Melvin Keeps On Truckin'
From Kalamazoo Gazette:
Seals keeps Jerry Garcia's music truckin'
By Mark Wedel
Special to the Gazette
On Aug. 9, 1995, Jerry Garcia died from a heart attack while in rehabilitation for a longtime heroin addiction.
The music couldn't die with him, Melvin Seals thought. So he formed his own Jerry Garcia Band called JGB, which will return to Taste of Kalamazoo for its second performance at midnight Friday at the Arcadia Creek Festival Place.
Garcia, known for the Grateful Dead, the definitive group from the '60s psychedelia to the '90s jam band phenomenon, also was the head of the Jerry Garcia Band. Seals was the keyboardist -- mainly the big Hammond B3 -- for the band for 18 years up to Garcia's death, Seals said from San Juan Capistrano, Calif., before a recent JGB show.
When he died, Seals said, the Dead ended their run, the JGB was done, ``everyone was like, `Well, that's it.' And that was the opposite of what he wanted. He wanted it to live on.''
Seals said he remembers one interview where Garcia was asked what would happen to his music after he'd gone.
``And I heard him say, `I hope the music will live on far beyond me, the music will continue,''' Seals said.
Seals pieced his own JGB together in 1997 with the original drummer, Donny Baldwin, and original backup singers. They did a few shows and found ``these people still wanted to hear this music, even without Jerry.''
Seals' story starts in San Francisco, where he was born in 1953. He grew up in the city learning gospel and R&B. The city's famed Haight-Ashbury counterculture, of which the Dead was a big part, might as well have been on some other planet. Seals went from playing in churches to backing Chuck Berry, Buddy Miles and Alvin Bishop.
After being spotted playing around San Francisco, Seals was invited to play with Garcia's new band. Seals had no idea what to expect, he said. What Garcia wanted in his band was an eclectic mix, which could go from gospel styles to country to early R&B. Seals said he could handle most of it, but he had to learn the Garcia manner of improvisational looseness.
``Jerry was the strongest musical challenge for me, because it was totally a different style of music than I was familiar with. I had to learn,'' he said.
``There was a little looseness in the band. ... Coming from the R&B standpoint, and soul, you want to kind of keep things as tight as you can. Whereas they didn't worry about missing accents and things like that, it was more of a savoring of flow, don't worry about smaller things that I worry about.''
Seals' latest JGB includes bassist Marty Holland, vocalist and guitarist Stu Allen, drummer Sam Howard and backup singers Mary Collins and Judith Coleman.
Don't expect a Dead tribute. Seals' JGB sticks with Garcia's later vision of a musical world where rock, soul, country and other sounds can live in harmony.
``We try to stay more along that line than the psychedelic line that the Grateful Dead is known for,'' Seals said.
As it did at last year's Taste, the JGB will play covers ranging from Smokey Robinson's ``Second That Emotion'' to Garcia's ``Like a Road Leading Home.''
``All we're doing is just tightening it up a little more,'' Seals said. ``But we're still trying to recreate what he left us with.''
Melvin Seals and the Jerry Garcia Band, jam band, midnight Friday, Arcadia Creek Festival Place. $4 from 4 to 7 p.m.; $7 after 7 p.m. 385-6200.