May 182018
 
jerry garcia long black veil

Jerry Garcia was not exactly known for his talkative stage persona. Though the legendary singer/guitarist of the Grateful Dead was adept at providing quality sound bites during interviews, whenever he stood before a large stadium crowd he was more likely to tune his guitar than engage in the typical “Hello, Cleveland!” stage banter. That’s what makes his recently released cover of “Long Black Veil” so intriguing. On May 4, 1963 while performing the song at Top of the Tangent in Palo Alto with his then-wife Sara (Ruppenthal) Garcia, Jerry was practically Mr. Chatterbox on stage.

“We had a request, or at least I did, after this last set, to do a song called ‘Long Black Veil,’ which is a modern country song,” he told the crowd, during a lengthy introduction to the tune. “But it’s pretty anyway, even at that. It’s not even a folk song, or anything. It’s just a song. Somebody wrote it and it’s on records with electric guitars and everything. But anyway, it’s a good song.” The track was included on the new box set Before the Dead, which chronicles Garcia’s live recordings with various groups in Northern California from 1961 through 1964. Long before the days of YouTube, somebody was seemingly always following him around with a tape recorder.

In early 1963, “Long Black Veil” was hardly the standard it is today. Originally recorded by country singer Lefty Frizzell in 1959, it had only been released commercially by a handful of artists at this point. The most notable version was by folk revivalists the Kingston Trio in 1962. Many of the more famous renditions had not yet hit vinyl. Joan Baez’s live recording would not be released until November 1963 and Johnny Cash did not put out his cut until 1965.

Garcia’s take on the song is simple and straightforward. He plays it, strumming his acoustic guitar without a psychedelic solo anywhere in sight. His voice strains a bit as he attempts to hit the high notes. Listening to Garcia sing, it feels as if he does not quite know who he’s supposed to sound like. While the song is by no means an essential addition to the Garcia canon, listening this track, and in fact the whole collection, is a bit like reading the original scroll of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Though hardly a finished product, the music provides a fascinating window into an artist developing and honing his craft.

Click here to listen to more covers of “Long Black Veil.”

Apr 232018
 
laura veirs mountains of the moon

“Mountains of the Moon” is an obscure song, even by the standards of the Grateful Dead who had a habit of turning deep album cuts into concert staples. The group originally recorded it for their third studio album Aoxomoxoa (the name nobody can pronounce). Written by Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter and Phil Lesh, the lyrics resemble a lost medieval ballad: “Cold mountain water/The jade merchant’s daughter/Mountains of the moon/ Bow and bend to me.” One can imagine Tyrion Lannister dancing to it on Game of Thrones. Continue reading »

Jun 092016
 
grateful dead new orleans

From time to time at Cover Me, we like to dip into the world of live fan bootlegs. We did a few months ago with a bunch of rare and unreleased covers Tom Waits has performed over his career, and we just stumbled across another collection worth sharing: a two-disc compilation of Jerry Garcia covering his favorite New Orleans songs. Whether with the Grateful Dead, his own Jerry Garcia Band, or solo, over the years he took on classics by Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, James Booker, and many more, often extended them into ten minute or longer jams. Download it below.

Though New Orleans is a long way from San Francisco, Garcia’s affinity for the city’s music makes a certain amount of sense. New Orleans jazz and San Francisco psychedelia both valued spontaneity, improvisation, and letting the moment carry the music. And there’s been a certain amount of cross-pollination. In 1976 Garcia performed four shows with R&B piano icon James Booker (some of those collaborations are included here). Since the ’70s, New Orleans has had its own jam band community, spearheaded by bands like the Radiators and more recently Galactic. And in a fun historical footnote, New Orleans was the site of a famous 1970 Dead drug bust that later made it into the “Truckin'” lyrics: “Busted, down on Bourbon Street / Set up, like a bowlin’ pin / Knocked down, it gets to wearin’ thin / They just won’t let you be, no.”
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Mar 112016
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

americanbeauty

In 1970, Wally Heider’s San Francisco recording studio was the percolating epicenter of the psychedelic rock universe. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Neil Young, and Carlos Santana shared this transcendent studio space, which Phil Lesh classified as “jammer heaven.” This was where the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty was born.

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Jan 262016
 

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

LeadBellyNY

“In The Pines,” AKA “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” AKA “Black Girl,” is a traditional Appalachian folk song, nearly a century and a half old, that encompasses elements of searing heartbreak, perceived betrayal, death (by decapitation in many cases), and murder. Not to mention the fact the the song title is named after a location where “the sun don’t ever shine” and “we shiver when the cold wind blows.”

Not exactly “Kumbaya,” right? Which is fortunate, because if this song had been about the warm and fuzzies, it never would have lasted to become the haunting classic it remains today.

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Mar 132015
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

When you consider their longevity, the sheer number and variety of their live performances, and influences as diverse as bluegrass, country, soul, rock, psychedelia, blues, and jazz, it is likely that the Grateful Dead may have recorded and/or performed more covers than any other band that is best known for its original songs. (There’s probably a wedding band out there that has a bigger songbook, but that’s not really the point.) Grateful Dead fans have been trading and cataloging their favorite band’s performances since long before the idea of digital music and the Internet even existed, and now there are numerous databases available online — one of which shows 343 separate covers performed by the band (and solo projects and offshoots), including soundchecks and performances with guests.

Therefore, it is somewhat surprising that Cover Me has never turned its lovelight directly on the Grateful Dead. We have written numerous times about covers of Dead songs, but a quick review of the archives indicates that only three covers by the band have been featured—Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” and Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” and “Mama Tried.” So, that leaves us a mere 340 to choose from today. To make this project (inspired in part by Phil Lesh’s 75th birthday this Sunday and by the recent announcement of the band’s 50th anniversary shows in Chicago this summer) somewhat less insane, we will limit ourselves only to recordings or performances by the Grateful Dead, proper — no solo projects or anything from after the death of Jerry Garcia.
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