Don't Let Go
Jerry Garcia Band
When he wasn't touring the countryside with the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia stayed busy with a number of different musical excursions. While he explored folk, bluegrass, jazz and blues with several prolific musicians, the Jerry Garcia Band was a pet project that took on a life of its own, becoming a solid extracurricular activity of Garcia's for two decades. To fully appreciate the extent of elasticity that the JGB implemented into their performances, Garcia's estate has unveiled a pair of live releases that accurately depict two distinct and powerful editions of the band. Clearly, Don't Let Go and Shining Star demonstrate that Jerry Garcia was about as well-rounded a musician as anyone could ever hope to be.
Don't Let Go captures a single night of Garcia and company at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco on May 21, 1976. At the time of this performance, the Dead had been on an extended leave of absence from the road, and one can assume that Garcia was eager to stretch out and jam. The 2-CD set opens with a pair of classic Dead originals — "Sugaree" and "They Love Each Other" — but the majority of the release is filled with tasteful covers such as J.J. Cale's "After Midnight" and Bob Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." Joined by fellow Dead members, Keith and Donna Godchaux, along with bassist John Kahn (who would remain with JGB until 1995) and drummer Ron Tutt, whose regular gig was backing Elvis Presley — Don't Let Go is just another example of how far Garcia's musical skills had advanced since the psychedelic 60s. For many, this period marked the peak of Garcia's power as a guitarist, songwriter, singer and bandleader.
Shining Star is made up of a series of key performances from the late 80s and 90s. While other live recordings have extensively documented this particular incarnation of the Jerry Garcia Band - Garcia, Kahn, drummer David Kemper, keyboardist Melvin Seals and backing vocalists, Gloria Jones and Jackie LaBranch — this particular collection highlights a set of favorites that fans, far and wide, have been clamoring for. Again, the JGB shows their strength as a superb covers band, tracking everything from Smokey Robinson's "Second That Emotion" to Irving Berlin's "Russian Lullaby." Indeed, the later-day JGB was almost gospel-like in their sound, with Garcia often found in a more structured, refined form than he was with the Dead. While the vault continues to be a treasure trove of Grateful Dead shows, fans can only pray that more JGB as well as other sidetrips from each member of the Dead's extended family continue turning up. By the looks of things, the music may never stop.
~ Shawn Perry