Aug 9, 2023

January 22, 1971: Jerry Garcia Interview


With the Grateful Dead in town to do their gig at Lane a couple weeks ago, I took the opportunity to pay a visit to Jerry Garcia, the man always seemingly in the forefront of the legendary San Francisco band.
Dropping by his motel room the afternoon before the show, I found him as always: warm, affable and unaffected by the universal acceptance his group always finds. During the course of the short interview, Babs, a cohort from the Acid Tests and a resident of Ken Kesey’s Springfield farm, dropped by with best wishes.
The questions came easy and Garcia’s answers even easier. And so, a bit of enlightenment hopefully, into what the Dead are doing now, and what we can look forward to in the future:

With your last two albums, “American Beauty” and “Workingman’s Dead,” you seem to have shifted somewhat in your music. Do you notice a change?
Yeah sure, of course. But the change is more in our record-making than in what we do. The thing is, early last year we started getting more into singing. And with it, we got into songs. I was into writing songs for the thing about – it was the revelation of suddenly, “Oh, singing. We can sing together!” It was like a whole new thing for us.
Those two should really be considered one record. In that they’re kind of like the same body of stuff. It represents a year’s worth of a certain direction. Our next record will be a live one, and then I think the next time we do a studio record it will be a different shape.

Those records are not necessarily the first two steps in a continuing progression then?
No, not necessarily.

I think a lot of people are under the impression that the Dead have found their groove, and those two records are beginning of what you're going to be doing. 
No, it’s just another facet of what we do. I think of everything we do as being developmental, but on a very large cycle. That is to say, our cycle is about a year long. We’ll be on a certain trip for about a year, and the first part of the year we’ll be getting to it, and the last part of the year we’ll be sort of getting away from it. It’s just the way we do.

Do you have any idea what cycle you’ll be going into next?
The live album will be a wrap-up of our live shows for the past year or so. It’ll be a lot of the things that we’ve been doing for a long time, but have never recorded.
We’ll try to make it good. I can’t really say what it’ll be, because we haven’t got the tapes yet, and we won’t be able to tell until after we put it together.

For “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty,” what made you decide to go into the studio and sing?
We didn’t decide to go into the studio and sing, we just decided that singing was a good trip. Because, early last year, Crosby, Stills & Nash were hanging around a lot in our scene. It’s just groovy, you know, singing is just a good thing. We started getting into hanging out with just acoustic guitars and singing. Me and Bobby (Weir) and Phil (Lesh), just working out stuff. It was fun to do. 
Also, those last two records, we pretty much had them together in the sense that the music was together when we went into the studio. We went in knowing what we were going to do and we were after doing it easy. We were trying to minimize the hassles for ourselves in the studio by doing it as simply and as quickly as possible. And it worked out well, both records we did in really a short time for us. But it’s only one facet.

Have Crosby and those people been hanging out in your scene much lately?
Phil and I and Bill (Kreutzmann) just played on about 90 per cent of Crosby’s new album, which will be out shortly. It’s really nice, and we’ve worked with David a lot. Steven has played with us time and again. There’s a loose sort of association, and I played on some tracks from Graham Nash’s album, which will probably be out soon.

I notice you played on the Paul Kantner album. Was that the result of the same kind of a scene?
Well, we’re all friends. I mean it’s like, the social circle in which we have revolved, like the Grateful Dead as a family. The Jefferson Airplane have been our friends for years.
They’re like old, old friends of ours, from before they were the Airplane, just as people in their various scenes and our various scenes; we just overlapped a lot.
It was just a natural outgrowth. Kantner was working on this album and I would happen to be at Wally Heider’s (recording studio) and he’d say, 'Listen, I have some stuff, would you listen to it, and if there’s anything you like, would you play on it.'
I said sure, and I liked it. I went for the idea. You know Kantner’s an amazing cat, and he’s like one of those guys that – he’s just got a lot of energy and he pulls really amazing performances out of people. He’s good.

Have you been exploring any types of music that is, say out of the ordinary for you?
As a matter of fact, there will be a record of some of that music coming out. I did a thing with a friend of mine who is an amazing organist, named Howard Whales. I really don’t know how to describe the music except that it’s very far out. It’s unusual for me.
It’s just some of the strongest, most high-energy, aggressive sort of music that I’ve ever had any part in. I guess that album will be out probably in February sometime. It’s experimental for all intents and purposes.

Have you been experimenting at all with any instruments that you’re not that familiar with?
Well, the steel. The steel is the thing. I’ve been fiddling around with the piano a little bit. I’ve fiddled around with almost any instrument that’s available to me. I’ll goof around on them a little. I try to make some attempt to understand or at least to play a minimal amount on it. That’s just my normal interest in music.
Right now, the instruments I can play more or less competently are the guitar, five-string banjo, and I’m getting so I can at least get through stuff on the steel. I don’t like to have to get into something unless I think I can really devote a proper amount of time and energy to it to learn it right.

It’s been going around that the change that was evident in your last two albums was because the Grateful Dead have completely given up drugs and gone into some different trips.
Well, we’ve never been entirely into drugs. There’s always been people in the band who take drugs, and people who don’t. We don’t try to affect each other’s thinking in terms of what you should or should not take. If somebody’s on a trip of taking a certain drug, you’re free to do that.
We play together as a group and we’re living the same reality. After all this time together it’s gotten so we’re really comfortable amongst ourselves, since there’s been so much weird shit we’ve been through that nobody else knows about really. They’re shared experiences of such an exotic nature that there are levels of communication that we can get to amongst ourselves, which because of the situation we’re in is just not available to us with almost everybody else. That’s also why our other friends are musicians, in the same world.
I mean, when you’re in high-energy situations 80 per cent of the time, you have a different reality to face than a person who lives a normal day to day life.

There seems to be a problem all across the country of increased gate-crashing and violence at rock concerts. Do you endorse this, or do you have negative feelings about it?
It’s been happening at our gigs more and more often the past year. If it gets any worse, we’ll just quit touring. We don’t play background music for riots.

Do you get a chance to play with the groups that you’ve played with for so many years: Quicksilver, the Airplane, etc.?
We get our chances once in awhile, not all the time. But see, we all live in the same area. We all see each other a lot. Like Freiberg, from Quicksilver, lives three houses up the road from me.
In fact, our next joint project is me, David Freiberg, Crosby, Grace (Slick), Paul (Kantner), and Phil. We’re doing a thing together, making an album. Putting the material together and rehearsing and stuff. 

Any idea what the group of people will be called?

It doesn’t really matter?

Do you know what label it will be on?
There are several possibilities. It may be on Atlantic, might be on Warner Bros. With Kantner’s Starship album, it went to RCA because it was Kantner’s album. This one, I think we’ll do the album for us probably, and then decide who’s going to have it.

What has happened to Quicksilver; are they together now, or have they broken up?
Old Quicksilver no longer exists, and the band that’s being called Quicksilver now, are interested in changing the name. What it is now, it’s Dino Valente, Gary Duncan, Greg Elmore, and David Freiberg.

Then those four were originally with Quicksilver in the beginning anyway.
Right. Cippolina is no longer with them, and Nicky Hopkins isn’t with them now.

What is the music scene like in San Francisco now?
Everybody who was in those scenes in ’64-’67, around there, all those people are older and better. They’re good at what they do, and everybody’s pretty settled into a working groove. The music scene is very close. Everything’s just been slowly getting closer all along. We all know each other, and we hang out together. It’s good. It’s a beautiful working situation. I wouldn’t be anyplace else.

Do you ever find yourself getting behind time, being on the road and all?
Oh, time becomes a totally utter continuum. There isn’t any chronometer of time. It starts to be TV time, check-in time, plane time, and gig time. It’s just described in a whole other way, that’s all. It’s not minutes and hours and that.

How much are you on the road now?
Well, last year we were on the road a lot, but this year we’re going a lot lighter. We’re not doing as much work, just taking it easier.

Do you ever get tired of being on the road?
We don’t do it like that. We don’t make it inhuman on ourselves. I mean, there are some people who go out for six weeks, eight weeks, three months, and stuff like that. It’s like a long tour for us if we’re out for as long as two weeks.

Have the Grateful Dead always been a group where everybody pretty much has an equal part?
Oh yeah. We wouldn’t have it any other way. See, nobody wants to go through the trip of being a leader, or any of that.

How big is the audience’s role in a Grateful Dead show?
If it’s a good show, the audience’s role is at least half of what is going on.

When you go out onstage, do you ever have a concept of the audience, as far as expecting certain things from them?
No, I try not to do that. I try not to fall on any kind of performing devices, if I can avoid it. I mean, we’re hip to them all; there are tricks, but we try to avoid them. I try to do it as much on an intuitive, emotional level as much as is there.

Have you found any disadvantages to becoming a nationally known group with the following you have?
We don’t go on any trips, so there aren’t any disadvantages. We don’t put ourselves in that position.

The ego things?
Yeah. We’re just not on that trip. It doesn’t really affect – I mean, I don’t have any sense of being a national group. I only have the sense that I’m trying to become a good musician, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do for a long time. That’s what I’m still trying to do, and that’s really where it’s at with me.
As for the rest of it – it’s fun to read about yourself in the paper, but it doesn’t have any real bearing on your real existence. It’s bullshit is what it is.

(by Steven Smith, from the Oregon Daily Emerald, February 12, 1971) 

Thanks to Dave Davis

Jul 7, 2023

May 15-16, 1970: Fillmore East, NYC & Temple Stadium, Philadelphia


Walking into American Airlines out at LaGuardia to meet the Dead on a May afternoon. People gathered around a taxi run up on a traffic island. NBC's filming the scene. A body lies in a pool of blood, partly covered with a yellow raincoat. 
"Yeah, he shot his girl friend and the cab driver. When he saw the cops coming, he blew his brains out." 

Sitting with Jon McIntire, their manager, waiting for the plane. A hand descends on his shoulder. 

Weir: Hey man, how you doing? 
McIntire: How'd you get here? 
Weir: We came in down there. The rest of the guys are waiting for their guitars. You can't miss them. 
McIntire: Yeah, I guess they do look kind of weird.

You don't interview Jerry Garcia; someone gets him started on a subject and the discussion goes on until it's time for him to leave. A radical film maker is in the hotel room, trying to convince him that he should help people channel their energies into the revolution. Garcia explains over and over that energy is an individual thing that finds its own natural outlet; if you try to channel it, you pervert it. The phone rings and Garcia has to leave for the Fillmore. It turns out the guy really wants Garcia to get a film of his shown between sets. 

The Dead are invariably victims of the 60-or-90-minute time limit imposed by the standard concert format. They just aren't into performing a set of precisely arranged, timeable songs that build to a prearranged climax and neatly end in a practiced encore. Their songs serve as a framework within which they make something happen each time. They're a take-off point for incredible jams. When the Dead do manage to get off in a one-hour set, it's just too painful to break it off. Mostly they just don't get off. Their last sets are legendary, going on into the night until band and audience are completely drained.

Three straight hours with the Dead. It begins with a gentle acoustic set - mostly stuff from the new album, then shifts into C&W with the New Riders, and peaks in the final electric set. 

The first time around it just didn't go. Hassles: plane two hours late, no dinner, no sound test, amplifier doesn't work, typical first show Fillmore audience. 

Idiot: Go back to electric! 
Garcia (gently): Relax, man. It's gonna be all right. 

For the Dead it was. Gently building to its own soft climax. Substituting in New Riders at various points for mandolin and guitar, Garcia going briefly electric. Weir so up by the end of the set that he wanders around backstage with his guitar, playing the last song over and over again. Finally coming to rest under the light on the balcony of the stairs to the dressing rooms. Nobody can hear him over the between-set records on the sound system, but a crowd of backstage people gathers anyway just for the picture.

The audience merely tolerated the set. 
"All right, Riders, let's ride." 

So Garcia and Hart lead them out. Marmaduke, songwriter, lead singer, rhythm guitar; Dave Nelson, lead guitar; Dave Torbert, bass. Nervous, introverted - their first tour, their first New York appearance. Three guys kicking around Marin County playing folk music who got to know Jerry Garcia. When Garcia's pedal steel interest got to be too much for a few C&W numbers in the middle of a set, he got together the New Riders.

A solid C&W set. The audience is getting interested. The New Riders finish off with an incredible "Honky Tonk Woman" that goes on and on. The audience finally gets off. The New Riders come off the stage elated, but soon withdraw again waiting for the second set.

Groupie: Gee, Jerry, you've shaved. 
Garcia: Yep, I've shaved. 

Actually out in the audience for the first time waiting for the Dead to go on. Incomprehensible red fists reach up on the drums.

Zygote: When did you first add the fists? 
Hart: We added the fists at MIT. 
Zygote: Was this after Kent State? 
Hart: No, it was before that. The Cambodia thing had just started and they were starting a student strike. 
Zygote: Does this mean you're getting more political? 
Hart: It's not that we're political, at this point it's survival. We've been part of the revolution a long time, you know, it's just that we're not political. 

Garcia: All that stuff is a waste of fucking time, man. When you get into the whole political trip, you find yourself going to the politicians and you realize that it's all super sensational and that those fuckers don't know what they're talking about. I should think that all that stuff is going to like die away. 
Zygote: What's going to happen? 
Garcia: I don't know. I don't think it's going to be safe to play a scene like this. You know, I don't think it's even going to be safe to have long hair. There's an emphasis [on] change and it's because of all the political shit that has to happen. But like the thing that I do is play music. The rest - you know - I just try to avoid the rest of it.

The set starts building with "Casey Jones" and peaks with "St. Stephen." They calm down into "That's It for the Other One." Hart and Kreutzmann get off. Delicate, together, four arms - two extensions of the same being. They conclude with "Cosmic Charlie." It fits the audience. 

Cosmic Charlie, how do you do, 
Shuckin' on down the avenue? 
Dum de dum, de doodleley do, 
Come on home, your mama's callin' you.

Everybody's up cheering. They come back and wrap it up with "New, New Minglewood Blues." 

Zygote: Last night it seemed that everything was set up to build. You started off acoustic, then went to the Riders, and finished off electric. Last time you were here, you sort of went the other way: you started off very big, then went acoustic, then back to the electric. 
Garcia: Right. 
Zygote: Does this format change from thing to thing... 
Garcia: Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't, but mainly we're working with that format of starting with the acoustic stuff and building it up from there. You know, with the New Riders it provides a convenient bridge because we can get a huge range. 
Zygote: Last night, the audience at the first set seemed to have a really hard time getting off on the acoustic... 
Garcia: Yeah, it requires a little concentration. 
Zygote: Was the second show better? 
Garcia: Oh yeah, the first show wasn't a bad show, though the audience was kind of a drag. 

Saturday afternoon, Temple Stadium. Philadelphia. Backstage is one end of the stadium marked off by a wooden snow fence. Somehow, three kids have bluffed their way back there and are talking to Jerry Garcia. 

First Kid: Where's Ken Kesey? Is he with you? 
Garcia: No, he's out in Southern California right now. 
Second Kid: How about Owsley, is he here? 
Garcia: No, Owsley can't leave the Bay Area. 
Second Kid: Can't he? 
Garcia: No, he just got out of jail. 
Second Kid: Did he? 
First Kid: The new album, what will it be like? 
Garcia: I like it better than any album we've done. 
First Kid: That's all we do is sit around and get smashed and listen to that album... 
Garcia: We get smashed and make them... 
Second Kid: You want to come over and see the place when you get done? 
Garcia: No, no. We're flying out right afterwards. 
Third Kid: We went all the way up to New York to see you last time. 
Garcia: You should have been there last night, man. That was one of the best gigs we've played. 
Third Kid: Yeah? 
Garcia: Yeah. 
Second Kid: It must be a bummer here. 
Garcia: We'll try not to make it a bummer. We'll try to make it at least fair. 
First Kid: Is Ron going to sing today? 
Garcia: Pigpen? 
First Kid: Yeah. 
Garcia: Yeah, oh sure. He always sings a couple of tunes. Sure wish there was some sunshine. This grey shit stinks. 
Third Kid: It stinks, man. There's never sunshine here. 
Garcia: Really? What do you think of Philadelphia? 
Third Kid: It sucks. 
Garcia: I don't know, man. I've never been here long enough to tell what it's like. We've had a few great times here. 

There's a label on Garcia's big red Gibson: "Blackjack Garcia, the baddest fuckin' guitarist in the world." He checks the guitar carefully before each performance, wiping the strings, debating whether he should replace them or not.

Cactus so loud you can only make out occasional words. Lesh and Garcia worried about threatening sky - rain clause in their contract after Woodstock where Garcia was getting bad shocks from his guitar. Garcia and Lesh into a song about rain. The words are unintelligible but everybody laughs. 

Mickey Hart is off by himself drumming along with Cactus on the top of an amplifier, looking a bit like a little kid with a baseball hat perched up on top of his head. The mood is good. The Dead are just rapping with anybody who walks up. 

Sam Cutler, the road manager, hassling back and forth from the promoter to the Dead. Scheduled to go on at 6:00 and catch 9:30 plane. Already 6:30 and Steve Miller is just setting up. Miller agrees to change with the Dead so they can make the plane. The promoter's mad. Equipment has to be changed. More delays. The rain comes. A big black plastic sheet envelops the stage, covering everything but the side toward the audience. Too low - depressing. Like playing under a rock ledge. 

More Hassles. The people with backstage passes have been sitting in the area between the snow fence and the stage all day. The management sends in three heavies and clears the area. Things are going sour. 

The guards leave - the Dead come on - the fence goes up in the air - the front of the stage is packed with dancing people. Dead jamming away. Dragon's fire flares up behind the amplifiers - the smoke rolls out from under the plastic. 

People in the back calling for the dancers to sit down. More rain. 

Lesh: Sit down, stand up. Sit down, stand up. Why don't you all take off your clothes and get wet. 

In the middle of "Speedway Boogie" - song about Altamont. More heavies clearing the front of the stage again. End of song - Cutler half-heartedly apologizing, something about a clause the management put in the contract that the area has to be cleared. Band yelling "Bullshit," Lesh muttering, "One small match, that's all you need." 

Lesh: I thought they were going to rip the thing down. I was going to yell "Tear down the walls." 
Zygote: They were too hung up. 
Lesh: Yeah, well that's what walls are for, to hang up people. 

"New, New Minglewood Blues" - half-hearted, keeps the set going. Pigpen out in front for "Lovelight." The Dead are off again. Jamming on and on. Cherry bomb goes off on last beat. More smoke. It's over.

The management is more pissed. The set ran 20 minutes over.

Rushing to get equipment loaded for the plane. Short one vehicle. The management refuses to help. "They didn't cooperate with us, why should we cooperate with them." Promoter hassling equipment men. "Hurry up and get your shit out of here." Standing in their way. The equipment guy mutters something and the promoter attacks him. Both are swinging. Our photographer begins shooting. We're scared - the promoter's heavies are moving in.

The fight stops in time. Nervously standing around a pile of instruments making arrangements, in front of a row of glaring ex-pugilists. We end up driving the equipment to the airport, thankful to get the hell out of here.  

"I don't think it's going to be safe to play a scene like this. You know, I don't think it's even going to be safe to have long hair. There's an emphasis [on] change and it's because of all the political shit that has to happen. But like the thing that I do is play music. The rest - you know - I just try to avoid the rest of it."

"It's not that we're political; at this point it's survival."

(by Harry Jackson, from Zygote vol. 1 no.4, July 22, 1970)

(Zygote had earlier run two reviews of the Dead's 3/21/70 Port Chester shows - here and here.)