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inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #51 of 638: David Gans (tnf) Thu 15 Jun 06 12:01
    
I'm sorry to hear that.  Show biz is a heartbreak.


> Does that mean you coined the term?

I made up the name "Mutilaudio," yes.  It's actually a wry response to a term
used by a particularly wacko Grateful Dead "scholar" who railed on at great
length about "mutilated" tapes in which the long breaks between songs have
been edited out.

Don't get me started.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #52 of 638: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 15 Jun 06 13:29
    
David, half.com has 14 copies of the Talking Heads book starting at 75
cents. Amazon has 25 copies starting at 1 cent.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #53 of 638: David Gans (tnf) Thu 15 Jun 06 13:35
    
Heh.  Sic transit gloria Gans!
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #54 of 638: Ruth Allison (tinydancer) Thu 15 Jun 06 13:39
    
I hear "Surely You Jest" and "Golden Days" as 2 sides of the same
coin. If you're able to take the basic music and lyric and arrange it
unique to yourself and your experience, it might not feel so strange. 

In the same vein, I hear similarities between Tina's song Quarter to
Five and Golden Days. A slower, more mournful instrumental version of
Golden Days. 

I'm sorry I don't know any of the technical musical jargon to make it
more clear.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #55 of 638: uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Thu 15 Jun 06 13:51
    
Hey David.  Great discussion so far.

On some songs you alter your voice to add texture to the music. 
Surely You Jest is probably the most obvious example.  It's almost a
growl at times.  Do you enjoy singing in that voice?
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #56 of 638: John P. McAlpin (john-p-mcalpin) Thu 15 Jun 06 14:02
    
>>Growing up in the '60s and watching most of the ideals of that time
crushed under the wheels of fundamentalist and corporatist
machinations, I've come to the understanding that the world has to be
changed one person at a time, not by force but by persuasion and
example.

Amazing.

David, now that you are touring and recording after working as writer
and broadcaster, is your art changed now that you are older? If so, how
specifically are your songs and performances different than what we
might have heard had you toured and recorded as a much younger man?

After years of asking questions, how is it answering them?

And, apologies for the triple dip here, what question do you wish an
interviewer asks but never does?
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #57 of 638: David Gans (tnf) Thu 15 Jun 06 17:04
    

I owe Ruth another answer from her post <35>.

> how do you know when you've done a performance you're proud of? And how do
> you know when you've not? Both after the gig and after listening to the
> recording?

As we all know from years of comparing our live concert experiences with the
recordings, what makes magic in the moment doesn't necessarily survive the
process of storage and playback, and what may have seemed flat and per-
functory in real time can sparkle in the speakers at home, free of distract-
ing flubs and forgettings.

When I'm on stage, I am almost always aware of the mistakes as they happen
(musicians refer to 'em as "clams," and just today a colleague referred to a
recent set of his as a "clambake").  I keep a loose running tally, and after
a certain point I just know it's not going to be a keeper.  But this is a
background process, nowhere near the center of my attention.  When you're
onstage playing for people, your mission is to entertain and inspire them;
the tape is secondary.

But what constitutes a performance I'm oroud of doesn't necessarily have to
do with the clam quotient.  The phrase "ragged but right" - made famous by
George Jones - is perfect.  If the performer and the audience are locked in
together and the emotional narrative is playing out in a pleasing way, then
the performance is a success.  I'd rather have a shitty recording of a show
that made people smile and/or dance and/or grow and/or feel something deep
and new than a great recording of a performance that didn't move anyone.

What I'm saying here is that a performance can succeed on a grand level while
failing a hundred ways in the details.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #58 of 638: David Gans (tnf) Thu 15 Jun 06 17:07
    

> I hear "Surely You Jest" and "Golden Days" as 2 sides of the same coin.

And indeed they are.  On a fundamental level, they're telling the same story.
Or they're set in the same milieu, anyway.  Vince's story is more linear and
direct, speaking directly to Jerry Garcia; my song arose from situations in
Jerry's immediate vicinity, but is ultimately a work of fiction, and any
resemblance to real persons living or dead etc etc etc.

> I hear similarities between Tina's song Quarter to Five and Golden Days.

And again, I can't disagree.  Both songs express a great sadness, a great
love, and a great loss.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #59 of 638: David Gans (tnf) Thu 15 Jun 06 17:22
    

Peter:

> On some songs you alter your voice to add texture to the music.  Surely You
> Jest is probably the most obvious example.  It's almost a growl at times.
> Do you enjoy singing in that voice?

That voice first showed up in "Like a Dog," which was composed under the in-
fluence of Bob Dylan's "Things Have Changed."  I wanted to evoke that same
dark, somewhat menacing atmosphere.  I didn't necessarily intend to evoke a
gravel road with it, but by the time I finished the song I had to lower the
key of the verses in order to accommodate the higher notes that come up in
the bridge.

"Like a Dog" is a good example of what I said I learned from the Beatles: I
deliberately ut the bridge in a different key, because I thought the words
commanded a change of feel and also because I think a song tends to be more
interesting if it goes into unusual places.  The transition from the bridge
back to the verse does something I really like: it achieves a very big change
of atmosphere with a very small musical transition: from F major 7 to F#m.
The middle note of the chord doesn't change at all.

Once I had that song in my repertoire, I found myself liking the bottom end
of my vocal range a lot (and interestingly, getting more exercise at that end
had a positive effect on my ability to hit the high notes; it's all a matter
of muscle conditioning!).  "Surely You Jest" was a natural for the same
growly tone.

There was another song I was doing for a while that used that tone.  I was
driving across the basin and range of Nevada on US50, snging to myself as I
often do, when I got this bolt of inspiration.

John Barlow told me, in our first interview, that he was "stricken" when his
partner, Bob Weir, set his lyric "Mexicali Blues" to a perky polka beat.
The words actually tell a rather desperate story, of a guy with an underage
girl who dies in the end.  So it occurred to me, out there in the desert,
that it might be fun to set "Mexicali Blues" in a more reptilian vein.  When
I got to my destination I got the guitar out and fiddled around a bit until I
settled on a very slow, finger-picked (and somewhat simplified) reading of
Weir's chord changes, and I sang it in a really gravelly, Tom Weits-style
voice that just shredded my vocal chords and actually made them hurt before I
got through a whole verse.

I'm happy with the voice I am using for these songs, which I cheerfully admit
owes a great deal to my love of Leonard Cohen's album "I'm Your Man."
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #60 of 638: David Gans (tnf) Thu 15 Jun 06 17:31
    

> David, now that you are touring and recording after working as writer and
> broadcaster, is your art changed now that you are older? If so, how
> specifically are your songs and performances different than what we might
> have heard had you toured and recorded as a much younger man?

Most notably, I'm not writing nearly so much about what was the central
preoccupation of my first 40 years or so: mating issues.


> After years of asking questions, how is it answering them?

I've been working both sides of the journalistic table for years now.  I know
all the things an interviewee can do to ruin a journalist's day, and I don't
do them.  If I'm articulate and responsive and don't give the same rehearsed
answers to every writer I talk to, everybody wins.  I'm doing all this in
order to win hearts and sell tickets, so what would be the point of being a
dick?


> what question do you wish an interviewer asks but never does?

"How does it feel to have the number one record on five continents?"
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #61 of 638: Infradibulated Gratility (ssol) Thu 15 Jun 06 17:54
    
How would it feel to have a number one record in Fairbanks Alaska? I
guess I'm really wondering, how does making a popular recording figure
in your creativity? How does playing to a specific, perhaps narrow
audience figure? Do you write for the audience or yourself, first? Of
course, yourself is a pretty narrow audience, but… well, who do you
make music for? That's the question that I mean to ask!
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #62 of 638: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 15 Jun 06 18:16
    
(Sorry if it sounded like a diss. I thought you were looking for
copies of the book, and I figured you might be interested in some,
cheep.)
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #63 of 638: David Gans (tnf) Thu 15 Jun 06 18:24
    

Making a popular record doesn't really figure in at all.  The music industry
is so crooked, so perverse, and (most importantly)  so not at all interested
in the likes of me that t here is no point in even worrying about it.

When I was a pup, my partner and I attracted the interest of a minor music
publishing guy in San Jose, where were living at the time.  He paid for
studio time and shopped some of our songs around, with no luck.  He also sent
us a dollar to buy a copy of Dobie Gray's "Drift Away," which he thought was
the sort of song we should be writing.

Donnelly and I were thrilled with the attention and the prospect of actually
sellign some music, and although we nervously made fun of him behind his back
(and to his face some, too, regrettably) for being so "commercial," I think
we did try just a little to write what he wanted.

But it didn't last.  We never sold anything through him, and by 1973 I was
living in Berkeley and no longer in touch with the publisher guy.

I don't think I ever gave any thought at all to commerical markets for my
writing after that.

Certainly nowadays I don't worry about it, although I have a very few songs
that I think might be marketable in Nashville if I had the first notion of
which doors to knock on with 'em.  But my writing is not tailored to anyone's
muse but my own, nor to any market.

Joe Jackson put it perfectly in a 1982 interview I did with him for a piece
in Musician magazine.  He said if he makes a record he doesn't like because
he thinks it will sell, and it doesn't sell, then he's left with a record
that he doesn't like and that nobody else likes.  I've admired Joe Jackson's
work all along, and I think he's stuck to his guns on that point admirably -
and paid the price of following his own lights.

"Who do I make music for?" is a very important question, and I am not sure
what the answer is.  On a certain level, I make music for the people who I
have to impress in order to get gigs.  Some talent buyers don't much care
what you sound like and base their decisions on what they read about you in
Pollstar's box office results column.  There are some talent buyers who are
in this for other reasons, and may their tribe increase!

I've been fortunate in having encountered some of that latter class, most
notably Beth and Randy Judy of Magnolia Music in Jacksonville, Florida.  They
brought Eric Rawlins and me out to their festival in Live Oak, Florida in
1997 because they liked the sound of our record "Home By Morning" and because
I'm a well-known Grateful Dead radio host, author, etc.  They liked what they
heard, and they kept bringing me back to the festival (the Gans-Rawlins duo
wasn't really meant to tour, and I needed to get out there on my own) twice a
year, ecouraging me and rewarding my growth.  I owe Beth and Randy a huge
professional debt for their support and continued faith in my musical value.

I've gotten similar breaks from other promoters - the ones who listen with
their ears rather than their wallets.  And over time, my ability to draw an
audience has grown, so their faith has been rewarded - as has mine.

I just do what I can do.  I have no interest in adjusting my sound to fit any
perceived trends, and I have continued to grow artistically as well as com-
mercially by doing no more nor less than what I can, so I count my blessings
and press on.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #64 of 638: David Gans (tnf) Thu 15 Jun 06 18:25
    

> (Sorry if it sounded like a diss. I thought you were looking for copies of
> the book, and I figured you might be interested in some, cheep.)

No offense taken!  I think it's pretty funny that my book can be bought for a
penny online.  How much to ship the damn thing?
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #65 of 638: David Gans (tnf) Thu 15 Jun 06 18:27
    

(I have two books that are still in print: Playing in the Band and Conversa-
tions with the Dead.  Playing in the Band earned out pretty quickly.  Neither
title is generating a lot of royalties, but I'm proud that they haven't been
deleted.)
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #66 of 638: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 15 Jun 06 18:54
    
$1.59 or $2.09, probably.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #67 of 638: Ruth Allison (tinydancer) Thu 15 Jun 06 21:51
    
Are there female singer/songwriters on your list of influences besides
Carole King?
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #68 of 638: David Gans (tnf) Thu 15 Jun 06 22:29
    

Kate Wolf.  Laurie Lewis.  Not huge influences, but much admired.  Also Tara
Nevins of Donna the Buffalo.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #69 of 638: uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Thu 15 Jun 06 23:26
    
Thanks for the comments about your voice.  Funny thing, I never liked
Leonard Cohen very much.  Hadn't listened to him in years.  I popped
something of his in while I was driving around in Canada last year and
was surprised to find that I liked it quite a bit.  After listening to
a lot of your stuff over the last few years, live and recorded, I think
there might have been a combined effect of my ear maturing and your
music building a lyrical bridge that could allow me to acces him.  The
thought didn't occur to me at the time but it makes a lot of sense now.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #70 of 638: Gary Burnett (jera) Fri 16 Jun 06 08:22
    
I've heard one of those throat-killing Tom-Waits-esque performances of
"Mexicali Blues"!  I think it lasted maybe 2 verses ...

George Jones' version of "Ragged But Right" is great, but my favorite
is the one recorded in 1934 by Riley Puckett.  Obviously, The Jerry
Garcia Acoustic band also did it a number of times.

David, you've talked a bit about your songwriting influences, and
about the fact that you don't feel a lot of influences for your loop
work.  That leads me to a couple of additional questions:

What about your singing?  Any specific influences there (other than
Tom Waits and/or Leonard Cohen!)?  What inspired you to start singing,
or did it just come along naturally along with playing guitar?

And, second, how do you choose cover songs, and what makes a song
stick in your repertoire?  I've heard you do some odd ones over the
years, including things like the old Box Tops song "The Letter," which
came out of nowhere at a show you did here in Tallahassee.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #71 of 638: David Gans (tnf) Fri 16 Jun 06 11:28
    

I always loved to sing as a kid, and when I started writing songs and playing
guitar it came pretty naturally.  But I didn't really learn how to sing
properly until the mid-'90s, when Eric and I started taking lessons, fomr a
wonderful teacher (since retired) named Claudine Spindt.

As important as technique has been the process of developing a voice of my
own.  We all start out imitating the singers we love, and very often, learn-
ing a song we like also means learning the vocal inflections of the singer.
Over time, I've done my best to make each song my own, and over time, my
sense of my own vocal style has become more clearly defined.

I'm not sure how well I can characterize my own vocal style, but... I can
compare it to one obvious inspiration: Jerry Garcia.  As sweet and affecting
as his singing was for those of us who appreciated it (and there are legions
who just didn't get it about him), Jerry had a pretty limited instrument.  He
didn't have a lot of lung power, what with the lifetime of smoking cigarettes
etc.  I can hold notes much longer than he could, and I really like doing
that; I've actually made a conscious effort to not draw the notes out so much
all the time, lest it become an annoying affectation.  But I know how to make
a sung tone strong and long, and that gives me a good deal of power and con-
trol that I use to my advantage.

Jerry's natural range was also a good deal higher than mine, so in order to
sing his songs in my own comfort zone I've had to transpose them down three
or four steps.  That naturally leads to taking a different approach to the
instrumental support - most notably different chord voicings.

I also try to adjust the phrasing to my own natural rhythms - and that Van
Morrison thing I mentioned earlier, and my observation about Bob Dylan making
the perfect marriage of lyric and melody.  Some of Garcia's songs have some
minor mispatches of lyric and melody, such that the "wrong" word gets the
emphasis in the melodic/rhythmic phrase.

It's not a song I perform in my usual show, but it comes up in Dead-oriented
settings quite often: "Ripple."  Jerry sings "That path is for your steps
alone" with the word "that" strongly emphasized and set apart from the rest
of the phrase.  When I sing it, I hold that word til the next beat and attach
it to the rest of the line.  It makes more sense to me, lyrically and musi-
cally.  A very minor thing, but it's the first example that sprang to mind.

"Pancho and Lefty" has two examples of how I've made it my own.  In the Em-
mylou Harris recording (the first, I believe, of a zillion recorded covers of
Townes Van Zandt's classic), she sings "Pancho met his match, you know, in
the desert down in Mexico" with the first syllable of "desert" in a prominent
position - the only half note in a line that it otherwise entirely quarter
notes and eighth notes.  I heard someone else sing it in what I consider a
more appropriate phrasing: a quarter-note rest where Emmylou started that
word, and "in the desert" as four equally-stressed eighth notes.

Lemme see here.  Emmy sang it as two eighth notes ("in the"), half note
('dez"), quarter note ("ert), and two eighth notes ("down in"); the version I
cribbed elsewhere and integrated into my version is quarter rest and six
equal eighth notes.  On "Mexico," we're pretty much in agreement.

The other thing I've done in "Pancho" that is mine and mine alone is to speak
the first two lines of the last verse rather than sing them:

The poets tell how Pancho fell Lefty's livin' in a cheap hotel

And I sing the rest as per usual.

I can think of two other vocal influences: One is Merle Haggard - there's a
precision and austerity in his phrasing that I have always admired.  His vo-
cal tone has gotten warmer in his later years, I think, but when I was really
listening to him he had the same brittle clarity in his voice that all those
Bakersfield guitarists got with their Telecasters.

The other is a little weird.  I saw Billy Joel perform a number of times in
the '70s and '80s.  The first time was on the "Stranger" tour, co-billed with
Pablo Cruise.  I was there mostly for Pablo, but Billy Joel blew the Berkeley
Community Theater away and me with it.  And I saw him a couple more times
over the next few years.  One thing about his singing that I noted was that
he held his sibilants a little longer than one would expect.  I find myself
doing that sometimes, and I almost can't help it.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #72 of 638: David Gans (tnf) Fri 16 Jun 06 11:39
    

> how do you choose cover songs, and what makes a song stick in your reper-
> toire?  I've heard you do some odd ones over the years, including things
> like the old Box Tops song "The Letter," which came out of nowhere at a
> show you did here in Tallahassee.

There ain't much rhyme or reason to that.  I'll hear an old faavorite on the
radio, or read something on the net about a favorite artist, and that will
plant the idea in my head.  Sometimes I'll be noodling during soundcheck and
a song will come out spontaneously, and I'll play it furing the show.  Some-
times I'll hear a song title shouted out from the audience.

I have a piece of paper that I carry with me, not a set list but a "working
songbook" list: all my originals and a few dozen covers.  I don't often refer
to it, but when I'm playing a long show like a Farmers' Market gig, it keeps
me from standing around like an idiot trying to think of what to play next.
I open that list on my computer form time to time and make changes, adding a
song that's been on my mind or taking one off that I haven't done in a long
time and that doesn't really feel like me any more, whatever the fock that
means.

What makes a song stick in the repertoire is also a somewhat mysterious
thing.  I said earlier that te ones that stick tend to be the ones that fur-
ther my personal narrative; there are also sme songs that are just fun to
play and/or sing (or, ideally, both!).  "Impressionist Two-Step" keeps pop-
ping up, disappearing for months at a time, and then coming back.  Martin
Mull's "Normal" was a major feature in my early touring days (with my com-
plete rewrite of the last verse, and without Mull's original prelude), and it
appears on "Solo Acoustic" - but it's fallen out of the rotation.  I thik it
might have something to do with the looping: I never took the time to build a
guitar solo into it - by which I mean figuring out where to put the solo and
how to reprogram my brain to grab the necessary chording earier in the song
to support that solo, and to rehearse it at home enough times that I don't
make a complete botch of that solo the first half-dozen or so times I play it
in public.  The song is funny and fun, but it's not really substantial enough
to merit the work it would take to bring it into the current show, I guess.
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #73 of 638: Gary Burnett (jera) Fri 16 Jun 06 12:37
    
Musicians' choices of material to cover has always interested me.  In
many of the arts, there's nothing comparable -- novelists can't "cover"
someone else's work, for instance (or, if they do, they'd better hope
they don't get caught!). 

But, if you're a performer, you've *got* to have a repertoire, or
you're going to spend an awful lot of time standing around on stage
with nothing to do.  So, unless you're a hugely prolific writer, covers
can almost be a necessity.  I seem to remember that Bob Dylan said
that he once hit a crisis point, when he realized he would either have
to start writing songs again after several years of just coasting, or
turn to doing nothing but covers of other people's work.  And, of
course, there are those who make entire careers out of interpreting the
writing of others.

Any songs you have ever really really wanted to add to your book, but
just couldn't get to work for you?
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #74 of 638: No hablo Greenspaņol (sd) Fri 16 Jun 06 13:48
    
hey, the acoustic stuff is knocking me out david.
beautiful!
i know you mentioned it above but everyone should have a listen:
http://www.dgans.com/inkwell/

you know i love to hear you do "hooker river" from your 1997 release
Home by Morning. i've laughed at nearly every line of "monica
lewinsky", your work with various groups as a leader or a sideman is
always entertaining and now you've got this new work that touches on a
sort of folky bebop sometimes.

and, i've said it to you but it bears repeating, your work as a solo
performer both on guitar and vocally gets stronger every year.

about van morrison:
i've heard it said that he gets his percussive vocals from his sax
playing. i think it may be true. think of the peculiar phrasing of "the
wi-i-i-i-ild live is calling..."

one thing i really like about your performances is that you don't
really remind me of anyone else. i can imagine listening to you do a
whole performance of covers and finding something new that you'd added 
every song.

you haven't talked about your photography yet. any artistic influences
you want to mention there? want to point folks to some shots?
  
inkwell.vue.275 : The Life and Times of David Gans
permalink #75 of 638: Ruth Allison (tinydancer) Fri 16 Jun 06 14:11
    
I notice you do a similar thing with the phrasing in "Lazy River
Road"- particularly drawing out "hooouuunnd dogs baaay" "truck
downshifting its looaad". The " bright blue boxcars, train BY train"
part, which both Jerry and Bobby change key for "BY" you don't do that.
  

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