JamBase, a San Francisco based live music company, took the occasion of the fifty-year celebration of The Grateful Dead, and their Fare Thee Well concert tour, to invite a variety of younger musicians to cut a cover of their favorite Greatful Dead song. This resulted in a evocative series of fifty covers produced with Telefunken in fifty days in what JamBase calls the “Songs of their Own” series. All are available on YouTube, as are also a variety of Greatful Dead versions from plentiful concerts video-taped by fans. I’d suggest playing a Grateful Dead YouTube version and following it up with the Songs of Their Own cover. Then too, JamBase is selling the music from the Fare Thee Well Concerts for $49.95, and most of the covered songs are in the concert series. The Songs of Their Own series is also available through JamBase.
Here are three examples of Songs of Their Own covers, coupled with a GD version for comparison. The first is my personal favorite, John Scofield and John Medeski’s moving version of Stella Blue. Scofield, attentive to note, deeply nurturant of sound, master of silence and pace, paints the song as might Pablo Picasso a sketch, supported brilliantly by Medeski. Here is a version of Stella Blue from a 1977 Grateful Dead concert in Chicago.
The second cover is of the infrequently performed Attics of my Life, sung beautifully by Midnight North, with Grahame Lesh, Phil’s son, on acoustic guitar, Connor O’Sullivan on stand-up bass, and with Elliot Peck and Alex Jordan joining Grahame on vocals. The Dead selected this song to complete the third Fare Thee Well concert in Chicago on July 5. Here’s a fan-recorded video featuring a retrospective of band members shown on the giant screen while the band plays, Phil Lesh singing between Trey Anastasio and Bob Weir, with Weir playing the sole guitar. The song is sung as a thank you to former band members and to everyone who made the band “great,” a sentiment made explicit by Mickey Hart a few minutes later at the conclusion of the concert.
The third song, Ripple, performed by Playing for Change and Song around the World, has already gone viral. Here’s an earlier version with Jerry doing the singing at Radio City Music Hall in 1977. You’ll also want to see the story of Ripple told by Phil Lesh, Jerry Garcia, and others for the documentary on the American Beauty Album of 1970. Both Attics of My Life and Ripple are in the American Beauty album. Stella Blue is in the Steal Your Face album of 1976. All three of the songs are collaborations by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter. They are the songwriters.
Will Callender, Jr. ©
June 20, 2015
Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good