I was born in Saint George, Utah, 1971, but I grew up in Colorado, so I pretty much reside here in Colorado. I started playing guitar when I was 15 years old. That would have been in the 80s, somewhere in the 1980s. My dad was a guitar player and he still is a singer/songwriter, kind of a folk singer, but not known, just just around the house, but he was always great. I wanted to play guitar, because my dad played guitar, so I started playing his guitar. And as far as music that was inspiring me at the time, it was not the Grateful Dead. I was really going through my parents’ album collection, which was more Willy Nelson Allman Brothers, Santana; and so—and just Jimi Hendrix, Cream; like pretty much everything but the Grateful Dead.
That was kind of what I grew up on and kind of got into listening to. I had a brief stint with some hard rock and heavy metal and I had a jazz instructor who instructed me away from that. And so I took jazz choir in high school and my high school jazz choir teacher was a Deadhead. And that was my first hearing of the Grateful Dead. As soon as I left high school, I started to go see the Grateful Dead in Denver in the 90s, you know, early 90s; and so it was pretty much in college. And I have to say that I was pretty sold on the whole thing right away—obviously, the music, but I was really sold on the whole package. I really liked the whole community vibe—I have to say that probably got me in before the music did. It was maybe a year into that or a couple of years into that that I really started delving into what the Grateful Dead was about. And then, of course, you meet people who know much more about it and can kind of fast track you and get you caught up with a nice suitcase of tapes. You know what I mean? That’s kind of how it works.
So here’s something that I always thought was funny, is as a guitarist, before I ever played Grateful Dead music, people would accuse me of playing like Jerry Garcia, and I really didn’t know much about Jerry Garcia. I was playing in a reggae band and I had dreadlocks and this was the early 90s or, you know, late 80s. And what I found out is that I play melodically. I’ve never really been a riff player. I just play the song line. I played, you know, the vocal lines and stuff like that, So, obviously, when I discovered the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia, I was like Oh, I’m home. I found a style of music that’s comfortable for me; or, you know, when I tried—when I played like hard rock or heavy metal music in the mid80s, far before the Grateful Dead, nobody would want me in their band, because I was playing too melodically and playing happy chords and major chords and I wasn’t like dark enough for that kind of music.
I only saw like six Grateful Dead shows. I caught the Las Vegas ’94 run and I caught a McNichols run. But at the time I was in a reggae band backing John Bailey and I was touring, so I really sort of gained a great headway as far as playing live and playing, doing music, so it was a tradeoff. And I don’t really have any regrets for seeing more shows. You know?
1992 to ’98, I did a lot of playing around Colorado with my brother, younger brother. My brother James, he had a band called Brother Kind. We’ve opened for Warren Haynes at Red Rocks. You know, we’re doing all kinds of stuff. And at the time, even after Jerry passed, I took the blue pill, so to speak, and I really went down the rabbit hole for Grateful Dead music. And I think it was about 1999 I happened to find myself in Arizona when I started playing with Xtra Ticket. I was like, ‘Man, there are so many tunes I just want to know and I want to be able to play with people, you know, we can learn them together or they might be able to show me something and maybe I can show them something.’ It was ten years of Grateful Dead study and I really liked doing that. We had a nice little resident gig every Thursday night, drew a lot of people. And it really—you know, everybody had their homework to do every week. That was something I always liked about working with Evan Jones and Extra Ticket is we really always tried to keep learning. You know? So it was good. I was a lot of fun. You know
Dennis: Now, do you and Evan divide it up, one does lead and one does rhythm, or do you swap leads?
When we first got together and we started playing, it was a hodgepodge, a little mismatch. Somewhere at about the mid 2000s, about 2004 or ‘5, we decided to partition the parts to a Jerry/Bob role and that really helped, by the way, because it started showing me how the music actually works together mechanically. When you’re kind of doing both parts—it helps to know both things, but sometimes you just don’t really pay attention to too much detail. I have to say, once we decided to do the rhythm/lead thing, I started to understand the contrapuntal parts that actually work together and why it makes that special sound. So, yeah, that was a big help.
Dennis: As a musician, tell me what makes playing Grateful, in the Grateful Dead world different from, say, playing the reggae world?
Dave: The reggae world was just getting a good grove or keeping a nice vibe thing. You know? And you just can’t really explore too much. The Grateful Dead to me is like jazz—the form of a song is kind of the head of a jazz tune, and it’s, instead of jazz rock, it’s just rock jazz, I guess. So it’s sort of got that vibe in it that allows you to experiment where some music really doesn’t let you do that. The one thing I love most about playing Grateful Dead music is its modal. You can hang on a – ‘Playing in the Band” jam or a ”Terrapin” jam and things can actually shift modally around and all you have to do is listen to what somebody is doing and you kind of follow that along. That’s something I really enjoy. That’s very much in the principles of playing kind of freeform jazz stuff. It’s in that same vein. Now, quite honestly, I spend less time trying to sound like anybody in particular, and I now I really just feel like I’m having more fun taking everything I’ve learned and just going forward with it, because I really find it to be just where I’m finding the true payoff these days is like a giant education.
I recently left Melvin’s band. JGB. I got sober on Jerry’s birthday in 2016. I left JGB for that reason. And not ashamed of it at all. You know? And I was really afraid that I was not going to like the Grateful Dead after I got sober. It was a fear. Oh, man, I just have no idea how I’m going to, you know—this has always been a part of, you know, some sort of mindaltering adventure for me, and, you know, unfortunately, I let it get a little out of control and I had to rein it in. What it means to be a Deadhead for me is that I still love the Grateful Dead dearly, without the mind alterations. I can actually, analytically, hear something and pull it apart far easier now than I could before. That’s what it means to be a Deadhead. It doesn’t matter how old you are or when you liked it or when you started getting into it or what you were on when you got into it or what you’re not on when you still like it. It’s got a consistency to it that’s rich in life, and I’m really glad I got the answer, because I love the Grateful Dead more than I ever have.
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.