The Rebirth Of Phil Lesh (Relix Revisited)
In the fall of 1998, Lesh’s condition worsened, and it became apparent that a liver transplant would be necessary to save his life. On the West Coast, the demand for liver organs was at a premium and the waiting lists were long—so long that patients would die awaiting a suitable organ. Phil and Jill made their decision and quickly traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida to await a compatible organ. Even they were surprised by the speed in which they obtained a donor. “The Mayo Clinic in Rochester is one of the top three in the country, and they opened a satellite clinic in Jacksonville, which only had 35 people on the list,” recalled Jill. “We did a lot of research, and because it was a new clinic, we could transfer our time there, and it was much faster if we were willing to go there. They were only open nine months, and Phil was their 52nd transplant.”
Lesh received emotional and spiritual support from old friend David Crosby who was also the beneficiary of a liver transplant several years ago. “David was great,” laughed Lesh. “At one point, he was telling Jill that he had to have a picture of me in my hospital gown with my ass hanging out! He wanted us to go down to L.A. and use his doctor, but their list was longer than San Francisco’s.”
Just as Lesh went into surgery, he began a telephone chain that set into motion a mass convergence of spiritual support that he attributes to his success. “Without the healing energy, I wouldn’t have made it,” said Lesh succinctly. “I feel privileged to be part of that. And I’m sure that everyone else does, too. It brought people closer together, not only praying for someone to be healed, but being aware that you’re not alone in doing this, that you’re part of a greater whole. As scary as the world is, I think that it’s really important for people today to know they are part of a greater whole.”
Lesh’s recovery was remarkable, to say the least, and besides the healing vibes sent his way, he is quick to acknowledge the tremendous job done by his physician and his staff. “I was out of Intensive Care in six hours, walking within twelve hours,” announced Lesh. “They make you get up and walk within twelve hours. The operation itself only took three-and-a-half hours, when sometimes it takes twelve. I only used three units of blood, and some patients in some operations use fifteen. The surgical team was amazing. In fact, the whole team at the Mayo Clinic was amazing. They’re all really dedicated to their patients’ well being; that is their prime directive. The surgeon who did my operation, Dr. Jeffery Steers, is a well-known innovator in the techniques of the operation. He’s one of the reasons why I didn’t take very long.”
If Lesh was reborn with a successful liver transplant, another tragedy in his life brought him to a new musical crossroads. Lesh has acknowledged how the death of Jerry Garcia caused him stress and anguish. For nearly two years, save for the occasional sitting in at the Bay Area stops of the Furthur Festival, Lesh remained out of the musical spotlight. The time off gave the bassist time to rethink his musical direction, and it is no surprise that he again received strength from the Deadheads.
In September 1997, Lesh attended the first “Deadhead Community Center” benefit, held at Berkeley’s venerable Ashkenaz Music and Dance Club, that featured Grateful Dead Hour host David Gans and his band, the Broken Angels. The event had a profound effect on the former Grateful Dead bassist who heard the music with the new ears of an audience member. “That was a real revelation for me to see how many musicians there were out there that were familiar enough with Grateful Dead material that they could jam all night, well, like we used to,” recalled Lesh. “And that sort of started me out on the whole Phil Lesh and Friends concept. I sat in with Gans’ band, the Broken Angels, and we did a Phil and Friends show with them, and then just started to branch out and use other musicians around that I hadn’t played with that were familiar with the material.”
The irony was not lost on Lesh who laughed, “It was kinda weird!” adding in a deep booming voice, “‘Who is up there playing that bass?’ It reminded me of those dreams that I used to have every so often, kinda like Spinal Tap, where I’m in the bowels of some coliseum trying to find my way to the stage, but the band’s all up there and they’re playing, and I can hear it. And there’s a bass player up there too. And that’s the weird part. And the experience of walking in the door of a club and hearing this music, I said ‘Wow, who’s playing this music?’ And in some ways, it was just as good as the Grateful Dead.” Naturally, Lesh is aware that there is a whole Grateful Dead band scene out there.
Three months after the refreshing re-acquaintance with the music of the Grateful Dead, Phil held his PhilHarmonia at the Maritime Hall in San Francisco as a benefit for his newly established charity, the Unbroken Chain Foundation. He brought together Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Donna Jean Godchaux MacKay, Graham Nash, David Grisman, Michael Tilson Thomas, Bruce Hornsby, Edie Brickell and Jackie LaBranch for a heartfelt holiday season sing-along. Phil explained how it all came together. “It was Jill’s idea to have a sing-along,” he said. “Our kids have been attending the Waldorf School, and we’ve been exploring the philosophy behind that which is called Anthoposity. Jill was saying it would be wonderful if we could have an event where the audience was the band instead of the audience playing the band with their vibes and everything with their energy. Wouldn’t it be great if they could sing and actually make the music themselves? ‘Cause you’d hear people going out the door saying, ‘I haven’t sang that song since I was five years old in the third grade.’” Lesh revealed that plans are in the works for another PhilHarmonia to be held in December.
Beth Hart shares the opening track from her latest album, Bang Bang Boom Boom, live at Relix.
Jamie Lidell sets up in the Relix boiler room and delivers a tune from his 2005 album Multiply
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WYATT share a song in the famed Relix boiler room.
Goodnight, Texas share a song from their latest studio album, A Long Life of Living, live at Relix.
Warren Haynes performs a solo, acoustic version of “Railroad Boy” and explains how he adapted the traditional Celtic song for Gov’t Mule, backstage at the Hangout Music Festival.
Australia’s Alpine recently made their NYC debut at the Relix office with this song from their new album A is for Alpine.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
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- On The Verge Poll