The Legend of Moonalice Rises

By: Alan Rhody

The personnel in Moonalice should make you curious enough to give this band and their new self-titled CD a listen. There's some serious firepower in the group: Barry Sless, Pete Sears, GE Smith, Jimmy Sanchez, Jack Casady - all notable musicians with professional pedigrees that span more than several decades. The Moonalice roster also includes the band's founding members, Roger and Ann McNamee.

A list of the various ensembles these guys have played in would be extensive and sometimes overlapping, including some widely recognized groups such as Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Jefferson Starship, Bob Dylan, Hall & Oates, Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt, Kingfish, Zero, David Nelson Band, Phil Lesh & Friends and the Flying Other Brothers.

Knowing about how this band and their CD came to exist makes for an interesting tale in itself. The story begins with aspiring musician, Deadhead and Hot Tuna fan Roger McNamee. After graduating from Yale and further earning an MBA, McNamee went on to head the technology arm at a growing financial firm. Being at the right place in the right times (the '80s) and demonstrating a knack for making very astute investments, he became one of the young movers and shakers in his field. Hailed as one of Silicon Valley's important business visionaries, he still managed to squeeze in a good amount of Grateful Dead shows for his personal pleasure.

Fast forward two decades and McNamee is a world renown private equity investor specializing in emerging technologies and media (Bono is currently one of his business partners), a digital-age celebrity, a part-owner of Forbes magazine, an advisor to the Grateful Dead when they were considering digitizing their assets, and a Rex Foundation board member (as well as a ski instructor and stroke survivor). His business ventures have been successful enough to enable he and his wife Ann (a former music professor) to spend a considerable amount of time and resources over the past dozen or so years pursuing their musical passions. Moonalice, their latest foray into the music business, is intended to be an artistic and commercial success.

In April, the band released its debut CD, Moonalice. Fans of the band's live sound will appreciate the high quality production values set by Grammy-winning producer/composer T-Bone Burnett, which showcase the band's strengths and skillfully emphasizes the vocal tracks. Collectively the eleven songs on this CD evoke a time in rock history when many a baby-boomer was assembling his or her original record collection, a time when the sixties spirit still infused a seventies sound (i.e. when raw exploratory musical endeavors were replaced by more polished, more carefully crafted studio recordings). Perhaps that is due to the conscious intent by Burnett and the McNamees to make the recording sound like a vinyl album of old. Though the result is warmly familiar on a CD that never sounds dated.

How and why did these guys come together? Weren't they all in some other band? Who is this Chubby Wombat guy that relates the Moonalice "legend" at every show? Why is infamous Grateful Dead road crew member Steve Parrish touring with this outfit? JamBase speaks to some of the Moonalice members to find out.

JamBase: How did Moonalice come about?

Smith & McNamee by Weiand
Roger McNamee: I have been playing guitar and bass since late in high school. During my early day job years, I played acoustic happy hour music - solo or as a duo - at bars and resorts. I got serious about playing again in the mid-90s and started a band called the Flying Other Brothers in 1997. That same year I persuaded Hot Tuna to play a private party, and that's when I first got to know them all. The next year I called Jorma Kaukonen to see if he would do a "band camp" for the Flying Other Brothers, since he had just started Fur Peace Ranch. He agreed. I had never met GE and Pete before that.

Pete Sears: I was hired along with Jorma, Jack Casady and GE Smith to be a tutor at a "band camp" for Roger's band. I started playing some shows with them when my ten year run with Hot Tuna began to wind down around 2002 and eventually became a full time member. We had a lot of fun with that band.

Roger: Pete introduced us to Barry Sless in the fall of 2002. Barry introduced us to Jim in early 2003. [Pete, Barry, and Jim had all been playing with David Nelson, who was ramping down a bit]. In 2004, Barry gets picked up by Phil Lesh & Friends and GE Smith sits in the Flying Other Brothers while Barry is out with Phil.

The next year T-Bone Burnett says he is open to producing a Flying Other Brothers album under certain conditions. We have a recording session, after which T-Bone gives each person in the band some things to work on. After a year we assemble again and T-Bone notes that three of the Flying Other Brothers had not done their assignments. He recommends that we start over as a new band - GE, Pete, Barry, Jim, Ann, me. We agree and put the Flying Other Brothers on track to end at the end of the year.

Jimmy Sanchez: T-Bone gave Roger some solid advice and Roger wisely acted on it. In short, Moonalice evolved out of its predecessor, the Flying Other Brothers.

Roger: In 2007 the new band goes into rehearsal and works on the new concept [band name, legend, posters, etc.]. We played 43 shows that year. Last year [2008] we did 102 shows in 28 states plus one Canadian province.

JamBase: When did Jack Casady join?

Roger: In 2007 Ann, GE, Jack Casady, and Jim Keltner record an album of Ann's music, after which Jack lets us know that he would love to play with the new band part time.

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