Monday, July 12, 2010

"You Don't Love Me"

Willie Cobbs (b. 1932) recorded his classic and most well-known blues song "You Don't Love Me" in 1961 in Chicago. You can hear the original on Youtube by clicking here. In 1967 John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers released a faster version of it on their album A Hard Road (also available on Youtube), and the Allman Brothers released a version of the tune recorded on 27 June 1971 at the Fillmore East for the deluxe reissue of Eat a Peach, clocking in at over 17 minutes.

Before both of these cover tributes to Cobbs's original, the Grateful Dead performed the tune in concert in 1966. Deadbase X gives 12-01-66 as the first concert, but since the time of that publication (1997) there have been more tapes of 1966 unearthed. Internet Archive has one from late summer 1966 (exact date unknown), where the song is part of a sequence, namely "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl>You Don't Love Me>Good morning." The similarity of the opening heads of the two songs are easily apparent, and this is perhaps why the Grateful Dead hit on putting the two songs together. Musically both songs also share a key, A, the 12-bar blues structure, and the employment of the pentatonic scale for the head and soloing.

As remarked by Sgt. O'Reilly on Internet Archive, the fact that the band put these two songs together speaks to their source: the 1965 album Hoodoo Man Blues by Junior Wells (1934-98). Also on Wells's album is the song by Arthur Crudup, "Look over Yonders Wall," also recorded that year by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and earlier by Elmore James, later by Freddie King (who was, coincidentally, one of Jerry's favorite guitarists, more on this when we analyze King's instrumental "Hideaway").

The Dead's version is rhythmically tight and certainly beholden to Wells. Songs like this show that at this point in their young career the band could be classified as another blues revival outfit. Garcia's voice is not yet quite at the level of Pigpen's, but it is competent, assured, and soulful. They were not, however, destined to be only a blues band, as they started to branch out and really pioneer psychedelic music. The shows from 1967 and 1968 tend more toward the new songs in their early psychedelic style, yet the band could still rip out a hot version of "Smokestack Lightnin' " or "Hurts Me Too." Indeed, tributes to the blues would remain a staple in the Dead's universe, right up to the very end in 1995 with Garcia's take on Muddy Water's "Rollin' and Tumblin'."

But what of the transition of "Good Morning>You Don't>Good Morning"? Is this the first time the band inserted a song in the middle of another song? This technique of song insertion would become a hallmark of their greatest psychedelic pairing, "Cryptical>Other One>Cryptical." And even more important is the idea of the song transition without break, originally symbolized on tapes and now digitally as ">." These types of seamless jams, where for at least one or two bars (sometimes more) it is impossible to determine which song is being referenced, are of course what the Grateful Dead live concert experience was about. The transition into "You Don't" is pretty flawless, and the band keeps the same tempo. Toward the end of "You Don't" (after the five minute mark, around 5:19), the Kreutzman signals that the band is going back into "Good Morning," by emphasizing a straight eighth note pulse.

When they return to "Good Morning," the energy is higher which results in a faster tempo. At 1:58, the band responds to Pigpen's vocal stylizations (listen to how he breaks the line at "Let me come on...home with you") with an increase in tempo and intensity, and Garcia plays little swirling pentatonic riffs under Pigpen's vamping. Pigpen takes the line "You make me feel alright," and goes off on "feel alright" in a way reminiscent of James Brown. As Garcia said in an early interview with Ralph J. Gleason (in the Grateful Dead Reader, p. 32): "We played in a spade show, in fact like a rhythm and blues show. I think we were a shock to them, because the music we were playing was heavy blues, certainly heavier than any of the spade guys were doing." I love this quotation because it encapsulates so much of the feel and energy of the early, primal Grateful dead: a heavy blues band. (As an aside, I wonder about the context of Garcia's use of the word "spade." Is it an racial slur? Or was it a beatnik's term for African Americans in mid-1960s San Francisco? If someone who has firsthand knowledge knows, please enlighten me, I would appreciate it.


Light Into Ashes said...

These last two posts are promising; hope you can write more in this vein.

For me, this particular musical piece is almost too painfully primitive to enjoy, but it is of great historical interest as the band's 'baby steps'. (Sometimes in these early '66 shows it's hard to believe they'd been playing together since May '65!)
This is the only musical 'sandwich' I recall from '66 (and for quite a while thereafter), though they did do some straighter segues that year like the King Bee>Caution from 3/12.
Even when the Other One was created in the fall of '67, their shows still had the format of one-song-at-a-time, with few segues. (Alligator>Caution was another one, though no audience would've noticed these were two separate pieces.)
January '68 saw the breakthrough, when every song could head into a jam or turn into another song. By then, the blues songs in their sets had been winnowed down to a few Pigpen setpieces...

Runner X said...

Yes, Dr. Malvinni, I am the infamous Sgt. O'Reilly from the Archive. A Chicagoan who is a huge fan of the blues and the Grateful Dead. This blog is right up my alley.

In the early 80s, I took a group of visiting New Yorkers to a mid-week gig at a local blues joint, and a guy named Willie Cobbs was playing there. I was a nascent blues freak, and after he played You Don't Love Me with his smokin' hot band, we stopped him at set break and said we knew that song from the Allman Bros. He reeled back and laughed good naturedly and said "Hey, man, THAT'S MY SONG!"

Anyways, it's always been my passion to dig up the roots of the dead, or rather, to nurture them, and to spread the gospel that these guys were really significant in passing on the great American musical traditions -- what one could call the Black Muddy River, along whose banks you can find Kerouac, Cassady, the Beats, dixieland, Louis Armstrong, Mark Twain, etc.

David Malvinni said...

Yes, they absolutely made a giant step forward in January 1968, and it's true that they start focusing on their own material in those months afterward. However, if you listen to Dick's Picks vol. 22, Lake Tahoe (Ski and Trip), you'll still hear a heavy blues vibe in their set list and moreover in their overall sonic presence on originals. Or listen to March 3rd, 1968, the free afternoon concert on Haight Street: "Viola Lee Blues," "Smokestack," "Hurts me too," and "Dancin."

Hi Sgt. O'Reilly--great to meet you. Your Willie Cobb's story is great, especially the fact that he never even heard of the Allman Brothers! I guess Cobbs probably did not actually own his own song. There's not many old blues guys like Cobbs left, but I imagine you get to hear the ones that are left living in Chicago. This past summer I was able to see Arthur Adams and Elvin Bishop in the same show, they were both pretty amazing in their own rights. There is that really interesting show from the Fillmore West, 6-6-69, where Elvin plays "Checkin' up on Baby" with the Dead, which I think after it has to have one of the longest "Lovelights" on record.