Please make yourself at home! Check some tags, do some reading, leave a comment.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Garcia on Jefferson Airplane, Surrealistic Pillow

Was just pointed to this early 1967 interview (audio only) with Garcia posted at youtube. Not sure I had heard it before, but I think it contains a tidbit or two that are not pinned down yet regarding Garcia's contributions to the Jefferson Airplane blockbuster Surrealistic Pillow. So this is sort of of a piece with my post on Garcia's involvement on Stephen Stills albums.

I am not going to rehearse the whole story of Garcia's involvement in the album. Matt Scofield does an amazing job of it at deaddisc, and I am sure that Jackson and McNally would shed additional light. (I should just make it a practice to refer to them before ever posting on anything.) Let me just summarize what Scofield says we know and what we don't with a few bullet points, some of them direct quotes from deaddisc.

  • Garcia plays guitar on Today and Comin' Back To Me. 
  • Some sources suggest that Garcia also played acoustic guitar on Plastic Fantastic Lover and My Best Friend.  
  • Garcia's contribution to Surrealistic Pillow is not easy to define exactly.
  • His playing contribution is partly documented.
  • Some sources suggest that Garcia was also played on Plastic Fantastic Lover and My Best Friend. To date this remains speculation - any information about documented sources describing other Garcia involvement on this album would be most welcome. 
Well, in this youtube interview we learn the following bits of JG involvement that were unknown (apparently) or in need of confirmation:

  • JG played flattop (presumably acoustic steel) guitar on How Do You Feel (@ ca. 0:58).
  • JG did not play on My Best Friend; Skip Spence did. (@ ca. 1:05)
  • JG's playing on Today and Comin' Back To Me are confirmed (@ ca. 1:09)
  • JG played flattop guitar on Plastic Fantastic Lover (@ ca. 1:11) 
  • re: Someone to Love JG says "The arrangement on the album is more or less my arrangement. I kinda rewrote it."

From the horse's mouth, so to speak.

Now, of course, it's not certain that his parts appeared on the final product or if, as the lack of credits would imply, they ended up on the cutting room floor. But it may well be him, and in any case we might be able to circle in on some more dates when he was in LA with the Airplane if we know the dates on which the numbers including him were recorded.


  1. Great stuff. And I love the name of your blog!

  2. I am very confident that Garcia's guitar parts remained on the released version of Surrealistic Pillow. The "Morning Dew"-like high notes on "Today" are unmistakable, for one thing. Also, if you listen to live Airplane tapes from the period of the recording (late 66-early 67), Kantner can't really play Garcia's rhythm guitar part on "Plastic Fantastic Lover."

    All the SF musicians were still learning to play electric instruments (Garcia included), and by the middle of '67 Kantner was good enough to play the part, but Garcia was just too far ahead of him at the time of the album.

  3. Thank you, David!

    Corry, yeah, in the same interview Garcia confirms that he plays the high parts on "Today". I didn't mention it because I thought it was well established.

    I think I need to revisit Surrealistic Pillow with an ear (admittedly, a tin one) toward all of this, is what I have to do.

  4. I am pretty sure Garcia's parts remained in the final album. Possibly he didn't receive specific music credits because he wasn't an RCA artist (he was on Warner Bros) and the group decided to keep it "under the table"...

    It seems like he did spend quite a bit of time in the studio with them, though - in fact, he may have spent as much time on the Surrealistic Pillow sessions as he did on the first Grateful Dead album a couple months later!
    (This was apparently his first lengthy time in the studio, aside from various Autumn Records sessions/demos earlier, and it probably served him well when it came the Dead's turn.)

    Jeff Tamarkin's book Got a Revolution has a good discussion of Garcia's involvement with the album - mysteriously, the Airplane's producer denies ever having seen Garcia in the studio!
    McNally & Jackson also have much the same info (as I recall) - here's a quote snipped from Jackson's website:

    "Paul Kantner noted, "Our first album had been made rather restrictive by RCA and we were sort of unhappy with the results, and we needed to get more communication between us and the studio, and in some idiotic fancy of mine, we figured Jerry Garcia would be the person to communicate some of the things we were trying to accomplish in the studio. So [the engineer] would know that Jack's bass should make the board smoke. Smoke comes out of the board, put another fuse in; don't try to damp it down.
    "[Also] we would be rehearsing something out in the studio, [Garcia] would say, 'I have a nice little part that would work in there; maybe you should play this.' And he would pick up his guitar and go boom, 'Why don't you play that?' and he would play it so good that we said 'Why don't you play it? It sounds really good and we can't play it better than that. Come on, help us out here.'
    "But mostly he was there to serve as sort of a buffer zone between us and the other side of the window [the producer and engineer in the control room]. A lot of what we were trying to do, both sound-wise and lyric-wise was eased quite a bit by his very gentlemanly manner. He was not harsh, not abrasive," as the somewhat volatile members of the Airplane could be."

    (Now you've tempted me to do my own "Garcia & Surrealistic Pillow" post, a la Volunteers!
    I didn't get into it earlier since deaddisc does have a pretty good overview already.)

    The full version of that youtube interview, by the way, is here:
    (So I didn't list the youtube link in my Garcia interview compilation.)
    Someday I may transcribe the whole interview, if some thoughtful soul hasn't done it already.

  5. By the way, this is the interview done by Randy Groenke and Mike Cramer. It was transcribed, at least in part, in Golden Road, summer 1985.

  6. Ah, so part of it's transcribed already. Very helpful!
    Coupled with Ralph Gleason's interview with Garcia (reprinted in the Grateful Dead Reader), they give a very full portrait of Jerry circa March '67.

    I didn't know there was a longer copy circulating than was on the Archive...


!Thank you for joining the conversation!