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Posted: 2014 03-16
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The earliest live Dead footage

The historic and influential Monterey Pop Festival — that introduced both Jimi Hendrix and The Who to North American audiences and birthed the first rock festival movie — was put together by a couple L.A. guys — John Phillips and Lou Adler.

They chose to stage it up the coast where there was more critical cred for the new music — and the hometown hero Grateful Dead naturally looked with some skepticism toward the carpet-baggers from Tinseltown.

Suspicious of where the profits were going, the band refused to sign the waiver for their performance to be filmed by D.A. Pennebaker. Every book on the matter has stated the Dead were not filmed, and that “the cameras were pointed at the floor.“ This footage proves otherwise.

And the real jumpin’ joy bonus here is that it’s THIS song. Early fans of the Dead — years before the term “DeadHead” was born cross-eyed — will tell you, “They play this other stuff, and then there's THIS song." This is what many came for — and came back for — and is sort-of why the Dead "made it." It was written by a little-known jug-band harmonica player from Tennessee, Noah Lewis, who also came up with “Minglewood Blues” and “Big Railroad Blues,” and the band’s recording of "Viola" took up more than half a side of their debut album.

This is the earliest existing footage of the Dead performing a complete song — over a year-and-a-half before their televised Playboy After Dark appearance in January ’69.

The Dead had just watched their warm-up band The Who, in their second North American gig, rip up the stage and destroy their instruments. “We have to follow this?” Phil muttered. So they opened with “Viola” and some musical explosions of their own. It seems likely that Pennebaker’s crew shot this opening song, and then received word from the producers to stop shooting since they weren’t going to have the rights to it anyway.

Viola” was known for the musical chaos created by its ever-accelerating tempo on top of a fat swirl of color — specifically here from about 6:15 until the crescendo at 8:35. And judging by the jumping Jerry afterwards, he seemed pretty happy with it.

Of the many other interesting things to enjoy here, note:
How 25-year-old Garcia is still holding his Les Paul crazy-high like the banjo he’d played all his life. (And btw, that’s of course the same make and model as Neil Young’s famous axe, Old Black.)
How Bob Weir is all of 19 years old and scrambling to keep up with his older brothers.
How Pigpen is looking all brave, and having his way with the Hammond.

Maybe they wrote a letter and mailed it in the air, but they sure didn’t mail in this electric airplane ride.
  

The Hell's Honkies Tape Club

Captured live at the Monterrey Pop Festival

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