A Selection of Jam Bands

Wikipedia: “A jam band is a musical group whose live albums and concerts relate to a fan culture that began in the 1960’s with the Grateful Dead, and continued with The Allman Brothers Band, and Phish which had lengthy jams at concerts. The performances of these bands typically feature extended musical improvisation (“jams”) over rhythmic grooves and chord patterns, and long sets of music that can often cross genre boundaries.

Many of today’s jam bands have brought widely varied genres into the scene. A jam band festival may include bands with electronic, folk rock, blues rock, jazz fusion, psychedelic rock, Southern rock, progressive rock, acid jazz, hip hop, hard rock, and bluegrass sounds.”

I think if I was younger and had friends who were into it, I’d probably travel the jam band circuit. Not relentlessly mind you as a little of it goes a long way. But yeah, it’d be fun to see some of these bands live. But many of my peers can hardly be convinced to go out to see a movie once in a while much less a festival of some sort. Alas.

First up, a band with the unlikely name of Umphrey’s McGee. (An alteration of some dude named Humphrey Magee.) These guys have been around awhile, having come together as students at Notre Dame in the late 90’s. They’re a six-piece band consisting of two guitars, keys, bass, percussion and drums. (Ya gotta love any band whose debut album is called Greatest Hits Vol. III.)

The band says they are heavily influenced by progressive rock bands such as King Crimson, YesPink FloydFrank ZappaThe Mahavishnu Orchestra, and early Genesis, as well as Iron Maiden and Van Halen, The PoliceThe Beatles, and Led Zeppelin.

Here’s “1348.” (Jam tunes are long so listen when you have some time to spare.)

Spotify link

Fellow blogger Cincinnati Babyhead recently mentioned he was listening to the band Widespread Panic. In my three years of blogging, that was the first mention of this band that I’d heard in the blogosphere. (Of course, I could be just not looking in the right places.)

I was first introduced to this band back in the days when I haunted the Allman Brothers web site prior to my magical mystery tour with them. I asked people for recommendations on what they were listening to and WP came to the fore.

These guys are from that cauldron of indie rock, Athens, Georgia which spawned REM, the B-52’s and the Drive-by Truckers. They’ve been around even longer than Umphrey’s having formed in the mid-Eighties. The current incarnation of this band has similar instrumentation to McGee with some notable players.

Jimmy Herring – a man who never saw a jam band he didn’t love – is currently one of the guitarists. He’s played with Phil Lesh, the Dead, Dave Matthews Band, The Derek Trucks Band and the Allmans. The drummer in the band is Duane Trucks whose older brother is Derek Trucks. (Jam bands are incestuous as hell, members coming and going regularly. Think Warren Haynes.)

This song is from an earlier incarnation of the band and it’s called “Ain’t Life Grand” from the album of the same name:

Spotify link

moe. is another band that’s been around a while, since the late ’80’s. They got together as students from the University of Buffalo and picked up their name from a great Louis Jourdan tune, “Five Guys Named Moe.” It pleases me no end to know that their fans refer to themselves as moe.rons.

On describing their music, guitarist Al Schnier said, “It’s an amalgamation of a wide variety of the history of rock, all regurgitated and recycled through the eyes, ears, hands, whatever of the guys in our band and all of that with a sense of adventure, a sense of humor, also a constant desire to push the envelope. All in this arena of taking chances, improvising live, and making things up on the spot.”

That would probably in a sense describe all these bands.

“Rebubula” by moe.

Spotify link

Phish (pictured at top of post) are probably the best-known jam band whose name isn’t Grateful Dead. And, having formed at the University of Vermont (note the school trend) in 1983, the oldest of the bands on this list. They are known not only for exemplary playing and long jams, but also for doing some weird shit.

Wikipedia: “For instance, if guitarist Trey Anastasio “teased” a motif from The Simpsons theme song, the audience would yell, “D’oh!.” In 1992, Phish introduced a collaboration between audience and band called the “Big Ball Jam” in which each band member would throw a large beach ball into the audience and play a note each time his ball was hit. In so doing, the audience was helping to create an original composition.

In an experiment known as “The Rotation Jam,” each member would switch instruments with the musician on his left. On occasion, performances of “You Enjoy Myself” involved bassist Mike Gordon and Anastasio performing synchronized maneuvers and jumping on mini-trampolines while simultaneously playing their instruments.”

They’re also known for stuff like playing Dark Side of the Moon or the Beatles’ White Album in their entirety. Now this is a band I have to see someday. I’ll let my peers sit home and watch shit like God Friended Me.

Here’s a song with a title Frank Zappa would love, “Chalk Dust Torture.” (BTW, these guys are and always have been a four-piece band, still getting a pretty big sound.)

Spotify link

21 thoughts on “A Selection of Jam Bands

  1. Great post! I need to get more into jam bands. I love progressive rock. I’ve listened to a lot of Allman Brothers lately and their live albums are better than their studio albums.

    I’m listening to “1348” now and it’s a great song – very prog inspired. Thank you for sharing all these songs!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sure, absolutely. I think you’ll find that while the Allmans tend to play for lengthy periods, they don’t quite fall into the jam band moniker as readily. They do improvise but they tend to be more bluesy, more focused. The jam bands seem to follow the Dead’s pattern of freely going from song to song to song. The Allmans did more of that after Warren Haynes joined but they were never as freewheeling. But I say that not in a negative way as they are one of my favorite bands ever.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’ve always gotten a charge out of the term “jam band.” Years ago, I mentioned Grateful Dead to my son, and he said, “Oh yeah, that’s that jam band.” I told him I always considered them “rock ‘n’ roll.” When and why did the term “jam band” come into existence, anyway? When is a song with an instrumental solo or solos considered a “jam” song? Is there a time limit in determining what a “jam” is or isn’t? Categories, categories!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Now, now Pete. Don’t have a cow. You know we’re not happy unless we can slot things. The Allmans hated this, hated being called Southern Rock. And yet there it is in the second sentence of their Wikipedia page. But I think these “jam bands” share a loose affiliation for the Dead-like behavior of not only playing long, spiraling tunes but also drifting in and out from one tune to another, never playing the same thing twice, playing different sets each day for followers, mind-altering substances, etc. And for the record, amusing as it may seem, no lesser a group than the Dead thought of themselves as a “dance band.” Go figure.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We do love to “slot” things. After Gregg Allman died, a friend of a friend wrote on Facebook about the Allmans being the first “Southern Rock” band. I couldn’t help myself and followed that they were just a great rock band with a blues influence, and the “Southern Rock” shit came later. And your “dance band” comment is funny. Similar to Bob Dylan’s famous “I’ve always considered myself just a song and dance man.” (!)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think the ABB just gave up and said, “Call us what you want, just don’t call us late for dinner.” 🙂 As to the Dead calling themselves a dance band, yeah, ironic but absolutely true. I’ve nowhere near a Deadhead but gained an appreciation for them over the last couple of years. When I was writing my Dead series, I decided to go see a tribute band in a local club. There was a guy who up there roughly in our age bracket wearing a tie-dyed shirt. For the two hours we stayed, not once did ever sit down. Boogied the whole time. I bet he saw the original band hundreds of times. As to the Allmans, boy it’s tough to dance to “Whipping Post.”

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I was a fringe Deadhead for a few years back when I traded tapes. Grateful Dead tape traders were some of the friendliest, most honest people I’ve ever corresponded with. Also, lots of dancing at Dead shows…although “dancing” might not be the right word.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, now. That may not be a bad idea. However, bear in mind that these guys tend to play 25-minute songs with FEW VOCALS. You will have to listen to a lot of people playing instruments only! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Just digging the first cut as I type. Yup right up old CB’s alley. Never heard of them (now I have). They will be going on my spin list. Lots to like about them. Different vocalists, great licks, lots of percussion and just a fantastic vibe. A melting pot of some strong influences.
    The ‘Panic’ tune just cooks. Love these guys.
    Real ‘Yes’ feel to the ‘Moe’ cut for me especially at the start.. Like it. Lots of good stuff going on. Also hear a little FZ in here.
    The last cut also kicks. Have not listened to a lot of ‘Phish’ (about to change that)

    You’re batting a thousand on all these bands (with CB anyways). Jam Bands? Come on that goes back to Cream, Traffic etc. Southern Rock? Like you and Pete were discussing. I don’t get the hanging the label on music. Like some great music guy or guy said “Two kinds of music, good and bad” This shit is all good. Spotify here I come.

    All these bands rock hard when they get down to it. I listened tom every second. Just into the last of ‘Chalk Dust Torture’ They’re doing a little Allman close out.

    Like

    1. They play this shit all day long on the “jam channel” on Sirius. As to what to call these bands, yeah that name sucks. But then how would I categorize them to write about them in my post title? “Bands that play long improvisational tunes with jazzy/bluesy influence and attract tie-dyed audiences?” Jam band is so much easier. We don’t like it – but we get it.

      “Chalk Dust Torture” is my favorite of this list. Phish are great. Anastasio is a fine guitarist, has clocked his time with the Dead as John Mayer is doing currently.

      Read the other comments. I can’t find a traveling partner to go to even one of these fucking shows. Christian came bombing in and said he’d consider it. I wonder if CB would do it? Probably next spring or summer soonest. Put that in your toque and smoke it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Spotify has already taken me into some really good stuff. parlayed off of the Moe.
        Like Anastasio’s work on the cut you posted. I’d get off my ass to see any of these bands but I would lean towards Panic (Their “Driving Song’ is playing right now. So good). I’ll wear a toque with a pom-pom, how’s that for cool? Plus a big cigar in my face and join in with all the pot smokers.

        Like

        1. It’s like I said – all these bands play all the festivals all the time. CB will come swaggering in like fucking Marlon Brando in “The Wild One.” Whattya rebeling against CB? {spits out cigar end} Whattya got?

          Liked by 1 person

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