Jun 23, 2015

October 1972: Jerry Garcia Interview

JERRY GARCIA DISCUSSES GRATEFUL DEAD, ALBUMS

One of the first psychedelic bands in the Bay Area was the Grateful Dead, featuring Jerry Garcia. His name has become synonymous with good music.
The Dead now are more popular than ever worldwide, and their popularity is growing.
They have seven LP's out now and their new one will be soon. Their LP's include "The Grateful Dead," "Anthem of the Sun," "Aoxomoxoa," "Live Dead," "Workingman's Dead," "American Beauty" and "Grateful Dead."
The Dead just recently did a Winterland gig for their roadies who have been with them for six years. They recently did a four-night stand at the Berkeley Community Theatre and they will perform at Winterland again in December.

Garcia is one of the really great singer-guitarists in the music business today and this week we have an interview with him.
Garcia has his name on many other albums besides the Dead for his great studio work and is known for playing at clubs on off nights with Tom Fogerty and Merle Saunders, to name a couple. He is one of the real pros in the rock business today,
Here is what Jerry has to say for himself:
CAN YOU tell us a little about the album you have coming out soon?
Well, it's a three-record set.
IS IT a live album of your concert in London?
Yes, but it's not one live continuous performance. It is bits and pieces from different places.
DID YOU do a lot of it here in the Bay Area?
We did the work on it here. We did the mixing here. We did some overdubs here. The music itself, the instruments and so forth, were done in Europe.
WHEN WERE you in Europe? Wasn't it around May or April?
Yes, we left April Fools Day.
DID YOU enjoy it? We were just reading a review of your shows in Melody Maker and it seems like you were very well received there. They thought it was one of the biggest tours of the year.
We were super well received in Europe, which was amazing for us. We had never been there before.
A LOT of English groups we interview mention you as one of their favorites.
A lot of musicians like us but that's generally been true. We were a musicians' band before we got to be popular.
ARE YOU pretty pleased with the album?
Oh yes. There is a certain thing about when you're dealing with the live stuff, and that is you have to accept what is wrong with it. For that part of it, it made the perfectionist streak in me a bit lacky. It's such a large record I felt that I had to overlook a lot of things. I'm never completely satisfied with anything that we ever do, but I am reasonably satisfied that this is another step in our development and that it is a pretty clear illustration of how we were playing in Europe.
AT ONE time you said you liked your first live album a little better. Is this still true?
Yes. Because I felt that during the second live album we only recorded a few gigs so we didn't have much to choose from and we were stuck with what we had. I was sort of disappointed with a lot of the material we were doing at that time. We didn't get a good enough performance to use on that record so we used more old stuff.
The new album has more new stuff on it. It has either new stuff or stuff we've never recorded.
WHEN IS the release date? October 15?
Around there, but I think it's going to be more like the first of November.
IT SEEMS like every album we pick up has your name on it. It would seem that you spend quite a bit of time on other people's albums.
It's just an illusion. I don't actually spend that much of my life doing it. Each one of those albums represents about two days in the studio, maybe less, sometimes more. It doesn't represent that much amount of accumulated time.
ONE OF the latest examples of this is on the new Tom Fogerty album.
It has a chance for me to play different styles than I normally play.
HOW DID your last concert in the area (Berkeley) go for you?
The four days at the Berkeley Community Theatre weren't our best performances. They could have been a lot better in my opinion. We haven't done a good show around here for quite awhile. Generally speaking, when we play here it's during our off season because when we're touring, we're usually touring the rest of the country.
When we've been working is when we're best. When we did the Berkeley show we hadn't been playing in quite awhile. It was more of a warmup for us for going on the road.
I feel the same way about our concerts as I do about our records. That's part of the thing of keeping on doing it.
THAT'S ONE of the reasons the Grateful Dead has been together so long.
Well, I mean, there is a potential there, which we've hit on and glimpsed in our best moments, but it's not by any means a 100 per cent thing. We don't have any really direct control over it but the possibility of us getting off really well increases.
YOUR POPULARITY is still growing. Do you feel that perhaps this following you have accumulated should have come around sooner?
It's happening right because we've gone through enough things enough of our friends have gone through involving super fame that we've learned how to live with it and how to deal with it so that we can more or less live like normal people. That's the tricky part right there.
DO YOU do a lot of benefits?
Not a lot, I don't do a lot of them but I do more than the group Grateful Dead do. With the Dead our policy is that if we started doing benefits, how are we going to be able to stop? That is one thing and the other is that most of the benefits we have done haven't led to much good. When we do do them it's usually for our friends or somebody that we know personally.
The benefit for us is to be able to give people music, that's a benefit, that's the real benefit that we can provide. Money is just money.
The amount of hassle in setting up a Grateful Dead concert is just too enormous and intimidating.
We don't arrive at decisions by vote, for example. We arrive at decisions by the lowest common denominator. If any one person does not want to do a concert, whether it's a benefit or what, we don't do it.
We put our energy into our own scenes which has made it possible for us to survive all this time. That's where we're at.
DO YOU feel your solo album was a highlight in your career?
It's a nice album. I have never been that attached to my own creations. I enjoyed doing it while I was doing it.
ARE YOU going to do another one soon?
I probably will [do] another one this year. I don't have any specific plans and I don't even know if I really will do one. I enjoyed doing the last one so I figure I will enjoy doing another one.
AREN'T YOU afraid you're going to wear yourself out with all the things you have going on?
I hope I do. I don't like the idea of living a part of my life feeling as though I didn't develop what I could've. I'm that kind of freak. I'm an extremist in that level. There's so much to music and so much for me to learn and so much space ahead of me that I can't even think about wearing myself out.
HOW ABOUT the Fillmore film?
We fought it tooth and nail, every inch of the way.
We didn't play well at all. For that reason alone we didn't want anything to do with it. But Bill was so insistent and it was kind of like we've got an old game with him.
We did want to do the performance but I'm sorry we did it now. It was bad timing for us. We had been in the studio for a month and hadn't played at all. Then we went out and did that cold.
There were a lot of other drawbacks. I was playing a guitar that was weird. It was one I'd never played before. We weren't singing well. We were out of tune.
WHERE WAS your favorite place to play? Did you enjoy playing the Fillmore?
Yes, there is definitely nobody who has it together as a promoter as Bill (Graham) does. He's an excellent producer. When you work for Bill, you're conscious of a lot of stuff that most promoters wouldn't dream of. The guy is really good. Professionally speaking, there is no one who can really touch him.

(by Kathie Staska & George Mangrum, from the "Rock Talk by KG" column, Hayward Daily Review, 12 October 1972)

Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com

More on the Fillmore film:
http://hooterollin.blogspot.com/2012/03/fillmore-last-days-lp-and-movie-1972.html  
And the Tom Fogerty album:
http://hooterollin.blogspot.com/2012/03/excalibur-tom-fogerty-jerry-garcia.html 

2 comments:

  1. Staska & Mangrum had a regular rock column in Hayward's Daily Review for years, looking at the local scene. You'll notice they're not very deep in their questions, a businesslike "next question" journalistic approach; so Garcia responds more briefly, less thoughtfully than usual. Nonetheless, it's a valuable interview with so much to comment on I'll just touch on a few things.

    Garcia says that he has a perfectionist streak and "I'm never completely satisfied with anything that we ever do," which was very true and never more evident than here. His opinion of the Europe '72 album? "You have to accept what is wrong with it... I felt that I had to overlook a lot of things." The best he can say is that it's "another step in our development and...a pretty clear illustration of how we were playing in Europe."
    His opinion of the '71 live album was even lower: "We only recorded a few gigs so we didn't have much to choose from and we were stuck with what we had. I was sort of disappointed with a lot of the material we were doing at that time. We didn't get a good enough performance [of the new songs] to use on that record so we used more old stuff." (This reminds me of his statement to Rock magazine that the Dead in early '71 felt "exhausted...on sort of a downhill…bored with what we’re doing," and needed new material. Anyway, he'd been a lot more enthusiastic about the album in the '71 Rolling Stone interview, but as always his enthusiasm for a new album soon waned.)

    He criticizes the rusty 7/2/71 Fillmore West show in terms any Dead-hater could agree with: "We didn't play well at all... [We hadn't been playing,] then we went out and did that cold... I was playing a guitar that was weird... We weren't singing well. We were out of tune."
    And the great Berkeley run in August, some of the best shows of the summer? They "weren't our best performances. They could have been a lot better in my opinion. We haven't done a good show around here for quite awhile... We hadn't been playing in quite awhile. It was more of a warmup for us for going on the road."
    Indeed, Garcia makes it sound like the Dead never play well in the Bay Area, only when they're out on tour!

    For him, playing in the Dead is a constant pursuit of something that can never quite be attained: "There is a potential there, which we've hit on and glimpsed in our best moments, but...we don't have any really direct control over it." But as always, he feels like the band keeps getting better and just might reach their potential someday: "the possibility of us getting off really well increases."

    He mentions that "I have never been that attached to my own creations," something he said at other times as well, and it generally applied to his solo albums. At this point he's uncertain whether he'll make a second solo album - "I don't have any specific plans and I don't even know if I really will do one." As it turned out, he wouldn't record another studio album until 1974, on Round Records - I wonder if one reason was because he didn't want to do another solo album for Warners. (He did release a live album with Merl Saunders in 1973 on Fantasy Records, which was Saunders' label.)

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  2. Garcia discusses why the Dead don't do many benefits - they'd done just a few in 1972, one for their own roadies, one for Ken Kesey's family, one for the Hell's Angels...illustrating that "when we do do them it's usually for our friends or somebody that we know personally." They wouldn't do any more benefits until 1975.
    He also brings up that the Dead "don't arrive at decisions by vote" in their meetings: "We arrive at decisions by the lowest common denominator. If any one person does not want to do a concert...we don't do it." This applied to anything they did - the songs they played, how they arranged shows, business matters, etc. - and goes a long way toward explaining why the Dead seemed to limit themselves more and more over the years.

    I'm also mulling over Garcia's statement, "A lot of musicians like us but that's generally been true. We were a musicians' band before we got to be popular." I presume he's talking about the national level (the Dead were always popular in SF) - there was a period in the late '60s where the Dead only had large fanbases in the big cities like NYC or Boston where they'd play repeatedly, but didn't draw much attention when they tried touring other places. But apparently Garcia was hearing from other musicians that they liked the Dead's music - it's hard to say how many. One implication (not necessarily accurate) is that the Dead's music may have been over a lot of people's heads at the time, but musicians could understand better what they were doing. At any rate, in 1970 the Dead switched from doing "psychedelic" albums to recording accessible country-rock-styled songs, and popularity followed.
    I notice that Garcia doesn't really answer the question of whether the Dead should have become more popular sooner! I think his general view (one shared with Robert Hunter) was that "delayed success" was good for the Dead, in that the pitfalls & drawbacks didn't come on them all at once, as they did with, say, Jefferson Airplane.

    At this point the 'music junkie' Garcia is excited about playing every day in every way - he mentions that his various studio sessions give him "a chance for me to play different styles than I normally play." (Meanwhile, Warners president Joe Smith was peeved that Garcia was wasting himself on other artists' albums.) However, Garcia's studio sessions were soon to decline - he'd only appear on a couple artists' records in 1973 who weren't already his friends; and in general the musicians he recorded with in '70-72 were part of his circle anyway. So it's not like lots of other artists were clamoring for "his great studio work" because he had his name on a bunch of albums.
    Within a few months, Garcia would start the Old & In The Way band, starting a period where he was playing alternately in three different groups. To Rolling Stone, he'd lamented that he didn't have more lifetimes where he could play in even more. He says here, "I don't like the idea of living a part of my life feeling as though I didn't develop what I could've. I'm that kind of freak. I'm an extremist in that level. There's so much to music and so much for me to learn and so much space ahead of me that I can't even think about wearing myself out."

    The interviewers mention a Melody Maker review - Melody Maker did a number of articles on the Dead's Europe tour - I don't have any, unfortunately.

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