My friend Danny Gromfin just gave me a stack of vintage Grateful Dead LPs that he inherited from his “hippie aunt.” He asked me if I had ever seen the Dead in concert. I remarked that I had seen them several times at The Shrine when I was about the same age as his fourteen year old daughter. It got me thinking of how and when I first became aware of improvised music, and I think these concerts may just have been the time and place.
It wasn’t the horrible vocals that kept me plastered to the front of the stage during the Dead’s twenty minute versions of assorted two and a half minute folk, pop, R&B and blues classics, but when the rhythm and riffs of the originals broke apart and began to take their own individual course. Each instrument was playing its own song but doing it in a way that interlocked with the rest of the band. I didn’t understand what was happening but I was completely hypnotized by it. After the concert a friend and I were so amped up that we sat in his car in front of my house talking until the sun came up and my dad drove off to work.
A few years later, a seventeen year old, I tried my hand at improvised music after a rehearsal of an acoustic swing band that I struggled to be the bass player in. I felt the same rush as I did listening to the Dead that night and I have been addicted to improvisation ever since. I imagine that all improvisers have a similar story. Here is one from my brother Rick Potts:
One night coming home from playing music with the Doo-Dooettes at their studio in the Raymond Building I got very, very excited. Sitting alone in the backseat I felt like we were onto something. Our confidence was growing and we were really having such a good time in the process that I blurted out loud. “Some day everyone’s gonna be doing this!” Juan Gomez and Dennis Duck wanted to know what I was blathering about. So, I repeated “Some day everyone’s gonna be doing this!” which prompted another, “Rick, what the hell are you talking about”. I babbled, “You know… like making sounds and recording it and making records and stuff… you know.” Somehow it felt like if WE were having so much fun, other people would find out about it and someday it would spread everywhere. Pretty far-fetched…