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Rise/Come Together: Russ Lawton on 20 years of TAB

Russ Lawton | April 17, 2018
Erik Kabik

On the 20-year anniversary of the first time the trio of musicians that would become the original Trey Anastasio Band lineup shared the stage, we offer some thoughts from drummer Russ Lawton, who first played with Anastasio as part of 8 Foot Fluorescent Tubes and has remained a core member of TAB for most of the group’s two-decade run. He also performs with TAB keyboardist Ray Paczkowski in Soule Monde. Anastasio, Lawton and bassist Tony Markellis will opetheir first TAB Trio tour since 1999 tonight in Cleveland.

On April 17, 1998, 8 Foot Fluorescent Tubes played its first (and only) show at Higher Ground in Winooski, Vt. For the night, Trey Anastasio brought in several local musicians, including Tony Markellis and I, marking the beginning of what would become Trey Anastasio Band (TAB).

I had first met Tony years before—in 1977—when I was playing a weekly residency with the Afro-Funk band Zzebra in Burlington, and he was playing around the area with The Unknown Blues Band and Kilimanjaro. I was outside on break with Zzebra, and Tony introduced himself and said that he enjoyed the band and my playing.

At that time, I was living in Woodstock, N.Y., taking workshops at Creative Music Studio, checking out great musicians—stuff with drummers Steve Gadd and Chris Parker, session-great bassist Harvey Brooks and jazz drummer Roy Haynes at the club The Joyous Lake. Within a short amount of time, Zzebra’s schedule was filling up and it became obvious that I needed to make the full-time move to Burlington for the band.

About five years later, Trey visited Burlington to check out UVM. As he’s said before, he decided on UVM after he was knocked out by Tony’s playing with The Unknown Blues Band. I didn’t meet Trey until 1998, but I’d seen Phish at Nectar’s, and I would hear their songs on the radio in Boston and really enjoyed their music. The funny thing is, I lived at 204 Pine Street in Burlington and was moving to Boston with the band Little Sister to be part of the thriving original music scene. Coincidentally, Trey was moving into the connecting apartment at 202 1/2 Pine Street. I often think that if I had stayed in town, then we would have possibly played together sooner.

Even when I was living in Boston, Tony and I kept in touch. He even asked me to join The Unknown Blues Band a couple of times. So, when Trey contacted Tony to put a band together to play a show for Higher Ground’s opening, he asked Tony for some drummer suggestions, and Tony gave him my name.