Peter Lavezzoli analyzes a favorite Grateful Dead Jam

I have interviewed a lot of Dead-loving musicians for a long-term project about Grateful Dead music. This is drummer/vocalist Peter Lavezzoli, longtime member of Florida’s Crazy Fingers, former member of Melvin Seals’ JGB, and currently touring with Live Dead ’69. He will be at Skull & Roses as a member of Oteil & Friends.

Here is Peter’s description of a jam from July 17, 1976, later released as Dave’s Picks vol 18. This may be a bit on the technical side for some readers, but I think the musicians in the house will appreciate it.

Peter Lavezzoli | Photograph © Bob Minkin

You can still hear traces of 1973 and ’74 in the ’76 Grateful Dead, during [e.g.] “Playing in the Band.” In ’76 they had a lot of great segues, weaving a lot of things in and out of each other: “Slipknot!” and “Eyes of the World” and “Dancin'” … Phil is still playing with a lot of fluidity in ’76. The drummers are both still playing with a lot of dynamics. Keith is still playing a lot. I would say to people, don’t overlook ’76 for the jazzier side of the Dead’s playing. They started to lose that in ’77, but you still hear a lot of these jazzy dynamics in ’76 with the rhythm section. Keith, Phil, the drummers – there’s a lot of give-and-take, a lot of sensitivity. 

The show that really epitomizes that for me is from the Orpheum in San Francisco, July 17 – the second-to-last show of the [tour]. It’s my favorite show of the year. They come out of “Comes a Time” into this incredible jam that leads into “The Other One.” Jerry finishes singing the song, they’re playing F#m and G back and forth, and then Phil starts putting a D note on top of the F#m, which kinda makes it like a D major7. Then he would play an A under the G, almost like a reverse “Tighten Up” progression. They hinted at it on June 12 in Boston and at the Tower Theater on June 22… those versions, they start flirting with that jam, but then they bring the song to a close very quickly, and they don’t go anywhere with it.

On 7/17, they go all out with it. It’s a beautiful “Comes a Time.” Coming out of it, Phil plays D and A back and forth while the others are going F#M-G. It takes the jam to an amazing place. They stick with that theme that Phil brings in and they really start working with it. Now Jerry is changing what he’s playing in response to that; it takes on a whole different flavor – and then Phil changes again. Now he goes from D to G instead of A, which gives it more of a minor feel. That lasts for a couple of minutes, and then they go into an “11” jam. Very unusual. 

It’s not like they’re playing the chords of “The Eleven,” but they’re playing the “Comes a Time” jam in an 11-beat cycle. Phil sets that up, signaling [beats 10 and 11]. The drummers pick up on that right away, and all of a sudden it’s the same chord progression, but now they’re doing it in an 11-beat cycle. It’s another one of those moments – you don’t plan that kind of thing. It just comes out, like that Jai-Alai show (6/23/74) where “US Blues” just comes out. This jam goes on for a good while, and it’s always riveting, it’s always fascinating what they’re doing.

And finally, they back off of that, and then they go into “The Other One” – one of the last ones in which they sandwich something in between. They put “Eyes of the World” into the middle of that. I think the only one after that is at the Mosque in Richmond in May of ’77… I think.

That “Other One” is one of the jazziest, spaciest ones from the post-Hiatus era. It really harks back to ’74, ’73… just because Mickey’s back in the band that doesn’t mean they weren’t leaving a lot of space and dynamics in there, especially in ’76. You get that from the show at the Orpheum on the 17th.