“South Side Strut”: Grateful Funk

Today’s piece is a birthday tribute to my college roommate, Gavin Martin, who once rescued me from a very unpleasant housing situation, when he advocated successfully on my behalf for a vacancy that suddenly popped up in his much cooler adjoining dorm suite – and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

The Grateful Dead have blazed a path as musical pioneers who imbue their rock music with a jazz sensibility in terms of level of musicianship and a willingness to take risks.  While the Dead may have thumbed their nose at the record industry – rightly so, perhaps – the band was not above releasing a few singles over the years.  I wonder how many Dead fans felt vindicated when “Touch of Grey” unexpectedly hit the Top 10 in 1987, prompting the Dead to release their first ever music video, which enjoyed heavy rotation on MTV.

Howard Wales, who played keyboards on 1970’s American Beauty (most famously, on “Truckin'”) would join forces the following year with Jerry Garcia on a “jazz-rock fusion” album entitled, Hooteroll?   “South Side Strut” would be the A-side of their only and one 45:

“South Side Strut”      Howard Wales & Jerry Garcia (and Horns)     1971

“South Side Strut” would also serve as the album’s lead-off song.

The 1987 CD reissue would remove one song (“A Trip to What Next”) yet add two more (“Morning in Marin” & “Evening in Marin”), while shuffling the running order, thus demoting “South Side Strut” to track #3.  The 2010 CD reissue would retain the same altered sequence as the 1987 edition, thus ensuring that newer generations will fail to appreciate the song’s former exalted status as kick-off track.  The song has never fully recovered.

Garcia & Wales 45

Scientific Americans:  Garcia & Wales OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Mighty Time”: New Riders + Sly Stone & Jerry Garcia

Oh, what a mighty find at the local thrift shop last week:  the title track from this 1975 album by New Riders of the Purple Sage – with special guests, Sly Stone & Jerry Garcia:

Skip Battin:  Bass, Vocals & Percussion
Buddy Cage:  Pedal Steel & Vocal
John Dawson:  Guitar, Vocals, Autoharp & Mouth Harp, et al.
Spencer Dryden:  Drums, Percussion & Vocal
David Nelson:  Guitar, Vocal & Percussion
Sly Stone:  Organ, Piano & Vocal
Jerry Garcia:  Guitar

Behind the mixing console is none other than Bob Johnston, who famously produced Dylan and Cash in the 1960s.  Oh, What a Mighty Time would be the band’s last album for almighty Columbia, who would not issue any 45s from this LP.

“Mighty Time” written by Don Nix, who is probably best known for having written blues standard, “Goin’ Down” and whose session work as a saxophonist – as exemplified on sax & organ instrumental, “Last Night” – helped define the Stax sound.

George Harrison & Don Nix off Catalina Island, 1971

George Harrison & Don Nix