By: Tim Dwenger
The music of The Grateful Dead has transcended decades and generations to become some of the most enduring music produced by one band in the history of rock & roll. For 30 years The Dead jammed and noodled their way through shows, inadvertently creating an entire rock subgenre that continues to grow and thrive 12 years after the band officially parted ways.
| Phil Lesh & Friends by Blakesberg|
While it's true that The Grateful Dead name was retired in 1995, when legendary lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia passed away, the music has lived on through the various surviving members. Bob Weir's RatDog is actively touring, Mickey Hart and his various projects still interpret the material and bassist Phil Lesh has done his part to keep the flame burning by enlisting various "Friends" over the past eight years to help him in his quest to reinvent the songs and spirit of The Grateful Dead.
That quest has not come without its obstacles. Over the past 10 years Lesh has endured several serious widely publicized health problems. In 1998 he underwent a liver transplant and, more recently, surgery to combat prostate cancer. Both operations were completely successful and the bassist told JamBase in a recent interview from his home in Marin County, CA that he is feeling great these days. "I had the prostate surgery back in December and it's going on nine months now and everything is just fine. My health is good, I'm working out, I'm building muscle, and everything is good right now," says Lesh.
He says his family has been his rock. "Mostly I have to give the credit to my wife and my family for their support. My wife did the research to find the best possible people and institutions to do these surgeries and she has also really been keeping me healthy since our kids started coming. It is a lot easier to come back from surgery if the systems that weren't screwed up are in pretty good shape," Lesh chuckled.
While his family has remained the same for the past 20 or so years, Lesh's "Friends" have included a virtual "who's who" of the jam band music community including Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell from Phish, Paul Barrere and Billy Payne from Little Feat, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks who currently play with The Allman Brothers, and more recently John Scofield and Ryan Adams. Though each incarnation Phil Lesh and Friends has produced some memorable musical moments but it has always been tough to get a band together that really gelled.
| Lesh & Greene by Blakesberg|
"It's been kind of a roller coaster ride with lots of different musicians coming and going," Lesh says. "We had 'The Q' [The Phil Lesh Quintet] which went for a couple of years, but it's hard in the final analysis to work around everyone's schedules. As a result, we decided to try and get a band together that we could work with a while. All the musicians in the current lineup have given us a commitment that they will be available to work with us for about the next year or so. It is really a relief to have those commitments and now we can really focus on taking the music to another level."
The men who have signed on to work with Lesh are his longtime drummer John Molo, multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell, singer-songwriter Jackie Greene and Particle keyboardist Steve Molitz. This lineup debuted in late July at The Independent in San Francisco and drew rave reviews.
While Molitz has known Lesh for several years and has played with the bassist for a couple of one-off gigs, this is his first national tour as a "Friend" and Lesh is eager to show his fans what Molitz can bring to this group.
"Steve is a young guy with a whole different perspective 'cause he comes out of that electronica jam band scene. I've been wanting to integrate that aspect of jam band music into my band for a long time and Steve is the ideal person because he can play the root stuff on the regular keyboards and jam out, yet, when the moment is right, he can do the really spacey but still jammin' kind of stuff," says Lesh. "He played this amazing solo on 'Unbroken Chain' at Mountain Jam in New York this summer. It was a synthesizer thing that fit so perfectly that I kept thinking to myself, 'Why have I waited so long to sneak this element in?"
The bluesy Jackie Greene is another relative youngster who's recently joined Lesh. Greene has stepped into the spotlight and is handling many of the vocal duties as well as playing guitar and keyboards.
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