On May 1, Bill Tetzeli will host his last episode of WTJU’s Sunshine Daydream as a regular host. That follows more than two decades of sharing Grateful Dead studio albums, deep cuts, and bootlegs, plus a plethora of “associated vibrations” who influenced or were influenced by the Dead.
Bill isn’t leaving WTJU entirely. Once we’re able to host live performances again, Bill plans to get involved with running live sound at The Stage at WTJU. Meanwhile, Sunshine Daydream will continue to air on Saturdays 6 – 8 p.m., hosted by John Fisher and a new co-host — Jessica Blurton, who happens to be married to John.
WTJU General Manager Nathan Moore caught up with Bill to ask about his decades hosting Sunshine Daydream and his upcoming swan song.
Nathan Moore: Bill, when did you actually start hosting Sunshine Daydream?
Bill Tetzeli: So I started hosting in 2000. WTJU was hosting a Folk Marathon and I didn’t have much money at the time. So I made an in-kind pledge of one Grateful Dead show per week burned to a CD. At the time, I was heavily downloading from online groups and CD burning was still a novelty.
So I didn’t quite get to the 50 that I pledged, but I think I ended up ended up burning about 25 shows. That brought me to the attention of the hosts at the time. And when one of the hosts left, Chris Munson, who another host, he said, ‘yeah, this guy has been giving us all these shows, maybe he’d be interested in hosting.’
Over the years, the other hosts left one by one. John Fisher came on board about 10 years ago and we’ve been co-hosting since.
Moore: What drew you into this show and music in the first place?
Tetzeli: Well, my younger brother was an inveterate Deadhead. He even started in junior high school, he was the one who is bringing all these bootlegs home that he got from a friend of his who traveled around to various shows. For me, the Grateful Dead was just something sort of in the background. I didn’t really get into the Dead until my senior year in high school — that was when Dead Set and Reckoning were released.
And then I started really paying attention to the music. Saw my first show my freshman year in college at Lake Placid in ‘83. And I only saw six shows in my life, but most of them were just amazing. All through college, I was trading tapes with a lot of tapers through Relix magazine. And I got to know more about their music that way.
Then in the early ‘90s, I moved to Czechoslovakia. And for a few years, I just forgot completely about the Dead. I was listening to classical and jazz and folk and trying to break out of this rut. I just want to listen to music that I’d never heard before. Then I came back home and WTJU was actually one of the reasons I got back into the Dead. I was tuning in regularly to Sunshine Daydream.
Moore: As we’re talking, I’m kind of struck by the tail end of the analog era where you’re literally trading physical tapes through the classified ads in a magazine compared to now and you just type in Grateful Dead and choose your date and venue and pull up the video or some kind of audio recording. What’s the role of a DJ or this Grateful Dead show as the as the 21st century marches on?
Tetzeli: I think the role of the DJ is, as far as a Grateful Dead show goes, is to pay attention, not just to where the best performances by the Grateful Dead are, but to really explore their legacy and their influences. At one point, I made a spreadsheet of every group that had just one degree of separation with the Grateful Dead, either opening for them or playing with them, or a member of the Dead in their group or whatever. And it was something like 400 bands. So that gave us a lot of new material to put into the show and really helped us to learn more about how the Dead came to be the Dead. And what sort of impact they had on the music surrounding them and the music that followed them.
Moore: Really, you’re talking about genealogies of music. There are other Dead shows on other stations where, yeah, they play the Grateful Dead and they also play a whole load of jam bands like Phish or String Cheese Incident or whatever. But you don’t really do that very much. It’s like you’re tracing the paths more directly than just digging the jam style.
Tetzeli: I mean, I have gotten to like some Phish and some String Cheese Incident. But I think it’s understanding that the Dead represent a unique inflection point in musical history. And I know it’s a hackneyed phrase, but Bill Graham got it right, the Dead are not the best at what they do. They’re the only ones who do what they do. It’s almost like the universe conspired a certain set of circumstance that would create a group like the Grateful Dead. And it could only happen once. Like, that recipe exploded the moment the band was born.
So I think it’s a phenomenon worth studying. I think it’s one that’s worth appreciating. I think also, it’s a lesson in impermanence. That, you know, there, there are members still surviving. And yet there are people under 20, who have never heard the Grateful Dead, or don’t even know that they ever existed. On the other hand, there is the fact that in a way, they have become sort of the Cole Porter of rock music. The authors of standards that one group after another are reinventing.
And maybe that’s really why it’s important to take a look at the Dead because what they’re about is constant reinvention. I believe it was Ornette Coleman… He gave a concert and at the end of it, he told the audience you will never again hear this music that you just heard tonight. And that’s how it was with the Grateful Dead. Night after night. creating something that will be gone tomorrow. And you just got to enjoy it for right now.
Moore: Speaking of enjoying it right now, your last show as a regular host of Sunshine Daydream is on May 1. What is a precipitating you moving on from the regular hosting chair?
Tetzeli: Well, basically, because I’m working too damn hard and too damn long right now. And I think it’s appropriate that May 1 would be the last show because I think I know I’m definitely going to do a May Day working theme. Yeah, this job I’ve got is a little too hard right now. So until things settle down, there’s barely time right now.
The other thing, to be honest… After 40 years of listening to the Grateful Dead, jazz right now is my great, great love. When I think of the live music that I want to see once the restrictions lift, I don’t think of seeing Phil and Bobby. I think of seeing John D’earth and Robert Jospe. I think of making a long awaited trip to visit various jazz haunts. Maybe I’ll come back to falling in love with The Grateful Dead again. But right now, it’s time for something new.