Jul 6, 2015

May 1968: Band Interview

POP TALK  [excerpt]

Things We Couldn't Get In Last Issue Dept.:
Jefferson Airplane landed at New York's Fillmore East May 3-4, accompanied by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. The Airplane, better than ever, played their last set until well after 3 A.M. and wore out three drummers, including their own Spencer Dryden, Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience (who sat in for the encores), and Jeff Butler (who sat in for the rest of the encores). Sunday afternoon the Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band turned Central Park into Golden Gate Park with a free concert attended by at least 10,000 people (and, judging by the volume, heard by probably half of Manhattan). The joint effort was initiated and masterminded by the bands themselves, Bill Graham of the Fillmores East and West, and Howard Solomon of the Cafe Au Go Go.
[ . . . ]
MINI-INTERVIEW (which means the tape recorder wouldn't work, there was a hassle at the door, no place to sit quietly, and a full-dress, coherent interview was impossible, so we took what we got and printed what we could):
"We like to leave people speechless," smiled Jerry Garcia after the Grateful Dead's spectacular closing set of their May 7-9 date at New York's Electric Circus. The six-man San Francisco group (Garcia, lead guitar; Bob Weir, second guitar; Phil Lesh, bass; Pigpen, organ and harmonica; Bill Sommers and Micky Hart, percussion) did just that, after opening with a solid, rock-oriented first set and coming on at midnight with a virtuoso rock-jazz improvisation that must have lasted an hour or more.
The Dead began their career nearly three years ago as a rock band with a heavy blues sound; their first record, singularly unrepresentative of either their live sound or their present work, consisted largely of old blues tunes. ("Man," says guitarist Weir, "we don't remember those songs on our old record, and that's the living truth.") Yet the Dead-as-blues-band myth is still widely believed, despite the facts that Jerry Garcia lists Django Reinhardt as one of his major influences, that Phil Lesh spends a good deal of time listening to Coltrane, and that anybody with half an ear can tell from their music what the Grateful Dead are really into: namely, a tight, effective, highly original and beautiful rock-jazz synthesis.
"The blues," says Bill Sommers, "we started out doing it, but it's not our music. We don't do it anymore; we can appreciate it, really dig it, but we don't play it, and some people who try to play blues today - man, you have to be born into it. If you're not...well, you could be the best guitar player in the world, but you'll never in your life be a blues man. This is what a whole lot of people, really good people, are trying to do, and they'll never make it, because it just isn't theirs.
"I know people still think of us as a blues band, but it's just not so. We're into jazz much more deeply; what we do, it's jazz, it's rock, it's symphonic progressions...movements, they're programmed and they relate and interact."
Still another manifestation of the jazz influence is the incredible improvisation that has become a hallmark of Dead performances. "They break loose from the framework," explains manager Rock Scully. "But it only happens when they're all together in their heads. All of them have to be moving the same way, feeling the same way - if somebody starts slipping, the other guys yell at him or hold him up musically until he gets back. If he can't, then they all go back to the song's original framework. This is a very jazz approach; you can hear it in the lines, too. Some of Jerry's riffs are straight out of Django - things from like Pharaoh Sanders, Coltrane - Phil is into Coltrane - the music is all moving together now, and this is a very fine thing."

(by Patricia Kennely, from Jazz & Pop, July 1968)

Alas, no tape! But we do have another review of this Electric Circus run: 
http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2012/02/may-4-9-1968-new-york.html

Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com  

4 comments:

  1. This is one of the more perceptive Dead articles of the period, emphasizing the jazz influence on the Dead, and citing Django and Coltrane. Like many other writers, Kennely mentions that their first record (over a year old and still the only one available) is "singularly unrepresentative of either their live sound or their present work."
    Unfortunately the interview is quite brief - Kennely apologizes and explains the hassled backstage situation. But we still get quotes from Garcia, Weir, Kreutzmann, and Scully.

    Kennely was at the May 9 Electric Circus show, it seems - a "spectacular closing set." The Dead started with "a solid, rock-oriented first set," then their second set at midnight had "a virtuoso rock-jazz improvisation that must have lasted an hour or more." This was perhaps an Alligator>Caution, or one (or several) of the medleys they were doing on the Anthem tour, several songs & jams running together. (The other review also mentions "one epic number that lasted over an hour" at Stony Brook, along with some description of their Electric Circus sets.)
    Scully explains how such a improvisational set can only happen if "they're all together in their heads. All of them have to be moving the same way, feeling the same way." Scully gives an interesting little depiction of how the band work together: "If somebody starts slipping, the other guys yell at him or hold him up musically until he gets back. If he can't, then they all go back to the song's original framework." (This sounds much like how the Dead would operate in later years too.)
    Kreutzmann has one of the earliest Dead statements on their new '68 compositions: "what we do, it's jazz, it's rock, it's symphonic progressions...movements, they're programmed and they relate and interact."
    It's rare to hear from Kreutzmann in an early interview (he's still called Sommers). The interviewer says the Dead are perceived as a blues-rock band, and Kreutzmann says they started out that way, but "we don't do it anymore...we don't play it, and some people who try to play blues today - man, you have to be born into it."
    This is a rather deceptive statement, considering the Dead were steadily playing Schoolgirl, Death Don't Have No Mercy, and It Hurts Me Too in their sets.
    Weir is also less than truthful when he claims, "we don't remember those songs on our old record, and that's the living truth." (That would always be his stock explanation of why the Dead didn't play such-and-such a song anymore.) Actually four of the songs on the album had been dropped long ago (two originals, two covers), but five were still in the repertoire.
    Garcia is most succinct about the band's ambition: "We like to leave people speechless."

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  2. The article also mentions the free Central Park show on May 5, organized by Bill Graham and Howard Solomon, who apparently got the park permit and saw a free show as effective promotion. (However, none of these bands were playing at the Cafe au Go Go.) The other review notes that Graham was at the park show keeping things under control.

    A short article in the May 18, 1968 issue of Billboard also covered the show, and it seems to be partly the source of Kennely's information:
    "10,000 SEE FREE CONCERT IN PARK
    An estimated 10,000 persons heard a free concert at Central Park's Mall on Sunday, given by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Grateful Dead, and the Jefferson Airplane. The show was set up by William Graham of Fillmore East and Howard Solomon of the Cafe au Go Go, who probably will set up more such concerts in the future."

    The same page on Billboard has a rave review of the Airplane's Fillmore shows by Fred Kirby, titled "Jefferson Airplane Makes A Perfect Musical Landing": "one of the top performances of the season. The four-concert stand on May 3 and 4 drew an estimated 38,000 persons with both of Saturday's concerts completely sold out... The group sang and played excitingly. This RCA group is one of the best at using crescendos and climaxes to build the intensity of a number. A perfect example was 'White Rabbit,' one of their best selections... It was a real show stopper." 'Fat Angel' is also singled out for the guitar playing. "Kaukonen, one of the top lead guitarists around, was a standout throughout the program as was Cassady on bass. The group was called back for four encores, all of which were excellent, including Freddy Neil's 'Other Side of This Life,' a powerful selection."

    Selections from these shows were released on the "Live at the Fillmore East" CD. Sadly, no one was taping the Dead that week!

    (From the Pop Talk column, I omitted a section of brief news notes on other bands: Al Kooper has left Blood Sweat & Tears - Eric Burdon & the Animals have started their 12th American tour - Hendrix ended his tour at the Fillmore East, may be back this summer - Simon & Garfunkel's Bookends won a Gold Record before release - Frank Zappa has moved back to Los Angeles - etc.)

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  3. Patricia Kennely/Kennealy is the "witch" who was "married" to Jim Morrison
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patricia_Kennealy-Morrison
    Currently authoring this series:

    The Rennie Stride Mysteries
    The Rock & Roll Murders

    Ungrateful Dead: Murder at the Fillmore (2007)
    California Screamin': Murder at Monterey Pop (2009)
    Love Him Madly: Murder at the Whisky (2010)
    A Hard Slay's Night: Murder at the Royal Albert Hall (2011)
    Go Ask Malice: Murder at Woodstock (2012)
    Scareway to Heaven: Murder at the Fillmore East (2014)
    Daydream Bereaver: Murder on the Good Ship Rock&Roll (2015)

    I read the 1st. It was meh.

    Love ya'
    Olo

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    Replies
    1. Some interesting background. Kennely was one of rather few female rock journalists at the time, and would become the editor of Jazz & Pop later in 1968. Her favorite groups were the Doors & Jefferson Airplane. She met Jim Morrison in January 1969.

      She's published a book called Rock Chick: A Girl and Her Music: The Jazz & Pop Writings 1968-1971, which compiles many of her articles from the magazine -
      http://www.amazon.com/Rock-Chick-Girl-Her-Music-ebook/dp/B00E55D2HO

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