Monday, November 07, 2005

Vince heads to Papa Pete's


From Kalamazoo Gazette:

Grateful Dead pianist heads to Papa Pete's
By Elizabeth Clark * Special to the Gazette

The piano's generally considered immune to the punk-rock rage that decimates equipment as a sort of concert climax. But that's not always the case.

Ben Folds playfully chucked his piano stool at the Baldwin baby grand on which he played at Kalamazoo's Miller Auditorium on Friday and sent a metal stool leg flying. Billy Joel's frustration with a light technician at a show in the then U.S.S.R. in the late '80s culminated with the ``Piano Man'' going to real extremes and shoving a grand piano off the stage.

Former Grateful Dead keyboardist Vince Welnick said a sobering ``You break it, you bought it'' sensibility tends to keep him in check when dealing with the pricey instrument, but he noted, ``If something looked like it was dying on me, I wouldn't hesitate to finish it off right there in front of the public.''

Welnick and Friends -- a band composed of ex-Jerry Garcia Band and Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra members -- performs at 10 p.m. Friday at Papa Pete's.

He did flip a keyboard off its stand at a concert in Berlin, after it pooped out on him during a concert with his original band, The Tubes.

``I was jetlagged and the thing c----ed out on me during my solo in `She's a Beauty,' Welnick said. ``It was one of those flaky little synthesizer keyboards and it was on top of my other keyboard. I put my hand under it and gave it a little flick and it spun end to end about four or five times and crashed off the stage.''

Typically, his equipment's a little more heavy-duty.

``My piano used to be fortified with one-and-a-quarter-inch plywood so people could dance on it. I'd have girls dancing on top of the piano when I played.''

While Welnick doesn't take his fury out on his instrument, he did fear the ``curse of the keyboardist'' would take its wrath out on him when he stepped up to join the Grateful Dead. Three of his predecessors had died young during their tenures on the bench, although one bypassed the curse by quitting the band after the infamous ``Truckin''' bust in New Orleans.

Welnick worried when he was diagnosed with tongue cancer (he blames years of smoking Camel Lights and Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes as opposed to the dope dabbling for which the Dead was renowned) during his tenure with the band that the keyboardist curse would take him, too. Welnick had replaced Brent Mydland after his drug-overdose death, which spookily coincided with the 10-year anniversary of the death of previous Dead keyboardist Keith Godchaux.

``It looked like I was starting to teeter there, but then the band died,'' Welnick said by phone from his Forestville, Calif., home, where he was enjoying a few days off in the company of his cats. ``The death of the band removed the curse.''

Welnick performed 377 shows with the Dead between the time he joined the band in September 1990 and the last show prior to vocalist Jerry Garcia's death in 1995. He said the ``curse of the keyboard player'' worried him a bit when he was offered the job.

``Oh, absolutely,'' he said. ``One of the first things that I thought was, `A guy could die doing this gig.' The second thing I thought was, `What am I doing right now? I'm dying of boredom. I'll take my chances with the Grateful Dead.' They came highly recommended.''

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