Happy 40th Anniversary ‘Shakedown Street’: Grateful Dead Teams With Lowell George
Forty years ago today the Grateful Dead issued their tenth studio album Shakedown Street via Arista Records. The 10-track effort came at the tail end of arguably the band’s most creative period both in and out of the studio. The LP, which was the final release to feature Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux, included an interesting mix of road-tested material, new compositions and a trio of covers. Lowell George of Little Feat fame was recruited to produce the album, which was recorded at Club Le Front, and later finished by Jerry Garcia Band bassist John Kahn.
Often referred to by Deadheads as the band’s “Disco Dead” phase, the uneven record contains a number of tunes that would go on to become setlist staples including the title track, “Fire On The Mountain,” “I Need A Miracle” and their take on the traditional folk tune “Stagger Lee.” Shakedown Street also includes their revived cover of “Good Lovin’.” The Rascals’ tune had originally been sung Jerry Garcia in the band’s nascent days and was quickly commandeered by Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan. The song was put on hiatus after Pigpen’s death 1972. The Dead dusted it off in 1976 with Bob Weir putting his stamp on the tune, which would remain in rotation through the band’s final year.
Outside “the hits,” Shakedown Street contains a number of songs that either never made it past their recorded version or were dropped after Keith and Donna parted ways with the band. The Weir-Mickey Hart-Robert Hunter collaboration “France” was never performed live. The Garcia-sung “If I Had The World To Give” was played a total of three times but has gotten a new life in recent years thanks to its inclusion in Dead & Company setlists. “From The Heart Of Me,” the second of two songs solely credited to Donna during her tenure with the band, was played a total of 26 times between 1978 and 1979.
While Shakedown Street may be considered the beginning of the end of the Grateful Dead’s best work in the studio, George’s production on some of the early versions of the tracks are particularly worth revisiting. Thanks to the band’s well-documented output there’s a collection of outtakes that didn’t make it on the record. Among the tracks featured are a George-sung take on “Good Lovin'” with the Dead backing him. “Fire On Mountain” features Garcia without any backing vocals, while “I Need A Miracle” is given a bit more of swamp-rock feel. Also of note is an early studio take on “Saint Of Circumstance,” which would be saved for their next album – 1980’s Go To Heaven. Give a listen to the Shakedown Street studio outtakes below: