Garcia stabs at the record business - 'we want to get out.'
After almost three years of broken promises, the Grateful Dead caravan is finally coming to Britain. They are due here this week for what will undoubtedly prove to be one of THE most talked-about events of this year.
Lounging backstage in a shabby dressing room three flights above the stage of a South-side New York rock hall - its dirty yellow painted walls in an advanced state of decay - Jerry Garcia, who for most people IS the Grateful Dead, rummaged about in his tangled beard and explained the reasons for the group's prolonged delay.
As he spoke, the glare of a naked light bulb - thick in dust - cut through the blue haze of aromatic Mexican incense, casting stark shadows on the wall.
"The reason why we rarely venture out of the States isn't due to what most people might think, a question of finance," Garcia began as the buzz of conversation in the crowded dressing room dropped to a minimum.
"Such is the structure of the Dead that it's difficult for us to make a decision. I mean, we don't have anyone who says, 'Next week we're all going to Europe.' It's not like that at all.
"All major decisions are bounced around from hand-to-hand like a beach ball. Eventually, it's an idea that everyone takes to or it just disappears."
At this particular junction in their career, the Dead, after a generation of just bumming around, are on the threshold of becoming an involuntary star attraction. A predicament that, in all honesty the band want to avoid.
For with good intent, the Grateful Dead are trying to de-escalate their exaltation so that they can continue to evolve at their own pace and by-pass outside pressures.
In a rather roundabout way, this has been reflected in the sparseness of their recorded output. "This is mainly because of marketing, which is the record company's trip," Garcia revealed, still exploring his facial undergrowth.
"Also, we don't want to give endless energy to companies and in doing so attract endless attention to ourselves. In reality, we could put out an album everytime we played, because we record all our gigs."
Then, by way of a rather amazing paradox, Garcia admitted that he didn't feel that any of the Dead's albums were a representative sound scrapbook of the band at the various stages in their growth.
"We've never been able to do that," said Garcia. "And the live ones are only approximations, because in reality, what we do is a very long show...much longer than an album. So I don't feel that in any spectacular way we've achieved this.
"Some of the songs are just ones we came up with for those particular albums, but which were never performed on stage. All of them were successful on some level. However, none of them were really representative of what we were actually doing at that time."
After pausing for a moment to evaluate his previous statement, he added: "I suppose you could say that the last album...you know, the live double set, was representative of what we were doing a year or so ago. But since then we're a whole different band."
Garcia then implied that perhaps one day the very best from this enormous collection of unreleased tapes might emerge in one form or another. But he refused to give any further details.
Widely acknowledged as being the epitome of a self-reliant unit, Garcia explained the ideals of one of the Dead's most ambiguous ambitions.
"We would like to be able to make music, put it out, and at the same time get out of the record business entirely - to avoid getting hung up by the business side of music. There's some other space that has yet to be created which would be sympathetic to what we want to do."
At this time, the final ideas hadn't been formulated so he wasn't able to elaborate upon this vision.
However, Garcia was only too pleased to explain why the Grateful Dead were revered as being the definitive exponents of the full spectrum of rock Americana. With a huge grin that managed to reveal itself from behind his hairy profile, he began:
"Why this has happened is because we're all from slightly different musical backgrounds, but we're all Americans and we're all Californians who come from the San Francisco bay area.
"Culturally, we can all communicate really well because we've all lived through the same events in the same area. Yet, we've all been involved in different kinds of music with which we can all interest each other.
"Just like Phil Lesh can always turn me on to something that I've never heard before, because of his musical background. It's entirely different from mine. Likewise I say, 'Hey, you've just gotta listen to this bit of country music that I've got here.'"
By the same token, the Dead don't identify with the labels attached to their name.
"We never thought of 'Workingman's Dead' or 'American Beauty' as being countrified rock albums," he confessed. "In fact, we never thought of them as being country, or rock or anything. They were just albums of original songs."
Group musicians usually involve themselves in the conception of a solo album either as a means to alleviate a gnawing frustration or to bolster an inflated ego. Jerry Garcia made his solo album for a more practical reason.
"What happened was I borrowed some money from our record company in order to buy a house, because renting a house in Marin County is one of the most difficult things to do in the whole world.
"When I borrowed the money, I told the company, 'If you want, I'll do an album for you,' and that's how I got into it.
"I just used Bill Kreutzmann on drums and played all the other instruments myself.
"Making the album was fun and very easy, to the point that I feel that I got away with something."
(by Roy Carr, from the New Musical Express, April 1, 1972)
Thanks to Uli Teute.