Feb 15, 2012

January 1967: Jerry's Letter

Dear Craig
Thank you for writing, we appreciate such effort. I'm sorry I haven't got around to answering before now, but you know.
The "death song" that you heard we sing is a Rev. Gary Davis song called "Death Don't Have No Mercy." Our arrangement is a somewhat updated version, but retains a certain amount of the feeling & the tonality of the original. I make no attempt to duplicate Davis' phrasing or melodic lines in the vocal, instead to just sing it more or less naturally. In terms of our philosophical attitudes toward our music, we've carefully avoided forming thoughts on the subject. The music says it all. (Hopefully.) Most of our material is traditional (at least the lyrics). We usually write our own melodies and we always use our own arrangements.
By way of background information musically:
Phil started playing bass a year & a half ago when we formed. He has absolute pitch & 20 yrs experience in classical music & jazz, used to play trumpet, wrote big band Stan Kentonoid arrangements & has composed many fantastic symphonies in the serial/twelve tone form.
Pig Pen: his father was one of the first R&B disc jockeys in the bay area. Pig's been listening to blues since he was a child. Playing guitar, harp & piano for 5 yrs, singing all along, organ since band formed. Pig Pen, Weir & I worked together for about a year in a fine jug band.
Bob Weir: Guitar for about 4 yrs. Mostly folk blues, chord theory, finger style, hard working young musician with fantastically good time.
Bill Sommers: Drums for 9 yrs, mostly big band rock (James Brown, etc) & jazz, brilliant & very fast.
Me: Guitar for about 9 yrs, started with rock then into trad blues, white traditional ballads, country music, spent 3 years as a bluegrass banjo player. Back to elec. guitar when band formed 1 yr & a half ago. I try to work at it.
We like to play, that's the big thing.
When we played in Sacramento we felt that our performance was far below standard. I'm sorry you haven't heard us on a good night. We'll probably be back sometime.
We should be recording our first album within the next month. Hopefully it will be out in 2 months. Warner Bros.
Thank you again for writing:
Jerry Garcia
(Cap'n Trips)


  1. Cleaned up the punctuation & capitalization a little....

  2. Forgot to mention, this letter was included in the new book Dead Letters: The Very Best Grateful Dead Fan Mail.

    1. I also forgot to mention, Jerry was replying to Craig Corwin, who'd written the Dead after seeing the 12/28/66 "Beaux Arts Ball" show at Governor's Hall in Sacramento.

  3. I thought Jerry hated the nickname "Captain Trips"?

  4. I think this letter may be the only known instance in which he used it himself without just rejecting it. There's an exception to every rule.