Jerry Garcia Discusses His Gear, Near-Fatal Illness and the New Grateful Dead Album, 'In The Dark'
In this interview from the December 1987 issue of Guitar World, the Grateful Dead guitarist discusses the band's new album, In The Dark, his gear and near-fatal illness.
Garcia and Dead soundman John Cutler produced the album, and the results are astonishing. The compression of the guitars sounds on the recording is unlike anything they’ve managed in the studio over the years. “The arrangements are read,” said Garcia. “The mix is my understanding about how Grateful Dead music works. A lot of the producers we’ve worked with haven’t understood how Grateful Dead music works. There’s real structure to it, there’s real architecture to it and there’s real conversation, like in a string quartet, to it
“The instruments speak to each other. But unless you mix it so that that’s intelligible, then it’s nonsense. That’s the sense of the music, it’s something I can’t communicate to a producer, but I can hear it.
“One of the things the Grateful Dead can do is provide that energy,” said Garcia. “The music is mostly pretty minimalist, it’s just what’s in the band — rhythm guitar, keyboards, bass, drums and lead guitar. It’s classic rock ‘n’ roll in configuration, but the style is all Grateful Dead. We get that stuff from everywhere, and that urgency is what the band can do. That’s what we’ve tried to get on record all these years and failed miserably at.”
The other band members agree that In the Dark is their first truly representative recording. “I’m really impressed with it,” said Hart. “I can listen to it, and normally I can’t listen to Grateful Dead records. We were able to capture the spirit of the band for the first time.”
Bob Weir confirmed that the group’s relief over Garcia’s recovery spurred them on. “He bounces off his little brush with death,” said Weir, “and the momentum that he picked up carried through to the recording.”
That crystal-clear guitar tone did not come from any specific recording technique. “The difference is intent,” he explained. “Usually on a record I do my solos toward the end of the record, but I have this problem with my own playing. I can play okay but I can’t judge myself. When I function as a producer I’m a pair of ears and I can do that pretty well. As a performer I can perform pretty well, but I can’t do them both at the same time. So I’ve always had problems judging my own work.
“Classically, I say, ‘Ah, it’s good enough,’ I’ll do however many takes and say, ‘Ah, that’ll do.’ Then later on it turns out to be a little lame, maybe, not as good as it could have been, not what I really wanted it to be. It’s like an afterthought because it’s the thing that I end up caring the least about from a producer’s point of view.
“The thing about a guitar solo is, the guitar’s register is right in the human ear space, it’s like the human voice, you can almost not bury it. It penetrates through every cut. The smaller the speakers get, thelouder the guitar gets. And so it’s not a problem to mix, never a problem to get on the tape, it’s one of the easiest things in the world to record. Everything else can be a problem.
“The guitar solos on Grateful Dead records have suffered from neglect, especially, just because it was me responsible for them. That’s just the way I worked. But on this record, part of it I was able to overcome because we played live, and I actually played the solos when he laid down the tracks, so they had the energy they needed. On things where I replaced them and did them again or did a different sort of solo or left a hole for a solo, I was more concerned with making the solo concise and intelligent and work well, so I spent more time. This is me conquering the problem.”
Garcia admitted to finding himself playing things on In The Dark that surprised him. “But I always used to do that,” he quickly added. “I remember that much about my own playing. I don’t invent that much of it, a lot of it invents itself. It all comes from spending hours with an instrument, you have to put in the time, and the more time you in the more access you have to the whole file of guitar possibilities, because all music is a collection of possibilities.”
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