Photo by Erik Larson
SQ: How did you and Jerry hook up?
DI: Well, it's kind of a long story, I met him at a guitar store one day. I was finishing a guitar which was the first one I had built under my own name, and was in the back working on some pickups, and a couple of guys came back (after I had left the guitar out in the store) and said "Oh, Jerry Garcia is out front, he wants to buy your guitar." Well, we were always joking with each other, so I didn't take him serious. After about the fourth time they came back, they finally talked me into going out front, and there was Jerry and he liked the way the neck felt, bought the guitar right on the spot, and asked me to make him another guitar, which became the Wolf.
SQ: How many guitars had you built before this one?
DI: Well I had built, jeez I don't know how many exactly. I started out going to college to be a biochemist. All through high school, that's what I decided I was going to do, I was going to be a biochemist. After two years of college, I decided well I got to think about this a little bit, I don't know about this biochemistry stuff, those guys want to mess with things I don't think should be messed with. So I decided to think about it a little bit and at this point, I was about 19-20 years old, I moved out to San Francisco from Rochester, New York.
SQ: About what year was this?
DI: This would have been in the 1970s. While I was living in San Francisco, I had a wife and a kid and we were on welfare and they were bothering me, they wanted me to get into some job training. So they said, "well what kind of job do you want to train for?" I thought about it for a while and I said, "well I want to be a guitar builder." "No, you can't do that, there's no job codes for that." Well I went down to the EDD, the Employment Development Department, and there was a job code for it. So I wrote a program to train myself to build guitars out of books. They said, " you can't do this", I said, "yes I can", they said, "no you can't." So I took them to a fair hearing over it and I won, and I can do it. So I got the welfare to pay me to build a guitar in my kitchen.
SQ: That's a great story. Usually when people tell you that you can't do something, it means it's possible.
DI: Oh yeah, definitely. I'm probably the only person that ever trained on the WIN program that's still doing the job they trained for.
SQ: So you built one in your kitchen--did you just use some power tools and some chisels?
DI: No, I had to go to a high school, night school woodshop class to use their tools, but after I got the wood cut up, I was able to do it all in my kitchen with a few hand tools. Then after I finished building this guitar, I went out and hit the sidewalks and looked for some more job training, and I came across this company called Alembic--and they hired me on.
SQ: Were they in San Francisco?

DI: Yeah, they were in San Francisco at the time. This was when they were still down on Judith Street, down an alley. I always thought people were saying "Olympic", so I couldn't find the place. But, after a number of tries, I finally located the place, and Rick Turner was working there and he decided to--since welfare was willing to pay half my wages--he decided to hire me on. I built a number of guitars working for them, but while I was working for them, and I worked for them for 1-1/2 or two years, I decided to build an electric guitar of my own because they were using all these lone pickups with all the electronics, and that worked great for a bass, but it didn't work good for a guitar. I mean, they got pretty famous for their basses, but nobody ever really played an Alembic guitar. So I decided to build one with regular pickups in it on my own time, because we were allowed to, you know, do our own projects after work. That was the guitar that Jerry first saw, that's the first guitar that I build under my own name·..

Alembic was originally composed of Bob Matthews who was the original bass player for the New Riders of the Purple Sage.

SQ: Was he a builder?
DI: No, he was a recording engineer and he landed contracts to record the Grateful Dead, a Warner Brothers contract, so they had some money to operate with. So they decided to form this company and they were going to build electronics for guitars and sound systems, and then build musical instruments and call it One Stop Rock N' Roll. It was a real interesting experience. I was very fortunate to find it.
SQ: So, Jerry fell in love with that guitar(the Eagle), and asked you to build him another one that same day?
DI: Yeah. He bought that one and then he said well I want you to make me another one but with Stratocaster pickups.
SQ: So that was the beginning of many years of working together?
DI: Yeah.
SQ: How many guitars in total did you build for him?
DI: Five that were completed.
Pg 1 | Pg 2 | Pg 3 |