One of the first times that I ever went home with the future mother of my child, I noticed her vinyl record collection. I’m positive that I would have noticed it the very first time, but I think that I may have, at least, slightly waited before making the aggressive move to start full-on digging through it. There were a couple of random exceptions tossed in, like a “Sliver” 7-inch or a Fugazi Red Medicine LP, but the large majority on the shelf were of the $1 clearance bin, Spanky and Our Gang variety. They had clearly been kicked down to her by her father. She wasn’t even entirely sure of what all was in there. Of course, she knew that such things as the Stones records were involved, but when I pointed out the Leo Kottkes or John Faheys in the mix, she wasn’t even familiar with who they were, at the time. It was a decent-sized block of records, so that’s understandable, and they seemed to hold a sentimental value more than anything. When I enthusiastically pulled out a Jerry Garcia vinyl, on the other hand, she knew exactly who he was, but, to my dismay, she was adamant that there was no chance that we were going to be listening to it anytime soon.
The album Garcia was released in 1972 and was Jerry Garcia‘s first official solo release outside of the Grateful Dead. It included a lot of classic tracks like “Deal“, “Sugaree“, “Bird Song“, “The Wheel“, and “To Lay Me Down“, which were co-written by lyricist/career-long collaborator, Robert Hunter and would go on to become staples in the Dead‘s live repertoire. Although Jerry is credited with performing all of the instruments himself on the release, besides the drumming –handled by Grateful Dead drummer Billy Kreutzman— it was around this time when he would embark on a two-and-a-half decade-long collaboration with bassist, John Kahn.
Garcia and Kahn first began playing with each other in 1970 through free-form improv nights at the historical San Francisco jazz club Keystone Korner, and during the recording sessions for the funky Howard Wales/Garcia jazz-rock album Hooteroll? [highly recommended]. From then on, Kahn became Jerry‘s primary musical cohort outside of the Dead, being involved in just about every solo venture that the legendary guitarist took, including projects like the bluegrass supergroup Old & In the Way and Legion of Mary; Garcia‘s collaboration with organist Merl Saunders. Unfortunately, there were some destructive aspect within their partnership, with many fans blaming the bassist as a major contributing factor of Jerry‘s continued narcotics usage. In fact, John Kahn overdosed on heroin in 1996, less than a year after Garcia passed away from a fatal heart attack in a rehabilitation center.
1996 also marked the release of the banjo-heavy Shady Grove, which featured Jerry Garcia and mandolinist David “Dawg” Grisman performing acoustic covers of a number of their favorite traditional songs. This is the album that I covertly utilized to trick my lady into liking Jerry Garcia –and, ultimately, the Grateful Dead— by not informing her of who she was listening to until after she had already made the determination that she enjoyed it. [After someone already likes Shady Grove, it can be as simple as a segue into the Dead playing “Jack-A-Roe” and baby stepping it from there.] John Kahn wasn’t featured on the Garcia/Grisman releases, but he did play a key role in another selection of tracks that sometimes also have the ability to surprise and win over many of the newcomers who have difficulty fighting the unfounded stigmas that are fused to and surrounding a band that they may have had very little legitimate personal exposure to.
Exactly one month ago, a writer for a local weekly posted a short piece on their website, in which he pleaded: “Somebody, explain the Grateful Dead, please“. It seems that, without fail, anytime someone asks a question like this regarding a marginalized group or interest, fans will undoubtedly offer up one of two polar opposites: the most bland thing they have to offer or the most difficult to digest. For the dead, there’s generally going to be a lot of poppy happy-time suggestions like the studio version of “Sugar Magnolia” or it’s gonna be the most twisted out 35 minute jam that they can get their hands on. The problem is that it’s likely that the simpler little tunes might not be enough to really impress and further draw someone in who’s sincerely asking for someone to help them puncture their already pre-fabricated iffy opinions of the band, and the difficult shit is… well, it’s the difficult shit for a reason. There are generally less severe options than having to choose between something like Kind of Blue and Live Evil. What’s so great about the Dead is that there are so many different areas explored by the group throughout its run. There’s everything from the crazy spaced-out psychedelic chaos to rootsy folk gems and, over the years, I’ve often found myself settling in with different specific time periods and/or sounds from the group’s career, before moving on to explore another one for a while. While I still really love the early energy of the Anthem of the Sun material, some of my favorite work from Garcia has come with the more stripped down sounds of the live acoustic release Reckoning and his work with the Jerry Garcia Band. When just his voice and guitar are the primary elements that are supporting a track, it really provides an insight to the framework that everything else is draped across. Those situations truly showcase his soulful, genuine abilities and his undeniable talents, both as a musician and a songwriter. This local weekly’s author’s intentions seemed genuine on the website, so I responded to his inquiries about the Dead with a few options for the him to check out, which included a well-rounded variety and quick summations of what to expect from each. I also sent him a link to a download, of which he emailed back, “Whoa, this bootleg is great […] Thanks a lot for sending this!”
That recording was from a show that is often simply referred to as “Oregon State Pen” or “Jerry in the Big House” and it features the duo of Jerry Garcia (acoustic guitar) and John Kahn (upright bass) playing for a small group of prisoners at the Oregon State Penitentiary back on Cinco de Mayo in 1982. The 11 song set includes a nice mix of Grateful Dead tunes, Jerry solo tracks, traditionals, and covers. One of it’s greatest strengths is how intensely personal the recording sounds. That direct quality really seems to be able to pierce through to the core of a lot of people and make it easy to connect with, even for those who have no history with the music that’s being played or the people playing it. I don’t know too much more about the history, but I have read in the past that author/acid test pioneer/king Merry Pranksters, Ken Kesey himself was said to have been in attendance. If you ask most of the even semi-hardcore Dead heads, they should know the recording well and, from my own personal experience, it’s always seemed to be one of the most infamous and well-regarded bootlegs that I’ve ever encountered.
If you’re wondering what prompted me to post a download of this bootleg now, it’s because, after digging it back out, I realized that today marks the 30th anniversary of the recording. This makes today a semi-historic occasion. I also like the idea of putting it up and allowing new folks to continue to discover it 3 decades later. Another reason is that, through digging it up for someone else, I’ve also rediscovered it for myself. I hadn’t listened to it in a while and it still sounds as good as it did the first time, so this isn’t just for those who are new to the recording. If you’re like me, you might have already gone through multiple cassette and/or CD-R copies of this recording over the years, losing it and getting it back over and over again. Well… here’s the MP3 version for you this time. Welcome to new millennium… you fucking hippies.