Grateful Dead Hour no. 41
By David Gans
Week of June 12, 1989
David Crosby 12/31/86 Henry J Kaiser, Oakland CA
Almost Cut My Hair
Crosby & Nash 11/11/71 (studio rough) with Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann
The Wall Song
Grateful Dead 2/11/89 Forum, Inglewood CA
The Byrds, Fifth Dimension
Eight Miles High
Grateful Dead 12/31/86 Henry J Kaiser, Oakland CA
This week's show features a wonderful interview with famous Deadhead David Crosby recorded on May 2, 1989. Crosby and the Grateful Dead go way back, and a large part of this conversation is about David's love for the Dead's music.
David Crosby opened the NYE '86 show with a solo acoustic set, from which you hear "Almost Cut My Hair."
Also in there is a studio rough of "The Wall Song" from a Crosby & Nash recording session on November 11, 11/71, with Graham Nash on piano; David and Jerry on guitars; Phil Lesh on bass; and Bill Kreutzmann on drums.
Crosby's first solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name, was reissued recently in a deluxe package with a CD and an audio DVD. It is a truly brilliant record, with contributions from members of the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane, and Santana, plus David Freiberg, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, and others. Great songs, great performances, and a great recording.
From the introduction to the radio show:
I have a snapshot in my mind of of New Year's Eve 1986 at the Henry J. Kaiser auditorium, walking into a room backstage and seeing Jerry Garcia and David Crosby engaged in conversation. We almost lost those two guys in '86, but there they were, big as life.
Six months earlier David was in jail and Jerry was in a coma. Two of this generation's most beloved souls found themselves skidding toward heaven, but each made the decision to turn that wheel before it was too late.
While Crosby was in prison I collected greetings from several of his northern California friends in a book and sent it to him. I learned later that he was deeply touched by these messages from these people he had loved and lost during his years of enslavement to cocaine, and when I met him face to face in 1987 Crosby greeted me like an old friend.
And I feel like a friend, even though we didn't meet til recently. With the Byrds and then with Crosby, Stills and Nash, Crosby's music has always been precious to me. His singing and/or songwriting credits are almost too numerous to mention, including "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Eight Miles High," "Wooden Ships," "Guinnevere," and "Long Time Gone," to name but a few. (The first disc of Crosby's boxed set Voyage tells you all you need to know, really, but the rest of the set is pretty damn wonderful, too.) In the '60s, rock and roll wasn't just music, it was the bulletin board and the grapevine of a generation, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were heroes who gave their fans political and musical inspiration in equally generous measure.
The story turned sour for Crosby in the '80s, as drugs crowded everything else out of the picture and he exhausted the love and patience of the people around him. The quality of his performances suffered, his songwriting output dropped to zero, and even his most loyal friends believed he was as gone as you can get and still have a heartbeat.
Crosby had to go to prison to get clean, but as he wrote in his autobiography, Long Time Gone [by Crosby and Carl Gottlieb. Doubleday, 1988], he doesn't regret a minute of that time because it brought him back to life and music.
At the time this radio show was created, Crosby had just finished a tour featuring music from his solo album Oh Yes I Can. He came to the Truth and Fun studios for this interview; I kept my cool at the time, but I don't mind telling you that David Crosby is one of the musical heroes of my life. What else can I say but "So glad you made it!"
And here is a transcript of the interview in the radio show:
David Crosby: [Paul] Kantner and I and David Freiberg used to live together, down in Venice. I went and started the Byrds with McGuinn and them, and then Paul started the Airplane. And then David got together with those people and started Quicksilver. So I was tapped into each new band that started in San Francisco. And as soon as there was a Grateful Dead, I heard about it. And we had played up here - the Byrds - at the Peppermint Tree. You haven't lived until you've seen us trying to do something like "Chimes of Freedom" with two girls dancing topless on either side of us. "Don't you guys know something with a beat?" [laughter] Total mismatch. I think I heard about Garcia playing even before that down in Palo Alto, at some little club down there. But as soon as they started playing, we started to hear about them, and then I went to visit 'em when they were still living on Ashbury [in San Francisco]. I liked them right away, because they were totally outrageous and obviously completely crazed. And that was just my style. I remember thinking, God, this kid Weir is too young to be in this band, isn't he? I mean, do you have like a note from his parents or something?
Crosby: That record, If I Could Only Remember My Name... I was just coming off of Deja Vu [Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young], and I had carte blanche. I got to put together exactly whatever the hell I wanted. And I invited the craziest people I knew. Jerry Garcia is responsible for that record a very great deal. He was there night after night after night after night after night after night after night.
Q: Doing what?
Crosby: Oh, thinking, listening, talking - you know, acting as a friend, saying "Hmmm, man, what if you, how did you, why don't you try a little more, and...." And he would play. He played on a lot of stuff. That record is the only place on record, that I know of, that he and [Jefferson Airplane and later Hot Tuna guitarist] Jorma Kaukonen ever played together. On "Song With No Words." That's one of the first times that [Garcia] did pedal steel too. I think the first time he put it on a record was on Deja Vu, on "Teach Your Children." But he played it on "Laughing" [on If I Could Only Remember My Name...], too. A beautiful, strange thing that he played. Lesh played great on that too. And Joni [Mitchell] sang this one beautiful, little strange thing on it - ooh!
"Cowboy Movie" is Crosbosis mixed with Grateful Dead-itis in perfect fashion. What I like is when it goes to the bridge...
I've done several things with them that got me off. They played a lot on "What Are Their Names?" That was just a jam. I walked out in the room, started playing a lick. Then Jerry comes out in the room, starts playing, and you hear him start to play. Then Neil [Young] comes out in the room and starts to play. Then Phil [Lesh] comes out in the room and starts to play... and then Michael Shrieve, who played drums for Santana, comes in and sits down and starts playing drums. And that was how we made the record. I had those words that I wrote on an airplane, and I didn't know what to do with them. I was listening to this track and I realized that there's a place where the track goes up and then [claps hands] cuts away and leaves a space, and then it comes back in again. And that space is exactly the length of these words:
I wonder who they are
The men who really run this land
And I wonder why they run it
With such a thoughtless hand
What are their names
And on what streets do they live
I'd like to ride right over this afternoon and give them
A piece of my mind
About peace for mankind
Peace is not an awful lot to ask
Crosby: Oh, man, I couldn't have done it with anybody else. The only time when we ever really got organized was on "The Wall Song." That was pretty organized, 'cause it goes through a lot of changes. And so we learned that and actually played it like an arrangement.
One of the best periods in my life, musically, was a period of time when I was very frustrated about Crosby, Stills and Nash, and it wasn't working. I was living in Mill Valley, and Bobby [Weir] lived in Mill Valley. They were trying to rehearse, and I would go over and drag along my Stratocaster and cause trouble. I would go in and they would be trying to record, even, and I would cause trouble. I would go in and say, "Aah, you guys don't have a real rhythm guitar player." [laughs] Which endeared me to Bob forever, I'm sure. But I would go in there and, you know, just be crazed and try and involve myself with them, because they were so into all what I think is important about music. They were into the music, you know. They didn't let the peripheral stuff pull 'em away from it. They didn't give a hoot how much money something made; they didn't give a damn what the reviews were; they were not in it for chicks, glory, money, fame; they did not make the "I must be smart - look how many people are listening to me" mistake; they kept intensely focused on music. And I loved that. That was just what I, how I felt about stuff. That was my set of values, and I needed that affirmation very strongly at that point, because I had just had this enormous taste of huge money and crazedness and... I wasn't sure, you know, what was what. I'd been in Hollywood, you know what that's... Hollyweird... That was when we started playing that eleven that became their song "The Eleven" and became the beginning of my song "Low Down Payment." I didn't even know it was in eleven until they counted it for me. I had no idea. I'd start playing that.. and they would.... "Oh, okay..." [scats a little eleven-beat phrase]... It was all what I loved about music the most.
Q: I always thought Crosby, Stills and Nash should have been a little more willing to open up and play looser things, like from song to song.
Crosby: After the beginning, we didn't trust each other that much. At the beginning we did.
Q: And what happened?
Crosby: Hmm... money, chicks, glory, fame, drugs. Values change, people change... people don't stay the same.
Crosby: The fascinating thing about [the Grateful Dead], I think, aside from the fact that they have always understood.... they came out of the period when folk music still had an impact on them, and they understand about telling the tale. See, they're more concerned with telling the tale than they are with polish. They always have been. They want to make you feel something. But I think the really most innovative thing about the band is... Everybody else thinks in terms of block chords and pedal tones, bass lines, normal kind of structures. These guys have evolved a thing where each guy is playing a running line all the time. There's three of them at a very minimum and then the percussion. That's electronic Dixieland.
In this case you've got three running lines all the time. The keyboard player, traditionally, in the Dead has been the only guy who was tacking it down to reality at any point, you know. But what you've got is Jerry and Phil and Bobby playing these three weaving lines. And it's this incredibly fluid music. What happens in the best of it is that you submerge your ego and you understand that several people can achieve a telepathic or near-telepathic union playing music and speak with one voice. I heard a symphony orchestra when I was a little kid, and I was so completely overwhelmed by it that it made a deep imprint on me. The power of music made by the cooperation of musicians - I was only about four or five years old, and it bowled me over. It was like a wave. The power of a symphony orchestra playing in front of me. And I saw all the elbows moving the same time, all the little tweedly-tweets at the same time, all the little little drum things going at the same time, and I said "I get it!" And it's never left me. I'm stuck with it. I love to make music with other human beings.
Crosby recently reunited with fellow Byrds Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman for a handful of concerts. They had so much fun that they're talking about making a record together:
Crosby: [This story] starts off kinda grubby but it winds up good. Some unscrupulous people, and I use the words carefully, got hold of [Byrds co-founder] Michael Clarke. These are the same people that put Gene Clark on the road as The Byrds. I was unhappy about that, but it was marginally valid because at least he was a singer-songwriter and one of the people who started the band. It wasn't good, which was why I wasn't happy about it. It was quite bad, as a matter of fact. But it was marginally valid, in a certain way. You could find a way to justify it. These same people got hold of Michael, and he had fallen on hard times, and... he did it. They put him on the road as the Byrds. Well, okay. If it doesn't have Roger McGuinn in it, it's not the Byrds. I don't care who else it's got, including me - if it doesn't have Roger McGuinn in it, it isn't the Byrds. He is the heart and soul of the Byrds - always has been, always will be. There isn't any question about that. I'm not belittling my contribution or Gene's or Christopher's, or even Michael's. Roger is the central issue. It's the way he reads a song. He's the one who took those songs and made 'em feel like that. He has a certain rhythmic feel and a certain way of reading a song. A certain understanding... He's a brilliant guy, you know. He has a genuinely enormous talent. Then I had this horrible thought and checked it out, and I found out that they were going to try and copyright the name. These sleazeballs.
Q: Had you guys never done that?
Crosby: Roger had held onto it for a while, but had let it slip, and so it was up for grabs. I said, "What if they copyright the name?" And they said, "Aw they wouldn't do that." I said, "I think they're going to. If they have a band on the road, they can do it. I said, "I don't want that to happen. Then we can't have it. I don't care if I own it at all, but I think it should be in Roger's hands." Christopher agreed with me, and Roger agreed with me, and so I said, "Look, why don't we just beat 'em to the punch?" And they said okay. I was surprised. But we didn't do it through managers or, you know, third parties. I just said, "Hey look, let's be real. Let's just do it." So we got together. Here's where it gets good. Okay, the first confession is, I had forgotten how good Roger is. He's brilliant. He's better now than he was then. The last time I played with Chris, he was a kid. Now he's been through like three or four hit bands -
Q: The Desert Rose Band -
Crosby: Yeah. They're strong. And Chris is strong. He's confident; he knows what the hell he's doing. And we buried the hatchet a long time ago. He's been my friend for a long time, and so has Roger. And there's a difference in me, too. When we parted company, it was my fault. It wasn't their fault. They threw me out for a reason. I really was being sort of impossible. I wanted to spread my wings. I wanted to be the center of attention. You know, I was jealous of Roger. I was a growing singer-songwriter. I was starting to write really good songs, and I didn't feel that I had the attention and the recognition that I deserved. I was in ego conflict with them. Now I've got nothing to prove. Anybody that doesn't know I can play and sing hasn't been listening. I can now contribute what I was supposed to contribute.
Q: Where did you play?
Crosby: San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, and Ventura. [Los Angeles Times critic Robert] Hilburn, who never says anything nice about anybody except Springsteen, said we were fantastic. But that's not the point. There were other people there who said we were really good, whose opinions matter to me more. Tom Petty came, and sang "Rock and Roll Star" with us and said, "Man, you guys are so good I can't believe it." And he's a real Byrds fan. And he's a great musician, and a really nice guy too. And he wasn't shucking. Later on, Elliot Roberts [Bob Dylan's manager] told me that Dylan had been there and had been raving about it for days. He snuck in with his hood over his head, brought three kids... But anyway, the point is we had a great time. So if the managers don't screw it up, and if the record companies don't screw it up - we're all signed to different record companies, and we've all got all these different people with their own agendas - if none of those people screw it up, you'll hear it. It'll be good.
Q: Are you going to make a record?
Crosby: I wouldn't be surprised. I mean, consider this: We have this thing that we do, okay: it starts with the way Roger grasps hold of a song, and his rhythmic feel and his reading of the tune. Then it comes with me being one of the stranger harmony singers of our time, you know. Then it comes with Hillman not knowing how to play bass. He's a mandolin player; he doesn't know bass lick one. He plays a running line. He's playing mandolin three octaves down. [laughter]
Q: That's an interesting approach. Does he know Lesh? [laughter]
Crosby: There's a lot of similarity, in a way. They're musically different people - their conception is different - but the fact is, neither one of them knows any bass licks. Okay, so there is this certain - it's not a formula, but there's a certain set of influences, and we've only ever applied that to one great writer: Bob Dylan. And one Pete Seeger tune ["Turn, Turn, Turn!"]. What happens when you do that to a Randy Newman song?
Crosby: Yeah, that's what I said. What happens when you do it to Tracy Chapman, who writes these beautiful, sparse, wonderful songs about real stuff?
Q: ...There are a lot of great writers out there.
Crosby: That's what I was thinking. The idea slays me completely, so... I'm hoping - but it would be easy to go down the tubes in Hollywood, you know.
Q: Is there anything you'd like to say to the Deadheads of America?
Crosby: They must be real perceptive people, man, because they see and love something that's wonderful and genuine and crazed and completely undependable and outrageous and going for the peaks, you know. I figure that if they love it, you know, they're lucky to have something that good to love.
Your requests are requested! Browse and/or search the Grateful Dead Hour program logs on the GD Hour web site. Let me know if there's a particular program you'd like to hear, and feel free to post requests and comments here or by email to gdhour [at] dead.net
Thanks for listening! David Gans
gdhour [at] dead.net
This is a nice, fitting article, David. You are a venerable & amazing analyzer of the Human experience and musical Truth, when your mind is open. Thanx for all the good & hope you rid yourself of the unclearity you sometimes seem to stumble into. From across the Universe to you & yours this Holiday Season, Timmy
Thank you so very much ,, I had posted on the tapers section ,I think, of how I would love to hear some CSNY & DEAD music and you deliverd !! I can`t thank you enough,, this really made my morning GRATEFUL !!! THANK YOU THANK YOU !! HAVE A GRATEFUL DAY DAVE !!!