Mickey Hart returns with
new band, new CD
By Alan Sculley
WHEN JERRY GARCIA, the leader of the Grateful Dead, died in 1995, it may have appeared that drummer Mickey Hart had not been affected very deeply by Garcia's death and the end of his much-beloved band. After all, immediately after Garcia's passing, Hart entered the studio to work on what would become his vocal/percussion project, Mystery Box.
But don't let appearances fool you--Hart was devastated. Diving right into a musical project was simply one way he could deal with his grief. "There's nothing like music to relieve the soul and uplift it," says Hart, a west county resident, explaining his decision to immerse himself in the studio. "As soon as Jerry went, that very day, the day after, I was in the studio. Yeah, I went right into the music.
"I was grieving real hard," he adds. "Jerry was my best friend, you know, and he was the voice. He was always in my ear. That was the music I grew up with my whole adult life. That was the main lead sound. So it was a giant hole. It was ripped away from me."
The depth of the loss Hart and the surviving members of the Grateful Dead felt was obvious as Hart spoke while taking a break from rehearsals with the Other Ones, a new group that brings together three of the four remaining members of the Grateful Dead--Hart, bassist Phil Lesh, and guitarist Bob Weir (drummer Bill Kreutzmann has retired). The new band, which also includes North Bay guitarist Steve Kimock of Zero, keyboardist Bruce Hornsby, Dave Ellis, Stan Franks, and John Molo, headlined this summer's Furthur Festival, an annual tour that has served in part as a touring vehicle for such Grateful Dead side projects as Hart's Mystery Box and Weir's band Ratdog.
The Furthur Festival marked the first time Hart, Lesh, and Weir have played extensive selections of Grateful Dead material publicly since Garcia's death.
Hart, in particular, had difficulty revisiting the Dead's music. "I just gave it up, I hung it up," he explains. "I didn't want to hear any more Grateful Dead songs, not after Jerry died. And then Paul McCartney sent me a note and a little video of us back in the '60s that he and [his late wife] Linda had done. Linda had shot us once at 710 Ashbury [the San Francisco row house where the Grateful Dead first lived together].
"McCartney took the stills and put our music to [the video]. He sent me a beautiful note. It was about a year ago, because I hadn't listened to Grateful Dead music in almost two years. It was just not played in the house. I just couldn't hear it. It was just too painful for me, mourning Jerry and everything. And one lifetime I thought was enough. We put the video on in the kitchen and we all danced around. We thought it was beautiful, and the music sounded great, and so that's when it all started for me again.
"It brought the music back into my home."
When Hart, Lesh, and Weir got together last Christmas, they took the next step by forming the Other Ones. Hart was clearly excited about how the group sounded in rehearsals. "It's a different slant," he says. "The songs sound the same, but they're different. I mean, you're going to recognize the songs because we're going to be playing the signature songs, but the improvisation is completely different."
In fact, Hart feels the new group has recaptured something the Grateful Dead had lost as the group moved from the '80s into the '90s--the spirit of musical adventure. For all of Hart's respect and fondness for Garcia and the other members of the Dead, he isn't sentimental about the group's music and their successes and failings. "I thought the '60s was the most exciting time and the most vital music, and we were really together as one mind then," Hart says. "Then afterwards, the songs and the bad drugs, that took its toll. I thought once we started playing songs and not improvising so much that the spirit of the Grateful Dead was muted. ... I thought '93, it was pretty well close to the end.
"I thought the energy was pretty well sapped by then."
By the early '90s, the Grateful Dead--if they weren't as musically vital--were an institution that had become a one-of-a-kind phenomenon. Formed in 1965 as the San Francisco music scene was leading rock into a bold new age of musical experimentation and counterculture lifestyles, the Grateful Dead grew to be much more than a band. For the group's loyal fans--the Deadheads--Grateful Dead concerts provided a sense of community, a place where they found emotional and spiritual nourishment. By the late 1980s, the Dead had grown into the biggest cult band in rock history, with their tours playing stadiums that held 50,000 or more fans--many of whom continued to follow the band from city to city.
In Hart's eyes, this huge success, though, didn't do the Grateful Dead any favors on a musical level. "Every time we released a record, I was always praying that it wouldn't sell," Hart said. "I never wanted a hit single, ever. I thought as soon as we stopped becoming hungry, we wouldn't play hungry. And that's what happened. The places started getting bigger and bigger and we played stadiums. Nobody was hungry. Everybody had money in the bank. We had cars and houses and we had families and everybody got soft in a way. We weren't hungry anymore. We weren't on the edge."
HART FOUND that edge by stepping outside of the Grateful Dead for side projects during that band's latter years. He did--and continues to do--extensive research into world music, producing two compilations of rainforest music along the way.
Meanwhile, Planet Drum, Hart's Grammy-winning group that plays percussion-based, non-vocal music, remains a going concern. The group's second CD, Supralingua (Rykodisc), featuring an all-star lineup of world music greats, was released last month. "The first Planet Drum [conceived by African drumming master Babatunde Olatunji] was a beautiful record," Hart says. "This new one is much more advanced, technologically speaking, the grooves are better, it's just the next step. It's hard for me to say. They're all my children. I say this one is better than the last one, always the current one is better. You have to understand, let me qualify this, it's not to slight the first one. And that was 28 weeks at No. 1 [on the world music charts] and it won a Grammy, so it couldn't be too bad.
"So if we do as good with this one I will be happy."
As for future projects for the Other Ones, Hart offers no predictions. But he knows one Grateful Dead member who would endorse the Other Ones' efforts. "I think he's riding shotgun with us," Hart says of Garcia. "I know if we could talk to him he'd be saying, 'Good going, guys. This is just what I want you to do.' "
Mickey Hart will discuss Supralingua Wednesday, Sept. 9 at Copperfield's Books at Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa, and will perform on Sept. 30 with the nine-member Planet Drum ensemble at the Luther Burbank Center, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Tickets are $25. 546-3600.
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From the September 3-9, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.