Jun 17, 2022

May 3-4, 1972: L'Olympia, Paris

 THE DEAD IN CONCERT

You want to talk? All my rock records, hard or soft, against a decaliter of sterilized pop music that by the end of the year, the Grateful Dead will be the most famous and popular American band in Europe — at home, it's practically already done. They will take over, with probably even more magnitude, the success of C.S.N.& Y., very dead although not buried, of the Doors who have lost their voice, and of the Jefferson Airplane which, it must be admitted, no longer flies as high as it once did. In London as in Paris, the interest aroused by the Dead has long been mainly due to a certain historical curiosity, except of course for a minority of fans.
But, over the past one or two years, without even realizing it, things have changed. A growing audience became interested in the band through their records, which finally became familiar enough, and not just through their legend. And this European tour was the last element necessary for the passage of this legend to a vibrant reality to be definitive, as proved by the enthusiasm of the spectators both English and French who saw the Dead in concert.

NOT LIKE THE OTHERS

In London, the group originally planned to play at the Rainbow, finally had to play in the huge Empire Pool at Wembley, the scene of T. Rex's puberty exploits a few weeks earlier. Needless to say, this monstrous concrete cube, about as intimate as the Gare du Nord, and endowed with comparable acoustics, was far from being the ideal setting for the Dead to give its full potential. In Paris, the Olympia had at least the advantage of being a familiar setting... But, as usual, the menacing deployment of law enforcement did little to create the friendly, relaxed vibe that the Dead's music presupposes. The Olympian henchmen, who at the entrance slapped the cops on the stomach, and exchanged very subtle jokes with them about the hair of the guys and the bottoms of the girls who entered, turned out to be more stupid and mean than they had ever been.
In the hall itself, however, the atmosphere relaxed, and overall the concert in Paris was a little more satisfying, the smaller dimensions of the hall making contact much easier, despite the stifling heat. Musically, on the other hand, the course of the two concerts was practically identical. The fact remains that in both cases I still have a certain feeling of frustration, due solely to these unfavorable conditions. The atmosphere indeed has a very important role in the music of the Dead, especially since the group does not really seek direct contact with the public, but creates an atmosphere in which the spectator gradually becomes integrated. It's not great music, in the manner of a Hendrix, for example, it hardly achieves that kind of quasi-spiritual elevation, but has a more directly physical impact. Music of joyful release, music to dance to, music to enjoy, simply. If that doesn't free you from your inhibitions, nothing will. Nothing pejorative in what I've just said; on the contrary, all of this makes the Dead one of the very rare groups to escape the impasses in which pop (rock) agonizes. And a Dead show is not a show like any others.
Not like others in its duration, first of all. No other band is on the bill, the Dead themselves play two sets totaling three or four hours. Not like others because of the very special atmosphere it creates. In London, if you arrived a little after the start, the vision of the Dead playing in this room plunged into semi-darkness, imbued with a contemplation that excluded all tension, while the silhouettes of the musicians stood out against the light-show with the moving colors of Joe's Lights, and familiar scents sometimes crossed the air, it irresistibly made you think of what San Francisco must have been like in the years '66-67... From the magic of that time, which they greatly contributed to creating, the Dead have retained an extraordinary ability to create a very particular atmosphere of calm and relaxation, which makes the concert a kind of collective high during which the whole audience is a little part of the Grateful Dead.
This relaxation begins of course at the stage level. The Dead play for a long time, certainly, but they take their time! Between each piece, they talk, they joke, they laugh... Cool, man, don't panic! Besides, you never feel like you're waiting, it's all a natural part of the normal course of operations. At the level of the public, we quickly become as relaxed as Garcia, whose broad smile we can guess behind his beard. A Dead concert is also a concert unlike any other in the attitude which those who attend it quickly adopt. The relaxation is such, in fact, that instead of prostrating themselves in avid attention, many do not hesitate to come and go to get something to drink, for example. Here the music is no longer a rationed interlude...
And if a Grateful Dead concert is not a concert like any others, it may simply be that the group is not a group like any others. Hasn't it been said over and over again that the Dead is a marginal band? Didn't Sam Cutler, their road-manager, insist on this point when he came to Europe to prepare the tour? Be careful, though: this is a pleasant idea, true to a certain extent, certainly, but it should not be exaggerated. Of course, the members of the group, and all the "family" that surrounds them, represent a more social institution than a purely musical one. Of course, they are totally sincere and all they want is to be able to live while getting off and to make as many people get off as possible; they don't give a damn about material profit and even limit it. Of course, they are the only ones who have constantly been able to reject the myth of the rock-star, seeking to escape as much as possible from the wheels of show-biz by organizing themselves, doing free concerts, even talking about founding their own record label. But doesn't this above all have the consequence of creating another myth? The alleged independence of the Dead vis-à-vis show-biz, it is above all the group itself that it concerns and which benefits from it. There is no miracle, at the productive level, they are just as dependent on the whole system as any others, because without show-biz there would be no Grateful Dead. Of course it's not their fault, on the scale of the whole, they don't represent enough to be able to really escape the machine.
Well Jerry Garcia is a hell of a guy, a real sage, an endangered species these days. But all the same, isn't he showing a certain naivety, or at least a somewhat too naive idealism, in believing that the serenity that he and the Dead have thus found is proof of the absolute correctness of some apolitical solution? Not to mention a somewhat lighthearted attitude about L.S.D. and rock festivals, it's still a bit big to say: "What is this joke about 'people's music', what does it mean? There was no one next to me while I was learning to play the guitar. If people think like that, shit, they should just make their own music." (Interview with "Zig-Zag" in 1970) It's nice to get high, but still! We can salute in the Dead a human success at the individual level of the group, but beyond that we must recognize that they serve above all as a good conscience for show-biz. It is also quite revealing to note that this very success is based on an entourage comprised of old "tough guys" in the business, like Sam Cutler, precisely the former road-manager of the Stones. When I told you that there is no miracle! It's useless to delude yourself, after all, it's already beautiful that the Dead manages to be at the same time one of the best bands, one of the most popular and one of the most sincere in such a notably rotten environment!
But I think it's time I got back to their...

MUSIC!

It is in fact quite useless to want to describe it, because it's then necessary to make an enumeration of genres which risks being a source of confusion. A Dead show is indeed an astonishing musical escalation, covering a much wider variety of styles than any other band I know. It starts with a little soft rock, but that's also part of the normal process. It's a sort of warm-up for everyone, musicians and spectators. We know we have plenty of time, so the Dead first warms up by playing what is almost background music, intended to allow everyone to settle in, relax, get used to it... And then, gradually, the music imposes itself, hardens: good old rock n' roll and solid blues dominate at first, then folk and especially country appear more markedly, and you evolve towards increasingly complex and sophisticated rock, instrumentally and vocally. But the summit is reached only when the group finally ventures into long very "free" instrumental improvisations, within the framework of the piece aptly titled "The other side". However, it must be understood that this is not a series of demonstrations in different genres, but a single piece of music, the unity of which is expressed in particular by a practically imperceptible progression. It is in spurts that we enter the complex instrumental improvisations I've just mentioned. They are sometimes somewhat reminiscent of Floyd, but are above all strangely related, by their very unstructured rhythmic aspect, to free-jazz. And it is absolutely without having seen anything coming that we suddenly realize that we have suddenly returned to simple four-beat measures, and from there, we are propelled again into a great smash of fast blues and rock that swings like the devil! This ability of the Dead to incorporate folk, blues, country, rock n' roll, etc., into their music with as much spontaneity as if it were their natural idiom, made me think irresistibly of the Band — a comparison that would hardly have occurred to me before. But what these two groups have in common is to be, just like Woody Guthrie once was, the pure and spontaneous expression of America through its popular music at its current point: the Dead, with less brilliance and perfection, of course, but on a musical register that is perhaps even broader (the Band hardly ventures into free music, except sometimes Garth Hudson). They are the only bands I know of that have achieved this, with, to a lesser degree, the Byrds and the late Fish of Country Joe; on the other hand, it is what the Jefferson Airplane lacks, despite a certain analogy in form.
Under these conditions, the fundamental character of the Grateful Dead is of course its homogeneity, its personality as a group. That said, the individualities deserve attention. Jerry Garcia is the guitarist we know: to tell the truth, I still don't find his style particularly extraordinary, his genius lies rather in the variety and flexibility of his playing, and in a perfect sense of timing. He never plays a single superfluous note: he's always fully integrated in the musical context. The wealth of his experience (his first influence was Chuck Berry, for two years, but then he devoted himself exclusively to folk and country for three years, playing the banjo) is obviously one of his great assets, and I think needless to say he is one of the best pedal steel guitar specialists.
Bob Weir was for me the man of the day — We too often underestimate his importance. His role is first of all that of an excellent rhythm guitarist, which has unfortunately practically disappeared from bands today in a blind cult of the solo, but is an important element in the Dead. He's also a powerful vocalist (particularly a solid rocker), and the main lead on vocals, alone or with Garcia.
Ron McKernan, known as "Pigpen" (pigpen!), on the other hand, has a very incidental role, and often even insignificant on the organ, although he is a legendary figure in the Dead. However, on vocals and harmonica, he turns out to be a very good bluesman. The rhythm section is absolutely flawless. The discreet Phil Lesh, applied to his bass, terribly effective. Bill Kreutzmann, the survivor of the era when the Dead had two drummers, very often gives the impression of actually counting double, and struggles with as much ease in the most square rock as in the time breaks that are similar to free-jazz. These are the older Dead, but the superb pianist Keith Godchaux, a more recent recruit, is also a very rich element in the musical color obtained. The brief vocal intervention of his wife, Donna, on the other hand, hardly convinced me.
There you go, they're called the Grateful Dead, they've had a triumph in Paris as well as in London... And I recommend them to you if you really and very simply want to get off.

(by Hervé Muller, from Best magazine, issue 47, June 1972, p.70-73)
 
Thanks to Uli Teute.

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Here is the original article: 

LE DEAD EN CONCERT

Vous voulez parler? Tous mes disques de rock, dur ou mou, contre un décalitre de musique pop stérilisée que d'ici à la fin de l'année, le Grateful Dead est le groupe américain le plus réputé et le plus populaire en Europe — chez eux, c'est pratiquement déjà fait. Il reprendra à son compte, avec probablement encore plus d'ampleur, le succès de C.S.N.& Y., bien mort quoique pas enterré, des Doors qui ont perdu leur voix, et du Jefferson Airplane qui, il faut bien se rendre à l'évidence, ne vole plus aussi haut qu'autrefois. A Londres comme à Paris, l'intèrét suscité par le Dead a longtemps relevé surtoutd'une certaine curiosité historique, sauf bien sûr pour une minorite de fans.
Mais, depuis un ou deux ans, sans méme qu'on s'en rende trop compte, les choses ont changé. Un public de plus en plus large s'est intéressé au groupe à travers ses disques, qui sont devenus enfin assez familiers, et non plus seulement à travers sa légende. Et cette tournée européenne était la dernier élément nécessaire pour que le passage de cette légende à une réalité vibrante soit définitif, comme l'a prouvé l'enthousiasme des spectateurs aussi bien anglais que français, qui ont vu le Dead en concert.

PAS COMME LES AUTRES
A Londres, le groupe initialement prévu au Rainbow, dut finalement jouer dans l'énorme Empire Pool de Wembley, théâtre des exploits pubertaires de T. Rex quelques semaines auparavent. Inutile de dire que ce monstrueux cube da béton, à peu près aussi intime que la Gare du Nord, et doté d'une acoustique comparable, fut loin d'être le cadre idéal pour que le Dead puisse donner toute sa mesure. A Paris, l'Olympia avait du moins l'avantage d'être un décor familier... Mais, comme d'habitude, le menaçant déploiement des forces de l'ordre ne contribua quère à créer l'ambiance amicale et détendue que suppose la musique du Dead. Les sbires olympiens, qui, a l'entrée se tapaient sur le ventre avec les flics, et échangeaient avec eux des blagues très subtiles sur la chevelure des types et sur l'arrière-train des filles qui entraient, se révélèrent plus bétes et méchants qu'ils ne l'avaient jamais été.
Dans la salle proprement dite, l'ambiance se détendit, cependant, et dans l'ensemble, le concert de Paris fut un peu plus satisfaisant, les dimensions plus restreintes de la salle rendant le contact bien plus aisé, maigré une chaleur étouffante. Musicalement, le déroulement des deux concerts fut, par contre, pratiquement identique. Il reste que dans les deux cas je garde une certaine impression de frustration, due uniquement à ces conditions défavorables. L'ambiance a en effet un rôle très important dans la musique du Dead, d'autant plus que le groupe ne cherche pas vraiment le contact direct avec le public, mais crée une atmosphére à laquelle le spectateur s'integre progressivement. Ce n'est pas une musique geniale, à la manière d'un Hendrix, par exemple, elle n'atteint guère ce genre d'élévation quasi spirituelle, mais a un impact plus directement physique. Musiquede défoulements joyeux, musique à danser, musique à jouir, simplement. Si celle-là ne vous libère pas de vos inhibitions, aucune autre ne le fera. Rien de péjoratif dans ce que je viens de dire, au contraire, tout cela fait du Dead un des très rares groupes qui échappe aux impasses dans lesquelles agonise la pop (rock). Et un concert du Dead, ce n'est pas un concert comme les autres.
Pas comme les autres par sa durée, tout d'abord. Aucun autre groupe a l'affiche, le Dead lui-même joue deux parties totalisant trois ou quatre heures. Pas comme les autres par l'atmosphère très particulière qu'il crée. A Londres, si l'on arrivait un peu après le début, la vision du Dead jouant dans cette salle plongée dans une demi-obscurité, imprégnée d'un recueillement qui excluait toute tension, tandis que les silhouettes des musiciens se profilaient sur le light-show aux couleurs mouvantes de Joe's Lights, et que des effluves familières traversaient parfois l'air, faisait irrésistiblement songer à ce qu'avait dû être San Francisco dans les années 66-67... De la magie de cette époque, qu'il avait largement contribué à faire naître, le Dead a gardé une habileté extraordinaire à créer une ambiance très particulière de calme et de détente, qui fait du concert une sorte de défonce collective durant laquelle tout le public fait un peu partie du Grateful Dead.
Cette détente commence bien sûr au niveau de la scène. Le Dead joue longtemps, certes, mais il prend son temps! Entre chaque morceau, on discute, on plaisante, on rigole... Cool, man, pas de panique! D'ailleurs, on n'a jamais l'impression d'attendre, tout ça fait naturellement partie du déroulement normal des opérations. Au niveau du public on devient rapidement aussi relax que Garcia, dont on devine le large sourire derriere sa barbe. Un concert du Dead, c'est aussi un concert pas comme les autres par l'attitude qu'en viennent rapidement à adopter ceux qui y assistent. La décontraction est telle, en effet, qu'au lieu de se prostrer dans une attention avide, beaucoup n'hésitent pas à aller et venir pour se procurer de quoi boire, par exemple. Ici la musique n'èst plus un intermède rationné...
Et si un concert du Grateful Dead n'est pas un concert comme les autres, c'est peutêtre tout simplement que le groupe n'est pas un groupe comme les autres. N'a-t-on pas dit et répété que le Dead est un groupe marginal? Sam Cutler, leur road-manager, n'a-t-il pas insisté sur ce point lors-qu'il est venu en Europe préparer la tournée?Attention, quand même : c'est là une idée plaisante, vraie dans une certaine mesure, certes, mais il ne faut pas exagérer. Bien sûr, les membres du groupe, et toute la "famille" qui les entoure, représentent une institution plus sociale gue purement musicale. Bien sûr, ils sont totalement sincères et tout ce qu'ils veulent c'est pouvoir vivre en prenant leur pied et en faisant prendre leur pied au plus grand nombre de gens possible; ils se foutent du profit matériel et le limitent même. Bien sûr, ils sont les seuls à avoir su constamment rejeter le mythe de la rock-star, cherchant à échapper le plus possible aux rouages du show-biz en s'organisant euxmêmes, faisant des concerts gratuits, parlant méme de fonder leur propre maison de disques. Mais cela n'a-t-il pas surtout pour conséquence de créer un autre mythe? La prétendue indépendance du Dead vis-à-vis du show-biz, c'est surtout le groupe lui-même qu'elle concerne et qui en bénéficie. Il n'y a pas de miracle, au niveau productif, il est tout aussi dépendant de tout le système que n'importe quel autre, parce que sans show-biz il n'y aurait pas de Grateful Dead. Bien sûr ce n'est pas de leur faute, à l'échelle de l'ensemble, ils ne représentent pas assez pour pouvoir vraiment échapper à la machine. Bien Jerry Garcia est un sacré bonhomme, un vrai sage, espèce en vole de disparition de nos jours. Mais ne fait-il quand même pas preuve d'une certaine naïveté, ou tout au moins d'un idéalisme un peu trop naïf, en croyant que ta sérénité que luiet le Dead ont trouvée ainsi est la preuve de la justesse absolue d'une certaine solution apolitique? Sans parler d'une attitude un peu légère a propos du L.S.D. et de festivals de rock, c'est quand même un peu gros de dire: "Qu'est-ce que c'est que cette blague à propos de musique populaire (people's music), qu'est-ce que ça veut dire? Il n'y avait personne à côté de moi pendant que j'apprenais à jouer de la guitare. Si les gens pensent comme ça, merde, ils n'ont qu'à faire leur propre musique." (Interview dans "Zig-Zag" en 1970). C'est beau de planer, mais quand même! On peut saluer chez le Dead une réussite humaine au niveau individuel du groupe, mais au-delà de ça il faut bien reconnaître qu'il sert surtout de bonne conscience au show-biz. Il est d'ailleurs assez révélateur de constater que cette réussite méme repose sur un entourage comprenant des vieux "durs" du métier, comme Sam Cutler, justement ancien road-manager des Stones. Ouand je vous disais qu'il n'y a pas de miracle! Il ne sert à rien de s'illusionner, après tout, c'est déjà beau que le Dead réussisse à étre tout à la fois un des meilleurs groupes, un des plus populaires et un des plus sincères dans un milieu aussi notablement pourri!
Mais je crois qu'il est temps que j'en revienne à leur...

MUSIQUE!
Il est en fait assez vain de vouloir la décrire, car il faut alors faire une énumération de genres qui risque plutôt d'être une source de confusion. Un show du Dead est en effet une étonnante escalade musicale, couvrant une variété de styles bien plus large qu'aucun autre groupe de ma connaissance. Ça démarre sur un rock un peu mou, mais cela aussi fait partie du processus normal. C'est une sorte de mise en train pour tout le monde, musiciens et spectateurs. On sait qu'on a tout le temps, alors le Dead s'échauffe d'abord en jouant ce qui est presque une musique de fond, destiné à permettre à chacun de s'installer, se détendre, s'habituer... Et puis, progressivement, la musique s'impose, se durcit: bon vieux rock n' roll et solide blues dominent d'abord, puis le folk et surtout le country apparaissent de façon plus marquée, et t'on évolue vers un rock de plus en plus complexe et sophistiqué, instrumentalement et vocalement. Mais le sommet n'est atteint que lorsque finalement le groupe s'aventure dans de longues improvisations instrumentales très "free", dans le cadre du morceau justement intitulé "The other side". Cependant, il faut bien comprendre qu'il ne s'agit pas là d'une suite de démonstrations dans des genres différents, mais bien d'une seule musique, dont l'unité se traduit en particulier par une progression pratiquement insensible. C'est par à-coups que l'on entre dans les complexes improvisations instrumentales dont je viens de parler. Elles ne sont pas sans rappeler parfois un peu le Floyd, mais s'apparentent surtout étrangement, par leur aspect rythmique très déstructuré, au free-jazz. Et c'est absolument sans avoir rien vu venir que l'on réalise soudain que l'on est revenu soudain à de simples mesures à quatre temps, et que de là, on se propulse à nouveau dans une grande défonce de blues rapides et de rocks qui swinguent comme le diable! Cette aptitude qu'a le Dead intègrer folk, blues, country, rock n' roll, etc., à sa musique avec autant de spontanéité que si c'était son idiome naturel, m'a irrésistiblement fait songer au Band — une comparaison qui ne me serait guère venue à l'esprit auparavant. Mais ce que ces deux groupes ont en commun, c'est d'être, au même titre que Woodie Guthrie autre-fois, l'expression pure et spontanée de l'Amérique à travers sa musique populaire à son point actuel: le Dead, avec moins de brillance et de perfection, certes, mais sur un registre musical peut-être encore plus vaste (le Band ne s'aventure guère dans le free, sauf parfois Garth Hudson). Ce sont à ma connaissance les seuls groupes qui aient réalisé cela, avec, à un degré moindre, les Byrds et le défunt Fish de Country Joe; c'est par contre ce qui manque au Jefferson Airplane, malgré une certaine analogie dans la forme. Dans ces conditions, le caractère fondamental du Grateful Dead, c'est bien sur son homogénéité, sa personnalitè en tant que groupe. Ceci dit les individualites meritent qu'on s'y attache. Jerry Garcia est le guitariste qu'on sait: à vrai dire, je ne trouve toujours pas son style particulièrement extraordinaire, son génie réside plutôt dans la variété et la flexibilité de son jeu, et dans un sens parfait de l'à-propos. Jamais il ne joue une seule note superflue: il s'intègre toujours totalement au contexte musical. La richesse de son expérience (sa première influence fut Chuck Berry, durant deux ans, mais ensuite, il se consacra uniquement au folk et au country pendant trois ans, jouant du banjo) est de toute évidence un de ses grands atouts, et je pense inutile de rappeler qu'il est un des meilleurs spécialistes de la pedal steel guitar.
Bob Weir fut pour moi l'homme du jour — On sous-estime trop souvent son importance. Son rôle est tout d'abord celui d'un excellent guitariste rythmique, ce qui a hélas pratiquement disparu des groupes aujourd'hui dans un culte aveugle de la solo, mais est un élément important chez le Dead. C'est aussi un chanteur puissant (en particulier un solide rocker), et le principal responsable des vocaux, seul ou avec Garcia.
Ron McKernan, dit "Pigpen" (porcherie!), a par contre un rôle très accessoire, et même souvent insignifiant à l'orgue, bien qu'il soit une figure légendaire du Dead. Cependant, au chant et à l'harmonica, il se révèle un très bon bluesman. La section rythmique est absolument sans faille. Le discret Phil Lesh, appliqué sur sa basse, terriblement efficace. Bill Kreutzmann, le survivant de l'époque où le Dead avait deux batteurs, donne bien souvent l'impression de compter effectivement double, et se démène avec autant d'aisance dans les rocks les plus carrés que dans les ruptures de temps qui s'apparentent au free-jazz. Ceux-la sont les anciens du Dead, mais le superbe pianiste Keith Godchaux, recrue plus récente, egt également un élément très riche dans la couleur musicale obtenue. La brève intervention vocale de sa femme, Donna, par contre, ne m'a guère convaincu.
Voilà, ils s'appellent le Grateful Dead, ils ont fait un triomphe à Paris comme à Londres... Et je vous les recommande si vous voulez vraiment et très simplement prendre votre pièd.

Hervé Muller.

(Best 47, June 1972, p.70-73) 

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The same issue of Best magazine ran a long history of the Dead for its readers. I have not translated it since it appears to be taken mostly from Rolling Stone articles, but here it is for the curious: 
 

ENFIN
GRATEFUL DEAD!
JERRY GARCIA
SA FAMILLE
SON GROUPE

Grateful Dead. Plus que tous les autres noms bizarres et merveilleux que les groupes de la grande époque californienne se donnèrent, celui du Grateful Dead attira l'attention, imprima les mémoires. Mais, contrairement, par exemple, au Jefferson Airplane, le public européen ne retint bien longtemps que ce nom particulier, sans accéder à la musique qu'il engendrait. Ce fait, sans doute regrettable, n'en reste pas moins symbolique; le Dead, son aventure, son histoire, dépassent d'assez loin le cadre strict d'une "carrière musicale". On a pu dire que, pour les U.S.A., le Grateful Dead était une institution. A l'heure où cette institution vient à nous, projeter plus de lumière sur son passé s'avérera certainement utile.

Le Grateful Dead fut baptisé tel, un soir de 1965, lorsque Jerry Garcia ouvrit brusquement un gros dictionnaire pour que ce fascinant couple de mots lui jaillisse au regard. Grateful Dead, Mort Reconnaissant, terme issu d'un article ethnologique concernant certaines ballades traditionnelles irlandaises, s'imposait lumineusement. Certes, le groupe de Jerry Garcia existait déjà, et il avait même un nom: The Warlocks: mais, The Grateful Dead reflétait parfaitement l'ambiance sécrétée désormais par la formation.

AVANT LE DEAD
Tout commence, beaucoup plus tôt, à la date exacte du 1er août 1957; ce jour-là, à San Francisco, le jeune Garcia Jerry fêtait ses quinze ans; sa maman, croyant bien faire, lui avait pour l'occasion acheté...un splendide accordéon. Las! Le jeune Garcia n'en fut pas outre mesure ravi et protesta véhémentement que vraiment on ne roulait déjà pas sur l'or et que foutre une telle somme dans un tel engin, cela relevait de la provocation alors que, depuis des années, il n'était obsédé que par la guitare électrique dont il rêvait jour et nuit et pour laquelle il bavait devant les vitrines des magasins et que non, quoi, c'était trop dur à avaler, etc... Happy birthday. Bref, revente immédiate dudit accordéon et achat corrélatif d'une petite guitare et d'un ampfi. Le jeune Garcia avait du caractère: à quinze ans toujours, il avait fait la découverte de la marijuana et ne se privait pas d'user du joint. Drogue et musique seraient donc deux éléments désormais inséparables de sa vie. La musique de cette époque, c'est le rock n' roll de Chuck Berry. L'orientation prend tournure. Cependant, rock n' roll, marijuana, guitare, ne sont, à la dose pratiquée par Garcia, en aucune façon facteurs de réussite scolaire. Bien vite, la situation se dégrade et à 17 ans, Garcia ne trouve d'autres ressources que de s'engager dans l'armée... II serait curieux de dresser une liste de tous les musiciens de rock qui, un jour ou l'autre, connurent cette mésaventure. (L'un des moindres n'étant pas Jimi Hendrix). Comme tous, Garcia est un déphasé qui trouve là, pour un temps, une illusion da vie. Pour un temps bref d'ailleurs, puisque neuf mois plus tard, on le remercie, arguant qu'il n'est décidément pas fait pour ça. A Palo Alto, il fait la connaissance d'un autre transfuge de l'armée, Bob Hunter. Toux deux vont habiter dans de vieilles voitures immobiles et abandonnées, dont le loyer est seul à la portée de leurs ressources. Hunter joue lui aussi de la guitare; les deux hommes vont donc se mettre à jouer et chanter ensemble pour tenter de subsister. Contre quelques deniers ils font entendre du folk-song dans les écoles et dans les bars, Garcia se complaît dans le pur secteur musical, mais Hunter, lui, souhaiterait tenter sa chancé dans la poésie écrite. Ils se séparent donc. On retrouvera Hunter, bien plus tard, comme auteur attitré du Grateful Dead.
Jerry Garcia se produit ensuite, plus régulierement dans le circuit naissant des cafés de la région de Palo-Alto. Certains soirs, il y a de véritables affiches avec plusieurs passages. Celui de Garcia y côtoie ceux de Jorma Kaukonen, Janis Joplin, Nick Gravenites, David Freiberg, Paul Kantner... Du folk-song, il a évolué vers la musique "bluegrass", typiquement blanche et typiquement américaine; maigré tout, les affaires ne marchent guère et le guitariste solitaire se voit contraint de travailler, ce qui est triste, dans un magasin de musique, ce qui l'est un peu moins. C'est à cette époque qu'il va faire d'intéressantes rencontres. Bob Weir tout d'abord. C'est un autre déraciné, issu pour sa part, d'une bourgeoisie aisée, mais mal à l'aise dans sa peau et définitivement allergique aux études, il apprend comme un fou la guitare. Ron "Pigpen" McKernan ensuite. Fils d'un disc-jockey de rythm n' blues, passionné par le bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins, il excelle déjà à jouer le blues à l'harmonica ou, parfois, au piano. Nous sommes alors en 1964: deux apprentis guitaristes et un fan de blues doué, cela va donner un orchestre. II s'appellera "Mother MacCree's Uptown Jug Champions"; pour plus de commodités, en effet, la formule choisie avait été celle du jug-band, formation de type traditionnel jouant le plus souvent une musique simplette et bàterde, a l'aide d'instruments parfois hétéroclites. Bien évidemment, la solution de facilité laissa vite apparaitre son défaut: à musique facile, concurrence nombreuse, originalité faible et engagements plus que rares. Ron "Pigpen" McKernan comprit le premier le danger et insista pour que le jug-band change d'orientation, pour devenir un groupe de blues électrique. Blues électrique joué par des blancs cela se traduit chez les gens cultivés par l'expression groupe de rock n' roll. La section rythmique du groupe sera constituée par le batteur, Bill Kreutzmann, qui travaillait dans le même magasin que Garcia, et par le propriétaire du magasin lui-même à la basse. Tels furent les Warlocks. L'un des premiers spectateurs des Warlocks se nomme Phil Lesh; c'est une vieille connaissance de Garcia, un musicien complet qui a, entre autres, pratiqué la violon, la trompette, et donné dans la recherche musicale. Il n'a jamais caressé une basse de sa vie, moyennant quoi, il est engagé comme bassiste du groupe.
A partir de juillet 1965, es Warlocks se mettent à jouer régulièrement dans les clubs. Leur répertoire est celui de tout groupe débutant: les grands standards du rythm n' blues, Chuck Berry, un peu de Dylan. Les Rolling Stones les marqueront assez, musicalement, tandis que les Beatles seront leur grande révélation quant à l'esprit. L'influence des Beatles fut écrasante chez les groupes américains, elle fut perçue par les Warlocks surtout à travers les films "Hard day's night" et "Help" en tant que nouvelle ambiance, en tant que musique pour faire passer un bon moment, en tant que jeu collectif. Seconde grande rencontre pour les Warlocks: l'"acide". Il se trouve que l'origine de cette adoption par Garcia et ses compères vient d'une initiative gouvernementale. En effet, à Palo Alto, Jerry avait retrouvé Bob Hunter et partageait sa résidence avec lui. Or, Hunter se trouva être du nombre des cobayes employés par l'université voisine de Stanford pour des expériences de drogues, suggérées par le gouvernement. On lui fit ainsi tester la mescaline ou le L.S.D.; au sortir de ces séances, les participants ne songeaient plus qu'à s'en procurer à nouveau et à en faire bénéficier leur entourage... Les Warlocks firent très vite une consommation plus qu'abondante de ces produits; sous leur effet, leur rock devint plus fort, tandis que la durée moyenne des morceaux joués s'allongeait. Ce ne fut évidemment pas du goût du public des boîtes qui fut vite assourdi et perdu. Risquant de perdre leur clientèle, les patrons de ces établissements, les uns après les autres, remercièrent le groupe. Commença la période des "Acid-tests". Les Warlocks, en quête d'occasion de jouer, se joignirent à un autre ex-cobaye de Stanford, Ken Kesey, qui, à La Honda, s'adonnait à force défonces au sein des Pranksters, sorte de communauté acide. L'idée vint rapidement d'organiser de vastes séances de défonce ou musiciens et auditeurs, participeraient tous sous acide à un voyage collectif. Les "Acid-tests" se succédèrent dans tous les coins de la Californie, et les Warlocks étaient de toutes ces fêtes improvisées qui attiraient de plus en plus de monde.
Garcia et ses compagnons y gagnèrent une solide accoutumance aux concerts interminables et déstructurés. L'acid-rock avait démarré. Il était grand temps de trouver un nom plus adéquat. Ce fut donc The Grateful Dead.

LE DEAD-FAMILLE
Jerry Garcia (guitare, vocaux), Bob Weir (guitare, vocaux), Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (claviers, vocaux), Phil Lesh (basse, vocaux), Bill Kreutzmann (batterie).
Le Grateful Dead se trouva fort dépourvu quand le L.S.D. et autres furent strictement interdits, et que les "Acid-tests" touchèrent à leur fin. Au printemps 1966, ils se rendirent à Los Angeles et passèrent trois mois sans trop changer d'ambiance puisqu'en compagnie d'Augustus Owsley Stanley III, le "roi de l'acide"... Ce dernier trouva néanmoins laborieusement le moyen de leur mettre au point un énorme et tonitruant matériel d'amplification qui renforça la personnalité déjà sauvage du Dead. Ensuite, à l'été 66, avec femmes, enfants, armes et bagages, ils partirent pour San Francisco; ils s'installèrent au 710 Ashbury, au coeur même de ce secteur de Haight Ashbury qui allait se faire connaitre du monde entier. Ce fut le début de la réalisation de l'utopie, un rêve éveillé flamboyant de courte durée qui fut en intensité, au sommet de son époque. Ajoutons également, qu'à l'image de ces "voyages" à l'acide, ce ne fut socialement parlant qu'une vaste illusion. Le Grateful Dead, bien plus qu'un simple groupe de rock n' roll, constitua la première communauté du genre à San Francisco. Une sorte de tribu au nombre élastique se forma autour des musiciens, partageant les tâches et les ressources tout comme les expériences. Le Dead fut le prototype d'une économie fondée sur le commerce marginal et sur l'art. Il ouvrit la première boutique "psychédélique" où l'on pouvait se procurer posters, bijoux, vêtements, journaux, tous élaborés artisanalement et partie prenante du nouveau mouvement culturel. L'argent ainsi récolté, était investi par les "diggers" qui s'employaient alors a approvisionner la communauté. Cela permettait le "décrochage" de nombre de jeunes en rupture avec la "normele" de la société américaine. Ce système se multiplia bien vite dans tout Haight Ashbury, puis dans tout San Francisco. La scène musicale explosa elle aussi. On assista à la multiplication des "free concerts", concerts "free" à la fois dans le sens de gratuité et dans-le sens de liberté d'improvisation. Une nuée de groupes de rock se créèrent sous l'impulsion des leaders. Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead. De grands événements de masse tels que les "be-in" du Golden Gate Park concrétisèrent cette révolution locale. Egalement, il ne faut pas oublier non plus l'industrie (non gratuite) du spectacle se renouvelait avec le développement de vastes salles de concerts entièrement consecrées au rock et au rythm n' blues, d'ou les sièges avaient disparu et où les light-shows de plus en plus complexes accompagnaient la musique. Les deux principales salles furent l'Avalon Ballroom de la Compagnie Family Dog et le Fillmore Auditorium de Bill Graham. Si la plupert des grands s'occupaient malgré tout de leur carrière et s'employaient à la rentabiliser par le disque et les concerts, le Dead, lui, restait principalement dans le premier circuit gratuit et planent. Il existait bien, théoriquement, deux managers, Rock Scully et Danny Rifkin, mais ceux-ci étaient surtout affairés au "trip" collectif et touchaient très rarement terre. On ne peut créer d'ilot libéré au sein d'un système toujours en place; les communautés comme celle du Dead affaient l'apprendre, sinon le comprendre. La société, la grande, vint se manifester au sein de l'utopie, tout d'abord par ses "mass-media". Les grands magazines américains, puis mondiaux, la télévision, la radio, s'intéressèrent au phénomène californien dont l'ampleur ne cessait de croitre et en retransmirent abondamment l'image. Dès lors, tout était cuit. Les marchands plus sérieux et plus organisés envahirent le temple hippie. Ce nom même de hippie, tout comme le flower power à peine né. à peine prononcé, se trouvait déjà vide de sens par sa projection et son emploi abusif et effréné. L'artisanat psychédélique battait en retraite devant la grosse industrie "hippie". Parallèlement, un nombre croissant d'individus plus ou moins déracinés, plus ou moins déguisés aussi, affluaient, parfois seulement pour un week-end, à San Francisco. Les "diggers" ne pouvaient plus boucler leur budget. Le Grateful Dead n'y échappa pas. De plus, l'expérience du groupe dans le secteur du show-business organisé n'arrangeait guère les choses, bien au contraire. Le groupe avait signé chez Warner Bros. En 1966, le premier album fut enregistré presque à la va-vite, sans grande expérience de la chose. Trois jours de studio sous acide, un jour de mixage donnèrent un album assez simple, frustre même, n'en contenant pas moins d'excellentes interprétations comme le célèbre "Morning dew". Le succès du disque ne fut pas très grand, en comparaison de l'Airplane, par exemple. Sur le plan concerts, ce fut aussi l'échec financier. En 1967, encouragé par une grande tournée aux côtés de Ouicksilver Messenger Service, le Dead, aidé par l'Airplane lança à San Francisco une nouvelle salle, le Carousel Ballroom. Pendant un temps se recréa une ambiance spontanée qui put faire croire au retour du grand mouvement. Hélas! La gestion ne fut pas plus saine et le Carousel Ballroom dut fermer. Les dettes du Gratefut Dead s'en trouvaient augmentées. En 1968, le Dead, enrichi de deux nouvelles recrues, Tom Constanten (claviers) et Mickey Hart (batterie, percussions), s'attaqua à l'enregistrement d'un nouvel album. Cette fois, Garcia et compagnie voulurent soigner les choses; ils s'adjoignirent les services du producteur Dave Hassinger, qui avait travaillé avec les Rolling Stones, et ne lésinèrent pas sur les enregistrements live ou en studio. La "mise en boite" d'"Anthem of the sun" se fit donc sur une durée de huit mois. II présenta une musique déjà bien plus torturée et complexe sous l'influence grandissante de Tom Constanten. Cependant, les frais d'enregistrement furent tels que leur paiement, pris sur les royalties, endetta un peu plus le Dead vis-à-vis de Warner Bros. A cette date, les membres du Grateful Dead quittent San Francisco, et vont vivre séparément dans la région de Marin County.

LE DEAD-GROUPE
En 1969 et 1970, le Grateful Dead va devenir un peu plus exclusivement un groupe de rock, plutôt qu'une microsociété. C'est l'époque des concerts-fleuves à travers les Etats-Unis. Le Dead produit un résumé permanent de sa démarcha musicale, partant d'un rock simple, hérité de la tradition, pour s'embarquer dans un délire torturé que font naitre les guitares ou les instruments trafiqués de Tom Constanten. Deux disques témoignent de cette période: "Aoxomoxoa" en studio, et le double "Live Dead". Pourtant, le Dead ne peut décidément se comporter comme un groupe comme les autres. Ses concerts ne veulent pas prendre l'aspect "spectacle", mais garder cette tradition d'éclatement collectif ("Getting high together"). Les finances non plus, ne se décident pas à suivra la normale des grands groupes. A la Nouvelle-Orléans, le groupe connait une nouvelle faillite financière aggravée cette fois par de graves désaccords avec leur manager, Lenny Hart. Le fils de ce dernier, Mickey Hart, quitte le groupe, de méme que Tom Constanten. Le Dead se retrouve à l'état des anciens Warlocks. Au milieu d'une tourmente d'histoires financières, de rivalités, de combines, bref, de show-business, le Grateful Dead va trouver refuge dans la musique. Le résultat sera "Workingman's Dead", un superbe album qui marque un retour salutaire à la simplicité, assez synonyme de country. "Workingman's Dead", c'est aussi la fin de la prédominance des instruments pour une mise en avant des parties chantées; c'est un peu, aussi, l'avènement définitif de Bob Hunter qui écrit les textes. Après avoir frôlé la dissolution, le Dead repart avec un moral neuf. Il participe avec Janis Joplin et Big Brother, Ian & Sylvia, The Band, Delaney & Bonnie et Robert Charlebois, à une mémorable randonnée en chemin de fer, d'Est en Ouest du Canada. Ce fut, parait-il, fort loin d'être mélancolique; le Canada, pays froid, on le sait, nécessitant l'absorption d'une grande quantité d'alcool pour se réchauffer... En 1970, toujours, c'est une grande tournée nationale avec les protégés et amis des "New Riders of the Purple Sage" dont la réussite artistique connaît enfin un parallèle de réussite financière. Le Grateful Dead s'est doté d'une organisation sérieuse, il se trouve à présent dans les normes du système, intelligemment certes, mais sans aucune équivoque.

LE DEAD AUJOURD'HUI
Il convient, à ce propos, de faire un bilan qui justement prévienne de toute équivoque, de toute falsification plus ou moins mythologique. L'expérience du Grateful Dead, comme celle de tout le mouvement californien, est, sur le plan social, un échec. Rien n'a été fondamentalement remis en cause par les tentatives marginales communautaires, rien n'a bouleversé la sordide logique du show business. Reste la chaleur de la tentative son ambiance, son esprit que nous retransmet le généreux rock du Grateful Dead. Reste qu'on ne trouve qu'en cherchant. Artistiquement, le Dead s'est trouvé. "American Beauty" et le second "Live Dead", ont poursuivi le renouveau avec, pour décor non négligeable, une popularité croissante. Le rayonnement musical de Jerry Garcia s'est régulièrement affirmé et on l'a vu multiplier les "sessions" avec entre autres, Brewer & Shipley, Howard Wales, Merl Saunders, etc. Il s'est même permis d'enregistrer un superbe album en solitaire, dans lequel il assure tous les roles, mis à part la batterie (Kreutzmann) et les textes (Hunter). Bob Weir, lui aussi, a préparé son album qui devrait sortir en juin. Un nouveau membres est venu se joindre au groupe, il s'agit du pianiste Keith Godchaux, qui était venu, à la fin de l'année dernière, remplacer Pigpen, très gravement malade, et qui est resté au retour de ce dernier. C'est ce Mort Reconnaissant, le cercueil chargé à ras bord de souvenirs, d'expériences, que l'Europe a enfin connu en avril et mai. Si les phrases ne peuvent restituer pleinement la réalité, si l'on n'a pu assister soi-même à un des concerts, il suffit de peu de choses pour comprendre: mettre "Box of rain", par exemple, sur la platine et regarder une photo de Jerry Garcia. Regard, sourire des yeux et des guitares, chaleur du chant. Grateful Dead.

Christian Lebrun.

BEST 47, JUNE 1972 (p. 63-69)

Jun 4, 2022

May 1972: Bob Weir Interview (Audio Version)

In May 1972, Steve Bradshaw interviewed Bob Weir in London. The interview was printed in Melody Maker that July: 
But in June or July, the tape was also broadcast on BBC Radio London. Here is the transcript:


[Jack Straw, audience tape from Bickershaw
SB: Right now, our main guest on the show, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. I talked to Bob Weir between the two sessions of concerts they did in London [at the Wembley Pool & the Lyceum]... First of all we'll play just a very quick snatch, all we have time for, of what as far as I know is just about Bob Weir's first composition music-wise...
[Sugar Magnolia, from American Beauty]
SB: As it said on Time Out, Bob Weir was talking about his solo album. I'll run the interview in two parts, the following part will be next week when Bob Weir will be introducing his own solo album, which will be out in the shops at an unspecified date, sometime probably in about a month. Meanwhile we have Bob Weir talking between the Wembley & Lyceum concerts about six weeks ago about his music, about the Grateful Dead. First of all I asked him about the 3 Wembley Pool concerts, each of which was very very different. 
BW: Well, the first night we were real nervous, and we weren't exactly sure how we were gonna be received and so we were on our best behavior, more or less, and were taking a long time between numbers to tune up and stuff like that - [...] tune the bridge on my guitar instead of Garcia so we cut down our tuning time. The second night we were more or less - it was a lazy night - we had a good time but we were being lazy and just playing when we got around to it. I enjoyed the audience, I enjoyed the response - the response was appreciative - though not cool but reserved at first, and so we played more or less reserved music for them, and we built slowly and they built slowly and it all happened very nicely. 
Q: How do you decide what kind of concert you're going to do - do you go out with a kind of strategy beforehand? 
BW: Absolutely not. We play by the seat of our pants from moment to moment. 
Q: But it looks, watching you, as if there's only one guy thinking out there, cause you all do the same thing - you all obviously want to go in the same direction. 
BW: Well we're used to working with each other over a long period of time now, and so we more or less are able to intuit exactly what everybody else is gonna feel like doing at a given point. 
Q: Do you have a set run of songs? 
BW: Not really, no. We have a sort of general category of songs that we'll start out with, and then we'll move into another general category of songs as soon as we're loosened up, warmed up, and then we'll move into another category of songs which is generally our space music after our break, and then we'll go back into, I guess your hard-driving rock & roll. 
Q: There's nobody really leading the band on stage? 
BW: Not really. We have it worked out so that we take turns singing songs - if Garcia starts on an evening, he sings the first song, I sing the second, Pigpen sings the third, then we go back around in that sequence again & again; or maybe I'll start out and Garcia will be second and Pigpen will be third, and then we just go around & around & around like that. 
Q: [...] the way you move from improvisation or something straight into another song, like at Wembley, straight into El Paso - how does something click like that, have you got it worked out beforehand that you're going to do that next song? 
BW: Well no, not really, but if we get into a sort of rhythmic & harmonic mode that'll suggest a song to us within our plunges through the innermost & outermost regions or space or whatever, if we get to a region that has a rhythmic & tonal mode that suggests a particular song, one of us will start playing the comp to it, the vamp to it, and everybody'll fall in behind that and we'll be off into that song. 
Q: So generally you know what's going to happen next before the audience because somebody has got off on that particular tune. 
BW: Well, we know what's gonna happen next just about instantaneously with the audience really. Except for, we are better-practiced at intuiting where we're gonna go than people who haven't heard us... 
Q: At Bickershaw, you did this history of the Dead from the start, didn't you? 
BW: Well, that's what it was billed as, I guess - I never heard of that, that never reached my ears. Within the context of any show on any night, we'll do a lot of songs from different eras - we'll do a lot of songs that we've been doing ever since we started, and we'll do a lot of songs that we just recently came up with, and a lot of songs from in between, and so inasmuch as we do that, we don't start out in chronological order or anything like that, but we do a great range of our new & old material. 
Q: To be fair, that was a [...] asking you which way your music's developing [...] what strikes most people is that each member of the band is going more off onto a solo kick, some of the members are doing now: a Garcia solo album, and your own solo album that's just come out. Are you tending to pull more in different directions? 
BW: Well, that's always been the case really, whenever one of us would get down and write a song, he'll go off into one direction as far as he can possibly take that particular song, to make it something of its own, and inasmuch as Garcia went & did his own album with a lot of his songs on it, and I've gone & made my own album with a lot of my songs on it, they're certainly divergent directions but they've always been happening, they've never however been lumped together as such before. But as it turned out just recently, Garcia had more material than he could use for a Grateful Dead album, and likewise with myself, I had more songs than I could put on a Grateful Dead record without crowding other people off, so I just went ahead and made my own record. 
Q: Any more members of the band got solo albums on the way? I was told Pigpen had one... 
BW: Pigpen is thinking it over, and of course every last one of us would like to see him do that, and so we'll be helping him - as I was receiving help from the Grateful Dead, as was Garcia, as everybody - we'll be helping him put out his record - he'll be doing it himself obviously, it'll be his material, his songs - and he, among all of us, he's the one that writes the lyrics & the music to all of his songs, just about, and so I guess you can expect to hear a record from him in the next six months or a year maybe. 
[Other One, from live album]
INT: ...an example of the kind of musical improvisation they've become famous for. One thing I've talked to Bob about was - in fact, after we'd done the interview, we started talking about the actual musical structure of the band's improvisations, so I stopped the tape and [obliterated] part of the rest of the interview and took up the conversation there, which is where I had to stop the tape temporarily. What Bob had to say loosely was about his own case in the group as a rhythm guitar, and the way in which the band intuit from each other, the way in which they're going to improvise, if you can follow that. Bob Weir explains it a bit more succinctly. 
BW: Well when we're playing free and we're drifting from key to key and from feeling to feeling, mode to mode, and we're not looking back or anything like that, and we're just building incessantly off what we have, Garcia & Phil are generally playing single lines, and any combination of two notes suggests a chord. My role, and our piano player's role, is to intuit what that chord is gonna be, the next note they're gonna play, the combination of those two, and be there with that chord, and maybe an augmentation of that chord which will either suggest staying there & building that or suggest going to a new passage, a new mode or a new key or whatever. And...it's quite a choice sometimes, it takes a lot of concentration, sometimes it just rolls out just really easily, and sometimes you get a combination of people just guessing that comes up with some inspirational new idea which is worth living for. 
Q: To backtrack a bit, to take it up to the present day in the ten minutes or so we have left, I wanted to talk about Workingman's Dead, and the sudden shift of direction that most people would recognize in that album. At the risk of repeating what you've said many times before in interviews, what was going on in the group's collective mind at the time of that album? 
BW: Well, it was a certain change for the record-buying public but it was a gradual change for us because over the period of months before that, inasmuch as we'd been hanging out with David Crosby & Stephen Stills particularly and listened to them sing together and just blown out by the fact that they really can sing together, we began to realize that we had been neglecting our own vocal presentation for instrumental presentation, and so we started working on our vocal arrangements and choral arrangements, and as it turned out the next record we did had a lot of that on it, and it represented a marked change from the way we'd sounded in the past, though none of us had really given it any thought, we were just going straight ahead and doing what we'd been doing - it was a lot of fun to make that record, it happened very quickly, and there was a spontaneity about that record that was just beautiful. 
Q: Jumping on the last one, the live album, was there any deliberate policy in that [...] 
BW: It seemed the quickest & most expedient way to put out a record! And y'know, live recording has something to say for itself, there's a spark of spontaneity there that can't be reconstructed in a studio. 
Q: [...] Any plans for further albums? 
BW: Well, we're recording these four dates at the Lyceum and we've been recording throughout Europe, and we'll try to put together another live album of the finest takes of this entire European tour, which comes to quite a few dates so there should be some good material, we've been playing fairly well; and so we should have another good live album coming out shortly. 
Q: Any ideas as to the future of the band generally? Very vague question, but...
BW: We're going to go on doing what we're doing. We hope to at one point or another make enough money to have our own studios, and we're researching better & more efficient ways of marketing records for less, and essentially better & more efficient ways of getting better music to more people. 
Q: The Dead from the start were very much of a, as Steve Miller said, a sociological phenomenon, along with one or two other bands like the Airplane, whereas someone like Steve Miller wasn't; and now that there really isn't a kind of 1967 context in which to fit a rock band like that, do you miss that kind of dynamic, that kind of milieu, or are you rather glad that all that... 
BW: Well back when we were being a sociological phenomenon, we were living on top of each other by necessity in one house because that's all we could afford, our economic situation didn't leave us much leeway, and so we did what was necessary; and it was a lot of fun, and a lot of the time it was fairly uncomfortable. As it is we moved out first chance we got because nobody likes living on top of anybody else, and we stopped being a sociological phenomenon, nonetheless we do have a lot of people whose company we enjoy, and many of them work for us in whatever capacity they can find; we support a lot of people, and in turn they help support us, so we have a huge family, sort of tribal business scene going that seems to work fairly well. 
Q: I'm quite interested by that, does it have any formal contractual structure to it, or are you just...a kind of loose...
BW: Total anarchy. As is our music, it's almost utter & total anarchy. A lot gets done for one miraculous reason or another. 
Q: Why has it taken you so long to get a European tour together? 
BW: Well, inasmuch as we wanted to take everybody that works with us, or y'know, everybody in our big family along with us, it was obvious it was going to be very expensive to do, and heretofore we haven't been able to afford it - I'm not sure that we can afford it now but we went ahead and did it anyway.
Q: You making money [...] financial success? 
BW: I think we'll break even when everything is tolled up and we get home, I think we'll come out just about even. 
Q: Last question, what are your general impressions of the European tour, how have you found the audiences? 
BW: The audiences have been fabulous, you know. Inasmuch as they don't speak our language in many cases, and we really have to relate to them on a purely musical level because they can't understand the repartee that goes on between songs or anything like that, we've been concentrating on just laying the music on them and they've been most appreciative. 
Q: One more - your wife was saying before you arrived that on the two different nights in London so far, there seemed to be two different audiences; one was happy just to bop and it didn't really matter if they missed a note, the other one was a much more kind of Dead-freak or Dead-culture audience, who really wanted to hear absolutely every note, and she seemed to think the first one was more preferable. 
BW: Of course a combination of the two would probably be best. I like looking out into the audience when I'm playing, [...] people are really intent on what we're playing and really feeling that they're being spiritually elevated by it, that really makes me feel like King Kong on stage. But on the other hand, when I look out and I see people dancing around and just purely enjoying themselves, I like seeing that too. So it doesn't matter to me, any old way they want to enjoy it is fine with me, just so long as they enjoy it.

SB: That's an exclusive interview for [??] done by me with Bob Weir and it was done between their two recent London concerts. We're splitting the interview up into two parts, the shorter one comes next week when Bob Weir will be introducing his own new solo album...  

PART II 

SB: ...a couple tracks off that, including the Bob Weir version of 'Playing in the Band,' which I should say also does have the Grateful Dead ensemble in the background. And we also have the answer to the question of how long Bob had been stockpiling material for the album, the music of which was entirely written by himself.
BW: Well, there's one on that record that I've been doing now for a year, I actually put it on our last live record, Playing in the Band, but it's been developed & extended from where it was, so it's not really recognizable as the same song, and so I figured well this is what I really wanted in the first place when we recorded it back then when it was immature, and now it's matured; it's a different song, it holds together, and so I really wanted to record it again. 
[Playing in the Band, from Ace
BW: In most cases a friend of mine named John Barlow wrote the lyrics, and on a couple songs Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics, and on 'One More Saturday Night' I wrote the lyrics. I have little faith in my poetic abilities, so I just leave it to the experts. It's getting easier for me to just roll with the flow, as it were; as I get older, as I get more experienced and better-versed at performing for audiences in public, I find it easier to just let the music roll out of me and [phone rings] answer the telephone. 
[One More Saturday Night, from Ace]
SB: Bob Weir, Ace, that's right in the shops now... 

May 30, 2022

April 1972: Band Interview & Empire Pool

DARK STAR RISING 
THE DEAD INTERVIEW

Maybe one day some writer will get down and write a piece which will capture exactly what the Grateful Dead are all about. God only knows what the results would be - possibly a weird blending of the 'I Ching' and a Zane Grey novelette. It would have to be someone who was both observer and participator in what is in effect a 24-hour-a-day movie; someone who could invest jive terms like 'spiritual outlaws' and 'positive flow' with some real meaning, while at the same time pointing out that this here is one no-bullshit, straight-down-the-line-joyful-noise rock n' roll band and don't you ever forget it. Mark Twain I'm sure could have done it. I've always thought of the Dead as in some ways the musical equivalent of the freewheeling all-American spirit of Twain's finest writing. Hunter's lyrics seem to be obsessed with gamblers ('Doin that Rag'/'Deal'), outlaws ('Sugaree'/'Friend of the Devil'), losers and misfits ('Loser' 'Wharfrat' and 'St. Stephen' who reminds me of an acid-head Huckleberry Finn) - all steeped in American myths and legends. The Grateful Dead's stance has always been firmly constructed in the roots of American mythology and the realisation that the mythology itself is built on the rootlessness of its culture. The Dead were always the pioneers, whether it was back in '66 on the bus with Kesey and Cassidy, opening the doors of perception, or riding that train, high on cocaine, or playing those long wild sets which spiral up and out in the cosmos, or writing numbers like 'Box of Rain' and 'Uncle John's Band' which are simply two of the most beautiful songs ever written. 'You may find direction around some corner where it's been waiting to meet you' they advise in 'Box of Rain' but the Dead have always been sure of this direction; they just keep on keeping on because when it all comes down to basics, there isn't really anywhere else to go. Like when, in the middle of a particularly heady piece of cerebral improvisation based around a Coltrane-like riff, they suddenly flow into a Marty Robbins cowboy tune. Not only did it work, it seemed the most natural thing to do at the time. With the Dead working out, the difference between the cosmic doodlings of, say, 'Dark Star' and their version of the Merle Haggard Seeds-and-stems pastoral 'Sing me back home' are negligible. After all, it's all music and if nothing else, the Dead are a music band, right there at the source point where it all flows free and easy. When the band play their own unique style of country music, they avoid the cracker-barrel philosophizing of, say, Kris Kristofferson and even rise above the hard-arsed stoicism of the Band, and when they get into free-form improvisation, they work on levels which most other bands don't know exist. The Dead have never got caught up in self-indulgent eclecticism - whatever they tackled has worked its way into the pattern a lot of different rhythms and textures but one sure pulse. 

'At the moment, I can't really foretell what's going to happen when we actually play here. It's very strange y'know, I feel like a man from Mars or something.' 
Jerry Garcia gave a self-conscious grin. The Dead had finally made it to England for a spread-out period of time. After one hit-and-run visit to the Hollywood Festival ('a bad gig' Garcia feels now), the band were back and casually holding court at the Kensington Palace Hotel, a thoroughly English establishment comfortably bridging the distance between modest good taste and luxuriousness. 'Casual' seems to be the word to describe the Dead's image now. Remember the first photo of the band to appear on our shores, depicting them as the 1967 epitome of the acid and downers-degenerate rock-a-boogie combo - all matted hair and sweat-stained denims. Well, things have changed. Only the roadies retain any of that image - a jovial bunch of roughhousers led by Ramrod who all look like ex-Hells Angels now into rodeo-riding. Phil Lesh looks almost dapper in suede jerkin and loafers; now with short hair he looks like the spitting image of the actor Donald Sutherland. Bob Weir, fresh-faced and earnest-looking, resembles an all-American boy until you notice that long, long pony-tail of hair running down his back. Keith Godcheaux, small and slightly bewildered by it all, talks with his wife Donna who is now singing with the band, and Pigpen sits by himself, brooding. His face has thinned out to such an extent that he has two enormous hollows in his cheeks. 
Most of the Grateful Dead entourage are lurking around somewhere in the suite. All those names that appear on the back of Dead albums - like Bob Matthews and his old lady, Betty, the band's recording engineers, and Dan Healy, he's somewhere around, and manager John McCintre who looks like he's walked straight off the set of 'Song of Norway'. His feminine features and constant enthusiasm for everything going on around him make him a perfect Yin counterpart for Rock Scully's earth-bound (or as close to the earth as any member of [the] Dead family can get) wild-eyed hustler Yang characteristics. Scully is a pretty amazing cat, having stuck with the band through all the busts and bummers making sure that the whole show reached some measure of togetherness. And, lo and behold, who should be doing all the co-ordinating but Sam Cutler the voice of Altamont. He seems pretty cool about it all and everyone likes him, so God bless him. 
Garcia is stretched out on the sofa eating and rapping to anyone around. The first thing you ought to know about Jerry is that he is an A-1 nice guy. All that 'Garcia the Garce' stuff is nonsense to him. Did he get bothered by people constantly expecting him to produce the answers to the problems of the Universe? 'That only comes from people like Charlie Reich' he grins. 'The thing is that I talk a lot, too much in fact. I just tend to answer questions, that doesn't mean I know what I'm talking about.' But Garcia does know what he's talking about usually. He'll rap about rock n' roll, science fiction, Woodstock and Altamont, Janis, the Manson-Lyman cult thing, in fact almost any topic you'd care to mention. And if his statements on anything tend to appear glib when seen in print, it shouldn't be like that. Jerry Garcia may not be a wise old sage, but when talking to him, one gets the distinct impression that he knows something that you don't. It's all to do with the positivity of the music the Dead play. 
'I believe in taking a positive approach to any situation and that the only way to handle the bummers is to learn from them and leave it at that. We had to go through an Altamont in order to get the importance of something like Woodstock into perspective - it was like two sides of a coin, y'know. I think we learnt far more from Altamont about the new culture, or whatever you want to call it. The Dead work as a unit, as a collective ego. We reached the realisation a long time ago that 'The Grateful Dead' was far greater than the sum of parts - the egos. The band has never really been into playing ego games. I think if you realise that you've got to gain a kind of balance and work with that, then you'll get through.' 
What was the scene like in San Francisco nowadays? 
'There is no 'scene' as such in San Francisco. It's just a case that what was always there - the real creative elements, if you like - has matured. There are a lot of fine movie-makers and cartoonists and musicians.' 
Garcia is still as eager to play with as many different musicians as possible. He feels equally at home involving himself in Kantner's musical sci-fi fantasies or adding pedal steel licks to one of Crosby and Nash's precious little ditties or working the Bay Area bars with his friend Merle Saunders playing to maybe 60 people. The whole co-operative is based on mutual respect amongst musicians. 
About the Grateful Dead as they are now, he had this to say: 
'We've all had a rest and we're just waiting to get up and do it, y'know. Pigpen's well again and with Keith playing with us, we're really tight. We added Donna who originally introduced us to her old man, because she's a fine singer. She used to work down at Muscle Shoals. We're not going to consciously play a set designed for an English audience. We're just going to play what we feel capable of - what our collective mood and the environment dictates.' 
Would it be good old rock 'n roll? 
'Well sure, there'll be some rock 'n roll, but I've never thought of the Dead as just a rock 'n roll band. I think we're something more. Wait and see.' 
The band don't like playing dates in huge auditoriums. Their policy in the States is to find a hall which holds 2-3,00 capacity and book it for 4 or 5 days. The Empire Pool booking was in fact a last resort. 'A bad gig is a bad economic proposition' stated Bob Weir. (Weir used to be called 'the Kid', but now he's 'Bobby Ace' from the off-shoot band he formed back in 1970 called Bobby Ace and the Cards from the Bottom.) If anyone has the wild card up his sleeve in the band at the moment, it's him. It's Weir, not Garcia who is now fronting the Grateful Dead, singing most of the songs and writing most of the material. 'I'm just doing the same old stuff, only I'm more in control now and I can do it better' he shrugs. His solo album 'Ace' should be out soon and promises to be a real hot biscuit. 'One more Saturday Night' the new Grateful Dead single comes from the record as does 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' which has taken over from 'Bertha' as the opening number at a Dead concert. There are four or five Hunter-Weir numbers, a few written with an old friend of Weir's, John Barlow, and even some classical music. 
'I listen to an awful lot of classical music. Phil has been mostly responsible for my picking up on the stuff in the first place, and on the album there are some attempts at my interpretation of what I've heard. I borrowed some changes from Johann Sebastian Bach though it turned out sounding nothing like the original source, or even like Procol Harum which is rock 'n roll classical music. At the moment, I'm interested in different music forms. I wrote the music of 'Playing in the Band' which is an exercise in 10/4 time. You can hear 10/4 time in Greek music and some East Indian music, but otherwise you just don't hear it in Western music. Sometimes the band picks up on a weird time signature just to see if they can make music out of it, like Phil's number 'The Eleven'. It's purely an academic experiment, I guess.' 
Weir wrote most of the words and music for the 'Anthem of the Sun' suite. The words, though often awkward, are interesting in that they tell the real story behind the Acid Tests ('the bus pulled up and I got on/that's when it all began'). Garcia stated that Wolfe's account of the Trips Festival etc. was inaccurate and unbalanced. 
'Tom Wolfe was just an observer writing about something he didn't understand. He never participated in what was going on - he never dropped acid. Also being a writer, he was more interested in concentrating on Kesey who was a novelist, whereas Cassidy was the real dynamo behind the whole thing.' 
Bob Weir, who was a close friend of Neil Cassidy, took up the story. 
'I wrote the lyrics to 'The Other One' in Portland, Oregon, on the night that Cassidy was dying somewhere in Mexico. He was a great friend of ours - it just all happened on the same night. The words are all about him, y'know; it really destroyed me when I found out. Cassidy was like the crazy big brother of the Grateful Dead. He had an infinite capacity for living and taught the band by example a great deal about life-styles and the way to handle a situation. How to come through it all and at the same time have a good time. 
'Cassidy died from over exposure. I don't know exactly how it was - I've heard so many stories about how it was murder, how it was suicide. I think it was a mistake, a mistake he knew that he was going to make. When he left for Mexico, he left the house of some friends of mine, and his last words were 'Don't worry about it'. I guess you could say he burned himself out for the next ninety years, because he was capable of living in that way. He's surely one of the most interesting people who ever lived. He could make you laugh until you were sick and he had these weird, unbelievable powers. He was the unqualified master of telepathy.' 
Cassidy's telepathic powers rubbed off on the Dead - 'After 7 years together, we know exactly how to inflect, exactly what nuances to use when playing, and the result is sometimes inspirational and then sometimes it just doesn't happen which is...y'know a bummer. We've found that we tend to communicate and therefore play better when our heads are closer together in physical proximity.' 
The best recorded example of the Dead's work, Weir reckons, is 'The Other One'. 
'There were some points on 'Dark Star', but that take of 'Dark Star' which ended up on the album was not as good as the one recorded the night before at the Avalon Ballroom. The recorder wasn't set up right or something so the good one got away. With a number like that, there's a beginning, a check-point - a middle, and an end. A stock motif and then a little sequence - the rest of it is built around a combination of circumstances - the environment, our collective mood. There is no basic rhythm; we usually dissolve it in sheets of sound and from there, we explore the possibilities. There have never been two identical performances of 'Dark Star'.' 
Bob Weir and Pigpen present another Yin and Yang paradox, but as we sat together and rapped, it turned out they had a lot in common. 
'Bobby and I don't mess with dope or booze anymore' muttered Pigpen. All the band seem to have moved away from their 'heavy drug' image. Kreutzmann and Lesh drink a lot and Garcia smokes a lot of pot, but the cocaine thing is past. 
'What most people don't understand' said Garcia 'is that 'Casey Jones' is an anti-coke song. It's saying 'listen, watch your speed - that stuff is dangerous.' Then, almost as an after thought, he smiled and said: 
'But y'know, I'm only human - I'll take anything.' 
Not so with Pigpen, though. He's on the wagon. Perhaps the most amusing incident during the time I spent with the band was when booze orders were being taken and Pigpen muttered in complete seriousness 'Hey Frankie, couldya get me a soda?' Only it ain't so funny. Pig was very, very ill - a terrible liver complaint coupled with a crippling bout of hepatitis. He now looks skinny, his skin tight as a drum around his cheek-bones. 
'I used to be very heavily into drinking. I never liked dope too much, whisky only got me off - but I quit. It was getting out of hand and I had to go into hospital. They didn't give me booze in hospital, so... Now my only vices are smokin' cigarettes and pesterin' the wenches.' 
Pigpen's a bluesman, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, Big Joe Williams, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker (Pigpen has worked with John Lee a few times), all those cats. Don't give him no jive about 'can a white man sing the blues'. 
'If I like a song, I'll sing it - and I like the blues. I was brought up on the stuff - rock 'n roll, rhythm 'n blues.' His father was the first San Francisco D.J. to play rhythm 'n blues music in that area and was given the dubious title 'Ole Creepy' for his troubles. Pigpen digs a lot of soul music and his choice of Dead numbers usually comes down to a good soul classic, James Brown's epic 'It's a Man's, Man's, Man's, Man's World' (now dropped owing to a backlash from Women's Lib.), Otis Redding's 'Hard to Handle', and the Olympics/Young Rascals classic 'Good Lovin'. About those juiced raps he pulls out when the spirits are willing - 'It's real easy for me to make up that kind of stuff as I go along. A little story, a little anecdote - I got to get a little crazy to do that stuff.' 
The Pig used to hang around bars and night-clubs way back when, working in various soul and boogie combos. Then one day he worked in a band which contained one Jerry Garcia on bass guitar and the occasional appearance of Bill Kreutzmann on drums. From those humble beginnings were born the Warlocks who changed their name to the Grateful Dead. And they're still all together - Garcia, Weir, Lesh, Pigpen, Kreutzmann. Sure, Mickey Hart's doing his own stuff now, living out his crazy, funky existence on some ranch, while Tom Constanten - 'JC' to the boys [sic] - is still heavily into Scientology. 

But otherwise, there they all were backstage at the Empire Pool, Wembley, not quite knowing what to expect but not really getting worried. 'We'll just up and do our stuff and see how it all works out' muttered Pigpen, while Garcia, sharp as a hot Ferrari in black silk shirt and the trousers of his Nudie suit (emblazoned with magnificent skull design (what else?) on the bell-bottom) flashed these gold, cosmic grins from under that hairy tangle of beard and rapped with anyone who wanted to talk to him. Kreutzmann and Lesh boozed away happily and gregariously while the 7,000 people seated themselves. This audience, whether they'd picked up on the Dead through 'Anthem of the Sun' and 'Live Dead' or 'American Beauty' and the new live double-album, were all united in the knowledge that this was their band. Here was a living legend if ever there was - Kerouac and Cassidy were dead, Kesey was, god knows where Kesey was, Owsley was in jail, but the Dead were still high and rising. The magic band had survived it all and were flowing on this plain above all the rest. 
Having seen them at rehearsal doing their new material (everything from a mournful Garcia version of Hank William's 'You Win Again' to an unbelievable workout on 'Bo Diddley' which is even better than 'Not Fade Away'), I had some vague idea of what to expect, but a live Dead concert in front of a massive audience would be something else again. At 7.30 the band casually appeared on stage, plugged in and kicked off. No fuss, no superstar bullshit or prima donna scenes; they just went straight into 'The Greatest Story Ever Told', tight and confident with Bobby Weir and Donna Godcheaux wailing out front while the band worked their way through the jerky, almost clumsy rhythm. From there they went into a couple of numbers from Garcia's solo album - 'Loser' and 'Sugaree' (the latter dragging just a fraction), picking up with two raucous Pigpen rockers. Pig never got out front for any length of time and there were no long inspired raps either. He's still getting back into his stride, though a super-moody 'Big Boss Man' proved that he's still got the goods. The audience remained appreciative and receptive, but there was the distinct feeling that something was missing. A ridiculously fine stomping version of 'Beat it on Down the Line' came near to what we were looking for, but the essential ingredient - the fabled magic of the Grateful Dead - had yet to make its presence felt. The levels of the performance wavered frustratedly until the band introduced 'Playin' in the Band'. From the first notes it seemed right - the near ecstatic pure electric guitar sound the Byrds could pull off in the mid-60s when the planets were all fixed in the correct proportions flowing straight into the churning 'Proud Mary' rhythm with Donna wailing, biting out a third harmony - 'Playing - Playing-in-the-band - Da-aay-break, Day break 'cross the land'. And then the band just floated off onto some weird beautiful plain, Garcia picking notes like bubbles bursting while Lesh was in total control on his side of the cosmos constantly there by the side of his comrades and building platforms for them to transcend. This indeed was space travel - Godcheax exploring every nuance of the music left untouched by his fellow-travellers while Kreutzmann lay back providing the fuel for the space-ship which was now airbourne. Just like magic. Before you could breathe out again, the band powerhoused into 'Casey Jones'. The star-ship had now become a locomotive, a fabulous electric monster pouring out, consuming anything around with substance riding the lines expressway to your senses. The words to the chorus were flashed on the back-drop just in case we'd forgotten them. But by now it was all too late to watch your speed. The Grateful Dead had begun. 
After 'Casey Jones', there was a short break - just time enough to pick yourself off the floor. By now the energy level was unbelievably high, but more amazing was the fact that when the Dead came back on, they not only started at exactly that same intensity, they went straight ahead and got higher and higher. From 'Truckin'' they spun right into 'The Other One'. By this time, all the scribes had discarded their note-books and just stood back, bathing in all the rhythms and textures. It was all literally too much. I seem to recall the band doing 'Sugar Magnolia', 'Wharf-rat', a killer new Garcia-Hunter composition with outrageously fine lyrics (any song which mentions Wolfman Jack, Crazy Otto, Billy the Kid and Jesse James in almost the same breath must have something going for it) which I later found out was called 'Ramblin' Rose'. The band ended the set with the inevitable 'Not Fade Away/Goin' down the road feelin' Bad' medley, doing one encore of 'One More Saturday Night'. 
I really don't want to make some glib statement about what happened being a spiritual experience. But that's all I can really think of. Everyone at the concert had been introduced to the New Music - the Dead had taken people into a new consciousness - all the doors had been opened. 
After the gig, there was the usual party where everyone came to show off their Underground chic. Amid the velvet and satin, members of the Dead sat quietly bewildered and rather out of it all. Pigpen, still brooding, muttered that it had been a pretty mediocre gig, while Garcia was still giving out his raps to those around who had already been mind-blitzed. Outside the building, the last remains of the audience staggered around, hopelessly spaced, wondering where the hell they could go after witnessing all that. If they'd looked up into the sky earlier in the evening they would have noticed a giant rainbow hanging right over the Empire Pool. It was that sort of evening.

(by Nick Kent, from Frendz, May 12, 1972)

Thanks to Simon Phillips. 

More Nick Kent on the Dead:  

May 29, 2022

April 1972: Jerry Garcia Interview

JERRY GARCIA IN THE TALK-IN

It's been a long time but at last you're over here. Why has it taken so long to get together? Every year you get rumours...

Well, that’s true. I think from our side of it it’s been a matter of holding off until I think we were basically unified about going somewhere. In the past it’s been a question of timing – for example we had a European tour kind of sketched out this time last year, but the timing was poor.
What happened was we’d been out on the road for two months and our plan was to then go to Europe, but we were so exhausted and we were on sort of a downhill...the way things work with our music is that we can only play certain material for so long and then we get bored with what we’re doing.
It’s important to us to be able to take a break for maybe a month or so, come back to it fresh, rehearse, get new material together – then the music has some vitality. But if we try and play the same material too continually it just starts getting lame, you know, and we start getting bored with it and so forth.
That’s like an up and down curve, and the last time we were just on the down end of the curve when it came time for a final decision – "are we going to go, are we not going to go? Oh, let’s not go because we just don’t feel right." It comes down to that we weren’t ready to, I don’t think we were ready to come – not in our own heads.
That may or may not be a good criterion, but that’s the way it works in our scene. If everybody feels like it, it happens, if not it doesn’t, and this year we’re just really ready...totally ready.

And “everybody” with the Dead is quite a lot of people.

Right, right, and all of them are ready too. Because everybody plays an important part, actually, on one level or another, and if any of those levels aren’t quite right for one reason or another, then we can’t really move forward.
It represents energy lost if we try to, you know what I mean, because we’ll have to go back and fix that thing eventually. So we always wait until it’s really time to do it. That’s what this is about.

Have you got a lot of new material that you’ll be doing then?

Well, we have material that’ll be new here, yeah – it’s not new to us, we’ve been playing it for a while, but our material starts to get life after we’ve been playing it for a while, but if we play it too long it loses life.
There’s a sort of a peak optimum, and right now we’re at one of those peaks. We’ve got a lot of brand new material, we have material that’ll be new to...that we’ve never recorded, in fact that’s why we’re recording these tours.

At Bickershaw you’ll be having a whole day, right? I heard you’d be doing a kind of history of the Dead.

Well, actually our show is kind of that, in a way, insofar as we try to start on a kind of easy-to-hear level – it works for several reasons that way.
For one thing it works that we remember how to play, each time, by starting with simple things, moving into more complex things, and then finally after having built a kind of platform, then we sort of jump off it.
But if we were to start the show jumping off it, most of the audience I don’t think would really be able to follow it, unless they were really Grateful Dead freaks.
So now we have this sort of continuum, which is good for us and it’s good for the audience because we have a kind of continuity – from off the street to outer space, so to speak.

And then back again?

Sometimes, but then sometimes we just hang out there. It’s not so organised. When we go on stage we don’t have a set worked out, we don’t know what we’re going to do, so it’s a combination of us being sensitive to the situation and to the audience, and what material might be appropriate to a given moment. We leave ourselves that kind of flexibility.

And obviously having a whole day to do it is an advantage...

Right, that’s why we insist on those long concerts as well, to provide ourselves with enough time to do what we know we can do good.

How does it work within three or four hours?

Four hours is good, four or five hours is usually really good. After that it depends.
Outdoors is a different thing, outdoors there’s just a tremendous amount more energy available, it seems; we’ve sometimes played outdoors for six or seven hours – really ridiculously long times, but there’s a different thing happening there, it’s easier for some reason.

How would you say the Dead have changed since the early days in San Francisco?

We’ve had a couple of major changes. I think our first major change from the early days was when we added a second drummer, and that kinda like represents the middle period so to speak.
You can hear pretty well what the result of that was on "Live Dead", in terms of performance, what that meant to our performance. Then, two drummers got to be a musical refinement for the sake of itself, which didn’t really contribute to the music, ultimately.
It was a good trip, but finally it didn’t really provide enough for two drummers to be doing full time, and be satisfied, so then Mickey went back to doing his Mickey stuff – he’s got a recording studio and things like that – and we went back to a five-man format.
But, we felt that we needed more music, just more music in the band, so in this last year we picked up Keith, who’s our piano player, and his wife Donna is an excellent singer so she’s been singing some with us too. So those are two changes that are brand new, and that’s made our music change again.
But I couldn’t really describe, objectively, what’s different about it because to me it seems like we’re playing the same music that we ever were, we’re just playing it better than we ever were.

Your attitudes, your approach, is the same.

Yeah, that’s right, it’s basically the same. We’ve gone through different directions in terms of material – the kinds of material that we write – but those just have to do with the kind of life that we experience, it’s just the regular changes that one goes through in the course of a lifetime.
I don’t see those as fundamental differences in our approach to music. It’s been pretty steady.

But would you say you’ve kept the same approach as you had maybe in the very early days?

I would say that we’re considerably more sophisticated and adventurous than we were then, although what we were doing then was far out for those times. I think what we do now is much farther out, and has much more potential.
Now, it’s a lot like we finally have an instrument that really works well, and now it’s just a matter of us seeing what it’ll do, see how it works.
Everybody is really on top of it musically – Bob has been writing a lot of good material, Pigpen’s been writing a lot of good songs, and the energy of the piano player and his wife has just been fantastic for us, made it feel really complete.

But you tend to get the impression from reading articles about San Francisco at that time – you know those articles that all had Grateful Dead-Jefferson Airplane in the same breath all the time...

Right...

...that there was a very special kind of community thing about the place and the music.

Right, but that community thing is much more together now than it ever was in those days. In those days I think it was a matter of like...I think what made it weird for us was that so much attention was focused in the media on the scene, and it was before that scene really was together. It was while the scene was sort of forming, but so much attention got focused on it at that formative stage that it exploded.
You know, like all kinds of people came to the Haight-Ashbury, and there was a tremendous reaction to that, and the whole thing closed down, and then the political thing came into being, and all these various changes came in, and I think that it was unfortunately misleading that early.

Misleading for who – for you?

For everybody. For you, and for me, yeah, and it just put too much energy into too fragile a situation so that the energy was more than the capacity to absorb it, and it just made it just very strange for everybody, but now with five years of maturity on everybody, five years, six years of experience, the thing is much more fruitful and real than it was back then – in my mind.
It’s less spectacular, and it doesn’t have that fresh – "ah, something new!" – it doesn’t have that early excitement, but it does have something that’s much more...together, that’s the only thing I can think of to describe it.

It’s like all that bit about “Swinging London”.

Yeah, there you go – same stuff. Who needs it? But that’s the double edged sword of Media – it can be like tremendously helpful and tremendously destructive, all completely unconsciously and unwilfully.

Do you think that it was that that was destructive to the San Francisco scene?

I think it was, just because it created more traffic than the scene could possibly cover. See, what we were doing at the time all had to do with having controllable numbers of people, in the sense of you could feed large numbers of people, but you could only feed so many.
You could feed 1,000, but you couldn’t feed 20,000, so as soon as there got to be more than traffic could bear, then it was like an ecological upset. So I think that had a lot to do with it certainly – just the fact that so much attention was focused on it before the thing was really ready to cope. And also because we were unable to convince the officials in San Francisco, for example, of what was going to happen, we were unable to make them believe that..."hey, listen – have you looked at Time magazine?", you know? You remember that summer, that famous summer of love? That spring we were saying that in the summer there would be more people in the city than the city could possibly hold, there’s going to be more freaks, and what we need is these facilities – we need free clinics, we need doctors here, we need food over here, and stuff like that.
But they weren’t hearing it, they weren’t able to see it coming, so we just had to stand there and watch this incredible, this fantastic over-flow occur.
And with more people came that certain percentage of violent types, and all that scene, and pretty soon Haight Street was like an armed camp – at weekends there would be thousands and thousands of people out on the street, and then there would be police at every corner, and finally the riot squad and the National Guard, and all this stuff, just moving in – just because it was mishandled.

By the city?

Yeah, and also by us. I mean had we been more perceptive at that time, when we were too young and foolish to be, we would have just not said anything to the Time magazine. [We should] have said, "oh, nothing’s happening here", and cooled it for a while. But that’s youthful folly, I suppose.
But now, a certain amount of what was really, like I said, what was exciting about the freshness and so forth, that part of it is pretty much over, the age of innocence is over, but now it’s gone past it, and it’s gone past the successive chaos and so forth, and now it’s settled into a really good working community of artists and people. It seems pretty satisfying for those of us who are involved in it.
What was good about the Haight-Ashbury scene was that new consciousness was being investigated, and information was being made known, and I think that’s still going on, but I think it’s generally more now than it was, there’s more substance there, less fantasy.

What was the effect of all that on you – did it make you withdraw?

It made us very clannish, and we had just a pure survival struggle for several years – economical and so forth, trying to keep going, which has been basically what we’ve been geared to doing.
It’s only been in this last year that all of a sudden there’s been more coming to us than we need. So we’ve been able to move energy around a little bit, we’ve been able to solve our own problems. But that was good, because that was what we needed, you know.

Because it made everything grow up, mature a lot faster.

Exactly.

What decided you to do a solo album?

Well, basically it was an economic thing because in Marin County, see – I’ve got an old lady, and kids and all that scene at home – and in Marin County there’s not too many houses, and I’ve gone through about three years of renting a beautiful place, and then somebody buys it and kicks me out, so I’ve been moving like every six months pretty regularly.
Finally, my old lady when she was out looking for places to rent found this really lovely house – on the West Coast in Marin, overlooking the ocean, fantastic place. So at that point we decided, let’s buy a house, rather than rent, and buying a house means coming up with a down payment, and then you pay like rent, but you’re eventually owning the place.
So we decided to do that, and the way to do it, for me, was to borrow 10,000 dollars from Warner Bros. Records.
And because it was my house, I thought it should be my record – I wouldn’t have felt right about if it had been a Grateful Dead record to pay for my house. It was sort of an extra-curricular activity. And also Ramrod, who’s our main equipment guy, and Kreutzman worked with me on the record, so I gave them each a percentage of it so they had the ability to buy their own place, buy some land or something.
It’s a matter of being able to move in and get solid, that’s what the record was about for me, really, to be respectable and so forth, which is laughable but...that’s why it ends with wheel and starts with deal – it’s wheeling and dealing to get a house. Basically that’s the truth of it.
But also there were things that I wanted to do in the recording studio, that I wanted to try, that I didn’t necessarily want to take up space on a Grateful Dead record to do.
It’s a matter of having something in your head and wanting to be able to manifest it, and recording costs are so prohibitive – 90 dollars an hour it's just ridiculous – that you can’t amuse yourself unless you’re really rich.
So again it’s the thing that Warner Brothers would be willing to pay to let me do that. So I was able to accomplish several things by doing that record, but basically I don’t think of it as being "Important" – you know what I mean? I think that it’s idiosyncratic – here’s this one thing – I don’t intend to follow it with a career as a solo performer or anything like that. I might do another one if I feel a need to say something or to experiment in some direction or another.

Can I talk a bit about the organisation of the Grateful Dead, because it seems quite unique among most rock bands. You’ve got what, about 40 people with you on this trip?

Well, we don’t always. This is almost our whole scene, that is to say almost the whole Grateful Dead family, Grateful Dead as a social institution, rather than Grateful Dead as a musical institution. In that world, the band represents the driving motor, so to speak, but the reason that we’re able to play is because everybody does what they can to make it right.
What we’ve been trying to do is liberate the music industry, or at least our little part of it, by gradually withdrawing from booking agents, gradually withdrawing from record companies, gradually withdrawing from that whole scene until finally we have control over the whole range of the things we’re doing.
We have control over our gigs, we have control over our records – all those things. And the way our organisation works is the way I described before – we don’t do anything if somebody doesn’t feel right about it, everybody has to feel right about it, and if somebody doesn’t then we work on another plan.

Are you going to set up your own label?

Well, we’re going to try to set up our own record company, but it’s not going to be a record company in the standard sense in that it’s not going to be designed for profit, it’s going to be designed to sell our records in a way compatible with the way we run our scene.
It would be like families here and there, who would be like distributing our records, selling them.
The records would be considerably cheaper than regular records in regular record stores – they might not ever be sold in record stores, they might be sold in health food stores and head shops.
We’re looking to totally break away from that thing, we’re not interested in competing with the rest of the record world, we’re not interested in playing that game at all.
What we want to do is put out records, control the quality of them so that they’re really good, on good vinyl and so forth, and so that they’re cheap. So our profit margin can be shortened.
All these things here are dreams, they’re not real yet, we’re just talking about them and putting together information, and trying to find out how possible it is and what we’re going to need to do to try it. But it’s a gamble – hopefully the way we would do it would be the way the underground newspapers are in America, and the way the health food industry now is in the United States.
That is entirely a head scene – the farmers are heads, the distributors are heads, the whole thing is incredibly healthy for the whole head economy, which is really a sub-economy in the United States, it doesn’t depend on the rest of the straight, American capitalist system. 
We're interested in lending our support to that, because that is the world we live in, rather than be funnelled through record companies or...people who don't understand what we're doing, that's it, that represents an incredible drag on us. 

So the future for the Dead is to be as completely self contained as possible? 

Right, that's it exactly. Whether we'll get there or not is anybody's guess, but we're trying. And our feedback, you know, when we throw these ideas out to people - it looks like it's possible, it looks like it would be possible to make all that work, but it just has to do with whether the energy is there, whether people will do it. 
It doesn't have to do with profit and all that stuff, traditional business motives, it has to do with something else entirely, and we haven't defined it - it's not that kind of stuff. 

(by Steve Peacock, from Sounds, April 15, 1972)

Thanks to Simon Phillips