10 Things We Learned From New Robert Hunter Interview

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Jerry Garcia’s songwriting partner Robert Hunter rarely does interviews, but when he does you can always count on the California native to share fascinating tidbits about his work. Rolling Stone has just posted the second part of a lengthy two-part interview with Hunter in celebration of his upcoming induction into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame with Jerry Garcia.

[Photo by Jay Blakesberg]

Here’s ten things we learned from the massive interview:

A cocaine bender helped lead to the creation of “Touch Of Grey”

When asked about the inspiration behind “Touch Of Grey,” Hunter told Rolling Stone “You know, I’ll give you the blistering truth about it. A friend brought over a hunk of very good cocaine. I stayed up all night. And at dawn I wrote that song. That was the last time I ever used cocaine. Nor had I used it for many years before that. Now I listen to it and it’s that attitude you get when you’ve been up all night speeding and you’re absolutely the dregs. I think I got it down in that song.

After nearly 30 years of writing with Jerry, Garcia’s death came before the relationship had reached its conclusion

One of the more tear-jerking quotes contained in the interview was that Hunter said, “We were just getting started” about the partnership with Jerry.

Hunter looked into Scientology in the mid ’60s

Rolling Stone’s David Browne asked Hunter about his flirtation with Scientology, “For a short time. This was a brand new thing at the time. This fellow came down and was telling us fantastic things, like you get could get out of your body. All of that sounded great. But let’s just say Scientology and I were not a very good match. I was pretty independent minded. Jerry came to one of the meetings. And he truly didn’t care for it. We did these confronting drills and stared into each other’s eyes for long periods of time and tried not to think without trying and not blink. [Chuckles] I gave it the good old college try but then moved into other forms of spiritual endeavors and yoga. I was a seeker at the time and this was one of the places I sought and it wasn’t a good fit. In the end the Grateful Dead fit. I thought there was a possible holy perspective to the Grateful Dead, that what we were doing was almost sacred.”

Robert thinks many fans have it wrong about “Day Job”

The Grateful Dead performed “Keep Your Day Job” over 50 times between 1982 and 1986 and then never again. Hunter feels the song has a bad rap as it wasn’t a criticism of tourheads. “I don’t think they were really listening to it. They didn’t like the idea. I was saying, ‘Keep your day job, support yourself, whether you like that gig or not.’ You had to do your job while you’re lining up your long shot. That just makes good sense. It was a nice uptempo song with a catchy lyric. A couple of people reacted, and it became a thing to dislike ‘Keep Your Day Job.’ They didn’t like the meaning, or what they perceived as the meaning,” Hunter said.

Some of Hunter’s lyrics disappeared when Jerry was arrested in 1985

Jerry Garcia was infamously arrested near Golden Gate Park in January of 1985. Robert revealed Garcia was carrying some lyrics he had written and Hunter wants them back! “The time Jerry got busted in Golden Gate Park, they took his briefcase. I haven’t gone searching for it, but I happen to know that briefcase had a number of new songs he was working on. And if the police still have them, I’d like them back, please. It doesn’t seem right. A lot of those songs disappeared. I would give [Bob] Weir the only copy of a song, and he’d put it in his back pocket and he would do the wash and there would go that song. And he’d say, ‘Do you remember any of that song?’ and I’d say, ‘Maybe I can remember a verse or two.’ But that’s one good thing about word processors coming along — there are no more lost songs.”

There was an aspect to Garcia that was “rather deeply depressive”

Jerry Garcia was a hard man to understand, even for his closest friends. “There was an aspect of him that was rather deeply depressive, which people don’t know about. You think Jolly Jerry, and that’s fine when he’s singing. But that man had an agony almost that he had to fight. I suppose it had something to do with losing his dad so young, and possibly his finger getting chopped off. Who knows, but there was a decided darkness to him. But you know, what great man doesn’t have that? His bright side, his ebullient side, far seemed to outweigh [it]. The darkness came into his music a lot. And without it, what would that music have been? Hearing him sing ‘Days Between,’ you know — an agonizing cry from the heart, the way he would sing that sometimes.”

Hunter turned down a highly lucrative offer to use “Truckin'” in a commercial

“Levi’s offered half a million dollars to use ‘Truckin’ or something–which was a lot of money back in the early Seventies — and I said no,” Robert revealed.

Robert Hunter would’ve tried to talk band members out of using the name Grateful Dead

Hunter wasn’t at Phil Lesh’s house in 1965 when band members found the name “Grateful Dead,” which is probably a good thing in retrospect. “I would’ve talked ’em out of it. Definitely. It was outrageous is what it was, one of those things when you’re sittin’ around stoned that sounds like an incredibly good idea. However, time has its way with things, and now it seems like one of the finest choices possible,” Robert said.

A line from “Ripple” is Hunter’s favorite he ever wrote

“Let it be known there is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men” [from “Ripple”]. That’s pretty much my favorite line I ever wrote, that’s ever popped into my head. And I believe it, you know?” the songwriter told Rolling Stone.

Elvis Costello & Jane’s Addiction’s Dead covers are Hunter’s favorites

When Browne asked Hunter about his favorite cover versions of his work, Robert revealed, “I liked Elvis’ ‘Ship of Fools’ a lot. And who’s that band that did ‘Ripple’? Jane’s Addiction. That was incredible! I almost dropped my chewing gum.”

We only scratched the surface, so be sure to read both parts of the interview.