Apr 7, 2017

Early 1967: Dead Praise

THE GRATEFUL DEAD RISE

I first heard them play over a year ago. After the set I wandered up to the bass player (long blonde hair, blue corduroy pants, a yellow velvet shirt) and asked for the name of the group.
"The Grateful Dead."
"What?"
"The Grateful Dead," he said.
It is amazing what this band can do. In a long while of listening to all the "new rock and roll" groups that have come to and from San Francisco, the Dead is the only one (among about 10 in the world) that set after set, weekend after weekend, grabs me out of my chair every time.
The nucleus of the Grateful Dead was a Peninsula band: Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions.
Three of the current members were in it: Jerry Garcia, 24, lead guitarist; rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, 19, then a junior in high school and from a social Atherton family (the band played for his sister's debutante party this summer); and Ron McKernan, 21.
Ron is better known as "Pig-pen," an affectionate name having something to do with his rather outrageous appearance. "I began singing at 16. I wasn't in school, I was just goofin'. I've always been singing along with records, my dad was a disc jockey, and it's been what I wanted to do."
He has a rich voice which reaches all the inside places of the pains of life. Noted jazz critic Ralph J. Gleason named Pigpen "one of the major bluesmen in America."
Mother McCree's went on for a while until a year and a half ago they decided to do rock and roll. "Rock is more immediate music; it's closer to what's happening in people's heads."
Bill Sommers, 20, from a Stanford football background, had played in about 10 bands until they asked him to join. Although the best drummer in the Bay Area, he had been holding down a fulltime short-hair job. Bass player Phil Lesh, 28, was the last to join.
The Grateful Dead (look the phrase up in Webster's) spent six months "in the woodshed" between Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver.
"Woodshedding" was working out new material, tightening arrangements, living, suffering and starving together, a process which, like the Beatles in Germany, brings a group so close in their minds and their music that they can make the group sound a greater total than the sum of five individuals.
It will be difficult to capture the spirit and excellence of this group on a record. (They are now with Warner Brothers.) One of the great pleasures of the group is their incredible stage presence. They have fun.
Jerry sings very sadly and quietly, especially on numbers like Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Pigpen plays the harmonica and organ, both in a style which is best described as alternatingly marauding and mysterious.
Phil and Jerry do most of the writing.
"The lyrics are nonsensical and banal," they explain.
"You just do what you do," Phil says, "and we all kind of fell together. We orbit around a common centre. It is impossible to define but it has something to do with making good music of any kind. That's the Grateful Dead."

(by Jann Werner, from the Ottawa Journal, 5 May 1967)

Thanks to Dave Davis.