When David Gans was sent to Jamaica in 1982 by his employer, Record Magazine, he never suspected he would be setting in motion the rest of his career. While in Jamaica, Mr. Gans met photographer Peter Simon, with whom he would later coauthor his first book, Playing in the Band: An Oral and Visual Portrait of The Grateful Dead.
“My life has been very much a Grateful Dead kind of thing,” he said during a phone interview with the Gazette. “I’ve never made a plan, I’ve just sort of followed along and played the hand that’s in front of me. It’s been a long, strange trip.”
Mr. Gans began playing music at a young age and always knew he wanted to become a professional musician. In college he also began reviewing records for local publications and writing for a music magazine called BAM (Bay Area Music). “It was all part of my mission to learn as much as I could about the business,” he said.
Though he spent most of his time in college playing the guitar and chasing girls, his work at BAM led him to fulfill what he calls a “million dollar college education.” He interviewed guitar makers and inventors such as Leo Fender and Les Paul along with a host of top musicians and producers. “It was ten years very well spent.”
Mr. Gans’ career at BAM led to a job at Record Magazine, where he continued to write about musicians of that era including Fleetwood Mac, Pat Bennetar, and Rod Stewart. It was during this period that he took his fateful trip to Jamaica. The success of Playing in the Band led to a job at KFOG radio station. Originally, he was asked to promote the book on the air, but he had such a wonderful time producing the segment that he asked to contribute more to the station. Eventually KFOG hired him to take over hosting the Grateful Dead Hour.
“I never intended to do it but it was a great way to make a living, get my name known nationally, and further my musical adventures.”
Throughout his radio career, Mr. Gans continued writing for magazines, in addition to publishing three books, and playing his own music, for which he is currently on tour.
“I continued to do what interested me and continued to write and play in as many situations as I could while also doing all these other music-related things that I loved,” he said
Over time, the Grateful Dead hour became his main gig, while still writing and playing his own music on the side.
“I was always that guy who missed his deadlines because I had a bad case of term paper syndromeI’d start my articles the night before they were due. I’ve never had any trouble meeting radio deadlines because I love it and it’s so easy to plan or record from wherever I am.”
He does admit to missing the life of freelancing as it was a fantastic way for him to explore the different musical scenes all around the country. “I was so lucky, but it was a really tough way to make a living. The radio gives me a steady income. I can do it anywhere, so it’s really convenient, as long as my laptop works. I lost the breadth of opportunity when I started specializing in the Grateful Dead, but now I’m very enmeshed in a very rewarding community.”
In the mid 1990’s, Mr. Gans began attending various music festivals, rekindling his passion for making his own music. He started writing and playing alongside Eric Rawlins, with whom he produced a duet album. A tour followed soon after.
Mr. Gans applied much of what he learned from studying and interviewing the Grateful Dead to his own music. He never has a plan. He writes the music he wants to write, and he sings about the things that matter to him most. When asked about his songwriting process, he admits it is a very mysterious thing for him. “I don’t write a lot. I only write a couple of songs a year because I wait until I really have something to say. I can’t work by seeing what sticks. I let things simmer in my head until something makes itself known. I take the ideas when I can and let them build the way an oyster makes a pearl.”
Recently he also started recording his live shows and playing them back later for inspiration. When he hears an improvised riff or new melody done on stage, he tweaks it and puts it into a song later.
Looking back over the years and how his many passions have meshed perfectly, Mr. Gans claims that it was never by design. But like an alchemist of the highest order, Mr. Gans makes it seem effortless.
“When I’m on tour or at festivals, I hear a lot of music that I can bring home and incorporate into the radio show. When I’m driving from city to city, I can get some recording for the show done, too. It works so well. I’ve never made a longterm plan. I’ve been a total idiot, which is why I consider myself so lucky to be where I am.”
Perhaps the real secret is in his intention.
“I am very much a child of the 1960’s,” he said. “I have a strong drive to communicate with people and to make an impression on the world, to make it a better place. Yes, it shows a little vanity that I think I have something to say, but I am trying to influence people to be kind and generous and to have values other than making zillions dollars off the backs of other human beings. Oh, and to have a really good time.”
David Gans performs tonight, July 19, at Nectar’s, joining The Grateful Dread onstage. Doors open at 9 p.m. The Grateful Dead Hour is syndicated on dozens of radio stations nationwide. For details, visit gdhour.com.