Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 21 Mar 01 12:56
While probably best known for his Grateful Dead-related activities over the years (in addition to co-producing the popular and critically-acclaimed box set So Many Roads, he co-founded the Well's Grateful Dead conference, and has produced the radio program The Grateful Dead Hour for over a decade), David Gans (http://www.dgans.com) has been a musician and songwriter for most of his life. These days he's touring heavily across the U.S. (he recently opened for David Lindley at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco) and has just released a new CD, Solo Acoustic. Long known to Well inhabitants, Gans currently co-hosts the Inkwell.vue, Beatles, Deadlit, Media, Band and Hosts conferences. Recorded at live performances over the last two years, the songs on Solo Acoustic include familiar Grateful Dead classics ("Lady With A Fan/Terrapin," "Black Peter," and "Brokedown Palace") as well as other covers (e.g. Gram Parsons' "Return of the Grievous Angel") and several original tunes by Gans himself and assorted songwriting partners, including Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Interviewer Mary Eisenhart (http://www.yoyow.com/marye) is a freelance writer and editor in Oakland whose current activities include writing business articles for Knowledge Management and M-Business magazines, as well as editing the content on the insiderone.net music site. She first met Gans on the stairwell of BAM magazine (RIP), for which they were both freelancing at the time, went on to do copious retyping of his first book Playing in the Band, and ultimately joined him and Bennett Falk in founding the Well's Grateful Dead conference. Please join me in welcoming my co-host David and his interviewer, Mary!!
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Wed 21 Mar 01 13:12
Welcome, folks! So David, tell us a little bit about this album--what prompted you to make it, and who do you see as its audience?
David Gans (tnf) Wed 21 Mar 01 20:45
I have been touring as a solo act for almost three years, and there is some demand at gigs for a recording. That was my principal incentive. "Solo Acoustic" also represents my commitment to my musical career -- which is what I set out to do with my life 30 years ago before getting "sidetracked" by several other interesting and rewarding occupations. I'm hoping this CD raises my profile enough to either help me get a "real" record deal or earn enough to finance a more elaborate recording. If this disc does well, I expect I'll do a "solo acoustic volume 2" to fur- ther document this phase of my career. I am enjoying the hell out of this singer-songwriter thing, but I am also looking forward to the time when I can afford to take a band on the road and into the studio.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Thu 22 Mar 01 06:27
Having been at some of your gigs over the years, I know you've got a pretty large repertoire of material (originals and otherwise) -- how did you decide what to include on this album?
David Gans (tnf) Thu 22 Mar 01 07:41
I went with good, clean, representative performances. And I got some help from some people who -- why am I reluctant to use the word "fans"? There are a growing number of fans out there who collect my performances (which is an important part of career development these days, as many of my friends and peers in the biz can attest), some of whom are also WELL neighbors. I sent email to these people and asked for their recommendations, and I listened to the stuff they suggested as well as shows I remember as being both well- played and good-sounding on tape. The source for all but one of these tracks is the dgital tape made from the soundboard at the show. Those mixes are not always good enough to enshrine on CD; sometimes the voice and guitar aren't properly balanced; sometimes the board is noisy, which pollutes the tape; etc. So the pool o availablle stuff was narrowedc by empirical considerations first. I wanted my own songs to predominate, of course, and I wanted my election of cover material to be representative of the usual configuration of my live shows. The main thing, of course, is what sounds good. The guitar playng has to be solid, and vocal and instrumental intonation right on the money, etc. And of course, the energy has to be good. There are some songs n my solo repertoire that I am saving for the full-band treatment. "Like a Dog," the first of my two collaborations with Robert Hunte,r is one of those. I included the secon Hunter song, "Shut Up and Listen," because it works well in this configuration AND it will be worth doing again when I can give it the snarling, Stonesish rock'n'roll treatment it really needs.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Thu 22 Mar 01 08:34
I noticed some of the more recent originals -- "River and Drown," "Down to Eugene," "Who Killed Uncle John" -- are clearly related to, or at least resonant with,the Deadhead experience. Can you say a bit about how they came to be written, who you're writing them for, and where you see them fitting in with your overall work over the years?
David Gans (tnf) Thu 22 Mar 01 10:17
"River and Drown" is a direct resonse to the festival scene that I am part of in various places around the country -- most notably the Suwannee SprngFest (where I am right now) and MagnoliaFest (latte October), put on by Magnolia Music and Events <http://www.magmusic.com> at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. The venue, on the banks of the Suwannee River, has been a bluegrass park for decades, and in the last six years or so has been the home of these two fine festivals. Lots of the same people show up every year -- on stage, selling food and t-shirts, in the audience -- and iit feels to me like a continuation of the same sort of floating hometown we had with the Grateful Dead. The song is a collection of sketches of people I've seen along the way -- specific characters and generalizations - and it also offers some commentary on the Grateful Dead community in particular because that's where I came from. "Who Killed Uncle John?" is the newest song, and it is a much more pointed commentary. It started last fall, when my friend Gary Burnett sent me on my way from Tallahassee with several cassettes of early Bob Dylan performances. The instant I heard "Who Killed Davey Moore?" I started accumulating ideas for this song, and I had hours and hours of driving around Florida in the next few days to develop it. (I don't have the lyrics on my laptop, sorry to say, but I'll get 'em uploaded and post a link asap.) Who am I writing these songs for? For myself, and for whoever listens to me. I am in a peculiar position, trying to step out from the shadow of the Grateful Dead and become a performer and writer in my own right. In the case of those songs, I am witing about what I know and about what matters to me. Other recent compositions -- e.g. "An American Family," which is on the CD, and "Autumn Day," which isn't -- address more universal concerns. I would like to think "Who Killed Uncle John?" is of interest to people who don't know (or care) about the Grateful Dead; a song that challenges the assumptions and attitudes of various Deadheads surely can't be seen as an act of pandering.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Thu 22 Mar 01 10:23
<scribbled by marye Thu 22 Mar 01 10:25>
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Thu 22 Mar 01 10:25
Never mind! Please continue!
David Gans (tnf) Thu 22 Mar 01 10:30
"Down to Eugene" was written by Jim Page, a troubadour from Seattle who I have known about since the early '70s and with whom I have done some touring in recent years. His version, on a CD titled "Whose World Is This," is a sprightly item delivered in Jim's trademark conversational style. When we played it together, I would interpolate little bits of Gratful Dead songs in between his lyrics (which would sometimes elicit a delightfully startled and pleased response from Jim). But his version of the song doesn't work for me, somehow. A year ago, I flew into Jacksonville for the Suwannee SpringFest. I sat in a hotel room near the airport, still on West Coast time, playing my guitar into the night. I had recently been inspired by an encounter with Jorma Kaukonen to get a set of metal fingerpicks, which I hadn't used in 25 years or so. I was just fartin' around, getting used to having these things on my thumb and fingers, when a delightful bit of bluesy, bouncy music began to assert it- self. I must have spent an hour just playing it over and over before I started thinking about what sort of words I might put to it. It was a moment of pure serendipity -- this musical gift from the muses, and the inspiration to see if Jim's words fit with it. They did. I did a little nipping and tucking here and there to make it scan and to suit my own idiosyncrasies, and played it at my very next gig. Just this morning, over at the SpringFest office, Turner Houston said to me, "You know that song you were playing over and over here in the office last year? It's been stuck in my head ever since. Is it on the new CD?" BINGO! That's the definition of a hit song, kids :^)
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Thu 22 Mar 01 10:32
I told you it was the single! Heh!
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Thu 22 Mar 01 10:34
So moving right along, one of the songs, "Shut Up and Listen," is co-written with Robert Hunter, a man whose work has certainly had a life-changing impact on a lot of us. How did the collaboration come about, and what's it like to work with Hunter, anyhow?
David Gans (tnf) Thu 22 Mar 01 10:54
Last July I checked my email ust before leaving my hotel room to play an out- door festival in Michigan. There was a message from Robert Hunter, saying he had been reading my online journal <inkwell.vue.51> and thought I might be interested in this. It was a song lyric titled "Like a Dog," and it seemed to have been written expressly for me. I was VERY excited. This man has been a hero to me for thirty years, having written some of the most important, resonant music of our generation. We had not had much of a relationship over the last ten years or so, for reasons unclear to me, so this gift was totally unexpected. The empathy it conveyed blew my little mind, I must say. There is much more in what he wrote for me than I ever laid out in that online journal -- but I think that is part of Hunter's great gift: to read into people and put things into words that we didn't know were true until he wrote 'em. I got through the gig that aternoon -- a splendid afternoon on an outdoor stage -- and then charged back to my hotel room to get to work on the song. A couple of days earlier I had sat in my car outside Lynagh's in Lexington, transfixed by Bob Dylan's new song "Things Have Changed." So I had that kind of feel in mind as I tackled "Like a Dog." I spent that evening with it, determined to have it ready for the next day's show at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park in northeast Ohio. When I got to Nelson Ledges, I got an idea. Rather than play it solo, I decided to show the song to the Dark Star Orchestra and ask them to play it with me in my set. They were game, so I ran it down forJohn kadlecik, the guitarist, and Scott Larned, the keyboardist. I made a head chart for the bass player, Mike Hazdra. The drummers just had to wing it. My risk-taking paid off. The DSO gave me exactly the sort of groove I was looking for, and although I stumbled on the words a bit the song was a success. I jumped right into "Bertha," and we proceeded to do a few favorite Dead songs in one contninuous jam to end my set. What a thrill! When I got home to California, I played the tape of this performance on my radio show. There was copy in the mail to Hunter, but he heard it on the radio and sent me a very enthusiastic email message right away. "You're the doghead!" he said. And then he sent me another lyric: "Shut Up and Listen."
David Gans (tnf) Thu 22 Mar 01 10:55
Like a Dog Sick of gettin' treated like a goddamned dog Sick of gettin' kicked around Sick of sittin' like a bump on a log Gonna head for higher ground Sick of gettin' cheated, blindsided and tricked By ev'ry sonabitch on the block This sure as hell ain't the life I picked I believe I'm ready to walk If I ever need another stab in the back I surely know where to turn Useta make my bed on a railroad track But don't say I never learn Meet me in the morning on the nine-o-nine Down among the evergreen Found a message in a bottle of wine What it says remains to be seen Sick and tired of bein' sick and tired And mister that isn't a joke Sick and tired of bein' hired and fired While my dreams go up in smoke Sick of gettin' lied on, spied on and judged By standards that I don't approve Spent too much time holdin' a grudge Now I'm gonna make my move Sick of gettin' treated like a goddamned dog Sick of gettin' kicked around Sick of sittin' like a bump on a log Gonna head for higher ground Meet me in the morning on the nine-o-nine Down among the evergreen Tell me your troubles, I'll tell you mine Beatin' rhythm on the tambourine Sick of gettin' treated like a goddamned dog Sick of gettin' kicked around Sick of sittin' like a bump on a log Or knocked down on the ground Sick of bein' treated to a slap in the face Where a nod and a wink would do Sick of my children in the rags of disgrace Their father and their mother too Sick of being murdered in the streets of Prague Down hearted in the Barrio So sick of sinkin' in the same old bog Catch a ferry down to mexico . . . by Robert Hunter Copyright 2000 Ice Nine Publishing Company
David Gans (tnf) Thu 22 Mar 01 10:56
Shut Up and Listen You're so busy talkin' You never find out What ev'ryone else Is keepin' quiet about You're so busy knockin You don't understand The door's wide open Don't go breakin' your hand CHORUS: Shut up & listen A minute or two Shut up & listen You could pick up a clue Shut up & listen Doot' n doo doo Shut up & listen I'm talkin' to you Shut up and listen Or you may never learn Why pigs don't fly Why water don't burn Why you can't find a cop When it's a cop you need Why you can't grow gators From crocodile seed CHORUS Walking in a storm With an ear to the blast Thinkin each moment Could be my last A small still voice Seemed to beckon within So quiet in there You'd hear the drop of a pin I asked what it wanted, Said what do you crave? It said: nothin' but the first dance On your grave I ran for the faucet And I turned off the storm Crawled under the bed To consider reform CHORUS You don't pay attention You don't analyze An ounce of prevention's Worth a ton of surmise Shut up and listen And it may come clear Why the key to your hopeUs The very thing you fear Why if you pick at a scab you prolong the pain Why you can't find a cab in New York in the rain CHORUS By Robert Hunter Copyright 2000 Ice Nine Publishing Company
David Gans (tnf) Thu 22 Mar 01 11:02
"Shut Up and Listen" presents an interesting problem. Basically, it's Hunter's resonse to audiences that made his last tour a painful one, shouting for "Dark Star" in the middle of his quiet songs and stuff like that. At first, I gave it a very gentle, sweet musical setting to counteract the acerbic quality of the lyric. Hunter heard that on the webcast of a Musicians for Mewdical Marijuana show from the Great American Music Hall (August something, 2000), and although he was kind in his response I got the feeling he wanted me to power that fucker out for him. I replied that my musical setting is "scaleable," meaning it would work as a delicate fingerpicked thing and also in a more urgent form. Laster in the year, I had occasion to use the song in a manner more in keeping with the lyricist's apparent intention. Opening shows for large rock bands in front of audiences that came to hear Grateful Dead music and weren't much interested in what I was doing...
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Thu 22 Mar 01 11:07
Hm. This brings up an interesting tangent--audiences. As a confirmed audience member, I've always had a hard time understanding how performers do not go bonkers as they sit up there singing their hearts out while people spill beers, discuss the football game, or worse. I know you've had some nightmare gigs and some very good ones, sometimes in the strangest of places--what do you like to see in an audience?
David Gans (tnf) Thu 22 Mar 01 11:22
It's really hard not to take it personally sometimes, but as long as I know I'm doing a good job I don't get too flustered when I'm faced with an inat- tentive crowd. The trick is to get good bookings, of course. Last week I had the privilege of opening for David Lindley and Wally Ingram at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. It's a great venue, and Dave and Wally are a great act. Their audience was a delight -- polite, responsive, and they got my jokes! The ones in the songs, I mean. At this phase of my career, I have to take some gigs that I know are going to be problematic. I am much better known in the GD/jamband world than I am in the "Americana" circuit, which is really where I belong. So when I find myself in front of a restless crowd that is mostly concerned with having a good spot in front of the stage for the headliner's set, I just turn up the juice and deliver a performance that can't be denied. If I can connect with a few people, I've won. My job is to build an audience for myself one person at a time. Sometimes that means singing across the top of a few hundred chattering souls who can't be bothered to tune in, but all I need is a few faces looking back with some sign of appreciation and I'm happy.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Thu 22 Mar 01 11:54
For those who don't hang out in music-biz circles a lot, what is this "Americana" thing? It seems to be a new category that includes a lot of familiar and unfamiliar artists. Who are some names we might recognize in that genre, and why do you feel like that's where you belong?
David Gans (tnf) Thu 22 Mar 01 12:26
Americana is a category invented by Rob Bleetstein when he was working for The Gavin Report. It's the place for people like John Prine, Gillian Welch, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, et al. -- people who play music that is no longer welcome on the Country chart. I belong there because I am a disciple of John Prine, Steve Goodman, Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, Jesse Winchester, Little Feat, Kate Wolf, Merle Haggard, Bob Wills, Commander Coddy and His Lost Planet Airmen, etc.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Thu 22 Mar 01 12:41
Somewhat in keeping with that tradition, which is pretty eclectic-- there's quite a range of emotion and subject matter in your original compositions--"Blue Roses" is a sweet, wistful ballad, and "An American Family" is something else entirely. Tell us a bit about what's going on in some of those songs and how you came to write them.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 22 Mar 01 12:57
I wrote "Blue Roses" in 1974, driving home from Oregon. I don' remember what, if anything, was going on in my life that would have prompted it -- it might be one of those songs that started with a musical atmosphere and proceeded from there. "An American Family" resulted from a decision to write a piece of pure fiction. At the time - four or five years ago -- I was thinking that my songwriting was (a) not frequent enough, and (b) too often rooted in my own personal saga. It began as a portrait of a person I know in real life, but I followed my nose and it led me to a different guy altogether, and the next thing I knew he had a wife and a kid. It's about the times as much as the people: An American Family by David Gans My name is Ellis Andrews and I know just where I stand Descended from the Puritans who colonized this land There's an old abandoned fact'ry with our name up there in bricks I've been sending out my resumes and hoping something sticks The power of tradition is the power of trusting fate To hand me some good fortune when the hour is getting late But work has not been steady since the lull of '91 And the fear of disappearing is pre-empting all my fun My name is Ellis Andrews and I've always done my chores I'm the hero of my movie just like you must be in yours Twenty years since graduation I'm still searching for my groove And an outlet for my skills when the economy improves My name is Mary Andrews and I'd like to keep my home But we can't afford our mortgage on my salary alone This family's failing fortunes may be more than I can take I'm married to a decent man who cannot get a break My name is Elvis Android and I don't care what you think My most-unanswered prayer is, Beam me up! This planet stinks! The power of tradition is the power to prevent When genocidal profit is the task to which you're bent When my optimism falters I just turn on Channel Two To wallow in nostalgia for a life I never knew My fathers' fathers' fathers made a mess out of this place If I had the wherewithal I'd checkered-flag the human race Copyright 1996 Whispering Hallelujah Music (BMI). All rights reserved.
Mary Eisenhart (marye) Thu 22 Mar 01 15:34
Is there anything in particular that inspires you to write a song? When does it go from a passing idea to something more fully formed and real?
David Gans (tnf) Thu 22 Mar 01 19:28
There is no process, no method, no formula. If I took the time to sit down and just play more often, I might write more -- but I'm not entirely sure that's true. I sometimes wish I were one of those people who can write and write and just see what works, but I'm not. I tend to incubate ideas inside my head for quite a while before I commit to paper. And I like to think about the music for a good long time before I start trying to play the song on the guitar, because that helps me avoid the cliches of guitar-based songwriting. Oviously, "Down to Eugene" is an exception, since that began as a guitar piece. But "An American Family," for example, began as a lyric idea and stayed inside my head through the arrival of the other two characters. I knew each character would be sung in a different key, and I had a good idea of what the melody and rhythm would sound like, before I picked up the guitar. Once I did pick up the guitar, the song proved to be nearly complete. Another song, "Autumn Day," began with the first line: "Her name was autumn day." I ruminated for a long time on who that person might be, and as she took shape her story began to tell itself to me. I was surprised when it turned out to be Yet Another Song About Interrupted Love -- a theme that has persisted in my writing for years (see also "Waltzing Across Texas," written in 1979 or so) -- but it is what it is. I was able to exert some control over the story, and I had the opportunity to make some interesting musical choices, so it satisfies an important criterion of sucess in my songwriting: it has to have something unique, and/or it has to represent some development in my skill as a composer or lyricist. In this case, I made the decision to NOT put more chord changes in places where they suggested themselves. The action is all in the melody and the words, while the harmonic framework is really, really simple. "Autumn Day" is not on this record -- even though it works pretty well as a solo number -- because I really want to do some sound sculpting with it when I get a chance to record it in the studio. Here are the lyrics: Her name was Autumn Day She took my breath away Red hair and jack-o-lantern smile Her beauty was unique Her laughter made me weak She thought she'd stay with me a while Though she was born to run She said I was the one Her love was bold in its insistence She had a dancer's lines Up close she looked so fine But there were storm clouds in her distance Her name was Autumn Day She came but could not stay Some evenings she would walk Out where the spirits talk And she would listen for their song I don't know what she heard She could not find the words But I could feel something was wrong I saw the lightning in her eye The moon went sailing by The oceans all ran dry And then it rained... Now here I am, alone Chilled to my every bone Cold winds blow through my heart My new life will not start Her name was Autumn Day She came but could not stay There's an opportunity to make something really interesting happen after that bridge. In live performance, it's just bare-bones triads (the simplest of major chords) in that passage, but I invest them with suficient drama (I hope) to get the message across.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 22 Mar 01 19:31
I got a nice assist from real life during the making of "Autumn Day." Here is a journal entry from October 26, 1998: I am in the middle of a very interesting writing experience. I started out with the line "Her name was Autumn Day" and just let it come to me, a little at a time. The music is unbelievably simple and spare - just two chords most of the time, C and A minor (one of those was an F at first, but I decided to keep it VERY simple).... What's really fascinating to me is the turn the story has taken. I had thought it was going to be one of those dumbass songs about the most amazing woman who ever lived - standard male wish-fulfillment - but it has turned into something else entirely. There's a lot of death in the air right now, unfortunately, and that energy has affected my process of creating this song. I am not fighting it - the song is telling me what it wants to be, and I trust that. By happy coincidence, I just spent four days in Yosemite Valley, on what proved to be the very cusp of the seasonal change. There's a sugar maple on the main road that was bright yellow when we got there, turning fiery red by the minute; the wedding took place outdoors under a mildly threatening sky, and as soon as we moved inside for the reception the clouds burst forth for a couple of hours of intense rain, which sent dozens of spontaneous wateralls into action overhead - and when the clouds lifted at the end of the afternoon, there was snow on all the major peaks and domes. Minds were blown! As research material for the song in progress, it was quite memorable. I had worked on the song very late several nights last week, and I kept it with me at all times over the weekend. I wrote in a pocket notebook when- ever I got an idea, and when we got back to the cabin I'd update the copy in my Powerbook. The structure is there, in its bare-bones simplicity, and I doubt it will want a bridge. There are still several lines that are only placeholders, and I expect to collapse two verses into one before I'm done, etc. But I'm enjoying the process a lot, and I think the song is going to be a quiet wonder when it's done. It did wind up with a bridge.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 22 Mar 01 19:57
And here are the lyrics to "Who Killed Uncle John?": WHO KILLED UNCLE JOHN? Who killed Uncle John And kept the show from going on? "Not I," said the nitrous man Counting money in his van "The parking lot's my neighborhood I'm sure the show inside was good" "Not I," said the tribute band Aiming at nostalgic fans "It's everybody's flame to keep Twice as high and half as deep" It wasn't me who stopped his heart I served the man who served his art Who killed Uncle John And kept the show from going on? "Not I," said the idiot Flaming on the Internet "He owed his wealth to guys like me I took his work so seriously" "Not I," said the completist Fondling his compact discs "I'm sorry that he went away I'll soon own every note he played" It wasn't me who stopped his heart I served the man who served his art Who killed Uncle John And kept the show from going on? "Not I," said the mainstream press "I found his image humorous His followers were so uncool I made him out to be a fool" "Not I," said the publicist Protecting him from journalists "I'm writing his biography I needed him to talk to me" It wasn't me who stopped his heart I served the man who served his art "Not I," said the acid-head "And I don't think he's really dead He served his time in hell on earth Only I know his true worth" "Not I," said the heroin Slouching into Terrapin "I helped him to escape his fame By letting him forget his name" It wasn't me who stopped his heart I served the man who served his art Who killed Uncle John And kept the show from going on? "Not I," said the kwipment krew "He loved me and hated you Guts to open, trips to win I stayed right in the game with him" "Not I," said the engineer Whispering in someone's ear "I woke up worried every day And went to bed each night that way" It wasn't me who stopped his heart I served the man who served his art Who killed Uncle John And kept the show from going on? "Not I," said the dharma bum Speaking through his talking drum "Not I," said the entourage manufacturing mirage "Not I," said the man from merch Selling souvenirs in church "Not I," said the radio host Refusing to give up the ghost "Not I," said the DEA Deploying agents where he played "Not I," said the troubadour "Not I" -- "Not I," said the dancing girl Interrupted in mid-twirl "I'll show you where the spirit went I'll meet you at the Incident" Words and music by David Gans Copyright 2001 Whispering Hallelujah Music (BMI). All rights reserved.
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