moe. guitarist Chuck Garvey had a long hard road to get back to The Fillmore Philadelphia stage for his recent New Year’s Eve return, but for fans and famoe.ly alike it was as heartwarming a gift as anything they had found under the tree just a week before.
Ever since the band’s run at the Fox Theatre ended with the reading of a note from Garvey promising a New Year’s Eve return choked up fellow fretboard wizard Al Schnier and caused legions of moe.fans—a.k.a. moe.rons—to wake neighbors with cheers and tears of joy we were all waiting for the show to come.
That emotion-packed night has come and gone. Garvey, having acquitted himself admirably, assuaged any fears about whether he would be able to return to active duty following his November 2021 stroke. Naturally, the conversation about Chuck moved next to the timeline for his return to touring. On Wednesday, the band delivered the announcement fans have been waiting on: Chuck Garvey will head back out on the road with moe. full-time later this month.
Live For Live Music was lucky enough to catch the still-recovering Garvey to talk about his fears and feelings before, during, and after shows, his thoughts on returning to touring full-time, and much more. To say that our own Rex Thomson, a.k.a. Rex-A-Vision, who could be called a “superfan” of the band, got a little emotional upon getting this assignment is perhaps the understatement of the admittedly young year.
Before we get going, Rex wanted to reiterate that Chuck is still very much a man in recovery from a major health incident. The esteemed Mr. Garvey still spoke at a much more deliberate pace than in the past, and often needed a few moments to find words that were a little mistier to him than in the past. Read the emotional chat between Chuck and Rex below (Note: Transcript has been edited for length and clarity).
Live For Live Music: So…when you go to rejoin moe. full-time do you think they’ll make you…y’know…audition?
Chuck Garvey: Well I guess so. I actually did. We had to rehearse. When I was working on my speech I was also relearning how to play guitar…at least with my right hand. I had to really work at it. From time to time I would give the band some updates on how I was doing. Recently we had some rehearsals and we got together, me and the band, to play. I believe that they were trying to see how I was doing and they were trying to see how I would play with the band. So maybe it happened that way.
Live For Live Music: Well…hopefully they’ll let you skip the hazing part.
Chuck Garvey: I might be the low man on the totem pole because I haven’t played with them for a year. When we were rehearsing I said “Wait a minute…am I like…the new guy here?” It was a joke but it did occur to me that I was the new guy.
Live For Live Music: You may have to carry the luggage for a while but I’m betting they let you off easy and skip the part where they attack you in your sleep with bars of soap in their socks.
Chuck Garvey: Oh I hope so. I do not wanna have that happen.
Live For Live Music: Okay. Jokes aside…The first show back is so monumental. There’s gotta be a lot of drama, expectations, and uncertainty in that first show. What were your thoughts like in those last few minutes before you took the stage?
Chuck Garvey: I told a couple of people that I just wanted to get through this. After that, I could get to work. But this first show I had put a lot of pressure on myself. Just thinking about how I was gonna do in front of an audience. There was some of that pressure. But I knew the whole thing was gonna come out okay, regardless. And I know this year coming up I was just gonna keep getting better.
moe. – The Fillmore Philadelphia – Philadelphia, PA – 12/31/22 – Set Two
[Video: Ira Heller]
Live For Live Music: I love to hear that kind of spirit! About the show itself…First off…you sounded GREAT! You were nailing your fills and catching all your cues. How do you feel you did?
Chuck Garvey: At the time it was happening I was a lil’ critical of myself. I was just trying to keep on my feet. Sometimes during the show I would feel like I was starting to fall…almost like I was on skis or a bike. But then I would get back in sync with everyone. That’s part of the whole thing you have to do when you’re a musician. You have to adapt in real-time. It’s hard to do but that’s part of what you have to do as a musician.
Live For Live Music: I’m guessing the choice to limit the setlist to songs that don’t feature you pulling double duty on guitar and vocals was intentional, to both conserve strength and let you focus on the playing aspect. Am I right in that assumption?
Chuck Garvey: Yes. My speech has come a long way. After this stroke I had to relearn the whole thing. I can hum or sing notes and melodies but the singing of the words…I can’t do that just yet. I have to really work on that. Singing is something completely different. I just have to keep working on that I guess. Trying to sing right now is not good. The band knows that that is part of the fallout of what has happened to me. I hope to get a lil’ bit better bit by bit, day by day, to get back to 100%. I hope to, anyway.
Live For Live Music: You did some rehearsals leading up to the show so you had a general sense of how long you could go but did you end up going longer than assumed?
Chuck Garvey: When we first talked about it we were thinking about how long I would be playing that night. We kept circling the area of 2 to 5 songs. … Eventually, we came to the conclusion I could do about half the show. That was good for my energy level, my playing and rehearsing it was a perfect amount after we talked about it for a while and that seemed about right.
Now I have to start looking at playing whole shows and that will be harder yet…but I’m looking forward to the challenge.
Live For Live Music: Did you have a safety word or anything set up with the guys in case you gassed out a bit?
Chuck Garvey: [Laughs] KAPOW! [Sound of Chuck theoretically faceplanting] There was nothing of that sort. I was in for the whole portion and that was it. I didn’t even think about it. I don’t think the band did either and we didn’t talk about it.
Live For Live Music: I’m sure [guitar tech] Frank [Robbins] kept an eye out on you…
Chuck Garvey: He would probably pull the cable out of my guitar. “Woops! [Laughs] Gotta go!”
Live For Live Music: Still…after all the research I’ve done about this over the last year or so I was legit shocked when you pulled out that ragtime talk box jam on “Nebraska”. So, the tonal bit you do using that device came easier to you than singing?
Chuck Garvey: Yes. I can sing the rhythm and the notes but with a talk box you don’t have to sing the notes…you just have to make the vowel sounds and the guitar is the singing voice. It’s weird to think about. There’s so much concentration into using that but I felt at ease, I guess. Peter Frampton played with moe. years ago. He actually sent me a talk box he was working on with an engineer…the Framptone. I’ve been using that for many years. After the stroke my wife Amy got in touch with his manager and they sent me another talk box made by MXR. I used it when I was relearning the guitar and it was fun. It was also nice to find out that my brain could still use that effect. It was nice to find out I could still do that with the band.
Live For Live Music: With that first show back under your belt the hardest part is done. Now it’s just a matter of building up stamina, right?
Chuck Garvey: The vocals are gonna take a little more time. But as far as my immediate “To Do” list I wanna learn more of the songs to play with the band, playing and doing more background vocals.
Live For Live Music: Usually I don’t like to use my role as interviewer to speak for entire fan bases but, as a former mayor of the fan base I was kinda elected to do just that. So, as we just established I’m kinda allowed to do it let me just say: take your time! We promise to hold off shouting out unreasonable requests until you’re ready.
Chuck Garvey: [Laughs] “LET CHUCK SING!”
Live For Live Music: Are there any tunes you’re really aching to play, or is it pretty much anything and everything is gonna be fun?
Chuck Garvey: Well…one thing I was thinking about this past year was it might be apropos to sing “New Hope For The New Year”. I like the sentiment but it’s just one of those things where it’s too challenging right now. It’s one of those things that’s like…”This is a goal. I’m gonna work on it.”
Live For Live Music: In my experience the most gifted artists are their own worst critics. How many hours would you guess you put in the woodshed practicing before you felt ready to take the stage again?
Chuck Garvey: That’s a toughie. I started working on playing guitar within three weeks. Amy bought me a little guitar to play during rehab. It was fun to just strum a guitar like a noob. And it was also fun to see some stuff was still there. I could play these little pieces of songs even though I couldn’t remember the songs’ names. But I could play these little ditties but I couldn’t sing them or remember their names. I would send snippets of video to the band and say “This is what I’m working on right now,” and it was, say, “Moth”.
All these songs I wanted to dig into and I really had to consider as I learned to play. I really had to think about each part. Stuff like, “How do I play it? How do I play it with a band?” It was really good for relearning [the guitar.] I was learning all these licks and riffs in some kind of shape and it was fun to tell the band what I was working on. It took about six months to get to the point where I could play some of these songs. I still didn’t really feel I was 100% ready to play them with the band. Everything with the stroke…like everything in life…is baby steps.
You don’t even notice how fast and how far you are progressing, until, say after a couple months, you notice you’ve gone a really long way.
Live For Live Music: I love hearing your positivity and the matter-of-fact way you set these goals. Here’s the thing. You never know how strong you are until you really have to see how strong you are. Even if you don’t believe me…you can just ask Rob, and he’ll tell you. There’s gonna come a day, sometime off in the future, where all you’ve been through doesn’t even occur to you. It’s a weird journey for sure.
Chuck Garvey: Exactly.
Live For Live Music: Speaking of bassist Rob Derhak, thanks to his bout with cancer there’s been a bit of precedent on how the band handles protracted absences, welcoming each other back. You guys could probably write the blueprint on this sort of thing.
Chuck Garvey: I kinda hope not. I mean…with Rob I think he was schooled first thanks to his bout with cancer. I think he learned a lot through that. We’ve talked about that a little bit. I think all of us in the band are gonna be better equipped to deal with our health issues in the future. During Covid, it was really hard, and after these couple years with our illnesses on top…when we’re through this it’s going to be a different, stronger new era. I hope so, anyway.
Live For Live Music: Suke Cerulo was and is a remarkably astute choice to fill in for you. I’ve seen it said you listened to the shows while you were recovering and the experience was a bit surreal. Was any of that due to the nuanced, truly impressive job Suke did covering your spot and did it reveal anything about your own playing to you?
Chuck Garvey: It’s funny because I actually did. [Suke’s] playing and his style would go back and forth from things that are second nature to him and then he would jump over to things that are more my tricks, riffs or whatever. It was weird and kinda cool to see him play with the band. To see him use some of my melodies and moe.tifs for a solo, as an example. These are things I did without thinking but now here I was thinking about them as I got back into playing shape.
Nowadays I am more apt to talk about these ideas, understand them, rather than just doing them. Even when the band wasn’t playing shows, like during Covid, I was going back and learning theory and some other stuff I had not done in a while. It’s cool. I went to school in many ways…and I like it.
Live For Live Music: If you stop learning you stop living!
Chuck Garvey: You’re f—ed! [laughs] Sorry.
Live For Live Music: What are your thoughts on the dimensions added by having a focused keys player on stage? Any thoughts on the added dimension Nate Wilson adds to the moe. sound and any interest in exploring that after your full-time return?
Chuck Garvey: He’s played with us many times over the years. We’ve known him…wow…20 years or more. It’s really good to have a keys player. We’ve been kind of taking that space and [guitarist] Al [Schnier], [percussionist] Jim [Loughlin], and I would do some of the work that a keys player would do in a band. We would just do it in a different way. We would arrange songs around those spots in different ways. It was our way of working around [not having a keyboard player] on these songs. Now with Nate we can get farther than we could before. It’s a new musical personality for the band and now we can maybe realize some of the stuff we were working on before.
Live For Live Music: moe. fans are a remarkably tight-knit, rabid community. We seem to prize puns, like…when you said “Motif” a few minutes ago I made a mental note to spell it out “moe.tif”…a collective dark sense of humor and loyalty to as high a degree as any in the jam band community. After seeing them heap love and support on Rob during his illness, what was it like being the recipient of all that positive, loving energy?
Chuck Garvey: I’m not truly comfortable with a lot of attention but I know through the past year I feel a lot better about it. I now understand where a lot of this love and attention comes from and I can appreciate why. I realize it comes from friends, family, and the community. It’s definitely gonna change how I interact with people.
Live For Live Music: Now I feel kinda bad sticking a camera in your face these last 15 years or so…
Chuck Garvey: [Laughs] All looking the other way.
Live For Live Music: You’ve always been a prolific contributing songwriter for the band. Are there any songs percolating in that noggin about this experience? I’d find it hard to believe otherwise…
Chuck Garvey: Oh yeah. Rob asked me, right off the bat, if I was thinking about that kind of stuff but it was kinda hard at first. It was hard to keep these ideas in my head. Cognitively I had some problems that we solved pretty quickly after my speech improved. It was hard for me to watch movies and other things. Going through this journey I have a lot of stories to tell. I’ll have a lot of stories to dine out on over the next few years. Funny things. Dark things. The easier I can speak on these things, the more stories I can remember, the more it’ll help me to make better songs. More for me to bring to the band…more for there to be music created from all of this.
Live For Live Music: Now that you and Rob have this little interior special club of ‘Survivors’, do you feel like you two can lord it over the rest of the band?
Chuck Garvey: It’s more about making jokes. Everyone is gonna be ripping on me. I used to say this a lot at first…the “I’m playing ‘The Stroke’ card.” It’s all about the humor. We’re friends, we’re brothers and we have more crazy stuff to talk about. Everyone has something like this. Everyone else has something they’ve been through. It is all fair game to us, and it is all valid.
Live For Live Music: I’m not gonna lie…I was legit nervous about staying professional and not breaking down in tears of joy during this little chat. I hope you know that, and I mean this as sincerely as anything I’ve ever said…if it wasn’t for your music I probably wouldn’t have made it through some of my own trials and tribulations. It’s hard to put it into words so I will just say, in the briefest of ways possible, that I am extremely glad to see you coming back to us. Oh, and seriously…let us know when you’re fully recovered so we can all start shouting out unreasonable requests at you. I hope you know that we might joke about whose side we’re on…but for a while now we have all been squarely #chuck.side!
Chuck Garvey: It’s not a race, Rex [laughs].
Chuck Garvey returns to the road with moe. full-time for the band’s upcoming 21-date winter tour, set to kick off on January 19th, 2023 in Huntington, NY. For a full list of upcoming moe. tour dates, head here.