Chapter 21: So Many Roads To Ease My Soul
Page 394, upper-middle; Bruce Hornsby and the Dead:
As Bruce told Steve Silberman in Skeleton Key, his Grateful Dead epiphany had occurred at his first Dead show — a 1973 concert at William and Mary College in Williamsburg: "We were in the second row, and it was a great gig. At the end of the night, Bob Weir comes up to the microphone and says, 'We had such a great time tonight, we're gonna come back and play tomorrow night for free — take out all the chairs and make it a party!' When you're 19 years old, and some sonofabitch gets up there and says that, you're sold! I thought, 'Man, these guys are for me!'"
Page 397, upper-middle; more on Vince joining the band:
It took Welnick a while to get used to the Dead's notoriously relaxed rehearsal regimen: "It was great! Do half a song, take a break, have lunch, talk about things, go over a harmony part. We'd go through most songs only once or twice, and of course if someone ran into a song while they were jamming — like some Four Tops song — everybody'd jump on that and play it. When I first went on the road, about 30 percent of the tunes were ones we'd never played in rehearsal."
Vince says he was impressed that the mood of the band "was very up; everyone seemed excited. In fact, I remember Annabelle saying that she'd seen her dad right after Brent died and he seemed really sad, and he was saying, 'I think we're sunk. Brent's gone, I can't see how we're going to do it.' And when they were auditioning other keyboard players, he wasn't too happy about how that went. Then the next time she saw him, Jerry looked all happy. And Annabelle said, 'What's up?' And he said, 'Well, I think we've found our keyboard player.'"
Page 398, lower-middle; Hornsby joins the band:
"I think one of the things I brought to the band was an ability to have a musical conversation with Garcia," Hornsby says. "Phil did that, too, but in a different register. Sometimes, though, the best thing for me to do was to lay out. I'd sit there and see everyone flailing away and I'd think, 'Man, the most musical thing I can play right now is nothing.' So often it got so thick. But when it was happening it was pretty amazing. I got chills.
"You know, a lot of my musician friends from other musical worlds I inhabited had no idea why I wanted to play with the Dead," he continues. "They never understood it for one second — 'Bruce, what the hell are you doin' with those guys?' And what I would always say was, 'Just listen to the songs, for one.' If you're not into the approach for playing the songs, that's a taste thing. I happen to be very into that approach, which is one reason I wanted to play with them. But another really good reason, which they're not given enough credit for, is their songwriting ability. 'Wharf Rat,' 'Stella Blue,' 'Brokedown Palace,' 'Terrapin.' These are great, great songs, and there are so many of them. The Dead probably have 50 or 60 great songs. I think my friends maybe couldn't get past the way they were played and sung. If you're not an aficionado and you hear a live tape, well, there's lots of out-of-tune singing and out-of-time playing and lots of clams and mistakes, and that's hard for a lot of musicians to get past. I understand that, but I also feel sorry for those people because I think they missed something that was truly great."
Page 399, middle; Garcia in Europe, '90:
Vince DiBiase says, "I was given the task of staying with Jerry when we broke away from the rest of the entourage. When we left Dusseldorf and drove to Berlin, we didn't drive by bus with everybody, so we wound up taking a van with a driver and we took the Autobahn. Everybody freaked out that we were doing this. The promoters were freaking out, Grateful Dead management was freaking out. They didn't like the fact that Jerry was not going to be traveling with the rest of the band in a foreign country."
"We rode on the bus a lot on that tour, which was obviously rare for the Grateful Dead the last few years," Hornsby recalls, "and Garcia and I would almost invariably sit together and talk about music and various things. He seemed like he was doing great. We always had lots of laughs. He was turning me on to old gospel quartet records from the '40s — people like the Golden Gate Quartet. And I was playing him the stuff that I was working on at that time with Leon Russell; just sharing a lot of music and a lot of ideas."
Page 400, lower-middle; the first session at Grisman's:
Dave Dennison, Grisman's recording engineer, says, "One afternoon I got a call from David saying, 'A friend of mine is coming over and we're interested in laying some tracks. Why don't you come over and record a little.' This wasn't unusual — David was always having interesting people come by. So I walked in and there was Jerry with his acoustic guitar — this was the dawn of the Garcia-Grisman recording sessions. They were priceless; very personal. The only people there were Jerry, David and me, so it was minus the whole Grateful Dead thing that seemed to follow Jerry everywhere. You know, at a Grateful Dead session he'd have Steve Parish and Robbie Taylor there. But David's studio was a place where Jerry could get away and relax. He was in great shape, full of life — very joyous and whimsical."
"We taped everything," Grisman said. "Jerry and I knew a lot of the same songs from years ago and we would just stumble on these old songs. We were doing these old whaling ballads such as 'Off to Sea Once More,' 'The Handsome Cabin Boy' and 'I'm My Own Grandpa.' We had both listened to an old whaling record called Blow Boys Blow, on which Ralph Rinzler played mandolin. We actually recorded 20 tunes, of which only nine appeared on the CD." (None of the whaling tunes made it to the finished CD.)
Page 404, upper-middle; more Garcia on Ken Nordine:
"Doing this record with him was an absolute thrill for me, because I can't emphasize how important this stuff was for me when I was growing up. When I told some of my really old friends I was going to be doing this, they were really excited. He's just a special guy.
"[Nordine's work in the '50s] wasn't part of the common knowledge, which made it that much more exciting for a kid — 'This is not something you hear on the radio. This is not something they play at parties.' This is something people hand around like a treasure, like, 'Hey listen to this!'"
The admiration was mutual. "Jerry is in tune with what's happening in my head," Nordine said shortly after the Devout Catalyst sessions. "It was a sound at first sight kind of thing. ... What he could do [was] hear what was being said with an empathy that really came from an unbelievable facility and heart. He could play and his music became part of the language."
The best-selling Dead-related disc released in the spring of '91 was Deadicated, an album of Dead songs covered by other artists that had been artfully assembled by Los Angeles-based film and record producer Ralph Sall. The 15 tracks on the album were as eclectic as the Dead themselves. A few were by friends of the Dead's — Bruce Hornsby & the Range ("Jack Straw"), Los Lobos ("Bertha"), Suzanne Vega ("Cassidy," "China Doll"), Warren Zevon ("Casey Jones"), Dr. John ("Deal"). Elvis Costello had been performing "Ship of Fools" (sometimes joined with "It Must Have Been the Roses") occasionally, and he turned in an exquisite version for Deadicated, with James Burton — one of Garcia's acknowledged influences — playing lead guitar. Others on the disc were real offbeat choices: The noisy alternative band Jane's Addiction, (whose leader, singer Perry Farrell, was the founder of Lollapalooza, the granddaddy of late '90s traveling music fests), transformed the gentle "Ripple" into a driving rocker with an underlying rhythm lifted from "The Other One." The Australian band "Midnight Oil" scratched and clawed through a rough version of "Wharf Rat." The Indigo Girls tackled "Uncle John's Band" and gave it a feminist twist: "Sister, well I declare ..." Two of the most effective covers were by nouveau country artists: Lyle Lovett's slow reading of "Friend of the Devil," and Dwight Yoakam's Bakersfield take on "Truckin'," which sounded as if it was meant to be heard blasting from the radio of a dusty pickup.
"Obviously I'm a big fan of the Dead," Sall commented, "but I thought a lot of their songs on record aren't definitively done. I thought if I could get the act I heard in my head into the studio to make a recording, we could get something special going. I wanted to do a thing where people who might not even know the Grateful Dead might hear someone they do know and like — Jane's Addiction, Elvis Costello ... all these people have their own fans — and appreciate the songs on there."
It's impossible to pinpoint how many non-Deadheads purchased the album (the proceeds of which were donated to Cultural Survival and the Rainforest Action Network), but the record sold several hundred thousand copies in its first year of release, making it one of the first widely successful rock tribute records.
Page 405, bottom; more about the Dead and stadiums:
However, John Scher, who was always heavily involved in planning the Dead's tours, says, "Jerry never said anything to me about not playing stadiums. I think the band in general, and Jerry in particular, were always very conscious of giving the kids their money's worth. That's why they put huge opening acts on the bill with them — Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Sting, Traffic, Steve Miller. Because they wanted to give kids more than their money's worth, and quite frankly, to make being in a stadium a better experience for everyone. They didn't like stadiums and they were trying to hold ticket prices very low. If the average stadium show was $30, they wanted theirs to be $25 because they knew that the experience musically of being in a stadium couldn't possibly be as rewarding to the audience as it was in an arena. And they knew it wasn't as rewarding in an arena as it was in a theater, but they'd long since abandoned any hope of being able to play theaters. So we added a strong second act, and did that every year. I think Jerry was content with going that way. And the truth is, the Grateful Dead played some great shows in stadiums in the '90s."
"The power that you get back from the audience in a stadium is so amazing," Bruce Hornsby says, "but I never felt the Dead really played all that differently in stadiums. To me, as an acoustic piano player, I sometimes found it frustrating because it cut off so much of the musical palette; so much of the softer side of the dynamic range. If you're playing at pianissimo level, the people in the back are cupping their hands on their ears and saying 'What are they playing?' So I always felt like you had to use the big stroke and the big chord. But with the Dead, they just played the way they always played. I remember opening for the Dead at JFK in 1989 and going up to the top of the stadium and it was incredible how soft it was up there, but there were people up there shakin' it as if it was 115 decibels. There are many, many examples of what was interesting about the Grateful Dead phenomenon, and that was one of them."
"I was in constant awe of the fact that in a performance situation in front of 70,000 people the band would still go out there and play these quiet ballads and, even more remarkable, 'space,'" Bob Bralove says. "The band's attitude was, 'We're going to go out there and not have anything planned. Nobody knows exactly where it's going to go and what it's going to be and it can be abstract or concrete or obtuse. That kind of risk in front of that-sized crowd is phenomenal.
I remember Jerry saying to me once, 'You know, I kind of like the part in "space" when the audience turns around and wonders, "What am I doing here?"' I thought it was great he could appreciate the irony of that."
Page 410, middle; more on the Bill Graham memorial concert:
Mauve banners hanging over the speaker stacks on either side of the stage were painted with words adapted from "Brokedown Palace": "Fare you well, fare you well/ We love you more than words can tell." After the Brass Band circled the Polo Fields on the back of a flatbed truck, leading anyone who wanted to follow them in a New Orleans-style funeral procession, a parade of acts paid tribute to Graham onstage: Jackson Browne, Los Lobos (who played "Bertha"), Bobby McFerrin, Santana, Tracy Chapman, and in their first appearance together in several years, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. For the final hour and a half, the stage belonged to the Grateful Dead, who were playing free in the park for the first time since 1975. They rolled through four numbers, then, inexplicably, were joined by John Fogerty, who sang a handful of his songs before the Dead took over again. The Dead concluded their regular set by "completing" the version of "Sugar Magnolia" they had started at the Coliseum a week earlier, with Weir charging through the "Sunshine Daydream" coda as nearly every person in the park danced ecstatically and generally whooped it up — a fitting tribute to a man who helped launch the San Francisco dancehall scene 25 years earlier. When the band came back for their encore, Neil Young was with them, and he led the group through a stirring and emotional version of "Forever Young." Then the Dead blasted through "Touch of Grey" to end the day on a hopeful note. The crowd filed quietly out of the park to the soothing strains of "Greensleeves," the theme that used to signal the end of the evening at the Fillmore and Winterland.
Page 412, upper-middle; the writing of "So Many Roads":
In his book Box of Rain Hunter tells this story about the song's genesis: "One afternoon, Jerry was playing some structured changes on piano. Figuring they might be forgotten otherwise, I clicked on my tape recorder. Ten years later I found the tape and listened to it, liked it, and set these words to it. Listening to the pitifully recorded and time-degraded tape, Jerry protested that, although he liked the words, his changes were not very good and unfinished besides. This didn't seem to be the case and I requested that he at least give it a run through. The result was one of the better-received new GD songs and one that almost got away."
When he taught the song to the band at Club Front, Garcia told his band mates he wanted it to have a groove similar to "Werewolves of London," and added, "I want something that isn't off in the really folky space, like 'Fennario.' I don't want it to be that far over in that world, but it isn't totally rock 'n' roll, either; it's somewhere in between."
Page 413, bottom; more Hornsby on Garcia's guitar-playing:
"Another thing that set Jerry apart from most other guitar players in the rock idiom is most players who solo basically solo over the scale. Rock music is very diatonic music. It's pretty much in one scale: E-A-B. What Garcia did was play through the changes, like a jazz player, as opposed to just playing blues licks or scales that would fit through all the chords. It's a situation where if you take the chords away and you just hear the solo, if you play the way most guys play, you don't know what the chords are. With Garcia, you would be able to hear what the chords were through his melodic line; he would outline it with thirds and sevenths. I went to music school and got a degree and I learned it that way. He obviously didn't, but I think he did make a study of it — he knew what he was doing; it was not completely intuitive. It's a question of knowing your instrument. And Jerry really knew his way around the guitar.
Page 414, upper-middle: Garcia's art work:
So why do them? "Part of it's to wind down," he said. "Part of it is to take up some of the nervous energy — I have a lot of natural energy. I don't sleep very much and I find that I have lots of hours in a day. It's sort of meditative for me at times to just work on something. It's kind of reflexive. I don't think about it very much. But I find if there's material around I will automatically draw. It's not like automatic writing or channeling or something, but it's very nonobjective in the sense that I don't have any axe to grind. I really don't have an agenda of any kind artistically speaking. But my drawing, particularly the fast things — I like to work with a brush; I don't use pens that much — they're a lot like my playing in the sense that I just start. I don't have an idea usually; I just start and then things start to emerge and I go with what starts to emerge. I just develop it. It's quite a lot the way I approach music; it's very similar."
Garcia also said that he didn't hang his own art at home and noted, "The first time I walked into a gallery and saw all these things, I felt very exposed. In a strange way, I don't think of myself as being emotionally very attached to any of this stuff, but I find there is a part of me that keeps wanting to do things to them. 'Gee, I'd like to add a little ... ' I think if I were exposed to them very much I would keep working on them forever."
Page 417, upper-middle; Garcia's recovery:
"After that collapse I hung out with him quite a bit at his house in Nicasio," says Bob Bralove, "and I saw tons of people in various therapeutic capacities coming in and out of the house. Manasha really had something going there, trying all these things to get him healthy again. And I guess it worked.
"I spent a lot of time working with him on his computer art and I also brought up a lot of movies," he continues. "We set up a system at his house where he and I would improvise to old silent movies, things like Nosferatu. I wasn't in that great shape, practicewise [Bralove is a fine keyboardist], but he was always very generous when we'd play. He would look for the place for me to make music in, to help me open up. He was a master at that. And I thought he was sounding really good."
Page 419, lower-middle; reconnecting with Wally Hedrick:
Wally Hedrick, who had taught both Jerry and Barbara separately, years apart, at the San Francisco Art Institute, remembers, "One day, out of the blue, I got a call from Barbara and she said, 'I'm going to get married to Jerry and he told me he wants to see you.' I wasn't even aware that they knew each other. So they came over to my house one afternoon and it was so great to see them. He was like a teenager around her; he seemed really happy. We had a party, and Jerry and I played some music together, which we'd never done before. I played mandolin, he played guitar. We talked about his art and he told me that he was sorry he'd never had a real studio — he was overwhelmed when he saw mine. I got the impression he wanted to have a studio and take more time getting into his art. he was really enjoying that then."
Later Garcia gave Hedrick a mandolin. "He took pity on me," Hedrick says with a chuckle. "My lifestyle is rather low compared to his and it was a beautiful gesture on his part. The irony is that the mandolin he gave me is a mandolin I had sold about 20 years ago when I lived in San Geronimo [in West Marin] and needed some money." The buyer then was none other than David Grisman, who later gave it to Garcia to give to Hedrick. "As soon as I opened the case I recognized it," Hedrick says. "It was a wonderful moment."