Live Dead/Riders ’69 Hit the Road in August

Article Contributed by Dennis McNally | Published on Monday, July 2, 2018

The strangest thing happened; Grateful Dead music became its own genre, a language spoken by musicians across the country (and danced to by Dead Heads, same).  Each band plays it its own way, but Live Dead ’69 has certain advantages.

One is that it focuses on the band’s most legendary era, 1969-70, when it was the fulfillment of what psychedelic music could be.  The other is that it features Mark Karan (guitar, 12-year veteran of Bob Weir’s RatDog), Tom Constanten (the only living Grateful Dead-member keyboardist), guitarist extraordinaire Slick Aguilar (David Crosby and very long-time Jefferson Starship veteran), and bassist Robin Sylvester (RatDog).

This tour will reach into 1970, when the Dead began “An Evening with the Grateful Dead” concerts that included their spinoff band, the New Riders of the Purple Sage.  The show will open with the band as New Riders, including Mike Falzarano, a member of the Riders for the past decade and more.  And so we’ll bring you Live Dead & Riders ’69.

More info to come; there will be East Coast dates during “The Days Between.”

Band Bios

Over the years, Mark Karan worked with Dave Mason, Delaney Bramlett, Huey Lewis, Jesse Colin Young, and the Rembrandts before connecting with Bob Weir and settling into the lead guitar slot with RatDog, which would then headline shows at Bonnaroo, the New Orleans Jazzfest, and the Fillmore Auditorium.  He led a very successful long-term residency at Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley, where he’s been joined by Huey Lewis, The Mother Hips, Roy Rogers, and ALO.  His band Mark Karan’s Buds includes Robin Sylvester, Wally Ingram (David Lindley, Eric Burdon), John Molo and J.T. Thomas (Bruce Hornsby) and more.  He says of Live Dead ’69, “We’re not trying to recreate the music of the GD.  Sometimes it sounds similar, and sometimes it sounds quite different.  Slick’s coming out of a different background, the rhythm sections are mutable, and I sing out of an R & B background, so I don’t sing like Jerry.  What we’re doing is honoring and celebrating this music in our own way…and we have fun.”

Tom “T.C.” Constanten met Phil Lesh at an entrance examination to U.C. Berkeley’s music department.  When T.C. remarked of modern Stockhausen-style composition that “Music stopped being created in 1750 but began again in 1950,” Phil knew he had a lifelong pal.  Late in 1968 T.C. ended his military obligations and joined the Grateful Dead, where he spent the next year-plus helping a weird band get much (musically) stranger.  Having studied in Germany with Luciano Berio and Karlheinz Stockhausen among others, he brought some of the methods of the avant-garde to a psychedelic band – wedging coins and other items into piano strings (“prepared piano”), using colored noise he’d prepared in Europe on Anthem of the Sun, and dropping a gyroscope on the piano sounding board…which really woke up their recording engineer.  He was at the heart of that era of the Dead’s music.

Mark “Slick” Aguilar spent the ‘70s as the house guitar player at TK Studios in North Miami, where he recorded with KC & the Sunshine Band and Betty Wright, Benny Lattimore, and Bobby Caldwell, among many others.  After a spell on the road with KC and later Wayne Cochran, he moved to the West Coast, where he joined Buddy Miles’s band, and then in 1982 hooked up with David Crosby.  He says of David, “He taught me how to get out there and be a pro.  I was a kid, and he took me out in the world.  He was really generous to me – he opened up his home in Mill Valley to me.  When you work with him, he’s the sweetest.  And musically, he’s brilliant.”

After a very long career with Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship, and playing with the likes of Carlos Santana and Gregg Allman, he’s landed in Live Dead ’69, and is having a ball.  “I love playing for Dead Heads – they love that music and they all want to dance, which is so cool.  Starship audiences, Crosby’s audiences – they just look at you.  And the Dead Heads all know the lyrics – I mean, young kids know St. Stephen”!  It is the coolest music to play, because you can take it where you want to go.  And working with Mark is great; we’re both lead players, so it’s not like Jerry and Bob, but it’s gotten to the point where we can finish each other’s sentences.  I’ll start it and he finishes it, and vice versa.  Most of the jams, we’re both soloing, but it works because we both listen – you really do have to listen to jam.”

Robin Sylvester grew up in London and began his life in music in the high-level London Boy Singers, chosen by Benjamin Britten, singing at Covent Garden among other prestigious places, while also listening to his local pub band, the Kinks, or other future greats like the Yardbirds with Spencer Davis Group opening, at the legendary Marquee Club, or the Syd Barrett Pink Floyd, at UFO.  He picked up the bass at that time, first acoustic then electric, and his path was set, but first he found work as a recording studio engineer. A 1974 U.S. tour with vocalist Dana Gillespie hooked him on life in the states, and a session with Rory Gallagher at the studio where Workingman’s Dead was recorded brought him to San Francisco, where he settled.  He played with Marty Balin in a couple of bands, toured with Billie Preston, and then partnered with the great sax man Steve Douglas on many, many sessions.  In 2003 he got a phone call, and RatDog had its new bass player, and Robin got to learn what he called in an interview, “the great American songbook, really.  The Hunter and Barlow tunes have so much depth and there are so many ways to play them….”

Working on the Phil & Friends repertory model, Live Dead ’69 has employed a number of drummers.  This tour will feature Joe Chirco.

Joe Chirco knew he wanted to be a drummer from the age of three.  Long Island born and raised, he attended his first G.D. show at Passaic, NJ, then many more at home.  He studied percussion with Charles Perry, who worked with Mickey and Billy on Terrapin Station.  Charles took him to a concert at Nassau and introduced him to M & B, which got Joe a seat behind the drum risers for the show – “It changed everything I thought I knew about drumming.”     An extremely diverse and versatile percussionist, he has played in funk, world beat, reggae, jazz, blues, and jam bands over the years.  In 1997 he joined the Zen Tricksters for a four-year stint, which put him squarely in the G.D. world.  Working with Donna Jean Godchaux and Jeff Mattson took him even deeper.  He’s worked with David Nelson, Mark Karan, Melvin Seals and Terrapin Flyer, and Bob Weir at a benefit.

Tom Constanten will be forced to miss the first shows of the tour, and sitting in on keys will be Scott Guberman.

Scott Guberman grew up on Long Island, seedbed of DeadHeadism, and first encountered the Dead at a 1988 Madison Square Garden concert that, psychedelically aided, rocked his world.  Being a keyboardist, it was Brent Mydland’s brilliant modern touches that caught his attention.  He joined the East Coast G.D. band circuit and eventually played Hammond B-3 with Tom Constanten and then Vince Welnick.  A 2015 visit to Terrapin Crossroads brought him to Phil Lesh’s attention, and he’s become the house keyboardist there and a regular player with Lesh.  He also preforms regularly with Stu Allen, Robin Sylvester and Mark Karan, and just about everyone else in the wider circle around the Bay Area.

Michael Falzarano has been a working guitarist and vocalist for over 45 years, most notably in Hot Tuna, the famed offspring of The Jefferson Airplane, and in the seminal cosmic cowboy Grateful Dead spinoff The New Riders of the Purple Sage.  He also founded the Memphis Pilgrims, a Memphis-style rock ‘n’ roll band in New York City, and has two  current projects, The Englishtown Project and Live Dead & Riders 69.

His third solo recording, We Are All One (Woodstock Records), featured such illustrious guests as Vassar Clements, Melvin Seals, Buddy Cage, Jorma Kaukonen and Garth Hudson.  His most recent release is I Got Blues for Ya (Hypnotation Records/Woodstock Records).  Falzarano has also appeared live or recorded with greats from Bob Weir to Paul Simon to John Lee Hooker to Jesse McReynolds to Pinetop Perkins.  There’s no room for the complete list!