Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead Hour no. 421

Week of October 14, 1996

Guest: David Nelson

David Nelson Band, Keeper of the Key

Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band 1987 (unreleased)

Black Mountain Boys 3/6/64

David Nelson Band, Limited Edition

Jerry Garcia 11/62 College of San Mateo

High Country w/ Jerry Garcia 2/69 Matrix, SF

Grateful Dead (unreleased 1969 studio recording)

Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band 1987 (unreleased)

David Nelson is one of Jerry Garcia's oldest musical pals. They played together in folk and bluegrass bands on the San Francisco Peninsula in the early 1960s, along with Robert Hunter, Eric Thompson, and others. Nelson was a founding member of the New Riders of the Purple Sage, a pioneering country-rock band fronted by singer-songwriter John "Marmaduke" Dawson and featuring Jerry on pedal steel guitar. Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart played with the NRPS at first, too, and the Dead's engineer/producer Bob Matthews played bass for a while.

The New Riders toured with the Dead in 1970 and 1971, presenting marathon shows that opened with acoustic sets by GD/NRPS combinations, followed by NRPS and then the electric GD. The Riders became successful enough on their own that it was necessary to become an independent band; pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage, who was playing with Ian and Sylvia when they all took that "Might as Well" ride on the Festival Express in 1970, signed on with the New Riders, joining the core of Marmaduke, David Nelson, bassist Dave Torbert (who later played in Kingfish with Bob Weir) and drummer Spencer Dryden (late of the Jefferson Airplane).

Nelson left the New Riders in 1982. At Jerry's request, he served as Bob Dylan's guitar technician on the Dylan-Dead tour in the summer of 1987, and Jerry recruited him for the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, which opened for the electric JGB at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in New York City.

In the early 1990s, Nelson hit the road with the ridiculously great and tragically underappreciated David Nelson Band, with bassist Bill Laymon, guitar/pedal steel genius Barry Sless, keyboardist Mookie Siegel, and various drummers. That's what was happening when Nelson appeared on KPFA on July 31, 1996, an edited version of which became Grateful Dead Hour #421, originally broadcast the week of October 14, 1996. Nelson brought some recordings of his early days with Garcia, Hunter, and company, as well as some unreleased live material form the JGAB's 1987 shows.

Nelson also treated us to a rare bit of studio weirdness called "Barbed Wire Whipping Party," a very high experiment conducted with the aid of the 16-track recorder in the San Mateo, California studio where the Dead were working on Aoxomoxoa.

"Hunter said, 'I want you to get some people for voices, and I want you to read these lines like chants - say them over and over again, and we'll make tape loops put of them,'" Nelson recalled. "One of them was 'Push it and pull it and push it and pull it,' and another was 'Meat, meat, gimme my meat! Meat, meat, gimme my meat!' ... He had this idea to make loops of all this stuff and fade them in and out, and read this poem, 'Barbed Wire Whipping Party.' You can barely hear it - it's an odd mix. Oddly enough, it's an odd mix.... 'The barbed wire whipping party in the razor blade forest! No is permitted... the other day I went to Mars and talked to God, and he said, "Hang in there" ...'

"Betty Cantor set up a microphone and Matthews had rigged the recorder so that anything that goes into this microphone is repeated 16 times. Three or four of us were standing there with headphones, and Betty says, 'Stay in the general area.' And we heard, 'area area area area.' So we start chanting, 'Area area area area, stay in the general area...' And the rest is chaos."

Also present at this interview was Stephen Barncard, the recording engineer/producer who made timeless magic with David Crosby and his pals on If I Could Only Remember My Name, recorded American Beauty, and produced several albums by the New Riders.


You can browse and/or search the Grateful Dead Hour program logs on the show's home page, Let us know if there's a particular show you'd like to hear, and feel free to post requests and comments here or by email to gdhour [at]

Thanks for listening!
David Gans
gdhour [at]

Program time 51:31

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Hunter's picture
Joined: Jun 5 2007
Yo Timmy

Why the negative vibes? If you don't want to listen then don't.

"The bottle was dusty but the liquor was clean."

Joined: Sep 5 2007
Glad to see this one

Thanks posting this one. I used to listen to the Grateful Dead hour every Sunday at 8:00am. Good for me as I am a morning person. It came on after a show for people in recovery. Go figure. Keep up the great work.

Joined: Jun 5 2007
Row Jimmy was right, but...

I just don't like that teeny-weeny windows player. "It's just not right..."

Joined: Jun 5 2007
rare choice stuff's

A lot of tantalizing goods from an era gone by. I wish I was in a better mood to listen via Quacktime, but there are psychotic herds of rhinoceri gaining on me... Jerry was right, when he said something to the effect of: I JUST WANT THE WHOLE THING TO GO UP IN SMOKE & BECOME A PILE OF ASHES. He really said that, I read it! It was him, alright... and he was being very visceral.


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