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Howard Wales and Jerry Garcia – Side Trips: Volume One (Live)

December 10, 2017

I am not a Grateful Dead fan, but I am not a hater either. I fully respect their legacy. I am a Jerry Garcia fan. He can play rock, country, bluegrass, folk, pop, soul, blues, and on this LP: jazz rock fusion. Over the years I have collected a lot of his solo work. I am especially fond of the jazzier side of Garcia.

Side Trips: Volume One (Live) is some deep soul jazz in a jazz rock setting: drums (Bill Vett), bass (John Kahn), keyboards: B3 organ and Fender Rhodes piano (Howard Wales) and of course, electric guitar (Jerry Garcia). In 1970 Howard Wales invited Garcia to regularly sit in with him for a Monday night jam at a club in San Francisco (the Matrix). Fortunately, some of these jams were recorded (in incredibly high quality as a bonus). This album was originally released on CD in 1998 and was recently re-released as a Black Friday Record Store Day release on vinyl.

All the songs are written by Wales. The first cut, “Free Flight,” is an 18 minute jam that allows all the players to shine, but the focus is on Wales and Garcia. If you didn’t know it you might identify the guitar player as John Scofield. Garcia’s tone and approach to his solos is similar to Sco. I wondered if Sco was influenced by Garcia. I googled the topic and Sco acknowledges Garcia’s greatness, but admits to not really being aware of the Dead in any meaningful way until well into his career – I believe him. I think it is fair to say that all Wales, Garcia and Scofield) are all under the influence of electric Miles Davis. It is amazing to me that a guy like Garcia who was not schooled in jazz could be so comfortable playing in the jazz context. But I should not be surprised, the Dead were improvisers and jazz at its core is improvisation.

“Space Funk” is well named. It is delightfully ponderous navel gazing funk. The song starts out with a long Garcia solo. Wales starts a conversation with Garcia and they volley licks for several minutes until the song fades out leaving you wanting more.

“All For Life” is the longest jam on the album clocking in at nearly 25 minutes. It has a Traffic (the band) mixed with “Bitches Brew” vibe. Garcia and Wales are in a deep dialogue. It is the most polite cutting contest you could ever imagine.

“Venutian Blues” ends the set with a bluesy groove. It has that late night feel, a nice slow jam.

This album is exactly why I love Record Store Day: an obscurity I would never have discovered on my own. This is also why I love Jerry Garcia: adventurous and accessible.

Per jerrygarcia.com:

From 1970 to 1972, Jerry Garcia and keyboardist Howard Wales played together around the bay area and on the east coast. It was usually instrumental—a jazz session with a lot of other influences thrown in. Sometimes they played as a trio, including Bill Vitt on drums, and other times a bassist, such as Richard Favis or John Kahn, would sit in on the session. This collaboration would mark the beginning of Jerry’s twenty-five-year partnership with Kahn. For Jerry, the appeal of this outfit was the ability to play in a more relaxed context than the Dead. Wales was a serious musician, and Jerry had to work hard to keep up with him, which he would say did more for his ear than anyone else he played with.

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2 Comments
  1. I’m with you on solo Garcia. Will check this out. Thanks.

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