Keyboardist Howard Wales sadly died one year ago today on December 7, 2020. Wales was born on February 8, 1943 in Milwaukee and would go on to play as a session musician with such luminaries as James Brown, Freddie King, Lonnie Mack, The Coasters, The Four Tops and more. But Wales is perhaps best known in the jam world for his work with the Grateful Dead and guitarist Jerry Garcia.
For half of 1970, Wales hosted a weekly Monday jam session at The Matrix in San Francisco. Jerry would come around to jam along with future Jerry Garcia Band members bassist John Kahn and drummer Bill Vitt. One of these sessions was captured for posterity as the Wales/Garcia live album Side Trips, Volume One, released in 1998. In Wales, Garcia seemed to find a kindred spirit when it came to experimentation and much of the duo’s work was on the vanguard of the burgeoning jazz-fusion movement. Jerry also seemed to have an affinity for keyboard players.
“Howard was so outside,” Jerry said in Blair Jackson’s book Garcia: An American Life. “For both of us that was a wonderful experience… Playing with Howard did more for my ears than anybody I ever played with because he was so extended and so different. His approach was all extensions and very keyboardistic; not guitaristic.”
Garcia and Wales’ bond grew when Howard added keys on a trio of tracks on the Grateful Dead’s landmark 1970 album, American Beauty. A year later, Wales, Garcia, Kahn and Vitt released a studio album, Hooteroll?, of mostly Howard’s compositions.
Jerry and Howard’s collaboration culminated with a run of shows in the Northeast, where Garcia would sit-in with Wales’ band, among them a stop at Boston’s Symphony Hall on January 26, 1972. Along with drummer Jerry Love, bassist Roger Troy and guitarist Jim Vincent, Wales and Garcia kicked things off in Boston with three compositions appearing on Hooteroll? “South Side Strut,” “Up From The Desert” and “One A.M. Approach.” A piece called “Come On Baby” capped off the seamless set opening section.
The quintet then embarked on another excursion, cruising through tunes like “Outer Space Regions,” “Carry Me Back” (followed by a bass solo from Troy), “Get Funky Brother” and Hooteroll’s “A Trip To What Next.” After “Would You Leave Me” and “Wales’ Boogie,” Jerry would take a breather before returning to finish out the set including a song, “Sweet Cocaine,” that would appear on the 2010 version of Hooteroll? as well as a cover of “Hey Bo Diddley” and more.
In honor of Howard Wales, listen to the keyboardist jam with Jerry Garcia in 1972 below:
Setlist (via JerryGarcia.com)
Southside Strut > Up From The Desert > One A.M. Approach > Come On Baby, Jam > Outer Space Regions >Carry Me Back > Bass Solo > Get Funky Brother > A Trip To What Next > Would You Leave Me, Wales’ Boogie Get Down Mama* > DC 502* > Drums > DC 502* > Sweet Little Angel > Sweet Cocaine >Shine On Love > Fighting For Madge, Hey Bo Diddley, Can’t Judge A Book
Encore: Gypsy Woman