ALL THE YEARS COMBINE

By David Gans

Robin Sylvester passed away on October 29, 2022. For me, it was an anti-gift for my 69th birthday: he was one of my favorite jamming partners.

I first met Robin in 1998, when he was the bassist for Vince Welnick and Missing Man Formation. I won’t rehash his resume in this short appreciation, but a look at Wikipedia shows a pretty amazing career path from an a cappella choir in his native London through a stint as a recording engineer at Abbey Road Studios, and a ton of cool credentials in studio and live work on both sides of the Atlantic.

Photograph Stuart Steinhardt

As a bassist, Robin had the wonderful ability to hold down the rhythm and participate in the musical conversation. I put his improv chops to work in the studio many times, most notably on Chocolate Coffee Pot (a pure improv session w/ Jim Brighton, Neil Hampton, Jordan Feinstein, Jeff Hobbs, and me) and “The Town That Still Believes in Magic,” a song I wrote with Scott Guberman that we recorded with Robin and Greg Anton. He was great on the straightforward songs as well as the open-ended jams. He was the perfect bassist for Rubber Souldiers, a “Beatles jam band” that started in 2004: he knew the Beatles canon by heart and had a great facility for group improvisation.

Robin had a very rough time of it, health-wise, for several years. He needed a kidney that somehow never arrived. He was able to manage his health fairly well for several years, during which we played a lot of gigs and did a number of recording sessions together. 

I visited him in the hospital several times. One day we watched The Concert for Bangladesh, and on my next visit we watched The Concert for George. Watching Beatle stuff with Robin was a special delight.

A year ago, when Robin ran out of money, I used my online and on-air reach to raise $30,000 to help him pay for the 24/7 assistance he needed. It was an easy ask, because Robin was so well-loved by the fans and by the musicians who worked with him. 

Late in October 2022 I got a call from Robin’s caregiver that he was asking for me, so I went up to Santa Rosa and visited him in the ICU. He was asleep when I got there; I sat quietly until he woke up. He was very, very weak and it was hard to hear him in that noisy room. We watched a bit of Justin Kreutzmann’s new movie, Let There Be Drums, on my computer. Nurses came in to do various things and I got a look at his legs, which were nothing but bone. I started to get the idea that he might not be going home.

He was starting to drift off again, so I put the computer away and prepared to leave. “I love you, Robin,” I said as I left. “I love you, too, David.” I am so glad I was able to say that to him.

I have a wonderful collection of recordings that we did together, live and in the studio. He was a fine musician and a very kind and gentle man, and a great friend. He will be missed by many.

David Gans is one of the best-known media guys in the Grateful Dead world as well as an exceptional solo interpreter of GD music; he has played with Phil Lesh, written songs with Robert Hunter and Bob Weir, and played with many of the best-known jam band musicians around. He started as a journalist with Bay Area Music (“BAM”). In the early ‘80s he helped KFOG’s legendary “M. Dung” morning dj with a Grateful Dead show, and he’s been helming the Grateful Dead Hour ever since. He’s also co-host, with Gary Lambert, of the Dead Head program “Tales from the Golden Road” on SiriusXM satellite radio. He’s the author of Playing in the Band: An Oral and Visual Portrait of the Grateful Dead, and (with Blair Jackson) This Is All A Dream We Dreamed, An Oral History of the Grateful Dead. He will perform at Skull and Roses.