Hi folks, thanks for your patience. I interviewed David Nelson back in May of 2009 and KBOO broadcast a (as you will no doubt notice) heavily edited (by me, for time constraints, no other reason) on June 13 2009. Here is the full text of the first half of the interview (it's taken me a while to transcribe). I hope to have the second half up soon. David is a lively interview and a great story teller. Enjoy!
Interview with David Nelson of the New Riders of the Purple Sage May 2009
Phil G: Hi everybody, welcome back to the Forests of Fennario, my little corner of the Grateful Dead and Friends’ universe; I’m Phil G and I am delighted to be joined on the air today with (sic) David Nelson from the New Riders of the Purple Sage. Hi David!
David Nelson: Hey Phil!
PG: This, of course, through the miracles of technology, has been recorded way sooner but when this is broadcast it’ll be a day after your birthday, [on] June 13th.
DN: No kidding.
PG: You’re gonna be 29 this year, I understand; is that correct?
DN: No, well, yeah. Jack Benny age. Right (laughs).
PG: Interestingly enough, your birthday coincides with an historic day in Portland; the 12th of June, which is, when the Grateful Dead were playing here in 1980, Mt. St. Helens blew up for the second time…
DN: Oh Yeah!
PG: During the Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain
DN: Oh yeah. That’s right.
PG: One of those neat, synchronous things. You have a long, long history with that whole world; the Grateful Dead and the New Riders and the David Nelson Band and other things but you have Northwest roots; I understand you were born in Seattle.
DN: Yeah. Yeah. I go way back with The Dead; in fact before that was even a fig newton in somebody’s imagination and Before Time Began, as we say…
PG: Right. You and Garcia and Hunter were hanging out…
DN: Palo Alto. Yeah. Palo Alto, California, 1962. We had several bands; we’d start a band and then it would, you know, go, and then we’d change it and stuff like that but it was, basically, The Wildwood Boys and The Black Mountain Boys; bluegrass bands. We were young city kids trying to play bluegrass. And Garcia wanted to play banjo in the worst way; he really wanted to play 5 string banjo but he didn’t have one. And we were all beatniks; we didn’t have any money but he had a really good guitar, a [Martin] D-18 and I had a Paramount banjo and so we traded instruments; he played my banjo and I played his guitar.
PG: Do you still have the D-18?
PG: That must be a very sweet sounding instrument at this point…
DN: And I never saw that banjo again (laughs)
PG: (Laughs) what got you; you know, how did you get the bug? Tell me a little about your pre-Hunter/Garcia days; your playing and what made you pick up your guitar in the first place…
DN: I’ve always been attracted to the guitar in some way; I mean I remember really, really early childhood things and, in the early days, when I was a kid, parents used to buy their children-this was commonplace-they would buy their children 78 [rpm] record albums; which is a bunch of big 78s that come in a foldable album, like a hardbound book.
PG: Uh huh.
DN: They bought me Tex Ritter’s “Songs and Stories” and I was just a little squirt, you know, a rug rat, basically and they’d put it on the changer, they’d put it on the record changer and play it and I heard the first song, this guitar going (sings) “dunchant ditta-dotta-dutta-dat; ditta-dat” and I just thought “oh man, what is THAT?” I remember saying, “WHAT is that instrument?” Then a few years later I got hooked into playing lessons; taking lessons on steel guitar because it looked like an acoustic guitar but I didn’t realize it was a Hawaiian lap steel; it had a raised nut and everything.
PG: So, you and Buddy Cage kinda started out the same way, then?
DN: In a way, yeah, yeah. SO; that didn’t really appeal to me, the kind of music or anything but I just did it because when you’re a kid you do what you’re told to do, you know…So, I finally talked them in to letting me quit; put that guitar in the closet and then a few years go by and I’m in High School and I meet Pete Albin who is bass player in Big Brother and the Holding Company from the beginning.
DN: He had an older brother, at the same school, Rodney Albin, and this guy was amazing; he was into all the stuff, the traditional music, the mountain music, the stuff that you couldn’t get; I mean you had to really research stuff and you had to look far and wide for it; Folkways Records and stuff like that and he had it all! I went over to Pete’s house, he said, Pete calls me up and says, “My brother got a guitar!” And I said, “The kind that you play like this?” (laughs) to make sure it wasn’t a steel guitar; I just rushed over to his house and, man, it was like discovering a whole new world.
Rodney turned me on to the New Lost City Ramblers, Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, and everything that I was interest in and it just took off; I just got totally interested in it. That was about when I was a junior in high school or a sophomore in high school.
PG: At this point in time, the Harry Smith Anthology of Folk Music is out.
DN: That’s right. That’s right; that was one of the sources; that was one of the sources for all the songs and stuff. Then we would have parties; Rodney would have this thing called “The Boar’s Head” where we borrowed [from] a book store guy in San Carlos, we borrowed his balcony, his upstairs room on Tuesday and Thursday nights in the summer and we went down to Palo Alto and asked the Keppler’s crowd; they were these older people, these beatniks, really cool guys and (laughs) we asked them if they’d come and play at our thing and it was cute but it was really great; Garcia came, Hunter came, Marshall Leicester and people like that, that just came and sang. We had a big thing, just everybody getting up and just singing a song or two and that’s where I got totally into learning to play that kind of music.
PG: What was it, specifically; at that point in time, in the late 50s [and] early 60s, there was a lot of, well, of course, there was rock ‘n roll, there was Elvis and there was Little Richard and, of course, there was the sanitized, the Pat Boone, and things like that. You took a completely different tact, you went for these dark sounding murder ballads and things like that. What was it that appealed to you about that?
DN: The thing was, like you mentioned, the late 50s, early 60s; what had happened is, I was totally into rock ‘n roll. That was, you go a few years earlier than that like 1955 or so and all of us kids of the rock ‘n roll age; we LOVED rock ‘n rock. When it hit, my God, it was just fantastic, so we were just totally into this and then, about two years after that, rock ‘n roll all of the sudden took this commercial turn. Once the marketplace discovered “oh, it’s that…” everything just got punched out until there’s just product, product, product everywhere and we started noticing, just me and my friends talking, you know, “what happened to those good old songs, you know, what happened to that really, really into it stuff, like Jimmy Reed and stuff like that;” we were just dismayed that now it’s all bubblegum pop music and it’s called rock ‘n roll. That puts it into the late 50s, early 60s. The music was basically, there was a few good things, like early Motown and stuff like that; that was really good but, basically, you’d listen [to the radio] for an hour and you’d hear maybe three good songs. So, I wasn’t that into it anymore; I didn’t have my clock radio on so there was an open time there to find something else. Then right around that time folk music comes in due to the Kingston Trio, which was, actually, very commercial but that guy, Dave Gard, the founder of the Kingston Trio, was a freak for that old time string band music and he researched that kind of stuff. And so he had, more or less, commercial versions of the real stuff. You could hear that; for instance: Tom Dooley.
They did it, like, (sings) “Hang down your head, Tom…” really dramatic and commercial and all that but the real song, as I later discovered from the New Lost City Ramblers went (sings) “dun dunna dun dun DUN-da-dan, dun dunna dun dun DON;” that got me into it. That and the combination of meeting Rodney and Pete Albin. I attribute it all to that. That’s what got me hooked.
PG: And then, along comes Hunter and Garcia; they’re also into it.
DN: Yeah, we would play at the Boar’s Head and then, afterwards there would, of course, be a “cast party.” It’s be over at somebody’s house; you’d go over there, everybody’d bring their instruments and we’d play all night and just fool around and all that kind of stuff and I went up to Garcia and asked him about finger picking guitar. I remember a few moments and he was very generous and helpful; he’d say, “yeah you wanna hear Elizabeth Cotton; ‘cause it was hard to find stuff like that, it wasn’t commercial, it wasn’t selling, you know it wasn’t a thing that you could just easily find. Garcia definitely helped me so much in pointing me in the right direction. He mentioned, in fact, the Harry Smith Collection.
PG: I remember discovering that [Collection] a few years ago, completely by accident by reading a Greil Marcus book about Bob Dylan and the Basement Tapes; it had just come out on CD. I remember, specifically, the experience of dropping that first disc into the player and hearing the songs and all of the sudden I understood Garcia and [Quicksilver Messenger Service bassist] David Freiberg and the Lovin’ Spoonful and you, actually, because you and I had that conversation at the Aladdin one night…
DN: Oh yeah
PG: I understood you guys on a completely different level. The way I described it to a fried was, “it’s sort of like you decide to move the couch to sweep out the dust bunnies and there’s that piece of the jigsaw puzzle that’s been missing…
DN: [laughs] yeah! Whoops! What’s this? Right…
PG: It was such an incredible experience and it added that extra layer… You still do some of those songs, like “Pretty Little Miss Down In the Garden”
DN: Yeah! Yeah! “Spike Driver Blues”
DN: Mississippi John Hurt stuff, yeah, “Fennario.” Yeah. That’s what I really like about what we’re doing now in the David Nelson Band and I just played a gig last night with the quarter; that’s Pete Sears, Barry Sless, Mookie Siegal, and me. This little friendly gig at a restaurant in Fairfax; we played “Spike Driver Blues” and just took it out. We took it an just jammed on it, more or less and I just thought, “that is really great that you can take a traditional tune and take it somewhere with your spontaneity or whatever you call that; just taking it to whatever you feel; you’re listening to the other guys playing and you take it somewhere else,” and I thought “that is really a great thing because, like we were talking about, in ’62 it was very wrong to do that. This is traditional music. It should be preserved; it should be done right. There is a right way and a wrong way; it is true, there is a right way and wrong way to do it but, still, I love it that the whole community, the whole audience and the bands and everything has come to a point where they’re flexible enough to see the value in taking something real and then bringing it through to where you are right now.
PG: It’s interesting you mention that; one of the things I’ve noticed in the last few years, last ten years maybe, is this growth of so-called tribute bands. I don’t want to point any fingers or anything but there are bands that are playing Grateful Dead music…
PG: That are playing it just like the Grateful Dead.
PG: To me, that seems so contrary to the spirit of what the Grateful Dead are about.
DN: Well, yeah that’s absolutely; I kind of think so too but, you know, when you get to Grateful Dead music you’re dealing with something that’s already, that has done that to the nth degree of taking something out and just taking it and going outwards with the music; wherever it goes you go with it and you try to do something else.
PG: Well, and you guys have…
DN: They founded that and it’s good that somebody wants to put that down too, I mean lay it down on tape or at a concert to actually reproduce that. That’s really great, too. But, you know what? I know these bands; I know these musicians now, I’ve met several of them. They’re really great players and I’ve taken a moment to listen to them play a solo or something like that and I go, “yeah yeah.” You can’t possibly reproduce a Garcia solo note for note. That’s the thing. What you have to do is get the gist of it, digest it in your guts, and come out with your way of doing it. You’re gonna reach a moment onstage, any time you play a tune onstage live for an audience you’re gonna realize, “[inaudible], it has to go right now, it has to go from right now.; I gotta go right here right in this moment in time. Then you realize that you can’t play something note for note; you can’t learn something note for note with this kind of music, a solo, for instance.
PG: That’s very true. I want to ask you one more question about Garcia and then I want to talk about the New Riders a little bit. You played with Jerry; you played all these traditional tunes with Jerry and Hunter in ’62, ’63…
PG: Then you guys sort of went on different paths for a while; coming back together for a bit in the New Riders but then, in 1987, Jerry called you and Sandy Rothman and said, “hey, I’m doing this thing on Broadway, I wanna…
PG: Yeah, ’87.
PG: Its 25 years later
PG: But you’re playing the same tunes; “Spike Driver Blues,” “Babe, It Ain’t No Lie” things like that. How was it the same and how was it different?
DN: Well, how that actually came about was Jerry, before the time he collapsed and went in to the hospital; that was through dehydration and everything… I was at the gig, that’s a long story…I was at the gig before that, it was in Philadelphia or somewhere [editor’s note- possibly RFK Stadium in Washington DC, July of 1986]; I was in the van where we drove back to the hotel and it was really hot and the van couldn’t move because everybody was walking across the path and Garcia turns around to me and goes, “anybody got anything; any water or anything?” And I’m so dismayed to say I only had a beer. And I went, “oh geez, it’s all I got” and nobody in the van had any water and I handed it to him and he went, “bleeccchhh! Is that all you got?” Because that doesn’t really quench your thirst when you’re dehydrated; you’re totally, lack of water… Anyway, I said goodbye; he went home; [I]heard the next day he had a complete collapse and went to the hospital and was in a diabetic coma. That was just world shaking. This was, I guess, months before that. When he got out of the hospital, I went to see him, and the doctor said, “Bring tapes.” The doctor said to all his old friends, “bring something that is familiar from years past,” and so (laughs) I’m just the guy to ask for that. So, I had tapes of all the stuff we used to listen to and different things that were familiar to me and Jerry. I went over to his house and we sat there and listened to all this old stuff and he was just; we were just talking, we didn’t think of anything about it but shortly after that, within days of that, there was this thing of “we’re gonna have a Thanksgiving.” I know it was Thanksgiving; figure out which year that must’ve been, 86?
PG: That’s 86, yeah.
DN: Yeah. And Jerry called me and said, “Hey why don’t you bring Sandy, y’know? We used to play all that stuff. Why don’t you bring Sandy; John Kahn’s gonna be there.” Jerry’s been doing these duets with John Kahn. So the four of us sat down at the table after dinner at Thanksgiving at the log cabin in San Anselmo and play this; played all this stuff and here’s the thing; here’s an amazing thing about Jerry: me and Sandy are trying to remember words; we’re singing songs, he sings one and then I sing one and all this stuff and then Jerry sings one and he remembers every word perfectly, verbatim! It’s like, WHAT??? (Laughs) That was totally a flash; that was amazing.
Sitting down and playing there, that time, was the start of the idea. And then, a couple weeks after that, Bill Graham was having a benefit for the poster artists of the 60s because they had fallen onto some financial difficulty or something. So he was having everybody who was involved in that time do a 15 minute set; 4 or 5 songs. He had Country Joe [McDonald] and just everybody. So, he asked Jerry if he’d come and Jerry said, “Yeah, me and John Kahn and we’ll bring Nelson and Rothman…” So that was the actual first gig.
And then, after we played; we played four songs; and we got back in the back room and Bill Graham bursts into the room and says, “I’ve gotta do something with this!” He’s really intent.
And we’re (laughs) we’re sittin’ there; we’re stoned now, we’re sittin’ there on the couch going, “yeah, yeah Bill. That’s right. Do something with it, man.”
And he goes, “I’ve gotta take this somewhere, I don’t know where, exactly…”
And Garcia looks up and goes (imitates Jerry’s voice), “take us to Broadway, Bill.” (Laughs) And Bill goes, “Broadway…” and walks out of the room. (Pauses) I’m not kidding you. That’s how it happened.
PG: That’s great.
DN: “Broadway.” The next thing we know, we’re booked.
PG: That must’ve been a tremendous experience.
PG: The Lunt-Fontaine is a very nice theatre.
DN: I know. The Lunt-Fontaine. Being in the same dressing room as W.C Fields and people like that it was just incredible; it was totally incredible.
PG: Before the internet and such, when you were on the road you probably saw a lot of those performers on mid afternoon movies and things like that waiting around in hotel rooms, I imagine.
DN: Oh yeah. I’m a total fan of all that stuff, yeah, yeah. In fact, I’m an aficionado (laughs) as they say. Here’s the thing: my first moment on the stage at the Lunt-Fontaine: we’d done the sound check and everything, ok, and now it’s “places everybody,” it’s like, official. “Places.” And you stand in your place and then you wait for this seemingly interminable long time; it’s just agonizing… It’s actually only about a minute and a half but nothing happens; the curtain is closed and, geez, you hear the audience and it gives you time to go “oh my God, I’m playing at the fuckin’ Lunt-Fontaine, oh God, man, what am I gonna do?
And guess what? The curtain opens up and smoke wafts in to the stage and it was all of us people and they went “YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH” (laughs). Right from that moment, you know, the audience saved me once again. It was just like, “awww yeah, OK, hi (laughs), you know?” It’s just totally amazing.
PG: You guys really feed off that synergy going back and forth, the energy exchange between performer and audience. That was…
DN: It has to be, yeah. In fact, somebody cracked a joke last night about, oh, I forget what it was but it was something about the difference between playing stadiums and playing regular gigs. You know, once you get to stadiums, the sense of humor goes out the window or something, you know?
PG: Yeah. Arthur Steinhorn was telling me; he gave me a bunch of questions to ask you and one of them was I should ask you about times with the DNB, the David Nelson Band, when there were more people on stage than were in the club.
DN: Oh yeah, yeah. Those were poignant little scenes; I have the tapes of those because we definitely had one sound guy and we had my cassette recorder making the tapes. And I’ve listened to those, just to make sure they’re ok and they’re just wonderful; they’re great, we were so happy to play my new songs and we’d just, more or less, met each other and agreed to do this with my material and I was working hard writing songs and… So there we are… Well, one of them was in Alabama, Auburn, Alabama, on a night; we had to drive there, of course, in rented cars; and we get there and we notice nobody’s there and then we start asking around and they say, “Oh there’s a big football game.” We drove through town and the town looked like a ghost town, there was nobody there, there were no stores open but we could see an occasion TV glowing from inside the store, right; but the store was closed. And so we go, “I don’t know, I don’t know and we get to the gig and nobody shows up. The promoter tells us, “you gotta play to collect your money anyway,” and we said “ok, we’ll play.” And so we played a whole set and there were two guys with brooms that were hired to sweep up the place [laughs] that came in and stood in the middle of the floor and watched us and they enjoyed it. They clapped after stuff [laughs]; it was just a great gig only nobody was there because the reason was Auburn, Alabama is a football country; it’s a place where football is really important so that particular night it happened that Auburn was playing Florida that night in Florida so everybody either went to Florida or stayed home to watch it.
DN: Yeah. No going to gig on football night, man. Sorry…
PG: That’s right. I jumped a little ahead there. So you go away you come back to San Francisco in the late 60s and at some point Marmaduke-John Dawson- and Garcia are doing this little duo thing with Jerry playing steel…
PG: You pick up a telecaster, I assume…
DN: Yeah, yeah. I had actually done that a little before that; I had gotten an electric guitar and I was playing in a little band that we’d got together called New Delhi River Band. It was one of those…I mean, it was 1966, what can I say? We’d take a tune and we’d start it; mainly a blues tune because these guys were all blues musicians. So we’d start it and then we’d get in the middle of it and we’d turn our guitars towards the amp and turn it up to ten and just start feeding back and “blam-blamblam,” all that stuff but David Torbert was in that band. He ended up being the original, I mean, the bass player, long time bass player in the New Riders. Anyway, there was New Delhi River Band and that was goin’ on and we’d do Berkeley Park; People’s Park in Berkeley and the Barn in Scott’s Valley; we had lots of good gigs and we’d do a run, several gigs and it was pretty good.
PG: Did you all ever record?
DN: Right around that time; that’s when John Dawson calls me up and says “I just got back from England and I’m really into writing some songs; would you come over to my house and listen to this stuff?’
So, I went over there and we sat down in his room and just played some songs and I listened to; jeez, I remember, a lot of great songs. I was just going, “wow, THAT too?” He played “I Don’t Know You” and “Garden of Eden” and several songs that ended up on the first album. He said, “You wanna start a band? And everything,” and I said, “well jeez, I’m really; I’m in the New Delhi River Band and I’m the car; I’m the guy”- I had the station wagon, so everything depended on me and I said “I can’t really just stop that now.”
So, John went and made a little demo tape at a studio with other people of his songs and then Jerry wanted to play pedal steel; this is similar to wanting to play banjo (laughs) 5 years earlier, right? He wanted to play pedal steel in the worst way. He got his hands on a pedal steel and John called him up at the same time and Jerry said (imitates Garcia) “yeah, let’s go to a pizza parlor or something; I’ll back you up.”
So, that’s how that started. And then the first night I wasn’t available, they played some pizza parlor but the next night I was. And so from then on it was “Jerry Garcia and Friends” because we had to do that but Garcia kept saying, “I’m not the leader of the band; I’m not the guy; I don’t sing anything…”
But, see, you just can’t tell the commercial world that because you have to tell the people, the ticket buyers, who they’re gonna see, so…
DN: But anyway, [the] very first few gigs were billed as “Jerry Garcia and Friends” and then we thought; we got into the living room at Jerry’s house and said, “We gotta think of a name.” And Hunter came down and said, “how about ‘the Riders of the Purple Sage?’”
And I said, “uh-oh, there is; there already was a ‘Riders of the Purple Sage;’ it was from the forties, and it was ‘Floyd Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage,’” so I said, ‘how about NEW Riders of the Purple Sage?’”
And John (Dawson) said, “You just like names with New in them.” Because I like the New Lost City Ramblers and I’m in the New Delhi River Band.
Ha Ha, Very funny. Yes, I do like names with New in them [laughs].
PG: Well, this one’s served you well for a long time.
DN: Yeah. It’s too many words; we’ve suffered that for years; when you go on a poster you’ve gotta be in finer print or on the marquee; there’s not enough room for the whole name but, yeah, it is a wonderful name. Turns out to be, after all these years; what a great name! And what a great logo! How about the logo?
PG: Absolutely. I really like [Stanley] Mouse’s updating of your logo on the new record.
DN: Yeah. You know how that happened? I called him and said, “We got a new record coming out; do you think you could do something?” and he started sending me all this stuff which were preliminary drawings of his thoughts. I told him names of songs and stuff but, anyway, he emailed me later and said, “Hey, by the way, just before you called me I was looking through my old archives and I found this thing I drew a long time ago for you guys back then. And it’s just a simple thing but what do you think?”
And I saw that thing that’s on our album cover now; it’s like a simple water color with a cactus and sunrise with rays coming out; it’s on a desert and it’s very simple but I thought, “That’s perfect.” And we said “can we use that?” and we worked it out and he put lettering on it and I think it’s just great. What a great cover.
PG: The purple tones on it are really nice and, folks, if you wanna see it for yourselves, it’s out now. You can go down to your favorite independent music store or probably find it online at www.thenewriders.com
DN: That’s right.
PG: And the album’s called “Where I Come From and we’ll be playing some cuts off it in a little bit.
PG: David, the first three or four records from the New Riders: the self-titled (first album),Powerglide, Panama Red, Gypsy Cowboy; most of the songs were written by Dawson or Torbert.
DN: Yeah. And you know what, Hunter was gonna write for us and he loved us and he really wanted to write something for us but, of course that was, guess what, what year was that?
DN: That would be ’71-72 and so that was totally intense with the thing with Garcia; with writing songs together with him. But he, really, during that time, was saying, “I gotta write something good for the New Riders and he did it one time. He calls me up and says “I got something for you.”
He calls me and John and says, “I’m comin’ over; I got a really good song for you guys. I’m bringing my guitar and comin’ over.” So, we set up in the upstairs room there. I had the tape recorder and I was setting up and, remember, back in those days, kids, a tape recorder was a reel to reel machine. You had to get the reels out, you had to spool the tape, do all this stuff, make a little soundcheck with earphones and then go. During the time I’m setting up the tape recorder, they’re already playing. And they’re playing, (sings) “I lit out from Reno, I was trailed by twenty hounds,” and I’m thinkin’ “wow, this is [a] nice song, nice…” Verse, verse, verse and all this stuff and, when I finally got ready to tape, I let it roll and then I picked up my guitar and just played a G scale to see if I was in tune. I went (sings) “dah dah dah,” a descending G scale, “dah dah dah dah dah dah dah,” and went, ok,good, I’m in tune nd Hunter stops and goes, “yeah, yeah. Use that. That’ll be the intro.” (Laughs) I just went “what?? I wasn’t playing anything, you know? But it was funny, it was a funny moment. Actually, he intended “Friend of the Devil” to be a New Riders song.
PG: Doesn’t John get writing credit on that, as well? Isn’t it…
DN: Yeah, because they did work out some verses and some stuff. That night; we didn’t know that this at the time that this was gonna be huge so we said, “aw thank man, ok bye.” And he goes back to where he lived which was Jerry’s house on Madron in Larkspur, right?
DN: He goes home and Garcia’s up and looking out the curtains, going, “where have you been?” (Laughs)
PG: Uh- oh. He was cheatin’…
DN: Hunter goes, “Well, I was over at the New Rider’s and we were working on a song” and Garcia goes, “Give it to me, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme” (laughs)and Hunter goes, “ok, you can listen to it; here…”
The next morning, Jerry had the bridge, “Got two reasons why I cry…” The bridge. Right?
DN: Which is so important to the song that I just went, “OK”
DN: We got to practice the next day at Jerry’s house; we used to practice at Jerry’s house everyday. So we got there and Jerry said, “Hey, what do you think of this and I just went, “aw geez, it’s yours, man, ok…”
That was 70 or 71, and so the plan was, at that time, we’d get on stage, New Riders, play a little bit, and then we’d get on with the acoustic Grateful Dead and we played “Friend of the Devil” and all those songs, acoustically.
DN: With acoustic guitars. We did that night after night for a couple of seasons. It ended up right and that was great; that just turned out to be one of the greatest songs but we do have a rightful claim to that song.
PG: Hunter wrote “Kick in the Head” and he wrote a song for you…
PG: … called “Crooked Judge,” and, in his book “Box of Rain,” he says, “David Nelson of the New Riders had a dream of ordering lyrics from me…
DN: That’s absolutely true
PG: like ordering hamburgers from a fry cook.”
DN: That’s right
PG: And I’m guess that this new album was more like ordering a filet mignon from a four-star chef
DN: (laughs) Right. Yeah.
PG: There is some amazing stuff on this album
DN: It’s really amazing, yeah.
PG: Let’s talk about some of the songs; I know that’s kinda hard to do but I’ll put you on the spot, David. What’s your favorite new song on the record?
DN: Well, I’ve already gotten past the thing of picking a favorite because everytime I’ve picked a favorite in the past it slights some other one and then I go, “oh yeah that’s my favorite." So, I can’t really say but, at the moment, I could say at the moment but, if you understand that tomorrow or five minutes from now I might listen to something and go, “oh no,that’s my favorite” because, to me favorites is like that. I just really love “Where I Come From.” [It] was spontaneous; I looked at the paper. I had to leave; when I got the email of the lyrics, I was in the final stages of packing for getting up early in the morning to fly to the east coast. And I thought, “geez, it would be good if I had something.” I printed out the lyrics and then I looked at it once again and I picked up the guitar and went, “where does this go? What kind of song is this?” I just said the words to myself and, I’m telling you, the music just came right off.
DN: It just jumped off the page. I love that and, also, I love “Barracuda Moon,” because I had some time to think, “yeah, it’s in minor key and it’s in that setting…” When I brought that to a soundcheck, we played it, we tried it, everybody got the idea and then we went to a place and rehearsed it once through; then, after that, we did not play it at any show until we got to a studio; se got time to record in a studio and we said, “let’s try ‘Barracuda Moon,’” having not ever played it anywhere and it ended up coming off in one take. That is very special to me, too. That take that you’re hearing on the album, “Barracuda Moon,” that’s one take and it was never played in a concert. That’s gotta be amazing in some degree or something.
PG: That’s certainly a veer-off the standard course for you guys.
PG: My DNB-loving ear hears snatches of “Snakebit” in “Barracuda Moon.”
DN: You’re a musician, Phil. (Laughs) I know you are, man. C’mon now. You can hear the thing of the diminished chord progression.
PG: Uhm-hmm but it’s also got a David Nelson feel to it.
DN: It’s one of my symphonies, man. “Snakebit” and that whole diminished chord progression; “Visions Under the Moon.”
DN: It’s basically; you go a diminished fifth down to the next chord and keep going that way and you find that it has one note in common. You can go three chords and they all have one note in common, even with these weird chords; that, to me, is totally cool. I love that.
DN: I love the thing that you can do that.
PG: It gives that hair raising tension, too.
PG: In a good way.
PG: Tell me about “Down the Middle.” That’s my personal favorite right now
DN: “Down the Middle” is a sweetie, yeah, I love that one too, man. “Down the Middle;” I just thought “this is one of those tunes that you really gotta be; you really gotta get the feeling in there of those lyrics because we’ve all been on the road and we’ve all been driving into the night forever until you’re just zoned; you’re just, like, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz; you’re going on [and] all you can see is that line down the middle and you’re focused on it and I; I just love that
PG: That one, I could really hear, has that thing that Jerry would have just grabbed on to; maybe I’m just projecting but that’s what I hear in that one. “Ghost Train Blues” really rocks.
DN: Oh Yeah. Johnny Markowski. I thank Johnny Markowski for that because when I first just played it on stage at a soundcheck Johnny thought, “oh yeah, it’s fast?” And I went, “oh yeah, it’s really fast, man. Think about a 100-mile-an-hour train going through the night.”
And he went “[makes drum sounds],” the beginning. You know, the drum intro?
DN: And that’s what kicks the song, I tell you.
<end of part one>