DG: Well no, the whole downloading program thing is actually that CDs are going bye-bye just the way LPs did, just the way the 78s did, and 45s and cassettes.
AK: So you're going to be releasing music on there that's not going to be put out in physical form at all?
DG: Exactly. That's what everybody will be doing in ten years or even five years. I think most big companies are in denial because they're so invested in this. I doubt if there's a record company in the world that isn't freaking out. But I look at it as a great opportunity to put out all kinds of things that it wasn't feasible to make CDs out of. In fact, as we speak, I'm working on-are you familiar with the Pizza Tapes? Well, I'm working on "The Giant Pizza" right now.
AK: Doing them all? I had a copy of when I was like 12 years old in 1992 or '93, that somebody had gotten me, which I loved because it had you guys playing three of the same songs all in a row.
DG: Right. You've got a bootleg copy of a cassette somehow purloined from my studio that I got very upset about.
AK: I bet you did.
DG: Perfect example. I had a promotion man named Rob Bleetstein who kept saying, "Man, you ought to release this," and I had never thought of releasing it. Finally, I went back to the tapes and they really sounded great. My engineer ran three DAT tapes through the whole thing; every breath was recorded. When I decided to make it into a CD I realized that 90 minutes of it was out there; it was unfeasible to put out a CD set, so I just decided to go for what I thought was the best stuff, and I tried to find some stuff that wasn't on that 90 minute cassette. Some tunes ran off and whatever, but I was able to reconstruct things and that was a very successful CD for us. But now here's 2008 where you can download, and there's no limit. I can put out something that's ten minutes long; I can put out something that's four hours long. So I'm making The Giant Pizza; it'll probably be around 200 minutes. And do you think anybody will buy it?
AK: I suppose it depends...
DG: Basically, once I put something out there, whether it's a CD or a download, people can steal it, and people can share it. I'm aware of that. At the same time, I'm going to try and survive doing this, because otherwise I won't be able to do it, and people that might like this stuff will never hear it. Plus, it's what I've been doing for 40 years. I just see the medium changing. To me it's a great opportunity because I happen to be sitting on 40 years of music. I record a lot of stuff that doesn't get on a record, because, basically, I like to play music and I don't look at it as, "Okay, this session is over; we got the record," you know? What I did with Jerry Garcia was a continuous thing for five years. There's a lot of live stuff I'm going to put out, a lot of archival stuff, a lot of videos. We're going to distribute other things that are in our category, things that have been out of print, things that people have produced themselves. There's a world of great music, of great acoustic music, that is largely unknown-and it's not on iTunes.
AK: In a way the digital world is almost ideal for distributing all those kinds of acoustic music.
DG: I think it's becoming ubiquitous. It'll just get piped into your house, or whatever you want, and I intend to be part of it. You can put out higher resolution files as downloads. You can put out 24-bit files; you can put out anything. A CD is actually low-fi, because the powers that be are into a grand scheme of planned obsolescence where they dole out technology bit by bit, no pun intended. That's what's really going on.
AK: With your process of recording, is it all first takes all the time?
DG: No. What I'm finding is when you have good people in the room, like Tony Rice and Jerry Garcia, it's all good. Especially when something is a one-time thing-it'll never happen again, it never happened before, and it's a special point in time. There have been a lot of good first takes. In fact, the first cut on my first quintet record, "E.M.D.," was a first take. That's what I really believe in, and that's what's gotten lost through technology. When records first came out the mindset was you went in there and did it in one take. The engineer had to get it right and so did the musicians; they were only cutting one disc at a time, you know? I remember I did a session in the 80s; I did an album called Home Is Where the Heart Is. I got to work with a lot of my bluegrass heroes, like Curly Seckler, who played mandolin with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and sang tenor on most of their classic recordings. I asked him about one particular recording called "Why Did You Wander." I don't know if you've heard it-very sad, very perfect. It's just as perfect an example of what they did as you can find, and I said, "Gee, how many takes did it take you to do that?" And he said, "I don't know if we did that one again or not." That was what musicians did. Now I go to a session and they're all, you know, eating soufflé and sitting around. They finally get it together and do a take, then they discuss it, and then they say, "Oh, we're just putting a scratch vocal on it." What is that? If you can sing, sing. I did thirteen sessions for that Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris trio, and I heard the three of them sing together for about a minute and a half. Thirteen sessions and most of it was Alison Krauss doing dummy vocals. And they can sing. Isn't something lost there? Am I missing something? Wouldn't it be fun to hear them sing together?
AK: Yeah, isn't that why you'd make that album?
DG: I don't know what's happened.
AK: I was reading the liner notes of the Satisfied album where John Sebastian was talking about how he was not used to only doing first takes at all, and was ready to go back and redo some tracks.
DG: Well, it's where we all started, you know? And I never left. I hate overdubbing because, to me, music is all about telepathy and creating something-musicians reacting. It's a reactive art form. When you're overdubbing, you're only reacting to a tape; the tape is never reacting to you, and to me that's very unnatural. I don't think it produces anything that I'm interested in. It's gotten to be about making a certain kind of perfect, overly labored, miracle sound.
AK: On that same point, what's the difference in your mindset when you're sitting down to work with John Sebastian, doing simpler tunes and putting things in the background, as opposed to going into a session for the quintet or something where you're doing these crazy complex things?
DG: It's got a different set of challenges. To me, accompanying a vocalist and being the only instrument there, you've got basically two jobs: one is to earn your keep and put something on there that adds something, but you don't want to do anything to detract from the singer or the song. Plus, you're kind of filling in everything-you're the band, so to speak. For one thing, when you're recording just two people or two instruments, everything is very exposed, so if you screw up there's nowhere to hide. If you're playing in a band, it's a different set of challenges. Then I'm kind of policing everybody; I'm concerned about everybody's part. All music is really based on the playing part and the listening part, and I think you have to listen just as hard as you're playing to what the whole picture is. And the less things you have, the more crucial your part is. It's all a challenge to me. It's not like this is easy and that's hard.
AK: Do you feel more comfortable recording one style of music?
DG: I think you feel comfortable with what you're used to. If I've been playing a tune for 30 years, I'm comfortable with it. For example, I did a session a couple of weeks ago that's going to be a download release. I have a new guitarist, Frank Vignola. I produced a solo album of his about ten years ago called "Blues for a Gypsy." He was Les Paul's rhythm guitar player for years. He's a real monster guitar player. Anyhow, we cut fifteen classic standards a couple of weeks ago, and I'd say most of them, 12 or 13 of them, I'd never played before. So I was reading it. I've heard all the tunes all my life, so that was a big challenge just to make it sound like I wasn't reading a chart. I would prefer to play material that I'm familiar with, but after this long, music is music.
I think I'm a good editor. The best thing I do is actually cutting tape with a razor blade. Trying to boil it down to what's essential. And what's necessary. What you don't play is often even more important than what you do play. I'm always thinking about that. There's the execution of it and then there's making up a part or having a part to play. There are guys that are great players that can play anything, but they're not necessarily the guy that's going to think up the best part. Some guys don't have a clue. They can play anything, but they don't know what's appropriate, necessarily. But experience is a great teacher. Time is on your side, and if you've done something for a long time and played music in a lot of different settings, you kind of arrive at an approach to it.