PICKING UP 'THE DEAD'
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.