GRATEFUL DEAD DOCUMENTARY
Grateful Dead Documentary
Produced by Michael Wanger and Vance Frost
Special Thanks to Tom Donahue
Ralph J. Gleason
December 10, 1968, Berkeley, California,
John Cipollina and David Freiberg
December 16, 1968, Mill Valley, California
Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart and Tom
December 18, 1968, Alembic Studios, Novato, California
Paul Kantner and Spencer Dryden
December, 1968, Fulton Street House, San Francisco, California
A number of factors combined to inspire us to produce this documentary.
Both of us had known Bob Weir in high school, and we'd spent a lot of time
hanging out at Dana Morgan's Music Shop as well as Top of the Tangent, the
center of the Palo Alto folk music scene. The Tangent was where we frequently
listened to musicians like Jorma Kaukonen, Michael Cooney and Jerry Garcia.
It was there in 1964 that Michael's brother, Peter, and his Stanford classmate,
Wayne Ott, recorded Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions.
Early in 1968, we began a weekly documentary radio program at Stanford's
KZSU-FM that explored various styles of music and particular artists' development.
Around the same time, we were inspired by seeing the Grateful Dead in the
dance halls of San Francisco. It was clear they were developing something
very innovative, creating an environment of community combined with a revolutionary
approach to live rock music.
In the Summer of 1968, seeking a wider audience and armed with the
Mother McCree tape, the idea for a program about the history of the Grateful
Dead was hatched. KSAN-FM, the famous San Francisco radio station, had pioneered
the "underground" format which seemed appropriate for the production
and airing of the type of documentary we envisioned. We sought out the assistance
of program director Tom Donahue. He invited us to the studio to create a
short demo, after which he graciously opened many doors.
Our first interview was with Ralph J. Gleason, the jazz and pop music critic
for the San Francisco Chronicle, and one of the foremost authorities
and proponents of the San Francisco music scene. We met with him in the
record and book-lined study of his Berkeley home. As expected of someone
in the business of talking about music, he was extremely knowledgeable and
articulate. He was also especially enthusiastic about the Dead.
Our shortest interviews occurred at the Fulton Street home of the Jefferson
Airplane. We were allowed only as far as the spacious entry hall, where
we sat on the floor and conducted interviews with Paul Kantner, rhythm guitar,
and Spencer Dryden, drums.
This was a contrast to the spirited comments of two members of the Quicksilver
Messenger Service, John Cipollina, lead guitar, and David Freiberg, bass.
Even though John had a bad cold on that rainy evening, he warmly invited
us in to his hillside house in the trees. He even set up his own microphones
and tape deck to create a stereo collection of their observations. They
clearly enjoyed sharing their appreciation of the Grateful Dead and their
perspectives as contemporary musicians. There were some great stories, particularly
about the time they were raided by the Dead.
Our most chaotic interviews were with the members of the Grateful Dead themselves.
We found them in Novato down a muddy gravel road in a big pink building
they called the Clubhouse. It was littered with equipment, and Owsley was
there fiddling. In spite of our relatively unsophisticated interview technique
("So, what happened after that?"), Jerry and Bob enthusiastically
recounted much of the band's colorful history and aspirations. Other band
members came drifting in and out, shooting in comments and zingers. The
best stuff would happen when four or five of them would sit down, bounce
off and playfully taunt each other. The guys would wander off in different
combinations to practice bits and pieces of tunes, and you can hear portions
of "Lovelight" in the background.
Putting it all together took nearly six months. We sifted through
the interviews and searched the Dead's music for relevant examples. Rock
Scully provided us with additional live and studio material. We charged
into the editing process during "off" hours at Golden State Recorders
in San Francisco, often working late into the night. Immersing ourselves
in the material only increased our appreciation of the Grateful Dead as
visionary artists. The documentary premiered on KSAN, Sunday June 8, 1969,
and has been passed around as a bootleg ever since.
Michael Wanger and Vance Frost