Music to Take You Higher, Part One

CANNABIS CULTURE – It’s no secret that artists and musicians through the ages loved smoking pot and have frequently used it as a source of inspiration.

From Louis Armstrong to Jerry Garcia, Bob Marley, Willie Nelson and Snoop Dog – thousands of singers and players have sought inspiration from cannabis. Bob Marley remarked that it gave him a little personal space away from the world to aid his meditations; Louis Armstrong said it brought him closer to people while others like Jerry Garcia felt it gave him an intuition and ability to hear the people he was playing with better.

Just like some people love indica and some people can only handle sativa, while other people like both, there’s stoner music for every taste. Whether you like vintage jazz, classic rock, electronica, hip hop, reggae or classical music, there’s something out there that is going to take you higher while you listen to it.

This ‘Music to Take You Higher’ will be a regular column at Cannabis Culture that hopes to match you with your ultimate music to enjoy while you’re high while at the same time encouraging you to branch out, take a risk and have a listen to some music that you’d usually pass by.

This first time out, we’re going to look at some music from artists who created some of their best work in the sixties – The Grateful Dead, Miles Davis and Donovan. Next time, we’ll jump into some electronica, reggae and – gasp – country music.

The Grateful Dead – Dave’s Picks Volume 1

No band has exploited its vast performance legacy more than the Grateful Dead. For decades, the band’s fans – or ‘Deadheads’ as they’re affectionately known – have traded and collected tapes of Grateful Dead concerts, reinforcing the belief that the best way to experience and appreciate their music was in a live setting rather than on studio recordings. Since the dawn of the digital age, trading has become easier and for those without the time or inclination to join tape trading communities online, the band themselves have been pumping out at least four archival sets a year for the last fifteen or so years.

This new series ‘Dave’s Picks’ is named after David Lemieux, the band’s archivist who has the enviable job of listening through the band’s collected soundboard recordings to decide which shows should be released on CD. Some hardcore Deadheads resent having to pay for shows as the culture surrounding the band has always emphasized trading rather than profiting from sharing music. That said, official releases such as this one have the advantage of having been recorded through the band’s PA system rather than coming from an audience recording, and in deference to the group’s hippie legacy, they’re usually very reasonably priced, reflecting the hippie spirit that the Grateful Dead organization still tries its best to embody.

For this inaugural release, Lemieux picked a real crowd pleaser of a show from the Grateful Dead’s legendary 1977 spring tour – a series of dates that many feel was the best in the group’s thirty year history. For people who are interested in learning more about the Dead, but don’t know where to start, this 3 CD set capturing their May 25, 1977 concert in Richmond, Virginia may be the perfect embarkation point. Like all Grateful Dead concerts, the Richmond show’s first set featured a mix of shorter songs such as ‘Jack Straw’, ‘Peggy-O’ and ‘Brown Eyed Women’ that demonstrate the Grateful Dead could be a tight, melodic and soulful outfit when they set their minds to it. But, for most people, it’s the longer, second set songs that are the most appealing. To that end, there are killer, long versions of some of their most improvisational and ‘jammy’ songs such as ‘Scarlet Begonias’, ‘Fire on the Mountain’ and ‘The Other One’ showcasing the band at the peak of its exploratory powers. An illustrated booklet with an informative essay about the Grateful Dead’s 1977 spring tour is included to nicely round out the package.

Dave’s Picks Volume 1 is a limited edition and is available from www.dead.net

All the Years Combine – The Grateful Dead DVD collection

First off, this collection of 14 DVDs retailing at $99 is – hands down – the bargain of the month. Whether or not you have the stamina to watch nearly 40 hours of Grateful Dead concert footage is another question. For the curious who may never have had the opportunity to take in a Dead show, this collection is a fabulous introduction. It goes a long way to explaining and illustrating what all the fuss has been about for the last four decades since Jerry Garcia and company came to the world’s attention during the summer of love. (And for those of you who were on the bus, this collection of concerts spanning from the early seventies to the mid-nineties is an absolutely essential souvenir and reminder of all the good times.)

Of the films collected here, ‘The Grateful Dead Movie’ is certainly the best of the lot. Created by the Grateful Dead themselves, this documentary does a wonderful job of capturing the band and their audience during a hometown run at San Francisco’s Winterland Theater in 1974. Chocked full of interviews with band members, roadies, groupies and casual hangers on, ‘The Grateful Dead Movie’ is a hugely entertaining cult film that is full of strange and wild characters who make the endeavor a fascinating cultural experience whether you actually like the band’s music or not. 1978’s ‘Closing of Winterland’ documentary is another highlight, while ‘Truckin’ Up To Buffalo’ from 1989 is a very fine example of latter day Grateful Dead music.

Taken together, ‘All the Years Combine’ is a treasure trove of psychedelic music that can either be actively watched or listened to in the background (the digital sound is excellent). Highly Recommended.

The Essential Donovan

For decades, Donovan has gotten a bad rap for songs like ‘Mellow Yellow’ and ‘Wear Your Love Like Heaven’ that have come to represent everything that was naïve and excessive about the flower child movement of the sixties. After having not listened to Donovan for nearly two decades – since seeing a wonderful solo acoustic concert in Vancouver in the early nineties – it’s surprising to hear how well many of the songs on the new ‘Essential Donovan’ compilation have weathered the vagaries of time and fashion. Sure, songs like ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ and ‘Epistle to Dippy’ are kind of silly and over the top in their delivery, but listen to ‘Catch the Wind’ or ‘Universal Soldier’ and you’ll realize that they sound just as great as they did when they first hit the airwaves in the early sixties. Lovely acoustic ditties such as ‘Isle of Islay’, ‘Colors’ and the enduring FM radio single, ‘Atlantis’ are just some of the highlights to be found on this new collection. Readers at Cannabis Culture may be interested to know that Donovan did inhale and that he was the first popular English folk singer to be arrested for marijuana possession back in 1966.

Archival Highlight – Bitches Brew by Miles Davis

More than forty years after it was first released, ‘Bitches Brew’ remains one of the loudest, most aggressive, confrontational and downright beautiful albums ever recorded. After playing jazz for decades, Miles Davis had little to prove by the late sixties, but like the pioneer he was, his ear was always cocked towards the cutting edge of musical experimentation. By this juncture in history, American culture was undergoing huge changes that were reflected everywhere, and in 1970 it was rock musicians and not jazz players who were extending the boundaries of the possible.

With tracks clocking in at over twenty minutes each, this double album set successfully fuses Miles Davis’ trumpet excursions with the psychedelic sounds pioneered by groups like the Grateful Dead and Santana. Spend some time with ‘Bitches Brew’ and let its complex melodies, tripped out excursions and rhythmic deconstructions wash over you and embed themselves in your psyche because music this good never gets old. Tracks like ‘Pharaoh’s Dance,’ ‘Spanish Key’ and ‘Miles Runs the Voodoo Down’ are so full of ideas, colour and emotion that they still sound as audacious and challenging as they did when they did over four decades ago when they first came out.

‘Bitches Brew’ opened whole new worlds of musical possibility, and the influence of this recording on a whole generation of artists cannot be overestimated. Check it out!

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