Friday, June 11, 2021

1970 Album of the Week, June 11-17: Workingman's Dead, by The Grateful Dead


Ah, the first (but not the last) 1970 Album of the Week from the Grateful Dead ... Workingman's Dead is their fifth album and fourth studio album. Among the band's releases, it runs neck and neck with American Beauty (also released in 1970, so you know that one's coming) as my favorite.

Here's what drummer Bill Kreutzmann has to say about both albums in his 2015 autobiography, Deal: "We tried to be like a Bakersfield band -- but one that still sounded like we were from 300 miles north of that town." Workingman's Dead, he says, was "all about discovering the song," while American Beauty "became all about having the harmonies to do that." By the way, you should read Deal. Just sayin' ...

I'm not sure I'd call Workingman's Dead a "Bakersfield Sound" album as such, but I can see what Kreutzmann's getting at there. I could imagine Buck Owens recording "Dire Wolf" or Merle Haggard having fun with "Cumberland Blues."

I wasn't a Deadhead until after I married one. I'm not completely sure why. It's not like I wasn't into psychedelics. And country music. I think it may have been due to a misunderstanding I had in junior high. I was into hard rock and heavy metal at that time, and when I heard the term "acid rock," I assumed that the "acid" referred to a hard, corrosive sound. So when someone played a Grateful Dead song to me as "acid rock," I was kind of like "what is this hippie noodling, where's the distortion and screeching?"

My avenue into liking the Dead was two-fold. First, I dropped some blotter and listened to American Beauty for about six hours. Second, I started noticing Jerry Garcia's bluegrass work with Dave Grisman. Those two things pretty much sold me on the whole long, strange trip.

The closest I've come to seeing the Dead "live" was when I bought Tamara a pay-per-view showing of the final concert of the remaining members' "Fare Thee Well" tour as a "good news on the cancer survival front" present (and of course watched it with her). We're supposed to go see Dead and Company (Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann from the original band, with John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti) this fall in .. Tampa, I think?

But anyway, back to Workingman's Dead ... I had a hard time deciding between "Uncle John's Band," "New Speedway Boogie," "Casey Jones," and "Dire Wolf" as the song to feature. I'm going with "Dire Wolf" because I think it best captures the "Bakersfield Sound" they were going for. But I could listen to the whole album all day long. And have.


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