As we begin The Days Between, the stretch that runs from Jerry Garcia’s birthday (August 1, 1942) to his passing (August 9, 1995), we revisit this recent conversation with Jay Blakesberg.
When he’s not busy capturing moments at music festivals and concerts, doing portrait or video work or giving his slideshow presentations across the country, renowned photographer Jay Blakesberg creates the next in his series of fine art coffee table books. The latest, Jerry Garcia: Secret Space of Dreams, deals with his lengthy period taking pictures of the Grateful Dead beloved leader. The 208-page hardcover book features 139 photos of Garcia that run from the middle of his career with the Grateful Dead and covers the last third of his life.
“My Garcia book, believe it or not, is my 15th coffee table book of my music photography, which blows my mind,” Blakesberg said during our conversation.
Many of the shots come from his days as a fan making his way to the front of the stage while others find Blakesberg in the first decade of his career taking portraits of the musician, behind-the-scenes shots and Garcia interacting with others. Secret Space of Dreams begins with an image from the first time he brought a camera to a Dead show — September 2, 1978 at Giants Stadium – and continues, chronologically, to the last frames from the April 1995 making of the “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” music video.
Besides the photos, the book contains several generations of musicians pontificating on the lasting influence of Garcia and what he means to them. That includes a foreword by John Mayer, introduction by David Gans, afterword by Dave Schools and essay by Trixie Garcia. Quotes are also peppered throughout from the likes of Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, David Crosby, Jim James, Carlos Santana, Trey Anastasio, Robert Hunter, Jackie Greene, Jorma Kaukonen, Country Joe McDonald, David Grisman, the Core Four members of the Grateful Dead — Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart.Blakesberg is promoting the mid-October book release with a number of slideshow presentations and book signings including Oct. 29 at Bahr Gallery in Oyster Bay, NY, Oct. 30 at FTC at the Warehouse in Fairfield, CT, Nov. 2 at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY and Nov. 3 at the ACE Hotel New York in New York City
For more information on the book, go to www.blakesberg.com. For more information on the events, check out his social media pages — Jay Blakesberg Photography on facebook, jayblakesberg on twitter and Instagram.
JPG: As I was going
through Jerry Garcia: Secret Space of
Dreams, I noticed all the different years and places covered. I was
checking the index to see what photos are from shows I attended. Also, it made
me wonder how many shows of the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band did you
JB: I think I saw the Grateful Dead right around 250 times and the Jerry Band, whatever, a few dozen.
JPG: And then, how many did you attend as a professional photographer in the pit with an assignment?
JB: Minimal. A handful. You know, the great thing about the Grateful Dead was they always allowed you to bring a camera, a professional camera. What is the definition of a professional photographer, I’m not really sure anymore? (slight laugh)
JPG: That’s why I mentioned a photographer with an assignment in the photo pit.
JB: Yeah. Dylan and the Dead, I was a fan at the rail, and
that was in ’87. I don’t think I started getting into the pit until maybe ‘89
or ‘90, like actually in the pit. Before that, everything I shot was
from wherever I could be.
JPG: I followed that same route as well. That’s why it’s always amazing, the shots one gets when you have the approach and the stubbornness of “I’m going to capture this.” Now, let’s go the origins of the book. You mentioned about this when we talked your previous book, Eyes of the World: Grateful Dead Photography 1965-1995.
JB: The last Grateful Dead book, Eyes of the World, I wrote with Josh Baron, one-time editor of Relix magazine who has moved on to other things in the ticketing world. We self-published that. That was a monumental task. There are 60 different photographers in that book. Josh was like, “I think we should do one with Garcia and reach out to the same photographers and get different images.” I was like, “That’s a great idea.” Then, Josh had some other family stuff come up and some work stuff come up and he felt like he couldn’t put the time into it that he needed to put into a Garcia book.
And I had been thinking that I wanted to do a Garcia book for many years. WhenJosh backed out of the big book that we were talking about doing, which was similar to Eyes of the World with 40, 50, 60 photographers, definitive from the beginning.
My Jerry Garcia book is not just pictures of Jerry Garcia. It’s pictures of Jerry Garcia playing with the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia Band, hanging out with Country Joe McDonald or Carlos Santana or Bill Graham or whoever it is. My only prerequisite was that Jerry be in every photo. It didn’t matter who he was in the photo with. So, we were going to do that same approach and just come up with different photos than what was in Eyes of the World and focus just on Jerry.
So, I ended up doing it myself and doing it with my photos. Looking through, flipping through the book, you’ll see full pages that are just a single quote from somebody. Those words help tell the story about who this man was along with the pictures. I could have easily done a book that was 208 pages that’s just photo, photo, photo, photo, photo or four photos on a page or 10 photos on a page but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do a book that had impact, visually and emotionally.
I think that this book does that because of the combination of the photographs and the words of all these different artists. There’s quotes that I found that are from Jerry, quotes from Bobby, Billy, Mickey, Phil but then there’s quotes from people like Jeff Chimenti who never played with Garcia, Oteil Burbridge, Luther Dickinson, Jackie Greene and Warren Haynesand Greg Ormont of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.There’s all these incredible musicians out there that were influenced and inspired by Garcia. Those are people that I reached out to to get some words from because underneath all of this whole jam community Jerry is somewhat this big thick, giant root that has been feeding off of and making all these branches of all these incredible people for decades now.
JPG: Some of them were very touching; the Jeff Chimenti quote, what Dave Schools wrote.
JB: The Schools one was great. Schools wrote the Afterword for the book, and Dave’s a big Deadhead. Schools wrote the Forward for one of my LOCKN’ books that I did a few years ago. Me and Dave are good pals. He’s a very funny articulate guy. If you follow him on Instagram, you could see a lot of that prankster-ness in him. So, I knew that he would be a great choice to write an essay for the book.
I didn’t know if John Mayer would write the Forward or not. I asked John. John is a good communicator but it took awhile for him to understand what I was asking him to do. And John also had to think hard about that because it puts a lot of attention on him in the Grateful Dead world where he doesn’t always want that kind of attention. John is obviously an attention getter because of who he is but he’s always been very very cautious of…he doesn’t want to be thought of as someone replacing Jerry Garcia or trying to be Jerry Garcia. That’s not who he is and he’s very, very aware of that. He is a very self-aware person.
I asked him to write a forward from the standpoint of a guitar player who was a phenomenal guitar player, as you know John is, and as someone who’s also become one of many people in that scene, whether you’re doing it with Furthur or The Dead or Dead & Co. or Phil and Friends or RatDog or Dark Star Orchestra or JRAD or Jerry’s Middle Finger or the Garcia Project or the list goes on and on and on and on with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of bands out there that are Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia tribute projects. So, there are a lot of people that have and continue to stand in that slot, stand in those shoes, playing those guitar licks whether you’re doing it in front of five people in a small bar or 50,000 people at Citi Field in Dead & Co. All of the people get to say something about playing that music and what it means. It just so happens that right now John Mayer is the guy that’s doing it in maybe the biggest band of them all.
John and I have become friends and he agreed to write it. Even the other night, when I saw him and gave him a copy of the book and he’s like, “Oh yeah, I gotta re-read the Forward. I know I was happy with it because when I finished writing it I was crying a little bit.” I’m like, “I was crying, too. You fucking nailed it.” So, I’m thrilled to have John’s words in there.
Of course, we have David Gans who wrote an incredible Introduction and we all know who David is — musician, Grateful, Dead historian, etc.
And I coaxed some good words out of Trixie Garcia. She has
really come into her own in terms of really helping preserve and perpetuate the
legacy of her father who in a lot of ways was an absent father for her but she
has embraced it in a very different way over the last few years in terms of
being a really big part of this community. She did an incredible job, giving me
a really nice one page essay about being Jerry Garcia’s daughter.
JPG: So, you got John and Dave and David Gans and Trixie…I’m sure you could’ve got someone from the Core Four to write a forward or something, more than just adding a quote from them. Was it a sense of the photos were of Jerry but the words were of the next generation to show the continuation of what the music and the man influenced?
JB: I thought a little tiny bit that it would be nice to get, like you said, this next generation or once removed generation. I thought about asking Weir…Phil and I are pretty tight and Mickey and I are pretty tight…I just felt like I didn’t want to single out any one of them and exclude any of them, you know what I mean? So, I just went with quotes and all those quotes from the front the band members I found online and other books and other sources. I didn’t want to bother them, you know what I mean? They get asked so often to do so many things and they said so much about the subject already that are scattered throughout the pages of the interwebs that I knew that I could find a bunch of really great stuff and if I brought it altogether in this one book, it would take on a new life and some new meaning. Here’s a quote from “Relix.” Here’s a quote from “Rolling Stone.” Here’s a quote from “The Golden Road” magazine, whatever it might be. All those quotes from, from Bob, Phil and Mickey were things that I found.
I just thought it would be better to get some other
perspectives in there. I don’t think John Mayer, he has spoken about Jerry in
the press and he’s done interviews with Gans on his “Tales from the Golden
Road” on SiriusXM but I really don’t think that he has expressed his feelings
anywhere the way that he did it in the Forward and in this new book. Maybe
you’d know differently but I think it’s a pretty original approach and some
really, really beautiful words about him.
JPG: If that wasn’t your intention to do that, it still offers more resonance that Jerry’s influence runs through generations. Speaking of resonating moments and life-changing events, your first Grateful Dead show was Sept. 3, 1977 at Englishtown, New Jersey.