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NOVATO, Calif. (Reuters) - Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, who has long held a passion for world music, says the hunt to record exotic music in remote locations requires unorthodox techniques. He recounts one 1978 episode to record Bedouin musicians in Egypt that involved smoking "heroic" amounts of hashish in what he called a rite of passage to win local favor.
"Smoking a lot of hash, it wasn't so bad, I mean, it was an amazing adventure," he said in an interview at the Dead's office and studio complex north of San Francisco. "Hey, I'm in the Grateful Dead. There were drugs around me all the time."
"My mission was to record," he said. "You have to go with it, whatever it is."
The high and low adventures of those dedicated to capturing the music of distant cultures on record and tape is the focus of Hart's new book "Songcatchers."
Although one might expect a member of one of the great psychedelic bands of the 1960s to do things differently than traditional ethnomusicologists, those who proceeded Hart said such recordings were never easy.
Henrietta Yurchenco, a pioneer in recording indigenous music from exotic lands, remembers lugging bulky studio equipment to make records in remote Mexican villages starting in 1941.
"I calculated that the equipment weighed about 200 pounds. For most of the trips I had to travel by mule-back," Yurchenco, 87, said in an interview from her New York City home. "I had to carry a power supply; there was no electricity of any kind."
"That was really quite a job. I traveled to some of the most remote parts," she said. "In retrospect, it was absolutely miraculous that we were able to record what we recorded."
NOT A PARTY ANIMAL
Now 59, Hart looks fit and youthful, with curly hair to his shoulders. He is beyond the wild drug days of the past. He says he goes to the gym every day. The one tell-tale sign of a veteran rocker are tiny hearing aids in both ears to treat hearing loss dating back to 1968.
"I am not the party animal I used to be," he said. "I mean I write books. I've got responsibilities. I'm very monogamous."
"I have just as much fun, maybe more now, because, you know, I am not high all the time. I don't do massive amounts of psycho-active drugs anymore," he said.
Hart's bored 9-year-old daughter wandered into the room to listen to her dad talk about what he described as a pedestrian home life. "He's is not normal and he does not come home at night," said Reya, who rolled her eyes playfully.
Hart is now preparing a summer tour starting mid-June with his old mates. The band did not play for years following the death of leader Jerry Garcia in 1995 but gave a few concerts last year and decided they wanted to get back together.
Hart said the band -- now called "The Dead" with Phil Lesh on bass, Bob Weir on guitar and Bill Kreutzmann and Hart on drums -- has resolved some past conflicts by scaling back their business efforts to concentrate on the music.
Phasing out the drugs has also simplified matters.
"There is less conflict. I mean when you have all those drugs around, people are really moody," Hart said in the interview. "I mean you go up, you go down, you go sideways, and now everybody is a lot more calm, even, and they can relate to each other in a more humane way."
"We have a new found respect for each other, after seven years not playing," he said. "After you do it for 35 years, all of a sudden you take each other for granted."
INEXHAUSTIBLE SUPPLY OF MUSIC
In addition to decades with one of the best-known bands to emerge from the 1960s San Francisco-area scene, Hart has long dedicated himself to world music. His 1991 album "Planet Drum" won the Grammy award for best world music album and he has long been involved in efforts to record the world's diverse music.
"Songcatchers," which contains a rich collection of photos with the text, is published by the National Geographic Society in Washington, where many share Hart's passion for capturing the world's diverse music digitally.
"The supply of music to be recorded is inexhaustible really," said Dan Sheehy, director of the Smithsonian's Folkways Recordings, which still gathers new exotic music.
Hart said that discovery of the obscure and wonderful from the four corners of the globe is essential to inspire the music of the future.
"We all base our music on some body of work that precedes us," he said. "If there was no jug band, if there was not bluegrass, no blues, there would be no Grateful Dead, there would be no Santana, there would be no Paul Simon perhaps, there would be no Paul McCartney."
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