Jerry Garcia & Sandy Rothman travel down south - Background for new Jesse McReynolds CD
Woodstock Records is honored to have Jesse McReynold's new CD added to their label. Here is a story by Sandy Rothman about how it all began...
Garcia is driving. It's springtime of 1964, a Friday evening somewhere down South. We've been rambling around the Midwest and South for weeks, a couple of California would-be pickers in search of bluegrass. The Corvair's radio is crackling as I scan the dial. The unmistakable sound of Allen Shelton's banjo comes on, dimly. It's "Lady Of Spain."
"Hey," says Jerry, "that's Shelton!"
"Hey, yeah! Wow...Friday night...Jim & Jesse must be on the Opry."
"Can you tune that in any better?"
Now we hear Jesse's voice. He's giving the upcoming show dates.
"Write that down," Jerry says excitedly, tossing me the black spiral notebook he keeps in his shirt pocket. (We did make it to a few of the shows Jesse announced...but were too shy to do more than ask for their autographs on a songbook we bought.) I write: "Sponsor, Crestview Mobile Homes," and the call letters of some TV and radio stations, with various dates and times. "They're on TV tonight!" "We're not that far from Alabama," Garcia says. "We need some sleep anyway. Let's go there, get a motel room, and see if we can watch the show!" Not only watch the show - we lug Jer's trusty old Wollensak out of the car and into the room. We're gonna tape it if we can.
A little background: Prior to this cross-country trip, Garcia and I have been picking together in the final incarnation of his string of Palo Alto old-time and bluegrass groups, the Black Mountain Boys. When he got back from this trip, he put together a jug band that evolved into the Grateful Dead. But at the moment, he is a five-string banjo-picking fool-and Allen Shelton, unsurpassed North Carolina banjoist in the classic 1960s edition of Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys, is one of his major heroes.
So we're sitting on the edge of a bed in a small motel near Dothan, Alabama, a place we don't know anything about, staring at the TV set, having determined that this very band, with Shelton, is going to be on in a few minutes. The Wollensak's microphone is as close as we can get it to the television's speaker. Food? Coffee? No, we weren't thinking about things like that. We were just waiting.
"Hey, listen-isn't that their live theme playing behind the announcer?"
"Yeah-it's them. Turn on the machine!"
"...And now, from WTVY, Dothan, Alabama...let's make welcome Jim & Jesse and all the Virginia boys!"
It was all there, of course: "Sunny Mountain Chimes," "Childish Love," "Las Cassas, Tennessee," "More Pretty Girls Than One," "Carroll County Blues," "Gone Home," "Nine Pound Hammer," "Love's Gonna Live Here," "Where the Soul of Man Never Dies," and a host of others, featuring the impeccable harmony vocals of the McReynolds brothers with Don McHan, Shelton's amazing banjo, Jim Buchanan's elegant fiddling, Jim's smooth rhythm guitar, and the singular mandolin creations of Jesse McReynolds.
On the surviving low-fidelity 7" reel tape you can hear us gasping and talking over the music, unable to contain our excitement at seeing this stuff right in front of us on local television.
Fast-forward exactly 42 years to 2006 (when this project began). Jesse has come through a long career as a member of the world-class brother team, having survived the tragic losses of his first wife, their bass-playing son Keith, and eventually Jim. He's got a new version of the Virginia Boys, with Keith's son Garrett on guitar and tenor vocals and daughter Amanda on vocals; still tours and works the Grand Ole Opry; and is married to a woman named Joy who likes horses, bluegrass, and...come to find out: Jerry Garcia!
Given Jesse's adventurous musical spirit, it was a logical path from there for him to begin exploring Robert Hunter's sublime songs and the inspired music Jerry had set them to-and it was an immediately perfect fit. Not until Jesse started thinking about the idea of a Hunter/Garcia tribute recording project and I told him the story of the 1964 trip did he realize Jerry had followed the band around to a bunch of shows, much less sat openmouthed in front of a motel-room TV set taping a live broadcast. "I wish I could've met him," Jesse declared, to which I replied, "He really wanted to meet you too, and almost did."
If Jerry was here, he'd be playing on this album. No question. He'd be talking it up to everybody that he'd become great friends with one of his old musical heroes. As things worked out, the way he's here is that he "comes through the music" in this reading by a beloved bluegrass maestro whose enthusiasm about this stuff would undoubtedly have made Jerry proud.
Full circle, then...with some added surprises, like having Stu Allen (JGB Band) and David Nelson (New Riders of the Purple Sage) on the project. Jesse's gorgeous mandolin layers give everything a luxurious carpet to rest upon, and his rich vocals are as steady and true as ever (leads as well as tenor!). He's excited about paying tribute to a genre he only recently discovered but which has some of its essential roots in his own music.
Jesse absorbed the gestures of Grateful Dead music, then crafted his interpretations complemented by Stu's masterful guitar work, Tommy White's steel that evokes and continues Garcia's, and all the musicians on the project. One favorite of mine is "Loser"-a real winner here.
Did we ever expect to hear Jesse McReynolds singing "Standing on the Moon"?
Maybe not, but...here we go!
Great CD,Jesse McReynolds plays Garcia from the heart
I can't wait to buy and hear this!