The Thrill Lives On: David Grisman Reflects on Jerry Garcia
When you and Jerry reconnected in 1990, it had been 15 years since you two had made any music together. From your perspective, what inspired or catalyzed him to rekindle that relationship?
We met at a recording session for Pete Sears, and had a long talk. Sometime after that, I received an award from the Rex Foundation in the mail—the Grateful Dead’s charitable arm. [It was] the Ralph J. Gleason award [which is] given to a musician every year who they consider to have made a contribution to music. I heard that it was Jerry who recommended me and I called him up to thank him.
When we spoke, he expressed an interest in getting together to play. He came over to my house and walked in and said, “What we should do is make a record. It will give us an excuse to get together.” I said that I just built a studio in my basement and started my own record label, Acoustic Disc.
He said, “Well, we’ll do it for your label.” I said, “When do you want to start?” and he said, “Now.” So we went downstairs and I set up some microphones and called a young engineer who was looking to work in my studio, Dave Dennison. Before Dave arrived, I had recorded a free improvisation—the first music we played in about 15 years. That was the start of our collaboration that lasted until two weeks before Jerry passed away, when we recorded his last session to my knowledge.
Throughout the next five years, you two recorded 40-plus sessions at your home studio not to mention live dates. While there’s been a healthy amount released—seven albums and a smattering of tunes on various collections—and a forthcoming album of alternative takes of Garcia/Grisman, what else is waiting in the wings?
Well, I plan to issue expanded versions of all the projects with extra takes that have never been released—all in hi-definition—starting with the first Garcia/Grisman album, with its companion alternate collection with great previously un-issued takes of every tune. There are also the live shows that we played together, but I don’t have copies of most of that. It was great for us to get together in those last years for Jerry, but as I mentioned, my focus is on playing music now with my Quintet, Sextet, Bluegrass Experience band and FolkJazz Trio.
During the years, you’ve recorded your original compositions with some of the best guitar players in the business. In what ways did Jerry bring something different to your music and compositions that you didn’t hear or feel elsewhere? Any particular examples?
I’ve always tried to keep each musical collaboration in its own separate space, with its own repertoire. So, for the most part, the original music that Jerry and I played was written on the spot with the two of us in mind. We wrote “Grateful Dawg” together and I wrote “Dawg’s Waltz,” “Dawgnation” and “Arabia” with Jerry sitting right there. So they were definitely inspired by his presence and conceived with him in mind. Playing with great musicians has always been an inspiration for me and that’s the way it worked with Garcia. He was one-of-a kind and a true friend. I think of him every day.
This August would’ve marked Jerry’s 70th birthday. What do you envision that he might be up to if he were still with us today?
Well, Jerry once remarked to me that we’d play together for the rest of our lives and though he’s been gone for 15 years, I feel he’s still here. Hopefully I’m keeping a small part of him alive in what I play, and we can only surmise what kind of music he’d be making now. I’m truly the “Grateful Dawg.” Happy Birthday, Spud.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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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.
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