Jul 24, 2012

February 1971: Capitol Theater & Bob Weir Interview

JUST KEEP ON TRUCKIN'

Good news, Grateful Dead Freaks! All sorts of Dead Family albums are in the works, including: one that Jerry Garcia and organist Howard Wales (formerly A.B. Skhy) have already finished; a record that Bill Kreutzman and Spencer Dryden are making with a Detroit group called R.J. Fox; a solo album that Pigpen is just starting work on; the New Riders of the Purple Sage's first record, which is almost done and should be released soon; and - a new live Grateful Dead set recorded at their concerts last week at the Capitol Theater!

Some background and impressions: Friday afternoon we set out on our expedition, going to Howard Stein's Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York, to see the good ol' Grateful Dead. The Dead haven't been doing their acoustic set lately, so the evening started with the New Riders of the Purple Sage, rock and roll cowboys, with none other than Spencer Dryden, formerly of Jefferson Airplane, playing drums - and, Dave Torbert on bass, Dave Nelson on guitar, John (Marmaduke) Dawson also playing guitar and such fine singing, and Jerry Garcia's incomparable Psychedelic (in the original, uncorrupted sense of the word) Pedal Steel.
A short break, and then the Dead are Truckin' their way into one more extremely high evening of music and fire and lights. The bank was down to its original fighting strength, as Mickey Hart is out on an open-ended Sabbatical - under the weather, so they say - but Bill Kreutzman does not do badly at all on his own in the percussion department. Lots of new material for both the New Riders and the Dead; Alembic Sound taped the whole week at the Capitol for the new (probably 2-record) live Dead album.
When the Dead came back from a break, the audience was asked to participate ("for real") in an E.S.P. experiment by trying to send a picture projected on a screen over the stage to some guy named Malcolm Bessent, who was trying to receive it at the Maimonides Dream Laboratory in Brooklyn. Meanwhile, a Hell's Angel acquaintance of the Dead named Mario spent the whole night roaming the floor constantly beating a tambourine, never missing a beat.
Saturday afternoon we visited the house where the band was staying, and spoke for several hours with guitarist Bob Weir and "our illustrious manager" (according to Weir) John McIntire. Also around were drummer Bill Kreutzman, lyricist Bob Hunter, road manager Sam Cutler, a giant dog named Lurch, someone's young daughter, and assorted other anonymous people.
Back through the cold rain and sleet to the Capitol for another great evening (you gotta hear the Dead do Johnny B. Goode!), and another picture to transmit to Malcolm. No word yet on the result of this experiment. There was some problem with counterfeit tickets, but none of the gate-crashing which has reached bummer proportions the night before. The Capitol Theater is a good place to see a rock and roll show, not great - but then, where is these days? Ushers and uniformed fire marshals roamed the floor shining flashlights and making people put out joints and cigarettes, but all they accomplished was to force people to be secretive about their smoking.
Forthwith, the selected portions of our interview with everything not labeled spoken by Bob Weir, an "McI" preceding McIntire's remarks, and a "?" for random others who spoke.

The Live Album:
Number 1, we're still just assuming it's going to be a double album and it should be out pretty quick after we get it recorded, which should happen this week - probably will be out in a couple of months, actually... It will probably be the best of what we get. We're shooting for good performances of some of our new songs, some of which are not complete yet, so we have to rehearse them still at home.

How much they rehearse:
That depends from time to time on whether or not we have a rehearsal studio. We just got a new rehearsal studio, but up to now we haven't rehearsed a whole hell of a lot, in fact, very little.

Mickey Hart's recent absence and rumored departure:
He's in Long Island at his parents' house; he's under the weather or something, I'm not sure what.

Who writes your new songs:
Jerry and (Bob) Hunter and everybody actually. I've written some new songs and Jerry's written some new songs and Bill's got some up his sleeves and I understand Pigpen's written some new songs.

On their next album after the live one:
Not everyone in the group is particularly sure that they want to do a studio album right away. They like to take their time and do it right... You might hear horns or strings on our next album, it's hard to say what direction we'll go... I'm more or less pushing for a studio album sooner than not, seeing as I have some material that won't be worked up for this particular album, but I'd like to get it done as quickly as possible so that it doesn't have to sit around and become old; or maybe that's a good thing for it to do, I'm not sure.

Tom Constanten, an organ player who used to be with the group (TC):
He's doing the music for a play done by the Rubber Duck Company called "Tarot" and he's doing well for himself. I don't imagine he'll be back playing for our group or anything like that. He's more or less found a better scene for himself...he's a composer, and as far as being a rock and roll musician, he has absolutely no background. He has apparently no innate, and certainly no cultured understanding of the idioms that are responsible for rock and roll, and so it occurred to us and him at the same time that he wasn't really a rock and roll musician, and the whole group when we were playing with him sounded more like an experimental group than a rock and roll bamd. More or less suddenly we all became homesick for rock and roll, and we all, TC included, decided that it was best that he either go and learn to play rock and roll or continue with what it was he was doing and had spent years working on.

Aoxomoxoa:
That whole album was a waste in many respects and an invaluable experience in other respects. It was not a particularly good album but it taught us a lot about recording.

The answer to a 5 year old question - what is the meaning of the inscription across the top of their first album?
Absolutely nothing. Whatever you can put together out of it. Originally there was a quote that Chet Helms was giving a lot of air to, that he or somebody found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, a quote that went something like "In the land of the dark the ship of the sun is driven across the heavens by the grateful dead." We had no idea that was going on, but it was some sort of testimony to some sort of point he was making, and so Mouse and Kelly when they did that album cover wrote that across there, and we thought that was a taste pretentious, so we told them to obliterate it, or at least change it so it didn't say anything, and they did that.

Are you still playing "New Potato Caboose" and other old songs?
No, I don't think we could even remember it. I think we tried in rehearsal one time. Every now and then when we get together in rehearsal we try doing old tunes that we haven't done in years - see how much of them we remember, and if we remember enough sometimes we'll do them in live performance. "Cold Rain and Snow" came back like that last year...and a couple of others.

On the Vintage Dead album:
We didn't put out the Vintage album... Bob Cohen burned us and in turn got burned - he wanted, for curiosity's sake or whatever, to put out an album of our old music for the collectors to buy and listen to and say "My, haven't they come a long way"... He used to do the sound at the Avalon Ballroom, and he had a bunch of old tapes, and he came over with a guy named Wolf and played a bunch of tapes he'd gotten of some of our old performances at the Matrix and a couple of our performances at the Avalon; and we said "O.K. sure, make an album," they weren't disgusting. And so we signed releases on that and apparently signed releases on a bunch of other material he was going to make a follow-up album out of, with some reticence. Then he somehow drifted out of the whole bargaining, and Bob Cohen's tapes from the Avalon came in and apparently we'd signed releases for some of the material. M.G.M. got ahold of it and somehow they had some screws to put on Cohen or something. A very confusing story and not a particularly pleasant one as the outcome was that they put out that fucking record.
-- Of course, the first time you heard it on the radio you didn't know who it was --
Weir: I figured it out...at first we asked each other "who the fuck is that - they sure can play fast - probably a bunch of studio musicians." Vintage Dead was a most unfortunate thing to happen, but apparently it's over now and nobody's buying it.

On their relationships with Warner Bros. Records:
We're getting along fairly well with Warner Bros. these days - we have our ups and downs. They're learning a whole new record business at the same time we're learning a brand new recording business. As long as everybody keeps in mind that there's a possibility of failures at either end, which everybody seems to be keeping in mind, then everybody seems to be playing it a little looser than we have in the past.

Warner Bros. put out a single of "Uncle John's Band." They cut out a verse and censored the word "goddamn!" What was your reaction?
I wasn't pleased - they hacked it to ribbons. It was absolutely necessary, everything they did, but we should just never have tried it. It didn't get us all that much exposure.

The Dead have never been known as a rich band, to say the least; how is the financial situation?
We're on the verge of cleaning up our debts, which should be cleaned up after this tour, which should be interesting.

Have the Dead recently enjoyed much wider popularity?
I guess the music on Workingman's Dead was a whole lot more accessible than a lot of stuff we'd done previous to it.

Jazz musicians face similar problems, why?
They've got a limited audience. They've made their bids, what can I say? They can continue to make their bids until they've got more accessible music. I enjoy their music, but if you're gonna play the kind of music that's not so readily accessible as bubblegum rock, you're going to find restrictions on the number of people you can speak to... It takes intelligence as well as soul and a cultured understanding to follow a lot of their stuff.

A new phenomenon at many concerts are people trying to break in. Weir discussed gate crashers at Dead concerts:
Last fall we did a tour around here, and we ran into a situation where there were sell-outs and there were still people who wanted to get in and were screaming "You gotta let us in, motherfuckers, cause it's our music," you know. I don't know what particularly to say concerning this subject, but I do know that when there's no more room in a hall, that's all there is and once you start piling people on top of one another it becomes a bummer, and a lot of those crashers don't realize that, and they force open the doors and find absolutely no room, and they just press in, cause a lot of trouble, and sometimes it even gets as far as getting in the way of the music...it's pretty much on the East Coast that this happens. On the West Coast we play places like Winterland in San Francisco where it's big enough so that all the people can get in. Plus I guess on the West Coast for some reason ticket prices are lower so that there isn't the element of people who can't afford it but really want to hear the music to the point where they're willing to riot to get in... I guess the cost of living back here is just higher. I don't know what to do about ticket prices; it's a problem that we have to deal with. One idea we had is checking out various really large places and finding a whole bunch of really large places with good acoustics, or at least decent acoustics, but most of them don't have that...that way, we play really large places and have enough draw to fill them up, we can afford to charge much reduced ticket prices.

What about free shows?
It's really hard to do these days.
McI - And if we do it, it won't be announced at all, because then it can turn into some sort of monster thing.

Politics:
Weir - I feel that politics is rather humorless, and holds very little interest for me. There are people who take it upon themselves to save the world via politics, and some of them have pretty convincing raps; one of those guys is Huey Newton. I liked him when I met him, and thought he was worth helping...his philosophy is a lot different from the average Black Panther rhetoric and it's universal enough to seemingly be a possible solution. Somebody has that kind of vision, and is as engaging as he is, he'll probably get my support. As far as being a politician, or ever having anything political to say - I don't expect to; I'll help anybody who does if I like him.

Have you been following Tim Leary and Eldridge Cleaver's recent Algerian exploits?
As far as I'm concerned, that falls into the bag of humorless politics, just like Leary did.

NEXT WEEK: dancing, the Tea Party, future plans, the New Riders.

(There's also a photo of Weir, "otherwise known as Bobby Ace, formerly of Cards off the Bottom.")

* * * * *

SOMETIMES THE LIGHT'S ALL SHINING ON ME

This is the second of a two-part interview with Bob Weir, vocalist and guitarist for the Grateful Dead.

What about the demise of the Boston Tea Party and other rock halls?
It's just another place, you know...apparently it's turning into a concert scene; I don't know whether I lament that or not, I guess we're falling into a mode of more serious music and people feel they have to give it more attention than they can give it when they're dancing, but we try to keep a groove going that's danceable. It seems to me that a danceable rhythm is the basis for a given song, and so when we're playing a set of music we at least try to keep something like that going. When it really spaces out, then you know that we've obviously abandoned that.

The Dead were busted for dope in New Orleans last year. How is that going?
I haven't heard much about New Orleans in the last few months. I think pretty nearly everybody's off and those who aren't off on that bust are having their penalties reduced and stuff like that... Getting busted was just pure harassment on their parts. Everybody knows that if you put out enough money then you get off, but it costs you a bundle. I can't think offhand of any major rock and roll musicians that have been busted that have gone to jail.

The New Riders of the Purple Sage started as a sub-group of the Dead, what are their plans?
The New Riders are actually, quite with my best wishes and everything, trying to get to a point where they're autonomous...that's why they're using a new drummer now, and they've got long slow feelers out looking for another pedal steel guitar player, and maybe they'll come up with one and then they won't be tied to our apron strings more or less.

Who are the New Riders considering as another pedal steel guitarist?
There's a guy that used to play for the Great Speckled Bird that I understand is no longer with them...Buddy Cage, I think, and we met him this summer on the transcontinental train thing in Canada, and he's real good, been playing for a long time and has a lot of licks, got good intonation, good timing, and all those fine things that a good pedal steel player should have; and I understand that he just recently quit the Great Speckled Bird. I don't know what he's doing now, probably studio work...if in a little while the New Riders become autonomous and can do their own gigs when they're not playing with us, I would like to see Jerry back us on pedal steel and we could do a few country numbers, which I certainly wouldn't mind doing.

What are the Dead's long range plans?
McI - Arranging it so that these guys have enough time between tours to really work on their music and whatever projects, television projects, or whatever they want to get into. The object is to get them onto releasing a couple of albums a year and touring the U.S. twice a year and doing one tour of Europe or wherever, Japan, once a year, and that way they have two months of touring and the rest for creating new music, recording, television, and whatever projects they want to get into.

On television and videotape:
McI - We did two live quadrophonic shows from Winterland, one with the Airplane and Quicksilver, and the other was New Year's Eve with Hot Tuna, the New Riders, and James and the Good Brothers, but that was just on the West Coast. The first program was good because the music was good, the quadrophonic was really exciting, but the visual stuff was kind of boring; in between sets and when they were tuning up they didn't have anything to do; it was a drag. But the second was supposedly visually a lot more interesting; it looked like a really powerful trip. So there might be some tapes we can edit down. Warner Bros. wants to edit them down and make an hour program for the B.B.C.
Weir - You don't get a chance to see much live rock and roll on tv, and it's very interesting to see on tv; it gives it a whole other perspective.
McI- Rather than show those videotapes (on the East Coast) it would be nice to do another program, and do it coast to coast. I'm talking to N.E.T. about various video projects we want to get into, and that would be one of them; we want live simulcast across the country with quadrophonic. There are only two networks you can do that with actually, and that's N.E.T. and Westinghouse, just because A.B.C, N.B.C, and C.B.S. wouldn't go for it - it's not an established commercial venture, rock and roll on television, although it's obvious from record sales and various other things that it can be very successful financially for the big networks...they've never taken the step, it's never been proven to them; they've had nothing but bad rock and roll on tv. I don't mean bad rock and roll, these guys have been on tv, the Airplane have and it's come off fairly well. The Airplane did a Perry Como show once that was pretty good, Glen McKay's light show worked well, but still it was only two songs. There was no format to work them into; it was totally juxtaposed onto the program. We wanted to do Dick Cavett's show one time with the Airplane and Ken Kesey and some of the Hog Farm, and take over the whole program, but Cavett's producer at the time wouldn't go for it; he just couldn't see why he should let us have the whole program...
Everyone's going to have them (home videotape recorders) AND IT AIN'T GONNA BE VERY LONG. What we dream about most is the videotape thing, because that's the next big step, so we'd like to get in on the ground floor, in terms of having the equipment to fuck around with, and so forth. What's really happening is holographic video cassettes. It's not projected on a screen, it's projected into an area that you can walk through.

Have you ever thought of playing in a planetarium?
Weir - We've gone over all those fantasies, playing in a planetarium, playing in Antarctica, playing in Monument Valley; any sort of context to throw rock and roll music into has either been thought of or is about to be thought of.

Weir's taste in music:
Anything that's good and well rendered I enjoy. I enjoy Greek music, Arab music, Indian music, Western classical music, jazz, bluegrass, anything I hear that gets me off.

The Dead use various sophisticated devices, for example, their atonal work in songs like "Dark Star":
We go through several kinds of scales, into an atonal mode and out, and in and out of a whole bunch of different scales...that stuff's really hard to do well.

The Dead are a very tight group and make very subtle, intricate changes. How do you actually bring off the shifts as you play in concert?
Sometimes the spoken word's what gets it or sometimes a lead-in that everybody knows, a musical cue. We use any number of different ways to cue each other when we're doing that sort of thing. Then, sometimes we just flash on it spontaneously.

On people yelling at their concerts:
Weir - I had a string of consecutive nights that I hadn't broken a string, and I wasn't saying anything about it, and some asshole out in the audience last night hollered "Hey, when ya gonna break a string?" Sure as shit, the next number I broke a string, and then the number after that I broke another.

(by Mike Greuber, Charles Beichman, Rex Browning, & Hank Baig, from the Harvard Independent, March 4 & 11 1971)

4 comments:

  1. Quite a few things to comment on here!

    It's rare to have such a lengthy Weir interview from so early on. (I guess the rest of the Dead were doing something else that afternoon!) It's interesting to see some parallels with his later interviews.

    The Capitol shows mentioned were 2/19 and 2/20, the first shows without Mickey. However the writers don't say much about the shows (except to praise Johnny B Goode).

    Hooteroll is said to already be finished; Pigpen is supposedly "just starting work on" his solo album. Unfortunately he was always "just starting work" on it til he died, and it always remained a theoretical album.

    Some notes on the interview:

    Live Album - The Dead decided not to use anything from the Capitol recordings (the new songs were, perhaps, just too new), instead using mostly later April tapes for the record. Though it did turn out to be a double album, it wouldn't be released til September.

    Rehearsals: The Dead had just had a month off, but apparently spent most of it resting. We have one set of studio rehearsals from this month - http://archive.org/details/gd1971-02-01.sbd.Studio.Rehearsal.120486.flac16

    Mickey: "He's under the weather or something, I'm not sure what." The Dead seem to have decided to keep a public lid of silence on Mickey's troubles. Weir said much the same onstage at the 2/21 show.

    New Songs: The Dead didn't do any more new Pigpen songs until that summer. What's surprising is to hear that "Bill's got some up his sleeves"! (He did get co-credited for The Wheel, hmm...)

    Studio Album: As it turned out, the Dead wouldn't do another studio album for another 2 1/2 years. Weir would do a "solo" album with his new songs just one year later in Jan '72, though, seeing as he was more anxious to record.

    Tom Constanten: Garcia has a quote very much like this on TC's departure in an interview round this time, though I can't quite remember just where...

    The first album inscription: Garcia said much the same thing to Ralph Gleason in the 1967 interview - "They were going to put that really ostentatious oriental 'Egyptian Book of the Dead' quotation on the top, but we [disapproved]."

    Old Songs: Cold Rain & Snow had actually come back to the Dead's sets in spring '69, along with many other old songs; I have trouble recalling any that came back in 1970.

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  2. CONTINUED -

    Vintage Dead: Weir's reaction is hilarious - a "most unfortunate" album! The Taping Compendium p. 116 talks about how the record came about - Bob Cohen called it "an ill-fated nightmare" and it is indeed a sad story. I'll be posting an article with more details later.

    Huey Newton: The Dead had met him on a plane trip in fall 1970, and actually played a benefit for Huey & the Black Panthers the next month on 3/5/71, which did not go very well -
    http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2010/02/march-5-1971-oakland-auditorium-oakland.html

    The New Riders: Looks like they had their eye on Buddy Cage for quite some time. In a way it's surprising it took until fall '71 for Garcia to finally give up the pedal-steel seat to Cage. (Did Cage have other commitments?)

    Weir remarks that "I would like to see Jerry back us on pedal steel and we could do a few country numbers." The Dead had done this back in summer '69, but wouldn't do it again, with the exception of the early performances of Weir's Looks Like Rain in spring '72.

    Long Range Plans: McIntire's notion of having the Dead tour just a couple months a year and release two albums a year was quite unrealistic!
    That said, they had released two studio albums in 1970 (for the only time ever), and they did succeed in reducing their touring significantly in 1971 as they got out of debt.

    Television: The quadrophonic shows McIntire talks about were 10/4/70 and 12/31/70. It's quite a shame that the video does not survive for either show. (Those were, of course, the days before many people had home videotape recorders, as he mentions!)
    Anyway, it's a surprise that the Dead were thinking of editing the footage of those shows into a TV show. But as it turned out, the Dead wouldn't bother with TV again for a long time.
    "What's really happening is holographic video cassettes!"

    Playing in a planetarium: Playing under the pyramids would be the next-best thing...

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  3. One more minor comment - I think the term "Dead Head" wasn't used yet. As I've seen a few times in these articles, "Dead Freak" was the common term at the time. (In fact, it's the term the Dead used on Skullfuck: "Dead Freaks Unite." "Dead Heads" was used as the address label, but that soon became the name for the fans.)

    Also, as we see, there was not yet any thought of Garcia or Weir solo albums. Hooteroll would end up preceding Garcia in the stores by a few months, in fall '71.

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  4. Another note on the planetarium idea - Mickey Hart, from Drumming at the Edge of Magic:
    "Back in the sixties there were often moments of fantasy when we would imagine playing in the most incredible places - the Grateful Dead on the moon, the Grateful Dead at Versailles, the Grateful Dead at the Pyramids. To have one of these suddenly coming true lifted everyone's hearts."

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