Phil Lesh Friends We’d Like to See | John Mayer

By Scott Bernstein Nov 27, 2013 6:50 am PST

Fill your mug with haterade and vitriol. Call us asshats. It doesn’t change the fact that, yes, we’re about to nominate John Mayer as a future Phil Lesh friend.

He’d join some pretty prestigious company, wouldn’t he? And with Phil “off the bus” and Furthur on hiatus, it sounds like the Friends circle is going to keep opening up, at least as far as the many Friends dates Phil’s planning for 2014. (See some of our previous arguments for Phil friends, including recent nominees Donald Fagen and Taylor Goldsmith.)

John Mayer was this year named to the Village Voice’s Top 10 Douchiest Guitarists of All Time list – a cheap shot for his irritating guitar solo lemon face (something only BB King’s ever made look cool, to be truthful), but not without an obvious connection to his years of headline-grabbing playboy antics and where-was-the-PR-guy-on-that-one statements to interviewers (something about a “white supremacist dick”?)

By and large, his is a brand of featherweight folk-rock and pop-blues more suited to doctors’ offices, corporatey Top 40 festivals and misty-eyed teenagers just venturing down the highway of life than an ever-more-cynical base of Deadheads.

So yeah, we get the arguments. We’ve heard them and we don’t disagree. But let’s look at some other facts.

Fact: Mayer is an ace musician commanding much respect from his elders –ace, not only in the sense of he can hold a stage but also that he’s a considerably creative, widely lauded blues guitar talent. (Mayer fans like Buddy Guy and Chuck Leavell don’t tip their caps for “Why Georgia.”)

Fact: Mayer cottons to the Grateful Dead. It was he who in an early 2013 interview with Rolling Stone declared the Dead would “make a comeback” and heaped praise on the Dead jamming M.O., while referencing the “Tennessee Jed” he soloed on during the Love for Levon benefit in 2012.

Fact: Mayer’s already proven he can wear the Dead well. Throughout 2013 he’s been slipping Dead classics into his live shows, including “Althea,” “Friend of the Devil” and “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad.”

Fact: Mayer’s come close to being a Phil Friend already. He was a surprise guest at the 2005 Jammys during a Buddy Guy super jam set that also included Phil and Questlove. And Mayer and Phil almost shared the stage in December 2005, when Mayer’s trio opened three shows for Phil Lesh & Friends in San Francisco over New Year’s. (It was originally advertised that Mayer would join Phil during a slice of the Dec. 31 show but that didn’t happen.)

Fact: Phil has a gift for seeing the potential in “less likely” Friends and indoctrinating them successfully. If Ryan Adams, Joan Osborne, Jackie Greene, Joe Russo, John Scofield and Anders Osborne can cross the chasm as Phil friends, why can’t Mayer? You’d have to think he’d blend well with an ensemble and make good on Phil’s invitation instead of try to run away with a show.

It would take some alignment, no question. At one possible extreme, Mayer is one of the best fits for a Phil & Friends guitar slot anyone’s ever heard and is MVP of the ensemble. At the other possible extreme, we get a frustrating 3-hour slog that offers “Dark Star > Your Body Is A Wonderland” or “Wharf Rat > Waiting on the World to Change,” with the other members of the band gritting their teeth and trying their best to smile.

We’re guessing it’d fall somewhere in between. We’re also guessing it would be a hell of a lot better than most think.

Written By: Chad Berndtson
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