Furthur’s Origin Story: Dead Behind, Furthur Ahead (Relix Revisited)
Photo by Jay Blakesberg
The first two musicians that the duo enlisted were RatDog’s keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and drummer Jay Lane. Chimenti had been a familiar face in Weir-Lesh collaborations ever since Terrapin Station while Lane had made some guest appearances with The Other Ones or The Dead. Furthur’s architects envisioned moving him away from the kit and into the role of percussionist, coloring the palette differently than with their previous groups.
Lesh also approached longtime Phil & Friends drummer John Molo only to discover that Molo already had had made a long-term commitment to Moonalice. “So I started listening back to other people I’d played with and listening on Archive.org to different bands,” Lesh recalls. “I remembered Joe Russo from the Jammys. [Lesh hosted the Jammy Awards in 2005 where he appeared with The Benevento-Russo Duo along with Les Claypool and Mike Gordon for “Dee’s Diner”]. “And from gigs we’d played together in separate bands. [In the summer of 2006, Benevento and Russo joined Gordon and Trey Anastasio for a series of dates on a co-bill with Phil & Friends]. So I listened back to his playing and I told Bob we should try this guy out; we should have him come out and play with us.”
Of all the musicians who would join the new band, Russo had the least familiarity with the Dead catalog but he certainly had the chops, which ultimately added to his appeal.
“It’s fun because he’s so game and brings so many drum styles and approaches,” Lesh commends. “A lot of the time it was really cool to have him play the song his way and it just gave a totally different flavor to it.”
“He’s a phenomenal drummer,” Weir echoes. “What he’s doing now is learning the ropes of playing in a larger ensemble and he’s getting a pretty good grip on it. His big oeuvre when he came to us at that point had been a duo and the other guy in that duo [Marco Benevento] pretty much played quarter notes, if that. [Russo] was everything else, so he was awfully busy. He’s simmering down these days and that’s good for the music. There was a lot of material for him to get up to speed on and Jay Lane was real helpful in that regard—he was basically a set of training wheels.”
Yet before the band could hope to hit maximum velocity, it required an additional piston.
John Kadlecik began his training on the classical violin at age nine and didn’t listen to rock radio until six years later. He swiftly made up for lost time as he recalls, ravenously consuming what “they didn’t call classic rock yet, they called oldies: The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd,” he says. “I endured the ridicule of my violin playing peers for listening to the old stuff.”
He soon gravitated toward the guitar. “From ‘84 to ‘87, I blasted through everything I could get my hands on, including some of the hard rock which was the technique-oriented stuff for guitar players,” he says. He received a scholarship to Illinois’ William Rainey Harper College and began studying music before dropping out to pursue the life of a working musician in the Chicago club and bar scene.
During the summer of 1988, at age 19, at the suggestion of a friend, he attended his first Grateful Dead show—or nearly so—arriving at Alpine Valley Music Theatre on the band’s day off during a run when performing four shows in five nights at the East Troy, Wis. amphitheater. “There were a lot of people camping in the parking lot,” Kadlecik says. “So I went in and wandered around. It was the first time I saw a live sitar, so I thought, ‘That’s a good sign.’”
He finally saw the group the next spring, caught the bug, and in 1997, while still appearing with a variety of bands in multiple contexts, co-founded Dark Star Orchestra, which began as a collection of Dead-loving players from various groups who came together for a weekly slot at Martyrs’ in Chicago. The band’s modus operandi was to select a Grateful Dead setlist and then attempt to perform it in the style of the Dead from the original era, with Kadlecik assuming the role of Jerry Garcia.
“I had this idea the first time I saw DeadBase,” the guitarist says in reference to the compendium of Grateful Dead setlists. “I thought this would be a neat way to create a curriculum of study for a really ambitious Deadhead band to do a Grateful Dead tribute and not make sacrifices for the yuppies that only want to hear the Top 40 hits. We would look at each song and listen to three or four versions of that song from the same year and try to interpolate them. It was never a note for note thing—it was about trying to learn where the edges of stretching could go within that aesthetic of taste.
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