I met Jerry in 1995 at The Pyramid in Memphis, TN. Short version of the story is that I was taking a Super 400 Gibson acoustic to Weir. McNally meets me at the statue of Ramses outside the venue, and walks me in the back. Bob greets me, excited by getting a guitar comparable to Jerry's Gibson LeGrande. He sees Jerry in the hall talking to Parish, says, "Come on, let's show Jerry." I am, of course, about to piss myself. We walk up to Jerry, who is engrossed in conversation with Parish. They don't even acknowledge we are standing there. Standing next to Parish, Jerry looked pretty short, but I guess we all would. I was surprised that I was a couple of inches taller than this giant of a musician I'd always looked up to.
Bob taps Jerry's shoulder, and says, "Hey Jerry, wanna see something cool?"
Jerry keeps ignoring us.
Bob does it at least two more times, tapping Jerry's shoulder, "Hey Jerry, wanna see something cool? Wanna see something cool, Jerry?"
At this point I'm having visions of that small dog in the Warner Bros cartoon trying to get the bulldog Spike's attention saying, "Wanna play ball, Spike, wanna play ball?" I'm thinking to myself, "Oh no, this is NOT supposed to happen like this, in some alternate universe, Jerry is supposed to turn around and say, "Yeah, Bobby, what ya got?" then lead us into a dressing room where he loves the guitar and plays some licks as I worship adoringly. Well, instead is was.....
"No Bobby, I don't wanna see something cool. Why would I wanna see something cool, Bobby?" Jerry looks at me, my voice cracking I stick my hand out to shake the hand that shook the hand and manage to get out, "Hi Jerry." Jerry shakes my hand. Well, sort of. I shook his hand. He stuck his out and gave the old wet noodle, cold fish handshake. He looked at me and said, "Hi!" as our hands met. I was in a bit of shock, thinking, "Wow, I finally get to meet Jerry and Weir went and interrupted him and it went like that. Damn!" Then I remembered that there were 25,000 people outside who would have given anything to get that wet noodle handshake.
I saw him in Memphis, then saw him in the hall backstage in Birmingham, AL a couple of nights later as he was hurrying down the hall past my wife and I. This time he just looked over at us as he walked by. One thing I could not help but notice both times was how bad he looked up close. He looked exhausted. His hair was stringy and dirty looking, not that puffed out unmanageable hair of earlier years, it was straight, flat. His eyes looked a bit sunken. His cheeks were like the jowls of Droopy Dog. He did not look like a man about to turn 53 in a few months, he looked like a man about to turn 73.
I cherish the memory of meeting him, I realize how lucky I was to be there, in the same room and to get a "Hi" from the guy. But I've always been haunted by how he looked those nights.
The guitar I took Bob had to have some mods done to it, so I took it home to Nashville after those shows were over. Months later, I drove it to Bob at Deer Creek, to hand deliver it. Unfortunately the day I chose to take it to him was the show the day after the riots. I drove six hours to get there, checked into my room, got a call from Weir that said, "Well its real unfortunate but the show's been canceled and we're getting on a plane in a few hours and getting out of here. Can you just bring it over to the hotel?" So, I did, again, trying to remember how many thousands of people would have been happy to drive six hours to take a guitar to Grateful Dead. My chance to get a do-over intro to Jerry didn't get to happen at the show either. Oh well, McNally told me I was on the "tickets for life club" list now, so I figured I'd have more chances. A few months later, Jerry is dead.
I never thought I'd see that Super 400 again. Then I ended up moving to San Francisco were I started publishing books on audio recording and music production. I hired McNally's wife to shoot book cover photos for me. She took me to Weir's house on Mt Tam in Mill Valley to his home studio, the room where the Dead had worked on Estimated Prophet, and the shelves were lined with 2" multi tracks of all kinds of SF bay area bands who had come to Bob's home studio to record. And there it was, all dusty, sitting out in the open, leaning against the wall, right next to the ES335 Bob had stopped playing years ago when he went through his graphite neck phase. You can see it in this shot of the book cover shot by Susana Millman.