Unofficial 31 Days of Dead – 2012 Edition: Day Sixteen

Welcome back to the third installment of “The Unofficial 31 Days of Dead.” The past two years were so much fun that I decided to do it again. The idea for these compilations came about after ran its “30 Days of Dead” in November 2010. While the Deadhead community at large was no doubt thrilled to receive previously unreleased tracks from the band’s vast archives, many of us were hoping for just a bit…more.  Hey, we are Deadheads – we are always hoping for more! Therefore, I thought it might be fun to keep the music flowing by selecting my own daily picks. The month of December seemed more than appropriate since New Year’s Eve celebrations were such a big part of the Grateful Dead. Let’s think of these daily picks as an advent calendar leading up to New Year’s Eve. Unlike the “Official 30 Days of Dead,” there is no contest here. Instead, the prize is the music and the winner is the listener.

[Artwork by Brian Levine]

December 16

El Paso
2/9/73 Maple Pavilion, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

An older and wiser Deadhead once told me that if I didn’t like El Paso then I didn’t “get” the Grateful Dead. Being young and insolent, I of course laughed at such a ridiculous statement. He looked at me with pity and silently walked away. 

After years of skipping over El Paso on tapes I came across this version from Stanford ’73. The show is well-known for the debut of many new songs – Sunshine, TLEO, Eyes, Row Jimmy, etc. I have listened to it countless times but never once paid any attention to El Paso. I figured I may as well give it a go “just in case.” I must confess that I was not expecting much as I cued it up. However, not more than three seconds into it and Jerry’s relentless noodling has me completely mesmerized. It’s one of those cosmic moments that leave you wondering whether Jerry is playing too many notes! Among this flurry of notes is what appears to be a few errand notes that are played off scale. This subtle hint of spaciness threatens to take things in a completely different direction if it is not contained soon. Sensing this, Weir immediately steps up to the microphone to bring things back to reality by jumping into the first verse.

Garcia’s playing is stellar but the game ball goes to Bill Kreutzmann who is truly a monster on the drum kit.His playing is very jazzy and aggressive – very similar to his style on Playin’ in the Band circa 1972-74. Oddly enough, it works brilliantly! The listener feels as if he is galloping on a psychedelic horse. And then like a thrilling amusement park ride the fun ends all too soon. With a crazy grin plastered on my face, I must have pressed the replay button at least a dozen times knowing that I “got it.” I’m a believer. El Paso for lyfe.

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3 Responses

  1. That is a great version of El Paso, I grant you. But Ed, you were right to laugh. That is a ridiculous statement. There is not any one song from the band’s vast repertoire that is required to get, in order to get the Dead. Not even Dark Star. I have one friend head who I don’t think gets that one. But EP? That is not even a Dead song.

    I grant you EP is a cowboy song, a favorite Dead-type, and the lyrics feature the popular Dead theme of death’s release. I mean, you know the song’s narrator just had to die. Plus, EP was played by the Dead only a total of 389 times. In a way it was required listening because they played it whether you wanted to freaking hear it anymore or not. Meanwhile not near enough dear Dark Star, I say. But I will say one more thing for EP. The song’s country flavor harks back to the bluegrass beginnings of one Mr. Jerry Garcia.

    Which is what it is all about. Not bluegrass, but Jerry. If there is one thing you can say, I say that if you don’t like Garcia then you don’t “get” the Dead. Speaking of which, as much as he liked playing country-type music, when it comes to the most famous version of El Paso… If it was just up to him, the Dead would not have even played it that day. I speak of yes that’s right, 8-27-72 Veneta Oregon, the cream of the Creamery Benefit, Dark Star> El Paso.

    As Firesign Theatre explains it, “Everything you know is wrong.” People talk about how sublime a choice it was to take the chaos of the cosmos and steer it down Texas way. I say we was robbed! If you listen very closely to the very end of Dark Star, Jerry actually thunders in first with the opening note of Morning Dew. But oh, no miracle pinnacle finish. Weir and the boys weren’t ready for oh captain, my captain’s trip and just had to hijack him into Paso. Which I guess in the end is a good thing. Considering if the gang had walked us into the Dew at that point in the mad proceedings, I think the earth may have just spun off its axis and flown straight into the sun. “…But mama, that’s where the fun is!”

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