As the novel coronavirus continues to prolongate state-sanctioned quarantines around the world and the complete shutdown of all live music events, musicians around the world have more time than ever to play their favorite instrument whether it’s a drum kit, guitar, bass guitar, or even their voice.
As a way of motivating oneself to really master their instrument of choice during this historic disruption of everyday society, it’s worth remembering that there have been instances when musicians engulfed in the material of their favorite bands were actually given the chance to audition and live out their fantasies. The chances of being asked to join your favorite band or artist is certainly an infrequent opportunity, but it has happened before and might even happen to you someday after the pandemic is over if you spend all this time working on those scales.
Following the first and second pieces of this segment in which we look back at musicians who received the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join their favorite bands, this piece explores such wonderful opportunities that were given to some lucky musicians to join the magical world of the Grateful Dead.
Keith and Donna Godchaux
Keith Godchaux was a classical piano player and his wife, Donna, was a professional session singer. The two shared similar musical tastes. In particular, they were both big fans of the Grateful Dead and would go to their concerts anytime they had a chance. Keith was the first of the two to join the Dead, but it was Donna who helped set things in motion following a Jerry Garcia Band performance in August 1971. A chance post-concert meeting led by Donna—Keith was too nervous to talk to or even look at Jerry—presented the singer to boldly ask Garcia for his home phone number because Keith was his next piano player.
Although the Dead’s co-founding keyboardist and singer, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, was still involved with the group at that time, the band would hire session pianists to do complete keyboard work in the studio—Garcia’s friend and Hooteroll? collaborator Howard Wales played various piano parts on 1970’s American Beauty. Tom Constanten joined the band on lead piano duties from November 1968 until January 1970, and was replaced by Keith Godchaux in October 1971. Donna joined in shortly thereafter to provide added vocals, notably on songs like “Playing in the Band” and “Brown-Eyed Women”.
In his 2015 autobiography, Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams, and Drugs with the Grateful Dead, Bill Kreutzmann explained how he received a phone call after Keith got to the band’s rehearsal.
“Jerry gave me a call telling me to get my ass down to the rehearsal space,” it reads in the 2015 book. “He said there was a guy down there with him that I simply had to hear. Nobody else from the band was around, but almost immediately after I arrived, I knew that Jerry was right – this guy could really play piano.”
The Godchauxs remained in the group throughout the decade before parting ways in February 1979. The two could no longer handle the constant drug use within the band’s scene and the effects it had on their family which, at that point, included. They decided to leave the Grateful Dead and to create their own project, Keith & Donna.
Watch Donna explain how she joined the Grateful Dead in a 2012 interview below.
Donna Jean Godchaux On joining The Grateful Dead, Meeting Keith Godchaux
[Video: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame]
In 1997, two years after Garcia’s death, a band by the name of Dark Star Orchestra began to gain momentum out of the Chicago music scene. The band, which included guitarist John Kadlecik as Garcia’s role, focused on performing select Grateful Dead performances from the band’s vast archive, and became a popular live music option for Deadheads in the years after Jerry’s death.
In the summer of 2009, when relationships between Phil Lesh and drummers Kreutzmann and Hart had reached a bitter low point, a new group was quickly created by Lesh and Weir to be known as Furthur. The band was comprised of Weir’s RatDog bandmates Jay Lane and Jeff Chimenti, drummer Joe Russo, and Kadlecik on lead guitar.
As Selvin mentioned in his book, the recruitment of Kadlecik effectively killed two birds with one stone as it would give Weir and Lesh a talented lead guitarist who was very well versed in the sound and playing style of Garcia on a low budget, while also crippling Dark Star Orchestra as Furthur’s competition for ticket sales within the jam realm–DSO was known for playing well over 100 shows across the country every year. Furthur made their live debut on September 18th, 2009 at the Fox Theater in Oakland, CA, and Kadlecik remains a fixture within the Grateful Dead and jam communities to this day.
Watch Kadlecik discuss how he learned to master Jerry’s playing and the Grateful Dead’s catalog and watch the first set of a 2013 Furthur performance via the videos below.
John Kadlecik Talks Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia
[Video: Jarrett Bellini]
Furthur – Sweetwater Music Hall – 1/16/13
[Video: Couch Tour Captures]
After the Grateful Dead split up following Garcia’s death in 1995, the surviving band members went on to put together a number of semi-reunion concerts and Dead-inspired projects over the next two decades. The driving force of the Dead’s collective musical energy, however, never reached the heights the members once reached with their former leader at the helm on guitar.
Enter pop guitarist John Mayer, who discovered “Althea” from 1980’s Go to Heaven during the 2013 recording sessions for songs that would end up on his Paradise Valley album. According to Joe Selvin‘s 2018 tell-all biography about the band’s post-Jerry era, Mayer became “obsessed” with the Dead’s music by downloading every one of the Dick’s Picks archive albums and studied the band’s music “compulsively.” The producer of the Paradise Valley sessions, Wolf Bros bassist Don Was, introduced Mayer to Bob Weir and Mickey Hart during a chance meeting at the Capitol Tower in Hollywood, CA in early 2015, and a friendship quickly formed.
A month later, when Mayer was guest hosting The Late Late Show in February 2015, he invited Weir to join him in a televised performance of “Althea”. That first collaboration set the foundation for what would become Dead & Company, the Grateful Dead-spinoff group which has since become the most successful touring project for Weir, Hart, and Kreutzman since Garcia’s death. The group initially planned to do only one show at Madison Square Garden for Halloween in 2015, but have since gone on to continue with annual summer stadium tours with added winter, spring, or fall runs also sprinkled into the calendar every year.
Watch Mayer and Weir discuss their two worlds coming together in a 2016 interview below.
Bob Weir And John Mayer Discuss Dead & Company
[Video: CBS Sunday Morning]
About the Author: Zack Hargrove is a remote editor. His teammates at collegepaperworld.com and essayhelp.org will help you with homework, so you could concentrate on important things you’ve been missing out before the pandemic. You can always find Zack on Twitter @zackhargrovejr.