Steve Parish has been a primary member of the Grateful Dead family for 50 years. Steve first joined the band as a roadie in 1969. It wasn’t long before he became Jerry Garcia’s trusted gear handler and began to manage the Jerry Garcia Band. Over the years, Parish and Garcia forged an unbreakable bond. Steve was Jerry’s best man at his wedding and was at his bedside when Garcia fell into a coma in 1986. Parish was the last friend to see Jerry before his untimely death in 1995. Steve has continued to maintain his relationships with the rest of the Grateful Dead family. As Weir once said to him “Blood is thicker than water but what we have is thicker than blood.”
Ron from Grateful Music LLC recently spoke with Steve about “Big Steve and the Ass-Bites from Hell,” Bob Dylan and his relationship with Jerry Garcia and Steve, and the Dylan / Grateful Dead Tour.
This is part one of the interview. The rest will follow shortly.
Grateful Music LLC: Hey Steve. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Your putting together a band for the 2019 Skull and Roses Festival and calling it “The Ass Bites From Hell.” What’s THAT all about?
STEVE PARISH: Oh, the Ass Bites From Hell. That was about when we would be setting up the Grateful Dead equipment, those of us that worked on their gear, we started playing, because through the years, Jerry taught me how to play guitar. He taught me how to play bass. Billy, Mickey, they taught me how to play drums. And so we just broke into our own skills. If we would get set up early, we would begin to just start rehearsing ourselves, and play.
So Dan Healy, played lead guitar, Ramrod played rhythm guitar. Rex Jackson played bass. Sometimes Kidd Candelario would sit in on piano, but it was basically a crew band. We got a guy named Sparky who sat in on harmonica a little bit. And I played drums. And so we started doing it. And when we would get set up, we started playing. A couple of times we would actually be the soundcheck, because the band would be late due to weather or whatever.
And then I remember a couple of times we were set up and playing and the audience came in and they liked it, so that encouraged us. We also would play at home to ourselves. And I always, because I was with Jerry and the Jerry Garcia band, and also in the Grateful Dead, he and I worked out all the time. He would play guitar, because he would get there really early in the afternoon. Garcia, would get there, it would just be me and him, and I would play drums, and he played guitar, and we would do that for hours, just noodling around, so I got to get my chops up that way.
And then Jerry said to us one day, he said, “Hey you guys are good enough. You can go ahead and be your own band and go do that.” But we thought about it for a couple of minutes, “No way man, we’re not leaving you guys.” We were too bound to the Grateful Dead as your crew and it was way more fun. We knew what musicians had to put up with.
GRATEFUL MUSIC LLC: When did you pull all this back together to be able to do the Skull And Roses Festival this April?
STEVE PARISH: Well it’s a work in progress now. You know, a lot of those guys are gone, and some don’t want to participate, and so putting together a new outfit that is really just reminiscent of that, with myself. And it’s going to be good musicians, but it’ll be a little more Dead orientated than we were. We didn’t do all Grateful Dead music, we did other music. Stuff that we were playing was old ’50s stuff, it’s some crazy shit that we liked, like “Rockin’ Pneumonia and Boogie Woogie Flu,” and “Running Bear,” and all these crazy old songs that we liked. We did have a couple of Grateful Dead songs. Because when we were around making the albums and stuff, the band would call us in to do stuff. Like on “Ripple,” I remember coming in and doing a clap track with Jerry, and then we kind of did a little background vocal stuff here, now and again. So the band used us. It was always keeping us in the music circle.
And when you’re around music all the time, it’s in your life like that, it wears on you, a little bit rubs off. I learned music when I was a kid. I studied saxophone in school, and trumpet, and it was really something that you never get the feeling for until you’re out doing it on the road, and you learn, “Oh my God, it’s all this rhythm. It’s all this stuff they never taught us.”
GRATEFUL MUSIC LLC:So who’s in the band now? Who’s going to be playing at Skull and Roses?
STEVE PARISH: I can’t reveal that to you yet. I’m going right now to Weir’s Studio, right at this moment, to try out a couple of players, so I’ll let you know in the future here. You can do a little follow-up with me, and I’ll give you an update closer to the day.
But people are going to have to bear with me a little bit on that. I’ll tried to make it work, you know.
GRRATEFUL MUSIC LLC:I think we can wait. It’s good to have some mystery in life.
STEVE PARISH: A surprise unveiling that night, but it’ll be different, that’s for sure. I was trying to put it together with roadies, so we could keep the image of the roadies in there, because there’s a lot of the guys who worked for Dead & Company and those bands, that want to do it with me. I’m trying to get a couple of ringer musicians in there also, but we’ll see.
It’s going to be fun. And I’m going to do a little talking, like I always do down there, about a story or two, and it’ll be a good little thing. And then Billy and the Kids come on after us and there you go.
STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO
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