Melvin Seals’ Garcia Mix
For years, Melvin Seals remained the prinicpal torchbearer of the Jerry Garcia Band's canon. Garcia's longtime keyboard-foil, Seals helped stretch the guitarist's solo musings into the realm of gospel and R&B. And, following Garcia's 1995 passing, Seals made the somewhat controversial decision to continue playing Garcia's repertoire, performing under the moniker JGB. Recently, in an attempt to move away from his traditional Garcia-cover gig, while staying true to Dead-leader's spirit, the keyboardist spearheaded The Mix: a new collective composed of Seals and veteran Bay Area drummer Greg Anton, as well as Dark Star Orchestra guitarist John Kadlecik and bassist Kevin Rosen. Below, Seals discusses The Mix's first studio album, the future of JGB, and why the Jerry Garcia Band's time has finally arrived.
MG- Did you initially conceive The Mix as a tribute act or a vehicle for new material?
MS- The original idea for The Mix was to do originals. John and Kevin spend so much time playing covers in Dark Star, and I've spent so much time with JGB, that we never had a chance to explore our own originals. The Mix gives us a chance to explore a new sound which draws from Garcia. So we kind of pulled from what we knew. But the whole idea is to create something different. We're not walking away from the jamband style, it's just not necessarily the Jerry songs we've done over the years or the covers Jerry had done for a number of years. You get that in Dark Star. You get that in JGB. We didn't need that in The Mix.
MG- Yet a large part of The Mix’s repertoire is based around classic-Garcia covers
MS- When we played our first shows, we didn't have much original material, so we did mostly Jerry songs. Then we got a record deal and it came together kind of quickly. We had a certain window to do the record given John's schedule in Dark Star. We kind of threw the record together really fast. The idea was to come out with some new material along the lines of the Garcia-sound. Last tour, we also did a couple of Grateful Dead songs just for the fun of it. We were playing in the same area, within a 100 mile radius, and if someone came and saw us across the street we didn't want to do the same thing. So we kind of ran out of material [laughs]. Normally, though, we lean towards JGB songs when we play covers.
MG- Was the new material on American Spring composed specifically for The Mix?
MS- We each have two songs on the new record. One of mine, "Something Going Down" could have been for any of my projects. But, because we are working on The Mix, I put it on the album. My band Rhythm Factory is more of instrumental, rhythm and blues type of jamband. The Melvin Seals Band is more pop-R&Bish—-light rock. I played with Garcia for seventeen, eighteen years. Now, I've played with JGB for almost ten years. At this point, I want to do something else. I have so much more music in me than people hear. I kind of want to go out under my own name and give a stab at the things I write. I've always liked a certain amount of light rock with some slight R&B and gospel in my music
I also have two solo records which are about to come out. One, which is on Rainman Records, is going to be released January 25. The other is with Melvin Seal's Rhythm Factory. I am going to go out under my own name after this last JGB tour and start developing my solo career.
MG- Robert Hunter contributes lyrics to several tracks on American Spring. How did he become involved in The Mix’s songwriting process?
MS- Robert Hunter and Greg Anton, our drummer, have done a lot of writing together. Hunter actually wrote the lyrics for two tracks on this record, including the title track.
MG- With The Mix on the road, are you putting JGB on the backburner for the time being?
MS- I have a record I am going to release under the JGB banner. It was recorded in 1999 at the House of Blues in LA. It's a live record. I had a deal with the House of Blues and released one half of it a few years back. I want this new record to be as close in sound, and as natural as possible, so I brought John into the studio. What I did was take all the other guitarists off the album and overdub John. I also brought in a singer who is now working with me in JGB and in put him on the record because he sounds a lot like Jerry. Even though John sounds a lot like Jerry, he sounds even more like him. Then I have Jackie [LaBranch] and Gloria [Jones] on vocals and I play keyboards. This is kind of the last project I am going to release under JGB. Next year is the tenth anniversary of Jerry's death. I've talked to all the original surviving members of the Jerry Garcia Band (Jackie, Gloria, and Dave Kemper) and we are going to all go out together for two or three weeks. Its going to be kind of like a farewell run because we are going to put JGB to rest for a while.
MG- In the Dead-world, one could argue that 2004 is the year of the Jerry Garcia Band.
MS- I think the Jerry Garcia Band's day is about to happen. I was on the phone with the Jerry Garcia Estate the just yesterday. They were telling me all the things they are about to release. They are also going to release a DVD of us from Shoreline, the first DVD of us ever. Then they are going to release everything they can get their hands on.
MG- If you could pick the next volume in the Pure Jerry series, which year would you draw from?
MS- I like the later shows we did. We weren't on all the time, but when we were on it was really great. Within the last five years, there were some genius shows which came out of those tours. Especially in the last three years.
MG- If Garcia had not passed in 1995, do you think the Jerry Garcia Band would have continued at the same pace?
MS- Oh yeah. That year we were going to go on tour and do another studio record. There was something brewing in the Grateful Dead. I think they were going to get ready to take a long rest. They were going to shut it down for a while or take that year off just before he passed. He was going to go out with the Garcia Band for a while.
MG- Your decision to tour under the name JGB has been somewhat controversial.
MS- When Jerry passed, John Kahn was still living. I played with Kahn for two dates in Santa Cruz. It was, of course, called the John Kahn Band and it was advertised that he had the original, surviving members of the Jerry Garcia Band. When word went out, the first show sold out so fast that they added a second. When we played those shows, we did maybe two Jerry Garcia songs. And all night long the audience was asking for these songs we did with Jerry. At first, I thought people wouldn't want to hear those songs without Jerry. Six months after that, John passed. At that point, I was the longest surviving member of the band so I was going to put a band together called Tribute. But promoters said, "If you call it Tribute, you are going to have to do too much explaining." But with JGB, they would immediately know who we were. So we went out as JGB. Later on, because of the success, we started to get a bit of backlash. I guess that means it was working.
MG- Do you think Jerry would approve of all the Dead-related packages touring the country?
MS- A reporter once asked Jerry, "what did you think will happen when you're no longer here." He said, "God, I'd love the music to continue on. It shouldn't die with me. We didn't come this far for it do that." When I heard that it kicked me into gear. After he passed, the Grateful Dead decided not to work anymore. Bob Weir went out and totally changed his style and Mickey Hart did the drum world. So, basically, everyone from the camp initially did the opposite of what he wanted. I remembered what John Kahn did and how folks reacted and I said, "I know we would be happy that the music lived ."