It’s only been a couple of months since last we touched down on the Seventh Ring of Saturn, and if you remember that then you’ve already read some of this. But halfway through our delve into the depths of 7 & 7 Is... spending time with the fourth band out of the eight embraced by the box set... oh, what does it matter if we go back in time a little? It’s what it’s all about, anyway.
Ted Selke, primary denizen of that seventh ring, explains. 7 & 7 Is... “a box set that Fruits de Mer is compiling for release later this year... and it will feature seven current bands reimagining two songs each from a 1960's U.S. psych band.” We have already encountered three of them in recent entries to this log: the Bevis Frond, the Chemistry Set, Sendelica, recreating the timeless magnificence of Love, the United States of America and Clear Light. We will meet the rest across the next few weeks. But this time... well, someone had to do the Dead, didn’t they?
Selke continues, ““I have been a fan of California rock for as long as I can remember, from the Beach Boys, through the Byrds, the Airplane, Love and all the others. But when I first heard Workingman’s Dead in early 1971, it blew my mind. The songs, the playing and the harmonies were some of the best I’d ever heard.
“I quickly worked my way forward and back with the band’s catalog and joined their fan club later that year. It was the first fan club I ever joined, and they sent me a lot of cool stuff. Little records and diagrams of their cutting edge sound systems, and breakdowns of all their business dealings. There were drawings and tour dates and all kinds of other interesting stuff. LP-wise you can safely go all the way through Blues for Allah in 1975.
“The Dead were my favorite band of the ‘70s, and they’re still my all-time favorite after The Beatles. I saw them around 75 or 80 times starting in 1976 and continuing until the end. It was the best spontaneous creative rock music - collective improvisation around and in between song structures as was done in jazz, and as we try to do in TSROS.”
Look into the songs that he chose to cover, though, and both stand a long way from what we night assume is the dead center of Dead psychedelics. “I wanted to pick a few of their more obscure early songs that weren’t played live as much during the era that I was seeing them and that would lend themselves to further psychedelicization.”
Two were chosen, one was called up... in the seventh ring archive there lurks a fabulous assault on “New Potato Caboose,” the midway point in the Dead’s sophomore Anthem of the Sun’s first-side-long acknowledgement of where their audience lay. But gracing the box set, on a split disc with Black Tempest, Cream Puff War,” sliding off the Dead’s debut album, where it closed side one’s salvo of shapely, sharp shorties. It’s shapely, sharp and shortish here too, but it is Saturnian as well, freakishly fab and all that good stuff, in that same unique fashion that is the Seventh Ring’s habitual orbit.
If you’ve not been there yet... you should.