Dave Van Ronk’s ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’ from last week leads us this week to the West Coast and Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and Tony Rice’s live studio take of ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. Van Ronk has many claims to fame as a stalwart of the Greenwich Village folk scene of the early ‘60s, and one of these is his role as the arranger of Dylan’s version of ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. The origins of the song are lost in the mists of time, with the earliest published version coming from 1925. Various jazz and blues artists recorded versions as did Woody Guthrie in the ‘40s. Van Rook played the song to Dylan, who then used van Ronk’s arrangement for his version which is on his debut album ‘Bob Dylan’. The rest, as they say, is history, with The Animals electrifying Dylan’s version to record one of the greatest singles of all-time.
Jerry Garcia and David Grisman were friends from the folk boom of the ‘60s. Garcia went on to fame as Captain Trips with the Grateful Dead, and Grisman to be recognised as one of the greatest living mandolin players and to develop his own genre of acoustic music, Dawg Music, which incorporated jazz, blues, bluegrass and folk. Grisman made an influential cameo appearance playing mandolin on the Grateful Dead’s ‘American Beauty’ in 1970. In 1973 they formed the legendary bluegrass group, Old And In The Way, with Peter Rowan and John Kahn. The resultant live album, released in 1975, on the Dead’s Round Records became the biggest selling bluegrass album of all time and helped start the ‘70s bluegrass renaissance. Unfortunately, while the album was a success, the profit from it was lost in the collapse of Grateful Dead Records in the mid-‘70s. This caused a rift between Garcia and Grisman which was repaired when Garcia arranged for the Dead’s charity to give a grant to Grisman to help him start the Acoustic Disc label at the beginning of the ‘90s. With their friendship renewed, Garcia spent an increasing amount of time jamming and recording at Grisman’s studio. This time recording and playing acoustic music was in direct proportion to the phenomenal rise in the popularity of the Grateful Dead as a live attraction following the release of 1987’s ‘In The Dark”, which was making Garcia increasingly uncomfortable. They released a number of albums, all worth hearing.
Newgrass and bluegrass guitar legend, Tony Rice, joined Garcia and Grisman on a two-night jam session in 1993. Rice had been a member of Grismans groundbreaking Quintet in the late ‘70s, and he and Garcia shared a love of the acoustic guitar style of ex-Byrd Clarence White. The story is that Garcia enjoyed the sessions so much he asked for a cassette of the recordings to be made. This cassette was rumoured to have been subsequently stolen by a pizza delivery man and became a widely circulated bootleg. Grisman released the recordings officially on his Acoustic Disc label in 2000 as ‘The Pizza Tapes’.
We need to remember that the recording was never meant for general release but it is great to hear three master musicians simply playing music for fun in a live setting, particularly with the shortage of live music at the current time. As Garcia says in the studio chat at the end of the track “it had a few Chinese intervals”, but who cares with music as warm and sincere as this.