Cover of The Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra’s one and only album.

On a recent weekend trip to St. Louis, I was able to stop in at one of my favorite record stores – Vintage Vinyl in the Delmar Loop – and I picked up a couple handfuls of used CDs from a wide variety of international artists. They have a fantastic selection of music from around the world. One of the pieces I’ll play on the program airing this weekend is from a CD in that bunch: the one and only album released in 1981 by The Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra of America and California, a large ensemble that was based in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s a wonderful record full of Yiddish, Israeli, Russian, and Romany folk music. I was intrigued when I read in the liner notes that the album was produced and engineered by Mickey Hart, drummer for the Grateful Dead. (In 1988, it was remastered for CD release by Rykodisc.) 

While doing some research on the group, I came across a wonderful video on Mickey Hart’s YouTube page that gives a nice history of the band and how they came to make the record with him. Spoiler alert: one of the band members was Mickey’s orthopedic surgeon! The 16-minute video features founding band members Gloria and Barry Blum; the story of meeting Mickey starts at the 5:44 mark.  

Gloria and Barry Blum Present: An Oral History of The Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra of California and America, otherwise known as The Traveling Jewish Wedding

I also found this related short video of Mickey Hart talking with his friend ethnomusicologist Fred Lieberman about the making of the Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra album. Lieberman was a long-time faculty member at the University of California at Santa Cruz (my alma mater!) and was instrumental in helping to facilitate the establishment of The Grateful Dead Archive at the university’s McHenry Library. (I’ve been thinking about UC Santa Cruz and some of my Banana Slug friends that still live in the area as the wildfires have devastated parts of the Santa Cruz Mountains this past week. Here’s a place where people can help.)

Both of these videos were produced when Smithsonian Folkways Recordings released their “Mickey Hart Collection” in 2011. 

You can find out more about the Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra album and read a PDF of the full liner notes with information about the songs and each of the musicians in the band at the Smithsonian Folkways website.

I hope you can tune in to hear their lively music this weekend!

Go to the Listen page in the menu above to find out how you can catch the program on Spokane Public Radio on Saturday nights or Public Radio Tulsa on Sunday nights.