This is Why You Should Turn on Your Lovelight with David Gans
Mark your calendar for May 4 and 11! Grateful Dead expert, musician, author, and radio host David Gans will play 2 intimate shows at Garcia’s. Gans puts a twist on the music of the Grateful Dead while still staying true to what the music is all about. His original material is imaginative and energetic, and perfect for anyone looking for laid-back vibes and memorable choruses that stick like glue. If you’re a Deadhead, these shows are for you.
As a self-proclaimed Deadhead, how does it feel to be playing in the same building that the Dead played over 40-years ago?
There is great energy in that building! I played Garcia’s once before and felt the vibe strongly.
You wrote a book titled “Conversations with the Dead” that contains exclusive interviews with the Grateful Dead. What was the process like writing the book? What was one of your favorite interviews and why?
Jerry Garcia was always a great interview. He was interested in so many things, and generous with his time and thoughts. The transcript in Conversations shows this very clearly. Owsley was also a great interview, and the one in Conversations was, I think, the first one he ever gave to anyone. That conversation, too, ranged over a huge variety of subjects. There wasn’t a dim bulb in that bunch, so all the interviews were fun and enlightening.
You’re the radio host of “Tales from the Golden Road” on Sirius/XM and “The Grateful Dead Hour” in radio syndication. How has being a radio host helped and influenced your career in music?
I got into music journalism in my 20s, as a way to learn more about the business (and to supplement my income from playing music, of course). The publication of “Playing in the Band” in 1985 led me to radio, which I never really planned to do – but another music-related gig was impossible to pass up. Curating Grateful Dead music and spreading that magic around the country was a very satisfying mission – and of course, getting some national visibility through the radio shows has also been good.
It’s been said that you are one of the people who persuaded Phil Lesh to start making music again in the late 90s. Now that Phil Lesh is playing extensively, including over 50 shows in 4 years at The Cap, how does it feel to have such a strong connection with someone who has influenced your life as much as you’ve influenced his?
I can’t say for sure that playing gigs with the Broken Angels is what got Phil back into playing live, but if it’s true I am very proud indeed. Playing with him was a huge thrill, of course.
You have written and performed your own music, but you also have been known to do a lot of Grateful Dead covers. How do you take the Grateful Dead’s music and make it your own? What is that process like for you?
I became a songwriter at the very instant I started playing guitar, at age 15. I was well into making my own music when I encountered the Dead a few years later. GD music opened my world up considerably, and I started playing their songs along with all the other “covers” I was doing. I always felt free to adapt the songs to my own local range and guitar style – and in fact, changing the keys helps me to make them my own.
One of the most important things the Dead taught me is to treat the repertoire democratically: unlike a lot of acts that privilege their own songs and only play a few songs from other sources, the GD mixed their own songs fairly evenly with their brilliant interpretations of songs from other sources.
You’ve been involved in the radio industry for quite some time now. What advice can you give the younger generations who are trying to get their start in that field?
I honestly don’t know what to say. My path through this world has been utterly unique. I got into radio because of the Grateful Dead, and nothing in my experience is transferable to anyone else’s. I would suggest a visit to transom.org, a wonderful source of information and training.
Living in San Francisco in the 1970s, you resided in the heart of the Grateful Dead and the hippie movement. What was it like living in San Francisco during those times?
I have been in the Bay Area since 1966, but only lived in SF for a couple of months. The East Bay was more the GD’s home than SF after Winterland closed, and I lived pretty close to the Henry Kaiser Arena. For a Deadhead, the best thing abut the Bay Area was that you were rarely more than a week or two away from a chance to see Jerry. The GD played here a lot, of course, and so did the Jerry Garcia Band.
How many Grateful Dead shows have you seen? Do you have a favorite show of theirs that you saw?
I stopped counting years ago. I never did that thing of following them around for whole tours, because I always had my own work to do. So there are zillions of people who saw more shows than I did. What matters, of course is the quality of the engagement, not the quantity. I got deeply into it, and I am still deeply into it. It is an endlessly fascinating phenomenon, both musically and culturally, and it’s great to be part of something so big and so friendly.