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Guide To The Tighten Up Jam

The Tighten Up was a jam that the Dead played in 69, 70, and once in 71. Similar to the Feelin' Groovy jam, it often appeared in Dark Star. However, the Tighten Up also appeared in just as many, if not more, Dancing In The Streets'. Many people have noted the similarity between this jam and Eyes of the World, calling it a "proto-Eyes jam." I think this is mostly due to the similar rhythmic chords in both of the tunes despite the different keys. The Tighten Up jam got its name from the Archie Bell and the Drell's song, Tighten Up. The rhythm guitar in the Archie Bell song is quite similar to Bob's chords. It seems that Bob first played these chords on 8/30/69. While the chords from both the Tighten Up song and jam are similar, many have considered other songs to be the Dead's inspiration.

One of these songs is Beginnings by The Chicago Transit Authority. Chicago Transit Authority's eponymous album was released in 1968 and included Beginnings. The Dead also jammed with Terry Kath on at least one known occasion. William Tell testified that Deadheads were certainly aware of Chicago early on and listened to them. This makes it pretty obvious to me that the Dead had most likely heard this Chicago record. 

Another possible source of inspiration, as pointed out by Light Into Ashes, could have been Soulful Strut by Young-Holt Unlimited. This record was also released in 1968, plenty of time for the Dead to have heard this record by the time they began doing Tighten Up and Feelin' Groovy Jams. The piano melody actually sounds a bit like Jerry's solo and the chords are quite similar as well. None of these songs really have the exact same chords or even the exact same rhythm as the Dead's "Tighten Up" jam. 

There is a specific melody that Jerry usually plays during the Tighten Up jam but I think it's inspiration is in jazz and not one of these other tunes. Some think it sounds a bit like First There Is A Mountain but I am not convinced. To me his solo sounds a lot like jazz scat singing, only using a guitar. Sure this has to do with both of their improvisatory natures but it really sounds like Jerry tries to make his guitar sing in these jams. Many have noted the jazzy sound of the Tighten Up jam. Dr. Flashback describes the Tighten Up from 11/2/69 as, "a fast 2 chord jazz riff that REALLY sounds a lot like Eyes of the World." 

Perhaps the song most similar to this jam is a song from Bob Weir's band, Kingfish, called Hypnotize. The Dead's Tighten Up could have been easily been influenced by any number of songs. Also likely is the Dead developed it on their own, after all it's basically just two chords, and Deadheads have basically just given it a name. When asked about the Mind Left Body jam, Phil was emphatic that it was just four chords, not some attempt to recreate the original song. I would imagine we would get a similar answer about the Tighten Up, "it's just two chords, man." 

Regardless of the jam's origin it is a truly thrilling thing to listen to. If you are one who thinks that the Tighten Up sounds a lot like Eyes, it almost seems like the jam found a home in Eyes of the World even though they stopped playing the jam. Similar to the Feelin' Groovy, they no longer played it in Dark Star after 1972 but it found a home between China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider. If this hypothesis is correct it is a pretty fascinating look into the Dead's songwriting. A few chords could appear one day and just keep growing until is was a full song.

One thing that I have noticed is people are always talking about which song the Tighten Up Jam was inspired by and I have never heard anyone talk about what inspired the Tighten Up song. Archie Bell's song is derivative in almost every way of King Curtis' song "Memphis Soul Stew." The way the song starts with a simple bass line and slowly instruments are added are the same in both songs. In both songs the singer chooses to speak to the band and the audience instead of singing an actual song. Also "Memphis Soul Stew" seems to have a similar rhythmic guitar part as Tighten Up. Someone with more music knowledge would be able to speak to the actual similarities in the songs. Looking through the songs on King Curtis' albums it is clear that he was inspired by many of the same songs that the Dead were including Beatles songs, old blues like CC Rider, Otis Redding, the Band, and others. Also, King Curtis actually played at the Fillmore West on March 5, 6, and 7th in 1971. Dead.net says that the Dead played a benefit at the Fillmore West on the night of the 5th. To me, this band is a lot like Jr. Walker and the Allstars. Some of King Curtis' stuff is the typical, overproduced Motown sound complete with corny strings. But some of his other stuff is raw and powerful jazz funk much like Jr. Walker. You can tell both sax players were inspired by similar musicians from their honking R&B style. The Fillmore West recordings of King Curtis reveal a very tight band that knew how to command an audience. Listening to this show, it's like King Curtis understood the San Francisco music scene and the emphasis on the groove and the vibes rather than the perfect production. During the song "I Stand Accused," the crowd can't get enough of King Curtis' sax and King Curtis urges the audience to help the band "set this groove." It seems to me like the Dead could have easily been inspired by King Curtis with their Tighten Up jam just as much as the writers of the Tighten Up song. The Dead and King Curtis are certainly similar in that a concert was a group experience. One could look at bands like the Dead and Chicago as a bunch of white guys trying their best to play R&B. So perhaps both the song "Beginnings" and the Tighten Up jam are nods to R&B which definitely set the stage for rock and roll and the genres that each band basically invented, the Dead and jam band music and Chicago with their "rock with horns."

A pretty harsh, but somewhat amusing, non-Deadhead's take on the Tighten Up jam can be found here, http://www.barelybrothersrecords.com/1204/covering-the-tighten-up-a-survey-by-brother-tad/. The page is devoted to the Archie Bell song and all of the covers of the song. I am pretty impressed the Dead were even considered on this list because I don't think they ever actually acknowledged the song Tighten Up as an inspiration. The description reads,

"Tighten Up Jam. In the late 60s, the Grateful Dead played what Dead-heads refer to as the 'Tighten Up Jam' as a lead-in to the psychedelic tour-de-force “Dark Star.” This jam has apparently never been commercially released, but it can be found among the legions of recordings of live Dead shows found on the internet. The couple of versions to which I have listened consist of a two-chord vamp that sounds vaguely like it might have been derived from 'Tighten Up.' The connection no doubt becomes clearer with the aid of cannabis and magic mushrooms. This is pretty much for lovers of the Dead, not lovers of 'Tighten Up.'"

This post is wrong on a couple of levels. First off, the Tighten Up Jam has been released commercially several times. Dick's Picks 2 comes to mind as does Dick's Picks 8. I also think it's a bit unfair to discredit what the Dead did. I think if anyone listens to Dark Star from 10/31/71 they could at least be impressed by the incredible and unique sound a "mere" rock band could achieve. People who are unfamiliar with the Dead's music always mention the connection between the music and drugs. As if drugs are a key to understanding the Grateful Dead's music. I think in the right setting drugs could certainly enhance an appreciation for the Dead's music. But I think it's unfair to not give the Dead's music a chance because you don't agree with drugs, two things that are completely separate from each other.

Anyways, as lovers of the Dead I hope you find the collection of Tighten Up Jams to be informative and entertaining. I hope it inspires someone to give a Tighten Up jam a listen. 


Dark Star


This is considered to be the first Tighten Up Jam. It occurs after Jerry breaks a string at 20:00. To fill the void Weir begins strumming the TU chords around 20:30. I have suggested before that this could have been a sort of musical dialogue between Bob and Jerry with Bob saying, "Hey Jerry tighten up those strings!" similar to how Archie Bell coaxed all of his band members in the song. They start to come together again a little after 22 minnutes. It definitely seems like Garcia saw this as a nice, easy two chord jazz shuffle that was perfect for a little solo. This first Tighten Up eventually fizzles out and they head to the Dark Star theme.


Dark Star

12:30-15:00 (Feelin' Groovy)

15:00-17:30 (Tighten Up)

This Dark Star has sort of fledgling Feelin' Groovy and Tighten Up jams. Really neither one is fully developed but Jerry pulls off some very sweet licks. Jerry's transition from the Feelin' Groovy to the Tighten Up at 15:00 minutes is amazing.


Dark Star

17:30-22:20 (Feelin' Groovy)

22:20-25:00 (Tighten Up)

Another one of the times the Tighten Up and Feelin' Groovy were played back to back. This is a beautiful example of each of these themes. See 1/2/70 for this Dark Star's big brother. Thekind78 said about this Dark Star, "I gotta say of all the available Feelin' Groovy and Tighten Up jams the one from 11/02/69 at the Family Dog has Jerry playing ever so sweet. Just so soulful. I don't know if any other date has that kind of depth to the playing." I couldn't agree more. 


Dark Star

16:30-17:30 (Feelin' Groovy)

17:30-20:00 (Tighten Up)

As I am listening to these Dark Stars again I am being reminded how often Feelin' Groovy and Tighten Up were juxtaposed. The jams really seem to develop simultaneously. In my other post about the Feelin' Groovy I describe this whole Dark Star jam as such. However, it is pretty clear that the second half is a Tighten Up.


Dark Star

18:45-22:45 (Feelin' Groovy)

22:45-28:00 (Tighten Up)

The Tighten Up begins seemingly out of thin air directly after the Feelin' Groovy winds down.



This Dancing is from a pretty poor sounding recording which makes it difficult to get an accurate timing for the Tighten Up. You can still hear the excitement in the jam despite the sound quality.




This Tighten Up is from the famous Ken & Judy Lee recording. We are so lucky that people, like the Lee's, had the foresight to record these monumental shows. They go into a short Tighten Up jam but this is a notable Dancing for being particularly jammed out at just about 18 minutes long.




Another Tighten Up from a Dancing In The Streets. I find these Dancing versions to be a little more predictable than the ones offered in Dark Stars. I would also find Dancing to be a bit boring without a Tighten Up jam tearing through the middle of it. This one hits a great peak at 7:30 and segues seamlessly into Dancing.




This Tighten Up can be found on Fallout From the Phil Zone. This jam ends with some very Feelin' Groovy-esque notes and chords from Phil and Bob. 




I particularly like Weir's chords that initiate this Tighten Up. Then when Jerry comes in he's fingerpicking along this fun chords quickly. This is a very exuberant example of a Tighten Up. Check out Jerry at 6:30. Also this Dancing might have convinced me to like Mickey more. Something about the bit around 8 minutes where it seems like the whole band is actually syncopated really gets me.


Dark Star


This Tighten Up is sandwiched in between a couple of Feelin' Groovy jams. The sound quality isn't great on this audience recording but the quality of Dark Star certainly is.




From one of the best shows the Dead ever played, this Dancing has been captured on Dick's Picks 8. Starting at 8 minutes we hear a very typical Tighten Up solo from Jerry. This is a great example of the solo that seemed to be repeated from Tighten Up to Tighten Up.




There are some issues with the sound quality and since a lot of these Dancing's and Tighten Up jams are fairly similar I would pick one with a better recording to listen to. But if you are someone used to audience recordings, Jerry's solo here is particularly sweet. I like how he plays the notes in the solo a bit more staccatto around 12 minutes.


Dark Star

The sound quality of this recording is "unbearable" and "horrifyingly bad" and "recorded from a mic encased within a tin can" according to a couple reviews. However, you can tell that this was an incredible, intense Dark Star. I can hardly imagine what Jerry's licks from 14:00-14:30 would sound like if we had a nice recording. The timing of this Tighten Up is difficult to pinpoint but I recommend giving this a listen if you are at all curious. You will be rewarded for forgiving ears and a little imagination! This Dark Star>Dancing is certainly a highlight of 1970.


Dark Star


This Dark Star is from the Dead's first show overseas. I think we can infer that they were going to try and make a statement for this monumental show. The timing from the Tighten Up page here (http://web.archive.org/web/20030825202854/www.stellarjay.net/timle/tighten_up_jam.htm) is way off. It claims that the Tighten Up starts at 3:30. However, to my ears it is very obvious that the Tighten Up starts well after the first verse and then after a portion of space. The Dead complained about poor playing during this show but people remember this Dark Star fondly. I could see why many people left this show mesmerized by the Dead after listening to this Star. Listen for the slight Dancing tease at the end of the jam before they start the Dark Star theme again.




This is a very energetic Dancing and a smoking Tighten Up. Jerry's solo at 6:15 is absolutely stunning, what the hell is the melody he plays here?? This Dancing held my attention, I really like this one. The Tighten Up really dominates the majority of this one. They build to a really nice climax before going back into Dancing.


Dark Star


This is a famous Dark Star from an equally famous show at the Capitol Theater. The Tighten Up is at the end of the second Dark Star right before the transition into Sugar Mag.




I like this audience recording a lot. I love the yelling when the Tighten Up begins to take shape, I would be doing the exact same thing. 


Dark Star


I like to think of this Dark Star as 9/19/70's brother. They are very similar but the one on 9/17 has a Tighten Up where the Feelin' Groovy is on 9/19. If you're a Tighten Up kinda guy this will probably be your preferred Star of the run. But, if you're a Feelin' Groovy kinda guy, 9/19 might be your favorite. It's interesting how highly I hold 9/19 but then the Dark Star Document (http://www.shallwego.net/deadlists/darkstar.htm) notes 9/17 as being one of the best and doesn't mention 9/19. Is that blasphemy or what William Tell? Different strokes I suppose... I will say the recording from 9/19 is considerably better sounding than the one from 9/17.




This is a pretty short and sweet Tighten Up jam. Nothing too special honestly.



This Tighten Up is somewhat hidden in the Download Series Family Dog at the Great Highway. The album cover says 2/4/70 but the Dancing In The Street is from this date. 




Jerry hangs back as Phil and Weir clearly initiate this Tighten Up. Instead of really weaving around the theme Jerry just sort of enters awkwardly already doing the Tighten Up solo. The solo is better executed starting just before 9 minutes. I will say this jam is eventually redeemed but I wouldn't consider this one of my favorite Dancing's.




I definitely recommend checking this show out. Smokestack Lightning opener... enough said. Anyways about this Dancing, I really like the sound of the recording. Jerry has a great tone and Weir's guitar sounds nice and crisp. With that being said, Phil is a bit lower in the mix so you might want to boost the bass on your speakers. This is a quick Tighten Up. They segue back into Dancing quickly but they are on tonight so the Dancing jam is every bit as inspired as the Tighten Up.




This is an incredible sequence of songs starting with Truckin' then going into Dark Star. The Dark Star goes into a cool Main Ten jam (think of an almost Playin' jam), into a Dancing jam before a full blown Dancing In The Street. The Tighten Up jam is very energetic tonight which is no surprise as this is an excellent show altogether. Jerry's tone is incredible for the Tighten Up, it has that fabulous, slightly echo-y sound that is found in shows like 9/19/70. I kind of like the change to the audience source in the recording I'm listening to. It really seems like the crowd loved the Tighten Up jam and always greeted it with cheering. 



My understanding is that this show has been mislabeled and the Dancing is actually from 10/5/70.


Dark Star


The final Tighten Up Jam can be found on Dick's Picks 2. Dick Latvala said of this jam, "This happens in '69 'Dark Stars,' about 16-18 minutes into it. The only thing it reminds me of is Donovan's song, 'First there is a mountain...' It's the most thrilling jam, on the level of 'Spanish Jam' or what DeadBase calls the 'Mind Left Body Jam.' Please, somebody in the world, name that jam better! I've heard it in many forms. It's similar to the transitions they used to do in 'China Cat > Rider' they used to do in late '73 and '74, and some 'Dancing in the Streets' in '70 had this theme. On this Halloween show, they do it, but it's a little bit different - it's a little jazzier. I don't know what to call it, but it's definitely a theme." I think we now know that the China>Rider transition is the Feelin' Groovy and the theme from Dancing is the Tighten Up. This Tighten Up from Dark Star may be the last but it certainly isn't the least inspired. I would say that this is the most jammed out and also one of the most exuberant Tighten Up jams they ever played. This jam is the reason I hold this Dark Star so highly on my list of favorites. The first time I heard this, I had just put it on in my car because I knew I had about a 30 minute long drive. Let's just say I nearly drove off the road when this jam began. It was the most thrilling and exciting things I had ever heard the Dead play. 

I know I have missed some Tighten Up jams but I wanted to at least get this out there. Like my post about the Feelin' Groovy jam, I am simply trying to synthesize the information about these jams that I have read in several different places. All of the information here can be dug up on the internet but it is pretty dispersed. I also wanted to bring up the different theories on the Tighten Up jam's origin that I have read or considered. Light Into Ashes mentions on his site that there may be some Tighten Up jams in Lovelight but I don't have the patience to sift through the countless, and sometimes seemingly endless, renditions the Dead did. If anyone knows of any Tighten Up jams that have not been listen here please share them with me.
















Clementine, along with several other new tunes, debuted on the Dead's Northwest tour of early '68, which they were recording for the Anthem album.....however, it never appeared on that album, nor on Aoxomoxoa, though it would have fit in well on either record. The Dead apparently weren't too happy with it and seem not to have played it very often.
Clementine was a rare Lesh/Hunter tune, so I'm not sure how much Garcia was involved in the composition. There's quite a difference between the way they played it in early '68 and how it sounded by early '69. It's strange that the song was left unfinished (if it was) since Lesh was a stern taskmaster on his later tunes!
In its shuffling jazzy two-chord rhythm, it's very similar to the Quicksilver Messenger Service instrumental Gold & Silver, which QMS had been playing through '67, so they may have influenced the Dead in this tune. (Which may be one reason the Dead never released it.)
Another likely influence is John Coltrane's treatment of My Favorite Things, which Lesh admired:
The jazz feel is prominent in the Anthem '68 tour, between this song and the Spanish Jam and the whole jammed-out treatment of the new songs; but a jazzy style didn't really resurface in a Dead song until Eyes of the World a few years later.

The first recording on 1/20/68 fades in (probably out of a missing Cryptical), and it's given the full '68 treatment, especially with washes of organ from Pigpen. Along with other recent tunes like the Other One suite and New Potato, they get the verses over with quickly and then spend a few minutes wandering in a jam before dissolving into the next song. I'm sure audiences at this tour couldn't tell where one song ended and another began, since nothing would be familiar to them!

We have a couple more performances from this tour, on 1/23 and 2/2, which are similar but longer, with quieter Pigpen. In each case Clementine comes out of Cryptical, a smooth transition in which it starts quietly; and on 1/20 and 1/23 it shifts into New Potato Caboose, which also works well. (On 2/2 they abruptly switch to Schoolgirl instead.) In the Cryptical>Clementine>Caboose medley, the style of jamming is very similar in each song, so it's almost like one long extended composition. (In contrast, the Dark Star>China Cat>Eleven medley sounds more like what it is, three tunes jammed together.) After they dropped Clementine, they kept the Cryptical>Caboose segue which flowed very nicely.
Some people prefer the 1/20 Clementine, but it seems like a tryout to me - I think 1/23 has the best version of this tour. It has a long intro, and it seems more developed, especially Garcia's playing. There's a very nice solo, and he returns to the verse at the end. On 2/2 they follow the same pattern - this version is the most focused, and just glides by with a hypnotic Lesh riff.
http://www.archive.org/details/gd68-02-02.sbd.jools.15801.sbeok.shnf (The 2/2 version was included on the So Many Roads box.)
(Note that new Miller transfers of this tour are now available, so "check for other copies" of these shows on the Archive.)

They may have played it on other shows of this tour, but too many tapes are missing to say for sure. It is perhaps the least-played song of the tour though, which shows that they may already have been unsure of it and perhaps decided it wasn't good for the record. I think they kept playing it throughout '68; but since so few shows were recorded, we only have a few brief snapshots from that year.

Clementine did resurface a few times, though....in a studio jam from 8/13/68 which was a bonus on the Aoxomoxoa CD reissue, they play Clementine for a while. They were starting to record the Aoxomoxoa album and were perhaps trying out ideas. This is perhaps the best early studio session we have; in most of our studio outtakes, the Dead are too focused on rehearsing to explore the jams. This Clementine is an especially nice recording, taken much slower than it was in January, but without new sections yet - with Garcia "singing" the melody lines on his guitar, it resembles Santana's style!

Clementine pops up again in a Hartbeats studio session on 9/21/68, when Garcia & Lesh jam on it briefly with another guitarist who solos over the chords. (Just the basic riff, not the full song.) It's odd to hear Garcia dueting the lines with someone besides Weir; it makes it sound like one of the club-blues jams that were very common in '68.

Which brings us to one of those clubs, the Matrix, and the Hartbeats' appearance there on 10/8/68, minus Weir and Pigpen. They start the show with Clementine (after Garcia sorts out some amp trouble), and it's basically a loose duet between Garcia and Lesh....kind of interesting, but with Weir gone, there's a huge hole in the sound. It takes them a while to get going - this Clementine is rather sloppy and unfocused - and things get more interesting after they turn into the Eleven. (Also in my opinion, this is the least interesting Hartbeats show, with Clementine pretty much just a warmup.) But here we start to hear hints of how it would sound in '69, with Lesh introducing new riffs into the tune and Garcia exploring different playing styles.

The main bridge riff Lesh added was apparently taken from the bassline of Coltane's take on Greensleeves, from the Africa/Brass album: 
This also suggests that Lesh had Coltrane in mind when he was composing Clementine. This riff sometimes recurs in Lesh's playing in later years - for instance, a bit in the 4/26/72 Other One (on Hundred Year Hall), or the 11/19/72 Dark Star. (I've also put together another post with more thoughts on this.)

The bridge riff also pops up in the next Hartbeats show on 10/10 - the second big jam, track 6, mixes this with some themes from New Potato.

The 10/30/68 Matrix show has a much more solid version of Clementine - in fact, you could use the start of this as a 'karaoke' version, since they're playing the basic backing just as if Garcia was singing. Here you can tell they're playing it in the new format, with the extra chords in the verse, a new bridge, and Lesh's distinctive riff afterwards. So it's frustrating not to hear how it sounded at Dead shows in late '68.... Once again, they head into the Eleven.
http://www.archive.org/details/gd68-10-30.sbd.sacks.1205.sbeok.shnf (track 11)
Also, in the post-Elvin Bishop jam (track 17), Lesh & Garcia go off on another Clementine jam, this time entirely based on the new bridge riff.

According to setlists.net studio dates, the Dead worked on Clementine several times in the Aoxomoxoa sessions in fall '68. Sadly, none of these outtakes have surfaced, but the Matrix shows make clear that they must have been working on the song around that time, and it appears in the two earlier studio rehearsals we have. Unfortunately, there are no Clementines in the Dead shows that survive from late '68, and they decided not to put it on Aoxomoxoa. Perhaps they felt it was too derivative a song, or Garcia wasn't comfortable with the lyrics, or the arrangement never satisfied them? It seems the song was left unfinished, never finalized...

But Clementine makes a final, unexpected 1969 appearance (kind of like Rosemary's sole surprise showing on 12/7/68)....again being recorded for a possible live album, on 1/26/69 they start with the Cryptical suite, which in the other shows of this tour could segue into any other tune, but suddenly they have a '68 flashback and go into a slower-paced Clementine. It's quite different from the early '68 versions, they've worked on it some more with Tom Constanten: his playing is very different from Pigpen's and he gives it that baroque-'69 flavor. Garcia matches his playing to Constanten's, and the intro and verse are very dramatic. They've also added some chords and new sections (as we heard on 10/30/68), and heightened the dynamics of the song; there's one wonderful solo section after the first verse where Garcia swells up one note at a time. Although he's a little uncertain about the verses (adding an extra solo when he forgets the second verse), the song abruptly transforms into a marvelous jam. At first it's built around the new riff that Lesh introduced at the Matrix shows; then they return to the two-chord waltz and Garcia starts a new jam theme - and the song ends dramatically with Weir, Garcia and Constanten all playing arpeggios around the chords. For a few minutes it's like being in the middle of a '69 Dark Star; but it fades and Garcia starts Death Don't Have No Mercy, abandoning cold Clementine for the blues.

After such a wonderful performance, it's a shame we don't have any more Clementines. It seems like if they'd kept playing Clementine, it could have become one of the highlights of 1969 shows; but just as with New Potato Caboose, they felt done with it, and it was never heard again.

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