Jerry Garcia Band
Jerry Garcia Collection, Vol. 2: Let It Rock
Keystone Berkeley - Berkeley, CA
[November 17-18, 1975]
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2010, Volume 17, #5
Written by John Metzger
Mon May 24, 2010, 06:30 AM CDT
Although there is no mention of it on the album’s cover, Let It Rock is, for those fans who are keeping track, the second volume of the Jerry Garcia Collection, a series of multi-track recordings that was designed to emphasize particular moments in the Grateful Dead guitarist’s solo career. Issued almost five years earlier, the opening installment in the series compiled material from Garcia’s run with Legion of Mary between December 1974 and July 1975. The latest chapter culls selections from concerts held on consecutive nights just a few months later in November 1975. Some tracks are repeated between these sets, though their interpretations are so remarkably different that they effectively highlight how quickly Garcia was able to advance his musical agenda.
Without a doubt, Garcia loved his keyboard players, and although they all were tremendously talented individuals, none, perhaps, held quite as much potential as Nicky Hopkins. A veteran of the British music scene — he worked with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Kinks — Hopkins had resettled in the San Francisco area in 1969. There, he extended his enviable resume by working with Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Unfortunately, his health frequently impeded his ability to perform, which cut his stint with the Jerry Garcia Band frustratingly short. If this issue hadn’t begun to weigh heavily upon the project, there is no telling what it could have accomplished. A single romp through Let It Rock reveals that the unspoken chemistry among the musicians — which also include bass player John Kahn and drummer Ron Tutt — was present from the beginning.
Kahn, of course, already had an established, longstanding relationship with Garcia, while Tutt not only was a veteran of Legion of Mary, but he also had performed in Elvis Presley’s latter-day outfit. The absence of saxophonist Martin Fierro left a lot more room for Garcia to explore, but the biggest difference between Let It Rock and its predecessor stems from the musicians who occupied the keyboardist’s seat in the group’s line-up. One personnel change — in this case, Merl Saunders was swapped for Hopkins — marked an enormous shift in the ensemble’s sound. A number of country, folk, and R&B songs remained central to the newly formed Jerry Garcia Band’s repertoire, and wafts of reggae blow gently across the terrain. Nevertheless, the ensemble’s output largely served as a means for exploring the many possibilities of a blues-based format.
Throughout Let It Rock, each song is pushed, pulled, and stretched in all sorts of ways. The trio of Hopkins-penned tunes — Pig’s Boogie,Lady Sleeps, and Edward, The Mad Shirt Grinder — merely extends the sense that Garcia’s visits to Keystone Berkeley primarily provided an excuse for the musicians to get together and improvise on a theme. Yet, like many of his concerts, none of the tunes that Garcia tackled during these shows was ever burdened with mindlessly rambling sojourns. Instead, every note served a purpose, and each musician — Garcia and Hopkins in particular — fed ideas into the fray in order to see what his collaborators could do with them.
The beauty of Let It Rock, much like the Legion of Mary set, is that it contains a naturalistic ebb and flow. A laid-back rendition of the Chuck Berry-penned title track is stripped to its blues-y core. At first, it might seem sleepy, but this is deceptive. Its punch springs back full-force via the electric charge of Garcia’s guitar. To this, the raw, driving groove of Tore Up over You provides a perfect counter-assault, setting up a lightly trotting romp through Friend of the Devil as well as the lilting funk of They Love Each Other. Elsewhere, Ain’t No Use is filled with anger, anguish, and dread, even as country tones skip lightly across its surface, while the Rolling Stones’ Let’s Spend the Night Together is given an expansive reading that is as casual as it is inspired.
There are moments, of course, when Let It Rock goes awry. Sometimes, the relaxed atmosphere created by the Jerry Garcia Band threatened to envelop the music, sucking it into a somnambulant state. Garcia, however, was too smart to let this happen. More often than not, he grabbed the reigns, pushed the rhythm section, and challenged Hopkins to keep pace with him. It always worked, too. Let It Rock is densely packed with superb examples of the utmost musicianship, and it raises the possibilities of the places that this rendition of the Jerry Garcia Band could have gone, if only Hopkins hadn’t been facing so many outside pressures.
Of Further Interest...
Jerry Garcia Collection, Volume 2: Let It Rock is
available from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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