What is "Kids and Dogs?"

By Steve Silberman

This week, on the 500th broadcast of the Grateful Dead Hour, David Gans will be playing one of my favorite pieces of music in the universe, David Crosby's "Kids and Dogs." It's a recording with some interesting history to it, so I thought I'd share what I know.

I'm amused to see the song described in the soon-to-be-published Deadhead Taper's Compendium as "widely regarded as the one that got away." As Gans said to me, "You're not that wide!" Kids and Dogs has been a personal obsession of mine for almost 15 years, and to think of even just the title of it being "widely" known among Deadheads tickles me endlessly. Once, it was an almost completely unknown and forgotten song.

The version David will be playing is a duet between Jerry Garcia and David Crosby, recorded at Wally Heider's Studio C by Stephen Barncard in 1970, probably in November or December (Stephen may well have exact information on this).

It's a ragged but heavenly version of a sublime tune that Crosby wrote around the same time he was writing Tamalpais High, Song with No Words, Laughing - all those great tunes that ended up on his first solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name (the album it "got away" from).

The earliest version I know is from March 28, 1968, recorded at Hollywood Recorders, LA, by Paul Rothchild and Bruce Botnick. It's a solo version, from an incandescent solo session that's about as pure as music gets, with soul-stirring renditions of The Wall Song, Games, Tam High, Laughing (with scat-sung "percussion"!), Wooden Ships, and other great songs. David and Joni [Mitchell] had recently broken up, I believe, and her traces are still hovering about his music at this point, which drives toward the heart of the mystery. If there is a God, Crosby or his heirs will see fit to release this whole session some day commercially - it's the missing link from the Byrds to the full-on Crosby/CSN "Guinnevere" thing, but a place unto itself.

The 1970 version that Gans will be playing this week has Jerry and David interweaving beautiful lines on acoustic guitars, with an overdubbed acoustic lead by Jerry, and an overdubbed electric lead - probably Jerry's Stratocaster. (There's even a delicious second when the two Jerries overlap.)

The melody is - well, "oceanic" is a word that comes to mind. It's music as mantra, soothing and exploratory all at the same time. I wish it went on for hours.

The song was never released. Who knows why? It's not a perfect take - you can practically hear the bongs bubbling away in the background for how stoned they sound as they tune up and goof each other out with weird chords before the song, proper, swells out of the speakers... but they should have kept at it, because it's too good a song to lose.

During David's career as a chemical waste dump in the early '80s, he tried to get a good mix of it for his ill-fated album "Might As Well Have a Good Time." It wasn't as bad an album as everyone who worked on it thought at the time - and the mix of Kids and Dogs is actually pretty good, with many more overdubbed harmonies, but no electric lead, and no goofing at the beginning - but the whole process of watching David fall into a freebase pit was too upsetting for everyone, especially Graham, and the song may have suffered by its association with the doomed project of that never-released album. In a perfect world, Kids and Dogs would be released as the second-to-last cut on an enhanced rerelease of If I Could Only Remember My Name.

The world isn't perfect, but there are consolations, like hearing this masterpiece of Bay Area psychedelicfolkjazz on the Grateful Dead Hour. This came about because waaaaaayy back in the '80s, I was a longtime frothing at the mouth David Crosby fanatic and Deadhead reading an interview with David in BAM on Haight Street, when I noticed him talk about "an unreleased song with Jerry" on an album he was working on called Might As Well Have a Good Time. I thought, "??!!!!"

I looked for a tape of Might As Well Have a Good Time for years after that. Finally, I found a weird guy at one of David's shows - wearing a FREE CROSBY t-shirt, which was only a partial joke at that time - who sent me a terrible high-generation tape of the rough mix of the album that had gotten lost in a cloud of expensive smoke and jail terms and quixotic plans to sell the album to frothing Crosby fanatics via direct mail. No matter! I listened to that tape religiously for years, and would sit people down, force them to ingest all sorts of botanical mind-alterants, and play them Kids and Dogs, which on my tape was called Wordless Song (with Garcia). Well, almost everyone had as much of an affection for Wordless Song (with Garcia) as I did once they heard it, but there seemed not to be a prayer of ever hearing a cleaner copy.

Until.... as the twisted genii of fate and weird destiny would have it, David and I met up while CSN was choosing tracks for their humungous box set called CSN, released in 1991. We got to be good friends, amazingly, and when I found out there were going to be many unreleased tracks in that set, I lobbied - nay, harangued - nay, insisted - nay, BEGGED! - David to put Kids and Dogs on the box. I probably became known to David and Graham as "that annoying Deadhead Kids and Dogs guy" for a long time.

I remember sitting with Graham in a car, listening to a *clean* version of Might As Well Have a Good Time at last, my heart pounding. When Kids and Dogs came on - David had told me the real title, which I loved - I sat silent in the presence of... but the whole process of remembering the making of that album was too painful for Graham, so he switched it off. The tune never came out on the box set. Defeated again!

But I asked David if I could - er - um - have a tape of - what was it? oh yeah, KIDS AND DOGS - and miraculously and generously, he gave me one. Then it was merely a matter of asking him if Gans could play it on the Grateful Dead Hour, and, saints be praised, David said yes.

So now you can hear it, and now you know what it is, and now you can tell your friends about the greatest outtake of If I Could Only Remember My Name that there ever was. The reason why the name is floating around so much, even on bootlegs, is that I mounted a huge propaganda campaign to spread the "meme" of Kids and Dogs, mentioning it in everything I ever wrote about Crosby, asking him about it in interviews, and so on. I wrote a paean to it under the entry "Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra" in my book Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads, and talked it up in a 1995 Goldmine feature about rare Crosby recordings. The Crosby interview that accompanied that feature is on the Web here: http://www.levity.com/digaland/crosby95.html. (If you absolutely MUST have that interview and the feature on paper - and you'll know who you are if you must - send me email at digaman@wired.com, I have a few copies available at cost. Sorry, I can't respond to any requests for tapes, but that's what the wonderful Grateful Dead Hour is for!)

So puff a phat one, or meditate, or get with the person you love most, and let this music wash over and inside you. It's healing music.

 

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