The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It takes a lot of Hart to be a songcatcher

Novato (California), May 26 (Reuters): Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, who has long held a passion for world music, says the hunt to record exotic melodies in remote locations requires unorthodox techniques.

He recounts one 1978 episode to record Bedouin musicians in Egypt that involved smoking “heroic” amounts of hashish in what he called a rite of passage to win local favour.

“Smoking a lot of hash, it wasn’t so bad, I mean, it was an amazing adventure,” he said in an interview at the Dead’s office and studio complex north of San Francisco. “Hey, I’m in the Grateful Dead. There were drugs around me all the time.

“My mission was to record,” he said. “You have to go with it, whatever it is.”

The high and low adventures of those dedicated to capturing the music of distant cultures on record and tape is the focus of Hart’s new book Songcatchers.

Although one might expect a member of one of the great psychedelic bands of the 1960s to do things differently than traditional ethnomusicologists, those who proceeded Hart said such recordings were never easy.

Henrietta Yurchenco, a pioneer in recording indigenous music from exotic lands, remembers lugging bulky studio equipment to make records in remote Mexican villages starting in 1941.

“I calculated that the equipment weighed about 91 kilos. For most of the trips I had to travel by mule,” said 87-year-old Yurchenco in an interview from her New York City home. “I had to carry a power supply; there was no electricity of any kind.”

“That was really quite a job. I travelled to some of the most remote parts,” she said. “In retrospect, it was absolutely miraculous that we were able to record what we recorded.”

Now 59, Hart looks fit and youthful, with curly hair to his shoulders. He is beyond the wild drug days of the past and says he goes to the gym every day. The one tell-tale sign of a veteran rocker are tiny hearing aids in both ears to treat hearing loss dating back to 1968.

“I am not the party animal I used to be,” he said. “I mean I write books. I’ve got responsibilities. I’m very monogamous.

“I have just as much fun, maybe more now, because, you know, I am not high all the time. I don’t do massive amounts of psycho-active drugs anymore,” he said.

Hart’s bored nine-year-old daughter wandered into the room to listen to her dad talk about what he described as a pedestrian home life. “He’s is not normal and he does not come home at night,” said Reya, who rolled her eyes playfully.

Hart is preparing a summer tour starting mid-June with his old mates. The band did not play for years following the death of leader Jerry Garcia in 1995 but gave a few concerts last year and decided they wanted to get back together.

Hart said the band — now called “The Dead” with Phil Lesh on bass, Bob Weir on guitar and Bill Kreutzmann and Hart on drums — has resolved some past conflicts by scaling back their business efforts to concentrate on the music.

Phasing out the drugs has also simplified matters.

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