Sunday morning coming down

The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia began his career as a crazed devotee of folk and bluegrass music. He learned how to play Scruggs-style (three-finger picking) banjo even though his brother had chopped his middle finger off in a childhood accident. He overcame.

With the group in a deep financial hole after their first two albums on Warner Brothers, Garcia et al. drew on their love of traditional American music to produce the relatively mainstream Grateful Dead albums Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. Garcia’s fellow folk devotee David Grisman contributed the latter album’s grace notes on the mandolin. (David Grisman and his friendship with Garcia are another story. Grisman is still going strong.)

In 1973, Garcia teamed up with Grisman, Peter Rowan (guitar), Vassar Clements (fiddle) and John Kahn (bass) to record the bluegrass album Old & In the Way, released in 1975. The live recording mixes traditional songs with compositions by Rowan, Grisman and Clements as well as the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses,” done bluegrass style. I find that the whole thing is available on YouTube (video below). These guys loved traditional American music and found a way to bring a new audience to it. I thought some readers might enjoy the album over the holiday weekend.

Other Old & In the Way recordings dating back to the original group have been released since 1996. The surviving members of the group reunited to record Old & In the Gray in 2002, with Herb Pedersen filling in for Garcia and Bryn Bright for Kahn. I have enjoyed them all.