Rex of Grateful Dead tribute, Better off Dead, recently spoke with us about their upcoming show at Villain & The Saint on Saturday, May 14th (Tickets & Event Info). The band will be performing the Dead’s Watkins Glen set in its entirety.
Why/how did Better of Dead start in 2012?
BOD was born because I honestly love all of the Grateful Dead’s and Jerry Garcia’s music more than words can tell! I have been a lifelong Deadhead (well since hearing The Golden Road To Unlimited Devotion from Skeletons From The Closet at age 10) and have gone to over 70 shows. And ever since somebody told me in high school “your voice sounds a lot like Jerry” I have played the music all of my life in other bands, acoustic duos and solo. So in 2012, as I was coming off a multi-year stint in a real good classic rock band, I was ready to put together something that was hopefully going to be pretty special!
And to do that I really wanted to challenge myself and any members who joined Better Off Dead. The vision behind BOD is really three fold. First, to really dive deep into both the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia catalog. Even doing songs that were rarely ever played live and/or barely known. I felt with now a few years behind me, my purpose for this band was to turn hippies young and old on to tunes they may not know. Because they are simply magical! And hopefully if they hear it at our show, they will run home and find the original that will TOTALLY melt their hearts and minds. Second, I wanted to hold true to a credo of not playing the same songs from show to show. Creating killer set lists mixing Dead and Jerry Band from all eras. So every audience member can feel like they have a totally new experience each time they hear us. Finally, I wanted to exhibit what is often sometimes overlooked about the Dead. It can be perceived as they were this mellow jam band and are a super chill. But they had TONS of energy and tons of fun! So I wanted BOD to drive that train like the Dead doing our own interpretation of the songs people know, having a blast and bringing great energy!!
And I feel we have created a pretty cool universe that our fans really dig. And we LOVE our fans! They are true members of the band to us and everything we do is for them! My favorite thing to hear is when what we call a BOD-head says “Man, I have never heard that tune, that was really cool”. While at the same time spinning to songs they do know. It is such a cool scene to be a part of!! And we are so lucky to be great friends with many of our fans!
The real credit goes to my band who I love dearly and are absolute amazing musicians. Alex (guitar), John (bass), Andy (drums), Will (keys) and Jess (vocals) are all equally committed to bringing the most unique and energetic experience to our shows and fans! We have been doing this now for only a little over three years and have performed over 245 unique Dead and Jerry Band tunes. From “Shakedown Street” which everyone knows to “Who Was John” an obscure Jerry Band tune that is absolutely mind blowing! We are super proud of that!
Sound is developed how one plays their instrument and sure adding tonal textures (like effects) is part of this process. Can you tell us about the gear side to harnessing the signature dead sound?
I must admit I am more vocalist than total gear head but have studied Jerry’s and the Dead’s sound. For me, I don’t junk it up too much. A simple rig of a Fender Strat through a Twin Reverb with mid and high settings almost all the way up and bass almost all the way down works best. I let the amp do most the work for me, but mix in a little delay and of course hit the Qtron for tunes like “Estimated Prophet”, “Ramble On Rose” and “Shakedown.” For this upcoming show, we are really trying to dial in the era. Guitars pushing mostly through amps with little effects, our keyboardist will be just playing piano instead of any organ, and our drummer and bassist are really dialing in that era’s subtle grooves! We love the challenge!
Favorite Dead Era(s) and why?
Ha, for me that is like asking what air I like to breath. I really do love them all. Even the synth era!I I love Alligator from ’68 as much as “Lazy River Road” first performed in ’93. However, my heart broke when I saw Jerry struggling. So right before his coma in ’86 and toward the end in ’95 were not my favorite years. Even then though her would pull off some magic. But man when he was on like ’87, Spring 90 and of course early 70’s-76 when the band was young it is nothing short of inspiring!
Could you tell us about your favorite Dead show you attended?
Another tough one since there are so many great ones but would have to be The Hampton Coliseum Oct. 9 1989. I was at this show and I have never experienced anything like it. The “Attics Of My Life” first time since ’72, “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” mixed in among new tunes like “Built To Last” and “Throwing Stones.” But THE MOMENT was the first few notes of “Dark Star.” They had not played it in 5 years and people fell to their knees, started literally crying around me, and we were all screaming so loud that the music was unheard. The boys were blazin’ on that run and Jerry was surely smiling for those shows. It was life changing for me!
How did you end up getting to be a part of this Watkins Glen recreation?
Frank, the owner of Villain and Saint reached out and said he was conceptualizing this event. Once I read that it was Watkins Glen, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I mean what a great set of tunes by the Dead! Combined with The Allman’s and The Band! Seriously!? It was an absolute no-brainer for BOD to be a part of this amazing line up! And honored to play with 40 Dollar Fine, The Next Step Band and all the other bands playing that day!
In a world with so many festivals going on, this one still ranks as one of THE BEST up there with Woodstock, were you or any other members of Better Off Dead at Watkins Glen?
I wish! At the tender age of 46, I was a four years old soon to be Deadhead. Still mad at my parents for not taking me! He he. All of us in BOD are too young. But we know the show real well and can’t wait to put our spin on it. We’ve studied this show and will represent it well. Can’t wait!
Tickets are now available for purchase here.