Apr 6, 2013

April 8, 1967: Ralph Gleason TV Interview

On 4/8/67, the TV show "The Maze" featured three San Francisco bands - the Wildflower, the Grateful Dead, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Ralph Gleason interviewed the Dead.

ANNOUNCER: The man most in the midst of the San Francisco music scene is critic Ralph J. Gleason. In his syndicated newspaper column, Mr. Gleason has been the foremost interpreter of the sounds coming out of what he calls "the Liverpool of the United States." Mr. Gleason believes the San Francisco rock groups are making a serious contribution to musical history.
GLEASON: In the last year and a half, San Francisco has literally exploded with music... One of the most exciting and interesting bands in San Francisco these days is the Grateful Dead. We're talking to the Grateful Dead, particularly to Jerry Garcia, the lead guitarist. Jerry, what kind of music does the Grateful Dead play?
GARCIA: (laughter) Loud! Loud music - loud music - dance music, for dances, at dances.
GLEASON: Where does it come from, do you write all your songs?
GARCIA: No. We write some of it -
LESH: We steal it from a lot of places.
GARCIA: Yeah, we steal it from a lot of places.
LESH: As many as I can find, as a matter of fact.
GARCIA: We're clever thieves...we're clever thieves, steal from a lot of places, and rearrange -
LESH: Sort of like the baroque era.
GLEASON: Do you have any particular bank vaults of music that you raid periodically?
GARCIA: Old blues - new blues - (WEIR: Jugband.) - jugband music. We've been getting into stealing classical licks, and jazz - anything, anything we can hear!
GLEASON: You don't sound like other bands. Why is that?
GARCIA: Well, because we're not other bands! We're the Grateful Dead, and we've been together for long enough to where we are used enough to each other to be able to play together.
GLEASON: Even when you take old tunes, tunes that have old influences in them, you still don't sound like the originals, you sound like -
GARCIA: No, cause that's not who we are, we're not trying to recreate anything.
GLEASON: Do you change them around?
GARCIA: Freely, freely. Like I say, any one song could have lots of stuff in it from lots of different sources, but it always comes out nothing like the original, and also nothing like anything else.
GLEASON: Electronically, do you work at things electronically, for different sounds and devices?
GARCIA: We're getting into it more than we have been. We've been mostly just working at getting better at our instruments, and the electronic stuff is stuff that you discover playing at enormous volumes, when you play in the big auditoriums, and pretty soon your guitar's feeding back and there's this insane sound coming out of it, you know, and you find that by fiddling around the right way you can control it to a certain extent, and that becomes part of the way you play.
GLEASON: You use this in the way you -
GARCIA: Oh sure, yeah. You can't not; if you ignore it, it just gets louder and louder. (laughs)
LESH: It takes over the entire thing.
GARCIA: Right!
GLEASON: Do you write things out in arrangements that you're going to do?
GARCIA: Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't.
LESH: Only if the record company insists.
GARCIA: Right, if the record company insists.
GLEASON: Do you do them the same way time after time when you play them?
GARCIA: I don't think so. There are a few that are more or less the same, most of the time -
LESH: In the general country, you might say.
GARCIA: Right, but the events inside them aren't always the same - and the thing that we really like is when it's not - you know, when something new suddenly happens, and we're suddenly playing differently than we used to. It's sort of evolutionary stuff goes on.
GLEASON: What kind of thing can tick that off in the course of playing a tune?
GARCIA: Playing it long enough.
WEIR: Good vibes.
GARCIA: Yeah, and a good situation, you know, a lot of feedback from the audience and dancing and -
WEIR: - carrying on.
GARCIA: Playing in the big auditoriums is conducive to that.
GLEASON: The things that you've done yourself in music will suggest themselves to you at various points in playing a tune, in individual performance?
GLEASON: Or you're a serial composer, will come up with some -
GARCIA: Yeah, that's kind of what happens, just all of a sudden you know, another possibility reveals itself to our wondering eyes and ears.
LESH: Somebody will play something, and it suggests another place to go.
GLEASON: Change the whole tune?
LESH: Right.
GARCIA: We like to let it go as far as it'll go.
GLEASON: What song are you going to play for us?
GARCIA: A song called Cream Puff War.
GLEASON: Did you write this?
GARCIA: Yeah, I wrote this particular song! (Weir laughs.) The only time I've ever written completely all the way, it's my song.
GLEASON: And it steals from all those places?
GARCIA: Oh yeah, well I mean, just the actual song, the melody and the words, but the rest of it is -
LESH: To the extent that all of us, doing our own thing, steal from everywhere.
GARCIA: Right.
GLEASON: Let's hear it.

The Dead play a concise 4-minute Cream Puff War.
The Wildflower played Please Come Home, and QMS did Pride of Man. Interestingly, to illustrate that "even when three San Francisco groups play the same tune, each band contributes its own distinctive style," the show then intercut each band playing their own version of Walkin' Blues: QMS first verse, Dead second verse, Wildflower third verse & guitar solo, Dead - Pigpen harmonica solo & Garcia solo, QMS conclusion. (It being a TV show, the solos are extremely clipped!)

The video is apparently lost, but the audio is here:

For those curious about the Wildflower, they have their own site, with more music:

And here is another 1967 clip from The Maze, a 25-minute documentary about the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene, with a few minutes at the end of the Dead inside 710 Ashbury (no Dead music or interview, though):
For those who want to skip right to the Dead footage:

These photos are not from the Maze show, but from some other unknown TV appearance where the Dead had to mime - nonetheless I couldn't resist including them:

This photo seems to be from the actual Maze show:


  1. This is a pretty close transcript, just lightly cleaned up (taking out all the "uhs" & "ums" & so forth).

    Ralph Gleason had done a long interview with Garcia in March 1967 (reprinted in the Grateful Dead Reader), and this is like a condensed version of that, as he & Garcia repeat many of the same questions & answers for TV viewers.

    Gleason wrote "San Francisco has become the Liverpool of America" in a 3/19/67 Chronicle article on the Dead announcing their new album, "Dead Like Live Thunder" (also in the GD Reader).

    When Garcia says "we've been getting into stealing classical licks," I wonder if he's referring to New Potato Caboose in particular, which the band had started rehearsing in February/March.
    It's worth noting that when he says "we're not trying to recreate anything," this was still a relatively recent step in the Dead's evolution, basically starting around the Acid Tests. Before then, Garcia had been trying to recreate bluegrass music (in various bands), old jugband & hokum tunes (in Mother McCree's), and Stones covers & folk-rock hits (in the Warlocks).
    By early 1967 though, the Dead were becoming confident in their originality. They were also well aware that their music was changing, as they mention in the interview.

  2. I just noticed that this interview was also transcribed in the book Dead Studies vol. 1 a couple years ago - hadn't seen it before! But I'm happy to report that the two transcriptions are almost identical, just a few small differences.
    The Dead Studies book also has a long unpublished interview with Garcia done by Frank Kofsky in early September 1967. I don't think it will appear on this site, but I've been using it in comments here & there.

    I've added another photo which I think is from this show.