Aug 21, 2015

March 20, 1971: Fieldhouse, University of Iowa, Iowa City


Reverberations from the Grateful Dead concert are likely to be felt around Iowa City for a long time to come. Whether the threat of no more concerts holds or not, what happened Saturday night in the Field House will not be soon forgotten.
The arguments over whether the concert was a good one or not must have begun mid-way through the set done by "The New Riders of the Purple Sage." And the discussions are likely to continue unabated for some time; some liked the performance, some didn't. And so it goes.
But there are reasons for thinking the Dead's concert may have been one of the more important happenings in Iowa City in a good many months; reasons which transcend any question about the quality of the performance.
What happened is that several thousand people found out that they can have things like they want them if they act collectively, if they act in a very together way.
C.U.E. had been asked for a sit-on-the-floor concert. They refused with a lot of hokum about fire regulations, etc. And so the people took things in their own hands. They simply folded up their chairs and passed them off to the sides.
For the people who were there, this should be a good lesson in collective behavior. Individuals are virtually powerless; it is only by working together that change can be accomplished. But change brought about in this manner requires a high degree of responsibility. And Saturday night's action left quite a lot to be desired in this respect.
Unaccustomed to freedom, people didn't seem to understand that it takes more room to sit down than to stand up and, as a consequence, only a few were able to sit at any one time; many had to stand throughout the concert in spite of the fact that it was long and a chance to sit down would have been welcome.
The shouting between numbers was a drag.
And, of course, fire regulations aren't really a joke. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that it is fairly important that there be fire lanes; the ad hoc action of the crowd successfully thwarted any attempts to establish and maintain such lanes.
But, all things considered, the crowd handled their new-found freedom fairly well. Shoving was kept to an absolute minimum, people who didn't want to give up their chairs weren't hassled, and for all inconvenience most people remained good-natured. There were no reports of vandalism before or after the concert.
For the future, provided more concerts are scheduled despite threats to the contrary, C.U.E. should permit sitting on the floor. Fire lanes could be handled by student ushers (we have little need of the "professionals" that C.U.E. brought in). One-price tickets should be sold.
We could all have a good time. And the bands would no doubt benefit from a little more order.

(by Leona Durham, from the Daily Iowan, 23 March 1971)

Thanks to 

The Daily Iowan also had a couple later mentions of this show. In July 1971, they ran an interview with Don Pugsley, a member of CUE (the Committee for University Entertainment).

Helland: What was the administration’s reaction to the Dead concert with the Ripple bottles and the roaches and the chairs being moved out?
Pugsley: They were disturbed by that whole thing. They were worried about flying bottles. I don’t know what to say. I’ve never been to a concert where someone was hurt in a Ripple bottle fight. I don’t think that it is legitimate to call off a concert for 8,000 when a couple of people, if anyone, is tossing bottles. The administration has been officially quiet; they feel that ... CUE can handle problems. 
Helland: How safe are concerts, safer than driving a car?
Pugsley: A lot safer than talking to a county sheriff on a spring night.  . . .  

Helland: Do most Dead audiences react the way we did?
Pugsley: I saw the Dead at Madison. You have to realize that you just don’t have chairs at a Dead concert. You’ll have a better concert without them and you’ll please the type of crowd that is attracted by the Dead. There were no chairs at Madison on the ground floor. The Madison ground crowd was the same as the crowd here and it didn’t seem to get out of hand. I heard that the best Dead concert was held in a posh opera house in St. Louis and there wasn’t any dancing there. It depends on the group, the hall and the crowd.  . . .
Helland: [The Regents] don't dig no carrying on at their University... Do you believe in the Outside Agitator Theory or the Domino Theory with regard to carryings on at the Dead Concert? 
Pugsley: Well, this thing at a concert in Omaha was due to outside agitators, there was a disturbance last month in Tucson due to outside agitators, the disturbances this spring in Iowa City were due to outside agitators. I'd like to know where these people live, that they migrate to Tucson, Omaha, and Iowa City to carry out their misdeeds. I'm sure where they live is a nice town. Now I've been in on some of these things and have been erroneously labeled as an outside agitator. I don't believe in the Outside Agitator Theory. I believe in the Inside Agitator Theory.

(from Dave Helland, “Pugsley: Groups Cost Heavy Bread,” the Daily Iowan 7/22/71, and “CUE: Audience Troubles,” the Daily Iowan 7/23/71)

... During the next CUE concert featuring the Grateful Dead, the crowd removed chairs from the floor and passed them to the back of the Fieldhouse. This raised the ire of a representative from the state fire marshall’s office who was present at the concert. The damage that resulted to the Fieldhouse from this concert led eventually to the rock concert ban in the fall of 1971. ... 

(from Chuck Hawkins/George Shirk, “CUE fights earlier debts,” the Daily Iowan 10/29/73) 

For more complete coverage of the show, see:

Aug 19, 2015

November 27, 1970: The Syndrome, Chicago, IL


It seems like only yesterday that a San Francisco rock group with the then-unusual name of the Grateful Dead began making music that was so hypnotic and innovative that it eventually recharged the batteries of the lifeless and tinsel-coated world of rock and roll music.
Only yesterday - remember? The Avalon Ballroom, the original Fillmore Auditorium, Janis Joplin, Gracie Slick, Jimi Hendrix, Country Joe, and the earliest acid rock pioneers, Jerry Garcia and the Dead.
If you went to the Syndrome Friday night and expected the same kind of excitement the Grateful Dead used to produce in a live concert four or five years ago, you were disappointed. What was creative and tradition-breaking then is commonplace now, and the Dead really haven't changed their style much in that four or five years' time.
Let's face it: four or five years in the rock music world is a whole generation grown from high school kids to college graduates with jobs and even families.
Still, the Dead managed to pull in enough fans to fill up the rickety old Coliseum at 15th Street and Wabash Avenue, and everybody seemed to be having a great time. The Dead's clear, heavy beat is great for a live audience because it always inspires people to shake, vibrate, stamp their feet, or jump up and down, particularly during Garcia's electrifying flights of fancy during lead guitar sequences. He has few equals when it comes to flashy, polished guitar playing.
But his vocals and those of Bob Weir never did amount to much (it would be nice if you could comprehend at least an occasional word of the lyrics), and the bass, organ and drum accompaniment all sounds the same after a few sets.
Of course, they're caught with a built-in critical disadvantage. They were the pioneers of much of today's rock, and everybody that has followed has improved on it a little bit, each taking away a little bit of the Dead's original excitement. It was a good show, but it didn't chart any new musical territories, not like the Avalon Ballroom in 1966. Maybe that's why it seems so long ago.
The warmup act was a group called the New Riders of the Purple Sage; as the name implies, they rode the range between rock music and country and western. The closer they got to pure country music, the better it was, to the point of sounding a little like Buck Owens and the Buckaroos.
The best set, surprisingly, was an impromptu instrumental ballad struck up while the lead singer restrung his guitar. It gave the Hawaiian guitar player a chance to show off his really excellent country style. They could use that style to their advantage - it would also help if they would please turn the volume down a bit.

(by Roy Petty, from the Chicago Tribune, 30 November 1970)

Thanks to

For more positive reviews, see:  

Aug 14, 2015

November 11-14, 1970: 46th Street Rock Palace, Brooklyn, NY

(46th St. Theatre, B'klyn.)

The Grateful Dead brought their musical magic and excitement to New York's newest rock showcase, the 46th St. Theatre in Brooklyn, for four shows last week. However, the Dead were the only bright star in an otherwise dull evening, caused by the theatre's poor organization, management, and a faulty public address system.
Opening with a set by the Dead's country cousins, The New Riders Of The Purple Sage, the evening was another example of the band's eclectic inventiveness. With Jerry Garcia now playing the pedal steel guitar as cosmically as he plays electric guitar, the New Riders are one of the best country rock combos around.
Preparing the over capacity audience for the Dead's electric set, the Riders scored with "Henry," "Dirty Business," and a rollicking version of the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman." The latter tune showed Marmaduke's deep country voice off to best advantage.
Building upon existing themes, the Grateful Dead, led by Garcia, improvise as well as any group in rock. Constantly rising to intense musical peaks, the sextet's new emphasis on complex vocal harmonies adds to their established instrumental talents.
Performing lotsa new material, including the first distinct interpretation of Khris Kristofferson's "Me And Bobby McGee," the Dead also ignited the audience with "Shine On Your Love Light."

(by Jeff, from Variety, 25 November 1970)

Thanks to

Aug 11, 2015

Winter 1970: Grateful Dead News & Interview


There’s much to be said for the Grateful Dead. And it’s all good.
The best word is the group is still on the scene, setting a pace in rock, and in a sense, liberating the music so that it can go in new and different directions, changing with the changing times.
The other words are more concrete – news about the group’s latest album, a tentative movie, a country-western sub-group, “New Riders of the Purple Sage,” and Grateful Dead statements on the world in general and rock music in particular.
The new album is a two-record Warner-Reprise production called Live Dead. It’s the group's fourth and the best so far – best, because the recording quality is superb and it was recorded “live.” “They said you couldn’t record the essence of the Dead,” Jon MacIntire, the group’s road manager, explained. “But this album does it.
“The other albums got a lot of musical things across, particularly Anthem of the Sun. Aoxomoxoa did a different thing, but Live Dead really shows the group as it is. It’s as close as you can come to the Dead without actually being on stage with them.”
Listeners seem to agree. MacIntire noted the album sold better than the others, 30,000 one recent week (a sizable figure for an avant-garde rock group like the Dead). Songs for a fifth album are being taped this month. Its release date will depend on the markets, yet to be submitted art work, and other factors – perhaps coming out by early or mid-summer.
“Recording is different,” MacIntire added. “There’s a lot more work involved in making an album than in getting down there and just recording it – a lot more chores to be done But we enjoy it. The people who follow the Grateful Dead know they wouldn’t do it if they didn’t enjoy it – or consider it worth doing.”
The lack of an audience somewhat hinders a group like the Dead in recording, but not much. Bob Weir, guitarist-vocalist, pointed out even when there is no actual audience, there is the feeling there must be one somewhere. “There’s no music that’s ever played that’s not for people – even if you can’t see them there,” Weir said. “So when we’re playing and there’s nobody around us, we’re either playing for ourselves or some future audience.”
Their upcoming movie is Zechariah, described as a kind of fantasy cowboy flick with a plot line closely resembling Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. Costuming has been completed for the Dead; filming may begin in April, either in Mexico or in the old back lots of MGM.
Zechariah was written by screen veteran Joe Massot (“a good flowing script,” former actor MacIntire reported), and will be produced by George England, known for his productions of Shoes of the Fisherman and The Ugly American among others.
“If it’s done as we originally heard about it,” MacIntire said, “the movie really won’t be a western, but will be an interesting piece of surrealism. For example, when the Dead ride in on their horses they’re wearing holsters with electric guitars shoved in them and electric amplifiers strapped on the backs of the horses.
“The movie’s star (Ginger Baker) is Zechariah – the Dead have their segment of the picture when Zechariah interacts with them, lusts after the kind of lives they live and wants to be a part of them. We’re really looking forward to filming it.”
The recently released album was recorded approximately a year ago. There is an emerging country-western flavor to the Dead’s music however, which isn’t that clear in the album, primarily because the country-western aspect is a fairly recent development.
For the Dead, it started about the time leader Jerry Garcia got one of the finest pedal steel guitars (“a tailor-made, beautiful instrument”) and began playing it with the Dead, doing a few originals and old standards having country-western connotations.
But the new development is Garcia, old friends John Dawson and David Nelson, and fellow Grateful Dead musicians Phil Lesh, bassist, and Mickey Hart on drums. They’re known as the “New Riders of the Purple Sage.”
The New Riders recently cut a demonstration tape for Warner-Reprise and the present schedule often finds the Dead playing on weekends, the “New Riders” on weekdays.
“They’re going all around to various beer houses and country and western, folk oriented, collegiate type places,” MacIntire said. “But the ideal is to book them into hard-core country redneck places where they can get the feed-back they need from the people who really know country-western music and know it intuitively.”
Although Garcia no longer plays the pedal steel guitar with the Dead (saving it for the “New Riders” material), the presence of the country-western influence is notable in new Grateful Dead music. The fine, really tremendous hard-driving rock sounds are still present, but some melodies, words and harmonies seem simpler, purer, reflecting the new influence.
Audiences have heard the Grateful Dead for about five years now. The group’s followers can trace them from beginning days with “Mother Macready’s” through the times they were known as the “Warlocks” into the first acid tests and up to the present. They have been successful, but in some ways they wonder if it’s been success with a capital “S.”
“We’re not all that successful,” Garcia said, “yet we are very successful. Our records are not tremendously big sellers, but we’ve got a reputation for being musically good – and we’ve influenced a lot of groups.
“And we’ve also got a following – an enlightened minority that speak the same language we do. They hear our music and we can specifically communicate with them.”
Lesh lovingly referred to them as the “Grateful Dead freaks.”
Whoever they are, they’re special – and usually a little older, at least not teenyboppers. They primarily are in San Francisco, New York, Boston and Chicago, and they do more than listen to the Dead. They also watch what the Dead are doing. They watch how the Dead’s “family” (which now has grown to approximately 50 persons) moves along, where everyone is living.
The Grateful Dead enjoy their music – and they find the freedom they need as individuals within the confines of the group.
Constanten (“T.C.”) explained: “It’s that way because we have agreed to cooperate. That was the idea we started with – that we had a band, not just a bunch of soloists, but a band playing music together.
“There have been kind of agreements as to who plays which role musically in relation to the others. The agreements have been defined not only by what instrument one plays, but how he plays it and what he does with it…the agreements are tacit and verbal.
“Of course, it isn’t that rigid. What we’ll do is get together – everybody will start to add to a piece whatever it is they hear in it. That will be going on for a dozen or so performances and then it will settle into something that is sort of like a mood…
“We can get bored with it. Then we’ll resurrect it much later and it will have undergone a transformation just because we’ve undergone a transformation.”
And the role of the individual musician?
“I personally feel the musician has a role of a fiddler, a jester, an entertainer,” Weir said – starting off a conversation that found the musician as prophet, reporter, free agent and on and on and on…
“He’s also a communicator,” Garcia added.
“Sometimes you can look into the audience and see a particular face and it’s saying something to you… Sometimes you see someone’s soul there. Not long ago, some cat jumped up on the stage and picked up the microphone and threw it into the crowd. It was part of the running play of violence that is close to us all the time – it’s like that play of violence got up on the stage with us.”
“Rock music should be spreading the news – having fun,” McKiernan added.
And Constanten noted: “Rock music comments on what’s happening right then with a striking applicability to what it has to see. A really good song says the truth to you in any of a billion circumstances… It’s sort of the voice of a square dance caller not saying, ‘do-si-do and dance around the table,’ but saying all the changes people go through…”
And protest songs?
“Protest songs are awfully dated,” Constanten answered. “As I listen back to them, they seem almost irrelevant. Protest music, white music, black music – this color thing is like an irrelevant trip. We are for earth music – expressing a larger concern for the whole world.”
“Protest means dissent,” Garcia noted. “Dissent means disharmony. Disharmony means nothing gets done. You don’t have to go protesting in music. Be the best you can with your music – the best rubs off.
“The big thing now is ‘Danger, danger, poison earth’ – and things are getting out of control. That’s the only thing important happening.”
Lesh added: “We’re really interested in an Earth People’s Park Plan to get land where people can live in an ecological sane manner – and free. Five years ago it was a social problem, but this ecological problem is way more important because if it isn’t solved, there won’t be any tomorrows…
“We’re lending ourselves to create a reality out of this idea. The people in our community – people who are planet minded, earth minded – got to us. We’re giving our energies, our comments, playing benefits for it – although sometimes it’s more fun to get in the skull sessions about it.
“Yes, we’re helping. It’s got to be that way. Today, California; tomorrow…?”

(by David Harris, from Circus, March 1970)

Thanks to

Aug 8, 2015

November 25, 1968: Memorial Auditorium, Ohio University, Athens OH


In the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, the cryptic words "the Grateful Dead praise thee" are inscribed for eternity.
Last night the great Greatful Dead from San Francisco praised the campus with its first truly professional psychedelic blues act in history. And all for free.
"Don't call it a profession, man," drummer Mickey Hart said backstage, pulling his long brunette hair back into a ponytail. "Like, it's mostly a religion to me. I play religious music. When I play, it's more like testifying."
The Dead give free concerts quite often, Mickey explained, as a means of delivering their music to the public without the artificial sound of recordings. To this end, the nationally famous group has recorded only two albums but played innumerable concerts.
"We record what we think we should record," he said. "Where it's at is the playing. More people can hear us through recordings, but we want to turn people on directly with the music. We just want to have fun, man."
Mickey settled back and smoked in the dressing room and rapped with the collection of fans who had gathered around after sneaking backstage. He talked of the Grateful Dead's "family" back in the Dead's famous house in the Haight-Ashbury.
"We don't all live in the house anymore, man, because, like, we've got 50 people in the family now, and we just couldn't all fit into one house," he said. "We have about a dozen places, including farms. We'd like to just get 300 acres of land and really live it up."
Down the hall lead guitarist Jerry "Captain Trips" Garcia tuned up his Gibson, his hair hanging in a black mop as he studied his fingerwork through his yellow-tinted wire-rimmed spectacles. As he spoke, his New York voice emerged with crystal clarity from an impossible tangle of beard.
"I would much prefer it if you call me Jerry," he said, still strumming. "I was named 'Captain Trips' by this girl called 'Mary Microgram' and she was the only one to call me that until Time magazine picked it up. And you know how Time can never be wrong."
Garcia recalled Chuck Berry as being the leading influence on his early musical pursuits at age 15, and he has stayed with music ever since. In fact, he said, a musical commitment is one of the few things that all of the Dead have in common.
"We don't want to get involved in politics or movements," he pointed out. "The problems are real enough, but, like fighting won't do it, and neither will legislation or cops. The only way to do it is for everybody to just dig each other."
Other members of the Dead were filing into the room to warm up with Garcia and without electricity. Then, the great Pig Pen finally shows - looking for all the world like the Baddest Cowboy in the West - and it was good, very good.

(by Clarence Page, from the Ohio University Post, 26 November 1968) 

See also:

Aug 7, 2015

February 1970: Jerry Garcia Interview


Garcia: …[San Francisco] is like situated right in the fog belt, you know. You go a mile south or a mile north, and there’s no fog.
Smith: Yeah, I couldn’t believe that. Everybody kept telling me that.
Garcia: Right.
Smith: [to engineer] Going? OK. I saw Zabriskie Point the other day. Have you seen it yet?
Garcia: No. Only the part that I did.
Smith: Yeah, the part that you did – you saw that part.
Garcia: Oh, sure, I played to it.
Smith: That’s how you did it.
Garcia: Of course, right.
Smith: What did you think of that part?
Garcia: You mean my part of it or the way it was on screen?
Smith: …gotta describe what it is.
Garcia: Well, it’s a whole lot of people balling in Death Valley.
Smith: Yeah. Really a whole lot...
Garcia: Quite a few, yeah.
Smith: …up on the hillside.
Garcia: Right. Yeah. A friend of mine, in fact, is in that scene somewhere. The guy that painted the album cover for our second album. Nice tie-in, you know – that thing of we’re all doing the same thing, and it turns out to be making Antonioni movies.
Smith: How did that come about? Did he approach you?
Garcia: Yeah; right, right. Apparently he heard some – Well, what happened was that apparently he’d heard ‘Dark Star,’ and used a little piece of it somewhere, and was interested in having somebody – he wanted some sort of music behind that particular scene and hadn’t had anything successful after repeated tries with other bands, and other musicians and conventional scores and that sort of thing, and he just wasn’t successful. So they got in touch with me eventually. I went to LA, to the MGM place, you know, and spoke to him and he showed me the, you know, rough cut, and you know, immediately went down to the studio, brought my guitar and amplifier, and in about two hours, you know, it was like what he wanted. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was what he wanted.
Smith: What do you mean, it wasn’t what you wanted?
Garcia: Well, I would have preferred to have taken a week or so to really study it and really determine the time of events and certain, like, key cuts and that sort of thing, so as to comp to something a lot more specifically, but like, he liked the sort of randomness, you know. I mean, I would have gone about it in a more methodical way, had I more time.
Smith: It was just you playing, right?
Garcia: Yeah; right.
Smith: That’s what he wanted, rather than all the band.
Garcia: Yeah; right.
Smith: Have you been doing other solo work?
Garcia: No, I’ve been doing a lot of session work, but I haven’t been doing any solo work.
Smith: What do you mean, playing on other people’s albums?
Garcia: Yeah; right.
Smith: Like what?
Garcia: Well, the Airplane’s new album, the Volunteers album. Crosby Stills & Nash’s new album. Beautiful Day’s new album, which’ll be out pretty soon; all that stuff. I’ve been doing like mostly pedal steel guitar, not guitar, I haven’t been doing any guitar sessions. But this is all in San Francisco, which is what makes it unique. I mean, like in Nashville and in New York and LA, there’s a huge studio trip going on, you know, a lot of musicians, that’s their whole scene is just doing studio work; and San Francisco’s never even had a recording scene. But now, you know, like lots of groups are recording there, cause there’s suddenly like about four or five good studios run by heads who understand what it is that young musicians are trying to do. But it requires, you know, slightly different attitudes, you know, than the fixed unionized shop trip, you know.
Smith: Hmm. That whole Altamont thing, the Stones concert –
Garcia: Yeah.
Smith: - seems like a lot of people are trying to dump on the Grateful Dead for that.
Garcia: Oh, I don’t think so, man. Well, what lot of people? I mean, if that’s happening, I’m not aware of it, you know.
Smith: They’re saying that the Grateful Dead are responsible for the Hell’s Angels –
Garcia: Well, in a sense we are, man, we’re responsible in that we’re the ones who started playing for free. You know, when we started playing for free in Golden Gate Parkways, walked down to the panhandle, you know like a block away, and play, just for the heck of it, not for a reason, not advertised, we just play, and whoever’s there like would pick up on it; and like, starting to play free eventually leads to Altamont, if you go about it a certain way, or you know, if there are errors involved. But like Altamont is like the other side of the coin, the other side of the Woodstock coin, you know; it’s another way for that whole thing to happen. And it’s like unfortunate but true, you know. I mean it really happened, it really happened just like they told you it did. And so it’s like, there’s a fact there, there’s a great big lesson for us all, you know, every head, every revolutionary, everybody who’s considering what social changes are about and considering the way it’s gonna be, you know; it’s like there’s something to be learned from all that.
Smith: Which is what?
Garcia: Well, I don’t know. Everybody has to look at it and find out. You know, I mean, I’m still – the results aren’t in, I’m still learning, you know. I’m still finding things out, I’m still talking to people, and getting various viewpoints, but, you know, it was a heavy thing, it was some kind of heavy thing, and nothing heavy goes down without it being some kind of lesson, you know, or some kind of instruction, or something like that. And like, it’s a big price to pay.
Smith: You played at both, Altamont and –
Garcia: No, we didn’t play at Altamont.
Smith: Oh, I thought you played there?
Garcia: No.
Smith: Involved in it in any way?
Garcia: Oh yeah, well, it was all – the planning was all going on at our place, and most of our friends, like the whole San Francisco scene, everybody who’s in San Francisco and does anything, was like there trying to put it together, you know. So we’re responsible on a couple of different levels, you know, in a certain way.
Smith: But the main thing that I’ve heard that’s been pinned on the Dead is the hiring of Hell’s Angels.
Garcia: No, no, man, we didn’t hire – nobody hires the Hell’s Angels for anything! The Hell’s Angels aren’t for hire, you know.
Smith: Well, they have hired themselves out for movies.
Garcia: Uhh… They’ve been taken for a ride about movies a lot of times, and they’ve been used for movies a lot of times, and in at least one or two situations they’ve finally been able to like make some bread from movies, you know, exploitation trips. But they’re not for hire; see like, there’s nothing like the Hell’s Angels on the east coast, you know. The Hell’s Angels are something that’s a west coast trip, and it has to do with the whole social structure of the west coast, it’s like much freer than it is out here, you know, it’s not so organized. And so there are Hell’s Angels out there. [The thing about] Hell’s Angels, man, is that at Altamont, it’s not a question of hiring or not hiring, it’s like a question of, who is it that’s gonna say to the Hell’s Angels, go away? You know, nobody’s gonna say that to the Hell’s Angels.
Smith: At Woodstock, at one point, a whole lot of Hell’s Angels showed up.
Garcia: Not California Hell’s Angels.
Smith: No?
Garcia: No.
Smith: And everybody got very uptight and somehow, somebody did go and talk to them and they went away – 
Garcia: Well, you know, that’s not – they’re not California Hell’s Angels there. And also, Woodstock wasn’t the Rolling Stones. You know, see those are a couple of big things that make a difference. For one thing, the Rolling Stones, man, are like one of the world’s two most famous groups. And what famous means, famous doesn’t mean good, famous means lots of people know about it. And when you take that thing there, and put it in the headlights and say ‘Rolling Stones are gonna play free somewhere in the bay area,’ you know, like around San Francisco, that means that everybody, everybody who listens to AM radio and who’s heard of the Rolling Stones, which is nearly everybody, is going to go that thing, man, not just heads; Woodstock was heads, largely. You know, there weren’t any top 40 commercial, you know, huge groups there, in that sense. You know, there were underground groups, I mean, by definition their audience is largely heads; all the bands that played at Woodstock, their audience were mostly heads. But the Rolling Stones, man, their audience is everybody, you know. So when you have "free," a commodity that everybody knows about, man, everybody goes, and the Hell’s Angels and the Rolling Stones, like, you know, I mean, they’re talking about the same thing, ‘Street Fighting Man’ and all that. So the Hell’s Angels like the Rolling Stones, man, they’re gonna go see the Rolling Stones no matter where they are, you know. When they played at Oakland, the first, you know, 15 rows were nothing but Hell’s Angels. And so it’s like there’s a thing going on there between the Stones and the Angels, which is like nothing that I know about, because I didn’t – I don’t really know who the Stones are; I do know some Angels, you know. But the whole thing, the whole point of it is, man, that you don’t tell Hell’s Angels to go away, you know. And not only that, but like, there’s a relationship that goes on between the head scene and the Hell’s Angels in San Francisco and around that area. It’s like we know each other because we’ve kind of been like outlaws, you know, for the past five years, we’ve all been on the other side, you know. Now, the people that went to see the Rolling Stones, man, they’re mostly not outlaws, they’re mostly just people, you know, so they don’t know who the hell the Hell’s Angels are, man, they don’t know that if you stand around in the middle of a bunch of Hell’s Angels, eventually you might get hit, you know. Heads know that, because of that experience.
Smith: Hmm. Can you see another rock festival in that area, for a long time?
Garcia: Uhh… Yeah, sure – if that’s what somebody – if somebody still needs to go through rock festivals, yeah, they’re gonna keep happening, you know. But it’s like, it’s not particularly what I wanna do.
Smith: You’ve played at a lot of them?
Garcia: Oh yeah, man, you know, we played at the first one, the Monterey Pops Festival, and all the major ones, pretty much. And you know, it’s really an old form already. But it’s like one of those things, it’s an institution that should be happening, there should be like some kind of huge festival going on with that kind of, like, more people than the ecology can stand density, happening like 24 hours a day all year long somewhere, you know, so that everybody who feels that that’s where it is can go there and do it, and split when they feel like it, and it would be like a perpetual trip, you know. I can see a need for that, because everybody’s talking about million-people festivals and stuff like that, you know.
Smith: Did you like playing a festival?
Garcia: Uh - When they’re out of hand, it’s more scary than it is enjoyable, you know, it’s not really – you don’t really have any sense of communication when you’re looking out on a sea of people, you know, on sort of an anonymous sea of just, you know, people. And also, like you can’t really, you know, you can’t really do a thing, the sound is never very good when it’s huge, you can’t really be heard well. It’s just, you know, it’s not what I’m interested in doing. I don’t think that that kind of thing gets high on the level of, like, where music is, you know what I mean? It gets high on a different level, it gets high on the people level there, the energy, social dynamics level, you know.
Smith: Hmm. A lot of people who are very into your kind of music and everything feel that it works best when it’s free. [bumps the mic] Ouch! Feel that it works best when you’re free and when you can dance.
Garcia: Yeah.
Smith: Do you feel that way also?
Garcia: Um, sure – I would add outdoors, sunshine, and a few other things, like you know, if you want it to be really best, but also I would say not a huge crowd, you know. If you’re talking about like my best, I like to be able to relate to everybody as much as I possibly can. You know, like when you get a huge crowd, man, it’s just, you can’t do it, you can’t cover it, you can’t tell what’s going on. The feedback is like – it’s weird, it’s freaky for me, you know.
Smith: And is it definitely a difference in the audience, as to when somebody has paid or that they’re all in for free?
Garcia: Uhh, no. I don’t think that’s true. I have never found it to be true, let me put it that way.
Smith: Do you find the response is about the same?
Garcia: Pretty much, pretty much. Well – there’s free and free, you know. Um – the kind of free that I like is the kind of free where everybody’s there to get high, not to go to a rock & roll show, you know, or not to go to an outdoor free dance, you know, but to get high. You know, like, every kind of scene that I’ve ever been into that was like expressly set up for people to get high, that is on any level you choose to experience that, whatever it means to you, you know, like dope or spiritually, whatever it is that gets you high, if that’s the orientation rather than free, you know, it’s a better thing, it’s a bossier thing, regardless of whether there’s an exchange of money or not. That stuff doesn’t really matter. You know, like the old Trips Festival – long time ago, ’66 or something like that. It cost you a buck or so to get in, but everybody paid that buck or so to get in and be high, you know, so like that was extremely high, and it didn’t matter that everybody paid a buck; it was cool, that was all right, that was the right thing to do. I don’t think that any of that shit matters unless you’ve got it in your head that it does, you know what I mean?
Smith: Where is that whole Ken Kesey thing now?
Garcia: Um, all over, just like it always was, you know. I mean, first of all, there never was that scene to speak of, you know, there was only the book, you know. Well, you know how it is when you go through your life, how nothing quite does like a movie, it doesn’t come to a conclusion, you don’t find yourself at the end of an episode and stuff like that, there’s like a flow, you know, and as you’re bumping into other people and things are happening, there’s all these exchanges happening, and that’s still happening of course, cause nobody’s, except for – you know, we’re not all vanished somewhere, see like the book ended, and the book is like a retelling, you know. The book is fiction, man. It’s just – I mean, you can’t take a big experience out of somebody’s life and say this was it, you know. And that’s the way that it’s been looked at, because of being put into a book form, you know: Kesey, this and that, historical, whatever, blah blah. It just isn’t that way, all that stuff is still going on, it’s all still going on, only now you’re in it, you know, and they’re in it, you know, and everybody who’s listening to this tape is, you know, is in it.
Smith: Just I’ve heard that some of the people involved in those Acid Trip festival things all felt that that was like the golden point of their life, like the highpoint, and everything was anticlimactic after that.
Garcia: Oh, I don’t feel – that’s not true with me, certainly. I mean, I don’t feel that’s the case. You know, but I could see where some people would.
Smith: Do you people rehearse a lot, or do you go in pretty cold?
Garcia: Well, we rehearse a lot.
Smith: Like what’s a lot?
Garcia: Ohh, when we have uninterrupted periods of time, that is to say weeks, we go in every day to a rehearsal studio we have and put in about six hours a day. Six, seven hours a day. And like, I practice with my instrument about three hours a day, no matter what.
Smith: You mean, aside from the six hours that you –
Garcia: Yeah; right. Just me and my chops. That’s like one range of the whole musical experience, and then there’s the thing of playing together with the people that you’re playing with, which is like so we get into each other’s time sense and that sort of thing, able to anticipate the movement and that, you know. It’s mostly a matter of keeping the communications open, musically, like if we lay off for a week, we play badly. We just play badly.
Smith: You can tell it that fast?
Garcia: Oh, sure, sure.
Smith: Hmm. How about the difference between recording and playing live?
Garcia: Well, we’ve never been able to record, man, we’ve never recorded successfully yet.
Smith: Yeah, why is that? I mean that’s true, you just sound so different –
Garcia: Right, well we just don’t know how to do it, you know. I mean – first of all, we approach recording as though it were a performance, so we put everything on the tape that we think needs to go on, everything that might go on, you know like 16 tracks of stuff, and then we perform the mix. You know that is to say, usually it’s me and Phil are like hovering over the board, mixing with 16 tracks with four hands, crossing over each other and turning one thing up a little and one thing down a little, and you know. I mean, it’s just a different medium, you know; we’re not playing music, we’re playing a tape of ourselves, we’re performing a mix like you’d perform electronic music. And so like the mixes that we choose usually don’t have any bearing either to the material or to us, in terms of the way we sound, you know. It’s just a different form, man, it’s like the difference –
Smith: What are you gonna do? [indecipherable comment]
Garcia: No, cause the reason we play live is to be able to play live, you know. I mean, live playing, you know, that’s what we do. Recording is something we goof around at. And that’s only because there’s somebody who thinks they can sell our records. You know, I mean, like – it’d be foolish of us to go into a studio and try to sound live, you know what I mean? Because the technical problems to overcome in order to sound live are enormous. If we wanted to sound live, the thing we would do is record live all the time. But we do that anyway.
Smith: A lot of the groups I’ve interviewed, they talk about the terrific pressures of getting along with each other. Is that true of the Grateful Dead also?
Garcia: No, not with us, we’ve already been through all that shit. We’ve been together for five years and most of us were friends before that. And you know, after a while, all that – I mean, you get so everybody knows everything that everybody else is into so intimately, man, and that we’ve all been having more or less identical input, we’re in a unique position to be this high energy trip, week in and week out, man, all these years; it’s like put our heads in a very specific place. And so we relate to each other better than to anybody else, in fact, you know, cause there’s kind of like a group consciousness; there’s each of us as individuals, and then there’s a group consciousness, which is us all, you know. And that’s like, that’s our baby, you know. Cause none of us are really doing anything, we’re only doing something that’s kind of like an experiment we got into some years ago. We said, ‘Wow wouldn’t it be weird to play music together?’ ‘Sure, why not,’ you know, and bam, we started doing it, and it’s like, it’s a huge experiment, and it doesn’t really matter whether we make it or not, I mean it doesn’t matter – there’s nothing to gain or lose, you see what I mean, it’s not a gain situation. We’ve agreed to do this trip, and so that’s all that has to happen, you know.
Smith: So even when you’re on the road traveling and everything, you don’t get into big hassles –
Garcia: Oh, we’re always tighter on the road, even.
Smith: Even tighter?
Garcia: Oh, sure.
Smith: Lots of the groups complain the most about that, they just say they’re in each other’s hair constantly.
Garcia: Really? Well that’s, you know, I don’t know where that is, you know.
Smith: Well how about money? There’s always this rumor that the Dead have never made any money and they’re always broke and poor –
Garcia: Oh, we’ve made lots of money, we’ve made all kinds of money, but – I mean, you know, but like we’ve got a whole big scene that we support, as well as all that equipment, and –
Smith: How big a scene?
Garcia: Oh, I don’t know, at the outside getting up to about 50 people, 60 people probably.
Smith: Consisting of who?
Garcia: Everybody, man, everybody; all our friends.
Smith: And you support all of that with the money that you make?
Garcia: Uhh – indirectly, you know; I mean we don’t give everybody a certain amount of dollars every week, but everybody eats, you know, everybody has places to stay and stuff like that.
Smith: [baffled silence]
Garcia: What else is there to do with money, man?
Smith: Well, some people buy cars and boats and planes – 
Garcia: Aw well, that’s cool too, you know.
Smith: Or put it away. You guys haven’t managed to save much –
Garcia: Oh man, what’s to save for, you know? I mean, who said there was gonna be a tomorrow, you know? I mean, like I say, this is all an experiment, man; like we started out with nothing, you know, and nothing to lose therefore, so everything has been gained since that point, and it’s like, you know, below ground zero where they take everything away from you and leave you standing naked somewhere, you still have your mind, man, and you’re still you, you know, whatever that is, you know; and it’s like, there’s nothing to lose. It’s just, that’s what this all is, man, it’s like some weird adventure, you know; and like we get to play as much as we want, and not only that, but they give us bread so that all our friends can eat, you know, so that they can all be loose for a good long time.
Smith: But what happens to the money, literally, I’m curious? It’s like it just comes to who – 
Garcia: You know, what happens to your money, man? [laughs]
Smith: Well I personally am in control of it, but I’m saying that with a group and a big thing like that, what do you do?
Garcia: Well we got a guy that does money, you know. That’s his thing.
Smith: That’s his thing.
Garcia: Yeah. He does money, and this last year – it’s Lenny, Mickey’s father, man, and in this last year, like we finally got out of debt, man, or kind of, you know, like up to where we’re kind of moving along pretty evenly, and like he tells us when we haven’t got enough money, he tells us when, you know, things like that. That’s what you do with money. You know, who wants to bother with it, man? It’s no good, you can’t eat it, you know, can’t get high from it.
Smith: Did you always feel that way about money?
Garcia: Sure.
Smith: Even before you guys started making it?
Garcia: Oh sure, listen, we were all on the street for years, man; you know, we were musicians, we were going around from one dumpy – you know, like the whole San Francisco scene, man, is a whole bunch of people who’ve known each other for almost ten years now, been playing in weird places, been unsuccessful for most of those years, right? You know, starving and one thing or another, staying at each other’s houses, dealing back and forth, getting high and all that – it’s been going on for a long time, man, and all of a sudden like in the past four or five years here’s this whole big trip going down, you know. And it’s just – somebody must be taking it really seriously somewhere, you know. But you know, it’s all so patently crazy.
Smith: Hmm. I’ve noticed that the audiences at Dead concerts are not really kind of a typical rock audience; they tend to be a little older, for one thing –
Garcia: Yeah.
Smith: The audience seems to look more like beatniks than hip kids.
Garcia: Right, oh yeah.
Smith: Why is that? Is that anything conscious that you do?
Garcia: Uh, well, we’re grownups, man, we play grownup music, you know; whatever that is, man, that’s just what we do, and so our audience is like other versions of us, you know. I mean if there was another – if there was a band called the Grateful Dead and I was one of the other side, you know, like, the audience is us, you know, it’s us, it’s the same people, you know. There isn’t any difference. Our audience is really groovy, it’s really super, it’s like brilliant, you know, it’s sharp, it’s smart, you know. It is, and it’s groovy to have a smart audience, it’s groovy to have an audience that knows when you’re getting on and when you’re not. It like keeps you on your toes, and it gives you that impetus in continuing to travel sort of an upward arc, you know, musically speaking. So like if we had a stupid audience, we’d be able to get by playing bad [tests] for a long time.
Smith: How about in different parts of the country, does it vary? They’re not smarter in any –
Garcia: It’s the same all over. The Grateful Dead audience is the Grateful Dead audience, everywhere in the country, no matter where you go, it all kind of looks about the same, it does about the same things, it gets high about the same.
Smith: Wow. Maybe the guy who does your money is paying all those people to follow you from concert to concert?
Garcia: Sure, whatever, you know. Lot of people do that, man, like do a whole big traveling thing.
Smith: Hmm. How about outside of this country, you been to perform in Europe?
Garcia: No, we haven’t been to Europe yet; we’re supposed to go pretty soon, but –
Smith: I wonder if the audience is gonna be the same there too? 
Garcia: Probably. Because of the information that goes out about us, it’s always carried on a certain level; it’s not banner headlines, you know, it’s not AM radio stations, it’s not fan magazines, it’s none of that kind of bullshit, it’s not a showbiz trip. You know, like the people that know about us are the people that know about dope, generally, you know. Like, that’s the world that we’re in. And so our audience is almost always heads, and it’s almost always people who’ve dropped out in one thing or another, and it’s usually people who are making it in whatever scene they’re doing, man, it’s working for them, they got it working for ‘em. That’s pretty general, I must say, you know, because I mean, it’s not quite that typical –
Smith: The drug scene itself has changed quite a lot in the last five years, hasn’t it?
Garcia: It’s everywhere now, that’s what’s different. You know, everybody gets high now.
Smith: Do the Dead get as high as they used to?
Garcia: Oh, how do you mean? [laughs]
Smith: Like how often is what I mean.
Garcia: Oh, as often? Oh, sure, yeah. 
Smith: Do you generally perform high?
Garcia: Um, well, yeah, sure man, that’s what playing is about, that’s what performing is about for us, that’s what music is, that’s what music should do; it should be high; you should get high, in any way you have to get high; and like some of the guys in the band are like, you know, like Weir is like on a diet, man, a whole special diet to get high, you know, and Pigpen’s got his way of getting high. You know, it’s not my way, it’s his way, man. We’ve all got our own ways of getting high, and we do what we do to get high because that’s what we’re doing, is getting high.
Smith: Hmm.
Garcia: See, music should be that sort of thing, music here should be the way it is in India, it should be holy; it shouldn’t be business. And here it’s business; and because music is business here, it’s awful, it’s mostly awful, most the music here is awful, it’s just plain bad. It’s shitty, you know. Cause it’s designed to make money, it’s not designed to do what music’s supposed to do.
Smith: Hmm. The thing of getting high, what I was driving at is I started to kind of notice on the music scene, people who make the music, sell the music, promote the music, whatever, all those people seem to be – more and more of them that I meet keep saying, ‘Oh, I don’t turn on hardly as much as I used to.’ It’s the audience out there that’s grown and the amount of heads.
Garcia: Yeah.
Smith: But the people who started it seem to be turning on less.
Garcia: Well it all depends on which people you’re talking about. You know, I don’t know about the east coast, man; I only come here once in a while –
Smith: As far as you know on the west coast, it’s pretty much the same?
Garcia: On the west coast, sure man, yeah.
Smith: People still get high –
Garcia: It’s a stoned place there, it’s a way of life there, it’s been going on for a long time; it’s working there, it’s working; the revolution’s over on the west coast; it’s all working.
Smith: It’s over?
Garcia: Yeah, it’s all working. It’s after the revolution, this is post-revolutionary time.
Smith: Yeah, and yet you have an Altamont.
Garcia: Man, that’s a whole other problem.
Smith: Charles Manson.
Garcia: That’s after the revolution, those are after-the-revolution trips.
Smith: After the revolution?
Garcia: Sure, man. Because those guys are us too, all that stuff is us, you know. I mean, we only deal with it when it becomes manifest, when we suddenly realize it’s there. It becomes a reality, then we have to deal with it. So like Altamont comes up, OK, that may mean now we have a year before we decide to set up a situation in which that kind of thing can occur again, you know what I mean? It’s like there’s a responsibility involved in all these things, man, and when you turn somebody on, if you don’t turn ‘em on right, eventually they kill somebody. If you look at the most extreme direct sort of, you know – from this event to that event.
Smith: That’s sort of what Altamont was, you think – 
Garcia: Yeah.
Smith: - sort of like, there was a lot of people who weren’t turned on right.
Garcia: Right, right. Well, and to the wrong things, like Altamont, man, the drugs there were mostly reds and juice. You know, and those things aren’t conducive to getting high, really; they’re conducive to shutting things off. And shutting things off is the problem that the world is experiencing right now; see, Altamont was a microcosm of the world, which is us all, man; and it’s like one little scene, one little bit of violence which is really the minority, man, maybe 200 people were hassling out of those 300,000, but everybody in that whole crowd by the end of the day knew that there was violence going on, and they knew – it was like the deepest kind of, most basic psychic fear going through the whole crowd. That’s something really heavy, you know, and like, that model is the model that this world is operating on right now, man, there’s like little bits and pieces of things going on here and there, and it’s like bringing us all down a certain amount, and the only way it’s going to be dealt with is by each of us individually realizing what part they took in the murder, you know, or what part they have to do with the war, or you know, it’s like, ‘when did I do that?’ And like that’s the only way those things are going to work out, is by seeing –
Smith: I don’t know, somehow I feel that you’re being maybe too forgiving.
Garcia: I’m not – I mean, you know, what’s to forgive? There isn’t any blame.
Smith: There is no blame?
Garcia: No, man, there isn’t any blame, you can’t operate with blame. Because who are you going to blame? You have to blame everybody, and blaming everybody –
Smith: The guy who maybe is visible on that piece of film that did the stabbing.
Garcia: On the film, he looks like a hero, man! Here’s this guy running toward the stage with a big fucking gun? You know, and here comes this brave Hell’s Angel out of the crowd and drops him. You know, that’s a heroic act, man. You know, at any other time in history, that’s a heroic act. You know, that’s a samurai trip.
Smith: [long pause] So how come that Hell’s Angel guy is being depicted pretty much in the underground press and you know, by almost everybody as being not a hero?
Garcia: Because most of those people are lame, man, most of the people in the underground press are lame; that’s why they’re in the underground press. You know, I mean, let’s face it man, the underground thing, it’s like a hype too, you know. There isn’t any ‘us’ and ‘them,’ there isn’t any underground and overground, you know. We’re all human beings, we’re all on this planet together, and all the problems are all of ours, you know, not ‘some are mine and some are theirs.’ You know, if there’s a war going on, I’m as responsible as anybody is. If somebody’s murdered, I’m responsible for that too, you know. The question is, how to work it out, man? How can you have freedom and still work it out? How can the world be free so that Hell’s Angels can happen, see – Hell’s Angels have happened because of freedom. They’re free to happen, you know, and they’re a manifestation of what freedom is, in essence; and so at some point or another, somebody has to say, ‘There can be no Hell’s Angels,’ you know. And who’s gonna say that, man?
Smith: Mm. [to engineer] OK. Well, I think I got it. Peter. Yeah, good interview. It’s one of the shorter ones I’ve done, but it was very good.
Garcia: Well, I ain’t interested in selling records, you hip to it? You know, like none of that shit.
Smith: OK, I’ll say that on the [interview] – ‘Don’t buy the Grateful Dead’s records!’
Garcia: I mean, if there’s any like little part of the truth that I can help uncover, man, that’s what I’m supposed to do, not sell records – selling records is just bullshit.
Smith: OK.
Garcia: Take it or leave it, man. 

Aug 5, 2015

January 2, 1970: Fillmore East, NYC


The Grateful Dead Live At The Fillmore East, Jan. 3, 1970.

The Dead: Jerry Garcia (lead guitar & vocals), Bob Weir (rhythm guitar & vocals), Phil Lesh (bass & vocals), Bill Kreutzman (percussion), Mickey Hart (percussion), Tom Constanten (keyboard), Pigpen (congas & vocals), Owsley (good vibes)

It was nearly midnight and the line already wrapped around the Fillmore. We moved slowly, the chill biting our bodies, but feeling the intense high vibrations in the air. We were waiting for the Dead.
Inside, seated, and Cold Blood on first. Big band (horns), fuzz-tone guitar aplenty, a chick singer who digs Joplin. Not much, except loud. Lighthouse next, Skip Prokop's mighty mini-orchestra (complete with string section). Last saw them at Atlantic City where they were just starting, nervous and untogether. Much better now, with more direction and self-confidence. Eight Miles High and Beatle riff (Hey Jude/Give Peace A Chance) left crowd cheering. But we're still waiting for the Dead.
Zarathustra (Theme from 2001) ends as the lights come up from a frosty blue to a glare and... THE DEAD!
Country songs start off the set. Easy ridin' stuff, Garcia smiling out from behind his wire-rimmed beard. Already, impatience colors the crowd: "ST. STEPHEN!" "LOVELIGHT!" "GET IT ON, MAN!" "GOD BLESS THE GRATEFUL DEAD!"
Garcia starts a run on his guitar but it isn't happening. Weir prods him, Lesh pushes, but Jerry can't get it. Lesh, a stoned midnight cowboy, retreats in frustration and sits on his amp. We're still waiting for the Dead.
Pigpen does Good Lovin' and the rush begins. The song socks the Fillmore for two minutes, like a quick hit. Given a taste, we want more. We want the Dead.
Jerry starts again. Still slow in coming, but the energy is starting to bathe us. Weir follows Garcia, blending, going out in front, coming back, his runs teasing Jerry. Weir turns to Lesh and pulls him into the flow. Jerry finds something he likes and works it out; Weir and Lesh feed him. The rest of the Dead wait.
The tempo slows and changes. The lights are back to eerie blue. Distant, angry feedback growls from the stage, Garcia plugged into his guitar. The sound is pure, primitive. Ice-blue lights flood our faces, illuminate the Dead ghostly white. We're standing at the edge of eternity, in a new time, in a new mind.
Instant rush, a mad momentum that pushes us to the Dead. Garcia, a big round circus bear, singing and rocking. Weir and Lesh playing for each other, on their own trip. We're dancin' in the streets.
The Dead are peaking. Pigpen out front. "TURN ON YOUR LOVELIGHT!" They've been playing forever. We're all peaking.
Energy. Music coming from everywhere, bodies flashing, lights dancing. It isn't a song, but music - rock, jazz, folk-country - all coming together over the Grateful Dead, one organism making music. Acid rock. One trip. Ours. My trip, your trip.
Weir, the merry prankster, comes to us and holds out his arms, calling us to the tribe. Into the Woodland of Weir. Clapping begins, a pumping staccato in tempo with the magic on stage. The Dead are smiling. So are we. We're in the Dead's movie. It's like Woodstock, a new world.
An orgy of exchange. Giving and taking. Pigpen and Weir out of their heads. "OH YEAH!" The Dead split, waving and smiling. We dance into New York's frozen six o'clock streets, wasted, but still shouting.
Later, we drank coffee and listened to the silence of the sunrise. It seemed to be the only thing to do. God bless the Grateful Dead. Amen.

(by M. Ferguson, from the NC Essay, 12 January 1970) 

Thanks to (late show)

Aug 3, 2015

Summer 1969: Grateful Dead History


Recently I somewhere read the quotation, “The Grateful Dead are more a heard-of than a heard band.” True. Quite lamentably, one of rock’s most dynamic aggregations has never been featured in an interview, never culled honors in critics’ polls, never enjoyed a widespread popularity or a sales reputation bearing any relationship to the caliber of the talent they possess. When the Grateful Dead are mentioned, it is almost exclusively in the context of fellow musicians’ conversations (or interviews). Perhaps the latter situation (the matter of popularity proportional to talent) is irremediable; when you are creating a musical product along the order of the Dead, you can’t hope to appeal to as wide an audience as Steppenwolf or Creedence Clearwater. The former situation, the absence of any substantial critical appraisal, is inexcusable; if we can continued to make extended commentary on the Beatles, Hendrix, Cream, et al, we certainly owe the Grateful Dead some attention.
Like most San Francisco pioneers (with the exception of the Airplane), the Grateful Dead are primarily an instrumental group. This is merely because, as a band, they choose to pursue instrumental activity in rock, more than singing, as such. Their music embodies one of Brian Wilson’s oft-cited concepts: the voices are instruments, not exclusively designed tools to communicate any “message”; the Dead, however, are quite competent vocally; their strength is formidable, in Pig’s style, in the sensitive approaches of Garcia and Weir. Particular illustration of this is offered in the stunning vocal arrangements of Aoxomoxoa. On their axes, these individual musicians are true heavyweights; as a unit, their rock is probably the most alive stuff available today. After initially digging the effects of their kineticism (which, during their early days, was the band’s primary drawing power), I was intrigued by the somewhat awesome aspects of the group’s potential; in less than a year, they had outdistanced every other San Francisco unit, no mean task. To appreciate the progress they’ve accomplished in the last three years and to hopefully point to future directions, a history of the group is in order.

In the very early sixties, Jerry Garcia was teaching guitar at a Palo Alto, California, music store. One evening Bob Weir, who played guitar, dropped in to visit. Out of a mutual admiration for bluegrass and folk sounds, Jerry and Bob formed a small jugband (something like “Mother Macree’s Uptown Jug Stompers”, Jerry on banjo, Bob on guitar). They got gigs in some local and some San Francisco coffeehouses, learning and perfecting technique, polishing up what was to become a style (early tapes of the jugband disclose the finger-picking mode which so influences Garcia today). Ron (Pigpen) McKernan joined the jugband, contributing Lightnin’ Hopkins imitations, harp, and what was to strongly affect the early electric Dead – a proclivity for hard r&b. According to Garcia, after some time in the jugband format, it was simply time to go electric, the next place to visit. The band electrified itself (Weir, Garcia on guitars, Pig on organ), took on Dana Morgan on bass and Bill Kreutzmann (who taught drums at Morgan’s music store) and commenced playing a funky brand of r&b in Peninsula bars; the period was germinal, and it was not until the leaving of Morgan and his replacement by classically-trained trumpet player turned electric bassist Phil Lesh, that things began pulling together. In 1965 the band, calling themselves the Emergency Crew, cut a demo (Early Morning Rain) for Tom Donahue while auditioning for his San Francisco club Mother’s. Later that year they became the Warlocks, later still the Grateful Dead, and they began gigging the slowly emerging hip circuit (Mother’s, the Matrix, the Longshoreman’s Hall).

The event which seems to have sprung the Grateful Dead on an unsuspecting world was Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests and his January ’66 Trips Festival. With the impetus given them by their appearances for Kesey (Ralph Gleason waxed enthusiastic over their performances), they became Fillmore, then Avalon regulars and their legions began to grow. The phrase so widely used then to describe the effect of the Dead was that they sounded “like live thunder.” Indeed. The group erected a wall of sound that Phil Spector labeled “unbelievable”; the rhythm they sent bouncing around the cavernous old halls was propelled by an urgency that forced entire audiences to whirl into fits of dancing frenzy. The band’s repertoire was a mixture of popular r&b (Big Boss Man, High Heel Sneakers) and older, often obscure folk and country material (Viola Lee, Beat It On Down The Line, etc.). The band was decidedly eclectic (Garcia once told a reporter, “We’ve stolen freely from everywhere, and we have no qualms about mixing idioms”), but yet not derivative; from the beginning, their music sounded not like white city boys covering Muddy Waters (as so many of the early East Coast and recent English blues bands do), but like the Grateful Dead. The reason for this is twofold; on one hand, the essential nature of their eclecticism was a diversity of influences, rather than a studied attempt at accommodating various musical styles (Lesh’s classical training, Garcia’s Chuck Berry/bluegrass/banjo-fiddle style, Pigpen’s closeness to blues, all had to be reconciled with each other if they wanted to play as a unit; they had to integrate their multiple influential aspects if they hoped to make any music at all). The other factor was the format in which they were being presented, the dance-concert. As a dance band playing hour-plus sets, they had ample time to stretch out instrumentally, to improvise. Certain numbers developed into showcases for these excursions (Midnight Hour, Viola Lee), and they created a distinctive style in practically no time. By mid-1966 the Dead were local favorites; accordingly, they’d cut a sparsely distributed Scorpio single, Stealin’/Don’t Ease Me In, and played everywhere. By the end of the year it was time to trek down to Los Angeles to start work on their first Warner Bros. album.
The Grateful Dead (WB 1689) is evidence of one of the classic encounters between San Francisco rock music and the recorded medium. As was expected by the group and their fans, studio attempts to recreate the live Dead sound would be pale to the real thing; much of the bite is taken out of most of the performances. Despite this, the LP displays a mastery over instruments and a comprehension of group dynamics that has yet to be surpassed, the sense of what rock is all about, that makes albums by the Stones and the Miller Band landmarks. The organicism that defined the Dead’s “right on” musical approach appeared on that first album.

Middle-period Dead probably began in late 1967 and early 1968, during the various recordings which were compiled to form Anthem of the Sun. Mickey Hart joined Bill to form a drum team, and Tom Constanten took over keyboards to free Pigpen for more vocal work. The group had become a self-contained rock outfit, composing ambitious new tunes, rearranging all of their material constantly. During this time, as exhibited in Anthem, the Dead assumed a position at the forefront of improvisatory rock. Their intuitive grasp of rock dynamics, the complex and completely knowledgeable interplay among members (Garcia riffing off one drummer, Lesh and Weir weaving threads and building elaborate rhythmic structures off the other drummer), and the plain explosiveness of Garcia’s guitar led them to cover areas thus far inaccessible to most rock bands. About this time some mention was being made of Garcia’s incredible versatility, but today the mass rock public persists in believing the best guitarists are those who can string together twenty minutes of blues cliches at ear-shattering volume and really “get it on.” The formless jamming of Anthem (and of more recent live sets) contains an inventiveness and excitement that make such extended instrumentals as Cream’s Spoonful, and Creedence’s second LP plain linear redundancies. Perhaps the only other group capable of achieving a similarly graceful flow is Pentangle, whose music embodies a similar format of cyclic rhythms and a kind of general concentricity.
Anthem of the Sun is noteworthy in that it was the first record to generally succeed in duplicating a band’s live sound. The technique for accomplishing this was conceived by the Dead; they recorded several separate gigs on 8-track, miking various sections of the halls to get a full sound, went into the studio to add bass and drum tracks, spliced and overlaid segments, and mixed it all down: the result is a fairly ‘live’ recording. This has since been standard live recording procedure, re Happy Trails, Pointed Little Head.

The post-Anthem Grateful Dead exhibit a capacity for potential which is stunning. The old iceberg theory. Though Aoxomoxoa may be viewed as a compromise, since it features less of the exploratory freedom and achieves a kind of compact tightness (which might, Warner Bros. hopes, make the group a more saleable commodity), it is a good set. Most impressive to me are the arrangements on the album (Doin’ That Rag, St. Stephen) and the incantatory, magical lyrics supplied by Robert Hunter. The current Dead are blowing in every possible direction. Their next LP, scheduled for August release, is explanation enough; an exquisite Dark Star, much in the manner of the longer St. Stephen, hints at elusive melodies and flirts with rhythmic patterns which appear, disappear, then reappear at points in the flow; the song is understated beautifully, the words are sung, then the instrumental transcends itself via Garcia’s fluid guitar playing (recently having been much affected by Gabor Szabo), changing into St. Stephen. The Aoxomoxoa piece is succeeded by a long jam of varying texture; the tonal shifts achieved through the balancing of the ensemble are remarkable.
The music is continuous (apparently the plan is to release the set as a two-LP package), passing from highly lyrical guitar-bass-organ configurations through strategically placed bits of musique concrete, emerging at Pigpen’s invitation to the audience to participate in Turn On Your Love Light. Bobby Bland’s song is completely reworked, transformed into an intensely swinging variety of what might be legitimately labeled jazz-rock. The storm of Love Light subsides into the calmness of Death Don’t Have No Mercy, which closes the hour-and-a-half program.

Recently the group has experimented with electronics, as in What’s Become of the Baby; Pigpen is now doing some Otis Redding stuff and knocking audiences out. The whole group recently did a concert of all country music, and a local resort featured Dead accomplice Marmaduke singing country (and playing guitar) to the accompaniment of Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar. To speculate as to future directions for the Grateful Dead would be pointless. Rest assured that whatever area of musical endeavor they enter next (I assume they’ll eventually get around to all of them) will yield them abundant rewards and enable them to remain at the front of rock for some time. They are that good.

(by Gene Sculatti, from Jazz & Pop, September 1969)

Thanks to

Another Sculatti piece on the Dead, from 1966: