Chapter 10: Listen to the River Sing Sweet Songs
Page 176, bottom; more post-Altamont:
Another new Hunter-Garcia song introduced at the Fillmore in December '69 was also obliquely about Altamont, according to Hunter. "Mason's Children" was a driving rocker with a catchy main riff, but Garcia, Weir and Lesh never really mastered the tune's difficult three-part harmonies during the two months that the song was in the group's repertoire, and Garcia said he never liked the words much. (Before a version of "Mason's Children" at the Fillmore East in January '70, Phil explained to the audience that the song was written for a movie "which was going to be shot in a drive-in movie in downtown Albuquerque, with parked cars for an audience." "We decided not to do it finally," Garcia added, and Weir chimed in, "But we're gonna do the song anyway." When I asked Hunter about that, he recalled that around that time the band had written a tune for a rock Western they were approached to appear in called Zachariah, and that perhaps "Mason's Children" was that song. Ultimately Country Joe & the Fish took their place in the film.)
Page 179, lower-middle; more on T.C.'s departure:
"He has apparently no innate, and certainly no cultured understanding of the idioms that are responsible for rock 'n' roll," Bob Weir explained a year after T.C.'s departure, "and so it occurred to us and him at the same time that he wasn't really a rock 'n' roll musician, and the whole group when we were playing with him sounded more like an experimental group than a rock 'n' roll band. More or less we all became homesick for rock 'n' roll and we all, T.C. included, decided that it was best that he either learn to play rock 'n' roll, or continue what he had been doing and had spent years working on."
Page 180; lower-middle; more on the New Orleans bust:
Out of jail and free on bond, the group played the next night at the Warehouse, and two nights later, in a remarkable show of solidarity, The Dead, Fleetwood Mac and The Flock donated their income from that show to a bust fund. The Warehouse was surrounded by police all three nights, but that didn't stop some fearless and reckless insider from dispensing a large amount of LSD to the crowds on hand and, in the words of Rolling Stone, "the bands blew the lid off the house." A few weeks later, Bill Graham put on a bust benefit show at Winterland featuring the Airplane (who had been busted at the same New Orleans hotel a couple of weeks before the Dead), Quicksilver, Santana and It's A Beautiful Day. After expenses, the show raised $15,000, which was enough to cover the initial legal expenses after the bust.
Page 181, middle; more on Workingman's Dead:
"We're part of that California-Bakersfield school of country & western rock 'n' roll Buck Owens, Merle Haggard," Garcia said. "We used to go see those bands and think, 'Gee, those guys are great.' Don Rich [Owens' guitarist] was one of my favorites. I learned a lot from him. So we took kind of the Buck Owens approach on Workingman's Dead. Some of the songs in there are direct tributes to that style of music, although they're not real obvious."
"Workingman's Dead was an album that was done very quickly," said Bob Matthews, who co-produced the record with his in-studio partner, Betty Cantor, and the band. "After the experience of Aoxomoxoa so much time, so much loss of direction, so many hands involved in it on Workingman's Dead we went into the studio first, spent a couple of days basically rehearsing performing the songs all the tunes; recording them on 2-track. When that was done I sat down and spliced together the tunes beginning of Side One to end of Side One; beginning of Side Two to end of Side Two. I got that idea from listening to Sgt. Pepper before we even start, let's have a concept of what the end product is going to feel like, sequencing-wise. We made a bunch of cassette copies and gave them to the band. They rehearsed some more in their rehearsal studio, and then came in and recorded. At all times there was the perspective of where we were in the album."
Page 182, middle; denouement of L'affair Lenny:
In August 1971, private detectives finally found Lenny in San Diego, where he was working as a minister in a small cult of "Jesus freaks" (as they were known back then). He was arrested and eventually served some jail time for his transgressions, and he never managed to repair his relationship with Mickey. "He was a dog, an absolute rotten human being," Mickey said. "I'm ashamed he was my father, but he was a superb drummer. For no other reason will I remember him."
Page 184, bottom; more on the NRPS in New York:
"I think a lot of people in the East liked us because they thought we were sort of outlaws, too," Dawson says. "The way it was back then actually, it's still this way was, if you did drugs, if you smoked grass, you were an outlaw. We all thought that was stupid. We thought, 'Hey, we're not real outlaws; we're not robbing anybody. So why the fuck is there this law that we can't smoke a flower? You want us to be outlaws? OK, we'll be outlaws.' So we played it up a little bit, I guess."
"I was totally enthralled by the whole East Coast thing," David Nelson remembers. "I'd never been east of the Mississippi. Everything looked smaller because there's so much more crammed into a smaller area than out West. Even the people looked different. Garcia and I used to sit in the rent-a-cars and just wig on it, checking everybody out, cracking up. New York just seemed like it was going bzzzz, bzzzz, nyoww, nyoww! That was an adjustment to make. Stuff is going on all around you every second and you either get adjusted to it or you get numb to it.
"And it was that way at the shows in New York, too. The Fillmore East was the weirdest backstage you can possibly imagine. People sitting in rooms and running around, being completely crazy. Impossible combinations of people dealers and bikers and strange little hippie girls. There were usually certain people who actively went around trying to get people paranoid. They'd scare you: 'Waah!' and then have a good laugh. The Grateful Dead road crew was good at that. It was nuts there, but that's part of what made it fun, too."
Dawson says that after a while, Garcia began to retreat from the backstage madness and "he'd go find someplace where people wouldn't bother him and he could practice his guitar. Garcia was a picking junkie long before he became a junk junkie. Music was his first junk. He had to have an instrument in his hand. You'd see him at the end of the night after he'd played with us and with the Dead five or six hours and he'd be backstage smiling, maybe even ready for more! He just had a huge appetite for music."
"Playing the pedal steel is not much physical exertion," Garcia once commented. "You just sit down, and it's all very close work. It's more like working out with a sewing machine than it is standing up and playing ball, which is the way playing the guitar is. It's not such a totally physical trip. It's little motions. I can play it for eight hours in a row without hardly noticing it."
Page 185, top; recording "Teach You Children":
"Graham [Nash] had just written this really pretty song and he and David [Crosby] came up and sang Jerry and me 'Teach Your Children,' and they asked if he'd play pedal steel on it," Dawson says. "They were at Wally Heider's [recording studio] in San Francisco working on their second album, and so Jerry said, 'Sure, man, yeah. Absolutely.' So we went over there I got to go along and we went into Studio D, at the back end of the hallway. They set Garcia up in the studio, played him the tape two or three times, and then Crosby said, 'OK, let's roll some tape.' So they did a take, and then another, and then Garcia said, 'Let's roll it again,' and Crosby said, 'Nuh-uh. That's it. That's perfect. Get out of here.'" What appears on the finished album is actually a composite of the two takes, edited together by engineer Steve Barncard.
Page 186, top; more on sessions outside the Dead:
Although Garcia's work on Blows Against the Empire was recorded in stoned sessions spread over a couple of months at Wally Heider's as his Dead schedule allowed, most of Garcia's session work usually required just a day or two at the most, and it only involved hopping in his Cortina or that lemon's oddly ostentatious successor, an old Bentley he bought in mid-'70 and zipping across the Golden Gate Bridge for a few hours. There was one notable exception: when he flew to MGM Studios in Los Angeles to provide music for a scene in Zabriskie Point. The movie also used an excerpt from the Live Dead version of "Dark Star," but Garcia alone played guitar for a sensuous love scene in the desert.
"There I was on the old MGM scoring stage where they used to do Gene Kelly musicals and The Wizard of Oz just me and my electric guitar and a little amplifier," Garcia remembered. "And Antonioni's back there [in the control room] with one engineer, and the scene is playing on a huge screen, and I'm picking along, trying to get my ideas.
"I sat down and just played, and [Antonioni] said, 'Oh, I like that very, very much. That's very, very good.' And I said, 'Hey, wait a minute. C'mon, give me a chance!' And he said, 'Oh no, no. That's exactly what I want!' I wanted so badly to do something good because, well, it was Antonioni for chrissakes! He was satisfied so quickly I didn't know what to think. I was unhappy about it. I was just getting warmed up and, boom, that was it."
Still, Garcia said he liked working with Antonioni, and the experience did nothing to diminish his admiration for the director: "I like his work so much. It's so modern his sense of space and time and all that." And Garcia's seven-minute "Love Scene" worked beautifully in the film and on the soundtrack album, which also featured previously unreleased material by England's leading psychedelic band in that era, Pink Floyd. "Love Scene" also stands as Garcia's only solo electric guitar outing in a recording studio.
According to Don Hall, music supervisor on the film, Garcia actually did have a bit of time to work on the piece, first trying it on acoustic guitar, then tracking four different performances, two of which were fused into the final music for the film. "I think jerry was actually down for about three hours," Hall remembers. "And he was great to work with; everybody thought so. At the time we were working on the MGM lot people like us weren't exactly welcomethey did not like long-haired hippies. The people at MGM felt quite threatened by these 'hummers' coming in; that's a term composers used for people who don't read music. It was a strained relationship between Antonioni and MGM. There was a lot of bad feeling going around. Even at the recording studio it was a very strained situation. Jerry and I walk in. Jerry's got a flannel shirt on and he came in and through his professionalism and his natural vibe or aura or whatever you want to call it, those people loved him. By the end of the session they were calling him Jerry and jumping all over the place and doing whatever they could do for him. And these were people who heretofore did not like what was going on, didn't appreciate the music at all."
Page 188, bottom; on the cover of Workingman's Dead:
If the cover painting for Anthem of the Sun, with its wreath of flames, bottomless chasms and frightening/fantastic demon-god reflected the dense sonic wilderness of the music inside, then the cover of Workingman's Dead also spoke volumes about the music on the record. Artist Alton Kelley says that the title and concept for the cover was his: "I wanted to make it look real utilitarian," he said. "We took the picture with a little Brownie. You couldn't get that funky a photograph with a good camera. We went out intentionally with an old camera to do it. They stood on that old street corner somewhere in the Mission District [of San Francisco]. And they were bitching and griping about having to stand out in the street looking like that, getting their picture taken. That's why it came out so well! Billy got so pissed off he just went back and sat in a doorway. We were at a bus stop and he was actually going to get on the next bus!"
It ended up being the perfect photograph for the record a faded, washed out, slightly fuzzy, black-and-white long shot of the band and Robert Hunter looking like ordinary working stiffs; a little down-and-out maybe. But a far cry from glamorous rock stars, and much more as if they might be characters depicted in Hunter's songs. The only color on the cover was a warm tan, almost sepia, which added to the feeling that this group and this record were not of this time, but were, like The Band, inhabitants of the great American historical continuum. They looked like the James-Younger gang suddenly dropped into the middle of the Great Depression. The back cover featured simple ink airbrushed portraits of each band member by Stanley Mouse Garcia in his serape, Pig and Billy in cowboy hats, etc. looking as if they'd just come off the ranch; a slightly romanticized Western vision of the group. (Originally, Hunter was supposed to have a portrait on the back cover, too, but it was dropped by Kelley for design reasons, upsetting the lyricist no end: "I was quietly livid, but contained myself," Hunter recalled. "Odd man out. All right, I decided. No more pictures, damn it. ... I continued to be listed as a band member on the back of several more releases. I did my work but attended no more photo sessions. And no interviews. I'd found my niche: the invisible member of the Grateful Dead." Hunter carefully guarded his anonymity for the next seven years.)
Page 192, upper-middle; the Dead's first trip to Europe:
Actually, the Dead did go to Europe in late May 1970 for one show at the humongous Hollywood Festival, on a farm in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, in England. The Dead's arrival in England had been widely anticipated by the sizable British hippie population, and the group did not disappoint many felt that the band's long Sunday afternoon set, which showed off both their rocking and spacy sides, was the strongest of the two-day fest; at the very least it was from a completely different universe from most of the other groups on the bill, like the good-time skiffle band Mungo Jerry, the soulful blind folk singer Jose Feliciano, and a new Gothic hard rock band called Black Sabbath. Only the ostensible headliners, Traffic, were cut from the same cloth as the Dead.
Page 193, middle; jamming on the Festival Express:
One jam featured Delaney Bramlett, Garcia, bassist Kenny Gradney and the three members of Mountain all playing a lazy Delta blues. In another, Garcia, Weir, Dawson and Janis led drunken revelers through a bunch of Beatles songs, like "I've Just Seen a Face" and "You've Got to Hide Yor Love Away." Janis led a gang of players through "Goodnight Irene" and the song that became the Festival Express' poignant and somewhat ironic unofficial theme song, "Me & Bobby McGee," with its refrain, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose/ Nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free." Bob Weir brought that song into the Dead's repertoire in November 1970, and an old folk song Garcia relearned from Delaney on the trip, "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad," became a Dead staple that fall as well.
Page 196, bottom; more on the American Beauty sessions:
"What I was told at the time," Barncard says, "was that Phil wanted a good bass sound and that was going to make the difference. 'Get a good bass sound, Steve, and we've got the Grateful Dead.'" Barncard was in luck: Lesh used the same two-amp bass rig as the Airplane's Jack Casady, with whom he'd worked, and he managed to satisfy the ever-discriminating Mr. Lesh with minimal experimentation or fussing. "My audition was a song called 'Till the Morning Comes' [a relatively lightweight, Crosby, Stills & Nash-ish Hunter-Garcia tune], and a wonderful thing at least from my perspective that happened on that track was they didn't insist on using two drummers, so it was Jerry, Phil, Bill and Bobby the quartet nice clean tracking session. We did it live [in the studio, i.e. everyone playing at once], then added the vocals later."
Page 199, top; Sara Ruppenthal on Ruth Garcia:
"Every now and then she would lavish Heather with gifts huge, ornate Easter baskets, the complete set of Oz books," Sara remembers. "Once she took me out drinking with her girlfriend. Imagine these well-dressed matrons bar hopping on the cable car, getting sloshed and having a fine time. This was a new experience for me. She had a telescope set up in her living room and would scan the view of the city and the bay from her Diamond Heights perspective. She was interested in astrology. She was unlike any other grownup I'd known."