I was going to write about my new fave guitarist Tommy Emmanuel but, in light of the comments made by several readers (both pro & con) regarding Jerry Garcia in the last column, I decided to riff on this.
To be clear, I don’t think too many of you have seen the Dead as much as I did between 1969 & 1972.
In April 1967 I totally got their debut album, although it was pretty mediocre garage rock with a twist (no pun intended!), Viola lee Blues was a taste of things to come.
I don’t care if you saw them 500 times since 1976 because you didn’t see them with Pigpen, you didn’t see them up close, face to face, ear to ear in venues at intimate as the Fillmore East, Capitol Theater, Manhattan Center or front row at the bandshell in Central Park on a Sunday afternoon at 2pm when they got off the stage at the Fillmore East at 5am (7 hours earlier) that morning.
I did, and many many more.
I saw the Dead for the first time opening for Janis Joplin in 1969 and again opening for Country Joe & The Fish a month later.
Wait…”You saw then as an opening band, Jay Jay?”
Yes, I saw them play for only 45 minutes…twice.
“What was that like?” you ask.
Simple. They came out, tuned up, noodled around and said goodnight….twice.
Not what I expected until…
The night that they went on at 11:30 pm and finished at 5am….whoa. This time, the acid took full effect and I saw God.
One night, while sitting front row at the Fillmore East, I dropped a tab of Orange Sunshine— onto the floor. Only at the Fillmore would an usher make people get up from their seats to scrounge around with a flashlight,on all fours, trying to find my acid.
Well, he couldn’t. At that moment the band sauntered on the stage and the usher, who knew Jerry, told him what happened. Jerry reached into his pocket and gave the usher a tablet. The usher gave it to me and yes, I melted with Jerry that night.
I loved Anthem and Aoxomoxoa.
I had all the posters and R. Crumb Comix. I loved S. Clay Wilson, Griffin, Shelton etc…
I traded tapes with other Dead Heads.
And I saw them 24 more times (on acid) for the next 4 years.
And then, I stopped doing drugs on Easter Sunday 1972. Cold Turkey.
You name it, I did it at levels most people would never attempt.
In October of 1972, shortly after becoming a glam fan, I saw the Dead for the last time.
I walked out of Roosevelt Stadium and never consciously listened to them again.
Never saw them again.
So, about Jerry. I never liked his tone.
His playing just bored the heck out of me over time.
Most of my hippie friends back in the 60’s hated the Dead because they thought that they couldn’t play. I defended them for years.
So, yes, I have strong opinions.
I’m allowed. So what. People think I suck. That’s they way of the world, but know this:
As great as the Dead were/are to many people, I was surprised to learn from Michael Ahearn (RIP), the former production manager at the Fillmore East, this story about why the Allman Bros. and not the Dead, closed the Fillmore East in 1971.
He said that, as much as the Dead played there and established a fan base, the night that the Allman Bros. played there the first time (opening for the Dead and I was there that night), The Allmans were just a far superior band with real guitar players and really great singing.
And when it came down to a vote among the Fillmore East staff, it was unanimous that the Allmans close the venue on the final night.
Lastly, I have gone on record, in our NETFLIX documentary We Are Twisted Fu*cking Sister that I saw the Dead 26 times on acid and it was the greatest band I ever heard. Then I saw them them straight…and it sucked. The story, as I tell it, is pretty funny…..
Three things happened over the last several months.
- An old friend gave me a Dead DVD “From Anthem to Beauty” and it really brought back great memories.
- I met Bob Weir at a guitar store in NY and he couldn’t have been nicer.
- I get this email from Justin Kreutzman.
Hmmm…the name kinda sounds familiar. It went something like this:
Hey Jay Jay, this is Justin Kreutzman. I think you know who my dad is, the drummer from the Grateful Dead. Anyway, I just saw your Twisted Sister documentary and heard what you said about my dad’s band. That was pretty damn funny!
I really loved your doc, watched it 5 times! One day we should meet.
There is no denying that the Dead was a profoundly important band in my life because they taught me about cult worship and having fans consider you a lifestyle choice and, in many ways, a religious experience.
When I get fan mail that tells me that we do the same thing to our fans, I believe that the spirit of the Dead does flow through me….
However, Jerry’s tone still sucked…