The Grateful Dead, over their thirty-year career, has spanned thousands of shows, blended swathes of musical styles, and changed forever the culture of jam band music. Blessing upon several of these shows were guests. These were always a treat to see at a show. A new voice, a new sound, a new take on the music that we are all so familiar with. Guests ranged from the infamous Dylan and the Dead shows to David Crosby, and world sounds such as Hamza Al-Din. Here, I will give you my personal five favorite shows that have guests giving a new sound, flavor, and spice to the musical delicacy of the Grateful Dead.
5. Rocking the Cradle, 9/15/1978, the Giza Sound and Light Theater, ft. Hamza Al-Din.
Nothing is more primal than the sound of drumming and chants. Reaching back thousands of years, the man beat upon a drum and swayed to its rhythm in ceremonies and religious occasions. The two nights at the Giza Sound and Light Theater (a nickname given to the small setup that was placed in front of the Sphinx near the pyramids) produced once more this reverberation across the land of ancient civilization and culture. Hamza Al-Din, one of the first ‘world’ music champions to leave an impression on the west after the Newport Folk Festival in 1964, joined the boys on stage for the simple, yet wonderfully blended sound, of ‘Ollin Arageed.’ Droves of Egyptian singers and drummers joined on the stage, as the band let them take front and center, and played silently in the background. A truly one and done song, this is an intriguing listen and shows the cultural landscape and derivatives that the Dead drew influence from, and was fond of accepting.
4. Giant’s Stadium, NY, 7/12/1987 ft. Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is one of the largest inspirations for folklore artists everywhere. His approach to writing, his convoluted metaphors, and folk tales spun from the webs of his mind provide a basis and starting point for any wishful folk singer. Not to mention, the Dead had been covering Dylan songs for years and years. So when the Dead and Dylan came together in 1987 for a string of shows, some featuring Tom Petty, it was a match made in heaven. This show, in particular, stands out. This three set steamer from the summer of 87’ features two entire sets of the Dead’s repertoire, then letting Dylan take over for the third act. He plays favorites such as ‘Stuck Inside of the Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again,’ ‘All Along the Watchtower,’ and ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door.’ This is truly a treat for any Dylan fan, and better yet, Jerry Garcia breaks out the steel pedal slide guitar for some of his songs, adding a country twang to bits and pieces of Dylan’s songs.
3. Wake Up to Find Out, Nassau Coliseum, NY, 3/29/1990 ft. Branford Marsalis.
Listening to the Dead when I first really dug into their library, I yearned so much for a sax to adorn many of the songs. A simple flourish of a few notes here and there to embellish the sound of the Dead would be a godsend, and lo and behold, upon a late night in my living room enjoying a doobie, this fine show found its way to my fingers. Branford Marsalis, a well respected and renowned saxophonist in the Jazz scene. Joined the Grateful Dead for several performances, starting with this one, and stretching into 1994 with a few more sit-ins. He was only to play in the first set as a sit-in for ‘Bird Song.’ Upon the end of the set, the band invited him back to continue playing with them, being so impressed. This show features an incredible jazz-laden second set unlike any other, with a nearly twenty minute ‘Dark Star,’ a playful and springy ‘Eyes of the World,’ and easily the highlight of the show ‘Turn On Your Lovelight.’ Branford steals ‘Lovelight,’ taking it into the stratosphere with his quick, rapid-fire bursts of jazz saxophone, creating a new sound that is unlike any other ‘Lovelight’ ever heard. For those wishing a more jazzy show, this is truly the centerpiece of what that blend of jam and jazz music would be.
2. The Fillmore East, NY 2/11/1970. Ft. Duane and Gregg Allman, Mick Fleetwood, Butch Trucks, Danny Kirwin, Peter Green, and Berry Oakley.
Hows that for a lineup? You got the Grateful Dead, you got the Allman Brothers, and you even got a little bit of Fleetwood Mac. You got four drummers, you got an organ player, two bassists, and five guitarists. Does it get any more chaotic than that? Not really. Regardless, this one features a thirty minute ‘Lovelight,’ that was jammed into from a ‘Dark Star > Spanish Jam’ with Pigpen hounding over it all and giving his raps here and there with Gregg occasionally giving a little bit of love to it as well. The sound was loud, rambunctious, and quick. It’s really a super jam, that came together organically. Phil stated that he was surprised when all of a sudden, he heard Duane Allman’s iconic slide guitar come in, and it was only then he realized that they were sitting in. This super jam is unlike anything else you’ll hear in the Dead's repertoire. It’s a match made in heaven for those big into the jam scene.
1. Pure Jerry: Hampton Coliseum, VA, 11/9/1991 ft. Bruce Hornsby.
Though not a Grateful Dead show, Jerry Garcia band still provides the rhythms and tones that we are all welcome and open too, with a sprinkle of the gospel to laden it all. To top it off, Bruce Hornsby, already playing several shows with the Dead in 1990, sits in for a wonderful set. Bruce, with his widely varied styles, faces off with Melvin as both players embellish and decorate this show with wide tones and sounds. The show kicks off with a rollicking ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You),’ and doesn’t stop with its energy. A ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,’ a Band favorite, is also in play here, and the ever popular ‘My Sister’s and Brother's,’ tops off an incredible and gospel laden first set. The second is an incredible show of slow, calculated notes and music. The ‘Shining Star’ in this set is absolutely beautiful, and in my opinion, showcases one of Jerry Garcia’s best solos he ever played with Jerry Garcia Band. It is truly moving, each note delivering sensations of magic and harmony unlike any other. He makes the guitar sing, splendidly delivering upon each note with meaning and calculation. I could go on forever talking about this solo, but it is something you would have to listen for yourself. The ‘I Shall Be Released’ is also a highlight here, with Bruce giving it a go and working his magic on the keys. The show ends with an incredible encore, a blessing for any head to hear, the beautiful made popular by Louis Armstrong, ‘What a Wonderful World.’ Hearing Melvin grace this song, and the backup singers deepening the sounds, it is an encore unlike any other. Jerry gives a wonderful solo, Bruce lays down a little jazz, and Melvin backs it up the whole time with his organ. A true rarity that wraps what already was an incredible, beautiful show. A must listen for any head wishing to delve into the catalogs of Jerry Garcia Band.
Set one: https://youtu.be/ZJ_gqZXmkOQ
Set two: https://youtu.be/QuCQLqgTXt8
Honorable Mention: The Fillmore West, 6/7/1969 ft. Janis Joplin
Janis Joplin and Pigpen had a little fling for a while, and in a rare show, Janis came in and sat in on a Pigpen favorite, ‘Lovelight.’ Love is truly in the air as she references Pigpen several times as ‘daddy,’ as well as detailing other little tales of seduction in her raps. She also gives another performance on 7/16/1970, again performing ‘Lovelight.’ Both these versions are nearly twenty minutes long, so go ahead and get comfortable, and listen to the lovely banter between these two as they pound away at what they do best; the blues.