After Jerry Garcia passed away in 1995, the remaining members of the Grateful Dead continued making music with assorted projects, including RatDog, The Dead, the Other Ones and Furthur. Similar to electric psychedelic jam-fest specialists the Grateful Dead, Furthur also favors stage over studio. Additionally, Jerry Garcia’s sonic tie-dyed spirit lives on in Furthur by way of classic Dead tunes like “Cassidy,” “Morning Dew” and even in the intricate jazz laced trip, “The Eleven.” Close your eyes at a Furthur show and you would swear the Grateful Dead was back together once again.
Personnel, a familiar plan, minus the keyboardist’s curse
Furthur is guitarist and singer Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, co-guitarist John Kadlecik, drummer Joe Russo and backing vocalists Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson. When it comes to personnel, Furthur’s formula is a typical Dead recipe for counter-culture success. Aficionados know Weir and Lesh were founding members of the Grateful Dead. Now, instead of Bob and Jerry, enthusiasts groove to the twin six-string attack of Weir and Kadlecik. But there is more to this Haight-Ashbury inspired tradition.
Jeff Chimenti and Sunshine Becker evoke memories of the late Grateful Dead piano and organ player Keith Godchaux and his wife, singer Donna Godchaux-Mackay, who survives him. By the way, the only keyboardist to escape the so-called curse of the Grateful Dead is Bruce Hornsby. The list of deceased players includes the Hammond organ pounding co-founder Ronald McKernan, better known as Pigpen, who was followed by Keith Godchaux, Brent Mydland and then Vince Welnick. So far, Furthur has not lost any musicians. Keep your fingers crossed.
Great singers, a well-known collection and generic album titles
Other comparisons can be made to Garcia’s pack of melodious warlocks. Where the original Grateful Dead had Pigpen, who also sang and often assumed lead vocals, Furthur has Jeff Pehrson. After hearing Furthur’s version of “He’s Gone,” any doubts about the Becker-Pehrson singing tandem will be quickly dispelled.
Then there is song selection. Being a jam band, Furthur is best experienced live. What’s more, the set list from a Furthur gig can often double as a Grateful Dead anthology. Among the micro-dot Merry Prankster favorites frequently performed are “Shakedown Street,” “Truckin’,” “Scarlet Begonias,” “China Cat Sunflower” and “Fire on the Mountain.” One more thing: Furthur’s albums are all concert recordings, so they do not have conventional titles. Remember, these are jam-fest rockers. Consequently, most devotees simply use the venue’s name as a point of reference. For instance, Furthur Live from the Jones Beach Theatre in Wantagh, NY: 7/17/2011 contains a ripping cover of Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy.”
While Furthur CDs and Mp3s may not be readily available at the usual retailers, there is no shortage of the group’s music. Downloads are accessible if you look around. On furthur.net, the band’s official website, audiences are encouraged to “Buy it tonight! Get it tonight!” You heard it right. Furthur fans can order a copy of any show they have just witnessed immediately afterwards, “at the T-shirt stand.” It seems Furthur does not need a hit song to remain successful. Come to think of it, the Grateful Dead already proved that.