I was in JGB, got sober, and settled back in Denver, although I did spend 1998 to 2014 in Arizona and I still play in Xtra Ticket with my brothers and G.D. musicians in the band. I’m replaceable. I believe sometimes they’ll hire somebody if they need to. But I do my best to make as many shows as possible. But I really love Steely Dead, too.
I was in high school and so that would have been in the late 80s; and I had some friends who were really into classic rock and they would always have—my friend had a cool muscle car, like a Chevelle Super Sport, Chevy, and they would always play, you know, Bad Company and Heart and all those; and one day he popped in Steely Dan and I fell in love. So that was my introduction and I really didn’t start collecting all of the Steely Dan, their first seven albums—I didn’t really start falling into that until, I want to say, probably about twenty years ago.
So high school was my introduction, but then I really filled in when I hit my thirties. I have seen them live, but, unfortunately, not with Walter Becker. So I’ve just seem them twice recently in the past few years with Donald Fagen only; but they were really great shows. So I was really impressed.
I really love, believe it or not, I really like some of the studio recorded albums; and, of course, Steely Dan studio albums just stand out as works of art. They’re really wonderful to listen to. Especially on a nice system. I’m a novice producer and engineer and I do a lot of recording here at my house, so I always look to Steely Dan as this very high benchmark and I know I’ll never reach it; but I have studied how they—for me, really, Steely Dan has recorded music that to me sounds really well done. When I learned Grateful Dead music, it was that I learned the parts and there were definitely many licks to chase after, many things, but you didn’t have to put something in its right place at the right time necessarily all the time. With Steely Dan music, you know, I realized that I’ve never really tried learning anything note for note. And after a year of working, it really opened up my ears, so now when Steely Dead, when we approach Steely Dan music, we have done our very best to get the note for note part. However, we like to inject some of the freedom of the Grateful Dead inside the Steely Dan music.
I always believe there is work to be done on all fronts, but I have really enjoyed taking some liberties with Steely Dan music, especially in an area that might be a section of a song that just fades out on an album. Obviously, Steely Dan live, they really jam it out and kind of do their thing; but when we get to that section of the Steely Dan song, I tend to really kind of—sometimes I’ll jump in there with kind of a Jerry Garcia mindset of, all right, what would Jerry do if he covered Steely Dan; and jamming out the end of a tune, you know, and sometimes I’ll do some different things and maybe use some specific Jerry Garcia style guitar effects like a Mutron where you think, wow, that doesn’t belong in a Steely Dan song. We just kind of cross pollinate a lot of that stuff, and we found that it’s incredibly compatible. It’s really good fun and we find that the audience for the most part really likes the fact that we’ve taken some risks with it, instead of being a kind of a rigid tribute, so its super exciting to do.
Our keyboard player, Dylan Teifer, is the youngest kid in the band, but he’s a bigtime Steely Dan enthusiast and he’s been playing Jerry Garcia Band and Grateful Dead stuff with me for probably the last seven years here in Colorado.
So Dylan really was like, hey, we should do some Steely Dan and I thought, I know “Reelin’ in the Years” and I know “Hey 19,” and I’ve done these with bands in the past, so it wouldn’t be the first time I played Steely Dan; but we started messing around and really the inception of the band came from a song combination that we still do and it is—we’ll play “Reelin’ in the Years”—or no, we start with “Deal” and then we move “Deal “into “Reelin’ in the Years” and quite surprisingly they’re in the same key and they have the same shuffle and they really fit together really well, so we started joking around and calling it “Dealin’ in the Years.”
Kind of a tongue and cheek thing. We have our “Dealin’ in the Years,” next, then, “Truckin’” and “Black Friday” came together. So now we can put these songs together too. And so doing some random gigs with other bands and we started blending songs that way that just kind of really worked and then then, of course, we were like, wow, we got to name a band that’s Steely Dan, Grateful Dead Band so we thought of “Steel Your Dan” and we realized Steely Dead might be the lowest common denominator style name. I’m sure you look at the name and understand what that might be.
In the beginning of 2019 we just started, you know, probably averaging about two gigs to three gigs a month. And then we started picking up some better bookings and were playing the Fox Theater in Boulder and then we got some good videos of the band and get some decent records, and that really worked out well; and we have some people that travel with us who exclusively record us. My friend Chris Hect, who is a taper, he’s done the Grateful Dead for many years; and, anyway, he started putting us up on his LTP site and people started downloading it, so it just started kind of catching on and then we went to California, we did Terrapin Crossroads in 2020 right before the pandemic and so we were on our way to booking tours and doing the whole thing. Then we took a few months off.
The Pandemic crept in on us. I had some gigs on the books that I was discussing with some musician friends of mine in March, it was probably a week after the initial shutdown and I was talking to a buddy and he’s like, we’ll probably be gigging in May; and I was like, no. This is May of 2020. I’m pretty sure not. I’m pretty sure this will not just go away and the first time I kind of spoke the words of, this will probably be a year and a half…and I got some really great insight from my father who is a journalist and he gave me the scoop about pandemics and how they work so I got some really good headsup information. He was right about most of it.
It wasn’t a huge loss for me, because I work in satellite communications so my brother and I held on to our jobs and we worked as a skeleton crew throughout the pandemic and maybe lost a few hours or whatever; but I was able to stay afloat and what I ended up doing is turning my downstairs studio into a streaming facility, so we just started streaming. I did March, April, May and up to about June; and then once we were streaming and everyone else was streaming, I was like, well, that’s a lot of streaming, so let’s back away from that and we did some outdoor gigs last summer in Denver and that was fine.
I missed playing, of course. You know, there was a lot that I missed; but since I’ve been playing for so many years without much of a break, I was grateful to have that 15 months. I thought it was kind of nice. You know, I was like you know, this might be the longest break I’ll ever get.
But it’s good to be back out and doing some gigs and especially as of recently (May 2021), you know, in Colorado I think they dropped most mask restrictions if you are vaccinated; and, yada, yada, yada and that’s been really interesting. You know, who knows where all that’s going to go. You know, we’ll find out. It’s all one big experiment. I’m a willing participant.
I’m looking forward to playing in Ventura. I played there with Xtra Ticket, and I really had fun. You know? I think I’ll make sure not to wear my black shoes, my brown hiking boots maybe. (The bowl can get dusty). But, everything else was great. I really loved it. And I know Chris the guy who put it together and he’s the sweetest guy. Immediately it was a really nice homecoming. You know, it’s really cool to see so many people that I had played with or had played for and I was very much wanting to make sure that we were able to—I was telling my band mates we really got to do this and nobody would say no. This is a really great idea. This is a very who’s who of the Grateful Dead scene from, you know, Arizona over to the coast.
Steely Dead played right before the lockdown. We were the last band to play Terrapin Crossroads before everything locked down. Or if we weren’t the last band we were pretty darn close. And we came home from the trip and that I want to say that was in March of 2020. When everything started shutting down, I looked at my calendar like, oh, I have gigs coming up in a month or a couple of weeks and we knew it was just one of those things. I got on the phone with my dad, who is a journalist and an above-average-intelligence individual and I started talking to him and I was like so what do you think? Is this going to blow over or—and my dad is like you better hunker down for the next five years, is what he said and he was on the money.
He’s like at least for the—foreseeable one year, and if we don’t develop a vaccine, he was thinking the vaccine would be on a twoyear timeline, but you know I don’t know if he predicted it would be politicized. And I don’t think he predicted we would be dragging this thing out because we’re waiting on everyone else to get with the program. So my dad gave me the three to five year thing. It wasn’t that everything was going to be locked down, but that your whole life is going to be different from here on out, the way you do things. And he said that the best thing you can do is get the most information that you can get, credible information. As long as vaccination is politicized and you’ve got a bunch of people saying no, it’s going to continue, because it’s going to have people to feast on. And it will continue to make newer versions of itself. Definitely not an update you want to agree to.
My brother and I—my brother is the bass player for Steely Dead—so we live together, we have a studio here at the house in Littleton. He’s very analytical and data driven so he would look at the World Health Meter or the World Meter and so we just kind of kept an eye on that. After it was shut down I had no idea if I would even be doing summer gigs last year in 2020. Colorado didn’t really open up, but we were doing some outdoor masked venues which worked, you know. At the time we were doing it I didn’t know if it was a smart idea or not. Now we know masks do work and it does cut down the transmission and people have to have a life too, you know, so that we were kind of planning that last year. We were doing some very small backyard parties, like fifteen people mostly, everyone masked. At the time we were doing it I really didn’t know if we were doing the right—it felt irresponsible still.
By the end of March 2020, we knew we were in for it. And it took me a lot of convincing other people that I currently play with on either Xtra Ticket or Steely Dead, but talking with other musicians, ‘Oh we should be back to normal by May,’ that it was just the media trying to control us or whatever. I think the media has other things to do than control.
We really kind of reclamped down in the fall. I think I want to say from like Halloween to spring, I don’t think that we did a whole heck of a lot of gigging and we got offered a lot. There were venues in Denver that were definitely open and it was a masked thing. They were a lot of venues in Colorado open at partial capacity so if a place held a hundred people I think you were allowed to have maybe 40 people or something. You know it probably wasn’t such a bad thing until the Delta variant come around, right? In my mind I’m thinking if we could just get the whole world, everyone in the world, to just take a break for two weeks, the virus would run out of hosts. I got my vaccination as soon as I could, and I highly recommend anyone who has any questions to look at the data. Look at who’s dying right now. It’s unvaccinated people. And if that’s not a good enough reason, then you know, God help you. I didn’t lose anyone personally. I mean work associates that, you know I had never met who worked in the same place—my brother and I work in satellite communication and so you know we have heard of people, but I don’t know one directly.
Musically, we took advantage of the studio at my house. I set it up for streaming before the end of March 2020. And so we were doing the Mr. Big Bear Stream Cast and we were probably some of the first people to bring an actual band out with multi cameras and the whole deal. I mean, we went crazy. What we did, it was my brother, myself, and our drummer, Chris. And we told Chris that he had to move into the house and a room. The only place he was going was from our house to his house. No contact with anyone else. We set up our little jam studio with cameras and we actually got the tape measure out and made sure we were six feet apart from each other. We would actually name the episodes so on YouTube we have this sort of alter ego thing as Mr. Big Bear and Mr. Big Bear is actually my business name, so if someone’s writing a check for any of the bands I’m in I make them write the check to Mr. Big Bear. People that work for me get a check from Mr. Big Bear. It’s kind of a cute thing that we came up with.
But Mr. Big Bear Stream Cast just sort of—I think we did forty some odd episodes at an average of ninety minutes to two hours of playing, making jokes, talking with people about the pandemic. It was a musically hosted talk show and we were just sort of thing that. We had so many episodes. I this thing on the internet called Restream and I started syndicating our show and we picked up a lot of viewers. We sold a lot of shirts even though we weren’t live. Then we cut all the songs up and built new shows. A threepiece band can only be so exciting. We were doing Grateful Dead, JGB, originals, and Steely Dan and just kind of whatever and we were doing it with upright bass, sometimes electric bass, acoustic, and drums. We stopped when we had exhausted the material and as we started like working on new material and trying to make the show better, the viewership just declined because of all the other people who were streaming. It had nothing to do with us or the quality that we were putting out. We were just swimming in a much larger pond at that point. But in the beginning we definitely had some—our first couple streams just through our personal pages we were getting two, three hundred viewers.
So we decided at that point to back away from the streams. Let’s do some outdoor stuff and then that we started plotting some Steely Dead ideas and tour and stuff, you know, for way far in the future. Then I started doing streams with my brother, acoustic streams, and it was really interesting. There was sort of a style of streaming that I wanted to get into. We bought a green screen and we got like the cool fractal background. We did “If I Had a World to Give” and I built this like really neat backdrop. And before we plugged the guitar in I really wanted to do it like the old bluegrass guys where we put one mic in the room and we just play the mic. We stand in the spot we need to stand. We had ear buds. We could hear the product going out. We put our little inear monitors in and we could hear what was going on and move around and get the sound just right. So we started doing streams like that and doing video production like that. And I ended up doing another probably twenty streams solo acoustic where I was just burning through tunes I hadn’t played in years, and I was doing some different artists, like Jim Page, a folk artist from Portland. I was doing some String Cheese Incident stuff that worked—I was actually using a nylon string guitar and it just sounded so pure and so fun and I just had so much fun doing that, so I really kind of used the stream to stay connected with people. You shake your moneymaker out on a stream; but at that point my brother and I had night jobs or day jobs and I didn’t care. I wasn’t looking at the stream at a revenue level. I just figured I was successful if anyone watched, if anyone’s watching at all it’s a success. And then in April (2021) we began playing in public again.
We went to California and played on Mare Island for Mr. Hat, and did two shows for Scott Holbrook in Auburn. We were supposed to go on to two more shows in Felton, but they had to cancel shows because a band passing through had a breakout. On our way out to California in our RV, I get the call that two of the four shows we had booked out there were cancelled. So we called some friends and said, hey, you know we lost some gigs and we had an angel benefactor who hired us to play at Lupin Lodge the nudist community out by Santa Cruz and we got there and we set up our equipment and we kept our clothes on. Then we do the regular gig that we’re supposed to do on Saturday. Then Sunday we did a Very Jerry Thing in a little tiny bar just south of San Francisco. That tour was on track to be a disaster. and it was just a miracle network of people we know that saved it. You know, we did okay. And then we did a couple more tours with Steely Dead. We did some ski town in Colorado. Worked out great. We did Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Salt Lake City, Grand Junction. That was kind of neat.
And this last tour, I’m going to give you the rundown on the tour from hell but we pulled it off, it was amazing. We just did nine dates. I just got back home from this tour and we did two dates in Oklahoma, so it was Tulsa, Oklahoma City. Then we were going to Texas. So Dallas, Kerrville, and Dale, Texas. Now, fortunately, the Texas rooms were owned and operated by people who care. They were masked events with limited capacity, so as crazy as Texas is, the people who lived there who were part of the community they’re great. Anyway, we do the first five shows. Everything is going great. The second leg of this tour is Tucson, Phoenix, LA, and Las Vegas, and then we’re going to take the RV home. Well on our way out of Dallas we had a tire blow. And that’s not a big deal in an RV, you know, but the tire blows—we have two days to get to Tucson. The tire blowing rips the fill tube where you put the gas in. There is a tube that goes from the gas tank and just rips it right out. We get the tire fixed, and my brother fixes the gas tube, and we have to fill up the gas, and it leaks right out. My brother repairs it again the next day, it held up and it’s fine. Three hundred more miles down the road another tire blows. And it’s hot. It’s Texas. We probably shouldn’t have been going 75 or 80. Should probably have gone 65 and we were not thinking that part through and come to figure out the tires we were riding on were old because this RV we bought was pretty much pristine but it had been sitting in the garage for years and even though it looked good, any tire that’s over five years old is just not good.
Especially for an RV. So 300 miles down the road another tire blows. This time the tire rips the exhaust out. It pull the exhaust down on the drive shaft, and we don’t know any of this. We just get the tire fixed and we knew the exhaust was screwed up, but we were like going down the road like (descriptive noise) and we’re like uhoh. So we’re stuck in Van Horn, Texas of all places, right, Van Horn. It’s Wednesday and we have a gig Thursday in Tucson. They have to take a part out and send it to El Paso to get it fixed. So do we cancel the next four shows and just wait here in Van Horn, Texas, that was an option. After we spent about four hours in Van Horn, Texas, we’re like we got to get out of here. There’s no U-Haul, no car rental, no Ubere, no Lyft in Van Horn. So we sent our keyboard player, Dylan, to El Paso on a Greyhound bus. He picks up a rental van and he comes back and gets us. It’s not a rental van, it’s a rental Ford Explorer. So we fit whatever we can fit in the Ford Explorer and we race to our gig on Thursday—this is all happening on Thursday; and we got to our Tucson gig, and we made it. We made our gig, and we’re like all right.
Well, our Tucson gig was just terrible. It was a terrible turnout. The sound was the worst sound I ever played on in my life, and I’m just thinking to myself, I’m like, how did I just spend all this energy to get to this gig, and then it’s just the worst gig ever. Okay, Phoenix will be much better. It will be so much better. We get the next day we drive to Phoenix and get to Phoenix and the sound guy is like, you guys, you’re not going to believe this. Someone came to our club last night and in the middle of the night cut the power going into the building and so we have no power. They basically cut the power so they can steal all the copper wire so they can buy meth or whatever. Whatever you do in Phoenix when you’re running around at four in the morning. I don’t know. So there’s no power to this thing. We’re looking at canceling the Phoenix show. The owner Brandon, comes and says no. We’re going to make this show happen. And they run power from the annex building which is the back stage to their patio. They built a stage. They moved all their sound out. We did a heater of a show. Great turnout. We’re talking like a 102 degrees at night. We did two big sets and we finished the Phoenix show and we’re like LA is going to be better, and it was. We get to LA and it was a great show. Then we did the Vegas show. It was great. So what I ended up having to do is fly the band home, and my brother and I took the rental car back to El Paso and picked up a UHaul. Oh, mind you, on the way to El Paso we bought four tires for the RV so we’re riding in a rental car with all these tires and then we get to El Paso and nonetheless I just got home like yesterday. And we’re actually leaving to go to Omaha, Nebraska, Lexington Kentucky, Greensboro and Charleston so is it Charleston? Yes. So we got another run of shows—oh, and Asheville. We’re going to do Asheville as well, and we also know this is it. This is the last run of shows where we can do these little outdoor events and winter is coming and it’s time to retool. So I’m planning on doing streams this year with the full band now that we’re all vaccinated. I’ll have everyone come over the house. We’ll probably be doing Steely Dead streams and stuff like that.