Who’s Got My Extra: Bill Kreutzmann

June 06, 2007

For today's edition of Jerry Garcia extras, we have an extended jam from Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, featuring unpublished stories of the first time Kreutz laid eyes on Garcia, house cleaning on acid and scuba diving. Check your regulator and get wet.

When I was 15 or 16, my father bought a five string banjo. He didn’t get into it, so he put in an advertisement to sell the thing and this guy comes to the door to buy it and it’s Garcia. That was the first time we ever met. He was hanging out in Palo Alto with the beatniks. He grew up in San Francisco where his mother owned a bar. That world tends to make you grow up a lot faster than a protective home life in Palo Alto. I left home when I was 16, I couldn’t stand my parents fighting and all that. I wanted to play music, so I left.

Later [Garcia] was playing in Palo Alto at a club called the Tangent on University Avenue. I would go there by myself to see what was going on. He had the jug band—Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions—and he was playing banjo in that. Bob Weir was playing guitar and Pigpen was playing washtub bass and I think [Robert] Hunter was playing something too, probably guitar. I sat there in the audience and I said, Man, I would follow this guy anywhere. And then not very long after that I got a phone call and it was him or Bobby and they said, “Do you want to play drums? We’re switching to electric.” I was a drummer in Palo Alto. I was always into rock music, but it was a switch for those guys. It was after Dylan changed and went electric. I just played with every band that I could get my hands on, when you first start you say yes to everything.

Early on, before it became impossible, [Garcia] would help people that were ODing on psychedelics. He would sit down and take the time to talk to them. Then it became, Holy shit there is not enough hours in the day to do that. That is probably where that reputation got started, him being a guru or father figure or whatever. He was a really gentle neat guy. He had the most loving eyes. He would look at you and you would feel nothing but love.

When he and I would get high on acid way back in Palo Alto we would usually end up cleaning house, just me and him. It was the end of the trip and you’ve come way down, so you want to put it all back together.

Me and Jerry got certified [for scuba diving] in ’87 together at Jack’s Dive Locker [in Hawaii]. Before our tests or anything we’re just diving and having fun, and another dive instructor comes up to our group and asks Garcia for an autograph under the water. The reason I moved over here [to Hawaii] is that him and I had a pact that when the band stopped playing, when there was no more Grateful Dead, we would both buy places over here. I just kept the promise. The bands after he left, like the Other Ones, just weren’t the same. Great players, but they never did the songs quite like he did them.

I was living in Mendicino when my girlfriend called and said he died and I flipped. I went into shock. I knew he was trying to go clean at the Betty Ford Center, and he came back and something happened. When you do stuff like that to your body, all your organs get weak. His body was ready to go, doggonit. He had kicked a few other times. and one time he had kicked and we were playing a show at the Shoreline Ampitheatre near Palo Alto, and he was really wired and it was like razorblades on your backbone or something. He played so great. He leaned over and said, “Billy, I’m so nervous.” And I was like, “You are playing your fucking ass off, shut up.” I was hoping he would stay like that, but unfortunately that drug pulls too strong.

I think if he had gotten himself clean again, which it looked like he was trying to do, he probably would have stopped playing in the Grateful Dead because I don’t think he really liked the Grateful Dead at the end there. That’s my honest feeling. I think he was doing it for money, I didn’t feel he was doing it for the fun anymore, I don’t think any of us were. I think the last five years in that band were kind of wasted. You can’t capture the magic in a box, even if there wasn’t drug problems with any of the band members and everybody was perfect. The art kind of leaves. The muse kind of pulls its energy out. My feeling was that he was always going to play with another band.

Posted: June 06, 2007
Who’s Got My Extra: Bill Kreutzmann