The Grateful Dead (with Bo Diddley)
Dick’s Picks Vol. 30 Academy of Music, New York City, NY, 3/25 and 3/28/72 (4-CD box set)
Real Gone Music
BluesWax Rating: 9 out of 10
Hail Bo Diddley, and Then Some More & More & More!
I can’t make this up, as I attended three of the seven shows that The Grateful Dead performed during March of 1972, that being opening night, the middle night with Bo Diddley, and the closing night. These shows were the final U.S. performances prior to embarking to Europe for their amazing run on the other side of the pond. Note: Each and every 1972 European shows are available for purchase at www.Dead.net and if you got in early you also could have purchased the now out-of-print limited-edition version that included a travel trunk box and a dynamite hard-bound booklet.
Disc One starts with the Bo Diddley set that was booked as Jerry Garcia and Friends with special guest Bo Diddley, but it was the Dead backing Bo. It was also a benefit for the Hells Angels, who actually rode their choppers from the end of the theater right up to the front of the stage; I was a bit startled, but it was a peaceful night. The Dead obviously respected Diddley’s presence and let the legendary performer shine as the frontman, opening with “Hey Bo Diddley” into “I’m a Man,” then “I’ve Seen Them All Before” that flowed into a lengthy ten-minute jam. Bo’s last tune was “Mona” and Diddley was out the door. It’s interesting to note that the Dead stayed in a bluesy R&B mode and concluded this first set (sans Diddley) with “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” a song Garcia performed many times with Merl Saunders, and is supposedly the only time the Dead covered this soulful classic. Next from the mighty pen of Bert Burns (Mr. Burns wrote so many memorable tunes) the Dead selected “Are You Lonely For Me Baby,” which is a bit ragged, and closed their set with a stirring thirteen-minute plus rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin” with Pigpen at the helm. Note: I would have thought that Didley and the Dead might cover Willie Dixon’s “You Can’t Judge a Book By the Cover” made popular by Diddley, as I always felt the Dead lifted that baseline for their “Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks.)” Added to this first disc is a rendition of “Playing In the Band” from a later weekday Academy show, which is interesting but used mostly as filler to potentially add value to this first CD.
CD Two: Supposedly is the entire 3/28/72 closing night. You know it’s going to be a good night when the band opens with a swinging (nearly ten minute) “Truckin’, followed by a solid “Tennesee Jed,” and Pigpen’s shuffling “Chinatown Shuffle.” Garcia readily handles Hank Williams’ “You Win Again,” Pigpen returns with the crowd-pleasing “Mr. Charlie (Told Me So),” and Bob Weir delivers a perky “Mexicali Blues.” Pigpen shows his grit covering “Next Time You See Me,” as Disc Two concludes with a sparks-flying “Cumberland Blues” that exudes super-tasty interplay from all band members.
CD Three: If memory serves me correctly, Disc Three is a continuation of this first set. Weir’s “Looks Like Rain” is sweet and notable because Garcia plays pedal steel, like he did on Weir’s debut solo album, Ace. Kind of a rarity. “Big Railroad Blues” smokes, as does “El Paso,” and the Dead’s classic coupling of “China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider.” I recall the set ending with a smiling Jerry tearing up “Casey Jones,” a song where the ending feels like it could have been written and performed by the late great Levon Helm from The Band. Moving along there’s a lengthy and very spacey (nearly fourteen minutes) “Playing In the Band” that almost freaked me out. Garcia simmers things down with a soulful “Sugaree” and Pigpen performs one of his rarities, “The Stranger (Two Souls In Communion)” that concludes Disc Three.
CD Four: Rocks out with a blistering “Sugar Magnolia” that somehow morphs into a very long and whacked-out “The Other One” (28:16) that eventually fades out leading me to believe this tune was wisely edited. Once again Pigpen brings the band back to reality with the Elmore James cover “Hurts Me Too,” with Jerry trying to slide, but seems to be having a hard time. You know you are near the end of the evening when the band punches into the trilogy of “Not Fade Away,” “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad,” back into a rip-roaring “Not Fade Away.” But don’t head for the aisles just yet, as the Garcia and Weir briefly fiddle with “Sidewalks of New York” showing their obvious affection for playing in New York City. They finally send everyone home rocking and dancing with “One More Saturday Night.”
I know I’ve said this before, but 1972 always (and after hearing this set) remains my favorite year of live Dead performances. Mainly because the band seemingly was starting to understand their instrumental prowess, were still youthful, and were willing to take boundless risks with reckless abandon. The (by Dead standards) heavy addictive drugs hadn’t been introduced yet, so the band still had a clean and uncluttered sound that also included telepathic jamming. They were also more blues, R&B, and roots oriented. That being said, this is a very worthwhile set to get down with, especially with the one-time pairing with Bo Diddley, the rarely performed songs, and the sorely missed blues edge of Pigpen, who sadly passed about one year after these memorable, tireless, and timeless performances. But be prepared to sit down for a while and get yourself right-minded and readjusted, and drift with the band that was firing on all cylinders from over forty years ago, yet it all still sounds fresh and vibrant to me. You might think that because I was at these shows (in a highly altered state) that I’m biased, but don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself. Just know that there’s an occasional signpost up ahead that might necessitate expanding your mind!
Robert Putignano is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax, a contributing writer at Blues Revue, and the heart and soul of Sounds of Blue.
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