Friday, June 22, 2018

Grateful Dead 9: Bear’s Choice

Before leaving Warner Bros. to start their own label, the Dead apparently owed one more record on their contract. Thus began a vault-scraping tradition and industry that would balloon in only 20 years’ time. History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol. 1 (Bear’s Choice) would soon be known by its subtitle for easier reference, “Bear” being the nickname of their friend Owsley Stanley, who used to mix their shows in between concocting barrelsful of high-grade LSD. Recorded at the Fillmore East shortly after they completed Workingman’s Dead, it provides a nice counterpart to that album and American Beauty, with an acoustic side and an electric side, all covers leaning towards blues save one.
Pigpen had died by the time the album was released, so it stands as something of a tribute to him. He opens the set with “Katie Mae”, sung and played solo on acoustic, with some good-natured crowd banter to boot. Bob Weir sings “Dark Hollow”, and Jerry Garcia answers with “I’ve Been All Around This World”, both showing their roots well. Things pick up for a fun run through “Wake Up Little Susie”, which the crowd seems to both recognize and appreciate. The only tune known at the time of release from a Dead album is “Black Peter”, played here more slowly and sadly than the album version.
Side two gives the band more time to jam, Pigpen singing lead on both tunes. “Smokestack Lightning” is an 18-minute exploration of their early jamming roots, while “Hard To Handle” is now best known as that song the Black Crowes did. (One wonders whether they were more familiar with the Otis Redding original or this one.)
While there was never an official Vol. 2, the fourth release in the eventual Dick’s Picks series presented further selections from the same shows, heavy on the jam, spread across three discs. The eventual expansion of Bear’s Choice itself added only one song from the same shows, along with three songs from the Fillmore West the week before. (Other shows from the same general period would fill installments in other vault series, with others just as likely to follow in due time.)

The Grateful Dead History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol. 1 (Bear’s Choice) (1973)—
     Archival releases of same vintage:
     • Dick’s Picks Volume Four (1996)
     • Dick's Picks Volume Sixteen (2000)
     • Download Series, Volume 2: 1/18/70 (2005)
     • Download Series, Family Dog At The Great Highway 2/4/70 (2005)
     • Dave's Picks Volume 6: San Francisco 12/20/69 & St. Louis 2/2/70 (2013)
     • Dave's Picks Volume 10: Thelma, Los Angeles, CA 12/12/69 (2014)
     • Dave's Picks Volume 19: Honolulu Civic Auditorium, Honolulu, HI, 1/23/70 (2016)

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