Mar 20, 2018

February 5, 1969: Kansas City Interview


4:15 P.M., February 5th

Phil Lesh, Tom Constaten, and Mickey Hart were having an early dinner in the motel restaurant when I found them. They didn't know I was coming. I had been informed earlier (by a Top-40 bigwig) that the Dead had refused interviews to local television and newspapers, and I hadn't been able to reach their manager by phone, so nothing was guaranteed. Suspecting they might be more apt to talk to a freak than some crew-cut cat from Channel 4, I introduced myself and told them what I was after. All three nodded a yes, and Phil said, "Sure, sit down." They bought me a coffee and I began with a question about the evening's concert. Mainly, how did the Grateful Dead feel about playing second bill to a group like the Iron Butterfly?
"We don't give a shit," said Phil, but he sounded a little disgusted. "How do you feel about it?"
I assured him that I thought it was wrong, but it was to be expected. The Who have been billed under Herman's Hermits, the Yardbirds under Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Hendrix under the Monkees. It's always that way. Phil wanted to know why.
"Well, you know," I started, trying to break it to him easy-like, "you guys haven't had A Hit Record."
"What have the Iron Butterfly done?" he demanded. "I've never heard anything by the Iron Butterfly."
"Never heard of it. Who are the Iron Butterfly? What do they do? Thud-thud."
I thought that answered my question pretty good.
Next question: why were the new members added? Did the Dead purposely set out to find an additional drummer and organist, or did it just happen that way? They sort of corrected me, pointing out that Mickey and Tom weren't really 'new members,' having been with the band for some time. But anyway, it just happened that way. Mickey told me his story.
It seems that one night Mickey walked into a place where the Dead were doing a gig, "stoned out of my mind," and registered that what was going down was something he wanted in on. He asked to sit in, was allowed to, and has been with the band ever since. Fine.
Writing? All write. Singing? "We all sing, but Jerry and Pigpen do it the best."
We talked of stage acts. Whereas many groups (the Jimi Hendrix Experience, in particular) seem to feel that if the audience isn't reacting heavily, the thing to do is to get showy (freak out!), the Dead think that the way to liven up a slow crowd is to play better. A better idea, from the Grateful Dead.
Did the group, or any members of the group, have any plans or desires to make a record with musicians outside of the group, something along the lines of Super Session? Phil said if they did decide to do that type of thing, it would be a very low-volume record, and not built up and blown out of all proportion. He thinks most of that that has been done so far is "a lot of pretentious shit."
My primary intention in coming to the Dead was to find out what side one of their latest record is all about. To my surprise nobody seemed to know. The fact that no member of the group could come anyplace near giving me a reason or a meaning was a tremendous joke to them. With titles and sub-titles like "Critical Envelopement" and "New Potatoe Caboose," I had thought, "Ah, there must be more to this than meets the ear; this is Very Deep Stuff." Apparently I'll never know how deep. One reason for the vagueness is that different people wrote different parts at different times. It just happened that it all fit together nicely. But the lyrical content was a mystery to all.
I did learn of one section, "The Faster We Go the Rounder We Get." Bob Weir wrote it about a friend of the band (Neal Cassady?) who used to drive their bus and carry the equipment around. Soon after the song was written, the friend died, and the song became all the more significant. But as to whether the driver friend is the subject of the entire piece, I couldn't say. Neither could the Dead. At any rate, nobody know exactly why "the boy had to die."
I was just getting to the really hot questions, questions on drugs, the draft, the Revolution, when a man named West came in to the restaurant and to our table and told the boys that it was time to film an interview for good old Channel 4. Or 9, or whatever it was. They must have changed their minds. So I had to split. Phil told me to come back and talk some more after the night's show. I asked him if 1:00 would be okay, and he said that would be fine.

1:30 A.M., February 6th

I was a little late.
The Grateful Dead were all sound asleep, or at least the lights were off. I knocked on the door of what I thought was Phil's room. Nobody kept answering, so I kept knocking until somebody did. The somebody finally got out of bed and pulled back the curtain and gave me a look that would kill a mule. I sort of ambled off.
The light was on in the manager's room. The manager was West. He told me the Dead were getting up at ten and leaving at ten-thirty, and they probably wouldn't have any time to finish the interview.

9:50 A.M., February 6th

I sat outside the Dead's motel rooms in my car, the local underground radio station turned all the way up in an effort to draw out one of the boys in the band.
Phil showed and I caught him. He had a few stops to make, then we'd go to the restaurant and join Jerry Garcia for breakfast. The first stop was a familiar one. We entered and Phil said to last night's angry face, "This is Harv. He was interviewing us last night."
The angry face was Bear, the road manager. Bear the road manager said, "Yeah, I know. He was here last night knocking on the door while I was balling some chick and I almost punched him right in the nose."
I apologized, but he still wasn't too happy about it. Phil realized it and we moved right along to the next stop, another room on the other end of the sidewalk, where Phil picked up his hat and said goodbye to a groupie with a headache. Then to the restaurant.
Mostly we just more or less chatted, there not really being time to carry on with the interview. They told me that the next album might include "Turn On Your Lovelight," which the Dead opened up with at the concert the night before. The show'd consisted of "Lovelight," a pause, side one of Anthem of the Sun, which led into another long highly improvisational segment, which led into side two of Anthem of the Sun, which led into and concluded with the "and I bid you goodnight" chorus from "A Very Cellular Song" by the Incredible String Band. Anyway, I took some pictures, and a flashcube went off all by itself in my hand and that amazed everyone no end. The waitress talked to Phil about the length of his hair, and Jerry read the funnies.
I had to be at traffic court at 10:30, and they were supposedly taking off for St. Louis any minute, so we did our goodbyes and I made a mad drive to get to court on time.
Just a few blocks (and fewer seconds) from the motel, I flashed that I had neglected to ask an all-important question: Were the Grateful Dead still friends with the Rock & Roll Double Bubble Trading Card Company of Philadelphia after their big hit with that nasty line, "Well, the Grateful Dead just leave me cold?"
I figured they didn't give a shit.

(by Harv Tawney, from Crawdaddy no. 22, May 1969)

1 comment:

  1. A disappointing interview... Tawney did a few interviews for Crawdaddy around that time, and he seems to have been earnest but clueless. It's funny when he asks about the "new members" of the band (who'd been credited on their last album months earlier), and the meaning of their lyrics... It may be for the best that he didn't get to finish his interview questions, since they probably didn't want to be asked about "drugs, the draft, and the Revolution!" He did try, though - hounding them in the restaurant, banging on their doors in the middle of the night, and playing loud music outside their rooms in the morning "in an effort to draw out one of the boys."

    Tawney is certain their lyrics are full of Deep Stuff, and naturally the band finds it "a tremendous joke" when he asks what their lyrics are all about. Unfortunately he didn't get to talk to Garcia or Weir, who might have been more helpful!
    Mickey tells an abbreviated tale of how he joined; Constanten, sadly, doesn't say anything at all - it would've been nice if he'd told his story.
    Phil is surprisingly gracious with the interviewer, answering most of the questions and even taking him around the next morning.

    It's said that Lovelight might be on the next album. The Dead had just recorded a few shows at the Avalon, from which the Live/Dead Lovelight would come - I think at the time, they were planning to release the live album before Aoxomoxoa.

    The copy of this show on the Archive is missing the opening Lovelight. I've noticed that many reviewers at the time don't use the song titles from Anthem (probably couldn't tell where one song ended & another began), so it was common for people to just say the Dead played "Anthem of the Sun" at a show - when really, as here, it was just a couple songs from it. Tawney at least knows side A & B. The Dark Star>St Stephen>Eleven suite was new to listeners, so he can only identify it as a "long highly improvisational segment."

    Witnesses remember that "most of the audience was there to see Iron Butterfly...the contrast between the two bands was something to behold."
    Bear later said, “I remember the KC show very well, we had to help the Butterfly's marginally competent roadies with setting up their gear. The IB fans who filled the hall were in such a state of shock after the opening set by GD that it was nearly halfway through their beloved Butterfly's set before they came round and starting jumping.”
    The Dead also opened for Iron Butterfly at the next show in St. Louis - Constanten remembered he had to borrow their Vox organ for these shows: "this one was set up high, so you had to play it standing up."

    It's funny to find the Dead fast asleep at 1:30 am - but then, as the opening band they probably left the venue early and had nothing to do that night, as well as a morning flight to catch. (And, for some of them, local chicks to ball.)

    I don't know who "West" was - Jonathan Riester & Bill Belmont were the tour managers on that tour, so it's probably a nickname for one of them.
    I'm intrigued by the TV interview - the Dead seem to have been in quite a few TV interviews in the '60s that have since vanished, so they were more visible on TV at the time than you'd think.

    The last song referred to is "Bubble Gum Music," with one of the earliest lyrical references to the Dead:
    "Well the Grateful Dead just leave me cold
    And Herbie Alpert makes me feel too old
    I can groove to rhythm and blues
    But if I had to choose...
    I'd choose more, more, more of that bubblegum music."