On May 11th, a brand-new Jerry Garcia box set will be released via Round Records. Titled Before The Dead, predictably, the new box set compiles rare (many, previously unreleased) recordings of Jerry, showcasing his early beginnings before the Grateful Dead.
Before Jerry fully leaned into the psychedelic jam scene, he had a deep-seated love for folk music, playing small gigs with bluegrass and jug bands and various partners in the Bay Area from 1961 to 1964—beginning with a recording from Garcia’s girlfriend at the time’s 16th birthday party.
As such, Before The Dead collects tracks from these formative early years, containing recordings of Jerry performing with the Black Mountain Boys, The Wildwood Boys, Hart Valley Drifters, and Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers, as well as Robert Hunter, Marshall Leicester, and others. Today, Rolling Stone Country premiered two tracks from the Before The Dead box set, offering up a recording of Jerry Garcia and Sara Ruppenthal—who Garcia would go on to marry—performing “Deep Elem Blues” as a duet as well as the Black Mountain Boys’ take on Bill Monroe’s “Raw Hide”.
According to the box set’s notes, Jerry and Sara’s performance of “Deep Elem Blues” took place on May 4th, 1963, at Top of the Tangent in Palo Alto, California, with the number marking their first of six songs. “Deep Elem Blues” is a classic tune, which appears to have first been recorded by the Lone Star Cowboys in 1933, a group composed of Joe and Bob Attlesey and Leon Chappelear. In these years before the Dead, Garcia got acquainted with the song, with “Deep Elem Blues” eventually making its way into the Grateful Dead’s repertoire. The Grateful Dead first performed the classic song in December 1966 and continued to play it up until 1983–just about fifty times in total. Jerry Garcia would continue to perform the track with his various projects up until the late 80s, primarily with the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band or with John Kahn as a duo. You can take a listen to Jerry Garcia and Sara Ruppenthal’s take on “Deep Elem Blues” from the upcoming Before The Dead box set, which was premiered on Rolling Stone Country earlier today, below.
The box set’s recording of Black Mountain Boys’ rendition of “Raw Hide” was captured a little less than a year later, on March 6th, 1964, at the same venue, Top of the Tangent in Palo Alto. At the time, Black Mountain Boys was composed of Garcia, Geoff Levin, David Nelson (New Riders of the Purple Sage), and Sandy Rothman. Following the opening song, “In The Pines”, the Black Mountain Boys lay out an instrumental rendition of the Bill Monroe classic, eventually segueing it into a take on the traditional tune “Black Mountain Rag”. You can take a listen to Black Mountain Boys’ take on “Deep Elem Blues” from the upcoming Before The Dead box set, which was premiered on Rolling Stone Country earlier today, below.
The Before The Dead box set is likely to be a treasure for any Grateful Dead enthusiast or collector. The box set was co-produced and curated by longtime Grateful Dead author and publicist Dennis McNally and documentarian Brian Miksis. It highlights Jerry Garcia’s transition from folk to rock, giving insight into Garcia’s early years and how these bluegrass and folk influences later manifested within the Grateful Dead. The Before The Dead box set will be released on May 11th, with the box set available as a four-CD set or a limited-edition five-LP set on 180-gram vinyl. In addition to the recordings, which were restored and mastered by Fred Kevorkian, the box set also comes with a 32-page booklet of essays from McNally and Miksis, as well as detailed song notes from musicologist Dr. Neil V. Rosenberg. You can pre-order the Before The Dead box set here.
[H/T Rolling Stone]