Grateful Dead Magazine Articles

Playboy Interview w/J. Garcia Pt. 10

Collected from
Back Previous Bus Stop Forward (Beth Dyer)
Organization: University of California; Santa Cruz
Reprinted without permission from Playboy, March 1972...

GRATEFUL DEAD I HAVE KNOWN (pt. 10) by Ed McClanahan

Among the habitués of the performers' lounge backstage at the Fillmore is this tall, rangy, loose-limbed, spacy-looking young freak-the Sunnyvale Express, they call him-who, during the breaks, is never far from Jerry Garcia's circle of friends and admirers, usually toying idly with a guitar, just noodling, picking out disconnected phrases and fragments to underscore whatever conversation is going on around him, nothing special, here a bit of bluegrass, there a snippet of flamenco or a rock riff or what-have-you, anything at all, apparently, that comes to mind. It's obvious he's a Garcia fan, but there is about him none of that earnest innocence and humility that can do so much toward making even us hero worshippers a tolerable lot; rather, the Sunnyvale Express' languid arrogance of a coxcomb, and a couple of times I've spotted him eyeing Jerry with a look of ill-disguised envy.

He is here again tonight with his old lady, an impossibly beautiful but other-worldly looking redhead named (brace yourself) The Burning Bush, who paints her eyelids dead black like Theda Bara and wears antique crushed-velvet vamp costumes, the two of them lounging in an old threadbare armchair near the couch where Jerry sits talking animatedly to a rock-magazine interviewer. As I cross the big room toward them, the Sunnyvale Express disentangles himself from The Burning Bush, rises slowly from his chair, takes up his guitar, props one foot on the arm of Jerry's couch and announces, in a voice as somnolent with dope as a sleepwalker's, "Now I'm 'onna play jus' like ole G'cia, here."

And with that he launches into what has to be accounted, at least on the face of it, one of the most dazzling virtuoso performances I've ever heard, clawing great fistfuls of sound off the bassstrings even as he picks the high notes off with blinding music-box precision and delicacy, playing, as far as I can determine, no particular song but rather a kind of collage, a mosaic-all right, a medley, then-of those staccato riffs that are almost a Garcia signature, not chords but swift, rushing runs of single bass notes in which each note is resonantly, sonorously deep yet somehow clear, sharp, bright, never murky or muddy. Closing my eyes, I can at first almost make myself believe it is Jerry himself who is swathing my mind like a swami's turbaned head in layer upon layer of silken sound; but after a minute or so I begin to sense that for all its resonant vibrancy, the Sunnyvale Express' playing desperately wants the quality that Jerry's is richest in, call it density or warmth of even, if you must, soul, and the only ingredient the Express can replace it with is a sour mix of envy and insolence and sullen mockery. His playing is technically perfect but as devoid of human feeling for the music as a player piano tinkling away on an empty stage; one whose first interest was in listening to the real thing had as well attend a concert featuring an oyster playing "One Meatball" on the piccolo.

So it is no surprise to discover, when I look again, that the same old Sunnyvale Express is playing still. Just behind him, leaning forward in her chair, sits The Burning Bush, her dark-ringed eyes glazed with rapture, her right hand lost to the wrist between her lover's parted thighs, cupping and fondling his crotch in the upturned palm. And around them, on the couch and in the other chairs, Jerry and his friends sit listening and watching, their faces stonily impassive. When, after he's played for maybe five minutes or so, the Express senses at last the chilly indifference with which his efforts are being received, he abruptly stops playing, favors his implacable audience with an elaborately phlegmatic shug and turns and drifts off toward the far end of the room, The Burning Bush floating along beside him, her busy hand now wandering aimlessly, crablike, across his narrow rump.

"Whew, that guy," says Jerry wearily, rising to go out front for his set with the New Riders. "He's like, my own personal psychic bedbug." Then, brightening, he adds, "But you know, I need guys like him around, everybody does. I mean, they keep us honest, you know what I mean?"

Phil Lesh: The Grateful Dead are trying to save the world.


"I don't think of music as a craft, see. Like when I'm writing songs, I don't sit down and assemble stuff. Because music to me is more of a flash than a craft, so that somethin' comes to me and tha's the thing I'll bother to isolate, you know, the stuff that nudges its way out of the subconscious and you sorta go Oh! and suddenly there's a whole melody in your head. And it happens just often enough to seem like a, you know, like a flow, I mean I recognize the mechanism, I know what it is as opposed to everything else. And that ends up to be the stuff I can live with a long time, and that's a thing I think about a lot, too..."

Turn to Part 11. . .

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