I started college in ‘79 and in 1980 moved from Arizona to Colorado for a summer job working for my older brother. All the people there were Deadheads and they turned me on to the Grateful Dead and their music. They also had guitars lying around so I picked up a guitar and started messing around with it. In 1981, I went back to the same job and they took me to my first Dead show, July 13, 1981, at McNichols Arena.
The first song was “Feel Like a Stranger”, and that was a pretty apt introduction to this whole trip. I didn’t know what the heck to make of the scene but had a great time. The show ended with “Satisfaction” and Bobby made a big impression with his rock star antics. It wasn’t until 1982 that I really “got it” and understood what was going on between the band and the audience at the shows, with the free-form spontaneity of the jams and all that. By 1984 I discovered, hey, I can actually travel and go see these shows, so I started going to California regularly from Arizona. By that time I was hooked and saw tons of shows through the ‘80’s and ‘90’s in California and throughout the West.
I started Xtra Ticket with a guy named Don Young. Don was a very accomplished guitarist, steel player and songwriter from Kansas, to this day the best steel player I’ve ever heard. After he moved to Arizona he started a Grateful Dead tribute group called The No Hobo Band. They broke up in the early 90s and I’d already been dabbling around with playing Dead music, so he and I started jamming. We both realized there was no Dead band in Phoenix or even in Arizona that we knew of. So, hey, let’s start a new one. I got the idea for the name from the introductory sequence of the Infrared Roses album and the recording in the lot of all the Heads chanting “Who’s got my Extra?” and “I need an Extra Ticket!”
Our first gig was September 1, 1994. We had a weekly Thursday show at a place called Boston’s in Tempe, and we played that gig right on through to the early 2000s. People were craving to hear Dead music after Jerry passed and those Thursdays were pretty epic. In ‘99, Don left the band. Turned out a guitarist by the name of Dave Hebert had just moved to Arizona and introduced himself at Don’s last show. The following week we spoke on the phone and he rattled off his band credentials and I hired him on the spot, without hearing him play. Turns out my instincts were right and “A’Bear” has been with us ever since. Dave is an incredibly talented guy and dear friend who’s been a huge influence on myself and the band.
In the early days we played the tunes however we felt like playing them—in different keys, or we’d trade off guitar solo,s or whatever. It didn’t really sound too much like the Dead, looking back on it. And that whole thing continued with Dave. Then in 2004 we saw DSO play and we thought, oh my God, look what THESE guys are doing! Here are players recreating this stuff pretty spoton and it was clear to us each guy in the band had a role. You’ve got your Jerry, you’ve got your Bobby, and so on. After that, we thought, why don’t we codify our positions here in Xtra Ticket and work on that? Dave was the better lead player so naturally, he’d be the Jerry, which meant I’d comp him and play the Bobby stuff. We also decided to learn the songs “correctly” ie: in the proper keys, with standard song structures and vocal parts. It’s helped us understand the music a lot better and hopefully we sound better as well.
Being a selftaught player, I learned to play guitar a certain way, so I’ve had to break a lot of habits and basically relearn how to play to emulate Weir as best I can. It’s so completely unconventional and unlike traditional rhythm playing. There are a lot of great “Bobby players” out there who are very accomplished. I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Rob Eaton. He’s really mastered it and in a way has taken Weir’s techniques even further out there. I think a lot of players overlook Bobby’s vocals and that is something else I try and work on. But with Weir’s playing, nothing is standard as far as normal rhythmic patterns, strumming, or chords. Between Jerry and Phil there’s so much happening and Bobby had to carve out his own sound within the music, separate and distinct.
Really, I’m a Dead Head. I wasn’t there for the Summer of Love, but it seemed like most of the San Francisco bands fell by the wayside or moved on to different things. But the Dead were the ones who carried the torch, keeping the flame alive continuously to the present day. The music evolved, the band members matured and the gear got better, but that spark of the Woodstock generation and free-form jam sensibility stayed with them. That’s probably the number one takeaway for me after all these years.
I saw a lot of shows in Ventura and went to every Ventura Dead show from ’84 until the last one, even in ’86 when Jerry fell ill. We were thrilled when Jerry got better and made his triumphant return with the band in December ’86. The New Years run that year at Kaiser Auditorium is something I’ll always remember fondly. But yeah, Ventura, being able to perform this music at Skull & Roses in the same venue where I saw all those great shows has been an absolute thrill and a real honor.
So we played our final pre-pandemic gig in early March of 2020. Dave (A’Bear, also in Xtra Ticket) couldn’t travel from Colorado that particular time so we did a four piece acoustic thing in a local Irish pub. It was about two weeks after that we realized, oh man, this pandemic is really happening and had to scramble to cancel all the gigs we’d lined up. Of course Skull & Roses 2020 was one of those. We really didn’t feel comfortable booking anything for a year and a half and ended up taking about fifteen months off. It actually worked out well for me and my wife because we had just bought a new place which gave us plenty of time to work on the new house. The law of unintended consequences, but it was a positive outcome from a huge negative one. We probably still would be painting and remodeling!
One thing I decided to do – before the pandemic actually – was hire a vocal coach to work on my vocal technique. What was happening at the end of gigs is I’d be really hoarse. Basically I’d been straining my vocal chords and probably not singing correctly for years. I didn’t want to wreck my voice, develop polyps or anything like that so I kept working at it with my vocal coach through the entire pandemic. Still do to this day, actually. Plus I think strong vocals are something which sets a great band apart from just an okay one.
Another thing I wanted to do while we had time off was reassess my own chops, so I’ve been going through a lot of the tunes we play and learning new parts. I don’t want to say I was playing wrong stuff before and it’s perfectly fine to ‘be yourself’ and play with your own style and flair. But as a rhythm player in a Dead tribute band I think it’s pretty important to emulate Weir’s techniques as best you can and I wanted to get out of the habit of playing traditional rhythm as much as possible. So I set out to learn more chord inversions, different picking and strumming techniques, palm muting and other things which in the past I didn’t pay as much attention to. So the goal is to just chip away at it and, hopefully, improve and get better.
I mean nobody is ever going to be Bob Weir or Jerry Garcia. Weir is utterly brilliant and totally unique. I think Jerry once said Weir is the best guitarist because he knows more chords than anyone alive, or something to that effect. Plenty of other players have mastered Weir’s playing really well, like Rob Eaton for example, who just blows my mind every time I see him perform. He is like Weir 2.0. Nate LaPointe from Cubensis is another brilliant Weir player. I’m nowhere near as accomplished as these guys but if I can be 40% of the way there? Or 50%? Hey, I’d settle for that. For me it’s always been kind of a struggle to figure this stuff out. I’m not a trained musician so I’ve had to learn stuff by ear or by watching and talking to other musicians.
Another thing that happened during the pandemic has to do with Andy Logan at The Grateful Guitars Foundation. I’d actually met Andy several years before the pandemic and before the Foundation was a thing. Me and A’Bear were at his place in Woodside checking out his Dead guitars and gear collection and in town for a gig and needed to borrow some gear for the show. I was admiring his wonderful collection of Weir guitars, which included a couple of Modulus BlackKnifes, Weir’s instrument of choice with the Dead through much of the 1980s. I just mentioned offhand that I’d always wanted one but could never find one for sale online or on eBay and if he ever hears of one coming up for sale, please let me know.
A few weeks later I get this call out of the blue from Andy. He says hey, Evan, I talked to Hoeg and I put a down payment on a Blackknife for you. He’s going to build one for you. Wow, thanks Andy, that’s great! The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind that Hoeg could just build one. At that point I assumed I’d be buying it and paying for it—which I was more than willing to do— and that it was so lovely for Andy to get the ball rolling on this. A couple months later I spoke with Hoeg and he asked me how I wanted it made, which style BlackKnife, what pickup configuration, electronics, etc. and then he got started building it. So about a year goes by and Andy called me and said, hey, your guitar is done. I want you to come here and meet Hoeg and we’ll do a presentation and video it and stuff. I guess maybe I’m a bit dense, because at that point I hadn’t realized the guitar was to be a gift from the soon-to-be Grateful Guitars Foundation!
So I was just about to book plane tickets to SF and then the pandemic hit. I said gee, Andy, obviously I can’t fly, do you want to ship it or how do you want to handle this? He said, no, no let’s just wait and see if we can’t get together after this thing blows over. So six months goes by, then a year goes by, then a year and a half goes by, still the pandemic. Finally he said Evan, we’re about to debut the website for the Foundation so let’s ship it to you and we’ll do a Zoom presentation with Hoeg, you and me because I need the footage for the website. The fog finally cleared from my head and it hit me that I was getting the new instrument courtesy of the Foundation! So that happened in May 2021. Long story short, I’ve got the instrument! It’s just a wonderful and beautiful guitar and I can’t thank Andy, Rich Hoeg and the GGF enough for their kindness and generosity. This music scene is a beautiful thing and the foundation is doing wonderful stuff to help perpetuate the music which we all hold so dear and is such an important and beautiful part of our lives.
Our “comeback” show, as we called it, was on May 1st 2021. There were over 300 people in attendance, still largely masked and distanced at that time. Everybody was really hungry for live music. It was also clear to me that everyone in the band had been practicing during their time off. I thought we sounded better than ever. We never rehearse as a band anyway because we all live in different places. A’Bear lives in Denver and the rest of us live in Arizona, but in different far-flung parts of Arizona. So we practice either by email or occasionally with Skype. But everyone really stepped up to plate and we’ve been gigging about once a month or so ever since.
We’re definitely looking forward to Ventura. We played Skull and Roses 2019 and absolutely loved it. What a wonderful event they’ve put together and we are honored to be a part of it. I saw many live Dead shows at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in the 1980’s, so it’s mind blowing to me being here actually playing this music at the same place. Also during the pandemic break A’Bear put together a fantastic group called Steely Dead. He’s been busy with that project as well. They sound amazing and it’s astonishing how well they thread the Dead and Dan songs together. Brilliant stuff.
We’re also really looking forward to our next couple of shows in Phoenix. You of course were involved with the Dead in 1989 when they did those two Warlocks shows in Hampton, Virginia, 10/8/89 and 10/9/89, just legendary shows. I happened to notice that this year 10/8 and 10/9 fall on a Friday and Saturday. Hey now, how convenient! So I called up Dave and said why don’t we book two shows and perform those set lists? So we’re going to do that next month and we’re pretty excited about it. Anyway it’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you and we’ll see you in April!