Dead Again band pays tribute to the Grateful Dead

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Within the vast and complex world of Grateful Dead fandom, there are tribute bands that recreate the group’s past shows in their entirety, including the mistakes. Petaluma’s Dead Again is not among them but, says bassist Don Pasewark,

“We might do a show of just the mistakes,” quipped Don Pasewark, bass player for Petaluma’s Dead Again, a Grateful Dead tribute band.

Joking aside, Dead Again is not interested in meticulous recreations of past performances, devoted instead to mixing the interpretations and improvisations of six dedicated Dead disciples. When asked for a preferred term for the group — tribute? cover? — Pasewark suggested “artisanal Dead band.”

“I personally love to make people dance, and when the music is right and the groove is right, everyone gets up and dances. Our band can do that for people,” said Jim Koblick, the band’s drummer.

That’s what Koblick is hoping for Sunday, when Dead Again opens for David Gans and Broken Angels, another artisanal Grateful Dead band, at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma.

Two back-to-back Dead-inspired bands may sound excessive, but The Broken Angels will feature original songs by Gans. Besides, the Grateful Dead has a hefty catalog, and chances are slim that both bands will play the same selection. Even if they did, it would be an opportunity for fans to compare interpretations.

“This audience won’t care,” said Dead Again singer and keyboard player David Dodd, who is collection manager for the Sonoma County Library and who got the Mystic gig by asking Gans if he needed an opening band.

“Yeah, if we play 40-minutes, what’s that — one song?” said rhythm guitarist and vocalist John Bedell, a nod to the prodigious length of some songs the Grateful Dead performed live.

As author of “The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics,” Dodd, Collection Manager for the Sonoma County Library, is a valued source in the Deadhead community.

“I am quite fond of David Dodd as a human being and as a fellow illuminator of Grateful Dead literature,” Gans of Broken Angels said. “I first encountered him through his Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics web site, a wonderful resource. I’ve always found him a pleasant and positive influence on the discourse, regardless of the topic.”

If Dodd is the expert on lyrics, then Bedell’s expertise is “Seinfeld” references. Pasewark, a graphic designer at The Press Democrat, claims quality men’s haberdashery as his area of expertise. And the spiritual leader of the band?

“That would be Will Eichert, because where he leads we follow, he brings everyone into focus,” Bedell said., who had this to add about Koblick: “I love Jim’s playing. He very fluid and dynamic, and he surprises me with new nuances all the time.”

Every Saturday since February, they’ve met in an east Petaluma garage to play for four hours, coming from as far as Occidental for lead guitarist Eichert, Sacramento for songer and harmonica player Frank Munz, Santa Rosa for Bedell, Novato for Koblick and West Petaluma for Dodd.

The garage belongs to Pasewark and is decorated with amps, mounds of laundry and, according to Bedell, “that nice Oriental rug, until we came in and ruined it with our muddy shoes.”

Unlike other bands of similar size, this was a spontaneous formation: all six have been in the band from the start. Having played together previously, including in a Bob Dylan tribute band, Bedell and Pasewark sought out the others.

“Don and I reconnected after about eight months on different projects and life demands, and we were craving jamming the hell outta some Grateful Dead tunes,” Bedell said. “So Don made some phone calls to Jim, Frank and David, and I got in touch with Will, and we sorta made magic the first time we collaborated. It’s been a real nice realm of open interpretation of each other’s take and energy within our own Grateful Dead experiences. It’s pretty special.” Pasewark met Dodd in 2015 after years of communicating online.

“David knew me as one of the artists for Dupree’s Diamond News, a popular Grateful Dead Fanzine in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” Pasewark said. “I think the band works so well is because most of us were friends before and are cut from the same cloth. We are similar in age, have the same views on most things and like to hang out with each other. Our rehearsals really are about recharging the battery after a typical week of life stresses.”

Munz, who is regarded as the blues guy, goes back with Pasewark as far as high school in Yonkers.

“I first started getting heavily into the blues in the late ‘80s. Since that time, I developed my style as a Chicago-Texas style blues harmonica player and singer,” said Munz.

Dead Again has played for a handful of gatherings, but the Mystic show will be the group’s first time before a large theater audience.

Eichert said he discovered the ‘60s music scene in 1979 through the writings of Ken Kesey and Tom Wolfe.

“I was blown away watching them and their audience explore songs rather than just perform them,” he said. “It was more than music because of that. In Dead Again, those are the areas we look for, because at that point we’re not a just a cover band. We’re exploring the unknown with four or five other guys.”

Sandy Moran is a freelance writer living in Santa Rosa.

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