Jerry Garcia / David Grisman

Jerry Garcia/David Grisman

Grateful Dawg — The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Acoustic Disc

It can certainly be argued that Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead did as much to introduce bluegrass to the masses as anyone in the last 30 years. The crowd at a recent Sam Bush concert looked (and acted) like one you would see at a Dead show — tapers abounded, hacky sacks got kicked. Garcia’s “Friend of the Devil” has become a bluegrass jam standard, and some of The Dead’s finer moments came from their treatment of bluegrass classics.

Garcia wanted as a youth to become a Bluegrass Boy — that is, a member of Bill Monroe’s band. Lacking the nerve to ever introduce himself to Big Mon, he instead found like-minded individuals and began to jam. The most fruitful meeting might have been his encounter with mandolinist David Grisman in 1964. The two formed a life-long friendship and working relationship, forming the legendary “Old and In the Way” band — Garcia on banjo, Grisman on mandolin, Peter Rowan (a former Bluegrass Boy) on guitar, Vassar Clements on fiddle, and Jerry Kahn on bass. As the years went on, Garcia devoted his energies to The Dead, and Grisman developed his own style of music, known as “Dawg” music, a blend of bluegrass, jazz, and rock that revolutionized acoustic music.

Garcia and Grisman continued performing and jamming together the rest of Garcia’s life, releasing five albums together. Over the years, they brought out the best in each — Garcia seemed more focused when playing with Grisman, less prone to wander as was his wont with The Dead. In the early ’90s, David Grisman’s daughter Gillian began putting together a collection of film documenting her father and Garcia performing over the years. The result is the film Grateful Dawg. While I haven’t as yet been able to see the film, if the soundtrack is any clue, it should be great. Featuring mainly unreleased tunes such as tracks recorded at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre (“Grateful Dawg,” “Sweet Sunny South,” and “Sitting Here in Limbo”), to the 16-minute tour de force “Arabia,” Grisman and Garcia play their combined 14 strings as if with one mind. While the music is intricate and demanding and showcases Grisman’s agility and Garcia’s warmth, it never lapsed into simply jamming for ego’s sake — the underlying melody and feeling of the song remained of paramount importance. While it is certainly a shame that Jerry blew out his candle long before his time, we are fortunate that so much of what he created has been captured, and thanks to films such as Grateful Dawg, the youth of today can be indoctrinated into the “high lonesome” sound.

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