This record falls into the category of ‘essential’. Whether you ‘get’ bluegrass music or not, Old and In the Way, the album by the super group of the same name, should be a regularly played part of your collection.
My ears first delighted to this record in the First Age of Vinyl in the mid-1970s. I shared a large house on a leafy avenue in Southeast Minneapolis (just a block and a half from two Minneapolis institutions: Ralph and Jerry’s Supermarket, which was hardly bigger than a postage stamp, and Positively 4th Street, one of the coolest record shops in the Upper Midwest where I wasted away uncounted hours flipping through rack upon rack of records wishing I could afford the $5.98 each one cost…highway robbery I tell you!) with my best friend and two co-eds who were majoring in psychology and English Literature.
In those days of student housing it was expected that part of each person’s contribution to a harmonious and well-functioning household was bringing and sharing your record collection. If you didn’t have one or if you wanted to set up your stereo in your room and listen to the music on your Koss headphones then you probably weren’t going to last very long as a housemate. Exceptions, of course, were made for cute (or bolshy) co-eds, but definitely not for the men.
One of those cute co-eds (who went on to marry my best friend) had Old in the Way in her collection. I can’t remember what else she had to offer in terms of vinyl platters but this single record was worth 100 additional. I was not into bluegrass at all at the time. I sneared at people who listened to country music. I had a mental block against the Grateful Dead, whom I weirdly considered to be a threat to my Christian faith! Indeed, my musical tastes were very green at this juncture of life (I am embarrassed to admit that my favourite singer at the time was Al Stewart).
But it was J’s playing of this record that began the opening of my narrow musical tastes. I instantly took to the sprightly playing, the tight but rough vocal harmonies that gave the impression they could just as easily steer the song right off a cliff as bring it in for a safe landing. When J told me that Jerry Garcia was the main force behind O&ITW I didn’t know what to think. This was great music, but didn’t he play guitar for in that druggie band, the Dead? On the sleeve I recognized one other name, that of Vassar Clements, the great fiddler, who I remembered from Robert Altman’s 1975 film Nashville, which I had loved. Everyone else was completely unknown to me.
Funny how one record can lead to so many others. It was by listening to this record that I turned to American Beauty (Grateful Dead) and began a long, slow but powerful love affair for Jerry Garcia as a champion of American traditional music. Dave Grisman, who played mandolin on the record, became a favourite of mine because of this record and I later came to understand the stature of Peter Rowan in American traditional music.
I’ve owned this record as a home-recorded tape, a pre-recorded cassette, a LP and now as an MP3. It is an old friend and for those of you who (for whatever prejudice or injustice) have not had the pleasure, I commend to you from the bottom of my heart, Old and in the Way.
Old & in the Way was a one-shot bluegrass band whose legacy lasted far longer than the band. Led by Grateful Dead member Jerry Garcia (banjo, vocals), the band also featured David Grisman (mandolin, vocals), Vassar Clements (fiddle), Peter Rowan (guitar, vocals), and John Kahn (bass). Garcia formed the band in 1973 as a way to revisit his bluegrass roots and demonstrate his affection for the music. To round out the lineup, he recruited Clements and Kahn as well as Grisman and Rowan, who were both West Coast session musicians who had previously played together in the band Muleskinner. Taking their name from a Grisman composition, Old & in the Way played a handful of gigs, most of them at the Boarding House in San Francisco in October. An album, also called Old & in the Way, was culled from these shows but not released until 1975 on the Grateful Dead's own record label, Round. The record combined standards and Rowan originals, which later became standards. Although the album was the only one the lineup released during the 1970s, the members continued to play together in various permutations over the next two decades, and the record continued to sell steadily. The group reunited after Garcia's death in 1995, releasing a second album (actually composed of 1973 recordings), That High Lonesome Sound, in early 1996. A third album of 1973 vintage appeared at the end of 1997. (AMG)
01 Pig in a Pen
02 Midnight Moonlight
03 Old and in the Way
04 Knockin' on Your Door
05 The Hobo Song
06 Panama Red
07 Wild Horses
08 Kissimmee Kid
09 White Dove
10 Land of the Navajo