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Always Grateful: Garcia and Saunders’ “Keystone Companions” Coming from Concord, Rhino Readies “Spring 1990” Dead Box

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2012 marked what would have been Jerry Garcia’s 70th birthday year.  The favorite son of San Francisco is being celebrated this fall with two monumental new box sets: one chronicling a renowned stand with The Grateful Dead, of course, and another turning the spotlight onto his less-heralded collaboration with keyboardist Merl Saunders.

Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings is the most complete edition of the yet of the concerts recorded on July 10 and 11, 1973 at Berkeley, California’s Keystone Club.  When Garcia and Saunders got together, audiences were rewarded with wide-ranging renditions of songs crossing genre barriers, with both musicians challenging each other to new, improvisatory heights.  Due on September 25, the lavish box set from Fantasy Records premieres seven previously unreleased tracks.  It includes a booklet with liner notes from Grateful Dead historian David Gans, numerous photographs, and an assortment of swag such as a poster, coaster, button, and “scratchbook” (replicating the design of the original album’s promotional matchbook).

Live at Keystone was originally released as a double LP in 1973.  Further material was issued on two LP volumes of Keystone Encores in 1988.  The tracks from the original double LP and the two Encores sets were then reconfigured and released on three CDs.  Live at Keystone, Volumes 1 & 2 arrived on CD in 1988 along with one CD of Keystone EncoresKeystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings simplifies matters considerably, assembling the original recordings and presenting them in the order in which the songs were performed at those two shows on July 10 and 11, 1973.

Garcia on guitar and vocals and Saunders on keyboard were joined by John Kahn on bass and Bill Vitt on drums.  David Grisman contributed mandolin to Bob Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street,” one of two Dylan songs performed over the two nights.  Dylan joined a stellar array of songwriters represented in the eclectic sets, including Jimmy Cliff, Dan Penn, Holland/Dozier/Holland and even Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.

The rapport between Garcia and Saunders shines through on these performances.  It was a mutual admiration society, with Saunders once reflecting, “Anything he played was very musical. He knew how to do a rhythm on any kind of tune — gospel, blues, jazz. I was amazed.”  Garcia returned the compliment, definitively stating, “He taught me music.”  The Keystone gigs weren’t the first (or the last) collaborations between the two men.  By December 1970, Saunders, Garcia, Kahn and Vitt had all been participating in a weekly jam session at the famed Matrix in San Francisco.

Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings will be joined on September 25 by a vinyl reissue of the original Live at Keystone double LP, pressed on multi-color vinyl.  After the jump: meet the Grateful Dead in 1990! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 17, 2012 at 13:55