The Rebirth Of Phil Lesh (Relix Revisited)
Returning to the collaboration, Lesh continued, “With the Phish guys, I got to say, it was almost too easy. They knew the material so well, and they were such excellent musicians. They have that spirit, that questing spirit. They want to take it out and see where we can go. I was telling (drummer) John Molo on the phone today, I’m still blown away by all the different realms we visited. In only listening back to the one set that I heard, I was saying, ‘Jeez, this isn’t rock ‘n’ roll music, this is some new phenomena.’ It was really, really satisfying to listen to it, and challenging, too.”
While Lesh was recovering, he and Steve Kimock jammed regularly in the studio with other musical friends such as Hot Tuna’s Jorma Kaukonen, Michael Falzarano and Pete Sears; keyboardist Merl Saunders; and drummers Prairie Prince and John Molo. Since Phil has become more active musically, he remains amazed at the number of musicians that are interested in working with him. “There’s a whole list of people that I’d like to get around to working with,” he admitted, “because the Grateful Dead was my band and that is what I put my energy into, and I never really even thought about branching out and doing what I’m doing now. So now that the Grateful Dead doesn’t exist essentially, it’s really satisfying for me to find out how many people are actually interested in playing with me. And how successful it can be. This last weekend was one of the finest musical experiences in my life.”
Lesh and Kimock’s plans for future Phil and Friends shows include a Memorial Day festival performance in Calavaras, California that will feature Gov’t Mule’s guitar slinger Warren Haynes, former Grateful Dead vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux MacKay, keyboardist Merl Saunders and drummer John Molo. The following week, Phil Lesh and Friends will embark on another three-day run at San Francisco’s Warfield Theater with a band that will include guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, keyboardist Pete Sears and drummer Prairie Prince.
Lesh was reluctant to elaborate on any far-reaching plans other than the one’s already scheduled. “It’s really vague right now,” he conceded. “I’ve got some thoughts, and people are always suggesting other musicians for me. I’m taking July off, and I have three weekends in August that are all possibilities. We like to think of it as being cosmically ordained.”
For nearly 30 years, the Grateful Dead toured virtually non-stop, except for a year-and-a-half in the mid-’70s, with an obvious toll taken on both the band members and the Deadheads themselves, finally grinding to a halt with the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995. The Grateful Dead’s final tour was dubbed by many as “The Tour From Hell,” with ominous signs that the party was finally coming to an end. From his vantage point on stage, Lesh and the other band members could see the signs as the once docile Deadhead scene convulsed into riot. “It’s never very pleasant to see people knocking down fences and trampling each other just to get in the show,” Lesh remembered sadly. “I could never understand it. Most of the time, the people who stayed outside had more fun just staying outside.”
The evidence of the changing times was staggering. “You can’t really come in and hear the show any better by breaking in,” Lesh noted. “The word that I got was that there was a group of people who, that was their fun—breaking into shows, sneaking in, getting in for free. They didn’t care about the music or being inside really, they just wanted to have the experience of getting something for nothing. And, of course, dragging a bunch of people along with them. And so that happened a couple of times, and then there was the incident with the shelter in St. Louis where there were kids partying under the shelter and there were kids partying on the roof. And the roof fell down, and people were seriously hurt.”
As if that weren’t enough, Phil added, “And then there was Jerry’s death threat. Some paramilitary dudes in the Midwest, I don’t even remember where it was, they got real upset at the thought of people like us, going around promoting drugs or whatever they thought we were promoting. So they decided that they were going to get Jerry. This is the story we got. I don’t really remember the details, but we had to play a whole show with the house lights up and security right down in front. The thing is, though, if somebody is really determined, you can never stop them. I thought that was a little ballsy of Jerry to go out there and play those shows.”
Looking back, Lesh recalled how the sheer size of the Grateful Dead organization required the band to be out on the road year in and year out. While most bands in the music industry usually record an album then tour in support, the Grateful Dead shed any of the typical show business routine that required it to even step into a recording studio to earn a living. I asked Lesh why the band never took a vacation from touring, and he was both open and honest in his response. “Several reasons,” he maintained. “We, the Grateful Dead, the band, we felt responsible for the employees that we had in our organization.
“At that time, we had 50 employees and 90 percent of our income came from touring. So if we stopped touring voluntarily, I mean, the band members would have been okay, but all the rest of those people would have been out of a job, on welfare or unemployment. And if we’d taken a year off, I mean, those people would have been out in the cold. We really felt that responsibility, and it was a real drag. And nobody really liked it. That’s one of the reasons that after Jerry’s death, I made it my business to try and consolidate everything in a way that it would be self-sufficient—all the merchandising and all of the publishing and all of the administrative stuff, so that it would be self-sufficient and would not depend on any income from touring from any of the musicians that were involved. And so far it’s been pretty successful that way. But that was a really stressful time for me. Jerry and I had talked about taking a year off. Our ideal solution was to play in one place and have everyone come to us, and we talked about that. And management kept saying, ‘Oh you can’t do that, they won’t come to you.’ I knew better,” Lesh recalled somberly.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
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