Furthur’s Origin Story: Dead Behind, Furthur Ahead (Relix Revisited)
On the eve of Furthur’s Red Rocks run and ensuing fall tour, we revisit last year’s cover story on the group.
Amid the midnight spectacle that embellished Furthur’s recent New Year’s Eve concert at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, a quieter milestone unfolded as well. This occasion marked the second consecutive year that Bob Weir and Phil Lesh had welcomed Father Time and his multihued parade crew with the same full-time band.
The pair’s preceding comparable back-to-back celebrations took place in 1990 and 1991 during Grateful Dead galas at the Oakland Coliseum Arena. After legendary promoter Bill Graham passed away in the fall of 1991, the group performed one final New Year’s blowout in his honor but then cleared the date from its tour itinerary. Jerry Garcia died in August 1995 and for some time afterward, Lesh and Weir converged only intermittently.
The summer of 1998 saw the pair return to the stage in The Other Ones, a group formed with Grateful Dead alum Mickey Hart (but not fellow Rhythm Devil Bill Kreutzmann), as well as Bruce Hornsby on keys, two guitarists (Mark Karan and Steve Kimock) and a sax player (Dave Ellis, who transposed many of Garcia’s signature guitar lines). However, by August of 2000, when The Other Ones next toured, Lesh was not a part of the line-up (though Kreutzmann had entered the fold), opting instead to focus on his new Phil & Friends project. Two years later, at the Terrapin Station family reunion event in Wisconsin, the core four reconvened as The Others Ones with Jimmy Herring on guitar duty (eventually renaming the group The Dead in 2003). Warren Haynes joined the group beginning with 2004’s “Wave that Flag” summer tour.
During the next five years, Weir ramped up his group RatDog, while Lesh continued to rotate players into a fluid Phil & Friends roster. However, spurred by a collective call to raise funds for presidential candidate Barack Obama, The Dead’s benefit performance gave way to an Inaugural event, followed by a series of spring dates, with Haynes as the lone guitarist. (By then Herring was a fulltime member of Widespread Panic.)
It was during this final stretch that Weir and Lesh reconnected, recommitted and ultimately decided to take things Furthur.
It all began with an e-mail from the bass player to his longtime bandmate.
“After the tour I e-mailed him and said, ‘Hey, that was really fun, I really enjoyed playing with you,’ Lesh explains. “That’s what I had brought away from it and it turned out he felt the same way. From there, we started talking and it seemed like we should continue to play together. We’d find some musicians and take it in our direction, in the direction we wanted to take it.”
That direction oriented them away from Hart and Kreutzmann who eventually would re-activate The Rhythm Devils touring collective that they had debuted in 2006.
“Once you add Mickey and Billy to the mix—and this is more real than one might imagine—you add a layer of expectation,” Weir explains. “A lot of folks in the audience are looking for a walk down memory lane and they’re disappointed if they don’t get that. That’s cumbersome. So Phil and I decided to start fresh with the material and with an outfit that didn’t carry those expectations.”
The pair set out on a divergent musical path that necessitated a shift in personnel. The central irony of this decision, given their objective to divine new bearings, is that a small but vocal subset of the Deadhead community—an admittedly picky lot—would censure their heroes for navigating all too familiar terrain.
It’s a criticism that Lesh dismisses with a shrug as he explains how far it diverges from his intent. “One of the reasons that Bob and I wanted to go ahead with this band was to bring fresh approaches to the tunes, like he was doing with RatDog and I did with Phil & Friends,” he says assuredly. “We treat it as repertoire. In Grateful Dead terms, that means every performance can be different. All versions of the songs are true, just like a fairy tale.”
So Lesh and Weir then required some like-minded storytellers.
“So we carefully assembled a crew of guys,” Weir recalls, “who were familiar enough with the material but came from disparate enough backgrounds. That way, when we pull everybody together, the center is amorphous enough that it gives us the opportunity to take any approach to old material or new material that we might want to adopt at a moment’s whimsy.”
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Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
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