“Gentle On My Mind” . . . . . . : Glen Campbell (1936 – 2017)

As I think about Glen Campbell on the sad occasion of his death, I realize that he was a presence in my musical consciousness for almost my whole life. I remember a moment when I was around ten years old. It was summer and I was reading a comic book (I think it was Spiderman, I was a Marvel kid) in my bedroom when the radio played a song that drew my attention away from the adventures of Peter Parker. It was something about Wichita but the telegraph-like strings and piano part at the end of the verse had a eerie quality that somehow connected to me. On some level it made me realize that music could tap into emotions my ten year brain wasn’t aware of but were there all the same.

Campbell was there on the television as I was growing up. He would frequently appear on the t.v. variety shows of the era and he had numerous hits in the late sixties and early seventies. In retrospect, he was a pioneer in country/pop crossover music. I was unaware of it at the time but I already heard Glen Campbell the guitar player on any number of pop hits. Before being a star in his own right, Campbell was a top flight L.A. studio musician. As part of the “Wrecking Crew”, he played on records from The Monkees to Frank Sinatra. He was even a touring member of the Beach Boys, filling in for Brian Wilson, playing bass guitar and singing falsetto harmonies.

The moment when it really hit me what a great guitarist Glen Campbell was occurred sometime in the late seventies. I was home from college and my parents were watching The Carol Burnett Show with Glen Campbell as the guest when they go into a duet of George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm”. By this time I had already played guitar for a while and was familiar with the song as a jazz standard so my ear’s perked up. Damn, that guy could play guitar. It then went into some corny seventies t.v. sthick but you could hear Glen play some incredible guitar throughout.

Glen Campbell & Carol Burnett


Below are three video clips of Glen Campbell performing some of his best songs. With songwriter Jimmy Webb, Campbell found someone who would provide the vehicle for the both of them to achieve some of the best pop songs of their day. “Wichita Lineman”, that song I heard when I was ten, still gives me goosebumps when I hear that telegraph strings/piano part. The other Jimmy Webb song here, “Galveston” is another song that captures the narrator’s loneliness in a way that only music can. Maybe that’s one of the greatest things about music (and great art in general), they way it can give the gift of empathy (wow, how did I get here). By the way, the guitar solos in all three clips are amazing.

Glen Campbell – “Wichita Lineman” (Austin City Limits 1985)

Glen Campbell  – Galveston 

Glen Campbell – “Gentle On My Mind”


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Dawg Music : The Bluegrass Jazz of Dave Grisman and Friends

From the bluegrass/Dead nexus of the previous post, I noe move on to a sub genre of music as singular as it’s name, Dawg Music. The term is what mandolin player Dave Grisman called the music on his 1977 album The David Grisman Quintet. That record is considered to be one of the landmark recording of what is refered to as New Acoustic Music. The term New Acoustic Music is itself a somewhat nebulous but lets go with the Wikipedia definition of a “music genre that blends influences from folk, bluegrass, jazz and world music and uses only acoustic instruments” (I would personally amend it to read “primarily uses acoustic instruments”).

David Grisman did not grow up in the bluegrass tradition. He had a religious Jewish upbringing in New Jerseyand became part of the generation of musicians who approached bluegrass as fans/students of folk music. Another such musician was Jerry Garcia, someone whose path Grisman will cross later on. Maybe it was because they came to music as outsiders that they were more willing to “color outside the lines” of traditional bluegrass. Grisman was one of a circle of pickers in the ’70s who had reached such a level of virtuosity in bluegrass that they started looking for new challenges. Improvisation and musical virtuosity are common to both jazz and bluegrass so they saw jazz as a natural next step.

The music on that record added bluegrass to a modern take of the gypsy jazz of guitarist Django Reinhardt while also incorporating a more modern modal jazz vocabulary. The Django Reinhardt connection was made manifest when jazz violinist Stephane Grapelli (a playing partner of Django) performed as a special guest, both live and on record. To me, the connection between the two makes sense in that gypsy jazz is a sub genre of jazz whose instrumental tradition comes from string based bands and not horns.

The clips below feature songs from that first record though performed at later dates. I’m not sure where or when the first clip is from but it features a killer lineup of David Grisman on mandolin, Tony Rice on guitar, Mark O’Connor on violin & the late great Rob Wasserman on bass. Everyone is one fire here. The playing has this effortless flow while playing intricate lines and let me tell you, the tempo here is smokin fast.

David Grisman Quartet – E.M.D.


The next clip is from the t.v. show Austin City Limits from around 1980. through the years, the David Grisman Quintet went through a fair share of lineup changes. Here Mark O’Conner, who played violin in the previous clip has replaced Tony Rice on guitar while original DGQ member Darol Anger  has returned on violin.

David Grisman Quintet – Dawg’s Rag

The David Grisman Quintet went on to inspire other records, several of them made by the originals members of DGQ and I want to mention two of them in particular. The first one is by guitarist Tony Rice who made the record Acoustics soon after leaving the DGQ to pursue his own music. On Acoustics, he continues to make music that like DGQ, merged different genres like jazz, bluegrass and folk. The two videos below feature tracks from that album.

The Tony Rice Unit – Gasology

The Tony Rice Unit – Swing ’51

Finally, original DGQ violinist Darol Anger put out his version of Dawg Music with his 1981 album Fiddlistics. The record opens up with this fiery performance of a Darol Anger tune that features fellow original DGQ members Tony Rice on guitar, Mike Marshall on mandolin and bassist Todd Phillips on bass. It’s my personal favorite (for what it’s worth).

Darol Anger – Key Signator

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Posted in Grateful Dead, Jam Band, Jazz, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“He took my twenty dollar bill” . . : Bluegrass and The Grateful Dead

My recent Grateful Dead listening phase has gone off road into bluegrass. My first exposure to bluegrass was in the early Seventies by performers who themselves were influenced by bluegrass. Besides the Dead, I remember hearing David Bromberg doing fiddle tunes like Arkansas Traveler and listening to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 record “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”, a record that featured the band collaborating with a who’s who of country and bluegrass musicians such as Earl Scruggs, Vassar Clements and Doc Watson. The deep dive came when my best friend Allen decided he wanted to learn Earl Scruggs style 5 string banjo. It was with Allen that I saw bluegrass legend Bill Monroe play in a small auditorium in Greenwich Village and with who I had what is one of my favorite concert memories: a triple bill of David Bromberg, the Earl Scruggs Revue and Doc Watson playing a summer concert in Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park, NYC.

David Bromberg – Arkansas Traveler

The Earl Scruggs Revue – Earl’s Breakdown

Guitar Artistry of Doc Watson


With a lot of my current listening being the Dead or bluegrass, it was sort of inevitable that I would come upon the overlap of bluegrass versions of Dead songs. The ones that I were particularly drawn to were interpretations that took a Dead song not normally considered to be “country” and rearranged it as a song that could fit comfortably within the bluegrass tradition. Many of the songs from the early seventies (what I refer to The American Beauty Trilogy” period, see my earlier post: https://roymusicusa.com/2015/07/05/jack-straw-from-wichita-the-missing-third-album-of-the-grateful-deads-american-beauty-trilogy/) are prime candidates for this treatment.The songs from this period have deep ties to the folk music tradition that Garcia was an avid student of. One of the best is the version below of “Loser” performed by the Travelin McCourys. These guys are the real deal, with mandolin player Ronnie McCoury and banjo player Rob McCoury being sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury. They’re true keepers of the bluegrass flame but are not afraid of going outside of the bluegrass tradition for new source material. This version of Loser does both their father and Jerry proud.

The Travelin’ McCourys perform Grateful Dead tune “Loser” at DelFest 2015


I’m not that familiar with the band Grass Is Dead and at first I thought the concept (bluegrass versions of only Dead songs) was a little cheesy. I feel that some of their versions are not as successful as others but when they work, they work extremely well. “Comes A Time has always been one of my favorite Garcia ballads and what I love about this version is that it really re-imagines the song as a bluegrass tune. Many of the bluegrass covers of Dead tunes I’ve heard didn’t really sound like bluegrass. They sounded more like the original version of the song, only played with bluegrass instruments like banjo and mandolin. Unlike “Comes A Time”, I never was that big on “Ship Of Fools” but this version has given me a new appreciation of it’s song craft. That these songs can be recast into a different genre that their original version and still hold their own is a testament to the timeless quality of the songwriting of Garcia/Hunter.

The Grass Is Dead – Comes a Time

The Grass Is Dead – Ship of Fools

Remember what I said about my preference for the bluegrass versions of non-country Dead tunes. Well, forget that. Yes, featuring a bluegrass cover of “Friend Of The Devil” is a bit obvious but you got to hear these guys play. Your face might fall off. As the video clips of Dave Bromberg, Doc Watson and Earl Scuggs demonstrated, bluegrass is no stranger to technical virtuosity but as we say in guitar geek speak, these guys shred. Rob Ickes (on dobro) and guitarist/vocalist Trey Hensley are Nashville pros with long resumes and here, along with guest Chris Luquettet on guitar, they tear the roof off of the song. You’ve been warned.

Friend of the Devil – Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley (with special guest Chris Luquette) at Bluegrass From the Forest, Shelton, WA. – 2016


In memory of Allen Asaf.

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“Comes A Time” . . . : Dead & Company at Citi Field, NYC June 24, 2017

I saw Dead & Company last weekend at Citi Field in NYC and I have to say that they were great. I haven’t been to many post Dead related band shows. I listened to many of the shows of these bands and they just failed to connect with me. I’m not sure why but I’m thinking that all to often the guitarist faced with the task of “being” Garcia was either tying to be “too Jerry” or “not enough Jerry”. It’s to John Mayer’s credit that he really nails the right balance between the two poles. It was especially interesting to hear his Stevie Ray Vaughan roots poke out in the context of a Dead tune. Check out his playing on ‘Viola Lee Blues’ from the  show.

Dead & Company – ‘Viola Lee Blues’ – Citi Field, New York City – 6/24/17

My personal favorite moment came when bassist Oteil Burbridge stepped up to the mic to sing one of my favorite Jerry songs, “Comes A Time”.  Again, John Mayer’s playing hits that sweet spot between Being Garcia and Not Being Garcia .

Dead & Company – ‘Comes A Time’ – Citi Field, New York City – 6/24/17

In the words of another Dead tune, “Thank you for a real good time”.

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Posted in Classic Rock, Grateful Dead, Jam Band, Music Appreciation and Analysis

The Final Frontier . . . . : The Grateful Dead’s Dark Star

“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”

My musical roots are in what is now referred to as jamband and at the top of that pyramid were the Grateful Dead. There were however extended periods of time when I didn’t listen to them at all. That certainly has not been the case of late. I recently saw the Grateful Dead documentary “Long Strange Trip”. If you’re a deadhead, the movie isn’t going to offer any major revelations but the movie tells the story of the band and particularly Garcia in a way that’s engaging and ultimately heartbreaking. Between the movie and my going to see Dead & Company later this month, I have been listening to the Dead more recently that I have in a long time. The song that I have been listening to the most is the one that was most identified with early Grateful Dead, “Dark Star”.

In the early seventies, one usually became a deadhead almost as a process of mentor ship. My mentor was my older brother. I think I was eleven when one day he brought home a copy of Live Dead. As I looked over the list of songs, the title “Dark Star” jumped out at me. In my previous post about Pink Floyd and Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, I talked about how I was an adolescent science fiction twerp. A song with the title “Dark Star” was like catnip and demanded to be checked out. It was there and then that my young mind was blown. The music was mysterious and other worldly but beautifully melodic. The way the instruments weaved in and around each other didn’t sound like any other music I heard. For me, it changed how I heard music forever.

One of the more amusing parts of “Long Strange Trip” was the interview with Senator Al Franken discussing his favorite performance of his favorite Dead tune, “Althea” (May 16, 1980 at Nassau Coliseum, Long Island,  N.Y.). Deadheads love to analyze setlists and debate their favorite live versions of songs. This particularity among deadheads can be even more intense when discussing such an iconic song like “Dark Star”. Given this intensity, it did not come as much of a surprise to discover the amount of academic scholarship written about the band. I refer to it as Grateful Dead Studies. In hindsight, between listening to the Dead and playing bass in a Grateful Dead cover band, that was my unofficial major in college.

The links below point to a several articles and papers discussing “Dark Star”. The first link is to an article in the excellent web site Grateful Dead Guide. This is a comprehensive discussion of the song and it’s history. Everything you wanted to know about Dark Star but were afraid to ask.


For those deadheads who actually love reading musical analysis (guilty as charged officer), the link below is to an article that talks about the harmonic aspects of Dark Star. It features mini score transcriptions of several key moments from the Dead’s performance of February 27, 1969, the version on Live Dead that changed my life. The scores have time stamps so you can cue up the performance   and follow the transcriptions. Be prepared for some real technical material. This is some serious musicological geek stuff here.


Grateful Dead – Dark Star (Live/Dead) 1969

Below is a video from a masterclass given by the jazz pianist Dave Franks about Dark Star. It opens with a solo jazz piano performance and begins the discussion at around 7:00.

Grateful Dead master class with Dave Frank: Exploring “Dark Star”

Finally there is Grayfolded, a two CD record by experimental composer John Oswald. Oswald, using a process he calls plunderphonics, used over a hundred different performances of Dark Star to create an audio collage in which 25 years of performances are assembled, layered anf “folded” to produce two large, recomposed versions, each about one hour long of the Dead classic. Well before internet mash-ups became a thing, it’s interesting to note how well it functions as straight-up Dead music.

“Grayfolded” – Grateful Dead & John Oswald (Vinyl Side 1 Audio with Time Map)

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“It’s Not My Cross To Bear” . . : Gregg Allman (1947 – 2017)

I’ve written in the past about the impact that the Allman Brothers have had on me as a musician so I’m just going to let the music that Gregg Allman made speak for itself.

The Allman Brothers Band – Whipping Post – 9/23/1970 – Fillmore East


Allman Brothers Band Midnight Rider – Acoustic Version  – Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, Madison Square Garden, NYC, 4/13/2013

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Space Is The Place Part 1 – Pink Floyd Meets Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”

“We are not disappointed that you do drugs as much as we are of you for not sharing”.
– Me, sometime during the Seventies. . .I think . . it’s a bit hazy.

As a young teen age boy I was into science fiction which, in hindsight may be one of the reasons I was always attracted to music with an other worldly, mysterious vibe. When I was thirteen, I used some of my bar mitzvah money to buy a bunch of records that would have a big impact on my musical development. Some of them have been discussed in previous posts (Live Evil by Miles Davis) and others will get their deserved attention in due time (Third by Soft Machine comes to mind). Reviews of earlier Pink Floyd records in Rolling Stone magazine piqued my interest so one of the records that I bought was Pink Floyd’s “Meddle”. I must admit that I found the record a bit uneven but I was immediately into the first song of the record, “One Of These Days”, and the composition that took up the entire second side of the record, “Echoes”.

“Echoes” is Pink Floyd pushing the limits of sonic experimentation in the studio. The ping sounds at the beginning of the song were made by amplifying a piano through a rotating Leslie speaker (giving it that “wobbly” effect) and an early tape based echo device. A wind-like sound was created by vibrating the strings of a bass guitar with a steel slide and feeding the signal through the tape echo. The high pitched electronic “screams” heard in the middle of the song were accidentally discovered when the guitar was plugged into a wah wah pedal incorrectly. These sonic experiments were subsequently assembled into a coherent tone poem that holds up amazing well over time.

This brings us to the video below. There are rumors that Pink Floyd was originally offered to do the soundtrack for 2001: A Space Odyssey (not true, Kubrick had actually commissioned a score for 2001 from Hollywood composer Alex North but during post production, decided to use the classical pieces he had used as “guide pieces” for the soundtrack). The Echoes/2001 “connection” isn’t even the only piece of Pink Floyd involved synchronicity that has seeped into popular culture. In the mid nineties, I heard about the mashup of “Dark Side Of The Moon” with “The Wizard Of Oz” (check out “Dark Side Of The Rainbow” here). Nevertheless, the video, which synchronizes Echoes with the final sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ works amazing well. The music and imagery complement each other in surprising ways. The video also serves as an interesting example of how the score really impacts the whole movie.

Pink Floyd – Echoes & 2001: A Space Odyssey

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