What do Phoenix, AZ, Chicago’s South Side, and the passion for Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan’s legacy have in common? Listen to the funky Americana roots music of multi-instrumentalist/singer John Wilson and his partner in old-timey crime, guitar player/singer David Field and experience the acoustic jam stew that is known to Marin County, CA and beyond as Dead Set. With their distinctive delivery and quirky fashion sense, the combo serves up tasty versions of Dylan’s “As I Went Out One Morning” and The Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil”, bringing the spirit of the ‘60s and ‘70s to a multi-generational audience of music lovers.
Founder Wilson played music as a hobby in Phoenix, AZ from grade school on, beginning with the banjo, performing at family gatherings. While in high school, every rock band that passed through Phoenix had a concert seat with his name on it, including Jimi Hendrix, The Stones, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Cream, and the Jefferson Airplane. After a few Grateful Dead shows at San Francisco’s Winterland in 1970, his Deadhead status was solidified forever. In 1971, Wilson attended college in India, studying Yoga and South Indian stringed instruments, adding modern dance and ballet to his list of passions after attending University of The Pacific in Stockton, CA in 1972. Wilson and his wife joined a Marin County West African drum and dance troupe in 1983 taught by C.K. Ladzekpo, all of which have contributed to his diverse musical sensibilities. Jan Pedersen-Schiff helped him develop his unique singing style, and Nina Gerber has lent her expertise in the guitar playing arena. But it wasn’t until 1999, that Wilson decided to come out of the closet as a performer, hosting an Open Mic Night at Dr. Insomnia’s Coffeehouse in Novato. It was at this time that he formed his first acoustic duo with Chad St. Clair called “Fifteen-Two”, performing several shows over a two year period. After they parted ways, Wilson placed an ad on Craigslist and found his musical soul mate David Field, giving birth to the dynamic duo now known as Dead Set.
David Field’s formative years growing up on Chicago’s South Side were a mix of the classical, folk, and international music his mother loved seasoned with the pervasive styles of both the working class black and poor white country music that infused his neighborhoods. Beginning with the trombone and clarinet in grade and high school, Field was heavily influenced by attending concerts by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and avant-garde jazz performances by groups such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago and a good dose of street corner blues and gospel. Diversity was the name of his musical game as the sounds of Mexico, Cuba, and Motown added to his South Side ghetto mix, including TV, movies and the radio. But when the hippy era began in the late ‘60’s, Field abandoned his ambition to be a symphony clarinetist and embraced the guitar, spending the 1970’s in Berkeley developing his seamless playing style, exploring alternate states of consciousness and attending a lot of Grateful Dead shows. Moving to the rural suburbs of Sonoma County in 1980, Field worked as a special event solo guitarist, declining opportunities to tour as he chose instead to devote his life to fatherhood in 1986. He released an instrumental tape and subsequent CD, “Wordless Poetry” in 1995, which he likens to Windham Hill artist George Winston’s flowing piano style, affecting listeners in a universally positive and uplifting capacity. It is with this spirit that he brings his unique guitar style to Dead Set.
Besides the obvious Deadhead camaraderie, both musicians’ influences include everyone from Joni Mitchell and Leonard Bernstein to The Beatles and Beethoven. Their combined histories conjure up a sound of mystical proportions. Don’t be caught dead missing a set by Dead Set!