For 25 years, Mickey Hart sat behind the drum kit for legendary rock & roll nomads the Grateful Dead. When the Dead disbanded in ‘95, Hart turned musicologist, penned four books on the history of drumming and worked to release otherwise unavailable titles (from percussionists across the globe) on the non-profit label, Smithsonian Folkways. Through it all, the Mickey Hart Band have continued to make music of their own, and 2012’s Mysterium Tremendum brings them back to the Belly Up on Wednesday night.
SoundDiego spoke with the legendary drummer from his home in Sonoma County.
Scott McDonald: How are you, sir?
Mickey Hart: Very well. Thank you. This is a new year. And these are new songs. That means renewed energy.
SM: You’re touring with the African Showboyz this time around. Tell me a little about the collaboration.
MH: Well, it’s quite a story, but I’ll give you the short version. They were basically “adopted” by the great African drummer Baba Olatunji. Also, they are great friends with my talking drummer Sikiru Adepoju. So, right there, that was the connection. We were all sitting around one night chatting about doing something together and it just seemed perfect. We said, ‘well, this could be really interesting,’ and as it turns out, it is.
SM: The Showboyz are from Ghana. Is that where you met?
MH: No. I’ve been to Africa many times, just not there. But Ghana has been to me.
SM: I know they’re opening the show, but will they be playing with your band as well?
MH: Yes. On this tour, they’ll be integrated into the band at some point during the show each night. And that means we’ll have seven drummers at times. It’ll be an interesting mixture of African sensibilities and the ‘pulse and throb’ that we do. Really, it’s a powerful union and a beautiful fit.
SM: That means more than a dozen people on stage.
MH: Does that scare you? Ha. No, but let’s call it the instruments of mass percussion then -- I’d never want to call them weapons. I just really love the sound of very powerful rhythms and grooves. And there are many ways you can get them. But for me, there’s nothing like getting them through music. And having that many people on stage in the same mindset goes a long way towards creating that.
SM: Tell me a little about your new single for the Hurricane Sandy victims, “Jersey Shore.”
MH: Well, I was watching all that coverage on CNN, it really hit me, I went into the studio and it just popped out in a matter of minutes. And all the proceeds go to victims. You know, it’s one of those great tragedies of our time. I just have so much empathy for them. When that much humanity gets destroyed…
SM: It’s not your first foray into charitable work. You’ve been giving ticketing fees to brain research on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s for some time now.
MH: When you give back, you receive. That’s the idea. You just have to give. There are so many places that can be touched by that. You can help in these situations. And I’ve always been into that. It was a Grateful Dead tradition from the very beginning. We’d play for things like Haight-Ashbury drug clinics and the different infrastructure you need for a society that needs help. It seemed like the right thing to do back then, and it still does. I mean, hey, I get to make music for a living. Why not give back?
SM: Yeah, but not everyone does.
MH: Music is entertainment. But it also fosters a great responsibility. You have to take care of people. It’s one of the great things to contribute to society. But you get back so much more.
SM: Mysterium Tremendum came out 11 months ago. But you said ‘new year, new music’ earlier.
MH: Absolutely. We’ll have a new record this year. It’s all composed. I want to try and have a real quality record every year. Why wait three, four or five years? It’s just all flowing. When the music is now, you’ve got to jump all over it. I’ve got no record company producers coming at me. So I like to listen to my own voice. I do it all, and I do it the way I want to do it. That’s a really great freedom and that’s what music’s about. Hopefully that points the way for other people and they can realize their musical dreams as well.
SM: Sounds like you’re still enjoying the role of musical ambassador.
MH: I don’t do it all the time. But sometimes it occurs to me to connect people to the big picture – why we’re making music, what it’s really all about, and the powers that are innate within music. I’m always trying to change light waves or brain waves from the cosmos into sound waves. And it’s not just about instruments playing music. The idea is that vibration is the foundation of all life. Everywhere. And rhythm is just controlling vibration. So we’re playing with a very powerful entity here. And it’s part of everything in life – me, you, the world. And we’re tuning into that. But it’s more than that. It all enhances life. And that’s what music is all about.