It’s been a rough year for most of us, but I guess I should count myself among the lucky ones. When Chronicle Books began mapping out promotional plans for the Grateful Dead Scrapbook, in late summer or early fall, I turned down one of the first bookstores to invite me for a signing. Lord knows, it could have turned out to be the only one.
But it was Clayton Books, in Clayton, which I had to locate with a map, out in Contra Costa County, an hour’s drive (with light traffic) on a weeknight. I don’t like to drive long distances, so I declined, to the horror, I’m sure, of Chronicle Books. But then the store said they’d provide a car. And then they said Greg Kihn, who lives in CC County and was friends of the store’s, volunteered to interview me as part of the signing.
I accepted. Turns out I’m doing three events: The Booksmith on Haight Street back in October; Clayton Books in November; Book Passage in Corte Madera on December 11. (Dianne, my wife, will no doubt be driving.) Still, I was fortunate to have the luxury of turning down a store.
So, they sent a stretch limo (I think the driver and the store owner, who’s also an attorney, have some barter deal going on); they had a nice crowd, including a couple of Dead Heads and a couple of surprises: Annie Sampson, a long-time friend who sang with Stoneground, has backed up artists ranging from Elvin Bishop and Eddie Money to Boz Scaggs, and teaches school nearby; and Ron Cabral, buddy of Country Joe McDonald and co-author of a book about him.
Clayton Books sold a bunch of the Grateful Dead Scrapbook, and Greg Kihn was great. Since his years as a rock star (“Jeopardy,” “The Break-up Song”), Kihn has become an author himself and a radio star, doing mornings on KUFX (“The Fox”), a classic rock station in San Jose. So we just BS’d about each other, about radio, about rock, and—oh, yes—about the Grateful Dead. As I did at the Booksmith, I played a couple of cuts from the CD that accompanies the book, featuring Jerry Garcia discussing a wide range of topics.
Kihn himself, it turns out, opened some shows for the Dead. Hard to believe, but he recalled being backstage once with Garcia, who whipped out a banjo, began playing the bluegrass oldie, “Rocky Top,” and wishing someone knew the words. Kihn did, bellowed them out (he showed us at the bookstore), and, just like that, was a Garcia buddy. The Greg Kihn Band opened two concerts for the Dead in 1979, in San Jose and in Rochester, New York. That’s how things could work back then. Who needed American Idol, anyway?
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