"Dylan and the Dead" is an official recording (for a change) of a live concert, with our friends Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, Brent Mydlan, and Bob Weir playing versions of Dylan songs. After its release in the early parts of 1988, it has generally, verging on universally, been regarded as a particularly bad record (riverrun calls it "the nadir of Dylan's efforts" and adds that we should "avoid at all costs"). The track listing is as follows:
  1. Slow Train, from Slow Train Coming
  2. I want you from Blonde on Blonde
  3. Gotta Serve Somebody from Slow Train Coming
  4. Queen Jane Approximately from Highway 61 Revisited
  5. Joey from Desire
  6. All Along the Watchtower from John Wesley Harding
  7. Knockin' on Heaven's Door from the soundtrack for Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid

I, personally, am not entirely sure what to think of this record. I suppose I should just be a man about it and say, unashamedly, that I like this album, thank you very much, because I do. I think the Dead create a nice, smooth backing sound for Dylan's songs. It's a unique sound, it's Jerry Garcia's sound, and I enjoy hearing it with Dylan's lyrics.
Having said that, I can't deny that I know exactly what people mean when they say that in their opinion, it's absolutely awful. After the initial introductory togetherness of Slow Train, there's a certain half-assed atmosphere which arises from Dylan's singing. I get the feeling that perhaps he's a bit embarrassed, almost like he knows that the "Dylan and the Dead" gravy train, slowly truckin' through the set, is actually a bit too commercial for his liking. I mean, the Dead were, at the time, one of the "most popular concert draws in the United States, grossing tens of millions of dollars each year", and I get the feeling from the credits to "publicity" people and the "Grateful Dead Office" that what started as a fun, interesting project between Bob's folk traditions and Garcia's bluegrass roots, somehow became a bit of a money scheme for the producers. Nevertheless, Bob and the Dead didn't see the gravy train coming until it already came, and by then it was too late: the concerts were planned, the tickets were sold, and the recording equipment was set up.

That's what I reckon anyway. I feel that as the night progresses, Dylan becomes more and more conscious of the commercialism, and less and less involved in the performance. His singing seems to become quite lazy, almost forced, especially during Joey. It's as if he can't wait for the night to finish.

As for the Dead, I feel that they settle too far into the role as the backing band. They don't really seem to add anything much to the music, apart from their natural sound (which I personally think makes it worth the collaboration, if only for the experience). There are times (near the end of All Along the Watchtower, for example) when I feel Bob is giving the Dead space to contribute more, but the Dead instead seem to just watch Bob and wait for what he does next. There's a certain amount of uncertainty on stage.

And as for the crowd, well, they make me think of a superbowl halftime show. I wasn't at this mid-summer night's concert in the late-80's, so I don't know what the atmosphere was really like. However, it seems from the crowd's noise levels and Dylan's apparent lack of enthusiasm that it was probably held in something huge and impersonal, and like it was advertised in such a way that many people who thought they cared or just said they cared went out and bought themselves a ticket. You know the type: those who reckon they're a big fan of whatever hip star it was that everyone was listening to back in the day, who go to these concerts because they technically should be fun, but in reality aren't because they don't actually care anymore, but all their friends seem to (they don't) so they'll say it was fun and cheer when someone gets on stage, and cheer at the end of every song, and cheer at the end of the concert, and maybe even pretend to cheer for an encore when really they want to go home and get something to eat. I mean, I have a few songs a friend gave me from a 1984 collection of Dylan songs called Real Live. When Dylan begins to play his harmonica on its version of Tangled up in blue, the crowd go absolutely nuts. It sounds like Elvis Presley just walked on stage behind him or something. But on Dylan and the Dead, there's no real excitement or even interest, apart from some sea of heads out there. And is that a better audience than 2 or 3 people who really listen to you? Well, I can't say I know. But I imagine it isn't. (I'm not sure why that reminds me of a superbowl halftime show....)

At any rate, I think the bottom line on this record is that if you know the songs, then there's no real advantage to buying it, but it's not the type of record that ruins your favorites for evermore (and those records do exist, you know). I especially like the rhythmically thumpin' version of I want you, which many say is the only likeable thing on there. I also dig the groovy Garcia-esque solos which pop up here and there, and I feel that the version of Knockin' on Heaven's Door is the closest the performers come to letting themselves go. It also implies what the Dylan/Grateful Dead combination could have become, with more familiarity and practice between the worlds of talent.

The following is a list of concerts in which Dylan and the Dead perform together. I found it at www.expectingrain.com (I imagine that's "expecting rain" rather than "expectin' grain") submitted by someone called Thad.
  1. November 16, 1980, 4 songs.
  2. July 2, 1986, 3 songs at end of joint concert during Dead set.
  3. July 7, 1986, 3 songs at end of joint concert during Dead set.
  4. July 4, 1987, Dylan backed by Dead
  5. July 10, 1987, Dylan backed by Dead
  6. July 12, 1987, Dylan backed by Dead
  7. July 19, 1987, Dylan backed by Dead
  8. July 24, 1987, Dylan backed by Dead
  9. July 26, 1987, Dylan backed by Dead.
  10. February 12, 1989, 8 songs Dylan joins in at Dead concert.
  11. October 18 or so 1994, 1 song Dylan joins at Dead concert.
  12. June 25, 1995, Garcia joins 2 songs in Dylan set at joint concert.
The quote up there about Jerry Garcia was on www.expectingrain.com, under an article written by someone called "Chris", in the Who's Who section, written soon after Garcia's death.

With hindsight, this record actually begins to make a little sense. It's still pretty awful; it wouldn't be the record I'd play anyone to prove why Dylan's live recordings matter. Of all the live recordings, only Bob Dylan At Budokan is worse.

This is the genesis of everything Dylan has done since. It's a dry run for The Never-Ending Tour. If you've been to a Dylan concert in the last five-to-ten years, he sounds much like he does on Dylan and the Dead, only his vocals are far more confident, and his backing band sounds like they may have rehearsed the songs before trying to play them.

Dylan's voice had been in decline since the 1974-1976 peak of Blood on the Tracks through the Rolling Thunder Revue to Hard Rain. By 1985's Empire Burlesque, he's completely lost confidence in it, and what you get is an album of mailed-in vocals, buried under screaming female backup singers (bad idea, Bob) and synthesizers and synth drums and various other crap no one wants to hear on a Bob Dylan record.

On Dylan and the Dead, that's pretty much the order of business, except there's nowhere for him to hide how lousy his voice has become. What happens around 1989's Oh Mercy is that Dylan finally decides to adapt to, and run with, what he's got left. The phrasing becomes sharp again, and his command over the proceedings returns. Once, in 2001 or so, I saw him sing an entire verse of A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall in Woody Guthrie's voice. He couldn't have done that in 1987.

The song selection, as pedrolio mentions, borders on being ridiculous. I believe Dylan picked the songs himself, which could only mean he didn't want anyone to like it, or even buy it from reading the back cover. Out of only seven songs, you get two from his widely loathed-and-misunderstood God rock phase, two that are completely obligatory, and Joey, which may be the worst song he ever wrote (anyway it's right up there with No Time to Think). Only I Want You and Queen Jane Approximately are really suited to the Grateful Dead's style, and these are the songs which work best, done as the hippie shuffles with chiming guitar that the Dead do so well.

The version of All Along the Watchtower is also worthy of mention. After running through the chords a few times, Jerry unleashes a screaming solo at the exact moment Bob begins to sing. Jerry sort of trails off in embarrassment and waits for the end of the verse. You think they rehearsed that one at all? Even though there isn't much to recommend this beyond its bad-humor value (and Jerry Garcia shouldn't try to sound like Jimi Hendrix), Dylan copped this arrangement for his Never Ending Tour, and has been using it ever since.

Another interesting note-- it's rumored that a couple of years later, 1990 or so, Bob Dylan asked Jerry if he could join the Grateful Dead. They put it to a vote, and the vote came back "no". It's probably a good thing that never happened, but there are more connections between Dylan and the Dead than fans of either are willing to acknowledge, like the way Dylan sometimes sounds like he's fronting the Jerry Garcia Band these days.

The first time Dylan shared the stage with the Dead was in July of 86.1 At that time Bob Dylan was touring with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and during the summer they and the Dead shared some dates. The Dead opened for Dylan, Petty & the Heartbreakers on Thursday, June 26 at the Humphrey H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and on Friday, July 4 at Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, New York (part of the Dead's second set was broadcast on TV for Farm Aid). Dylan, Petty & The Heartbreakers opened for the Dead at three shows, during two of which Dylan came out to share a few songs during the Dead's first set.

On Wednesday, July 2, 1986 at the Rubber Bowl of the University of Akron in Akron, Ohio, Dylan came out and played three songs with the Dead: Little Red Rooster, Don't Think Twice, and It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. During the second set, after Jerry had already left the stage to let the drummers do their thing, Bobby sang Desolation Row (without Dylan). A few days later the Dead played a two-show run at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Sunday and Monday, July 6-7, 1986. Dylan, Petty & the Heartbreakers opened for both shows, but Dylan came out to play with the Dead only on the second night. Again he came out during the first set - not in the middle this time, but for the last two songs - It's All Over Now, Baby Blue once more, and then fans were treated to a Desolation Row set-closer with the man who wrote the tune.

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue was probably the first Dylan song the Dead covered. Jerry sang when they played it. The first record of their playing it is on January 7, 1966 - barely a month after they started appearing under the name "The Grateful Dead". They played it fairly often for the next eight years, and then gave it a rest through the later part of the seventies. It came back in a big way during the eighties and nineties as one of their better selections for an encore. When the first few bars of this would hit the air at encore time, a lot of deadheads, in addition to being excited about hearing this great song, would think "Thank god they're not playing Day Job or I Fought the Law!"

Desolation Row first appeared in the Dead's repertoire a few months after these summer 86 shows, on March 25, 1986, but it instantly became a staple of the first set. To a lot of people the performance of this song was surprising proof that the dyslexic Bobby Weir was not an idiot. It's a part of a Deadhead's compulsive, nit-picky nature to note every flubbed lyric, and the fact that Bobby could make it through that song AT ALL was impressive. One of the bumper stickers you could see at shows stated simply, "661 words in Desolation Row."

Dylan and the Dead spent several days during the last part of May 1987 rehearsing at Club Front, in San Rafael, California in preparation for a string of six summer shows in which the Dead, after playing one or two sets on their own, would play as Dylan's back up band for the final set. Tapes of these rehearsals circulate, and include a cover of Paul Simon's Boy In The Bubble. When the Dead started touring in June, but before their July dates with Dylan, Bobby added two of the Dylan tunes they had rehearsed to the Dead's rotation. When I Paint My Masterpiece debuted on Saturday, June 13, 1987 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Ventura, California, and a week later on Saturday, June 20, 1987 at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, California, All Along the Watchtower showed up in the second set.

More Dylan compositions which first appeared during the "Dylan & the Dead" joint shows made their way into the Dead's regular playlist. Knockin on Heaven's Door immediately joined Its All Over Now, Baby Blue as a Jerry-sung encore. The Dead broke it out later on in the summer, on August 13, 1987, the second night of their three-night run at Red Rocks, in Morrison, Colorado. It stayed in the rotation from then on, though it became rarer during the nineties. Maggie's Farm popped up in the second set a few times during the fall following the 87 Dylan/Dead shows, and then it disappeared. It reappeared as a first set song in the fall of 1990, once Vince Welnick had joined the band following Brent Mydland's death. It was hard to classify as a Jerry tune or Bobby tune, because everyone besides the drummers took a verse. That adds up to a lot of verses, especially when Bruce Hornsby was sitting in.

And, of course, there were more Bobby tunes. Like Maggie's Farm, Queen Jane Approximately also showed up in the fall of 87, following the joint shows, but unlike Maggie's Farm, it never went away. Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again didn't enter the rotation until the following spring, but once it was there it also had staying power. In fact four of these Bobby songs - Desolation Row, Masterpiece, Queen Jane, and Memphis Blues - became so much a part of the first set rotation from then on that heads began to talk about the "Dylan slot" at about five or six songs into the first set. Watchtower, however, the other Dylan cover sung by Bobby, usually appeared in the second set. It often emerged out of a Space that had been particularly dark. Performances of Watchtower took on an extra eerie sheen in the summer of 1990, when you could see from within the audience the DEA helicopters circling over the parking lot outside.

Here are the dates and venues of the "Dylan and the Dead" shows. These shows are also notable for the fact that Jerry played pedal steel guitar for the first time in over ten years.

Saturday, July 4 1987 at Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Joey and Slow Train Coming on the Dylan and the Dead album are from this show.

Two days later, on July 6, 1987 the Dead released the album In the Dark, which featured their only top ten hit: Touch of Grey.

Friday, July 10, 1987 at John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sunday, July 12, 1987 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Sunday, July 19, 1987 at Autzen Stadium at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon
Queen Jane Approximately on the Dylan and the Dead album is from this show.

Friday, July 24, 1987 at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California
I Want You on the Dylan and the Dead album is from this show.

Sunday, July 26, 1987 at Anaheim Stadium in Anaheim, California
Gotta Serve Somebody, All Along the Watchtower and Knockin on Heaven's Door on the Dylan and the Dead album are from this show.

The Dead and Dylan sent tapes back and forth to each other during the process of deciding what song performances should be on the Dylan and the Dead album. The Grateful Dead's sound engineer, John Cutler, mixed the record at the Dead's studio. The album was released January 31, 1989 on Columbia, Dylan's label. The Dead were on Arista at the time.

Later, more random Dylan appearances at Dead shows:

Sunday, February 12, 1989 - I don't know what was going on at this show. Spencer Davis, of the Spencer Davis Group, comes on for the last two songs of the first set: How Long Blues, and of course Gimme Some Lovin. Then Bob Dylan comes out and plays with the Dead for the entire first half of the second set - Iko Iko, Monkey & the Engineer (which they hadn't played in eight years), Alabama Getaway, Dire Wolf, Cassidy, and Memphis Blues. Then a Kodo drummer comes out during drums, and after the Stella Blue slot and a Foolish Heart closer Bob Dylan comes back out for an encore of Not Fade Away and Knockin on Heaven's Door.
Uh, why don't I have a copy of this show?

Monday, October 17, 1994 - Bob Dylan comes out for the encore. They play Rainy Day Women #12 and 35, which the Dead hadn't played since the Dylan and the Dead shows.

Sunday June 25, 1995 - Bob Dylan opened for the Dead at several of their shows this summer. They didn't share the stage at any of the shows, though. At this show Jerry sat in with Dylan and his band during It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry, and Rainy Day Women #12 and 35

The Grateful Dead gave their last performance a few days later on July 9, 1995.

1On November 16, 1980, Jerry Garcia showed up to play guest guitar at a Bob Dylan show at the Warfield theater in San Francisco, California. We don't need to go into it here - Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan deserves its own node.

written while wandering through Deadbase XI, edited by John W. Scott, Mike Dolgushkin and Stu Nixon
also consulted: Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads edited by David Shenk and Steve Silberman
and of course:

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