Nov 28, 2013

November 28, 1970: Underground News TV Interview, Chicago

[The audio quality of this tape is very bad and it's hard to make out all the dialogue, so there are a lot of gaps in this transcript.]

11/28/70
UNDERGROUND NEWS, WSNS-TV (CHANNEL 44)
CHICAGO

Ryan: This is John Ryan, and we’re speaking with Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, of a thing called the Grateful Dead. They appeared in town last evening with a thing called the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Jerry, for those people [...] who were not there last evening, would you get into who the New Riders of the Purple Sage are, how it came about, and the kinds of music that you’re doing. The concert was split in two last night.
Garcia: Well...guhh...New Riders – Marmaduke, he’s the guy who kind of fronts the band, he’s like the lead singer and writes the songs, and there’s Dave Torbert who plays the bass, and Dave Nelson who plays the guitar, and Mickey plays drums – that’s Mickey, Grateful Dead Mickey – and I play the pedal steel, or play at it, actually. And, you know, we just, well, we do some old country tunes and mostly tunes that Marmaduke writes. He writes songs that are just real simple and straightforward – yeah, right, no surprises.
Ryan: Is this something that you developed out of your own interest in the pedal steel, or how did this thing happen?
Garcia: Well I got the pedal steel, I don’t know about almost two years ago, I guess two years ago, maybe more than that, and didn’t really know anything about it at all – you know, I mean, I didn’t know anything, I didn’t even know how to tune it or anything. Luckily, when I got – when I went into a music store, and there it was… [Oh, gotta get it, fall into a big number.] And you know, it came to my house, and I opened it up and luckily it was in tune, you know? Otherwise, [grumbling] how do you do this thing? And I just started messing around with it a little, and I began to see how if I could play with some music, you know, I could probably learn how to play it, you know. And Marmaduke, who’s like a real old friend of ours from Palo Alto days, long time ago, was down the peninsula, South San Francisco, and playing in a place, you know, on Wednesdays or something, you know, couple of nights a week. I just started going down there with my pedal steel and playing with him...more or less. I already knew [...] I’d just sit there and play, and after a while, you know, it started to get – you know, like it would be nice to have a few more pieces, a little more to the music, fatten it up and stuff like that, and we just – Nelson was like an old friend of ours too, from way back, and Torbert, Nelson used to play together in a band around San Francisco called the New Delhi River Band, which was a good band.
Ryan: And you also were the pedal steel player on the Crosby Stills Nash & Young “Déjà Vu” album –
Garcia: Yeah.
Ryan: [See how you’re stretching] your tones on the instrument.
Garcia: Well, you know, they liked me, you know – “give the kid a break.” [laughter]
Ryan: Bob Weir, how did it happen that you became involved with the Grateful Dead originally?
Weir: Oh, that was a long time ago, but it happened one fateful New Year’s Eve, when I was hanging around with nothing to do, so I thought I’d [dip] by the music store window and look in the window, with a friend of mine, and –
Garcia?: Window shopping.
Weir: And there was Garcia in the back of the shop, going around in the back of the shop, [...] but anyway, he was in back of the shop waiting for his banjo students, who of course, none of whom were showing up on New Year’s Eve –
Garcia: On New Year’s Eve.
Weir: "Can’t figure out why none of my banjo students are coming." [laughter] He was standing to the wall. And so, we went down and hung out and rapped with him, and we thought that we had enough [halfway] talent at hand to start a jug band, and so me and him and [...] and Pigpen and a couple others started the jug band. And then the jug band started drifting into being an electric band, [...] but anyway, that’s how I got involved with the group.
Ryan: Phil, at what point did you join the group?
Lesh: Uh – after it got started. [pause]
Ryan: Very brief answer, that’s why he’s sitting on the other end. [laughter] What about the music of the Grateful Dead right now? People are probably familiar with the Grateful Dead as the –
Garcia: Got a match?
Ryan: I don’t think so, but maybe they have a [...] right here. The music of the Dead is a hard rock sound, that’s something we can say, and getting off on that the live Dead’s probably being one of the finer rock bands ever to [...]. You have an outlet for your interests, you know in the country kind of thing, in the New Riders, but do you see – the Dead has definitely gone in the direction on its own albums, the “New Morning” album – pass the ashtray, please.
Garcia: New Morning?
Ryan: American Beauty, that was American Beauty, and the Workingman’s Dead. Is this the direction that band is going to continue to go, or are you gonna jump back into hard rock music, or do you just gradually move from one stage to another?
Weir: We knew how to play it by ear.
Garcia: [...]
Lesh?: We’d better read the signs in this ashtray...
Garcia: Right! He’s gotta work out. You gotta have one oracle per group, otherwise you never know where you’re at.
Ryan: But there is no one leader of the Grateful Dead.
Garcia: Sure there is, but it’s somebody different each time.
??: He says we gotta quit.
Garcia: Ah well, that’s it, see you later.
Ryan: Before you leave, we were talking on the way over in the car about the kinds of things that are going on politically on the west coast. Are you very interested in politics?
Garcia: [mutters]
Ryan: Could you tell me about what’s going on with a) the Hell’s Angels, b) the Black Panthers – what kinds of things are happening on the west coast? People laying back, or are things actually happening? People in Chicago, I think would have some interest in that.
Garcia: Well...that figures. It’s hard, it’s really – it’s not really that simple, quite, you know there’s a whole lot to it; I’m not the guy that can really tell you about –
Ryan: What about the Angels, let’s say, since Altamont. You made a comment that they’ve been laying back a little bit. Is this –
Garcia: It seems like it, but see, that might be just because I’m laying back. You know, I mean I can’t – it’s kind of hard to tell, you know, because like just in the normal changes we don’t always find ourselves around the Hell’s Angels, you know. Here and there, there’s like one or two, you know, who are like people that we see more or less frequently. But like the one cat that we used to see a lot, he’s got a bullet in his head. I mean, so like our information about the Hell’s Angels mostly has to do with that one cat. Anyhow I mean you know, it’s like the rest of it is I would be hearing the same way you’d be hearing it from me, and it would be just rumors, you know. I mean I haven’t got any really good personal information.
Ryan: OK, let’s talk then about the involvement of your band, if that is possible, in a political kind of thing. I’ve read some bad raps of the Grateful Dead in the New York press, their being a mythical band with a movement or this kind of thing – how do you react as a musician first to something like that? Is it that you would like to stay out of that realm of discussion entirely, do politics and rock & roll come together for you, or do you concern yourself with these kinds of things?
Garcia: Not for me, no; for a lot of people, they seem to, but not for me. I don’t know about these guys here.
Weir: As far as politics is concerned I just lay back [and make comments] every now and again on something that [...] my eyes or ears. As for involvement, never, it just doesn’t interest me. I think that actually, speaking for the group as a whole in general, there are a couple guys that every now and again get politically involved [...].
Garcia: [...]
Ryan: Is free music a political thing, or doing a benefit for a certain kind of – somebody said that you had done a thing in New York for the Hell’s Angels [...].
Garcia: We did a thing WITH the Hell’s Angels. See, that’s like much different, you know, than doing something for somebody; where’s that at, you know. Didn’t do anything FOR anybody. Yeah, the Hell’s Angels put on a thing that would’ve under any circumstances been a groovy context for us to do our thing – it’s just what, you know, we worked together on, you know, that’s what it really came down to, and that’s like completely different than...raising money and all that. See, we went through all them scenes in San Francisco, and there was – everybody initially was trying to do that thing of, you know, "let’s have a benefit for this and a benefit for that," and a lot of them you know went down, like there was legal benefits and [...] that we played for because it was like all happening right where we lived [...]. We don’t live there anymore, we went someplace completely different, you know in a lot of ways. [But another,] it’s too good of a trip to be trying to raise money for something –
Ryan: What about the concept of free music, that’s something that’s had a lot of debate in Chicago. Musicians and their agents on one hand are saying "we’ve gotta survive," and people are saying "not at $6.50 a seat, you don’t," you know. How do you feel about that?
Garcia: Well I don’t think anybody has to pay $6.50 a seat, I don’t think anybody should. I think if somebody really objects to it, man, to not pay it. If nobody comes to a concert, you know, the promoter isn’t gonna put on one again, that’s all; it’s as simple as that, they don’t make any money. Now if people want to put an end to that, that’s the way to end it.
Ryan: Isn’t there also a process though, when that kind of thing starts, that a few select stars will get away with charging maybe 20, 30, 40,000 dollars a night, and a lot of the smaller bands will kind of be driven under. We were talking on the way over about the fact that the San Francisco area is very different from Chicago in terms of the fact of there are a lot of small clubs there that can sustain talent, can help people develop musically, stay in groups and eat.
Garcia: Yeah they can to some extent, but see basically, the thing about being a musician is basically, you gotta want to do it, and it don’t matter whether or not you’re surviving at it. You know what I mean – that stuff’s just jive, as far as I’m concerned, you know whether you survive at it – that might come way after [you’ve been at the point you know] what music is about. I mean, you know – you want to survive, you get a job or something, if you want bread, you know, do something like that. If you want to play music, play music. But don’t expect to make bread at it. That ain’t what music is about and fine, if that’s the thing you’re going after, that’s maybe what you’ll end up with, but that ain’t what it is, you know.
[indecipherable mutterings]
Ryan: Bob, what about the question of some of the different political organizations, that these questions have been raised in Chicago. The questions of OK, these musicians are ostensibly supporting a youth culture revolution, dot dot dot, therefore they should come out here in [the] park and play for us for nothing or for next to nothing –
Lesh?: But is Chicago the youth culture revolution?
??: [...]
Lesh: What is the youth culture revolution? Is it real, or are those people just [...]?
Garcia: Yeah; right.
Weir: When I’m playing free in the park, I’m not playing for a cause, I’m playing music, and nothing else, and any cause or anybody that is concerned that – [I don’t follow that].
Garcia: [We’re not] supporting youth culture revolution and similar phrases, you know. I mean all that stuff is –
Ryan: I used that phrase on purpose because I wanted to see how you’d react to it.
Garcia: You know, it’s a lie.
Weir: [...] youth culture revolution.
Ryan?: [...] break for a commercial, but we’ll be back sometime, OK?
[break]
Ryan: Phil, we’ve been avoiding you in the discussion so far, so why don’t you pick a topic of conversation and you and I will sit here and talk about it and ignore these two other people sitting between us.
Weir: You’ll find it hard to ignore us.
Ryan: Who is Phil Lesh, where are you from and where did you get into music, if you fill us in a little bit about it.
Lesh: I’ve been into music all along... [...]
Ryan: And did you want to join all the rock & roll bands [...] the Grateful Dead?
Lesh: It was much more oblique than that. Like I was into music through classical music for about twenty years or so, and then [I was nearly completely] [...]. And I was just a free person doing not much of anything except enjoying myself. And then that whole scene came along.
Ryan: What whole scene?
Lesh: Uhh... LSD, rock & roll, and change the world.
Ryan: [...] LSD, rock & roll, change the world?
Lesh: Well, not visibly. [laughter]
Ryan: More comments from our audience on that particular remark?
Garcia: Changed my world. [laughter]
Ryan: OK. We were talking before we split about the concept of free music, the concept of rock & roll bands involving themselves in politics, either by doing benefits, doing free concerts for one cause or another. But I think a lot of people are interested in how the Grateful Dead as individual people relate to some of the things that are going down in our society today, so I hope that we could talk about. Some things that other people everywhere talk about, I guess, and one of them is how you feel about things like the war and things that are going on in this society [that affect you]. You said you’d rather be [...], in a way, you know, change your head in terms of [acid], [...] and things like that. Is that something – perhaps that’s something we should get into – is that something that’s going on a lot on the west coast, people moving out of the cities? You’ve said that it was never necessary [for] people to live in [a] situation which was so intense, if I can paraphrase you.
Garcia: Sure. Lot of young people are moving out of the cities.
Ryan: So do you see these kinds of things developing, like colonies of people?
Garcia: [...] I don’t know about colonies. The stuff that I gotta talk about is like just what I know, which isn’t really a whole lot, I mean I don’t really relate to that many people just in my own life, you know. But the people that I know mostly are moving out of the city, even the city people. You know, I mean, like [there’s] city people, street people even moving out of the city.
Ryan: So you’re now with [...], is that what you said?
Garcia: [...]
Ryan: Bob, what kinds of things do you see the Grateful Dead doing [...]?
??: [...] ballet... [laughter]
Ryan: Purple Sage, one thing that’s – let me actually ask Garcia this while he’s still with us – Purple Sage going to be recording, are you going to go in that direction with them?
Garcia: Uhh... Yeah, Marmaduke wants to make a record. [mutters]
Ryan: Will that create like a split in your head that maybe the Grateful Dead remain a rock & roll band as the Purple Sage become more into the country thing?
Garcia: No, I don’t –
Ryan: Or do people in the Dead –
Garcia: - anything like that. See, I don’t even think about like what New Riders music is, country music and Grateful Dead music and hard rock or something, I mean I just think of it all as music, you know; it’s all music as far as I’m concerned; I approach one exactly as I approach the other. You know, I just try –
Ryan: Your band has gone through such changes, and that’s, I guess –
Garcia: I don’t see that myself –
Ryan: - to someone on the outside –
Weir: [...] Somebody told me, “Jesus you guys are going through such changes!”
Garcia: Well what changes?
Ryan: OK, let’s say –
Lesh: Changes in labels, maybe.
Garcia: Yeah, right, new labels... [crosstalking]
Ryan: Let’s say someone buys an album, they buy Live/Dead, and they buy Workingman’s Dead, do you think they’re going to see any relation, in terms of –
Garcia: Sure. There’s obvious similarities.
Ryan: [...] for example, there’s so little vocal work on the live thing, and so much more emphasis on like your improvisation, [...], and the songs on Workingman’s Dead are so tight and there’s a lot of singing, a lot of harmony. Don’t you think these are two different schools, aren’t they, or what ties them together?
Lesh: Music.
Garcia: The fact that it’s all us, and that it’s all music. [chortles]
Ryan: What I’m saying is that a person who does not know you would not recognize that you were indeed the same people.
Garcia: Well, I can’t see how it could possibly matter, you know what I mean? You know, it’s like, cause the people aren’t the thing, I mean the personality thing is just weirdness, it’s a marketing trip, you know, the fact that we’re here on television as the Grateful Dead is a marketing trip, you know? It doesn’t have anything to do with the music. The music is the music, and if we wanted to do the music, we would be here set up and playing...and that’s like, that’s the whole, that’s what we do, you know?
Weir: [...]
Lesh: Would’ve been nice for you guys to bring some acoustic guitars.
Ryan: We’re hoping to work out on the Underground News where people can come in and play.
Garcia: Sure, that’d be great.
Lesh: What difficulty have you had in doing that?
Ryan: Uh, there are legal things –
Lesh: You’re kidding.
Ryan: - presenting live talent on TV in Chicago.
Lesh: Really.
??: [...] [crosstalking]
Ryan: Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir, we thank you for joining us on the Underground News, and hopefully we’ll have a thing set up by the time they come back to town. Maybe they can play for us, or maybe not.
Garcia: We’re always willing to rap, of course.
Ryan: It was very nice having you, thank you for joining us.


[Words in brackets] are my best guess. [...] is usually a word or phrase that I couldn't understand. Corrections are welcome.

3 comments:

  1. This tape has circulated as 10/22/71, but the actual date is clearly 11/28/70. The New York Hell's Angel show they mention had happened just a few days earlier, and they'd played at the Syndrome the night before.

    The Underground News was a new, nightly independent TV program devoted to, well, "underground news" and "counter-culture" politics, particularly the antiwar movement. The idea was, "after 18 hours of lies we'd show the truth for ten minutes."
    For more info, see http://www.undergroundnews.tv/the-story.html
    They had just debuted on November 16, reading Mother Earth news over the music of the Grateful Dead, so it was a coup for the Dead themselves to immediately appear on the show.
    Unfortunately, the show producers seem not to have realized how anti-political the Dead actually were; and it's interesting that some Dead members even agreed to appear on a show focusing on news & politics.

    This isn't a very informative interview; the host rambles on with his questions and doesn't get many good answers; the Dead are completely opposed to his line of questioning, which doesn't make for a great conversation. As far as musical questions, the host is just taken aback by their recent change in style.
    (Contrast the 11/21/70 and 12/27/70 FM radio appearances, where they bring acoustic guitars & play music.)
    There are a few tidbits. For instance, Weir's story of meeting Garcia on New Year's Eve '63 has sometimes been questioned, but here Garcia corroborates it. Also notice that here at the end of the fall tour, Mickey's still the NRPS drummer and NRPS is planning to record an album; by the 12/27/70 interview they'd switched drummers and started recording.
    One thing we also see, as in many of the New York interviews, is that the interviewer is curious about the movements on the west coast - "tell us about what's happening on the west coast?" - the Dead are taken to be representatives of the scene there. But they always deny that it has much to do with them, and avoid the topic.

    Garcia dominates the interview, as usual, so we mostly get his views. It is pretty funny when at the end he denies that the Dead have changed, and says "there's obvious similarities" between Live/Dead and the new albums - "it's all us, and it's all music."
    I can't tell whether the host had seen their show, though he knows about the New Riders' music; perhaps he would have noticed that in performance their old & new styles were blended much more than on album - Lovelight still a centerpiece, Truckin' off American Beauty segued with the Other One off Anthem, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That must have been frustrating to transcribe. Thank you for your efforts! It's frustrating to read. They just don't seem to connect on any level.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This site will be on a short hiatus for a couple more weeks.

    ReplyDelete