July 7, 2010

Constanten on Constanten

"I met Phil Lesh at UC Berkeley in the early '60s when he was 21 and I was 17. We shared musical interests and an apartment in Berkeley. Phil had been at the College of San Mateo playing trumpet in the jazz band, had written some jazz charts for them, and had also discovered some of the Stockhausen pieces I was into. We took a class together with Luciano Berio at Mills College in Oakland. Phil had also been hanging out with Jerry Garcia, who was staying in Palo Alto... Jerry played regularly at a place called the Tangent on University Avenue in Palo Alto."
"Jerry was one of a fistful of interesting people that Phil Lesh introduced me to when Phil and I shared an apartment a block off the UC Berkeley campus in the fall of 1961. Jerry was 19, and I was 17. We freely shared our musical enthusiasms, verbally and by playing for each other. Somehow my music impressed him enough for him to offer me a job a [few] years down the road... At the time we met, Jerry was an accomplished folksinger, drawing his material from the Carter Family, old Appalachian ballads and the British isles."

"In 1962 I went to study in Europe. Berio set up scholarships so I could study with him, Boulez, Stockhausen, and Pousseur in Europe, which lasted more than a year. When I got back to the States in 1964 I moved to the Bay Area."
"Phil and I had our first LSD from the same batch in early '64, when it still came on sugar cubes."
"I played with Phil, most notably at a 1964 concert, under the auspices of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, that featured Phil, Steve Reich, and me. Phil contributed a quasi-concerto for prepared piano called 6 7/8 for Bernardo Moreno, with me on piano. We gave four performances, each unique (although the third night was especially magical, in my memory)."

"Before I could approach rock [music], it had to evolve a little. I could appreciate the simplicity as a musician (easy chord changes = easy money), but as a listener it somehow didn’t do it for me... There were far too many interesting sounds around for me to want to diddle with I-IV-V.I’ve since come to appreciate the earlier blues and rock artists more than I did at the time. I remember at the Woodstock Festival, when Nicky Hopkins came to Pigpen’s and my hotel room (yes, we doubled up back then), they instantly had a lot to talk about - they’d bring up players going back decades, trading stories and impressions with a glowing zest for the music.It was the first time I’d heard some of the names... [And] I’d come to know Phil Lesh and Jerry Garcia in late 1961. Their tastes in music were as exacting as mine, and as they (and others) started to make things more interesting, it got my attention."
"What made '60s rock interesting to me is that the mind-stretching propensities of the experimental composers were brought to bear on the basic structure of rock & roll, so that it was sort of electrified conceptually..."

"I was unable to avoid the draft, so I got stuck in the Air Force for a couple of years."
"I had already received a draft notice, and it seemed like a natural thing that I'd rather program a computer in Las Vegas than an M-16 in Vietnam."
"They started to ship a lot of Air Force people to Vietnam, so I let it slip that I used to be a communist, which effectively killed any chance of my getting a security clearance..." (Unbeknownst to the military, he was also taking acid trips on his furloughs, and using the base's IBM computer to compose music!)
"When I was in the Air Force, I pretty much kept my head down and went along with the program. That, coupled with being reasonably competent at my job - I was a computer programmer - had its benefits. Among those were three day passes - extra time off from your job. By 1967 I had a fistful of these to cash in. It was during some of those breaks that I motored down from Las Vegas - Nellis AFB's locale - to Los Angeles to be at these recording sessions."

"It would have been better, in all sorts of ways, for me to be with the Dead from the start. I sure would have enjoyed it more. As it happened, I was spirited away, to put it malappropriately, into the U.S. Air Force. Still, stout fellows that they were, they held on and waited for me to get loose from Uncle Sam’s clutches."
"There were a couple of times I did get away, on leave or on a three-day pass, to record or perform with them. Other than the embarrassment from the shortness of my hair, I recall exciting times. It was during one of the Anthem of the Sun sessions that Jerry officially invited me to join the band."
"It was like a magic carpet that was there for me to step on, and I would have been a fool not to step on it. It was basically an invitation from Jerry. He said something like, 'I think we can use you.' It was at Columbus Recorders in San Francisco."

"On Anthem, I played prepared piano, did some electronic things, and the opening part of Alligator."
"The idea was that this chaos would come out of the Other One. The final part was an overlay of several live performances, whence it gets that incredible depth - it's a remarkable effect. So they wanted to take that up and swirl it into an explosion, and out of the ashes of that would stealthily enter the warm, misty waves of New Potato Caboose."
TC used a prepared piano: "You put things like screws, coins, or clothes pins inside the piano strings to make them sound different. I did one effect where I took a dime-store gyroscope, gave it a good spin, and put that up against the sounding board of the piano. It sounded like a chainsaw being taken to the piano. Producer Dave Hassinger cleared his seat by a foot and a half when he heard it being done."
"One of my other favorites was obtained by using coins... Then there's a sound like woodblocks that comes from combs stuck on the piano's higher strings. Another I liked was clothespins on the lowest strings, played either with the keys or on a string directly." (He also blended in parts of a tape he'd made of a ring modulator in 1962.)

On New Potato Caboose:
"If you listen to it on record, it was kind of produced with harpsichord and organ in a way that could only happen in a studio. There's one organ segment where Pigpen and I sat side by side to play it, because there were so many notes. As it turned out, it was too impractical to perform live."

"The Anthem album is sort of a bizarre document, a studio attempt to recreate what the band was doing in concert, where one tune would segue into another. Alligator into Caution was a sequence we could embark on and go sailing for 45 minutes at least. The first live album is also an example of that (Dark Star into St Stephen into Eleven), although by that time it was getting modular."
"At the time we were very aware of the gulf between the experience of our performances and our recordings. A live show was so much more fulfilling. We wondered what it was that kept the magic from getting to the grooves of vinyl. Anthem was a deliberate overcompensation, in the sense that we felt that if we raised our sights, maybe...we might have a better chance of hitting the target. And even if we didn’t, it’d be an improvement over the seemingly shrink-wrapped first album. It was like the producer felt he had to "dress us up" to make us presentable. We felt we knew who we were, and were in the best position to represent where we were really coming from."

TC was also able to play a couple shows with the Dead on his leaves - one in Las Vegas in September '67, and one in Sacramento on 3/11/68, opening for Cream.

"I got discharged from the Air Force. It was like returning from exile, or getting out of jail."
He was discharged on Nov 22 '68, flew to Ohio the next day, and played with the Dead at Ohio University in Athens on Nov 23. (Which was actually an unscheduled free show. As deadlists says: "So many students from Ohio University came to the show in Columbus on 11/22/68 - a long drive, about 1 1/2 hours or so - that the band decided to go to Athens and put on a free show for them.")

"It was a case of being an Air Force sergeant one day and a rock & roll star the next."
"I'd heard the albums, I knew the changes, and knew I could land on my feet in improvisatory situations."
"Even though I didn’t come out of an authentic blues or rock background, everyone was supportive. The sixties ethic included being kind on general principle, and I was the beneficiary of that. Besides, the band members, each in his own way, encouraged me."

This was just a short time after Pigpen and Weir had been temporarily 'fired' - TC later thought he might have been "unwitting glue to divert attention to allow them to solidify their positions."
"It amazed everybody that anything happened, because there was so much sniping going on. There was always some sort of simmer."

Pigpen, the organ-player, was bumped to congas when TC arrived.
"On the tunes he did play on, he played more than I usually played. The band at that time had established themselves a lot more, and I was impressed with them and wanted to make sure I put in things that were workable, from the context I could work from."
"I don't think he felt that threatened by me. After all, they already had two guitarists and two drummers, and the interpersonal dynamics among the players were already strange enough... If anything, adding my keyboard stabilized it rather than disrupted it. I never felt any professional jealousy in that situation; it seemed much more like brotherhood and connection. If he did feel jealous he hid it well. Beyond that, it freed him up as a vocalist. He could stand up with a microphone, which he was really good at, and to judge from appearances, he liked. I think Jerry did some things to make Pigpen feel included, like featuring his songs and encouraging him... "
"There was one exquisite gig in Cincinnati where both Pigpen and I played keyboard. He had the B-3 and I had the Continental. The B-3 got repossessed because they didn't pay the guitar bill or something, so I had to play a Vox Super Continental. Our credit was not the very best back then. But I really felt the unfairness of it all, because the B-3 sounded so good and the Continental was so limited... I wasn't too pleased about having to play the Continental night after night, because it really had a hard time cutting through all those guitars and drums."

On the road, TC shared hotel rooms with Pigpen. "We also shared a house in Novato. We got to be as close as two heterosexual males could be. Bless him forever."

TC was soon back in the studio with the Dead.
"On Aoxomoxoa, I provided keyboard arrangements on all of the songs except Rosemary." (Garcia did Rosemary himself as a solo four-track. TC contributed electronic noises to What's Become of the Baby, and came up with keyboard arrangements for the other tracks.)
"I had a better chance to express myself than I sometimes did in concert, because, having my own track, I could ensure not getting mixed out."
"The harpsichord is especially prominent on [Mountains of the Moon]. Not unlike the organ on Dupree’s… It’s nice to be able to contribute something that fits into the mix."
"Everything was essentially subject to Jerry's approval, and he would make recommendations, or ideas would be presented to him and he'd sound it out. Sometimes things would be tried just to try them, so we weren't doing the same thing all the time."

"These were studio recordings. For the band, the situation could not have been more different from concert performance. In this instance, it worked to my advantage. For one thing, levels could be controlled, which meant I could hear both the band and myself on the headphones. Usually onstage I couldn't hear the organ at all. The technology of the times simply wouldn't allow a piano to join in live. But in the studio it was no problem, as can be heard on St. Stephen."
"St. Stephen and China Cat Sunflower were already staples of the live shows long before Aoxomoxoa came out. So the album had no effect on our public’s perception of the tunes, one way or the other, except perhaps to note the stiff, contrived nature of the versions on the album, due to the multitrack recording methods of the time. The live versions always flew, and went over well."

"It was simply a matter of grappling with a nascent technology. Those years marked the early stages of multitrack recording. Anthem was done on an eight-track system. Aoxomoxoa was done on sixteen... Multitrack recording invites you to separate the various parts of the textures and record them individually. Sometimes we’d overdub a single instrument at a time. This led to problems, though. For one thing, there wasn’t the "feel" of a live performance. It was more like building a house. First you pour the foundation - the rhythm section, then add the instruments, and then the vocals. And it was new to all of us. Imagine - you’ve got 14 tracks recorded. Funny how easy it was to think of two more things to add to round out the sixteen. That complicates the mixdown. The mixing sessions amounted to performances, themselves, what with three or more of us at a time with hands on knobs, faders, or whatever, listening for cues…"

Meanwhile, TC wasn't happy with his live sound.
"There were two organs, the Vox Super-Continental, and the Hammond B-3. Neither suited my purposes at all well, although the Hammond was a step up. For one thing, their sounds ranged from barely acceptable to cringeworthy. For another, I couldn't find a place for the sustained sound of an organ in a guitar band context - ahhh, for a piano! Furthermore, the action of an organ keyboard, electronic or not, was sufficiently different from that of a piano, which was all I'd known until then, to be an obstacle to my getting a feel for the music. Basically, I wasn't an organist. A Merl Saunders or a Melvin Seals could've stepped in...but they weren't there. As if that weren't enough, the amplification technology of the times was much kinder to guitars, with their direct pickups, than it was to pianos. All the electric keyboards available then, you might recall, represented some sort of cheesy compromise with the real thing..."
"I didn't like the sound the Continental put out at all. There was something about the Continental in that particular band that grated. The Dead's guitars were these strands of gold and filaments of light, but the Vox was like a hunk of chrome. I had terribly mixed emotions about everything I was playing because the sound didn't please me... I convinced them to let me play a Hammond B-3, which I was able to enjoy a bit more."
He could never use an acoustic piano live because "the guitar would come through the piano's contact mikes louder than the piano."

"I wanted to be able to say something and stay out of their way. You can have all kinds of musical activity side by side, as long as it's in certain prescribed areas of the audible spectrum."
"At the time, the songs were predominantly Jerry's, and the texture of it, with his amplification - I could never really wrest the lead away from him. Which is not to say I wanted to make it a competitive thing, but just that I never felt I had a secure platform to work from."
"The Grateful Dead, as freaky and far-out as they got, were Jerry Garcia's backup band to a large extent. So there wasn't any room... On top of that, there was the amplification problem. There was always a problem in balancing the keyboard volume. You get Jerry Garcia with four Twin Reverbs turned up to 10 - his mezzo-piano was louder than my forte. My major frustration was not being able to find enough turf to even set up a tent in the sonic texture, and scarcely having time when there was a break to make something happen. I'd get to solo sometimes when Jerry would break a string, but even then he'd go back and string his guitar as fast as he could."
"Weir and I got a chance to shine every time Jerry broke a string."

On the Live Dead album:
"It was a dilemma that we were constantly reminded of - how to capture the essence of the concert experience on tape. The first two albums didn't "get it," as far as we were concerned, and it sure didn't seem to be for lack of trying. So that weekend's concerts at the Carousel Ballroom in San Francisco represented the result of grappling with the problem of recording for quite some time."
"This was about the time we were finishing the work on the Aoxomoxoa project, and Warner Brothers was pointing out to us that they had sunk $100,000+ into it and hadn't seen a product yet. So someone had the idea that if we sent them a double live album, three discs for that price wouldn't be such a bad deal, and they went for it. So we started 16-track taping every show. That weekend when Live Dead was recorded was the first one where no one raised an objection to the performances. We were hoping that one of the [shows] along the line would be okay at least, and at the time, we figured they weren't objectionable - not that they were excellent. As I recall, shortly after that...with the pressure off, the band started to play even better."
"The weekend at the Carousel Ballroom was one of those few times that I had a relatively decent stage setup. That is, I could hear the organ in the monitors, and its sound didn’t make my skin crawl. As on other such occasions, however, it was such a surprise to me when it happened that it took some time to adjust to. And I never got that time, anyway. Thankfully, sound technology has progressed since then, but my other problem was timeless. Despite continued efforts, I’d been unable to get a keyboard to practice on at home. Hence, I was learning chord changes on the fly, if at all. And the opportunity to practice, such as I’ve had a taste of since, wasn’t even a dream."

On Dark Star:
"The thing that I liked about [Dark Star] is the proportion of how much it gives you in terms of places to explore, relative to the effort it takes to maintain. It is especially favorable to the performer."
"It's like Dark Star was always there. Like the Clouds of Illusion... It’s remarkably easy to fly. [In another number,] all the way through, you’re counting, preparing, concentrating. No time to enjoy the magic. Dark Star is the opposite. You can relax, even enjoy it from the listener’s point of view, cackle over what you’re planning to spring on them, listen, interact..."
"Certain motifs were integrated over time, almost like an 'aural tradition.' I viewed the piece not so much as something written out, but as a galaxy that would be entered at any of several places... Every performance would be unique... On the best Dark Stars there were a lot of one-of-a-kind moments that were completely spontaneous."
"They were exploratory ventures... It's not so much a set piece, that you know where you are in it and know where you're gonna go, as you're out on an ocean in a boat, and you can choose your landmarks and respond to things and move in certain directions as you wish - of course, always interacting... It's the opposite of what I call the Android Jukebox Syndrome, which you can do wearing a tie and a happy face and you need not be mentally present - which is exactly what we weren't interested in."

"We would play a long extended improvisational piece that went a lot of places. You find jazz players doing that. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. That's part of the chemical thing. But if you're there, you should try...anything could happen, not to mention segues."
"There were choices at any given point, and many of the choices were even made ad hoc on the stage... It was occasionally amusing to see when Weir would be taking the band into one tune and Jerry would be taking the band into another. You would have these tidal frictions of a thought or direction where the band wanted to go..."
"The band practiced all sorts of odd time signatures. [Besides the Eleven] there was also a ten Mickey brought in, and a fifteen that we tried - anything to break out of that square mold of threes or fours. Also, having more than one drummer, if gave them something to do that was more interesting."
"The Grateful Dead were able to rehearse it well enough so that they had a high percentage of things they discovered that worked. Although...some performances are better than others. That's a chance you have to take in courting serendipity - sometimes serendipity comes to grace your performances, and sometimes not. As far as some of the farther-out improvisations and directions, there were already tendencies in that direction among the band members, of which I was happy to be congruently in step with... Conversely, I think I might have had an influence on some of the more simple harmonic tunes the band got into shortly after I left."

Shows often ended with feedback: "[Like] bringing a plane in for a landing at the end of a huge jam. A guitar solo would naturally lead into feedback because you're pushing it for its last ounce of explosive power."

Bear mixed the live sound. "That was the pretext for traveling with the band. Healy would help with the knobs when people got fed up with the Bear. Pigpen described the system as one that worked 100% well, 20% of the time."

Other groups: "I remember a San Diego show where Santana sat in with us at San Diego State. Also, the New Orleans Pop Festival where the Jefferson Airplane sat in with us. There was also one time at a place on Sunset Boulevard called Thelma's...where Stephen Stills and David Crosby sat in with us."

The Fillmore: "Most any show at the Fillmore East was exceptional. The Fillmore East was a magical place to play - the crowd was very responsive. The band had a strong following in New York and it put an edge on the playing. I'd rather listen to any Dark Star from the Fillmore East. They were in a different class."

Playboy After Dark: "It was egregiously silly. Wish we could've done it more than once."

Woodstock: "I was the only one in the band that had a good time, and even that was mitigated because everyone else wasn't. The guitarists were getting shocked from their strings. Bob described his strings as being like barbed wire. The electricity wasn't grounded. We were supposed to spin on a circular stage...but our equipment was too heavy. It didn't work. The stage was swaying back and forth. Phil was visualizing the headlines the next day: 'Huge Rock and Roll Disaster - Thousands Maimed.'"

"The band found early on that too much of a good thing didn’t work. It took a while to find a happy functioning level."
"There were people who were always trying to dose us, and sometimes they succeeded... I remember one time when the band got rather heavily dosed and it seemed like the instruments were painted onto you." (He remembers one night at the Carousel when "four or five different people dosed the apple juice, unbeknownst to each other" - I wonder if this is the same night Phil talks about in his book...)
"During my entire tenure as keyboardist with the Grateful Dead, I made a sincere attempt to...'try and make it without any chemical corn.' I wouldn't even take an over-the-counter headache pill. This only applied to myself, however. What someone else wanted to do was their business. Besides, I'd already experienced LSD, peyote, and psilocybin in the early '60s, and found them all profoundly entertaining."
(This may have been one reason he shared rooms with Pigpen, who was also a non-drug user!)

"I got into Scientology through drugs, and got out of it the same way. With some of the more powerful psychedelics, there were places you could hope to remain...and, so Scientology portrayed it, by means of clearing out a lot of unnecessary garbage from your head, you could arrive at a state like that. What I found out, especially from the times I got dosed on the road, was that yes, Scientology really worked wonders with my head - I wouldn't have stayed as long with them, otherwise. Except it really enhanced the drug experience."
"It made me a non-participant in the chemical sacraments of the time, and that offended Owsley greatly... I tried not to proselytize, but I'm sure there's a certain amount you can't resist, and that I regret. It probably must have rubbed some people the wrong way."

(However, the Dead actually played a Scientology benefit concert - the "Bobby Ace and His Cards from the Bottom of the Deck" show on 6/11/69, where they played what seems to have been a mainly acoustic/country show with John Dawson and David Nelson - who were then about to form the New Riders - and possibly Peter Grant. Garcia may well have been on pedal-steel. One can only imagine what TC sounded like in that context!)

Hart: "He never fit in. He couldn't let go. He thought too much...everybody else was strange, but I knew their strangeness. I couldn't connect with him."
Weir: "He, like I, had to invent his own style - but he didn't. He had no roots in African American music." "He has apparently no innate, and certainly no cultured understanding of the idioms that are responsible for rock & roll. And so it occurred to us and him at the same time that he wasn't really a rock & roll musician; and the whole group when we were playing with him sounded more like an experimental group than a rock & roll band... We all, TC included, decided that it was best that he either learn to play rock & roll, or continue what he had been doing."

TC's last show as a member of the Dead was in New Orleans on 1/30/70. In a meeting that day, everyone decided it was time for TC to leave the band. He says it was a cordial parting - he had many reasons for wanting to move on. (For one, the Dead were about to go back into the studio to record their new country-rock songs.)
As it happened, that night the New Orleans police came prowling around. TC was rooming with Pigpen during the bust, and they weren't arrested: "If they'd come to our room first, there would've been no bust. I got to talking with one of the sergeants about the Air Force and we got along fine. We would've talked them out of it!"

TC went on to be composer & music director of Tarot, a music/theater project in New York - "I wanted to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond, and Tarot was more edifying." The rest of his activities are outside my scope here, but he also worked on an Incredible String Band album in 1970, and played a few shows that year with the Rubber Duck Company - on 7/14/70 they even opened for the Dead in San Rafael!
And TC did rejoin the Dead onstage for one show on 4/28/71:
"I was living in Brooklyn, doing the Tarot show, and was going to see Pigpen when the band came to town. We met at the hotel, the Essex House... So I wound up going to the show, too."
"I didn't even go to the Fillmore East with the idea of playing. I just went to visit Pigpen and the others. I was backstage at the Fillmore East, and the next thing I knew I was sitting down at the keyboard."

Around that time, Constanten was recording his Tarot album - some outtakes are available here:
(Garcia and Lesh are said to contribute, but I find this unlikely.)

"Ironically, it’s only in the past couple of decades I’ve got the hang of the "jamband" idiom. But then, the keyboards are better now, too."
"A lot of this is in my book." (Between Rock and Hard Places, 1992)

Main Sources:
One More Saturday Night (Sandy Troy) interview
Golden Road (summer 1984 issue) interview


My comments -

It's true TC was no rock & roller! His forte was more weird, baroque-style, classical-influenced instrumentation - which was perfect for Anthem & Aoxomoxoa.
But by the end of '69 they were pretty much done with Aoxomoxoa songs, and they were doing simpler songs where he couldn't really add much. In Dec '69 they were also putting more rock & roll songs in the set like Not Fade Away & Dancing in the Streets. Since they'd already tended to play at volumes that drowned him out (if he couldn't hear himself, they probably weren't listening to him either!) - this didn't help his cause. And when he became a scientologist and stopped taking LSD, there wasn't a meeting of minds there! So they had an amicable parting in Jan '70.

In his early shows, he sounds much quieter on organ than Pigpen was - he's submerged in many of the mixes, which makes him a sort of spectral presence in the music. Sometimes barely audible, except when the others quiet down! He has more texture to add, though, seeping in between the lines, and by '69 he's stretching out and blending in. (It's surprising that he keeps playing Pigpen's infamous Dark Star riff well into summer '69, but apparently the band wanted to keep that little bit, like an appendix - and he just uses it as a brief stepping-stone into the jam.)
He can be rather subdued in early '69, which makes sense - to hear him tell it, he had no rehearsals, bad instruments, no sound monitoring, a "sink or swim" band attitude... (Which sounds rather antagonistic actually, but I think perhaps it was a vote of confidence - "here, we know you're up to this" - after all, the Dead had a daredevil mentality in those days, and a limited budget. They became more professional later on, since we have pretour "break in the new guy" rehearsals for both Keith and Brent.)
At the start, the musical environment was completely new for him - and as he says, Garcia was never willing to step aside for very long in a solo! TC does get better & bolder through '69. (Although, with all those shows, it would be more surprising if he hadn't!) Two later shows where you can hear him clearly on his own channel are 8/23/69 and 1/2/70.

It's hard to say how much influence he had on the changing jams. The Dead would have kept heading in their particular direction without him, but I'm pretty certain his playing had an effect on the guitarists and the way they handled the jams - there's a lot more space and subtlety going on in early '69 than there was in '68. A tune like Dark Star, which kept growing into more meditative, abstract spaces over time, was perfect for his swirling backdrops.
But the timing was poor. He wasn't with the band long before they started going country on him! If not for that pesky military service, he undoubtedly would have joined the Dead when they were recording Anthem, and our '68 shows would sound very different... But the time where Constanten had any influence on the Dead lasted only a short while, with Aoxomoxoa and Live/Dead (and a couple points on Anthem) the only albums where he left a mark. I think once they started getting Workingman's songs together in mid-'69, he was pretty much left to himself after that.
When he joined the Dead, he probably thought they'd carry on Anthem-type work - yet only six months later, they'd started adding heaps of covers and country songs to their set, and were losing interest even in their "new" Aoxomoxoa album. He must have felt the ground shifting under him... So it's telling that he left the band just a couple weeks before they recorded Workingman's Dead! (Also telling that they started playing acoustic sets immediately after he left.)

Few of the Dead's keyboardists managed to stick with them through a change in style. Pigpen was just fine in '66, but couldn't keep up by '68. Constanten was just right for the Live/Dead period, but the band moved out of that phase pretty quickly. Keith transformed the jams in '71 and the next few years, but he was doing nothing for them by '77/78.
Of all their keyboardists, TC may have added the least to the Dead simply because he came in 'too little, too late'... Even Pigpen, of the dubious organ prowess, had an immense influence over the Dead's shows which no one after him could match.
In comparison, Keith's influence on the jams starting immediately in Oct '71 is tremendous - unlike Constanten who stayed on the sides, Keith played all the songs like he owned them. It's hard to imagine what their '72-74 shows would have sounded like without him. (More like '71, presumably!) Whereas Constanten's departure in early '70 had about as little effect on the Dead-sound as Mickey Hart's exit in early '71.

July 1, 2010

Bear at the Board

This is a brief outline of Bear's taping history. Bear was a compulsive taper (in fact, obsessed with capturing a complete 'journal' of all his shows), and the history of the Dead would be much different without his contribution. A book could be written about the relationship between Bear & the Dead, but I'll skip over his chemical experiments & sound systems & the history of Alembic, to focus on the tapes made by Bear and the other early sound-crew tapers.

Bear first encountered the Dead at an early Acid Test on December 11, 1965. Very impressed with them, he soon became their patron and soundman:
"The next time I saw them was at the Fillmore Acid Test, and I met Phil. I walked over to him and said, 'I'd like to work for you guys.' Because I had decided that this was the most amazing thing I'd ever run into. And he said, 'We don't have a manager.' I said, 'I don't think I want to be the manager.' He said, 'Well, we don't have a soundman.' And I said, 'Well, I don't know anything about that either, but I guess I could probably learn.'"

By Jan/Feb '66 Bear was already making journal tapes of their shows and rehearsals. He was the Dead's soundman until July '66 (he left after the Vancouver shows, when they were fed up with his system). So we have a bunch of SBDs from the first half of '66, and almost nothing from the second half, since nobody was recording after he left.
Aside from taping the Dead, Bear was also building a new sound system for them (with Tim Scully), which unfortunately turned out to be unwieldy & unreliable. As Garcia said: "We spent five hours setting up and five hours breaking down every time we played. Our hands were breaking and we were getting miserable, and the stuff never worked... Then we went to Vancouver, and that was the downfall... It was lousy, it was just bad...then we had to work until dawn to pack it up... We decided to disassociate from [Bear's] benevolence and his experiment."
Bear: "They decided that the system that Tim Scully and I built was too clumsy and wasn't doing what they wanted. So they wanted to go back to using standard amplifiers. I said, 'Go pick out any amps you want'...they did, and I ended up giving most of the old stuff away. By then I was out of money, so I went off."

Bear's first recordings with the Dead were pretty disorganized, with reels not dated and often having only the vaguest labels on them, when they were labeled at all. This set of '66 reels is an example of Bear's early taping work, from shows with unknown dates - his favored mix at the time was vocals in one channel, instruments in the other:
Much later, David Lemieux found a box of unlabeled '66 reels which was used for the Rare Cuts & Oddities release: "While poking around the Vault with Bear, he pointed to a large, brown, nondescript box amongst his other non-Grateful Dead tapes, and said, 'You ought to check that box out...' I opened the box to find about 15 reel-to-reel tapes, most of which were unlabeled, while some had the most rudimentary identifications, such as '3/2 LA rehearsal,' 'Trips '66 3rd night,' or 'February 23 practice.'"

Dan Healy became the soundman in '66 after Bear left - he had been working in a studio and was friends with Quicksilver Messenger Service. As Bear has said, "Healy is a very pragmatic kind of guy who liked to tinker with stuff and fix stuff...he was a consummate troubleshooter." When he first saw the Dead, not only did he fix a broken bass amp on the spot, he told them their speakers sucked and built a better sound system for their next show. The Dead were thrilled with his ability, and immediately hired him. He recorded and helped mix the Anthem of the Sun shows in early '68, but that was strictly for the album - at the time, he didn't record any other Dead shows, and seems to have discouraged anyone else from recording them. (Which accounts for so few Dead shows surviving from '67.)
The one show Bear taped in '67 was 9/3/67, when he happened to be visiting the band. "I was not on the Dead's crew, but I just came out to the show and taped it." I wish he'd dropped by more often!

From Jan/Feb '68, we have lots of 2-track reels from Healy's recordings that give a fairly complete picture of that tour - the trouble is the Dead did so much chopping-up in the studio, stray reels were left here & there, and a bunch of shows are lost. The new Road Trips snippets came from a couple mix compilations had been abandoned at a studio that was closing. Short of another miracle find like that, we're not likely to hear more new shows from '68. (I think it's possible the "lost" shows from that tour were already lost or discarded as useless by the time they mixed the album, as none of them are on the official Anthem "live tracks" list.)

Bear was busted with an LSD charge in December '67, but it didn't lead directly to any jail time or affect his Dead involvement, as he stayed out on appeal. (It did, however, increase the sentence he got when he was busted again in '70.)
In early '68 Bear became the soundman for the Carousel. "When the Dead played there, Healy mixed for them because he was their soundman. I mixed for a lot of bands that were there." Bear also recorded many of the bands that played there, though few if any of those tapes seem to survive. For instance in an interview, he specifically mentioned taping Fleetwood Mac, Thelonious Monk, and Johnny Cash, all now missing - and on his website he praises a Janis Joplin show he taped there. "Not all of the tapes managed to make it to the present, and I didn't have enough blank tape at the time to record all the shows."

In June '68 the Carousel closed. Dan Healy left the Dead to work for Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Bear rejoined the Dead as their soundman, at their request.
Our SBDs resume in June '68 (there's one fragment from the 6/14 Fillmore East show, and others from around that time). However, obviously, most of the '68 reels Bear must have taped are lost. Either a lot of them were taped over, or perhaps the Dead didn't start really organizing and archiving the tapes until Jan '69, when they started working on the live album.
Our '68 collection is pretty chaotic, with just a few shows (at most) surviving from each month, many of them incomplete. This collection gives a good idea of what the Dead's '68 collection must have looked like:
Random, unlabeled reels - some shows are known, some aren't - everything's fragmentary, and we can only wonder where all the missing pieces went.

There is one mysterious exception - the Los Angeles Shrine shows from August 23-24 were apparently taped by Dan Healy with Warner Brothers engineers (so the Two From the Vault notes indicate). As "official" recordings (were the Dead already thinking of a live album?), these are excellent; but many of Bear's mixes of the time, as in the October Avalon shows, are also great. Dead tape collectors have long been spoiled, expecting that the band's live recordings should be studio-quality - but this tradition of excellence started with the band in '68, even with reference tapes that were only meant for after-show playbacks. (Yet the band never thought, until the '90s, that a mere two-track tape could be used for release!)

(I should also mention that Bear seemingly had little involvement with our circulating Hartbeats shows at the Matrix - these were taped by Matrix owner Peter Abram. He notes, "Owsley lent me his mikes", but since he was recording on worn-out tapeheads, his tapes are muffled. Deadlists notes: "Circulating recordings of the 1968 Matrix shows trace back to Bill Gadsden's reels. Bill and Peter Kafer made copies of Peter Abram's (owner of the Matrix) two track 7" reels in the summer of 1974. Peter Abram's reels were either masters or 1st gens. There are also multi-track masters of some of these shows in the vault." One exception is the 8/28/69 show with Howard Wales, which Bear taped on cassette.)

The first live 16-track recording was done for the live album on 12/31/68, though it turned out to be too distorted for use. Though Bear was in charge of the live sound, a couple new characters enter our story here with the multitracks - Bob Matthews, a Dead hand from their early days, and his assistant Betty Cantor. It's worth saying a few words about them -
Betty started out working at the Avalon, where Bob Cohen was the recording engineer who taped many of the bands there, including the Dead. (He taped the September '66 show we have, for instance; but other shows were lost or erased.) She went to work at the Carousel in '68, and became involved with Bob Matthews there. He'd been on the Dead's equipment crew in '67, and when he became a recording tech, he lured her with him: "It was my way of getting her to be my old lady." They started out recording the Dead by working on Aoxomoxoa in the studio; recorded and mixed the Live/Dead multitracks; and the next year produced Workingman's Dead. At first Betty was mainly Bob's clerical assistant, but through '69 she started working more on mixing and editing tapes. At that point she didn't usually go on tours, staying in the studio - later on she and Bob taped the multitracks for Skullfuck and Europe '72. By then she was mixing the tapes herself.
Also by that time, as we can see by her Betty Boards, she was often on the road with the band (she recorded the Academy of Music shows, for instance) - although she seems to have made the tapes for herself, more than for the band. One thing that happened in '72, she and Matthews split up - he was still on tour with them in late '72, but after that seems not to have been involved with taping. By '73, Betty was recording not only the Dead's shows, but Garcia's shows as well. (She'd also taken up with fellow crew-member Rex Jackson....)
One thing that's interesting, the Dead seem not to have consulted Bear much when it came to studio work. Or if they did, no one has talked about it. Though he's listed as a "consulting engineer" on Aoxomoxoa and Live/Dead, as far as I know, they used him mainly for live work or technical experiments - when it came to recording and mixing an album, they used engineers with previous studio experience like Healy, Bob and Betty, or others.

The bulk of our Bear tapes come from 1969 - he stayed with the band throughout the year, recording every show himself. The band seems to have regarded him with some exasperation, as the sound system was frequently still inadequate! (I suspect his main attachment with the band was through Jerry and Phil, who always had a yen for other abstract intellectuals, while Weir and the others simply tolerated him.)
I don't think his mixing approach was always perfect - most tapes are not like the famed February '70 recordings with their wide, clear stereo. A lot of those '69 shows are basically muddy mono, with maybe one drum over in one channel - maybe he only did spacious mixes when he had time for it? Many people who later worked for the Dead, like Betty or Kidd, also had high mixing standards and made consistently excellent tapes. Bear's prime value was that he was their first taper, and without him the Dead might not have gotten into the taping habit at all. (The second half of 1970 was the last time they didn't tape every show themselves, for whatever reason - after that, they consistently made reference tapes.)

I've mentioned in an earlier post (on 1970 AUDs) that Bear was completely opposed to audience taping. "I wasn't in favor of tapers...I didn't tolerate it." And he certainly never would've allowed people to plug into the soundboard! Much of this attitude, I think comes from his hatred of bootleggers - and the band also shared his fear that audience members might make money by selling albums of their shows. Up to '74 the band's crew often served as vigilantes, patrolling the crowd for reels and microphones to confiscate - not until after the hiatus did they become more tolerant of tapers.

From an interview:
Q: "At what point did the band start listening to tapes?"
Bear: "We listened from the beginning. 'What was it like?' We thought it might be good to hear what it really was like. Or someone might say, "Gee, I think that was terrible, let's listen and find out whether it really was." Back in those days after the show we were usually wired up and weren't ready to sleep anyway. Everyone was working to try to get better. How can you get better if you don't ever listen to yourself? The only way you could find out what you had done was to listen to it later. In the heat of the show, no one can tell."
More on taping:
"I turned it on and forgot about it - except for changing reels as needed... The tapes of a show were fairly complete so long as I was not too busy with some crisis or other in the hall to fail to notice the amount of tape left. And trust me, crises seemed to be an integral part of rock and roll as we knew it... If the recording was not perfect and complete it still fulfilled its purpose... After a while it got to where I rarely played a journal tape unless the musicians were interested, and very few were then."
"I learned to date the tapes more carefully after having to deal with tapes that said simply 'Saturday night' or 'second set' [as we saw in '66!]... For several years, when I went off to do my time, no one continued the practice, and for most of that time there were no tapes made from the board. That shows you how much interest everyone else had in taping - zilch." [He exaggerates here - it was really just a few months, the worst period was 3 years earlier - but I share his bitterness!]
"The tapes were stored in the basement of the house I was renting for a while. They were moved to Alembic studios when I went off to jail. I came back and found them on a huge pallet in the middle of a storage room. Tapes were missing. I've never recovered some of them."

One thing Bear and the Dead shared was a perfectionist streak. He's written that even into 1970, not only did the band frequently rehearse, they did sound checks at all the shows. ("Later they became lazier about both things.") We have hardly any taped soundchecks (mainly a few from the Wall of Sound days), but Bear says he still has the soundchecks for the Fillmore East shows in February '70....
"In those days, we rehearsed - we had sound checks. I insisted on it. I didn't like to go cold into a show. I wanted to make sure if the stuff worked - there had been a lot of times when it didn't work, and it was really embarrassing... We rehearsed not only to get the music together, but also to check on the band's gear - to check the guitars and the wires and to do maintenance, and to get together and throw ideas at each other. After every show, we'd gather in the hotel and play back the night's gigs. That's why I was recording all the time... There was always a tape being made. If it wasn't a reel-to-reel, it was a cassette. Something that could be played back. That's how I was learning.... They were critiquing their own performances. We would find a weakness and try to correct it."

Not only that, but in '69 he frequently taped shows on reels and cassettes at the same time! "I always tried to do simultaneous recordings on cassette.... There were a lot of shows that I couldn't afford [reel] tape for, so all we've got is cassettes." This turned out to be a boon for collectors - many of the shows of the time come only from cassette sources, but there are a few where we have both sources, and can patch the gaps in one with the other.
"I always recorded all the bands and all the sets I mixed on all my shows like some people keep a diary, at least so long as I had enough money to buy reels of blank tape - sometimes I didn't, but cassettes were also made of all shows." (Sometimes on the Taper's Section picks of '68 or '69 shows, Lemieux will mention whether a show was taped on reels, cassettes, or both; deadlists also often notes this.)
As a sidenote, a couple recent sources from early '69 (for 3/28/69 and 4/21/69) come from Bear's 120-minute cassettes. It seems at that time, he may have preferred using the longer tapes to avoid frequent tapeflips!

Bear also says, "Virtually every band that played on the same bill with the Grateful Dead during my years as soundman, and who did not bring their own soundman, was recorded." (Note that if the other band had their own sound mixer, Bear might not have been interested in taping as it wasn't 'his' work.) "Even when they had an objection, I still wanted to tape them - but I sometimes had to give them the tapes afterward."
That's how the tapes of the Flying Burrito Brothers (from the Avalon, April '69) and the Allman Brothers (Fillmore East, Feb '70) were made - and there must be many more. (He also taped the Stones' Altamont gig, even though the Dead walked out!) Many are in the Vault, and many in Bear's own collection. It would be nice if there were a listing of Bear's tapes....I've always wondered which other bands he taped in those years. (His website says he'll post a list someday, but that hasn't been updated for years.)

One band he mentions: "I've got lots of nice Jefferson Airplane tapes, good and even great shows, but they always turned all the amps up to ten. As a result, there was very little dynamic action in their performances [compared to the Dead], and a lot of the mikes were overloaded. These tapes are basically fuzzy and unusable for making records."

This statement about his non-Dead tapes seems disingenuous, though: "I hope that a way can be found to make more of them available. It will all depend on the bands." (And on his site he also says, "I would be very interested in working with any of the bands concerned to see if the tapes represent anything worth releasing.")
In reality, Bear seems to have difficult terms for releasing tapes. If you read the actual liner notes to the Burritos release, it says plainly that Bear never authorizes releases of his tapes these days, and talks at length about the rings the producer had to go through to get this tape out!

Bear's taping run came to an end in 1970. After the New Orleans bust, the Fillmore East shows in February were the last ones Bear could tape out-of-state, as he was confined to California after that. The Dead apparently kept taping themselves until June - Bob Matthews became the soundman and taped several shows we know of that May (5/1, 5/2, 5/14, 5/15), and probably many of their other spring shows as well. Presumably the Fillmore West tapes up to June are Bear's work. The last shows he recorded were at San Rafael in July '70, before going off to prison.

I've talked elsewhere about the Dead's lamentable decision to stop taping themselves in 1970; but by 1971 they were recording every show again. Rex Jackson was the taper through much of 1971 (for instance, he taped the 10/31/71 show).

I presume Bear got to see the band when they played at his prison on 8/4/71 (halfway through his sentence). Betty Cantor said she copied tapes of the Europe '72 shows for him - this also illustrates how many tape copies of shows could be floating around, since so many duplicates were made: "In Europe I was doing the 16-track and simultaneously running a 2-track of my monitor mix. I made cassettes at the same time, and I had been feeding these a few at a time to Bear while he was detained. He said he was wondering who had done the mixing - he didn't think it was Bob because he liked the mixes. 'They sound like my mixes,' he said."

Once Bear was released after a two-year term, his first show back mixing sound was Berkeley 8/20/72. By then there were more people working on the Dead's sound crew who'd joined in '71 & '72, and Bob Matthews was the crew chief. Dan Healy had also returned - after seeing one of the band's NYC Felt Forum shows in Dec '71, he told them their sound system was terrible (the same complaint he'd had in '66!) and he decided to rejoin the crew to improve things.

Bear has talked a lot about his mixed feelings, coming back to the band in '72 and seeing a big difference in their approach since the freewheeling acid days. After all, they'd spent two years becoming more 'professional', more people had joined the crew, and the scene was not as welcoming to him as he expected. He found that the soundcrew was, as he put it, compartmentalized & territorial, everyone doing their separate jobs - he felt they didn't work as a team anymore, and the crew certainly didn't welcome him back. (And, Bear being Bear, he also felt he could do their jobs better than they could! Often his comments boil down to, 'I tried to tell them how to get better sound but they were too pigheaded to listen...' The guy was/is a cantankerous control freak, with wide-eyed dreams hard to achieve in reality, and probably more difficult to work with than he realizes.)

In one interview he has this to say about his return:
"I came back to a crew that was totally different when I left, and the job that I had been doing was split up amongst three other people, none of whom were willing to yield the territory. I met a lot of resistance in the scene, and after you spend a couple of years locked up, your social adaptability is not very good."
And another comment on '72 in his site:
"I was having some problems with the crew, many of whom had come to work after I had gone, and resented my drive to improve things onstage and with the equipment, which I decided was obsolete for the most part. They preferred to let things stay the same - an attitude I thought was due to simple laziness. The various problems, particularly the one of getting those who did my job while I was away to back off and allow me to return to my work, eventually inspired me to design the Wall of Sound... The hassles however, did not interfere with my ability to mix, and the band played many fine shows during this period."
And in another interview:
"I found that the three things I did - recording, stage monitors, house mixing - there were three guys doing that! Each one fiercely defending his little territory. 'That's my job, that's your job'... There was a lot of cocaine and a lot of beer, and they were bitching at each other, and everything else. Lots of power trips. I was feeling very uncomfortable."

Bear taped most of the shows from August to December '72, as far as I know. Kidd Candelario started recording shows in late '72 or early '73, once Bear got tired of the hassles and stepped down - Kidd was an old roadie who'd been with the band since the Carousel days in early '68. (In fact, quite a few of the Dead's sound crew - Bear, Bob, Betty, and Kidd - had worked at the Carousel then; and by '72, with Healy now in the crew as well, there must have been quite a crowd behind the soundboard! Yet it's strange - in their interviews, they hardly ever refer to each other, so it's hard to tell who actually did what. Healy has said of Bear's involvement, "Bear had other things going on. He didn't really have that solid a role on a continuous basis.")

Bear recounts a mishap at the Vanderbilt University show on 10/21/72, when Bob Matthews didn't show up: "I had to recruit some of the kids from this college to carry the stuff back. Two of them took half our PA and split. At the next show, there's no PA. I said, 'I sent it to the truck.' A roadie picked me up and threw me into a water cooler."
Apparently some recording equipment was stolen as well, which may account for the rather poor mixes of many of the shows from 10/21 to the rest of the fall tour - either that, or personal squabbles & disputes at the board! (Did anybody listen to the 11/12 mix?) Some shows have missing or incomplete SBDs (from 10/21 to 11/13, though not everything could be in circulation). There are several shows where Bear actually resorted to "audience-taping", making nice room recordings of 10/27, 10/30, and 11/13.

None of our tapes from '73/74 seem to be Bear's work - apparently after the hassles of fall '72, Bear became more a 'behind-the-scenes' equipment tech rather than the on-site sound mixer. All of our tapes from '73 and '74 were made by Betty Cantor or Kidd Candelario. (Generally Kidd's tapes were kept by the Dead and went into the Vault; she kept her tapes from '73, and they were eventually salvaged by Dead traders.) Bob Matthews, no longer in the on-site sound crew, would travel to the band's venues before they played there to see how their sound system could best be set up. Meanwhile Bear spent 1973 offstage, gradually designing the Wall of Sound (along with Healy and others).
Bear did not tape any Garcia Band shows. (Betty generally did those - for instance she and Rex Jackson taped the July '73 Garcia & Saunders "Live at Keystone" shows, and many others thereafter). But in '73 Bear did tape the Old & In The Way shows, and these tapes were later used for release.

Kidd Candelario has said a lot about his practice of taping the band in those years, which illuminates how they thought of it:
"I wasn't taping for the sake of taping, but only so that the band could listen to the tapes later on. I was either working with Keith or Phil's bass. Sometimes if I wasn't doing anything, I could listen to the taping, and this allowed me to hear problems that were happening, like a blown speaker or something wrong with someone's pickup. So lots of times I'd have to run back and fix something, which meant the tape might run out while I was away from it. This accounts for many of the cuts and missing music out there. But then there's always the problem of when to change the tape..."
"After getting all the gear set up, I created a little room to listen to what I was recording. Gradually, everyone began hanging out in my little taping room. Jerry was usually there with us. It was hard to really fully enjoy the music - I had to listen to make sure the technical aspects were functioning. I had lots of dubbing duties cause lots of people wanted to hear the show later on. And they wanted to hear quality!" (David Lemieux has said that in backstage film outtakes from Winterland '74, the band praised the quality of Kidd's tapes from the September Europe tour, so they were still listening!)
"In those days we hustled from show to show. We got there, threw it up, went right to work, show was over, we packed it into a truck and took off for the next city... We'd drop the tapes off at the warehouse, because back then we really didn't have a vault or anything like that. [The Vault itself didn't exist til about '76.] For a long while I kept tapes at my house. There was no place yet in the warehouse to put things, so I would come home and leave that tapebox there and get a fresh tapebox, and then go about making tape copies for anyone who asked me. The first thing I usually had to do after a tour was sort out the requests and get taping for them. But when Bear was doing it, he, Bob, and Betty shared all the duties [in late '72]."
He mentions the Europe '72 tour, perhaps his taping debut - remember, this is on top of the duplicate tapes that Betty made! "Bob and Betty were out recording that whole tour. I still recorded, but it was just a secondary, cause they had multitracks going... Phil got tapes from me, Jerry got tapes from me, and anybody else who really wanted them. I had to make copies every night for everybody - all of the band members."

While Bear wasn't taping in '74, he did come to work on some notorious '74 tapes when it came time to work on the Steal Your Face album and the film soundtrack. For whatever reason, despite having so many expert tapers on-hand, the band decided that while filming their 'farewell' performances in October '74, the recording would be done by a clown named Bill Wolf, who had worked with the Rowan Brothers (a group Garcia liked).
Betty had just had a baby, and did not work on this project. She said, "The tapes were pretty awful. [Bill] used a lot of audience in the mix - I don't know why or how he recorded so much leakage." Bear has griped endlessly about it since then:
"The master tapes were a disaster of epic proportions, requiring a complete overdubbing of all the vocals and many of the instrumental tracks. I had absolutely nothing to do with the recording of the master tapes, and was called in to try to 'fix' it." "Donna's tracks were missing, Weir's signal was lost, Lagin wasn't recorded, and there were weird noises all over. Phil and I hated that stuff, but Rakow insisted we had to have them mixed in nine days, which was inconceivable. We worked for 18 days, and tried using delays, filters, tricks to overcome the sound - but the job was next to impossible... The finished work was garbage."
He had no kinder words for the film. "It was made from totally screwed-up master tapes... We spent months on it, almost overdubbing the entire multitrack tape in the studio. There was never any possibility to salvage any of it, and the movie was a total disaster as well as the album. The performances sucked, and no one could change that.... I was originally allowed to work on the film sound, but due to my criticism about the unsuitability of the performances, I was kicked off."

Aside from the technical aspect of the Wall of Sound, Bear seems to have found the Dead family circa '74 an unpleasant working environment:
"There was a lot of coke and a lot of booze and a lot of roughness, and there were too many people working, there was too much weird shit going on, and too many power struggles at the top... The brotherhood was gone... It was like a lot of guys protecting their territory... Eventually it collapsed, and the band just backed away from it suddenly... In this case they couldn't fire anybody...so they just stopped playing, hoping that the people would go off because they had to make a living.
"When the band was getting back together, I wasn't around. They started back up with the guys who hung in the tightest - Parish was working with the Garcia band, and Ramrod was involved in something - the core guys were the ones who had clung to the Dead and made something to do, and those were the guys who were there when they started back up. I didn't have the leisure or the money or ability to hang around."

From time to time Bear would still attend Dead shows - for instance, he taped the 5/10/78 New Haven show. He also went to Egypt that year, and has a long story about how disastrous the Dead's shows were since they wouldn't heed his advice. ("If they had done it the way I thought they should do it, it would've been dynamite and everything would've worked. Because everybody would've been there two weeks ahead....")

There are not many interviews with Bear - the best source is David Gans' book Conversations with the Dead, which has a long interview. In his interview in the Taping Compendium he also talks a lot about his miking & taping philosophy, as well as his history with the band.
For those who want to read Bear's notes, here's his page where he talks about the Dead releases from his tapes, including the liner notes he wrote for each Dick's Pick - he takes lots of opportunities to talk about his mixing approach.