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Published: 2005/08/09

So Many Roads: Guitarists’ Dead Picks

One possible alternative future of the Grateful Dead following the passing of Jerry Garcia, saw the group taking it on the road and possibly even to the studio with a revolving chair of guitarists. As a tribute to Garcia's lasting legacy, we asked a cross-section of our favorite musicians to choose which song they'd perform if they were granted such an opportunity. In general, we tried to pick axe-men not usually associated with the Dead, though we couldn't help but throw in some of Garcia's biggest admirers.

A.C. Newman (New Pornographers):
I would play the solo on, if memory serves me, the Louisville, July 17th, 87 live version of "Not Fade Away". Some things you can only explain with your guitar.

Brad Barr (The Slip):
"New Speedway Boogie," cause it’s a badass song; or "Stella Blue," because it makes my throat tingle.

Brian Stoltz (funky Meters, PBS):
I’d have to pick "Shakedown Street." Its just so funky. I always had it in my mind to record that songI have a take on it which is done real New Orleans-style. It’s real swanky and funky. I have a weird story about the night Jerry died too. A local news channel called to interview me since he knew we were friends and had played together. When they came over the guy asked if I had any tapes of one of the times I jammed with the Dead. I searched my row of cassettes and pulled out this tape from Oakland Coliseum in ’88 or something. I put it on and it happened to be right in the middle of "Knocking on Heaven’s Door." It was really spooky.

Chad Urmston (Dispatch, State Radio):
Something off Mars Hotel like "Unbroken Chain," "China Doll," "Ship of Fools…" or maybe "Ramble on Rose" or "Jack-a-Roe." In High School my brothers and I all slept in a loft above the kitchen "China Doll" never failed to lull us to sleepthat’s a good thing. ‘Cause in big families, sometimes sleep is hard to come by.

Chan Kinchla (Blues Traveler):
"Uncle Johns Band," the Workingman’s Dead acoustic version. From the best Dead album period. In a moment I am back in high school, shirt off, walking through a sultry swirling parking lot on my fourth show in a row exhausted and flying. It also reminds me of my parents from whose record collection I stole Workingman’s Dead.

Charlie Hitchcock (Particle):
I’d cover "Shakedown Street.." It’s probably the closest in style to my band Particle and would be cool to remix into a dance style track.. I’d do it instrumental and add dance beats to it and simplify the structure of it.. One can’t really beat that stuff at its own game, so I’d want to make something new out of it..

Chuck Garvey (moe.):
That’s a tough one! I think I would love to do the whole "Terrapin" suite. Is that cheating? Is "Lady With a Fan" a song unto itself? I really love the epic proportions, symphonic heaviness and cinematic scope of this music. It gets me fired up. American Beauty is my favorite album (although Reckoning is a close second). The studio showed a side of this band that always existed, yet rarely came to full glory. I love the vocals, dry production and the overall feel of this period – maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe It’s only because I have brought it on my last three road trips!

David Lott (Licorice):
If I was to play with the Dead, I’m not sure I would get past the first note, let alone an entire tune, after I came to and realized who I was playing with. Those are the biggest guitarist’s shoes to step into EVER, and the most humbling. I might choose a song like "Black Peter" or "Stella Blue" to try and understand what it’s like to really get inside of those emotions. Then again, "Dark Star">"Cryptical">"Other One" would work too!

Jake Cinninger (Umphrey’s McGee):
I was just playing today, backstage, "Crazy Fingers" with Keller Williams. That’s one of the more complex, chordal arrangements. I’m really into the way that song sort of flowers out, and I used to do it with my old band, Ali Baba’s Tahini. So that one, definitely, to solo on and play overthat one feels like something I’d be into. That, or something simple like, "They Love Each Other." Anything really, you know?"

Jamie McLean (Dirty Dozen Brass Band):
Musically "Help">"Slipknot">"Franklins Tower" would be my pick. The diminished runs that Jerry plays throughout "Slipknot" are unlike anything else in the song book. Beautiful, complex, inter-weaving and pure Garcia. There is room to blow over controlled chaos in "Slipknot" as well as the jammy, sunshiney "Franklins Tower." Now if I were to sing something….too many beautifully haunting ballads to choose from.

Jim James (My Morning Jacket):
I’d do "Candyman," there’s something about that song that’s so awesome. I’m more a fan of the real structured Grateful Dead songs, the acoustic Grateful Dead songs. On "Candyman," it’s just like all the harmonies and all the amazing guitar parts and the lyrics…the whole thing. I’d do that or "Brown Eyed Women." I’m not even that huge of a Dead fan, but there’s just something about Garcia that was so sweet and so awesome. The first time I ever heard him was on pedal steel on Teach Your Children" pedal steel, I think, is one of God’s gifts to people. I can sit there and listen to that song over and over and over and it makes me want to have kids and get married and cry. Just the way he emoted was to me more important than any song that he wrote or anything in particular. It was just his force and I think that’s why people loved him so much. There was just something about him that was insanely magical

Jon Gutwillig (the Disco Biscuits):
"Slipknot." It sounds like one of the more difficult Dead tunes to play, and the most fun. Plus, we all loved the vocal parts. It was on Blues For Allah, which is my favorite Dead album."

Matthew Goldman (Steel Train):
"Big Railroad Blues." We’d have ourselves a right blues jam explosion in the studio with that track. Hearing those ramblin’ and roaming lyrics that wrap themselves around that
quick up tempo beat, all the while and in between, trading quick, dirty rock and blues licks around the lyric-less depths of the room, smiles abound, just sounds like a wild good time to me.

Michael Franti (Spearhead):
Well, what I would do if I was doing a tribute to the Grateful Dead there’s this quote that I read that was attributed to Jerry Garcia and I’m going to probably butcher it but what he said was, "Don’t try to be the best of the best. Just try to be the only one who does what you do." And what I would do is I would take that quote and I would make my own song out of it, in the spirit of being the only one to do what I do.

Reid Genauer (Assembly of Dust):
I would want to play/sing on "Eyes of The World." That song has always spoken to me. To start the groove is contagious. More importantly though—at least to me—the words are spine chilling. "Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world" I’m not 100% sure what that means but it touches me none the less.

Scott Metzger (RANA):
Holy shit, this is tough. Of all the great songs that the Dead played I would most like to sit in on "Sugaree." The lyrics are totally classic Dead—-an outlaw on the run, one step ahead of the cops that are always after them, and the melody and chords work so well together it’s scary. The band was always killing under the solo section at the end and it was one of those tunes that they could really stretch out on if they were feeling it, but always kept that bluesy feel to it without going all the way out into space.

Scott Murawski (Max Creek):
I would want to play on "Help/Slip/Franklin’s." The reason why is because I feel that this composition, as well as some of the other Blues for Allah material, represents the most collaborative work of the Dead. To my ears (which have been completely shot for years!), it seems like you can hear the influences of all of them in each piece, more so than on any of their other recordings except for maybe the very early stuff. I also feel that Garcia’s guitar work is some of the edgiest, and at the same time, technically complex, that I’ve heard on any of the recordings. And I like that! Besides, I think it would be a total BLAST to blow over the "Slipknot" jam!!

Stephen Malkmus (Pavement, The Jicks):
I’d like to work out "That’s it for the Other One" off Anthem of the Sun (and Two From the Vault)we could all get out of our heads in that west-coast peace-jam style. Garcia keeps it pretty bluesy on this one. The meandering seems to have a point top tune!!!

Tom Hamilton (Brothers Past):
"Terrapin Station," hands down. A beautiful composition that presents a great challenge. The original studio version sounds nice, but very "produced" and sterile. After The Dead took this beast on the road, "Terrapin" reached certain emotional peaks and connections that the recorded version could not touch. I’d take the bull by the horns to bring that honesty and intensity into the studio and hope to come out with a more emotional and modern masterpiece that captures the potential of this song.

Special thanks to Adam Alperowicz

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