Along with Bobby Weir's Ace (1972) and Jerry Garcia's Garcia (1972), Mickey Hart (percussion) issued his debut solo in 1972. Some unfortunate business dealings involving his father Lenny Hart -- who briefly managed the Grateful Dead -- resulted in Mickey extricating himself from the band in 1971. However none of the other members blamed Mickey and remained supportive of his sabbatical. It was as a result of suddenly having some time off the road that the Rolling Thunder project was completed -- primarily in the barn of his Novato, California ranch. Unlike Garcia and Weir, Hart ventured beyond the confines of the Dead for support, featuring a bevy of rock and roll heavies -- many of whom were also fellow Bay Area residents. The results are uniformly inspired and are the closest that the percussionist would come to recording a 'traditional' pop/rock album until the release of Mickey Hart's Mystery Box (1996) over two decades later. The disc begins with a traditional Native American invocation courtesy of Rolling Thunder himself. This leads into a marimba duet which is followed by Allah Rahka and Zakir Hussain's hypnotic rain sticks. Their percussive downpour segues into a seminal version of "Playing In The Band" which is titled "The Main Ten" in reference to the song's time signature. In addition to Dead mate Weir (vocals/rhythm guitar), the track also features Stephen Stills (bass), John Cipollina (guitar), the Tower Of Power horns, as well as legendary jazz percussionist Carmelo Garcia (timbales). With the notable exception of the formidable brass section, the Dead's early arrangements correlate with Hart's interpretation. "Pump Song" is the only other track to have been incorporated into the Dead's repertoire. It was inspired by the rhythms inherent in an actual water pump located on Hart's ranch -- which can be heard during the intro. After a few minor rearrangements, the Dead worked it up as the "Greatest Story Ever Told". There are several other stunningly original compositions on Rolling Thunder, among them are "Blind John -- which was the a-side (b/w "Pump Song") of the only 7" single to be extracted from the long player. This folkie flavoured number features Jefferson Airplane -- soon-to-be-Jefferson Starship membersGrace Slick (piano/vocals), Paul Kantner (vocals) and David Freiberg (guitar/vocals) as well as Barry Melton(guitar/vocals) from Country Joe & The Fish. The equally intriguing full-blown rockers "Young Man" and especially the instrumental "Deep, Wide and Frequent" are worth mentioning as they contain some of the album's most aggressive performances. The latter track is also highlighted by a quartet of lead guitarists including Jerry Garcia, Robbie Stokes, John Cipollina and from the Sons Of Champlin, Terry Haggerty. Deadhead or naught, classic rock enthusiasts are encouraged to seek out this somewhat obscured classic.
By - Lindsay Planer