Phil Lesh and John Cutler

interview by David Gans

October 17, 1996

The following is the transcript of the October 17 interview with Phil Lesh and John Cutler by David Gans, most of which appeared in GD Hour #424.

Thanks to Michael Zelner for transcribing.

Gans: "Dozing At the Knick." Shall we start by discussing the title?

Lesh: Must we?

Gans: People are wondering.

Cutler: Well, it's a complex story. We started out with a show about the Knickerbocker Arena in Albany [NY], Phil and I, while we were mixing, were tossing around ideas for covers. . .

Lesh: We were wallowing in nostalgia about the events at the Knickerbocker, and my only connection, metaphorically or symbolically with "Knickerbocker" is the old Rip Van Winkle legend, with the mysterious leprechaun bowlers, and Rip Van Winkle fallin' asleep for 20 years and then wakin' up, and there he is, in the middle of a Dead show.

Gans: Heh!

Lesh: So, we came up with "Dozin' At the Knick," and I couldn't think of anything better, John couldn't think of anything better, nobody we knew could think of anything better.

Gans: Talking with John Cutler and Phil Lesh, who are the producers of the new Vault release, "Dozin' At the Knick" [3/24-26/90], and a bunch of other stuff -- you guys did a lovely remix of the 12/31/87 soundtrack for the video, "Ticket to New Year's." I'm wondering how you decide what you're gonna put out, what made you choose this particular run of shows from the material you had?

Lesh: For a while, I was the final arbiter, and I made the decision whether we were gonna put -- what we were gonna put out, and we never put anything out, because I didn't like anything. So these guys [chuckling] decided that I shouldn't be involved in this, and I agreed, because [laughing] we needed to put something out! And I didn't like anything, so I decided I'd let them make the decision.

Gans: But John isn't exactly the most enthusiastic --

Cutler: Well, no, that's true, but I'm the balance -- there's still a balance there, I'm just not as severe as Phil --

Lesh: There's Dick Latvala, who's very enthusiastic, and Jeff Norman --

Cutler: And Jeff, who's kind of more neutral, and hasn't been into the Grateful Dead as long, and isn't as opinionated as Dick or myself --

Lesh: And then there's John, who's the black cloud [laugh], and so they balance each other out beautifully. [laugh]

Gans: So --

Lesh: The grey cloud, sorry.

Cutler: I'm going towards grey; I used to be the black cloud, I'm turning grey.

Lesh: [laugh]

Gans: The "Dick's Picks" stuff is stereo master recordings that were made at shows on reels, or DATs, or whatever. The stuff in *this* series is from multi-track material, and it's from a much more limited collection of possibilities, obviously --

Lesh: That's right.

Gans: -- but there was some stuff from 1971 that became the "Skull and Roses" record; there was a bunch of recording in 1980 of acoustic and electric material; '89 and '90 was the stuff for. . .

Cutler: "Without a Net."

Gans: "Without a Net," and from which you took this. Are you, every time you go for one of these, are you examining the entire body of stuff, and choosing something, or were you --

Cutler: Well, again, it depends on who the "we" is, because now Phil is hopefully coming in with a couple of choices we have to decide between, to get going and mix; Dick listens constantly to everything, he starts filtering stuff through Jeff and myself; or I, who was lucky enough to have recorded a lot of this multi-track stuff, at least since the '80s, kinda know what's there anyway, and so we go through it. We don't necessarily -- we couldn't have listened to everything from "Without a Net," that was like 50 shows I recorded for that, so there's lots of stuff there to come out. I think now, we're always faced with the fact of, if a "Dick's Picks" comes out, and there was five songs on there that are also gonna be on the Vault release, that are *also* on the video -- I mean, it gets very difficult. We try to orchestrate it so we're not putting out the same stuff at the same time, from various eras. We'd rather put out --

Lesh: At the same time, if it does turn out that we do that, it's okay, because they're usually vastly different.

Gans: Yeah, I mean that's part of the deal with Grateful Dead music --

Lesh: *Hopefully.* That was the point [laughing], for playing all those songs all that many years.

Cutler: Now, there is stuff from the '70s, and there's even some stuff from the late '60s that's on eight-track and different things, and you know, ultimately we'll probably at least sample some of it -- records' worth of it will all come out. We're just in the process of deciding what the next one will be now.

Gans: You made another decision here, which was to make a composite collection of three shows from one venue, rather than one entire show. I know that's a sort of controversial thing because there are purists who think it should be all one show.

Lesh: We actually have most of one show on there.

Gans: Uh-huh.

Lesh: And then -- well, we have the entire second set from one show. Then we have the first set from another show --

Cutler: From several shows.

Lesh: From several shows, sorry, and the last half of the second set from another show.

Gans: So the first set is a composite from the three shows.

Cutler: From the three nights, yeah. I mean, we listened through it all, and actually in this particular case was happened was, Dick looked at the notes that Phil and I had taken when we were doing our mass listening, for the last eight months or something, and we talked about doing the Knickerbocker. So he looked at our notes and came up with the stuff we thought was best of the first sets of all those shows, and that's what we ended up using as a composite. I mean, to have done three whole shows as a release, it would have ended up being, you know, nine CDs --

Gans: Yeah.

Cutler: -- we can't do that.

Lesh: And there was something good from every show, so we tried to give a feeling of the spread, really, of what would go on on three nights, at a single place.

Cutler: You know, the best of a weekend, I think, gives you the feel of the weekend --

Gans: Yeah.

Cutler: -- and those shows are apparently somewhat infamous amongst Deadheads, or famous, you know, for the first shows at the Knickerbocker.

Gans: Yeah, I remember hearing people reporting pleasant experiences --

Lesh: And having one entire second set, which is the core of the stuff that needs to go together, anyway -- I hate to break up second sets, but one of the amusing things about this is that you can program two different endings to the set, if you like. In other words, you can go directly from the Space -- or is it the Drums at the end of the second CD --

Cutler: Yeah, the Space on the second disc, and you can either go to continue the 24th, which is that night, which is the first half of the third disc, or if you chose to, you could go to the Space starting on the 25th --

Gans: Oh, I see what you're saying.

Cutler: See, we ended up with the third set -- the second half of the 25th on there. We got through planning this out, and we realized we had half an hour of space on the disc, and we decided what would be the best way to fill that up from these shows, and I think you came up with: why don't we give them the second half of the 25th --

Lesh: -- with the encores and everything.

Gans: Out there on the Internet, when the list of tunes was published, immediately there was this cry, "What about the 'Loser?!' What happened to the 'Loser?!' " Apparently, it was --

Cutler: What happened with "Loser" -- I would have to say that it apparently wasn't up in the highest marked performance and/or sonically that Phil and I had come up with then, because when Dick essentially handed us this list, it wasn't in it.

Gans: Ahhh.

Lesh: And I don't think -- we may have gone back to listen to it, too, to double-check.

Cutler: Yeah.

Lesh: But obviously, whatever there was about it was corroborated.

Cutler: I mean, the first set here features a lot of Brent [Mydland], and I think that was one of our goals, was that this was a weekend of good Brent and an *era* of good Brent, and we wanted to put that "Blow Away" on there and stuff -- but that's a long song. There's only so much time, you know.

Lesh: Yeah

Gans: Another question about --just looking at the cover here -- "Mud Love Buddy Jam."

Lesh: Well, I guess [laugh] --

Cutler: [laugh]

Lesh: -- I guess we'll just have to tell the truth on that one, John.

Cutler: Yes, we will.

Lesh: We, uh, that's been known, I guess -- apparently, in the Deadhead community, that particular little theme, that little chord sequence has been known as the "Mind Left Body Jam."

Gans: Well, I can give you a little more background than that. Originally, John Scott, the editor of DeadBase, originally called that thing "Heaven Jam," because he thought the chord progression resembled "Heaven Help the Fool."

Lesh: Okay.

Gans: I, and other "scholars," said, "Huh? I don't hear it." And we complained to him, and then he decided that it derived from "Your Mind Has Left Your Body," which is a Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship piece from ["Baron Von Tollbooth and the Chrome Nun"].

Lesh: But it's just a -- it's like a chromatic sequence of chords. It's only four chords in the whole thing.

Gans: And it's something that turned up off and on throughout the '70s, and I guess later, that you guys would play, and there are some really legendary instances of it, but it never seemed to me to have really a formal structure; it was just kind of a flavor and a set of --

Lesh: No, no, it's just those four chords.

Gans: But it was *never* done the same way twice.

Lesh: No, right, and if we ever use it again it'll have a different name.

Cutler: So we knew we had to come up with a name for this thing --

Lesh: -- for publishing reasons.

Cutler: We were doing the mixing; we were just like fooling around, going through different names, and one day I was sitting at the board with Phil and I don't know, it just came out of my mouth: "Mud Love Buddy." I don't *know* where it came from. And he laughed, and he said, "That's it!" And that's it.

Lesh: You know me, when I hear it, and that's it, I say, "That's it."

Cutler: But, it's totally a goof, you know.

Gans: Who decided to name "Spinach Jam" on the last "Dick's Picks?"

Cutler: The infamous Dick Latvala named it.

Lesh: [laughing] Spinach Jam. . .

Gans: One of the things that's been talked about for more than a year has been the fate of the Grateful Dead album that never was, that you guys started and didn't get very far on. And there's a raft of terrific material, that last batch of tunes that Garcia and Hunter wrote, that really deserve to be heard. I hear various reports about you guys workin' on it, not workin' on it, whatever. Where are you at with that?

Lesh: We're not really workin' on it. There've been various ideas put forward about what to do with it, but. . .

Cutler: As I understand it, from the last time this was discussed officially, the current plan is to find the best versions of those songs that we have, regardless of format. I mean, it might be a two-track board tape --

Lesh: Regardless of provenance, yeah.

Cutler: Right; it might be a rehearsal tape, it might be anything. And to, in some form or another, maybe as part of a larger project, put them out.

Lesh: Yeah, the songs want to come out --

Cutler: The songs will definitely come out.

Lesh: -- We want to put the songs out, whether they're live versions, or they're some kind of embellishment with guest artists on the studio versions, I don't know.

Cutler: Because they're all tracks from the studio; as they exist [they] are very incomplete, particularly in Jerry's case. And so, consequently, as they stand, they're not suitable for release, really.

Lesh: In some cases, we might "bracket" a tune with a rehearsal version and a live version, say. There's a good rehearsal version of "Days Between," and there are some good live versions of "Days Between," so we might bracket that song, say, with two versions, you know, Take One and Take Two. . .

Cutler: Right, but the actual -- I mean, not all the songs even have basics from the studio --

Lesh: That's true, that's true. A couple of my tunes didn't have -- I changed 'em, and we never got locked in to the new versions.

Cutler: But the songs will get out there, it's just [that] we're tryin' to still decide exactly how.

Gans: The thing you're talkin' about here with multiple takes of something, is that part of some part of bigger, comprehensive box set? I'm tryin' to imagine what context that would be presented in.

Cutler: Well, you know, we talk about lots of things, and lots of things become ideas, and how many of those ideas actually reach fruition are another story. One concept has been to have a series of three box sets over a bunch of years here, ten-year periods at a time. And then, of course, guys like Dick come up with the question, "What do you mean, a box set? A box set would be 50 CDs! For ten years." So it's a difficult thing, to really try to figure out how to apportion this stuff.

Gans: There are definitely some rarities from throughout the years that deserve to be heard. Another one of the songs that got away is "Believe It Or Not." Beautiful song that somehow didn't get onto "Built To Last." Do you have a studio recording of that?

Cutler: I do.

Gans: Wow. I'd love to hear that --

Cutler: These are the kind of things that will ultimately end up in a box set. The bottom line is, we've been struggling for survival as an entity. And so there's only so much time -- you know, you don't want to rush these things, because you put out a box set from 1985 to 1995, you're not gonna put out a *second* box set of that time period. You wanna plan it pretty carefully. And --

Lesh: Right, and we haven't listened to everything that we can, either --

Cutler: Yeah.

Lesh: -- to help make these decisions. My feeling is that if we do put out a box set, that we wanna put out the *choicest* stuff imaginable, and that's gonna mean that we're gonna have to listen to just about everything.

Gans: And that's gonna take a while.

Lesh: Yeah.

Gans: Meanwhile, you're putting out the "Dick's Picks" stuff approximately one every three months, which seems like a fairly welcome development. And that format gives you a lot more stuff to draw from --

Lesh: Yeah, it's those basic two-track recordings of the shows.

Cutler: Although they're not ruled out from a box set. I mean, we're not gonna limit it to multi-tracks; if we have a great performance on two-track, we'll use it in a box set, I would imagine.

Lesh: Oh, yes.

Cutler: But yes, it's true, and with Dick at the helm of that, you know -- and he's always listening, he's always going, so that can come out more frequently. The Vault releases -- we're aiming for two a year, starting in '97.

Lesh: Yeah.

Cutler: And hopefully, we'll reach that goal. But you know, there's a lot of product out right now, and part of what determines these things is how things sell, and also just when people's -- like *our* lives get conjoined, Phil and me, to get together and *mix* something, because we're both doing other things.

Gans: Mm-hm. What *are* you doing, Phil?

Lesh: Who, me? Well, right now, I'm composing a Grateful Dead song symphony.

Gans: Whoa!

Lesh: It's going to be about 45 minutes long, and it'll be made up of motific and thematic elements of Grateful Dead songs all woven together in a kind of tapestry.

Gans: Wow!

Lesh: It's going to have seven movements; it'll be about 45 minutes long, and it'll be for full symphony orchestra.

Gans: Is this a commission?

Lesh: No. In a *sense* it is, because a record company suggested that I do it. But since that happened, then there've been several other record companies that have expressed interest in it, and so I'm going to just do it, since I don't have to earn money doing it, so I can take my time doing it, do it really right. Because it's a tricky kind of thing, to do it really right and not have it just be an arrangement, like symphonic Pink Floyd or something like that. So, I'm just gonna do it and then when it's ready, we'll see what happens.

Gans: Do you ever get a hankerin' to play the electric bass?

Lesh: [pause] Not as often as I did.

Gans: Did you have a good time when you went down to Shoreline and sat in [at the Furthur Festival]?

Lesh: Oh, yeah, that was great. Mickey's band is *really* somethin'. That was really an experience. I really got off doin' that. And the jam at the end was neat, too. I had a lot of fun playin' with Bruce Hornsby's band, at the Fillmore back in April. That was *really* fun. But things like that can't happen every day, and I'm just hopin' that I'll have an opportunity to do things like that, you know. Not very often, but really intense when they do happen. That's what I like.

Gans: What is the state of the Grateful Dead these days?

Lesh: [pause] There is no Grateful Dead. I mean, there are various business organizations, corporations, but there's no band, really.

Gans: Every once in a while a rumor flies about that you guys have had a meeting and are planning something, and --

Lesh: Well, we have meetings, and we usually plan something, but then what we plan usually never happens.

Gans: [laugh]

Lesh: [laugh] That's the best way *I* can describe it.

Gans: Good intentions, but --

Lesh: Yeah. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak? I don't know, I'm not sure.

Gans: What do you have in mind in the way of future video releases? You have a lot of stuff on videotape as well, right?

Cutler: Yes, but some of it is, you know, sort of "professionally shot" stuff that, for instance, like "Ticket to New Year's" [12/31/87] was, and a lot of it is just summer tour video that was meant for the [venue] screens. And so I have a feeling that -- we've talked about, just roughly, maybe having a two-tiered system of video release as well, like we do with Vault releases and "Dick's Picks." And in terms of the high-rent shot ones, there aren't very many. There's probably five or six of them, period.

Gans: You mean stuff that could be re-edited?

Cutler: Well, stuff where there's multiple cameras and there's iso tape, so that if the shot that was broadcast isn't great, there's an alternative shot -- which wasn't the case with this New Year's thing, but we were lucky.

Gans: Yeah, there are definitely a few glitches in there that were from the live [pay-per-view TV] feed.

Cutler: Yeah. But in terms of the summer tours, there's probably four or five years' worth of them, that have various degrees of video and audio to go with them. And, you know, things will come out. It's just, I *know* that there's a great demand and people want everything -- you know, you see on the Internet and stuff, "Dick's Picks" comes out and they're already complaining, "What's the next one?" the day after it comes out. And there's *those* people. But there's also the economic realities, and the *time* realities of our lives. And, you know, all things will happen in their own time, I think.

Lesh: I don't imagine us putting out more than one major video release every two years. I can't really see it happening -- because as John says, there's only five or six of them, so if we put one out every year, then we'll run out pretty quickly.


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