Jan 29, 2019

October 19, 1971: Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh & John Dawson Interviews

OCTOBER 19, 1971
Northrop Auditorium, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
KQRS-FM Broadcast


DJ: We'll be back with more of the Grateful Dead in a moment. This afternoon John Peet talked with Jerry Garcia, and it went like this.

Q: //during the Grateful Dead concert, we are doing it before the Grateful Dead concert. Jerry Garcia here. You'll notice that there's a lot of noise in the background, it's due to the fact that people are setting up the equipment, getting ready for the program to go on tonight. Jerry, you've been on the road for so long now, I'm sure that you're pretty used to this sort of thing, the pre-concert thing. What does everybody get into from that aspect - I notice a number of the musicians come out, some of them start to tune, some of them start to play - how much are they getting [into it]?
GARCIA: Well, it's the idea of hanging out where the workers [are], you know what I mean? It's kind of like - it's kind of another version of the sidewalk superintendent trip, you know, when there's guys putting up a building or something like that, there's always people standing around watching - it's kind of like - that's one of the things that's happening - and the other thing that's happening is everybody likes to get into a place to kind of feel what it's like, get in early enough to try - sound out various different ways of playing your instrument, making sure your equipment works, all that kind of stuff. You know, getting used to it.
Q: You were here - it's about 2:00 in the afternoon, you've been here for about an hour and a half now just kind of looking over the hall - what do you do, just pick up how it's going to sound and how it's going to feel?
GARCIA: All that. I just let it hit me - it's like watching TV or something, it's like - I don't have any formula, I just like to hang out.
Q: Does all it depend upon the - we were talking last night about the EQ. (G: Right.) Does that have something to do with it?
GARCIA: Oh yeah. Sure, because - this place is going to be transformed when the show starts, you know, when we get playing tonight, so it's like it's kind of groovy to get an idea of what kind of vehicle is being used, you know what I mean - like a road test.
Q: Do you have any idea how many individual pieces of equipment the Grateful Dead brought with them, along with the New Riders?
GARCIA: How many pieces do we have there, Rod? [Rod answers.]
Q: 150 pieces of equipment. Plus 22 people, nine of whom play - and this is really quite an organization. (G: Right.) I mean it isn't just a couple guys going round the country playing rock & roll...how much different is it from when you started?
GARCIA: Not much.
Q: The trip remains the same.
GARCIA: Yeah, the trip is basically still the same, it's just that, you know, now we've got 150 pieces, you know, and 22 people.
Q: In other words, quite a bit of the bread that you've made over the years has gone back into it.
GARCIA: Yeah, well right, that's our whole scene - I mean, we have faith in what we're doing, so in that sense we kind of like invest in ourselves, or invest in our trip - make it better.
Q: You've appeared now just recently on the Jerry Garcia-Howard Wales Hooteroll album, and I understand that you do - primarily just gig with him just once in a while.
GARCIA: Yeah, I also play with another fella out in San Francisco named Merl Saunders who's an organ player - and Tom Fogerty, he used to play in Creedence Clearwater - and the same rhythm section that was on that Hooteroll record, John Kahn and Bill Vitt. We play around in bars and nightclubs and so on.
Q: Just for kicks?
Q: I just take it you're getting on with each other.
GARCIA: Yeah - my whole trip is that I just enjoy playing, I enjoy playing any context - see, the Grateful Dead being this complex institution - it's like groovy to be able to play in a situation which is not of any great interest to anybody, but just a chance to get off, you know.
Q: How about the other group that you're playing with now, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, was this your idea?
GARCIA: No no no, the New Riders was more or less a spontaneous creation - basically founded on Marmaduke and his songs.
Q: And then you don't regard yourself as the prime mover in that group.
GARCIA: Oh no, I don't regard myself as the prime mover in any group. See, it's like my function, my role as a musician - I work better in a situation where I'm working with somebody else on their - on somebody else's music, [rather than my own], in the sense of - you know, like I've always enjoyed working with Crosby and those guys because they have their own ideas about what music should be and I work well in that complementary context, you know, and that's the way I like to think of myself in any situation - I don't really think of myself as a [musical leader].
Q: Well the New Riders, of course their style is quite a bit different from the Grateful Dead (G: Right), and when you're doing the same concert in the same amount of time with two different groups, do you have to change your frame of mind to get into playing with, you know, a different thing, or does it all just [count]?  
GARCIA: Not really, it's all music - although, you know, being in the Grateful Dead is like - is something very far out, you know, it's not - it's just a whole different trip - there's nothing else, no other thing compares to it, you know what I mean, it's unique.  
Q: It isn't just music, is it?
Q: Is there a little bit of a family - there's gotta be a family-type relationship with guys like you who've been on the road for quite some time.
GARCIA: Well, definitely, everybody in the whole scene, in fact all these guys that are working here on the stage, you know, we're all - you know, we've all been through a lot together...on our sojourns...
Q: How many people have you picked up over the past say two years now, as far as new people are concerned?
GARCIA: I don't know, I would say about four or five people in the last couple years - it's like, the people who are our scene, we sort of find them and they find us, you know what I mean - it's just, whoever thinks that they can dig it - not unlike a motorcycle club in that respect, you know what I mean, it's not really everybody's cup of tea, but there are some people that it's really right for.
Q: That's an interesting concept, for comparison.
GARCIA: You know, it's turned out to be that way, because we've had people [knowing] that it wasn't really right for, it wasn't the right thing for 'em - you know, it's definitely something some people can get into.
Q: Now your organist is not on this tour (G: We have a new -), you have a new organist.
GARCIA: Right, he plays piano, too.
Q: Now what is happening on the homefront, are you still using Pigpen on the other things?
GARCIA: Well, Pigpen is sick, that's his main reason for not being on this tour - and you know, when he's well, we get into our next set of [practice], whenever that is -  Actually, Pigpen didn't really play that much organ on that many tunes or anything like that, he was mostly more into just doing what he does, singing.
Q: Who's your new organist now?
GARCIA: He's Keith Godchaux.
Q: And how did he happen to come to you guys?
GARCIA: Well...he's the guy that thought that he was the right guy for the job, and he came around and we tried playing with him and it seemed to work out real well, and that's just the thing that happened. It's exactly like what I was talking about a while ago, there's some people that are just, that's what they're supposed to be doing, you know.
Q: And it just seems to fit together.
GARCIA: Yeah. Well, you know, it doesn't always, you know, obviously, if there's a lot of people [...] the Grateful Dead, it's not really what's happening, you know what I mean, but there are some times when something just happens and it's mutual and everybody gets off behind it, obviously it's the right thing to do.
Q: Jerry, do you envisage doing anything other than being on the road and being a rock & roll musician?
GARCIA: Well, I'm a musician, y'know - I don't like to define myself any more than just saying that I'm a musician - I don't think of myself as a rock & roll musician, you know, really. That's what I do, music's my life...
Q: Do you plan [on]...branching out into other phases of the arts [...]?
GARCIA: Well, I would like to get into movies sometime, because I enjoy making movies - I mean, that would be like from the standpoint of being someone who might direct, you know, or just put together my own movies for laughs, but not like an actor or anything like that. You know, obviously I'm interested in all those -
Q: I think you'd be very good as an actor.
GARCIA: It's not my cup of tea (laughs), let me put it that way.
Q: Well actually, I suppose when you get up on stage to a certain extent, there's a certain pose -
GARCIA: Well, no - there are people that can do that, but we haven't ever been able to do that - that's one of the things about the Grateful Dead that makes it weird also, is we don't make any attempt to put on a show, we don't make any attempt to be in any way really theatrical, you know what I mean?
Q: The British groups seem to be really into that.
GARCIA: Right, they're much more conscious of all that - but see, we come from the background of where, you know, you play and it's the music that comes out that's important, not what you seem to be doing.
Q: Is there still what you'd call a San Francisco scene?
GARCIA: Oh yeah, more than ever, I would say - especially in music, you know - I mean, I would say that it wasn't - that San Francisco is probably an inappropriate title or label, because really what scene there is is much more spread out than just in San Francisco - the city itself, it's more like in the Bay area [...] Marin county, especially where we're at.
Q: Van Morrison I understand is now out in that area.
GARCIA: Yeah, same as everybody else - I mean, really a lot of musicians are there - that's one of the reasons that there's a consistent musical thing coming out of San Francisco, you know.
Q: Is it because of the vibes from the city itself or -
GARCIA: No, I think the city is not what's happening, I think it's the fact that there's just - that all the turmoil, changes and stuff that the Bay area's gone through traditionally like two or three years ahead of everyone else, like the whole Berkeley scene, the whole violence trip, all that stuff, the whole Haight-Ashbury and all that, represents experience which has now been assimilated into the culture out there, in the sense that now, you know, it's like very free for most people. And so artists naturally would gravitate toward that, musicians especially, just because it's real nice out there.


Q: Once again, you're hearing this during the concert, we're doing it before the concert, because it's the afternoon, about 4:00, and we've been here now for about two hours, people have been setting up, some of the musicians have already been here, one of them is Phil Lesh. Phil, you've been with the Grateful Dead for a long time, and we talked to Jerry Garcia about his feelings going into the concert - now you get out and play, now there's gotta be a reason for it in the afternoon, are you just picking up or what?
LESH: You mean playing in the afternoon? Before the concert - well, because we have to get the sound of the place right. Every hall is unique, you know, every acoustic environment is unique.
Q: And what happens when you get into a place like this, you're totally alien to it, I mean to begin with, so when you get into it before the concert starts -
LESH: That's what we're trying to do. Sometimes we can, sometimes we can't, it depends on the hall. A place like this, matter of fact you could say it's very easy to get into.
Q: Just judging from some very nice things that are happening around town today, for instance the fact that the weather cleared up -
LESH: That's the reason we bring the rain with us - especially this time of year.
Q: This is such a nice place to be - as a matter of fact, just 22 people here - it's really quite a big crowd.
LESH: Yeah, it's our normal touring-aid scene, although we've added on - we're now taking on most of it ourselves, rather than splitting it up between the PA company and [--].
Q: Well, with $100,00 worth of equipment, it's rather obvious that everybody's pretty serious about it. Do you guys -
LESH: Yeah, we're investing in it very heavily [...].
Q: Phil, you've been with the group since its inception, back in the early dim dark days -
LESH: Those were pretty bright days, [if I may say so].
Q: How do you think the thing has changed since then, as far as you're concerned?
LESH: Well...for me, it's coming around full circle. We're sort of beginning a new cycle, reveling up a new plateau that's going to climb again soon.
Q: You feel this musically now, or just touring, or everything coming together?
LESH: Everything, on every level, you can't separate the music from what goes on, both going in our heads and in the world.
Q: While talking with Jerry, he said there's no leader to the Grateful Dead, is there a spiritual leader?
LESH: We all consult each other from time to time.
Q: Everybody's into everybody on some level.
LESH: We're all each other's gurus. I know that those guys have always been my gurus. All my friends that I've ever had in my life have been my teachers.
Q: It happens - with the group on the road, you do so many cities in so many days, it's gotta be kind of tough on you physically.
LESH: I guess it is. I definitely have symptoms of physical strain now.


Thanks to Harry Angus.

* * *


Roy Rogers had The Sons of The Pioneers. Captain America has The New Riders of The Purple Sage.
They've been called America's best unknown band. But, there's a reason: nobody's ever heard of them. That could change. They are good. The new album - Columbia C30888 - is a good example of a major direction in contemporary music, Country/Rock (but mainly Country). Before their recent concert at the University of Minnesota with The Grateful Dead, I talked with them.

SE: You remind me a lot of the Sons of the Pioneers, that band that used to follow Roy Rogers around and sing great Western music whenever there was a lull in the action. In fact, I almost think you could call yourselves the sons of the Sons of the Pioneers. Agree?
NR: Ya. Although there was an earlier group, the Riders of the Purple Sage.
SE: Would you call what you do Country and Western?
NR: Umm....
SE: I mean besides the fact that music is music no matter what the categorization.
NR: We listen to a lot of country music...old country music. I guess it influences the way we play. But, we're not really country and Western because we're not country people ourselves. Really we're San Franciscans.
SE: I know that Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead had something to do with getting you together.
NR: Well... He was learning the Pedal Steel. A couple of years ago. He'd just picked up on a new Pedal Steel when the Dead was on the road and he was trying to get into it and learn some chops. And ah...I had a few songs that I was playing and I'd go over and pick in the living room with him and just play chords that he could improvise steel stuff behind just as a practice thing. And at the same time I had a little job in a coffeehouse down in Menlowe Park, south of San Francisco which is next to Palo Alto which is where we're all from. Jerry came down...drove all the way down from Marin County every Wednesday.
SE: To take lessons?
NR: No... He just helped me play the gig. And it was practice for him and it was groovy music to add to mine in this little coffeehouse. And then we said, "Hey, that's pretty nice." And we figured we ought to get a bass player and another guitar player and start a band.
SE: Have you always played country music? It's suddenly very hip to put a little country tinge on just about anything today, from Bach to the Beatles.
NR: It's about time.
SE: Who are your favorite country singers?
NR: Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. The Stanley Brothers. Doc Watson.
SE: I guess I'm a selective bigot, but I like certain things in country very much and I suppose by a purist's standards they're the commercial things. I like Tammy Wynette's music.
NR: Ya. She's good. Dolly Parton. Loretta Lynn.
SE: Ya, she was supposed to be here for the State Fair. By the way, Spencer Dryden, you were with the Jefferson Airplane for five years before you joined the New Riders. What happened? Did you decide to change forms musically, or what?
SD: Ya...I left the Airplane in March of last year. Little over a year ago.
SE: That seems to me like a pretty big jump from one style to another. What prompted the change?
SD: Like...I guess I graduated. If you go to college for four years you learn as much as you think you can and then decide what you want to do. It's like taking different majors. And everybody in the Airplane has kind of gotten off into their own tangents. Marty left and Paul and Grace are doing things. Jack and Jorma have Hot Tuna. They all go into these different directions. It's kind of natural evolution. I'd known Jerry from the Grateful Dead on different things we'd played together. And I liked this band.
SE: People who don't like long-haired musicians could be fooled if they just heard the music and didn't see you. Have you ever played on an authentic country Western bill?
NR: No. That'd be scary. Those are the real guys.
SE: You can't fool them.
NR: No.
SE: You could fool me. Good luck with the album.
NR: Thanks.
(and then they rode off into the sunset) 

(by Steve Edstrom, from the "Words and Music" column, the Winona Daily News (MN), 31 October 1971) 


  1. These taped interviews were broadcast after the New Riders' set on 10/19/71.
    They weren't the easiest to transcribe - as the interviewer mentions, "there's a lot of noise in the background" - a piano, hammering, and stage clatter, which frequently drowned out the talking. KQRS also decided to overlay psychedelic noises during Jerry's interview - and as for Phil, his replies tended to be quick mumbles. Some words are [guesswork].
    I didn't try to get every little mumble, every last "like" and "you know," so their answers are slightly abbreviated.
    Not much new information in these interviews, if any, just a glimpse at their state of mind at the time. The interviewer isn't very insightful, but Jerry is, as usual, eager to chat. Phil, not so eager.

  2. I added an interview from the same day with John Dawson of the New Riders (and a few words from Spencer) that ran in a Minnesota paper; this seemed like a good place to put it.
    The interviewer is obsessed with labeling the New Riders as a country band (even though Dawson points out "we're not really country"). It's funny when Dawson is asked about his favorite country singers and immediately names some old-school bluegrass bands, leaving the more mainstream interviewer a little nonplussed. (And naturally, in a Minnesota paper, everyone says "ya.")