Interview | Joe Russo Mounts Up | Part Two

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 came 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 been looking 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 sucks, whatever.

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 do.

[Joe Russo's Almost Dead Performing "St. Stephen" at the Brooklyn Bowl]

JAMBASE: Were you surprised at how well it was received?

JR: We were shocked. I came out of there thinking, people fucking hated it [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 telling them it’s once a year, maybe…

JR: If people enjoy it as much as they say they did, well, I guess we’ll do it 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. I’ve learned 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.

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