The Thrill Lives On: David Grisman Reflects on Jerry Garcia
Between 1972 and 1982, Jerry Garcia put out five studio albums. It would be nearly a decade before he entered a studio to record material with his name on the cover of the final product. (In the interim, there were plenty of live Garcia releases to satiate fans.)
When that new studio album came in 1991, another name bore equal footing next to Garcia’s: David Grisman. For those relatively new to the scene, the mandolinist’s name was unfamiliar. For older Deadheads in the know, it was a pleasant blast from the past: Grisman and Garcia had played together in the late ‘60s and eventually formed a short-lived band in the early ‘70s called Old & In The Way, which included bassist John Kahn, guitarist/singer Peter Rowan and legendary bluegrass fiddler Vassar Clements.
While Garcia had deep roots in acoustic music, certain demands didn’t always allow him to pursue it as much as he would have liked to throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s; though, there were sporadic indulgences both with the Grateful Dead and with his various solo projects that revealed his continued fondness for the medium.
In his reconnection with Grisman, Garcia found a consistent and reliable outlet for string music that he hadn’t had in decades. This was, in part, due to the fact that the two men lived close to each other; it was also due to the fact that Grisman, at the time, had just launched his own Acoustic Disc record label and built a studio in the basement of his home, which made for easy access to a high quality recording environment.
During the next five years, the two would cut more than forty sessions in the studio to yield six more albums. (Their story is poignantly captured in the documentary Grateful Dawg, directed by Grisman’s daughter Gillian, who shot much of the footage with Justin Kreutzmann, son of Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann.)
On the eve of what would have been Jerry Garcia’s seventieth birthday, Acoustic Disc is releasing a new high-definition version of the seminal Garcia/Grisman debut along with a complete album of alternative takes following the same sequence. These titles, back catalog and forthcoming releases featuring Garcia are available at AcousticOasis.com.
In honor of his late friend’s birthday, Grisman reflects on his long-standing musical adventures with Garcia and their friendship.
There are conflicting reports about when and where you and Jerry first met. Can you confirm that it was in West Grove, Pa., in the parking lot of a Bill Monroe show in 1964?
Yes. 1964. Sunset Park, West Grove, Pa.—a great place where you could hear live bluegrass music on Sunday afternoons during the summer months. We would jam in the parking lot in between sets with local musicians and other urban pickers. I saw all the bands there back then and that’s where Jerry and I met.
In 1965, you visit California to hang with Jerry and other musically likeminded folks. At the time, The Warlocks—soon to be the Grateful Dead—were getting their footing. They made enough of an impression on you that when you returned to New York, you told Izzy Young about them and he relayed it in his Sing Out column “Frets and Frails,” giving the Dead their first piece of national press. Given that most readers will never read what Izzy wrote, what was your impression of them overall and of seeing Jerry in that electric context?
I was impressed by Jerry and The Warlocks as they were incorporating bluegrass, old-time, and other “rootsy” influences and sensibilities into a rock and roll context. They were also having a lot of fun doing it. It was definitely a departure from most of what was going on at the time and a lot less slick, down-to-earth music with electric instruments. They were playing high school swimming pool parties!
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