I was born in Phoenix and grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona but spent summers during my youth in Connecticut where my grandparents lived. I ultimately went to Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona in the 1980’s and graduated with a degree in Geology and lived most of my life in the Phoenix area, with stints living and working in Colorado and California.
When I was growing up in the 1960’s & ‘70’s, the music played in our household was big band jazz music.My folks, who moved from Connecticut to Arizona in 1959, were huge fans of The Dorsey Brothers, Glen Miller, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Bennie Goodman and all that great music from the WW2 era. In the late ‘40’s and ‘50’s, before my folks got married, my mom worked for Columbia Records in Connecticut and New York City. She got to know the Dorsey Brothers and whenever they were playing in the area, Tommy Dorsey always sent my mom tickets to the show.Tommy would come out to the audience before or after the show and talk to my mom.As a result of working at Columbia she had a huge collection of 78 rpm records, which I still have, including some unreleased recordings of Gene Krupa and a few others.
Even though that’s what I grew up hearing, that was my “parent’s music”. My biggest musical influence, by far, was my older sister who was a hippie and child of the Woodstock generation.In the ‘60’s she listened to the Beatles, Hendrix, Cream, Beach Boys, The Doors, all sorts of cool stuff. And I had access to her record collection! The first music I remember really latching onto as a very young child was The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. This was about 1965-66. I played that album over and over. My older sister seemed like the coolest person on the planet with her colorful black light posters, bell bottoms, beads, incense and all the rest of the hippie accoutrements. I really wanted to be a hippie when I grew up!By 1971, I was buying my own 45’s and LP’s. Through the 1970’s, I listened to a lot of different genres: hard rock, southern rock, jazz, progressive rock, country rock, psychedelic, all kinds of stuff. Although I knew about The Grateful Dead, I wasn’t really listening to them.
In 1980 I moved to Colorado for summer work after my first year at college. My older brother was a chemistry nerd and he owned what is called an Assay Office in Silverton, Colorado. An Assay Office is an analytical laboratory where ore samples are tested and analyzed for content of gold, silver, copper, etc. There was still a lot of mining activity in Colorado in the early 1980’s and my brother’s lab was where many of the local mines and miners would test their samples. Being a geology student, I was a good fit for the job. Anyway, all my new friends and co-workers in Colorado were full blown Dead Heads. They were like “what? You don’t know about the Grateful Dead?”. They turned me on to the music and the records, which I really dug.
The next summer I went back to Colorado again for work and my Dead Head friends said “Okay, this time we are TAKING you to see the Dead! So I went to my first show – McNichols Arena, Denver, on July 13th, 1981. I was like, man, here are those hippies I’d been looking for my whole life! My Colorado friends, who were a lot more familiar with the band, tried to explain everything to me: Brent’s the new guy, you just missed seeing Keith and Donna, Bobby’s a rock star, Jerry is starting to get grey hair, yada, yada. It struck me as WAY different and very cool. Here are fans that talked about the band as if they were family members.It wasn’t until my second show in the fall of 1981 at Compton Terrace that I started to “get it” and hopped on the bus, pretty much becoming a Dead Head at that point.I ultimately went to a lot of shows through the 1980s, primarily in California.
Coincidentally, 1981 was also the year I picked up a guitar for the first time. One of my roommates in Colorado had a guitar sitting around in the house. I was messing around with it, and he showed me some chords. My older brother had a cheap classical guitar he never played which he gave me, and voila, I had my first guitar at age 20. When I got back to Arizona, I bought myself a cheap electric guitar and amp. Playing guitar and becoming a Dead Head started the same year, right from the get-go but I didn’t set out to play in a Grateful Dead band at first. I was learning blues and other basic stuff, but also listening to a lot of punk rock at the time which seemed like the easiest stuff to play. So my first band was a punk rock band called Groovy Truth. We were banging out loud bar chords and screaming obnoxious lyrics and stuff. But my heart was more into the Dead, Allman Brothers, jamming and psychedelia. After all, I was going to Dead shows consistently by this point in my life. My influence in the band was bringing more jamming into it which was quite a weird mix which the punkers really didn’t understand!
By 1986, I guess we had gotten pretty good and we were asked to open for Robert Hunter on his 1986 solo tour and, later that year, for Jorma Kaukonen. Here’s a funny story about that Hunter show. Groovy Truth was primarily original music, but we had a couple dead tunes in our repertoire, but we had no clue about musical etiquette or anything, and we put Scarlet Begonias in the set. Never crossed our minds that it was completely inappropriate to play a song written by the guy we were opening for. So, we played the set and the crowd seemed to like it. Then we went backstage all excited and looking forward to meeting Hunter and man, was he pissed! And he had every right to be. He didn’t even want to speak to us at first. It took about 15 minutes for him to finally cool off at which time we explained we meant no offense and were basically just ignorant about the do’s and don’ts. After that he was very approachable, told some very cool stories and let us take photos with him.
Groovy Truth lasted maybe another year or two. The next group I was in was called Rena and the Reptiles, led by a very talented singer-songwriter-artist named Rena Haus. We played originals but also covered all kinds of stuff like Van Morrison, Dead, Beatles, etc. By this time, there was a Dead Tribute in town called the No Hobo Band that was doing a regular Thursday night gig. Members of that group would eventually go on to be in both Xtra Ticket and The Noodles, another long running Phoenix area Dead band.
So, by the early ‘90’s, I really wanted to play Grateful Dead music in a GD band. By 1993, the No Hobo Band had broken up and the Phoenix area had no Dead tribute for around a year. They had played every Thursday night at a place called Boston’s Nightclub in Tempe. In ’94 they contacted Don Young, former lead guitarist of No Hobo, and asked could he put together another group for Grateful Thursdays. I was playing occasional duets with him at the time, and we decided to put together a band. Don was a very talented singer, songwriter, guitarist, and pedal steel player.To this day, one of the best pedal steel, if not THE best, steel players I’ve ever seen.
I came up with the name Xtra Ticket. That was one of the things you’d hear shouted repeatedly in Dead lots. You know, “I need an extra ticket” or “who’s got my extra ticket?”, that sort of thing, so that’s where the name came from. Our first gig was Sept. 1, 1994. The regular Thursday nights at Boston’s got pretty huge though the ‘90’s in terms of attendance, especially after Jerry passed. So many memories, so many crazy and cool things happened there. To this day I have heads coming up to me saying things like “I met my wife at your show” or “I spent every Thursday night in college at Boston’s”. That continued for many years until Boston’s finally closed around 2002. After that, The Sail Inn in Tempe ultimately became where both Xtra Ticket and The Noodles played all the time.
In 1999, Don Young left the band and that is when we hired Dave Hebert (A’Bear) to replace him. Dave had just moved to Phoenix from Colorado and all it took was one conversation on the phone and I knew he was our guy. Hadn’t even heard him play yet. He jumped right in the following Thursday. In those early days of Ticket, we always shared lead and rhythm guitar duties.We didn’t have any set roles.
Then around 2005 we saw DSO for the first time. They sounded more like the Dead than any band we’d ever seen. It was obvious each guy had distinct roles, JK being the “Jerry,” Eaton the “Bobby,” etc. We looked at each and thought, man, this sounds killer – maybe we need to do this and solidify our roles a little better. Dave was already playing a lot of Garcia-inspired stuff, so we put him in the Jerry slot which meant I’d have to handle the Weir tunes and thus formalize the “tribute” aspect to the band. So here we are, almost 20 years later and after a couple minor line-up changes, Dave & I are still performing as Xtra Ticket. I’d like to add here that we are very grateful to Andy Logan and the Grateful Guitars Foundation who supplied us with beautiful new instruments. They deserve everyone’s support for what they are doing for our musical community!
Performing these songs as the rhythm guitarist forced me to virtually relearn how to play guitar because to emulate Weir’s parts and playing style, you should avoid traditional rock n roll chord positions and strumming techniques, which I’d played almost automatically for years. I had to approach the neck of the guitar in an entirely new way. It’s totally a work-in-progress for me. There are some amazing rhythm players out there, many of whom nail the Weir stuff brilliantly. These guys really inspire me to be a better player. Hopefully, I can come close to capturing the spirit of Weir’s vibe with playing and singing that fits well with what my fellow musicians are doing onstage. Another important aspect is vocal phrasing. If you want the tunes to sound right, you really need to sing the parts strongly with the lines phrased correctly. I’ve been using a vocal coach for a few years now to strengthen weaknesses in my range and prevent trashing my larynx.
We are all just so blessed to be doing this, to be playing the music we all love so much. It’s been said the spirit of the Summer of Love and idealism of the ‘60’s ended at a certain time, you know, like 50 years ago or whatever. But I’ve always maintained it didn’t end completely because the Grateful Dead and dead heads have kept the flame alive, dragging the ‘60’s kicking and screaming into the future while, paradoxically, staying way ahead of their time with respect to gear, technology, interaction with fans, concert events, philanthropy, you name it.
Additionally, they unintentionally created an entire genre of music, this thing called Jam Band music. Nobody else can claim that. Nobody else maintained their psychedelic and musical sensibilities this entire time without selling out, breaking up, or burning out. You could make a case that a few others never sold out, like the Allman Brothers Band or Neil Young. You’ve also got this genre called Jazz-Rock. With respect to the dead, I’ve always said you could just invert the names and call what they do Rock-Jazz, with a psychedelic twist, due to their emphasis on free-form jamming. Anyway, now you have this entire genre called Jam Band music, you have hundreds of Grateful Dead tributes all over the world, and it’s something that will never end. It will continue forever as a distinct type of music.
One of the cooler things I did recently was play through the Wall of Sound replica that Anthony Coscia set up in Connecticut. Got to play with some talented east coast musicians through this monster system – I think it’s a 1:2 scale replica of the Wall of Sound – set up in this big empty stone church. It’s one of the most badass things I’ve ever seen. Talk about attention to detail. We played through it for a whole afternoon, the idea being it would be recorded and filmed for promotional use. Anthony wants to build a full-scale Wall of Sound and he needs backing to do that.I would encourage folks to do whatever they can to make that a reality! What an incredible experience. And it was loud! We didn’t even need stage monitors.Everything we heard was coming out of the wall behind us. Just spine-tingling. It was very spiritual in a sense as well. I’m so grateful for the opportunity. What an amazing community we have.
Xtra Ticket has gone through a few different members over the years, but our current lineup has remained stable for a while. Dave doesn’t live in Arizona anymore, he moved back to Colorado years ago but travels often to play shows with us. One of the coolest things that happened to Ticket was when Dave got hired by Melvin to play in JGB. He toured with Melvin for five years. That really inspired us as a band. We perform mostly in Arizona, but also occasionally in Colorado, New Mexico, and California so basically, we evolved into a southwest regional band. Hard to believe Ticket will be celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2024. I think we’ve played every Skull & Roses Festival except for the first year. It’s been just great; we love the guys who organize this festival and are really honored to be invited. It’s always such a fun weekend hanging out with friends, family and like-minded folks and actually performing where we saw the boys play so many times. Very cool they’re now bringing in bands from other parts of the country too. It’s the best festival in the land!
Photographs Chris Batchler
See Evan Jones and xTRA Ticket at Skull & Roses Festival