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Winter77

the album cover

Winterland June 1977: The Complete Recordings is an album by the Grateful Dead. It was played at Winterland in June 1977. over 1,000 people went to the concert.

19770608 1791

6-8-77

About The AlbumEdit

All of the Deads In One ...

In April, 2007, I sat with Bob Weir in his home studio--perched in the Marin County hills, across the Golden Gate bridge from San Francisco--and talked with the singer-guitarist for more than two hours about ancient history: the brief miracle that was Haight-Ashbury in 1965 and '66, before the Summer of Love, and his earliest lessons in the art of performance with the Grateful Dead.

The setting for our conversation was a kick. It was also appropriate. In that space, about the size of a two-car garage, the Dead spent the late winter and spring of 1975 recording Blues for Allah, one of my favorite Dead albums and a career-high example of their natural concert voltage under studio conditions. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, Weir spoke with detailed recall about what it was like to be a teenager at the birth of psychedelia: his heightened sense on acid ("Ken Kesey called it 'telekinetic non-force'--you could walk down the street and hear what people were thinking"); the police harassment ("I could take a punch"); and the domestic routine in the Dead's infamous digs at 710 Ashbury Street ("I kept the kitchen clean").

But Weir went especially long and deep on the mid- and late-Sixties evolution of the live Dead: how the raw founding corps of Weir, guitarist Jerry Garcia, bassist Phil Lesh, organist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan and drummer Bill Kreutzmann--with the crucial addition, in September, 1967, of drummer Mickey Hart--learned to surge and sigh, groove and improvise, dissolve in feedback and random impulse, then land in magnificent unison, while flying on LSD (at first), pure nerve and a unique enduring telepathy.

"I learned to listen and sort things out, go with what I heard," Weir explained. "If Jerry or Pigpen played a riff and I caught the tail end of it, I would react to it and fire it back. That would be a huge surprise to them, and things would happen."

"We learned to develop that ability," he went on. "It was a combination of mistake, fate and faith--faith in our footsteps. We weren't following anything but our own footsteps. We learned to trust ourselves and each other. I learned that both from the LSD and from the experience of leaving home and jumping into that huge scene. It all amounted to an ability to think on our feet."

I asked Weir if he believed if that all could have happened in the beginning, on stage, without the anything-goes gasoline of acid. He smiled. "I have no doubt we would have developed that stuff anyway," Weir replied. "I don't know if we'd have gotten so thick and fast into completely crazy improvisation as we did with-out the use of LSD." But, he quickly added, even when the newborn Dead played at communal-trip events like the 1965-66 Acid Tests, "we weren't a concert band. We were a dance band."

"Our job," Weir said proudly, "was to find the beat and get people dancing."

That is what happens, again and again, in this box of paradise and circus. This was not quite the Dead that Weir described in 2007. McKernan died in 1973 from hard living and a worn-out liver at the age of 27. Keith and Donna Godchaux--husband and wife, on keyboards and vocals--were in their fifth year with the band and had triggered subtle lasting changes in the music through Keith's jazzy inflections and Donna's background as a soul and gospel session singer. But everything Weir described that day in his studio is present here, in excelsis: six complete sets of inspired risk and collective explosion driven by vintage-Frisco dancer's joy, recorded during one of the Dead's most beloved hometown runs, a midweek hat trick, June 7-9, 1977 at Winterland.

For a lot of heads--not just hardcore tapers and set-list scholars, but the true and new believers who have heard and shared these gigs for more than thirty years--it doesn't get any better than this. As David Lemieux, the veteran Dead archivist and producer of this set, puts it, "A lot of Dead Heads say '77 is their favorite year. And of these shows, the first night is a Top 15, the second is a Top 10 and the third is a Top three." That is a lot of adventure, party and magic in just 72 hours.

But the Dead were primed and eager to give it--back in town after a spring road trip of hot-damn shows almost every night, vividly documented on Dick's Picks 3 and 29 and the recent To Terrapin: Hartford '77, all from a ten-day stretch in late May. "We're still as confused as ever," Garcia cheerfully confessed to Rolling Stone writer Charles M. Young in New York during that tour, a month before the Dead touched down at Winterland. "We still have the fundamental formlessness of the music.

"What makes it interesting," Garcia noted wryly, "is its ability to come to form at any minute."

Here is a great example of what he meant, from late in the second set on June 7th: the gradual fade of the dynamic cascade in "Terrapin Station"--the fat-boulder assault of Lesh's bass and Hart and Kreutzmann's double drumming; the silver-arrow rain of Garcia and Weir's guitars and Keith's piano--into a soft rumble, then a restrained tiptoe and eventually near silence. But then a cluster of faint weightless tones moves forward, and Weir's light strum, Garcia's glass-treble wandering and Lesh's sober punctuation resolve into a ravishing "Morning Dew," Bonnie Dobson's nuclear-morning lament from the Dead's 1967 debut album. That, in turn, escalates from a slow walk--as if the Dead are shaking off a deep sleep--into a sustained climax of rolling toms, furious-staccato guitar and the strained despair of Garcia's vocal.

And that's not all. As soon as the final drop of "Dew" falls, the Dead slip into Chuck Berry's "Around and Around" at a Mr. Natural gait that feels like it will be the evening's casual closing speed. Except at four minutes, the Dead suddenly accelerate into double-time and ride it in an extended frantic finish, Donna icing the fray with wild-angel hallelujah. It is a thrilling blur of eras and extremes--the symphonic ambitions of the title suite from the band's next record into the acid classicism of its first, then back even further to the very roots of the Dead and rock itself--executed with perfect interior logic and, at the end, fundamental euphoria.

It is, in short, the sound of rock's most unpredictable dance band hard at work, in peak communion. "A camel becoming a racehorse created by committee"--that is how Weir, in a 1978 Rolling Stone interview, characterized the way the Grateful Dead made most of their studio records. What you get on this opening night at Winterland, then all across the set, is something else: seven hearts moving and singing with one mind.

That electricity and connection was the culmination of a year-long renaissance, by a leaner, wiser and, to be frank, chastened band. The half-million-dollar genius and folly of the Wall of Sound PA--the real star of many '74 shows--had exhausted the Dead physically and financially. When Garcia took two years off to be a film producer--concentrating on the sound and editing of The Grateful Dead Movie, filmed at Winterland in '74 and premiered in New York a week before these shows--it was a necessary blessing. The Dead were still finding their way back to "fate and faith" when I saw them at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia in June, 1976.

By the spring of '77, they had it--in part because they had a lot less of their business to worry about. "It's a new world now and we can't be wasteful anymore," Garcia explained in that Rolling Stone story. "We're using as little energy as possible and keeping everything simple. The old Dead trip was getting to be a burden so we sacked it." The dozens of roadies that came with the Wall of Sound had been replaced according to Rolling Stone, by a crew of nine. The Dead had also given up trying to make records and be their own label bosses at the same time. In 1976, the group signed with Clive Davis' Arista Records. The Dead even agreed to be produced for the first time since they sent Dave Hassinger 'round the bend during the 1968 Anthem of the Sun sessions--and by a guy, Keith Olsen, who was making platinum hits with Fleetwood Mac.

Terrapin Station took eight months to complete. It has long divided Dead fans who can't stand its polish and orchestration and those who keep coming back to the writing and experimentation inside. The album would not be released until late July, 1977, almost two months after this Winterland spin. But the Dead had already found new bedrock road songs in "Estimated Prophet," written by Weir and John Perry Barlow; the folks spiritual "Samson and Delilah"; and "Terrapin Station," the side-long bloom of two coincidental ideas by Garcia and his lyricist-soulmate Robert Hunter. All three were regular features throughout the spring tour.

The Dead have completely shaken off the album's decorum in these performances, playing the songs with aggressive relish and in canny segues, especially in the case of "Estimated Prophet." "It is about someone who has taken too many hallucinogens and thinks they're in telepathic communication with me." Weir explained in 1978--a stalker really, the dark flipside of the dazzled telekinetic kid Weir himself was in 1966. "I guess it didn't work," Weir complained, "because the people who need to hear it think it substantiates their delusion."

But the Dead find plenty of room for thought and roaming in that confrontation and the song's eerie propulsion, a reggae-noir stack of interlocking rhythms peppered with Garcia's shaft-of-light fills and soloing. On June 7th, they slide from Kreutzmann and Hart's talking-drum rolls into "He's Gone," a bitter languid kissoff to a false friend and thief. On the 8th, the clouds and rolling thunder part for the brighter wisdom and gallop of "Eyes of the World."

And on the 9th, the "holy folly", as weir called it, in "Estimated Prophet" becomes the liftoff for what may be the single greatest sixty minutes of live Dead ever: an instant opera of spiritual biography ("St. Stephen" from 1969's Aoxomoxoa), non-denominational salvation (Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away"), tumult and wonder (a big chunk of "Terrapin Station") and, finally sunshine and daydreams (American Beauty's "Sugar Magnolia"). It is, in a sense, all of the Deads in one--the lysergic delirium; the country-rock comfort; blues-party time, the electric seeking--making split-second choices in tone and parable with confidence, on the run. "It's the Dead without all those wrong notes," Weir once said of Terrapin Station. This ascension hour is the Dead not worrying about wrong notes. Or as Garcia declared in Rolling Stone, "We're having fun again."

There are bumps. This is, after all, the Dead. Weir keeps apologizing for technical difficulties on the first night. A climbing jam through "Uncle John's Band" in the encore is marred by off-center harmonies. But highlights come where and how you least expect them: Weir and Garcia's guitars fighting for air space after a sudden jump in speed near the end of "Jack Straw"; an unusually extended "Friend of the Devil" that moves, for most of its eight minutes, as a strange wearied pace, then blitzes into hellhound gear in the late verses.

"Sunrise," Donna's warm-church ballad at the end of Side One of Terrapin Station, gets an airing in the first set in June 8th, right after Lesh's Terrapin contribution, the locomotive "Passenger"--a nifty pairing. While the main-blues fury of '67 and '68 went out of the band with McKernan's passing, the Dead's June 8th version of the Young Rascals' '66 raveup "Good Lovin'" is closer to the R&B bones of the original 1965 single by L.A. do-wop group the Olympics--with added calypso flair. (The arrangement would be a keeper, ending up on the next Arista album, Shakedown Street.) And frankly, June 9th is nothing but greatness. It would be considered a remarkable evening just for the worry-into-joy quartet of "Deal," "Looks Like Rain," "Loser" and "The Music Never Stopped" at the end of the first set and, after the break, a stunning half-hour assault on Blues for Allah's signature medley--"Help On the Way">"Slipknot!">"Franklin's Tower"--that sounds like psychedelic jihad.

Previous live anthologies of this long-run weight and every-note depth have summed up particular chapters or historic events in the trip: the acid-exploration years (Fillmore West 1969); the attention to roots, harmony and story (Winterland 1973); the temporary-retirement back at Winterland in '74 (The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack); the boogie to the Pyramids (Rocking the Cradle: Egypt 1978). You get that here too--the band back from self-imposed exile, alive, delighted and fully loaded--and something more. At these shows, the Dead formalized the nightly pattern of their concerts for the next 18 years, until Garcia's death in 1995: the repertoire, the two-set structure, the swing through decades and mindsets in segues and medleys. There would be great and weird gigs, mixed-bag years, changes in technology and plenty of transcendence along the way.

But at Winterland, in June, 1977, the Grateful Dead essentially played the first shows of the rest of their life. They are certainly three of the best.

--David Fricke August, 2009


TracksEdit

6-7-77: Disc 1:

  • Bertha
  • Jack Straw
  • Tennessee Jed
  • Looks Like Rain
  • Peggy-O
  • Funiculi Funicula
  • El Paso
  • Friend of the Devil
  • The Music Never Stopped

Disc 2:

  • Scarlet Begonias->
  • Fire On the Mountain->
  • Good Lovin'
  • Candyman
  • Estimated Prophet->
  • He's Gone->
  • Drums->

Disc 3:

  • Samson and Delilah
  • Terrapin Station->
  • Morning Dew
  • Around And Around
  • Uncle John's Band
  • U.S. Blues

6-8-77:

Disc 4:

  • New Minglewood Blues
  • Sugaree
  • Mexicali Blues
  • Row Jimmy
  • Passenger
  • Sunrise
  • Brown-Eyed Women
  • It's All Over Now
  • Jack-A-Roe
  • Lazy Lightnin'->
  • Supplication

Disc 5:

  • Bertha->
  • Good Lovin'
  • Ramble On Rose
  • Estimated Prophet->
  • Eyes of the World->
  • Drums->

Disc 6:

  • The Other One->
  • Wharf Rat->
  • Not Fade Away->
  • Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad->
  • Johnny B. Goode
  • Brokedown Palace

6-9-77: Disc 7:

Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo

  • Jack Straw
  • They Love Each Other
  • Cassidy
  • Sunrise
  • Deal
  • Looks Like Rain
  • Loser
  • The Music Never Stopped

Disc 8:

  • Samson and Delilah
  • Funiculi Funicula
  • Help On the Way->
  • Slipknot!->
  • Franklin's Tower

Disc 9:

  • Estimated Prophet->
  • Saint Stephen->
  • Not Fade Away->
  • Drums->
  • Saint Stephen->
  • Terrapin Station->
  • Sugar Magnolia
  • U.S. Blues
  • One More Saturday Night

PersonnelEdit

Grateful DeadEdit

ProductionEdit

  • Box set produced by David Lemieux
  • Recording by Betty Cantor-Jackson
  • CD mastering by Jeffrey Norman at Garage Audio Mastering, Petaluma, CA
  • Original 2-track master speed and time base correction by Jamie Howarth, Plangent Processes
  • Cover art by Emek
  • Uncle Sam art by Gary Gutierrez
  • Photography by Bruce Polonsky and Ed Perlstein
  • Booklet essay by David Fricke
  • Art direction and design by Steve Vance
  • Special thanks to Mike Johnson, John Chester, Christine Bunting

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