Day 123: Tennessee Jed, 2/26/73

Grateful Dead Dick's Picks, Vol. 28

Our salute to the male characters in Grateful Dead lyrics soldiers on today with Tennessee Jed. Unlike our previous installment of this song, today’s version comes from 1973.

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With such a broad cast of characters to choose from Tennessee Jed seemed like a no-brainer to me. It’s not a song that gets way out there, but it’s fun, has a cool chord progression, and is great if played at a breakneck pace or a more deliberate lope. When Keith was in the band this was often a standout song for him, in my opinion. The changes combined with his grand piano gave it a real ragtime/saloon type feel to the song, which complemented the narrative well and provided a degree of context for the litany of actions and events that take place in the song.

This lopes along nicely. Keith is very present in the mix, adding some very tasteful fills and flurries on the grand piano. The singing on the chorus is nicely in sync and Phil’s singing is even tolerable. What a pleasant change of pace. As Jerry gets a few measures to stretch out you can really hear the sharpness of his guitar tone, and his attack is on the verge of the icepick sound. After another verse and chorus we’re treated to another instrumental section and Jerry toys with the main melody. Keith really challenges and pushes him with his support playing. Jerry mixes up country blues riffs with occasional flashes of speed. A final chorus and the song ends in typical fashion.

Complete Setlist 2/26/73

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  1. At the start, everything clicks here. Garcia is just impassioned enough to seem natural, and even Phil’s harmonies lock in nicely on the chorus. Compare this to later versions and see why some say 1973 was the peak of the Dead’s powers. This song is a folk tune blown up into a weird electric anthem, perfectly representative of how the Grateful Dead manipulated otherwise ordinary music in general. Check out the middle section about 5 minutes in, where wild bent-string notes populate what should by all rights be a simple solo section. This part is fantastic. Oops, they get completely lost for a few bars at about 6:45, and this is a little embarrassing, you have to admit. It’s not like they just started playing this song last week or anything. A fun yelp signals the return to the final chorus. They wrap it up competently, no doubt somewhat red-faced about the clam.

  2. Love this year and as I’ve probably mentioned this Pick. 73 had that jazz edge a little more than the others and a period after a great 72 where they were pushing in another subtle direction with Keith taking on a bigger role. Well said Steven about the unique ability of the band to enhance a song with their take on a solo that was just different and or better? If that is correct.
    This is a fun song to play on guitar and one that a new player should strive to learn as it gives you the feel of moving from simple chord playing and heading towards a little lead.

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