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Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band’s “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’” (Reflections with Sandy Rothman)

by John Patrick Gatta on December 24, 2016


In the write-up on the Jerry Garcia website that accompanies the download, it mentions that this was put together “with the help of Jerry’s long-time friend and collaborator Sandy Rothman.” What did that involve?
I had that idea a looong time ago, back in ’87 when we were playing in that little reunion band that we had, JGAB. As soon as we had done that song, I had this idea, “Wouldn’t it be fun to get that somewhere where people could hear it at Christmas if they wanted and not pay for it? Just have it as a free thing.” I don’t remember if it was Jerry that said, “Yeah, like a gift to the fans.”

It was just an off-the-cuff thing that we did. A seasonal song can’t really go on a CD project. I guess people do that but I certainly wouldn’t want to put a seasonal song on a regular record.
I remember talking to the family and before that it was GDM and various different entities. And every power that’s been I have gotten in touch with them and said, “Hey! Let’s do this at Christmas because we have this song.” Nobody wanted to do anything about it.

Now, Red Light Management, who the Garcia family took on, those guys got in touch with me. I got to know them a little bit through email -- Kevin Monty and Marc Allan. I did the same thing I did with the other powers that be. “We’ve got this Christmas song. We played at one of our shows and it was recorded… Could we do something with this?” This was about two years ago. I mentioned it again last spring in an email. Didn’t hear anything for awhile. Then, I got an email saying, “You know there’s a Christmas song that the JGAB did. We were thinking it would be a good idea…”

Now, did you have the original tapes?
They have access to the vault. I would assume they do. They could get ahold of all that. I have it on a DAT tape but they wanted to get it from the original DAT.  They were asking me where to go. I told them the usual sources, Jeffrey Norman or Joe Gastwirt. I’m assuming that’s where they went.

Did you then supervise it?
In a way I did because they sent what they had, which sounded pretty close to what I had and everything I remembered. The only questions there were were things like where to fade it in, where to fade it out. They were really nice about that. They forwarded to me the mp3s and honed in on the length. There was a bunch of noodling Jerry was doing on the guitar before that. I said, “You could maybe include that.”

Then, they sent me three options – one that was cropped really tight to the very beginning, one that was a little bit looser and one that was maybe a minute longer than that that had all that guitar noodling. I didn’t really have a strong opinion. I liked them all for different reasons. I told them that I was happy with any of the ones that they liked, and they ended up choosing the second tightest.

I found out from my friend, Rick, who’s here visiting and is a major collector that that show was never in Deadbase , which I didn’t realize, and now it is in a new edition. That entire show was not public. It was just one of the shows, and I thought all traders had it but evidently not.

That is surprising. That was the only time that you played that number?
I don’t recall doing it any other time. We played again a few times after that before he met his ill-fated end. We probably didn’t play any closer to Christmas then that date.

I see that in 2015 you released “The Red Fiddle & the Silver Banjo” with Brian Godchaux (http://redfiddlesilverbanjo.weebly.com/)
He’s my current musical partner. All I’ve been doing the past several years are duets with Brian. We haven’t done much with it because we’re terrible at business. (slight laugh)
We’re going to play on Haight Street on Solstice Day. We’ve been going up there maybe once a week when we can and play on the street, which is kind of cool. We’re from the era and we look like a couple of old guys who were from back then so tourists and all the denizens of Haight Street watch us, listen to us, and the kids give us money.

It’s very hard to get actual indoor gigs with what we do because banjo and fiddle is not a familiar sound in California. If we were in Charlottesville, Virginia where those Red Light guys are or some town back there or even Columbus or Cincinnati it would be different but out here the sound doesn’t resonate with people. There’s no bass, no throbbing beat. It’s not even bluegrass. It just old time fiddle and banjo music, fiddle music mostly with a banjo back up. We’re into it. We can’t do much with it. Plus, neither one of us is any good at business or getting gigs.

I’ve been playing some with other people – Butch Waller, an old friend of Jerry’s too, and his brother Bob. Butch, Bob and I have been singing together and working on some stuff. We don’t have any plan for a band necessarily, just doing it for our own amazement, singing trios basically. Get together and do that. We’ll probably have Brian come with us, maybe get a bass player, but it’s not like planning a thing. Mostly, it’s just been me and Brian the last three years.

Anything planned for 2017?
Not really. As we started this conversation about the fire, I’m in such a place where I don’t have all my stuff together in one place and I’m just waiting until I can get back into a regular life pattern again. In the meantime, I’ll probably do some traveling and play away from here. Bluegrass or anything related to bluegrass, even the sound we had in the JGAB, is not an easy sell on the west coast, especially in the Bay Area. Oregon is different, maybe Washington, but California there’s not a lot that can done. So, I do go to the Midwest some, spent some time in Ohio and played with some friends there. It didn’t amount to anything economically speaking but it’s sort of for the spirit. I just need to recharge the batteries. I also go to Japan sometimes play a lot over there.
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