Day 207: Sugar Magnolia, 12/31/76

“Another Sugar Magnolia from 1976?” you may ask. Well, yes. I was considering something later era, but four of the last six days have featured songs from 90-91, so it’s time to hop to a different ear.

Surprisingly, for me, I haven’t singled out anything from the Cow Palace release yet. Seeing that it’s a New Year’s Eve run the natural pick then is for Sugar Magnolia. Sugar Mags was Bill Graham’s favorite Dead song so the Dead regularly treated him to it during his NYE extravaganzas. It’s fun to listen to Uncle Bobo do the NYE countdown and then the band just launching into Sugar Magnolia. Of course, the Closing of Winterland DVD has video evidence of this and is totally worth picking up. Suffice it to say that NYE shows tended to be very fun shows and this one is no exception.

A New Year’s Eve show and we’ve got Uncle Bobo doing the countdown followed by Sugar Magnolia. That’s about par for the course, right?! Phil is on fire here with a fat, warm tone. Jerry takes a nice little solo before Bobby starts singing, and even doubles Weir singing the first few lines. I think Jer was just messing with Bobby as you can kind of hear them laughing. What a bunch of characters. Jerry does it again on the “rhythm” of “cajun rhythm.” Never trust a prankster. Ha! Keith stands out to me on this recording too. It sounds like he’s having a good time and he is all over the fingerboard here. I don’t want to call Jerry’s playing here “standard” but it doesn’t have that extra pop that Keith and Phil display here. Weir, I assume, throws in a little Chuck Berry riff in the Sunshine Daydream section right before the band picks back up. Was that a standard cue? I never really noticed it before, but will have to listen for it from now on. I’ve no doubt the everyone was on their feet grooving by this point because the band clearly was. A million dollar type ending brings this one home.

Complete Setlist 12/31/76

Previous Sugar Magnolia DFAY Selections

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  1. Regarding Jerry’s playing here, and pretty much all of ’76, this passage from his October 1978 interview in Guitar Player magazine is pretty enlightening: “I’ve been through a lot of things like, for example, deciding never to play anything shorter than a half-note during a solo for a year in order to cut down the busy-ness. I get tired of busy stuff, and I decide that I want to exploit the single-note capability and the tone of the guitar, so for a period I play really slow leads regardless of the rhythmic path. After awhile I get tired of doing that and start working on developing speed.” Not that he can’t generate plenty of excitement within that discipline, and clearly it wasn’t absolutely strict, but I find a lot of 1976 restricted in that way. By the way, that interview is gold for insight into many aspects of his technique and evolution.

    I listened for the Chuck Berry riff, and it’s Phil that drops the big fat root-5 / root-6 rhythm figure right before the singing! Go, Phil!

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