Interview with David Gans (DG)
Lange Nacht der Grateful Dead, Radio FSK, Hamburg
Saturday, March 9 2002
Moderators: Nobat (N), Arne Heinen (AH), Frank Poppe (FP)


FP: Hello David!

DG: Hello!

FP: Welcome on our radio show, the Grateful Dead Marathon on Radio FSK in Hamburg. We just talked to Phil Demetrion in Paris, he told us about your visit and how you jammed with the Paris-based Dead cover-band Deadicace. How was this American-French meeting for you?

DG: Oh, it was wonderful fun. I went to Paris on vacation last year, on holiday and a friend of mine in Chicago said ďLook up my friend Phil Demetrion in ParisĒ and I called him when I got to Paris and he invited me to meet with his friends and we had a splendid evening together. I enjoyed meeting the French deadheads. You know, having grown up in California with the Grateful Dead in my backyard it was really interesting to meet people who had seen the Grateful Dead only once in 1974 and then they saw them again in 1981 and then again in 1990. It must be an interesting thing to beÖ, uhm, uhm, Ö, in, oh, you know what? Iím really sorry, I have to stop. Can you play a piece of music and call me back in a few minutes?

FP: Sure, no problem.

DG: Yeah, Iím really sorry, I gotta go.

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Hard to Handle 8-6-71
Alligator Jam 4-29-71
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FP: Jetzt haben wieder den David Gans am Telefon, das freut uns ganz besonders und mŲchten ihn somit gleich noch mal begrŁŖen: Hi David, youíre welcome again.

DG: Yes, Iím sorry. The door bell rang and exactly the moment I was speaking with you. Itís my guitar was back from being repaired and I had to answer the door, so Iím very sorry I had to leave.

FP: Thatís great so you can play us a little bit a little bit later.

DG: Ah, that wouldnít sound very good over the phone, noÖ

FP: I know, I know. So, letís talk a little bit about your music. You write your own songs, is that right? So are you influenced by the improvisational ability of the Grateful Dead?

DG: Oh, very definitely. But I was a songwriter before I ever heard of the Dead. I was much more influenced by Jackson Browne and Bob Dylan and John Prine and people like that. So by the time I got interested in the Grateful Dead my consciousness and style were already fairly well formed. So I connected very much with the Dead over their folk music roots and all, so really it was just an expansion of what I was already doing. But you know, the Grateful Dead taught me a lot about what a song can be. Their music was so sophisticated and so uncommercial in a way. It didnít follow the same kind of rules of predictability and accessibility that popular music did. So I considered it a deepening and a widening of my consciousness to get exposed to the Grateful Dead.

FP: So I suppose you got a pretty close relationship to the band. When and how did it start?

DG: I first approached them as a journalist. I was a fan first of course, listening to the music and going to shows and then I started writing for music magazines. So there was a magazine here in California called BAM, published in San Francisco. I became a correspondent for them and so of course I pursued opportunities with my favourite musicians, the Grateful Dead among them. Through that I began to get friendly with the band members and began a relationship that continues to this day. In 1982 I went as a journalist to Jamaica with the Grateful Dead and accidentally met a fellow who was writing a book, a gentleman named Peter Simon who by the way just has a brand new book, a wonderful photo memoirs of his own life called ďI and IĒ which I recommend very highly. And through that connection I was able to do my first book on the Grateful Dead called Playing in the Band, which came out in 1985.

FP: And itís a beautiful one.

DG: That led getting into the radio business. Next thing I knew I was a radio producer.

FP: So when was it then, you started your Grateful Dead hour in the eighties?

DG: Yeah, well, actually someone else started it. It began in San Francisco in November of 1984. I appeared for the first time in February of 1985 and within a few months I was doing it regularly and it became my job. So Iíve been doing radio for 17 years.

N: Could you make money with of it or was it just for fun?

DG: It has been my living for most of that time, yeah.

N: Wow, I want this job, too, because we do this here for free.

DG: Yeah, most people are doing radio for free or close to it. And itís actually winding down now, the radio business is becoming very corporated and commercial these days. Itís less and less receptive to a specialized program. You know, something as narrow as the Grateful Dead doesnít really fit in to the commercial pop radio world anymore.

FP: So how do you distribute your radio shows?

DG: I donít know if you understand the structure of radio out here in the States. We have the public radio system which is from college and university stations and a government supported satellite distribution system. So it goes to those stations by satellite and then it goes on compact disc to commercial stations all of which pay for the privilege of carrying it.

FP: David, do you have access to the vault?

DG: Occasionally. The politics of that situation are very strange and complex. It depends on who is in charge of it in any given moment. There are some people who understand that putting the music on the radio is a good thing, it serves the culture and it involves new listeners in the music. But there are other people who are very protective of their power in that world and they see it as giving away something that, you know, should be sold or they see me as somebody who is taking something away from them. Itís a strange and sometimes troubling world to trying to do business in I must say.

FP: I ask myself sometimes because all these soundboards are circulating. Where do they come from, letís say from the eighties or nineties?

DG: Well, the gentleman, the fellow who ran the vault for many years, a wonderful, very kind deadhead named Dick Latvala, who passed away a couple of years ago, actually did a very revolutionary thing. He gave away many, many, many copies of those tapes to his friends, which was on a certain level a bad thing to do because they werenít really in his property to distribute but on another level it was a very revolutionary and kind act because he put the music into the ears of the people who most wanted to hear it and after he passed away everybody who was holding on on those tapes and keeping them in their private collections began to distribute them to other people, so a vast amount of music from the Grateful Dead vault has just been given away person to person around the world over the last couple of years.

FP: So I guess David Lemieux (Grateful Dead archivist since 1999) is doing a little bit different job now?

DG: Well, he is a different person. I canít really speak for him, but what Dick did was almost criminal on a certain level because the music was the property of the band and they didnít want to just give it away, you know? So David I think is more respectful of that. You know, the responsibility to the people who own the music, itís a complicated thing. I mean I think David has a very good ear, he knows the music very very well and he is doing a very good job in his role as the archivist and as the producer of the Dickís Picks series and stuff but no, he is not giving away the music to friends the way Dick did but on the other hand Dick gave away almost all of it so itís already out there or itís getting out there, you know?

FP: And itís pretty easy to get a hand on a lot of shows. Me myself I collected about 600, 700 hours of Grateful Dead live music and Iím not stopping and Iím very proud of this music because some of this probably came from Dick Latvala, Iím not sure.

DG: Yeah, we love the music and these days the internet and digital audio have made it really easy. When I started out listening to this music it would come to you on a cassette which was made from a cassette which was made from a cassette and by the time you got three or four generations away you were listening to a lot of noise. Nowadays duplicating CDs is very easy and inexpensive and itís also with high-speed internet connections, people can put up a Grateful Dead show on their server and hundreds of people can download it over the net. So the really really high quality music is circulating for free in a way. Thatís a wonderful thing in terms of making the music available for all of us to hear it. But as somebody who creates music and is trying to earn a living being a creative person itís also problematic because itís hard to earn money from your music. Itís a complicated issue.

N: How did the Grateful Dead handle the thing with the bootlegs because what Iíve heard they have special areas where the bootleggers, the tapers could go and just do their tape? How was that?

DG: The Grateful Dead in the mid-eighties realized that people were recording their shows and they decided that rather than fight they would accept it, encourage it and regulate it. So what they did was they created a place in the hall where people who wanted to record could go so that they wouldnít bother the other fans. So they could get good quality sound and they would be in a place where they could all hang out together. I remember being at the Berkeley Community Theatre which is a few miles from where I live, the first time there was an official taperís section, and this was in 1984 I think, and everybody was recording on cassettes on these days and it was a really funny thing, about forty-six, forty-seven minutes into the second set youíd hear all these people taking their cassettes out and turning them over at the same time, you know? It was an amusing sight to see, there were maybe a hundred tapers all sitting together in this one area behind the soundboard all shushing each other so that they could record the music through their microphones. It was funny to see them all gathered together, you know, whereas in the past theyíve been scattered all over the audience hiding their microphones under jackets and stuff.

FP: So I guess the most money comes from the live actions, from the performances.

DG: Yeah, I mean they make money from selling their CDs now and stuff. They rely on the good faith of the audience and it seems to me as a matter of morality and honour that those of us who have such access to free music on the tape-trading world the very least we can do is pay for the music that they are offering for sale, because we love the musicians and we love the music that they made so it seems only fair that we should support them financially.

FP: Yeah, so do you know how many copies of the Dickís Picks series are sold?

DG: No, I donít know. Can I tell you about a record that I just produced?

FP: Please!

DG: You all know who Bob Dylan is, right? And you know how the Grateful Dead always did songs by Bob Dylan?

FP: Ah, thatís the new one, okay.

DG: Yes, I put together a collection called ďPostcards of the Hanging Ė The Grateful Dead perform the Songs of Bob DylanĒ and itís coming out on Grateful Dead Arista Records next week on March 19 (2002) here in the States. Itís got eleven songs, ten of them are the Grateful Dead performing Bob Dylan songs, the eleventh track is Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead from a 1987 rehearsal performing a song of Bobís called ďMan of PeaceĒ. And there is a bonus disc with two more Grateful Dead performances on it in the first press run of 50.000 or so CDís. So it should be available in Europe almost immediately after itís released here.

FP: Thatís great!

DG: Yeah, Iím very happy with how it turned out.

AH: If they release it in Europe.

DG: Well, Iím sure they will. You could get it off the internet, right?

AH: Yes, thatís one way. Sure, but you know, the thing is that the postage cost so much money to send something over here so that itís hard for a lot of people.

DG: Arista Records is owned by Bertelsmann, so I would assume that it being a German company that they release it in Europe as well.

FP: Is it distributed over Arista?

DG: Arista distributes the Grateful Dead and Arista is owned by Bertelsmann so I would assume that it will be released in Europe.

AH: Hopefully.

FP: Definitely, I think.

DG: I hope so, I want you to hear it.

FP: Sure, so we are going to play it then, thatís for sure, on our radio shows.

DG: Great. So thank you very much for having me on air.

N: Dou you still have some time for questions?

DG: Sure, ask me a question.

N: I would be interested, I suppose you have been to a couple of shows, the must question: how many shows you have been to?

DG: Oooh, I went toÖ I stopped counting after a few hundred. I started going to shows 30 years ago in March of 1972. And I did not tour, Iím not one of those people who gave up their life and drove around the country going to Dead shows. But I did go to a lot of Dead shows over the years, ah, several hundred Iíd say.

N: What different types of people actually did go to the shows? What Iíve heard, because Iíve personally never been to a show, is that there were like motorcycle gangs and on the other side there is like tripping hippie, can you characterize sort of some typesÖ

DG: And everything in between. Well, you know, the thing is weíve started going to Dead shows when we were young going to college and all. People got on with their lives and went into the rest of the world. I have friends who are deadheads who are now judges and politicians and doctors, accountants and salesmen and stuff. So people from all sorts of life are deadheads. Some of them are hippies and live in Volkswagen vans and some of them are bikers and some of them are even policemen.

FP: I think thatís one very special point in the following people, the fans of the Grateful Dead and all the deadheads, itís not easy to categorize them, itís just everything is there.

DG: Yeah, deadheads are all kinds, you know? I was starting to say earlier, I was so impressed when I went to Paris and I met these gentlemen who had seen the Grateful Dead once in ten years basically, you know? Seven years apart their visits from the Dead, itís like to us the Grateful Dead is like the moon, it occurred once a month, you know, it cycled through once a month and to you Europeans it was more like a karma that came every few years.

AH: Yeah, they were in Germany four times.

DG: Yeah.

AH: Too bad for us.

DG: And they played brilliantly when they were there.

AH: Yes, fifteen shows in Germany. Thatís not much.

N: And did the concerts within the years, I mean you started in 72, I was five then, did the shows change from the whole way they went from the beginning to the end throughout like the almost 25 years that youíve seen them?

DG: Oh yeah, the style of the band would change, they evolved over the years, you know? When I first started to see them they only had the one drummer and Keith Godcheaux was the piano player and then in 1979 Keith was out of the band and Brent Mydland joined the band, Mickey Hart was back in the band at that point and then things began to sort of settle into the form that they had for the rest of the career where the second set was almost always continuous and there would be a big drum solo in the middle you know and that sort of ritual began to happen. I prefer the music of the early seventies much more, frankly.

AH: Like Frank!

FP: Like me, like me!

DG: Ah, well, thatís where the word frankly comes from then.

N: We wanna learn the secret of the Grateful Dead language tonight and one is ďmagicĒ, so what was your biggest magic if you can think of one?

DG: Well, Dark Star was the thing. Dark Star to me was where the Grateful Dead begins and ends, you know? Thatís a place where anything could happen and magic happened in Dark Star all the time. You know they played a lot of rockíníroll, the played country, they played folk music, they played songs with wonderful stories in them and stuff, but when the singing stopped and the instruments went off into space, thatís where I really enjoyed it the most.

AH: Yeah, we will have a Dark Star later on.

DG: Good, good.

AH: 72 Spectrum Philadelphia.

DG: Oh, thatís a good one. A great American writer named Will Rogers said ďI never met a man I didnít likeĒ and I say ďI never met a Dark Star I didnít likeĒ.

FP: I can understand that!

DG: Hey, can I mention my web page?

FP: Yeah, great!

DG: You can visit my web page and learn more about me. Germans will think my name is very funny because it means goose.

FP: Yes, you know that.

DG: My webpage is www.dgans.com.

N: Oh, like David Gans.

DG: Yeah.

N: How do you say your last name?

DG: Gans, yah.

N: Gans, okay.

DG: I know itīs not how the Germans pronounce it and actually my name doesnít come from Germany, I know a lot of Germans named Gans but mine actually comes from Bohemia. My roots were in Central Europe.

FP: All right. So the next song we are going to play is not a Dark Star but a Bird Song and itís from one of those magic moments, itís from Veneta 72.

DG: Ah, thatís a great Bird Song, you have a very good taste my friend.

AH: We work hard on it.

FP: And I really hope the movie is going to see the day of light in the next months.

DG: I think itís coming. I spoke to Sam Field, the director of the movie a couple of weeks ago and they are restoring it now and I think that some time in next year or so we will see that movie reissued on DVD.

FP: Yeah, Iím looking forward to it.

DG: Thank you very much for having me.

FP: David, thank you very much, really and have a nice time then andÖ

DG: You, too, enjoy the rest of your broadcast.

FP: Yeah, itís going until I donít know, ten in the morning, now itís two in the morning and a few hours are left.

DG: All right, enjoy!

FP: Okay DavidÖ

DG: Good night.

FP: Thank you.

All: Bye-bye.