Grateful Dead

Six members of the Grateful Dead.
Article in Rolling Stone, 2013
"John Mayer on His New Voice, Summer Tour and Dating Katy Perry"

PD: Have you been writing new music?

JM: No, but I’ve been listening to stuff and just falling in love with certain things. I’ve been listening to the Grateful Dead nonstop. Mark my words, the Grateful Dead are gonna make a comeback, because of how that music cleanses your palate. When everything is processed and quantized and gridded out – to hear “Tennessee Jed” played with that lope is a real palate-cleanser. They take their time, sometimes too much. This free expressive sort of spirit – I listen and I want to find a mix of that openness. I kind of want to go to that show, if it still existed. But I wish that there were tunes that I was more familiar with. I wish that I could be the singer. I wish I could have harmonies. And I wish that I could make it seven minutes instead of 13 minutes. Now I’ll get the opportunity to kind of try that.

John Mayer on Playing With Dead & Company: ‘It’s Like Catching Air’
Article published in Rolling Stone

DF: We have spoken before about your teenage education in blues, especially Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. What is your personal history with the Grateful Dead?

JM: I knew the Grateful Dead as a cultural assignment. I didn’t know it as a musical thing. Where I lived, in Fairfield, Connecticut, if you liked the Dead, it was like you were issued clothing. I was going to school with the Deadheads’ younger brothers. I never looked down on it. I was just into Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

It was probably around 2011 when I first got into the music, based on a groove thing – the way the guitar was bouncing around on “Althea” [on 1980’s Go to Heaven]. It wasn’t one of the front-line tunes. It came up on some Pandora algorithm – I don’t remember who the artist was. It was a total, blind taste test.

It was this ephemeral experience. But as soon as you find your first entry, it’s like threading beads on a necklace. I’ll never forget that beautiful, bouncy interlude between the verses in “Playing in the Band” or hearing songs like “Estimated Prophet.” Nobody handed me a record. I took it all in via SiriusXM, the Grateful Dead channel, which I still play for hours each day, whenever I’m in the car.

May 2017 Twitter Q&A
Twitter Q&A session

what's your favorite grateful dead lyric?

“Mama, Mama, many worlds I’ve come since I first left home.” I choke up every time.

Excerpted from May 2017 Twitter Q&A >
Article in Rolling Stone, 2017
John Mayer on Katy Perry, Learning From the Dead, Embracing Pot

PD: What was it like for you to watch the new Dead documentary, Long Strange Trip?

JM: There’s a line where Donna Jean talks about how she joined the band. She said [husband Keith Godchaux] told her, “I don’t wanna listen to this music anymore. I wanna play this music.” I was blown away, because that’s exactly how I felt. Because you can’t get this music anywhere else. You can’t take a stitch of it and put it in something else. The tissue will die. And I am one of a million people who, when they heard the music, eventually went, “Man, let me in on it.” When you hear “Scarlet Begonias” kick off, you’re not quite sure what it is, who’s playing what or how it goes. It’s this glorious stew at the beginning. “Scarlet Begonias” is the epitome of a jam, and it just lifts you. We live in a world where there’s the comedy mask and the tragedy mask. It’s either good or bad. You’re either having a good day or a bad day. But then Grateful Dead music comes in, and it’s this other mask. It’s a third mask. If you get in a fight with a girl, you could either put on something that’s going to make you feel cheery, or you could put on Grateful Dead music, which takes you to a completely different place and it does something that doesn’t just cheer you up. It inspires you, and it soothes you in some way that it’s almost like hanging out in a biker gang of imaginary friends. It’s the gift of my life, to be able to play that music with that band.

December 2017 Twitter Q&A
Twitter Q&A session

how would you describe a deadhead to a non deadhead?

Imagine a guy named Alan. Your friend always brings him around, talking about all the cool stuff Alan said when you weren’t there. But Alan doesn’t really make eye contact with you. You may come to resent him. Then one day, when your car breaks down, someone pulls up. It’s Alan.

Let the record reflect that this is actually about the Dead’s music. The Dead is Alan. The Head is your friend.

Podcast interview with Dean Delray
Let There Be Talk, Part 2 of 2, Episode #502

JM: It’s unbelievable. And so then I discover—for me what really knocked me out was "Tunnel of Love," cause whenever a record sounds like records I know I find it very helpful. Like I turn people on to Grateful Dead Spring '77 because they're the Betty Boards and they sound like records people know. If you can overcome that chasm then people have a better chance of—you can't just give people like, oh you know, April '69 and go “have fun.”

DD: Oh, '69, they’re just kind of like, “huh?” 

JM: That's a show-off for the Dead Head trying to turn on another person. 

DD: I always play it safe, I go like, you know, mid-70s or even '72 where I just take the Europe '72 stuff. 

JM: Right, just take the Europe 72 stuff. I think it's tinkered with, right? It's tinkered with. It's like the way they did it in the '70s, they bring it back in and they —

Podcast interview with Dean Delray
Let There Be Talk, Part 1 of 2, Episode #501

JM: He gets thrown into the pinball machine—it's like, this is where I am, I can bleed, I don't I don't have my powers anymore. And that's I think why when I listen to Grateful Dead back then and I wasn't performing, it saved me. It wasn't me trying to listen to music going like “I know what they're doing, I could do it if I wanted to do it.” Number one, I couldn't. Number two, I wasn't able to because I was injured. 

DD: Right!

JM: So I was just listening to this music and it was lifting me up and taking me away to these places I never thought music could. And I watch Grateful Dead music. I watch it go by. Remember the water games in the dentists’ office, you press a little button and it would blow all around? 

DD: Oh yeah! Yeah, yeah.

JM: That's Grateful Dead music to me. Phil Lesh is one of the little gears that moves around, and Bob Weir is a little thing that holds the ball and—and Jerry's the bubbles, or whatever. 

And I just stopped thinking about music as “well I do that too, let me break down what they're doing.” And I didn't break it down. 

DD: Wow.

JM: I just listened to it. 

DD: I heard you were in a hardware store in Montana and heard "Althea"? 

JM: No I was—this is when I couldn't talk at all—and, I guess Don [Was] gave me Working Man's Dead back when I was making Born and Raised, but I didn't really pay attention to it. I paid attention to "Wooden Ships" by Crosby, Stills & Nash and then I got on a Crosby, Stills & Nash kick—those two records are just insane.

DD: Insane.

JM: And then I think I had Neil Young Radio on or something and "Althea" came on, and I was in Palm Springs—and again, I think I was doing things to not be depressed because I was on depression watch, you know—and I heard [scatting rhythm to "Althea"]—and I had never heard anybody do that and I couldn't—and it's a very rare thing before I heard Jerry Garcia playing the guitar; I couldn't tell what he was doing. I just knew that it sounded like the most fun thing in the world to play. Like it's the most jaunty thing that's ever been played on a guitar. [scatting again]. His inability to write something that repeated makes it difficult to learn and so much fun to play.

these Grateful Dead songs, there should be a "fake book." Like the way when I" was coming up at Berklee, people would have "Ornithology," "Autumn Leaves," "Days of Wine and Roses.

These were forms for musicians to play on that gave everybody a synchronized place to play music. They knew the forms—if you know the forms you can play over them. Grateful Dead music is like an empty amusement park and each song is a different amusement park, or each song is a different ride. These fantasies of like kids breaking into an amusement park or breaking into a mall and like running around. It's like, that's what it's like.

"Ramble On Rose" is like, to me, this beautiful MC Escher drawing where you get to climb down the stairs but go up, and up the stairs but go down. The song is a Charleston, sort of. It's like you're playing over a D, you gotta play in D: [sings melody]. But now it moves to an E which is technically a modulation, you can't play in D anymore, you'll be done. These aren't jams [...].

DD: They do modulate, absolutely. 

JM: You now have to play in E for the next next part. And then the next chord is an F-sharp minor, now you can play in D again if you want to but you should play in F-sharp minor. Once you learn these forms everything else feels like watered down kool-aid. It's like, once you get Grateful Dead in your system—and I think, to a certain extent, you don't have to play the music to have that same feeling. You just don't know why, you just don't know why it feels like it feels. I also I think I understand genetically kind of why it is what it is underneath it—musically I go, Well that's also—and I still sit and listen.

I heard a "Eyes of the World" from 1974 yesterday and Jerry's solo was so slow. We often think about "Eyes of the World" as [sings fast melody]. And he was like [sings slow melody]. And it was beautiful. And it freaked me out again like, Oh I don't have to play that fast. And then you'll hear one from ‘81 [sings fast melody].

DD: Oh, ‘81 cooking! Yeah, yeah, yeah!

JM: [Laughs] So it's like, the thing about it for me as a guitar player is that it's an ever elusive rule book. Just when you think you've figured it out there's a version from 1970-X that comes out and you go “you can do it that way.” Oh, you know what I was thinking the other day? I’ll say two things. Number one:

Jerry's only—I feel like it's weird saying Jerry—Jerry Garcia's only way of thinking was like play the chords, but you could play the chords any way you want. So just as long as you play the letter of that chord you could play it any inversion anywhere up and down the neck. So I'll just keep hearing ways of playing songs—it was like, Oh he never had a set way of playing any song.

DD: That's wild. 

JM: Sometimes he would just play like "Fire on the Mountain" the way a beginner guitar player would playing an A chord and a B chord, instead of some inversion up the neck. What that day made him go “I'm just gonna play this like a Mel Bay book B chord and an A chord?” And I listen to it I go “that's right you could be that simple if you want it to be.” Right?

DD: I trip out on "Terrapin Station". Like when you guys played it — the first time I saw you guys play it, I go “how do you even remember this?” It just keeps building, you're like, “what is this?!”

JM: Yeah, the inspiration part is a little bit of a math problem.

DD: It's bizarre to me. And there's Bob Weir remembering it no problem. 

JM: Oh, it is in his bones. It is—remember, these guys didn't have teleprompters. We had prompters up on stage for the lyrics because I'm not an alien. I’m not an alien. I mean I can learn music pretty fast, I wouldn't know how to sing 150 songs lyrically. But these guys—the Grateful Dead were touring without teleprompters.