I was ten years old and had a couple friends, one of whom plays guitar, and we were sitting around his house listening to a combination of probably U2 and the Police and maybe some Allman Brothers and one member of the group, which is not a musical group at the time, said we should start a band. And I raised my hand and said I’ll play drums and the other friend said I’ll play bass and we already had the guitarist and the other guy already had taken some piano lessons so we had a band. My inspiration initially was Stewart Copeland from the Police. Although I don’t tend to play like him, he’s definitely one of my favorite drummers because that was the beginning, the very beginning, and it’s been an eventful road ever since. 

I told my mom I’m going to play drums, which always is a joy. And then she enrolled me in some drum classes at Gelb Music in Redwood City where I grew up. Gelb’s is very well known, and there was some overlap with the Grateful Dead community and that store has been around for a very, very long time and it’s kind of a mainstay in the Peninsula music scene where the Dead started. Not too far from Magoo’s, which was where the Warlocks played that famous first show. 

So I started taking some lessons and I think I took lessons for maybe three, four years. But I’ve always been more of an ear player, more of a feel player, so I learned sort of the basics of drums; and then despite my mom insisting I continue lessons  I’m not sure how invested I was in the details of technique. I sort of become selftaught after that. And then it was just a series of bands where I became the drummer. I also—I always sang. I’ve usually been the lead singer in almost every band I’ve played in up to Jerry’s Middle Finger. It’s one of the first bands I’ve ever played in where I was not the singer, which was a little bit of a relief, but I missed it sometimes. 

One of my earliest bands was called GDC, which was the three chords of almost every song that we played. Our biggest gig was at an allwomen’s school on the San Francisco peninsula called Castilleja. We played at lunch in front of like 400 girls in their school uniforms. Needless to say, it was a highlight of my musical career. It might just be in my imagination, but I remember there being screaming, like when the Beatles played. I’m pretty sure that that’s in my head, but I like to remember that. 

Music was always part of my passion in life. There were years prior to actually playing I was—I had a record collection, partially inherited from my parents, and I would sit with a little cassette tape recorder, you know, the little rectangular ones, the button in front. I think it was a Realistic from Radio Shack. I’d plug in a little microphone and I’d put on records and I’d do a radio show, play my favorite songs and talk about them and read off the album facts about the band and stuff. I was always about music. Music was always a thing. And then when I became a player, I taught myself guitar. I wrote music for years, but music just became an integrated part of my life. It was without any real effort. It just became something that was crucial and essential in my daily life; and, obviously, that has not stopped and I’m grateful for it. And in times like this, with Covid and the isolation and us not being able to perform, it’s been a real test of strength and creativity…I’m sort of giving to the music and celebrating the music alone, which is kind of how I started as a kid. It’s just a lot of studying, a lot of taking my drumming back to the very basic, the early stages of technique, which I just decided to do out of curiosity, because it’s been a really long time since I’ve delved into early basic drum technique. It’s nice to kind of get a little reset in a way. 

I learned about the Grateful Dead in 1988. I was in high school on the peninsula, just a couple miles away from Frost Amphitheater. I knew about the Dead, but I had never been exposed to the experience of the Dead, which as we know, is really different. But I found myself on the Stanford campus. I think I was skateboarding around with my girlfriend at the time, and we came upon the eucalyptus grove, and I was walking there, smelling the sage, and I could hear music in the distance and the busses and the hippie chicks and the—I’m getting chills thinking about it, because it was —I hadn’t even stepped into the concert yet, but I was so taken by the scene, just the feel of the community and the smell. I remember I took my shoes off—I saw that everyone was barefoot and there was a freedom to it. So I took my shoes off. At some point somebody handed me a ticket.

I think I stepped into the show sort of distracted by the entire experience rather than the music. I could hear the music. I could feel the music. It was an experience that was sort of more devoted to the entire vibe and it wasn’t until I’d been there for a while that I found myself all of a sudden saying, wait a minute, the real action is coming from the stage. And then I became instantly sort of sucked into the music that was being played, and the tone. I remember Frost having it was probably part of the whole experience, but I remember Frost having a very special sound. It was outdoors, and there was something about Jerry’s tone, and the pace of the music, and the feel of certain songs, but I stepped right into what I felt was a magical era. They all were. I know that. I didn’t go to a lot of shows right out of the gate, because I was in high school and doing my thing. But I went the following year to Frost, which I believe was the last year there, and then the Shoreline shows. I did as much as I could in the time I had; and then, you know, it started to change. I moved out to Colorado; and then, of course, we lost our friend Jerry. So it was a shortlived experience, relatively speaking, but it was one that obviously put me on the path to where I am today. Not a day goes by that I don’t listen to a show; it’s part of what feeds me and takes me away and then brings me back. 

Photograph © Hal Masonberg

I went to school in Colorado for a few years, but then I was playing music, as you can imagine, and I wasn’t super into school at the time, so I stopped. I stayed out there for several years and I actually met Garret, the lead guitarist of Jerry’s Middle Finger, in Colorado in 1993. We worked together at a restaurant called The Sink and became close friends. He was playing music in an original band and I was playing music as well in a different band. We became friends and then sort of musical cohorts in various forms. He’d sit in with our band and I’d sit in with their band and we wrote some songs together—we’ve been best friends ever since. I’ve traveled the world and we’ve lived very far distances apart and right down the street from one another and we’re always collaborating in some form or another musically. JMF just happens to be the current project. 

I ended up graduating from Chico State with a music degree with a focus on recording arts and moved back to San Francisco and lived there for maybe three or four years. Met a woman and we moved in together and then she does HIV research and had an opportunity to go to Africa and work, and she asked me if I wanted to go. I thought it would be a year’s adventure. I was kind of between jobs and I wasn’t really playing in a band at the time, so I went to Africa. Six years later we came back and I started a company doing music and sound design for film. We had two kids and got married and came back to California, but the lack of opportunity at the time in San Francisco brought me to LA, which I was a little hesitant about, being a NorCal kind of guy. 

I ended up getting a job that transformed somehow into me cutting and editing film rather than music and sound, and I’ve been here now since 2007. In 2010 Garret, my buddy, the guitarist in Jerry’s Middle Finger, moved out here from Florida and we were in the same city again for the first time in a decade or so, and we started playing and writing music and recording a bunch of stuff that he had written while I was overseas, and that led to a few jams in a garage with some old friends from Colorado and we played some Dead and, you know, Garret is obviously an incredibly talented guitarist and knows Jerry so well—he’s been a Dead Head forever. 

We were playing Grateful Dead and at one point Garret and I said there is this band Cubensis down here that’s been doing this for thirty years. How about we try some JGB gigs? And that was the beginning of what became Jerry’s Middle Finger in its truest form, which is a JGB tribute band. It took us a few years to build up the current lineup, but we did that as initially to honor the fact that LA and So Cal deadheads already had a quality Grateful Dead band and we weren’t like really too keen on the competition in competing, so we moved into the JGB stuff and it proved to be a very fulfilling and wise decision. 

At one point, it was 2015, Garret said we got to name this thing and, being old friends, one of our connections is through humor and we just, you know, we like to goof around and be silly. He threw out the name Jerry’s Middle Finger to me and obviously it refers to the finger Jerry lost in the woodcutting accident with his brother. But it’s somewhat misleading, because the intention was that we are the missing piece. So we represent what Jerry lost so long ago and we’re attempting to encapsulate some of the magic that that finger held, whether it was connected to his body or not. But because of the middle finger reference, some people don’t understand it and think it’s an insult. There’ve been some venues that just didn’t get it…

Being a Dead Head covers a whole spectrum, but within all of the spectrum, it means having been touched by the experience of being part of the community. It’s a combination of celebration, joy and the experience of sharing a form of art, a unique form of art with a group of people and the energy that that experience provides. Like it feeds us in a way that I feel like no other music does—and I’m a fan of all music. It’s something that has never been matched. And as a member of Jerry’s Middle Finger it’s become—to be a part of the community again through the music we are playing is absolutely and completely fulfilling and satisfying. 

Playing in Ventura is fantastic. The fact that the Dead played there is a big deal to me. Being there and playing on a stage with the breeze, the beach, feeling the ocean breeze and feeling that sort of raw California sun and the dust, it’s—I never got to see the Dead or Jerry there, but all the elements are awesome. 

Pandemic Update

Yeah, I probably had a few moments realizing how serious the pandemic was. In terms of the music and the band, it was sort of a suspended moment in that we had gigs lined up, pretty big stuff on the roster that was going to happen last year, some real steps up in the right direction including an East Coast tour and a lot of stuff that we eventually, had to sort of let go at some point. I don’t remember exactly when all that happened, but there was a point at which it was for certain and I think that was the moment that it felt—it felt pretty real in life, but there was some extra reality check when music was officially shut down. Obviously, that was not a good moment. But somehow over the course of the year, year and a half, the band had momentum and that momentum carried and propelled us to now, when the flood gates have opened. Really cool things are happening and that level that we were hoping to step to last year, we’re doing at an even quicker pace than we would have before. Everything seems to be happening so fast. 

As far as the pandemic and my day job, I’m a film editor, so I was able to transition pretty effortlessly. I work for a small company. We make movie trailers, and my boss was a little ahead of the curve in anticipating the shutdown and got us set up at home and sent us all home with proper security measures and whatnot for our industry and it worked pretty well. I’m still working from home. And, honestly, I’m kind of hoping to not go back. We have the option. That discussion is happening as to whether we’ll go back or not and some people really want to go back and other people don’t and I think there will probably be a mix of the two for me. My other office (my drum sest) exists now within arms’ reach. I like this, and I like being—I’m a homebody anyway. So I’ve been able to work throughout with some ups and downs, but it’s a steady job, so I’m grateful. 

Photograph © Hal Masonberg

Garrett, our lead guitar, started doing some regular live streams just from his house. And a few others did the same. We never really did anything together in that first stage, just ’cause we were all very careful and really playing it safe with the pandemic. There was a range of people taking things at different levels and how flexible they were and what risks they wanted to take; but we all stayed home and were really careful for quite a while, maybe a little longer than most. As things started to sort of shift and emerge slightly, we did two driven shows up in the Bay Area that were very successful. Mr. Hat Presents put them on, and the first one we did was just us; and the second one we did, Melvin (Seals) came and sat in with us which was an experience. We sold them both out and it was a very unique and, obviously, cool experience. We kept our distances and did everything by the rules, and everyone in the audience did what they had to do. Joy had been contained for so long that it was pretty powerful and awesome. It was a cool experience. 

That was in September and November at the Solano County Fairgrounds in Vallejo. And, you know, it worked great. They did a really good job putting it together. You know, hats off—no pun intended—to Mr. Hat. But hats off to him for making it happen and doing it right; and everyone was safe and the music played and it was a great event. Both of them were great. We did one more recently at a different location right after the restrictions were lifted. It was a different vibe. People didn’t have to stay in their pods and it wasn’t as exciting. We actually had a really great show and those people that were there were on top of the world, but it wasn’t as easy to pack the place because there are so many options now, just so much happening, which is great for everybody, so it was a success. I don’t think he’s going to do many more of those driveins, the model likely changed, because we’ve moved on, thankfully. 

I had a few friends in LA—you know LA was such a hot spot for the pandemic. I had several friends, several acquaintances, several friends of friends stories that I heard. I never had anyone really close to me, thankfully, that was affected and I don’t know of anyone who passed away or was iin a really bad state. Everyone I know, they had a rough time, but they managed and made it through. So I feel lucky in that regard. 

It was great getting back to playing. I feel like those experiences we had the last year and then we did a live stream show in San Luis Obispo that got us on stage. There is a lot of energy around the band right now and there is a lot of energy just in general because of—obviously, people have been just so eager to experience live music and get back to what they love both on stage and off stage, so it’s just incredible, honestly. And we’ve got a lot of really cool stuff happening, a lot of bigger shows. We’ve moved into some venues that we’ve been hunting for for several years. The wave has already hit us and we’re moving quickly. Right out of the gates, it felt almost a little too much too quick. I was a little worried both in terms of the pandemic, but also in terms of how does this work. Every festival that was cancelled is rescheduled and happening in September and October, and all the big tour— it seemed like this is going to be an interesting time, because not everyone, obviously, can go see everything, so it’s going to take a little bit, I think, before things settle back into any the sort of pace that we’re used to. But hey, I’m not complaining.