Monday, December 14, 2015

WGT Bonus Disc: Highway Blues

50 Years Dead

When I had finished the eleven disc compilation, there were many songs and moments left over that I felt were important, but maybe not essential enough to the story to include them. I took my favorite leftovers and squeezed them onto a bonus disc, that like the entire compilation is arranged chronologically. A pretty nice mix of tunes, but in hindsight there are many more moments and songs that probably should've made the cut. Dark Star, Playing in the Band, and Lovelight are likely the biggest regrets, but where to begin with those tunes, how can one version be chosen over another? It's a fools errand. And then there are about 50 other great songs deserving of inclusion as well. Hell, Eyes of the World almost didn't make the cut. I'm considering going through these remaining classics to create additional discs, but until then enjoy this ragtag collection.

It's been a wild year to be a Deadhead, lots of highs and lows if you got swept along with the hype of the 50th anniversary. Whether it was the behavior of the band, the holier than thou hippies, uber cynical heads, shifty promoters, or disappointment with what was offered or what was delivered, no one got out of this unscathed. In the end what endures is the music the band made during their 30 years together, and with perspective and time, much of what has happened since 1995 will be nothing more than footnotes. 

There were many happy instances of synchronicity throughout the release of this collection over the past year. And it sure does feel like there is a good amount of overlap between this bonus disc and the four disc 30 Trips Around the Sun compilation (carved from the larger 80 disc set), which I feel is the best officially released compilation thus far. But I'm most pleased that both the final Fare Thee Well show, and this disc conclude with the same song. Maybe Attics is not an essential Grateful Dead song, rather an American classic.

Attics of My Life of course contains some of Hunter's finest writing. Throughout the notes to this compilation I included some of my favorite lyrics. Again, it was impossible to include them all, so I list the leftover favorites following the notes below. It's interesting to see how they all hang together, reflecting at least my preferences, if not the band's dominant themes. 

What more can be said that hasn't been said already? Likely not much, but that hasn't stopped anyone yet. Stay tuned to see what comes next. Until then, the current standings:

1. The ">" between China and Rider
2. "Oh, from the Northwest corner..."
3. "I'll get a new start..."
4. "Darkness shrugs and bids the day goodbye"
5. "La dee da da da,
La da da da da,
Da da da, da da, da da da da da
La da da da,
La da da, da da,
La da da da,
La da, da da..."

Bonus DISC: Highway Blues

Finishing this compilation up, I had a nagging feeling that there were a few songs that had to be included.  But space on the discs would not permit it, and the songs did not fit into the flow.  To satisfy myself, I came up with this: a bonus disc.  Every Grateful Dead release now a days has a bonus disc, so why can't mine?  I took all the remaining tracks that I felt had to be included, and tried to squeeze them onto one disc.  There was three and a half hours of music, so I did some editing.  I ended up with this.  It spans the entire career of the band.  The only cohesive element is that it is all amazing Grateful Dead music, but other than that it is a bit all over the map.  Odds and sods.  But never the less, an enjoyable collection of a few random tunes.

1.       Viola Lee Blues – 11/10/67.  Going back to the Primal Dead era, their neo-psychedelic garage rock sound.  This blues jam seems modeled after the Yardbirds style rave-ups, more influenced by speed than psychedelic consciousness.  The band sound like a pretty generic San Francisco group of the era, the Grateful Dead bounce and sound has yet to take shape.  Nevertheless, it's intense and fun as hell, the band building the peak as high as they could, until it falls apart and they slide back into the main riff.  Jerry's searing solos lead the way, with Phil's bass  bubbling the intensity up, and Pigpen's organ acting as the anchor to reality.  Amazing how far their sound would come.

2.       Muddy Water – 12/5/71.  The only time this classic tune was played.  A shame, because it's a great performance.  Kind of a simple song, and lyrically similar to Rider, so maybe that's why they dropped it.  But Garcia really sinks his teeth into it and gives it some fire.

3.       Brown Eyed Women – Jerry Ballads.  A kind fuckin' tune.  The storytelling is vague but gives just enough detail to allow you to imagine a scenario in your head.  Garcia doing what he does best: bittersweet tunes that explore the emotional palette.

4.       Feel Like a Stranger – 12/31/80.  A classic Bob Weir show opener.  Great Garcia lead with the funky effects.  A cool vocal jam that allows Bob to yell some weird and random shit.  This one opens up into some nice psychedelic space.  The band pull off a 3 man weave basketball drill; each member doing their own thing, going around one another, passing the ball back and forth.  Everyone is playing something individually distinct, but it all holds together well, kind of like a psychedelic Dixieland.

5.       Stagger Lee – Jerry Ballads.  A variation on a topic that's been written and performed by a wide variety of artists over the years, from the finger picking folk of Mississippi John Hurt to the modern blues crunch of the Black Keys.  I've always preferred Hunter and Garcia's comical take on this tale of revenge.  A song that was well suited to the big sound of the later era, the guitar riff builds up and climaxes with Jerry repeating the refrain over and over.

6.       Queen Jane Approximately – 7/12/90.  My favorite of the Dylan covers done by Weir, just ahead of Masterpiece and Desolation Row.  What the song is about, I'm not sure, but it has a feeling we can all relate to.  I've said that the best part of some Bob tunes are Jerry's backing vocals, and while that's not entirely true, this is a good example.  Bob builds it up nicely at the end and Jerry pushes it over the top.  Quite similar musically to the version that appeared on Dylan and the Dead.

7.       Broken Arrow – 6/13/90.  Nice late era Phil cover, written by Robbie Robertson for his 1987 solo album.  Phil really connects with it, and even comes up with some pleasant vocals.  Nice support from the rest of the band as well, particularly on the harmonies at the end.

8.       Built to Last – 7/17/89.  Another standout from the Dead's last days, this tune is filled with lyric after memorable lyric.  A tale of perseverance.  You might recognize this version as the one appearing on the video release Downhill from Here, recorded at Alpine Valley.

9.       Way to Go Home – So Many Roads.  A Vince tune.  Doesn't sound much like a typical Grateful Dead tune.  Bluesy, composed with different sections, it builds up, Vince turns up the heat, and then it breaks down to a funky vocal jam.  A cool tune, but it never really found its place to fit in the set list.

10.   Visions of Johanna – Fallout from the Philzone.  It would be hard to say what the best Dylan cover by Jerry was, but this is surely a contender.  Recorded for Blonde on Blonde in 1966, this song was one of the first to describe a long psychedelic night.  It would also become the prototype for many of the Jerry ballads: personal, soulful, psychedelic, hypnotic, with a bit of country twang thrown in.  Ain't it just like the night, to play tricks when you're trying to be so quiet.

11.   Attics of My Life – Jerry Ballads.  A beautiful tune, with lyrics to ponder, this song is all about the immaculate harmonizing.  Dig it!

Can't talk to me without talking to you
 We're guilty of the same old thing
 Thinking a lot about less and less
 And forgetting the love we bring

When it seems like the night will last forever
 And there's nothing left to do but count the years
 When the strings of my heart start to sever

any morning, any evening, any day
Maybe the sun is shining
birds are winging or
rain is falling from a heavy sky -
What do you want me to do,
to do for you to see you through?

Tumble down shack in Bigfoot County
Snowed so hard that the roof caved in
Delilah Jones went to meet her God
and the old man never was the same again

Goin to plant a weeping willow
On the banks green edge it will grow grow grow
Sing a lullaby beside the water
Lovers come and go - the river roll roll roll

Faring thee well now.
Let your life proceed by its own design.
Nothing to tell now.
Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine.

Midnight on a carousel ride
Never could reach
It just slips away but I try
There were days
and there were days
and there were days I know
when all we ever wanted
was to learn and love and grow
Once we grew into our shoes
we told them where to go
walked halfway around the world
on promise of the glow
stood upon a mountain top
gave the best we had to give
how much we'll never know we'll never know

Going where the wind don't blow so strange
Maybe on some high cold mountain range
Lost one round but the price wasn't anything
Knife in a back and more of the same

Jack Straw from Wichita
Dug for him a shallow grave
And layed his body down
Half a mile from Tucson
By the morning light
One man gone and another to go
My old buddy you're moving much too slow
The storyteller makes no choice
soon you will not hear his voice
his job is to shed light
and not to master

Since the end is never told
we pay the teller off in gold
in hopes he will come back
but he cannot be bought or sold

20 degrees of solitude
20 degrees in all
All the dancing kings & wives
assembled in the hall
Lost is a long & lonely time
All along the all along
the Mountains of the Moon

I'm gonna sing you a hundred verses in ragtime
I know this song it ain't never gonna end
I'm gonna march you up and down the local county line
Take you to the leader of the band

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

Lady finger dipped in moonlight
Writing `what for?' across the morning sky
Sunlight splatters dawn with answers
Darkness shrugs and bids the day goodbye

Strangers stopping strangers
just to shake their hand
Everybody's playing
in the Heart of Gold Band

Wind inside & the wind outside
Tangled in the window blind
Tell me why you treat me so unkind
Down where the sun don't shine
Lonely and I call your name
No place left to go, ain't that a shame?

Delia went a walking down on Singapore Street
A three-piece band on the corner played "Nearer, My God, to Thee"
but Delia whistled a different tune...what tune could it be?
The song that woman sung was Look out Staggerlee
It all rolls into one
and nothing comes for free
There's nothing you can hold
for very long
And when you hear that song
come crying like the wind
Stella Blue
Stella Blue…
I live in a silver mine
and I call it Beggar's Tomb
I got me a violin
and I beg you call the tune
Anybody's choice
I can hear your voice
Wo-oah what I want to know,
how does the song go?
I got up and wandered
Wandered downtown
nowhere to go
just to hang around
I got a girl
named Bonny Lee
I know that girl's been true to me
I know she's been
I'm sure she's been
true to me