Jul 29, 2021

September 1974: Jerry Garcia Interview


Yes, it's an interesting one isn't it? I mean, five hours...that's a long time, and well...camels are different of course, so really it must be a problem. However, Smilin' Jerry Garcia doesn't let The Grateful Dead's music get bogged down with details like that. Read his answers in NME – the one that dares ask the big questions.

It's da Dead, mayun!
Everybody's bloody grinning.
The roadies who're running around Alexandra Palace launching frisbees into the stratosphere, the ones who're plugging things in and carrying things about, the Old Ladies 'n Wives trucking around with their kids...
Everybody is grinning.
Jerry Garcia is grinning as well, wandering around in circles on the stage with his guitar tuned right in on the intergalactic noodle wavelength and a seraphic grin plastered over his mug.
His fingers trucking along busily like the game little troupers they are, he listens with his head on one side to the almost imperceptible sound of his beard growing.
A week ago he only had stubble.
Now he's sporting a Full Fledged Growth. They don't call him the Fastest Beard In The West for nothing.
What's da story, Jerry?
Welllllll, the story is that Jerry Garcia is standing in front of a scale model of the Great Wall of China playing his geetar. There's a bit of Kozmic Ragtime, some patented repeat-echo doodlerama...and what a lovely smile. The Osmonds should be so lucky as to be able to smile with the warm, friendly sincerity of the Grateful Dead and their crew. Why they weren't signed up for a Coke commercial hasta be one of the best-kept secrets of all time.
I mean, here's just one example – just one – of how thoroughly, overwhelmingly wonderful the Dead are. Are you ready for this?
It seems that at the Watkins Glen Festival (which out-statisticked Woodstock by 150,000 folks) the Dead set up speaker towers geometrically proceeding into the audience, complete with a delay system to keep it all in phase, so that even if you were one helluva way back you could still get good sound.
And – here's the killer part – they wired a goddam radio transmitter into the sound system so that all the people stuck out in the traffic jams could hear Thuh Day–ud on their itty-bitty car radios.
Now, ain't that sump'n? Would you get ELP doing that? Would you get The Faces doing that? Wouldja? Wouldja, huh?
So Uncle Jerry stashes his axe and, still grinning through his chin-warmer, saunters back-stage to a room full of impressive-looking electronic devices. On the previous night, some extremely agile thieves had descended through an airvent and ripped off a tape deck.
"It's basically what we get for starting late," beams Garcia. "That's the karma – the starting-late karma."
A philosopher, yet!

Okay, Jerry, let's do the interview. There's one real insiders' Grateful Dead question, the real heavy secret that we've all wanted to know for the last seven years, which is – how the hell do ya manage to play them long sets without needing to slink off and take a leak?
Is it some form of esoteric Yoga bladder control that you learned from Ken Kesey? Do you have tubes strapped under your jeans. What's the deal?
"Hahaaa. There isn't any real secret, I don't think...and I'm also not a beer-drinker, which probably makes a big difference. I haven't really thought about that before" – something goes click, Garcia's brain revolves 180 degrees and he feeds in another punch card – "There are times when somebody will leave the stage for some reason or other...it just doesn't seem like it.
"We don't really do five hours directly. Like we'll play an hour and a half or so, and then come back. Makes the whole thing more reasonable. Hahaaa."
"When you went off last night, I walked out into the crowd," volunteers a member of the road crew, "an' a lotta people thought you were putting them on a hype trip".
Garcia nods a couple of times, inserts an untipped Camel into his smile. "I can't understand why they would think that. They might think that that was where the band was at. I'm on a self-destruction programme," he says, alluding to the untipped cigarette. No filter tip's gonna come between you and that ol' debbil cancer, right, Jerry?
"Maybe. Hahaaa. Death has a better than fair chance anyway. Like tooth decay."
Ye-e-ah...mighty fine lookin' PA system you got there, Jerry.
"The reason that we have it and the reason that we developed it 'n all that is that we weren't really anticipating an amazing growth in our audience, which has happened, and so in terms of – uh – respecting the situation and trying to deal with it righteously, our point of view has been, well, since we're playing to larger audiences in larger places, the thing to do should be to divert the energy into improving the quality of the performance.
"Obviously, the bigger the place, the worse the sound."
Yeah, but Jerry, that problem exists for lotsa bands...
"Yeah, but not that many acts are concerned about it."
"It's a problem of individual responsibility. If the musicians feel very strongly about it, then it's up to them to do something about it.
"The economics of rock and roll don't allow for trying to get a better and better sound, since the idea is to cut down on expenses. Our motive is simply a sense of responsibility about what it is. When you're playing in a big room, there's no way to – uh – de-escalate."
So that's why you play all those club gigs in your spare time, huh, Jerry?
"Oh, I do those 'cuz I'm a musician. I'm a player. The thing I want to do most is to play. I wanna learn how to play better, and the only way you can do that is to play."
Hey, Jerry...didja hear about Windsor? Bummer, man. Bad vibes, y'know?
"We've seen it happen in the United States...time and time again. It's almost at the point now where you can describe music as an illegal activity in terms of the free equation. Woodstock and Altamont and all the other large-scale things that were characterised by a certain amount of confusion or violence have all produced a new level of paranoia. We still get busted a lot.
"Basically we're outlaws. We're viewed as outlaws, and we've developed outlaw-style protective colouration. We're not immune, by any means. We haven't gained any degree of respectability."
Well, you could play it like the Allmans and get a dude from the diplomatic corps to waltz you through customs...
"Yeah. Hahaaaa. Screw it, I'd rather take my chances. I don't like to feel that I'm existing on that level. That's not who I am at all. I don't like any of the trappings of success at all. They're all poison. It's hard enough just playin', and that's all I wanna do."
In that case, does it hang ya up to be a guru 'n a "signpost to new space" and all the rest of that Charles Reich aardvaark waste?
"It could, but...I don't deal with my public image. I regret having ever spoken to anyone...haHAAAAh...but I feel that as long as I have...I have a kinda responsibility to follow it up and clarify it as much as I can.
"The difficulty is that my viewpoint is not static. My mind is dynamic and my thoughts are changing and my ideas are changing. I'm embarrassed by that book (Garcia: A Signpost To New Space by Charles Reich and Jann Wenner), I'm embarrassed by seeing my name in print, I'm embarrassed by having to be out on stage, I'm embarrassed...on many levels."
Whoooo-ee. It's amazing that Garcia can even bring himself to walk out of his house in the morning.
"I really just love to play, y'know? I love to play without having to be – uh – fulfilling this human drama aspect of – uh – whatever it is."
Jerry Garcia is really such a nice old hippie that I felt kind of bad about talking to him under false pretences. I mean, I saw the Dead two years ago at Wembley and they were great, but I've never been able to get off at all on their records. So I said just that.
"Ye-e-ahh – our records are awful."
"We've never bothered too much, y'know? HaHAAAA-haah! I don't think that recording is a suitable form for us. The live thing is what we do."
Well, if we're all agreed that the Dead's records just don't cut it, doesn't that make them a bit of a rip-off, something of a burn?
"That's exactly it. HaaHaaa-ha!! It's a burn for us and for the public, too. We've never really made money from records. Our records have always like sold to a small, closed audience. We've never scored big from records. We've always spent more making them than we've made back...or some other permutation of unsuccessful possibility.
"A lot of people come to see us, but don't buy our records. There's a whole big scene of people who do nothing but swap live tapes of us – for free! That's a heavier trip than records, y'know?"
Has having your own label made any difference on that level?
"Yes, it's made it possible for us to get into a – uhhh – a scheming bag, y'know? Haa – HAAAA! We've got our own record company, which means that we can make any kind of crazy plans we want to.
"We can spend time...plotting, y'know. It gives us something to play with. And it also means that we can make records 'n stuff without feeling 'we're gonna turn out another record for The Man'."
The Dead not only tape every single show that they perform, but they even tape their soundchecks as well, even if the soundcheck is just Garcia doodling for three hours. It all goes down on tape. Why d'ya tape everything, Jerry?
"We-e-e-e-lll...you can't always trust your memory...can you?"
But what do you do with all these miles of tape?
"We take 'em all back to California and burn 'em. Hey – take a look at this." He ambles over to a corner of the room and pulls this huge mound of celluloid tagliatelle out from behind a chair. "This here is last night's show." He lets it cascade back on to the floor, wipes his boot on it, and drifts back out on to the stage to play a little more.


When you glance over the sleeve credits on West Coast albums of the last few years, you get a distinct "old pals act" vibe off the whole schmear. Maybe these guys are getting a little insular in their old age. Hey, Jerry, have you ever been to see Alice Cooper?
"I never have; never seen him perform. Never been curious enough. It's not my trip. I'm not that much of an entertainment freak. If I go out, I go out to hear some music, and I usually know what I'm going to hear.
"If I'm goin' out, I'm goin' out because I know that so-and-so is playing bass. I hardly ever go to see rock and roll bands, because I'm not into the space of being able to get off on a rock and roll band. Whatever I would be digging would be whatever the band's limitations were, and I'm less interested in my own music than in the music I'm going out to see.
"So if I'm gonna go out, it automatically has to be better than me, which means that it has to be better than anything I'm better than. And I'm better than a lot of rock and roll bands.
"I have a small percentage of get-off space. There's not many things that get me off. It has to be pretty deep."
Hmmmmmm...it does seem as if Jerry Garcia is getting a trifle hidebound these days. I mean, it's one thing to rap about striving for new forms 'n all that garf, but if you don't bother to check out where other people are at, then there's a very real danger of getting a trifle out of touch.


Jerry Garcia is a genuinely charming old hippie. If he wasn't in the Dead and wasn't a star and lived down the street from me, I'd probably try and hang out with him a lot and maybe cop the odd guitar lesson from him. But listening to the Dead these days is like visiting your relatives.
It's pleasant and relaxing and really quite enjoyable, but it's also more than a little soporific. They've lost most of their punch and power, and their music now is rich and full, but sluggish and old and fat and slow.
They open up their set with Chuck Berry's 'Around And Around' played about as inappropriately as is possible. It would be foolish to sing: "Well, the joint was flowin', flowin' round and round/just ebbin' and a-flowin', what a laid-back sound," but that's really the way it is.
Even when the Dead play Berry, it just doesn't rock.
Not that I'd want them to come on with strobe lights, power chords and green eye make-up, but...hey, wake up in there, you guys! It is only on 'Peggy-O' and 'I Know You Rider' that their laid-backery coalesces with their material and produces music of genuine, tranquil beauty.
The blue lights highlight the grey in Garcia's hair and beard, turning it almost silvery. He looks very old against the clean-cut All-American Boy collegiate look currently sported by Bob Weir.
Even that phoenix-like guitar sparkle seems a trifle dimmed, and the same licks just seem to be coming around again.
And – horror of horrors – at one point he even leaves the stage between numbers to take a leak.
Another illusion shattered.

(by Charles Shaar Murray, from New Musical Express, 21 September 1974)

Jul 23, 2021

October 1974: Death of the Dead

San Rafael -- We had been watching a horror movie on the BBC, and by the time we started upstairs, we were terrified. The house, a ready-for-demolition Victorian pile, creaked ominously as we climbed the steeply-angled servants' stairs. Sheet-shrouded furniture, familiar by day, loomed eerily from around corners. After a brief fling at rationality ("We're adults. This is silly."), followed almost immediately by a return of the willies ("I'll watch the door while you go to the john if you stand out in the hall when I go."), my housemate hit on the cure: "Put on a Grateful Dead album." It worked. Halfway through "Ripple," things already seemed brighter. Sure that no monsters lurked in the shadows, we went happily off to our rooms. 
They have always been good for what ails us, but now the Dead are dying. Three winters ago, they played a four-night stand at the Felt Forum. Though they could easily have swooped into New York and shaken their money-makers for only one night at the Garden, they chose to work the smaller hall. But last summer, they played only once - at umpty-thousand seat Roosevelt Stadium. And now they've announced that they will not be coming back to New York - or anywhere else - for a while. Maybe never. The Grateful Dead will no longer perform live, and the Golden Age of Boogie is over. 
"Listen, if there's one thing we learned in ten years on the road," said Ron Rakow of Grateful Dead Records, "it's that celebration is a valid form of revolution." He's wrong. There are any number of reasons why the Dead are going into hibernation, and one of them is that they tried to run their revolution as though it were a celebration. It didn't work. 
Their revolution - not the one that made us boogie on our chairs, but the one that made record company execs quake in theirs - was structural rather than stylistic. True to their mushy Marin principles, the Dead thought music belonged to the people, and they put their money where their minds were. Unlike the adaptive model of rich hippie-cynics - who usually perceived the absurdity of a rock'n'roll "industry" as clearly as they did - the Dead tried to do something about it. They created what was essentially a people's corporation - a family if you will. Rather than working through an established booking agency, they fostered their own (Out of Town Tours, Inc.) in a corner of their San Rafael office, and peopled it with Dead Heads. And their own travel agency (Fly-by-Night) in another. Finally - and most threateningly - they began their own, independently-distributed, record label. 
Out of Town Tours expired in a welter of accusations a few months ago, sending its director (Sam Cutler, of Altamont fame) back to Texas. The people who worked for him - all of them long-time members of the Dead family - were then visited by Hell's Angels and told never to work for the Dead again. "They said something would be coming along in about a month, and that we'd be taken care of," one recalled, "but that if we took any job connected with the Dead, they'd come after us." Far out, man. 
Fly-by-Night folded several weeks ago, and last week a for rent sign went up on the floor of offices that once housed the Dead's operations. The real estate agent says a group of dentists may take it. 
Yet the record company - the most genuinely revolutionary of the Dead's offspring - continues. In a decaying house forever safe from invading dentists, plans go on for a resurrection. The band will continue to record (and a good thing, too - "From Mars Hotel" is their best album since "American Beauty"), and may go back on the road sometime in 1976. If they can find a sane way to do it. 
That condition will be a hard one to meet. Victimized by their own success, the Dead got caught in a spiral of working larger halls so that they could make enough money to support their corporate family, which meant they needed exponentially increasing amounts of equipment (800 lbs. in 1965; 6000 in 1968; 30,000 in 1973; 56,000 now) and more people to transport it and set it up. Which meant more overhead, hence a need to play larger halls. Which meant more equipment... 
All of which was compounded by the legendary disorganization of their entropic road crew. To some extent, their 32-hour set-up time was a function of the complicated equipment and the band's perfectionist zeal. But it also reflected the lingering inability of acid casualties to concentrate on the job - any job - at hand. Besides, who's to give orders in an anarchist family? 
So the band found itself working harder and harder in its attempt to give huge audiences the same experience that they used to share with small ones - with no discernible increase in net income. Though about one-third of their income came from record royalties, almost all their enormous overhead (well over $100,000 a month) went to touring. Six musicians up on stage, not having as much fun as they used to, supporting people who often acted less like family than like superannuated spare-change artists. No wonder the party's over. 
They talk now, bravely, of alternatives. Perhaps buy raw land eight places in the world, then travel from one spot to another, setting up and playing for as long as people want to hear them...or maybe four-walling the group in small halls for a month at a time...or...or... But for now, it's over. Next weekend's Winterland concerts will be the last. 
Say this for the Dead: they tried. And say too that we will miss them.
(by Geoffrey Stokes, from the "Rock Notes" column, Village Voice, October 31, 1974) 

Jul 15, 2021

March 22-23, 1970: Pirate's World, Dania, Florida

There were two big surprises at Pirate's World this past weekend involving rock concerts. 
The first was the super show Country Joe and the Fish put on Friday and Saturday night before average-sized crowds. Most expected little, got a big high, and left happy. 
The second surprise was the down feeling left by the Grateful Dead after performances on Sunday and Monday night. Most went expecting the best show ever. They left disappointed. 
Country Joe and his group fooled around for many years before hitting it in a big way. In fact, the spring of 1969 was the turning point. Only Joe McDonald and Barry Melton were still around from the original group. The decision was made to try the hard rock scene, and the other three making up the group were not hard to find. 
Now McDonald is the lead vocal and Melton the lead guitar, doing some vocal as well. Mark Kapner, who grooves to the organ, piano and uke, has been with the Fish since the spring. Drummer Greg Dewey left Mad River to join the Fish, while Doug Metzler left New York's top underground band, the Group Image, to join this group. 
The original Fish got together in 1965, specializing in light rock, blues, even a little country. It soon was obvious that this combination wasn't going to work, so the hard rock style was adopted. 
Since the group's rebirth in '69, gigs have been easy to come by. The Woodstock Festival was one of the early stops. Soon followed the New Orleans Pop Festivals and the Thunderbird Peach Festival in Canada. A world tour ended back in New York at the Fillmore. 
This year the group has been going better than ever. The release of a fifth LP helped, but the concert this past weekend set off the group for good in South Florida. 
The start of the music was greeted with little attention and less applause. The people were rapping with each other, with the Fish playing in the background. Then a feeling swept through all assembled. Soon the attention was focused on the stage. 
Country Joe swung into "Summer Dress" and "Sun A Rocket" with the kids starting to get into it. It wasn't until the last 20 minutes of the hour and 40 minute concert that the people were set off. 
When McDonald invoked a trick used often by B.B. King the people got hep. He invited the crowd to sing along as the group rocked into the top single "The Love Machine." The 15 minute version of the cut was the final wonder of a pile of wonders. 
Mick Jagger said it best for this group when he was quoted: "It's the singer, not the song." 
Country Joe proved this cliche this past week. 
There was a different type of crowd at Pirate's World Sunday and Monday night for the Grateful Dead. More hair and less teeny-boppers showed. It was obvious something heavy was going to happen. 
The Dead, who have shown in the past their dislike of the payed-for concert, put on a lackadaisical show that lasted for little over an hour. Few listened to the group. Less got into the sound. 
"The man in the streets isn't ready for our sound," said group leader Jerry Garcia several months ago in ROLLING STONE. "Rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's is groovy," says second man Phil Lesh. "As long as you render to God's what is God's. But now Caesar demands it all, and we gotta be straight with God first." 
One of the many problems the Grateful Dead have encountered is their inability to cope with the straight world. The original group that became the Dead, the Warlocks, "were already on the crazy-eyed fanatic trip," according to Garcia. 
Seldom does the group go on stage without every member being in some state of drug-induced euphoria. They say they do better while stoned. 
Jerry said: "Okay, so you take LSD and suddenly you are aware of another plane, or several other planes, and the quest is to extend that limit, to go as far as you can go. In the Acid Tests, that meant to do away with the old forms, with old ideas, try something new!" 
He felt this was one of the keys to the sound. 
For some reason or other, the Grateful Dead did not put on a heavy show last weekend. Maybe this area doesn't dig the sound or the members of the group. Maybe the trip the Dead are on is coming to an abrupt end.
(by Angelo Rescinti, from the Hollywood Sun-Tattler, March 27, 1970) 

Jul 8, 2021

April 1971: Boston Music Hall & Fillmore East

April 8, 1971 - Boston Music Hall 
[The first part of the review covered Three Dog Night at Boston Garden.]
[ . . . ]  If the Garden was a triumph for one of the best of the mass favorites, the Boston Music Hall was a disaster for one of the leading elitist favorites. I don't care who you are or what your taste is - if Three Dog Night had taken that stage last Thursday night for five minutes, they would have come closer to doing what the Grateful Dead failed to do all evening: getting people off. The Dead performed like slobs. The sound was unmixed - you couldn't hear the bass until halfway through the concert when someone finally got the bright idea of turning it up. Never known for their singing ability, the vocalists butchered everything in sight. Someone in that group sings consistently off key, and whoever he is they ought to find him, put a towel in his mouth, and tell him to cool it. Their instrumental work was uninspired, their performing attitude sterile and, in the words of the Last Poets, sanctimonious. 
Who cares if they play for six hours when four of them are less than ordinary, less than interesting, less than moving? Should it really be necessary to wade through hours and hours of rambling uncertainty and false starts for twenty minutes of solid jamming? Thursday night at the Music Hall it was strictly coitus interruptus: the band never really came. 
The audience was a show, too. Where Three Dog Night gets high school students, the Dead gets the dropouts. There was enough manic dizziness, enough mindless reacting, and enough dope to last this city for the next six months. 
The Dead may be a great band in their own way because they know how to build energy. On record, they take the time to make sure it sounds right. But live - whew. How long can they go on without a good lead singer, a good drummer, and so detached an attitude? 
The most frustrating thing about them is that they are constantly repairing with one hand what they have destroyed with another. Jerry Garcia tried to sing Smokey Robinson's "I Second That Emotion." His heart was in the right place but the band was simply not up to this kind of material. His singing was horrid. I threw my hands up in disgust only to hear him line out a beautifully melodic solo on guitar (he is an unquestionably fine guitarist) in the very next instant. 
Such are the confusions of the Grateful Dead. One minute they do something beneath criticism and the next they do something above it. Jerry Garcia can't sing but he sure can play. They are masters of the change-up. And we all know that change-up pitchers are good in short doses but don't make it over the long haul. 
* * *  

April 25, 1971 - Fillmore East

I saw the Dead again last Sunday at the Fillmore East. The mail on my previous report was so critical that I had no choice but to see them again, to check my reactions. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I was right. They were every bit as bad at the Fillmore as they were at the Music Hall. And while the audience cheered ritualistically, everyone in the Fillmore seemed to realize it wasn't happening. 
The Dead have gotten themselves into marathon consciousness. They are equating length with some sort of musical virtue. They have forgotten how to edit themselves and they force you to listen to so much bad music in order to hear some fine things that it just doesn't seem worth it. No one really knows why Mickey Hart left the group, but Bill Kreutzmann is not a good enough drummer to carry them alone. Despite their frequent use of (very mediocre) harmony, the critical absence of a lead singer with a competent voice cannot be disguised. As for the rest, well, no one has ever accused the group of being tight and they certainly aren't. Their music has no drive, nothing compelling, nothing that pushes you forward. It sits there and happens. Presumably that is the quality that appeals to their devotees, and I can vaguely see why.
That does not change the fact that the group does certain things that are incontestably atrocious. Anyone who has ever seen the Rascals running wild on a stage - anyone who has ever listened to Felix Cavaliere sing on their first album - has got to laugh at Pigpen doing their "Good Lovin'." He sings off key, he ignores the melody, and he fails to convey any feeling. If you don't believe me, listen to the Rascals do it just once. Likewise Jerry Garcia's lame version of "I Second That Emotion," and the entire ensemble's work on "Not Fade Away." In every case where the Dead do someone else's material, their interpretation is manifestly inferior. The most notable instance in all of Dead history was, of course, their butchery of Bobby Bland's "Turn On Your Love Light." 
The audience applauds about the same for every song. They don't seem to recognize any differences in quality or interest within the performance itself. To me, that kind of lack of discrimination is indicative of an insensitivity to the Dead's music in particular, and music in general. In no way is it a tribute to the group. 

(by Jon Landau, from the Boston Phoenix, April 1971)
Compare to: 

Jun 24, 2021

March 1981: Mickey Hart Interview


CL: Tell us something of your background up until you joined the Dead.

MH: My mother and father were both rudimental drummers and they were involved in the drum corps scene on the East Coast in the 30's and 40's.
My mother taught me how to play the drums - the rudiments. I went through High School on Long Island and played in the school band, and I started to play rock and roll at the weekends in small clubs. The first combo I had, I thought it was a rock and roll combo, I was playing drums and we had an accordion and a valve trombone! That was the trio. Then we got into guitars but we still didn't know what we were doing.
Then I went into the Air Force because they have the best rudimental drummers in the world. I figured that was the only way to get next to drummers of that calibre. Spent a lot of time playing - clubs at night and in marching bands during the day.
Afterwards when I came out I started a drum store on the Peninsula, Jerry was teaching guitar out there - and everybody was hanging out in Palo Alto. I was hanging out with this guy called Sonny Payne who was the drummer with the Count Basie Band. I admired that big band style and once in a while I got a chance to sit in with them in rehearsals and things.
I met Kreutzmann one night and we just started drumming on cars and things. It was with Sonny I think, yeah that's right, I'd taken Sonny to see Janis who'd just started at the Matrix. It was her first gig there or something. It was so loud, James Gurley picked up the guitar and raped it. If you're talking about where punk rock came from - there was nothing like James Gurley. He took that guitar, turned round and embraced the amplifier, turned it right up, shook it, did a little dance with it and rapped it on the floor and it was magnificent. It was the best solo I'd ever heard. Sonny got a headache and walked out of my life that night.
Anyway I met Kreutzmann and he told me about the Dead. So I went to hear them, couldn't believe them, sounded great. He asked me to play for the second set. So I brought my drum set, started playing. Yeah, that was probably at the Straight Theater and we really did play Alligator for two hours.
In those days we'd take a lot of psychedelics and play for long periods of time and we'd get into really monstrous jams. Truly monumental, they had a life of their own, never lived again. That night was really inspired I think, it had to be in order for me to play with the band forever. You knew you were one of the Grateful Dead. You couldn't follow that stuff, there was no way you could academically, technically or mathematically keep up with the Grateful Dead. It would be impossible. Especially then, we didn't know as much as we do now, so it had to come from another place, it was magic.

CL: Tell me about Mickey Hart and the Heartbeats. Were there just the 3 nights at the Matrix?

MH: Was that all there was, I have more tapes than that I think. Someone gave me a whole set of those tapes. He took cassettes right off the masters. Jack Cassady played one night and so did Elvin Bishop. The Heartbeats were really the Dead without Pig Pen and Weir. It wasn't a blues band - it was very experimental music. There we were in the Matrix, this tiny coffee shop. We were set up in there looking at the wall which was only 8 or 10 feet away. There were people coming in off the street, they didn't know who it was. They thought it was a coffee shop, we'd come on and we'd kill them. There was virtually no singing, we played for hours. The only rule was that there were no rules.
I was sick one time at the hospital and somebody slipped the whole set of tapes under the door. That whole period was very far out. It was like trying food for the first time.

CL: Like the Carousel?

MH: The Carousel was amazing. It was our own place, the familiarity of it was an asset musically. It was home. Musically speaking it was like a creative laboratory. Doing one-nighters you're exposed to various elements, there's an uncertainty to your existence. It's like me, I don't live a normal life, it takes me four hours to psyche myself to get up there and do what I do and 3 or 4 at the other end coming down.
Anyway at the Carousel we were in a really important developmental stage musically and technically. We were children in an adult world, and like children we were doing really desperate things and it paid great dividends.
I used to hitch-hike to the Carousel, I didn't have a car, we were making $50 a week, for years! There was a time when we weren't even getting salaries! We were literally hunting for our food. It wasn't hardship, we were all having fun, smoking lots of dope. Me and Bobby and Phil were living not far from 710 Ashbury on Belvedere Street, Kreutzmann lived there for a time too. It got too small at 710. I lived in this closet, had a stairway in it. All I had was an Ali Raka record, a bed, and a candle. Some of the best times I ever had were in the closet.
San Francisco's a creative city, I get the chills just thinking about it. I'm alive there. It's like sticking your musical self into this great plug.

CL: I believe you once played bass with Country Joe & The Fish around that time?

MH: Oh that one! Me and Barry [Melton] were hanging out, working on some project or other, and Joe called him up as something had happened with the bass player and I was learning then. I didn't know any chords, didn't know what changes were or anything. Melton took me down to the gig. I brought my Ring Modulator and Olympic fretless bass and plugged in. I thought it was great. It flipped Joe out. He couldn't believe it. I wasn't concerned with the changes so much as the colour and the intensity. But then Joe used to go up there and sleep for 45 minutes. I don't know about Joe, but it was like comatose music. Same fucking songs, same fucking way. He's not what I call inspiration, musically speaking, let's put it that way - I know he didn't like my bass playing, I sort of like him for it. Over the years I'd say, 'If you need a bass player - call me up', and he goes into a frenzy.
God - that was a long time ago. Barry loved it, but Dorothy Moscowitz came up to me and said, 'Mickey Hart, you know you're random!' and I said 'Yes, I know, thank you. That's the nicest thing you could have said to me,' and she went to pieces and walked away. There is a certain randomness to me and there is that to music.
I never lacked balls especially when it comes to exploring new music. Just before we came over I played this gig with the Rhythm Devils. [Feb 13-14, 1981] Me and Kreutzmann, Airto and Lesh and Flora Purim. We performed at the Marin Veterans Auditorium, recorded direct to disc, sounded great - and that was new music. That was my 1981 version of new music, I let Lesh play bass on that one, but the percussion was all the percussion I'd assembled over the years. Anyway, new music, that's what I'm into, that's what I'm after.

CL: How did the New Riders come about?

MH: Jerry wanted to learn the Pedal Steel. We had Marmaduke, Bob Matthews, and Dave Nelson, and we set up in my barn. I wanted to learn about country and western music, so we set up a workshop.
Being in the Dead was like wearing a spacesuit and being in the New Riders was like wearing a pair of jeans. I couldn't go back and forth in one evening. It was the New Riders, then the Acoustic Dead and the Dead. I loved it, but do you know how many hours a night that was? Dryden had left the Airplane. (I venture that I'd heard he couldn't keep up with their long sets.) Yeah. He didn't really work at being a drummer. I have to keep myself in shape, I did even then. Dryden never did. [line missing] All good drummers but they never thought of their art as physical. They just saw it as practicing the drums. I have to run 8 or 10 miles a day or I go nuts.
Actually, talking of Dave Getz, he is one of the few drummers that really knocked me flat out. He was at Winterland, Janis and Big Brother. Jerry and I were sitting at the top. In those days we could just go out and dig it, unheard of now. All of a sudden, it's the last number of the set and he plays this monstrous drum solo. On the last note he hits the floor tom tom and as he did so he just got up in the same movement and walked off. I was a Dave Getz fan from that day on. Spencer Dryden did it for me at the Fillmore once.
Ginger Baker did it once at the Winterland with Cream, we'd just finished mixing Aoxomoxoa or one of those, and we walked in just as he was getting into his solo. It was amazing, I turned to Jerry and said, 'They have to be the best band in the world' and he said 'Tonight they are the best band in the world.' They were that night.
We invited them to play with us. We played in Sacramento [3/11/68] and Kreutzmann and I get really up for it. We got there and we played and we were the best band in the world that night, no one could play like that. Ginger got crazy and they went out there and I really felt for them because they blew out every speaker on the first note. They were trying to reach our intensity. We were sitting in the front row and we thought about it and so we got our equipment guys, Ramrod and Heard to roll all our equipment out. They played through it and it was so clear it scared the shit out of Clapton, they were used to feeding back through all their Marshalls.
But Ginger was great, there aren't many drummers that can do that to me. Of course Ali [Rakha] does it to me, a lot more. They only did it to me once in their lives. They have to be really inspired. I went to see Billy Cobham last night, mediocre. A great drummer and he's a friend of mine but mediocre. I'd say that if he was here.
He played with us at Radio City (New York, last November) [10/30/80] and afterwards he said to me 'I had no idea. Do you know where this is?' and then he said, 'I guess you do, you're doing this all the time'. He answered his own question, I didn't have a chance to reply. He got turned on to the place that I've taken percussion, what I consider percussion to be. I mean you can't stay in Buddy Rich land forever, that's nowhere.

CL: Why did you leave the Dead?

MH: There was something in my mind that I wanted to do. Also I didn't like touring and the Road was getting a little much for me. I'm into the outdoors. There were minor inner squabbles but mainly it was my own quest to find out what I sounded like personally, instead of just in the Grateful Dead. At that time I built a studio at my house with Dan Healey and learnt about electronics. I didn't just drop out, I went straight into working on Rolling Thunder. I hadn't been able to work on it on the road, it took so much thought. But one good thing about the Dead is that you either are the Grateful Dead or you're not the Grateful Dead, so when I came back I was just back. There was no asking. It was just a matter of 'now it's time, I've finished what I had to do - now I'm ready to play'. I just brought my drums down one night and played and that was it - that's pretty much the way it went.

CL: I've seen it suggested that part of the reason you left was that the Dead's music was getting less complex and your role as ace percussionist was becoming less essential?

MH: That was part of it certainly, but the biggest part was wanting to find out what I sounded like. If I had wanted to be there, I would have been there. I would have made a situation, played percussion, done something to make it musically feasible for me to stay. My leaving was definitely a positive thing, I was just after something else. I knew they wouldn't forget me. I knew that some way, when the time was right it would all come together again. It's a great example of their flexibility that it could happen like that.

CL: Tell us some more about the Barn.

MH: Over the years since it was built up it has become my college. I do things in there that most people wouldn't do, for many reasons. It's my laboratory; it's where I discover stuff that I want to use. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't. It's also available to some of my friends, like Barry Melton, his is about the most mainstream music that we've recorded there. Most of my work is electronic or high level percussion. I reproduce it my own way and I learn about stuff, you can study all that forever.
The Barn became an Oasis for a large number of people. Now I also go out and record remote - which I call MERT. I don't charge for that because if I make a mistake, ok well it's an experiment, but I do it pretty well and mistakes are rare. All I ask them for is a copy of the tape. I want to be able to get to my locker in the middle of the night and be able to pick out a vintage Ali Akbar Khan from 72 that I've recorded, it's like my wine cellar. I study the world's music, I've been to the Arctic Circle, Cairo, Tokyo, wherever and bring it back. That's my joy. Having the Barn has enabled me to become an engineer.
We recorded just so much stuff there, including my second and third solo albums which have never been released. Fire on the Mountain (the 2nd one) wasn't released because Warners wanted me to go out and tour and I wouldn't. They were looking for a pop oriented thing. There's another example of 'new music' - it may sound great now but back then, can you imagine. When I played it at Warners they all walked out - Joe Smith walked out. I'll never forget it. I realized I had succeeded, I thought 'Wow I must be onto something'. The third record really flipped them out. I'm into new music at almost any cost - as a desperate man should. That's my future.

CL: What about Diga? I believe it's possible to trace their origins back to a Dead gig at the Greek Theater in Berkeley in 68.

MH: That's right. It was Vince Delgado on Dumbeck, Shakhar Ghosht, me and Kreutzmann. It was in the middle of Alligator, we rolled the amps apart, brought the risers forward and played, for a very long time. [9/20/68]
Anyway I went on to study with Shankar Ghosht, I studied tabla and I taught him traps. Also I was working with Ali Raka, we stayed together for days around the time we were recording Aoxomoxoa. I went back and studied at his school and he introduced me to his son, Zakir Hussein - Zakir had a bunch of tabla students, there was also a conga player, a vibe player, and a marimba player, and we all got together and worked out those incredible ornate compositions, for over a year or so. We put it together in the back room.
Anyway one day Grace Slick called me up. Oh right. Grace and I were working on Kung Fu movie scores. I played her a tape of the new percussion band and she loved it. She said 'we're playing at Winterland, would you like to open for us'. [May 16-17, 1975] So I took all these kids down there and it was great, Ali [Rakha] was in the audience. He loved it. Owsley was doing the PA. Then we played in the park. [5/30/75] But there were 14 people and it was too cumbersome to keep it together or take it on the road. So that was Diga.

CL: The Rhythm Devils?

MH: Rhythm Devils are the bastard son of Diga. In the second set we take our solo. When Coppola came and asked me to do the score, I put together Airto, because he's the jungle man and Flora and we did that record. I wanted to take it out live to play new music with old instruments. We had all my things plus Airto's 'sound sculptures', these large metal sculptures that you play. He's a magician. He plays traps really well now and his percussion is superb. Where else do you find out about these jungle things. You have to go to the real thing: Airto. Kreutzmann has become addicted to talking drums. Mike Hinton is a former student of mine when I had the drum store in Palo Alto, he's played with Sinatra and Liza Minnelli, all those Broadway shows. He's a doctor of percussion from Julliard - not too shabby. Phil Lesh on 'unusual' bass. A very unusual ensemble.

(by John Platt, from Comstock Lode magazine #9, 1981)

Here are some excerpts from the interview Mickey did with Swing 51 during the same visit to London, March 1981, printed some years later.

From the editor's introduction:
This interview dwells on fairly esoteric subject matter as far as standard Grateful Dead interviews go. This was deliberate as the interview was originally going to appear in the now defunct Dark Star magazine and the focus was on some of Hart's less mainstream activities. Dark Star's Grateful Dead special issue never appeared which was a shame because for its time it would have been out of the ordinary. Nowadays - with the standards set by that excellent Californian magazine Golden Road - people would probably not even bat an eyelid...
The primary focus to the interview was on Hart's many side-projects and the wealth of material that has never seen any commercial release. This subject matter not only included Hart's 1972 solo album Rolling Thunder and its unreleased follow-ups such as Fire On The Mountain and The Silent Flute, but also work with some of the transitory spin-off bands. It also delved into Hart's own original forays into ethnic or world music...

[The questions weren't printed in this interview.]

I was hanging out with Sonny Payne, who was the drummer with Count Basie. I played jazz. I played with Gerry Mulligan a little bit; I played some gigs with him in Europe. I was into big band. I read. I read music - I say that past tense but I probably still do. I haven't read in a long time. I was schooled in concert band, in dance band, in jazz band, in rudimental drumming. That's where I came from, from the rudimental side. Then I learned the dance drums, the trap set, because I had to make money after-hours to put myself through anything I wanted to be put through - school or whatever. And that's how I made my way when I was younger - by playing 'casuals', we call them, affairs, lame little functions with odd bands. Live musicians playing odd music for odd people! But it was a living and I was young and it was the only way you could do it. There was no rock'n'roll then, or rock'n'roll was just starting.

I had this fascination with Indian music because it was so rhythmically articulate and so developed; it was muscular rhythmically speaking. Mostly in the West it's harmony and melody, which is not very familiar in Indian music. Which is melody. But it was rhythmically so developed that I was naturally attracted to it. My teacher was Alla Rakha, Ravi Shankar's drummer, who I sought out years before. I studied at the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music, so I guess that was the beginnings of Diga when I studied classical Indian music. I studied time, tabla, and just your way of going about Indian music, and because it was so sophisticated rhythmically I could wallow in it. Then it worked its way into my style and my thought and I started composing with the added attraction of having all that experience in Indian music.

The beginning of Diga was actually in '68 when Vince Delgado, who was part of the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music, and Shankar Ghosh, the tabla player, sat in with us - me and Kreutzmann - on 'Alligator' at the Berkeley Community Theater and we played for about an hour.
Then I met Zakir Hussain. Alla Rakha introduced me to his son, Zakir, who played with Mahavishnu and Shakti and all those things. A master musician. He's one of the few really talented percussionists in the world. He got all his tabla students together. We got a conga player, a marimba player, a vibe player, and we practiced for a year or so in the back rooms. We learned all these compositions which were very heady and we composed. I put them in The Barn for three months and recorded it. That's where Diga came from. It certainly came from the rhythmic density that I learned from Alla Rakha. [ . . .]

[On leaving the Dead]
We never really split up. I was building my studio and making my records, learning what I sounded like, developing Diga. It didn't seem like taking a backseat. I was quite active, more active than the Grateful Dead. But I didn't go on the road and that's what made a difference.
[Rolling Thunder] was a year of my life. That's what my life sounded like for one year. I really wanted that record to represent somebody's life - mine particularly. It's a true representation because that's where I lived. The rain on the roof - it was the rainy season. I still have 16 tracks of rain! I have boxes of the most beautifully recorded rain in the world.... And there was music and that was the kind of music I was into. I was writing the soundtrack to 'Mickey Hart' that year.
The Shoshone invocation at the beginning of Rolling Thunder is by a medicine man, a Shoshone, a friend and a doctor, the Grateful Dead's doctor. He performs ceremonies and picks his herbs there. He was a certain spiritual inspiration to me and he had a spirit which, I think, embodied the spirit of Rolling Thunder - the studio as well. The invocation is a little prayer thanking the Great Spirit for the music. [ . . . ]

Here's what happened to Fire On The Mountain: it's in a locker somewhere and Warners has it. They signed me up for a few albums and Rolling Thunder was one of them. That was very well received and it was a fine album. Then I went with a second one called Fire On The Mountain which a magnificent version of 'Fire On The Mountain' appears on. I bring it down to Joe Smith and those people at Warner Brothers and they canned it. They wanted 'rock 'em, sock 'em', something to take on the road. I don't think they knew what they had. I don't think they understood it, that fire was in there. They could have been selling fish. They actually walked out on me while I was playing it for them.
A lot of it is me and Jerry at the Palace of Fine Arts. [11/28/73] We got on the stage with our synthesisers and drums and just met and played for four hours. I put some of those tapes on Fire On The Mountain, and there was some stuff that I did with Melton.... All kinds of great, adventurous songs. And also space. Great music, I thought. [ . . . ]
Anyway, I thought those guys [at Warner Brothers] really can't see, so I went into the studio and made the third one - which was not released either - called The Silent Flute.
You haven't heard of that one! That's obscure and that's my best work. A very strong piece of work in a locker someplace in Warner Brothers... I did it all in two weeks and it never saw the light of day. I've never talked about it. [ . . . ]

We live in 415 area code and all my friends like Jim McPherson, John Cippolina, Barry Melton, and David Freiberg were from that area. We got together and played things like 'Ghost Riders In The Sky' and Jim McPherson's songs. Jim McPherson is a great musician and songwriter; he played in Copperhead with Batwang. Cippolina's Batwang....all his guitars've got batwings on them. [ . . . ]
So, we put together this loose, fragmented group of musicians and that's why we called it 415. We never released the material. We just stuck it in the locker. That seems like my life story. Our output is so much greater than our releases. We're pretty prolific.
Most of the big companies aren't really interested in these recordings and I'm not into hawking them. But a lot of them are really worthy. It's just laying there, man. I don't know what's going to happen to it. We play it all the time.... Jerry plays a magnificent solo on 'Fire On The Mountain'. I think the rights might have come back to me [for] Fire On The Mountain. We only leased our records to Warners. After five or seven years those things come back to us. I think I may own it. When did I do it? 1972, and I did Flute right after. It's in limbo.
Maybe Fire On The Mountain will be released some day, if somebody cared to do it, but doing battle with a record company or hassling with a record company is my least favourite occupation, because I'm not very compatible with record companies. We don't see eye to eye on many things. I haven't found one I can even sit down and talk with. Oh, we'll sit down but so far I haven't been able to find a good business relationship with any record company. I wish I could say with Arista it wasn't like that, but it is. When you're a record company all I really need is great distribution... [line missing] the work or its artistic control. Or even any comment on any of the music - it's none of their business. So there are some rules to the way I look at my music, and that's probably why some of it hasn't been released. For example, the advertising has to be sensible. I won't go for pigeons being released or some lame bullshit rap. They wanted to do that with Fire On The Mountain. The Warners guy came up with an idea, saying, 'Let's use doves or something. Release a thousand doves.' I said, 'Pssst. Out! Forget it! Good-bye. You've got the wrong boy." [ . . . ]

A couple of weeks ago [Feb 13-14, 1981] we performed the Rhythm Devils live at Marin Veterans' Auditorium. We went direct-to-disc. It's the first live recording direct-to-disc in concert. It was a milestone album and the tapes sound beautiful. We're talking about deep space, deeeep space. You can see into that record for twenty miles.
It was Airto, Flora Purim, Phil, me and Kreutzmann, and Michael Hinton from Julliard, a doctor of mallets. We rehearsed and we all lived in The Barn for a week, then we went and played. Owsley did the P.A. Crystal Clear are the people on the lathe and I think they'll be releasing that. They have their own distribution. It'll be a limited edition. The Bear also has Nagra tapes, of course. 
We did another Crystal Clear recording with Zakir Hussain and Alla Rakha - the three of us. A live concert. We're building up a library of Crystal Clear recordings. They are exquisite. They sound so good and we're getting better at it.
[ . . . ]

(by Ken Hunt, from Swing 51 magazine #13)
[Other sections in this interview discuss recording world music, writing songs with Barry Melton on acid, writing 'Ariel' with Hunter, rare recordings with Melton, Hunter & Cippolina, and wearing the white Go To Heaven suit.]
Some links: 
https://archive.org/details/gd73-11-28.sbd-seastones.finney.968.sbefail.shnf (11/28/73 Jerry/Mickey/Phil/Ned, various tracks -- also more complete here)  

Mickey is still playing with Zakir Hussain to this day. Here's some recent work: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dr85GrjKeBc (Sound Consciousness: Drones for Sonic Bathing)
And here's a bonus anecdote from the interview I couldn't leave out:

The Silent Flute has an interesting story. Here is The Silent Flute story.
OK, I'm into martial arts. Grace Slick is into this kung fu stuff too. We're hanging out watching them making kung fu movies. Bruce Lee had just died and they were making these movies in San Francisco at this big house. I was interested in doing the score. I was interested in doing action movies. This was my first look at how it could be.
Then one day Grace says, 'Come on over. I've got something to show you.' She hands me this screenplay. She puts me in this room and closes the door and says, 'Read it.' I started reading this thing and it was called The Silent Flute. What it was was a screenplay by Sterling Silliphant, James Coburn, and Bruce Lee, and it was written for Bruce Lee's next movie. And they canned it! Bruce died. [July 1973] I was just totally taken by the imagery. It's about a guy in his quest for knowledge and he's put to all these tests and these trials. It was magnificent, so well written. I couldn't believe the first draft. So I just said, 'Thank you, Grace.' I'll never forget.
I went home, locked myself in my studio for 2-1/2 weeks. I never left the studio. I had my food put in underneath the door. I didn't change my clothes for a week-and-a-half or two weeks. Serious composing, man! I'd never done that. I probably never will again. I didn't have the script, I just remembered it. And I wrote the score to The Silent Flute. The movie wasn't even in production yet. Grace loved it. Everybody I played it to thought it was just like the movie should have been. I have the ability to do that. Now I can make music and it sounds like what it looks like.
I gave it to Warner Brothers. Jerry was on it too. It was all space. It was gorgeous. Piano. Low frequencies. It was my best work, the best I ever did.
Five years later - this was a couple of years ago, three years ago - I see in a paper that The Silent Flute is going into production with David Carradine with this Richard St. Johns fellow producing it. Warner Brothers were putting it out! Warner Brothers didn't even know that I had written the score years ago. I went to Richard St. Johns and told him and he said, 'What are your qualifications for it? What is your resume?' I've never done a resume in my life! What can I say? 'No, I've not done a movie.' I don't think he took me seriously.
It was made as The Circle of Iron; it was called that eventually. Totally raped by Carradine in Israel. The Circle of Iron was released a year ago and flopped totally. It was awful. They raped it. But originally it was really well done. That's the story of The Silent Flute. Basically I made this music to the imagery of the movie. Of course, what turned out was nothing like what I had seen. That first draft was beautiful. They turned it into a 29-cent special. Bruce Lee would've turned over in his grave.

Jun 17, 2021

March 1981: Phil Lesh Interview


CL: There's a quote in the Harrison book that says, 'After the second Acid Test the Dead started playing dragon music, esoteric, asymmetrical music unable to be conceptualized except by a few,' or words to that effect. However all the early Dead recordings from that period, good though they are, sound like slightly psychedelic r n b.

PL: It's hard to differentiate because Hank was not at the Acid Tests. He wasn't welcome as far as I know. He had been our manager, for a short time, he got us one gig and then we moved up the ladder, professionally speaking, and we were working with an agent. After that we had our first major gig, a month long stand, 6 nights a week, 5 sets a night.
So this is all post Harrison having anything to do with the band, anything other than as a friend of mine. So anyway he wasn't at the Acid Tests, the only reason I think he might say that, is because - well he and I took acid together and [he] naturally assumed the rest. The way I remember the Acid Tests is that we played normally except we were stoned. It was kind of easy, strangely enough, it may not seem so.
The way the music developed from 65 to 68, let's say, it was like one long breath, long and slow. But I would say that your description of the slightly psychedelic r n b band was pretty correct up to the Anthem of the Sun period.

CL: In fact that description sounds more like...

PL: Hank Harrison!

CL: Well that too. But musically it sounds like the Anthem/Carousel Ballroom period.

PL: That's right. That music lasted about two years from the end of 67 to early 70, whenever we went in and recorded Workingman's.

CL: Do you remember the demos the Warlocks did for Tom Donahue?

PL: What are the cuts, can you remember?

CL: There's a thing called 'Can't Come Down'.

PL: God. That's a song that I can't remember. I know that we wrote a song called 'Can't Come Down' but I can't remember it [at] all.

CL: There's also 'Early Morning Rain' with you singing.

PL: Yes it is. I never did that much lead singing, cos I never felt comfortable with it, especially live. For some people it's easy, but for me to play the bass and sing - almost impossible.
It's curious that Jerry and Bob now play in the same place that we auditioned for the live gig with Donahue. It was Mother's then but it's now called The Stone. It's still a piece of shit place.

CL: The other thing about the demos is that in some ways they sound more interesting than the 1st Warners album.

PL: Well, for the album we had a producer - Hassinger. He went on to produce Seals and Crofts.

CL: Can we just talk a a bit about your days in Palo Alto before the Dead started.

PL: It was a guy called Mike Lamb who got me into all of that. That's how I met Kesey, Pigpen, Garcia, Alan Trist, all those guys. Mike was in a band later, he had the most amazing voice, sounded like a contra bass trombone that could speak. He was about 6'4" but slender. Good looking dude, man. I had to fight to keep the women away from him. He turned me on to about 3 of my first best girlfriends.
The folk scene in Palo Alto was all there was at that point. The jazz scene was so introverted. There was no local jazz scene at all and when anybody great came to town it was just too overwhelming. Later on we had to follow Miles Davis - the Bitches Brew band - 2 nights in a row. I don't ever want to hear anybody snivel about following anyone else. Because I got the one, man, right there. Made me feel so dumb. I thought, 'what the fuck am I doing here, why aren't I at home digesting what I just heard?'
Anyway to go back. I was going to college at San Mateo, studying music, of course, learning big band jazz charts. Sucking up as much music as I could - trying to find out about Stockhausen, because I'd read about him in the library. Actually one of the best breaks I ever had was a job testing records at the library.
I've always been a book person as well. My grandmother taught me to read at the age of 3, so that I could read the Bible to her. How convenient, says I 37 years later. She was also the one to turn me onto music. She discovered me with my ear against the wall during the Sunday afternoon symphony concert on the radio, my room was next to hers. The next week she said, 'Would you like to come in and hear the nice music?' It was the Brahms 1st symphony conducted by Bruno Walter. I'm four years old and thinking 'this is it. I don't know [how] or why but this is it.' Ah yes, the good old days. Seems like as soon as you turn 35 you start remembering.

CL: (One of the more interesting Dead tapes I have is from the Carousel Ballroom. 14th February 1968. At one point on the tape they move from Born Cross Eyed into a weird Spanish sounding thing that has overtones of Quicksilver. I played it to Phil and asked him what he thought about it.)

PL: I wish we still played like that. That was our Sketches of Spain take, it was part of our act at the time. Sketches of Spain was one of those classic albums, at one time you could walk down any street in a college town and hear it floating out of almost every window. Bringing It All Back Home was the same later on.

CL: Although he wasn't on that, I was going to ask you about Tom Constanten, since he was definitely part of the Dead's exotic period.

PL: It was late 68 that he finally joined. He helped us with Anthem of the Sun with the prepared piano piece. He just brought the tapes over and overdubbed his part. I think that's all he did on Anthem. Later on he joined as an addition, not replacing Pig Pen. He never quite got over a certain stiffness, he couldn't swing or at least at that time he couldn't. That was the big problem. He only stayed just a little over a year. We always had a problem with keyboards. Pig Pen was always a soloist with his harp and voice and his personality, but he wasn't really much of an organ player. So when we started getting into spaces that were more extended he would lay out, which was for the best, I guess. On the other hand, during the Other One he'd play little parts which was always helpful for the texture. But we always had that problem even up till 72 when Keith joined.
Tom Constanten is doing pretty well for himself. Pretty soon I expect to see his name on a movie score. He has a lot of contacts in Europe so it could come from there. He's gone back to performing his own work and lecturing. I met him when he was 17 years old, god he was a weird guy.

CL: That was my favorite period of the band.

PL: Mine too. Although we've become quite proficient at pulling out imitations of that style. But as that time fades into antiquity there are nights when I feel like a parody of myself. But that's got to be natural, because that is a very large part of music, to parody. I find that when we do the feedback stuff I have less and less to play. I have less and less ideas, not a lack of ideas per se, just that they don't seem to relate the same way that they did in the past. To me it's getting to be a mistake to do that every night. Back in 68 we did it every night because that's what we did, by God. In those days we used to say that every place we played was church and that's what it was like. A pretty far out church but that's how we felt.
Back in the early days some nights were amazing and some were terrible, but now we've reached a level of professionalism where we can almost always make it good for the audience, but the chances of the amazing nights [have] been dramatically reduced. But we did learn how to play and we can now stumble through a whole 3 hours and 15 minutes and it will still get the crowd off.

CL: To backtrack again, why didn't you use the complete version of St. Stephen and The Eleven on Aoxomoxoa? (The original has bagpipes, telephones ringing, etc. as well as The Eleven which wasn't used at all.)

PL: I forget, but I'd love to hear it.

CL: OK. There is also another interesting track - the Barbed Wire Whipping Party (possibly the weirdest thing the band ever did).

PL: God! As far as we knew there was never even a mix of that - so some slick sucker did make a mix of it. 'Meat, meat, give me my meat. Hump snippet, lump snippet.'

CL: What was it all about. Why did you do it.

PL: Why not? Well Hunter had this lyric, well it wasn't a lyric, it was just a rave which went something like 'The Barbed Wire Whipping Party in the razor blade forest,' that's the first line I think. 'Last week I went to Mars and talked to God, and he said 'tell 'em to cool out and not to worry, cos the end of everything is death!'' It was so great. Hunter himself read it, which was great because we never got him to perform on our records, so that was cool.

CL: Let's jump to some of your side endeavours like Warp 10.

PL: Well we never really called it that. That was more or less Mickey's term for it. It was kind of an offshoot of the feedback trip and my involvement with electronic music as a student and with Ned Lagin who we met at MIT when we played there in 70.
The thing took several forms, mostly Ned and I, sometimes Ned and I plus Mickey. Once it was the three of us plus David Crosby and Jerry. At one point it was Ned, myself and Crosby, and then finally Ned and myself. We actually went on the road and while we didn't make a lot of money, we drew people and they liked it. It was a lot more coherent with just the two of us, with five of us it was too thick for any real interplay. Then came the Seastones fiasco which was a horrible bummer for Ned both aesthetically and financially - it was a rip off. It was the lowest priority project for Round Records. Ned went his own way after that, although we still communicate. He's into video now with his computer. We essentially did a benefit for him and got him a computer and a synthesizer.

CL: There has been a subtle change of image for the Dead in the last few years. Particularly the slicker production of the albums and the white suits on 'Go To Heaven'.

PL: I think we can lay that in Clive Davis' lap. That's what he demanded. He didn't actually demand that we use producers but he did demand that we acted professional and got commercial.
The guy is a fool, he wanted the Grateful Dead because it is something that had always evaded him. I think the whole thing is dogshit, I hate producers, if I ever have to work with one again I'll probably kill myself. We still owe them another studio album. I'm going to put it off as long as I can. We still have another electric double album coming out from the Warfield and Radio City gigs.
Clive Davis actually went round the producer and made edits! I was thunderstruck. I can't tell you how much I hate the idea of 'Go To Heaven', I can't tell you how much I hate the white suits, although it was my idea. Not the white suits, but putting our faces on the cover for the first time. I could go on and on.
The new album is beautiful I think. It sounds very far out. The way that Dan and Betty put it together is that you can be sitting in the room and the audio image is bigger than the area covered by the speakers. If you are sitting in a certain position it sounds like you're sitting in the sound booth, if you move forward it sounds like you're in the front row, move back and it sounds like you're in the balcony. It's amazing.
The mixes are beautiful too. This is the first album I liked since Blues For Allah.

CL: I liked aspects of that album, especially the experimental quality, but really didn't like the sound of Keith Godchaux's electric piano.

PL: After a certain point Keith never wanted to play. He was so brilliant at the beginning. I heard some tapes from '71, wow that guy had it all, he could play anything. By 75 Donna had joined too; I don't know if you know how difficult it is having husband and wife in the same band? Well that didn't help either, but that's all in the past. Donna's doing well now, got a band called the Heart of Gold Band, singing her heart out. She sings like a goddess and she never sang that way with us and I cussed her out for it. She couldn't say anything.

(from Comstock Lode magazine, issue 9, 1981) 

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 jgmf.blogspot.com & runonguinness.