Garcia Live Volume Six: Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders 7/5/73 ATO Records – 3 CD’s www.JerryGarcia.com
Timeline: July, 5th, 1973. Location: Small two-hundred person capacity club called The Lion’s Share in San Anselmo, in northern CA, now defunct. The band: Jerry Garcia guitar/vocals, Merl Saunders keyboards/vocals, John Kahn bass, and Bill Vitt drums. You’ll also hear an “mystery guest” trumpet player (likely Mark Isham who played on other Garcia solo albums, and with Merl Saunders) and plays on some tunes in the second set. But before I dissect this concert I must talk about the impressive sound that was tastily captured and recorded by Betty Cantor-Jackson. Garcia’s guitar sounded incredibly clear during this era and it’s impeccably recorded by Cantor-Jackson as are Jerry’s vocals and each and every instrument on the stage on this special evening. * Note: The Lion’s Share venue had a unique scene that drew well-known artists like Janis Joplin, Van Morrison, Phil Lesh and others into their intimate club.
Disc one: Opens with JJ Cale’s “After Midnight” in a casual manor leaving ample time (10:35) for the band to lock-in, before long Garcia’s in full-flight in a cozy rhythm and blues vein, his vocals are pure and relaxed, and (as previously mentioned) the audio sound is lush and gorgeous. “Someday Baby” follows and it’s a good Blues rendition, and Saunders’ soulful “She’s Got Charisma” is stretched nearly to nineteen minutes and heads off into the depths of deep space before switching into a very hot and lengthy cover of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s Alright Mama” concluding the first of three CD’s.
Disc two: Two tunes; Saunders’ “The System” (18:45) and the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” at just six minutes flat conclude the first set. Saunders’ vocals introduce his herky-jerky and funky “The System” but after his intro lyrics; Saunders’ lays down deep grooves setting Garcia free to roam, explore and trade riffs with Saunders. But after a while “The System” breaks-down into a meandering yawn that stays in a single groove for far too long. So much so it seems like the band knew that it was finally time to end “The System” without any real conclusion or fanfare. Again Garcia’s vocal is sweet on “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” This classic cover is treated with care and tenderness making for a touching ending to the first set. Disc two, second set: The Mystery Guest trumpeter makes a first appearance on “I Second that Emotion,” though this take digs in and rolls for thirteen and a half minutes. John Kahn’s bass really holds down the bottom setting the rhythmic bass-tones for Saunders and especially Garcia to flow, though the trumpet player can be heard but isn’t given any solo time. That changes when the trumpet introduces “My Funny Valentine” with a lengthy and tasty excursion when Garcia takes over to set sail on his own expedition. Unlike other Saunders/Garcia “Funny Valentines,” this (19:16) version mostly stays the course and doesn’t wander into unchartered territories, though they do flirt with some open playing that’s kept to a minimum – ending quietly. The funky instrumental “Finders Keepers” is another spasmodic tune that’s repetitive, but with the trumpeters help, Garcia’s consistent noodling, Kahn’s deep textured bass, Vitts’ drumming and Saunders’ clavinet and B3 playing it comes out tasting like pretty respectable sausage – concluding disc two.
Disc Three: Jesse Stone’s Bluesy/Rhythm and Blues “Money Honey” puts Garcia’s vocal back in the spotlight with his guitar, the trumpeter and the band pound out a rock-solid version. Garcia does his best on Don Nix’s and Dan Penn’s ballad “Like a Road” though it lacks enthusiasm and is a bit light on emotion. The heady “Merl’s Tune” (16:40) is a wide-open improvisational Jazz/Rock jam with a tastes of Soul, needless to say everyone solos here, individually and spontaneously together with reckless abandon. After nearly seventeen minutes of “Merl’s Tune” the band invents (9:52) “Lion’s Share Jam” (authored by the entire band) that has more shape and form and could be classified as late-night progressive FM radio Rock, but it has no ending and is eventually faded out. Closing out disc three and I suspect the entire night is a relatively short (6:01) “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You,)” they don’t do it in obligatory fashion, instead they keep it soulful without extended soloing, which is a kind of nice and unanticipated change. Jerry says bye-bye, and the night at the Lion’s Share ends pleasantly.
Fans of various Garcia bands should enjoy this band’s relaxed, easy-going manner here. It also sheds additional and needed light on the alternate adaptations of Jerry Garcia – that’s Bluesy, R & B’ish, with Soul and a Soulful mix with Jazz improvisation. Kudos to ATO Records for keeping this un-Dead side of Jerry Garcia flowing into its sixth volume, I hope there will be many more. Having grown up and attending some of these Garcia jaunts with core members Saunders and Kahn and others was always very special for me. Especially when I saw them up-close at intimate club settings like New York City’s Bottom Line Cabaret; (Hint-hint) for any future Merl and Jerry ATO releases? Can you please also suggest their Reconstruction band live sets too?
I also enjoyed Benjy Eisen’s seven-pages of liner notes. Benjy succinctly captured the essence of this Garcia-Saunders performance in ten words: “There was no expectation, and there was certainly no routine.” Additionally Eisen opines “Garcia credited Saunders with so much of his adult music education and has said in various interviews that Saunders taught him “straight” music- that is how to interpret without tuning them inside out.” Plus the Garcia-Saunders Band “weren’t there (at The Lion’s Share) to showcase, they were there to jam.” Nicely stated and wholeheartedly agreed.
For 17 years Bob Putignano has been pivotal with his Sounds of Blue radio show. Hear new Homegrown Sounds of Blue internet radio shows: http://soundsofblue.com/radioshowsmp3.htm
Previously a contributing editor at Blues Revue, Blueswax, and Goldmine magazines, currently the Music Editor for the Yonkers Tribune www.YonkersTribune.com & www.MakingAScene.org Bob was also the 2003 recipient of the “Keeping the Blues Alive” award (given by the Blues Foundation in Memphis) for his achievements in radio broadcasting. Putignano can be contacted at: BobP@SoundsofBlue.com