Mar 31, 2014

Early 1971: Jerry Garcia Interview


When somebody mentions the so-called “San Francisco sound” the phrase brings to mind Jefferson Airplane, Haight Street, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Meeting of the Tribes in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the original Fillmore Auditorium, and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.
A photographer and I arranged to interview and “shoot” Jerry Garcia at the Matrix, a small San Francisco club. We found him in the dressing room talking with friends about the failure of promoters in the past to arrange a European tour for the Dead. Apparently, the idea had not been received favorably by all members of the band at any given time. It seems that someone was always excusing his reluctance to travel on the grounds of the “stuff” coming up in the garden or his unwillingness to leave the dogs.
Using flash equipment, the photographer began to shoot Garcia as the bearded guitarist sat and talked about yet another attempt at a European tour that is supposed to happen sometime during the middle of the year. The picture taking was leaving images behind: small circles of white light that turned orange as they faded and moved along the walls as the eye shifted from one corner of the room to the other.
Garcia: Hey, New Year’s Eve at Fillmore West a guy had some flash powder like the stuff they used to take photographs with. And he put up a thing made out of the flash powder that said seventy-one on it and ignited it, and it left a mark on your eye that said seventy-one.
GP: You mean in your field of vision?
Garcia: Right, you know that hole you get in your vision if you look directly at a flash. It was incredible. There it was printed on your eye.
GP: Well, shall we get on with it? Once you got your first guitar, did you make the decision to go into music professionally?
Garcia: Yeah, right. As soon as I started playing, that was it. When I got my first guitar there were so few people around playing guitar that I didn’t know anybody who played. There I was fifteen years old, and I had this little Dan Electro electric guitar and a tiny amplifier – a pawn shop trip, you know. I didn’t know how to tune it or anything. I just put it into some kind of tuning, tuned it its own way, and I learned to play this weird open tuning. And I learned how to play a lot of stuff before somebody showed me how to tune it and some real chord positions and things like that. Never took lessons.
GP: When was the first time you played with other musicians?
Garcia: Six months or so after I got my guitar. There were some kids in school, a kid who played piano and a kid who played drums. And we got together and kind of diddled around, but we really never got anything on. And then I moved north of San Francisco up to Russian River and went to high school there for about half a semester. And during that space of time I ran into a couple of guys who played saxophone and piano. There was a drummer, too, and I played guitar. We played those funny saxophone tunes that were big in those days, you know. Kind of easy listening stuff. Businessman’s bounce, high school version. Then I left that scene, quit high school again for the last time, and joined the Army. It didn’t last. I was in for nine months. There was a long series of circumstances wherein it was shown that I was no soldier. Here’s the thing: I was stationed at the Presidio and I lived in San Francisco. I kind of went to the Army as though it was a bad job. But while I was in the Army I met these country guitar players. You know, “that’s far out, show me some more of that.” That’s how I got into finger picking the acoustic guitar, country music, the banjo, folk music, the traditional stuff, and all that.
GP: How long after the Army did the Grateful Dead emerge as a band?
Garcia: I got out of the Army in 1960. The components of the Dead I met right after that, like Phil (Lesh). Phil was a classical composer, a serious composer. I kind of fell into a coffee house scene when I got out of the Army. I was spending a lot of time on the street; I was just a bum, really.
GP: Those were in the days of Beatnicks and the Coexistence Bagel Shop, right?
Garcia: Yeah, I was just able to get into that period just the tiniest bit. It was crazy. What that period mostly was, was a lot of juicers, old-time juicers, raving and paranoid. That was before things got really loose. I went to school at the Art Institute in North Beach, and I knew the painters. I wasn’t any kind of fixture or anything. I was in and out of that scene.
GP: How did the Dead evolve out of that period?
Garcia: We evolved down the peninsula where it’s kind of easier living than in the city. We were all down there more or less hoboing around. We knew each other in various ways, and we decided to put the thing together. I hadn’t really been playing much electric guitar when we started playing Grateful Dead music. I had been playing acoustic guitar and the five-string banjo for the previous four or five years. This was around late ’64 or ’65.
GP: I guess after the Army you did about a four-year period of wood-shedding, getting your chops down.
Garcia: That’s exactly right.
GP: How did you go about getting your stuff down on the acoustic guitar?
Garcia: Listening. That’s what music is about. You hear it. And I’d listen to it and something would move me one way or another; and I would try and play it.
GP: Do you remember anybody in particular who you listened to?
Garcia: Oh yeah. I could give you a list of names a mile long. But among the people who I really got into were Elizabeth Cotton, who’s like a lady guitar player – very nice finger picking, ragtime style – and the Rev. Gary Davis, and Jorma Kaukonen. Jorma is really a fine guitarist. We were all playing coffee houses – Frieberg, Paul Kantner, Jorma, Janis. We’ve all known each other around here for years and years.
GP: What kind of acoustic guitars were you using then?
Garcia: Well, the guitar that I always wanted was an old Martin. And finally I was able to fall into a couple of good D-21’s. But I didn’t have any money, and I had to mostly really hassle to get any kind of good instruments. I had things going where I’d work three days in a music store if they would give me a guitar. Whatever hustle I could get together to get an instrument was pretty much what I was into.
GP: Musicians were hustling to stay alive?
Garcia: Sure, sure. Nobody wanted to work, for God’s sake. It was a lot easier then – hustling, I mean – because there weren’t so many of us.
GP: To get back to the Dead, how did it become a professional working band?
Garcia: We decided that that was what we wanted to do. We got together and rehearsed. We borrowed equipment from music stores. We didn’t get hired anywhere for a hell of a long time. Finally, we started landing little club gigs. You know, in cheezy little bars.
GP: Playing tunes like “Midnight Hour”?
Garcia: Yeah, right, sure, all that. We can still do all that old stuff, James Brown stuff, popular tunes, and top-40 shit, you know, stuff they like in bars.
GP: Jan and Dean tunes?
Garcia: No, we were never quite that clean. We did clubs and bars for about a year, and then we started doing the acid tests with (Ken) Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), which were just really parties. It was mostly the Dead, the Pranksters (novelist Kesey’s entourage), the Angels (the Hells’ Angels Motorcycle Club), and Big Brother & the Holding Company at the acid tests. We just started going to these parties and playing. And the way the parties were working was that everybody who went to the party would put in a buck; and if anybody needed anything after it was over, they got what they needed.
GP: How did you meet Kesey?
Garcia: Well, Kesey used to live about a block away from where we were all living. This was back in about ’62 or ’63 in Palo Alto. Our scenes were just sort of concurrent. Friends of ours were friends of his and so on and so forth. Somebody finally said, “Hey, Kesey is having these scenes up on the hill in La Honda, and people are getting high, why don’t you come up and play.” We said sure, and then it was decided to move the acid tests out into the world, you know, move the party places. We decided to charge a buck at the door and see if anything would come of it. We started to go out and look for places we could rent for one night. People came, and it was really crazy. And all of a sudden, there was this big commotion, “Hey, what are these acid tests? What’s LSD?”
GP: Are the stories about the two bowls of punch, one spiked with LSD a la Kesey, and the other without, true?
Garcia: All the things that you’ve probably ever heard were sometimes true, but nothing was always true. Nothing was consistent. Kool-Aid was the big trip, because Kool-Aid’s cheap, and you just put it in the Kool-Aid, you know. After the acid tests were the Trips Festivals. These anthropologists – Stuart Brand, the guy who most recently did the “Whole Earth Catalogue,” and some other guys – decided why not have a gathering of these new infant forms that are coming up that are mostly related to getting high. “There are these things happening down the peninsula called the acid tests. Why don’t we get them up here for this thing. We’ll call it the Trips Festival.” And so there it was in Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco for three nights. It was really far out. Nobody had ever seen anything like it ever before. So there we were in the middle of that scene. And the following week “Time” magazine has a big story on the Trips Festival, and reporters are coming around, and all of a sudden there is hippies. Somebody came up with hippies. You know, what’s a hippie? All of a sudden we were all hippies. That’s like a popular misconception that went on in the media. Really, none of it has a whole lot to do with playing music. Playing music is playing music no matter what situation, no matter who you are. You’ve got to have discipline, and all the rest of it. Since then we’ve been trying to undo the whole thing of labels and acid rock. It was something that was laid on us, and it really doesn’t have anything to do with what we do or how we play. You see, the groovy thing about the “acid test” was that we could either play as long as we wanted to or not play at all. If we were getting off we could play as long as we wanted to. Sometimes we would play one or two tunes, and somebody would be just too stoned to move. So, we’d stop in the middle of a tune, put everything away, and split. There was no pressure of any sort. We could either do it or not do it. That’s kind of like the ideal way of doing it, really.
GP: You must have gotten your chops together with the original Big Brother and the Holding Company band, right?
Garcia: Peter Albin of Big Brother comes from San Carlos, which is like close to Palo Alto, you know, down the peninsula. He like went to school with Dave Nelson who is like the lead guitar player for the New Riders of the Purple Sage. You see, the Albin brothers used to own 1090 Page in the Haight Ashbury, which is where Chet Helms (founder of the now defunct Avalon and Family Dog ballrooms) used to live. All that early San Francisco scene was interlocking.
GP: When did the Dead first get into the hassle of music as business?
Garcia: Everybody goes through the manager scene. You’ve got to have a manager, if you’re going to survive. So you go through the usual thing where one of your friends decides that he’s going to manage you. He doesn’t know anything about it, and you get burned for a year or so. And you say, “Hey, man, you’re not a manager; you’re our friend, but you’re no manager.” Then some guy comes in that looks like a manager – smokes a cigar or something like that – and he burns you for a year. And not only is he not your friend, he’s a crook. And those changes just keep going on. Now we have a pretty stable scene in terms of our relationship to the business world, but it cost us a lot. Like we’ve been in debt all along up until this year. It looks like we’re just getting out. At one time we were $180,000 in debt.
GP: What about the records you’ve released?
Garcia: The records are a whole other thing. We’ve like spent eight months making a record at times, really outrageous amounts of studio time. And all that money comes out of royalties, and our records don’t sell that well anyway. So far, except for Workingman’s Dead, we’ve never made any money, either for Warner Brothers or for us through Warner Brothers. We’ve never had any hit records; we’re just a working band, basically. We’re an extremely well-known working band.
GP: Do you fault anybody for the band’s financial situations of the past?
Garcia: I don’t fault anybody for it. The way I figure it is that we’re doing better than I ever dreamed we would, considering that our basic premise was that we were not a bunch of musicians but just a bunch of freaks that were going to try to play music. Since then we’ve become musicians. We’ve learned how to make records, and it cost us a lot of money; but at least we learned. The way I feel about it is that the access to the tools is more important to me than making money. We started out not making money, dig? We were doing well with no income. We were living well, and getting high, and being happy, and that’s really where it’s at. I know that that’s the way I can always live, and the rest of it is like incredible dream stuff. You’ve got to love music and be crazy to push on with it – of course, some people make fast money but it’s never been us. And in this day and age it’s not even fashionable to be rich.
GP: Did you make a conscious change from the expensively produced albums to the more live feeling of Workingman’s Dead?
Garcia: Well, in a way. We’d been experimenting with formats for how to make a record. We experimented with going in and making a record with nothing at all. With Workingman’s Dead we experimented with getting the material together, rehearsing it, and knowing it before we ever even got near the studio. We took three or four weeks to rehearse. We went into the studio, and it was over before we even knew it. It was the same with our most recent album, American Beauty. It works really good, and everybody stays alert, and happy, and bright-eyed, and nobody gets boggled down in studio horror trips. The work goes fast, and you can keep excited about the material. You can get some enthusiasm into the tracks.
GP: And you can duplicate the sound on stage.
Garcia: Right, right.
GP: How did you happen to associate yourselves with Warner Brothers?
Garcia: Well, it looked like they were going to be the loosest of all the record companies, and it turned out they are. No pressure really, and they gave us unlimited studio time. What we were looking to do was learning how to make records. We didn’t feel pressured to sign with a record company, because we didn’t care if we made any records or not. But we were enthusiastic about getting into the studio and seeing what it was like. They paid for our education. All that studio time came out of our royalties, but since we never had any royalties… Our Warner Brothers debt was pretty high, but it’s all figures that don’t really mean anything to you. It was no more real the times when we were the heaviest in debt than it is now when we’re almost out of debt. So what? Debt what? What debt? I’m really delighted when I have like thirty bucks cash, you know.
GP: One of our readers wants to know who Marma-Duke is?
Garcia: He writes songs and he’s the lead singer for the New Riders of the Purple Sage. He’s like an old friend of Bob Weir’s, who is our rhythm guitar player.
GP: How did the New Riders come about?
Garcia: I got my pedal steel. Marma-Duke – John Dawson – had this gig down the peninsula playing in coffee houses. He was getting into writing songs, and he’d written five or six songs that I thought were pretty neat. They were all like simple country songs, simple construction. I could understand enough about the pedal steel to play along with simple stuff. I thought, wow, this is the perfect chance for me to be able to get into the pedal steel. You know, I’ll just play unobtrusively along behind Marma-Duke as he’s singing his folk songs. So I went down there and set up my pedal steel in the corner and slowly proceeded to try and learn how to play it. I had a pretty good idea in my head of what I wanted it to sound like, but I didn’t have any chops down. Pretty soon it started to sound pretty good, and a couple of other friends who were around here sort of fell into the scene. And pretty soon we had a little band.
GP: The New Riders is a country band. Why the switch from the Dead music to the pedal steel and all those country harmonies?
Garcia: It was the Army where I got into country music. I’ve dug it since then, but my basic musical background is just San Francisco Mission Street rhythm and blues.
GP: Have you gotten into country music because you’ve developed an increasing taste for it since the Army?
Garcia: I like all the kinds of music I’ve been into. I’m certainly not a purist in that I will only play country licks in a country song or blues licks in blues stuff. The thing I would like to be able to do is to make the music sound right no matter what it is. If somebody else wants to have a label for it, then that’s their business. I would say that the main difference between the music the Dead is playing now and the music we had been playing is the fact that we’ve gotten more into singing. Singing is really great.
GP: Your background in rhythm and blues provided you with a very distinctive lead guitar style.
Garcia: I definitely have a style, but it’s not because I’ve consciously tried to derive a style. It’s because I’ve never had any lessons. You fall into certain patterns that you’re not conscious of, unless you start listening to yourself on tape a lot. If you do that you start recognizing habits; then you have to try and break them.
GP: Is it fair to say that you don’t bend or stretch strings much; that you go for speed in your solo playing?
Garcia: I do a lot of bending and stretching, but the thing is that I do it differently than other guys do. A lot of guys use that technique to accent a high point, but I’ll use a bent string or a slurred note in the course of a run. In the course of a run of, say, sixteenth notes I’ll slur certain of them either down or up depending on how I want them to flow. My style has been characterized as picking every note, and that’s a holdover from banjo – and also because I’m one of those guys who likes to hear every note. It’s so easy to gloss over everything, but my reaction to that was that my phrasing got to be kind of stiff. When I listen to old tapes of myself, it’s stiff.
GP: At high points you prefer to play phrases with lots of notes per bar, right?
Garcia: Yeah, well, I’m into rhythmic relationships. I think of phrases as rhythmic lines first and later as melodic lines. My thinking that way has been changing in the last year as I’ve been doing more singing, as I’ve started to become more conscious of melody. And with melody I’ve become more conscious of expression. I consider music to be a continually developmental process, continually learning and refining.
GP: In your development did you consciously go after speed at one point?
Garcia: Sure, I still do. If you have a fast idea, you’ve got to execute it.
GP: What kind of guitar were you playing when you made “Viola Lee Blues” on the first Dead album?
Garcia: I was playing an old red Guild Starfire, single cutaway with two pickups. I’ve always been a Fender amplifier man – Twin Reverb, nice and loud and not very big.
GP: Do you still like that combination?
Garcia: No, and I don’t like any of the guitars that are available. I’ve used them up. I can make them sound as many ways as they can sound, but it’s not enough ways. I’ve been using like a real old Telecaster lately. I’ll try any guitar just to see if it’s different in an effort to see if it will lead me anywhere. I’m trying to have a guitar built. What’s needed is better instruments, better amplifiers, better hardware for electric music to get better. In my own musical existence I don’t feel that being a guitar player is like the best thing on earth to be. I would rather be a balanced musician. Playing in a group, I’m tending to think more about the music and less about the guitar. That’s just me getting older. I’m not interested in being a virtuoso guitar player or anything like that.
GP: I know you play five-string banjo. How did you happen to pick up on that instrument?
Garcia: I used to be a pretty snappy banjo player. I think I worked harder at the banjo than I did at any other instrument. I got into the banjo just shortly after I got out of the Army, and I really, really worked at it.
GP: Did your guitar technique affect your banjo playing or the other way around?
Garcia: There is no relationship between the two except for the fact that they are fretted instruments. My banjo chops are nothing like what they once were. The banjo is the kind of thing where you’ve got to keep it up or else you lose your time. If I were to spend maybe three or four weeks, I could get my banjo shit together; but there would have to be a reason for it. The reason I stopped playing banjo was because there wasn’t anybody to play with, and I’ve always been oriented along the lines of playing with somebody rather than playing by myself.
GP: We all know that you’ve been playing the pedal steel guitar lately. What kind do you use?
Garcia: I have a ZB. They’re made in California. Mine started out as the standard double neck with ten strings on each neck, C6 and E9 tunings, and eight pedals and two levers. I’ve dismantled the C6 neck, because I’m just not into the C6 tuning. There is nothing in any of the kinds of music that I play that requires that sort of tonality. That tuning is very dense; there are a lot of seconds and that sort of thing. It’s great for playing jazz and pop stuff. You know, the sound that you associate with normal pedal steel players. The E9 tuning is that opener, more country sound. And that’s the one I dug. That’s the whole reason I wanted to get into the pedal steel. So now, I just use the E9 neck and the three pedals to raise the tone and two levers to lower it.
GP: How far do you think you’ve gotten with your left hand technique with the bar and your right hand technique at picking?
Garcia: I haven’t got it down. What I’m doing with the steel is I’m going after a sound I hear in my head that the steel has come the closest to. But I have no technique on the steel. I’ve got a little right hand technique from playing the banjo, and I’ve listened to records; but my intonation with the bar is still really screwed up. I have to do it by ear. The only steel player I’ve had a chance to learn some stuff from was Buddy Cage, who’s the steel player for the Great Speckled Bird, Ian and Sylvia’s band. He’s a Canadian kid and a good, good steel player. I’m really a novice at it, but I’m not really trying to become a steel player. I’m trying to duplicate something that’s in my head.
GP: Were the background fills you played on the “Teach Your Children” cut on the second Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young album what you were hearing in your head?
Garcia: On the new David Crosby album I played one thing that I really, really liked; it was starting to get to where I can hear the steel getting to. I’ve done a lot of studio stuff on the steel – Lamb’s new album, the New Riders’ album, the stuff on our albums, one cut on the Airplane’s Volunteers album, and on Kantner’s Starship album. The New Riders are actually too good for me to be playing steel with. What they need is a regular, good guy who’s been playing since he was three.
GP: Does that mean you’re not planning to stay with the New Riders?
Garcia: I can’t do more than one thing full-time at a time.
GP: While we’re at it, what’s the future of the Dead?
Garcia: More and better, I hope.
GP: To get back to the steel guitar, what do you think the place is for the pedal steel in rock music?
Garcia: I’m playing the place where I think it’s supposed to be. The David Crosby record is where I think it’s supposed to be. I don’t hear it as being another continual lead instrument; I just consider it another possibility musically. I don’t feel that one instrument has more weight than others. Any sound that you can produce adds to your vocabulary of possibilities.
GP: What does the pedal steel have in common with the guitar and banjo from a technique or theory point of view?
Garcia: Well, the banjo is an idiosyncratic instrument. There are certain things that you can play on it that lend themselves to it and certain things that just don’t. The way I see it, the steel is kind of the same way in that it is definitely set up for definite combinations. In that sense the banjo and the pedal steel are limited instruments.
GP: How would pedal steel sound on top of a 12-bar blues?
Garcia: If you’d like to hear it there’s a Chuck Berry recording where he plays pedal steel on a 12-bar blues. It’s called “Deep Feeling,” and it’s on the other side of one of those famous cuts. You’ll know right away what it is although you’ve heard it before and probably didn’t recognize what it was. You probably thought it was just an extremely well-articulated guitar or maybe slide guitar. But you listen to it and it’s pedal steel. He plays it in a way that nobody else plays it, and it’s really beautiful. There are other guys who play pedal steel blues, but nobody’s been able to get out of that stiff phrasing. Nobody’s really gotten into playing the steel with a super amount of expression. It’s like a sitar; anything you can do with strings you can do on steel. You can create any number of microtonal variations. By rolling the bar you can get all different speeds of vibrato. The kinds of things you come up with on the pedal steel are usually along the lines of chordal and transitional things. The steel really lends itself to harmonic changes. For example, chord sequences are something you fall into on the pedal steel, just goofing with it. It’s not really a linear instrument; it’s more a simultaneous instrument, if you know what I mean. With the guitar you have linear stuff, then blocky stuff, linear stuff, then blocky stuff. With the pedal steel you could conceivably think and execute three lines at once. It can do that. That’s the thing that’s wow. Listen, you can experiment with contrary motion. It’s difficult to do that on the guitar. Musically, I tend to think in long, emotional, expressive lines. On the steel that tends to be what I find myself playing.
GP: Do you use the edge of your hand to mute the strings?
Garcia: Yeah, blocking they call it. I do that with my left hand by lifting the bar sometimes. Sometimes I do it with my right hand. I do it however I can do it. I go for the sound in the ear and don’t even know about technique.
GP: Do you use your banjo picking fingers to pick the steel?
Garcia: Well, I use the thumb, index finger, and ring finger, because I don’t have a middle finger on my right hand.
(Garcia raised his right hand from his side and held it out palm down. His middle finger fell just short of the first joints of his other fingers. He demonstrated his technique by picking imaginary strings.)
GP: How did that happen?
Garcia: When I was a little kid my brother cut it off with an axe. That’s why I’m not a piano player. Otherwise, I probably would have played the piano.
GP: Has the missing finger affected your approach to playing?
Garcia: No. It’s not a handicap for the guitar, and it’s not a handicap for the pedal steel particularly. Although, sometimes it would be handy to have another finger for the steel because of voicings and stuff like that. But I can get around it. It never bothers me, never ever.
GP: Have you ever been asked about the finger in an interview?
Garcia: No. I’ve often wondered why nobody’s ever asked me about it before.
GP: The fingers commonly used in picking the pedal steel are the thumb and the middle finger, right?
Garcia: Yeah. Well, these are analogous fingers… (Garcia again raised his right hand. He touched the tips of his index and ring fingers together, enclosing them over the short middle finger.) …I use three fingers like I guess anybody does. The thing that’s hard on the steel is being able to cross thumb and finger. Say you have four strings. You have sequences where you have to play a single note on each consecutive string – and very fast. It’s impractical to play that as if it were a rest stroke on the guitar, because then you would have no rhythm distinction. So, there are rolls that you do where you alternate picking the notes by crossing your thumb and finger. That stuff is a little tricky. And because there are ten strings, you have to be able to select different strings. There are some really terrible discords. What you find are triads inside. Out of the ten strings you find various combinations of possibilities for triads. And as you raise and lower the various intervals by moving the pedals and knee levers, you create other possibilities. If you get a pedal steel and fool around with it, you discover that there is a kind of really neat logic involved in the way it’s set up. It’s far out.
GP: Which pedal steel players have influenced you in particular?
Garcia: A lot of guys whose names they never put on country western albums. I don’t have any favorites, really. What happens is that in the course of listening to a record I’ll say, “Wow, that sounds really neat; I wish I could play that.” And then I’ll try and learn it.
GP: Do you think the pedal steel’s acceptance as an instrument has been hindered by its assocation with nasal female country and western singers?
Garcia: I think that everybody has to learn how to listen to that music. There are some really soulful singers in country music. It’s like a prejudice. People associate a certain thing – like the hillbilly twang or those violins, man – with the pedal steel and think they can’t listen to it. It’s just one of those things. I just hear it all as music. It’s all music. There’s good music, and there’s bum music.
GP: Some country lyrics have left me pretty cold.
Garcia: Lately country lyrics are getting farther out with guys like Kris Kristofferson. There are some good writers in country music. Those are like the new guys.
GP: Do you think that country music is on the rise?
Garcia: Oh yeah. I think that there is more music generally and that a good deal of it, as always, is bad. But I think that the main, basic, healthy trends in music are all going up hill. It has to do with the fact that there is more music available for musicians to listen to. A musician nowadays has a background of music that is incredible. It used to be that you only heard music live. There were no record players sixty years ago.
GP: The Grateful Dead was one of the very first bands of the so-called new culture. Where do you think that the new culture is going?
Garcia: Well, everything is going to pieces on the one hand, and everything is coming together on the other hand. I think that the revolution is over, and what’s left is a mop-up action. It’s a matter of the news getting out to everybody else. I think that the important changes have already happened, changes in consciousness. It’s mostly a matter of everything else catching up to that. Everything is traditionally slow – much faster than it ever has been on earth but still far, far too slow.
GP: And music has been the vehicle for those new culture changes, right?
Garcia: Yeah, it’s weird. I’ve been in music when it wasn’t. Now all of a sudden it is. I don’t know why. It could be that music is one of those things left that isn’t completely devoid of meaning. Talk – like politics – has been made meaningless by endless repetition of lies. There is no longer any substance in it. You listen to a politician making a speech, and it is like hearing nothing. Whereas, music is unmistakably music. The thing about music is that nobody listens to it unless it’s real. I don’t think that you can fool anybody for too long in music. And you certainly can’t fool everybody. There is no music that everybody likes. Music goes way back before language does. And music is like the key to a whole spiritual existence which this society doesn’t even talk about. We know it’s there. The Grateful Dead plays at religious services essentially. We play at the religious services of the new age. Everybody gets high, and that’s what it’s all about really. Getting high is a lot more real than listening to a politician. You can think that getting high actually did happen – that you danced, and got sweaty, and carried on. It really did happen. I know when it happens. I know it when it happens every time.

(by Fred Stuckey, from Guitar Player, April 1971)


  1. The precise date of this interview is unknown. Garcia & Saunders played the Matrix a few times in February & March 1971, so no doubt it was before one of those shows.

    The first half of this interview covers Garcia's early music history, in kind of a condensed version of the Rolling Stone interview he'd do later that year. (Quite a lot of this is repeated in other interviews, actually.)
    The second half is surprising to me because there are almost no questions about the electric guitar - instead we get perhaps Garcia's most extensive discussion of pedal-steel techniques. I wish the interviewer had pursued more in-depth electric guitar questions as well.

    The cover shows Garcia with the Fender Strat that Graham Nash gave him, which would become the "Alligator" Strat in 1972. So he was apparently playing it with Saunders in winter '71, at least briefly - that was a period when he was switching around guitars a lot. As he says, "I don’t like any of the guitars that are available. I’ve used them up... I’ve been using like a real old Telecaster lately. I’ll try any guitar just to see if it’s different in an effort to see if it will lead me anywhere. I’m trying to have a guitar built."
    But the interviewer then drops the subject...

    Garcia makes a couple interesting comments on his playing, though - he says, "When I listen to old tapes of myself, it’s stiff." (Never happy with his playing in earlier years!) He also mentions that, hearing himself on tape a lot, he recognizes unconscious habits or patterns in his playing, and then tries to break them.
    Perhaps one example is that "I’m into rhythmic relationships. I think of phrases as rhythmic lines first and later as melodic lines." He says he's becoming "more conscious of melody" - this is an interesting way to think of the change in his playing since the '60s (when his playing was indeed extremely rhythm-oriented).
    This also intrigued me: "In my own musical existence I don’t feel that being a guitar player is like the best thing on earth to be. I would rather be a balanced musician. Playing in a group, I’m tending to think more about the music and less about the guitar. That’s just me getting older. I’m not interested in being a virtuoso guitar player."

  2. (continued)

    It's interesting to hear that the Dead had been reluctant to do a European tour (or, at least, some unnamed members were). They'd been muttering about going to Europe since 1968, but it was always called off.
    Band manager Jon McIntire wrote to the press in '72, "We have been trying to go to Europe for several years now, with such frequent near-misses that...'going to Europe' takes on the aspect of annual management exercise. These false starts have always resulted from the contradiction between economic realities and our basic desire to do something sufficiently more than a 'standard' tour..."
    And he later told Blair Jackson that in '70-71, "I tried to mount tours, but neither time could I get the money needed to offset the cost to do it. We thought it was OK to at least break even on a European tour...but it was not OK in our position at that time to lose money, because we were just getting out of debt." (More details in the E72 box set book.)
    So that was the economic side, but Garcia had a more personal point of view about it. In a May 1972 interview, Garcia said, "It's been a matter of holding off until 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 [spring '71], 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 sort of exhausted and [bored with our music]... 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 to that we weren't ready to come..."
    So that's what happened to the attempt at a Europe '71 tour that Garcia mentions here.

    There are some good quotes here - his description of the Dead's "manager scene" is hilarious. And we also get Garcia's classic financial attitude: "Our debt was pretty high, but it’s all figures that don’t really mean anything to you. It was no more real the times when we were the heaviest in debt than it is now when we’re almost out of debt. So what? What debt? I’m really delighted when I have like thirty bucks cash, you know."

    I also like his statement that "our basic premise was that we were not a bunch of musicians but just a bunch of freaks that were going to try to play music. Since then we’ve become musicians. We’ve learned how to make records, and it cost us a lot of money; but at least we learned... We started out not making money, dig? We were doing well with no income. We were living well, and getting high, and being happy, and that’s really where it’s at. I know that that’s the way I can always live, and the rest of it is like incredible dream stuff."

    His final summation of the Dead playing "the religious services of the new age" is also classic, and kind of a preview of the Rolling Stone interview. And here again is one of Garcia's favorite observations: "The revolution is over, and what’s left is a mop-up action. It’s a matter of the news getting out to everybody else. I think that the important changes have already happened, changes in consciousness. It’s mostly a matter of everything else catching up to that."

    And leave it to Jerry to find a Chuck Berry pedal-steel blues instrumental B-side...the flip side of "School Day" in 1957. Garcia got his first guitar that year, and I imagine him as a teen trying to figure this single out...

  3. Per usual you hit on all the cool stuff in your comments.I have to say I don't recall any mention or other evidence of Jerry having ever played a Telecaster and would like to know more about that.All that talk about the pedal steel was very informative being as I had never given any thought to the tuning of the necks,that it had ten strings per neck,six pedals and a couple of levers or the various techniques required to play it.Plus I got turned on to a very trippy and unique Chuck Berry tune that is a weird mash up of blues/country/Hawaiian styles.It would have been nice to have him discuss his electric playing like did the steel.

    Something I have been noticing in reading these Garcia interviews is that he says like a lot,similar to a teenage girl and it is a bit disconcerting.

    1. I'd also like to know when Garcia tried out a Telecaster, since I don't recall any mention of this either. It could have been at a Saunders show - here we see the Strat appear at a Matrix show earlier than its use in a Dead show. Blair Jackson writes that "Garcia would change guitars more in 1971 than in any other year" - including the first Alembic custom guitar (in the spring), a Les Paul, the Strat (in May/June), a Les Paul TV (July), and back to the Strat (in the fall).

      From transcribing some Garcia interviews, I'm pretty confident that most printed interviews probably omit most the times he actually said "like" or "you know" - those are often, like, every third word for him, y'know. Students of speech patterns could have a field day with the variety of ways he uses "you know." I think of it as California-speak.

  4. This blog will be on hiatus for the next month.

  5. Enjoy your hiatus and please come back pre-hiatus style and not like some band we know.

  6. Here's JG jamming on an unusual axe at Scotty's Music in St. Louis in March '71:

    It resembles a Telecaster, but it's clearly not...

    1. Interesting find! Although, considering it's a music-store jam, it need not have been Garcia's regular fact he may never have touched it before that song!

      Photos I think are from the Dead's March '71 St Louis shows reveal Garcia playing the custom Alembic guitar.

    2. Yeah, surely a music store model. Visual evidence of Jerry being on the hunt for a new guitar during exactly this time frame.

      All the recent posts have been A+ finds with a lot to digest. Amazing work. See you on the other side.

  7. It's a Micro-Frets Spacetone

    1. Thanks! Almost certainly a music-store guitar then, since I don't recall Garcia ever playing one elsewhere.