Have you ever wondered what really goes on backstage in the world of rock-n-roll? Grateful Dead Drummer Bill Kreutzmann tells all in his new memoir Deal (My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams and Drugs with the Grateful Dead). Now let me start this review off by stating this book is not for everyone. If you like the Grateful Dead, have any interest in American history or have ever dabbled with psychedelics, Deal is a must have for your book shelf.
Kreutzmann doesn’t waste any time in this book getting down to the nity gritty about his 30 years of holding down the rhythm section as drummer for The Grateful Dead, one of the premiere American rock bands of all time.
DEAL Bill Kreutzmann Review:
Along with a real look at the inner workings of playing with the Dead, Bill admits to being Jerry Garcia’s first fan and really opens up in Deal in ways that at times seem almost too honest and open. I, for one, loved every minute of the book, not sure Kreutzmann’s ex-wives and children would feel the same, however, this is the story about a man’s life that at times boarded on stardom. With great success comes incredible opportunities both good and bad, Bill fortunately doesn’t hold back in telling all via the pages of Deal.
Grateful Dead History Lesson
Before you dive into this review, I recommend playing the following show. Deadheads should be familiar with 5/8/77 from Itcha, NY that features an interstellar jam between “Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire on the Mountain.” In fact Kreutzmann recommends sipping on some electric Kool Aid and listening to this jam as “you will be tested on all this stuff, it’s guaranteed to be on the final exam”. Are you sitting down yet, this is about to get good..
The extent of the Grateful Dead experience reached far past the stage during the 70’s and 80’s. Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart (the other drummer in the band) worked on the soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Turns our Coppola must have been a head as he sat behind the guys drum sets during the infamous Winterland shows in 1978 and named the duo the Rythm Devils, a name that has stuck since.
Kreutzmann talks about the night of October 25, 1991 when legendary concert promoter Bill Graham was killed. Graham was on his way home from working the Huey Lewis And The News concert in the Bay Area when his helicopter crashed killing everyone on board, not before Bill Graham had one last laugh according to Kruetzman, by flicking the light at Kreutzmann’s house as if to say “Everyone take your seats, The show must go on.”
As the band grew they had lots of yes people around them, essentially the Grateful Dead could do no wrong, or so they thought. In the Spring of ’92 part time keyboard player and Deadhead Bruce Hornsby relinquished his role of playing in the band as he was unhappy with the way the guys were playing or better yet lack of listening to one another on stage as jazz legend Ornette Coleman pointed out to Kreutzmann, years earlier.
Let the Good Times Roll
So what happened after the shows? The band was known for hosting parties in Hospitality Suites at hotels around the globe which Bill refers to as the “Hostility Suites.” Apparently Garcia would hold court entertaining everyone with his stories and even as DJ rolling in a “giant cabinet” on wheels into the middle of the party. John F Kennedy Jr. even made his way up to one of these surely rocking parties..
The DNA of LSD and the Grateful Dead will forever be weaved together into a complex yet beautiful stream of consciousnesses or lack there of.. The band started out with zero expectations, they were encouraged to take chances on stage and ritually ate LSD together every Saturday for years… As the band grew and their fan base spread faster then the flu they found it harder to take chances on stage according to Kreutzmann and stopped eating “acid together, ritualistically, as if it was a sacrament. Acid became too risky. We had Lost the freedom to f*ck up, and to take giant musical chances. It felt like the band began to lack the confidence to take psychedelics and step onstage in front of a large number of people, or to go off the deep end, improvisationally.”
LSD was not the only drug surrounding the Grateful Dead at times, Kreutzmann admits to openly taking bumps of cocaine on stage in-between songs. Talks about Jerry’s heroin use and how the band watched as their crowd started to slip into darkness with Garcia at the lead right in front of everyone’s eyes.
Triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13, clearly not a number Kreutzmann shy’s away from. Bill and Grateful Dead soundman, Dan Healy celebrated the number 13 in a hotel room one night after a show with, well 13 women. I will save the juice details for those of you that read the book (your welcome Mom). Talk about freaking rock stars!!
One the night the Grateful Dead was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame a couple things are to note. First of all Jerry decided not to attend as he didn’t believe in all the hype of award shows or being awarded Gold or Platinum records for that matter. Secondly “In Grateful Dead Tradition” Kreutzmann states that he “took out a prepared speech, ripped it in half” tossing it over his shoulder before he began to speak from the heart, improvising the same way the band had done for years prior leading up to the award ceremony.
At the end of the day the members of the Grateful Dead just wanted to play music, Jerry believed that the music should be given away for free, “Let them have music!” – Jerry Garcia. However it was no longer that easy, the band known at the Grateful Dead had become a business, the musicians that routinely explored the unknown together were transformed from hippies into business men. With fame came the money, and a growing list of obligations which must have been hard for a group of guys that started out as the house band for the acid tests around Haight-Ashbury. “None of us ever wanted to become businessmen. At least, certainly not Jerry. And certainly me, either.” says Kreutzmann.
All good things must come to an end
By the early ’90’s Garcia’s heroin use was out of control, damaging not only his own health, but that of the band and their fans. According to Kreutzmann “There were some nights that Jerry was so doped up that he would start to nod off, on stage. I’d hit my crash cymbals as hard as I could, just to wake him up. That actually happened more then once, I’m sure” that being said Kruetzman goes on to state that “Incredibly, even during those kind of moments, his guitar playing still had that unreal quality to it that made it the stuff of legend… Notes turned into daggers as Jerry took stabs at every bleeding heart within earshots… His guitar was a magic wand that could cast spells with it even in his sleep… He wouldn’t always remember what song her was in and he would mumble sounds instead of lyrics, but I will be damned if his fingers didn’t find all the right notes.
The last paragraph was hard from me to type and as a fan of this music, and even harder to read. Jerry Garcia was dying on stage at this point in the band’s career yet still putting out some of the most virtuoso guitar playing of the last century.
The “Railers” as Kreutzmann describes them was a group of fans that looked strung out in the front row during the 1990’s, clearly Jerry’s heroin use was encouraging the same stupid behavior on the other side of the rail as well.
The Grateful Dead played their final show together at Soldiers Field in Chicago on July 9, 1995 one month before Jerry Garcia’s death. Garcia died on August 9, 1995, however his music will live on for generations and generations to come.
Deal talks about the ambiguous exploration the band spent together in the 60’s, follows as the Dead picks up steam in the 70’s (my favorite Grateful Dead era) and rolls right into the wild cocaine induced 1980’s and the tough 90’s for everyone in the band. Fast forward to 2015, and Bill Kreutzmann is happy, healthy and sober. Bill has a new wife, is madly in love with her, spends his free time surfing and is as excited now playing music as ever.
I hope everyone gets a chance to dance in the streets or inside the venue during the bands Fare the Well shows this summer. Either way the immortal music of the Grateful Dead, will continue to live on perpetually throughout time and space.
P.S. Any book that thanks Albert Hoffman in the credits is A, OK with me 🙂