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‘Dead Hour’ DJ and guitarist gets a little help from friends for NC shows

by Ryan Snyder

Songwriter, DJ and Deadhead David Gans trips out east for a run of fullband shows (photo by Bob Minkin).


It’s been a long, strange trip for David Gans. The quirky, inventive guitarist and songwriter has affixed innumerable other designations to his name over his 40-year career, all in the course of just trying to write a few songs and play a few shows. Among them are writer and author — Gans was a music journalist who wrote for several San Francisco publications in the ’70s and has published books on the Grateful Dead and the Talking Heads. But Deadheads who like their doses — the musical kind mind you — straight from the heart know Gans as the founder and still-host of the long-running and widely syndicated “Grateful Dead Radio Hour.” Gans has been in the booth for over 1000 broadcasts and as of a recent YES! Weekly interview, was working on episode no. 1127, but his journey into the booth doesn’t quite play out like one might expect.

Gans saw his first Dead show in 1972 at the behest of his then roommate and songwriting partner and it was only a few months later, he said, that he started to get a handle on what the band was doing.

“I grew up on the Beatles and was a big fan of early ’70s singer/ songwriters, the acoustic pop/folk/rock back then. The Dead expanded my horizons, so I began to get more into playing guitar and improvising,” Gans said. “It also just made me realize that songwriting could be literature. You could write stuff with depth to that that took a little more work to engage it than the pop stuff that just kind of tells you everything it knows in the first couple of listens.”

A few years later, while promoting his book Playing In the Band in 1985, Gans went onto a local radio show to produce a series of documentaries for the station and eventually began contributing regularly. They eventually asked him to take over the show and after other stations expressed interest in carrying it, it led to the “Grateful Dead Hour”’s eventual syndication.

“Without ever making a plan to do so, I sort of wandered into this thing of being the producer and host and still am 25 years later,” Gans said. “I never lost interest making my own music or all the other music out there in the world, but it became a pretty fun way to make a living.”

Though he insists that he never became a full-blown Deadhead, the band’s influence is felt all throughout Gans’ own music, from his ragged, witty Americana lyrical repertoire to his brazenly adventurous solo stage act to the Dead covers he weaves into it with regularity. Gans has become both known and celebrated for his live looping techniques, playing the role of his own rhythmic accompaniment, but for an upcoming trek to the Southeast for a string of shows, Gans will be meeting up with a few friends from North Carolina for a somewhat rare run of full-band shows on the East Coast.

Among them are Donna the Buffalo keyboardist and Greensboro resident Dave McCracken, Donna the Buffalo and Acoustic Syndicate bassist Jay Sanders, Virginia Daredevils mandolin player Bobby Miller, Biscuit Burners steel player Bill Cardine and Blue Rags drummer Jim Rhodes, who Gans has never performed alongside. With such a talented cast behind him, Gans will be setting his loop station aside for this occasion for obvious reasons, though he will be teaching a looping clinic this Saturday afternoon at the Shakori Hills Festival.

“When you’re playing with a looping device, it’s like playing with a musician who’s a real dick. It can’t hear you and it can’t adjust,” Gans emphasized.” When you’re playing with a human, nothing’s perfect of course, but everybody listens to each other and the feel for what you’re doing sort of adjusts. It’s also just much more fun when you’re playing live to have others with you.”

David Gans will perform twice at this weekend’s Shakori Hills Music Festival on Saturday and then at the Blind Tiger on Wednesday, April 28.

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