Lowell George and The Grateful Dead Rip “I Need A Miracle” in ’78

by Peter Wendel
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LowellGeorgeMiracle2FBIt’s damn near criminal that it didn’t make the final cut of Shakedown Street. It could have been a bonafide highlight – the proverbial diamond in the rough – injecting gritty authenticity and inspired improvisation into The Grateful Dead’s rather lackluster 1978 studio release.

I’m referring to the live-in-studio version of “I Need A Miracle,” featuring the hefty talents of Little Feat frontman, Lowell George – a musician with a homegrown voice as comfortable as your favorite overalls and a compression slide-guitar style that’s hailed as one of the most influential in rock music (right up there with Duane Allman’s legendary technique).

"All New Minglewood Blues" from 1978's Shakedown Street

As many of you know, The Dead hired Lowell to produce Shakedown Street, but fortunately for us his involvement went beyond sound engineering, spilling over into vocal and instrumental contributions (although not nearly enough of them).

As the story goes, Jerry Garcia loved Lowell’s unassuming musical style and his completely unscripted approach to performing.

Apparently, George reminded Garcia of Pigpen, and you can see why. Like Pigpen, George delivered unbridled, unvarnished play – and they were white men that could sing the blues. And they both had a penchant for drinking (heavily).

Weir1975WikiThe version of “Miracle” without George – the track that appears on Shakedown Street – is decent enough, but it’s missing the raw authenticity and the freewheeling improvisational feel that fans had come to expect from The Grateful Dead in the ’60s and early-’70s (even on studio albums).

The album track is not without high points, like Matt Kelly’s fire-breathing harp play and Keith Godchaux’s rollicking work on the piano. The low point (for me at least) is the round-robin vocals in the coda, which sound canned and uninspired on the album.

On the contrary, in the outtake featuring George, the vocal round-robin from Bobby and the Little Feat co-founder is alone worth the price of admission. Lowell’s electric slide guitar gives the song an easy shuffle-like groove that will make you shake your bones.

The Grateful Dead
Shakedown Street rehearsal
August 1, 1978
Featuring Lowell George

Highlights: Lowell’s down-home slide work and his round-robin vocal passage with Bobby (starting at 2:39); Matt Kelly of Kingfish plays nasty good harp.

The Grateful Dead
Shakedown Street (1978)

Here’s the version that made it onto the album. Highlights: Matt Kelly’s down-and-dirty harp play, and Keith Godchaux shines on the keys. Lowlight: There’s no Lowell George.  

Here’s another taste of what could have been…

The Grateful Dead
Shakedown Street rehearsal
Featuring Lowell George

Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including the Peach, Mountain Jam, the All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at PWendel@SongMango.com.