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Ray Bayley: Here’s four of my favorite moments with Jerry…
1970, November. I owned all the Dead albums, listened to them fairly frequently. Across the hall from me, in the dorm, was a fanatic for them, a veteran Deadhead. "Fred J" we called him.
Friends of his from other cities were coming in for the show at the U of R Palestra, including a hippie busload from Buffalo. I had never been to a Dead concert but Fred J had been working on me for weeks to make sure I was properly appreciative of this momentous event.
The Palestra, the gym, wasn’t very full. On the gym floor were folk dance types doing various patterns. There was plenty of room to sit or lie down. Clusters and groups.
First up was New Riders, with Lesh on bass, Mickey on drums, Jerry on pedal steel. It was the most cosmic, sweet, soaring pedal steel I’ve ever heard in my life. And I grew up in Texas.
With the gym being so sparsely populated, I wandered around but mostly stood up near the stage.
Fred J wasn’t there yet. I was amazed. His friends were there. Painted faces, tie-dyes, incense, etc.
[shift to present tense] Jerry’s spinning psychedelic pedal steel swirls that both reminded me of Texas country music and energy flows out of Ditko illustrations in Dr. Strange comics.
I keep looking at the gym doors, hoping Fred J would show up soon. I want to experience this with him.
He does. He comes through the doors and stops. His mouth drops open staring at Jerry. He slowly comes down the steps, walks across the gym floor, staring at Jerry in amazement. I’m standing next to the stage, the band on a platform about 1 foot off the gym floor.
Fred doesn’t see me. It’s as if he sees no one but Jerry, his mind filled with Jerry’s pedal steel.
Fred keeps walking.
He walks right up onto the stage, until he is standing right in front of Jerry. He looks at Jerry’s fingers, at Jerry’s bowed head, at Jerry’s fingers, … over and over, slowly … amazed. I’m standing off stage right behind Fred, ready to grab Fred, pull him off stage.
At a pause in Jerry’s playing, Jerry looks up at Fred with a smile, does a small shoo-ing gesture with one hand, and says "step off the wah-wah pedal, son".
Fred wakes up. Shakes his head. Says "oh, sorry, man" and steps off the stage. Jerry continues playing.
Thanks, Jerry for the compassion, patience, and personal touch.
1970, November, my first Dead concert. By then I fancied myself a somewhat expert appreciator of guitar playing and I sure had heard the Dead albums many times.
It was taking place in the sparsely populated gym at my college. Plenty of room to move around, dance alone or in groups, whatever.
I stood next to the stage, Jerry’s side, in front of the pulsating tie-dyed speakers. Big smile on my face.
Jerry’s guitar had one of those grooved plastic decals on it which changed picture as the angle changed. I forget what the other picture was, but I agreed with the one that said "fastest fucking fingers in the west".
The stage was a platform about 1 foot above the gym floor. A modest pile of speakers.
I noticed a fellow college student to the left of the stage, behind the stack of speakers. Easily visible but he was into his own world there, between the stage and risers, his eyes closed, playing air guitar, cued into Jerry.
I sure had played air guitar plenty of times by myself, in the privacy of my own room.
I watch him and Jerry. He’s kinda playing what Jerry is playing. He seems to actually know how to play guitar.
Jerry wandered around the stage a bit, looking at and interacting with various band members and looking at the audience as he played.
Jerry notices this air guitar guy. Jerry walks over to stand next to him. I see Jerry peer at what the guy is doing with his hands. Jerry actually starts to play, pretty much, what the air guitar guy is playing.
I’m watching both of them enthralled. A big smile comes across the guy’s face, his eyes still closed, and he sways a bit more. I can easily imagine he thinks he’s really in the groove with Jerry.
Then he opens his eyes, sees Jerry, is startled and his hands stop.
Jerry smiles and nods at him. Jerry motions with his hands at him, encouraging him to play the air guitar some more.
The guy is stunned but he eventually sheepishly grins, closes his eyes, at first tentatively, then back into the groove, plays his air guitar again.
Jerry imitates him some, then plays counterpoint, duets some.
Jerry eventually nods at the guy, and wanders away. That was one happy audience member. Me too. And all the others who witnessed it.
Thanks Jerry for playing for and playing with us.
We blew into Syracuse, 1973 I think it was, spontaneous trip to hopefully gratefully catch the Dead, taking time away from jobs. Yep, tickets available at the box office. Wow, we’re in!
Seats close enough, on Jerry’s side, that we were the first rows standing on chairs, it seeming the whole audience was on their feet. We could look right across the sea of people, close to eye-level with Jerry, almost as if there were no one between us.
The launched into "Casey Jones". I, per usual, at a great Dead concert (and so many were!) was transported in ecstasy. I was beyond analysis and keeping track of the song, experiencing it like it was the first time of that particular beauty and movement. However, unbidden by me, at the point on the studio version of the song where someone says it during Jerry’s solo, I said it out loud. I don’t remember shouting it. I remember the audience being so into it (and us so close to the stage) that they were quiet enough, that my voice carried. I said "ride that train!". My eyes sprang open as I said it, surprised at myself. Jerry looks up from his guitar, across the audience at me, smiles, and nods his head, as his fingers spin wondrous music.
Great music, no doubt. Great musicians, no doubt. For me, it was also somehow the personal connection those band members could do, whether it was that direct and obvious or in other ways. Thanks, Jerry.
1973, I think it was, Syracuse. Doug Sahm’s group was the opening act. That group’s sax and trumpet guys, Martin Fierro and Joe Ellis, joined the Dead for some of the second set.
By then my musical interests, turntable time, and rapidly growing big LP collection were jazz and San Fran acid/hippie rock groups (Dead, Airplane, Quicksilver, you know).
Partly because I had friends who went to the Eastman School of Music, there at U of R, partly because of other "way out"/"hip" jazz friends I hung out with, my taste in sax ran towards Coltrane, Ornette, Sanders, Ayler, etc. Trumpet was mostly latest Miles Davis incarnations for me.
So when Martin and Joe show up on stage I’m intrigued, glad for the added texture, but prepare
d to be disappointed compared to the jazz I usually listened to. I had heard Martin on some good LPs.
Joe wore fairly common clothes, but Martin had a beret and other (goatee?) that made me think beat generation/hip.
I was standing close enough that I heard something that I doubt would ever come across on tapes and certainly most of the audience didn’t hear.
Martin got sent "out to lunch" by Jerry’s playing. I saw Martin go from nodding his head to Jerry’s solos/jamming, to closing his eyes and swaying, to tilting his head up as if he were hearing something from on high.
Martin was vamping on his sax. Jerry’s playing so got to him that he just started blowing. I wish I could experience the concert again so I could know when he did that. Was it after a sax sorta solo and then during a Jerry-predominant part or was it during space when kinda everybody is soloing simultaneously?
Anyway, Martin was doing Coltrane-ish walls of sound, wailing. Wailing and screeching and running all up and down those sax keys, using the full force of his lungs and mind and heart. He slowly walked forward, eyes closed. He was transported, man! Like I had only seen in the most "took off!" portions of out there live jazz concerts, like Coltrane or Sanders at their most cosmic.
Jerry had a big grin on his face and yet was also concentrating, his fingers flying and taking it higher and higher. He was watching Martin.
Martin kept walking forward wailing, until part of his shoes were over the lip of the stage. And there he balanced, on the edge of the stage, sax raised to the heavens, blowing a gospel of cosmicness, of passion, from his depths, to the heights.
It was my two musical interests come together.
I and a few others were privileged to hear that.
Thanks, Jerry, for creating heartfelt space music that transcended labels.