I’m very proud about my new Ebook, Reckoning: Conversations With the Grateful Dead and hope that you will check it out.

The book includes interviews with Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Phil and Trey Anastasio together,Robert Hunter, Bill Kreutzmann, Warren Haynes, Dick Latvala, John Kadlecik, Steve Kimock and Mark Karan and many more.

It also includes wonderful photos by Kirk West and Bob Minkin – and it costs $2.99!

Great Dead scholars like Dennis McNally, David Browne and Peter Richardson dig the book – and you will, too.

“I suspect that it is his intimate association with another band, the Allman Brothers, that has given Alan Paul his knowledgeable but balanced view of the Grateful Dead. He’s been one of the leading G.D. observers for years, as this collection proves – connected but not caught up in the mythology. Anyone who wants to know the post-Garcia Dead should read this book.”

-Dennis McNally, Grateful Dead publicist and historian, Author of A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead

“From how songs were written to how disagreements were settled, Alan Paul asks the type of questions every Deadhead wishes he or she could ask of their favorite band. And even better, Alan elicits the honest answers every fan wants to hear from the Dead.”-David Browne, author So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead

“I’ve read hundreds of Grateful Dead interviews and the ones Alan Paul has collected here as a smart, fresh, honest, and musically astute as any I’ve seen. His exchanges with Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Robert Hunter, and Bill Kreutzmann complement and update earlier collections and enrich our understanding of the Dead, their project, and their legacy. Insights from Trey Anastasio, Steve Kimock, Mark Karan, John Kadlecik, Warren Haynes, Jimmy Herring, and Dick Latvala only sweeten the offering. Required reading for Deadheads–and for anyone who still harbors doubts about the Dead’s achievement.”

-Peter Richardson, Author, No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead

“Alan Paul is the rarest kind of music journalist….one who hears beyond the supposed barriers of tradition, style, era, and genre, and perceives the connections and archetypes at the root of all great and innovative music.  And then he succinctly lays his discoveries at our feet, so that we may hear beyond the illusions too.”
-Reed Mathis, bassist, Billy and the Kids, Tea Leaf Green

Photo by Adrian Boot/www.urbanimage.tv – Featured in Reckoning

The book begins with a new essay, The Music Never Stopped. The intro to the intro:

This story begins at the moment when it seemed that it was ending: August 9, 1995. Every interview in the pages that follow was conducted after Jerry Garcia died. After it seemed inevitable that the long, strange trip was over. A Grateful Dead without Uncle Jerry was unthinkable – most importantly to the band members themselves.

“We had a meeting where names of people who could step in for Jerry were being discussed, and I just said, ‘No way,’” drummer Bill Kreutzmann says in a 2015 interview that opens this collection. “My feeling was that I didn’t make this decision; Jerry did.”

Bassist Phil Lesh also thought that not only was the band done, but so was his time playing the music of the Dead’s rich, 30-year catalog. “I thought I was done with it and with rock and roll,” Lesh told me in 2002. “I had this idea that I would find closure with the music by composing a 45-minute symphonic canvas utilizing Grateful Dead song themes, melodic hooks, rhythmic grooves and chord sequences.

“Then I went out and played a benefit concert with these Bay Area musicians who had continued to be so influenced and sparked by the music. I was blown away realizing the vitality that remained there and I thought, ‘Maybe there’s not supposed to be closure.’”

Lesh’s search then pivoted 180 degrees to the very opposite of closure: an open-ended exploration of the Grateful Dead’s music that has not let up in the ensuing years. Every surviving member went through a similar process of discovery, of realizing and coming to grips with the impact that their music had and the vitality it retained.

Please click here to download and read the rest.


Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers: Into the ‘Wild’

by AlanPaul on September 29, 2015

I wrote this article for Relix magazine.  I like Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers quite a bit  and Loved Wild Lost is a terrific album.

“Ultimately, I’m doing this for myself,” Nicki Bluhm explains shortly before the release of her second album with The Gramblers, Loved Wild Lost, “because I love what I’m doing. I’m grateful that we have an audience and being liked is important, but you have to like yourself, and playing the music you like is essential, even if it’s not hitting people over the head.”

This quiet confidence took Bluhm a while to achieve. She was a closet singer for many years before she took center stage with Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, a collective that also features her husband Tim Bluhm, childhood friend Deren Ney, ALO bassist Steve Adams, guitarist Dave Mulligan and drummer Mike Curry. Growing up, Nicki often belted out songs in the shower, doing her best to emulate the likes of Whitney Houston. In high school, in the East Bay’s Lafayette, Calif., she would occasionally call her old friend Ney, whom she’d known since first grade, and ask him to play some guitar for her to sing over.

“She nudged me to play a few times, but it was always a secretive thing,” Ney reclls. “She was shy about it because she loved singing but didn’t have that thing to perform. She wanted to know what it was like to sit and sing over an acoustic, and I thought she was fantastic from the start.”

Ney was already well known in Lafayette as the hippie kid with a guitar and a deep well of songs.

“Deren was like a jukebox,” says Nicki, who is tall, thin, and has a retro, ‘70s aura that feels in line with The Gramblers’ music. “He could play anything I got in my head and I would get drunk and want to sing with him.”

After college, Nicki became a teacher and worked for a while on a ranch in Southern California taking care of eight horses. She moved back to the Bay Area and got a job as a naturalist for the City of San Francisco School District, teaching outdoor education. “We worked with a lot of underprivileged schools throughout the district and taught kids about nature and the watershed and native plants,” she says. “I was always outside and I loved it.”

By then, she had become friends with her now-husband Tim. (She jokes that every boyfriend she’s ever had was a fan of his band, The Mother Hips.) At a record release after-party, she jumped up and sang harmony with him on songs she knew intimately well, and had already worked out her parts by singing along to recordings countless times. Tim was amazed.

“I heard something really pleasing and unique right away,” he says. “I wasn’t necessarily thinking that she would want to pursue it as a career, and I didn’t know if she had the other skills necessary to do so, but I knew her voice had this really cool, unique thing that people would want to hear. I was certain about that immediately. There’s just something that comes out of Nicki when she sings. It’s her personality and just a physical quality in her voice that’s really nice to hear and that pulls people in.”

Tim’s immediate encouragement was huge for Nicki. It was, in fact, perhaps the first time that she began to accept that maybe she had something special; maybe her singing was destined to be heard by people other than friends, housemates and lucky late-night partygoers.

“His encouragement was a powerful moment for me,” she says. “It was finally someone I respected and trusted telling me I was good. It’s not your mom saying, ‘Oh, honey, you have a great voice.’ Tim is, 100 percent, the reason I’m doing this.”

Still, her transition from private to public singing wasn’t simple. It was, she says in a word, “awkward.”

“I showed up at my first open mic night. My guitar didn’t have a pickup, and I didn’t even know what one was when the guy handed me a cord to plug in,” she recalls. “I was really intimidated and forgot every word to every song I’ve ever known.” Soon after, Tim took her to buy a guitar with a pickup and as she began to gain confidence, he invited her to open some shows he was doing with Jackie Greene in 2006. She found the experience excruciating.

“I didn’t like my guitar playing, and I wanted more texture,” she recalls. “I wanted a lead instrument and thought about the guitar players I knew, and Deren was the obvious guy to call.”

At the time, her old friend Ney was living in Los Angeles, working temp jobs and trying to be a screenwriter.

“After seeing some of my favorite bands struggle to survive— including The Mother Hips—I decided I loved music too much to ruin it by trying to make it a career, so I was chasing screen- writing, another fool’s errand,” Ney recalls with a laugh. “I had not been playing and actually had to borrow an amp for those first shows.” Ney has been by her side ever since, developing into a secret weapon of sorts, playing snappy, pungent guitar lines that accentuate and drive the music without overwhelming the songs. He’s also developed into the band’s third songwriter, after Tim and Nicki.

Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers’ career took a serious turn for the better when they stumbled into making a series of viral YouTube videos. Dubbed the “Van Sessions,” the clips simply featured the group playing and singing some of their favorite covers while driving from gig to gig. They captured them on an iPhone. It began when bassist Adams brought a ukulele on tour. Their version of Hall and Oates’ “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” was the video that took off, logging over a million views and essentially launching their career.

The Van Sessions, “I Can’t Go For That”

“As stoked as I am about the ‘Van Sessions’ and all they’ve done for us, I definitely hope it’s a chapter in our career and I don’t have to talk about it for the rest of our lives,” says Nicki. “It was a really cool thing that happened. I’m grateful and they’re very fun, and I think people chose to watch and share them because they’re nostalgic. We chose songs that meant a lot to us and that our parents played when we were kids, and it’s reached a lot of age groups and brought families together, which is really cool. And I think people responded because they thought it was real—real instruments, real people singing, captured in lo-fi. But we’ve always been forward-thinking and want to promote our original music, which really is what’s keeping us going.”

Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers logged thousands of miles between the recording and release of their self-titled 2013 album and their new Loved Wild Lost. “We toured for pretty much two years solid,” says Nicki. “All those hours together traveling and on- stage definitely had a big impact on the music we wrote and on our relationships. As a band, you go through stages and you learn. You just grow. You become more confident and smarter when you have a few hundred shows under your belt.”

That deeper sense of self and confidence is evident throughout Loved Wild Lost. It is the first album that the group recorded from a position of some strength, and the first that is really a full-band album, with all six members contributing to the writing and arrangements.

“We are more methodical and much more organized in the execution of this album than we have been in the past,” she adds. “We spent 10 days doing pre-production at our friend’s little ranch in Atascadero, Calif.—just playing music together and working stuff out in a very relaxed, mellow atmosphere with horses, cats and dogs, and a great friend cooking us homemade Mexican meals.”

One major impact of this pre-production time was that everyone in the band had an opportunity to craft their parts, rather than listening to basic tracks and ironing things out in the studio as on past efforts.

“We all had to kind of look each other in the eye and present our parts, and that tends to lead to being more exacting and thoughtful,” Ney recalls. “And when we entered the studio, we knew what we were gonna do. It had never been like that before. We always cobbled it together. This was a lot more intentional.”

Loved Wild Lost is actually Bluhm’s fifth recording; the first two were issued under her name only and she also released a duet record with her husband. “We’re all together all the time and it just felt right to call it Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers,” she says. “It was such an organic process to get there.”

Still, while this is the second album billed collectively to Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, Ney says it felt a lot like The Gramblers’ first real band recording: “We’ve all been some- what involved in all of her records, but this time, we were all coming in as equals, as members of the band.”

A large part of that process was working with an outside producer for the first time. Nicki’s husband, guitarist, keyboardist and musical director Tim produced her first three efforts. This time, they brought in Brian Deck (Iron & Wine, Modest Mouse, Josh Ritter).

“It was hard for me to give up control at first,” Tim admits. “But I relaxed and began loving it as soon as I saw how Brian operated and what he brought us. I didn’t ever have to be the bad guy and it was really nice for me to just be a member of the band. It’s hard to be both bandmate and producer.”

He pauses to reflect for a moment before adding, “There are actually parallels to being in a band with someone you’re married to, which presents similar challenges.”

“Tim got to just be a musician and that led to things opening up and all of us contributing more,” Ney says. “As we put the songs together, it was our job to throw out what we thought would be good. We were sort of creating it together. We had to play our parts in front of everybody and take ownership. Everybody had the freedom to create what they wanted, but we had to do it in a way that fit together and made the songs better. There was freedom, but there wasn’t unchecked freedom.”

Everyone agrees that by the time the band entered Panoramic House Studios in Stinson Beach, Calif., they had the songs down and could execute the recording with great efficiency. The result is an album that’s laid-back but urgent, and probably a little more subtle and country/roots-tinged than previous efforts, which had a bit more R&B swagger. Nicki says that the more under- stated approach was especially intentional and was an almost-contrary reaction to all of the live performances, where there can be a push to go big.

“You want to get a reaction from the crowd, so you play these big songs to get people stoked and keep the energy up,” she says. “It’s pretty common to overplay in that excitement and I think what we’ve tried to do with this record is really be selective with the parts. We kind of approached the recording musically that way, too: ‘Let’s be as sparse as possible. There’s no need for all of us to play all the time.’ We were more discerning and thoughtful about what we’re playing. Let’s trim the fat. Don’t play the notes you don’t need.’ And I’m really excited for that to carry over to our live show.”


Rebecca’s speech at The Michigan Daily 125th Anniversary gala

September 28, 2015

While waiting to receive a copy of the video, I’ve posted a written copy of Rebecca’s speech from the Michigan Daily’s 125th Anniversary dinner. I will post the video as soon as I have it. It was an honor to help Becky craft this speech. The night before the dinner we attended the book launch […]

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Full Set Video – Tedeschi Trucks Band and Friends, Mad Dogs and Englishmen

September 15, 2015

Tedeschi Trucks Band & Friends, Tribute To Joe Cocker and Mad Dogs & Englishmen, Lockn’ Festival, Arrington, VA – 9/11/15 Introduction, The Letter, Darling Be Home Soon, Cry Me A River, Girl From The North Country, Dixie Lullabye, Bird On A Wire*, The Weight, Superstar*, Delta Lady#, Let’s Go Get Stoned @, Something^, Band Intros, She Came In Through The Bathroom Window+, Feelin’ […]

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RIP Moses Malone

September 14, 2015

I was really sad to hear that Moses Malone passed away in his sleep last night. He was just 60 years old. It’s really odd and extra discomfiting that he died so shortly after Darryl Dawkins. I interviewed him for Slam, circa 2004. He was kind, funny and quite easy to talk to. Here is […]

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9-11 14 Years Later: Still Raw

September 11, 2015

Reposted as I will every year on this date. I don’t think the words will ever be any less true. The following summer I visited the Flight 93 crash sight in Shanksville, PA and paid my respects. All the same feelings… Fourteen years later, 9-11 is still very, very raw to me. In 2011, on the tenth […]

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My Backstory Interview with Warren Haynes

September 3, 2015

I sat down with old friend Warren Haynes in front of about 100 people at AOL Build Studios in Manhattan for an hour-long live-streaming interview yesterday.  We started off talking about his great new Americana album Ashes & Dust and then just kept going. I have probably interviewed Warren more often than anyone else… in fact, I’m […]

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RIP Stevie Ray Vaughan, gone 25 years

August 27, 2015

Twenty five years ago, we lost Stevie Ray Vaughan. SRV has played a large role throughout my career. Though I never interviewed him because he passed away before I started working for Guitar World, I have written many, many articles about Stevie, including a massive oral history which led me to interview almost everyone involved […]

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RIP Darryl Dawkins

August 27, 2015

Oh no. I’m seeing confirmed reports online that Darryl Dawkins has died at age 58. The Chocolate Thunder – so named by Stevie Wonder! – was one of the great characters in modern sports and one of the first basketball players to go straight to the League from high school. The sad news inspired me to dig […]

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Review of Live at the Fillmore East and West – by Bob Lefsetz

August 18, 2015

Bob Lefsetz writes a music industry newsletter I find consistently interesting and enlightening. I recommend subscribing and checking out his archives here. He reviewed a new book about the Fillmores. I have not read it yet, but am going to buy based on his review, which I present to you here. * “Live at the […]

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Interview with Gregg Allman Band guitarist Scott Sharrard

August 12, 2015

My Gregg Allman Wall Street Journal interview kicked up a lot of dust because of what he said about Dickey Betts: “I would love to play with him again.” You probably already saw all that.  The reason for the interview was Gregg’s excellent new live CD and DVD Gregg Allman Live: Back To Macon, GA CD and Blu-Ray and in talking […]

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