Robert Harvey

Before we had a chance to ask Robert Harvey, guitarist and co-founder of San Diego’s Electric Waste Band, for an interview, he had written this excellent article. 

The Story of a 1,500 Night Streak —
San Diego’s own Electric Waste Band

By Robert Harvey, guitarist 

We think of December ’89 as the start date of the band.  I had met the other original guitar player, Howard Coven, in law school, and by December ’89 we knew we had a musical connection where the sum of the parts was greater than us individually.  We set out to find additional players in hopes of forming a band. 

Though I didn’t know it at the time, in May of ’90 I met the guy who would be our first real bass player, Andrew Lantz, at one of the Cal State Dominguez Hills shows. I had been at the show in my wizard tie dye shirt, and a fellow head kindly asked for a picture of my shirt. We chatted briefly and he went on his way. It wasn’t too long after that Andrew started jamming with the band. Several weeks later, I wore my wizard tie dye to a jam. I turned to face the band, and Andrew was all, “No way. You’re the guy with tie dye!”  And I was like, “you’re the guy who took my picture?” As it turned out, Andrew was a much better musician than Howard or I, but we didn’t dare tell him that. We just hoped he’d keep coming back. All we needed now was a real drummer. 

Electric Waste Band | Photograph © Hal Masonberg

Though we had been jamming with several guys in the drum slot, it was only when we were joined by our law school classmate, Dennis Whelan, that we felt we had a band. Dennis had played drums in a band during college and had actually toured. We invited him over and we couldn’t have asked for a better drummer and front man! Shortly after we found Dennis, we asked a sax player, Daniel Nielsen, over to jam. Though we hadn’t intended to add a horn player to the band, Daniel kept showing up, which at the time was the main prerequisite for being in the band.

And last but not least, somehow we got hooked up with a pretty little blonde girl singer. Her size was deceiving as she could really belt it out. Sunny or Sunshine, though I never did get her real name.  She made the band sound great.

Though I had no idea we had any plans to play out, it wasn’t long before Howard booked the band for what turned out to be a steady Friday night gig at a place called Dreamstreet.   Another band, Mudd, was playing Thursdays and Saturdays at Dreamstreet and they really had it going on. They had a monster drummer, Ed Fletcher, who’s now the current drummer in EWB and several other projects. Unfortunately, the place lacked a p.a., so we went on looking for a home. 

We had high hopes of a weekend night when we walked down to the best venue in Ocean Beach, Winstons, but Bill Winston quickly dashed our hopes. He did offer us Monday nights for the month of February, 1992, to see if we could get something going.  It was about this time when Sunny stopped coming to gigs.

What the heck, it was an in with a real club and we were sure we’d have weekends in no time. So we checked our egos and forged ahead and played all four Mondays in February. At the end of the fourth gig, as we were loading out, we looked at each other to see if anyone knew if we were booked for March. Since none of us had been told not to come back, we just figured we should assume we were good for the next Monday and come back. And if another band was there, well, we’d take the hint. Thankfully, no other band showed up that first Monday in March, and we’ve been coming back every Monday night since.  We had our 28th anniversary this past February (2020), which was our 1,449th Monday night show at Winstons. Our last show as a result of the pandemic was a Monday night live stream, number 1,455. Mark Fisher has taken up the streak and played Monday nights from home via live stream since March 23rd.  

Band membership has changed through the years and EWB couldn’t have kept the streak alive without the help of a lot of players. 

Bass player Andrew left to go to Cal Poly in about ’96, and we got our guitar player buddy Brad Smith to play bass until Andrew’s return in ‘98. Andrew stayed with the band until health issues forced his departure in 2011.  

Also sometime in about ‘96, our drummer Dennis got a full time legal job and could no longer stay out till 2:00 a.m. on Mondays, so we lost him.  That left a hole that the mighty Ed Fletcher has filled ever since.

Our sax player left the band in ‘98.  As a result, we picked up our first keyboard player, Paul Bell, who was with the band through some time in 2014.

And shortly after that I left in ‘98 for a job in Austin.  That left Ed, Andrew, Paul, and Howard, and they picked up Tyler Grant, now of Grant Farm fame, to play lead.

Though I returned from Austin in 2000, the band was full. As luck would have it, that gave me the opportunity to jam with a whole new set of musicians, formerly of the rival Dead band in town. 

Howard left in 2001, leaving a four piece.  Tyler left at the end of 2002, at which time I rejoined the band as a four piece. That took some getting used to.

In the fall of 2003, Mark Fisher poked his head in the bar before a Monday night show and asked if we needed another guitar player.  Of course we said yes, as Fish is one of the rippingest guitarists in town. He’s been in the band ever since.

After Andrew left the band in 2011, we were fortunate to be joined by current bass player Bob Rosencrans. Though Bob had played in that rival Dead band, I had now been playing with Bob for over a decade and knew he would be a great fit. And he is. Not only a great bass player, but also one of the nicest guys. 

Keyboardist Paul Bell left the band in about 2013, so we brought in Dave Chesavage on keys, who I had also been playing with for over a decade at this point. And while that line up rocked, things really started cooking in about 2015 when we were joined by drummer extraordinaire Danny Campbell.

In the fall of 2019, Dave Chesavage decided to take some time away from the band, and we have been fortunate to be joined by Eric Gabriel on keys.

We’ve been playing local street fairs, Earth Day, and local festivals for years.   Good times and we had some great gigs. The feeling that we were making headway, getting new fans and having better and better nights was palpable.  But the band really started to click exceptionally well once the lineup solidified with all six of us in about 2015.  Our Ocean Beach (OB) Street Fair attendances have been packed. We’ve headlined the OB Oktoberfest on multiple occasions.  Our weekend nights at Winstons have been packed to the point of one in, one out.  And we’ve done a bunch of NYE’s at Winstons to sell-out crowds. 

We had been on Bill Walton’s radar for some time and did his Sirius Radio show in the mid 2000’s.  But then in about 2014 we got Bill out to an OB Street Fair on percussion where we proceeded to tear it up. Bill was right behind me, and he was on fire. From then on, we’ve been fortunate to have Bill play several shows a summer ever since.

He was instrumental in getting us the Padres Dead Night in the summer of 2019, as well as our Sweetwater show in late August where we were joined by the man himself, Bob Weir, for several tunes. Bill even got us on Sportscenter’s Top 10 plays of the day for that show. We try to get Bill involved whenever we can as his schedule permits. For the shows he sits in, he calls the tunes. And he’s pretty darn good at it. 

Watch Electric Waste Band w/Bill Walton, Bob Weir – The Wheel – Sweetwater Music Hall – 8/29/19

We last played with Bill at the Belly Up Tavern for the Rob Machado Foundation fundraiser. Bill and Steve Parish emcee’d the show, which also featured the west coast premier of Chris Benchlier’s nighttime surf/ski movie, “Fire on the Mountain.” Good times.

Fun Facts about the EWB: 

The band was honored in 2019 by the Ocean Beach Town Council for our then 27 years of service at Winstons for “community culture” last fall. EWB received certificates of appreciation from the City of San Diego, the State House of Representatives, the State Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives.

 Karl Strauss Brewery has honored EWB with its own beer, Electric Waste Beer.  Electric Waste Beer is a red IPA with ingredients sourced from Grateful Dead songs, including sugar magnolias, scarlet begonias and rose buds.   Karl Strauss just released Batch four of the EWBeer and we celebrated with a show over at their tasting room.

But what about the pandemic? Since Winstons, like every other club in California, had to shut down, how could we possibly still have the streak? We are Dead Heads. We are ingenious. And we are not to be stopped.  

Pandemic Update

Well for me I was watching numbers. And there were two different points of view whether this was the flu or whether this was going to get serious and after about two weeks I could see the pattern of the numbers doubling every four days and I thought if there wasn’t going to be an intervention on a federal level, or a grand level, let’s put it that way, we’re going to be seeing millions of people sick shortly. And so I said from early March that this was going to be a while. And there didn’t seem to be anything going on to change the direction of the numbers. And I lost friends on Facebook over that point. 

We did play Monday, March 9th, and we live streamed the next Monday, March 16th, but then Winstons closed. So they weren’t open. What we did was one of the guitars players, the other guitar player, Mark Fisher a/k/a Fish, he did some live streams during Winstons closures on Monday nights to keep the Monday night thing going. He had the ability to do that. Then we started live streaming again as of May, midMay 2020 until Winstons had to close again. 

The first couple we did with the whole band. And then Fish was uncomfortable being in that room with us so he stopped coming. Then one of the drummers was having a hard time getting there, so we went to four—bass, drums, keys and myself. And we kept going, and recently we have been rejoined by both Fish and Danny (the drummer)—Danny came down when we celebrated number 1,500. Monday night number 1,500.

So to my mind the streak is still alive—we sure played at Winston’s every Monday night it was available. This Monday (May 17, 2021) is number 1516. In March 2021 we also started playing on Sundays at a new place outdoors, the Aquarium. They limit the attendance, but what is kind of neat is that across the street is a big parking lot. And it fills up with motor homes and VW buses and people set their chairs out and they’re hanging out—the Dead flags are flying on the popup tents. It’s been great. So what we do is not only do we set up the PA for the people who are on the patio, we set up a couple speakers directly out to the parking lot. As far as me personally during the pandemic, I’ve kind of been doing the same thing I’ve always done. By day I’m a lawyer. And so I stayed home for a couple of weeks, but then I came back to work—we’re a skeleton staff, just three lawyers in our firm would show up. It’s been interesting. With the staff gone, I’m my own file clerk, secretary, whatever. My kids, their schooling stopped and they haven’t been in school since March or April of 2020. One is doing really well with it. The other is not. So I had those challenges.  

The weird thing is, I went to the NAMM Show in January 2020 and I came home with a really bad chest cold. And I had the chills and I had chest congestion like I had never before had in my life, but I didn’t think anything of it. Now I think maybe I got it. About halfway through the pandemic I realized that maybe I got it. When I got my shots recently I had a reaction in my lymph nodes. I haven’t vetted the information, but I understand that’s sort of an indication that you had previously had the virus. So it wouldn’t surprise me if I picked it up in NAMM.  

The good thing from the pandemic is that we started doing what we call our acoustic Sunday brunch. Me, the drummer and the bass player started getting together on Sundays in about April of 2020 in our drummer’s backyard—social distanced and all, and it sure helped.  It’s like it was essentially a threehour or twohour vocal practice ever Sunday. We worked out a bunch of harmonies and we worked out a bunch of new tunes and between doing that and playing the following Monday, I think the band’s gotten better during the pandemic. And being able to stream, we seem to have generated a bunch of new fans. And when we go back to Winstons, if we can play a little earlier than our usual 10 p.m., we can connect with East Coast folks.