David Gans: A Life Beautifully Improvised

Episode 90 features David Gans, songwriter, musician, author, photographer, radio host of The Grateful Dead Hour… and, what did I miss? I’ve recently released a few episodes recorded pre-Covid. This is another of those and, again, I kind of like hearing these conversations during what was a simpler, much different time. This conversation took place near New Year’s 2019, believe it or not. A number of reasons held this one back so long, including other podcasts in the Osiris Media family releasing their own convos with David and my not wanting to create a David Gans deluge (which, really, might not be such a bad thing, honestly). So, at long last, I’m very happy to finally bring this conversation to you all.

Another thing that made this conversation unique: he was the second person I had on Daddy Unscripted even though they were not actually Dads. We chuckled about that at the beginning of this episode. I will stand firmly by the idea that I thought this conversation would still be warmly welcomed by my audience and an excellent addition to the Osiris canon, regardless. I mean, aside from that… I could always just say: it’s my podcast and I’ll do what I want (right?).

David talks about his friend and writing partner Stephen Donnelly who had been trying to get him interested in the Grateful Dead for some time, trying to get him to go to a show. From looking at what this band was all about, he recalls looking at song titles for insights: “They had a song called ‘New Speedway Boogie’ and I didn’t think boogie music was very interesting, that just seemed like mindless party music. And then they had a song called ‘Cumberland Blues’ and I wasn’t that interested in the blues, either… imagine my surprise when I heard those songs…”

In early 1972, the Grateful Dead really got David’s interest. Once he got a handle on the improvisation (and conversation) that was taking place onstage between the band members, he states it clearly: “there was no turning back”.

The very first song that David ever played guitar, it was playing his very own compositions. He firmly believes that gave him a unique voice with his guitar, not starting out by learning the music of others and starting his playing based on a dependency of being able to play other people’s music.

We talked about Al & Janice Lucas’ website called gratefuldeadtributebands.com that keeps track of all of the bands playing Grateful Dead music around the world. There are so many hundreds of these bands playing the music of the Grateful Dead globally. That really does say so much about the legacy of not only the music itself, but the writing and lyrics of the Grateful Dead’s songbook.

Working as a music journalist for various magazines (including but not isolated to Relix magazine, Rolling Stone magazine amongst others) in the ’70s and ’80s, David got to learn a lot about ways to make music and ways to put shows together. “I also got to watch the whole nature of the music business change over time from the era that I grew up in that was dominated by singers-songwriters… over time the whole nature of that business has changed and record sales are way down and everybody now, the best way to make a living is to go out and actually play live and sell T-shirts and stuff. You’re not selling music into record stores; you’re being heard on Spotify which doesn’t pay enough to live on.”

We talked quite a bit about improvisation in music and bands that don’t go that way at all, and the ones that do. “Brent Mydland told me once when he joined the Grateful Dead, Bob Weir told him: ‘You can’t really rehearse for the Grateful Dead. You just have to do it.'”

“One of the things that I tell people when describing this kind of music is: that everybody in the band has the authority to dominate the rap, and the good grace not to. Through the course of some short, medium, or long stretch of dialogue, they will migrate collectively toward that…

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