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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

1966 July 16 - Fillmore Auditorium

Grateful Dead 1966

Saturday, July 16, 1966
Fillmore Auditorium – San Francisco, CA
Soundboard Recording

You know the way you can’t see the apple tree when you look at the apple seed? You know a fully fruited tree is completely held within the seed, but if you’ve never seen one grow, it can seem like a wild stretch of the imagination to go from point A to point B. 1966 Grateful Dead is like possessing a secret eye in the soil that caught a seed as it sprouted the roots and trunk of what would eventually grow into one twisted psychedelic monster of an apple tree.

In large part, the Dead in 1966 sounded like electrified Bluegrass, in the same way that Dylan was electrifying Folk one year earlier. But while being a well put together Country-Grass-Rock-Blues combo, this 1966 rock act from San Francisco could set a fuse to the sun, bringing forth an explosion of color, sound, and energy that literally wrote the book on Psychedelic Rock. The Dead spent the year honing their earliest image as a band to be reckoned with, taking their place at the top of the food chain. Even in 1966, the Dead *were* Psychedelic Rock. Tapes from each segment of the year display a band in wildly rapid development of playing style and tone. By the middle of the year, they were already a well oiled machine.

Haight Ashbury street signsTo a present day listener, who can easily form a mental picture of the Grateful Dead before ever even traveling down the road of tape collecting, 1966 can sound completely foreign to that picture. The music sounds very different than that of most any of the following 29 year. Generally, the easiest inroads to 1966 come from the band’s psychedelic masterpieces of the day, Viola Lee Blues, Cream Puff War, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, and Dancin’ In The Streets. These tunes reflect forward to the band that was still to come a year or so later, and we tend to latch onto them as examples of the Dead we love back at the beginning.

But in equal parts, an enormous degree of magic resides in the band’s “singles” – songs like Don’t Ease Me In, Cold Rain & Snow, I Know You Rider, Beat It On Down The Line, Sitting On Top Of The World. These songs burst with a mountain spring purity, rich with the same intoxicating minerals that were being set aflame in the longer “jams” of the day. So much a part of the fabric were these songs, that it should come as no surprise that we saw them all return in full force at the end of 1969 when the band “went acoustic.” Once you are able to tune your ear to the thematic undercurrents being first explored here at the beginning, the music from 1966 opens up like a magic land before you, undeniably connected to all the years after.

Personally, I speak form a perspective pretty far down the listening road. But I’m happy to tell you that I had my own trouble really getting into 1966 when I started trading. It wasn’t that the music wasn’t good. It was more that it seemed so different from the genre of Grateful Dead music I was really thirsting after. It should be known that it can take a fair amount of willing listening to break through and see all the interconnected dots and pleasurable connections between 1966 Dead and all the years after. But it’s worth it, and I’ll offer you an easy in here.

Grateful Dead & Jefferson Airplane July 15th-17th 1966 PosterJuly 16th, 1966 at the Fillmore Auditorium. This show, nestled in the center of the year, typifies 1966 Dead beautifully. Good bits are featured in Birth of the Dead, the 2-CD set included in the Golden Road Box Set official release. As was the case for most nights in ’66, the Dead split the night with one or more other acts. They would play an early set, and then return much later in the evening to close things out. Both sets on 07/16 are top shelf. But there was often an undeniable difference in energy between these split sets, and 07/16/66 demonstrates this tendency. Set one is tight, and well played, reaching peak after peak of the Dead’s special brand of Psychedelic Bluegrass Rock. But set two is a white hot blast furnace, defining the West Cost psychedelic scene in 1966. It operates at a level above the first set, which was already pretty high to begin with. Listening to the second set, you can completely hear how dangerous this band was – forging a mesmerizing does of life altering music into the hearts and minds of the Fillmore audience. It is this music that demonstrates the rationale held by those oldest ‘heads who say that in many ways, it was all downhill after 1966 (explored a bit more in depth in “Primal Dead – The Early Years").

One of the things that gave this band such strength goes largely unrecognized, and it was sitting behind everyone else the whole time. The music of this band rides on the back of its drummer - Bill Kreutzmann. Billy showed from day one that he is one of the most unsung rock drummers of all time. In this particular 1966 show, he and Bob Weir hold the band together, driving a powerhouse of energy and control, while Phil and Jerry veer and slide into every nook and cranny possible. This is evident across the entire show, and really shines in the first set on tunes like I Know You Rider, Beat It On Down The Line, and Cream Puff War. In the latter, Jerry and Phil are given total freedom under Billy’s rock solid foundation. The song finds the group bathing in psychedelic fire, burning pure white ribbons of sound out into the crowd.

1966 Fillmore Auditorium dancingViola Lee Blues shows this beautifully as well. Billy is just so solid, as Jerry goes way way out – completely free to lose every ounce of the song and chord structure while the rhythm section pounds and pounds along. Phil somehow walks the line between remaining keyed in with Bob and Bill, while stirring his own pot of cosmic colors with Jerry. Garcia gloriously breaks entire chapters of the Rock-n-Roll Guitar Rule Book written by one of his idols, Chuck Berry. He allows his footing to become lodged in great fields of misty star light, caught on one note phrases which pulse like quasars, looping in on themselves like climbing vines. With each passing moment, Jerry gets further and further detached from the constructs of the music. All the while, there isn’t the overwhelming sense that the band is pushing themselves to get “out there.” It seems more that they are still in the discovery phase of what “out there” actually meant. It isn’t until they turn on a dime back into the closing portion of the song, that you fully appreciate just how far out they went. “Far out, man!”

As great as it is to hear Viola Lee here as it is starting to take on the form that it would fully explore into 1967 (we don’t reach the searing whiteout of noise this early in the Dead’s career), it’s actually songs like Don’t Ease Me In, Sitting On Top Of The World, You Don’t Have To Ask, and Cold Rain & Snow that shed light on how this band that could reach the highest of highs. They had this down! Viola Lee thoroughly satisfies. But it is after that set two opener where the music really takes over. Don’t Ease Me In possesses every ounce of power culled up by Viola Lee, and it never lets up from there. And while it is period music – the Dead were key figures in the casting of a musical movement that came to power the Summer Of Love, so there’s no denying this sounds like the mid 60’s psychedelic rock that it was – there is clearly the sense of something enormous lurking behind the band on 07/16/66 as it fires on all cylinders through every moment of their second set. It’s less in the music being played, and more in the undeniable creative energy that fuels each of the short songs that fill out the show. You can taste the strength as the band rides its own wave.

Pigpen 1966Schoolgirl features Pigpen completely defying our ability to believe he is just some 20 year old kid, belting out the blues. Garcia’s solos get all the way into the same mind bending eddies and whirlpools we would come to associate with his playing over the next two years. Near the end, Billy plays masterfully, driving the rhythm back and forth at times between measures, while the song edges into its more swinging tempo. Somehow feeling that we want the tempo to stay in that alternate swing, he lets it fly for an extended batch of measures, and it’s wonderfully satisfying. This, all happening under Garcia’s swirling blues licks. Great stuff.

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue is hypnotic. We could listen to Jerry sing this song for hours. The tempo is 1966 fast, but the song emanates a certain aspect of ’66 Dead like no other.

Closing out the tape is Dancin’ In The Streets. Dropping into the solo, Jerry immediately starts playing the Eastern tinged scales, and pushes the tone of his guitar in direction after direction. Of course, Billy is once again playing a solid beat under everything. Bobby’s rhythm guitar has a throaty moan to it, and the entire song begins sounding Velvet Underground-ish at times. Then, proving that no year was immune to it, we start hearing the tape approach its final coil around the spool. The tape ends with a harsh cut long before we could have ever wished the band to stop playing.

1966 Grateful Dead is at once a creature unto itself, as well as the clear germination point of everything this band would become over the years. It provides a critically important layer of musical information needed in every tape collector’s listening pile. We connect a lot of dots throughout the years. For this five piece band, many of the connective lines begin with points in 1966.

07/16/66 SBD etree source info


  1. I definitely agree with you in saying that in 1966 the Grateful Dead sounded totally different from any of the following 29 years. The first time I heard "Cream Puff War" on a local GD show (admittedly early in my GD journey), I couldn't figure out who this amazingly progressive, psychedelic, fresh sounding band was. I spent awhile trying to figure out the group as I checked off the list of possible suspects. Several years later I found the group was the Grateful Dead and I had a total Homer moment. The band sounded so fresh, innovative, in 1966 and the Brit Rock influence is so much more prevalent on their studio material from the time. Great article and look forward to reading more.

  2. Lovely post and even better show!

  3. Thanks to you both. Shinjak, that's a great story about Cream Puff War! Perfectly demonstrates just how unique the earliest of Dead music was.

    That "Birth Of The Dead" studio stuff (from 1965!) showcases an equally "different" version of the boys.

  4. Wow. An amazing amazing amazing post, my friend! I just put this show up for folks and linked to here so hopefully they'll come on over and dig what you've written. Maybe those who haven't ever been here will discover your writings on this very special music!

  5. I just want to point out that Viola Lee Blues starts out by quoting the "spear" motif from Wagner's Ring Cycle.

  6. Back then, the Airplane usually took top billing, but the Dead were (in my opinion back then, confirmed over subsequent decades) far more creative musically and more likely to stand the test of time. BTW, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" was in the repertoire of pretty much every S.F. rock band at the time. Anyone remember the Flowers?

    Oh, and the Dead (mainly Garcia and Pig Pen) were really early into the good old jug band and string band blues. Took me years to realize that Viola Lee Blues was written by Noah Lewis, the harmonica player in Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers. And while "everybody" knew San Francisco Bay Blues, not so many knew that Jesse Fuller, the one-man band who wrote that tune, also wrote "Beat It On Down The Line".


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