Don’t Let Go, by Jerry Garcia

by Stephen Rose on February 19, 2014

Don't Let Go (1975)Don’t Let Go is a live album by the Jerry Garcia Band, recorded at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco on May 21, 1976. The show took place  just weeks before Garcia’s main band, the Grateful Dead, ended their nearly two year hiatus from touring, embarking on an era many consider a peak period for the band in 1977.

Brimming with energy and enthusiasm, Don’t Let Go features Jerry Garcia’s dexterous and inventive lead guitar, John Kahn holding down  the bottom end on bass, Ron Tutt driving the rhythm on drums, a vibrant Keith Godchaux on piano, and his wife Donna Jean Godchaux providing harmony vocals.

Don’t Let Go was released on CD in 2001. The title track was a rhythm & blues hit for Roy Hamilton in 1958, and a top 100 single for Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen in 1975.  Garcia plays this piece as a down-tempo boogie, and stretches it out for some inspired improvisation.

Other highlights include covers of Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do;” Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting In Limbo;” J.J. Cale’s “After Midnight;” Hank Ballard’s “Tore Up Over You;” and “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” a 1964 Motown hit for the Temptations.

The 2-CD set also features  “Sugaree,” They Love Each Other,” and “Mission in the Rain,” staples in the repertoire of the Grateful Dead.

The show draws to a close with a soulful rendition of Charles Johnson’s gospel classic “My Sisters and Brothers;” then concludes with a joyous extended jam on Delaney and Bonnie’s “Lonesome and A Long Way From Home.”

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This phase of Jerry Garcia’s career is significant for the Travis Bean guitars he played at the time.  In 1975, while on sabbatical from the Grateful Dead, Garcia picked up a Travis Bean TB1000 with dual humbucker pickups, then  switched to a single-coil TB500 which he used until the fall of 1977.

Travis Bean guitars were known for their aluminum necks, which ran the length of the body.  The guitar’s pickups were fastened directly to the metal strip of aluminum, thus improving the guitar’s sustain.  The tone gave Garcia a nice bluesy overdrive which was missing from the more “acoustic” sounding Doug Irwin custom electric guitars he favored throughout the remainder of his career.

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Jerry Garcia, named for composer Jerome Kern, was a founding member of the Grateful Dead.  Formerly the Warlocks, the group got its start in November 1965 as the house band for Ken Kesey’s infamous acid tests, where participants would ingest LSD then trip to psychedelic light shows, and live music by the Grateful Dead.

owsley stanleyOwsley Stanley – dubbed “the LSD Millionaire” by the Los Angeles Times – provided the LSD for the acid tests, and purchased the instruments and amplifiers for the Grateful Dead.  He became their sound engineer, and recorded their shows from his mixing board to critique his sound system, while the band used his tapes to evaluate their performances.  These recordings have spawned a steady revenue stream for the Grateful Dead as they continue to release CDs of vintage concerts from their massive tape archive.

[In 1967, the Grateful Dead responded to the L.A. Times piece with the song “Alice D. Millionaire,” featuring keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on vocals.]

Owsley Stanley is credited with having devised the first public address system specifically designed for music.  He also created the Grateful Dead’s Wall Of Sound – a vast array of speakers first deployed at the Cow Palace in March 1974, and used by the group until their nearly two-year hiatus starting in October that year.

Stanley also teamed with graphic artist Bob Thomas to create the Grateful Dead’s skull and lightning bolt logo.  He stenciled the logo to the band’s equipment so it could be easily identified at festivals.

[Owsley Stanley was nicknamed “The Bear” for his hairy chest.  In 1973, the Grateful Dead released “Bear’s Choice,” featuring live tracks from a 1970 concert at the Fillmore East which Stanley recorded and produced. ]

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By the mid-80’s, Jerry Garcia’s lifestyle choices – and the burden of being the front man for the large organization which the Grateful Dead had become – was having a detrimental impact on his health and music.  Heavy smoking ruined his once gentle voice, and escalating drug abuse led to an intervention by other members of the band at his home in Marin County.

In January 1985, Garcia was arrested while parked in his BMW in Golden Gate Park for possession of heroin and cocaine.

In July 1986, Jerry Garcia was hospitalized after slipping into a diabetic coma.  He spent a week on life support, then reemerged with the Grateful Dead in late-December for a series of year-end concerts at the Oakland Arena.

In July 1987, the Grateful Dead released “In The Dark,” their most successful selling studio album to date, and a triumphant return to form for the band.  They followed the album’s release by launching a summer tour which they co-headlined with Bob Dylan.

In August 1992, Garcia’s diminished physical condition resulted in another collapse, forcing the Grateful Dead to cancel their fall tour.

In July 1995, Jerry Garcia checked himself into the Betty Ford Center for drug and alcohol abuse.  Two weeks later he entered Serenity Knolls, a rehab center in Marin County.

On August 9, 1995, eight days after his 53rd birthday, Garcia was found dead in his room at Serenity Knolls.  The cause of death was ruled a heart attack.

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The  Jerry Garcia Band’s last concert was at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco on April 23, 1995.

The Grateful Dead performed their final show at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 9, 1995.

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Four days after his death, the city of San Francisco held a public memorial for  Jerry Garcia at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park .  More than 25,000 admirers attended the event.

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In 1987, Ben & Jerry’s introduced Cherry Garcia, a cherry-flavored ice cream with cherries and fudge flakes.

In 1994, Jerry Garcia was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Grateful Dead.

In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Jerry Garcia 13th in their 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

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Other performers Jerry Garcia worked with include The New Riders of the Purple Sage, Old & In The Way, Bob Dylan, Paul Kantner, David Crosby, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Merle Saunders, Legion of Mary, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, Ornette Coleman, David Grisman, Howard Wales, Ken Nordine, and The Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band.

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Video

Hippie Temptation (CBS News, 1967)

Monterey International Pop Festival (Monterey, CA, 6/18/67)

Playboy After Dark (1/18/69)

Mama Tried (Woodstock, 8/16/69)

High Time (Woodstock, 8/16/69)

Turn On Your Love Light (w/Abbie Hoffman) (Woodstock, 8/16/69)

Hard To Handle (Night at the Family Dog, February 1970)

China Cat Sunflower (Night at the Family Dog, February 1970)

Hard To Handle (Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 7/4/70)

New Speedway Boogie (Calgary, Alberta, Canada, 7/4/70)

Calibration (KQED Studios, San Francicso, CA, 8/30/70)

Chateau d’Herouville (Herouville France, 6/21/71)

Tivolis Koncertsal (Copenhagen, Denmark, 4/17/72)

One More Saturday Night (Beat Club, Bremen, West Germany, 5/27/72)

Jack Straw (Veneta, OR, 8/27/72)

Wall of Sound Farewell Tour (Winterland, October 1974)

Morning Dew (Winterland, October 1974)

Orpheum Theatre, San Francisco, 7/12/76

Gizah Sound & Light Theater (Cairo, Egypt, 9/16/78)

Closing of Winterland (San Francisco, 12/31/78)

Dark Star (Closing of Winterland, San Francisco, 12/31/78)

Bird Song (Radio City Music Hall, NYC, October 1980)

The Tomorrow Show (NBC Studios, NYC, 5/7/81)

Althea (WDR, 1981)

David Letterman Show (4/13/82)

David Letterman Show (9/17/87)

Bill Graham Tribute (Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 11/3/91)

San Francisco Giants Opening Day (Candlestick Park, 4/12/93)

The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll (1995)

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