|The cover to David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name lp|
My focus for this post is not on the specific details of the rehearsals and the performances at The Matrix, but on how Jerry Garcia's performances with David Crosby are not only singular in Garcia's solo career, they represent a distinct fork in the road that Garcia ultimately chose not to pursue. Garcia's career apart from the Grateful Dead followed certain steady paths that Deadheads take for granted, and I want to point out not only how singular that path was, but how Garcia had the opportunity to follow a more typical solo career for 70s rock musicians, and how his brief foray with Crosby represents Garcia's brief stab at performing in a solo context more similar to the individual member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, an approach Garcia seems to have categorically rejected.
Put simply, Garcia would always have been welcome if not actively encouraged to collaborate on stage performing original music with the members of CSNY or the Airplane, among many other friends, but Garcia chose to emphasize his guitar playing by performing 'bar music' in a setting similar to a jazz musician. The December 1970 shows with Crosby had neither a precedent nor an antecedent in Garcia's solo career, and I am going to consider them from that point of view.
The Matrix, December 15-17, 1970--What Do We Know?
The Matrix advertised 'Jerry Garcia and Friends' for three nights, December 15, 16 and 17, 1970. According to a vault tape identified in Deadlists, the third night features a brief set by the Grateful Dead themselves. The existing rehearsal tape, about 45 minutes, and the performance tape, about 67 minutes, are on a tape dated December 15, 1970. However, a remark by Crosby on the rehearsal tape about overblowing the limiters "last night" suggests that the rehearsal tape is actually from December 16. The whole subject of dating Matrix tapes is problematic, but the essence of it is that the owners of the Matrix taped everything, but due to the expense of recording tape they did not keep everything, instead simply taping over previous tapes while only preserving the 'best' stuff. The evidence (for many groups) seems to suggest that the tape boxes were only generically accurate--that is, the tape might say "Jerry Garcia December 1970" or list the first night (December 15) even though the actual tapes preserved were from a different night. I would assume that the 'rehearsal' tape and the performance tape are from December 16 or 17, and that the other nights no longer exist, nor is there reason to assume that the rehearsal and performance are from the same night. (Update: a Commenter points out that there is good reason to think that the dates may be Monday thru Wednesday, December 14-16, rather than Dec 15-17, so the December 15 may even be correct).
For that matter, do we have any certainty that Mickey Hart was actually the drummer for the Crosby sets? Garcia, Lesh and Hart tended to be the members of the Dead regularly advertised at the Matrix, but has anyone heard Hart's voice on the tape? It appears that Bill Kreutzmann played drums when the Garcia/Crosby ensemble played Pepperland a few days later (there's even a photo), so I'd be inclined to think that Billy played at Matrix. I recognize that "anything is possible," but it seems unlikely to rehearse one drummer only to play with another.
The Matrix shows had been on a Tuesday through Thursday run at the Matrix. On Monday night, December 21, the 'Acoustic Dead' were booked at Pepperland in Marin. An eyewitness did attend this show, and reported that Garcia, Crosby, Lesh and Kretuzmann played a set similar to the extant Matrix one. Although are correspondent had to leave early, the other members of the Dead were present, and it seems likely that the full band played a set. Since the Grateful Dead were booked for New Year's Eve at Winterland, contracts would have prevented them from advertising a show so near to New Year's (not to mention the December 23 benefit show at Winterland as well). Presumably, since Winterland may have already been sold out, Bill Graham Presents was able to overlook the advertising of an 'Acoustic Dead' show, particularly since it's not even certain the band played acoustically at all. I think that the Matrix shows with Crosby were a dry run for the more formal performance at Pepperland.
Jerry Garcia's Solo Career
By the time most Deadheads became really big fans, myself included, Jerry Garcia's solo career had already established its own arc. Garcia's initial solo album was seen as a separate expression of Grateful Dead music, albeit performed by Garcia himself (and Kreutzmann on drums). The main songs on Garcia were staples of the Grateful Dead concert repertoire. Garcia had also released the Hooteroll album with Howard Wales, however, and that seemed to more indicative of his live interests outside of the Grateful Dead. When Garcia played live, whether with the New Riders, Howard Wales or Merl Saunders, he never played any material that the Grateful Dead played, and the Grateful Dead never played anything from Garcia's side bands.
While Garcia's solo career took on more substance in the mid-70s, he maintained a very definite split between his solo performances and the Grateful Dead. Although there were commercial realities that made it prudent for the Jerry Garcia Band to perform few numbers associated with the Dead ("Friend Of The Devil", 'Deal" etc), by and large the repertoires were kept separate. Here and there a few cover versions crossed over (like "Let It Rock"), but for the most part the JGB and Grateful Dead were distinct musical entities. If Garcia had been willing to play "Casey Jones" and "Scarlet Begonias" with his own band, they would have been even more popular, but he chose a different road. When Bob Weir started to play out with Kingfish and later his own band, he followed Garcia's model. Weir played a few songs associated with his Dead performances ("One More Saturday Night," "Minglewood" etc) but by and large Weir's solo career also featured music distinct from the Grateful Dead.
By the mid-70s, it was fully established to Deadheads that Garcia and Weir's projects outside of the Grateful Dead would feature little or nothing from the Grateful Dead's huge catalog of songs. By the same token, a song or cover that was appealing from Garcia or Weir's bands only occasionally popped up in a Grateful Dead set. This assumption of separate repertoires was so embedded that most Deadheads took it absolutely for granted. However, Garcia's insistence on keeping his Dead and solo careers was very much in contrast to music industry orthodoxy during that period, an industry orthodoxy practiced by close musical friends of Garcia's, like David Crosby.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young Solo Careers
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were an important group for reasons that extended beyond their fine music and extraordinary success. The debut album Crosby, Stills and Nash instantly went to number one in 1969. It was a surprise when Neil Young joined the group, and a surprise when the band changed their name--how often does a band with a number one album change their name? Neil Young had released his brilliant second album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere in May 1969, and he had his own backing band, Crazy Horse. It seemed strange that he would toss that aside to share singing and writing duties with three other guys. Befitting the name of the band, it was put about in Rolling Stone and the like that Young's solo recording and performing career would continue alongside of CSNY.
Young's dual role was unprecedented, but in fact it set the template for the record industry in the next decade. Since Neil Young could be in a band and be a solo artist, that made it plausible for Paul Kantner or Jerry Garcia to do the same. Albums like Blows Against The Empire or Garcia were not seen as "breaking up the band" but as an extension of the groups themselves. Neil Young and CSNY weren't the first band to have a guy with a solo album, but they were the first to indicate that a solo and a group career could thrive simultaneously. Not surprisingly, the other members of CSNY set out to recording their own albums. David Crosby and Graham Nash started recording in San Francisco at Wally Heider's, along with their friends in the Dead and the Airplane, and this lead to the so-called PERRO sessions (Stills, meanwhile, recorded in Florida and London).
In the context of Jerry Garcia, the point to consider with respect to the solo careers of the members of CSNY was how their 'solo' material was integrated into the band. When CSNY set out on their all-conquering tour in the middle of 1970, they put on lengthy shows that featured all of their leaders. The album Four Way Street (1971) is a good representation of the breadth of their material. While the highlights of any CSNY concert were always the group's own classic songs, members of the band did their own solo material at CSNY concerts: Neil Young performed "Southern Man" and David Crosby sang 'Triad," and so on. When CSNY went on 'hiatus' for a few years, and the individual members started to perform on their own, all of them played CSNY songs in concert: Neil would play "Helpless," Crosby and Nash would sing "Marrakesh Express," Stephen Stills' Manassas would play "49 Bye Byes" and so forth. It was assumed by fans and critics alike that all of the material from CSNY members was eligible for either solo or group performances. Needless to say, the willingness to play their most popular songs was good business--Jerry Garcia's insistence that he would never play the songs he was best known for in his own concerts was yet another way in which he stood apart from his peers.
David And The Dorks (Jerry And The Jets)
Looked at in the context of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Garcia and Crosby's brief collaboration was very orthodox for the time. The extant sets at the Matrix includes a few new Crosby songs ("Cowboy Movie," "Wall Song," "Laughing"), a couple of Crosby classics ("Triad" and the rehearsal "Eight Miles High"), a Garcia original ("Bertha"), and some blues numbers, including a Grateful Dead standard ("Deep Elem Blues"). If the 'band' (laughingly called "David And The Dorks" by Garcia, onstage, and "Jerry And The Jets" by Crosby) had gone on tour, that indicates a cross section of what kind of music they would have played.
Based on the material played and Crosby's comments on the 'rehearsal' tape, the Matrix excursion seems like a Crosby project. It appears that Crosby wanted to play some of his new material live, and encouraged Garcia, Lesh and a drummer to back him. From that point of view, Garcia's participation is reminiscent of the New Riders--someone else's material, with Jerry as a sideman. However, unlike Garcia's tenure in the New Riders, he leads the band on a few songs clearly of his own choosing. I have no doubts that Crosby would have been amenable to whatever Garcia wanted to perform, and would have been more than willing to split vocals evenly with him if that had been what Garcia wanted. Whether or not Garcia saw the Matrix enterprise as a 'Crosby venture' or a 'joint venture,' Garcia would have been free to step up to the microphone to whatever extent he felt like it. Thanks to CSNY, music business orthodoxy was less fixated on the supposedly unbreakable partnership of a rock group and heading towards looser, temporary solo or duo arrangements.
Garcia and the Dead were always in a cash squeeze--what if Garcia, Crosby and Nash had decided to tour for a few dates? Crosby and Nash, as members of CSNY, were huge, and Garcia was at least a genuine rock star himself. If they had played some new material along with "Long Time Gone" and "Casey Jones," not to mention "Teach Your Children," it would have been very popular indeed. Do you think Crosby and Nash could have handled the harmonies on "Uncle John's Band?" Yeah, I think so. Garcia could have made a ton of money playing a half-dozen dates with Crosby and Nash, and he would have made really good music besides. And it's not like Garcia wasn't already playing with Merl Saunders on the side, so it wouldn't have even been more work. Certainly the record company would have loved it (Warner Brothers and Crosby and Nash's label, Atlantic, were linked corporately). Yet Garcia took the opposite tack of every other rock star in the 1970s, and kept his solo career separate.
I love the December 1970 Matrix tapes with Crosby, not least because I really like Crosby's solo album, and mainly just for the tremendous version of "Cowboy Movie," perhaps my favorite Crosby song. No one has ever asked Crosby what the specific impulse was to play with Garcia at Matrix and Pepperland, but I'm glad they did. From this vantage point, however, it's interesting to see Garcia on the edge of conventional rock stardom. Crosby, Paul Kantner, Garcia and others are recording daily at Wally Heider's working on each other's material. Indeed, some Garcia material was even recorded with All-Star lineups at the PERRO sessions. Yet he chose to record his solo album by himself, and their were no more live experiments with anyone else's original material.
I think the most revealing part of the Matrix rehearsal is when the band stops in the middle of "Cowboy Movie." There is something that David Crosby doesn't like, and they keep repeating the same phrases over and over, as Crosby strives for some unseen goal. In the time it takes to get Crosby's take just exactly perfect, Garcia would have been deep into his solo, and for Crosby's sake they kept stopping. I grant, it's a rehearsal, but by all accounts Garcia's interests in his side bands were about playing, not rehearsing, and I don't see Garcia leaning towards an ensemble that needs to rehearse difficult songs, however good they may have been, when Garcia could just be improvising.
Jerry Garcia's career outside of the Grateful Dead was longer and more productive than many musicians who didn't have a full-time band, so most Deadheads have not reflected on Garcia's choice to keep his own music distinct from the Dead, despite the implied financial penalties of doing so. In the 60s, rock bands were supposed to be like the Beatles, one for all and all for one, and a "solo album" meant that someone had left the group. Of course, record companies preferred solo albums for a variety of economic reasons, and in the 1970s, CSNY opened the door for artists to have a solo and a group career in parallel. Very few successful rock groups have included solo artists who kept their solo music separate over a long period of time--REM is the only major one that immediately comes to mind.
Yet it's plain in retrospect that Garcia made a very conscious choice to keep his own music separate from the Dead. There he was, regularly dropping by Wally Heider's to record both his own music and the music of Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, David Crosby, Graham Nash and others. The allure of playing live with some of those guys wasn't just some sort of fantasy, because we know that for a few dates in December, Garcia and Crosby actually had a little band, even if they only played three or four dates. And that band sounded great, and could have made a lot of money out on the road, even on a brief tour.
But Garcia passed on the CSNY model of solo artist, and never returned to it. Sure, here and there he sat in with some famous friend and took a guitar solo, or something like that, but I can't think of an onstage collaboration with a peer where Garcia played original music along with songs in the Dead repertory. Garcia was a nice guy, a great guitar player and a rock star, so he would have always been welcome to work with any of his famous peers in any format, but he chose not to make a plan of it. Garcia's twenty-five year commitment to his glorified bar band carved a path out of the wilderness, all the more impressive for the fact that the path began right next to the main highway of rock stardom, which Garcia willfully avoided for his own muse.