I am not a Deadhead but I like a few of their songs. Listening to their live stuff, it seems that they often sing and play out of tune.
On their own, they seem to sing fairly in tune (if pretty poorly) for the most part. However, when there are harmonies being sung, someone (perhaps more than one member) is just way off and always screws it up. Who is it? I can’t pinpoint it. Is it all of them?
For the record I am not talking about Donna Godchaux.
A good example of atrocious harmonizing would be any live version of “Uncle John’s Band.” Also “Sugar Magnolia” is often pretty damn painful to listen to.
Then there is Garcia’s guitar playing. I realize that sometimes he is fooling around with chromatic notes and outside playing. I might even believe that he is occasionally experimenting with micro-tonic bends. But really, it just sounds like he can’t bend to tune very well and often misses the mark.
Do they admit to how god-awfully out of tune they often sound in any interviews? No one ever brought it to their attention?
They were the ones making the music, so they got to decide who sang. No, none of the main guys were very good singers and in concert they were sometimes way off key. Even on their best studio albums, it’s not great. If you’re a fan, you didn’t mind that much or you saw it as part of their charm. If you’re not a big fan, it can be unbearable.
I dunno, the high harmonies of Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Brent Mydland on the chorus of songs like Stella Blue, Attics Of My Life, Wharf Rat, Black Peter, etc. were often hauntingly beautiful and quite ethereal to my ears…
I while back I started a somewhat similar thread mentioning that while I love their studio music, whenever I listen to something live it sounds like they’re all playing different songs, all off in their own little world.
every live song was unique, they enjoyed playing that way and people enjoyed having it that way. with each song unique it made it valuable to get versions of songs for it’s quality that occurred. they admitted to intentionally making every song unique on the fly, some results better from others. they had a bunch of songs they might play on that tour and then just let shows happen on the fly.
with vocals at different times in their history they did some wonderful harmonies that was some what unique in rock. the harmonies would make some songs real pretty, hauntingly beautiful would be a true description, and others real powerful.
The Dead definitely improvised all the time, but that’s really not relevant to whether or not they could stay in tune with each other while singing. They were guys who had instrumental chops and could improvise, and they did their own singing. They weren’t as good at that.
This is a little off topic but it seems like it might be slightly related. I have certainly heard of the GD as a band and cultural phenomenon. I do or at least did listen to a lot of radio and music generally, and with a particular emphasis on 60’s/70’s guitar based things. Yet weirdly enough, I have never *knowingly *heard any of the Grateful Dead’s music whatsoever. How is this possible? Or alternatively, is there perhaps music of theirs that is played widely which I have heard but without realising who it’s by?
I think it is fairly likely that Jerry Garcia had a poor ear for pitch. It is also apparent that he was not good at hitting and holding notes vocally, regardless of whether he could hear pitch well. But regardless of their musical and vocal skills, it is obvious from everything they did and said that they aim was not to sound like the Eagles. They were shooting for something looser and more spontaneous, and they hit their target in a way that pleased a lot of people.
In answer to the OP, they were out of tune, a lot. Even the studio version of Uncle John’s Band has some guitars out of tune and harmonies that are close but not quite “right”. And it is still a great recording of a great song.
They were indifferent to recording studio albums. Some are better than others, apparently David Crosby and Graham Nash urged them to improve their harmonies on “American Beauty” and “Workingman’s Dead”.
The thing is in the mid 1990s three of them did an a cappella version of “The Star Spangled Banner” before a Giants baseball game. It was really quite good and makes you think they really wanted to get that one right.
First, don’t make the mistake of comparing another band’s studio work (where they can re-record and splice each vocal part over and over until it’s perfect) with the Grateful Dead in concert. That’s apples and oranges. Every single band that does vocal harmony in concert will miss once in a while.
That said, the Dead did miss a little more often than some others; they certainly weren’t as good or consistent singers as say CSN.
To some people, some part of that is part of their charm. Jerry Garcia’s occasionally cracked and wandering-around-the-key voice can add artistically to tales of hard times and desperation, and a little bit of raggedness in harmonies also can be more satisfying than a note-perfect polished-until-the-life-is-gone studio creation. But then again, sometimes they were just singing out of tune.
Princhester: I’m pretty sure I’ve heard on mainstream radio “Ripple” , “Box of Rain”, “Sugar Magnolia” or “Casey Jones”. All of these are more Alt-Country than crazy psychedelia, so if you think of the Grateful Dead as all LSD space jams, you might not realize these were Dead songs.
Phish are technically spot on - I find their voices frustratingly not-tuneful-enough, but those suckers can play and mesh very well. I wouldn’t call it “cleaner” - except from the standpoint that they move through improvised change sections (such as flowing from one song to a completely different one, a trademark of theirs) with far fewer mistakes and overlaps vs. the Dead.
There was some pretty significant cross-pollination between those bands early on. I don’t think Crosby and Nash urged the Dead to get better so much as the Dead heard what CSN was doing and wanted to emulate it somewhat. The Dead are all over David Crosby’s first solo album.