Today, in yet another installment in groovy songs I never thought I’d dig up on 45, we have something from the late, great, Jerry Garcia.
Now, I am loathe to waste much space trying to convert anyone – who isn’t already hip to the Dead and their various and sundry offshoots – to the cause, but I will say this. If you are a fan of psychedelic music, improvisation, blues, country or even plain old straight ahead pop, and you don’t dig the Dead because you think it’s some kind of big, gloppy, hippy mess, then it’s your loss cousin.
The world is full of people who think everything the Dead ever did boils down into a slightly fried girl with dreads and a tie-dye swirling aimlessly in a stadium parking lot somewhere, and while they’re entitled to their opinion (no matter how wrong it is) I’m done fighting with them.
The Grateful Dead don’t need me leading the charge, carrying their standard onto the front lines.
However, time to time, I will offer up evidence of their wonderfulness, such as today’s selection.
Though Jerry and Bob Weir’s first solo albums are “solo”, they are really part of the larger Dead canon, and much of the material on them was long ago absorbed into the group’s playlists.
‘The Wheel’, my favorite track from ‘Garcia’ is a fantastic mixture of the group’s early 70s country rock with a blissful psychedelic undercarriage, delivered sneakily on the wings of a pedal steel guitar.
Recorded in 1972, almost completely by Garcia (who played everything but the drums), ‘The Wheel’ has a gentle, yet weirdly diffuse opening, with acoustic guitar, piano and bass seemingly battling for first place, before it all kid of quiets down and the relaxed, loping tempo takes over with the pedal steel weaving in and out of the background.
There are hints of a kind of ‘Sugar Magnolia’ vibe, yet ‘The Wheel’ is a much (and it pains me to use the term) “mellower” bag.
Back in my days of seeing the Dead in concert, I always thought of ‘The Wheel’ as one of those songs that was absolutely perfect for the psychedelic plateau, if you know what I mean, and I think you do (at least some of you), i.e., that period when the rush has subsided, replaced (optimally) with a kind of laid back, sunshiney cruise control.
Jerry’s pedal steel playing is very groovy indeed, and makes me wish (as does the playing of Sneaky Pete Kleinow with the Burritos) that the instrument had been used more outside of a traditionally “country” setting.
I’m also wondering if the mix on the 45 is one of the “alternate”mixes included on the CD reissue, since the LP time on the track is 4:12, and the 45 times out at 4:02. If any of you good folks knows the deal, please let me know.
So pull down the ones and zeros, and let the goodness wash over you.
I hope you dig it, and I’ll see you next week.