Grateful Interpretations

Part Three: The Persuasions

First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2001, Volume 8, #6

Written by Eric Levy


The Persuasions - Might As Well: The Persuasions Sing Grateful Dead

The Persuasions
Might As Well...The Persuasions Sing Grateful Dead

(Grateful Dead Records)

(Here Comes Sunshine/Might as Well/Lazy River Road/Loose Lucy/Ripple/Brokedown Palace/Liberty/Sugaree/Ship of Fools/He's Gone/It Must Have Been the Roses/One More Saturday Night/Bertha/I Bid You Goodnight/Black Muddy River)

Hot on the heels of Frankly A Cappella [EarthBeat! Records, 2000], the Persuasions' extraordinary collection of (mostly) a cappella interpretations of Frank Zappa songs, comes Might as Well, an equally joyous album of Grateful Dead-composed selections. There have been several unusual interpretations of Grateful Dead songs until now (not least of which is Wake the Dead), but none have remolded familiar material into a completely different style so successfully. As soon as the opening snippet of Here Comes Sunshine hits your speakers, you know you're in for something very special. The humor of Frankly A Cappella is retained on Might as Well, including a voice-trumpet solo. Like the Wake the Dead version, Sugaree is slowed down and injected with sadness. He's Gone by contrast is sped up from the Dead's original and is downright playful, as is One More Saturday Night — complete with false ending. The overwhelming sense of fun so evident on the Zappa collection is clearly just as present here, but that doesn't mask the passion of lead singer Jerry Lawson. And be careful not to blow your sub-woofers when Jimmy Hayes sings a verse of Lazy River Road and all of Ship of Fools.

Frankly A Cappella and Might as Well were each the brainchild of Rip Rense who executive produced both albums. He and I spoke by phone shortly after the release of the latter.

Before we discuss Might as Well, can you talk a little about Frankly A Cappella?

I've been a Persuasions fan since 1970. I saw them performing in Santa Monica about five years ago, and they were worn out, they were beat up, they were tired. They'd been driving hundreds of miles, gig to gig. These guys have been together almost forty years, and they shouldn't be living the kind of a life that's designed for twenty-year-olds. They were off-key, they were hoarse, and there were twelve people in the audience, and I thought, "What the hell's going on here? This is a tragedy." Of course, I caught them on a particularly bad night. They were working and they were making money and people were going to see them, but nonetheless I thought there were no circumstances under which the Persuasions should ever draw twelve people and be hoarse and tired like that. So I resolved to try and help out as a journalist. I wrote a lot of articles and freelanced them around the country wherever the guys were appearing. Then they would sell out a gig whenever an article appeared in the paper, and I thought, "That's great, I'm doing some good." My wife Annie, having heard them sing Zappa's The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing, said to me, "You know, they should do a whole album of Zappa songs."

So they were doing that song on their own in their concerts?

Yeah. They did that and Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up, which I never heard them do, but The Meek, as you can tell from the album just brings the house down. So I said, "You're absolutely right, they should do a whole album." And she said, "You should look into it." And I thought, "Gee, that's an interesting idea, seeing as I have absolutely zero background in this sort of thing." But I did look into it, and it was an ordeal. It was a saga getting it done. It really took three years to get it done. I had to get the guys released from their record label, which required me hiring a lawyer. It took nine months of all kinds of stuff. I had a commitment from a very large record company which would have been ideal, but that fell apart after about a year.

In the interim, I got the guys another deal. I sound like a music industry hotshot, which is so bizarre to me, because I'm the last person in the world who should make a deal for anybody. I just know nothing about it, but I did get them a deal with the Music For Little People label to do a children's album [On the Good Ship Lollipop, 1999]. The label owner, Lieb Ostrow, ran into the Persuasions at a show in Berkeley and gave them his card and said, "Hey, I'd like to do an album with you." Guys have been doing this to the Persuasions all the time for thirty years and they just lose the cards or don't pay any attention any more. So that was a story in itself: for like three months I kept asking the Persuasions, "Do you remember this guy's name? Can you find the card?" Jimmy [Hayes] would say, "Well I think Jerry [Lawson]'s got the card," and Jerry would say, "Well I think Jimmy's got the card." So we were going around and around, and I'm just about to give up when Jayotis [Washington] says, "Well you know I can't find the card, but he did give us an album." So I found out what the name of the label was. I called the guy and asked, "Do you really want to do a Persuasions kids album?" Ostrow said, "Well, I'm interested." So they did the kids album and it's won a million parents awards. It's really a great album for kids.

So I thought, "Well hell, the other deal for the Zappa album fell through. Maybe Ostrow, who also puts out adult-type albums on the EarthBeat! label, would be interested." So I pitched it, and he was, on the condition that it be co-produced by a guy named Gary Mankin who worked on the kids album. I was aware that Gail Zappa doesn't give her blessing easily to people who are recording Frank's music and with perfect justification. We kind of tip-toed around getting this thing done and when the time was right I told her about the project and she gave it her complete blessing. She loved it. She was so gracious and wonderful to the group. She came to the release party in L.A. I couldn't believe it. The Persuasions for years have closed shows with In the Still of the Night, long before Boyz II Men turned it into an a cappella hit, and they invite the audience to get up and sing with them. It's always a great crowd pleaser and show closer. Gail got up with a group of fifteen or twenty people singing with them, and it was just great.

Let me tell you how they encountered one another. The liner notes talk about how Frank Zappa became aware of the Persuasions' music, how somebody played their music over the telephone to him and he flew the guys out to L.A. and they got their first album on his label, Straight Records in 1969. It was David Dashev who really discovered the group and managed them to their first great wave of success. He came out with tapes, sat with Frank, played the tapes and it was Gail's enthusiasm that was really the icing on the cake. Frank got up, brought Gail into the room, and said, "I want you to hear this." She was very enthusiastic about it and was a boost from the start. So she had not seen them since that day. And here we are at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel at the release party and the Persuasions had finished their set. They're done — the party's over. All of a sudden I hear, "Rip!" in this big crowd. I turn around and there she was. I hadn't seen her since before Frank passed away. So I grab the guys, "Gail Zappa's here." They immediately — and this is typical of the Persuasions, this is the beautiful thing that they do for people. If they're sitting in a diner and they strike up a conversation with somebody about music and the guy says, "Do you ever do any Bob Dylan?" They'll sing The Man in Me right there. They'll just sing at the drop of a hat. So they gathered around Gail — talk about quadraphonic or "quintophonic" sound — and they sang Love of My Life. And she was in tears. She was smiling and tears were running down her cheeks. It was just tremendous. After the album came out she threw a big bash for them up at her house. All her kids were there, and one of them, Diva, remarked that she hadn't seen her mom so happy since her dad was alive. So Gail opened her heart, and she opened it to the right people, because anybody who opens their heart to the Persuasions gets it back ten times over in the music — you hear it in the singing.

The Persuasions worked extremely hard on the Zappa material. Jerry Lawson could arrange Stravinsky for the Persuasions if he wanted to. That guy can arrange anything. He's just clever as hell. He hears something and he knows how it translates to the Persuasions, but nonetheless, they'd never rehearsed and worked so hard on a record. Those sessions were nice and there was a good atmosphere and everybody was happy, but it was work. Each one of the guys would do each part sometimes five, six, seven, eight times to get it just right. This was all due to Gary Mankin, who did the bulk of the production work on the album. The reason that album sounds as magnificent as it does, the reason you can hear each voice individually and yet at the same time a blend of all the voices, is Gary. The guy's got perfect pitch. If there are any a cappella groups out there who are looking for a producer, they couldn't find anybody who could handle them better.

So unlike Might as Well, the Zappa album was not done live in the studio.

That's exactly right. And that's an interesting point, because you would figure that a Zappa album, or an album of Zappa music I should say, would be very precise in its execution. And you would conversely figure that an album of Grateful Dead songs would be somewhat more relaxed and easy going. I think both approaches were appropriate for the projects.

Not too many bands would go from doing a children's album to an album of all Frank Zappa songs to an album of all Grateful Dead songs. It's a real testament to...

You're so right! It's a testament to the eclectic nature of the Persuasions, their approach to music, and their versatility. What you're really addressing here is a horrible misconception about the group that has dogged them for all of their almost forty years together, and that is that they're an oldies group, they're a doo-wop group. Never were. Never happened. Yet if you go into Tower Records, half the time you'll find them filed in "oldies" — their brand new albums you'll find in "oldies"! It's goofy. In any case there is this preconception. In their repertoire they sing some old fifties doo-wop stuff, but they came together in 1962 on the basketball courts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and they didn't even know exactly what they were doing. Jerry Lawson moved into a brownstone where Jimmy Hayes lived. They didn't know each other. Jerry noticed this guy Jimmy was always sitting outside singing, and they got to singing together — just the two of them. It was the one thing they found themselves doing all the time, and then on the basketball court they ran into the other guys: Toubo Rhoad, "Sweet" Joe Russell, and Jayotis Washington, and fell together singing. From the beginning they were eclectic. They were a cappella and singing Stephen Foster, Curtis Mayfield, The Beatles, just whatever struck their fancy, or as Jerry Lawson says, "Whatever we recognized as a Persuasions song." So that's the deal. There's nothing they can't sing, and if you look through all their albums you'll see that it's a constant — the grab-bag nature of the composers and influences.

Not too many sixties harmony groups were doing such a variety of material at the time, or now for that matter.

You're right, but all the sixties harmony groups had bands. I don't know of any other a cappella groups who were around and recording in the sixties or even the seventies. The Persuasions were one of a kind. Yes, there are great, enduring gospel a cappella groups that have been around since the forties, like the Golden Gate Quartet, the Fairfield Four, the Dixie Hummingbirds, but that's not what we're talking about here. The Persuasions come from a gospel background but, as Bob Weir put it, "They're a secular version of the Swan Silvertones." So they were alone, they were carrying the ball by themselves. Even when they first hit around 1970 and FM radio, which was relatively new, discovered them, and they were "cool and hip" — the post-hippie audience embraced them, particularly with the album We Came to Play — even then, record companies didn't know what the hell to do with them, didn't know what to make of them: Are they a novelty? Well, sort of. Are they gospel? Well, sort of. Are they pop? Well, sort of. So the record companies didn't know how to promote them or file them in the stores. So it's been a problem.

David Gans told me the idea for Might as Well actually preceded Frankly A Cappella.

Frankly A Cappella was first, but it wasn't long after that I started thinking, "They could also do a Grateful Dead album." At that point, I was having trouble even imagining that I would ever be able to actually help them realize a Frank Zappa project. So it wasn't anything I was seriously considering until the Zappa project was well on its way.

Well you should be very proud then, because we have not one but two incredible albums thanks to you.

Thanks a lot, Eric. I am proud of my effort, but most of all I feel like you. I'm very pleased to have been a conduit for bringing such wonderful music to people who will enjoy it. I'm not a musician, but music has always been my main interest.

So on to Might as Well: The Persuasions Sing Grateful Dead. How familiar were the Persuasions with the Dead's music prior to recording the album?

They were largely unfamiliar with it. Not totally unfamiliar with it — they were aware of Truckin' — but no, they had no real acquaintance with the songs.

How did they learn them?

I remember talking to Jerry Lawson on the phone, probably driving him crazy over the course of a year-and-a-half or so, saying, "Really Jerry, I think the greatest thing that you guys could do next would be this Grateful Dead album. Let me tell you why." And then I would talk his ear off about the music when all I should have done was send him a couple songs. I called Gans at one point and I said, "Can you think of any labels that might be interested in the Persuasions doing a Grateful Dead album?" And he gave me a couple of names in the Bay Area, and I called and there was some interest, but there was just no budget. The guys wouldn't have even been paid for their studio work — which is not unusual by the way. Then in another conversation David raised the possibility of Grateful Dead Records. He said, "You know I just produced the box set, and I'm putting together this album called Stolen Roses which is Grateful Dead songs by various artists. Would the guys like to record a song for Stolen Roses on spec? I'll cover the recording costs." I said, "I'm sure they would." At this point I put five songs on a tape for Jerry to pick one from.

The studio versions?


Which five?

The first one was Black Muddy River which was my pick, but I didn't want to give him a recommendation. I wanted him to choose. I think I put Might as Well on there. I definitely put New Speedway Boogie on it. I think I included Franklin's Tower. That's all I can remember. So I sent it to Jerry and he called back and he said, Black Muddy River. I said, "You like that one?" He said, "That's it. That's the one. That's a Persuasions song. That's a killer, man. As soon as I heard it, I heard us doing it." I said, "I'm really glad to hear that, 'cause I was hoping you guys would like it."

Did Jerry Lawson know at the time that it was the last song Jerry Garcia had ever sung live?

No. I'm not sure that I ever told him that. I did tell Jerry and Jimmy the whole story about Garcia's first illness. How when he came out of it he went into the studio to make a new album and Black Muddy River was on there, how in a way it was Robert Hunter inspired by Garcia's clearly having come face to face with the reaper.

Which adds to the irony that it was the last song he ever sang in concert.

Or the poetic beauty of it. What a farewell!

As a quick aside, have you heard Norma Waterson's version of that song?

No. I'd love to hear it.

It's quite beautiful. As a matter of fact, when I interviewed David Gans about Stolen Roses [Relix, Vol. 27 No. 5] he said he was thrilled to get the Persuasions on there of course, but the only thing he regretted was that it bumped Norma Waterson's version which he also likes a lot. She's an Irish singer with an incredible voice. She learned later that it was the last song that Jerry sang live. It's funny, I've been writing about other artists covering Grateful Dead songs. Norma's was the first cover version of Black Muddy River in 1996 and there are now six of them. So there's something about that song that's really resonating with people lately.

That's very interesting. You kind of wonder why that hasn't happened with many other Grateful Dead songs, although maybe it will now. Maybe this opened people's minds a bit to considering that there are some great songs in the Dead's catalogue. That tune is such a summary statement. It sounds like it was written five hundred years ago. And maybe it will be around five hundred more years.

It's a real testament to Hunter. That's also true of Ripple.

Exactly. They sound ancient.

The liner notes explain how Jerry Lawson chose the final 15 tracks from an original list of 30. What were the others?

I'd have to look it up.

Were they recorded?

One other was recorded, which was not used on the album, Greatest Story Ever Told with Jayotis Washington singing lead. It just wasn't as polished and as tight as they wanted it to be so they put it aside to work on it perhaps if there's a Volume Two. And they spent some time working out New Speedway Boogie, but it just wasn't ready.

I could see the Persuasions really bringing something special to those two, though I don't really see them doing a bad job of any song. That brings up another question. With a few exceptions, and in contrast to the Zappa collection, there seems to be an almost deliberate avoidance of the Dead's more harmony-oriented songs — St. Stephen, Uncle John's Band, Cumberland Blues, Eyes of the World.

Was that intentional?

No. There was nothing deliberate about it. Uncle John's Band was not on the original tape. David and I talked about that one in particular. It's such a signature song that's identified with the Grateful Dead, I had this feeling that they were the only ones who should really be saying, "Come hear Uncle John's band." I had a feeling it might be like the Bee Gees singing Sgt. Pepper's. But so many people that I would talk to or hear from through David were saying, "They gotta do Uncle John's Band." I was talking to Jerry Lawson on the phone when they were about to go into rehearsal. I said, "There's one more I didn't put on the tape. Let me give you a little taste of it on the phone, and if you're interested I'll put it on a tape and send it to you." And I played him about half of Uncle John's Band over the phone and asked, "Do you need to hear more?" He said "No." I said, "What do you think?" He said, "No. Not gonna do that one." I didn't ask him why.

You talked about Black Muddy River. How did they learn the other songs? Did you give them tapes of the studio versions of all of them?

I tried to give them the clearest available renditions. In a couple of cases I did give them both a live and studio version. Let me see if I've got my list here. I have to say that having Robert Hunter send David Gans an e-mail with his thoughts on what might be nice for them to sing was just a great surprise and a real privilege.

Like he gave his blessing.

Yeah, it was tantamount to that. It felt good. And I told the guys that the man who wrote the lyrics to these songs had suggested a number of them and loved Black Muddy River. They were very pleased. Alright, I found the list of songs that didn't make the album: Touch of Grey, Estimated Prophet, New Speedway Boogie, West L.A. Fadeaway, Cumberland Blues, Black Peter, Deal, Shakedown Street, Stella Blue, Mississippi Half-Step, Althea, China Doll, China Cat Sunflower, Dupree's Diamond Blues, Doin' That Rag, So Many Roads, Franklin's Tower, Ramble on Rose, Sugar Magnolia, Greatest Story Ever Told, and Mr. Charlie. Also I put a Dark Star on there for them.

Well that leads to an obvious next question: The album is doing very well critically. Sales seem to be great, and the Persuasions are currently on tour with RatDog. Do you think we'll see a Volume Two?

David's a better person to ask because he's really plugged into the whole situation better than I am at this point. I hope so. They think that if the album sells through, then there's no reason why not. And I think the album will certainly sell through.

Do you know what songs they're doing in concert? Are they doing any that didn't get recorded?

I don't know. If they are, it would just be Greatest Story with Jayotis singing. Even when they appeared with the great Zappa tribute band, Bogus Pomp, down in Florida a few months ago, they didn't come out and do an all Zappa set. They like to tease the crowd a little bit and they also are very proud of the fact that they do a whole lot of different kinds of material. So they'll come out and they'll sing, Building a Home — a great gospel tune, or they'll sing Life Is a Ballgame — something out of left field, so to speak, and then segue into Zappa's Electric Aunt Jemima. The anticipation that builds up works in their favor, and I'm sure they're doing the same thing on tour now. I know that at the release party at Bimbo's, they opened with, of all bizarre things, a song that I can't stand, but I seem to be alone in that regard, Elvira which was a semi-hit for the Oak Ridge Boys. These guys came out in tuxedos and were standing there singing Elvira. And it was like, "What's going on? Did Hunter write that? I never heard Garcia sing that." Then they went into whatever the opening Dead song was. So that's what they do, they mix it up a little bit.

Was the entire song Here Comes Sunshine considered, or was it intended as just the fragment from the beginning?

It was never considered at all for the album until the Sunday that Mary Shmary was in the studio. Mary Schmary being the absolutely wonderful a cappella group from Berkeley. I wasn't there, but it happened when the Persuasions and Mary Schmary and David Gans were all in the studio talking. Next thing I knew, David was popping out of the studio rubbing his hands together with excitement and glee. Then I heard the ladies, and a couple of the Persuasions working out the harmonies to Here Comes Sunshine and I thought, "What's going on, a new song?" They spent a couple of hours working on it and they got a basic track down. It was just the intro. That's all they had in mind as a kind of overture. It wasn't clear that it was even going to be used on the album until the mix when Jerry and David gave it a good listen and Jerry said, "Let me do some overdubbing on it." I think he did a couple of lines on it, and then he liked it so much that they decided to use it as a kind of preamble to the whole album. Which I think was Gans's concept: setting up all the Deadheads, you know: Here comes something pretty wonderful.

How did Vince Welnick and the other musicians get involved?

They were all David's ideas and suggestions, if I remember right. It was like Middle East peace negotiations except they worked. David would call me and say, "Maybe we could get David Grisman on there." That didn't work out, and he said, "Well what about Eric Thompson? He played with Garcia a lot." And I'd say, "Sounds like a good idea to me, let me talk to Jerry Lawson." So I'd get on the phone to Lawson and run it all by him, and I could hear the wheels turning as he was considering. At first I think he was a little bit tentative, he was resisting the idea of instruments a little bit — and this is just my sense — but he very quickly warmed up to it. He warmed up to it so much that he was saying, "On One More Saturday Night we want a whole band!" On a couple of tunes he was saying that, and Gans and I were saying, "You can't have that. You're an a cappella band." So we were trying to keep that in check a little bit, but Jerry was getting carried away saying, "We want a horn section. We want a drummer."

It's cool how on a few songs you made up for that where it was both. It was human voices doing horns and drums. So it was still a cappella and yet it's also with a "band."

Isn't that tremendous on Might as Well! That's due entirely to Mary Schmary. I can't imagine a more novel and inventive bunch of a cappella singers out there, the Persuasions included. Alyn Kelley doing that trumpet solo, I mean that's a trumpet. Then you hear Jayotis and Jimmy blowing these fake slide trombones which is hilarious. Who needs a band?

Does Mary Schmary have any albums of their own?

They have one that I know of, which is called Hidden Agenda and is available online. They're old friends of David's.

And Vince?

I get the impression that Vince is just ready, willing, and able to play Grateful Dead music, and anything that honors the memory of Jerry Garcia in particular. I thought he was a really sweet wonderful person. I'm very glad to have met him. When he showed up, as I say, there was kind of a road map to begin with. All of the instruments were planned as solos originally and there was to be no accompaniment at all on the album. It didn't work out that way, and it didn't work out that way very successfully! Vince came in, he was tinkling around on this big grand piano in the studio. Next thing we knew, the guys were grouped around and they were singing One More Saturday Night. In the case of Ship of Fools — that was interesting. Jimmy kept telling me on the phone [assumes low voice] "Oh man Rip, we gotta do Ship of Fools! That's my one request about the whole album, if we could just do Ship of Fools. That's a great song man, great song. We gotta do that!" So I put it on a tape of course, I told Jerry how much Jimmy really wanted to do it, which was redundant since he already knew it. So when it came time to do Ship of Fools, I'm sitting there waiting to hear them do the a cappella version that they worked up in rehearsal — with Jimmy singing lead by the way — which was all planned out, and the next thing I know I hear Vince at the piano and Jimmy alone doing what Gans called the "3 a.m. at the Psychedelic Café" rendition. And it sounded wonderful, but to be honest I was thinking, "Gee I wonder what the a cappella version sounds like. As nice as this version is, these guys are an a cappella group and I'd like to hear the a cappella version." So I pulled Jerry Lawson aside and said, "Do you think we could hear the a cappella version also?" And he said, "There is no a cappella version." So he'd had it in mind from the start that it was to be Jimmy alone with a piano, and he was dead right.

But then a little harmony comes in right at the end.

Yeah, a little bit of chorus here and there, a little bit of harmony here and there, which was a suggestion of Jon Carroll, the San Francisco Chronicle columnist who was there for just about every session, having what appeared to be the time of his life.

It's definitely one of the highlights of the album. I'll make a confession: Ship of Fools has never been one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs, but Jimmy's singing just totally knocked me out.

He's remarkable. For my money he could sing half the songs on every Persuasions album. As much as I love Jerry Lawson's voice, Jimmy is tremendous. I have in the back of my mind trying to find a way to do just a Jimmy Hayes album with piano accompaniment and nothing else, but that's sort of a pipe dream.

Another nice thing about Vince's playing on the album is, not only is it really great, but it's different than the playing he did on those same songs with the Grateful Dead. He brought his own new arrangements to them, yet they still suit the song so perfectly.

He's a great player. Obviously he has great intuition and a sympathetic ear for who he's playing with. He understood what the dynamic and lyrical needs were for the songs and he did not just recreate his Grateful Dead accompaniment.

So for people who are just discovering the Persuasions with Might as Well or Frankly A Cappella or both, where's a good place to go next?

You've provoked a thought here, which doesn't answer your question — I'll get to that. The thought is, Might as Well serves as a wonderful primer, and a wonderful introduction to both groups: to the Persuasions and the Grateful Dead. There are plenty of people out there who don't know who the Persuasions are, and then we have terrible preconceived notions about who the Grateful Dead were. I think those people would be very pleasantly surprised, perhaps even amazed to hear this album. I hope so, and I hope it would prompt Persuasions fans to investigate and appreciate the brilliant under-celebrated poetry of Robert Hunter and the eloquent, elegant, heartfelt, bone-chilling singing and soloing of Jerry Garcia. And the same is true of Frankly A Cappella — a lot of people have preconceived notions about Frank Zappa's music, they say, "Oh yeah, he's singing about Jewish princesses and toilets." Couldn't be more wrong! And a cappella music — they think it all sounds like Rockapella or Boyz II Men, and they're both fine groups, but if you listen to all that stuff it's crazy — it's showing off to the point where it gets in the way of the song. Where there ought to be one note, there are twenty notes. They're very good at what they do, but it's as if they're celebrating their own technique over the content of the songs. The Persuasions are the opposite extreme, they serve the song and they do it subtly. And yet at the same time you're bowled over by their talent, their lyricism and the beauty of their singing. Boy, am I on a tangent — but to answer your question: keep in mind that these guys have been recording since 1969 — the Grateful Dead sounded different when they were young too. I would go to We Came to Play, which was their biggest album. It is a great show case. They do Chain Gang. Man Oh Man, the Curtis Mayfield song, has got to be one of the greatest things they've ever done. People who had a good experience listening to Jimmy Hayes singing Ship of Fools will have a similar experience listening to a song called The Sun. That's a goodie.

Is their first album still in print?

Well the first album was the Zappa-produced album, A Cappella. That is not available right now on CD. It was briefly. That one is half studio and half live tapes, it's good, but it doesn't really compare to We Came to Play, which is a tour de force. Chirpin' is considered by many to be their greatest album. Greil Marcus called it one of the top-100 albums of the 1970s and it is gorgeous. It has their autobiographical tune Looking for an Echo on it, and I defy anyone to listen to that without choking up.

This is the first full-length album of all a cappella versions of Grateful Dead song, though it's not without precedent. You must have heard the Bobs' Golden Road on Stolen Roses. There's another one that's less familiar, a group called Chicago Voice Exchange do a five-part male a cappella Uncle John's Band.

See, the Persuasions paved the way for all that. They were doing it when no one else was. Something else I want to make clear: this thing would not have gotten done without David Gans. I actually tried to approach the label a few years ago, before I tried to call David and they said, "We're not producing albums. Thank you very much." David took Black Muddy River and used it as a kind of showcase — a little audition, and then there was interest. Then I put together a proposal and a budget with David's help, and we both got on the phone with Peter McQuaid, and the deal got done. So this album exists for a variety of reasons, one of the reasons is me, one of them is David, one of them is Peter, and the biggest reason of all of course is the Persuasions, but it was a team effort and things just fell into place.

Well, you sure get to say, "I told you so" now!

[Laughter] Yeah, that's right. I hope the Persuasions get to say, "I told you so."


Part One: The Grass Is Dead  Part Two: Wake the Dead


Persuasions of the Dead: The Grateful Dead Sessions is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!


Eric Levy would like to thank Jean Petrolle, Marty D'Ambrose,
David Gans and John Metzger for all their help.
Special thanks to Corey, Billy, Bubba, Danny, Paul, and Rip
for their time and enthusiasm.

Eric Levy saw the Grateful Dead over 60 times between 1982
and 1995. Since 1999 he has been a writer for Relix Magazine, where
he published three articles about other artists covering Grateful Dead songs.
He lives in Chicago.


Copyright © 2001 The Music Box