Between long, strange trips with the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia took regular detours with the Jerry Garcia Band, and now early live tapes of the iconic guitarist's other band are surfacing officially.
Don't Let Go (January 23) and Shining Star (March 20) each feature a different lineup of the Jerry Garcia Band, which occupied Garcia's downtime between Dead tours for two decades. The group offered Garcia a more solid footing from which to explore rock, R&B and soul classics (as well as original material) than did the murkier improvisational explorations of the Grateful Dead.
While One From the Vault (1991) and the Dick's Picks series of CDs opened the Grateful Dead's vault of live recordings to fans in the early 1990s, the late Garcia's estate has only recently begun to mine its collection of archival recordings of his longtime side project.
Grateful Dead audio/video archivist David Lemieux said that although there is not enough tape for a Jerry Garcia Band series to rival the high-output Dick's Picks series, which now spawns four archival CDs per year, he can foresee a regular release of material, perhaps one album per year, by the Jerry Garcia Band and various other Garcia projects.
"The Jerry archive is significantly smaller than the Grateful Dead archive," Lemieux said from inside the legendary vault. "Jerry played in 15 to 20 different bands from 1970 to 1995, including [David] Grisman, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Legion of Mary, the Jerry [Garcia] Band. ... We don't have the quantity, but we have a broad variety of different bands."
Unlike Jerry Garcia Band (1991) and the posthumous How Sweet It Is ... (1997), both taken from the same set of 1990 concerts, the new double live Don't Let Go reaches far back into the JGB vault, chronicling Garcia's May 21, 1976, show at San Francisco's Orpheum Theater.
Garcia's band on Don't Let Go includes drummer Ron Tutt (an alumnus of Elvis Presley's band) and bassist John Kahn (the band's bass player throughout its history) as well as the husband-and-wife team of Keith Godcheaux (piano and vocals) and Donna Jean Godcheaux (vocals), on loan from the Grateful Dead.
Garcia's unpolished yet soulful vocals are paired with Donna Godcheaux's sweet, throaty harmonies on the introspective "Mission in the Rain," as well as on Dead favorites such as "Sugaree" and "They Love Each Other." The band rips up J.J. Cale's "After Midnight," hits a light, tight reggae on Jimmy Cliff's "Sitting in Limbo," joyful, optimistic gospel on Charles Johnson's "My Sisters and Brothers" and country rock 'n' roll on Delaney and Bonnie's "Long Way From Home."
Shining Star is a compilation of numerous live performances by the JGB's final lineup Garcia, Kahn, organ player Melvin Seals, drummer David Kemper and backup vocalists Gloria Jones and Jackie Labranch recorded between 1989 and 1993.
The 15-track disc will include covers of Jimmy Cliff's "Struggling Man," the Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend the Night Together," Van Morrison's "He Ain't Give You None" and Daniel Lanois' "The Maker."
There are also rumblings within the ever-busy Grateful Dead camp about a possible Garcia box set. Because Garcia's career spanned everything from jug band music to traditional bluegrass to sessions with jazz great Ornette Coleman; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Jefferson Airplane; and Bruce Hornsby, the range of sonic and stylistic possibilities for a Garcia box is broad.
If the box set project remains on the back burner for too long, fans with a jones for Garcia's melodic six-string noodling will find Dick's Picks Volume 21 on sale alongside Shining Star on March 20. "Grateful Dawg," a film documenting Garcia's working friendship with mandolin virtuoso David Grisman, is also in the works.