Ron Tutt, who played drums for the Jerry Garcia Band for several years in the 1970s (including on the shows just released on GarciaLive volume 17: Norcal ‘76) passed away last fall.
Tutt joined the Jerry Garcia Band after playing drums on almost every track of Jerry’s second solo album, the 1974 release popularly known as Compliments.
Donna Jean Godchaux, who was in the JGB with Tutt, helped me get a phone interview with Ron Tutt in 2009 while I was researching the liner notes of Let It Rock, a spectacular live album of the Garcia-Tutt-Kahn-Nicky Hopkins edition of the JGB.
Ron Tutt: I was doing some studio work in LA, and John Kahn called me up and said Jerry was gonna come down and do some recording and he was going to be producing it. He wanted to know if I would want to be involved, doing the sessions, and see how we hit it off and all that.
We did the recordings, and we hit it off really, really well, and John and Jerry asked if I wanted to go up and do some weekend gigs in the Bay Area. I said, “Sure, man.” Some of those gigs at the Keystone Berkeley were the first gigs we did with Merl and Jerry, and eventually Martin Fierro joined us.
David Gans: And at that time your main gig was Elvis?
RT: Yeah, that was the main road gig. When you’re doing LA studio work, there’s a couple of things they say not to do. One is leave town. [laughs] But I said to heck with that, I want to go out and play live. That’s where it’s really at. Even though studio work is very challenging, I could see working with those guys doing live gigs was gonna be a lot of fun…. I loved playing with John and Jerry, no matter who we had on keyboards.
DG: All us hippies thought it was so cool that you played with Jerry except when Elvis called.
RT: We were both kind of doing two gigs at the same time. The Dead were keeping [Jerry] busy, and Elvis was keeping us busy from time to time. Our manager, Richard Loren, who handled us all through those periods – Zippy was very cool about not stepping on anybody in the Dead organization’s toes.
DG: Tell me about playing with Jerry.
RT: I loved his musical sense. He had a lot of different influences, obviously. He was so laid back. He loved to laugh, he was a funny guy, liked to have a good time. Never got uptight. Nothing was ever serious enough to get too tense about it.
And I learned a lot of cool things from him. He never hyped the fans. The people that came to see Jerry play, they knew what to expect, you know, even with his lyrics. He never did “Oh man, oh yeah, oh baby baby.” It was always straight-ahead stuff, honest and pure. And that’s the way he played. He played with a great sense of musical dynamics. His playing, and the way he presented songs – if I had to compare it to anybody that made a composition out of these songs, it was very much like Roy Orbison would do: sometimes Jerry’s songs would start out soft, and they’d just get amazingly intense and loud, you know, at the right times, and then come back home. It was a musical trip.
DG: how did you come to leave the JGB?
RT: We were finishing up the Cats Under the Stars album, and Elvis was getting ready to go back out on tour. So it was kind of like time to take a break, and that’s just the way it kinda happened. I did do a northeast college tour in ’82, with Melvin Seals. Fall of ’82.