Friday, June 23, 2006


From TC Palm:

Phil Lesh, former Grateful Dead bassist, will perform in Boca and Orlando

After more than 40 years on the world's stages, former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh says there are still many long, strange musical trips to be made through free-form and improvisation.

"It's the most fun that you can have as a musician, because you're making up polyphonic music on the spot," says the 66-year-old Lesh, a founding member of the Dead, the grand-daddy of the so-called "jam bands," in a phone interview from his California home. The Dead pioneered the blending of structured rock 'n' roll with the improvisational nature of jazz.

"It's not just one voice that's being improvised, it's everything," Lesh adds. "The whole musical texture, the whole thrust of it, the whole direction of it, how fast it moves, what kind of twists and turns it goes through, which directions it's going in."

He's on the road all summer with a loose-knit aggregate called Phil Lesh & Friends; the group performs Thursday in Boca Raton, and Saturday in Orlando.

The 2006 Friends include jazz guitar great John Scofield, former Bob Dylan Band member Larry Campbell on guitar, mandolin, pedal steel and everything else with strings, vocalist Joan Osborne, keyboard player Rob Barraco, and drummer John Molo.

While considerably younger than the veteran Lesh, the band members are masters of letting the music go wherever it happens to go.

"Larry Campbell is a really good example," Lesh says. "He played with Bob Dylan's band for so many years, and he was like a pillar of that band, playing great stuff. And yet he really wanted more. He wanted to play more. And so he left Bob's band, and I kinda snagged him.

"So now he's just flowering. He's playing this amazing stuff that's almost like, I don't know, Electro-Celt or something. He's like some warrior out of ancient history, standing up there playing these laments and heroic tales."

From SP Times:

Group provides a little taste of the Dead

Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia left us more than a decade ago, presumably reunited with deceased bandmates.

Garcia's passing was preceded by Ron "Pigpen" McKernan he suffered a gastrointestinal hemorrhage, who played keyboards.

And also by Keith Godchaux (car accident), who played, um, keyboards. And Brent Mydland (overdose), who played, huh, keyboards. And Vince Welnick (suicide), who played, wow, keyboards.

(Mom and Dad, save your money on Junior's piano lessons. It's a death sentence.)

Yet Bruce Hornsby, who played some piano with the Dead near the end of its run, still lives. Guess that's just the way it is.

Outside of Garcia and the perished pianists, the rest of the Dead is alive and kicking in various projects, one of which graces the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center tonight.

It's Phil Lesh and Friends, led by the Dead's founding member and bassist.

The lineup has changed several times since Lesh formed the Friends a few years ago, but the current incarnation features vocals by a notable name: Joan Osborne, best known for her 1995 hit One of Us and its follow-up, Right Hand Man.
Lesh and company definitely will show Deadheads some love. Previous shows have included at least a few classic Dead tunes, such as Casey Jones, Cumberland Blues, Friend of the Devil or Box of Rain.

But that's just a piece of the band's repertoire, which branches out across a spectrum of musical influences. Expect some original cuts from Lesh's 2002 studio release There and Back Again, plenty of other interesting covers and lots of extended jams.

If you can't make it to the show, that's okay, Lesh has you hooked up: You can order a download of the show on his Web site,, for $9.99.

Because even if it isn't quite Dead, it's most definitely live.

Rick Gershman can be reached at or 226-3431. His Times blog, The Ill Literate, is at


Phil Lesh and Friends perform tonight at 7:30, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's Carol Morsani Hall. Tickets are $55. Call 229-7827.

****note the headline below where Phil is called "former Dead guitarist." The first line of the story gets it right, though***

From Citizen Times:

Former Dead guitarist Lesh and his newest batch of Friends play Civic Center
By Jedd Ferris
Citizen-Times Correspondent

At age 66, one might think former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh would be ready to calmly wind down the long, strange trip, but instead he seems determined to keep making it more interesting.

Since recovering from a liver transplant in 1998, he’s been on a constant quest to break new musical ground in the spirit of his former band’s legacy. Although other members of the Dead have formed permanent bands, Lesh continually finds new collaborators, choosing to tour with a revolving cast of musicians. Past “Friends” have included guitarists Warren Haynes, Jimmy Herring and Trey Anastasio of Phish.

The bassist is now touring with the axes of jazz master John Scofield and Bob Dylan’s former right-hand man Larry Campbell, along with the soulful accompanying vocals of Joan Osbourne. The lineup is rounded out by drummer John Molo (Bruce Horsnby) and keyboardist Rob Barraco.

Lesh is also still basking in the recent success of his New York Times best-selling autobiography, “Searching for the Sound,” which was the first account of the Grateful Dead’s four decades together told by a band member.

Phil Lesh and Friends return to Asheville to play the Civic Center arena on Tuesday night. The show will be opened by a new project from former Phish bassist Mike Gordon.

Question: How does the Bonnaroo (festival, last week in Manchester, Tenn.) measure up to some of the mega-fests of the late ’60s?

Answer: In some ways it’s an improvement on the old festivals. At Woodstock you had one main stage, and that’s where the action was, but at Bonnaroo you have all of these other areas where you can hear a variety of music that you don’t normally get to see.

Q: Why do you choose to rotate the cast of Phil and Friends, as opposed to forming a solidified band?

A: I want to bring new approaches and different perspectives to Grateful Dead music. The best way I can think of to do that is bring in musicians that don’t have a lot of history with the Dead. I don’t want to play these songs the same way we played them for years. I want to bust out of the boundaries, because that makes the songs new and unpredictable to me. That’s the challenge and delight of it all — to never rule out anything.

Q: One of your more recent friends in this lineup is jazz guitarist John Scofield. What’s he been adding to the music?

A: It pushes the envelope out even further. We’ll be playing out in our little rock ’n’ roll world, and he’ll stick in chromatic ideas that are right out on the jagged edge of what we can think of. We then have to respond to that, which to me is just wonderful. Those moments that he provides are really what I’m looking for.

Q: You were recently in the studio with Ryan Adams. Although he seems like an unlikely Dead-style collaborator, what can you tell us about the sessions?

A: I played on about five songs during Ryan’s recent sessions, and I’m still waiting to hear what will come out of it. The thing about him is that he’s so darn prolific. In that period of time he laid down 28 songs of which I think he is going to make two more albums. He’s an immensely talented artist, and his every move is improvisation. Every one of his songs speak to me in a very deep and fundamental way. It’s not a question of Dead style. I’m more interested in playing in his style. I’ll jump on any opportunity to play with him.

Q: Being the first member of the Grateful Dead to write a memoir of the experience, did you have any reservations or encounter any resistance from other members?

A: No. I’ve always felt this story should be told by someone in the band, and I didn’t run it by everyone else before I started. I was having flashbacks and vividly remembering events in the early history of the Dead. This amazed me, so I figured I should start writing it down, because no one had ever told the story from the inside.

Q: This summer you’re touring with members of Phish, who have been called your immediate successors despite many musical differences. Are you a fan of the band or any other jam bands that have spawned from your legacy?

A: I’m a big fan. Trey (Anastasio) and Page (McConnell) were part of the first real Phil Lesh and Friends gig after my transplant, and that really broke down a lot of walls. Trey also just came and sat in with Phil Lesh and Friends in New York in February. He just walked on stage and didn’t even want to know what the set list was in advance. That’s the kind of musician I enjoy working with. He can just listen and play. I also really like Umphrey’s McGee. Their music is a little more Zappa, but I like it a lot. It’s a fun experience to sit in with them.

Q: Is there a chance for the remaining members of the Grateful Dead to reunite in a more permanent band setting?

A: Bob (Weir) really enjoys what he’s doing with Ratdog, because he gets to call the shots, and I really enjoy what I’m doing for many of the same reasons. When we get together, it’s not that harmonious. We all have different ways of looking at the music. I would love to do it as an event or occasion where we meet up and play our hearts out for three days at a time.

Jedd Ferris writes about music for the Citizen-Times. E-mail him at

From Orlando Sentinal:

Alive in the Dead zone
Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh plays in Orlando Saturday
Jim Abbott
Sentinel Pop Music Critic

June 23, 2006

A twinge of nostalgia amid the tie-dye would be understandable when Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh does old favorites such as "Box of Rain" on Saturday at Hard Rock Live, but that's not for the guy on stage.

"I don't do those songs to make people comfortable," says Lesh, 66. "To me, art is supposed to confound expectations, to allow you to face difficult situations without danger. I'm not in it to bring people nostalgia or take them back to the good old days when everyone was young and beautiful and high at the same time."

"Box of Rain," on the Grateful Dead's American Beauty (1970), features lyricist Robert Hunter's beautiful words inspired by the death of Lesh's father, who nevertheless passes through the singer's mind now whenever he performs it.

"I think of him and all my friends that are gone," Lesh says, "but I'm singing the songs to the survivors as well."

Freewheeling tradition

Lesh is on the road with his "friends," an immensely talented ensemble that features jazz guitarist John Scofield, multi-instrumentalist and former Bob Dylan hired gun Larry Campbell and singer Joan Osborne. In Dead tradition, the set lists are freewheeling spins through the band's lengthy catalog sprinkled with inspired covers.

"There are about 106 songs on the master list," Lesh says. "Almost everybody in the band has had several years' experience with the music. Even John [Scofield] sat in and played in an informal situation with me in 2000, so we worked on some songs then."

Band members convened for a couple of rehearsals before recent shows at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, and the group also makes the most of sound checks to refine material.

"We did a benefit for my son's high school, and we've been working as hard as we possibly can. Everybody's schedule is such that we have to cram in the rehearsals. These musicians are such quick studies; these are truly consummate professionals, every one of them."

Old truths, new form

Lesh's tour isn't the only Grateful Dead spinoff. The band's guitarist and singer Bob Weir has Ratdog, which also carries on the vibe. With both bands interpreting the same songs, is there a sense of competition about what versions are the best?

"Frankly, I don't even think about it that way," Lesh says. "To me a song or a work of art is like a myth. Every version is true, and the myth, or the song itself, is the totality of all those versions, but it's not any of those versions exclusively. Therefore, there can't be a best version of any song."

That philosophy echoes the way that Hunter described the writing process for "Box of Rain" in his Anthology of Lyrics: Lesh "had composed a piece complete with every vocal nuance but the words. If ever a lyric 'wrote itself,' this did -- as fast as the pen would pull."

Lesh seeks a similar sense of creativity in performing the older songs, instructing band members specifically not to reference Jerry Garcia's signature guitar licks.

"I want to move away from that as far as we can, put new music in it, but keep the form. Jung said that all old truths want new interpretation, so that they can live on in a new form."

Nevertheless, Lesh is still profoundly influenced and affected by his lifetime of work and friendship with Garcia, who died a little more than a decade ago. Memories of his work with the band were the foundation for his 2005 autobiography Searching for the Sound, and they continue to pop up at random moments.

"It's not like he's sitting on my shoulder or anything like that, but I feel an awareness of his spirit. Maybe that's because I loved him so much I don't want to let him go. But you have to let them go, because it will hang them up in their spiritual path after death.

"At the same time, I find myself flashing on him in different situations. My sons and I went to see the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jerry turned me on to the books when I first came down to join the band, and I remember thinking as the lights went down and the music came up and the screen became brighter, 'Gosh, I wish Jerry was here.' It almost made me weep because I knew how much he would have loved it."

Spiritual power

Searching for the Sound also includes recollections about the Dead's involvement with watershed events of the 1960s: the original Woodstock and the Rolling Stones' disastrous 1969 Altamont, Calif., concert. He also conveys the spiritual power of music, something that continues to grow for him with time.

"There's a point until you are about 35 when all you think about is love, then all you think about is death," Lesh says. "As our lives progress and we become older and realize we have more yesterdays than tomorrows, then the spiritual aspects of life and art loom larger in our awareness.

"It's hard for me to believe that music could be more powerful than when I first heard a symphony orchestra or John Coltrane, but it is more a part of me than it ever was."

The book also recounts Lesh's brush with death, coping with hepatitis C and eventually receiving a liver transplant. The experience has left him with a new appreciation for family, friends, music and love.

"A near-death experience helps you purge away the dross. I became more sensitive of what was valuable to me -- my family, watching my kids grow up.

Lesh has lived long enough to play music with his two sons on stage.

"That's the high point of my life. It doesn't get any better than that -- jamming with your kids."


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