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The Relix Interview: Jerry Garcia (Part II)

Jeff Tamarkin | August 09, 2017

As we reach the end of the Days Between, we present the second part of our 1980 Relix Interview with Jerry Garcia, where the Grateful Dead guitarist discusses the band's studio process and much more. To read part one, click here.

Are there any particular Dead albums that you look back on and are embarrassed by?

Jerry Garcia: All of them! To some extent. Well, there’s moments on all of them that I feel good about and moments that I feel bad about. But by now, I’m so far away from the experience of the albums that I no longer remember what it was that used to annoy me so much about some of the records. Sometimes I have to listen to them again and try to reconstruct it, and then I remember, oh yeah, that’s right, I meant to do another guitar solo on that one. I didn’t mean to keep that one. Things like that. They’re so minor. I never felt that we were a very good recording band. I think we’re just starting to get accomplished at that.

Do you see record making as a necessary evil?

JG: Well, it’s the only other alternative. What do you do with music? You either perform it or you record it. So, there it is, and the fact that there happens to be records and that we happen to be playing music is the only relationship. Otherwise, records are not really an appropriate forum for what we do. For one thing, the time element is not quite right. Our short songs are seven or eight minutes long.

About five years ago, there was some talk about just publicly releasing that huge vault of tapes that the collectors would die to get their hand on. Is that at all feasible as an alternative?

JG: Well, maybe, but the problem is that we don’t have the time to administrate things like that. We have neither the time nor the manpower to do that. So, it’s possible that at some time or another we’ll figure out some way to do that. It doesn’t pay to make real time copies. It takes too long, for one thing. And it wouldn’t work to try to go through and edit things and make discs and pressing out of them, because they would all have to be kind of limited edition things. So we haven’t really figured out a way to handle that, or to deal with it. Nothing that makes any sense. So that remains an archive more than a resource.

How would you compare the San Francisco music scene of today to the scene during its heyday in the late 60’s?

JG: It’s hot. It’s actually hotter now. I think there are more talented groups and better players now then there were back in the old days. It just doesn’t have the big spotlight of publicity or of national attention focused on it. But it’s a very active scene. There’s that little magazine that comes out there, BAM, and there’s a lot of work around the Bay Area. There’s like 40 or 50 clubs that are open seven nights a week. There are some of the smaller record labels that are local to the Bay Area. It’s a pretty vital scene.

Can you see there ever being another Haight type scene?

No, I don’t think so. I think the world is too paranoid for that much looseness to start to crop up anywhere, unless it’s very secretive. But, really, a lot of America is sort of transformed into some sort of extension of that. There are a lot of little rural pockets. Like, we played up in Maine to all these hippies who ran off to live on the land, and have their little truck gardens and go fishing and all that. They’re basically living that other kind of life. We’re sort of the shock troops of that idea. They’re the support, the country cousins or something like that.

When you look back at some of the excesses in which the Dead indulged in the mid-‘70s-the huge sound system, the stadium concerts, the record company you had-what do you think of all that now?

JG: Well, they were good tries. We had to try. And we certainly learned a lot.

Why didn’t that all work out?

JG: For a variety of reasons. We didn’t have the time or the output. For a record company to work, you have to have accounts going with distributors. In other words, they won’t pay you for the records that are coming in. When you send them the new batch of records, they pay you for the ones you already sold. So there’s this long credit overlap. And a lot of times they don’t pay. A lot of times, they burn you. And we got involved with records with uncannily perfect timing, just the year when polyvinyl chloride went up seven million percent and oil shortages started to break in heavy. And that same year was the year we got involved. So all of a sudden here we were having to dicker for virgin vinyl, which there is no more.

Last year, the music business went through a supposed economic slump. How did that affect the Dead?

It didn’t affect us at all. Shit, we’re booming. The rest of the world is going to pieces and we’re doing fine. 

Are you influenced by any of the trends that are around? Do you listen to the radio?

JG: Sure. I listen to everything.

Anything particular that’s turned you on lately?

JG: Just the stuff that hit everybody. I like The Wall a lot. Everybody likes that. I like Elvis Costello. I’m a big Elvis Costello fan. I like Warren Zevon a lot. I mean, I’ve heard good stuff from almost everybody, just like I’ve heard bad stuff from almost everybody. I don’t think there’s anybody who’s consistently putting out great stuff, time after time after time. But everybody’s got something to say and there’s moments in all of this that are real excellent. I go for the moments. I keep listening till I hear something that knocks me out. Dire Straits-I love that band. It’s hard not to like that band.