Monthly Archives: May 2016


Dead Heads have expressed dramatically different positions on Tiger making some appearances this past week. It seems as though Tiger’s owner, Jim Irsay, made sure the news made headlines when Tiger was shipped out west. The article first appeared in Irsay’s hometown paper, the Indianapolis Star, and was picked up by just about everyone else in the hours and days that followed. It seems as though it really just showed up without a whole lot of notice or conversation preceding its arrival. “It’s like Steven Seagal showing up at your gig with his equipment and asking where he should set up” said a famous bass player.

The story was written like Tiger was on loan to Dead & Company for use by John Mayer. The conversations about whether or not Tiger should be played by Mayer or anyone else began almost immediately. I think Irsay approached the whole thing entirely wrong. He was way too heavy handed in his approach to people he didn’t even know. Then, as if he wants the world to know about the favor he’s doing, he gets his paper to do a write up about sending the guitar out west.

I had a conversation with somebody that isn’t a nobody regarding the chances of Tiger being played this Summer with Dead & Company. He pointed out that John, as with many musicians, is completely obsessed with his sound and gear as well as his instrument. He’s extremely particular about the way his guitar is set up to play and spends considerable time making sure all of his equipment is exactly as he wants it. He tinkers and dials in his gear with the intensity of a tweaked out meth head locked in an appliance store with a bag of screwdrivers. John is not the kind of musician that’s just gonna play any instrument that gets thrown at him. He’s not willing to compromise his own expectations of excellence to satisfy anybody else. At this point, it doesn’t matter whether or not you like him, he’s 100% ALL IN and the majority of US are happy about what he’s bringing to the party. More importantly, the rest of the band is 100% behind him and that means much more than what anybody else thinks. Complaining about Mayer is like complaining about the weather. You can do it all you want but it doesn’t change a damn thing. Brother is killing it! We should ALL show him the same level of respect that he has shown for the music.

While I’m at it, after the show at The Fillmore, I’m not sure how anyone could complain about the state of the music coming out of Grateful Dead Land. That night was inspired by the legacy of the music and the artists that are currently in possession of The Sacred Trust. That along with a heavy dose of the Magic provided by a fan base that brings unequaled vibrations and energy to season the air that fuels the fire of the experience! We should probably all get a paycheck for what we provide as an audience! Bernie would make that shit happen. He’d take some of the loot away from the elite on the stage and transfer it into the hands of those that help maintain the incredibly creative environment that allows for the birth of transcendental experiences! In keeping with that socialist thought, the band provided that one for free! Much like socialism, millions continue to go to those at the top and we get occasional and small complimentary tokens in return. That’s all I’m gonna say about that… Pay It Forward y’all!

The night at The Fillmore proved that the band has gelled, become familiar and comfortable with the material as well as each other and are taking this shit up to a whole new level. The band was aggressive in their approach to the music and seemed to attack it in a way that was fresh and revitalized yet again. The energy that drives the pistons of the machine seems to come heavily from the side of the stage where Bill, Oteil, and John reside. The wave only gains momentum as it passes through Mickey, Bob and Jeff, who we still can’t hear. That power would definitely be more balanced if I had control of Jeff’s volume. I’m sure their mix is exactly as the band leaders want it so I should just go fuck myself… “It was awesome to have Sammy come out and sing Loose Lucy” said nobody in the crowd. For those of US that can’t make it through a set without a trip to the bathroom, it was good to hear Queen Jane back in the rotation. Queen Jane gives everybody ample time to use the bathroom, even if severely constipated. That tune has about 6 too many verses and like the bowels of the constipated individual goes absolutely nowhere. I know, I know, some of you love it. You’ll be happy to hear it again. I’ll just be happy to drop a deuce before the lines get too long and sill have time to pick up a beverage and eat a personal pizza all while getting back to my seat in time for the next tune.

Back to Tiger. So far Tiger has been seen but not heard. I got this intense reminder of showing up at Dead Shows throughout the years and just seeing Tiger on its stand on stage. That guitar on a stand by itself had more stage presence than 99% of the musicians that have ever lived. The potential energy that sat dormant while Tiger was resting was unspeakably powerful.

It was great to see Phil holding the greatest instrument ever made before playing the hell out of 9/18/87 at TXR. I heard a rumor that 5 of the 6 strings are still the original strings that were on it when it was auctioned. Imagine if John came out and got all crazy juiced up playing Garcia’s guitar and broke 4 of them on the first song. He wouldn’t take that chance. I’m sure the strings would most likely be removed, safely stored and replaced by new ones if anyone was going to play it on stage. Here’s some information that you can take to the bank. Based on Irsay’s approach to the whole thing, which didn’t sit well with Mayer according to officially unofficial sources, you might not hear much from Tiger. Things like that can get settled but if you thought that John would play entire shows with Tiger, like Warren has with Wolf, you’ll most likely be disappointed. If one of Garcia’s daughters approached John and said they would really enjoy hearing him play Tiger, I guarantee we’d hear the Tiger Growl once again. That hasn’t happened yet. Irsay’s approach to the whole thing didn’t have the same impact. If we do get to hear Tiger played by John, it will be for a song or two per show and that’s about it. If your expectations were for it to be played for entire shows or the entire tour, they won’t be met. If you didn’t want it to be played at all, you can find solace in it being played in a very limited capacity, if at all. I doubt Weir would have it configured to be played by him but ya never know… That would definitely require way too many changes to the instrument and would still only be appropriate in an extremely limited fashion. The damn thing weighs as much as a 7-year-old.

60 minutes had a great episode that was about Stradivarius violins and the Museo del Violino in Cremona, Italy. They have the world’s greatest collection of Stradivarius violins and a woman whose job it is to play them all regularly. The segment talked about how without being played, the instruments basically die. I thought it was an incredible thing to have the realization that the instruments themselves have a life of their own. Without being properly exercised they would turn to warped and useless materials that were once the finest of violins. Check that episode out if you’d like. It was fascinating. In the same way, Irsay has an impressive collection of guitars and a full time guitar tech that plays and maintains all of them. Tiger does get played regularly, it just hasn’t been played for US in a long time.

Of course, there was a lot more that went into Tiger’s sound than just the guitar itself. First and foremost was the man whose soul played through it. We’ve always known that will never be duplicated. Playing Miles’ horn won’t make you sound like Miles most likely. It’s not the air but where the air comes from and the vessel it comes through that makes the biggest difference. Same with Tiger. Add to that the glowing meters of the McIntosh Amp and the rest of the rig that Garcia played through and there was a lot more to Garcia’s sound than just Tiger. While I would absolutely LOVE to hear Tiger growl again, I’m not sure what will become of that in the future. It most likely will NOT have a very prominent place with Dead & Company.

We should really ask Trey while he’s still alive how he would feel about his guitar being played after he kicks the bucket. That would save an entire generation from having this conversation in the future.

Can’t wait to see you on the road! We’re almost there! Love y’all forever and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it!

Dead To The Core,

Dean Sottile (pronounced So Tilly)
The Official Home of Unofficial Grateful Dead and Music News & Grateful Dean on Facebook
@gd50th on Twitter

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I remember the smell of crime and desperation as I sat among the discarded bags, vials, and syringes on the littered banks overlooking the Hudson River. Clusters of hustlers, deteriorated hookers and homeless folks scattered on the rocks in Washington Heights, all equally bankrupt emotionally and spiritually. I sat there with my friend, Buzz, a homeless guy that I spent my days and nights hustling with. Buzz had a life at one point and told me stories about his life as a successful man with a generous expense account that traveled the world. He could name the bars, hotels and restaurants you should visit if you get to just about any place in the USA and Europe. Being a Dead Head, I knew his suggestions were legit having traveled tens of thousands of miles following the never-ending party myself. He knew a lot about art and history and could talk about politics and finance for hours. He told me he had AIDS but during the years we ran together, the only disease that seemed to be taking his life was his dope addiction. Why were the two of us, people with above average talents and abilities, sitting there like vacuous fuckin boogie men, sticking needles in any blood vessels that hadn’t collapsed yet in the Grim Reaper’s waiting room?

Under the bridges in NYC in the early 90’s, those destined for death, if they were lucky, wasted their days trying to find a way to fix the unfixable. Chasing the Dragon that could never be caught. Equally as pathetic, were the crack heads that waited like coyote for a junkie to nod out or die so they could ravage through their painfully empty pockets. A soulless and awful existence, day after day, where daylight and sunshine were the enemies of all of us that made up a nation of zombies.

Buzz lost his job, marriage, money and family to cocaine and gambling and could only find relief from the constant mental torment of it all in the increasingly more brief moments that followed pushing some more poison into his veins. Heroin provided that period of absolute thoughtlessness. A place where the mind completely stops processing anything at all… Brief moments of mental stillness that are quickly replaced by periods of internal torment and ongoing struggle that come straight from the pits of Hell and last forever. Pain in every joint of the body along with every tooth in your mouth. The feeling of red ants marching through your veins and arteries eating you alive from the inside-> out. You’re convinced the solution is just another shot away regardless of all evidence to the contrary. Those that have been there know that demons exist and have no mercy at all.

I’ll never forget walking the streets of Washington Heights and Spanish Harlem in the earliest hours of morning. Having grown up with supportive, intelligent and loving parents, it was strange to see 7-year-old kids riding their bikes through the streets at 2:00 AM. Even stranger when we’d score our bags from their older brothers that were 11 or 12 years old. All of this happening a 30-minute bus ride away from mansions in the burbs and under the same shadows cast by opulent skyscrapers where the elite reside.

It was on May 15th of 1993 that I sat with Buzz on the hellish hillside and said, “If God exists, I’m begging him to get me out of this mess… HELP ME GOD!!!”

The journey that started that day has had its share of Heaven and Hell. The torment of withdrawals… A week of living perched over a toilet or garbage can heaving as hard as a man can heave only to produce a few drops of bile or stomach acid. The wicked dreams that come with it all, waking up when the needle was just about to pierce my skin. Trying like hell to go back to sleep just long enough to get the fix.

Once all that physical stuff passed, the mental part continued for years. Trying to shake the lifestyle that fosters the condition and the friends and acquaintances that were still in the grave and wanted me back in it with them. The calls from friends still on tour telling me about the numerous friends found dead in their hotel rooms. It was a long and winding road…

I’ll never forget the night that I tossed and turned, too hot for clothes one minute, freezing terribly the next minute. I was about a week into being drug-free. Nighttime, my only friend in the years that preceded, now my worst nemesis. The clock didn’t seem to move as minutes felt like hours. When I finally dozed off, I heard my name being whispered in my ear by a soft and feminine voice. As I cracked my eyes open, an angel was hovered over me but looked kinda like seeing something while under the water. Hazy… Blurred but totally present. It scared the ever-loving shit out of me. I pressed myself into the mattress that was under me in fear. The angel spoke clearly and said, “I’ve always been with you and I always will be but you’ll never need me like this again.” With a touch on my face, that angel moved on and since that moment, 24 years ago, I’ve never had the desire to drink alcohol or do drugs.

I’ve never told this story to judge the decisions anybody else makes with their life. I’ve certainly spent plenty of time at thousands of shows and musical events since then. I’ve said, “No thanks” close to a million times since that day. I can still admire a beautiful flower without having any desire to smoke it. I can achieve the state of mind I’m looking for without having to add the chemicals nowadays. I’ll never forget my first clean Dead Show at MSG in 93. During the transition between China and Rider I found myself dancing without any effort of my own. The music was moving me like the wind through a flag. My eyes would catch the eyes of those around me when I opened them and we’d lock on each other for that second of intense mutual acknowledgment of what was taking place. There were musical notes flying through the air that couldn’t be attributed to anyone that was on the stage but they were completely real and present none the less. When the jam reached its peak, in that spot we all know well, Garcia’s pick was plucking at the neurons that make up my brain and the resulting flood of neurological charges caused shock waves through my anatomy. Every hair rose off of my body and stood in the direction of the band. The lights that filled MSG seemed to enter through my eyes and create as much of a show inside of my skull as they did outside of it. When the first chorus of Rider began, my ears drew closest to Garcia’s voice in the mix and it covered my soul with comfort and ease that couldn’t be found anywhere else. While pictures flashed through my mind of all the friends we’ve missed since they’ve been gone, the music reached inside of me and began to heal parts of me I hadn’t yet realized were broken. The parts most obviously dark and broken were brought boldly to the light of forgiveness and mercy. I realized in that moment that it really was always the music. For so many years I attributed so much of that experience to the drugs and at that moment I discovered how completely real ALL of it was. That it really was the music that helped me to tolerate the drugs, not the drugs that had elevated the music. The experience was exactly as I’d known it all along…

I haven’t been to a meeting in over 15 years so according to the 12 step philosophy I’m supposed to be getting fucked up again already. Without my early and intense involvement and service in Narcotic Anonymous, I guess I might’ve never made it this far to begin with. I do live daily according to the principles learned there and live my life primarily to serve others. I try to help folks get free from all the prescription garbage that drug companies want everyone to embrace as a permanent lifestyle. I don’t spend time in Opium dens and if there’s no band playing you most likely won’t find me at a bar. I don’t judge anybody’s shit because I’ve lived as low as you can live. I tell this story a few times a year, not to be congratulated because I’m passed any tremendous sense of pride regarding all of it. I say it in hopes of helping a parent with a fucked up child to remain optimistic and hopeful for their kid’s life. I had great parents, it wasn’t their fault. I guess I say all this to say, If you or someone you love is struggling with a beast that’s killing them, they can make it out. Too many folks are dying from dope and I’m endlessly Grateful I’m not one of them. Things can change… People can change… Life can and will change… How it changes might be up to you… I’m always here to help if I can. Don’t be afraid to reach out!

I often wonder what happened to Buzz….

Love you forever!

Dead To The Core,

Dean Sottile (pronounced So Tilly)
The Official Home of Unofficial Grateful Dead and Music News & Grateful Dean on Facebook
@gd50th on Twitter