Jul 29, 2021

September 1974: Jerry Garcia Interview


Yes, it's an interesting one isn't it? I mean, five hours...that's a long time, and well...camels are different of course, so really it must be a problem. However, Smilin' Jerry Garcia doesn't let The Grateful Dead's music get bogged down with details like that. Read his answers in NME – the one that dares ask the big questions.

It's da Dead, mayun!
Everybody's bloody grinning.
The roadies who're running around Alexandra Palace launching frisbees into the stratosphere, the ones who're plugging things in and carrying things about, the Old Ladies 'n Wives trucking around with their kids...
Everybody is grinning.
Jerry Garcia is grinning as well, wandering around in circles on the stage with his guitar tuned right in on the intergalactic noodle wavelength and a seraphic grin plastered over his mug.
His fingers trucking along busily like the game little troupers they are, he listens with his head on one side to the almost imperceptible sound of his beard growing.
A week ago he only had stubble.
Now he's sporting a Full Fledged Growth. They don't call him the Fastest Beard In The West for nothing.
What's da story, Jerry?
Welllllll, the story is that Jerry Garcia is standing in front of a scale model of the Great Wall of China playing his geetar. There's a bit of Kozmic Ragtime, some patented repeat-echo doodlerama...and what a lovely smile. The Osmonds should be so lucky as to be able to smile with the warm, friendly sincerity of the Grateful Dead and their crew. Why they weren't signed up for a Coke commercial hasta be one of the best-kept secrets of all time.
I mean, here's just one example – just one – of how thoroughly, overwhelmingly wonderful the Dead are. Are you ready for this?
It seems that at the Watkins Glen Festival (which out-statisticked Woodstock by 150,000 folks) the Dead set up speaker towers geometrically proceeding into the audience, complete with a delay system to keep it all in phase, so that even if you were one helluva way back you could still get good sound.
And – here's the killer part – they wired a goddam radio transmitter into the sound system so that all the people stuck out in the traffic jams could hear Thuh Day–ud on their itty-bitty car radios.
Now, ain't that sump'n? Would you get ELP doing that? Would you get The Faces doing that? Wouldja? Wouldja, huh?
So Uncle Jerry stashes his axe and, still grinning through his chin-warmer, saunters back-stage to a room full of impressive-looking electronic devices. On the previous night, some extremely agile thieves had descended through an airvent and ripped off a tape deck.
"It's basically what we get for starting late," beams Garcia. "That's the karma – the starting-late karma."
A philosopher, yet!

Okay, Jerry, let's do the interview. There's one real insiders' Grateful Dead question, the real heavy secret that we've all wanted to know for the last seven years, which is – how the hell do ya manage to play them long sets without needing to slink off and take a leak?
Is it some form of esoteric Yoga bladder control that you learned from Ken Kesey? Do you have tubes strapped under your jeans. What's the deal?
"Hahaaa. There isn't any real secret, I don't think...and I'm also not a beer-drinker, which probably makes a big difference. I haven't really thought about that before" – something goes click, Garcia's brain revolves 180 degrees and he feeds in another punch card – "There are times when somebody will leave the stage for some reason or other...it just doesn't seem like it.
"We don't really do five hours directly. Like we'll play an hour and a half or so, and then come back. Makes the whole thing more reasonable. Hahaaa."
"When you went off last night, I walked out into the crowd," volunteers a member of the road crew, "an' a lotta people thought you were putting them on a hype trip".
Garcia nods a couple of times, inserts an untipped Camel into his smile. "I can't understand why they would think that. They might think that that was where the band was at. I'm on a self-destruction programme," he says, alluding to the untipped cigarette. No filter tip's gonna come between you and that ol' debbil cancer, right, Jerry?
"Maybe. Hahaaa. Death has a better than fair chance anyway. Like tooth decay."
Ye-e-ah...mighty fine lookin' PA system you got there, Jerry.
"The reason that we have it and the reason that we developed it 'n all that is that we weren't really anticipating an amazing growth in our audience, which has happened, and so in terms of – uh – respecting the situation and trying to deal with it righteously, our point of view has been, well, since we're playing to larger audiences in larger places, the thing to do should be to divert the energy into improving the quality of the performance.
"Obviously, the bigger the place, the worse the sound."
Yeah, but Jerry, that problem exists for lotsa bands...
"Yeah, but not that many acts are concerned about it."
"It's a problem of individual responsibility. If the musicians feel very strongly about it, then it's up to them to do something about it.
"The economics of rock and roll don't allow for trying to get a better and better sound, since the idea is to cut down on expenses. Our motive is simply a sense of responsibility about what it is. When you're playing in a big room, there's no way to – uh – de-escalate."
So that's why you play all those club gigs in your spare time, huh, Jerry?
"Oh, I do those 'cuz I'm a musician. I'm a player. The thing I want to do most is to play. I wanna learn how to play better, and the only way you can do that is to play."
Hey, Jerry...didja hear about Windsor? Bummer, man. Bad vibes, y'know?
"We've seen it happen in the United States...time and time again. It's almost at the point now where you can describe music as an illegal activity in terms of the free equation. Woodstock and Altamont and all the other large-scale things that were characterised by a certain amount of confusion or violence have all produced a new level of paranoia. We still get busted a lot.
"Basically we're outlaws. We're viewed as outlaws, and we've developed outlaw-style protective colouration. We're not immune, by any means. We haven't gained any degree of respectability."
Well, you could play it like the Allmans and get a dude from the diplomatic corps to waltz you through customs...
"Yeah. Hahaaaa. Screw it, I'd rather take my chances. I don't like to feel that I'm existing on that level. That's not who I am at all. I don't like any of the trappings of success at all. They're all poison. It's hard enough just playin', and that's all I wanna do."
In that case, does it hang ya up to be a guru 'n a "signpost to new space" and all the rest of that Charles Reich aardvaark waste?
"It could, but...I don't deal with my public image. I regret having ever spoken to anyone...haHAAAAh...but I feel that as long as I have...I have a kinda responsibility to follow it up and clarify it as much as I can.
"The difficulty is that my viewpoint is not static. My mind is dynamic and my thoughts are changing and my ideas are changing. I'm embarrassed by that book (Garcia: A Signpost To New Space by Charles Reich and Jann Wenner), I'm embarrassed by seeing my name in print, I'm embarrassed by having to be out on stage, I'm embarrassed...on many levels."
Whoooo-ee. It's amazing that Garcia can even bring himself to walk out of his house in the morning.
"I really just love to play, y'know? I love to play without having to be – uh – fulfilling this human drama aspect of – uh – whatever it is."
Jerry Garcia is really such a nice old hippie that I felt kind of bad about talking to him under false pretences. I mean, I saw the Dead two years ago at Wembley and they were great, but I've never been able to get off at all on their records. So I said just that.
"Ye-e-ahh – our records are awful."
"We've never bothered too much, y'know? HaHAAAA-haah! I don't think that recording is a suitable form for us. The live thing is what we do."
Well, if we're all agreed that the Dead's records just don't cut it, doesn't that make them a bit of a rip-off, something of a burn?
"That's exactly it. HaaHaaa-ha!! It's a burn for us and for the public, too. We've never really made money from records. Our records have always like sold to a small, closed audience. We've never scored big from records. We've always spent more making them than we've made back...or some other permutation of unsuccessful possibility.
"A lot of people come to see us, but don't buy our records. There's a whole big scene of people who do nothing but swap live tapes of us – for free! That's a heavier trip than records, y'know?"
Has having your own label made any difference on that level?
"Yes, it's made it possible for us to get into a – uhhh – a scheming bag, y'know? Haa – HAAAA! We've got our own record company, which means that we can make any kind of crazy plans we want to.
"We can spend time...plotting, y'know. It gives us something to play with. And it also means that we can make records 'n stuff without feeling 'we're gonna turn out another record for The Man'."
The Dead not only tape every single show that they perform, but they even tape their soundchecks as well, even if the soundcheck is just Garcia doodling for three hours. It all goes down on tape. Why d'ya tape everything, Jerry?
"We-e-e-e-lll...you can't always trust your memory...can you?"
But what do you do with all these miles of tape?
"We take 'em all back to California and burn 'em. Hey – take a look at this." He ambles over to a corner of the room and pulls this huge mound of celluloid tagliatelle out from behind a chair. "This here is last night's show." He lets it cascade back on to the floor, wipes his boot on it, and drifts back out on to the stage to play a little more.


When you glance over the sleeve credits on West Coast albums of the last few years, you get a distinct "old pals act" vibe off the whole schmear. Maybe these guys are getting a little insular in their old age. Hey, Jerry, have you ever been to see Alice Cooper?
"I never have; never seen him perform. Never been curious enough. It's not my trip. I'm not that much of an entertainment freak. If I go out, I go out to hear some music, and I usually know what I'm going to hear.
"If I'm goin' out, I'm goin' out because I know that so-and-so is playing bass. I hardly ever go to see rock and roll bands, because I'm not into the space of being able to get off on a rock and roll band. Whatever I would be digging would be whatever the band's limitations were, and I'm less interested in my own music than in the music I'm going out to see.
"So if I'm gonna go out, it automatically has to be better than me, which means that it has to be better than anything I'm better than. And I'm better than a lot of rock and roll bands.
"I have a small percentage of get-off space. There's not many things that get me off. It has to be pretty deep."
Hmmmmmm...it does seem as if Jerry Garcia is getting a trifle hidebound these days. I mean, it's one thing to rap about striving for new forms 'n all that garf, but if you don't bother to check out where other people are at, then there's a very real danger of getting a trifle out of touch.


Jerry Garcia is a genuinely charming old hippie. If he wasn't in the Dead and wasn't a star and lived down the street from me, I'd probably try and hang out with him a lot and maybe cop the odd guitar lesson from him. But listening to the Dead these days is like visiting your relatives.
It's pleasant and relaxing and really quite enjoyable, but it's also more than a little soporific. They've lost most of their punch and power, and their music now is rich and full, but sluggish and old and fat and slow.
They open up their set with Chuck Berry's 'Around And Around' played about as inappropriately as is possible. It would be foolish to sing: "Well, the joint was flowin', flowin' round and round/just ebbin' and a-flowin', what a laid-back sound," but that's really the way it is.
Even when the Dead play Berry, it just doesn't rock.
Not that I'd want them to come on with strobe lights, power chords and green eye make-up, but...hey, wake up in there, you guys! It is only on 'Peggy-O' and 'I Know You Rider' that their laid-backery coalesces with their material and produces music of genuine, tranquil beauty.
The blue lights highlight the grey in Garcia's hair and beard, turning it almost silvery. He looks very old against the clean-cut All-American Boy collegiate look currently sported by Bob Weir.
Even that phoenix-like guitar sparkle seems a trifle dimmed, and the same licks just seem to be coming around again.
And – horror of horrors – at one point he even leaves the stage between numbers to take a leak.
Another illusion shattered.

(by Charles Shaar Murray, from New Musical Express, 21 September 1974)

Jul 23, 2021

October 1974: Death of the Dead

San Rafael -- We had been watching a horror movie on the BBC, and by the time we started upstairs, we were terrified. The house, a ready-for-demolition Victorian pile, creaked ominously as we climbed the steeply-angled servants' stairs. Sheet-shrouded furniture, familiar by day, loomed eerily from around corners. After a brief fling at rationality ("We're adults. This is silly."), followed almost immediately by a return of the willies ("I'll watch the door while you go to the john if you stand out in the hall when I go."), my housemate hit on the cure: "Put on a Grateful Dead album." It worked. Halfway through "Ripple," things already seemed brighter. Sure that no monsters lurked in the shadows, we went happily off to our rooms. 
They have always been good for what ails us, but now the Dead are dying. Three winters ago, they played a four-night stand at the Felt Forum. Though they could easily have swooped into New York and shaken their money-makers for only one night at the Garden, they chose to work the smaller hall. But last summer, they played only once - at umpty-thousand seat Roosevelt Stadium. And now they've announced that they will not be coming back to New York - or anywhere else - for a while. Maybe never. The Grateful Dead will no longer perform live, and the Golden Age of Boogie is over. 
"Listen, if there's one thing we learned in ten years on the road," said Ron Rakow of Grateful Dead Records, "it's that celebration is a valid form of revolution." He's wrong. There are any number of reasons why the Dead are going into hibernation, and one of them is that they tried to run their revolution as though it were a celebration. It didn't work. 
Their revolution - not the one that made us boogie on our chairs, but the one that made record company execs quake in theirs - was structural rather than stylistic. True to their mushy Marin principles, the Dead thought music belonged to the people, and they put their money where their minds were. Unlike the adaptive model of rich hippie-cynics - who usually perceived the absurdity of a rock'n'roll "industry" as clearly as they did - the Dead tried to do something about it. They created what was essentially a people's corporation - a family if you will. Rather than working through an established booking agency, they fostered their own (Out of Town Tours, Inc.) in a corner of their San Rafael office, and peopled it with Dead Heads. And their own travel agency (Fly-by-Night) in another. Finally - and most threateningly - they began their own, independently-distributed, record label. 
Out of Town Tours expired in a welter of accusations a few months ago, sending its director (Sam Cutler, of Altamont fame) back to Texas. The people who worked for him - all of them long-time members of the Dead family - were then visited by Hell's Angels and told never to work for the Dead again. "They said something would be coming along in about a month, and that we'd be taken care of," one recalled, "but that if we took any job connected with the Dead, they'd come after us." Far out, man. 
Fly-by-Night folded several weeks ago, and last week a for rent sign went up on the floor of offices that once housed the Dead's operations. The real estate agent says a group of dentists may take it. 
Yet the record company - the most genuinely revolutionary of the Dead's offspring - continues. In a decaying house forever safe from invading dentists, plans go on for a resurrection. The band will continue to record (and a good thing, too - "From Mars Hotel" is their best album since "American Beauty"), and may go back on the road sometime in 1976. If they can find a sane way to do it. 
That condition will be a hard one to meet. Victimized by their own success, the Dead got caught in a spiral of working larger halls so that they could make enough money to support their corporate family, which meant they needed exponentially increasing amounts of equipment (800 lbs. in 1965; 6000 in 1968; 30,000 in 1973; 56,000 now) and more people to transport it and set it up. Which meant more overhead, hence a need to play larger halls. Which meant more equipment... 
All of which was compounded by the legendary disorganization of their entropic road crew. To some extent, their 32-hour set-up time was a function of the complicated equipment and the band's perfectionist zeal. But it also reflected the lingering inability of acid casualties to concentrate on the job - any job - at hand. Besides, who's to give orders in an anarchist family? 
So the band found itself working harder and harder in its attempt to give huge audiences the same experience that they used to share with small ones - with no discernible increase in net income. Though about one-third of their income came from record royalties, almost all their enormous overhead (well over $100,000 a month) went to touring. Six musicians up on stage, not having as much fun as they used to, supporting people who often acted less like family than like superannuated spare-change artists. No wonder the party's over. 
They talk now, bravely, of alternatives. Perhaps buy raw land eight places in the world, then travel from one spot to another, setting up and playing for as long as people want to hear them...or maybe four-walling the group in small halls for a month at a time...or...or... But for now, it's over. Next weekend's Winterland concerts will be the last. 
Say this for the Dead: they tried. And say too that we will miss them.
(by Geoffrey Stokes, from the "Rock Notes" column, Village Voice, October 31, 1974) 

Jul 15, 2021

March 22-23, 1970: Pirate's World, Dania, Florida

There were two big surprises at Pirate's World this past weekend involving rock concerts. 
The first was the super show Country Joe and the Fish put on Friday and Saturday night before average-sized crowds. Most expected little, got a big high, and left happy. 
The second surprise was the down feeling left by the Grateful Dead after performances on Sunday and Monday night. Most went expecting the best show ever. They left disappointed. 
Country Joe and his group fooled around for many years before hitting it in a big way. In fact, the spring of 1969 was the turning point. Only Joe McDonald and Barry Melton were still around from the original group. The decision was made to try the hard rock scene, and the other three making up the group were not hard to find. 
Now McDonald is the lead vocal and Melton the lead guitar, doing some vocal as well. Mark Kapner, who grooves to the organ, piano and uke, has been with the Fish since the spring. Drummer Greg Dewey left Mad River to join the Fish, while Doug Metzler left New York's top underground band, the Group Image, to join this group. 
The original Fish got together in 1965, specializing in light rock, blues, even a little country. It soon was obvious that this combination wasn't going to work, so the hard rock style was adopted. 
Since the group's rebirth in '69, gigs have been easy to come by. The Woodstock Festival was one of the early stops. Soon followed the New Orleans Pop Festivals and the Thunderbird Peach Festival in Canada. A world tour ended back in New York at the Fillmore. 
This year the group has been going better than ever. The release of a fifth LP helped, but the concert this past weekend set off the group for good in South Florida. 
The start of the music was greeted with little attention and less applause. The people were rapping with each other, with the Fish playing in the background. Then a feeling swept through all assembled. Soon the attention was focused on the stage. 
Country Joe swung into "Summer Dress" and "Sun A Rocket" with the kids starting to get into it. It wasn't until the last 20 minutes of the hour and 40 minute concert that the people were set off. 
When McDonald invoked a trick used often by B.B. King the people got hep. He invited the crowd to sing along as the group rocked into the top single "The Love Machine." The 15 minute version of the cut was the final wonder of a pile of wonders. 
Mick Jagger said it best for this group when he was quoted: "It's the singer, not the song." 
Country Joe proved this cliche this past week. 
There was a different type of crowd at Pirate's World Sunday and Monday night for the Grateful Dead. More hair and less teeny-boppers showed. It was obvious something heavy was going to happen. 
The Dead, who have shown in the past their dislike of the payed-for concert, put on a lackadaisical show that lasted for little over an hour. Few listened to the group. Less got into the sound. 
"The man in the streets isn't ready for our sound," said group leader Jerry Garcia several months ago in ROLLING STONE. "Rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's is groovy," says second man Phil Lesh. "As long as you render to God's what is God's. But now Caesar demands it all, and we gotta be straight with God first." 
One of the many problems the Grateful Dead have encountered is their inability to cope with the straight world. The original group that became the Dead, the Warlocks, "were already on the crazy-eyed fanatic trip," according to Garcia. 
Seldom does the group go on stage without every member being in some state of drug-induced euphoria. They say they do better while stoned. 
Jerry said: "Okay, so you take LSD and suddenly you are aware of another plane, or several other planes, and the quest is to extend that limit, to go as far as you can go. In the Acid Tests, that meant to do away with the old forms, with old ideas, try something new!" 
He felt this was one of the keys to the sound. 
For some reason or other, the Grateful Dead did not put on a heavy show last weekend. Maybe this area doesn't dig the sound or the members of the group. Maybe the trip the Dead are on is coming to an abrupt end.
(by Angelo Rescinti, from the Hollywood Sun-Tattler, March 27, 1970) 

Jul 8, 2021

April 1971: Boston Music Hall & Fillmore East

April 8, 1971 - Boston Music Hall 
[The first part of the review covered Three Dog Night at Boston Garden.]
[ . . . ]  If the Garden was a triumph for one of the best of the mass favorites, the Boston Music Hall was a disaster for one of the leading elitist favorites. I don't care who you are or what your taste is - if Three Dog Night had taken that stage last Thursday night for five minutes, they would have come closer to doing what the Grateful Dead failed to do all evening: getting people off. The Dead performed like slobs. The sound was unmixed - you couldn't hear the bass until halfway through the concert when someone finally got the bright idea of turning it up. Never known for their singing ability, the vocalists butchered everything in sight. Someone in that group sings consistently off key, and whoever he is they ought to find him, put a towel in his mouth, and tell him to cool it. Their instrumental work was uninspired, their performing attitude sterile and, in the words of the Last Poets, sanctimonious. 
Who cares if they play for six hours when four of them are less than ordinary, less than interesting, less than moving? Should it really be necessary to wade through hours and hours of rambling uncertainty and false starts for twenty minutes of solid jamming? Thursday night at the Music Hall it was strictly coitus interruptus: the band never really came. 
The audience was a show, too. Where Three Dog Night gets high school students, the Dead gets the dropouts. There was enough manic dizziness, enough mindless reacting, and enough dope to last this city for the next six months. 
The Dead may be a great band in their own way because they know how to build energy. On record, they take the time to make sure it sounds right. But live - whew. How long can they go on without a good lead singer, a good drummer, and so detached an attitude? 
The most frustrating thing about them is that they are constantly repairing with one hand what they have destroyed with another. Jerry Garcia tried to sing Smokey Robinson's "I Second That Emotion." His heart was in the right place but the band was simply not up to this kind of material. His singing was horrid. I threw my hands up in disgust only to hear him line out a beautifully melodic solo on guitar (he is an unquestionably fine guitarist) in the very next instant. 
Such are the confusions of the Grateful Dead. One minute they do something beneath criticism and the next they do something above it. Jerry Garcia can't sing but he sure can play. They are masters of the change-up. And we all know that change-up pitchers are good in short doses but don't make it over the long haul. 
* * *  

April 25, 1971 - Fillmore East

I saw the Dead again last Sunday at the Fillmore East. The mail on my previous report was so critical that I had no choice but to see them again, to check my reactions. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I was right. They were every bit as bad at the Fillmore as they were at the Music Hall. And while the audience cheered ritualistically, everyone in the Fillmore seemed to realize it wasn't happening. 
The Dead have gotten themselves into marathon consciousness. They are equating length with some sort of musical virtue. They have forgotten how to edit themselves and they force you to listen to so much bad music in order to hear some fine things that it just doesn't seem worth it. No one really knows why Mickey Hart left the group, but Bill Kreutzmann is not a good enough drummer to carry them alone. Despite their frequent use of (very mediocre) harmony, the critical absence of a lead singer with a competent voice cannot be disguised. As for the rest, well, no one has ever accused the group of being tight and they certainly aren't. Their music has no drive, nothing compelling, nothing that pushes you forward. It sits there and happens. Presumably that is the quality that appeals to their devotees, and I can vaguely see why.
That does not change the fact that the group does certain things that are incontestably atrocious. Anyone who has ever seen the Rascals running wild on a stage - anyone who has ever listened to Felix Cavaliere sing on their first album - has got to laugh at Pigpen doing their "Good Lovin'." He sings off key, he ignores the melody, and he fails to convey any feeling. If you don't believe me, listen to the Rascals do it just once. Likewise Jerry Garcia's lame version of "I Second That Emotion," and the entire ensemble's work on "Not Fade Away." In every case where the Dead do someone else's material, their interpretation is manifestly inferior. The most notable instance in all of Dead history was, of course, their butchery of Bobby Bland's "Turn On Your Love Light." 
The audience applauds about the same for every song. They don't seem to recognize any differences in quality or interest within the performance itself. To me, that kind of lack of discrimination is indicative of an insensitivity to the Dead's music in particular, and music in general. In no way is it a tribute to the group. 

(by Jon Landau, from the Boston Phoenix, April 1971)
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