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Guitarist goes from tribute band to playing with Grateful Dead founders - Ocean City Sentinel: Arts & Entertainment

Guitarist goes from tribute band to playing with Grateful Dead founders

John Kadlecik says he and Furthur, in Atlantic City April 27, not just about nostalgia

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Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 1:00 am

Lead guitarist/vocalist John Kadlecik and Furthur are not content with being a nostalgia act or cover band.

Formed in 2009 by founding Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, the band is writing its own legacy while honoring its roots and keeping the Deadheads happy.

As Furthur begins its spring tour, Kadlecik spoke with the Sentinel about his musical background, the dynamic of playing in Furthur, and what may be ahead for the band.

Starting Monday, Furthur began a nine-show run at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y. before coming to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City April 27. (Tickets are still available.)

“I’m very excited,” Kadlecik said of the tour. “It’s always great to get out on the road and play, especially with this gang. We’re probably going to mix it up between the classic stuff that everybody loves – I’m guessing there’ll be some new stuff, some of the original material that Bob and Phil wrote since Furthur began – along with some classic Grateful Dead.”

In addition to the classic Grateful Dead songs, Furthur has about ten original tracks written by Lesh, Weir, and longtime Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. They also play an eclectic mix of cover songs that the Dead never played.

“It’s mostly Bob and Phil making the decisions,” Kadlecik said about the set lists. “We all get to make input but they come in with the big ideas like when we did the entire “Abbey Road” album. We hammer out the arrangements collectively with direction from whoever brought in the song making the final call.

“This is Bob and Phil’s band. They give us a lot of room to play and they expect us to step up in the live moment, but as far as the direction the band is going, it’s their baby.”

Kadlecik became immersed in the music of the Dead in high school and started playing their songs at the age of 19.

He said the idea of being in a band with Lesh and Weir was “far-fetched” when he began playing Grateful Dead songs.

“I was boldly telling the authority figures in my life where they could stick their ideas of standard American Dream success and did my own thing to play music. I really jumped in whole-heartedly as a lifestyle. So I was hoping it was going to work out,” he said with a laugh. “I forsook a number of much more lucrative career possibilities, and less risky. But it is pretty surreal to see it all come together.”

The guitarist spoke of the magnitude he has felt at times playing music that is widely loved and associated with the memory of the late Jerry Garcia.

“The most challenged I ever felt singing and playing a Garcia song was in Eugene, Ore. with Mountain Girl (Garcia’s former wife) standing in the front row,” he said. “I guess the only time my palms sweat is before playing ‘Ripple.’

“But with Furthur it’s more the challenge of getting over the old forms. I want to be up to date; whatever version we’re playing is the version of now, whether it celebrates a past version or completely disregards that.”

Kadlecik was a founding member of Dark Star Orchestra, a Grateful Dead tribute band. He toured with the Dark Star for 12 years, recreating Dead shows in their entirety before joining Furthur.

“Honestly, in many ways I was kind of ready,” he said. “I didn’t start [DSO] intending to launch a business or a career. We started it just to see if we could do it. We were all guys, at the beginning, who were already full-time musicians – not necessarily crazy successful, but I think we were all doing better than flipping burgers playing music full-time.

“We just did it as a Tuesday night house band and it just blew up so fast. It went through a lot of changes. But in many ways I was ready to do something else. Dark Star Orchestra is the only band I’ve been in that didn’t play original music. It was a side project that we started for fun that took off.”

Kadlecik said it was a central part of Furthur to be an original band, not just playing the same songs the same way.

“I think they called on me just because I already knew the songs and they thought it would be easier to get me to adapt to new things than to try to get somebody going from outside. Like (drummer) Joe Russo, he has done an amazing job. He came in not knowing a whole lot of it and now he knows like 300 songs so they have a nice balance.

“We’ve got (keyboardist) Jeff Chimenti who they’ve already worked with for ten years, they got me who I’ve already done my own work with it but in a separate context, and Joe who’s done amazing work in the jam band scene. So it’s a cool concept. Me, Jeff, and Joe have a lot of differing jazz backgrounds, so in a way it’s like being in a post-graduate independent study program.

“It came together pretty naturally,” he said. “There are certain things you can’t hurry. You can’t hurry the growing, the subliminal communication that happens in an improvisational musical group. There’s just no way of forcing it but to get out there and play. I think that accounts for getting tighter and tighter so we operate more as a unit even though we have no idea where we’re going.”

Kadlecik said he was “a big admirer” of Bob Weir’s playing style as much as Jerry’s.

“With DSO I played exclusively Garcia parts, but in every other band I was in that played Grateful Dead, we’d mix up the Jerry and Bobby parts. Bobby is very much, I think, underrated as a guitar player. He doesn’t indulge in what we call ‘flash and trash’ at all. When he goes for a solo, he really wants to go for the ceiling.

“I hear the work he did analyzing McCoy Tyner, the keyboard player in the John Coltrane Quintet,” Kadlecik said. “Bob spent a lot of time analyzing what he was doing with his left hand in that band to get his ideas for how to play rhythm guitar in the Grateful Dead. Jerry, Bob and Phil were quite the melodic improvisational unit.”

He first saw the Grateful Dead in 1989.

He remembers thinking, “This is the best combination of musicians, repertoire, sound, and lights that I’ve ever seen. The whole show, the whole presentation, being able to take a spontaneous thing to 15,000 people and get most of them dancing to it – it just knocked me over.”

Kadlecik said he tries not to have any expectations about playing favorite songs “because then if I don’t get there I’m disappointed and it might make me miss an opportunity to take something else to the next level.

“It’s nice being ready for something when it rolls through but it’s also nice to be surprised when something rolls up. So I try not to have any favorites. I try to be open to any song so that any song that night could be ‘the song.’”

Furthur, featuring Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, is scheduled to play at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 27 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

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