The Zen Tricksters used to play nearly every night of the week, every week, all over Long Island and New York City. They haunted places like The Right Track Inn, New York Avenue, and of course, NYC's venerable jam band club emeritus, Wetlands Preserve, where the Tricksters have the honor of having played more than any other band. Over the years there have been two constants: Jeff Mattson, founder and lead guitarist of the band, and the quality of musicianship and songwriting that has always been pervasive within this group. Although commonly known for being the band who best interprets the songs of The Grateful Dead, those who are familiar with the Tricksters know they also have an enormous book of fine original tunes, and have three CDs of their own songs--The Holy Fool (1996), A Love Surreal (1999), and Shaking Off the Weirdness (2003).

Over the years, the Tricksters have seen many personnel changes, and their ranks have of course included Rob Barraco of Phil Lesh & Friends and New Earth Mud, who was a member of the Tricksters for 12 years. As a matter of fact, in 1999 both Rob Barraco and Jeff Mattson were called to come and join Phil for three shows at The Warfield Theater in San Francisco. Some members, such as Tom Circosta, who was with the band in the early days, left to start a business for some years, and then returned five years ago. He "missed playing the live music so much, that [he] decided to sell the business, and get back to what was most satisfying." Klyph Black, who started out in the glam-band scene with Vendetta, joined the Tricksters nearly 12 years ago. The newest member is drummer Joe Ciarvella, formerly of Dakini.

Jeff Mattson speaks fondly of the early days on Long Island: "I first began playing in Long Island bars in the late '70s. There were many, many venues for live music at the time, and many bands that did quite well. Even before I played out, I would see bands such as The Sheiks, Stanton Anderson, and Little Buster and the Soul Brothers in places like Rumbottoms, Arthurs, Max's, and The Music Box. The live music scene was strong and very separate from the disco scene. As a band at the time, you were required to have your own three-way PA system and lighting rig as most clubs didn't have their own. It was a lot of work! But live music thrived until the early '80s 'video club' came into vogue." Jeff, whose influences include The Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Miles Davis, the Allman Brothers Band, and contemporary artists such as Gillian Welch, Richard Thompson, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, and Bill Frisell, enjoyed playing at My Father's Place in Roslyn, opening for Go Ahead, featuring members of the Grateful Dead; opening for The Band at Key Largo in Islip; nine years of Saturday nights at The Right Track Inn; acting as Bo Diddley's backup band at IMAC; and acting as Vassar Clement's backup band at The Stephen Talkhouse.

The Zen Tricksters have performed with many musical legends, some of whom are personal idols to Jeff, such as Peter Rowan, Vassar Clements, Tom Constanten (TC), Melvin Seals, Kenny Kosek, and David Nelson. They have also had the pleasure of playing with David Nelson Band, String Cheese Incident, Dark Star Orchestra, Mike Gordon, and Stanley Jordan. They have toured Japan, been "pranked" by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, and performed at festivals everywhere, from the Oregon Country Fair to the High Sierra Music Festival to the Seattle Hemp Fest, and played the Gathering of the Vibes for all nine years of its existence. The band plays constantly, touring coast to coast, and logs over 150 gigs each year.

This October, The Zen Tricksters celebrate their Silver Anniversary with a tour that will kick off on October 22 at one of the original Tricksters venues on Long Island, The Downtown in Farmingdale. What is it the Tricksters love about the Long Island music scene? As Jeff puts it, it's "The loyalty of the hometown fans that we've come in contact with for over 25 years and getting to play close to home once in a while!"

JamBase | New York
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[Published on: 8/30/04]

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