Listen to this, starting at around a minute in. It’s the Stir it Up jam, you know it. But listen again to how the very instant that Garcia picks up the thread that he’s been doodling at, Billy’s right there with him.
Billy gets short shrift. The other chimps built a Wall of Sound around him, (literally*), but Billy was still sitting there like the lost Murray brother with his pervy mustache and dinky little jazz kit. Whenever Mickey wasn’t around to rope Billy into his percussion related…ideas…Billy’s entire kit would fit in the trunk and backseat of an El Dorado. He gets overshadowed, though, partially stemming from the fact that Billy is deliberately kept away from people, especially people who have crotches they don’t want punched.
Billy should be listed along with Charlie Watts and Animal Muppet as one of the greatest drummers of the time, but he labors under the double canopy of Garcia and Phil. Phil, as we have discussed, preferred to play all the notes. Other bassists would play some of the notes. Actually, most bassists would play merely a few notes repeatedly. Not our Phil, so it’s easy to forget The Rule:
The sound of a great band is made by two guys, usually the drummer and the rhythm guitarist, but sometimes the bassist. No exceptions.**
The Stones are Keith and Charlie. Van Halen is those two aging tweakers and whatever hepatitis-infected blond they can rope into screaming, “GLARBLE MONNA HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT!” for a three-month tour that lasts five weeks and ends in recriminations, lawsuits, and, finally, discussion of Wolfgang’s unfortunate resemblance in every single way possible to A. J. Soprano that was totally uncalled for. Not cool, man.
The sound of the Dead is Garcia and Billy. Dead and gone.
(We do, though, have recordings of the shows, which we may listen to at our leisure. For your enjoyment, and to bolster my pro-Billy stance, listen to the Mind Left Body Jam in this China/Rider. It proves my point: Phil played the bass, but Billy played songs. Man.)
*Billy refused to sit directly under the massive center speaker conglomeration, primarily because he had been up all night doing drugs and shooting at the Invisible Ones with the people who erected the thing.
**I am including Rush in this. The sound of Rush is generated by Geddy and Neil. Lifeson, while technically known in official musician terminology as “a motherfucker,” has always been generic, generally.
Recently having written a post about Springsteen, I have come to the realization that the sound of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band is generated by Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg, making it an ultra-rare piano/drum combo.