"This is what The Grateful Dead sounded like at the close of the 1960's and the dawn of the 1970's."
History of the Grateful Dead, Volume One (Bear's Choice) consists of selections from two magnificent moments in the band's history, February 13-14, 1970 at the Fillmore East in New York City at a time they were still making the transition from acidic to countrified music and their live performances included tunes from every corner of the American pop songbook.
This 1973 release is the ninth album and the fourth live album by Grateful Dead and was compiled as a tribute to Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, the band's original keyboard player and blues aficionado, who died while the album was being prepared. The "Bear" of the title is Owsley Stanley, underground chemist turned Dead sound man. The album was recorded and produced by Stanley, and fans often simply refer to the album as "Bear's Choice".
The set consists of seven songs, six of them covers, the first five songs are stripped down acoustic numbers with a nice bluesy feel to them. The album's sole original composition, Jerry Garcia's, "Black Peter," is a masterfully executed beautiful tune that ends Side One. This second half of the record belongs to Pigpen and these last two tracks are stunning electric offerings - a 20-minute, crazy old truckin' blues cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightnin'," and Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" is a classic Dead hustling shuffle - Garcia is at his best, the vocal cooks and the band is tight and quick weaving their collective R&B-influenced psychedelia.
The record peaked at #60 on the Billboard 200 - it is perhaps the Dead's most rustic album. The band sounds genuinely informal, with impromptu stage chatter adding to the low-key ambiance...just like a bunch of guys hanging out and making great music.