Jerry Garcia ‘Before the Dead’ Box Due

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Jerry Garcia (left) and future songwriting partner Robert Hunter in 1962. Photo by Jerry Melrose (used with permission)

On May 11, Round Records, the Grateful Dead’s label, will release the long-awaited Jerry Garcia boxed set Before the Dead. The project features recordings Garcia made prior to forming the band in 1965. Before the Dead includes never-before-heard performances, recordings that have never been commercially released and a small selection that have. According to a press release, “From intimate live recordings to live studio recordings to field recordings, Before the Dead serves as a historical document in the spirit of renowned releases by Smithsonian Folkways and influential field recordings by Alan Lomax.” The music on Before the Dead was selected and co-produced by longtime Grateful Dead publicist/author Dennis McNally and documentarian Brian Miksis. The audio was restored and mastered by Fred Kevorkian.

Pre-order it here.

The first audio preview from Before the Dead features the Black Mountain Boys (Garcia, Robert Hunter, David Nelson and Eric Thompson) in a rare 1964 live recording of “Rosa Lee McFall.” Written by Charlie Monroe, the song would remain with Garcia throughout his career, reinterpreted later on with the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band and Garcia/Grisman. This is the first time this track has ever been released.

Listen to “Rosa Lee McFall” here

Before the Dead will be released in two physical formats: a 4-CD set and a limited-edition 5-LP boxed set. The 5-LP boxed set is pressed to 180-gram vinyl in a limited edition of 2,500 pieces and includes a special in-depth 32-page book featuring essays by McNally and Miksis, rare photos and memorabilia along with detailed listening notes and commentary on each track by Dr. Neil V. Rosenberg. Aside from being a renowned musicologist, Rosenberg was part of the Redwood Canyon Ramblers, an influential Bay Area bluegrass ensemble that would inspire a younger generation of players, including Garcia.

Related: When Garcia appeared on David Letterman’s show

Jerry Garcia in 1964 (Photo used with permission)

Each section features a “Tales of the Tape” essay that includes details on how, when and where the music was recorded, how it was found and, in most instances, anecdotes about the particular date, including early interactions with many area musicians before they went on to greater things. Sara Ruppenthal Katz (formerly Sara Garcia, Jerry’s first wife) contributes an essay around the 1963 recording of her duo performance with Garcia at the intimate Pala Alto, Calif., club Top of the Tangent (aka the Tangent). Tangent co-founder Stu Goldstein also adds a piece discussing the club’s origins and how it became a hot spot for the new folk scene that was developing in the Bay Area.

Before the Dead, says the release, “sheds light on the earliest period in Jerry Garcia’s odyssey going from the young, charismatic, developing multi-instrumentalist coming of age during the early 1960s folk-revival (often sarcastically referred to as the Great Folk Scare) to one of the most influential and groundbreaking artists of the rock ’n’ roll era. Like many during that time, Garcia’s influences were coming from the deep-rooted folk tradition of artists such as Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, the Carter Family, the New Lost City Ramblers, the Stanley Brothers, the Weavers, a young Joan Baez and the Harry Smith Folkways collections, to name a few. These influences would resurface prominently in some of Garcia’s most important work with the Dead on the 1970 albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty — regularly cited as foundational in the creation of what is now referred to as Americana.”

Related: Our review of the Dead documentary Long Strange Trip

Jerry Garcia and others in 1962 (Photo by Sara Katz, used with permission)

Throughout this period from 1961 to 1964, the notes point out, were pivotal first-time meetings (documented in the book) between Garcia and people who would become life-long collaborators and friends, Ffrom his revered writing partner and early bandmate Robert Hunter, to mandolin master David Grisman, to each member of the Grateful Dead to the many artists who would go on to take their own place in music history, including acclaimed instrumentalist Sandy Rothman, David Nelson (co-founder of New Riders of the Purple Sage) and Clarence White, guitarist of the Byrds.

Before the Dead showcases Garcia in various ensembles and configurations starting with the rarest piece in the entire collection, the earliest known recording of Garcia captured at his girlfriend’s 16th birthday party in 1961 alongside future Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Outside of a short clip used in the Grateful Dead documentary Long Strange Trip, this recording has never been released, circulated or heard. Other highlights include the Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers’ 1962 gig in San Carlos, Calif., and the Hart Valley Drifters’ 1962 recording at Stanford’s KZSU Radio Studio A (Garcia’s first-known studio recording, released in 2017 for the first time). Arguably Garcia’s best and most beloved bluegrass band of that early period, the Black Mountain Boys are prominently featured via three separate occasions in 1963 and 1964, while a 1964 performance by Garcia’s Asphalt Jungle Mountain Boys rounds out Before The Dead.

Listen to “Sittin’ on Top of the World” by the Hart Valley Drifters


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