A newly released reel of The Grateful Dead from 1975 has emerged on archive.org containing what compiler Alan Bershaw believes “to be the first 1975 Grateful Dead studio session, with the musicians recording an embryonic version of the ‘Blues For Allah’ title track.” The twenty-two-minute recording is fully instrumental, and from the notes, only has the core members of the Dead present on the recording.

The hard copy of the reel was labelled with the notations, “The First Day” and “January,” which are believed to refer to January 1st of 1975 or the Dead’s first recording session during the month or serve as a reference for the band or for Robert Hunter. While the recording has been in circulation before spliced into two parts, this new version remains uncut and of higher sound quality. Take a listen for yourself below, courtesy of uploader Matthew Vernon, and check out the full notes from the original reel-holder Alan Bershaw below.

This reel contains what I believe to be the first 1975 Grateful Dead studio session, with the musicians recording an embryonic version of the “Blues For Allah” title track. Its also the earliest recording for what would become the “SNACK Jam,” that they’d soon begin rehearsing with additional musicians (Ned Lagin, Merle Saunders and David Crosby) the following month.

This is not to be confused with any of the content on those February 1975 SNACK rehearsals for the Kezar Stadium gig, as Crosby and Saunders are not present here. It also does not match any other “Blues For Allah” studio outtakes tapes that I’m aware of. It’s questionable whether or not Ned Lagin is present here, but I only hear Keith Godchaux playing electric piano. This leads me to believe that this is just the core band with Mickey Hart back on board. There are no vocals, so Donna Godchaux is not present on this recording.

The reel case only contains the notation “The First Day” and a date of “January.” I have a few theories for this notation. It could mean that it was literally the first day of 1975, as in January 1, 1975. I think a more likely theory is that it was simply the first day of 1975 studio sessions sometime in January. Bob Gurman, who I inherited this reel from, thought it was the actual working title of this composition, since it was still an instrumental and prior to Robert Hunter’s lyrics being written. I’ve also speculated that this could have been recorded as a guide reference for the band and additional Kezar musicians prior to those rehearsals. It may also have been recorded for Hunter as a template for writing lyrics. Or some combination of all of these possibilities…

I should also add that I’m aware of another version of this recording. I also have a DAT that I think I received in trade from Steven Martin back in the early 1990s. That contains this same recording, but with it divided into two sequences, with a short break in the middle. On this reel, those two sequences are seamlessly spliced together. Despite this spliced version originating from the same two sequences, the reel sounds significantly better and has considerably more dynamic range than the two sequences found on the DAT.

I’ve scoured through all known notation for 1975 Grateful Dead studio sessions, outtakes and rehearsals, but can find no mention or match to this particular recording – or of any January 1975 studio recordings for that matter. Surprising, since this is such remarkable quality. It very well may be the earliest recording of the Grateful Dead’s return following the 1974 retirement. Have a listen. I don’t think anyone will be disappointed. Alan Bershaw – January 2017

Alan Bershaw – January 2017