In 1964, Jerry Garcia, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, and Bob Weir, along with three other musicians, formed Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions and played jug band music around their home base of Palo Alto, CA. The following year, with Bill Kreutzmann and Phil Lesh, the group electrified and evolved into the Warlocks, subsequently renamed the Grateful Dead. This recording, unearthed 35 years after the fact, presents a live performance by Mother McCree's at Top of the Tangent club in Palo Alto in July 1964. They are introduced as a group that plays "some pretty weird music," which is only the beginning of the clues to the future of the players. This is jug band music -- zany, uptempo tunes played on washboard, kazoo, and (of course) jug, along with more conventional instruments. But the set list includes songs that will be familiar to Dead Heads, especially "Beat It on Down the Line," which would turn up on the first Grateful Dead LP, as well as "On the Road Again" and "The Monkey and the Engineer," both resurrected for the Dead's 1981 Reckoning album. The inclusion of Chuck Berry's "Memphis" looks forward to the band's rock & roll future (even though the song did not become part of their later repertoire); of course, "Cocaine Habit Blues" is also ominously prescient. The group is enthusiastic but uneven, sometimes nearly collapsing in confusion but also providing a lively, entertaining performance that makes you wish you were there, even if you didn't already.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann