Days Between Deep Dive: Jerry Garcia’s Solo Album ‘Reflections’
Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia was born on August 1, 1942 and died on August 9, 1995 at the age of 53. For 25 years, the “Days Between” Garcia’s birthday and the anniversary of his untimely death have been an annual period of reflection and admiration for the legendary musician’s career. This week JamBase honors the Days Between with daily deep dives into Jerry’s five solo studio albums, continuing with today’s look at his third solo record, 1976’s Reflections.
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With the February 1976 release of his third solo album, Jerry Garcia continued a trend of releasing a record every two years, following his 1972 debut and its 1974 follow-up. This time, however, the guitarist opted not to title the LP Garcia as he did both times before — the ‘74 album later called Compliments — and instead named the record Reflections.
Following a break from touring by the Grateful Dead in 1975, Reflections came out on their Round Records imprint shortly after the band’s release of Blues For Allah, and before their return to full-time touring in mid-1976. The album was recorded partly by the at-the-time members of the Jerry Garcia Band and the Grateful Dead, with some tracks combining both.
The eight-song Reflections was made up of four originals written by Garcia and his regular writing partner, lyricist Robert Hunter. Another track is credited to just Hunter, while the other three were covers. All of the songs were live staples of the Grateful Dead and/or the Jerry Garica Band, with live performances by the Dead of Garcia/Hunter’s “Comes A Time” and “They Love Each Other” and Hunter’s “It Must Have Been The Roses” pre-dating the release of Reflections.
Along with the album-opening “Might As Well” and “Mission In The Rain,” both of which entered the Dead’s live repertoire soon after Reflections came out, “It Must Have Been The Roses,” “They Love Each Other” and “Comes A Time” were recorded by Garcia and his Dead band mates. “Might As Well” features all of the Grateful Dead with Garcia (lead guitar, organ and vocal) Bob Weir (second guitar and background vocal), Phil Lesh (bass), Bill Kreutzmann (drums), Keith Godchaux (Fender Rhodes and tack piano), Donna Jean Godchaux (background vocal) and Mickey Hart (drums and percussion) contributing to the track.
The same personnel with slightly altered credits recorded “It Must Have Been The Roses” and (without Donna) “Comes A Time.” Both songs were played live by the Grateful Dead into the mid-1990s, though the former more than twice as often as the more rarely played latter ballad.
Garcia’s longtime collaborator John Kahn, a bassist who produced Compliments and performed with Jerry in various projects throughout their careers, played organ on the Reflections version of “They Love Each Other” alongside the rest of the Grateful Dead (but again without Donna). Presented with different arrangements and tempos over the years, “They Love Each Other” saw plenty of live action with both the Dead and JGB. Kahn appeared on several other Reflections tracks, earning credits for bass, synthesizer and vibes on Garcia/Hunter’s “Mission In The Rain;” bass, organ and synthesizer on Allen Toussaint’s “I’ll Take A Melody;” bass, clavinet and synthesizer on Bob McDill/Allen Reynolds’ “Catfish John” and bass on Hank Ballard’s “Tore Up Over You.”
Joining Garcia (lead guitar, acoustic guitar, chimes and vocal) and Kahn on “Mission In The Rain” was Ron Tutt (drums) whose resume included working with Elvis Presley and contributing to Compliments, noted keyboardist Larry Knechtel (Fender Rhodes) whose resume included membership in the legendary group of session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew and fellow accomplished keyboardist Nicky Hopkins whose resume included working with The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, John Lennon and many others. While “Mission In The Rain” had short-lived run with Dead — it was only played five times in 1976 before being retired from their setlists — it stayed in regular rotation with the Jerry Garcia Band.
Another JGB favorite, “I’ll Take A Melody,” was first released by Scottish musician Frankie Miller on his 1974 album High Life, which was produced by legendary New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint, who also wrote the song and several others on Miller’s record. Garcia’s version on Reflections features Kahn, Tutt, Hopkins and Knechtel, along with Weir and Donna Jean Godchaux on background vocals and Hart on percussion and “fire extinguisher.”
The same group, without Knechtel or Mickey’s fire extinguisher, was credited on “Catfish John.” Garcia recorded “Catfish John” in October 1973 with his bluegrass band Old & In The Way whose membership included Kahn on bass, guitarist Peter Rowan, mandolinist David Grisman, fiddler Vassar Clements and Jerry on banjo. That “Catfish John” recording appeared on the 1996 Old & In The Way album, That High Lonesome Sound. Written by Bob McDill and Allen Reynolds, “Catfish John” was originally released on McDill’s 1972 album, Short Stories. McDill went on to write several hit songs for the likes of Pam Tillis, Don Williams, Juice Newton, Alan Jackson and other country musicians. The song was often played by the Jerry Garcia Band and despite a reggae-styled studio outtake from the fall 1976 Terrapin Station recording sessions, “Catfish John” was never performed live by the Grateful Dead.
“Tore Up Over You” was recorded by a sparse lineup of JGB primaries Garcia, Kahn, Hopkins, Tutt and Knechtel, who were once again accompanied by Hart on percussion. The song was written by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Hank Ballard and issued in 1956 by his group The Midnighters. Ballard was also responsible for writing “The Twist,” which came out in 1959 and the dance craze inspiring song became a huge success in 1960 after it was covered by Chubby Checker. “Tore Up Over You” was regularly performed live by Garcia’s Legion Of Mary and other iterations of the Jerry Garcia Band.
“Might As Well,” “They Love Each Other,” “It Must Have Been The Roses” and “Comes A Time” were recorded by Garcia and his Grateful Dead band mates at Weir’s Bay Area-based Ace’s Studio in August and September 1975. “Mission In The Rain,” “Tore Up Over You” and “I’ll Take A Melody” and “Catfish John” were recorded at His Master’s Wheels recording studio in San Francisco in October and November 1975. The album was also mixed at His Master’s Wheels, which was the former home of the Dead-affiliated Alembic Studios and Pacific High Studios. The liner notes from the original vinyl release erroneously indicated “I’ll Take A Melody” and “Catfish John” were recorded at Ace’s and “Comes A Time” at His Master’s Wheels.
Beyond the apparent misinformation regarding the recording sessions from the original vinyl release’s liner notes, a quote often attributed to Kahn is likely a source for the mythology that surrounds recording of Reflections. The quote, which can be found on the jerrygarcia.com Reflections entry and elsewhere, indicates that Garcia intended for the record to be a JGB release, but issues with recording led Jerry to swap in his Grateful Dead band mates to finish the record. Here’s the Kahn quote:
“The album was supposed to be a Jerry Garcia Band album but it sort of fell apart in the middle, so it ended up being half that band and half Grateful Dead.”
The problem with Kahn’s recollection of the Reflections timeline, thoroughly examined via Lost Live Dead, is that the Jerry Garcia Band did not exist until September 1975. Given the known sessions at Ace’s and at His Master’s Wheels, what’s most likely is that Garcia first recorded Reflections tracks with the members of the Grateful Dead at Ace’s — the same studio they spent the previous several months at recording Blues For Allah — before holding sessions with JGB members at His Master’s Wheels around the same time of that band’s live debut.
Further dispelling the notion that the sessions with the JGB members were abandoned in favor of ones with Dead members is a quote attributed to Garcia from The Grateful Dead: A Look Back posted on the same jerrygarcia.com entry for Reflections. Garcia purportedly said:
“A lot of the energy from that record [Reflections] is really a continuation of the Blues For Allah groove that we got into. We sort of continued the same energy because we were having a lot of fun doing it.”
As noted by Lost Live Dead, one way of looking at Kahn’s retelling of the creation of Reflections that would seemingly add truth to his assertion that it was a JGB album that fell apart is to assume the sessions at Ace’s were not originally intended to be used for a Garcia solo album and instead were perhaps to be part of an upcoming Grateful Dead record. After only cutting four usable tracks with Kahn, Tutt, Hopkins and Knechtel, the decision to go back and commandeer the recordings from Ace’s would lend credibility to Garcia scrapping a full JGB album in favor of what ultimately became the Dead/solo band hybrid.
The sessions at Ace’s were engineered by Grateful Dead soundman Dan Healy. The sessions at His Master’s Wheels were engineered by Smiggy (Robert Smith). The mastering engineer was George Horn, with further production assistance coming from Dead crew members Steve Brown, [Bill] Kidd [Candelario], Ramrod [Laurence Shurtliff] and Steve Parrish. While no one is credited with producing Reflections, the liner notes offer “Special Thanks” to acclaimed producer/engineer and His Master’s Wheels owner Elliott Mazer, as well as Compliments producer John Kahn and a person identified as “Zippy.”
The artwork depicted on the front and back of the Reflections LP sleeve was an illustration by Michael Steirnagle. Before moving on to fine art painting, Steirnagle also designed the album covers for Junior Walker & The All-Stars’ Hot Shot album, The Commodores’ Hot On The Tracks and others.
Stream Jerry Garcia’s 1976 album, Reflections, plus the bonus tracks discussed here, below: