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Jerry Garcia as a Side Man: An Album 30 Years in the Making

Cross-posted on The Huffington Post

A few years ago, while visiting a friend, San Francisco singer-songwriter and producer, Bill Cutler, I noticed a stack of two inch reels in an open closet and asked him about them.

"Oh," he continued down the hall, "those are some of my songs I recorded with Jerry Garcia."

I looked back at the large stack of large multi-track tapes and then followed my friend down the hall and called after him, "Uh, Bill?"

Now, a few years (and a great deal of work) later, that stack of two inch tapes is about to be released as a CD entitled: Crossing the Line (Magnatude/Ryko), due out in March and which will include the never-before-heard recordings of Cutler's six original songs with Jerry Garcia, as well as Bob Weir, Jorma Kaukonan, Jerry Miller, Mark Karan, David Nelson, Scotty Quik, Pat Campbell (among others), augmented by eight songs, also penned by Cutler, with many of the same (surviving) sidemen.

I received my advance copy this week and have diverted from my normal fare of environmental and political musings to write my reaction, after listening with a thoughtfulness that can only come from the revelation that someone one has known for a long time has more to offer than previously realized. That is because Cutler's CD, while of obvious historic value and unique in its musicianship, is also quite good. Strong songs, vocals and production values, with Garcia's work as a sideman in his instantly recognizable guitar solos on songs that are whole entities unto themselves. These are different from Garcia's work with the Grateful Dead, unique in presentation; an expression of Cutler's own songwriting and singing talent, which, it turns out, exists, in this writer's opinion, in abundance.

There is poignancy, as well, in the eighth track, entitled, "Starlight Jamboree," recorded as an instrumental by Cutler and Garcia from an idea about musicians playing with their deceased heroes at a Starlight Jamboree in the sky. Years later, (before his songs would take on a life of their own), Cutler, mourning the loss of his friend, added lyrics about Garcia. Which means that Garcia played as sideman on a song about a posthumous heavenly jam that ended up being, posthumously, about him.

Magnatude-Ryko has put up a three song pre-release for the upcoming CD here, with what most Grateful Dead and San Francisco music fans (the tracks include players from the Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Elvis Costello, Boz Scaggs and Sammy Hagar's bands, Kingfish, the list goes on...) might pick as their ultimate fantasy band. And all that from a stack of two-inch reels once stored in a dark hall closet, now scheduled for the light of day because of one talented musician, with iconically talented friends, who worked his heart out to record, remaster, and release a CD that was thirty years in the making.