Tuesday, April 9, 2019
Jerry Garcia 2: Live At Keystone
One of his favorite players was Merl Saunders, a Bay Area keyboard player, and when his band (plus Jerry) played a couple nights at Berkeley’s Keystone nightclub, tapes rolled, and a double live album was duly released by Fantasy Records, to which Saunders was signed. Outside of one funky Saunders original (which has gone under numerous titles over the years but usually called “Keepers”) and a freeform group jam, Live At Keystone consists of mildly jazzy extended covers, from “The Harder They Come” to an 18-minute exploration on “My Funny Valentine”. Jerry’s fascination with Bob Dylan shows in versions of “Positively 4th Street” and “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”, both slowed down to a crawl. One of the longest and slowest tracks is “Like A Road Leading Home”, written by Don Nix and Dan Penn, and first recorded by Albert King. It’s also absolutely gorgeous. “That’s All Right Mama” thankfully picks up the pace, and we’ll go on a limb to suggest that some of Saunders’ organ runs throughout the album will have one remembering Pigpen in his prime; the clavinet, not so much.
Due to Jerry’s distinctive voice and fretwork, the album fits with the larger Dead picture, and Fantasy Records has taken full advantage of that. Fifteen years later, once the Dead had become bigger than ever, the label cashed in by issuing Live At Keystone on two separate CDs, each sporting a previously unreleased performance from the original shows. That was joined by Keystone Encores, which offered another hour of music, including the Motown classics “I Second That Emotion” and “How Sweet It Is”. (It was also released as two separate LPs, each with one of the “new” performances added to the main Keystone CDs. Lost yet?) Finally, 2012’s Keystone Companions packed every note from the shows onto four CDs, in order of performance; roughly an hour’s worth of music had not been released several times already, or even once. Also, “Space” from the original LP, while not listed as part of the box, is revealed to be an excerpt from one of the performances of “Merl’s Tune”. (For further research, the sixth installment in the ongoing Garcia Live series presents a three-hour show from a few days before the Keystone run, including further covers like “After Midnight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, and a trumpet player during the second set, whose name has been lost to the mists of time. Also, Saunders’ own studio albums often included Jerry somewhere; the Well-Matched best-of presents a sampler of these, as well as music from the Keystone shows.)