Mar 31, 2014

Early 1971: Jerry Garcia Interview


When somebody mentions the so-called “San Francisco sound” the phrase brings to mind Jefferson Airplane, Haight Street, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Meeting of the Tribes in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the original Fillmore Auditorium, and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.
A photographer and I arranged to interview and “shoot” Jerry Garcia at the Matrix, a small San Francisco club. We found him in the dressing room talking with friends about the failure of promoters in the past to arrange a European tour for the Dead. Apparently, the idea had not been received favorably by all members of the band at any given time. It seems that someone was always excusing his reluctance to travel on the grounds of the “stuff” coming up in the garden or his unwillingness to leave the dogs.
Using flash equipment, the photographer began to shoot Garcia as the bearded guitarist sat and talked about yet another attempt at a European tour that is supposed to happen sometime during the middle of the year. The picture taking was leaving images behind: small circles of white light that turned orange as they faded and moved along the walls as the eye shifted from one corner of the room to the other.
Garcia: Hey, New Year’s Eve at Fillmore West a guy had some flash powder like the stuff they used to take photographs with. And he put up a thing made out of the flash powder that said seventy-one on it and ignited it, and it left a mark on your eye that said seventy-one.
GP: You mean in your field of vision?
Garcia: Right, you know that hole you get in your vision if you look directly at a flash. It was incredible. There it was printed on your eye.
GP: Well, shall we get on with it? Once you got your first guitar, did you make the decision to go into music professionally?
Garcia: Yeah, right. As soon as I started playing, that was it. When I got my first guitar there were so few people around playing guitar that I didn’t know anybody who played. There I was fifteen years old, and I had this little Dan Electro electric guitar and a tiny amplifier – a pawn shop trip, you know. I didn’t know how to tune it or anything. I just put it into some kind of tuning, tuned it its own way, and I learned to play this weird open tuning. And I learned how to play a lot of stuff before somebody showed me how to tune it and some real chord positions and things like that. Never took lessons.
GP: When was the first time you played with other musicians?
Garcia: Six months or so after I got my guitar. There were some kids in school, a kid who played piano and a kid who played drums. And we got together and kind of diddled around, but we really never got anything on. And then I moved north of San Francisco up to Russian River and went to high school there for about half a semester. And during that space of time I ran into a couple of guys who played saxophone and piano. There was a drummer, too, and I played guitar. We played those funny saxophone tunes that were big in those days, you know. Kind of easy listening stuff. Businessman’s bounce, high school version. Then I left that scene, quit high school again for the last time, and joined the Army. It didn’t last. I was in for nine months. There was a long series of circumstances wherein it was shown that I was no soldier. Here’s the thing: I was stationed at the Presidio and I lived in San Francisco. I kind of went to the Army as though it was a bad job. But while I was in the Army I met these country guitar players. You know, “that’s far out, show me some more of that.” That’s how I got into finger picking the acoustic guitar, country music, the banjo, folk music, the traditional stuff, and all that.
GP: How long after the Army did the Grateful Dead emerge as a band?
Garcia: I got out of the Army in 1960. The components of the Dead I met right after that, like Phil (Lesh). Phil was a classical composer, a serious composer. I kind of fell into a coffee house scene when I got out of the Army. I was spending a lot of time on the street; I was just a bum, really.
GP: Those were in the days of Beatnicks and the Coexistence Bagel Shop, right?
Garcia: Yeah, I was just able to get into that period just the tiniest bit. It was crazy. What that period mostly was, was a lot of juicers, old-time juicers, raving and paranoid. That was before things got really loose. I went to school at the Art Institute in North Beach, and I knew the painters. I wasn’t any kind of fixture or anything. I was in and out of that scene.
GP: How did the Dead evolve out of that period?
Garcia: We evolved down the peninsula where it’s kind of easier living than in the city. We were all down there more or less hoboing around. We knew each other in various ways, and we decided to put the thing together. I hadn’t really been playing much electric guitar when we started playing Grateful Dead music. I had been playing acoustic guitar and the five-string banjo for the previous four or five years. This was around late ’64 or ’65.
GP: I guess after the Army you did about a four-year period of wood-shedding, getting your chops down.
Garcia: That’s exactly right.
GP: How did you go about getting your stuff down on the acoustic guitar?
Garcia: Listening. That’s what music is about. You hear it. And I’d listen to it and something would move me one way or another; and I would try and play it.
GP: Do you remember anybody in particular who you listened to?
Garcia: Oh yeah. I could give you a list of names a mile long. But among the people who I really got into were Elizabeth Cotton, who’s like a lady guitar player – very nice finger picking, ragtime style – and the Rev. Gary Davis, and Jorma Kaukonen. Jorma is really a fine guitarist. We were all playing coffee houses – Frieberg, Paul Kantner, Jorma, Janis. We’ve all known each other around here for years and years.
GP: What kind of acoustic guitars were you using then?
Garcia: Well, the guitar that I always wanted was an old Martin. And finally I was able to fall into a couple of good D-21’s. But I didn’t have any money, and I had to mostly really hassle to get any kind of good instruments. I had things going where I’d work three days in a music store if they would give me a guitar. Whatever hustle I could get together to get an instrument was pretty much what I was into.
GP: Musicians were hustling to stay alive?
Garcia: Sure, sure. Nobody wanted to work, for God’s sake. It was a lot easier then – hustling, I mean – because there weren’t so many of us.
GP: To get back to the Dead, how did it become a professional working band?
Garcia: We decided that that was what we wanted to do. We got together and rehearsed. We borrowed equipment from music stores. We didn’t get hired anywhere for a hell of a long time. Finally, we started landing little club gigs. You know, in cheezy little bars.
GP: Playing tunes like “Midnight Hour”?
Garcia: Yeah, right, sure, all that. We can still do all that old stuff, James Brown stuff, popular tunes, and top-40 shit, you know, stuff they like in bars.
GP: Jan and Dean tunes?
Garcia: No, we were never quite that clean. We did clubs and bars for about a year, and then we started doing the acid tests with (Ken) Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), which were just really parties. It was mostly the Dead, the Pranksters (novelist Kesey’s entourage), the Angels (the Hells’ Angels Motorcycle Club), and Big Brother & the Holding Company at the acid tests. We just started going to these parties and playing. And the way the parties were working was that everybody who went to the party would put in a buck; and if anybody needed anything after it was over, they got what they needed.
GP: How did you meet Kesey?
Garcia: Well, Kesey used to live about a block away from where we were all living. This was back in about ’62 or ’63 in Palo Alto. Our scenes were just sort of concurrent. Friends of ours were friends of his and so on and so forth. Somebody finally said, “Hey, Kesey is having these scenes up on the hill in La Honda, and people are getting high, why don’t you come up and play.” We said sure, and then it was decided to move the acid tests out into the world, you know, move the party places. We decided to charge a buck at the door and see if anything would come of it. We started to go out and look for places we could rent for one night. People came, and it was really crazy. And all of a sudden, there was this big commotion, “Hey, what are these acid tests? What’s LSD?”
GP: Are the stories about the two bowls of punch, one spiked with LSD a la Kesey, and the other without, true?
Garcia: All the things that you’ve probably ever heard were sometimes true, but nothing was always true. Nothing was consistent. Kool-Aid was the big trip, because Kool-Aid’s cheap, and you just put it in the Kool-Aid, you know. After the acid tests were the Trips Festivals. These anthropologists – Stuart Brand, the guy who most recently did the “Whole Earth Catalogue,” and some other guys – decided why not have a gathering of these new infant forms that are coming up that are mostly related to getting high. “There are these things happening down the peninsula called the acid tests. Why don’t we get them up here for this thing. We’ll call it the Trips Festival.” And so there it was in Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco for three nights. It was really far out. Nobody had ever seen anything like it ever before. So there we were in the middle of that scene. And the following week “Time” magazine has a big story on the Trips Festival, and reporters are coming around, and all of a sudden there is hippies. Somebody came up with hippies. You know, what’s a hippie? All of a sudden we were all hippies. That’s like a popular misconception that went on in the media. Really, none of it has a whole lot to do with playing music. Playing music is playing music no matter what situation, no matter who you are. You’ve got to have discipline, and all the rest of it. Since then we’ve been trying to undo the whole thing of labels and acid rock. It was something that was laid on us, and it really doesn’t have anything to do with what we do or how we play. You see, the groovy thing about the “acid test” was that we could either play as long as we wanted to or not play at all. If we were getting off we could play as long as we wanted to. Sometimes we would play one or two tunes, and somebody would be just too stoned to move. So, we’d stop in the middle of a tune, put everything away, and split. There was no pressure of any sort. We could either do it or not do it. That’s kind of like the ideal way of doing it, really.
GP: You must have gotten your chops together with the original Big Brother and the Holding Company band, right?
Garcia: Peter Albin of Big Brother comes from San Carlos, which is like close to Palo Alto, you know, down the peninsula. He like went to school with Dave Nelson who is like the lead guitar player for the New Riders of the Purple Sage. You see, the Albin brothers used to own 1090 Page in the Haight Ashbury, which is where Chet Helms (founder of the now defunct Avalon and Family Dog ballrooms) used to live. All that early San Francisco scene was interlocking.
GP: When did the Dead first get into the hassle of music as business?
Garcia: Everybody goes through the manager scene. You’ve got to have a manager, if you’re going to survive. So you go through the usual thing where one of your friends decides that he’s going to manage you. He doesn’t know anything about it, and you get burned for a year or so. And you say, “Hey, man, you’re not a manager; you’re our friend, but you’re no manager.” Then some guy comes in that looks like a manager – smokes a cigar or something like that – and he burns you for a year. And not only is he not your friend, he’s a crook. And those changes just keep going on. Now we have a pretty stable scene in terms of our relationship to the business world, but it cost us a lot. Like we’ve been in debt all along up until this year. It looks like we’re just getting out. At one time we were $180,000 in debt.
GP: What about the records you’ve released?
Garcia: The records are a whole other thing. We’ve like spent eight months making a record at times, really outrageous amounts of studio time. And all that money comes out of royalties, and our records don’t sell that well anyway. So far, except for Workingman’s Dead, we’ve never made any money, either for Warner Brothers or for us through Warner Brothers. We’ve never had any hit records; we’re just a working band, basically. We’re an extremely well-known working band.
GP: Do you fault anybody for the band’s financial situations of the past?
Garcia: I don’t fault anybody for it. The way I figure it is that we’re doing better than I ever dreamed we would, considering that our basic premise was that we were not a bunch of musicians but just a bunch of freaks that were going to try to play music. Since then we’ve become musicians. We’ve learned how to make records, and it cost us a lot of money; but at least we learned. The way I feel about it is that the access to the tools is more important to me than making money. We started out not making money, dig? We were doing well with no income. We were living well, and getting high, and being happy, and that’s really where it’s at. I know that that’s the way I can always live, and the rest of it is like incredible dream stuff. You’ve got to love music and be crazy to push on with it – of course, some people make fast money but it’s never been us. And in this day and age it’s not even fashionable to be rich.
GP: Did you make a conscious change from the expensively produced albums to the more live feeling of Workingman’s Dead?
Garcia: Well, in a way. We’d been experimenting with formats for how to make a record. We experimented with going in and making a record with nothing at all. With Workingman’s Dead we experimented with getting the material together, rehearsing it, and knowing it before we ever even got near the studio. We took three or four weeks to rehearse. We went into the studio, and it was over before we even knew it. It was the same with our most recent album, American Beauty. It works really good, and everybody stays alert, and happy, and bright-eyed, and nobody gets boggled down in studio horror trips. The work goes fast, and you can keep excited about the material. You can get some enthusiasm into the tracks.
GP: And you can duplicate the sound on stage.
Garcia: Right, right.
GP: How did you happen to associate yourselves with Warner Brothers?
Garcia: Well, it looked like they were going to be the loosest of all the record companies, and it turned out they are. No pressure really, and they gave us unlimited studio time. What we were looking to do was learning how to make records. We didn’t feel pressured to sign with a record company, because we didn’t care if we made any records or not. But we were enthusiastic about getting into the studio and seeing what it was like. They paid for our education. All that studio time came out of our royalties, but since we never had any royalties… Our Warner Brothers debt was pretty high, but it’s all figures that don’t really mean anything to you. It was no more real the times when we were the heaviest in debt than it is now when we’re almost out of debt. So what? Debt what? What debt? I’m really delighted when I have like thirty bucks cash, you know.
GP: One of our readers wants to know who Marma-Duke is?
Garcia: He writes songs and he’s the lead singer for the New Riders of the Purple Sage. He’s like an old friend of Bob Weir’s, who is our rhythm guitar player.
GP: How did the New Riders come about?
Garcia: I got my pedal steel. Marma-Duke – John Dawson – had this gig down the peninsula playing in coffee houses. He was getting into writing songs, and he’d written five or six songs that I thought were pretty neat. They were all like simple country songs, simple construction. I could understand enough about the pedal steel to play along with simple stuff. I thought, wow, this is the perfect chance for me to be able to get into the pedal steel. You know, I’ll just play unobtrusively along behind Marma-Duke as he’s singing his folk songs. So I went down there and set up my pedal steel in the corner and slowly proceeded to try and learn how to play it. I had a pretty good idea in my head of what I wanted it to sound like, but I didn’t have any chops down. Pretty soon it started to sound pretty good, and a couple of other friends who were around here sort of fell into the scene. And pretty soon we had a little band.
GP: The New Riders is a country band. Why the switch from the Dead music to the pedal steel and all those country harmonies?
Garcia: It was the Army where I got into country music. I’ve dug it since then, but my basic musical background is just San Francisco Mission Street rhythm and blues.
GP: Have you gotten into country music because you’ve developed an increasing taste for it since the Army?
Garcia: I like all the kinds of music I’ve been into. I’m certainly not a purist in that I will only play country licks in a country song or blues licks in blues stuff. The thing I would like to be able to do is to make the music sound right no matter what it is. If somebody else wants to have a label for it, then that’s their business. I would say that the main difference between the music the Dead is playing now and the music we had been playing is the fact that we’ve gotten more into singing. Singing is really great.
GP: Your background in rhythm and blues provided you with a very distinctive lead guitar style.
Garcia: I definitely have a style, but it’s not because I’ve consciously tried to derive a style. It’s because I’ve never had any lessons. You fall into certain patterns that you’re not conscious of, unless you start listening to yourself on tape a lot. If you do that you start recognizing habits; then you have to try and break them.
GP: Is it fair to say that you don’t bend or stretch strings much; that you go for speed in your solo playing?
Garcia: I do a lot of bending and stretching, but the thing is that I do it differently than other guys do. A lot of guys use that technique to accent a high point, but I’ll use a bent string or a slurred note in the course of a run. In the course of a run of, say, sixteenth notes I’ll slur certain of them either down or up depending on how I want them to flow. My style has been characterized as picking every note, and that’s a holdover from banjo – and also because I’m one of those guys who likes to hear every note. It’s so easy to gloss over everything, but my reaction to that was that my phrasing got to be kind of stiff. When I listen to old tapes of myself, it’s stiff.
GP: At high points you prefer to play phrases with lots of notes per bar, right?
Garcia: Yeah, well, I’m into rhythmic relationships. I think of phrases as rhythmic lines first and later as melodic lines. My thinking that way has been changing in the last year as I’ve been doing more singing, as I’ve started to become more conscious of melody. And with melody I’ve become more conscious of expression. I consider music to be a continually developmental process, continually learning and refining.
GP: In your development did you consciously go after speed at one point?
Garcia: Sure, I still do. If you have a fast idea, you’ve got to execute it.
GP: What kind of guitar were you playing when you made “Viola Lee Blues” on the first Dead album?
Garcia: I was playing an old red Guild Starfire, single cutaway with two pickups. I’ve always been a Fender amplifier man – Twin Reverb, nice and loud and not very big.
GP: Do you still like that combination?
Garcia: No, and I don’t like any of the guitars that are available. I’ve used them up. I can make them sound as many ways as they can sound, but it’s not enough ways. I’ve been using like a real old Telecaster lately. I’ll try any guitar just to see if it’s different in an effort to see if it will lead me anywhere. I’m trying to have a guitar built. What’s needed is better instruments, better amplifiers, better hardware for electric music to get better. In my own musical existence I don’t feel that being a guitar player is like the best thing on earth to be. I would rather be a balanced musician. Playing in a group, I’m tending to think more about the music and less about the guitar. That’s just me getting older. I’m not interested in being a virtuoso guitar player or anything like that.
GP: I know you play five-string banjo. How did you happen to pick up on that instrument?
Garcia: I used to be a pretty snappy banjo player. I think I worked harder at the banjo than I did at any other instrument. I got into the banjo just shortly after I got out of the Army, and I really, really worked at it.
GP: Did your guitar technique affect your banjo playing or the other way around?
Garcia: There is no relationship between the two except for the fact that they are fretted instruments. My banjo chops are nothing like what they once were. The banjo is the kind of thing where you’ve got to keep it up or else you lose your time. If I were to spend maybe three or four weeks, I could get my banjo shit together; but there would have to be a reason for it. The reason I stopped playing banjo was because there wasn’t anybody to play with, and I’ve always been oriented along the lines of playing with somebody rather than playing by myself.
GP: We all know that you’ve been playing the pedal steel guitar lately. What kind do you use?
Garcia: I have a ZB. They’re made in California. Mine started out as the standard double neck with ten strings on each neck, C6 and E9 tunings, and eight pedals and two levers. I’ve dismantled the C6 neck, because I’m just not into the C6 tuning. There is nothing in any of the kinds of music that I play that requires that sort of tonality. That tuning is very dense; there are a lot of seconds and that sort of thing. It’s great for playing jazz and pop stuff. You know, the sound that you associate with normal pedal steel players. The E9 tuning is that opener, more country sound. And that’s the one I dug. That’s the whole reason I wanted to get into the pedal steel. So now, I just use the E9 neck and the three pedals to raise the tone and two levers to lower it.
GP: How far do you think you’ve gotten with your left hand technique with the bar and your right hand technique at picking?
Garcia: I haven’t got it down. What I’m doing with the steel is I’m going after a sound I hear in my head that the steel has come the closest to. But I have no technique on the steel. I’ve got a little right hand technique from playing the banjo, and I’ve listened to records; but my intonation with the bar is still really screwed up. I have to do it by ear. The only steel player I’ve had a chance to learn some stuff from was Buddy Cage, who’s the steel player for the Great Speckled Bird, Ian and Sylvia’s band. He’s a Canadian kid and a good, good steel player. I’m really a novice at it, but I’m not really trying to become a steel player. I’m trying to duplicate something that’s in my head.
GP: Were the background fills you played on the “Teach Your Children” cut on the second Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young album what you were hearing in your head?
Garcia: On the new David Crosby album I played one thing that I really, really liked; it was starting to get to where I can hear the steel getting to. I’ve done a lot of studio stuff on the steel – Lamb’s new album, the New Riders’ album, the stuff on our albums, one cut on the Airplane’s Volunteers album, and on Kantner’s Starship album. The New Riders are actually too good for me to be playing steel with. What they need is a regular, good guy who’s been playing since he was three.
GP: Does that mean you’re not planning to stay with the New Riders?
Garcia: I can’t do more than one thing full-time at a time.
GP: While we’re at it, what’s the future of the Dead?
Garcia: More and better, I hope.
GP: To get back to the steel guitar, what do you think the place is for the pedal steel in rock music?
Garcia: I’m playing the place where I think it’s supposed to be. The David Crosby record is where I think it’s supposed to be. I don’t hear it as being another continual lead instrument; I just consider it another possibility musically. I don’t feel that one instrument has more weight than others. Any sound that you can produce adds to your vocabulary of possibilities.
GP: What does the pedal steel have in common with the guitar and banjo from a technique or theory point of view?
Garcia: Well, the banjo is an idiosyncratic instrument. There are certain things that you can play on it that lend themselves to it and certain things that just don’t. The way I see it, the steel is kind of the same way in that it is definitely set up for definite combinations. In that sense the banjo and the pedal steel are limited instruments.
GP: How would pedal steel sound on top of a 12-bar blues?
Garcia: If you’d like to hear it there’s a Chuck Berry recording where he plays pedal steel on a 12-bar blues. It’s called “Deep Feeling,” and it’s on the other side of one of those famous cuts. You’ll know right away what it is although you’ve heard it before and probably didn’t recognize what it was. You probably thought it was just an extremely well-articulated guitar or maybe slide guitar. But you listen to it and it’s pedal steel. He plays it in a way that nobody else plays it, and it’s really beautiful. There are other guys who play pedal steel blues, but nobody’s been able to get out of that stiff phrasing. Nobody’s really gotten into playing the steel with a super amount of expression. It’s like a sitar; anything you can do with strings you can do on steel. You can create any number of microtonal variations. By rolling the bar you can get all different speeds of vibrato. The kinds of things you come up with on the pedal steel are usually along the lines of chordal and transitional things. The steel really lends itself to harmonic changes. For example, chord sequences are something you fall into on the pedal steel, just goofing with it. It’s not really a linear instrument; it’s more a simultaneous instrument, if you know what I mean. With the guitar you have linear stuff, then blocky stuff, linear stuff, then blocky stuff. With the pedal steel you could conceivably think and execute three lines at once. It can do that. That’s the thing that’s wow. Listen, you can experiment with contrary motion. It’s difficult to do that on the guitar. Musically, I tend to think in long, emotional, expressive lines. On the steel that tends to be what I find myself playing.
GP: Do you use the edge of your hand to mute the strings?
Garcia: Yeah, blocking they call it. I do that with my left hand by lifting the bar sometimes. Sometimes I do it with my right hand. I do it however I can do it. I go for the sound in the ear and don’t even know about technique.
GP: Do you use your banjo picking fingers to pick the steel?
Garcia: Well, I use the thumb, index finger, and ring finger, because I don’t have a middle finger on my right hand.
(Garcia raised his right hand from his side and held it out palm down. His middle finger fell just short of the first joints of his other fingers. He demonstrated his technique by picking imaginary strings.)
GP: How did that happen?
Garcia: When I was a little kid my brother cut it off with an axe. That’s why I’m not a piano player. Otherwise, I probably would have played the piano.
GP: Has the missing finger affected your approach to playing?
Garcia: No. It’s not a handicap for the guitar, and it’s not a handicap for the pedal steel particularly. Although, sometimes it would be handy to have another finger for the steel because of voicings and stuff like that. But I can get around it. It never bothers me, never ever.
GP: Have you ever been asked about the finger in an interview?
Garcia: No. I’ve often wondered why nobody’s ever asked me about it before.
GP: The fingers commonly used in picking the pedal steel are the thumb and the middle finger, right?
Garcia: Yeah. Well, these are analogous fingers… (Garcia again raised his right hand. He touched the tips of his index and ring fingers together, enclosing them over the short middle finger.) …I use three fingers like I guess anybody does. The thing that’s hard on the steel is being able to cross thumb and finger. Say you have four strings. You have sequences where you have to play a single note on each consecutive string – and very fast. It’s impractical to play that as if it were a rest stroke on the guitar, because then you would have no rhythm distinction. So, there are rolls that you do where you alternate picking the notes by crossing your thumb and finger. That stuff is a little tricky. And because there are ten strings, you have to be able to select different strings. There are some really terrible discords. What you find are triads inside. Out of the ten strings you find various combinations of possibilities for triads. And as you raise and lower the various intervals by moving the pedals and knee levers, you create other possibilities. If you get a pedal steel and fool around with it, you discover that there is a kind of really neat logic involved in the way it’s set up. It’s far out.
GP: Which pedal steel players have influenced you in particular?
Garcia: A lot of guys whose names they never put on country western albums. I don’t have any favorites, really. What happens is that in the course of listening to a record I’ll say, “Wow, that sounds really neat; I wish I could play that.” And then I’ll try and learn it.
GP: Do you think the pedal steel’s acceptance as an instrument has been hindered by its assocation with nasal female country and western singers?
Garcia: I think that everybody has to learn how to listen to that music. There are some really soulful singers in country music. It’s like a prejudice. People associate a certain thing – like the hillbilly twang or those violins, man – with the pedal steel and think they can’t listen to it. It’s just one of those things. I just hear it all as music. It’s all music. There’s good music, and there’s bum music.
GP: Some country lyrics have left me pretty cold.
Garcia: Lately country lyrics are getting farther out with guys like Kris Kristofferson. There are some good writers in country music. Those are like the new guys.
GP: Do you think that country music is on the rise?
Garcia: Oh yeah. I think that there is more music generally and that a good deal of it, as always, is bad. But I think that the main, basic, healthy trends in music are all going up hill. It has to do with the fact that there is more music available for musicians to listen to. A musician nowadays has a background of music that is incredible. It used to be that you only heard music live. There were no record players sixty years ago.
GP: The Grateful Dead was one of the very first bands of the so-called new culture. Where do you think that the new culture is going?
Garcia: Well, everything is going to pieces on the one hand, and everything is coming together on the other hand. I think that the revolution is over, and what’s left is a mop-up action. It’s a matter of the news getting out to everybody else. I think that the important changes have already happened, changes in consciousness. It’s mostly a matter of everything else catching up to that. Everything is traditionally slow – much faster than it ever has been on earth but still far, far too slow.
GP: And music has been the vehicle for those new culture changes, right?
Garcia: Yeah, it’s weird. I’ve been in music when it wasn’t. Now all of a sudden it is. I don’t know why. It could be that music is one of those things left that isn’t completely devoid of meaning. Talk – like politics – has been made meaningless by endless repetition of lies. There is no longer any substance in it. You listen to a politician making a speech, and it is like hearing nothing. Whereas, music is unmistakably music. The thing about music is that nobody listens to it unless it’s real. I don’t think that you can fool anybody for too long in music. And you certainly can’t fool everybody. There is no music that everybody likes. Music goes way back before language does. And music is like the key to a whole spiritual existence which this society doesn’t even talk about. We know it’s there. The Grateful Dead plays at religious services essentially. We play at the religious services of the new age. Everybody gets high, and that’s what it’s all about really. Getting high is a lot more real than listening to a politician. You can think that getting high actually did happen – that you danced, and got sweaty, and carried on. It really did happen. I know when it happens. I know it when it happens every time.

(by Fred Stuckey, from Guitar Player, April 1971)

Mar 27, 2014

November 1970: Band Interview, NYC


Like their music, the opinions of the members of the Grateful Dead are both highly individualistic and yet part of a harmonious whole. During the interview which follows, Phil Lesh told me of his interest in Renaissance choral music. That music was a well developed form of choral music with predominant harmonies and a refinement of polyphony – a musical form where each voice had its own melodic line. That could easily be a description of the music of the Grateful Dead as well. And, as it describes their music, it describes their personalities and opinions.
The verbal expressions of Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir are very different in style, and occasionally conflict. Yet they are a completely co-operative, coherent and highly developed group, whether they’re onstage playing, or talking with an interviewer. I also was impressed with them as being among the most serious and articulate of musicians.
This interview was done in two parts – the first at the Park Sheraton Hotel in New York City on November 19 with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh. Along for the talk were Frankie Hart, acting as a hostess/publicist for the group, and a member of the Dead family; John McIntire, manager of the Grateful Dead; John Barwell, friend of the band; Penny Ross, Warner’s New York publicist; and Pigpen, who wandered in midway and offered additional comments. I spoke to Jerry Garcia four days later, backstage at the Anderson where the Dead were about to do a concert that was sort of semi-sponsored by the Hell’s Angels. I tried to ask Garcia the same questions that I asked the others – and then to co-ordinate everyone’s answers. In those cases where the questions asked Garcia were phrased a bit differently, they were included so that his answers can be interpreted correctly.
Lisa Robinson.

CREEM: How do you feel about the new album? (American Beauty)
JERRY: I liked it, I mean it’s difficult for me to listen to because we were having some heavy times when we were making it. There’s a lot of emotional trips happening in that record.
PHIL: This is the first record I’ve really got off on.
PHIL: Well it’s hard to say. I don’t know – maybe just because I was satisfied with my playing on it in the studio. And I’ve never been satisfied on a record but this time it seemed as if it all fit.
CREEM: Do you record live, essentially, in the studio?
BOBBY: A good group that uses acoustic guitars only might be able to go in and do that, but the problem of mixing and balancing with electric instruments is harder.
JERRY: We’ve done it an instrument at a time, we’ve all also played together and done vocals all at the same time, we do it every way.
CREEM: Do you produce yourself in the studio?
PHIL: We really do. However, the guy who was listed on this LP as co-producer, Steve Barncard – if you have a guy like that it’s so invaluable, because you don’t even have to talk to a guy like that sometimes. Or if you’re not satisfied with the sound all you have to do is frown a little, and he’s over there doing something about it.
CREEM: A lot of people think of your music as either being “Soft Dead” or hard…do you relate to that thinking?
JERRY: NO! (Laughs) I never heard about that! Who cares – they can call it vanilla…any fucking thing…
PHIL: I don’t care what they classify it as. They think some of our stuff is hard, some of it is soft, okay. It’s all mixed in, to me. Each one of the songs has elements of all of that.
CREEM: What kind of music do you like to listen to?
PHIL: There isn’t much rock and roll music that interests me. I came out of classical music, that was my first musical trip, and so I have a lot of classical music still. Delving into stuff that I didn’t have a chance to study earlier…some obscure music, and Indian music, Greek music, older music. The kind of music that was really designed to get people high. Like a certain kind of Renaissance choral music and the mass where they would have incense and wine. Music that gets people high, I guess, is what interests me.
CREEM: How did you develop your bass playing, you really play melodies, it’s quite different than anyone else…
PHIL: Well I used to play the trumpet, and before that, the violin. I don’t know, I never thought about the bass as being a bass; recently I’ve learned to play it as the bass, but I had always played it as if it were something else.
CREEM: Do you feel that if you play a rock and roll bass line, more rhythmic, that it’s alien to anything else you do musically?
PHIL: No I don’t, it all fits in somehow. I haven’t quite made all the connections yet! I’m playing the bass line that keeps the bottom on it, and yet the same time playing stuff that contributes to the flow. It’s like motion and stasis in the same place.
CREEM (to Garcia): How do you get that sound out of your guitar? I’ve never heard anyone get that sound – what kind of instrument do you play?
JERRY: Gibson, SG – Standard. The kind of guitar where you go into a music store and there’s five or six electric guitars and you take one down…this’ll do. I’m not on any kind of trip about instruments, I like to get them as simple and uncomplicated as possible, because if you have a fancy instrument, somebody steals it. So I just take anything man, if it works, I play it. That’s my philosophy about instruments.
CREEM: Did Crosby, Stills and Nash work with you on harmonies?
JERRY: No, they never actually worked with us, the thing was that they were around. And having them around and sitting down and singing with acoustic guitars was such a turn on for us that we just got into it.
CREEM (to Bob Weir): Are you also involved with some spinoff group from the Dead?
BOBBY: Well I got a lot of friends who are about to do stuff… For one, there’s a group called James and the Good Brothers…
PHIL: They’re from Canada, we met them on the train…
BOBBY: And we’ve just been picking and singing together a lot…
PHIL: They’re planning to make a record.
CREEM: Are you planning to be on it?
BOBBY: Well, I’m going to play on it a little, but what they really need is someone in the studio. At this point they’re so together that they ought to put together an album, and I plan to be around to help out.
PHIL: That’s the sort of thing I’m doing with the New Riders…
CREEM: Are they recording for Warner Brothers?
PHIL: They’re recording for themselves!
CREEM: Have they decided who’s going to distribute it or anything?
JOHN McINTIRE: They’ll decide when the album’s done, and I will hold it up and say, here’s this album, which one of you guys wants it…
CREEM: When will it be done?
PHIL: Ten days in December…they’ve been doing demos and stuff for a long time…
CREEM: How do you feel about what’s happening in New York now when you play? Kids are sleeping out all night on the street and stuff to get tickets…
JERRY: I think it’s crazy…!
PHIL: What do we know about that!? Superstars…
BOBBY: It’s unreal, but we can try and make it easier for them so they don’t have to sleep on the fucking concrete to get tickets…
PHIL: The promoters could cover that a little better by not putting the tickets on sale so fast, so there would be less of a chance of them being sold out so far in advance. Or by holding half of the tickets to be sold on the day of the gig itself, at the door…or one third… But whose responsibility is it?... How much responsibility do we as a band have to take to reach the people we want to reach?
BOBBY: It may well be that we have to take a hundred percent responsibility because nobody else is willing to accept it.
PHIL: Well the people themselves aren’t willing to accept it, that’s the trouble. That’s where it ultimately lies, I think.
BOBBY: Yeah, but I don’t have much faith in the ability of the people…
PHIL: This has been the political schism of all time…
CREEM: Do you feel the band has to take responsibility if the kids can’t get tickets for your shows and stuff?
JERRY: Yeah, we do. It’s almost coming down to that our responsibility might entail not playing so as not to be drawing people to a bum scene. But you see, what puzzles me is that you have a situation where everybody thinks what a drag it is, and you could say fuck it, I’m not going to pay five bucks to do that, and not do it. That’s what I would do. It’s weird. I don’t understand why people will willingly be burned and then complain about it…for the longest time.
CREEM: Well, they don’t think it’s being burned. There’s nothing else – they’re still hearing music and if they don’t go, well then they don’t hear live music.
JERRY: That’s true – but they could play… I don’t know. I guess maybe that’s the next step. But I really don’t know… I don’t understand the vagaries of human behavior. It’s all a complete mystery to me, why people do what they do.
CREEM: Have you played the South a lot?
PHIL: Yes, unfortunately we’ve played the South, about three or four times in Atlanta which is about the grooviest place in the South we’ve been in…and once again in New Orleans and Memphis, neither of which we’ll ever return to again.
BOBBY: In New Orleans they busted us, and in Memphis they gave it a real good try.
PHIL: Anyway in Memphis it was really an uptight performing situation. If anyone stood up in their seat they got busted, and I mean busted. Even if you thought about moving, you got wiped on the head, dragged out and taken to jail.
CREEM: Are you approached by a lot of political groups to do benefits?
BOBBY: We’re really more insulated now, it’s all done through the office.
PHIL: But what we tend to do with that stuff is to do the things that are the most meaningful to us – like political candidates – never.
CREEM: Well I didn’t mean political candidates, I meant like the things you felt were righteous…
PHIL: Or you mean like relevant shit. Well the things that we consider righteous are like the Pit River Indians who are having their land taken away from them, and the People’s Park Bail Fund…
JERRY: We have some loose semi-association with the Black Panthers because we met Huey Newton and got along well with him. We don’t deal with things on the basis of content, the idea of a philosophy or any of that shit, mostly it’s personalities – people. That sort of thing.
CREEM (to Garcia): I saw the Altamont movie, did you see it?
JERRY: No, I was there. I didn’t need to see the film!
CREEM: Do you feel the Angels are political?
CREEM: Righteous?
JERRY: Yeah. I think they’re pure elementals. They’re something that the most modern people don’t know what to think about, so they don’t know how to deal with the situation when it arises. Like having elementals around – things that you can’t control. That’s what they are – things that you can’t control. And when you’re confronted with things that you can’t control, the thing to do is to know how to behave properly in that context. It becomes the new survival key.
CREEM: How do you think the proper way to behave would have been at Altamont? Was it possible?
JERRY: I think that the situation was not conducive to anything. I think the Angels behaved properly, I mean they did just what they would do, so they were not out of character. Also, I don’t think that it was strictly a trip on the Angels. Cause the Angels in California are surrounded by prospects – people who want to be Angels, and their way of showing that they could be Angels is to come on bad. And they’re the ones who are mostly responsible…most Hell’s Angels I know are into partying.
CREEM: Is it a hassle doing free concerts now?
PHIL: No, no more than paid gigs man, doing concerts is a hassle.
JOHN: It’s very difficult to be allowed to do a free concert now, in almost every city in the country.
PHIL: Yeah, we’ve almost blown it…
JERRY: That’s a loaded question because we have to talk about what free is.
CREEM: Let me put it in two parts – in terms of giving free concerts there are numerous hassles. Do you think it’s going to be virtually impossible for you to do them?
JERRY: Well it will be difficult. I won’t say impossible. And it’s the kind of thing that the value of doing free things in the past was that we could do them more or less spontaneously. But now because there’s such bad relationships happening between the kind of people who issue permits for parks, and heads – or freaks, longhairs, because of the political shit, it’s more difficult to get an okay to do that. So we would have to be planning free things as far in advance as we do planning regular gigs, and that takes the whole idea of free out of it for us. It no longer becomes free. It’s one of those things that we have to decide to do – and then we have to keep our promise, and that’s not what free is about.
CREEM: How about kids breaking down the gates?
JERRY: Well that’s the other thing about what free is. Obviously there’s something funny about that. And that’s the thing that may put us in the position where we can’t work in public anymore. Because no promoter is going to go for that a lot of times, they’re going to stop putting on gigs if people break in. The cops won’t go for it, and we won’t go for it because it makes us uptight.
BOBBY: They turn into a hassle. Like for instance we played at Columbia when they had the student strike, and we thought it would be nice for us to go down there and stir up some shit, nothing political, just lend some energy to the situation. And see how things felt. So we went down and set up, and as soon as the microphones were turned on, and all the people who wanted to know if the microphones were turned on realized that they were, there was a mad rush for the microphones because everybody had a very important announcement. And I told about five people in the space of one minute that no man, these microphones were for the music and not for politics. And from every single one of the people that I told that to, I got “lame honky bastard,” or “crass bourgeois son of a bitch.” They just unleashed their political views. And I hate that. And there’s a lot of that going down.
PHIL: That is definitely kind of a fascistic tendency, however, you’ve got to realize, that as long as you’re living in this fucking country, the revolution is right in your lap.
BOBBY: And I’ve always felt that those people are low-consciousness people not to realize that we are doing our part by doing nothing but music.
CREEM: I think that really liberating music is more revolutionary than talk…
PHIL: It is on a certain level, but some of that stuff has to be translated back down to the regular level of mundane existence in order for things to get better here. Throwing rocks and things ain’t the revolution. That’s dumb people setting themselves up as targets; here I am, kill me.
BOBBY: Or here I am, get uptight enough to start killing me. It doesn’t have to happen man, but it’s gonna. It looks that way.
PHIL: Yeah, it really does. And music won’t be able to do anything because now music is really stigmatized as being the cause, or the carrier of the bad vibes. So in a way the musicians have blown it.
CREEM: Do you think the musicians have blown it, or the kids, or neither of them – just the repression…
PHIL: Well it works both ways…
BOBBY: The only way that music can re-achieve its dignity perhaps, its apolitical standpoint, is to become pastoral. And I won’t become pastoral because I’m not a pastor. And that gets into the thing – do you have a responsibility to keep your mouth shut, if you don’t have anything to say. And I have a few notes to say, but I have absolutely no sociological, philosophical, political bullshit…
JERRY: Well I think the musician’s first responsibility is to play music as well as he can, and that’s the most important thing. And any responsibility to anyone else is just journalistic fiction…or political fiction. Because that bullshit about the people’s music man, where’s that at, what’s that supposed to mean? It wasn’t any people that sat with me while I learned how to play the guitar. I mean who paid the dues? I mean if the people think that way, they can fucking make their own music. And besides, when somebody says people, to me it means everybody. It means the cops, the guys who drive the limousine, the fucker who runs the elevator, everybody. All that.
CREEM: What about the thing of breaking down those traditional dues, standing in line, paying some promoter for the ticket, what about the kids who feel that way?
PIGPEN: Rock and roll owes me a living…
BOBBY: Hippies aren’t all enlightened people…
PHIL: Yes, long hair does not a sage make.
CREEM: It’s disillusioning…
BOBBY: Here’s a beautiful example. When we played at the Festival Express in Toronto, in early July – late last June. They had this big football stadium. And there were kids camped out in the park that was around it. There was a big manifesto being handed out that there would be guns and violence and a lot of people were going to get hurt, and there was going to be a lot of bad bullshit going down, because there wasn’t free music and free dope for everybody. You know – “because I’m here and I deserve free music and free dope and every indulgence that I want.”
PHIL: I didn’t ask to be put here so take care of me…
BOBBY: Right, and that was the logic that was going down. And sure enough, just as they promised, there was violence. A lot of people’s heads got busted – one cop – I don’t know whether he died or not, I never followed it up, but he had his head cracked open and a steel plate and was in the intensive care unit in the emergency ward and all that stuff…and the cops in Canada are nice. I mean really fine. Canadian cops have this air of responsibility and stuff, they’re so much better than the American pig that you see publicized so much…
PHIL: Genocidal robots…
BOBBY: Yeah, and here was this really boss, well I can’t say that he in particular was really boss, but anyway from what I heard he was doing a job – trying to keep mayhem from going down, and he wasn’t forceful about it. He got his skull busted open and may have died. And it wasn’t fucking worth it over a sixteen dollar ticket.
JERRY: I don’t think he died, but it’s typical of that – that weirdness, the free concert. The promoter looking like he’s out to make a lot of money, and the kids are reacting to that as much as anything else. So it’s the promoters that have a piece of that, and the kids have a piece of that. If it were possible for them to relate to each other in some comfortable way – I could see how it could be worked out, but I’m not into telling people how to work out their difficulties along those lines.
CREEM: Do you feel it’s going to work out?
JERRY: Oh…I think there is hope, but I don’t want to say, because you can’t know. And it can go any way in this country, and the fact is it’s so much weirder now than it was four years ago…
CREEM: But you as a group could demand that the prices be lower…
PHIL: But we can’t afford to play for less money, for one thing. We would like to but can’t. Unless we start to sell millions of records, which hasn’t happened yet. We support fifty people for one thing…
CREEM: How many people travel with you?
PHIL: Thirteen. So our air fare from San Francisco to here is four thousand dollars.
CREEM: There are fifty in your family?
PHIL: I would say that there are about fifty in the family…
BOBBY: We support the hippie scene around us too. Not just our family but the hippie craftsmen and artists and stuff like that. And we have electronics crews who are exploring new horizons in sound…and video for that matter too. And they need support, and we’re just about the only people who can give it to them, us and the Airplane. And that’s expensive. And we have to more or less subsidize them by giving them projects, and that becomes expensive because of the work and parts…they all have to stay alive too.
CREEM: Do they depend on you a lot?
JERRY: Well, we depend on us a lot, and each of us has at least some small scene to cover…more or less. But essentially we are in debt, and we’ve been working to get out of that. And to get a little ahead of ourselves. Mostly to buy ourselves time so we don’t have to work so fucking much.
BOBBY: We’ve been working on the road, traveling as much as we could generally, for about four years…
CREEM: How can you go in and do two shows a night, or aren’t you doing two?...
PHIL: We’re not doing two shows a night anymore, it was just us doing a set when we did that. There was no time to build anything up, because we’d be pacing ourselves for the second show… It was just jacking off for the first show.
BOBBY: Everybody loves a circus.
PHIL: True, true. I shouldn’t complain about it, it’s to be expected. The only thing that makes gigs worthwhile is playing good.
CREEM: Would you rather see a situation where you played once a week, or one week out of a month or something?
PHIL: I’d rather see a situation where I’d only play when I goddamn well felt like it. And I feel like it a lot, more than you might think judging from the way I talk. Cause I really like to play, but I don’t like anything else about it.
CREEM (to Garcia): If you sold more records you wouldn’t have to play as much…would you miss it?
JERRY: To not have to. That would be groovy. I mean I play in a lot of different contexts at home, you know. I play virtually every night at home…I play in the recording studio, I play everywhere man, I’m a musician! That’s what I do! So I know I’m always going to play, it’s just a question of whether I’m going to play in huge crowded public scenes or not. And that’s about pretty true of all of us.
CREEM: Are you going to do another live album?
PHIL: Well, not until we make up some new music. By which I mean not new songs, but music to play. New music to play.
CREEM (to Garcia): Do you think you’ll do another live album?
JERRY: Oh yeah, sure.
CREEM: With the material you’re doing now?
JERRY: Well, I don’t know. Probably a whole range of things, and a lot of things we’ve never recorded – other people’s material and so forth. It would be what we hadn’t done before…
CREEM: How long do you think you’ll be doing the material you’re doing now?
PHIL: It’s hard to say, we run in cycles of about a year. I just really don’t know, we just haven’t had time to think about anything else, anything new. Once we made up our minds that thinking up new songs was the thing to do. I mean it never necessarily came to an agreement, but we all just felt that way, and since that went down we haven’t had time to practice much of anything.
CREEM: Do you practice a lot?
JERRY: I practice when I can, which isn’t too often when I’m on the road. The band – we don’t practice too much because we don’t have a place to practice…we play instead of practicing.
CREEM: Do you think you want to do more things like the Winterland gig? What else do you want to do with video?
JERRY: For sure. I think video is the answer to all our problems. Because it makes it possible to make live music and without anybody having to go through any trips for it. Just turn on the TV!
PHIL: To my mind that Winterland thing was incredibly successful. I mean the image coming through the TV was so boss, that people had to come down to the hall after watching it on TV.
CREEM: How do you feel about video cassettes?
PHIL: Well to me cassettes are an open book. I think the first step is what we did, live gigs, broadcast – first to a single city, then a national hookup, and then a satellite to the whole world. This is what we were trying to get on for New Year’s Eve, I don’t think we’re even going to get it to New York. We had this fantasy of broadcasting nationwide New Year’s Eve, we didn’t even want to dream about satellite.
PIGPEN: Just like Guy Lombardo…
CREEM: Why can’t you do it? That’s far out…
PHIL: Don’t you think it would transcend “Auld Lang Syne” man?! I mean on national TV from fucking nowhere… I don’t think we’ve been able to sell it to the networks, maybe we’ll try to do it next year, maybe it won’t be on New Year’s, but I do think we’ll be able to get New Year’s on in San Francisco again.
CREEM: What about live, would the networks go for it at all? (Talking to Garcia about performing on TV in general)
JERRY: Maybe we’ll do TV network ways, or maybe we’ll find some other way to do it, we’ll do whatever we can do. That’s what we always end up doing anyway…whatever they’ll let us do, is what it comes down to!
CREEM: The last two times I saw you, you insisted that the lights be turned upon the audience. Do you like it better that way?
PHIL: Well not always. It depends on the environment to me. I get more contact going if I can look and see who I’m playing to. I don’t even have to look at them, I could stare up at the sky all the time as long as somewhere in the corner of my vision there’s faces or people moving. It’s a lot better than blackness punctuated by sheets of incredible, really blinding light. Which tends to isolate you, tends to keep you off from whatever you’ve got going.
BOBBY: Yes, but depending on your mood, if you feel like being isolated at any particular point – I don’t really feel that way too often…
CREEM: Do you ever get any bad reaction when it’s an off night from the audience?
PHIL: Well we used to when we did two shows, and the first show would mostly be kids out on dates, generally younger people… And it’d be slower, we wouldn’t be doing much mind blowing shit, and they’d get uptight if we didn’t do encores. Besides now we’re pretty good, so that now – we can have what to us is an off night, and people will still dig it.
CREEM: What about when they start calling out for requests, like “St. Stephen” and all that?
JERRY: Oh that’s always a drag, because it’s like – it’s just a reflection on whether somebody can allow for you to grow and change. That’s all. I mean I don’t mind playing any song. Mostly all of the songs that we’ve done I can still dig as songs. It’s never a bummer to perform any of them. But sometimes you just feel like doing something else. But in our case we do it. I mean we aren’t restricted – we don’t give a fuck about the audience man, have you ever seen us seriously go on a trip about what the audience suggests?
BOBBY: Yeah, but sometimes, sometimes, we’ll stand around the amps, sort of scratching and saying, “what do you want to play, oh I don’t know, what do you want to play,” and then by them screaming out we’ll get ideas!
PHIL: One time we were into a really long, soft thing, and one guy in the audience yelled out “FREE BOBBY SEALE!” That was GREAT!
CREEM: How do you feel about singles, do you care at all about them?
PHIL: They don’t interest me personally. “Uncle John’s Band” was picked because it was obvious. The ones on this album are pretty obvious too – this is not a rock and roll up tempo album, there are a couple of numbers on it that could be singles… But singles just don’t interest me. The only thing that might possibly interest me would be going in and the challenge of doing one single piece of material really fast and really tasty. Our first single, “Golden Road” was done that way, and it was really exciting. It sounded really good on the track.
CREEM: That’s why you have to look after all that yourself.
JERRY: I know, but I have no interest about singles so I don’t want to bother about it.
CREEM: Commercially they’re valid, groups get big single hits and then sell consistently after.
JERRY: It would be nice to have a single, but a hit single usually means twelve year old audiences.
CREEM: “Uncle John’s Band” was really fucked up. Did the people who worked with you on your album do that?
JERRY: Yeah…I gave them instructions on how to properly edit it, and they garbled it so completely and we didn’t get a chance to hear it until way late, and it was…oh fuck, what an atrocity.
CREEM: Why? Wouldn’t you like to turn them on to something?
JERRY: Oh…fuck, I don’t know! I’d like to play for some old people, man…
CREEM: Do you play on a lot of people’s albums that we don’t know about?
PHIL: I haven’t personally. Jerry’s been on many albums, many, many… I’ve played on David Crosby’s album.
CREEM: How many of you are on that album?
PHIL: Jerry is, Bill is and I am. There’s a lot more of that sort of thing happening now, like on Kantner’s album for instance. (Blows Against the Empire) Garcia and Harvey Brooks, and Mickey, Grace…Christ, everybody and his left-handed brother played on that album…it’s beautiful.
CREEM: What other albums are you on besides Brewer and Shipley’s and Kantner’s?
JERRY: Well I’ll be on Crosby’s and Graham Nash’s. I’m sort of producing Crosby. Graham Nash’s I played on about three or four cuts. There’s a San Francisco group called Lamb – it’s a guy who plays classical guitar and a chick who sings, and they did a thing with a friend of mine called Ed Voges who’s a string arranger, violin player and that sort of thing. And I was in the studio and did a few tracks on that, and let’s see…what else. There’ll be the New Riders album, and there’s an album that I and Howard Wales – an organ player friend of mine – have done for Douglass Records – be coming out in February I guess.
CREEM: What about all those rumors about the Dead and Airplane and Quicksilver forming their own label and having someone distribute records?
PHIL: That’s a great fantasy. That’s the proto-fantasy. Something is going to happen, but it won’t be that.
JERRY: Who knows, all these things are trips that we’ve been talking about for a long time and maybe they will happen and maybe they won’t. But things are working out now so that we have enough freedom to do whatever we want in relation to each other…like Kantner’s album. It was like – then I was a member of the Jefferson Starship.
CREEM: How come that MGM album came out? (Vintage Dead)
PHIL: Well, what happened was that we signed a contract with this guy – another company, to put out some cuts. Some of the material was the same, but the cuts were totally different. They were mostly from the Matrix, not the Avalon. And we signed a contract and figured it was cool because it was all stuff from before Warner Brothers. Apparently the company we signed the contract with went bankrupt, and MGM bought up the contract. But they couldn’t find the tapes. So they got other tapes from someone else and put it out anyway.
BOBBY: That’s fascism! That’s really fascism! Maybe I shouldn’t say that because I’ll lose a whole lot of friends…I’m condemning them for liking me the way I used to be!
CREEM: And there’s nothing you can legally do about it?
PHIL: See, the original plan was to put it out as part of an anthology of early San Francisco, tapes from the Matrix, tapes from the Avalon. And that whole scene seemed to be of some cultural relevance, because it had a whole bunch of different people, different groups, and you can pretty much re-create through that the vibes that were going down at that time – that spawned the Haight-Ashbury scene that for awhile went pretty nicely. And you can also see the roots of a certain genre of American music that actually happened. And that might be interesting – at least culturally significant, in a minor way, but just to have one group – the Grateful Dead playing at the Avalon Ballroom, you can’t put anything together from that. And it’s really lame, it’s the only album of ours that’s ever had liner notes.
CREEM: Do you all get salaries?
BOBBY: Yeah we all get salaries. Sometimes we miss our salary one week, sometimes we get a bonus one week. It evens itself out. And we make, quite frankly, a working class salary. Nothing spectacular.
PHIL: We aren’t even making what musicians would call top scale.
CREEM: There really is a myth about the money that rock and roll musicians have.
PHIL: Yeah it’s bullshit…
PIGPEN: Ninety bucks a week…
PHIL: I wish it were true man, because then I wouldn’t have to be here. I’m not jiving, man, I could be home in California – out in the sun somewhere.
BOBBY: Dreaming up some really beautiful things… And all these money hassles, and problems, and whether the kids are going to be able to get in, and the promoter’s responsibility to the people – the patrons, and the artist’s responsibility to the people, and the artist’s responsibility to get together and work these things out – all have to be given a lot of serious thought. And there’s just no time in this hectic scene that’s going down now to be able to do that. And it all has to be given serious thought.
CREEM: Do you like playing colleges especially?
PHIL: Colleges are kind of like islands in the midst of occupied territory, although some of them are occupied territory. But some of them are about the only free ground there is. A lot of times the cops would have to have special warrants and shit to get on the campus, and there are a lot of drugs on the campus.
JERRY: I hate colleges. Because every college scene we’ve played at during the last few months – they’re getting weirder and weirder… I don’t hate colleges, it’s just that they’re harder to do because they break in, man…
CREEM: I was at Stonybrook when that happened…
JERRY: Yeah well that’s the way it’s been at every college we’ve played at in the last couple of weeks. I mean we’ve been playing a lot and it’s been that same situation every time and each time it’s a bummer.
CREEM: What about festivals, do you think they’re over?
PHIL: Yes I think they’re over and if they weren’t, I wouldn’t play them.
BOBBY: The only one that worked was Woodstock, and it worked through a fluke.
PHIL: There were a lot of smaller ones that worked before Woodstock…
PIGPEN: When festivals got to be in vogue man, they just went down the drain. It didn’t get to be too much fun, with all the people demanding free everything…
BOBBY: Well I think a lot of the reason that Woodstock worked was that a lot of people paid for their tickets in advance, and a lot of people who went there expected to pay for their tickets…they didn’t know what was happening. And the idea of storming the gates hadn’t really jelled in their minds yet, and they got there and found out that the scene was so rushed that the guys just didn’t have time to get the gate up. And so everybody just walked in. And there was no hassle, no uptight vibes, no “I’m going to bust this gate down if you don’t let me in,” there was none of that because everybody just got in. And it was just a fluke.
CREEM: Have you felt more repression lately coming down from the government?
PHIL: First of all the Attorney General of the U.S. has sent out directives to all the State Attorney Generals to use any and all methods to crush rock festivals. And as soon as something like that goes down, what’s to prevent local people from interpreting that as carte blanche, to do the same for anything in their town that they don’t like. In other words, it doesn’t have to be rock and roll, it can be the Black Panthers. In Albany, the Black Panthers were denied the use of the very same hall…
JERRY: I don’t personally feel any… Partly we’ve learned to deal with those things more smoothly as we have had more experience with them. I don’t think that repression…I mean the way it looks to the people who are responsible for whatever repression there is in this country – the way it looks to them is we’re entertainers…we’re like clowns or comic relief, so we’re okay. We make money so we’re okay.
CREEM: But you’re still a threat to them…
JERRY: Not really, well they don’t understand that yet, they might – like Al Capp might tell Spiro Agnew that that’s what’s happening, but so what. The government is not in a position of power in this country, the kind of power that they think they have is some pretty illusory thing and it exists only as long as people continue to believe in it. One way or another – if you fight it – or go with it. That’s the thing that makes it real. And it’s really no realer than that. Like nobody I know really buys that, you know… I mean how often do you see a politician face to face. What do they actually do that affects a person’s life – not much.
CREEM: How involved are you with the business aspects of making records?
PHIL: Well I’m into statistics, and I’m interested in knowing since everything we do is an ad including our records – that the quality of those ads is as good as the records. And I’m interested in knowing that the records are in the stores so the people can get them.
JERRY: Here’s what happened. We went down there and met all the people in the art department, the advertising department, and they’re all young freaks, you know – who would like to be able to do what they would like to do. And we figured well, what the fuck man, our ads were never very good, you know we don’t really like to write ads and here’s all these people just itching to write some copy, put out some ads and all that stuff…why not give them something to do in relation to us, ‘cause that’s what they want to do so just let them do it.
CREEM: How do you feel about groups controlling their own product?
PHIL: Oh that’s great. I’m not into that – I would just like to see a little more control.
JOHN McINTIRE: Well you guys are into that a lot heavier than you realize, because of the fact that you’re producing all your own albums, and you have complete say over every word that goes out about you, ideally. And today Warner Brothers called me with a radio ad, read it to me and I said it was the lamest shit I had ever heard…so they called Hunter about it to see what he thinks, and they’ll change it.
CREEM: Do you think that at some level of the record industry there has to be more information or education for the musicians in business shit?
BOBBY: Well perhaps some sort of switchboard where you could call up for legal or contractual advice, some sort of scene like that would be nice. Maybe all the bands could get together and have some sort of organization…and another organization to investigate the videotape scene… But then again, you have a centralization of authority – or information, and I think that’s a bad idea. Centralization of information means centralization of authority.
PHIL: Yes but that has to be an evolutionary weeding out process. The people who are equipped to make the best out of it are naturally the ones who do the best. They either understand all that stuff intuitively or have the right people.
JERRY: I think there are more and more people finding out more and more about it now. The artists now – traditionally the artist has been duped, taken in by crooked promoters, the record company and the agents. But now there’s so much lore about that subject available…
CREEM: But there are still people who get screwed by those companies…
JERRY: Well they’re just making terrible mistakes, but I don’t think that anybody should ever sign anything or act in any way concerning what they’re doing unless they know what the fuck they’re doing. That’s a rule of thumb I think everybody should be responding to.
CREEM: Why do you think your records are selling more now, did it take a while for more people to find out, or is the record company doing more, or are they just better records?
JERRY: Well I think – yeah, they’re better records because we’ve been making our own records all along and it’s just lately that we’ve learned how. I mean the first four records were us, trying to make records, us trying things out and seeing what works and what doesn’t, and we were learning how to do it. And the last couple of records were us doing it – and they’re simple records really.

(by Lisa Robinson, from Creem, December 1970)

Thanks to

Mar 21, 2014

September 1969: Backstage with the Dead, NYC


I overheard someone who was Serious About Music ask Jerry Garcia about “…directions in music, I mean, where do you think music is going?” There are usually two kinds of Serious Music critics, as a rule, those without brains and those without ears. If this intense young man, sitting cross-legged on the floor of the dressing room had asked himself the same question, for example, while he was listening to the Grateful Dead, he would have been considerably more enlightened, because the Dead are already there. For example there are good blues groups, good blues-rock groups, good rock groups, good C&W groups, etc. Then, apart and above the rest, there is the Dead. It is at least twenty years ahead of the others, and for many reasons.
The most basic has to do with the unity of the group. That’s a weak word; I could say they were “together,” but that would merely mean they were well coordinated, with a good sense of harmonies, etc. That, however, is only the first level; many groups are together. The Dead, though, are into, if you permit me, the Aquarian Age head; that is, they have, or can create, a totally separate consciousness when they play which each member of the band tunes into; like a musical radio-receiving set; there is, I mean, literally something in the air, carried in the sound waves, that each one individually picks up. It’s the damnedest thing; but I’m sure it’s a physical phenomenon, ionization of the air molecules or some shit, that they are all sensitive to – I can’t say. Maybe it’s just that they’re so much aware of what’s going on in each other’s heads, but I suspect that even that could not explain the fact that the audience picks up on it, too. No; it has to be electrical energy, because when they see the audience turned on, it’s like watching a battery get recharged. Assume, for hypothesis’ sake, that each person in the audience and in the band is emitting “X” amount of energy. What the Dead do is to take the total atmosphere of energy and color it with joy, thereby increasing the energy, and creating more joy, and so it goes.
Watch Mickey and Bill on the drums; they are clearly two men on two sets of drums. Yet it sounds like one. I said to Jerry: “It sounds like one drum, they’re so coordinated.” Jerry smiled: “We have one drum…”
The whole thing, this unity of vibrations, is very close to what I know will be the normal state of things in a couple of generations; what astrologers call “The Aquarian Age.” I spoke to Jerry Garcia about this, about getting to the source, the unity.
“That’s it,” he said, “we’re getting closer and closer to the source; everything is totalling up, fast as hell. It’s like a synthesis of everything – physics is getting closer to the occult, the art forms are merging. When we play, that’s what we try to do. That’s why we hate the “stage” scene. When you’re on the stage, you’re a “performer,” and that’s bullshit. We need the audience to turn on to us, so that we can turn on to them, and turn them on in turn. It’s like an exchange.”
“So the stage atmosphere is an obstacle to the unity of audience and musician?”
“Precisely. We need the flow that goes on between us.”
I mentioned the fact that the audience’s response to the Dead at the Fillmore was so strong that I hallucinated myself at a Beatle concert. (This discussion took place before their Au GoGo gig, where the listeners responded even stronger.)
“Right,” he said. “And the trouble with the Beatles is that they haven’t performed live in so long. I guess they would if America wouldn’t put them on such a horror trip.”
Jerry, let me inject, is a rapid rapper, like most Scorpio rising people (“I must have [been] a Scorpio rising – look how many cigarettes I smoke. You know, the whole self-destructive thing.”) He’s absolutely right; between our Scorpio risings, we chain smoked so much that the ashtrays got lung cancer. But the point about his being enthusiastic about everything, aside from his super-sunny character, is the importance he places on the viability of things, their own vital essence. To illustrate, I am an air-sign. The written word is to me of great importance. As usual. I sat crying into my hamburger and tea about the fact that nobody is doing anything good with language anymore:
“It’s a fact,” I whined, “there are more and more people who think they can use words as a vehicle of making other people happy or blowing their minds; yet there’s nothing around really worth reading. As much as I hate him, McLuhan was right.”
“Precisely,” said Jerry, his dark eyes sparkling with intelligence. “James Joyce was really the last. But the thing that gets you uptight is that you see this system you’re involved in, words, dying out. Nobody can really do anything with them anymore because words as a system have become too refined, too worked; everything that can be exploited in language is used-up; lame, overworked. All you have left is a heap of cliches. What you’re sorry about is the fact that there has been so much beauty along the way. While it was being refined, beauty was being created in the process, and that beauty is what you associate with words. But now the system is used up. It’s the same with music. What do you see replacing music as you know it?”
“Electronic music,” I shuddered.
“Yes, you’re shuddering. It kind of makes me shudder, too. But let me tell you something. In twenty years or so, maybe that’s the only kind of music that almost everyone will listen to. And it will be righteous music. Because there will be cats who have the right kind of heads to know how to use it. Right now, it’s still too crude.”
“Well, was it Gertrude Stein who said anything new, truly original, is unformed and unlovely, and unappealing, except to the originator, and that it takes gradual refinement by successive people along the years to make this crude original thing beautiful?”
“Exactly. We’re going through a transition period,” Jerry said, nibbling a French fry, “what you see around you is a system that for years has been yielding beauty but is drained and on the way out, as well as the beginnings of new, crude systems, not worked upon, unrefined, and still unattractive. But they’re just waiting for the right heads to get ahold of them. Like electronic music; people are going to come along who will know how to work with it, have the right heads.”
“Well,” I maintained, “nobody now. Look at the Moog synthesizer. People are not making music with it. It’s a copy.”
“Listen,” Jerry said, “there’s a cat on the coast who sits down and gives concerts on the Moog synthesizer. And they’re righteous, because he’s playing it on its own terms. Not only that, but there will always be people who groove on Shakespeare, Keats, and those cats who did such beautiful things with words, just like there’ll always be people who’ll dig Stravinsky and Mussourgsky. Because it’s the heads, not the system.”
“I can dig that. But working with words is hard, especially in dealing with music, music is ahead of everything, and many people are very sophisticated about it. Except the critics. They’re either apologizing because they are musically incompetent, or else they go into these bullshit details to show you how much they know, missing the point that the only way to get into music is by hearing it. How can you describe the way something sounds? It’s cerebral bullshit.”
“That’s right,” said Jerry, sparkling again, “and that’s why the people on the intellectual scene are totally screwed and intellectually boggled.” (“Oooh, that’s a beautiful statement – that’s great!” I jumped up and down. “Can I use that, can I use that?”)
After a long conversation where we spoke for hours about the Aquarian Age, we found our ideas corresponded almost perfectly. The question of whether or not we’ll make it to the Aquarian Age does not worry Jerry: “Of course we will. We’ve just got to, that’s all.”

Only the Dead could have a road/personal manager such as Jon MacIntire. Immediately upon being introduced to him I asked about setting up an interview. With him. The queer thing about this was that while that in itself is not so strange, it was strange that I had never seen or heard of him before, or who he was with. There’s something about Jon that makes you feel you should know him, and if you don’t, you have only your own ignorance to blame. Partly, it’s the way he looks. About six-two or three, slender, blonde-on-blonde, aquiline, regal featured (“I’m a direct descendant of King John”), with a casual, self-assured bearing; too handsome to be real, too real to be artificial, sunny, clever.
Initially, the conversation I had with him was difficult for me, because I was too damn proud to admit that I couldn’t remember where I knew him from (his name sounded familiar somehow). While he spoke, I kept saying to myself, “He must be a folk musician, a John Hartford type. He doesn’t look like a rock musician.” Finally, when he mentioned the Grateful Dead, I realized he was in some way associated with them. I was stunned. He didn’t look like anyone in the Dead I had ever seen. Frantic to find out what he did, I said something completely out of context like: “You have very musical hands.” He was quite kind about it: “Yes, I played piano as a child, but I’m not a musician now. I’m the road and personal manager for the Grateful Dead.”
He then introduced me to some of the other Dead: Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzman. I came along, a-gathering roses for my notes, watching the Dead watch TV, and getting more and more excited about hearing them play at the Fillmore the next night.
This Fillmore thing was eventful for me. Backstage, I permitted myself to engage in some journalistic voyeurism. Bob was discussing his horses, notably his Appaloosa, with a friend of his, Joe (the Dead have an extraordinary amount of friends), who offered to break his horses. “No, man,” said Bob, “I have to do it myself; that’s like the best part.” Joe was meanwhile blowing phenomenal bubbles, some over a foot in diameter, with smoke and smaller bubbles inside of them. Jason was there, a twelve-year-old boy involved with drums who had, he told me, been drumming for five years. He certainly looked like he had the use of the sticks, flexibility and precision, pretty well down. He has known the Dead for a long time, he said.
Bob was thumb wrestling, a sport chiefly dangerous for its addictiveness, I found. He beat all takers, and though my thumb wrestling is aggressively weak, I do play a good defensive thumb, by tiring out my opponents. It goes like this: you and your partner each crook the fingers of whatever hand you’re using (i.e. your right to his or left to his) similar to the way you hold a guitar neck, lock them, and then try to trap each other’s thumb and hold it for the count of three. Bobby claims that banjo players make the hardest opponents.
The rap was sporadic, but the dressing room was full and smokey. At one point there came what sounded like a scream from downstairs in the street. Immediately, Bobby and Joe left the room and tried to find out what it was. I came out of the room and asked Bob what was happening. He told me: “I think it’s okay, but Joe went down to see.”
Back inside, they were discussing music:
“I caught both Beatle concerts when they played here. They were outasite,” said Bobby.
“Surprise, surprise,” interjected Jerry, looking up from his coffee.
“No really; in one song they did this four-part harmony thing…”
“They don’t do four-part harmony; Ringo doesn’t sing,” Jerry stated.
“He did this time. It was great.” Bobby turned to Joe. “In the early days, when we were first starting out, it was so good. We had to play in these bars, really raunchy places, down by the river.”
“That’s right,” Jerry smiled, remembering. “They were really evil places too. Sailors all juiced up and fights, all kinds of tough shit.”
Bobby’s eyes grew big, as they often do in conversations: “We had to work, play for hours. Those cats were hard to play to. That’s when we developed a style known as ‘Nail-‘em-against-the-wall-rock.’”
Tom Constanten, or T.C., who plays organ, was talking to Pigpen (vocals) about chess.
“I was looking at that book, you know the one I have back at the Hotel – Learn Chess From the Masters. They have some far-out openings in it. Do you know the English opening?”
At this point, the conversation became too technical for me to follow. I mentioned, however, that I knew a fellow who was a Senior Master. T.C. looked interested, yet far away. “Far-out.” His manner is almost impossible to describe. He listens to people with what appears polite respect, yet seems to hear more than one level of what is being said, all the while looking vaguely distracted. It’s as if he is taking everything you say away with him, on his own mental trip. He will respond with a “far-out” in his soft-mannered, gentle voice, add a little to the talk and then make a pun. As far as making puns, he has no competition. I think he has studied a great deal as far as formal education goes, and probably equally on his own. He has an air of a different time about him; he evokes images of a young seminarian with the soul of a Renaissance man. I don’t know. If you can’t meet him, read Chekhov.
Jerry, on the other hand, is very easy to describe (at least physically). I told him: “Jerry, you look like a bomb-throwing anarchist. A freaked out Trotskyite.” Two days later, Pigpen turned to me and said, “You know what he looks like, Garcia? A bomb-throwing anarchist.” Word for word. But he really does. It’s extraordinary.
Pigpen asked me one evening, “What sign was W.C. Fields?” When I replied Virgo, Pigpen shouted, “Yahoo! I knew it. I fucking knew it.” He then proceeded to tell me some choice W.C. Field stories: Did you ever hear about the time Fields built a genuine Bengal-tiger trap on his lawn? You see, he had this lawn, and the grass was kept all nice and gardened, and stuff, but people kept walking across it, and spoiling it. So Fields got together with this cat, see, and he had a real Bengal-Tiger-Trap put on his lawn. He camouflaged it and put up signs: DANGER! BENGAL TIGER TRAP. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK, all over the lawn.
“Did he trap anyone?” I asked. “No,” said Pigpen. I thought about it. “It seems such a waste,” I finally decided.
“Oh, no,” the Pig said, “I think it’s even bosser that he didn’t, because it showed people realized that since he went to such trouble and had ads run in the newspapers like:
‘Mr. W.C. Fields relinquishes all responsibility for any injury incurred to anyone falling into the Bengal-tiger trap on his lawn.’
that he really would be enough of a freak to go through with the project. Say, T.C., do you know about the pineapple juice story?”
“That was Baby What’s-His-Name,” I added.
“Baby LeRoy. No, had nothing to do with Baby LeRoy. There were other things with Baby LeRoy, but not the pineapple juice thing,” Pigpen corrected.
Pig went on to tell some of the finer moments in Fields’ comic career, both off and on the stage. But my preference is still the Bengal-tiger trap story.
Then there was the night my wallet with all my addresses and I.D. and photographs was stolen. T.C. and Pig taught me, almost successfully, too, how to play chess. The next evening T.C. came up to me backstage in the midst of floating musicians, busy equipment managers, waitresses jostling you with trays, visiting friends, and chickies dolled up for fly-catching. “Hello,” he said. “Care for a game?”
“Right,” I said, waiting for the board to appear.
“Pawn to King-four,” he responded immediately, “your move.”
“I can’t without the board; I can’t visualize the moves. Listen, haven’t you got the chess set?”
“No, but you can make one of four possible moves without endangering any of your pieces. Considering my opening, of course.”
I swore, this cat is cleverer than Charlie Chan. I said:
“Listen, T.C., I finally figured out where it’s at with you.”
“Really,” he said politely.
“Yeah. You’re a genius.”
He continued with that dreamy half-listening but unaltered expression: “Really? Far-out…”
Pig once wrote a song called “Roaches in My Frying Pan,” about a motel (“it wasn’t really a motel, though; it was more of a shack”) he once stayed in: “There were so many roaches they looked like flyspecks on the wall. We’d go crazy with killing them. But the really boss roaches, the ones that were really into being roaches, we’d leave them alone.”
We talked about food; he gave me a wonderful recipe for applewine, and told me about Bobby’s Miso soup:
“We were both in Houston once. For some reason I woke up sick and feeling feverish, and we had to play that night. So Bobby went down to the kitchen – Bobby’s macrobiotic – and had the cook at the Hotel we were at make me some Miso soup. I could feel better even while I was taking it. I even managed to play one set. It’s very earthy, and you can just feel the minerals going into your system. It’s good, I mean good for you. The soup I had in the motel was awful-tasting, but that’s because the cook had never made it before. Bobby knows how to make it really boss, though.”

If you happen to be into drumming, and you tell me you haven’t heard Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman play, I say your ideas are due for a complete reconsideration when you do. Without clouding the issue too much with intellectualisms – for they must be seen playing – the whole concept of drumming is different. Mickey is almost beyond drumming; his playing is musical in concept more than rhythmical; his rhythms are the reflections of the moody moon on the dark sea of the Dead’s music; always in motion, like the gorgeous rhythms of a lifetime; they flow, they stretch, they flicker, they glitter; they hit hard. But they are never static or steady, and change is one of the things life is about.
But Mickey is more than just a natural genius. His whole body, every muscle, is somehow summoned into action when he drums. His body is physically fit; he is aware of the value of keeping so for his work. When he plays, his body moves, not with the franticness that most drummers have, but with the subtle muscular movements of a superb animal; always poised, ready for a thrust or a lunge, because he picks up instantaneously on what must carry it out just as quickly. Even his face mirrors this; his eyes flash, his sly alley-cat smile has kind dimples rippling along the side of his face. He’ll get up, play the gong with the cowbells, or the vibes, or any number of instruments I can’t identify, to provide his own kind of rhythm. He does this all at a moment; he is supremely graceful, a quality most drummers lack, and he is always ready to do just what is needed. “The readiness is all…”
I finally set aside my awe and spoke to him. We talked about his playing, about his and Bill’s total coordination, and the total union of the Dead’s music:
“I see it as kind of a landscape,” he said, diagramming on a table with his finger, “we start here (Mick indicated a fixed point) and then proceed out in different directions: here-there, here, each one of us is on a different trip, yet we make a totally unified picture.”
“The audience feels the unity,” I said excitedly. “The more you turn them on, the more they turn you on, and it keeps growing – the joy is geometrically increased.”
Mickey smiled, “Yes, but I think they also like the struggle, like to watch us work it out.”
I told him about my drums, how afraid I was of them, how long before I would touch them. Mickey, who is enchanted by Eastern (Indian) music, replied: “I know. Bill and I spend a lot of time with Ali Akhbar’s tabla-player. And though we don’t play Indian music, some of his patterns, his influence has sort of osmosed into our work. But the first time I heard the tabla, I laid down my sticks for three weeks.”
I told him he reminded me of an [alley]-cat when he played (“That’s why Jerry calls me ‘Mick the Stick,’” he grinned) and asked him if he worked for such great muscular control (He’s been drumming fifteen years): “Yes, I do work for it. I ride horses every day – we have a horse ranch – and I did a lot of martial [arts] shit; I was a judo instructor, and I was into dancing when I was younger.” The judo bit particularly impressed me, as the lunge movement, so typical of the defensive arts such as judo and fencing, are so manifest in his playing. Every time Mickey and Bill do [a] solo together (you can’t call it a duet), it’s sort of magical. Bill, his eyes fixed on Mick, goes off into his own more fixed riffs, while Mickey constantly makes use of every piece of percussion about, seldom sitting at the drum for a long period. After one set where Mick did some precision drumming with the back of his hand, I commented upon it. “Did I? Well, I do whatever I have to; whatever works…” That is, hopefully, some idea of where he is.
Going on discussing technique is inadequate, since in order to be halfway fair to the Grateful Dead, I would have to match with words their ability with music, and I’m just not up to it. Besides, it still would not be the same as hearing and seeing them play, the total viability of it, and its joy. It is just one of the most fortunate coincidences in music that they have the great musical competence to match their phenomenal heads. (“We don’t talk that well,” Jerry had explained, patting his guitar. “That’s why we play.”) Taking their heads into consideration (and they are, remember, totally different people, but commingled in spirit) and their musical comprehension and their talent, maybe it is not so strange that they effected a kind of musical renaissance.
I remember one night, when all fagged out, Phil and Pig were catching a taxi. Or rather, the cab backed up and caught us, recognizing the band members. He was one of those phenomena on the music scene I have lately joined, namely a Dead fan. His name was Patrick, and he was obliging, enthusiastic and friendly. “Why can’t all taxi-cab drivers be like you?” I asked. He grinned at me: “Why can’t all bands be like the Dead?”

Reprint from CHANGES Vol. 1, No. 9

(by Alice Polesky, from Go Magazine, March 1970) 

Thanks to