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Bob Bralove: the “and” of “drums and Space”

Bob Bralove joined the Grateful Dead in the late ‘80s. He met Merl Saunders while Merl was doing the music for the reboot of The Twilight Zone (for which the Grateful Dead did the theme and some scoring work), and that’s how he came into contact with the Dead. The band brought him in to assist with the making of In the Dark, which led to his becoming part of the touring team. This is an excerpt from a March 2012 interview.

My role of introducing new sounds and new sonic technologies to their performance grew in the “drums” and “space” sections of the show. That was a place where everybody was playing with things, where I got to play with things. My experiences with them kept opening up, and they became more eager to receive my performances.

With Brent [Mydland], I was pretty much organizing his access to the things that he liked and my enhancement of whatever sonic worlds I could introduce to him. But it was about his access to those worlds.

There was a big shift when Vinnie [Welnick] joined the band after Brent’s death, because Vinnie was more of a piano player than a synthesist. He was so busy getting on top of the tunes that he gave me more freedom and leeway to orchestrate his sounds.

At some point Vinnie ended up having a pedal that was me; I would take his performance through MIDI and orchestrate it, and he would just use that pedal. If he liked my ideas, there would be more of that pedal; if he wanted to go somewhere else, there would be less of it. He would have me, and piano and organ.

After Brent, Jerry asked me to lose the B-3 from the rig. I don’t know why. He never really articulated it. It may have been an emotional connection with Brent… I think Vinnie would have preferred to play the B-3.

During the show I would just orchestrate, constantly changing, subtly changing, bringing things out. It was also a test, to me, because I might suggest something and I’d hear him pull it out. And I would think, “Maybe he doesn’t want that.” He was delightful. It was fun to do, and of course it was a huge thrill just to be part of the show.

My involvement with the drums thing was initially to create sequences and textures and sounds for them to play and to play against, grooves for them to play against that were complex kind of networks of delays and effects and things that would give a character to the evening’s drums. It was defining sounds, and sometimes defining sequences and drum machines – content that would establish the rhythmic nature of the delays. As that relationship grew, I would even define chord changes that were to happen in the middle of the grooves. Billy and Mickey not being great chord people, I would go and put colored tape on the notes of their marimbas that had the right chords: red for chord A, blue for chord B, so they could always go to a chord tone. 

Bill came up to me one time and he said to me, “You know, when we first started using click tracks, I hated them! I thought they were awful! And now, I love them! Do you want to know why I love them?”

I said, “Billy, why do you love them now?”

He said, “Tempo is no longer a matter of opinion!”