Apr 2, 2013

March 1967: Larry Miller Interview

Larry Miller was a DJ who'd started an all-night freeform program on KMPX in February 1967, when they were still mostly a foreign-language station. He recorded this interview with Garcia & Weir the week before the release of the Dead's first album, and played it (along with the full album) at midnight on the release date.

DJ - Hello folks, this is Larry Miller on my very own program this Monday night, or Tuesday morning actually, and for the first part of our program today, guess what! We have a couple guys from the Grateful Dead over here to talk about their new record! Hello fellas, introduce yourselves and say hello to everyone.
GARCIA - This is Jerry Garcia and this is a recording.
WEIR - This is Bob Weir and you know how it is, just how it is.
(They sound VERY unenthusiastic.)
DJ - All right, the rest of you didn't make it, apparently. Who are the other members of the Grateful Dead that you can introduce in their absence?
GARCIA - Well there's Phil Lesh, he's the bass player, he's not here. And Bill Kreutzmann who's the drummer, is also not here. And there's the redoubtable Pigpen, who's also not here.
DJ - Redoubtable?
GARCIA - And he plays the organ and the harmonica and the [face]. He also does some sort of elephantine pirouettes around the stage.
DJ - Let's hear it for Pigpen. Pigpen is getting you into more magazines...because people walk up with a camera and...'click,' they take a picture and then someone writes an article about hippies, or about anything that has to do with anything...they have to run Pigpen's picture. [Garcia is talking meanwhile.] We'll talk some more about Pigpen and the name of the group and where you got that from and all sorts of things about your songs as we go along this morning. You have a new record and it's called - what's your new record called, Jerry?
GARCIA - Which one, the single or the album?
DJ - Yeah!
GARCIA - Well, neither one! Let's see - the album doesn't have a title, it just says Grateful Dead on the front of it, got some pretty pictures on it.
DJ - I saw the album title, it has a sun thing, pictures of an explosion and the surface of the sun in color, and it's a hundred million miles?
GARCIA - Some enormous figure, celestial distance.
DJ - That's sort of a background thing...
GARCIA - Mouse did the collage, Mouse did the lettering on it...the pictures are by Herb Greene, famous rock & roll photographer...and, uh...it looks pretty good.
DJ - What do you do, you play lead guitar don't you?
DJ - What do you do?
WEIR - I play rhythm guitar.
DJ - Who does most of the singing on the album?
GARCIA - Uh, I guess I probably do...I do a lot of the lead. Pigpen - well, we all sing some lead, and we also sing parts. On this album, these particular songs, which is about like one of our sets, in terms of the way it's laid out and in terms of who sings what and so on - I sing most of the material on it, I guess, Bob sings lead on two songs, and Pigpen sings lead on one or two or something.
DJ - Now, you picked off one of these to use, or a couple to use as a hit single, and I say hit because -
GARCIA - That's the whole purpose of a single.
DJ - That's the whole purpose, right, and your hit single is going to be getting its most important exposure over there on the money side of the radio... [We're] playing the album over here which they won't do because they don't know where it's at. In any case, we are interested in what you have released as a single, we'll probably listen to that first.
GARCIA - Well, the single is the Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion.
DJ - Unlimited?
GARCIA - Right, unlimited... This was recorded after we recorded the body of the album, and the actual song is a new song; we were thinking specifically of a single, so we just played around, and came up with some nice changes and cooperated on the entire thing, and came up with the Golden Road, which is a good song; I mean it's like really fun to sing and fun to play and everything like that, and it seems like a good single, whatever that is, we thought it could be a single.
WEIR - [We] worked it up some in the recording session which we didn't do on most of the album.
GARCIA - This is the only one that has any kind of recording stunts on it, so there are two flattop guitars and three electric guitars and so forth; we got twice as many voices as normal.
DJ - A massive sound... I can't wait to hear it, let's listen to it.
[Golden Road plays]
DJ - (Jokes about it going up to the top of the charts.) You'll all be rich and you can buy some new clothes and get haircuts and straighten up...
GARCIA - We'll get [stuffed] together in a little FM station - who knows.
DJ - Most of the rock & roll musicians out of this scene sort of have the feeling they want to make some money playing rock & roll and then head for the woods in a couple years.
GARCIA - Well, that's not my feeling.
DJ - What do you want to do with it?
GARCIA - I don't know, I don't even care about the money.
DJ - What is it, power?
WEIR - It's something to do.
GARCIA - Yeah, it's something to do; playing music is just the thing I do, you know. It's just nice to be successful at it, that's the thing that's new and different, and odd.
WEIR - That's the fun part of the rock & roll game. More music than you can play in a...
DJ - Actually in a way you're in a time and space and environment here that affords the opportunity to be very far out and still at least maintain yourself while you're doing it, and be very experimental and still have pocket money.
GARCIA - It's like having a patron...
DJ - Golden Road, it's been released already as a single, hasn't it?
GARCIA - It's released as of today or tonight or something...
DJ - The next song is Beat It On Down The Line.
[BIODTL plays]
DJ - It took five or six of you to do what Jesse Lone Cat Fuller does all by himself. Have you seen him work lately?
GARCIA - I haven't seen him in the last two years.
DJ - He's gotten into it, he has this kazoo and harmonica and all these foot pedals and 12-string. He has a contact mike taped onto every single thing he's playing now, and runs everything through an amplifier, and it's really incredible because he has this cymbal, tambourine taped to his elbow with a contact mike on it. He's electrified himself, it's fantastic.
GARCIA - Really remarkable guy.
DJ - Tell me some history about the Grateful Dead; I just got here and probably most of the people listening say aw, I know all that, but I don't know that. I've been here since October and I haven't been paying any attention so I don't know anything about you guys. Tell me something about the band.
WEIR - We've been here since, I guess, around the year...
GARCIA - Early earth -
WEIR - We haven't been paying much attention either.
GARCIA - Not too much. We all come from diverse backgrounds, we've been a group for about almost two years, and it's been a complete blank for the whole two years. (laughter) Total blank.
DJ - You're not all hung up with a lot of motivations and things like that?
GARCIA - No, none whatsoever, we remain pure and uncomplicated and totally unmotivated - right.
DJ - What is the conflict between being commercial and non-commercial?
GARCIA - We don't recognize any conflicts.
DJ - Beautiful...the elimination of all dualities, right?
GARCIA - Exactly.
DJ - ...Sitting on Top of the World, it's an old country & western song.
GARCIA - Yeah, it's also an old blues song, an old almost everything song. It's a blues. The way we do it is an extrapolation of... (searches for words) It's fast, is what it is, it's not the traditional way to do it, it's not even the country way to do it, it's just our way to do it, which is like a little of them all. It seems silly to say things about songs when you're gonna hear 'em. Anything we say about it doesn't in any way change the way it sounds.
DJ - I thought you'd say, "note how whatshisname gets as little notes in as..."
GARCIA - I would say, listen closely to the bass lines, those of you who have good radios with good bass responses, because Phil is an incredibly good bass player.
[SoToW plays]
DJ - I like that very much...I kept listening to hear a dobro guitar...Buck Graves, Uncle Josh... There was a nice feeling to that song; I'm not necessarily saying it was bluegrass sounding.
GARCIA - It has that, I was thinking of adding a banjo track to it.
DJ - Someone in the band plays good five-string banjo?
GARCIA - Yeah, me.
DJ - You? I'll tell you - I came here to San Francisco and just spent five or six months absorbing things and just watching; in other words I'm a bum... Now I've got this job on KMPX in the middle of the night meeting all kinds of people. It seems to be doing all right, I think the music does all the work for me. Fortunately, at this point it's the first time in the history of rock & roll music that there's been enough really genuinely good stuff recorded to think about programming quality rock.
GARCIA - That's true. AM stations are still on the same - triple whateveritis.
WEIR - (breathlessly) It must be so exciting to have your own radio show.
DJ - No it's not, actually I - (interrupted by laughter) I've just been put on, folks, and I didn't even realize it.
GARCIA - You gotta watch out for that kid. He may look innocent but - (DJ - But he is.) - there lurks the mind of a fiendish rascal.
DJ - Congratulations, not many of us left. (Introduces Cold Rain & Snow as 'Coltrane & Snow.')
GARCIA - That's okay, it's in a mode. Coltrane would like it. Maybe he wouldn't, who knows.
DJ - You just touched on one of my favorite subjects, modes.
GARCIA - This is in a mode, it's in a very straight mode. It's a traditional song, banjo tune as a matter of fact.
DJ - It's your European-Appalachian type of mode rather than your Indian type of mode.
GARCIA - Right, right, right. Although the exciting thing - (DJ interrupts) - they both contain the same elements, the modes are not that different...
DJ - Let's listen.
[Cold Rain & Snow plays]
DJ - That has a familiar sound to it, that's taken from traditional material, isn't it?
GARCIA - Yeah, the song is a traditional song...it's a [framework] ballad taken from Obray Ramsey, and earlier from Rufus Crisp I think. Like I say, it's only a frame, it's not a complete ballad. A lot of our material is traditional because we use the words as a format, is all, and the words are nice, those traditional lines are really nice; and we just do the arrangement and the melody and so forth. Also we haven't copywritten any of the words in these things - the things that are traditional, we've left them traditional. Things that were authored previously, even if our version is somewhat different, we give credit to the people who were doing it.
DJ - That's nice to see.
GARCIA - It used to be such a famous burn in the folk music business.
DJ - Yeah, for example, there's a record out now by a group here, they do one side, it's called the French Girl [the A-side], it's the Daily Flash [the band]; the flipside they do Green Rocky Road, and they credit themselves with the authorship of it, which is incredible because there've been about I guess a dozen or more recordings of it in the last five years, and everybody that records it credits themself with it, right down the line, and the farthest back I've been able to trace it is to Len Chandler, who picked it up from kids in the street, which would mean he collected it from traditional sources himself. I don't think Len Chandler has ever been credited with Green Rocky Road on any record anywhere, which is really far out. Not only because he might've been in line for some royalties as a result of putting it together, but...Len Chandler is a pretty significant musician and performer, and about four people know about him.
GARCIA - Well, the thing about traditional material is, it's the way you do it, the arrangement and performance and so forth; most of the groups that are doing traditional material aren't doing it anything like traditional form, and in traditional music at any rate, the form is the whole thing, the material doesn't really have that much to do with it. But nonetheless, it's nice to leave that stuff in the public domain rather than - I mean, how can you possibly copyright stuff that's been around for a hundred years?
DJ - I always have a very warm and empathetic feeling towards anybody that's doing rock now that comes from a folk background. (GARCIA - Some of us come from a folk background.) I think it gives the musicians and the performances a lot more depth. I could've been a folk nut myself for a number of years. I like to hear things that started out [with]...Gid Tanner & the Skillet Lickers, and work its way down to a rock band... It's nice to know that we can evolve and make changes and not have to cut off what came before, but keep it alive.
WEIR - It's making rock & roll an extension of the older forms of folk music.
GARCIA - Well, older forms of folk music, their original position in their societies - Folk music is really popular music, like all the early old ballads, the Child Ballads, were originally popular ballads; you heard them on the street and in music halls and stuff like that. Before radio, that was what popular music was, folk music. It's all music.
WEIR - I look at rock & roll bands kind of like electric jugbands...
DJ - I look at rock & roll bands usually through a pair of sunglasses and try to watch out for the strobe lights so I don't blow out my optic nerve. By the way, you guys aren't tense or anything, or nervous about being on the radio? (No.) Good, cause I don't want you to be that way. I've interviewed everybody in the business by now, except yourselves, and I always try to make people feel relaxed, at home, and feel comfortable. I also do it on tape so I can edit out the dirty words, so you can feel free... Let's listen to Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.
[Schoolgirl plays]
DJ - A song especially for all the dirty old men in the audience.
GARCIA - For clean young girls, also.
DJ - (Goes on a bit about being the first to play the record on the air, compared to other radio stations.) It's nice to have this record on the program... The main thing I'm excited about is that aside from little bits of sponsored programming that occur on other radio stations once in a while, this is probably the only place where you'll hear continuous exposure in depth...
GARCIA - That's what I've been told. It's nice to be able to hear somebody's album that you don't hear anyplace else unless you go out and buy it.
DJ - One of the things that happens here regularly - maybe you know something about this, I wanted to ask you - (GARCIA - Sure.) - Every so often someone will call up and say, I'd like you to play Rolling Stones, Let's Spend the Night Together, I say OK, and they say, You mean you can play that? and I say, I don't see any reason why I can't play it, and they say, Doesn't somebody tell you what you can play and can't play? and I say no, the station management has left the door open for me to develop a program; I don't know of any official agency that comes around to say play this, don't play that. The only thing is, BMI/ASCAP will put out a restricted list which will have to do with publishing rights, but never with whether material is questionable. Do you know anything about...?
GARCIA - I would imagine it would be someone like the FCC, if they have some kind of morality code...that whole thing, they're not gonna play a song because they think there's something suggestive in the lyrics.
DJ - Just because Ed Sullivan's not ready doesn't mean I'm not. You know what I'm talking about.
WEIR - If you saw the Rolling Stones on the Ed Sullivan show, they got the point across.
DJ - Oh there was no doubt about that, I think Mick Jagger more than compensated for the fact that they changed the lyrics, driving the young girls in the audience completely out of their trees, that was pretty well-done. The Rolling Stones I'm very impressed with; I didn't pick up on them until the Aftermath album, and at that point I said what? the Rolling Stones are outta sight, because they're broadening their musical idioms so much.
GARCIA - Yeah, quite a lot. Between the Buttons has a lot of amazing stuff on it.
DJ - Cream Puff War is almost a silly title for a song, if I may say so. What does that really mean?
GARCIA - Well, the title for the song came after the song. I already developed the idea - this is the only song that I claim totally - this is mine from beginning to end! I actually wrote it. We were down in LA, I was writing, I had the changes worked out and the bridge and the first verse... The whole thing was just meandering along. Pigpen said let's call it...Cream Puff War. (WEIR - No, I said it.) Or you did, somebody did. At any rate, the title - doesn't really mean anything particularly, it's just the name of the song. It's like, did you ever read Through the Looking Glass or Alice in Wonderland, where they have a thing about something and then the name of it, and the name of its name, and so on, so that the thing is named several times removed from the actual thing and not in any way related to it. Well, we kind of name our songs that way. So Cream Puff War is the name of that song just because it was a name that happened to be around, and then later on I happened to work it into the lyric as the last line... It seems to me something that - (DJ interrupts.)
DJ - After what Dylan's done on those same lines, it's not necessary to have your song title have anything to do with the song...
GARCIA - No, it's an outmoded idea - it's a way of identifying the song by what the song's like or by taking a line out of it...
[Cream Puff War plays]

Unfortunately, the second part of the interview, covering the rest of the album, is lost!
Miller recently found this tape in a box in his basement.
Thanks to Larry Miller for the interview & to David Gans for playing it on the 2013 KPFA Marathon.


  1. I'm sorry the second part of the interview was not found. I would have really liked to hear what they had to say about Morning Dew & Viola Lee...

    This is not a verbatim transcription. I omitted lots of "ums," "likes," "you knows," muttered asides, repeated sentences, crosstalk, DJ chatter, and whatever I couldn't make out - Weir's comments were often hard to hear - so the interview doesn't sound much like it reads.

    When this interview was recorded, Miller did not have the album in hand, so they had to pretend they were listening to the record! After some awkwardness, though ("this is a recording"), Garcia gets into the spirit of it.

    Miller says he played the interview & album at midnight after the record release party at Fugazi Hall, which was on Monday March 20. (And he starts the interview saying it's "Monday night.") He also said he was the first to play the album on the air; though the release date was actually March 17.

    Garcia & Weir are notably less at ease with Miller than Garcia & Lesh were with Tom Donahue in a KMPX radio show only a month later. Part of this may be because Miller was a new radio personality on the scene, while they'd known Donahue since 1965. Also, prerecording a radio interview to promote their new album probably felt pretty artificial to them (only two bandmembers bothered showing up; and in the future they'd be even less interested). Lesh was also more assertive than Weir, who has very little to say here!

    The Stones had played the famous "censored" Let's Spend the Night Together on the Ed Sullivan show in January 1967. In the US that song was the lead track on the Between the Buttons album, which Garcia here calls "amazing," and of course he would play that song in the JGB in later years.

    Garcia's comment that "the songs that are traditional, we've left them traditional" is somewhat disingenuous. Cold Rain & Snow and New Minglewood Blues were attributed to McGannahan Skjellyfetti (a band pseudonym), despite having clear lyrical predecessors. Perhaps the Dead felt these were "floating" folk lyrics.
    Schoolgirl was also mistakenly credited to a mysterious "H.G. Demarais," a record-label owner who'd managed to snatch the song credit for the Yardbirds' version, which had little resemblance to the Dead's - who got theirs from a Junior Wells album - while the original song itself had been written by Sonny Boy Williamson in the '30s. This is one of the "famous burns in the folk music business" that Garcia mentions...

  2. In the magazine Swing 51 (#6, 1982), Garcia was asked about traditional song credits.

    JG: 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 '30s 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''/'Don't Ease Me In' that the two songs are credited to you.
    JG: That's awful. That's totally wrong too.

  3. Michael Kramer writes in his book The Republic of Rock that in "Larry Miller's show from October 11, 1967...Miller discusses his recent interview with the Grateful Dead and his admiration of Jerry Garcia's vibrato skills, which Miller laughingly comments sound like an electronic effect but in fact are similar to Buffy Sainte-Marie's singing style. Then [he says] the Grateful Dead focus will be 'enough devotion' for one night..." (p.74)

    There was a site with audio clips from KMPX - http://www.jive95.com/kmpx.htm - but unfortunately, the audio no longer seems to be available. (The internet is built on shifting sands!)

  4. Garcia also talks about some of the songs on the album in his March '67 interview with Ralph Gleason. Garcia mentions that the artists "were going to put that really ostentatious oriental 'Egyptian Book of the Dead' quotation on the top" of the album, but the Dead dissuaded them. (This was the "in the land of the dark..." quote, which was changed to garbled lettering on the album, though it was used in ads.)

    Garcia: Being in a recording situation is really a lot different than playing. A recording situation brings out a special, sort of like another side of creativity. It's something like painting or drawing or anything that you do over a long period of time for a finished product. And so when you get a recording studio, you begin to have a different feeling about what you're doing. And that's something we're just starting to get into...
    Gleason: Where did you get the tunes on the album from?
    Garcia: They came from a lot of different places. Like on the album...some of the material is from blues, recent blues, like the last ten years' blues, Chicago style blues.
    Like Good Morning Little Schoolgirl is a song that's in the public domain, and we left it in the public domain by the way, we didn't copyright any of this shit, the stuff that's traditional we left traditional. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl is a traditional song, but it's only as far as I know maybe 10, 15 years old. [Actually from 1937.]
    Some of the others are much older. Cold Rain and Snow is a fragment that I learned from a banjo player named Obray Ramsey, a traditional singer from someplace like Indiana [actually North Carolina]. It's in the same kind of mode as it originally was, but the melody is different. And we've added a harmony line and of course it's us, it's our rhythmic structure and our ideas.
    Sittin' on Top of the World is another traditional song that was copyrighted sometime not too long ago by some country & western guy, but it's still essentially a folk song. [Originally a 1930 blues.] There are just two or three verses and they're standard blues verses that turn up everywhere. And again, that's our arrangement... Most of these things, what we've done is we've just taken an idea and developed it.

    1. (cont.)
      Garcia: Viola Lee Blues, the long one on the album...the words to that and a certain amount of the phrasing, the way the words are sung, come from a record by Noah Lewis, who used to be the harmonica player in Gus Cannon & His Jug Stompers. Really beautiful lyrical harmonica player, one of the early guys. And this song, a good example of how it used to go when Noah Lewis had it, was the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, they do it almost the same way Noah Lewis does it, in terms of the way they sing it. Our way is a lot jazzier and it has a newer rhythm, and we've also done some things with the bar lengths in it. We've slipped in a half bar where there would normally be a bar... It's sort of like a 12-bar blues, but in this case it's 11 1/2-bar blues, 'cause we left out half a bar to make the phrasing and the background work together. It's pretty interesting. And then of course, we will improvise with it for a long time and do a lot of things in it. It's a framework more than anything else. But the words are real powerful, simple direct things...
      Gleason: When you play it, do you play it the same way all the time?
      Garcia: No, never... That's the part that's fun about it, because it's like we all have to be on our toes. All of a sudden there's something new entering and we all try and pick up on it. That's when we're playing good; if we're not playing good, that doesn't happen... Sometimes you can do it and sometimes you can't.
      Each night when we went into the studio we played Viola Lee Blues for as long as we wanted to play it, and we recorded it. And then at the end of the week we went through them and listened to them, and the one that turned us on was the one we used... It isn't as good as it could have been, but it's still okay.
      (Grateful Dead Reader, p.20-22)