Pure Jerry

Pure Jerry

 Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, USA
BandRockBluegrass

Grateful jamband featuring the music of Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead.

Band Press

Artist Spotlight: Michael Morrow – Phred Instruments

Michael Morrow is an award winning Grateful guitarist and vocalist who has been touring the US since 1990s. Recently he was hitting the road with his own "PURE JERRY" tribute, and has been turning heads all over the festival scene with his uncanny and authentic delivery of classic Garcia songs and stylings. Michael has had a storied yet gradual rise to notoriety, in a career that began from his early Jersey shore barroom rock, to the far corners of the musical Universe.

Michael performed with the likes of Melvin Seals and JGB, Donna Jean Godschaux, Bob Weir, David Grisman, David Nelson, David Gans, Living Earth, Merl Saunders, Tom Constanten, Kingfish, Splintered Sunlight, Illuminati Orchestra, Dead Sage, Pamela Parker, and Ihi Yahn Ihi Arkestra.

"The finest singer we auditioned..." said Dark Star Orchestra in 2005.

Organist John Bigham called him "...the best Jerry guy around."

Morrow appeared at Rolling Stone magazine online in 2015, part of an expose on Garcia's music today. In 2010, he performed at a 40th anniversary Woodstock show in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Today he is found regularly performing with South Jersey GD tributes Dead Reckoning, Lovelight, and splits his time with Philadelphia based bands Dean and Company, Gratefolk, and will be performing winters in Key West, FL.

Watch Four 'Jerry Garcia's Compete in a Grateful Dead Trivia Contest – Rolling Stone

Earlier this month, we invited the singers from four New York-area groups to come together on the neutral turf of Rolling Stone's Manhattan office. The Jerrys – David Frankel of Shakedown, Michael Morrow of Pure Jerry, Mark Diomede of the Juggling Suns Project and Jason Smith of the Remnants – explained what it's like to perform the band's songs, competed against each other in a round of trivia and shared stories from their first Dead concerts.

"I remember taking way too much airplane hits," said Smith, recalling the moment he converted. "And I do remember them coming out of space ,and they started to go into 'The Other One.' I swear the entire stage turned into a vortex, and I thought we were all going right to hell. I was gonna hang on for the ride – and I never let go."

Terrapin - Joe Gallant and Illuminati – Hartford Courant

Some interpretations of music by the Grateful Dead have been criticized for sticking too closely to the original songs. The new album by Joe Gallant and Illuminati won't be.

The new disc, aptly titled ``Terrapin,'' is a complete makeover of all songs from the Dead's 1977 album ``Terrapin Station'' and a couple of extras.

The avant-garde stylings of the 17-piece Illuminati jazz ensemble could scarcely sound more different from the Dead's rock psychedelia. Imagine something more along the lines of the Nelson Riddle Orchestra meeting the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in the Twilight Zone.

It's an oddly engaging mixture for the most part, although it does occasionally sound too much like the madcap jam fests that once took place in parking lots at Dead shows.

In all, 71 performers appear on the album -- including such notables as Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, Connecticut pedal-steel guitarist Buddy Cage, singer Pat Boone and noted former NBA star Bill Walton, whose vocals on ``Passenger'' are unforgettable for all the wrong reasons. But the Illuminati's version of ``Dancin' in the Streets'' far outpaces the Dead's own lifeless recording of same. The main event, of course, is the rendition of the Terrapin suite. Here, the results are mixed. The orchestral arrangements are sophisticated and often provocative; the female vocals alluring; the percussion lush. But several segments are aggressively dissonant and jarring.

In the face of such a far-out approach, listeners will divide into two camps. ``Interesting,'' one might say. ``Are you nuts? That's horrible,'' the other might reply. Put me down as among the interested. But I wouldn't argue the point with someone who disagreed.

The Local Stage - A Conversation with Michael Morrow – City Island Music

“The Grateful Dead was a huge Tiffany lamp, that just lit everything up…”

The name Morrow originates from the Scotch-Irish word meaning “Sea Warrior.” Can there be a name more appropriate for a conscious-minded musician raised in the quaint seaside town of Ocean City? That town on the Jersey shore is where Tavi and I were courteously invited, for an afternoon at his digs, a few steps from the beach.

In the Philadelphia music scene and beyond, Michael is a guitar legend. Several bands immediately come to mind, Pure Jerry, Gratefolk, Dean & Co. and Dead Reckoning, all tributes to the music of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. Beyond these current projects, Michael’s musical resume is impressive. He produced and released two albums of original music, contributed on other albums, jammed with Bob Weir, Merl Saunders, and others. Michael is also a frequent walk-on for live performances ranging from folk to reggae. Last summer, we fondly recall an outstanding reggae set at the In & Out Festival (https://www.facebook.com/Musicatsnipes/#) with the Philly band Jah People.

We have known Michael for some time now, always impressed with his musical range and artistry. Consequently, we “reckoned” that there was a fascinating life story to tell. When we arrived at his home, neatly set out with guitars and amps, a Burning Spear MP3 was playing on his sound system. We discussed his background, family, influences, philosophy, and the Grateful Dead.

Tavi: When did you first begin to pursue the guitar?

“This is kind of an amazing story! I used to sneak my mother’s acoustic out of her closet, and I was caught repeatedly sneaking the guitar out of the closet, without putting it back. I had two hours before my parents would get home from work. So, one day I broke a string, and I got in trouble. My parents realized that I wasn’t going to stop, so they actually got me a guitar on my next birthday, and I think I was about 7 years old. But, what’s interesting about it is I was adopted, half side at least, and I wouldn’t end up meeting my biological father until I was 35, and I found out that I was from five generations of guitarists, that go all the way back to gypsy jazz. My great grandfather was a guitarist and singer. He sang Italian and Spanish, and he came from Sicily, Spain. And, so I literally have guitar in my blood, which I didn’t know as a young boy, but I always felt like I had it in my blood. And, it was the only thing I ever wanted to do. I was so focused on the guitar. And, it was almost like a compulsion, and to find out it was literally in my blood stream, was amazing to say the least. My mother used to say, she would leave to go to work at her hair salon, which she owned, and I’d be on the edge of the bed playing guitar in my pajamas, and when she got home at 7:00 pm at night, I’d be in that same place! I might have a sandwich, but I would still be playing the guitar. My parents would ask, don’t you want to do something other than play guitar, and I would say no. I was just very focused from an early age, and it stayed that way for 40 years. I wish I could say I got distracted, but I really didn’t.”

Jerry Garcia would also become adopted half-side. His father, Jose Ramon Garcia, was a retired professional musician, who died when he was only 5 years old, in a drowning accident. Jerry was named after Jerome Kern, who was an American composer of musical theatre and popular music composing over 700 songs.

Tavi: How did you latch on to the music of Jerry Garcia?

“To latch on to Jerry Garcia, it takes a certain connecting of the dots, much like reggae. You have to get into the lane. When I discovered Jerry, I was already a Stevie Ray type of guy. I could already play professionally, but it just hit me like a ton of bricks. I just wanted to go to see Jerry every night, and study his music. I became almost like with blinders on, and very focused with it, much more than was normal.” Morrow saw Stevie Ray at the Spectrum, and Ray is also a big hero to him also. “I like guitarists that play clean tones, not so much the distorted rock and roll sound. But, I already liked BB King, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Roy Clark. And, the guys that played with a “clean, twangy” sort of sound, like Brian Setzer, Eric Clapton.. But, that was my journey, trying to find that sound, within myself.”

“People will always try to find themselves and their place in the world,” shared by Mickey Hart. Morrow explained “I saw Garcia in the mid 80s, and it really sent me into a tail spend. It turned my whole way of thinking upside down! I was so into it, I didn’t even want to play my own little gigs. I just wanted to learn as much as I could about Jerry’s style. It’s like when you see Bob Marley, and you become a reggae person at that moment. I just really felt in the presence of someone great. I was fixated, and I just went into an intense period of study. But, then he was in a coma in 1986, and it was kind of touch and go of whether he was going to live. And, that was about the time that I said I should just start doing this for myself. Quite frankly, I didn’t think he was going to make it another 10 years, even though he did. I almost felt it was just a matter of time, because I knew in my heart it was something I could do, and really seal that style of music. It wasn’t like something like where I decided I would play Dead music for the rest of my life, but I was just so fixated. It was kind of like falling in love with someone. You just know at that moment you were going to be with that person for life, and that’s how I felt about the music. I was just so in love with it. I am still so in love with it.”

John: What do you like about the Dead?

“I like the fact that they would be boring, and then amazing from seconds on in, then something amazingly magical would happen.” Mickey Hart believes, “criteria for great music is that it reflects the soul of a people.” And, Hart says “The Grateful Dead were very kind. It was Santa Claus. It did good things. It allowed other people to benefit. The benefits that we played were enormous, and we played free. So, you've got a band that loves to play free, and that was a wonderful thing.” Also, Bill Graham, once stated, “The Grateful Dead are not only the best at what they do; they are the only ones who do what they do.” Paul Grushkin said, “They've helped me to know myself a little better. Dead concerts are a marvelous time for introspection and reflection. It's the perfect music for that. At concerts, I see people who just suddenly get the spirit, like you do at a gospel concert. You understand – not for everybody else, but for yourself.”

John: At some point you discovered that your life was coincidental with the Dead.

“Yes I did. My life is literally a coincidence, with the Dead. I was born on September 1, 1965, which almost makes me the exact same age as the band. I was in the womb, when they were practicing as the Warlocks. And, the other big coincidence is that my father had moved out to San Francisco, to study mandolin, and he was a big Jerry fan. And, there is this one photo of him wearing a Dead shirt from 1980. And, so my life is filled with coincidences. Even up to right now, playing with Dead Reckoning, and being back on the street I grew up on, and being back in my hometown. It’s exciting! I am one of those people, where I follow those coincidences, and side posts in life. I’m not afraid to jump in, and change things. If the universe tells me to do something, I do it. I’m in!” Bill Kreutzmann once stated, “I find inspiration and rhythm in everything. Really I do.”

Morrow continues, “Running on that philosophy, helped me in succeeding. I’ve been on that philosophy for a long time. I took some philosophy and history in college, along with political science, and I am a big fan of philosophical writings. I read a lot ancient texts. I am a bible fan, and I’ve read almost every religious and spiritual text there is! And, I feel to some extent like my playing is religious, because I have allowed it to take me places in a spiritual way, where I wasn’t afraid to follow the music in the dark corners, or into the scary strange places. And, that is also one reason I like the Dead, because it almost covers every emotional angle. There are no stones left unturned. Sometimes I sing ballads, and I look out in the audience, and I see people crying, and that it really touches people. And, I really appreciate it, that I can bring that gift back to them. I mean Jerry did the same thing for me! He made me cry, and made me rejoice, and dance… I remember once I was in a giant stadium, and I looked around. It was about twenty people around me crying, intensely balling, and sobbing. I was like we’re in a stadium! It was shocking, I mean that there was still faith, and connectedness of humanity. Not only through music. I feel the same way about certain people that are inspiring to me, that people can still connect, and still be humanists toward each other.”

Tavi: Who are some of your other musical influences?

“Miles Davis is a big one, Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny. I did a lot of jazz study. Brian Setzer from Stray Cats is a great influence. Also I like Sting.. And, I like pop music too, and Pink Floyd. One of my earliest influences really was country music, which I learned from my grandparents. I grew up with grandparents who were a country music household, listening Hee Haw. So, from an early age I was into Roy Clark, on Hee haw, and he was a speedy kind of country guitar player, and I just loved him. He was a really funny guy, and he used to make funny faces. And, he was a very animated type of guitarist. And, my grandmother used to sing old country songs. Also, I would say another big influence was Willy Nelson. So, somewhere in between Jerry, Willy, and Gregg Allman is me I think.”

Tavi: Do you have your own music?

“I made two records in the early 90s for Ikon records, which was a part of the Sigma Sound Studios. They were a funky original Philly style type of music. We had a blues traveler, without the harmonica type of approach. The records are out of print. But, I did do two more solo records, one in 2002, and another in 2006. The latter of which I did all myself, and I played all the instruments. And, a big reason for doing that was to learn how to be an engineer/producer, in my own home studio. So, the last record I did was a trial for me as a producer, producing myself. And, that music was more of a funky genre type of record. Some of it was a more of a singer-songwriter.. Some of it was funk.. Some of it was topical blues rock. It had a lot of different styles. I did some reggae, and all different kinds of music. I’ve played so many different types of music in my career, when it comes to recording it just kind of easily flows out. I don’t really limit it to one genre. And, most of the genre music I do is just playing for other people as a side band, or as a hired gun.” Jerry Garcia once said, “And for me there's still more material than 20 lifetimes that I can use up.” Robert Hunter mentioned that “Jerry Garcia died just as they were entering a new phase of songwriting.” Morrow also writes lyrics, so we hope to hear some new original music coming out in the future.

Tavi: What else do you recall as a significant part of your career?

“One of the best parts about my story was going out to San Francisco, and meeting my father, and he couldn't have met me on a better day in my life. I was invited to play at Golden Gate Park 40th Anniversary at Woodstock, which was 20,000 people. He saw me play at Woodstock, and that night I played my own set of music at Yoshi’s, which is a famous jazz club in San Francisco. He got a double header! So, the first day he got to see his son, he see’s his son playing in these huge venues, and he is flabbergasted. We look exactly alike, and it was amazing. It was on a karmic level. For me playing in San Francisco was always a dream, and to play at that level of largeness felt really good, and to have my dad there was pretty cool. And, I met a lot of people that day. I played on the same list with artists such as Ray Manzarek, from The Doors, and Derek Trucks, from the Allman Brothers. I met Leon Hendrix, Jimmy’s younger brother. It was nice to connect on the West coast with a lot of well-known players. It was sort of my introduction to the Bay area scene, back in 2010. I plan on going back there again, to tour as soon as I can. I would like to do Terrapin Crossroads, and any other Dead related places.”

Tavi: Did you ever get to meet Jerry?

“I saw him one time from a couple feet away, with his daughter getting into limo. But, I could tell he had a cool vibe. But, if I would've met him, I would've thanked him for giving me a life. I can’t say where I would've been without the Grateful Dead. I would never go back to a regular life. Sometimes, you don’t know how dark it is, until you flick a light on, and then you can see everything in the room. I was in a dark place in my life, and the Grateful Dead was a huge Tiffany lamp, that just lit everything up. It made me able to appreciate life. It gave me all the gifts, and the best parts of me.” How many of us travel so many roads, and end up stuck in a pigpen, or down in a whole?.. Mickey Hart once explained, “there’s nothing like music to relieve the soul and uplift it.”

Tavi: When you are playing onstage, what are your aspirations for the crowd?

“I would like to be competent, and be the best I can be as a player. How I feel about the audience, is I think I separate myself, so that I can stay a fan. I am still a spectator. I am still a Dead fan, even though it’s me up there playing. I can separate myself, from playing. I could be staring right at you, and what I’m playing is so complex, that I don't even know who you are. It’s like driving a car. Even though you are looking ahead in the lane, you’re not really registering what’s happening. And, certain things will jerk you into consciousness, like if somebody plays a bad note, and I might wake up out of consciousness, out of my state of bliss, and be more awake. But, at the same time when people are really getting off on it, I can tell. I’m not totally immersed in my own thing. It’s a circular thing.” Bill Kreutzmann once expressed, “I always thought it would be really cool to be playing the drums in the show, and then have your astral body or whatever travel all through the audience, and dig whatever it's like out there.” Morrow continues, “I don’t really have fun, unless I see a lot of people getting off. I hope, and I need that to happen, because the payoff is not if I hit that arpeggio on point that night. It’s more like the only thing I really notice and feel connected to, is whether I have really made the people happy. Whether or not I felt I played well, doesn't really matter as much. I have played crappy, and still made people happy!”

John: As a musician you are a facilitator of a group scene….

“Yes, and then sometimes I think I’m playing awesome, and then I’ll get reports that it was wasn’t as great. Or, I’ll get a tape back, and I’ll hate the way it sounds. And, that’s more in the sense of guitar playing. As far as of my voice, I think that’s a natural gift. I just sound like Jerry, in an uncanny kind of way. It’s not something I have to practice, or scheme at how to get better with.”

Tavi: Did it take a ton of work to get good at the guitar, or did it also come naturally?

“The guitar was a ton of work. The guitar was a real labor. I was always conscientious in practicing. It was always a workload. I used to play hours, and hours, and hours a day, until my fingers were literally bleeding or heavily blistered.” Bob Weir once stated, “I don't know if I discovered I had any talent. It was dogged persistence. I had to have the music.” You have to practice hard at what you do, and maybe those elect moments will come around, and meet with one’s preparedness.

Tavi: With everything that it took you to get to where you are today, are you satisfied with your current level of musical technique?

“Yes, it took a lot of years. I finally feel recently that I am beginning to feel I belong. I belong doing with what I am doing, and with where I am at in the grand scheme of things. Of course we could always make more money, but making more money where I’m at is really blind luck. I was literally an inch away from playing with the Jerry Garcia band. But, it was just not in the cards. I also tried out for Dark Star Orchestra twice. And on the one hand, I didn’t get the job, but on the other hand I was on the list. They called me, where as some people never get the call. It’s kind of like when you get called up to the big leagues, even if you are there for one game, you were there. I have different levels of how I feel about success. There is different kinds of success. Some gigs I am playing to 1,000 people, they are screaming, and freaking out, and I am making a little. And, other gigs I am making a lot, and playing to a very small crowd. So, really success depends on how you look at it. But, I have had a good career, with normal ups, and downs. I had laryngitis in October. But, my fingers are good. And, I still feel pretty strong, to be able to get out there every night.”

Tavi: What bands do you perform with currently, other than “Dead Reckoning?”

“I also play with Pure Jerry, which is a Garcia Band, and sort of a tribute, that features John Bigham, who’s an organist. And, I also have a couple of acoustic projects. One of them is called Morrow and Ford, and that’s a Garcia-Grisman band, with Graham Ford, who is an amazing mandolinist. And, also Ford is a band leader, who has his own band, called Karmic Repair Company. Gratefolk, which is a Dead grass band. And, that does Old and in the Way, and Jerry Garcia acoustic band music. It’s anything on the bluegrass side of things, more traditional music, old slow hymns, and country music. It gives me an opportunity to play all different types of Garcia music. Which you really can’t do in one configuration, because there is so much of it. Pure Jerry is like seeing the Jerry Garcia acoustic band. It’s really just me playing, no second guitar. Then, it’s primarily more of a gospel feel, in terms of the organ, and with the female singer, and that approach. It’s like going to see the Garcia band in the 90s basically. And, again there is so much material. The different projects allow me to do it all, without necessarily having one band do it.”

John: Is there a certain festival that you particularly enjoy playing?

“Who Hill has a great family vibe, with kids there, and we all know each other. It’s my favorite festival in summer. And, it’s not like working. It’s like my own personal vacation for the weekend.”

John: Do you think there exists a Reggae and Grateful Dead crossover?

“Yes.. They are two very diverse cultures, but I have been trying. I would like to see more diversity.”

John: You wrote a contrarian response to an article about cover bands. You said how it was an honor to play the music of Jerry, and how it was not a replication.

“Yes, to me, Jerry is a Jesus-like figure. I think he came here, and spread a lot of dust. He was a person that had that magic, and to me I feel as if it’s my responsibility to keep that going, because of my talent. But, also in spite of me, I would’ve done it anyway. I would have done it for free. And, even if I didn’t play music, I would still be a Deadhead. But, playing really is a bonus, because I get to be that much closer to the music. And, I don't think I’m more of a Deadhead because I know every note.”

John: Well, you are more than a Deadhead. You’re an apostle of that music.

“Well, yeah.. Not to sound corny, I would say you could call me a cardinal.”

John: I would say an apostle, because you’re guitar testifies!

“It’s something that’s necessary. I mean everybody knows Jerry, and loves Jerry. But, to really be able to go and see someone like Stew Allen, or John K, or Dave Aver, or Butchy, or myself, somebody who brings it right to your forefront of your consciousness..”

John: Well, the Deadhead is an experience, so you need people to play live, to keep it alive.

“I see myself as a talented preacher of sorts.”

Authentically, it will never be the same without Jerry Garcia. But, let us help to ensure that Jerry’s beautiful heart lives on, continues to enrich our souls, and bring luminescent wonderlands to our lives. Go out and support true artists like Michael Morrow. And, remember to be giving, grateful, and kind along this journey. As Bob Weir aptly professed, “I've always believed, if you're gifted, that it's incumbent not to think about giving something back."