Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Long Valley Road

It's been a long time since I last put up a Grateful Dead post. Because this post concerns a noted keyboardist who many may not know was ever a member of the Grateful Dead, let's start with a quick refresher. Throughout the band's entire career, the keyboard position carried something of a curse. The first keyboardist, Ron McKernan, known simply as Pigpen, was the band's frontman during its early years. Pig died from an alcohol-related gastrointestinal hemorrage on March 8, 1973 at the tender age of 27.

Pig was replaced by Keith Godchaux, whose tenure lasted until early 1979, when he was kicked out of the band due to lackluster performance. Herion had taken its toll on his abilities. Keith would die in a Marin County motorcycle accident in early 1980.

Keith was replaced by Brent Mydland. Brent had serious chops. He also had some of the same problems. Brent would be found dead in his California home following the band's summer 1990 tour, a speedball taking his life at 37. I have always hoped that he wasn't found by his then-very-young daughter, whom he loved so very much. Brent's death hurt almost as much as Garcia's did. Although there would be great shows after Brent was gone, July 26, 1990 was the day the Dead began slowly to die, as it were.

Brent was quickly followed by a duo of keyboardists: Vince Welnick, formerly of the Tubes, and Bruce Hornsby. Hornsby would last only a couple years before leaving for other things. Vince would remain through the bitter end. Shortly after Garcia's death, Vince became estranged from the remaining band members after attempting suicide on Weir's Ratdog tour bus. I last saw Vince playing solo keyboard for about a dozen people at a dusty campground in Wisconsin during the band's first united post-Garcia shows at Alpine Valley in August 2002 -- and what shows they were! As for Vince, it was just, well, sad. The less said about post-Dead Hornsby (and too little cannot be said), the better.

But this post is about pre-post-Dead Hornsby. Well, more or less. There were only three songs I ever wanted to hear the Dead attempt that they ultimately did not. Sweet Home Alabama would have been a terrific first set closer for Brent. The Blues Brothers' Soul Man, a great show opener for Garcia (really, this would have been simply spectacular, but alas). Finally, I would have liked to her them try the Tubes' She's a Beauty -- just for kicks -- after Vince joined the band.

The one song I had hoped to see attempted that actually was is Hornsby's Long Valley Road. The band debuted it during the Europe 1990 tour and gave it six college tries over the rest of the year before letting it go for good. Even though the best version -- the final rendition -- is merely workmanlike, it's still worth a listen (select track 10 from the stream) (.nfo file for Charlie Miller's transfer here).

And, if you're interested, the five other versions were played 10.22 (Frankfurt), 10.30 (London), 12.04 (Oakland), 12.09 (Tempe), and 12.13 (Denver). Soundboard streams from each show can be accessed via this page at the invaluable Internet Live Music Archive.