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Tony Sclafani Talks About the Grateful Dead’s Farewell Concerts on WGN Radio

As the band’s farewell concert neared, Tony Sclafani, author The Grateful Dead FAQ, spoke with Brian Noonan on WGN Radio about the cultural and musical impact of the Grateful Dead.

>>LISTEN HERE<<

00333698The Grateful Dead rose out of San Francisco’s ’60s underground rock scene with an unprecedented sound and image. Its members, steeped in rock, folk, classical, and blues; their instrumental prowess; and their refusal to bow to commercial conventions helped originate jam band music. Unapologetic in its advocacy of drug use as a means toward mind expansion, the Dead helped catapult psychedelic music. After performing at the Monterey International Pop Festival and Woodstock, the group became iconic without ever scoring a hit single. A large, devoted fan base – “Deadheads” – began to follow the band everywhere. The group suffered a tragedy when bandleader Jerry Garcia slipped into a coma in 1986, but returned the next year with a top-selling album and surprise hit single, “Touch of Grey.” By 1993, the Dead was the top-grossing live act in the United States. The band ended when Garcia died in 1995, but the music lives on with a stream of live releases.

In Grateful Dead FAQ, Tony Sclafani examines the band’s impact and influence on rock music and pop culture. This book ventures into unexplored areas and features a host of rare images, making it a must-have for both Deadheads and casual fans.

Dead reckoning at Merriweather Post

Tony Sclafani, the author of The Grateful Dead FAQ, wrote this article for the Baltimore Sun in advance of this week’s Dead concert in Baltimore!

00333698Will Columbia be ready for another Deadhead invasion when four of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead come to town May 14 to play a sold-out show at Merriweather Post Pavilion?

Longtime Columbia residents are unlikely to forget when the Grateful Dead performed in town for three summers in a row back in the 1980s. Throngs of the band’s followers trucked into town clad in headbands and colorful tie-dye shirts and skirts. They then proceeded to camp out in Symphony Woods and bathe in the fountains at the Mall in Columbia.

To use a Deadhead expression, this “freaked out” a lot of locals. After one too many weird Deadhead sightings, disgruntled residents held meetings with local police, reporters wrote news stories, and opposing opinions flew back and forth in the pages of the Columbia Flier.

Talk of all this controversy still goes on in places like the Facebook page “You know you grew up in Columbia Md when…” where it’s rumored the Dead were eventually banned from Merriweather.

All of which begs the question — Is the band back because the ban was lifted?

No, because “there was never a ban,” says Jean Parker, Merriweather’s longtime general manager. “That is not accurate.”

Part of the reason the rumor has been kept alive all these years is because when people Google the topic, what comes up is a Los Angeles Times article from June 6, 1990, titled “Pavilion bans Grateful Dead.” But that article was factually incorrect, says Times’ historian, Ralph Drew, by email. “On Friday, June 8, 1990, the Los Angeles Times printed a correction,” he notes.

A Pavilion official first dispelled this rumor in a letter after being queried by Columbia resident John Sybert in 1994. “Merriweather has never banned any acts from performing at its venue and, to my knowledge, neither has the community,” wrote customer relations manager Julie M. Kershner.

The reason the band didn’t return to Merriweather after 1985 (save for a 1989 solo Garcia appearance) was because they had outgrown the venue.

Click here to read the rest of the article!

Q&A with Tony Sclafani

To mark the arrival of his Grateful Dead FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Greatest Jam Band in History, Tony Scalfani met up with Music Tomes to discuss his love of The Dead and the new discoveries he made about the band during the book’s construction. With Spring (slowly) warming up, it will be Deadhead weather soon! Read the rest of the interview here

 

00333698What initially drew you to the music of the Dead?

At first it was the popular songs, like “Friend of the Devil” and “Uncle John’s Band.” The Grateful Dead’s main writing team of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter came up with more great songs than I think people realize. I kept finding hidden gems of theirs. When I got deeper into the scene, I became impressed at how the Dead’s live shows married the mindset of improv jazz to rock music – something the Allman Brothers also pioneered. Being a guitarist, I always found it interesting to hear what Garcia had to say musically. He’s one of those players whose style is so distinct you can spot him instantly.

With such a history, how did you decide what you wanted to put into the book?

Having read and reread all the classic books about the band, I wanted to stake out territory that hadn’t been charted. So I often looked to unrelated sources for ideas. For example, I was a fan of the old British rock magazine Trouser Press, which ran features about “great lost albums” of unreleased material they felt bands should have put out. I came up with two of those. I also noticed very little had been written on Dead members Donna Jean Godchaux and Tom Constanten, so I devoted chapters to them. I always thought the Dead’s studio albums hadn’t been given the attention they deserved so I set aside three chapters to take a fresh look at them. And whenever possible, I tried to place what the Dead were doing into the larger context of rock music, since I hadn’t seen that done very much.

There is a wealth of bootleg material from the Dead. How did you parse through the best of the best?

When it came to the live recordings, I used my own knowledge and picked the brains of Dead authorities David Gans and Dennis McNally to come up with a list of essential concerts every fan (or would-be fan) should hear. That became a chapter called “Playing in the Band: A List of Significant Dead Concerts.” What made it tricky is that there are live recordings of Jerry Garcia playing in various traditional music groups before he was a member of the Dead. I felt a lot of those tapes were entertaining and historically significant, so I included them in a separate chapter called “For the Faithful: A Dozen Essential Bootlegs,” even though they’re not the Dead per se. For studio material, there was a lot less to sift through and I included what still sounded good after all these years.

What did you find in your research that surprised you?

First, that by 1994 the Dead had a lot of high-quality original material that would have made for a great final album. I knew they introduced new songs in their last years, but when I strung them together it seemed like they were hitting a new creative peak. I also started realizing just how much the Dead became part of the culture, even though they were not an act really supported by mainstream radio. I put together two chapters on that: “Built to Last: Ten Places the Dead Left Their Mark on Popular Culture” and “Strange Deadfellows: Five Surprising Dead Connections.” Finally, I was able to hear the unreleased solo album the late Brent Mydland recorded. I was amazed at how good it sounded. I put it on YouTube and listeners seem to agree.