Dec 3, 2020

December 1971: Jerry Garcia/Jon McIntire Interview, Boston

Bent over with a dramatic curve to his lithe body, Miles Davis was dotted with blotches of sweat as he fiercely emitted notes from his trumpet. Miles was getting it on with one elegantly shod foot perched on his wah-wah pedal. 
We were ringside at the Jazz Workshop digging Miles when Columbia promo man Ed Hynes pointed to his watch, which registered 10:30 pm. Not daring to look back at the volatile Miles, we slipped out of the club and walked to Ed's car. 
"The Dead are due in at Logan, at 11 pm, on a direct flight from San Francisco," Ed commented. As we drove to the airport, we followed John Garabedian's van. John, a life-long Dead fan, was until recently, program director of WMEX.
Traveling with the Dead is the second act, New Riders of the Purple Sage. They record for Columbia and Ed made no bones about the fact that his company is attempting to lure the Dead away from Warner Brothers when their contract expires in a year and a half. 
Parking at the airport, we walked casually through the cavernous buildings. Eventually, we encountered the advance members of the Dead party. 
Greeting Dead road-manager Dick Cutler, Ed asked how many were in their party. "Thirty two," was the staggering reply. We just about dropped as Garabedian tried to figure out how many would fit in his van. 
In a few moments the Dead appeared with their entourage including wives, managers, accountants, roadies and the rest. Later, John Macentire, a Dead manager, explained that this was the big trip of the year, including Boston and New York, and that they decided to bring along the wives. 
"It has gotten to be a very large business," he explained. "We maintain a business office, accountants and all that, just so that the band has the freedom to do their thing." 
As the Dead crowded about the luggage pick-up area, John Garabedian singled out Jerry Garcia, the lead guitarist, and engaged him in conversation. 
In past interviews with the Dead, I have always been impressed by their vast intelligence and sophistication. Not just another rock band, they qualify as real, dyed-in-the-wool intellectuals, who toss off references to obscure philosophers freely, quote in Greek and Latin and are expert in esoteric French cinema. 
With an interest in Top-40 radio, Garabedian got off on the wrong track with Garcia by asking why the Dead didn't have a hit single. 
"We could care less about that," Garcia replied. "Deciding to do that would be decidedly weird to do." John answered. "Well, it needs to be done (have a hit single)." In a testy mood, Garcia snipped back, "Hitler probably thought that, too, the trip is the same, it's a power trip." A bit timidly, John said, "What can be done then?," to which Garcia retorted, "You tell me." 
Having been in the air for some six hours, the Dead were tired and short on patience for the standard interviews. Their arrival at Logan had been kept as quiet as a military secret to avoid hysteria. 
The conversation might have just ended there, had I not snapped on my tape recorder. I started on safe footing, asking Garcia if he planned any more specialized albums such as his recent "Hooteroll," in which he accompanied organist Howard Wales. 
"Yes, I just cut an album with a dude named Merle Saunders, an older cat from California. I did a lot of studio work on his album as well as the group Lamb. The Hooteroll album was never supposed to feature me, it was Howard's album, but that's just the way certain companies approach the product trip. I don't think of it that way." 
Commenting that many people had felt that the recent live album was a return to the old Dead sound, before "American Beauty" and "Workingman's Dead," Garcia retorted, "That's because everybody's taking the albums as if they represent a sequential development." 
"All kinds of music exist simultaneously for us," he replied. "We do an album say every six months and there is a misleading trip happening there like the passage of time means development. It's just what we've been doing all along, but not how we've made our records. 
"In my opinion, we're past "Workingman's Dead" and "American Beauty." We've done that and now we're into something else. I just made a solo album which will be out in January. I play everything but the drums on the album" (shades of Paul McCartney).
Later, Dead manager John Mcentire was heard to comment that, "We were always a great live band, but had trouble getting it down on records. Workingman's Dead was our first, really well-made album and it really brought greater attention to the band." 
For several years, the Dead used two drummers, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman. Last year, Hart was fired because of financial squabbles.
"Mickey has a number of projects going which we may participate in if we want to," Garcia said. "He doesn't want to travel, however, and besides it's too weird having two drummers. It's a huge limitation as they are restricted to what they can play together and they both have different styles of drumming." 
Until recently, Jerry Garcia has been playing pedal-steel guitar with the New Riders of the Purple Sage. He only started the instrument late in life and only played half the strings. It was, however, a familiar feature of the Riders set to see Garcia on pedal steel. 
"I don't play pedal steel anymore," Garcia said. "I just gave it up, I'm not interested in the instrument anymore. This doesn't mean that I'm not interested in country music, it's just that I'm not going to try being a pedal steel guitarist anymore. Besides, the New Riders have a pedal steel player named Buddy Cage who's much better." 
He observed that it has become fashionable for rock-critics to put down the Dead by saying that you have to sit through hours of average music to get a few brilliant passages. 
"That's if you're there for brilliant passages," Garcia said. "I read all that stuff they say about us and it's all true, it's a matter of opinion. People can think whatever they like. But they go to our concerts for different reasons. Some people go just to see us mess up. Some go for the high moments and if we don't get them they're disappointed..." 
Later John Macentire added that, "For years the Dead got nothing but great reviews. Then we became big enough and we started to get the knocks. I like that better because for a long time we were considered a sacred cow. Actually, bad reviews are often more interesting and they give us things to think about. On a lay back night the Dead are really something to think about..." 
With the Dead and the New Riders on stage, the Music Hall seemed to convey a vintage San Francisco atmosphere. The Riders opened with a strong, hour-long set and then the Dead came out for a 2 1/2 hour set. 
As usual in all Dead concerts, there was a festive atmosphere as kids danced on their seats and attempted to crowd around the stage. Some of the older Dead freaks faded after a few hours, but the devout stayed to the bitter end. 
On the second night of their engagement, the concert was broadcast live on station WBCN-FM. Asked if this didn't invite bootlegging, John Macentire replied, "To the contrary. The Dead always did a lot of free concerts and benefits. Now we are into doing frequent live broadcasts. It is a new thing with us, a new way of promoting the group. But if 30,000 people hear the concert on radio and can record it themselves on tape, then there are 30,000 people that the Rubber Dubber ain't going to sell bootlegs to. In all, I know of some 12 Dead bootlegs, and none are worth having. The engineering is terrible except for one bootleg which was distributed free to 30,000 people in New York. They edited the tracks from several performances and that was boss."

(by Charles Giuliano, from the Boston Herald, 19 December 1971) 

Thanks to Dave Davis.


  1. Charles Giuliano was a regular rock critic for the Boston Herald, and he'd reviewed the previous Dead shows in Boston on 11/21/70 & 4/7/71. Since the band knew him (he'd talked to Garcia & McIntire before) he was able to tag along on the airport ride. This was probably the night of November 30 - Miles Davis was playing a run at the Jazz Workshop, but it looks like the Dead missed that.
    He was surprised to find out how big the Dead's entourage was (over 30 people including "wives, managers, accountants, roadies and the rest") - that hadn't been customary but they came for the shows in Boston & New York, "the big trip of the year."
    Columbia promotional men met the New Riders in each city on the tour (at least the cities where they had broadcasts); another one shows up in a Cleveland article arranging an interview. Part of Columbia's interest in broadcasting the NRPS shows was, as said here, to encourage the Dead to sign up with Columbia once the Warners contract expired in 1973. (Clive Davis was then the president of Columbia. His effort failed.)
    I don't know what "past interviews" Giuliano refers to when he talks about how brainy the Dead are -
    his description of them as "intellectuals" seems quite exaggerated, but for sure they gave more intelligent interviews than many other rock bands.
    Jon McIntire, as the Dead's road manager, shows up in a number of interviews. As here, he tends to give more of a business & financial perspective than the bandmembers do.

    Garcia is grumpy coming off the plane - as Giuliano notes, the Dead were "tired and short on patience," but nonetheless, he was there for an interview. One "life-long Dead fan" & radio programmer driving their van asks Garcia about a hit single, only to get shot down by the testy Garcia.

  2. There are still a number of interesting comments in the interview:
    - As he said in the Rolling Stone interview around the same time, Garcia's bugged that people think the Dead are changing with each album. He points out that the sequential differences between their albums are "misleading" and they've been playing "all kinds of music...all along." True to a point, but the recent emphasis on 'Americana' songs was a new development and Garcia's certainly aware that their music's changing: "We've done that and now we're into something else." (Belying what he just said!)
    - Garcia does not miss the Mickey Hart days. "It's too weird having two drummers. It's a huge limitation as they are restricted to what they can play together..." Having one drummer was liberating for the Dead! But Garcia mentions he can still participate in Mickey's projects, and he would soon help out with "Rolling Thunder." (Giuliano writes that "Hart was fired because of financial squabbles," which may be his mixup, or might be what McIntire told him.)
    - Garcia says he just recorded an album with Merl Saunders, presumably "Heavy Turbulence" (released in '72). I don't know if recording dates are known for the album. The Lamb album was "Cross Between."
    - Garcia's definitive that "I don't play pedal steel anymore. I just gave it up, I'm not interested." He sounds like someone relieved not to be playing it for the New Riders anymore.
    - Garcia also reads his music press; the band subscribed to a press clipping service and paid attention to stories on the Dead, though I don't know what (if any) effect it had on them, maybe it was just curiosity. Here Garcia shrugs it off: "I read all that stuff they say about us and it's all true, it's a matter of opinion. People can think whatever they like."
    McIntire has a more interesting response to the changing press reaction: the Dead used to get "nothing but great reviews" (not really true) but are now getting more criticism, which he appreciates since "bad reviews are often more interesting and they give us things to think about."
    The saying that "you have to sit through hours of average music to get a few brilliant passages" would become a commonplace in Dead criticism - I don't remember any particular examples from 1971 but Garcia must have read it somewhere. He's not too worried about how people respond, knowing that everyone in the audience could take things differently. Even this early, Garcia believed that "some people go just to see us mess up" (was this ever true?), but it was certainly true that "some go for the high moments and if we don't get them they're disappointed." (That's a running theme in 1971 reviews.)

    1. I was thinking about Garcia's indifferent response to the critics: "it's all true, people can think whatever they like." The Dead were generally imperturbable in the face of bad criticism, which I suppose most musicians have to be. (They played what they liked, and couldn't please everyone as they followed their muse. As Garcia said once, "We don't give a fuck about the audience, have you ever seen us go on a trip about what the audience suggests?")

      Part of Garcia's nonchalance is his relativism, the belief that everyone's viewpoint is valid: "[people] go to our concerts for different reasons," and he welcomed a variety of reactions, considering them all true for the beholders. So he was usually reluctant to assert his own viewpoint about how the music should be taken.

      But he could be contradictory too, as he is even in this short interview, claiming that the Dead haven't really developed from one album to the next as it appears to the public, then in the next breath saying they're "past" their 1970 material and "into something else." (What he might have meant to say was that each album represented only a slice of "what we've been doing all along," for instance all the covers on the new live album which were kind of a throwback into basic Dead roots material, left off previous albums.)

      Here he snipes at the very idea of a hit single as "a power trip" he doesn't care about, which was his usual stance in interviews. For instance, to Creem: "I have no interest about singles so I don’t want to bother about it... It would be nice to have a single, but a hit single usually means 12-year-old audiences."

      But Garcia wanted successful records too, even if he wouldn't often admit it (nor would he accept the increased pressure on the band that success brought). He'd later say he was baffled that their records didn't sell more - if he liked them, why didn't everyone? As he joked, "We've been trying to sell out for years, but nobody's buying!"
      So his "who cares" stance is partly true, partly not, I guess depending on his mood when he was asked. Finding himself in a role as a 'cult' musician with (at the time) a niche audience of 'freaks,' he embraced that role with some defiance and disavowed the mainstream record industry.

    2. Good comment. To a great extent he was as improvisational in his thinking as in his guitar playing. It wasn't all improv - we know those certain quotes, like "when we're done playing it, they can have it" about taping, and lots of well-formulated stories that he repeated over the years. But he was certainly a very in-the-moment, flexible thinker and talker a lot of the time, even to the point of contradiction. Seems like he'd agree with the old saw that consistency is the hobgoblin of petty minds.

    3. He would also be horrified that people are analyzing his statements fifty years later!

    4. I don't doubt that. Looking for Truth in them.

  3. Not much is said about the Boston show, except for the usual "festive atmosphere" and dancing. It's noted that "some older Dead freaks" left the show early, which is a little ambiguous since other reviews at the time report a number of reasons for people to leave early: they may have been literally older & tired or had to go to work in the morning (this was a Wednesday night show), or like the Globe reporter they had a deadline or just didn't like the music, or some may well have been long-time fans upset with the new Dead and missing the old days.

    At any rate, the radio broadcast reached anyone in Boston who cared to listen. McIntire likes the broadcasts as "a new way of promoting the group" and feels that they're a way of combatting bootlegs - all those people taping now don't have to buy a Rubber Dubber album. (The idea that people might want to collect multiple shows doesn't occur to him.) Naturally he scoffs at the Dead bootlegs then available (poor-sounding and "none are worth having"), but I wonder what the free New York bootleg with "tracks from several performances" was. (Phil liked Marty Weinberg's bootleg enough to invite Marty backstage in New York a few nights later.)

  4. I am surprised you object to labeling the Dead guys intellectuals. Every single one of them had wide-ranging intellectual interests, read a lot, etc. Well, I am not sure about BK. But the rest of the band members on that trip, and McIntire, and I take Cutler to be quite well-read and well-spoken, too.

    1. Actually I agree that within the band, Jerry & Phil at least were well-read intellectuals. It's true that many people (including Owsley, I think) remarked that the band as a group were much more intelligent & learned than most rock musicians.
      What I meant was just that Giuliano's description seems over-the-top. I don't remember any interviews where they quoted Greek & Latin or cited obscure philosophers. They weren't THAT kind of intellectual!
      But I would posit that if, say, Jerry referred to some "esoteric French cinema" he liked, or Phil went off about some occult geomantic theory, your average rock critic would be easily impressed.