Monday, July 03, 2006

More on Vince

Phil Lesh on His Friend, Vince Welnick

Phil Lesh comments about Vince Welnick (who died on June 2 - see "The
Dead's Vince Welnick - 1951-2006") at his Phil Zone website:

"The period after Brent's death, when Vince first joined the band,
was one of one of my most difficult years with the Grateful Dead.
Jill [Phil's wife] and I had become quite close to Brent [Mydland]
and his wife Lisa and we spent many happy hours hanging together. I
was devastated when Brent died [in 1990], and I still wonder if there
was anything I could have said or done to help him.

"In hindsight, it would have been better for everyone concerned,
especially Jerry [Garcia], if after Brent's passing we had simply
cancelled the fall 1990 tours; we needed some time to mourn Brent.
Grateful Dead Production's huge monthly overhead kept us from taking
time to absorb our loss.

"Vince helped us more than he knew; not only the speed with which he
learned the music, but also that he took to the music and the scene
like a kid at the beach. His energy and enthusiasm helped rekindle
our own excitement with the music - at least it did for me.

"Vince was a generous spirit and a class act. I'll never forget his
first gig as our sole keyboard (Bruce Hornsby having moved on) - as
we walked out on stage, some folks in the audience on Vince's side of
the stage were holding up a big sign which read 'Hey Vinnie- Welcome,
Brother' - which almost moved me to tears, not least because of the
contrast to Brent's reception 11 years earlier. I was so glad that
the Heads had accepted Vince that quickly.

"After Jerry's death when I started up Phil Lesh & Friends as a band,
Vince was one of my first 'Friends,' and we played a goofy, glorious,
fun gig at the Fillmore. We tried to get together again later that
year, but he had other commitments. I have nothing but warm memories
of Vince and I am forever thankful for the grace and enthusiasm that
he brought to the Grateful Dead.

"I will remember Vince as a man with a soft voice and a sweet smile
who openly adored his wife Lori, who came into the Grateful Dead with
the utmost respect for the band, the music - and most of all - the

This is from the Official website of Vince Welnick.

Where is the Love? A Message from Lorie Welnick

It is with shock and sorrow that I have read the many falsehoods that
have appeared and continue to appear regarding my beloved deceased
husband. Many who knew him have called me with outrage and astonishment
at the mischaracterization of a life that was dedicated to music and
the vision of world with more love. At this time I can only say I hope
the questionable motives of those spreading these falsehoods comes to
light and the truth becomes known.Vince does not deserve any of these
untruthes to be spoken about him...Where is the Love? He was such a
great man.

Lorie Welnick

Vince Welnick lived the dream, playing music with the Grateful Dead,
but depression dogged him to his final days

Joel Selvin, Chronicle Senior Pop Music Critic

Friday, June 30, 2006

When Vince Welnick signed on to play keyboards for the Grateful Dead,
some people said it probably saved his life. He had five good years
with the band, five fat years. But then Jerry Garcia died and the
Dead was no more. Welnick spent the next 11 years dreaming that the
band would reunite, with him, once again, at the keyboards.

That dream died on the cloudless morning of June 2, when the 55-year-
old musician stood on a hillside behind his Forestville home and drew
a knife across his throat in front of his wife.

Welnick's suicide caught many of his more casual friends by surprise.
A fixture in the Bay Area music scene for nearly 40 years and known
to thousands of fans of the Dead -- and in the '70s, the Tubes --
Welnick was always an upbeat kind of guy, with twinkly eyes and a
lopsided smile. But his cheery exterior was deceptive. Those who knew
him better recognized that even during the last years of the Grateful
Dead's long strange trip, Vince Welnick was veering along the edge
and battling demons that would eventually alienate many musical

In the weeks before his death, several old friends who hadn't heard
from him in a while were surprised by phone calls from a cheery,
optimistic Welnick, talking about plans for the future. On June 1,
the day before he killed himself, he called pianist George Michalski,
who invited Welnick to join him at his weekly restaurant job in San
Francisco that weekend. The two had debuted their four-handed piano
act in February at Mardi Gras in New Orleans and had just received an
invitation to return next year.

"He was all excited about it," Michalski said. "And he told me he was
going to come by the restaurant and jam Saturday night."

But Michalski had also seen Welnick's dark side and knew he was a
troubled soul, especially in recent years as he struggled with deep
depression over the demise of the Dead.

Michalski said Welnick talked about committing suicide in February
when they flew to New Orleans. "He told me he was going to kill
himself," Michalski said. "That's all we talked about all the way to
New Orleans. He had no qualms about it."

Grateful Dead computer programmer Bob Bralove, one of Welnick's
closest friends, traveled the country playing improvisations with
Welnick and another former Dead keyboardist, Tom Constanten. They
appeared together last month in Las Vegas.

"He was very, very depressed," said Bralove, "even though he was
headed for a gig, which usually cheered him up. We were talking. He
said he couldn't stop the bad feelings. He was looking for some way
this would change. I guess it didn't. He had hoped to pull something

After an earlier suicide attempt about 10 years ago, Welnick started
taking antidepressants, but lately, he had been telling friends the
pills didn't seem to be working anymore. When he died, according to
friends, he was trying to wean himself from the old medication and
begin a new drug regimen.

Nobody knows whether there was a direct link between his suicide and
the change in his medication, but two years ago the Food and Drug
Administration asked antidepressant manufacturers to add a warning on
pill bottles about potential suicide risk during changes in dosage.

Welnick was not in the best health anyway. Just before the start of
the Dead's final summer tour in 1995, he was diagnosed with throat
cancer and emphysema. He beat the cancer, but the respiratory disease
left him increasingly weak and often out of breath, although he
continued to smoke cigarettes and pot. He carried inhalers with him
wherever he went. "He was on the spray can all day long," said one

Welnick was born and raised in Phoenix, Ariz., where the scene in the
late '60s was so small, everybody knew each other from hanging out at
the VIP Room, the town's sole rock club. Welnick moved to Los Angeles
to make it in music, but wound up paying his rent selling office
supplies over the phone. Guitarist Bill Spooner brought him back to
Phoenix and formed a group called the Beans. Relocating to San
Francisco in 1970, the Beans merged with another band of Phoenix
refugees and renamed themselves the Tubes.

The Tubes would become one of the few authentic San Francisco rock
phenomena of the '70s. Although the band never earned similar
acceptance outside of town, the Tubes could draw capacity crowds at
Bimbo's 365 Club for weeks-long runs. Known for outrageous staging,
tungsten-hard progressive rock and elaborate set pieces for songs
such as "Mondo Bondage," "White Punks on Dope" and "What Do You Want
From Life?,"the Tubes drew deeply from the decadent San Francisco
demimonde of the day. But they were never hippies. Welnick was
regarded by his bandmates as a highly skilled musician, the most
musically trained of the group, and a relaxed, agreeable colleague.
He dressed neatly, often wearing satin shirts and even ironed his T-

"I can see him sitting around in those wraparound shades, that orange
suit, a joint hanging out of his lips," said Tubes vocalist Fee

The Tubes recorded eight albums and finally scored a Top Ten hit
with "She's a Beauty" in 1983. By that time, however, the group had
been reduced to a laboratory for experiments by Hollywood session
musicians and producers such as David Foster and Steve Lukather. Todd
Rundgren, who produced "Love Bomb," the final Tubes album, took
drummer Prairie Prince and keyboardist Welnick for his own band when
the Tubes broke up in 1985. Welnick toured with Rundgren's band and
can be heard on two Rundgren albums, "Nearly Human" and "Second

When Welnick auditioned for the Dead in 1990, he was sleeping in a
barn, separated from his wife, their home rented out, and planning to
move to Mexico and homestead. The Dead, in the band's singularly
dysfunctional manner, tried out just four or five candidates for the
job vacated by Brent Mydland, who died of a drug overdose. Only a
handful of keyboard players who lived nearby were called in for the
million-dollar post. All the auditions were held in a single day at
the Dead's San Rafael rehearsal hall.

"I remember Vince sitting waiting his turn when I got out," said Pete
Sears, then fresh off the Starship. "I think the decision had already
been made."

Welnick's keyboard skills did not win him the job with the Dead,
though; it was his ability to hit the high harmonies on vocals.

"We had no stomach for the amount of work it would have taken to find
the right guy," said Dead guitarist Bob Weir. "We took the guy who
could sing high and had pretty decent chops. That was good enough."

Bruce Hornsby, a longtime Dead fan who stepped in at piano on an
interim basis, put his own thriving solo career on hold for a year to
stay with the band while Welnick found his footing. The famously
egalitarian band offered Welnick almost full participation in the
concert revenues, merchandise and other partnership holdings, rather
than simply taking him on as a sideman. At the time, the Dead was the
most popular rock group in the country, pulling down more than $50
million a year at the box office. His earnings soared. He started
wearing tie-dye. He bought a Mexican vacation home.

He met his future wife on a photo shoot for Rolling Stone magazine in
the mid-'70s in Los Angeles. During their first date at the '70s San
Francisco fern bar Henry Africa's, the stunning half-Blackfoot model
and Welnick decided to spend their lives together. Theirs would be a
turbulent relationship. Guests at the Mexican vacation home overheard
all-night battles. The Tubes once put the couple out of the tour bus
on a Texas freeway because they wouldn't stop fighting. People in the
Dead crew remember Lori Welnick as a terrified flier. "She was a real
contentious person," said Tubes guitarist Spooner.

"They saw themselves as this epic romance," said Michael Cotton of
the Tubes, who interviewed the couple last year for a planned Tubes

Lori Welnick declined to make a statement about her husband's death,
although she did say one thing for the record. "You say one foul
thing about me," she said, "and you'll regret it the rest of your
life. I have been nothing but good to the only man I ever loved. And
you can put that in the newspaper."

Only days before departing for the final 1995 Grateful Dead tour,
Welnick received a double diagnosis from his doctor. He needed an
operation for throat cancer that could possibly affect his singing
voice, and he had emphysema. He postponed the surgery until after the
tour. When Garcia died Aug. 9, shortly after the band returned home,
and the band members announced that they would no longer continue to
perform as the Grateful Dead, Welnick felt his world collapse and he
sank into depression.

That December, on the RatDog tour bus before a show in Santa Barbara,
Welnick spilled out the contents of a Valium bottle and counted 57
pills. He took them all, climbed in his bunk and waited to die. The
tour manager accompanied him to the hospital, while the rest of the
band played the show. After he recovered, Welnick sought psychiatric
treatment and began taking antidepressants. He never played with
RatDog again.

The Grateful Dead has always been very much a man's world with a
strict code of behavior, carefully developed over the many years of
the band's history. Many insiders privately found Welnick's dramatic
grieving out of proportion for someone who had belonged to the band
as briefly and late in the day (Mydland, his predecessor, was still
known as "the new guy" 11 years after he joined the band). The other
four members had been with the Dead since the beginning, more than 30
years before. Welnick was the last "new man," the sixth player to the
keyboard slot.

He bombarded the Dead's office with phone calls, proposals to put the
band back together, always with himself on keyboards. He wrote new
songs to already published lyrics he found in the book by Dead
lyricist Robert Hunter. He reserved special anger for Dead drummer
Bill Kreutzmann, who moved to Hawaii right after Garcia's death,
effectively removing himself from the scene and barring any reunion
efforts, in Welnick's mind. Tubes drummer Prairie Prince found him
depressed and miserable in early 1996.

"He was moping around," Prince said. "I took it on myself to bring
him around."

Prince and Welnick went into Cotati's Prairie Sun Studios to work on
one of Welnick's new original songs, "True Blue," about friends who
stayed the course and others left behind. The sessions evolved into
the Missing Man Formation, a band that featured Dead acolytes Steve
Kimock on guitar and Bobby Vega on bass. The band made its debut in
July 1996 at the Fillmore Auditorium before a packed house of
Deadheads. Before long, Kimock and Vega were gone and Prince and
Welnick, friends since Phoenix, had a falling out. All were replaced
by a new set of musicians.

"We lost touch with each other," Prince admitted. "It wasn't a really
pretty scene when we broke up. I distanced myself a little bit from
Vince and Lori."

Welnick was frustrated at every turn. He could not use the band's
rehearsal hall for his group. He was not allowed to borrow equipment
from the Dead when he went into the studio to record some demos in
April 2000. He did play a summer 2000 tour with the Mickey Hart Band
on the condition that his wife stay home. "He never went crazy on my
watch," Hart said.

But an announced reunion of all four remaining original members of
the Dead at a two-day rock festival in Alpine Village, Mich., in
August 2002 sent Welnick overboard. He fixated on certain phrases --
"Grateful Dead family reunion" and "surviving members of the Dead" --
wondering how he could have been excluded, according to his friend
Mike Lawson. Welnick went to the festival, Lawson said, played the
night before at a local Thai restaurant and performed a campground
show the night of the event, hoping there would be a last-minute call
that never came.

The members of the Dead were uncomfortable with Welnick and his
obsessive behavior. There were certain kinds of craziness the Dead
circles would not tolerate. "It was getting bigger and bigger," Weir
said. "We could all feel that and we chickened out. Yes, we did. We
all had lives to lead and we all had bands to play with.

"I'm sorry," he continued. "I'm sorry for Vince. But stuff doesn't
always work out the way people want. And he became more and more
difficult to work with as his disease progressed."

Welnick was reduced to playing as special guest with Dead cover bands
such as Gent Treadly, Jack Straw or Cubensis, performing for small
crowds at holes-in-the-wall where he was sometimes paid with bad
checks. "He hated it," Lawson said. "He was miserable because it was

He attended the annual board of governors' awards dinner of the local
National Association of Recording Arts & Sciences chapter last year,
at the insistence of friends. Hart was there as well. "Should I go
over to him?" he said to his booking agent, Linda Yelnick, who
watched as Welnick walked across the room, shook hands with his
former bandmate and returned.

"It probably lasted all of 10 seconds," she said. "I felt bad. I

When members of the Dead and their extended family gathered to
celebrate the 10th anniversary of Garcia's death in September at UC
Berkeley's Greek Theatre, Welnick again found himself excluded. "If
he came out onstage to play," said Weir, who served as music director
for the event, "I don't know how we would have got him off. He was

The Dead bought out his interest in the band and he reclaimed what
little music he wrote with the band from its publishing company. He
and his wife lived on a 10-acre parcel of land with a small three-
bedroom home worth less than a million dollars, according to Web
sources, in Sonoma County. He kept a prized Bösendorfer grand piano
in his music studio and a couple dozen cats wandered the place. The
couple's home was covered with memorabilia from his days with the
Dead, but contained little or nothing from his much longer stint with
the Tubes.

The Tubes, in fact, had been planning a full-scale reunion and
Welnick was enthusiastic about it, according to his former bandmates.
He played in the band's impromptu Santa Cruz reunion last year.

But getting back together with the Tubes wasn't enough. He still
brooded over the fate of the Grateful Dead. He was convinced that his
suicide attempt on the RatDog bus was the only thing that kept his
former bandmates from bringing him back. The phone calls to band
management began again. As recently as a week before he died, he
posted a note on his Web site about his continued hopes for a
reunion, saying he had discussed the issue with band management.

"Here and now," Welnick wrote, "I want to appeal to the other members
of GD to come together for such a worthy cause. Hope you all will
pass the message onto the rest of the guys. More then ever, the world
needs love and the Gratefuldead!"

According to friends and band insiders who spoke with family members,
Welnick woke the morning of June 2 and told his father-in-law, who
was staying at the house, that he had slept well. A little later,
when his wife found a prohibited bottle of liquor, she went looking
for him. She spotted him in the backyard climbing the hill and called
his name. He turned and cut his throat. His shirt turned red, she
told friends. She tried to stop the bleeding, but he told her to let
him go. He also reportedly resisted recovery efforts by his sister-in-
law, who was also staying at the house.

An ambulance was summoned at 9:30 a.m. by the Sonoma County sheriff's
dispatcher. Welnick was still alive when it arrived. An hour later,
he was pronounced dead at the emergency room of Santa Rosa Memorial
Hospital, according to the Sonoma County coroner's office.

Friends say Lori Welnick initially directed her rage at the Grateful
Dead. Weir brought his family to visit. "When I was with her, it was
different," he said. "Someone in that state of grief can be reaching
for reasons that may or may not exist. She was in that kind of pain."

Weir spoke about Welnick with the shell-shocked tone of someone still
trying to make sense of something that ultimately will never add up.

"I wish I could have helped," Weir said. "I tried, but I failed. The
people closest to him wish they tried, but they failed. He tried
himself and failed. That's the story and it's a sad one."

E-mail Joel Selvin at


Blogger shaunagrant1963 said...

Fascinating read... It's hard to believe he committed suicide in front of his wife, and in such a disgusting way. He should have gotten a job like the rest of us. My sympathy is for his widow, who he did this to.

Saturday, September 09, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could imagine how it must have felt with the dead ignoring him. People make mistakes, people are also passionate. someone with that amount of inthusiasm with the dead deserves to play, no matter if he wants to play till the rising of the morning rays. Isn't that what playing music is all about. never wanting to quit and being forced to quit do to outside circumstances. I feel sorry for his wife but she will see him again. Weir is right, sometimes things just don't work out for people. no ones to blame.

jared siglin

Tuesday, February 19, 2008  
Anonymous Surla/krissy said...

For our "True Blue Friend" these many Golden years of knowing you and being married too my cousin have brought so much happiness too us all. Now you are with the Best of the best, it's a shame when we loose the ones we love everyone drifts, and the elders are forgotten. Even if we make bad choices regarding ourselves it is not someone else's right too judge them! forgive and forget is what I was taught, maybee somethings you can not forget still forgive. As a lil. girl i watched Vince&Lorri and i saved everything i was given from him at concerts;pictures of him and mom at his piano . What a lucky woman i want to be her! The love that flowed out in radiant spirital glow within thier smiles.what a wonderfull life you have had. Knowing they are all together up in that bigstudio we will have a great pow-wow. May you all in time of need raise your head and hands to the Creator and pray for the good of mankind. you are too true blue for them. some just don't know yes we need the gratefull- Dead and we will once again be together. All my heart and love keep on laughin,smilen and truckin down this other golden path..Surla

Tuesday, November 04, 2008  
Blogger jabush27 said...

Interesting read. Its funny to hear kids who may have been five when jerry died call themselves dead family. Well this guy was, and they didn't give two shits about him. So do you think they give a shit about you? NO

Sunday, January 06, 2013  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Click here to join deadshows
Click to join deadshows