Days Between Deep Dive: Jerry Garcia’s Solo Album ‘Compliments’

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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 1974 solo record, Compliments.

Released in June 1974, the follow-up to Jerry Garcia’s 1972 debut solo album, Garcia, was technically also titled Garcia. Upon its release, “Compliments of” was affixed to the cover next to the “Garcia” printed above an image of Garcia created by visual artist Victor Moscoso. Moscoso’s other works included the cover for Herbie Hancock’s 1973 album Headhunters, Garcia’s Grateful Dead band mate Bob Weir’s 1981 Bobby and the Midnites solo album and Jerry’s 1982 solo record, Run For The Roses.

The album was the second released by Round Records, the independent label established by Garcia and the Grateful Dead in 1973 after leaving Warner Bros. Records. The 10-track LP featured nine covers and one new song written by Garcia’s longtime writing partner, lyricist Robert Hunter and Garcia’s regular collaborator, bassist John Kahn. Additional Kahn credits on the album that would officially become known as Compliments include bass as well as producer. Unlike 1972’s Garcia that saw Jerry playing all instruments except drums that were provided by his Dead band mate Bill Kreutzmann, Kahn was far from the only musician that complimented Garcia on his second solo release. Over 30 additional artists are credited on Compliments, which was recorded in February 1974 at Devonshire Studios in Los Angeles.

Another of Garcia’s longtime associates, keyboardist Merl Saunders, played organ on several of the tracks on Compliments. Filling out the rhythm section alongside Kahn was renowned drummer Ron Tutt whose resume most notably includes keeping time for Elvis Presley. Another musician with a long and impressive resume of recording credits, Larry Carlton, a guitarist perhaps best-known for his work with Steely Dan, compliments Garcia’s fretwork on several tracks. Rounding out the core group that supported Garcia were accomplished keyboardist Michael Omartian and guitarist Arthur Adams, along with percussionist Bobbye Hall.

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The final two songs on the album, a cover of Garcia and Kahn’s Old & In The Way band mate Peter Rowan’s “Mississippi Moon” and the Hunter/Kahn composition “Midnight Town,” feature several auxiliary players. A string section heard on both tracks was made up of Arni Egilsson (bass), Judiyaba and Terry Adams (cello), Ray Siegal (double bass), Miriam Dye and Nancy Ellis (viola) and Carl Pedersen, Emily Van Valkenburgh, Nathan Rubin and Sid Page (violin). “Mississippi Moon” also features a horn section composed of Gary Ray and Willie Green (B-flat clarinet), John Rotella (E-flat clarinet) and Ben Benay (rhythm guitar).

Among the backing vocalists on “Midnight Town” and on a cover of Van Morrison’s “He Ain’t Give You None” were acclaimed singers Merry Clayton and Clydie King. Clayton can be heard dueting with Mick Jagger on The Rolling Stones’ classic “Gimme Shelter,” as well as on Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” the last of which also featured King.

Kahn did more than play bass and produce Compliments. Years later, Garcia revealed in a 1981 interview with Blair Jackson and David Gans the full extent of Kahn’s involvement with the record, including selecting most of the songs that were covered.

Gans: I just got a fresh copy of your yellow album, the John Kahn one. “Russian Lullaby” is such a lovely song.

Garcia: It’s one of the world’s best songs. It’s one of Irving Berlin’s finest songs. It’s a treat to play it, because compositionally it’s so neat—it has nice chords, such a nice logic to it.

Jackson: Do you listen to a lot of older stuff, looking for things like that?

Garcia: Not a lot. I listen to all kinds of stuff, and I don’t really listen to look for things. I just listen to be listening, and every once in a while something jumps out and grabs me. What happens to me is I get to be a fan of something. I listen to something for fun, and pretty soon it becomes something like an annoying commercial, almost. I just get hung up on it, so that pretty soon playing it or performing it is almost like the only way I can get rid of it. There’s an element of the curse to it. like anything, it sneaks up on you.

Most of those songs [on Compliments] I didn’t know, either, so I went in there like a studio vocalist, with the lyrics — most of them I’d only heard one or two times. That [album] was one of the few times when I didn’t really go on a trip about the material.

I let John [Kahn] do the material selecting, except for a few suggestions like “Russian Lullaby,” which was one of mine. I wanted him to have something to do. I enjoy working with him, and it’s one of those things that he can do, and it’s one of those situations that doesn’t happen to him much in the other parts of his musical life …

John and I share such similarities of taste: something that I like, John is almost sure to like it. We’re very like each other musically. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been playing with him all this time.

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The version of “Russian Lullaby” recorded for Compliments features Garcia on classical guitar, Kahn on bass, Amos Garrett on trombone, Joel Tepp on clarinet and Richard Greene on violin. Garcia’s affinity for the often covered “Russian Lullaby” remained consistent as it was part of many Jerry Garcia Band live performances. Garcia also recorded a version of the song with his Old & In The Way cohort, mandolinist David Grisman, on their self-titled 1991 studio album.

According to the Compliments entry in The Grateful Dead Family Discography (deaddisc.com), Kahn discussed his process for selecting songs to pitch to Garcia in an interview with The Golden Road, stating:

I would present him with a bunch of ideas and he’d take the ones he liked and work on those. It was mainly stuff that he wouldn’t ordinarily thought of, and I think that was part of the challenge for him to try something that was really new for him. I admired Jerry for being game for that stuff. A lot of performers wouldn’t do something like that — stuff they’re not familiar with — risking possible embarrassment or making mistakes.

Kahn’s selections included the album-opening cover of rock ‘n’ roll pioneering guitarist Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock.” Chess Records released Berry’s version of “Let It Rock” as a single in 1960. Written by Berry, the original recording also featured Willie Dixon (who wrote Dead live staples “Little Red Rooster” and “Wang Dang Doodle”) on double bass, with Berry’s regular associates, Fred Below on drums and Jonnie Johnson on piano. “Let It Rock” was covered by the Grateful Dead once, on June 23, 1974 in Miami, but was frequently played by various incarnations of the Jerry Garcia Band.

Motown icon Smokey Robinson wrote the album’s second track, “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” which was mislabeled “When The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” on Compliments. Covered by several artists, Motown’s The Marvelettes scored a hit with their 1967 recording. Garcia added the song to live setlists played by his groups Legion Of Mary and Reconstruction, as well as with JGB.

Delta blues legend Little Milton released “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” on the Stax Label in 1971. The song was written by James Banks, Eddie Marion and Henderson Thigpen, who composed songs for other Stax artists such as Shirley Brown, The Bar-Kays and others. For the Compliments recording of “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” Garcia brought in a horn section of Gene Connors on trombone, Melvin Moore on trumpet and Jackie Kelso on baritone saxophone. The song was regularly performed live by Garcia with Legion Of Mary and JGB.

The last song on Side A, “Turn On The Bright Lights,” was recorded by Cincinnati-native Albert Washington & The Kings and issued by Fraternity Records in 1969. Fraternity was founded in Cincinnati in the mid-1940s by Harry Carlson. Carlson is credited with writing “Turn On The Bright Lights” and producing the single released by Albert Washington & The Kings. The Compliments track again employed the Connors/Moore/Kelso horn section. Archivists have been unable to find a live recording of Garcia performing the somewhat obscure tune.

Van Morrison’s “He Ain’t Give You None” begins Compliments Side B. The song was issued on Morrison’s debut solo LP, Blowin’ Your Mind! in September 1967, a few months after the release of the Grateful Dead’s self-titled debut album. Garcia covered “He Ain’t Give You None” live with JGB and Legion Of Mary, one of several Morrison songs — along with “And It Stoned Me,” “Bright Side Of The Road” and others — played by Jerry during his career.

Dr. John’s “What Goes Around” came out in 1970 on the legendary New Orleans pianist’s album, Remedies. Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) reworked the song as “What Comes Around (Goes Around)” for his Desitively Bonnaroo album that came out two months before Compliments. Garcia’s Compliments version, based on the original 1970 recording, features Geoff Muldaur on clarinet and Amos Garrett on trombone. “What Goes Around” is another song that Jerry apparently never performed live.

A song that did end up in regular live rotation with JGB was “Let’s Spend The Night Together” by The Rolling Stones. Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was released in the United Kingdom in 1967 and subsequently appeared on the American release of their album, Between the Buttons. In April 1973, David Bowie released a cover of the song on his Aladdin Sane album. The Compliments recording features backing vocals by Maria Muldaur and violin performed by Greene. Muldaur, who was married to Geoff Muldar, released her self-titled debut album in 1973 containing the hit “Midnight At The Oasis” and contributions from Grisman, Jim Keltner, Bill Keith, Ry Cooder, Dr. John, Jim Dickinson, Spooner Oldham, Klaus Voormann, Freebo, Bettye LaVette and future JGB member Gloria Jones.

Garcia kept Rowan’s “Mississippi Moon” in the Jerry Garcia Band live repertoire following the release of Compliments. Rowan first recorded the song while a member of the group Seatrain (whose members included Greene) for their 1971 album The Marblehead Messenger, which was produced by The Beatles collaborator George Martin. However, Hunter and Kahn’s “Midnight Town” is another of the album’s tracks for which there are no known live recordings.

Stream Jerry Garcia’s 1974 solo album, Compliments, plus the bonus tracks discussed here, below: