Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia collaborated with several musicians outside of his work with the legendary band. One musician who became closely identified with Garica’s solo endeavors was mandolinist David Grisman.
Garcia and Grisman first met in summer 1964 at a Bill Monroe concert at Sunset Park in West Grove, Pennsylvania. Sunset Park was an early mecca for bluegrass music, hosting concerts by many of the genre’s pioneering legends. In 2018, it was recognized by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission for its role as a hub for bluegrass music, its dedication reading:
One of the premier music venues outside of Nashville, the park featured many of the biggest stars of country and bluegrass. Operated by the Waltman family from 1940 to 1995, it supported the transition from pre-WWII “hillbilly music” to the nationally popular country music genre. Featured artists included Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, and Bill Monroe. Live unreleased recordings of major performers have been preserved.
At the time of their meeting, Garcia was traveling the country with Sandy Rothman in search of bluegrass concerts. Grisman was similarly in search of live bluegrass, trading tapes of the performances he saw. Garcia was studying banjo, becoming proficient on the instrument and playing in various bluegrass and folk groups like the Hart Valley Drifters, Black Mountain Boys, Wildwood Boys and Asphalt Jungle Mountain Boys.
Garcia and Grisman would cross paths again in 1965 when the latter visited the Bay Area and saw the former playing electric guitar with The Warlocks, who would soon change their name to Grateful Dead. The two stayed in touch over the ensuing years, again coming into each other’s orbits when Grisman moved to the Bay Area in 1970. The two reconnected when Grisman attended a softball game in Fairfax, California between teams made up of members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
At the softball game, Garcia asked Grisman to come to Wally Heider’s Studios in San Francisco to play mandolin on the album the Dead were recording. Grisman ended up overdubbing mandolin on “Ripple” and “Friend Of The Devil.”
American Beauty – Behind The Album
Grisman joined the Grateful Dead onstage at the Fillmore East in New York City on September 20, 1970, playing mandolin on “Friend Of The Devil” and (with Garcia’s New Riders Of The Purple Sage bandmate David Nelson also adding guitar) on “Ripple,” and a few other tunes. The concert was also notable for Garcia’s playing piano on “To Lay Me Down,” just as he would do on the version that appeared on his 1971 solo album, Garcia.
A few years later, Garcia picked the banjo back up and, with Grisman, formed the short-lived bluegrass ensemble Old & In The Way. The group’s impressive lineup consisted of guitarist Peter Rowan and bassist and longtime Garcia cohort John Kahn. Fiddler Richard Greene was briefly part of the lineup, replaced first by John Hartford and lastly by the renowned Vassar Clements. The band each had nicknames, with Garcia’s “Dawg” moniker for Grisman sticking with the mandolinist through the present.
Old & In The Way – October 1973
Old & In The Way performed shows in 1973, but tensions within the band led to its end. A self-titled album, recorded live in October 1973, was released by Grateful Dead Records in 1975. The album’s liner notes contained a message written by Grisman in December 1974 that read:
“I first met Peter Rowan on the school grounds at Union Grove, North Carolina in 1963. The following year, Garcia and I crossed paths in the parking lot at Sunset Park in West Grove, Pennsylvania. Back then we were all on a quest, searching out that ‘high lonesome sound’ of Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, the Stanley Brothers, and other idols (Vassar, among them). The music on this disc, recorded live at a gig, embodies the spirit of that original bluegrass quest, and a genuine affection for that superlative acoustic blend of banjo, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, string bass and voice(s).”
Grisman and Garcia’s next project was the even shorter-lived Great American String Band. Active from April to June 1974, the group was rounded out by Greene, Rothman on guitar, David Nichtern on guitar and Taj Mahal on bass.
After the first Great American String Band gig on April 20, 1974, Mahal was replaced by Buell Neidlinger, who appeared at each of the band’s next six concerts, the last coming on June 14, 1974.
Great American String Band – April 20, 1974
Great American String Band – June 13, 1974
Garcia and Grisman would go several years before coming together for their first Garcia/Grisman concert, held on December 17, 1990 at the Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, California. The performance followed a chance encounter when Garcia and Grisman were both booked for a recording session with Pete Sears.
Grisman explained the circumstances surrounding their resurgence, stating in an interview:
“Jerry came over to my house one day, checked out my home studio, and asked me, ‘How about putting out some more Old and in the Way tapes?’ I said, ‘Frankly Jerry, I’d rather see us put out something new, we can put out Old [and in the Way] tapes when we’re in wheelchairs.”
Garcia and Grisman, bassist Jim Kerwin and violinist/percussionist Joe Craven recorded the studio album, Jerry Garcia / David Grisman, at Grisman’s home studio (Dawg Studios) in spring 1991, releasing it on Grisman’s Acoustic Disc label in August of that year. Garcia and Grisman performed live in concert several more times over the next few years, tallying less than 20 total performances, with a final show taking place on May 5, 1994 at the Warfield in San Francisco.
Garcia and Grisman’s collaborative studio output included their 1993 album of children’s music, Not For Kids Only. Describing the song selection for that project, Garcia stated:
“Kids like weird shit in there, they like crazy stuff lurking around, things with teeth, crazy people. They’re realistic. They know the world is full of weird stuff and kids sort of prefer weird stuff, they rejoice in it. It’s no big thing, but it’s nice to be able to throw some music back in there that’s originally from that world; bring some of the weirdness back, take a chance a little. I mean it’s sort of trusting the kids that they can handle something more than terminal niceness.”
The next Garcia/Grisman joint studio effort was Shady Grove, posthumously released in 1996 after Garcia’s death in 1995. The album contained the pair’s interpretations of traditional folk songs that influenced both of their musicianship dating back to when they met in the parking lot of a Bill Monroe concert. The tracks were recorded at Dawg Studios during sessions held between August 1990 and June 1993.
A live compilation focusing on Garcia and Grisman playing jazz, particularly works by Miles Davis, So What was another posthumously released album that came out in 1998. Recorded between 1990 and 1992, the tracks featured Garcia and Grisman along with Craven, Kerwin and flute player Matt Eakle.
In 2000, recording from a two-day session held at Dawg Studios by Garcia, Grisman and legendary bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice, were officially released by Acoustic Disc. The collection was called The Pizza Tapes in reference to the legend that the original source of the long circulated bootleg recordings came from a pizza delivery man who allegedly swiped Garcia’s copies of the session tapes while dropping off a pie at his house.
Garcia and Grisman’s friendship was chronicled in the 2000 documentary film, Grateful Dawg. Grisman’s daughter Gillian Grisman directed the movie, which featured cinematography by Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann’s son, filmmaker Justin Kreutzmann. A final Acoustic Disc compilation of Garcia/Grisman recordings from Dawg Studios, Been All Around This World, came out in 2004.