Grateful Dead's BOB WEIR talks to Steve Bradshaw
Garcia's solo album was very like a lot of recent Dead material - do you think your album's as closely related to the band's output as a whole?
I'm told that mine sounds less like the Grateful Dead than his does, though I can't see how that could have happened. Garcia plays all the instruments himself on that album except the drums. Whereas on mine I just play the guitar and use the Grateful Dead ensemble, in some cases augmented by brass and strings to fill the sound out. There are only one or two cuts I don't use the band on.
Have you been saving material up for some time?
Well the oldest is probably "Playing in the Band," which I've been doing for about a year now. It was on our last live record. But it's been developed and extended so it's not easily recognisable as the same song.
I realised that the point it's got to now is really what I wanted in the first place. When we recorded it live it was immature, and now it's matured into a different song which I think really holds together much better.
Pigpen is the only member of the band whose material is almost entirely his own, words and music. I have little faith in my poetic abilities, so I just leave it to the experts.
In most cases they were written by a friend of mine called John Barlow, but Robert Hunter, Garcia's lyricist, wrote the words for a couple of songs. I wrote the lyrics for "One More Saturday Night."
The band seem to be going their own separate ways a lot more now.
That's always been the case in that when any of us wrote a song we'd try and make it something of our own, and go off in one particular direction as far as possible. There have certainly been divergent directions in the band before, but they've never been brought to the surface by a solo album before.
What's happened is simply that nowadays Garcia and I have more material than we can put on a Grateful Dead record without crowding each other and everyone else out. Now Pigpen's thinking about it too - and if he gets that together, which we all want to see him do very much - we'll be helping with that.
Are there any plans for the next Dead album?
We've been recording the tour throughout Europe and we'll try to put together another live album of the finest takes. We've played some fairly good shows on the tour so there should be some good material.
The last album worked well enough, though at the time it was simply the quickest and most expedient way to put out a record. But live recording just has that spark of spontaneity you can't recapture in the studio no matter how you try.
What happens in most of our live performances is that we start out with one general category of songs and then move into another, and at the same time we'll swing round, taking it in turns to sing.
Then if, during an improvisation, we get to some region within our plunges through inner and outermost space, which has a rhythmic and tonal mode that suggests a particular song, one of us will start playing the comp to it and everyone will fall in behind.
We've been playing together so long it just happens naturally, we're really just playing from the seat of our pants. The audience may be surprised by how quickly we shift in one particular direction, but really they get to find out what's happening at practically the same time as us.
What about the actual mechanics of improvisation, how can you tell what each of you are going to be doing next?
Well when we're playing free and we're drifting from key to key, feeling to feeling, and mode to mode, Garcia and Phil on bass are generally playing simple lines, and any combination of two notes suggests a chord.
My role and the piano player's role is to intuit what that combination is going to be, and to be there with that chord, or maybe an augmentation of it. And that might suggest staying there and building on what's happening, or going on to a new passage... A new key or a new mode or whatever. It's quite a choice sometimes!
It usually takes a lot of concentration, though sometimes it just trots out easily. And sometimes that combination of people guessing leads to some inspirational new idea which is really worth living for.
To recap briefly, the turning point in the Dead's career was Workingman's Dead. What was going on in the band at that time?
It was a sudden change in direction for the public when that album came out, but a change that had been happening for some time as far as we were concerned. We'd been hanging out with Crosby and Stephen and listening to them sing together, and we began to realise we were neglecting our own vocal presentation for instrumental presentation.
So we started work on vocal and choral arrangements and naturally that was the way the next record - Workingman's Dead - came out.
None of us had given it a lot of thought, but it was certainly a marked change from the way we sounded in the past. It was a lot of fun to make. It happened very quickly and there was a spontaneity about that record which is just beautiful.
The other change is that you're not working in some social context as specifically as you were before, for example when Ralph Gleason wrote about the commune you lived in as a new direction in experimental living. What's going to replace that?
When we were living in that one house in 1967, it was really out of necessity. It was all we could afford. Our economic situation didn't leave us much leeway, so what we did was what we had to do. It was a lot of fun, and it was fairly uncomfortable too. We moved out first chance we got, because no one really likes living right on top of anyone else like that.
Nonetheless, there are still a lot of people around us we enjoy and many of them work for us in whatever capacity they can find. We support a lot of people, and in turn they support us.
So in fact we now have a huge family, a tribal business scene going. And it seems to work fairly well. It's total and utter anarchy, like our music: but for one miraculous reason or another, everything always gets done.
It's because of that structure that we haven't been able to tour Europe before - we wanted to take everyone with us, and up to this year, we haven't been able to afford it. But I think we've just about broken even.
The next step is to make enough money to buy our own studios. And we want to look at the way records are marketed.
Essentially what the band and the family want to do now is to find more efficient ways of letting more people hear better music.
(by Steve Bradshaw, from Melody Maker, July 22, 1972)
Thanks to Simon Phillips.