The Rebirth Of Phil Lesh (Relix Revisited)
By the summer of 1995, it had been nearly six years since the Grateful Dead released a new studio recording. During those final years, though, the Grateful Dead introduced several songs that remained unrecorded such as “Days Between,” “Lazy River Road” and “Childhood’s End.” Lesh revealed that there was an attempt to work on a new release by the band that was left unfinished at the time of Garcia’s death.
Unfortunately these songs may never see the light of day. “I personally don’t feel that there’s anything from those sessions that is worth using,” Lesh disclosed. “It’s kind of like, there’s a famous composer named Gustav Mahler, and he died before he finished his tenth symphony. Four or five people have done completed versions, completions of which have been performed and recorded. And as good as any of them are, none of them could ever approach what the composer himself would have done with it. So there’s no way that any of that Grateful Dead material, no matter who we brought in to sweeten it up, would be equivalent to what Jerry would have done with it. I mean, there are no lead vocals on his songs, and his guitar playing is just rudimentary on all of the tracks. I personally don’t feel that there’s any point in releasing those songs from those recordings. So I don’t think that it’s ever gonna happen myself,” Lesh explained, which may leave the door open for the release of new interpretations of those songs.
“Any of my tunes, I would feel comfortable about that, and I’m sure Bobby would be interested in taking some of his stuff and recording with Ratdog,” Lesh continued. “In fact, he may already have done so because they’re in the studio working on a record right now. Bobby’s really pleased with it. He said that he has 20 new tunes. So it gives him a lot of latitude to choose from.”
Two years ago, Lesh assembled a CD of vintage Grateful Dead recordings, Fallout From The Phil Zone (GDM), that celebrated the early music of the legendary band. Many Deadheads wonder if Lesh has any more gems to mine from the band’s legendary vaults. “Well, the trouble is in the difficulty in finding the gems,” Lesh explained. “At least two or three of those tunes were things that I had in my head to release. ‘Viola Lee Blues’ is one. ‘In The Midnight Hour,’ from Rio Nido, I knew it was a classic the day we did it. And it’s unfortunate that as far as that one’s concerned, we had to put it out in mono because the vocals were all on one channel and the whole band was on another because that’s the way it was done in those days. We didn’t have mixers. Bear (Stanley Owsley), the guy who actually recorded it, has developed a way to mix those things together, so that they’re in a kind of stereo. So, hopefully, we’ll find more of that stuff. That was one of the few Grateful Dead tapes that I had in my possession for the longest time. I actually kept it because I loved it so much. I didn’t want it to get away.”
As far as re-mastering the older Grateful Dead albums using new state-of-the-art technology, Lesh remains unimpressed. “They (Warner Brothers Records) keep coming back to us and saying, ‘Well why don’t we re-master everything for HDCD or why don’t we re-master everything for DVD?’” he reported. “To me, personally, that’s just a device to get people to spend more money for things that they already have that won’t be enhanced that much because they were not recorded at 96K sampling rate. It’s analog material, and I don’t think that it can be enhanced that greatly by transferring it to this new media. It’s just an excuse for the record companies to make more money.”
Lesh is quick to name his favorite Grateful Dead records quite readily. “There’s one that stands out above them all and that’s +Anthem Of The Sun_ ,” he revealed. “ Live Dead is right up there, too. I also enjoyed Blues For Allah .”
Of future recording projects, Lesh mentioned an ambitious undertaking that is tentatively entitled Keys To The Rain, where he plans to link the themes of Grateful Dead songs to symphony orchestra. “It’s kind of strange,” Lesh explained eagerly. “It was suggested to me that I do this, and I rejected it out of hand at first. And then I started thinking about it. If it’s going to be done, then I should be the one to do it. What I’m doing is taking material, as they say melodic material, chord sequences, rhythmic riffs, from twenty-nine Grateful Dead songs, and I’m weaving them into a tapestry that has seven movements and is going to last, forty-five, forty-eight minutes for symphony orchestra—no singing, just melodic ideas. It’s going to be me developing my version of Grateful Dead music. I’d love to have (renowned San Francisco Symphony Conductor) Michael Tilson Thomas do it because he has rock ‘n’ roll in his heart. When I finish it, I am going to show it to him, and if he likes it, maybe he’ll do it.”
Lesh acknowledged the problems that amplified music has in symphony performances, as he learned years before when the Grateful Dead attempted to blaze new musical trails with disastrous results. He stressed that the new project will avoid amplified instruments. “Any single electric instrument is louder than the whole symphony orchestra,” he said. “And when you have a whole electric band, forget it. It’s just going to be visual. We played with a full orchestra in Buffalo, 25 years ago. Lucas Foss was the conductor in Buffalo at that time. Any one of us could have drowned them out, and they were going full blast. Actually, they had two rock bands and the orchestra. It was one of those things where it had no structure to it at all. The orchestra had their part, and they would do whatever the conductor told them at any given moment. He wanted them to stand up and shout, and some of them wouldn’t do it. [Phil, in a Russian accent] ‘For this, I went to Julliard?’”
There are plans for the future other than recording projects. For instance, there was much said in the media last year when the city of San Francisco, in conjunction with the Grateful Dead, decided to honor the venerable band with a museum and cultural landmark. Lesh revealed that the project is still very much alive and closer to fruition. “We’re actually moving on that,” he disclosed. “It’s not going to be so much a museum as a gathering place for the Deadhead community. We want Deadheads to be able to come to a place and find others of their kind there. Just like the Haight Ashbury was in a way. We want to make this the kind of place, a single building where there would be performances, and if there’s not a performance that night, there might be an open mic kind of scene where people can come and do their own performances.”
The dimensions and location of the structure are important issues as well. “We’ve talked about various sizes—the biggest is about 55,000 square feet,” Lesh announced. “That would involve a whole lot of multimedia areas and museums and stuff like that. I personally would rather see a place for the Bay Area Music Archives and a few offices for our foundation, the Unbroken Chain Foundation, the Rex Foundation and a good-sized performance space. Something that’s in the middle between the Warfield Theater and the Henry J. Kaiser because there is nothing that size in the city or even anywhere around. We’re hoping to get something like that going.”
Since Phil Lesh’s miraculous recovery from near death, he has continued to bring people together. His good-natured spirit and unending relationship with the Deadhead community has rekindled a flame that will be hard to extinguish. As Lesh renews his life with the support of his wife, children and many friends, he remains humble in his approach to life and dedicated in his commitment to helping others. “When I was sick, when everybody communicated with each other to pray for my well being and my health and rapid recovery, it brought them closer together as a community,” he declared. “I think that, ultimately, what is going to be the most magnificent side effect of my whole experience is the fact that those people came closer together because of my illness.”
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
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