Tracking the Grateful Dead’s career via Baby Blue, pt. 2

Welcome to “How Does the Song Go?” A column dedicated to taking you deeper into the realms of the Grateful Dead’s music than ever before. Today we will continue to examine the different phases of the Grateful Dead’s career through the filter of “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.”

Last week we left off at 11/8/70 from the Avalon Ballroom, noting the more mature sound coming from the band, both instrumentally and vocally. But in true Grateful Dead style, they leave the song right there and power through 1971 and three quarters of 1972 not performing the song again for 156 shows. From here, Jerry will play a Strat, an SG, a Les Paul, and eventually settle on the Alligator Strat at this point in his career. On 9/23/72 at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT, he again switches back to the sunburst “Veneta” Strat which has shared duties with Alligator this month. Midway through set two, they play “Baby Blue.” The single coil pickups are familiar. The phaser pedal on Weir’s guitar would help define the decade. The single drummer playing a familiar and steady beat and leading the dynamic changes is proof this band has done a tremendous amount of growth since last visiting the song in later 1970. Jerry is using the half step bend more now and is comfortable expanding upon existing melodies and truly making them his own. The last verse, Jerry really belts it out and then promptly forgets a line of lyrics.

But two versions of the song this year and boom, 105 shows go by before playing it again. Fast forward to 2/24/74 at Winterland Arena in San Francisco, the encore of their second show this year. Jerry is on his custom Wolf guitar and the Wall of Sound is nearing what we will soon know as the Wall of Sound. Jerry’s voice is clear and we have Keith’s piano creating gorgeous counterpoint lines on the left channel. Jerry, now versed in jazz, is letting his melodic phrases breathe and grow and develop. So why do they put the tune away for 426 shows until 8/14/81? I’m going to listen.

We go to Seattle Center Coliseum to hear a much different band than we heard in 1974. Again, “Baby Blue” shows up as the encore. Jerry is playing Tiger, his second custom guitar from Doug Irwin. Keith has left the band and has been replaced by Brent Mydland, who has chosen an electric piano sound. Bob Weir has a brighter and more cutting Ibanez and has ditched the phaser pedal in favor of a chorus pedal. They have not forgotten the dynamics which have become an integral part of this song. Jerry’s reedy voice is weathered but the range is still there. He doesn’t crack or strain.

Finally, the song has earned a regular spot in the band’s rotation showing up nearly exclusively in the encore slot. 1993 earned only one appearance of “Baby Blue” and only seven in ’94. Its last (and only version that year) is 2/19/95 in Salt Lake City, UT. More changes…Brent is gone and Vince’s unique piano/synth sound permeates the sound. Weir is using more distortion. Jerry is using the Lightning Bolt guitar and fewer speakers on stage. His focus is gone, but has a few flashes of genius in this final version. In addition, Bob Weir has added a vocal harmony in the title tag lyric.

Each of these changes define the period in which we find them. This song grew and helped them grow as musicians throughout the years.