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Published: 2012/11/16
by Tony Beers

A Conversation with John K

I asked him about his first Grateful Dead experience: “It was a big influence. I saw my first Dead show and it’s, like, you listen to the albums, and the songs are there and even good recordings and good performances, but they sound like classic rock recordings,” he said. “The live show was like cutting edge now … I thought, this is post rock, this is beyond rock and roll, beyond jazz, beyond anything — it’s ‘now’ music! It’s technically, sonically and visually completely cutting edge, and musically they were always striving to be in the moment.”

Asked if he ever made a concerted effort to play like Jerry Garcia in some of his earlier bands, he said that he never intentionally looked at staying within that influence until DSO.

Our conversation turned to the subtleties and source of musical improvisation.

“There is an aspect in improvisation, to me, that’s about the interface of the ‘other world’ with the ‘causal world’ — the fact is, science really has no clue about human volition and where that comes from,” Kadlecik said. “Improvisational music explores these boundaries that a lot of people take for granted. They assume it comes from within themselves, but nobody really knows . . . . It’s a potent space, magical territory. In The Dead vernacular, ‘the music plays the band,’ and that’s a place we’ve all gotten to, wherever it is that that stuff comes from . . . we all get connected to the same source of it.”

I wondered about his current plans with Furthur, the ever-present rumors that Phil Lesh was preparing to step down, and questions surrounding how long he, Phil and Bob Weir plan to play music together.

Kadlecik answered matter-of-factly. “It goes until it doesn’t anymore, which is true for everything in music. Nothing is forever. Phil recently told an interviewer that he and Bob were in agreement that I’m the guy they want to play with for the foreseeable future. That could change tomorrow.

“Musicians don’t wind down. Musicians don’t retire – except once in a while, like Grace Slick [of Jefferson Airplane] (laughs) who had somehow gotten an idea in her head that rock and roll is a game for the young. I believe improvisation is something people get better at with age,” he said. “Whatever you lose in technical dexterity due to age you gain tenfold in taste.”

When not touring with Furthur, Kadlecik devotes himself to his own ensemble, The John K Band (wife Katy plays percussion). Playing original compositions alongside Dead standards, he exudes the same energy, passion and talent that defined DSO and shines in Furthur.

“I get the impression that this band [JKB] is fresh, but not altogether new,” I said. Kadlecik reminded me that his whole career over the last 20 years has been an ongoing process of working on his own songs while contributing to others’ original material. “JKB is really the natural outcome of that progression,” he said. “It’s picking up where Hairball Willie, Wing Nut, and The Mix and DSO left off.”

The interview cemented my instinct that Kadlecik’s career has not reached its zenith yet. A week later, I ran into his friend and photographer, Gabriel Jones, outside a Furthur show near Philadelphia, grinning from ear to ear.

“Tony, Furthur was absolutely amazing tonight; they’re at the top of their game. But I believe The John K Band is the band to watch. I mean, this guy wakes up every day with greatness without even trying! The thing that’s different about John, though, is that he’s not in your face about it. He wouldn’t know the first thing about putting on false airs. And he knows who he is,” Gabriel continued. “John’s solid, know what I mean? See, it’s like this: the dude’s got talent. Everybody knows that — but John’s really cool too, so of course his future is bright.”

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