Aug 9, 2023

January 22, 1971: Jerry Garcia Interview


With the Grateful Dead in town to do their gig at Lane a couple weeks ago, I took the opportunity to pay a visit to Jerry Garcia, the man always seemingly in the forefront of the legendary San Francisco band.
Dropping by his motel room the afternoon before the show, I found him as always: warm, affable and unaffected by the universal acceptance his group always finds. During the course of the short interview, Babs, a cohort from the Acid Tests and a resident of Ken Kesey’s Springfield farm, dropped by with best wishes.
The questions came easy and Garcia’s answers even easier. And so, a bit of enlightenment hopefully, into what the Dead are doing now, and what we can look forward to in the future:

With your last two albums, “American Beauty” and “Workingman’s Dead,” you seem to have shifted somewhat in your music. Do you notice a change?
Yeah sure, of course. But the change is more in our record-making than in what we do. The thing is, early last year we started getting more into singing. And with it, we got into songs. I was into writing songs for the thing about – it was the revelation of suddenly, “Oh, singing. We can sing together!” It was like a whole new thing for us.
Those two should really be considered one record. In that they’re kind of like the same body of stuff. It represents a year’s worth of a certain direction. Our next record will be a live one, and then I think the next time we do a studio record it will be a different shape.

Those records are not necessarily the first two steps in a continuing progression then?
No, not necessarily.

I think a lot of people are under the impression that the Dead have found their groove, and those two records are beginning of what you're going to be doing. 
No, it’s just another facet of what we do. I think of everything we do as being developmental, but on a very large cycle. That is to say, our cycle is about a year long. We’ll be on a certain trip for about a year, and the first part of the year we’ll be getting to it, and the last part of the year we’ll be sort of getting away from it. It’s just the way we do.

Do you have any idea what cycle you’ll be going into next?
The live album will be a wrap-up of our live shows for the past year or so. It’ll be a lot of the things that we’ve been doing for a long time, but have never recorded.
We’ll try to make it good. I can’t really say what it’ll be, because we haven’t got the tapes yet, and we won’t be able to tell until after we put it together.

For “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty,” what made you decide to go into the studio and sing?
We didn’t decide to go into the studio and sing, we just decided that singing was a good trip. Because, early last year, Crosby, Stills & Nash were hanging around a lot in our scene. It’s just groovy, you know, singing is just a good thing. We started getting into hanging out with just acoustic guitars and singing. Me and Bobby (Weir) and Phil (Lesh), just working out stuff. It was fun to do. 
Also, those last two records, we pretty much had them together in the sense that the music was together when we went into the studio. We went in knowing what we were going to do and we were after doing it easy. We were trying to minimize the hassles for ourselves in the studio by doing it as simply and as quickly as possible. And it worked out well, both records we did in really a short time for us. But it’s only one facet.

Have Crosby and those people been hanging out in your scene much lately?
Phil and I and Bill (Kreutzmann) just played on about 90 per cent of Crosby’s new album, which will be out shortly. It’s really nice, and we’ve worked with David a lot. Steven has played with us time and again. There’s a loose sort of association, and I played on some tracks from Graham Nash’s album, which will probably be out soon.

I notice you played on the Paul Kantner album. Was that the result of the same kind of a scene?
Well, we’re all friends. I mean it’s like, the social circle in which we have revolved, like the Grateful Dead as a family. The Jefferson Airplane have been our friends for years.
They’re like old, old friends of ours, from before they were the Airplane, just as people in their various scenes and our various scenes; we just overlapped a lot.
It was just a natural outgrowth. Kantner was working on this album and I would happen to be at Wally Heider’s (recording studio) and he’d say, 'Listen, I have some stuff, would you listen to it, and if there’s anything you like, would you play on it.'
I said sure, and I liked it. I went for the idea. You know Kantner’s an amazing cat, and he’s like one of those guys that – he’s just got a lot of energy and he pulls really amazing performances out of people. He’s good.

Have you been exploring any types of music that is, say out of the ordinary for you?
As a matter of fact, there will be a record of some of that music coming out. I did a thing with a friend of mine who is an amazing organist, named Howard Whales. I really don’t know how to describe the music except that it’s very far out. It’s unusual for me.
It’s just some of the strongest, most high-energy, aggressive sort of music that I’ve ever had any part in. I guess that album will be out probably in February sometime. It’s experimental for all intents and purposes.

Have you been experimenting at all with any instruments that you’re not that familiar with?
Well, the steel. The steel is the thing. I’ve been fiddling around with the piano a little bit. I’ve fiddled around with almost any instrument that’s available to me. I’ll goof around on them a little. I try to make some attempt to understand or at least to play a minimal amount on it. That’s just my normal interest in music.
Right now, the instruments I can play more or less competently are the guitar, five-string banjo, and I’m getting so I can at least get through stuff on the steel. I don’t like to have to get into something unless I think I can really devote a proper amount of time and energy to it to learn it right.

It’s been going around that the change that was evident in your last two albums was because the Grateful Dead have completely given up drugs and gone into some different trips.
Well, we’ve never been entirely into drugs. There’s always been people in the band who take drugs, and people who don’t. We don’t try to affect each other’s thinking in terms of what you should or should not take. If somebody’s on a trip of taking a certain drug, you’re free to do that.
We play together as a group and we’re living the same reality. After all this time together it’s gotten so we’re really comfortable amongst ourselves, since there’s been so much weird shit we’ve been through that nobody else knows about really. They’re shared experiences of such an exotic nature that there are levels of communication that we can get to amongst ourselves, which because of the situation we’re in is just not available to us with almost everybody else. That’s also why our other friends are musicians, in the same world.
I mean, when you’re in high-energy situations 80 per cent of the time, you have a different reality to face than a person who lives a normal day to day life.

There seems to be a problem all across the country of increased gate-crashing and violence at rock concerts. Do you endorse this, or do you have negative feelings about it?
It’s been happening at our gigs more and more often the past year. If it gets any worse, we’ll just quit touring. We don’t play background music for riots.

Do you get a chance to play with the groups that you’ve played with for so many years: Quicksilver, the Airplane, etc.?
We get our chances once in awhile, not all the time. But see, we all live in the same area. We all see each other a lot. Like Freiberg, from Quicksilver, lives three houses up the road from me.
In fact, our next joint project is me, David Freiberg, Crosby, Grace (Slick), Paul (Kantner), and Phil. We’re doing a thing together, making an album. Putting the material together and rehearsing and stuff. 

Any idea what the group of people will be called?

It doesn’t really matter?

Do you know what label it will be on?
There are several possibilities. It may be on Atlantic, might be on Warner Bros. With Kantner’s Starship album, it went to RCA because it was Kantner’s album. This one, I think we’ll do the album for us probably, and then decide who’s going to have it.

What has happened to Quicksilver; are they together now, or have they broken up?
Old Quicksilver no longer exists, and the band that’s being called Quicksilver now, are interested in changing the name. What it is now, it’s Dino Valente, Gary Duncan, Greg Elmore, and David Freiberg.

Then those four were originally with Quicksilver in the beginning anyway.
Right. Cippolina is no longer with them, and Nicky Hopkins isn’t with them now.

What is the music scene like in San Francisco now?
Everybody who was in those scenes in ’64-’67, around there, all those people are older and better. They’re good at what they do, and everybody’s pretty settled into a working groove. The music scene is very close. Everything’s just been slowly getting closer all along. We all know each other, and we hang out together. It’s good. It’s a beautiful working situation. I wouldn’t be anyplace else.

Do you ever find yourself getting behind time, being on the road and all?
Oh, time becomes a totally utter continuum. There isn’t any chronometer of time. It starts to be TV time, check-in time, plane time, and gig time. It’s just described in a whole other way, that’s all. It’s not minutes and hours and that.

How much are you on the road now?
Well, last year we were on the road a lot, but this year we’re going a lot lighter. We’re not doing as much work, just taking it easier.

Do you ever get tired of being on the road?
We don’t do it like that. We don’t make it inhuman on ourselves. I mean, there are some people who go out for six weeks, eight weeks, three months, and stuff like that. It’s like a long tour for us if we’re out for as long as two weeks.

Have the Grateful Dead always been a group where everybody pretty much has an equal part?
Oh yeah. We wouldn’t have it any other way. See, nobody wants to go through the trip of being a leader, or any of that.

How big is the audience’s role in a Grateful Dead show?
If it’s a good show, the audience’s role is at least half of what is going on.

When you go out onstage, do you ever have a concept of the audience, as far as expecting certain things from them?
No, I try not to do that. I try not to fall on any kind of performing devices, if I can avoid it. I mean, we’re hip to them all; there are tricks, but we try to avoid them. I try to do it as much on an intuitive, emotional level as much as is there.

Have you found any disadvantages to becoming a nationally known group with the following you have?
We don’t go on any trips, so there aren’t any disadvantages. We don’t put ourselves in that position.

The ego things?
Yeah. We’re just not on that trip. It doesn’t really affect – I mean, I don’t have any sense of being a national group. I only have the sense that I’m trying to become a good musician, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do for a long time. That’s what I’m still trying to do, and that’s really where it’s at with me.
As for the rest of it – it’s fun to read about yourself in the paper, but it doesn’t have any real bearing on your real existence. It’s bullshit is what it is.

(by Steven Smith, from the Oregon Daily Emerald, February 12, 1971) 

Thanks to Dave Davis

1 comment:

  1. I was meaning to comment on this when I posted it, but just ran out of time.
    Anyway, a good interview from the wilds of Oregon; as usual, Garcia seems to have ample time to rap with a reporter before the show. A few brief things to note:

    - Garcia talks a little about the Dead's cycles, where they'll be on one song cycle for about a year, then move on to the next thing. (He mentioned this elsewhere too, I don't remember where.) It's a pretty accurate way to look at the Dead's early patterns - their 1971 song cycle, for instance, was about to begin.
    - Back in fall 1970, Garcia had recorded his album with Howard Wales (Hooteroll), and here he says it'll be out in February. But it was delayed (for more overdubs & mixing, perhaps), and didn't come out until September '71.
    - Garcia's planning the live album - but since they hadn't recorded any shows for it yet (except the rejected 10/4/70), he doesn't know what'll be on it. He's thinking of songs "we’ve been doing for a long time, but have never recorded." He might not yet have thought of using the live album to introduce new songs, since those songs hadn't been played yet! (This is in contrast with Live/Dead, which was planned as a continuous suite after months of playing.)
    - It's neat to hear that the (unnamed) PERRO group was actually recording material for an album. The idea must have died quickly though, since I don't think their sessions lasted past January '71 - a brief moment of optimism, perhaps.
    - Garcia's looking forward to "taking it easier" and not touring as much as in 1970. He's sick of all the gate-crashing (and just a few hours later, a couple thousand ticketless people would crash into the Dead's Eugene show). He threatens that if it keeps up, the Dead will quit touring. "We don’t play background music for riots!"