John’s Memories of Raccoon
November 2006

 

 

Meeting Raccoon

 

I first met Raccoon in 1992 after I moved to Northern Virginia from Connecticut. In the summer I met a bunch of people (including Bill Ford) at the Grateful Dead show at RFK. Before I ever met Raccoon I was jamming with Bob Hunter and Bill Ford at Bob’s house in Lorton, VA and we had played Yahweh Sunshine which I had never heard before.  It was a few weeks later that Raccoon showed up a Bob’s house to drop off some flyers for his Fall Linden festival. He played Yahweh Sunshine for us before he left and I’d finally found out where the song came from.

 

So the Fall comes and I go to his festival and have a great time listening to all the bands and playing songs around the campfire. At some point Raccoon must have heard me playing because next thing I know he asked me if I wanted to do a set onstage the next day. Of course I said yes and it turned out that I played just before was going to go on. After I finished he told me to stay where I was and to play with him. I was blown away… I really didn’t know Raccoon or his music and here I was playing with him in front of a lot of people…I quickly caught on to his songs, most of which on a basic level are not that complicated…What I recall us playing is Yahweh Sunshine (which I already did know) and Ring Your Bell (which is mostly two chords, A and D) and a few other songs I don’t specifically remember.

 

Then I went to this campout called “The Deal” on the top of a mountain in Maryland near the West Virginia border. Raccoon was there too but I didn’t talk to him and I don’t remember him playing anything…I believe that was the weekend he spent most of the time in a tent with Bess). That weekend I remember hanging out with Amy who Raccoon and I, one night a few weeks later, took turns making out with…she was a great kisser!

 

Two weeks later I saw Raccoon again at another small festival show and afterwards ended up hanging out with him after most people had left. I had lost my voice after playing all night a week prior at “The Deal” gathering but I still played a bunch of songs for Raccoon with my barely audible, raspy voice which he attentively listened to.

 

Shortly after The Deal campout, Raccoon started staying at “Big John” and “Little John’s” condo in Fairfax, VA. I had been staying there a lot already. It was then that I enrolled in Cooney Tune College, learning just about every song Raccoon wrote as accurately as I could. I hadn’t really played with much of a flat-picking style before but I picked it up rather quickly. I also learned the little Raccoon licks that he would throw in now and again between chords. The one thing I had trouble with was emulating Raccoon’s rhythm. He had a nice, relaxed flow to him that with me being hyper and all was hard for me to do. I’ve since relaxed some but I’ll never fully have Raccoon’s rhythmic grace…I have more of a Grateful Deadish “poppy” jazzy rhythm style. I have become better at throwing in the Raccoon “pause” (another concept he taught me) in certain songs as well as extending a chord an extra beat on occasion (another concept he taught me).

 

Well, next thing I know we’re playing gigs everywhere…Food For Thought restaurant in DuPont Circle, opening for The Next Step, backyard bash parties and numerous Wilmer’s Park shows… One of the biggest audiences we’d played for was at one of Tim Walther’s (Walther Productions) shows at Wilmer’s Park (8,000 people) when we were the “in-between” act right before the headline act which was Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. The biggest audience we ever performed for was at the 4th of July Smoke-In festival in DC in 1994 in front of at least 10,000 people. I have a video of this show in a box somewhere and it also features Phil Swaby playing. Eventually I’ll find the video and post it to the website.

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

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