When Zakir Hussain was just a teenager in the late 60s, his father, legendary tabla player Alla Rakha, toured the US with Ravi Shankar. Not only did Rakha take Hussain along, but he dropped him off at Mickey’s Novato ranch for a few weeks. There, Hussain jammed for days on end with everyone who stopped by. As Hussain describes,
The shortest [jam session] was probably 2 1/2 days long – I’m not kidding…I do remember … waking up sleeping on the floor, and looking up and seeing Jerry Garcia and David Crosby playing. And I’d just kind of rub my eyes and pick up a drum, which was just lying on the floor, and start playing. This was a constant thing. It was a never-ending musical conversation.
Hussain would go on to have a lasting collaborative relationship with Mickey. A tabla player like his father, Hussain played the drum on nearly all of Mickey’s albums, including the Grammy-winning Planet Drum and Global Drum Project.
Given Hussain’s long relationship with Mickey and the rest of the band, it is a little surprising that Hussain only came on stage as a guest at a single Grateful Dead show, at Alpine Valley on August 8, 1982. On that day, Hussain takes center stage as Drums begins, setting the percussive scene on the tabla while Billy and Mickey slowly come in, adding to the beat. Hussain stays at the lead as the trio makes their way through several movements, at once exploring, latching on to something, and then moving on in a polymorphous rhythmic fever dream.
Drums inevitably leads into a fairly short, but heady Space. Influenced by Hussain, Jerry and the boys take on the air of the subcontinent though still head unmistakably towards The Other One. At least on the soundboard mix, it is difficult to hear Hussain the rest of the way; the boys were loud enough on their own, but John Cipollina, also an old friend of Hussain’s, joins in as well.
Even with all the other players, there is little doubt that Hussain is influencing the proceedings. As Mickey explains about Hussain, “he possesses the perfect persona for collaboration; he is ‘open to experience,’ you might say, which is contagious.” The passionate, heated percussion on The Other One, Not Fade Away, and Good Lovin’ is almost surely a result of Hussain’s presence. And it seems likely that Hussain’s contagious energy also helped spur on Jerry, Bobby, and the rest of the boys on the full-bore Satisfaction, with its Wang Dang Doodle interlude, and the lovely Brokedown that served as the encore.
While Hussain had been playing internationally for several years and already recorded on Mickey’s 1972 Rolling Thunder album, it was his contributions to George Harrison’s 1973 Living in the Material World, that really announced Hussain’s presence to the music world. And he would go on to play with everyone from John McLaughlin, Charles Lloyd, and Ravi Shankar to Van Morrison, Bela Fleck, and Earth, Wind, & Fire, over his long career, which still continues to this day. In fact, just last year he received the Kyoto Prize, Japan’s highest award for global achievement.