1988. “Watchfire”

Pete Sears & Friends

  • Release 1988

“Guatemala” Music, Pete Sears. Lyrics, Jeannette Sears. Music Video produced by Pete Sears and Watchfire Productions. Funded by Earth Island Institute, Jerry Garcia and the Rex Foundation, Tides Foundation. Hundreds of free videos sent around the world to human rights organisations.


1988. “Watchfire” Pete Sears & Friends. Redwood Records, Grateful Dead Records, Relix Records.

With Jerry Garcia​, Mickey Hart, Mimi Farina, David​ Grisman, Holly Near, Kitty Beethoven and many others. Jeannette wrote most of the lyrics. All the songs are about human rights, environmental and peace issues.
I recorded it 180 degrees from the way “Starship”, which I had just left, recorded their albums during the mid 1980’s. I used many unusual acoustic and electric instruments and recorded as much live in the studio as possible.
We didn’t use click tracks or sequencers. I even brought in a twenty piece Slavic Men’s Choir.
Baba Olatunji and his African drummers joined me, Mickey Hart and Jerry Garcia on the song “One More Innocent”…the one that “Starship” refused to put on “Knee Deep In The Hoopla” because they felt it wasn’t commercial enough.
Sure enough “Watchfire” received no AM Radio airplay and didn’t sell a lot of records, but it did receive overwhelming critical acclaim.
Jeannette and I also formed a non-profit video production company with Emmy Award winning documentary film director Ray Telles…we used David Brower’s “Earth Island Institute” for their non-profit status. We produced a music video using the song “Guatemala” from the album and sent free copies around the world to human rights organizations trying to spread awareness of the genocide of the Mayan people in Guatemala.
The film uses footage shot in the studio with me, David Grisman, and Enrique “Quique” Cruz, mixed in with video and film taken of actual human rights abuses in Guatemala. The video was funded largely by Jerry Garcia and was played on the Canadian MTV “Much Music”.
MTV USA’s news director came within three hours of airing it on their news program, but it was pulled at the last minute due to its controversial nature.
Even though the Guatemalan civil war is officially ended, Amnesty International recently played it again for an event on Guatemala.
Jeannette and I have visited Lake Atitlan many times since 1978 when the civil war was just beginning, and Jeannette’s brother David Glanville has since built the beautiful Posada de Santiago hotel. Her mother Bonnie also lives in Guatemala and has written extensively on the civil war of the 1980’s.

The “Watchfire” album originally came out on “Redwood Records” as an LP on vinyl, and as a cassette, but soon switched to the then brand new Compact Disc format. Jerry Garcia later had it released on “Grateful Dead Records”. After Jerry passed away and the record company was sold…I put it out on “Relix Records”, the same label used by the band I played with “Hot Tuna”.

Just a side note. I had Jerry Garcia and David Grisman arrive at the same time for a session on “Watchfire”, and they hung out together in the studio kitchen at Steve Suda’s Bayview Studios in Richmond. It had been fifteen years since they talked, and it resulted in the classic series of “Garcia, Grisman” recordings. “Watchfire” was also released in China, and Korea on Yeh Eum Records Co. Ltd. Approved by K.E.C.P.P. Ministry Of Culture. 1990.
My co-producer and engineer on “Watchfire” was Paul Stubblebine.
This is also the year that I produced the music and procured the musicians for the “Soviet American Peacwalk” at the Band Shell in Golden Gate Park which drew 25,000 people thanks to Jerry Garcia, and Grace Slick etc agreeing to come down. It was towards to end of the cold war…but nobody knew that yet, and a large group of Soviet citizens had arranged a peace and goodwill walk across the USA. This was one of the concerts.
We had a mid-afternoon curfew. I’d asked Zero to play two songs on their own before backing up all the artists I’d brought down…but in true Zero fashion they decided to do what they wanted at the last minute and play three songs instead of two…the third being a very long instrumental. I was playing keyboards all afternoon off to the side to co-ordinate people coming and going and I had everything planned down to how many songs each of the fifteen musicians would get to play before we had to stop.

I couldn’t believe it as Zero launched into another long tune when I had all these singers and musicians waiting for their turn…including Jerry Garcia, Grace Slick, Mickey hart, and Paul Kantner. I thought their last song would never end and I had to do some quick scrambling while playing piano to reassess how long everyone’s slot would have to be.
Thanks to my Zero mates…who used to work very hard at being contrary. I had to cut most people down to two songs each…I only cut one of Jerry’s songs as he was the main reason so many people had shown up. It was a fun if tense (for me anyway) afternoon nevertheless…and the overall event organizers (there had been many speakers and several Russian musicians who had played earlier) Ron Frazier and Bill McCarthy and I arranged for a police escort for Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart and Steve Parish so they could make a Grateful Dead show at the Greek in Berkeley that night.

As well as playing shows for her organization, “Bread And Roses” Mimi Farina and I played a few fundraisers for our non-profit video production company “Watchfire Productions”.
We also played one memorable show on the railroad tracks outside Concord Naval base, in California when we played a folk set for a couple of hundred grass-roots activists. They were protesting US weapon’s shipments to the right wing military dictatorships of El Salvador. The El Salvadoran government was killing large numbers of their own people who were simply asking for basic human rights.
We had originally intended to set up a little stage on the small grass area just outside the Naval base gates…but the military police had anticipated this and covered the area with barbed wire. We ended up building the stage on another small grassy area outside the base at the end of some rusty old railroad tracks in front of some trees. We used a small generator for the PA. I remember Mimi and me playing music from her albums and a few songs from my “Watchfire” album…like “Save Something For The Children”.
It was weird watching this Navy fellow standing on a tower just inside the Naval base high fence, and videotaping our entire performance. I wonder if it’s lying around in some vault somewhere…I bet they don’t throw much stuff away.
I also did a benefit show on piano with Nick Gravenites for the Vietnam Vet Brian Wilson (not the Beachboys fellow) who was seriously injured when a US weapon’s train out of Concord he was trying to stop called his bluff and ran over his legs cutting them both off. He lived but had to learn to walk on artificial limbs.
I asked Jerry Garcia if he’d like to come down and join us…which he did as long as he didn’t have to sing. He had a great time just standing back and playing blues guitar…he played great. We did all Nick’s blues songs including his classic “Born In Chicago”.
Brian had recovered sufficiently to attend the concert which also featured Jackson Brown and Ed Asner.

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