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.

Alongside the still-tightening versions of new Workingman’s Dead songs like “Casey Jones” and “Easy Wind,” there is also the sound of the band rediscovering their Warlocks roots, pulling out songs for the first time years and offering the first visions of their choogle skills. The version of “Not Fade Away” is the first surviving version in the “modern” style, played as a flowing groove as opposed to mimicking the Stones’ choppy arrangement, as the Dead did when they’d dusted the song off earlier in the year. There are great tunes with tandem vocals by Pigpen and the rest of the band, including “Hi Heeled Sneakers,” “New Orleans,” and “Big Boy Pete.” And there’s an even looser Sunday session led by Garcia and Jorma Kaukonen, including their own vocal pairings on joyous early rock tunes by birthday boy Buddy Holly and others. This rock energy shoots through their band’s C&W efforts, too, including Garcia’s awesomely dive bombing pedal steel fuzz solos during that instrument’s only appearance that month.

But just as they were simplifying in some ways, the quest to go further out was unceasing, too. The night after the Light Guild strike, the band returned to the stage accompanied by still unidentified musicians on violin and saxophone, both improvising deftly along with the band’s turns -- perhaps the most simultaneously satisfying and mysterious sit-in in the band’s history. There’s also the tape of the band minus Pigpen and TC and with Howard Wales playing organ, what might be an open afternoon rehearsal. Whatever the reason for the recording, they played one of the longest “Dark Star” sequences in taped history. Much of it is mangled by a badly balanced tape, but when the recording aligns Wales’s wild zig-zags with the rest of the instruments, the tape reveals the A.B. Skhy keyboardist pushing Garcia & co. well outside their pathways for “Dark Star.” 

It was also the month when the band began to drop the song’s pulse entirely after the first verse, switching into open-ended percussion zones that built back towards bliss, a whole new class of improvisation for them. On top of the “Dark Star” adventures, there was also the night when the Dead and the Jefferson Airplane (who had a slightly better time at Woodstock) joined for an unbilled night at the Family Dog, including a 30-minute version of “Volunteers” with Garcia and Mickey Hart, the longest standalone jam in the Airplane’s recorded history, and wonderful proof of Spencer Dryden’s often unsung but always heroic drumming. If there are any other Airplane jams remotely like this, please seek us out! 

Oh, also, right in the middle of all this: the shortest version of “Dark Star” since its early days, paired with a crackin’ “Cosmic Charlie” to close a set in Seattle, making something like a virtual 7-inch. 

There are many productive and exploratory months in the band’s history, but the late summer of 1969 isn’t usually spoken about in the same breath as any of them. It’s not quite “a transition period” (as the classic Deadhead cliche goes) so much as a committed arrival into unclassifiable chaos. But yet here’s one of the richest miniature periods in the band’s history, isolated with a few weeks off before and after, nestled right in the middle of perhaps their most classic period and filled with mysterious gigs, unidentified players, bust-outs, and radical jams. It’s still not the Wild East, that’s for sure.


John’s Curation/Editing Notes

The focal points of this mix should be apparent in the subtitles I’ve provided for the discs in the tracklist, above. Older, “primal Dead” songs/jams are mostly excluded (e.g., St. Stephen, The Eleven, Lovelight, Caution). 

The sequencing started with keeping shows with comparable sound ambience together, with some tweaking to make the running order more fun. The crazy mood swings of the first two discs are true to the craziness of the setlist sequences themselves.

There are only a few edits on this mix:

The Howard Wales “Dark Star” is an edit of the first few minutes and a much later segment. As the intro segment implies, but does not fully reveal, the mix was terrible (Wales plus band on transistor radio) at the outset. Nonetheless, what’s in this edit is most of what was genuinely “Dark Star”-ish. 

Of the four “Workingman’s Dead” tunes that had entered the rotation, “Easy Wind” continued to elude the band. Rather than being thrilling, the time changes between verses and choruses were careful, awkward, gear-shifting. Nonetheless, it was a jammier song in its early days, so I’ve edited the longest version of the month down to an instrumental. In the mix sequence, it is preceded by a unique, extended introduction to the song from a tape that cuts off moments later.

All the “Hard to Handles” of the month were good, so I edited them into one, giant version that includes all the jammed sections. 

There are two “Big Boss Mans” on the tapes, one that’s almost only the beginning and one that’s missing the beginning, so I edited those together.

6 responses
I don't usually go for 'edited, curated' collections, but this looks way too good to pass up! Thanks! And as for the identity of the violin player, the tone & style sound a lot like the violinist for It's A Beautiful Day, David LaFlamme.
Love this mix, never heard the show from 8/3 before, totally interesting and overlooked (at least by me!)
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