Written By: Chad Berndtson
Joe Russo’s a busy guy. In the
first part of our sprawling new interview, he offered some
perspective on his time with
Furthur and talked about the freedom of his most flexible schedule in years now that
Furthur’s on hiatus. In this
second part, Joe talks about his current commitments and potential future activities – and
whether or not they
include old buddy Marco Benevento.
[Photo By: Adam McCullough]
JAMBASE: Let’s talk about Joe Russo's Almost Dead. This was a gig that
together as a lark
back in January, and
suddenly after that it’s the most buzzed-about Dead tribute band in years, so much that
another gig is coming end
of December at the Capitol Theater. How do you feel about this?
JOE RUSSO: Well let me say that we do the Freaks Ball a lot, and we’d
around for something to
do. I love that gig, the NYC Freaks list really helped the Duo out a lot in our early days
and we’re indebted to them.
We always come back to play that party regardless of where our lives have gone, and
respect where it began.
So this year was a two-night party and it was like, one night we’ll do Bustle – that’s
kind of standard-issue for that
gig now. We were then thinking, what else can we do? The Dead thing came up, and I was
like, I don’t know, guys,
I’m in the band that’s doing that, you know, for real. But this just worked out. We
figured it’ll be Bustle, plus Tommy
Hamilton. It’s a great bunch of friends and we’ll just do it: Bustle one night and Almost
Dead the other. So we called
it Almost Dead and then it became Joe Russo’s Almost Dead and people were already calling
that “JRAD,” and we were
like, fuck, yes, JRAD! [laughs] So we had to do it.
It was so goofy and tongue in cheek when we got together and rehearsed. The beauty of
playing with your friends is
any songbook will be exciting if you’re playing with people of like minds. I was so
excited soon after we got into
because it’s this music that I had grown to love and I was thinking wow, I’ll get to play
this in a no-stress atmosphere
with my best friends. That’s really all it was: we hoped it would be awesome and if it
We weren’t thinking too much about it. Neither Scott nor Tommy sounds like Garcia. They
can get the licks for the
applause but really, no one on that stage was doing anything other than play the way they
play over songs we all
love. And our thinking was, if we’re having that much fun, I think it’s hard for everyone
else not to have fun, too. Our
goal was to get into that 68-71 Dead vibe when those guys were like punk. Shit, man, the
Dead were aggressive and
the tones were aggressive and trashy and that’s the music where a lot of us live normally,
so it was so much fun to
[Joe Russo's Almost Dead Performing "St. Stephen" at the
JAMBASE: Were you surprised at how well it was received?
JR: We were shocked. I came out of there thinking, people fucking hated
[laughs], and we were all like,
maybe that was bullshit, but we had fun. And then for the next few days people are calling
me up saying, dude, what
is this thing? We got calls. We got requests. We got offers for festivals. And we all had
other things going on so we
put it away.
But knowing that Furthur wasn’t going to do a New Year’s show, I was like, fuck it, let’s
do it again. We’ll do one a
year, though technically this’ll make two this year. We talked with the guys at the Bowl
and it was then suggested we
try the Cap. It’s selling really well.
JAMBASE: Well, hey man, scarcity, right? People want it, and if you’re
it’s once a year, maybe…
JR: If people enjoy it as much as they say they did, well, I guess we’ll
again. The Capitol Theater is one
of the greatest places in the world to play, and to get to be on that stage with my best
friends, that’s special for me.
Pete Shapiro is always good to us, and this just makes sense. If it tanks, it is what it
is. If it does great, that’s great.
We have a working song list that I’m pretty excited about and we’re going to get up there
and just for it.
JAMBASE: Well, as you said, that’s the school of thought you came from.
JR: Yeah, for sure. And I’ve taken all this time to learn this music.
a new language. It’d be a
shame if I can’t speak this language anywhere but Furthur. I’d be missing this music, and
not being able to play it
and do different versions of it.