I’m originally from Decatur, Alabama, which is close to Florence and Muscle Shoals, the home of Donna Jean Godchaux and Fame recording studio. My dad was a drummer as well. So I grew up with a lot of Allman Brothers bands, Bob Seger, a lot of CCR (Creedence Clearwater Revival), stuff like that that my dad was into.

I started playing at like two, three years old. I have got pictures of me in diapers with drumsticks in my hands. So it’s literally something I have always known. I have never not known playing the drums. I basically learned by trial, watching my dad as a kid. My dad passed away when I was really young. I was about eight years old when my dad passed. So after he passed, it kind of became my right of passage, if you will, to keep his legacy going and continue doing what he loved. And it grew into my passion as well.

I started paying in bands in high school around Decatur. I just played with friends. We would jam to Stevie Ray Vaughan or Cream, stuff like that, stuff that we thought was cool. REM, bands like that. And then I would say the first real band I was in was a band called Highly Kind.

That band was in Auburn, Alabama. We started at the end of ’95 a little after Jerry passed away. And we were kind of the first band down in that area to play Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers and Phish and all the jam bands to a college crowd. It was the mid90s, so grunge of course was still big. That is when a lot of the bands at that time were playing Nirvana, Pearl Jam, those types of bands. So for something to come out as a group of young guys, we were in our early 20s and to be playing music that was from the late 60s early 70s, people were like, what’s this, what’s going on here?

So that was my first big introduction. We did tours all over the South for about three and a half years, and incidentally when I left in 1999 and moved to Colorado I was replaced by the guy that now is the drummer for Widespread Panic.

My first Dead show was ’92. Actually it’s weird. My first show technically was in Atlanta, at the Omni, but we didn’t get in, so we just hung out in the lot for three days. I was just blown away. I said, well, we have got to keep doing this. I haven’t even seen the band yet, and I’m saying that. Even if we don’t get in, we got to keep doing this.

So the next show, one I got into, was Albany, New York, Knickerbocker Arena. And the vibe inside was even better than the vibe outside somehow. And yeah, you know like they say, once you go to a Dead show, it changes your life, if you get it, if you let it, and it did.

I kind of want to think there was a “Wharf Rat” that was played that night that was kind of lifechanging, if I’m remembering the correct night. I saw Jerry around 35 times between ’92 and ’95. If I’m remembering correctly there was a “Wharf Rat” that I think I just ended up crying like a baby through pretty much the entire song, yeah.

So Alabama, well let’s just say it’s the South, and things move a lot slower down there. And the music scene in Colorado was really starting to blossom with bands like Left Over Salmon, String Cheese Incident, and there was a real underground kind of hippie movement going on out here, that has been pretty much around since the 70s. But it has been really underground that entire time.

Then in the mid to late 90s, it really started blossoming out here. And it became almost mainstream to the point where local radio stations like KBCO out of Boulder would play Phish, you would hear the Grateful Dead, you would hear Wide Spread Panic, you would hear Left Over and String Cheese in the middle of the afternoon on a contemporary rock and roll radio station. Which is unheard of in most markets in America. Well, that was real cool, and the beer culture that was here at the time, the whole microbrew culture that was going on, and the burgeoning cannabis culture that has always been a part of Colorado, those things drew me here. I knew this is where I needed to be. I knew that living in Alabama, my potential was only going to go so far. If I was to come out here and surround myself with more likeminded people, my chances of success and doing something a little bit greater than what I was doing, was far more of a reality. Bound to cover just a little more ground.

When I originally came here, I lived in Fort Collins for ten years, CSU. Interestingly enough Trey Anastasio from Phish, at the time, his grandmother was living there and he would inadvertently pop in and out of CSU from time to time to visit his grandmother. He was spotted around Fort Collins quite a bit in those days.

I had a band there, we were called Changes. That was a great band. I took a lot of pride in that band. And we got to play with amazing people we were fortunate enough to open up multiple times for people like Melvin Seals, Bernie Worrell. My gosh, we played shows with Zen Tricksters, we did shows with the Big Wu, just tons of great artists that we got to meet and do shows with, and this was from 2000 to about early 2003.

Then after that I played in a lot of bands. That band dissolved, unfortunately, and then I just kind of became a, what they called a hired gun. And I just started playing with anybody and everybody, singer/song writer, blues bands, jam bands, rock bands, just everything. I was in this band for a short minute called Wool Eye, and we ended up playing Wavy Gravy’s 70th Birthday Party out in San Francisco back in 2005 with Melvin Seals & JGB and the Golden Gate Wingmen. That was a lot of fun.

The Cosmic Charlies started at the very end of the pandemic, so we are talking like December of 2020. And everything had just slowly come off lockdown. And me and a couple of guys here in town, a guy named Fleeb Thomas and a guy named Pat Foley, we met at a Grateful Dead bar in Denver called So Many Roads Museum and Brewery. It’s one of the largest Grateful Dead bars in the United States, and we are lucky enough that it resides here in Denver because of Jay Bianchi and thank you Jay for providing us a wonderful venue in this state. Actually I opened up for Melvin on Sunday, just a couple days ago, so Melvin and John K were all here on Sunday, played for all of us for three days. A lot of fun.

We got together, and our first show was in Las Vegas for a three day run. We played at the factory where they do tiedye, a lot of big tiedye for Dead and Co. So we played at that spot and basically, did a lot of networking, made a lot of great connections and friends. Then we got back to Denver and we just started booking shows like crazy. Our friend Ben Rafferty joined the band on keys very soon thereafter. And that became the Cosmic Charlies. And we played all over from New York, Miami, as I said Vegas, Utah, out in the Mojave desert, all over the state of Colorado. And we got to do a sound track for a movie recently, it’s called the “Secret History of the LSD Trade.” We got to hang out with Mountain Girl and Roney, Owsley’s wife. Yeah, to hang out with those folks and have dinner with them and conversations with those folks and to be that close to original Grateful Dead family, it was just an amazing experience for all of us. We were very happy and fortunate and grateful that we got to be a part of that.

I’ve been doing this 27 years now, playing Grateful Dead music almost as long as Jerry played Grateful Dead music, which is weird to think of, like that boggles my mind. It’s a release. It’s a connection. It’s spiritual for me. You know the music had been such a part of my life since I was like 16, 17 years old, I am almost 50 now and I can’t fathom that music not being a thread in my DNA. It’s what makes me who I am.

See Gary Howard with The Cosmic Charlies at Skull & Roses Festival