Bill Graham used to introduce the band by saying, “Not only are they THE BEST at what they do, they’re also THE ONLY ONES who do what they do: Ladies and Gentlemen, the Grateful Dead.” Which was elegant and eloquent but not quite true.
Miles Davis’ 70’s bands were doing the same thing as the Dead, except without any first set niceties. Miles and the Dead shared a San Francisco stage right after Miles’ masterpiece (that should probably read “right after one of the many, many masterpieces he produced), Bitches Brew came out. Miles had been working with an electric bass player since about the moment he decided, “I must destroy this concept of the song. There is no Song! Songs were invented by white devils! I’m just going to find a bunch of musicians and freak out for 60 minutes at a time.”
Miles, as usual, is not telling you the whole story. That “bunch of musicians” has to include Jack DeJohnette and Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter or the entire plan falls apart. Plus, Miles’ bands are sometimes mired in the jazz tradition of laying back while someone solos, instead of the full-band improvisational composition that the Dead do. You know what I’m talking about: the stuff that’s worth sitting through all the nonsense and noodling for. When the boys flow from one song through another and back and you never realize what they’ve done until you’re already amazed; it’s a musical magical trick when they do it right.
Miles was sometimes accused of cynicism: that his ’70’s electric period was not purely a musical journey, just an excuse to go from his usual clubs to playing the much larger (and therefore more lucrative) halls and theaters that the bands on the rock circuit did. This might have been one reason, sure, but you can never discount the possibility that Miles just didn’t want to rehearse anymore, as it took time away from driving a Lamborghini packed with white women through city streets at 100 mph, then accusing the officer that pulled him over of being–dependent on the situation–“a racist cracker-ass cracker,” or “an Uncle Tom motherfucker.” Miles was a real piece of work.
There was another band criss-crossing the country in the 1970’s trying to Reconnect with The Holy through playing really loud and long: P-Funk. Whatever the hell George Clinton was calling whichever group of guys were in the room when they made the record: Parliament, Funkadelic, the P-Funk All-Stars, Funk-isyahu and the Klezmer Kids, whatever.
P-Funk was the answer to the question, “What if we gave poor black kids in Jersey and middle-class white kids in San Francisco the exact same drugs and massive amplifiers?’
And, of course: the leaders of all three of these groups are dead. I know George Clinton thinks he is still alive, but he died three years ago–trust me on this one.