Sep 3, 2014

March 1972: Jerry Garcia Interview

Garcia stabs at the record business - 'we want to get out.'

After almost three years of broken promises, the Grateful Dead caravan is finally coming to Britain. They are due here this week for what will undoubtedly prove to be one of THE most talked-about events of this year.
Lounging backstage in a shabby dressing room three flights above the stage of a South-side New York rock hall - its dirty yellow painted walls in an advanced state of decay - Jerry Garcia, who for most people IS the Grateful Dead, rummaged about in his tangled beard and explained the reasons for the group's prolonged delay.
As he spoke, the glare of a naked light bulb - thick in dust - cut through the blue haze of aromatic Mexican incense, casting stark shadows on the wall.
"The reason why we rarely venture out of the States isn't due to what most people might think, a question of finance," Garcia began as the buzz of conversation in the crowded dressing room dropped to a minimum.
"Such is the structure of the Dead that it's difficult for us to make a decision. I mean, we don't have anyone who says, 'Next week we're all going to Europe.' It's not like that at all.
"All major decisions are bounced around from hand-to-hand like a beach ball. Eventually, it's an idea that everyone takes to or it just disappears."
At this particular junction in their career, the Dead, after a generation of just bumming around, are on the threshold of becoming an involuntary star attraction. A predicament that, in all honesty the band want to avoid.
For with good intent, the Grateful Dead are trying to de-escalate their exaltation so that they can continue to evolve at their own pace and by-pass outside pressures.
In a rather roundabout way, this has been reflected in the sparseness of their recorded output. "This is mainly because of marketing, which is the record company's trip," Garcia revealed, still exploring his facial undergrowth.
"Also, we don't want to give endless energy to companies and in doing so attract endless attention to ourselves. In reality, we could put out an album everytime we played, because we record all our gigs."
Then, by way of a rather amazing paradox, Garcia admitted that he didn't feel that any of the Dead's albums were a representative sound scrapbook of the band at the various stages in their growth.
"We've never been able to do that," said Garcia. "And the live ones are only approximations, because in reality, what we do is a very long show...much longer than an album. So I don't feel that in any spectacular way we've achieved this.
"Some of the songs are just ones we came up with for those particular albums, but which were never performed on stage. All of them were successful on some level. However, none of them were really representative of what we were actually doing at that time."
After pausing for a moment to evaluate his previous statement, he added: "I suppose you could say that the last know, the live double set, was representative of what we were doing a year or so ago. But since then we're a whole different band."
Garcia then implied that perhaps one day the very best from this enormous collection of unreleased tapes might emerge in one form or another. But he refused to give any further details.
Widely acknowledged as being the epitome of a self-reliant unit, Garcia explained the ideals of one of the Dead's most ambiguous ambitions.
"We would like to be able to make music, put it out, and at the same time get out of the record business entirely - to avoid getting hung up by the business side of music. There's some other space that has yet to be created which would be sympathetic to what we want to do."
At this time, the final ideas hadn't been formulated so he wasn't able to elaborate upon this vision.
However, Garcia was only too pleased to explain why the Grateful Dead were revered as being the definitive exponents of the full spectrum of rock Americana. With a huge grin that managed to reveal itself from behind his hairy profile, he began:
"Why this has happened is because we're all from slightly different musical backgrounds, but we're all Americans and we're all Californians who come from the San Francisco bay area.
"Culturally, we can all communicate really well because we've all lived through the same events in the same area. Yet, we've all been involved in different kinds of music with which we can all interest each other.
"Just like Phil Lesh can always turn me on to something that I've never heard before, because of his musical background. It's entirely different from mine. Likewise I say, 'Hey, you've just gotta listen to this bit of country music that I've got here.'"
By the same token, the Dead don't identify with the labels attached to their name.
"We never thought of 'Workingman's Dead' or 'American Beauty' as being countrified rock albums," he confessed. "In fact, we never thought of them as being country, or rock or anything. They were just albums of original songs."
Group musicians usually involve themselves in the conception of a solo album either as a means to alleviate a gnawing frustration or to bolster an inflated ego. Jerry Garcia made his solo album for a more practical reason.
"What happened was I borrowed some money from our record company in order to buy a house, because renting a house in Marin County is one of the most difficult things to do in the whole world.
"When I borrowed the money, I told the company, 'If you want, I'll do an album for you,' and that's how I got into it.
"I just used Bill Kreutzmann on drums and played all the other instruments myself.
"Making the album was fun and very easy, to the point that I feel that I got away with something."

(by Roy Carr, from the New Musical Express, April 1, 1972)

Thanks to Uli Teute.


  1. This interview took place during the Dead's Academy of Music run, in a "crowded dressing room." Carr had interviewed Garcia there a couple months earlier before a Howard Wales show - the dressing room wasn't so crowded then! (I take it Carr was the NME's New York correspondent.)
    Carr takes it as a given that "for most people Garcia IS the Grateful Dead." Garcia was, at any rate, by far the most heard from in interviews - which the other members usually managed to avoid.

    Garcia manages to kind of avoid the question of why the Dead's "three years of broken promises" to go to Britain - but he does give an interesting explanation that "it's difficult for us to make a decision... All major decisions are bounced around from hand-to-hand like a beach ball." (Evidently some people were not so keen on going, but Garcia doesn't mention that.)

    Garcia also oddly explains why the Dead have released so few albums - "mainly because of marketing," and because they "don't want to give endless energy" to Warner Bros. or attract too much attention. This is strange, since the Dead had actually been releasing albums at a rapid clip since '69; maybe Carr had a different impression since there had been no studio album in '71. But it's true that the Dead did reduce their studio activity for a couple years (they could slow their pace once they were out of debt), until they were free of Warners' clutches.
    Garcia says that none of the Dead's albums are really representative of them, except possibly the '71 live album - "but since then we're a whole different band." He often expressed this, that their albums were incomplete and out of date by the time they were released. It would've been nice for him to explain in his view how the band was "different" since early '71.
    He surprisingly admits that "we could put out an album everytime we played, because we record all our gigs," then even implies that they might release a selection from the tapes someday. I don't know how much thought (if any) the Dead had put into the idea by that point, but perhaps the notion for a Bear's Choice-type album was older than we thought. Anyway, by the late '70s Garcia was admitting that any practical notion of releasing shows as they happened, or digging through their archives, was nearly impossible for the Dead.

    As often, he says he wants to avoid the business side of the music industry - "we would like to be able to make music, put it out, and at the same time get out of the record business entirely." He hopes that "there's some other space that has yet to be created" in which they could do this - the Dead were natural utopians, in that they'd seen the environment they could exist in appear out of nothing in '65-66, so of course Garcia expected further evolution, in both the record industry and the concert scene. Unfortunately, there was no such evolution - the internet as an "other space" to distribute music in wouldn't be created for decades. In July '72, Ron Rakow would present his ideas to the band for their own independent record label, and the Dead would take that route out of Warners, but it got them even more "hung up by the business side."

    Garcia's explanation of why the Dead are "revered" is bizarrely irrelevant - maybe he was answering a different question? - and once again objects to any labels for the Dead's music. He also repeats the story of recording his solo album to buy a house with the Warners advance (he'd been bumped from one house to another before then) - leaving out the part, "that's why the record starts with 'Deal' and ends with 'Wheel.'"

  2. LIA, love your riff on the business side. Yes, ironic that trying to escape it, it consumed them.

  3. I was thinking about Garcia's comment, "Some of the songs [on our albums] are just ones we came up with for those particular albums, but which were never performed on stage."
    He's overstating it a bit... The ONLY songs on the Dead's early albums that weren't regularly performed onstage at the time of release were Rosemary & What's Become of the Baby, on Aoxomoxoa - and each of those shows up on one live tape. Some songs would be played for a few months and then dropped, but they were part of the repertoire for a while at least. Even tunes like Operator & Till the Morning Comes on American Beauty were played a number of times in fall '70. (Box of Rain is an odd exception, played just one known time in '70 before it became a regular in late '72 - kind of prefiguring Lesh's two "studio-only" songs on Mars Hotel.)
    So the Dead were far from a band that came up with "studio filler" for their albums.
    Garcia's main complaint here seems to be that the Dead's albums just aren't long enough to cover the breadth of their repertoire... He'd said in the Rolling Stone interview that you have to put Aoxomoxoa & Live/Dead together to see what the Dead were doing in '69. Given that, perhaps it's no surprise that Europe '72 turned out to be a triple album, one that fairly honestly reflected the 'first set'-'second set' pattern of shows, though it didn't include as many covers as Skull & Roses did.