First of all, I'd like to start off with a big thanks from all
the Deadheads out there for all the uncountable hours of tasty
Grateful Dead nuggets you've provided to us for all these years!
And thanks again for your recent role in helping get out the
Box Set, So
was a privilege to work on that and a thrill to boot.
did it feel like to have the responsibility to go into the vault
with the idea of coming out with a definitive Grateful Dead
record, so to speak, vs. your history as collector and show
really was an honor to be selected for it. It wasn't a huge
responsibility or anything because it seemed like well, it was
a responsibility, but it wasn't like a big scary thing because
there were two other guys -- three other guys on the team if
you count Dick Latvala, who was more or less a part of our
team -- all of whom are good friends and know each other and
trust each other's judgment. So I knew that it wasn't going
to be like a big struggle. It was great -- I mean, gee whiz,
me and a couple of my favorite people on earth got paid to hang
out together and listen to Grateful Dead music.
can't beat that! Did the process for you, in terms of picking
songs, differ than how you go about it for your own show?
threshold of acceptability is higher for a CD, a box set, then
it is for a radio show. I get away with a lot looser performances
for the radio show. Things had to be spectacular.
We weren't necessarily looking for the very best performance
ever, because that's completely an impossible task, but really
good and representative and meaningful selections spread out
over the thirty years.
also work in longer forms for the radio
show. I can play a 45-minute set, or I can play an entire
show broken up over a few weeks. Here, we were looking for that
isolated gem and the occasional sequence of songs. It was a
very different thing, sort of more granular, and again the quality
threshold had to be a lot higher.
did you come to some of those decisions, like picking a jam
as opposed to the whole song, particularly the jam from 9-18-90
out of "Foolish Heart" ?
one thing, we listened to a lot of versions of Foolish Heart
and could not find one that was acceptable for the set. There
were a couple that came close, but it was one of those songs
that never really -- or rarely -- was a real stellar performance.
Jerry botched the words a lot of times. Actually we heard on
a rehearsal tape, we heard him talking about it. They were in
a rehearsal and were working on a bunch of other songs, and
said 'are we gonna try Foolish Heart?' and Jerry said 'No, we're
only gonna work on new stuff in this session here'. Then he
went on to say, 'ya know, something about that song just never
quite came together' and he mentioned that the sentiments included
in the lyrics didn't resonate completely with him.
that, in a way, helped justify our decision not to use one.
We also, very very early in our process, decided that we wanted
to do some things that were isolated jams -- and Phil Lesh agreed
with us completely on that. He really loved that idea and made
it very clear to us that we were encouraged to do that. One
of the criticisms that we took from Deadheads before the thing
was even finished was this whole thing of 'How dare you take
a song out of context. It only is valid in the context of the
set.' And we said, 'First of all, that's not true -- or at least
it's an arguable thing. There is a lot to be said for presenting
an entire Grateful Dead concert as a piece of work, as a complete
thing, but there's no tradition that says that that dogma is
the main thing.' All of their live albums have been edited,
and things have been taken out of context. Our mission here
was to come up with a thirty-year overview, and it wasn't possible
to have unbroken jams.
criticized us for doing Eyes of the World and Estimated Prophet
separately rather than as an Estimated>Eyes. Our answer to that
was, 'Just because Estimated>Eyes was a cliché combination for
a number of years, that doesn't necessarily mean that that's
the only valid way to present those songs'. My first-cut short
list of stuff to include on this Box included the 10/19/74 Eyes
of the World, on which the other guys all agreed with me, so
that precluded an Estimated>Eyes. We did not feel obligated
to put things in their "natural" sequences, because it wasn't
practical. Our original thought -- I guess I'm sort of rambling
here, but our original thought was, we were going to design
each CD around a long jam.
it would have been a fun way to go. There'd be shorter pieces,
some studio stuff, then a big live jam -- which everybody agrees
is the heart of what Grateful Dead music was about -- and then
maybe some shorter pieces after.
To that end, we had things like the 6/9/77 Help on the Way>
Slipknot>Franklin's Tower which was also on my initial short
list. Everybody really liked the idea, but it wound up being
really really long, and there was some debate as to whether
it was the best version, and some other reasons why it didn't
wind up on the Box.
wanted to make this thing work in the context of existing body
of released material. Which is to say, all the Dick's Picks
and live vault releases and Live Dead were taken into account
as we made our selections. We didn't need to have a Lovelight,
because the one on Live Dead is such a peak and we also figured
that the Dark Star>St.Stephen>Eleven thing works so well that
we didn't feel we needed to replicate that in here. I lobbied
hard for the Dark Star>China Cat>Eleven that we wound up using
because it was really a great moment in the compositional history
of that stuff.
was a transitional version of China Cat. They were in the process
of changing it from the key of E to the key of G, and so you
hear an interesting performance that's bracketed by wonderful
jams and it tells you what China Cat Sunflower was and what
it was going to become. You can go listen to the China Cat>Rider
on Europe '72, or any of the other ones that are on Dick's Picks.
The one on the June '74 Dick's Picks is definitive -- that right
there is the China Cat>Rider, so we didn't feel like we needed
to include a China Cat>Rider in the Box Set. You know what I
thing, in a way, could be said to be sort of the grout between
the tiles of the Grateful Dead's mosaic.
made reference in the liner notes to all the other stuff. We
took heat from people because we didn't include this jam or
would have chosen a 1977 Scarlet>Fire, except the 1990 one was
so great, so concise and so necessary, and so indicative of
what was going on with the Grateful Dead in the 1990's with
the MIDI instruments and stuff like that. We decided on that
one, knowing there would be plenty of Scarlet>Fires available.
mention each of you had your own 'short list'. Were you thinking
of certain songs which should be represented vs. the particular
version of a song?
and no. We didn't make a list - we didn't say, either way, 'O.K.
it's got to have all the big hits in it'. We never sat down
and said 'What U.S. Blues are we going to use? What Truckin'?
What Touch of Grey?' In fact, it's not really by design or intention
that the sort of most popular or best known radio hits aren't
included. It just worked out that way.
were not under any marching orders from the record company to
make it any kind of greatest hits package. We were instructed
to put the Grateful Dead's best foot forward.
I wrote a little manifesto which was endorsed by everybody involved
and which we wound up not really sticking to because what we
did was in the grand tradition of the Grateful Dead, we let
the situation tell us what it wanted. It was a collaborative
and largely improvisational process. Everybody threw ideas into
the pot, we'd kick them around. Some decisions were easy to
make. Some decisions took a little arm-twisting. Some decisions
took a little persuasion. Ultimately, we were all pretty satisfied
with what we came up with.
so were the fans!
the most part. Yeah, we've been thrilled with the feedback for
the most part. I was pretty sure that Death Don't Have No Mercy
from '89 was going to be on there and nobody really disagreed
with me about that because that was one of those things where
we could show the evolution. There's one on Live Dead from '69,
the one from '89 had one of the greatest Garcia guitar solos
of all time and it showcased everybody's vocals, you know, Brent
sang, Bob sang, and Jerry sang.
was sort of notorious for having these momentary enthusiasms.
He'd call up and go 'I have just found the coolest version of
(yadda yadda) ever!' I'd listen to it and go 'Steve, I'm not
so sure about that' and then the next day he'd have forgotten
all about it and be onto something else. It was pretty cute.
a way, I guess I was the "bad cop" for quality, because I'm
the musician in the group and have the most experience of picking
things for broadcast and all that. Blair and Steve have been
more fans and listeners and music lovers and I've been much
more involved in the sort of critical process of choosing what
works. So I did a little bit of education on them.
fact there was a time when we were recruiting help from various
brain trusts, the Compendium
Mailing List, Jeff Tiedrich, Michael Getz, and a whole bunch
of really nice old time dead fans, the guys who wrote a lot
of the essays for that book. I would call on them and say 'We're
looking for a Terrapin and we'd like your opinions.' And I would
say 'Put it on and listen to it, and the minute Jerry blows
the words, stop and move on to the next one. Here are the things
we're looking for: the mix has to be good; the vocal performance
has to be flawless or very near flawless; and the instrumental
has to have the energy.' All the stuff you want in a Grateful
Dead performance, and a little tidier and neater than you're
willing to accept otherwise. And we got some great ideas from
people out there.
finally wound up with a Terrapin that Blair chose. I went through
web page, picked out a bunch of sets that had Terrapins in them
and handed them over to Blair. He went though them and found
the one that wound up being the winner.
was one night Blair and Steve and I sat here in my living room
listening to every version of Liberty
we could find.
you pulling from your own tapes?
I have a fairly substantial stash from the time when Liberty
was a standard in the repertoire, so I have probably 25 performances
of it. We went through this stack of DATs, and we'd do that
same thing - we'd put it on, we'd listen to it for a while,
something would go wrong, we'd cringe and hit rewind, and put
another one in.
must have been a good day.
was hard in a way, because we're listening to this great song
and we're not hearing a perfect performance of it. It's a sobering
thing, really, because while it's a truism that clean concise
performances have never been a core value of Grateful Dead music,
you'd still like to think that things were a lot more together
then they were. Listening to a relentless stream of Jerry losing
his place in the song, it had sort of a depressing quality to
it at times.
at the same time, the energy was great. A lot of those exuberant
happy versions of Liberty just weren't clean enough to be enshrined
in the permanent medium of a boxed set. It was a little bit
of a challenge to find the right performances, and actually
in the case of Liberty we wound up choosing a rehearsal performance.
John Cutler later substituted a version we hadn't heard. He
had a few more up his sleeve that we hadn't been turned onto
to and which turned out great. I mean I like the studio performance,
but the live one that John found is really killer. We totally
approved of his substitution on that.
is your history with Steve Silberman and Blair Jackson? How
long do you guys go back?
and I met in 1976 or '77. I started contributing to a Bay Area
music magazine called BAM. Blair was an editor at that magazine,
and we met very early on in my career there. I think he was
still a student at UC Berkeley. We've been friends ever since.
He became the editor of BAM, and I was a Contributing Editor
there for many years. In the mid-80's I helped him get the job
he has now, which is Managing Editor of Mix
Magazine. I had gone over there as Music Editor, and when
they were looking for a Managing Editor, Blair was looking to
step up, I helped him get that job. Just by coincidence, we
became neighbors: my wife and I bought a house on their street
in 1993. So we've been friends for over 20 years and neighbors
for half a dozen.
first met Steve in the mid-80's. I remember the first time seeing
him was at a book signing I did on Haight Street. I don't know
why he made an impression on me then, and I don't remember when
I first met him face-to-face. Might have been when he was working
dragged him into cyberspace. I persuaded him to check out the
Well. He really took to it like a duck to water. (By the
way, I also claim responsibility for dragging John
Perry Barlow into cyberspace. I had no idea he was going
to wind up being the Emperor of Cyberspace that he became for
a while there.) So Steve and I hang out together online all
the time. So we've all known each other for upwards of 10 years,
and it was extremely cool that we got invited together to do
the boxed set.
a great team! Speaking of the Well, how did you come into that
were online for years before there was a Well. The Well went
online in 1985. It was started by the Whole Earth Review People.
Mary Eisenhart, who was the editor of MicroTimes
Magazine at the time, and a major Deadhead and a very good friend
of mine, had been talking up this whole notion of online communities
to me and another friend of ours, Bennett Faulk, who's a columnist
at MicroTimes and another serious Deadhead scholar.
idea was just kind of floating around for a while, and then
at one of the shows at Henry J Kaiser in November of '85 it
seems we all got hit by the same lightning bolt at the same
time. We wound up at a party together after that show, and Mary
and I sort of went off in this corner and started talking about
this thing -- 'Why don't we start an online community for Deadheads?
It's like a perfect subject for that.' She loved the idea and
suggested we go to the Well. It was six months old at the time,
and they were offering free accounts to people who had interesting
ideas for community.
out Philzone.com's special AudioZone
featuring highlights from all three Broken Angels' shows
with Phil Lesh.
Love to Turn You On - An Interview with David Gans"
Conducted by R.Lucente,
December 3, 1999 - Oakland, CA.
David Gans photos & foward by Robert Lucente. ©1999.
All rights reserved. www.philzone.com
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and Fun, Inc. for providing the audio
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