A foreign horse, at that.
A foreign horse, at that.
Dear Kidd Candelario in 1972,
Hi. How are you? I’m fine, but the future is terrible. You should stay in 1972.
Anyway, when you are recording Dead shows in 1972, could you please turn Keith up? Betty made me Keith really loud, except by the time Betty took over the tape deck, Keith was playing kinda shitty some nights. In 1972, however, Keith was a god; you cannot hear him.
To reiterate: make Keith louder. Also, if this letter reaches you in the first half of 1972, then you need to stop the Olympics. I don’t know how that might be accomplished, but if anyone can get the Olympics cancelled, it’s the Dead. If you are reading this in the latter half of the year, then I am sorry about what happened at the Olympics.
Pigpen was perversely photogenic, and garrulous. TC will talk to anyone who calls, and has spoken as expansively as one can about a particular year out of one’s youth. Brent and Vince and Bruce all gave long interviews and fulfilled their publicity duties.
Not Keith, though. Only one good hit when you Google “Keith Godchaux interview.” There’s footage of him and Mrs Donna Jean shot for The Grateful Dead Movie, but they were incoherently high and the material was not used.
Beyond that, Keith appears in far fewer photographs than the rest of the band. When it comes to onstage photos, this can be explained by his off-to-the-side stage position, or the fact that a picture of a thrashing drummer will always be more interesting than one of a sad-faced piano player with bad posture.
But there are also less candid shots, and by a wide margin.
All Keith left was two sons and his music.
That’s the Hammond B3 organ, played by Jimmy Smith in honor of Al Green’s birthday. (Do not get Al Green hot grits for his birthday.) Before laptops full of sounds, and MIDI, or even analog synths, there was the instrument you are legally required to refer to as “the mighty B3” at least once while writing about it.
The Hammond organ originated because people couldn’t afford pipe organs. In defense of the pipe organs: they pretty much have to be pricey. A pipe organ is both labor and material-intensive, and then requires constant maintenance and you also need to build the building around it. This is out of reach for most churches, especially smaller American churches, but a relatively thin and quiet piano wouldn’t do, either. Pianos are for thinking; for praying, you need an organ.
So, in 1935, a guy named Laurens Hammond invented this:
Okay, not that one. That’s the B3, which was introduced in ’54, but it has all the features of the original design: two 61-note keyboards, bass pedals, drawbars for the tone, and the iconic Leslie rotating speaker. Inside the guts of the thing are tonewheels: little metal spinners next to a pickup that generated a given frequency. Speaking of spinning, the Leslie is not called a rotating speaker euphemistically: that sucker has a motor in it.
This naturally made the instrument unspeakably heavy. Combined, the organ and speaker weighed three tons, more if the crew was stashing their drugs in it, but heft wasn’t a concern for Mr. Hammond in his design; these things were not intended to be moved. The guy came to fix it, rather than you bringing it in for repairs.
The B3 is complicated, if you play it right: the tonewheels only do “on” and “off” so you control the volume with your foot, plus you’re heel-and-toeing the bass line, and also playing two keyboards simultaneously while fucking around with the drawbars. And since this is the past we’re talking about, you were smoking a cigarette while you played.
Plus, they were expensive: none of Garcia’s costly guitars could begin to reach the cost of the B3. When the Dead upgraded Pig from the piercing and cheesy Vox organ he was originally saddled with, a new one was three grand. Figure the Dead got it used for two: that’s $13,000.
(And though the Boys had a habit of picking up shady equipment, the Hammond must have been acquired from a legitimate source rather than in a “cash” deal with a “friend.” It was repossessed right off the stage in late ’70, and things you buy from drug dealers don’t get repossessed, only stuff from actual stores.)
Keith was terrified of the thing, preferring his grand piano and Fender Rhodes to the point of obstinacy, but when Brent joined the band, the road crew dug the old girl out and Brent could truly play the fuck out of that beast.
Brent didn’t have a piano; more correctly, the band wouldn’t give him a piano. This was a plan that reached its logical conclusion when, after Brent died, they hired a guy to decide what Vince’s sounds would be. (And Garcia specifically forbade him from playing with a Hammond tone.)
“Precarious, where should I put this amplifier?”
“On top of another amplifier.”
“Set it down in the least stable way allowed by its shape.”
Now, though, the Dead (Or What’s Left Of ‘Em) have over-compensated and have adopted a laissez-faire policy towards the question “How much room does the keyboardist get in the truck?” and this now happens in cities across America:
Enthusiasts, you will note my long-standing love for Jeff Chimenti. I don’t need 50 shades of gray, just one: Jeff Chimenti. If Jeff Chimenti and I were playing Star Wars in the schoolyard, I would let him be Han. He might be pound-for-pound the best keyboardist that’s ever been in any version of the Dead: he plays the piano as well as Keith; and the organ as well as Brent, and that’s saying something. Those two were motherfuckers. (Jeff also makes distracting calliope noises as well as TC or Vince.)
But, holy shit, is that too much keyboard. That’s the Full Wakeman. If Jeff Chimenti wants to continue having that much keyboard around him, then he should be further surrounded by ice skaters dressed as Knights of the Round Table. This is hubris, Jeff Chimenti, and you are flying too close to the stage lights.
Although, this is truly the Grateful Dead thing to do. The truth is that the sounds generated by each of those instruments can be reproduced now so faithfully that maybe 1% of the population could tell the difference, and each sound triggered by one keyboard. Grand pianos, B3’s, Fender Rhodeseseses: heavy as shit and finicky. The humidity matters, and they need professional care.
Plus, that is Brent’s B3 organ/Leslie speaker combo, and it belongs onstage. And if it’s onstage, someone might as well play it. (The Rhodes and the piano are of unknown–to me, at least–provenance and perhaps someone could fill us in. Keith’s piano at least one Stealie inlaid in it, so I don’t think that’s it.)
I retract my assertion: Jeff Chimenti is playing the proper amount of keyboards. In fact, I propose another two or three be suspended above him, and that the floor-piano from Big be installed beneath him.
Many tales have been told of the Grateful Dead: they’ve been examined from angles musical, financial, sociological, historical, chemical, metaphysical, biographical, academic, and there was a coloring book once. Never, though, has the Dead’s relationship with exercise been detailed, and certainly not with the scholastic rigor I intend to apply to the following bullshit I’m about to make up.
Bobby was the most physical-minded of the group; he cared about the parts of his body that were not his dick or stomach, and engaged in strenuous and joyful fits of exercise, plus many soothing and barefoot yoga sessions. Bobby enjoyed running almost as much as he enjoyed running shorts. In the 70’s, he took up mountain biking, and in the 80’s got into hill biking; the 90’s saw Bobby become interested in riding his bike on flat terrain, and in the 00’s, Ebay was founded, which is where Bobby sold his bike.
Mickey gave Bobby a run for his money, though, and sometimes literally: Mickey liked to combine his athletics with gambling and would often make more money off his impromptu wagering than from a tour. Like Bobby, Mickey took up bicycling for a while, but always preferred his horses, as it was impossible to dose a bicycle.
And here lies a sheer and fatal drop-off in both athletic ability and exercisial enthusiasm. Except for Bobby and Mickey, every Grateful Dead would be picked last and sent to right field. (There are pictures of Bobby playing softball; there are pictures of Garcia watching softball.) You might pick Billy a little higher up if you were playing hockey and wanted to start a fight.
Billy’s exercise came primarily from running amok. Smoothie in the morning, throw a mailbox at a cop around lunch, run through a hospital with a chainsaw before the show, and then finish up the day with cardio (Billy calls anal “cardio”).
The ocean also provides Billy with a chance to stretch, strengthen, and shape up; he has invented something he calls “sharkour,” but is actually just swimming slowly and looking at fish. (You cannot do parkour underwater as there are no benches to vault over, and even if there were, you can’t vault over anything underwater.)
Phil’s idea of exercise was standing up during a blowjob.
The keyboardists were all over the place, as should be expected: Pig did Tai Chi once, by accident; TC did some fancy bullshit, I’m sure; Keith, along with Mrs. Donna Jean, trained in mixed-martial arts and practiced on each other constantly; Brent was the Marin county free-diving champ three years in a row until he was beaten; Bruce beat him; Vince owed his taut tush to ballroom dance.
Garcia always carried his own briefcase, though sometimes it was heavy.
When this year gets you down–and it should have by now–remember that people are still delightful on occasion, and that though there is evil and strife, there is also a guy in Japan who makes Lego dioramas of of a semi-defunct choogly-type band from two continents over.
Also: as stated, that is the 1978 band with Keith and Mrs. Donna Jean, and Maria Muldaur with the curly plastic hair; the inevitable John Kahn on bass, and the wonderfully-named Buzz Buchanan on drums.
It would be wrong to say that the Maria Muldaur Lego looks like Whora the Explora.
Also also: Garcia’s long-lost twin from the Sub-Continent, Curry Garcia.
There was nothing the Grateful Dead couldn’t make more complicated.
Also: this picture confuses me. Those aren’t stage lights in the upper righthand corner: they’re film lights. Rock and roll lighting hangs from a truss; it certainly doesn’t go in front of the band with gels gaffer-taped over the bulbs.
And since we know that the Dead’s road crew would never do more work than required (and sometimes not even that), then we must infer that this show was captured on film.
It is here, Enthusiasts that I can either be honest or simply delete the whole post; for both our sakes, I choose honesty: this photo is from 7/12/76 at the Orpheum in San Francisco, which we do in fact know was filmed. You can watch the soundcheck, courtesy of the legendary and mysterious Voodoonola:
Now, here’s where I turn into a complete slapdick: I had a whole theory about how the photo was not from 7/12, but instead from a different night in the run, which means another night was recorded and that there was a pro-shot film from ’76 being kept from us. My thesis relied heavily on the fact that Mrs. Donna Jean is wearing a different blouse in the photo than in the soundcheck video.
And then I remembered that people change their clothes.
Sorry to have wasted your time.
I’ve seen other shots from this photo shoot (Phil Wears a Tie in ’77), but not this particular picture. It’s been a while since we’ve had a good group shot, and we shall get back to basics by going left to right.
Is Twitter just finding out?
Why weren’t you guys at the Last Waltz?
“Whole thing was kinda jive, anyway.”
People have many opinions on that evening.
“Also, they couldn’t meet our price.”
There ya go.
“And, you know: come up and play one song. Not our thing. We weren’t real tight with The Band, anyway, man. Danko was great fun, real solid cat, and Levon was always a hoot. Loved their records, but you know: we didn’t hang out with ’em.”
You were on the road.
“Right, man. Barely got time for your rhythm section, let alone another band. Played with ’em at Watkins Glen, but they weren’t really jammers, y’know? They just played their songs real good, which is just as valid as our way, I suppose.”
You’re a reasonable man.
“I’m dead: it’s easy.”
“Although, they used to wear those little suits, right? Remember Big Pink? Those suits? They used to wear ’em onstage. Looked like fancylads.”
They weren’t manly suits, no.
“Plus, you know…promise you won’t tell anybody I said this?”
Sure. Why not.
“We were better than everybody there.”
Neil Young, Dylan, Muddy Waters?
“Maybe not Muddy, but: yeah.”
Better than Van Morrison?
“In so many ways.”
Yeah, I guess.
“You see what I’m saying.”
“Also, when we played Winterland, we took up all the dressing rooms; they wanted to give us one dressing room for everybody.”
That wouldn’t work.
“Yeah, man. Dead rolls deep.”