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Touch of Grey: Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia Talks Gear, His Near-Fatal Illness and 'In The Dark'

Touch of Grey: Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia Talks Gear, His Near-Fatal Illness and 'In The Dark'

“Of course, it has to do with everybody being willing and wanting to do this.

"The thing of where you almost lose a guy, whatever it was that anybody might have been reluctant to do before, it’s like, ‘we may never get a chance to do something like this again, let’s go for it.’ There is a certain opening up, loosening of that kind of spirit of adventure.”

Dylan, dubbed “Spike” because “we already have one Bob in the band,” was an ethereal presence in breaks during rehearsals at “Club Dead,” the band’s funky Marin County office-studio complex. As soon as the band set up to play, though, he crackled with a kind of musical electricity, his body coiled and radiating pure energy.

Once they start playing, the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan are such a natural combination that you wonder why it took them this long to get together. In fact, the Dead have been playing Dylan songs for years, and the feeling is that these sessions recall Dylan’s momentous Basement Tapes, recordings with the Band in the late Sixties.

“His approach is very much like ours,” said Bob Weir. “He’s loose and we just rattle around from song to song.”

“It’s hard to describe,” said Mickey Hart. “He’s a great musician, one of the most important poets of the century. He brings this whole feeling with him, his smell, musically. We’re playing all kinds of songs. We treat it all like Grateful Dead music.”

Together they cover a staggering range of material—folk, blues, rock, jug band music. Dylan’s ragged, insistent guitar strumming lays a new rhythmic foundation for the Dead, creating wonderful, surprising results on songs as varied as “Tangled Up in Blue,” “All Along the Watchtower,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “Serve Somebody,” “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” and “Chimes of Freedom.” For encores, Dylan joins the Dead on “Touch of Grey.”

“A lot of the songs I know,” said Garcia, “but his versions of them now are sometimes very different from the ones I know. It’s a lot of fun. You get three or four of those serious Dylan rushes every day, that’s the fun part, and it’s authentic, it’s the real thing.”

Garcia realized that there was a certain amount of rick to going out with Dylan. “Every band’s got its chemistry, got its special mojo, adding one new element to it can sometimes really screw up what’s there. Sometimes it can help, though, if you know enough about the music and you’re familiar enough with the guys that are playing.”

Playing with Dylan, Garcia also tried a little steel guitar and banjo, instruments he hasn’t “really touched” for the last 10 years. “We’re doing this voluntarily,” concluded Garcia.

“We’re doing this consciously by way of an experiment. We know that it’s only gonna last so long, and maybe be an opening for future possibilities, too. There’s no simple way to characterize what’s going on here, because Bob’s got his own weight, there’s too much to him to find out about in a few weeks. He’s packing 20 years of stuff all by himself.”

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