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Grateful Dead Roadie: “I Took My Job as a Sacred Task”
11/4/08, 2:32 pm EST
The Grateful Dead biopic adapted from Home Before Daylight, already has a shortlist of hot directors including Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, Jonathan Demme and Larry Charles. “Those are the guys that would really knock out of the park,” producer Stephen Emery tells Rock Daily.
But like any business these days, the film industry is taking a kick in the groin. “Hollywood is in a freeze like the rest of us in this country,” says the book’s author and longtime Dead roadie Steve Parish. “It ebbs and it flows. But the wheels are in motion. It could happen any day.”
Several musicians, including Jefferson Airplane, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, have already signed on for the soundtrack, with guitarist Bob Weir as the music director. “I’m very proud to have Bob on board,” says Emery. “He wants to write new stuff for the film, too.”
Out of all the books on the Grateful Dead, few cut close to the bone like Parish’s book — it goes deep and gets personal. He not only knows where the skeletons are, but where the bodies are buried. That happens after 35 years hauling gear for Jerry Garcia and the band. He’s seen a lot — maybe too much. So, it’s a miracle that he remembers enough to get it down in ink, let alone bring it to the screen. “Jerry was just such an amazing guy,” Parish says. “We hung out together, played together and partied together.”
“I thought it was a great story crewing for the grateful Dead,” Parish says. “I realize now we broke all all the rules. There were no PAs. We went all around around the country dealing with the unions. All they knew was Broadway. We were long hairs and different from them. But Jerry had a huge respect for the working man.” But Parish held his own. “Fuck, I’m a pretty big fella.”
As pitched, the film concentrates one the band’s early years and arcs over a decade.”It was a great time for the band and the country,” Emery says. “It goes from 1967, when Steve signed on with the band, and runs through the next ten years. It has all the pain, love, and the brotherhood. I don’t want to get into the heroin problems and darker responsibilities that happened later.”
As Parish puts it, life with the Dead was tender and heart-felt. “Garcia was a brother to me,” he says. “And I took my job a a sacred task.” One evening, Parish got word his wife and daughter died in a car wreck. “I was out of control, It was just an incredible world. We always had a connection with death, and it made you tougher. The band literally moved in with me. They took care of me. But it was dangerous.”
Humor, no doubt, will play a part. “I can tell you without reading it that it might make a funny movie,” says Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow.
Garcia, Parish says, would likely approve of the flick. “Jerry always talked about movie making,” he says. “We always talked about doing projects. Jerry was really into movies. He loved films, old ones, strange ones.”
“Bob and I are waiting,” Parish says about studio negotiations. “It’s like standing on ice blocks.”
"Tale of the Dog
Mark Karan talks about joining the Grateful Dead brotherhood, music as a form of therapy and hearing himself on TV"
Tale of the Dog
Thursday, November 06, 2008
By Dave Bonan
Mark Karan grew up in San Francisco and played in countless rock outfits. He was heavily influenced by The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and, of course, the Grateful Dead.
He first joined Grateful Dead members Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir as The Other Ones and shared the "Jerry" duties with former Zero guitarist Steve Kimock on the Furthur Festival Summer Tour in 1998 and again in 2000. After the tour ended, he joined Ratdog, the band Dead rhythm guitarist Bob Weir formed in 1995 with bassist Rob Wasserman. Ratdog performs a large chunk of the Dead's catalogue as well as originals and covers, and mirrors the Dead's Americana hybrid roots. They released an album, Evening Moods, in 2002, but like the Dead, live shows are their focal point. (Like Garcia said, "Making an album is like building a ship in a bottle, playing a live show is like sailing on the ocean.")
In June 2007, Karan was diagnosed with throat cancer and didn't join that summer's tour. Miraculously, he was given a clean bill of health the next summer.
The Weekly caught up with Mark Karan at his home on the West Coast.
Weekly: Okay, let's go cliché. What is your favorite GD song? What is your favorite Bobby song?
Mark Karan: Ah, the question I can't answer, see? There's just too many, and I like different songs for different reasons, like songwriting, storytelling or chord progressions. But I tend to favor songs from the early '70s.
I was at the last two Shoreline shows on the 1998 tour. During the show, many of us saw the band members possibly experiencing an apparition during "Space," as they looked back and forth in confusion. Do you remember that?
I don't specifically remember that happening, but things like that tend to happen. My wife and friends (who were not under the influence) were at the Ratdog New Year's show nine years ago and we were playing "Two Jinn," and they don't know if Candace Brightman [the GD's light lady] did something, but they all saw this blue purple genie back in the corner of the auditorium where there weren't any lighting effects going on at all. So there's room for that kind of stuff to go on.
Who would you like to play with that you haven't?
Oh gosh [long pause]. I'm a complete Beatle idiot. At the very least, I'd like to meet and hang with McCartney and/or Ringo.
But he won't give you his autograph!
I don't care about that. It would mean so much more to me to spend some time with him, although I'm a sucker for a good photograph (laughing). I'd love to play some guitar with Bill Frisell and Amos Garrett. I've been really lucky. I've played with a lot of people I've wanted to play with—Little Feat, Dave Mason, Delaney [Bramlett] and [Bonnie] Bramlett—a lot of people who were important to me when I was growing up.
How would you describe your style?
I would say melodic and passionate as the primary characteristics. I don't think I'm going to blow away anyone's mind with my skill. It's not what I do. I'm really a songs person. I appreciate simplicity and appreciate passion and connection in music.
Back to Bobby [Weir] again. Do you and the other bandmates wonder why Bobby wears those short shorts?
[Laughing] Bobby's stock response is "It's always July under the lights." He makes fun of me on summer tours when I'm in my long-sleeve cowboy shirts and jeans.
Well, you also wear a lot of flowery shirts, evocative of the county you live in, right?
Depending on my mood, it's generally the Hawaiian shirt or the cowboy shirt. I came through the '80s with mile-high hair and there's funny pictures of me floating on the internet, but when I got invited to play with The Other Ones in '98, it was kind of a hip reset in a lot of ways, musically, social focus-wise, and even fashion-wise. I feel like I got sidetracked trying to make it commercially in the music world through the '80s. I'm glad I'm more back on track.
When you were diagnosed with throat cancer, did you utilize music as part of your healing?
Absolutely. Aside from having my guitar by my side at all times everyday for seven weeks, when I had radiation, they strapped me down and locked my head with radiation guns pointing at you for 25 minutes. Every day before going in, I'd select a CD from my collection and wait for a favorite to jump out that was full of life and comfort and I would bring it and listen.
I definitely don't have the energy I did previously and my voice is compromised, and I want that to get back in shape to finish my record.
On July 21, 2007, Phil and Friends' encore was "Box of Rain," and it was dedicated to you. Deadheads know he wrote that song while watching his father on his deathbed.
I actually didn't know that. That's very nice. I knew about the song's history but not that Phil dedicated it to me.
Do you feel a special kinship with Phil because you both survived your health problems? [Phil received a liver donation and preaches organ donation before every encore.]
Absolutely. We were never close previously except for the '98 tour. We did his son's benefit show and some Ratdog stuff but never crossed paths. When they reached out when I was sick, it was really cool because we could reconnect in other ways as well as the spiritual and emotional stuff that comes up as a result of health issues. I definitely feel a strong connection to those people now.
For folks not familiar with the jam band genre, they may have heard your compositions on NBC's "Scrubs" and on programs for A&E, Discovery Channel, Oxygen and the Travel Network.
[Laughing] My god! How did you know that?
I look up my stuff!
You certainly do! Oh, that's amazing, man. Right on.
How did you make that transition to television?
I've always done music for a living that's taken a lot of forms, whether I played covers in bars for $50 a night to more creative and refined bands with hopes of record deals to teaching and sessions. I've been involved in music library projects where you write, play and record. It's not necessarily a song, but a snippet. Television and films then license the music through the libraries.
Do you find yourself watching TV and listen and say, "Hey, that's me!"
Occasionally. My wife and I were in Los Angeles one time and this Norm Reeves [a local dealer] Honda commercial came on and it was me singing, and I had done that like ten years previously, and here they were still using the exact same commercial.
I see you also composed music for the Playboy Channel. Have you introduced a new hybrid of jam band/porno-funk?
[Laughing] No, it was the music library as I mentioned before. No porno-funk from this kid.
In Rolling Stone, Bobby was in the top 25 list of San Francisco guitarists, along with Garcia. I think he's really underrated and his styling is constructive, frenetic and enigmatic. How does it sound on stage?
Like part of what we're doing. I can't afford to listen. I have to stay focused on what we're all doing.
by Ryan O’Malley
Going on more than a decade as the keyboardist for Bob Weir and RatDog, it’s about time Jeff Chimenti got around to listening to some Grateful Dead music. Although having Weir, a founding member of the Grateful Dead, in the band might seem like an open door to the enormous catalogue of Dead material, according to Chimenti, the band has always been about its own unique sound.
“When I first went up there, I would say ‘I don’t know that or I never heard it,’ and [Weir] was like, ‘Don’t listen to it. Let’s see what you’ve come up with,’” Chimenti explained. “I think things were working fine, but I think it’s best to go back and understand where it came from. It’s kind of hard to go somewhere if you don’t know the root source. Over the years, a bunch of us have been listening and listening. It’s all been fun for me, because it’s all kind of new. I think overall, everybody just has a better understanding of the music, which is important.”
When RatDog brings its jazz/funk/rock improvisation to the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre Tuesday, Nov. 11, it’s safe to assume there will be a large amount of Dead material in the set, but don’t go to a RatDog show expecting to see someone trying to be Jerry Garcia. With RatDog, the band is more focused on adding its own twist to the music — whether it be lead guitarist Mark Karan throwing in some minor Garcia riffs or something that has become more prominent in recent years, having Chimenti or saxophonist Kenny Brooks take over some of the late guitarists fills.
“I just think there were certain signature lines that felt like they were in there, and we just took it upon ourselves, if we didn’t hear it, to go ahead and play it,” he said. “Maybe I can understand from Mark’s aspect, maybe there’s certain things he doesn’t want to play verbatim like Jerry, because he’s Mark. But there are certain tunes that have signature things, and they might gravitate or let themselves go that way, but nothing totally intentional. We’re just trying to fill out the music and pay homage as well. There was never a part with Mark where it was like ‘You need to play these parts.’ It was never like that. We want to be as individual as possible. We want to sound like us, but yet there’s certain things that we need to pay homage to.”
Developing its own sound is something RatDog prides itself on, with each show allowing the band to explore its own musical limitations. For Chimenti, that has meant going from just a backing player when he first joined in 1997 to a more dominant role today where he finds himself taking over a nice amount of soloing during any show.
“As the band knows each other more, you’re able to stretch out more,” Chimenti said. “I think it depends on the way shows are going. Sometimes there’s a little more room to step out. You never know how it’s going to go, especially during the ‘Stuff’ section — we’re all kind of going by the seat of our pants. Just finding spots. If it serves the music, why not? Let’s stretch it out. I don’t think it was anything that was talked about. I think it’s just the music and the comfort level with the music and each other. It’s like a natural progression.”
Other than the band’s live shows, many RatDog fans are still anticipating the follow-up to the band’s debut studio album, “Evening Moods,” which was released in 2000. Although RatDog has written almost enough material for a new studio album in the ensuing seven years, it looks like the band might be gearing up for some studio time, as it recently purchased a new recording studio near the Bay Area in California.
“It’s hard to say, because we’re basically just set up here in our home studio at TRI,” he said. “I think once that’s set, it’ll be a lot easier to do some tracking and to just lay some stuff down. I would assume that with the way things are going there should be some new studio aspects coming out of RatDog, in addition to live. I foresee something happening. The studio’s right there, so we might as well use it [laughs].”
For now, the band is concentrating on what it does best — delivering powerhouse live performances, like the stop at the Kirby on Tuesday.
“Like I always say, you’re going to get RatDog at our best,” he said. “We just go out there and try to do it, and every show is just as important as the next. We try to give our all every show no matter what. Hopefully, in a RatDog way, you get the honest and true RatDog — that’s what we try to do.”
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