the cover art by compositing elements of three photos. The Crosby/Lesh locked-in implications of the fake photo are fully acquitted by the music.

Convention makes Mickey Hart the drummer on this 12/15/70 recording. A photograph makes Bill Kreutzmann the drummer at a subsequent show. Jarnow has scholarly reasons for suspecting that Kreutzmann was the band’s only drummer; my ears agree. (Apologies to Mickey, if I’m wrong!)

Put this in your playlist alongside Mickey & The Hartbeats ’68 and Grateful Airplane ’70, as well as some of this late-summer ’69 bonus-player, curve-ball fun

Dorks 28-minute instrumental/jam edit, mp3 mix, zipped up here

  • Wall Song (3:39)
  • Laughing (7:09)
  • Triad (5:23)
  • Deep Elem Blues (3:13)
  • Motherless Children (4.44)
  • Cowboy Movie (3:57)

Source note:

For this edit, I’ve mostly used the file available for download here, which also includes a rehearsal session tape. (I did not include anything from the rehearsal tape, which is altogether less committed than the live event.) There are variations of the live tape on I had one of those, which I used in a couple of places.

Grateful Dead: Late 1968 Set (August-December mixtape)

This mix combines some of my personal favorites from the sporadic, unreleased late-1968 tapes into a single, two-hour set. If you don't spend much time with 1968, other than the official releases, this is your short-cut expansion pack. 

Every song documented on the tapes is represented, except for “Lovelight” (ubiquitous, boring) “Midnight Hour” (once, messy) - and "Caution" - which got squeezed out based on my picks for similar/adjacent jam zones. 

I have plucked several exemplary passages of the openest jamming the band was doing at the time, so you can spend more time in the zones that gave birth to the "thematic jams" of the future, which would feature such favorite non-songs as "Tighten Up," "Feelin' Groovy," "Mind Left Body," "Phil Jazz Jam," and new locations for "Spanish Jam."

In 1968, that part of the show happened around combinations of jam-after-"Alligator," into/around/might-turn-into "Caution," and "Feedback." "And We Bid You Goodnight" was a common theme at the time. I am still confused about "Mountain Jam" and "Darkness Jam." Are those inside these 1968 jams somewhere? Maybe?

8/21/68 at the Fillmore West has (arguably) the most amazing, continuous open playing of the year – an incredibly fluid 14 minutes that sounds more advanced and effortless than any other, analogous passage. I listened to all of 1968's such passages in a row, repeatedly, with the intention of making a mega-mix out of them. In the end, it was obvious that I should just pick this one and build a fun, imaginary set around it. (@MrCompletely got here way before me. Thank you for the insight.)

The whole 8/21 tape is a great listen for playing, mix/source quality, and consistency. Release-worthy. My only issue with it is that its mix is so perfectly the late-1960s sound and patient-pacing we're already used to (via official releases), that it doesn't shake up your expectations in a visceral way.

The other great, unreleased show/circulating tape of the year packs that visceral punch – 10/12/68 at the Avalon Ballroom. Fast, fierce, and wiry. For this mixtape, I used 10/12 as the foundation, and built around it to simulate a 1968 experience that I think contrasts with the great (though few) official 1968 releases. 

2-hour mp3 mix zipped up here

Disc One (56 minutes):

  • Dark Star (9/2/68 Sultan, WA)
  • St. Stephen > (10/12/68 Avalon Ballroom)
  • The Eleven > (10/12/68 Avalon Ballroom)
  • Death Don’t Have No Mercy (10/12/68 Avalon Ballroom)
  • It Hurts Me Too (12/21/68 Shrine Auditorium)
  • Alligator Reprise > Garcia & Drummers > Jam > AWBYG Jam > Feedback (8/21/68 Fillmore West)

Disc Two (59 minutes):

  • New Potato Caboose Jam (12/7/68 Louisville, KY)
  • Morning Dew (10/12/68 Avalon Ballroom)
  • Jam > (10/12/68 Avalon Ballroom)
  • Feedback (10/12/68 Avalon Ballroom)
  • The Other One > (12/29/68 Hallandale, FL)
  • Cryptical Envelopment > (12/29/68 Hallandale, FL)
  • And We Bid You Goodnight (12/29/68 Hallandale, FL)
  • Rosemary (12/7/68 Louisville, KY)
  • Clementine Edit (9/12/68 rehearsal/audition with new players)

Song-by-Song Rationale:

Dark Star: I chose the 9/2 performance at Betty Nelson’s Organic Raspberry Farm in Sultan, Oregon. I value this version in part because it buries TC’s repetitive keyboard part and elevates Weir’s guitar. That leads to a less-flattened, more springy and sculpted “Dark Star” experience than I find typical of 1968 tapes. Nearly all the 1968 "Dark Stars" are worth your time for Garcia's leadership, and this is also one of my favorites in that respect. Possibly my earliest desert island "Dark Star."

Grateful Dead: Do Not Step on Alligator (February 7-15, 1969)

This mix includes three unreleased versions of the sequence “Alligator Jam > Caution > Feedback” from the month between the Avalon Ballroom and Fillmore West shows that provided most of the material for “Live Dead.” Only one show from this month has been released – "Fillmore East 2/11/69."

I have removed Pigpen’s main vocal sections from “Caution,” which foregrounds the band’s dramatic musical retellings of the familiar tale and makes this a nearly-all instrumental mix.

Though recorded at this time, the album “Live Dead” didn’t include “Alligator > Caution.” This makes sense, given that a live version of the sequence was employed for side two of the earlier album, “Anthem of the Sun.” 

However, while these were old songs by February 1969, they were also zones where unpredictable things continued to happen. They are analogous to the 1970 jams that swung around such themes as “Feelin’ Groovy” and “Tighten Up.” Early 1969 “Alligator” jams played around with “China Cat,” “We Bid You Goodnight,” and “St. Stephen.” (Earlier and later versions went to additional places.)

In addition to these open-and-thematic jams, “Caution” was a very mutable, familiar, heavy jam by 1969 (think “The Other One”), and “Feedback” had hit its glorious peak by 1969 (hence its inclusion on “Live Dead”).

So, maybe we should pay as much attention to early 1969 “Jam > Caution > Feedback” as we do to “Dark Star > St. Stephen > The Eleven.” “Live Dead” captured the latter trio at its organized, elaborate, perfected peak. At the same time, “Alligator Jam > Caution > Feedback” captured the protoplasmic Dead express train barreling through a different series of stations.

70-minute mp3 mix zipped up here

  • Jam > Caution Edit > Feedback (Pittsburgh, 2/7/69) (18:59)
  • Jam > Caution Edit > Feedback (Fillmore East, 2/12/69) (17:14)
  • Jam > Caution Edit > Feedback > AWBYGN (Philadelphia, 2/15/69) (34:13)

Cover art: Saul Steinberg, 1968

Grateful Airplane: November 20, 1970 (Rochester, NY)

This mix isolates astounding material from a jam session featuring Garcia, Weir, Kaukonen, Casady, Kreutzman, and Hart. The music circulates as an audience recording along with the rest of the Dead’s show that night.

(Late-breaking scholarly adjustment! Casady is not present. All bass is Phill Lesh.)

Thanks to Jesse Jarnow for passing on his massive enthusiasm for this performance, which was unknown to me. I'm crazy about "Jam 3," which is very 1968-1969 Mothers of Invention at the start and gets very 1968-1969 Velvet Underground at later points.

33-minute mp3 mix zipped up here

  • Cartoon Music (1:12)
  • Bluegrass Jam (1:26)
  • Jam 1 > (11:36)
  • Darling Corey > (5:04)
  • Jam 2 (2:56)
  • Jam 3 (11:08)

Editing notes:

  • I cleaned up starting and ending points where you don’t see “>.” Some tracks just cut/faded, in or out, on the source tape.
  • I combined two segments titled “Tuning” into “Cartoon Music.” The Dead spent a lot of rehearsal time in September, 1969 exploring cartoon themes and scheming to unleash them on live audiences. Save Your Face mix here. This show is the first place I’ve noticed them actually playing them on stage. Can you point me at others?

Grateful Dead: Probably June 1968

If you scroll through Relisten for shows from May and June 1968, you’ll find very little. There’s one very nice sound board mystery tape dated May Zero, two dodgy audience tapes, and a great tape dated 6/19/68 that is actually 2/19/69.

But wait, there’s more June 1968! 

There’s a big compendium on (archived as 12/31/68) that includes three unique sound board segments of 1968 music, all of which Light Into Ashes/Dead Essays has dated as June 1968 (or possibly May), probably from the Carousel Ballroom. 

This post’s mixtape curates those three segments into a single June 1968 set. It provides a handy, robust, good-sounding mid-1968 listening experience to fit between the year’s early months and August, for which there are several good tapes, including the one used for “From the Vault 2.”

New Potato through the Caution jam is arguably the greatest mid-year, 1968 passage.

Two edits add some extra value. 

  • “St. Stephen” was brand new at this point, and I’ve extended the version I chose with the jam segments from two others, so you can really settle into the early approach. 
  • The good take of “Cryptical Envelopment” sandwiched an “Other One” on which the mix went to hell partway through – so I edited the two halves together into a seamless, stand-alone “Cryptical Envelopment.”

Great versions include "Dark Star" and "Alligator > Caution."

84-minute mp3 mixtape zipped up here

  • PA: Please Return the Scratcher
  • Dark Star >
  • St. Stephen (3 version edit) >
  • Cryptical Envelopment (parts 1 & 2 edit) >
  • New Potato Caboose >
  • Alligator >
  • Drums >
  • Alligator > Caution Jam >
  • Caution
  • The Other One
  • Lovelight
  • PA: Some Asshole with a Tape Recorder

Source notes:

This mix sources the three undated (June) shows on the compendium tape as follows:

  • Source 1: Dark Star > St. Stephen
  • Source 2: The middle of the St. Stephen edit, The Other One, and Lovelight
  • Source 3: The end of the St. Stephen edit through Caution

All the segues (“>”) in the mix/list above are actual band segues. Some volume fluctuations have been corrected and a tape gap or two healed up.

Cover art: Rick Griffin

Grateful Dead Shortlist: November 6, 1970 - Port Chester, NY (electric jams edit)

This is an instrumental edit of most of the big electric jam sequence of a great show that only exists as an audience recording.

The uncut sequence is 56 minutes. This 39-minute version edits out a drum solo and all the vocals from “Good Lovin’,” “Alligator,” “Not Fade Away,” and “Caution.” The only vocals that remain are on “Goin’ Down the Road.”

All the band’s original segues between songs remain, except for a fake edit to get from the “NFA” reprise to “Caution.”

If you have enjoyed Save Your Face’s adventures into song-free improvisation from other eras, here’s a new one to try – Fall 1970 Dead out in the wide open spaces for 40 minutes straight.

And if you are put off by the audience sonics of this era, you may find that the removal of vocals makes them work better.

39-minute mp3 file zipped up here. Instrumental unless otherwise noted.

  • The Main Ten >
  • Good Lovin’
  • Alligator Jam >
  • Not Fade Away >
  • Goin’ Down the Road (w/vocals) >
  • Mountain Jam > Not Fade Away (>)
  • Caution

Cover photo: Joe Sia

The Grateful Dead: Tones (1969)

Nearly every “Feedback” The Grateful Dead played in 1969 included a gentle, gorgeous section of drones, whines, and knob-twiddling. This mix isolates and combines 14 such passages into a 35-minute ambient album. 

This particular aspect of “Feedback” ought to have its own name, since literal feedback is not the dominant feature, and there is great consistency among the performances. When you put them together, they sound like movements of a single, larger composition... or stanzas in a tone poem.

The mix includes 14 tracks, each labeled “Tones (mm/dd/69).” 

35-minute mp3 album zipped up here

The Grateful Dead: Not the Wild East – Late Summer, 1969

Here are five hours of wild West Coast Grateful Dead from the same month (8/2 through 9/7) as Woodstock. Jesse Jarnow has generously written liner notes for this mix, which was inspired by his show-by-show commentary @bourgwick and refined in conversation with him. His essay is below the tracklist.

Disc 1: A Swell Dance Party (76 minutes)

  • PA: There’s going to be a party
  • Hi-Heel Sneakers (with sax & violin)
  • Minglewood Blues (with Gary Larkey on flute)
  • China Cat Sunflower (with Gary Larkey on flute)
  • Sittin’ on Top of the World
  • High Time
  • Mama Tried
  • Big Boss Man (composite edit)
  • Hard to Handle (three version combo, with violin)
  • Not Fade Away > Easy Wind intro jam
  • Easy Wind (instrumental edit)

Disc 2: A Swell Dance Party cont. (64 minutes)

  • Big Boy Pete >
  • Good Lovin’
  • It’s All Over Now
  • Beat it on Down the Line (w/violin)
  • New Orleans >
  • Searchin’
  • I’m a King Bee
  • Me and My Uncle
  • Dire Wolf
  • He Was a Frind of Mine
  • Seasons >
  • Slewfoot
  • Casey Jones

Disc 3: The Dark Star Variations (58 minutes)

  • Dark Star > 
  • Cosmic Charlie
  • Dark Star (w/sax and violin)
  • The Other One (w/sax and violin)
  • Jam after Caution (w/sax and violin)

Disc 4: The Dark Star Variations, cont. (51 minutes)

  • Dark Star (edit, Hartbeats w/Howard Wales on organ)
  • Jam (Hartbeats w/Howard Wales on organ)
  • Dark Star

Disc 5: Grateful Airplane (Garcia, Kreutzman, Hart, and Jefferson Airplane members) (47 minutes)

  • Peggy Sue
  • That’ll be the Day
  • Johnny B. Goode
  • Baby What you Want Me to Do?
  • Wipe Out > Big Railroad Blues
  • Volunteers Jam

5-hour mp3 mix zipped up here (track dates and personel noted in song tags)

Not the Wild East
Like everything it touched, Woodstock casts an oversized shadow over the music the Grateful Dead made in the late summer of 1969. A terrible set in front of several hundred thousand, Woodstock virtually erases a fertile month in the band’s musical history. Forgotten between the crystalline perfection of the Live/Dead recordings from the spring, and the first glimmerings of the band’s folk-country directions (and the birth of the New Riders of the Purple Sage) is the sound of the Grateful Dead exploding with vivid energy that confounds the usual narrative of the band’s progression from deep space to deep Americana.

The month began with a chain of events centered around what was set to be the biggest music festival of the summer, resulting in a sudden, unexpected platform for the band’s newest explorations. The festival wasn’t Woodstock, but an enormous multi-day affair set to be held in San Francisco: The Wild West. As Michael Kramer has wonderfully documented in Republic of Rock and elsewhere, expectations for Wild West were so big that some in the underground press referred to Woodstock as the “Wild East.”

But Wild West imploded before it could happen, the implosion manifesting in part as a strike by the Light Artists Guild held outside a Grateful Dead show on Jerry Garcia’s 27th birthday. The venue for the Dead show and the picket line was the Family Dog on the Great Highway, the collective’s new venue “at the edge of the Western World” across the street from the Pacific Ocean in the ballroom once known as Topsy’s Roost, inside the Playland-at-the-Beach amusement park. Garcia refused to cross the picket line, and the subsequent negotiations led to the brief life of the utopian Common, practically speaking an ongoing series of loose afternoon hangs at the Family Dog, sometimes including the Dead. One such affair, not circulating as of press time, involved an early-career gig by the New Riders of the Purple Sage and a late-career gig by the New Lost City Ramblers, the pioneering folk act that were a formative influence on Garcia. Alongside the band’s regular gigs at the Family Dog and a small docket of other festivals and appearances, the month yields a virtual box set of raw surprises.

Grateful Dead: Sawmill b/w Seasons of My Heart (Alembic Studios 9/17/69)

This is a fake, studio-recorded, country-and-western single by the Grateful Dead, four months ahead of the recording of “Workingman’s Dead,” at a point when only a few of that album’s songs had entered the live repertoire. 

Captured at an unreleased September 17, 1969 rehearsal session that also included an emphatic effort to play Looney Tunes cartoon music, these are carefully-executed performances of songs that the Dead only played live a few times.

Both tracks are Weir-sung with group harmonies and Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar. Garcia’s first side-band, New Riders of the Purple Sage, played their first shows around the same time. 

7-minute mp3 file zipped up here

  • Sawmill (Horace Monroe, Mel Tillis)
  • Seasons of My Heart (George Jones, Darrell Edwards)

Editing and live performance notes:

  • “Sawmill” is the third of three attempts during the rehearsal. There are three documented live performances, January to April 1970. 
  • There is no complete take of “Seasons” in the studio session, as the band stopped to carefully rehearse the harmonies of the final section. I’ve edited their final attempt (which they approve at its conclusion) onto the rest of the song. There are five documented live performances, August 1969 to February 1970.