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Credit: Carl Lender

Music

When Jerry Garcia covered The Beatles

@TylerGolsen

Jerry Garcia had an interesting relationship with The Beatles. Although he was quick to cover contemporaries like Motown and The Rolling Stones, both with the Grateful Dead and in his solo concerts, the Fab Four represented something a bit more difficult to take on.

Not that he didn’t try. ‘Hey Jude’ was played as early as 1969, when Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan briefly brought the song into the band’s repertoire. Over the band’s 30 year career, songs as diverse as ‘Rain’, ‘Good Day Sunshine’, ‘Day Tripper’ and ‘Dear Prudence’ were tried on by the Dead and their offshoots, but none of those covers ever stayed in the band’s extensive live repertoire for very long.

According to one of his oldest friends, Garcia wasn’t even sure if he liked The Beatles initially. “Garcia called me up and said, ‘We’ve got to go down to St. Mike’s Alley now,” remembered David Nelson, who later played guitar with Garcia in The New Riders of the Purple Sage. “They’re playing this group, the Beatles. They’ve got the album, and I want you to check it out.’” 

“So we went and got coffee and sat there looking at each other, listening on the sound system to the Beatles’ first album; the ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ album. After every song, we’d look at each other. I was going, ‘This is going to make me puke, man.’ He said, ‘Oh no, give it a chance. Let’s listen with an open mind.’ After each song, it was like, ‘Pretty good. Good harmony; like in the bluegrass band. Yeah, they do sing good harmony.’” 

“We finished the album, and we both looked at each other and said, ‘Okay, what’s the verdict? What do you think?’ And we both gave it the iffy sign. Not the okay sign – it was iffy,” Nelson concluded.

Even though he had his reservations, specifically about Please Please Me according to Nelson’s recollection, Garcia actually wound up covering one of the band’s most essential early-period songs. For his fourth and final solo album Run for the Roses, Garcia takes on Paul McCartney’s unkillable rocker ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, the opening track to Please Please Me.

Garcia’s take is understandably a bit more psychedelic than the original, but more than anything else, it’s funkier. Taken at half tempo, Garcia and his collaborators throw in a clavinet part that could have come straight out of a classic Stevie Wonder track. Garcia channels his best McCartney, going for some high notes that would be lost to time as the 1980s wore on and Garcia’s health began to decline. Not bad for a guy who seemed to prefer John Lennon.

Check out Garcia’s cover of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ down below.