Donna Jean Godchaux MacKay was born to sing, and over the course of time she's done so with people like Elvis Presley, Percy Sledge, Boz Scaggs, and Jerry Garcia. Now she has a new band that she's quite certain is on a creative par with anything she's ever done. "This band is a perfect fit for me as a singer/songwriter," she said recently, "and I hope to be doing this for a long time to come. We're having so much fun with this music!" The Grateful Dead alumna has joined up with six members of the next musical generation – Mookie Siegel (David Nelson Band; formerly Phil & Friends, RatDog), Wendy Lanter (Hope in Time), and Jeff Mattson, Tom Circosta, Klyph Black and Dave Diamond (Zen Tricksters) to form Donna Jean and the Tricksters. Look out!
Things have come full circle and anything's possible. Oh, sure, they're gonna jam. But the band has seven vocalists and an incredible array of songwriting talent, and DJ&tT is going to make waves in ways you'd never anticipate. Born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Donna Jean was a vocalist at both Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and Fame Studios, home of the legendary "Muscle Shoals Sound," on records like Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds," Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves a Woman," and Boz Scagg's eponymous first solo album. She moved to San Francisco, married Keith Godchaux, and spent the 1970s as a vocalist in the Grateful Dead as well as the Jerry Garcia Band. After life with the Dead, she and Keith created the Heart of Gold Band with drummer Greg Anton.
Following various side trips, she resumed serious focus on her singing in the '90s, recording a new Heart of Gold Band album, At the Table, and singing with Phil & Friends and her own Donna Jean Band. But it was at a benefit concert for the Dead's Rex Foundation in 2006, The Black Tie-Dyed Ball, that she bonded with the Tricksters and decided that she'd found her future. The Zen Tricksters began on Long Island in the early 1980s. Lead by guitar wizard Jeff Mattson, the ZT have played for more than 20 years, establishing records at the legendary Wetlands Preserve and taking part in every Gathering of the Vibes. With Klyph Black on funky, blues-based bass and vocals (and slide and dobro), Tom Circosta on rhythm guitar and vocals, and Dave Diamond on drums, percussion, and vocals, the ZT rapidly became known as the best Dead-oriented band around – and a great deal more. After a substantial career doing session work, Wendy Lanter joined with Tom Circosta to create the band Hope in Time as a platform for their original music. She is a fabulous vocalist, adding angelic harmonies to Donna Jean's work. Finally, Mookie Siegel (keyboards and vocals) emerged from Baltimore in the '80s to become a member of such bands as the David Nelson (New Riders of the Purple Sage) Band, Bob Weir's RatDog, and Phil Lesh & Friends.
Yet this band – a felicitous combination of experience and youth, with skills that cross all musical genres and defy category – is a great deal more than even the sum of its parts. Something happened when they met – and DJ&tT is now (3/07) going into the studio to show you what that was.
Donna Jean & the Trickters new CD, HGR 129, streets on January 28th. The CD is disributed by DIG Music (part of the Rykodisc network) to your cool local neighborhood record store, so go check it out!