The Grateful Dead have always had a way of imprinting themselves upon your brain. When Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir joined David Letterman on his late night TV show, they made sure that the now-iconic host never would forget their appearance.
Late-night television can often bring out the worst in bands. We’re talking about dull answers and boring viewpoints. But sometimes they come equipped with the kind of mind-altering jams that the Dead have become famous for.
When Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir joined Letterman for a chat on 13th April, 1982 they were sure to leave their mark. As well as chatting about the beating heart of the counter-culture movement, San Francisco, the group also provided two acoustic covers. The duo were some of the biggest names than young show had welcomed to its couch at that point.
Nervous and stuttering, Letterman says, “Let me, uh, ask you just a question you’re probably tired of hearing of,” he said. “Um, you probably more than anybody, uh, represent San Francisco and all of the Be-In’s and that sort of thing. What year would this have been?”
Garcia comments on his perhaps somewhat hampered memory but did share some moments from the old days. “At the time it seemed like things were going to change real fast,” he said. “There was this amazing momentum. When the acid tests were happening they started with 50 or 60 people and within a matter of weeks it had escalated to 3,000 or something. It had this amazing juggernaut quality of picking up lots of people as it went along…There was a sense of history going on.”
When the pair arrived at the show they had just completed two wonderful nights at the Nassau Coliseum and they were happy to share why they didn’t mind their fans bootlegging shows “The shows are never the same, ever,” Garcia said. “When we’re done with it, they can have it.” The show eventually moves on to an advert break.
After that break, the cameras return to find Garcia and Weir with their acoustic guitars ready and raring to go. The pair play a folk cover of ‘Deep Elem Blues’, which was the first time the band had played the cover since 1966. They then wrapped up the show with a performance of ‘Monkey and the Engineer’, which Weir introduced as “a gripping tale of tragedy narrowly averted.”
It’s a wonderful watch and not only has the wonderful performance and the lightning sharp chat but also the added bonus of seeing a young David Letterman. Win-win.
Watch The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia perform to classic covers on ‘Letterman’ in 1982