Photograph Daniel Guile

I grew up in Virginia, outside of Washington DC. My parents were divorced when I was eight and my dad moved down to Richmond to go to dental school. My brother and I used to take the Trailways bus down to see him on weekends. I moved to Richmond when I was fourteen and went to high school and, after a bit of an adventurous detour, college there. I really loved living in Richmond at that time. It was so different and gritty compared to my previous suburban life. Richmond was a great town in those days.  

I started off with piano lessons when I was little, but they never took. I still remember how to play the Indian War song though…and “Fur Elise.” I’ve been playing guitar since I was thirteen years old. I was really into metal at that time. The first concert I convinced my mom to take me to was Ozzy Osborne in 1982. I was eleven years old and loved Ozzy, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden…real power guitar type music. A couple of years later a friend with a guitar showed me how to play the opening line of “Smoke on the Water”…DUNT DUNT DUNN, DUNT DUNT DUNUN.. That was it for me, I was hooked on guitar but good. 

My mom bought me a Kramer Striker electric and a Peavey Backstage Plus amp and I played my little teenage butt off any chance I could get. And then in 1986 or 1987, so I would have been 16yearsold by that point, I went out and bought my first nice guitar. It was an Ovation acoustic guitar that I think was like 700 or 800 bucks. You know, back in 1987 that was just a ton of money for a 16-year-old. I used to take that guitar with me every day to high school. I was the kid with the ponytail and tie dye walking around with my guitar and I would play in between classes. I slept with it in my bed. I mean, it was just an obsession and it sort of never went away, you know. I still have that guitar. I’ve got a sticker on the case that says:
“Summer Tour 1987, ‘Mama, mama, many worlds I’ve come since I first left home.” 

My stepmother, I would say, is probably the one that first introduced me to the Grateful Dead. When I would be visiting her and my dad I would sit in their apartment in Richmond and just dig through their records. As I mentioned, I was into heavy metal and the Dead had skulls on their records and of course they were called The Grateful Dead. I was thinking “kind of metal maybe”? I can’t remember which album came first but probably the Skull and Roses album and it was not metal at all but it really was so different than anything I’d heard, and it started me down the path. I still have a memory of my father driving me to school, or driving me somewhere in his little car. And I remember I had opened up the Skull & Roses album and it had that message, you know, Dead Heads Unite, Mail Here, blah, blah. I was like, Dad, what is a Dead Head? And he just kind of described it best he could and I was thinking to myself…hmmm, I might just be a Dead Head. But, man, I was hooked already, you know. And it just kept progressing. 

My dad and step mom took me to my first Grateful Dead shows which were the infamous RFK shows in 1986. I graduated high school in 1988 and I was able to see Capital Center shows and Hampton shows in 1987 and 1988 considering I was living in the area. After graduating I was able to start hitting any shows I wanted. My first California shows were at the Forum in February 1989 and my buddy and I took a train from Washington D.C. to LA and it was like Festival Express. Plenty of Dead Heads on that train and it was a party. After that I did tour for a few years between holding down a job. 

Eventually I decided that I should get my shit together (and so did my family), so to speak, but all I wanted to do was play guitar and make music. The Grateful Dead had captivated me and there was a lot of that element of magic and mystery. I was like how the fuck are they doing this, you know? And I wanted to do it. I wanted to feel what it felt like to be enveloped in sound like the way that they must feel and be able to create at that level, so I thought that I’d kill two birds with one stone. 

I let my parents know, hey I’m okay, I’m just a Dead Head and I enrolled in the community college, went there for about a year, transferred out to a conservatory in the mountains of Virginia called Shenandoah Conservatory. It was a real small but beautiful town. The home of Patsy Cline. And my roommate and I were both Dead Head musicians and we both came there from Virginia and decided that this wasn’t for us. So we decided that we were going to go to the city. The day I heard Jerry Garcia died I was still over there at Shenandoah Conservatory, so that would have been ’95. And we packed up and moved to Richmond to attend VCU. 

I was a jazz studies major. I learned a lot and played a lot of jazz and progressive rock type music. I lived with other musicians and we formed a progressive rock power trio with elements of improvisation and Grateful Deadtype of things, but jazz and fusion and all kinds of weird stuff which was super fun. We were called Whiskey Dick and we did our best to live up to our name.

After college I moved out here to Tucson, Az. I got sidetracked by life for a while and I wasn’t playing much music. I wanted some sort of normal life, and I got a real estate career. One day my friend David Harris, who I had played with in a band a few years earlier, called me and told me he needed a bass player. He wanted to start a Grateful Dead band, and he needed a bass player. He said, I know you’re not going to want to do it, but do you want to play bass in a Grateful Dead band? And I said yes, I do. So I played in a band called Woke Up Dead here on bass. It was sort of like coming home again, it was like the one thing that I ever wanted to do in my life, and I was doing it. 

And I knew at that point that I was never going to have a life where I wasn’t doing that again. I also realized that while I can physically manipulate a bass, and make it sound decent, I am a guitarist, so I decided to form a side project doing Jerry’s solo material. And we called it Legion of Mario. The bass player, Mark Ryan, came up with that name. Andy Briefer is our drummer and we recruited Mark “Doc” Holladay on B3 organ and keys. Tim Darko has been playing percussion with us for a while as well. Stewart Loew is our soundman and we are grateful to have found him. Our first gig was Jerry’s birthday August 1st, 2017.

And then, probably Evan from Xtra Ticket, somebody introduced me to Chris for Skull & Roses. He had us out there a couple years ago. We played in the parking lot. But I ended up playing with a band whose guitar player never showed up in a set on the main stage there. So I got to meet a bunch of people, and developed a friendship with Chris. I have had his band the Alligators out here in Tucson several times, doing shows. And I don’t know, I guess, Chris heard a lot about our performances out in the parking lot and invited us to play in the festival for last year but, of course, that didn’t happen. 

This whole pandemic thing is a fog. It seems like yesterday, but it’s been like two years already. News reports were starting to filter around, you know, there was a cruise ship that was not being allowed to dock, and there was something happening in China. And I started picking up on these news stories. And I remember somebody had forwarded me this video footage of Wuhan and what was going on. And it looked like a compilation of home movies and it was people walking down the street in formation in hazmat suits with foggers, dead bodies on the street, you know. You know, it looked like an apocalyptic movie. You know, people were questioning the veracity of the video. And I am thinking, no, that’s real, that’s real footage. 

Then San Francisco shut down, and I remember that we were playing regularly at that time, and, in fact, I got my real estate license so that I could work whenever I want, because I was in mortgage lending before, working at a bank. So I quit that and got my license so that I can play music, because as I mentioned that is all I ever wanted to do. We were playing multiple times a month. And I was deriving most of my income from that, which is practically nothing, but enough. 

I read a study from and I can’t remember the name of that university. But it’s a university in England, maybe Oxford, that published a study based on theoretical modeling of the spread of the coronavirus. The day that it was released to the public, I downloaded a copy and read it. And when I saw what it said—the death figures that it was predicting and the length of time that it was predicting—that very day, I went on lock down myself. And I told the band, we can’t play anymore. And it was still a big question. People were kind of like what is going on here, you know? Should we still have our Saint Patrick’s Day festival? You know, other bands I play with were wondering if they should play. And I was like, we’re done, you know, as much as I don’t want to, I cannot. I mean, we play to an older crowd, right? 

Photograph Dan Guile

We love the young college students too. But our base crowd has been the same for decades and they are getting older and sicker, and I knew if we played, they would come. And I felt like the vast majority of people really didn’t know what was going on. And I felt if I continued to play, I would be putting people at risk of possible serious illness or death. So we shut it down. And you know, I guess, I got lucky. Several months later I got offered a great job. And that’s, you know, there is my office right there (he gestures across the room from his computer, his guitars next to the other computer.). So I work all day right here in the office and pick up a guitar when I feel like—I’ve got them within arm’s length at all times. 

It’s interesting playing Jerry Band material versus Grateful Dead material. I mean Jerry was just always Jerry. I think, you know, he is like one of those guys that is so— what is the word for that? Where he crafted his own uniqueness. You know, and so whatever context he’s in, he’s Jerry, and you can tell his personality. 

Photograph Dan Guile

The approach to the music is a little different. Many of us understand from interviews and maybe personal discussions that the Jerry band, you know, he seemed to feel more at home there. So I think his— his bluesiness and jazziness is more apparent in a less diffused way then with the Grateful Dead. You know, like maybe slightly more straight ahead, as far as you would ever get a Jerry Garcia straight ahead, which is never. But he can play a blues like a blues and make you feel like it, but still sound like Jerry but not sound like the Grateful Dead. 

I don’t typically like to say we’re a Jerry Garcia cover band, you know. Jerry Garcia was a cover band himself. I mean he played a lot of covers, you know. So I always say I play American music, you know, I play everything from blues to country to jazz to psychedelic rock. It’s deeply American music and that’s what I play. And if they press me further and I will say, you know, we play the Jerry Garcia’s solo material. Like the Grateful Dead are an iconic creation unto themselves, whereas Jerry band to me was more like down home American music, you know. Not that the Grateful Dead is not American music. Unfortunately many people have a pre-existing opinion of the Dead or Garcia that I don’t think represents what they were really all about.

Legion of Mario started rehearsing in early 2017. The way that it works is that we all discuss everything. But at the end of the day, if I say no, it’s this way then everybody is like, cool. The model is what my friend Phil refers to as a benevolent dictatorship. In theory we have someone in the role of leader, or benevolent dictator but in practice most all decisions are made as a group. I wanted that type of structure so as to avoid problems I’ve had in the past with full democracies. Definitely not because I wanted the responsibility. 

It can be a challenge to get things done if there is no defined leadership. So I wonder if Jerry felt like that in his solo projects. A little less chaos and simplicity is always nice. Everybody was just going to naturally defer to his decision without a whole bunch of extra rigmarole and drama for him. That was the idea in Legion but the reality is we discuss and argue and do all the things that bands do and at the end of the day a decision is made. I do think the specter of the dictator has helped us push through and accomplish things that might have taken longer or not been done at all. 

I do want to say that I love my bandmates and the people that come out and support us at our shows. We have a great scene in Tucson and it’s loaded with great people. It’s a joy to contribute in some small way to their happiness. LOM is really looking forward to playing at Skull and Roses this year!