Mar 27, 2014

November 1970: Band Interview, NYC

CREEM INTERVIEW W/ GRATEFUL DEAD

Like their music, the opinions of the members of the Grateful Dead are both highly individualistic and yet part of a harmonious whole. During the interview which follows, Phil Lesh told me of his interest in Renaissance choral music. That music was a well developed form of choral music with predominant harmonies and a refinement of polyphony – a musical form where each voice had its own melodic line. That could easily be a description of the music of the Grateful Dead as well. And, as it describes their music, it describes their personalities and opinions.
The verbal expressions of Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir are very different in style, and occasionally conflict. Yet they are a completely co-operative, coherent and highly developed group, whether they’re onstage playing, or talking with an interviewer. I also was impressed with them as being among the most serious and articulate of musicians.
This interview was done in two parts – the first at the Park Sheraton Hotel in New York City on November 19 with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh. Along for the talk were Frankie Hart, acting as a hostess/publicist for the group, and a member of the Dead family; John McIntire, manager of the Grateful Dead; John Barwell, friend of the band; Penny Ross, Warner’s New York publicist; and Pigpen, who wandered in midway and offered additional comments. I spoke to Jerry Garcia four days later, backstage at the Anderson where the Dead were about to do a concert that was sort of semi-sponsored by the Hell’s Angels. I tried to ask Garcia the same questions that I asked the others – and then to co-ordinate everyone’s answers. In those cases where the questions asked Garcia were phrased a bit differently, they were included so that his answers can be interpreted correctly.
Lisa Robinson.

CREEM: How do you feel about the new album? (American Beauty)
JERRY: I liked it, I mean it’s difficult for me to listen to because we were having some heavy times when we were making it. There’s a lot of emotional trips happening in that record.
PHIL: This is the first record I’ve really got off on.
CREEM: Why?
PHIL: Well it’s hard to say. I don’t know – maybe just because I was satisfied with my playing on it in the studio. And I’ve never been satisfied on a record but this time it seemed as if it all fit.
CREEM: Do you record live, essentially, in the studio?
BOBBY: A good group that uses acoustic guitars only might be able to go in and do that, but the problem of mixing and balancing with electric instruments is harder.
JERRY: We’ve done it an instrument at a time, we’ve all also played together and done vocals all at the same time, we do it every way.
CREEM: Do you produce yourself in the studio?
PHIL: We really do. However, the guy who was listed on this LP as co-producer, Steve Barncard – if you have a guy like that it’s so invaluable, because you don’t even have to talk to a guy like that sometimes. Or if you’re not satisfied with the sound all you have to do is frown a little, and he’s over there doing something about it.
CREEM: A lot of people think of your music as either being “Soft Dead” or hard…do you relate to that thinking?
JERRY: NO! (Laughs) I never heard about that! Who cares – they can call it vanilla…any fucking thing…
PHIL: I don’t care what they classify it as. They think some of our stuff is hard, some of it is soft, okay. It’s all mixed in, to me. Each one of the songs has elements of all of that.
CREEM: What kind of music do you like to listen to?
PHIL: There isn’t much rock and roll music that interests me. I came out of classical music, that was my first musical trip, and so I have a lot of classical music still. Delving into stuff that I didn’t have a chance to study earlier…some obscure music, and Indian music, Greek music, older music. The kind of music that was really designed to get people high. Like a certain kind of Renaissance choral music and the mass where they would have incense and wine. Music that gets people high, I guess, is what interests me.
CREEM: How did you develop your bass playing, you really play melodies, it’s quite different than anyone else…
PHIL: Well I used to play the trumpet, and before that, the violin. I don’t know, I never thought about the bass as being a bass; recently I’ve learned to play it as the bass, but I had always played it as if it were something else.
CREEM: Do you feel that if you play a rock and roll bass line, more rhythmic, that it’s alien to anything else you do musically?
PHIL: No I don’t, it all fits in somehow. I haven’t quite made all the connections yet! I’m playing the bass line that keeps the bottom on it, and yet the same time playing stuff that contributes to the flow. It’s like motion and stasis in the same place.
CREEM (to Garcia): How do you get that sound out of your guitar? I’ve never heard anyone get that sound – what kind of instrument do you play?
JERRY: Gibson, SG – Standard. The kind of guitar where you go into a music store and there’s five or six electric guitars and you take one down…this’ll do. I’m not on any kind of trip about instruments, I like to get them as simple and uncomplicated as possible, because if you have a fancy instrument, somebody steals it. So I just take anything man, if it works, I play it. That’s my philosophy about instruments.
CREEM: Did Crosby, Stills and Nash work with you on harmonies?
JERRY: No, they never actually worked with us, the thing was that they were around. And having them around and sitting down and singing with acoustic guitars was such a turn on for us that we just got into it.
CREEM (to Bob Weir): Are you also involved with some spinoff group from the Dead?
BOBBY: Well I got a lot of friends who are about to do stuff… For one, there’s a group called James and the Good Brothers…
PHIL: They’re from Canada, we met them on the train…
BOBBY: And we’ve just been picking and singing together a lot…
PHIL: They’re planning to make a record.
CREEM: Are you planning to be on it?
BOBBY: Well, I’m going to play on it a little, but what they really need is someone in the studio. At this point they’re so together that they ought to put together an album, and I plan to be around to help out.
PHIL: That’s the sort of thing I’m doing with the New Riders…
CREEM: Are they recording for Warner Brothers?
PHIL: They’re recording for themselves!
CREEM: Have they decided who’s going to distribute it or anything?
JOHN McINTIRE: They’ll decide when the album’s done, and I will hold it up and say, here’s this album, which one of you guys wants it…
CREEM: When will it be done?
PHIL: Ten days in December…they’ve been doing demos and stuff for a long time…
CREEM: How do you feel about what’s happening in New York now when you play? Kids are sleeping out all night on the street and stuff to get tickets…
JERRY: I think it’s crazy…!
PHIL: What do we know about that!? Superstars…
BOBBY: It’s unreal, but we can try and make it easier for them so they don’t have to sleep on the fucking concrete to get tickets…
PHIL: The promoters could cover that a little better by not putting the tickets on sale so fast, so there would be less of a chance of them being sold out so far in advance. Or by holding half of the tickets to be sold on the day of the gig itself, at the door…or one third… But whose responsibility is it?... How much responsibility do we as a band have to take to reach the people we want to reach?
BOBBY: It may well be that we have to take a hundred percent responsibility because nobody else is willing to accept it.
PHIL: Well the people themselves aren’t willing to accept it, that’s the trouble. That’s where it ultimately lies, I think.
BOBBY: Yeah, but I don’t have much faith in the ability of the people…
PHIL: This has been the political schism of all time…
CREEM: Do you feel the band has to take responsibility if the kids can’t get tickets for your shows and stuff?
JERRY: Yeah, we do. It’s almost coming down to that our responsibility might entail not playing so as not to be drawing people to a bum scene. But you see, what puzzles me is that you have a situation where everybody thinks what a drag it is, and you could say fuck it, I’m not going to pay five bucks to do that, and not do it. That’s what I would do. It’s weird. I don’t understand why people will willingly be burned and then complain about it…for the longest time.
CREEM: Well, they don’t think it’s being burned. There’s nothing else – they’re still hearing music and if they don’t go, well then they don’t hear live music.
JERRY: That’s true – but they could play… I don’t know. I guess maybe that’s the next step. But I really don’t know… I don’t understand the vagaries of human behavior. It’s all a complete mystery to me, why people do what they do.
CREEM: Have you played the South a lot?
PHIL: Yes, unfortunately we’ve played the South, about three or four times in Atlanta which is about the grooviest place in the South we’ve been in…and once again in New Orleans and Memphis, neither of which we’ll ever return to again.
BOBBY: In New Orleans they busted us, and in Memphis they gave it a real good try.
PHIL: Anyway in Memphis it was really an uptight performing situation. If anyone stood up in their seat they got busted, and I mean busted. Even if you thought about moving, you got wiped on the head, dragged out and taken to jail.
CREEM: Are you approached by a lot of political groups to do benefits?
BOBBY: We’re really more insulated now, it’s all done through the office.
PHIL: But what we tend to do with that stuff is to do the things that are the most meaningful to us – like political candidates – never.
CREEM: Well I didn’t mean political candidates, I meant like the things you felt were righteous…
PHIL: Or you mean like relevant shit. Well the things that we consider righteous are like the Pit River Indians who are having their land taken away from them, and the People’s Park Bail Fund…
JERRY: We have some loose semi-association with the Black Panthers because we met Huey Newton and got along well with him. We don’t deal with things on the basis of content, the idea of a philosophy or any of that shit, mostly it’s personalities – people. That sort of thing.
CREEM (to Garcia): I saw the Altamont movie, did you see it?
JERRY: No, I was there. I didn’t need to see the film!
CREEM: Do you feel the Angels are political?
JERRY: No.
CREEM: Righteous?
JERRY: Yeah. I think they’re pure elementals. They’re something that the most modern people don’t know what to think about, so they don’t know how to deal with the situation when it arises. Like having elementals around – things that you can’t control. That’s what they are – things that you can’t control. And when you’re confronted with things that you can’t control, the thing to do is to know how to behave properly in that context. It becomes the new survival key.
CREEM: How do you think the proper way to behave would have been at Altamont? Was it possible?
JERRY: I think that the situation was not conducive to anything. I think the Angels behaved properly, I mean they did just what they would do, so they were not out of character. Also, I don’t think that it was strictly a trip on the Angels. Cause the Angels in California are surrounded by prospects – people who want to be Angels, and their way of showing that they could be Angels is to come on bad. And they’re the ones who are mostly responsible…most Hell’s Angels I know are into partying.
CREEM: Is it a hassle doing free concerts now?
PHIL: No, no more than paid gigs man, doing concerts is a hassle.
JOHN: It’s very difficult to be allowed to do a free concert now, in almost every city in the country.
PHIL: Yeah, we’ve almost blown it…
JERRY: That’s a loaded question because we have to talk about what free is.
CREEM: Let me put it in two parts – in terms of giving free concerts there are numerous hassles. Do you think it’s going to be virtually impossible for you to do them?
JERRY: Well it will be difficult. I won’t say impossible. And it’s the kind of thing that the value of doing free things in the past was that we could do them more or less spontaneously. But now because there’s such bad relationships happening between the kind of people who issue permits for parks, and heads – or freaks, longhairs, because of the political shit, it’s more difficult to get an okay to do that. So we would have to be planning free things as far in advance as we do planning regular gigs, and that takes the whole idea of free out of it for us. It no longer becomes free. It’s one of those things that we have to decide to do – and then we have to keep our promise, and that’s not what free is about.
CREEM: How about kids breaking down the gates?
JERRY: Well that’s the other thing about what free is. Obviously there’s something funny about that. And that’s the thing that may put us in the position where we can’t work in public anymore. Because no promoter is going to go for that a lot of times, they’re going to stop putting on gigs if people break in. The cops won’t go for it, and we won’t go for it because it makes us uptight.
BOBBY: They turn into a hassle. Like for instance we played at Columbia when they had the student strike, and we thought it would be nice for us to go down there and stir up some shit, nothing political, just lend some energy to the situation. And see how things felt. So we went down and set up, and as soon as the microphones were turned on, and all the people who wanted to know if the microphones were turned on realized that they were, there was a mad rush for the microphones because everybody had a very important announcement. And I told about five people in the space of one minute that no man, these microphones were for the music and not for politics. And from every single one of the people that I told that to, I got “lame honky bastard,” or “crass bourgeois son of a bitch.” They just unleashed their political views. And I hate that. And there’s a lot of that going down.
PHIL: That is definitely kind of a fascistic tendency, however, you’ve got to realize, that as long as you’re living in this fucking country, the revolution is right in your lap.
BOBBY: And I’ve always felt that those people are low-consciousness people not to realize that we are doing our part by doing nothing but music.
CREEM: I think that really liberating music is more revolutionary than talk…
PHIL: It is on a certain level, but some of that stuff has to be translated back down to the regular level of mundane existence in order for things to get better here. Throwing rocks and things ain’t the revolution. That’s dumb people setting themselves up as targets; here I am, kill me.
BOBBY: Or here I am, get uptight enough to start killing me. It doesn’t have to happen man, but it’s gonna. It looks that way.
PHIL: Yeah, it really does. And music won’t be able to do anything because now music is really stigmatized as being the cause, or the carrier of the bad vibes. So in a way the musicians have blown it.
CREEM: Do you think the musicians have blown it, or the kids, or neither of them – just the repression…
PHIL: Well it works both ways…
BOBBY: The only way that music can re-achieve its dignity perhaps, its apolitical standpoint, is to become pastoral. And I won’t become pastoral because I’m not a pastor. And that gets into the thing – do you have a responsibility to keep your mouth shut, if you don’t have anything to say. And I have a few notes to say, but I have absolutely no sociological, philosophical, political bullshit…
JERRY: Well I think the musician’s first responsibility is to play music as well as he can, and that’s the most important thing. And any responsibility to anyone else is just journalistic fiction…or political fiction. Because that bullshit about the people’s music man, where’s that at, what’s that supposed to mean? It wasn’t any people that sat with me while I learned how to play the guitar. I mean who paid the dues? I mean if the people think that way, they can fucking make their own music. And besides, when somebody says people, to me it means everybody. It means the cops, the guys who drive the limousine, the fucker who runs the elevator, everybody. All that.
CREEM: What about the thing of breaking down those traditional dues, standing in line, paying some promoter for the ticket, what about the kids who feel that way?
PIGPEN: Rock and roll owes me a living…
BOBBY: Hippies aren’t all enlightened people…
PHIL: Yes, long hair does not a sage make.
CREEM: It’s disillusioning…
BOBBY: Here’s a beautiful example. When we played at the Festival Express in Toronto, in early July – late last June. They had this big football stadium. And there were kids camped out in the park that was around it. There was a big manifesto being handed out that there would be guns and violence and a lot of people were going to get hurt, and there was going to be a lot of bad bullshit going down, because there wasn’t free music and free dope for everybody. You know – “because I’m here and I deserve free music and free dope and every indulgence that I want.”
PHIL: I didn’t ask to be put here so take care of me…
BOBBY: Right, and that was the logic that was going down. And sure enough, just as they promised, there was violence. A lot of people’s heads got busted – one cop – I don’t know whether he died or not, I never followed it up, but he had his head cracked open and a steel plate and was in the intensive care unit in the emergency ward and all that stuff…and the cops in Canada are nice. I mean really fine. Canadian cops have this air of responsibility and stuff, they’re so much better than the American pig that you see publicized so much…
PHIL: Genocidal robots…
BOBBY: Yeah, and here was this really boss, well I can’t say that he in particular was really boss, but anyway from what I heard he was doing a job – trying to keep mayhem from going down, and he wasn’t forceful about it. He got his skull busted open and may have died. And it wasn’t fucking worth it over a sixteen dollar ticket.
JERRY: I don’t think he died, but it’s typical of that – that weirdness, the free concert. The promoter looking like he’s out to make a lot of money, and the kids are reacting to that as much as anything else. So it’s the promoters that have a piece of that, and the kids have a piece of that. If it were possible for them to relate to each other in some comfortable way – I could see how it could be worked out, but I’m not into telling people how to work out their difficulties along those lines.
CREEM: Do you feel it’s going to work out?
JERRY: Oh…I think there is hope, but I don’t want to say, because you can’t know. And it can go any way in this country, and the fact is it’s so much weirder now than it was four years ago…
CREEM: But you as a group could demand that the prices be lower…
PHIL: But we can’t afford to play for less money, for one thing. We would like to but can’t. Unless we start to sell millions of records, which hasn’t happened yet. We support fifty people for one thing…
CREEM: How many people travel with you?
PHIL: Thirteen. So our air fare from San Francisco to here is four thousand dollars.
CREEM: There are fifty in your family?
PHIL: I would say that there are about fifty in the family…
BOBBY: We support the hippie scene around us too. Not just our family but the hippie craftsmen and artists and stuff like that. And we have electronics crews who are exploring new horizons in sound…and video for that matter too. And they need support, and we’re just about the only people who can give it to them, us and the Airplane. And that’s expensive. And we have to more or less subsidize them by giving them projects, and that becomes expensive because of the work and parts…they all have to stay alive too.
CREEM: Do they depend on you a lot?
JERRY: Well, we depend on us a lot, and each of us has at least some small scene to cover…more or less. But essentially we are in debt, and we’ve been working to get out of that. And to get a little ahead of ourselves. Mostly to buy ourselves time so we don’t have to work so fucking much.
BOBBY: We’ve been working on the road, traveling as much as we could generally, for about four years…
CREEM: How can you go in and do two shows a night, or aren’t you doing two?...
PHIL: We’re not doing two shows a night anymore, it was just us doing a set when we did that. There was no time to build anything up, because we’d be pacing ourselves for the second show… It was just jacking off for the first show.
BOBBY: Everybody loves a circus.
PHIL: True, true. I shouldn’t complain about it, it’s to be expected. The only thing that makes gigs worthwhile is playing good.
CREEM: Would you rather see a situation where you played once a week, or one week out of a month or something?
PHIL: I’d rather see a situation where I’d only play when I goddamn well felt like it. And I feel like it a lot, more than you might think judging from the way I talk. Cause I really like to play, but I don’t like anything else about it.
CREEM (to Garcia): If you sold more records you wouldn’t have to play as much…would you miss it?
JERRY: To not have to. That would be groovy. I mean I play in a lot of different contexts at home, you know. I play virtually every night at home…I play in the recording studio, I play everywhere man, I’m a musician! That’s what I do! So I know I’m always going to play, it’s just a question of whether I’m going to play in huge crowded public scenes or not. And that’s about pretty true of all of us.
CREEM: Are you going to do another live album?
PHIL: Well, not until we make up some new music. By which I mean not new songs, but music to play. New music to play.
CREEM (to Garcia): Do you think you’ll do another live album?
JERRY: Oh yeah, sure.
CREEM: With the material you’re doing now?
JERRY: Well, I don’t know. Probably a whole range of things, and a lot of things we’ve never recorded – other people’s material and so forth. It would be what we hadn’t done before…
CREEM: How long do you think you’ll be doing the material you’re doing now?
PHIL: It’s hard to say, we run in cycles of about a year. I just really don’t know, we just haven’t had time to think about anything else, anything new. Once we made up our minds that thinking up new songs was the thing to do. I mean it never necessarily came to an agreement, but we all just felt that way, and since that went down we haven’t had time to practice much of anything.
CREEM: Do you practice a lot?
JERRY: I practice when I can, which isn’t too often when I’m on the road. The band – we don’t practice too much because we don’t have a place to practice…we play instead of practicing.
CREEM: Do you think you want to do more things like the Winterland gig? What else do you want to do with video?
JERRY: For sure. I think video is the answer to all our problems. Because it makes it possible to make live music and without anybody having to go through any trips for it. Just turn on the TV!
PHIL: To my mind that Winterland thing was incredibly successful. I mean the image coming through the TV was so boss, that people had to come down to the hall after watching it on TV.
CREEM: How do you feel about video cassettes?
PHIL: Well to me cassettes are an open book. I think the first step is what we did, live gigs, broadcast – first to a single city, then a national hookup, and then a satellite to the whole world. This is what we were trying to get on for New Year’s Eve, I don’t think we’re even going to get it to New York. We had this fantasy of broadcasting nationwide New Year’s Eve, we didn’t even want to dream about satellite.
PIGPEN: Just like Guy Lombardo…
CREEM: Why can’t you do it? That’s far out…
PHIL: Don’t you think it would transcend “Auld Lang Syne” man?! I mean on national TV from fucking nowhere… I don’t think we’ve been able to sell it to the networks, maybe we’ll try to do it next year, maybe it won’t be on New Year’s, but I do think we’ll be able to get New Year’s on in San Francisco again.
CREEM: What about live, would the networks go for it at all? (Talking to Garcia about performing on TV in general)
JERRY: Maybe we’ll do TV network ways, or maybe we’ll find some other way to do it, we’ll do whatever we can do. That’s what we always end up doing anyway…whatever they’ll let us do, is what it comes down to!
CREEM: The last two times I saw you, you insisted that the lights be turned upon the audience. Do you like it better that way?
PHIL: Well not always. It depends on the environment to me. I get more contact going if I can look and see who I’m playing to. I don’t even have to look at them, I could stare up at the sky all the time as long as somewhere in the corner of my vision there’s faces or people moving. It’s a lot better than blackness punctuated by sheets of incredible, really blinding light. Which tends to isolate you, tends to keep you off from whatever you’ve got going.
BOBBY: Yes, but depending on your mood, if you feel like being isolated at any particular point – I don’t really feel that way too often…
CREEM: Do you ever get any bad reaction when it’s an off night from the audience?
PHIL: Well we used to when we did two shows, and the first show would mostly be kids out on dates, generally younger people… And it’d be slower, we wouldn’t be doing much mind blowing shit, and they’d get uptight if we didn’t do encores. Besides now we’re pretty good, so that now – we can have what to us is an off night, and people will still dig it.
CREEM: What about when they start calling out for requests, like “St. Stephen” and all that?
JERRY: Oh that’s always a drag, because it’s like – it’s just a reflection on whether somebody can allow for you to grow and change. That’s all. I mean I don’t mind playing any song. Mostly all of the songs that we’ve done I can still dig as songs. It’s never a bummer to perform any of them. But sometimes you just feel like doing something else. But in our case we do it. I mean we aren’t restricted – we don’t give a fuck about the audience man, have you ever seen us seriously go on a trip about what the audience suggests?
BOBBY: Yeah, but sometimes, sometimes, we’ll stand around the amps, sort of scratching and saying, “what do you want to play, oh I don’t know, what do you want to play,” and then by them screaming out we’ll get ideas!
PHIL: One time we were into a really long, soft thing, and one guy in the audience yelled out “FREE BOBBY SEALE!” That was GREAT!
CREEM: How do you feel about singles, do you care at all about them?
PHIL: They don’t interest me personally. “Uncle John’s Band” was picked because it was obvious. The ones on this album are pretty obvious too – this is not a rock and roll up tempo album, there are a couple of numbers on it that could be singles… But singles just don’t interest me. The only thing that might possibly interest me would be going in and the challenge of doing one single piece of material really fast and really tasty. Our first single, “Golden Road” was done that way, and it was really exciting. It sounded really good on the track.
CREEM: That’s why you have to look after all that yourself.
JERRY: I know, but I have no interest about singles so I don’t want to bother about it.
CREEM: Commercially they’re valid, groups get big single hits and then sell consistently after.
JERRY: It would be nice to have a single, but a hit single usually means twelve year old audiences.
CREEM: “Uncle John’s Band” was really fucked up. Did the people who worked with you on your album do that?
JERRY: Yeah…I gave them instructions on how to properly edit it, and they garbled it so completely and we didn’t get a chance to hear it until way late, and it was…oh fuck, what an atrocity.
CREEM: Why? Wouldn’t you like to turn them on to something?
JERRY: Oh…fuck, I don’t know! I’d like to play for some old people, man…
CREEM: Do you play on a lot of people’s albums that we don’t know about?
PHIL: I haven’t personally. Jerry’s been on many albums, many, many… I’ve played on David Crosby’s album.
CREEM: How many of you are on that album?
PHIL: Jerry is, Bill is and I am. There’s a lot more of that sort of thing happening now, like on Kantner’s album for instance. (Blows Against the Empire) Garcia and Harvey Brooks, and Mickey, Grace…Christ, everybody and his left-handed brother played on that album…it’s beautiful.
CREEM: What other albums are you on besides Brewer and Shipley’s and Kantner’s?
JERRY: Well I’ll be on Crosby’s and Graham Nash’s. I’m sort of producing Crosby. Graham Nash’s I played on about three or four cuts. There’s a San Francisco group called Lamb – it’s a guy who plays classical guitar and a chick who sings, and they did a thing with a friend of mine called Ed Voges who’s a string arranger, violin player and that sort of thing. And I was in the studio and did a few tracks on that, and let’s see…what else. There’ll be the New Riders album, and there’s an album that I and Howard Wales – an organ player friend of mine – have done for Douglass Records – be coming out in February I guess.
CREEM: What about all those rumors about the Dead and Airplane and Quicksilver forming their own label and having someone distribute records?
PHIL: That’s a great fantasy. That’s the proto-fantasy. Something is going to happen, but it won’t be that.
JERRY: Who knows, all these things are trips that we’ve been talking about for a long time and maybe they will happen and maybe they won’t. But things are working out now so that we have enough freedom to do whatever we want in relation to each other…like Kantner’s album. It was like – then I was a member of the Jefferson Starship.
CREEM: How come that MGM album came out? (Vintage Dead)
PHIL: Well, what happened was that we signed a contract with this guy – another company, to put out some cuts. Some of the material was the same, but the cuts were totally different. They were mostly from the Matrix, not the Avalon. And we signed a contract and figured it was cool because it was all stuff from before Warner Brothers. Apparently the company we signed the contract with went bankrupt, and MGM bought up the contract. But they couldn’t find the tapes. So they got other tapes from someone else and put it out anyway.
BOBBY: That’s fascism! That’s really fascism! Maybe I shouldn’t say that because I’ll lose a whole lot of friends…I’m condemning them for liking me the way I used to be!
CREEM: And there’s nothing you can legally do about it?
PHIL: See, the original plan was to put it out as part of an anthology of early San Francisco, tapes from the Matrix, tapes from the Avalon. And that whole scene seemed to be of some cultural relevance, because it had a whole bunch of different people, different groups, and you can pretty much re-create through that the vibes that were going down at that time – that spawned the Haight-Ashbury scene that for awhile went pretty nicely. And you can also see the roots of a certain genre of American music that actually happened. And that might be interesting – at least culturally significant, in a minor way, but just to have one group – the Grateful Dead playing at the Avalon Ballroom, you can’t put anything together from that. And it’s really lame, it’s the only album of ours that’s ever had liner notes.
CREEM: Do you all get salaries?
BOBBY: Yeah we all get salaries. Sometimes we miss our salary one week, sometimes we get a bonus one week. It evens itself out. And we make, quite frankly, a working class salary. Nothing spectacular.
PHIL: We aren’t even making what musicians would call top scale.
CREEM: There really is a myth about the money that rock and roll musicians have.
PHIL: Yeah it’s bullshit…
PIGPEN: Ninety bucks a week…
PHIL: I wish it were true man, because then I wouldn’t have to be here. I’m not jiving, man, I could be home in California – out in the sun somewhere.
BOBBY: Dreaming up some really beautiful things… And all these money hassles, and problems, and whether the kids are going to be able to get in, and the promoter’s responsibility to the people – the patrons, and the artist’s responsibility to the people, and the artist’s responsibility to get together and work these things out – all have to be given a lot of serious thought. And there’s just no time in this hectic scene that’s going down now to be able to do that. And it all has to be given serious thought.
CREEM: Do you like playing colleges especially?
PHIL: Colleges are kind of like islands in the midst of occupied territory, although some of them are occupied territory. But some of them are about the only free ground there is. A lot of times the cops would have to have special warrants and shit to get on the campus, and there are a lot of drugs on the campus.
JERRY: I hate colleges. Because every college scene we’ve played at during the last few months – they’re getting weirder and weirder… I don’t hate colleges, it’s just that they’re harder to do because they break in, man…
CREEM: I was at Stonybrook when that happened…
JERRY: Yeah well that’s the way it’s been at every college we’ve played at in the last couple of weeks. I mean we’ve been playing a lot and it’s been that same situation every time and each time it’s a bummer.
CREEM: What about festivals, do you think they’re over?
PHIL: Yes I think they’re over and if they weren’t, I wouldn’t play them.
BOBBY: The only one that worked was Woodstock, and it worked through a fluke.
PHIL: There were a lot of smaller ones that worked before Woodstock…
PIGPEN: When festivals got to be in vogue man, they just went down the drain. It didn’t get to be too much fun, with all the people demanding free everything…
BOBBY: Well I think a lot of the reason that Woodstock worked was that a lot of people paid for their tickets in advance, and a lot of people who went there expected to pay for their tickets…they didn’t know what was happening. And the idea of storming the gates hadn’t really jelled in their minds yet, and they got there and found out that the scene was so rushed that the guys just didn’t have time to get the gate up. And so everybody just walked in. And there was no hassle, no uptight vibes, no “I’m going to bust this gate down if you don’t let me in,” there was none of that because everybody just got in. And it was just a fluke.
CREEM: Have you felt more repression lately coming down from the government?
PHIL: First of all the Attorney General of the U.S. has sent out directives to all the State Attorney Generals to use any and all methods to crush rock festivals. And as soon as something like that goes down, what’s to prevent local people from interpreting that as carte blanche, to do the same for anything in their town that they don’t like. In other words, it doesn’t have to be rock and roll, it can be the Black Panthers. In Albany, the Black Panthers were denied the use of the very same hall…
JERRY: I don’t personally feel any… Partly we’ve learned to deal with those things more smoothly as we have had more experience with them. I don’t think that repression…I mean the way it looks to the people who are responsible for whatever repression there is in this country – the way it looks to them is we’re entertainers…we’re like clowns or comic relief, so we’re okay. We make money so we’re okay.
CREEM: But you’re still a threat to them…
JERRY: Not really, well they don’t understand that yet, they might – like Al Capp might tell Spiro Agnew that that’s what’s happening, but so what. The government is not in a position of power in this country, the kind of power that they think they have is some pretty illusory thing and it exists only as long as people continue to believe in it. One way or another – if you fight it – or go with it. That’s the thing that makes it real. And it’s really no realer than that. Like nobody I know really buys that, you know… I mean how often do you see a politician face to face. What do they actually do that affects a person’s life – not much.
CREEM: How involved are you with the business aspects of making records?
PHIL: Well I’m into statistics, and I’m interested in knowing since everything we do is an ad including our records – that the quality of those ads is as good as the records. And I’m interested in knowing that the records are in the stores so the people can get them.
JERRY: Here’s what happened. We went down there and met all the people in the art department, the advertising department, and they’re all young freaks, you know – who would like to be able to do what they would like to do. And we figured well, what the fuck man, our ads were never very good, you know we don’t really like to write ads and here’s all these people just itching to write some copy, put out some ads and all that stuff…why not give them something to do in relation to us, ‘cause that’s what they want to do so just let them do it.
CREEM: How do you feel about groups controlling their own product?
PHIL: Oh that’s great. I’m not into that – I would just like to see a little more control.
JOHN McINTIRE: Well you guys are into that a lot heavier than you realize, because of the fact that you’re producing all your own albums, and you have complete say over every word that goes out about you, ideally. And today Warner Brothers called me with a radio ad, read it to me and I said it was the lamest shit I had ever heard…so they called Hunter about it to see what he thinks, and they’ll change it.
CREEM: Do you think that at some level of the record industry there has to be more information or education for the musicians in business shit?
BOBBY: Well perhaps some sort of switchboard where you could call up for legal or contractual advice, some sort of scene like that would be nice. Maybe all the bands could get together and have some sort of organization…and another organization to investigate the videotape scene… But then again, you have a centralization of authority – or information, and I think that’s a bad idea. Centralization of information means centralization of authority.
PHIL: Yes but that has to be an evolutionary weeding out process. The people who are equipped to make the best out of it are naturally the ones who do the best. They either understand all that stuff intuitively or have the right people.
JERRY: I think there are more and more people finding out more and more about it now. The artists now – traditionally the artist has been duped, taken in by crooked promoters, the record company and the agents. But now there’s so much lore about that subject available…
CREEM: But there are still people who get screwed by those companies…
JERRY: Well they’re just making terrible mistakes, but I don’t think that anybody should ever sign anything or act in any way concerning what they’re doing unless they know what the fuck they’re doing. That’s a rule of thumb I think everybody should be responding to.
CREEM: Why do you think your records are selling more now, did it take a while for more people to find out, or is the record company doing more, or are they just better records?
JERRY: Well I think – yeah, they’re better records because we’ve been making our own records all along and it’s just lately that we’ve learned how. I mean the first four records were us, trying to make records, us trying things out and seeing what works and what doesn’t, and we were learning how to do it. And the last couple of records were us doing it – and they’re simple records really.

(by Lisa Robinson, from Creem, December 1970)

Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com

6 comments:

  1. A great long interview with most of the band members (minus the drummers) - even Pigpen & McIntire have a few comments. Garcia was interviewed separately from the others - what's striking is that, even though the rest of the piece comes from a group-interview context, there's very little banter or humor. They answer Robinson's questions seriously and the tone is generally somber. (In contrast to, say, the Charlie interview with Garcia/Lesh/Weir which also took place on 11/23/70.)
    http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2014/01/november-23-1970-band-interview.html

    In common with other fall '70 interviews (in Action World, or Charlie), the Dead are confronting a long tiring tour and a sudden growth in popularity, huge crowds & break-ins at every show, and a generally "hectic scene." Near the end of the tour here, they are pretty worn out with touring, and want to play fewer shows - they all sound tired of their playing schedule. Their response to the sold-out shows & gatecrashers? "I think it's crazy!' "It's unreal..." There is a lot of discussion of how to deal with this, and the politics of rock concerts, and why free shows have become just a hassle.
    Garcia even grumbles, "I hate colleges... They break in...at every college we’ve played at in the last couple of weeks... We’ve been playing a lot and it’s been that same situation every time, and each time it’s a bummer."
    The band clearly have contempt for all the free-music activists they'd encountered on the Festival Express and later - Weir & Lesh poke fun at them, and even Pigpen complains about it! Garcia has a memorable answer to the demands for free shows: "That bullshit about the people’s music...what’s that supposed to mean? It wasn’t any people that sat with me while I learned how to play the guitar. I mean who paid the dues? If the people think that way, they can fucking make their own music."

    They talk about their "family" and the scene they have to support - they make low salaries and can't afford to play for less. Garcia explains that "we are in debt, and we’ve been working to get out of that. And to get a little ahead of ourselves. Mostly to buy ourselves time so we don’t have to work so fucking much." (Though he and Lesh would be happy to play regularly in any case, they want to do it on their own terms, not on a binding schedule to huge insistent crowds. They want to stay spontaneous, and Garcia would rather not have to play "bum scenes;" but the band are finding their freedom of action vanishing.)

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  2. (continued)

    Phil recalls a couple "righteous" benefits - for the Pit River Indians (Pauley Ballroom 6/21/70) and the People's Park Bail Fund (Winterland 5/28/69). Weir has a story about playing at Columbia University during the student strike, 5/3/68, struggling for control of the microphones and trying to stay "non-political." (What's really interesting is that he views the Dead playing at a student strike as non-political in the first place: "we thought it would be nice for us to go down there and stir up some shit, nothing political, just lend some energy to the situation, and see how things felt." He feels that "we are doing our part by doing nothing but music.") The incident of the injured cop in Toronto bugged him enough that he was still talking about it in the Festival Express documentary decades later.
    Phil also briefly mentions how the Black Panthers were denied use of a concert hall in Albany. The Dead had been scheduled to play Albany just a few days before, 11/15, but canceled after a bomb threat - then the promoter accused them of stealing the advance for the show.
    Phil's insistence that the government was out to "crush rock festivals" was more or less correct, as several festivals the Dead were due to play in '69-70 were snuffed out by alarmed local authorities. (Garcia, in contrast, takes his usual approach that he doesn't feel any repression, politics doesn't matter, and the government is just an illusion anyway.)

    Phil says they've "unfortunately" played the South - he remembers Atlanta as "about the grooviest place in the South we've been in" (he would probably change his mind after the police-packed 11/11/71 show there), but shudders at the horrible "uptight" show in Memphis with all the busts.
    McNally describes an underground newspaper interview with an upset Garcia at the Memphis show, 6/19/70 - he was warned that the police would arrest anyone who left their seats to dance, and the power might be cut if the audience started dancing. "When we first came here, we thought there was something horrible happening, or that somebody was getting beaten up or something... And then we suddenly realized that's just the way they are." McNally reports that "the band played, the kids stayed mostly in their seats, and they struggled to a generally unsatisfactory conclusion." Garcia sighed, "We're used to it. We've played a lot of flops... That's where it's at in the South." (p.370)

    Phil says they've stopped playing two shows a night (I think the Stony Brook shows of Oct '70 were the last), admitting that the early shows were "just jacking off" to younger kids on dates - "There was no time to build anything up, because we’d be pacing ourselves for the second show... We wouldn’t be doing much mind blowing shit, and they’d get uptight if we didn’t do encores."
    But Phil notes that the band's become more professional: "now we’re pretty good, so that now we can have what to us is an off night, and people will still dig it." (Garcia had a similar comment elsewhere, that even when the sound was bad or the band was unhappy, "we can sort of play together instinctively, so it was [still] together.")
    Garcia & Weir have interesting comments on audience song requests... "We don’t give a fuck about the audience man, have you ever seen us seriously go on a trip about what the audience suggests?"

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  3. (continued)

    The band are very happy with the live TV broadcast of the 10/4/70 Winterland show, with Phil boasting that "the image coming through the TV was so boss" - unfortunately no video is known to survive. The Dead would do another TV broadcast from Winterland on 12/31/70, as Phil says they're planning, but that has also been lost. Their TV appearances abruptly stopped after 1970, so Phil's fantasy of nationwide broadcasts evidently didn't last - perhaps they couldn't arrange anything more with the networks. Garcia says that "video is the answer to all our problems," but he seems to have changed his mind about the value of TV later. (Instead they'd pursue national FM broadcasts.)
    http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2013/09/grateful-dead-live-fm-broadcasts-1970.html

    They talk about doing another live album (they'd already recorded the Winterland shows in Oct '70 for possible use) - Phil says it won't happen "until we make up some new music." What's interesting is that this was the explanation they used for cancelling the scheduled Port Chester run in December '70 ("they cannot return east without new music for the people"). Possibly, on top of being worn-out after the fall tour, they'd already decided to record the next Port Chester shows but wanted it to be new material. Garcia also says that the next live album will be "things we’ve never recorded, other people’s material," which was accurate.

    Phil comments that musically the band "runs in cycles of about a year" (before bringing in new material), but laments that they "haven't had time to practice much of anything" lately. (Garcia adds that "we don’t practice too much because we don’t have a place to practice.") Their upcoming tour breaks would be very fruitful for the Dead - Phil hints that their current cycle is "thinking up new songs" (something they agreed on back in '69 as "the thing to do...we all just felt that way"), but personally he would prefer "not new songs, but new music." I suspect he links their lack of practice time to their falling back on song after song, rather than rethinking their musical approach.

    Phil is very aware that if they sell more records they can play less - but curiously, the Dead are totally uninterested in having a hit single. Both Phil & Jerry agree, "Singles just don't interest me... I don’t want to bother about it." Garcia says, "A hit single usually means twelve-year-old audiences." (They'd refused to go on a radio promo tour for Workingman's Dead.)
    Phil is happy with American Beauty and the way it was produced - surprisingly, he also has fond memories of the "Golden Road" session back in '67 - "it was really exciting, it sounded really good." (This is in stark contrast to his memories of the first album sessions.)

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  4. (continued)

    They mention a few of the recent studio sessions - Lesh says that the NRPS album session is planned for December, but they haven't signed with a distributor yet. It's unclear how much the Dead contributed to the James & the Good Brothers album; but Lesh, Weir & Kreutzmann were thanked on the cover.
    Garcia played on three tracks of Lamb's second album "Cross Between," which would be released the next year. Garcia thinks that his record with Howard Wales for Alan Douglas might be coming out in February, so he evidently thinks it's done. There were more sessions or mixing done the next year, though (possibly not involving him), and it didn't come out til Sept '71.

    Jefferson Airplane beat the Dead to having their own record label - they formed Grunt Records in 1971. However, this was still an RCA subsidiary, rather than being totally independent, as the Dead's would be. (I don't know if anyone's done a comparative study of the two labels.)

    Phil talks about the recently released Vintage Dead album - the Dead were upset about it and felt cheated; Phil calls it "pretty lame." (Weir also discusses it in his Feb '71 interview.) It's interesting that he says tapes from the Matrix were originally going to be used - two Matrix tracks were used on the followup Historic Dead album, but everything else was from the Avalon, apparently not from the tapes the Dead had originally approved. At any rate, Phil's account of the original concept of an anthology of early San Francisco bands is fascinating - I never tire of how people in 1970 talked about '66 like it was ancient history, a distant epoch.
    http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2012/07/1971-sunflower-records-story.html

    More comments could be made on this very rich interview, but that's a start...

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  5. Cool. Yeah, this one is dense!

    I have thought about an analysis of various "independent" record companies, but it's way down my very lengthy list of things to-do.

    Keep up the great work LIA, thanks!

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  6. Garcia said in the 1971 Rolling Stone interview, when asked about starting a record company: "Grunt Records is still RCA. There's no question about it. It's not truly independent. And our fantasy is to be completely independent if we can do it."

    So the Airplane, in a way, were serving as a negative example. I suspect their first album did the same - seeing RCA's heavy hand at work, and the Airplane's complaints about it, made the Dead more determined to have total artistic control when they signed with WB. Possibly there were other ways the Airplane may have showed the Dead certain steps not to take in their career.
    (For instance, their "Volunteers" album was one inspiration for Hunter to head the opposite way lyrically and not take any political or 'radical' stance: "These were incendiary and revolutionary times and I did not want this band to be making that statement. I wanted us to counter the rousing violence of that time... Us and the Airplane: we could have been the final match that lit that fuse, and I went real consciously the other way." Of course Garcia would have felt similarly.)

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