May 28, 2021

March 1981: Jerry Garcia Interview

The interview with Jerry Garcia took place on 19th and 25th March 1981, but that first one was for Dawgology and little is reproduced here. Bob Weir was sufficiently intrigued by the way the interview with Garcia was going that he came and sat in, despite his avowed ambivalent feelings concerning interviews. This first installment dwells mainly on Garcia's folk roots and the role of folk and bluegrass in the development of the Dead's music. Arista, Rosie Bartlett, Val Rooker, and Alan Trist are thanked for their assistance in the preparation of this article. 
[from the editors' introduction, "Jack Straw's Column"] 


When coining the catchphrase 'folk, bluegrass & beyond' the Grateful Dead were hardly uppermost in our minds. Their music would scarcely be considered folk music in most circles unless one was taking a more liberal interpretation, one treating rock music as a music popular among the people; that approach to the subject could lead us into deep water, and in any case that is not the purpose of this article. The interview that follows, however, follows the theme of 'folk, bluegrass & beyond', a title eminently suitable when viewing the music of the Grateful Dead. Like many of their San Franciscan contemporaries the Dead were rooted in folk music, blues, bluegrass, and rock 'n' roll, but while their peers tended to reject much of that repertoire, the Dead continued to incorporate songs like "I Know You Rider", the Rev. Gary Davis' "Death Don't Have No Mercy" and "If I Had My Way (Sampson & Delilah)", "Dark Hollow", "Cold Rain And Snow", and "Stealin'", and to the present day their repertoire includes this sort of material, as albums like Reckoning and Dead Set demonstrate.
That is not to pretend that such material is the only thing they play, but it is a vital part of their sets. In a similar vein some of their original material uses devices or ideas from traditional musics, such as "Casey Jones", a parody of the traditional songs of the same title, the blues "Candyman", and "Dupree's Diamond Blues". An additional element in the web is their occasional augmentation, particularly percussively, by other musicians, such as at the Egyptian pyramids concerts at which Hamza El-Din performed.
The Grateful Dead were at the forefront of the San Franciscan scene in the mid-Sixties (although predated by groups such as the Great Society, the Charlatans, and Jefferson Airplane) and in their early days (when they were still going under the name of the Warlocks) were little more than an amplified jugband. Their first single was on a local, independent label and both of the songs recorded were jugband/blues standards. Their debut LP contained its share of traditional material, and most of their LPs have contained at least nods towards folk music in its manifold forms, if not actually containing reworkings of such material. Rather than plot the Grateful Dead's history in this introduction, readers might like to read the article on them in The History Of Rock issue on the SF explosion. (I can vouch for it as I wrote it myself!)
This interview deals specifically with Jerry Garcia's 'folk roots' and as he is but one member of the group, it should be borne in mind that we are seeing the development of their music through his eyes, although in the case of Bob Weir it would be quite similar (as Jon Sievert's excellent interview with Weir in the August 1981 issue of Guitar Player showed). In the case of the late Ron 'Pigpen' McKernan it would be tilted more in the direction of R&B and blues. In the case of bassist Phil Lesh it would be contemporary classical music and jazz. The resultant fusion of styles and forms, based on the individuals' musical tastes and interests, was what caused the Dead's music to be so rich and, for me, that is what makes the Dead so very special.
This first installment deals with some of Jerry Garcia's influences including the Kentucky Colonels and Scotty Stoneman (see Peter Rowan in SF 4 for more on this giant) which bore later fruit in Old And In The Way. The entrance of Bob Weir went unnoticed by me at the time, but his comments added fuel to the discussion (and it is hoped at some stage to elicit his comments in further detail). The second part gets more into the 'beyond' part of the interview, and the third installment will append sources.
-- Ken Hunt

SF: A good place to start this interview would be picking up on a comment you made once. You were talking about how people have heroes, musical heroes, and you were talking about how you could appreciate how some people could feel, say, about rock 'n' roll musicians and meeting people they've long admired because you have the same sort of respect and admiration for bluegrass musicians.

JG: Definitely!

SF: Which sort of musicians would have inspired you that way?

JG: Well, Bill Monroe's a good example. Certainly Earl Scruggs. The Stanley Brothers. There are lots and lots of them. All of the guys who are like the principal bluegrass bands of the '50's and early '60's. Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Don Reno, Reno and Smiley, the Osbornes; I knew who all of them were and they were all, as far as I was concerned, my pantheon. They were very important to me. They were an important part of my life because their music brought me so much pleasure and they were my teachers as well. I mean, I learned bluegrass music from listening to their records and live tapes just like people do with Grateful Dead music. But, for me, bluegrass music was like that thing. I went around the United States following bluegrass bands around.

SF: What sort of bluegrass bands would these have been?

JG: The ones I just mentioned, and specifically me and a friend of mine named Sandy Rothman, who subsequently ended up working with Bill Monroe also, just like Pete Rowan did, playing guitar and singing, he and I accompanied a band who at that time were called the Kentucky Colonels. Clarence White, Roland White, Billy Ray (Latham), and Roger Bush, that band. They've recently released some of their old tapes. We travelled with them this one year and broke off from their tour to see those other bands I've mentioned. I mean, I was a bluegrass freak, you know? Brought along our tape recorders and taped the shows.

SF: That was one of the questions I was going to ask you, because in California you had what proved to be a very, very influential band, the Kentucky Colonels, and Richard Greene has spoken about going along to see Scotty Stoneman. Did you go along to those concerts as well?

JG: Oh sure! Scotty Stoneman was one of my heroes. The same concerts! Richard was one of the guys I knew. We were the younger guys who were trying to play bluegrass, but we were so spread apart that we only got to know each other later on. In the area that I was in, there were virtually no bluegrass musicians, very few. Certainly nobody very good. I got to be quite a good banjo player but I was really operating in a vacuum, and what I really wanted to do was have a great bluegrass band, but I only got occasional chances to put a bluegrass band together that was even acceptable, by my standards acceptable. Although I had fun, none of them was serious or a very good attempt, just because the players weren't that great. Consequentially I ended up playing with all those people like Richard Greene, David Grisman, and Jody Stecher early on. Jody came out during the summer one time and I had a nice little band with him and Eric Thompson. We had fun, but to have a real full-tilt bluegrass band it would have meant... I was getting ready in my life to go into that world and audition and maybe play with Bill Monroe. I knew I could get the job if I could get an audition but I wasn't that sort of person at the time; I was much too shy to even consider asking. There was really no future for me in bluegrass music.

SF: Were you a bit jealous then of people like Pete Rowan?

JG: No, I wasn't jealous. I was happy for them.

SF: Dave Grisman was saying that he was contemplating writing a song about everyone playing with Bill Monroe but him.

JG: Right! David's a mandolin player. What could he do? You couldn't really be a mandolin player in Bill Monroe's band. That's unheard of. (Laughter) I'm sure with Grisman if the situation had come up where Bill Monroe needed a banjo player, then Grisman would've taken up the banjo to play with Bill Monroe. My interest in the banjo only went as far as bluegrass really. I wasn't interested in the banjo from a purely personal point of view. I really loved the music. Although I wasn't nearly as good a banjo player in Old And In The Way as when I was 21, 22 and deeply into bluegrass and wanted more than anything else to be in a good bluegrass band. By the time Old And In The Way started, I had to practise for months just to get as good as I was when that band was happening, and even then it wasn't satisfying to me because I knew what I'd been capable of. I was barely 20% the banjo player I had been when I was 21 or 22. The banjo is really one of those instruments that requires 12 hours a day of really serious pickin' to really play great. But even so, it was real fun to be in Old And In The Way and have a good vocal group, to have a good singing bluegrass band and a good musical band. It had a nice feel, a flavour all of its own, and it was real fun for all of us for as long as it lasted. I really enjoyed it. I really did.

SF: Peter Rowan said that when you got Vassar Clements to play with you and Vassar Clements was brought out to the West Coast, how overjoyed Vassar was. He was saying this was the band he'd dreamt of.

JG: Oh, he loved it! Vassar really loved it and that was very flattering for us because, Jesus! We were all city kids. But we all enjoyed it the way Vassar did. It was a unique band. It had its own material, Peter's good songs. The fire of David, and you know David's such a fiery musician! Vassar's beauty. Everything. We had a good band. We did have a good band. Our finest moments which unfortunately aren't on record anywhere are on tape in private collections. None of them have been circulated. Our finest performances didn't get out into the world. The stuff that's on the live album is not really us when we were at our warmest or even our hottest in that band.

SF: Do you think any of the studio stuff that you recorded will ever come out?

JG: I don't think so. It was never as good as our shows, and our shows were only good in the smaller places where the audience didn't drown us out. We did some shows on the East Coast, and the thing is the minute we'd start off with a good tune, like "Wild Horses", that would actually tear the place apart, I swear it. Like when we did our first vocal chorus of "Wild Horses" you couldn't hear the band anymore. The audience was just cheering and screaming so loud we couldn't hear each other! We were defeated by the audience. We did a tour of theatres about the size of the Rainbow and it was hopeless! They wanted to clap along rhythmically like audiences do - bam, bam, bam - and that was so much louder than the band was! Bluegrass music is like chamber music: it's very quiet. And we just couldn't hear ourselves.

SF: I got the impression you were playing smaller venues.

JG: We did, we did on the West Coast, but when we went to the East Coast we played the bigger places, but that finished us. It was paradoxical. It was like our own success, the fact that we were successful and went over well with audiences, killed the band. It made it impossible for us to hear.

SF: Harkening back to the Kentucky Colonels for a moment. They used, as did a lot of other people, "Dark Hollow" in their repertoire. Was that one of the influences for the Dead introducing it?

JG: Yeah, sorta. I think me and Weir got into our little duet version of it and it's more or less loosely based on Clarence and Roland's duet version. They used to do a duet version in the Kentucky Colonels.

SF: I noticed on Reckoning you talk about "Dark Hollow" being "recorded by Bill Browning". Is there some doubt about him writing it?

JG: I really don't know. Because of publishing rules there are people who just go and investigate to find out, because I'm anxious not to step on anybody's copyrights. I've always thought it was bullshit to cop the credits for traditional music, so I always make an effort to find out who wrote the tune or whether somebody else has copywritten it, which is frequently the case with traditional tunes. I mean, four out of five of them were copywritten by AP Carter in the 30's or country music sharpies. They got smart fast! I have no idea what it says on the jacket. When we hand in our list of titles and say, "This is what's going to be on the record", I say, "Look and see if you can find who originally recorded this or who has the publishing on this." It's just one of those things I try to keep straight.

SF: If that were the case, why were some of those early songs credited to the Grateful Dead? "Cold Rain And Snow", for example, on the first album.

JG: It should say "arranged by Grateful Dead". If it doesn't, it's an oversight on the part of Warner Brothers. I'm an old folkie. I've always hated that. As far as I know, we don't get publishing royalties for that. We didn't write it.

SF: I also noticed on a copy of "Stealin'" and "Don't Ease Me In" that the two songs are credited to you.

JG: That's awful. That's totally wrong too. That's because in those days those records never even went on sale: "Don't Ease Me In"/"Stealin'".

SF: Oh, I understood it was a commercial release. Scorpio Records.

JG: Those records never went on sale. That was a guy who was starting his own record company, but he really didn't have any connections, so it's not as if that single was released to any stores apart from maybe one or two in the Haight-Ashbury. That was probably it. The Psychedelic Shop probably had twenty or thirty of them. That's why that record is such a collectors' item.

SF: I think somebody's bootlegged it in the meanwhile.

JG: That's entirely possible because people have been bootlegging stuff all along. The last thing we were thinking about when we recorded at those recording sessions was what were the label credits going to be. By that time we weren't even involved anymore. So, stuff like that happens, but they're oversights. They're not deliberate. They don't in any way represent us getting royalties for tunes like that or from Scorpio Records. (To Bob Weir) How many royalty cheques have we got from Scorpio Records? (Bob Weir merely bursts into laughter.) We should have saved fifty of them.

SF: They'd be worth a fortune now!

JG: No shit! If we'd saved fifty of everything we'd ever put out, we'd be fucking happening.

BW: They weren't bad. Those records weren't bad actually. I've got a copy and I was playing it the other day and it sounds OK.

JG: We've done worse!

BW: We've done worse on record!

SF: Was that why you chose to re-record "Don't Ease Me In" on Go To Heaven after all that time?

JG: Well, yeah. Just for fun. It's a good old song. It just came up again. With us it's like "Remember how we used to do...?"

BW: ..."Little Red Rooster".

JG: Or "Satisfaction". We didn't pull it out at the Rainbow, but we have done it a few times in the States. We hadn't rehearsed it or anything; it's just one of those things which came up. And everybody knows "Satisfaction"!

BW: It was encore time. "What are we going to do for an encore?" "No, we did that last night." "No, we did that the night before. I don't feel like doing that." "Hey, well, let's do "Satisfaction"!" So, Bill just starts playing it.

SF: Do you plan your sets in advance?

JG: Oh, yeah! (Laughing heartily.)

BW: Meticulously. Down to the smallest detail, every facial grimace.

JG: Everything that happens is carefully choreographed. (Uproarious laughter.)

BW: The standing-around between numbers...

JG: Right! That's the hard part to work out! The wisecracks.

BW: Also when you count a song off and it starts in a completely different tempo...

JG: That's particularly hard to work out. (Virtually busting a gut by now.) We don't plan anything!

SF: One of the things I've found particularly interesting about the Dead is that they've retained traditional and folk songs in the repertoire.

JG: Oh, they're great songs...

SF: Yes, but so many people have just junked all those songs that they start out playing.

JG: Well, obviously they don't love them that much. I can't account for what other people do, and they're entitled to do whatever they want to do, but for me the only reason I've ever been involved with music is because I love it. The songs that I sang when I was in coffee houses, although I never really did that very much by myself - it was bands always - the songs that I chose were songs that I loved and I still love them! And there'd be a lot more that I'd do if I could remember them! (Grinning broadly.) There are a lot more that I've forgotten. I just don't remember the lyrics. If I knew where to get the lyrics I'd certainly do more of them too, but now the places I got them like Folkways records and such are all out of print or they're very difficult to get around where I live. It would take me an awful long time to find them. The ones I'd like would be on obscure or peculiar records. I wouldn't know how to begin to go looking for them again. There are a lot of songs that I remember bits and snatches of, but I don't know how the heck I'd locate them...

BW: One point is a large body of our presentation has direct lineage clear back to here and the ballad singing of Northern Ireland and Scotland. There was something of a musical fad in the early 60's of taking the Child Ballads, going through them, learning them and understanding them. Our roots, if you see it as "roots" - people tend to use that word a lot...we exist to a large part in that tradition.

JG: That's part of our "roots" for sure.

BW: We play electrically amplified music and stuff like that, but there are songs that we do that are direct renderings of Child Ballads: "Jack-A-Roe". Same chords, same words, although it varies a little bit, but then it varied from bard to bard back then too. If you trace that lineage through America and through what happened in Appalachia and the body of material that we draw on, that we do, that draws from Appalachian music or Southern music which was yet another offshoot from that, we really exist in a large part in that vein, in that tradition.

JG: And so, in fact, does rock 'n' roll. Elvis Presley's first single had that Bill Monroe tune on it.

SF: "Blue Moon of Kentucky".

JG: That's like a hop, skip, and a jump from that tradition. It's real close. We're influenced by everything that happened in America. And that includes the real rich folk tradition that Weir was just talking about: the Child Ballads. Great stuff.

SF: The very title of the band. That's not divorced from that by any means.

JG: Exactly right. That wasn't intentional necessarily, but it was a lucky tie-in. The difference between us and other bands is maybe that we know it. Like there're an awful lot of people who don't realize that the music that they're playing is derivative. From various cultures. Where it comes from. How it started. And so forth. Here we are in the 80's. People who are the 18, 19, 20 year olds, the young musicians, don't realize that what they are doing now is music that came from the South, from black people in the 20's or 30's or from the mountains or from the broadside ballad world. That information isn't readily known. It's not something that's handed around, but the musical styles... Like Dolly Parton's singing style is very close to traditional singers, to someone like Jean Ritchie, stylistically.

SF: And the environmental background.

BW: Her scales and ornamentation are very, very similar to Northern English. There are places in the Appalachians, as I'm sure you know, that speak closer to Elizabethan English than anywhere in this country.

JG: New England was similar too.

SF: That's one of the things that they found when Cecil Sharp was going out to the Appalachian mountains to collect ballads. He was greeted with open arms because he had the accent for a start. They could communicate. Funnily enough I was reading something about this Loretta Lynn film...

JG: Right, Coal Miner's Daughter...

SF: ...and they mentioned that the producer or the director got on really well with the local people because he was English and the locals felt they could communicate with him, whereas a lot of the road crew and the filming team were rejected because they were too "West Coast"...

BW: ...or "New York"...

SF: ...or whatever you want to call it.

JG: All that stuff's true, although it's less true than it was. It was more true in the 50's and even truer earlier on. Actually largely because of phonograph records, they've produced the stylistic variations.

BW: The Dance of Homogeneity!

JG: If you remember back in the 50's when rock 'n' roll records came out, each one of them sounded so different from each other. The ones recorded in Texas had a certain sound. The ones from Memphis had a certain sound. The ones from Mississippi. You heard them on the radio And rhythm 'n' blues too. It used to be that John Lee Hooker and Lightnin' Hopkins and those guys had hits on the rhythm 'n' blues stations, what would be the soul music stations of today. That wasn't so long ago. But it's got to be much more sophisticated nowadays, and since then that regionalism in American music has largely broken down, and now a kid from Detroit plays pretty much like a kid from New Orleans or a kid from LA does. Much more homogeneous, like Weir was saying.

SF: I don't know if you're aware of it, but some of that era's material is being incorporated in the Cache Valley Drifters' repertoire. They're doing "Cumberland Blues".

JG: No, I haven't heard of that.

SF: It's long struck me that a lot of that material would lend itself very well to a bluegrass approach.

JG: Sure. Some of it's been incorporated. "Friend of the Devil" certainly. It's been co-opted and I'm very flattered. (Inspecting the Cache Valley Drifters' Step Up To Big Pay LP.) Too much to have a Tom Lehrer song, "The Wild West Is Where I Want To Be", in here. I remember that.
On "Cumberland Blues" one part is modelled on the Bakersfield country and western bands, electric country and western bands like Buck Owens' old Buckaroos and the Strangers. That style. The first part of the tune is like that style. And the last part is like bluegrass. That's what I wanted to do: a marriage of those styles.

SF: The first few times I listened to "Cumberland Blues", just listening and doing something else, suddenly the banjo was there. You think, "Oh shit! When did that come in there? I don't remember that part starting up." It was a nice little touch.

JG: Right. Thank you. It's a little sneak-music.

SF: You hadn't really played that much banjo with the Dead. Like, it appeared on "Dark Star".

JG: Actually then I used a tape, an old tape I found somewhere, that had me playing banjo for a banjo lesson I think I was giving to somebody. That tape is from '62 or something like that. So, I found this old tape and threw it on the end of "Dark Star" just for the hell of it, just to bring up during the fade for the hell of it. Completely unrelated.


The first part of this interview with Jerry Garcia dwelt mainly on the folk and bluegrass influences that he took with him into the Grateful Dead (even though, as mentioned in the last part of the article, he was not alone in his interest in such matters). The Grateful Dead, however, is above all else an experimental group, and in its material there is a rich slice of Americana. Such is the degree of musical empathy within the band that the music can take strange turns at times. Their rapport is often tacit, as Mickey Hart admitted when asked what had sparked off an extemporized passage at one of the Dead's concerts in October 1981; this drew on Miles Davis' classic Sketches of Spain (as had an earlier jam at the Carousel in February 1968): "God! Those things just come out! Those are really not planned. That really comes out when we are jamming. I forgot even where that came from! I didn't even think about that, but, you're right, that's where it did come from. Jesus Christ, that's where it came from; I knew I recognized it from someplace!"
In this second part, Jerry Garcia talks about his interest in American musics, such as gospel and soul, as well as rounding off the bluegrass influence. His career with the Grateful Dead took a vital turn with the release of Workingman's Dead in 1970. Up to that point the Dead's recording ventures had gradually involved them in more and more expense, and that coupled with a somewhat cavalier attitude towards accountancy practice took its toll; they were heavily in debt and could not afford the studio experimentation lavished on Anthem of the Sun (which involved splicing live and studio tapes) and Aoxomoxoa. To avoid wasteful studio time and high recording fees, the Dead rehearsed its new material, and the resultant album gained them a lot of press attention. Abroad their reputation as one of San Francisco's premier attractions had counted for little and they had suffered away from their stamping ground. Workingman's Dead (and Live Dead) garnered them new fans and they began to reap the rewards of that "long, strange trip" of theirs. With a measure of financial security the Dead and its members got involved in a series of fruitful undertakings. Jerry Garcia found himself in demand as a session musician, and he talks about some of those sessions in this installment. Another topic elaborated upon is some of the material which fell by the wayside: in that respect this part of the article is geared rather more towards Deadheads. It is the 'beyond' part of the piece's title...

SF: Have you read that book by Charlie Gillett called Making Tracks [WH Allen, 1975]? It talks about the rise of Atlantic Records and the Muscle Shoals studio. It's interesting.

JG: Oh, I'm sure it's interesting! I've got some interesting tapes of some of that. Donna Jean who used to sing with the band was Muscle Shoals' first background girl singer. She was the one who sang on "When A Man Loves A Woman" by Percy Sledge. It's her in the background. Donna Thatcher she was in those days. Jerry Wexler gave me some interesting stuff. I got to be friends with him briefly. He gave me a tape of Ahmet Ertegun teaching Ray Charles the lyrics of some tune like "Smack Dab In The Middle" or "It Should've Been Me". "It Should've Been Me": it's as funny as hell to hear fucking Ahmet Ertegun teaching Ray Charles to sing a tune! It's really a riot! Atlantic Records was to rhythm 'n' blues what John Hammond and Columbia was to the Delta, the South, and the later version of it in terms of what was the state of the art of folk music. People don't think of it that way. Rhythm 'n' blues and the vocal groups of the Fifties that Atlantic recorded, I grew up on those records and that's the folk music of the day, it really is. It comes from the church a lot. The gospel style, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, the Soul Stirrers. Sam Cooke was the lead singer in the Soul Stirrers when he was about nineteen. The guy who was the lead singer before him was 'Pops' Harris: DH Harris or something like that. He was the Charlie Parker of the voice! The Soul Stirrers recorded from the Forties. You hear him do things that you later hear in the Fifties. You hear everybody from Sam Cooke to Little Richard copping licks that this guy first sang in the Forties and people weren't singing before him. That's my most recent excursion into the world of folk music, if you want to call it that: gospel music of the Forties and Fifties. It's influential, it's more influential than you'd imagine. Soul Stirrers: tough word to pronounce; it's got three 'r's in it for crying out loud! (Dissolving into laughter.)
The thing is that that process is still going on. When there first was country music in a commercial record-selling sense as a category, they were hill-billy records just like rhythm 'n' blues were originally race records. Well, the people who bought them were obviously from that culture, and the reason they first recorded those musicians was in order to sell phonographs to the people. I mean, what did the rural population of the South want with phonograph records? You know, they all made their own music, so the guys went into the towns and said, "Well, they make their own music. We'll record people who make music here in the town, make records of them, and then we'll be able to sell them phonographs because their own people will be on the records." And it was a very smart move. John Hammond was among the guys who did that, but originally it was a commercial move just to sell phonographs. When they sold them, they sold them though things like the Montgomery-Wards catalogue or the Sears-Roebuck catalogue to the rural population. They would sell the records they recorded in Texas in Carolina or Mississippi or wherever, and these people would be exposed to a guy like Blind Lemon Jefferson, and before that only the people in his neighbourhood would have heard him. It's interesting. Like Charlie Patton, the father of the Delta blues they call him. It's because lots of players in his area were influenced by him because he was the best around they could hear in person. That was before there were records really. When he got on record he influenced that many more musicians and so on, and so did the subsequent players as the records got to be more widely distributed.
That regionalism has broken down to the extent that it's no loner that way anymore, but the most recent example of a guy coming forward with a new voice, say in the black music world, is Stevie Wonder, the adult Stevie Wonder. It's like he's effectively changed a lot of the style of the way people sing, the way they use their voices, the ornamentation. You can say this guy has learnt to sing from Stevie Wonder records and you hear it a lot. It was a very important influence recently. Nowadays it isn't. But Stevie Wonder's style comes from his head. It doesn't come from the culture. He doesn't represent a regionalism the way singers used to. Actually it would be a combination of both of those two elements: the guy who's just that much better than everybody else who's around or that much more inventive or whatever. It was the same mechanism but happening in a slower way, in a more regionally defined way.
One of the most interesting of those things about who learned what from who is the guy who was apparently partly responsible for the way Bill Monroe plays, a black fiddler, that he talks about sometimes. Not his Uncle Pen, but there's this other guy he talks about. I can't remember his name. But that black player is the same guy who influenced Merle Travis, the guitar player.* [Note: this is a reference to Arnold Schultz and is clarified in the footnote.] So, there is a guy who is at once part of the foundation of Bill Monroe's bluegrass music, a whole style of music - and at the same time influenced the whole world of finger-picking guitar, because Merle Travis was the guy that everybody copied.
* Sadly for this story, despite tales of the influence of Arnold Schultz on Merle Travis being rife for an awfully long time, the legend is fallacious. Merle Travis scotched the rumor in Mark Humphrey's outstanding interview with Travis beginning in issue 36 of Old Time Music. (See OTM's advertisement in this issue for details of address, subscription rates, etc.)

SF: I can imagine the Dead doing something like "I Am A Pilgrim". That would fit into the repertoire.

JG: Sure. We've talked about it. There was even a time when we did a few gospel tunes.

SF: And doing Merle Haggard tunes like "Sing Me Back Home" and "Mama Tried"...

JG: Oh yeah, we're Americans. We can cop from all that stuff! (Bursting into laughter.)

SF: Certainly, but it was interesting to see a rock 'n' roll band play that material.

JG: For me it seemed the most natural thing in the world.

SF: Nevertheless, for some reason, a lot of bands turn away from it.

JG: I guess. It had never occurred to me really. I'd never thought about it.

SF: For instance, when you had the Airplane starting off they had some blues in their repertoire, but that was gradually filtered out until much later on, say, with Hot Tuna when they went back to it.

JG: Right. Well, Jorma Kaukonen was originally a Rev. Gary Davis enthusiast like many of us were. He was one of those guys who took that style or that approach and then introduced a lot of personal developments into it of his own. And took it off to become a very personal kind of style. He was less a purist than somebody like myself. I think of myself as being more of a purist. In other words it's less like me to introduce gratuitous variations. I'm intimidated by traditions really. I have a lot of respect for those traditions and it's just not like me to introduce an awful lot of 'newness' into it when I do a traditional song. It's only recently that I stamp it very personally at all. I've gotten to be more relaxed with that as I've gotten older and more confident, but earlier on I wouldn't have thought to do variations. Like with Jorma when he was working coffee houses, he built up about twenty tunes that he would do, and from year to year if you went to see him play he would still be playing the same tunes, but the way he played them would be that much more complicated each year. That would be the way he would work: taking a body of material, elaborating, expanding on those themes.
There was also the whole East Coast division. The Kweskin Jug Band and Bill Keith and David Grisman. The Greenbriar Boys. It's like one huge, immense, loosely acquainted community, 'cause everybody sorta knew about everybody else. If they didn't know them by reputation, they'd been exposed to each other's music one way or another and got together and formed various kinds of groups and various conglomerates. What else was there to do?
Then you introduce psychedelics into that and whoa! the whole thing explodes! It becomes infinitely more complicated. So, a lot of those early rock 'n' roll bands from the cities were guys from the folk music world, who saw an opening. I mean, in the sense, down that path lies freedom. For me, just going and playing the electric guitar represented freedom from the tremendous control trip that you have to have to be a banjo player. I'd put so much energy and brainwork into controlling the banjo that, after psychedelics, what I wanted to do more than anything else was not be in control nearly so much. And playing the electric guitar freed me! So, for me, it was a combination of the times, a lucky moment, and it was much, much easier putting together a rock 'n' roll band or an electric band than having a bluegrass band. We drafted each other fundamentally. Weir and Pigpen and myself and Kreutzmann and Phil were all playing very, very different music to each other when we started out, when the Warlocks started. But it could work and that was one of the things that turned me on about it, because I could include friends who weren't involved specifically in the music I was involved with, but I would rather play with friends than people I didn't know. See, if I was going to play bluegrass music I would be going off to play with people I didn't know and couldn't necessarily communicate with except musically. If I went to join a Southern bluegrass band...the Southern musicians were really coming from a whole other world culturally, so while I would be able to play music and get off on that level, I wouldn't be able to just enjoy being with the guys.

SF: I take it you're not talking about people like Bob Hunter or Eric Thompson.

JG: No, those were the guys who were my friends. The professional world of bluegrass, that was the thing. So, it was an opportunity for me to be able to get together with my friends and play in a whole other kind of music, provided we could come up with the conviction that is required to play any kind of music.
As it turns out it was more satisfying. It was a tailor-made opportunity the way it all turned out. It just all fell into place and all seemed very obvious at the time. You didn't ask me the question but that's the answer to the question, "How did you guys get together?"

SF: I wasn't going to ask you that!

JG: Yeah, but that's the answer nonetheless! I'll answer first. Then you can ask the question. Guess the question.

SF: You've said on a number of occasions how you consider Workingman's Dead and American Beauty to be two very special albums, because the quality of the songwriting was so marvellous.

JG: Yeah, it was nice.

SF: No! I think it's more than just 'nice'. 'Nice' sounds a bit bland. Well, you yourself have called them gems.

JG: Yeah, but that was partly because of the situation. Those were both made while me and Hunter were living together. Living together made it a whole lot easier to write together. That was a particularly fruitful moment. I also think of those as being really one record in a way.

SF: I spoke to Robert Hunter and he was talking about, if you like, this vision he had. He was talking about Workingman's Dead, American Beauty, and a third to complete a trilogy which would include songs like "Jack Straw", "He's Gone", and "Ramblin' Rose".

JG: That's right. The tunes that ended up on Europe '72.

SF: Was that ever a firm proposal?

JG: No, it was just a loose notion, because you evolve them. Actually it's funny about our material. The farther you get away from it in time, I mean in retrospect, you find that things tie in. You see relationships you didn't see as they were happening. Now it's very obvious to me about both of those records that there are certain things that I wasn't aware of. Internal and external. They're very personal and at the same time they accurately reflect a lot of what was happening eventwise in the moment. I would also include partly a certain amount of my first solo album, especially "Loser" and "Deal", those two tunes.

SF: What about "The Wheel"?

JG: Not necessarily. Not so much. That whole side of the album I laid out musically before I had a single lyric for any of it, for "To Lay Me Down" or any of that stuff. Actually "To Lay Me Down" was a tune. But that whole thing was one long piece really all the way through.

SF: Like a cycle?

JG: Yeah, it was even recorded that way. I was playing the piano and Kreutzmann was playing the drums. The whole thing was laid down and then I started filling it all in, creating things. I only had just the loosest idea, but "The Wheel" was the least formed of any of them. I really just improvised the changes, and the way it came out is a tribute to Hunter's tremendous skill because I set up those chord changes, explained it, and he just listened to it, worked out some couplets, a few stanzas here and there, and I fooled around with them and it ended up being that nice little tune. But to start with it was only a set of chord changes. Nothing else.

SF: Why did you get Dave Grisman in for "Ripple" and "Friend Of The Devil" in particular?

JG: Well, he was around. That was the thing. And it was also that I could very clearly hear mandolin on both those tunes. If you have David Grisman around..."Hey!"

SF: It's funny hearing the version of "Ripple" on Reckoning. I still hear the mandolin although it's piano this time.

JG: That's the idea sort of. And Grisman's such a great musician. If he's around and you can get him and there's a tune... Texturally I just thought mandolin would be really nice. A lot of those things have to do with timing. Like, who's around? Who is it you can use? Every once in a while you're in the situation where you require a certain instrument or a certain sound and there just happens to be the right guy there. Or the right guy is there and so the idea is available to you, the possibility is available to you. It's possible that if Dave Grisman weren't around, I wouldn't have thought to put mandolin on there.

SF: Not even with Dave Nelson?

JG: Well, maybe, except that I don't think of Dave Nelson as primarily a mandolin player, although he does play mandolin. The way it happened the first time was we did live versions, while we were working on American Beauty. When we first started to perform that material before the record came out. We were in the Fillmore East for a stretch and Dave Grisman and Dave Nelson were both there, so I had them come out. See, Grisman does twin parts on those tunes pretty much, specially on "Ripple". A double mandolin part. So, Grisman just taught Nelson the second part. We had the actual full thing, twin mandolins and everything and we were able to do, like "Ripple" with the original instrumentation on the record. And also "Box Of Rain". We were able to do "Box Of Rain" with the original instrumentation on the record. Me playing piano. Dave Nelson playing guitar. That was really fun.

SF: You got involved with the Good Ol' Boys as producer for their Pistol Packin' Mama, but you're also singing on there uncredited.

JG: On one tune, on "Couldn't Leave Well Enough Alone" [Note: "Leave Well Enough Alone"]. My feeling as producer was that I didn't think it was important to be credited just because I'm singing a harmony part on a tune.

SF: You must be aware that people get into a frame of mind where they become completists.

JG: Completists. Right! (Laughter.) Actually I don't think of things like that. When I'm producing a record I'm thinking about making a record; I don't really think of completism.

SF: I would have thought you'd been acutely aware of that. Considering all the sessions you've been on...

JG: I'm not aware of it for that very reason. I've done so many sessions. I don't keep track and since I don't keep track I don't expect...I just don't think of it in those terms, because during the period of time when I was doing lots and lots of recording sessions from about '69 to '73 or '74, right around there, I did a lot of sessions and the reason I did them was because I wanted to get more studio experience in and because I liked the problem-solving mentality that you get into. People would call me in because they wanted what I could contribute to the session. That was my function. That was the reason I was there. And that was the way I perceived the work I was doing. In those moments I'm interested mostly in the music, not in myself. I don't do those things for my own career! I do them for the music at hand and because at the time I really enjoy doing sessions.

SF: I was just thinking about Dead Relix trying to compile the definitive discography.

JG: Oh God! You'll go crazy 'cause there were so many things. We all got involved in all kinds of little side projects and odd little one-shot things. I did a lot of sessions in those days, really a lot. There have been some things I played on where I'm not credited at all, on albums like Steve Stills' Manassas. There are a couple of tunes on there where I play pedal steel and maybe even guitar on one, but there's at least two that I'm not credited on. But I did the sessions and it's me playing. On that tune he has, "Change Partners" [Note: on Stephen Stills 2], that's me playing pedal steel, and there's an uptempo tune on that LP that I played on. Some of those I just don't remember. Sometimes they were very weird experiences. Like, for those I didn't know what records they were for or anything. The way Stills worked at the time was he just accumulated endless tracks. He worked on dozens of tunes. He actually flew me into Florida for a week, me and Ramrod, my equipment guy, with my pedal steel and guitars. I went down there and did sessions at the weirdest hours! (Laughter.) Still had two teams of engineers: two shifts. The way he worked in the studio was totally crazy! At the time he was really happenin', really doing well, could afford it easily. They were not only studies in over-indulgence, but there was some pretty OK music too!

SF: I suppose the song we hear the most on the radio over here that you were associated with is "Teach Your Children".

JG: Nice tune. Nice note. I got one good note in on that tune! (Laughter.) One good note makes it worthwhile! (Laughter.) I really think the nicest thing I did during that period was on Crosby's solo album [Note: If I Could Only Remember My Name]; I like what I did on that, generally speaking. I particularly like the pedal steel on "Laughing". That was some of the prettiest and most successful of what I was trying to get at at that time.

SF: That album's a completist's dream, isn't it?

JG: (Laughing.) That album has everybody on it! Really it does. We were all working a lot. That was the time also when we were working on a mythical group called the Whole Earth Rock And Roll Orchestra. It featured everybody! Everybody in the Bay area. At that time we were really cookin'! It was when Crosby and Stills and all those guys were... We were all working at Wally Heider's at the same time: the Airplane and Paul Kantner were working on Blows Against The Empire, his first Starship trip; and Crosby was working on his album; and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had just finished Deja Vu. We were in there working on American Beauty, I think. Or maybe we were mixing Europe '72. One of those. No, it was probably that Grateful Dead live album before that: the skull and roses one.

SF: I remember reading in Rolling Stone that you were going to call that...

JG: ...Skullfuck!

SF: ...Skullfuck. Shame you never used that.

JG: Oh, we wanted to use it so badly. We had a big meeting with Warner Brothers. They were horrified! They were shocked! They sat there so seriously... Oh! this is great... (Grinning impishly at the thought.) They were so serious about it: "Don't you understand? We won't be able to distribute to drug stores and supermarkets and Woolworth's and all that!" (Delivered in a deadpan and earnest executive's voice.) They fully believed we were going to do something awful if they didn't, that we were going to insist that they call it Skullfuck, so we finally backed down, but it was more a joke on our part. And also aesthetically it would have been so perfect. It was really a perfect name for the record.

SF: That's one of the great lost titles like Sex And Dope And Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & The Holding Company (later abbreviated at the behest of Columbia Records to plain, old Cheap Thrills by the time of its release).

JG: There's another great one that the Byrds had called Byrdshyt spelled S-H-Y-T: B-Y-R-D-S-H-Y-T! Another one of those lost titles that was really perfect. (Long pause for laughter to subside.)

SF: There's a tape with out-takes of Aoxomoxoa...

JG: The "Barbed Wire Whipping Party"? (Laughter all round.) Too much! That was one of our great all-time atrocities. That's the other side of the Grateful Dead. That's like the unpublished side of the Grateful Dead. There's at least one thing per album that we don't include. Which we don't include because it's a little too weird for the world.

SF: And there's the one with the bagpipes though it's not Bob Hunter.

JG: (Unable to answer through his laughing.) Bob Hunter played bagpipes for the guy in War not too long ago... What's his name?

SF: Lee Oskar.

JG: Right...for a Lee Oskar solo record 'cause Lee Oskar's producer is a guy who used to play drums with one of my bands off and on: Greg Errico. And still does. Great drummer and a good producer. So, he used Hunter to play bagpipes on a, like, disco-type tune. Fun is where you find it.

SF: Was there much material recorded around Workingman's Dead and American Beauty that wasn't released? For instance, Bob Hunter mentioned "Sweet Little Alice Garbanzo Garbett." He played that when he was over here at one of his concerts.

JG: There wasn't a whole lot, no. There were one or two tunes that we were working on: "The Mason." It's sometimes called "The Mason's Children." It's been circulated some in the underground tape circles in the United States. I don't know where the hell they got a tape of that from! We may have done it in the studio but I don't remember really.
We've never been that prolific that we had an enormous amount of extra material. Usually there have been one or two odds and ends.

SF: He was also talking about another song that you wrote with him for Go To Heaven called "Will You Raise?". He called it a classic Garcia/Hunter song.

JG: It was...almost. I wasn't too happy with it. It was too much like what we've done and so I dumped it. I aborted it. It was a little too stock and it didn't have what I wanted it to have. Maybe I'll go back to it some day. Sometimes it's funny about Hunter's lyrics. Some things happen way out of their time sequence, for example, "Eyes of the World." When that actually became a song was some five years after Hunter wrote those lyrics. Probably the longest difference between the inception, in other words when Hunter wrote the lyric, and [when] I got around to setting the tune, the longest on record is "Gomorrah" on Cats Under The Stars. That lyric when I found it - I found it amongst my old stuff when we were working on Cats Under The Stars - was yellowed and old. Ancient. It was with material that was contemporary with...Aoxomoxoa and Workingman's Dead. That's when that lyric came into my possession. God knows how much before that he wrote it. I found that perfect lyric. I didn't change a word of it. It's exactly the way it was when he wrote it. Like I said, it was yellowed and aged like an old parchment although neatly typed out. It was one of those perfect examples of me flashing on a song. Waylaid. Sometimes I have to sit on a lyric for literally years and years before something about it catches my consciousness.

SF: Are you still playing much with Maria Muldaur? There was that period - and Cats Under The Stars reminded me - when she was working with you in the Jerry Garcia Band.

JG: That's because she was living with John Kahn. It more or less slipped into existence. I didn't go out and hire Maria for my band. With that band, fundamentally the Cats Under The Stars band, except we didn't have Ron Tutt on drums - we had a different drummer, Buzz Buchanan - we toured after that record was released. It was fundamentally the band with me and John [Kahn], Keith and Donna [Godchaux], and Maria and a drummer, who was either Ron Tutt or Buzz Buchanan. We toured extensively. We did a lot of work with those bands. We did some nice music. We did some good gospel tunes. That band had a really interesting repertoire. All kinds of things. Beatles tunes. Really interesting material. Maybe those tapes will find their way over here some time. American collectors have them, but eventually the guys over here who are interested in stuff like that will make contact. I hope something like that will happen, because they have some fabulous stuff over there, especially of that particular solo band, which had a very musical nature. It had some really lovely moments.
(by Ken Hunt, from Swing 51 magazine (UK) issues 6-7, 1982/83)  

Thanks to & runonguinness.


  1. A lengthy two-part interview from the English folk-music magazine Swing 51, which was full of lengthy interviews with & coverage of various folk luminaries. (The magazine was named after a track on the David Grisman Quintet album.)
    As the editor mentions, Garcia was not an obvious candidate for an interview. Nonetheless, Garcia was eager to talk about his bluegrass roots, the folk background of the Dead, and the history of American roots music in general. It's rare to see him so enthusiastic on a subject - his answers here sometimes go on for whole columns, and it's a unique look at Garcia the musicologist. (Despite mention of a third installment, I don't think one was ever published.)
    Although the interview took place in '81, there is practically nothing that would place it as an '80s conversation, almost no mention of recent work at all (even Reckoning) - instead they roam over the past, and the focus is entirely on music topics. Bob Weir makes a memorable contribution as well.

    There's almost too much to comment on here, so I'll just point out a few things:
    - Garcia says the OAITW album wasn't the band at its best, saying, "Our finest moments which unfortunately aren't on record anywhere are on tape in private collections. None of them have been circulated." I wonder if any of the performances he's thinking of have circulated since?
    - He seems very aware of what tape collectors have, for instance Mason's Children: "It's been circulated some in the underground tape circles in the United States. I don't know where the hell they got a tape of that from!" Talking about the '78 Garcia Band: "Maybe those tapes will find their way over here some time. American collectors have them...they have some fabulous stuff over there."
    - Speaking of the '78 band, he sounds quite nostalgic ("really interesting material...really lovely moments"), and seems to miss it. He's practically begging English tape collectors to seek out tapes of that band.
    - Some of his comments on traditional music & copyright attributions echo an early '67 interview:
    - The interviewer mentions Hunter's song "Sweet Alice" which Hunter played around '79, but I doubt that song was ever considered by the Dead:
    "What'll You Raise" was a Go To Heaven outtake that Hunter liked enough to later record on a solo album:
    - I find it touching when Garcia says he'd do more half-remembered folk songs he sang in the past, but he doesn't know how to find the obscure records they were on.
    - He still proudly remembers the Box of Rain performance from 9/17/70.
    - "How many royalty checks have we got from Scorpio Records?" Weir has mellowed on the Dead's first single ("They weren't sounds OK...we've done worse on record"). But interviewed by Mojo Navigator back in '66 when it was just out, the Dead were a lot more upset by the Don't Ease Me In single:

    GARCIA: We never got in on the mixing of it and we didn’t really like the cuts and the performances were bad and the recordings were bad and everything else was bad so we didn’t want it out.
    MOJO: We have the record.
    GARCIA: Well, you’re one of the few.
    WEIR: Go burn it.
    MOJO: It’s a treasure to, like the people who have it.
    GARCIA: It’s not that bad, but -
    PIGPEN: Bullshit.
    MOJO: It’s better than a lot of the stuff on the radio.
    WEIR: Oh the fuck it is.
    GARCIA: Well, it might be and then again it might not be.
    MOJO: It doesn’t sound like you though.
    GARCIA: Yeah, right that’s the big thing about it is that it doesn’t sound like us.

  2. Do you know what Jerry is talking about with Banjo/Dark Star?

    SF: You hadn't really played that much banjo with the Dead. Like, it appeared on "Dark Star".

    JG: Actually then I used a tape, an old tape I found somewhere, that had me playing banjo for a banjo lesson I think I was giving to somebody. That tape is from '62 or something like that. So, I found this old tape and threw it on the end of "Dark Star" just for the hell of it, just to bring up during the fade for the hell of it. Completely unrelated.

    1. The last few seconds of the studio ("single") version of "Dark Star" have a little snippet of Jerry's banjo playing.

    2. It's a snippet in the fadeout of the 1968 Dark Star single:

      The tape might be from this 1964 banjo practice session: