Austin Jam Band Tribute Scene – 3 Part series
(Joe Rossi’s first in a 3 part series focusing on Jam Band Tributes in Central TX. Beginning with DeadEye, Austin’s Premeire Dead Tribute Act, we will then take a look at Panic Stricken, our Widespread Panic tribute and A Live One, a tribute to Phish.)
DeadEye’s 5-Year Long Strange Trip
~Taking Austin Deadheads where they’ve never gone before ~
By Joe Rossi
Austin TX – It’s been three years since I first hooked up with the members of DeadEye an Austin TX based Grateful Dead tribute band and shared their story with the readers of Deadheadland.
It’s been 5 years since they first set sights on becoming a first-rate tribute to the Grateful Dead, something Central Texas definitely needed. As I said then and I’ll say it now: these guys manage to pay tribute while at the same time infusing the music with originality and jams. Contrast that with the Dark Star Orchestra, a touring giant among tribute bands, who recreate certain Grateful Dead shows note for note. I remember seeing them Austin a few years back and while I enjoyed myself, I was a little disappointed because it seemed more carefully staged then spontaneous and improvisational.
DeadEye is able to grab this bull by the horn make it both familiar and fresh. By sharing leads guitarist Keith Sennikoff and Joe Faulhaber do away with the idea a tribute band needs a “deadicated Jerry.” On Jerry songs Joe sings and play lead guitar but Keith steps in as Jerry on Bob Weir songs; however, instead of pink izods, blue cut offs and spit up front Bobby is behind the drum kit, where Shadd Scott ~ sounding uncannily like Mr. Weir ~ all the while blazes away on his drum kit as both Mickey and Billy. On his three in one role, Shadd tells me: “Playing multiple roles in the band is something that came naturally to me and I try not to think about it. Singing and drumming is a challenge, but I love a good challenge. I love DeadEye and hope it lasts for years.”
Would he consider doing the full on two drummer thing the Dead themselves were known for? “As far as two drummers go: we have tried the double drums on occasion. It’s fun, but a challenge to rehearse enough to make both drums roll into one.” he said. “The five of us can achieve great heights and enter the sacred realm where the magic happens. Austin’s Dead scene has been very supportive and helped us achieve liftoff. The shows have been ceremonies, the clubs transform into temples and we often have enlightened experiences there. The tighter we get, the easier it is to access this spiritual space.”
Sennikoff agrees: “We enter a place, a higher place,” saying at times the band is unified like a group mind. During the extended trademark free-flowing improvisational jams, he notes at times they are so well-connected that in listening to recordings of the shows he sometimes finds it hard to tell his parts from Faulhaber’s.
With the recent 50 year anniversary hoopla, Faulhaber weighed in on Fare Thee Well and Dead & Company. Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio had the daunting task of stepping into Jerry’s shoes. “He seemed to relax a little more there and was absolutely explosive at times.”
On John Mayer, a relatively young Deadhead by any conventional means is blowing minds with Dead & Company “What’s obvious though is that he’s really done his homework and he is genuinely digging the whole thing. Gotta love him for that. I love both of those guys for being a part of the dead world. I only want this music to live on. If the boys wanna keep playing then I’m glad there’s other weirdos out there ready to fill in where needed.”
On keyboards is Trevor Nealon. In the years shortly before Brent passed and through the rest of the Grateful Dead’s career before Jerry Garcia died, Bruce Hornsby sat in as both a guest and regular member. I asked Trevor how he would feel about sharing keyboard duties. “Playing with Hornsby would be amazing. I’ve been a fan of his since I was very young.” He describes seeing Hornsby with his father in his youth and “Hornsby would always play a Dead song or two. As far as two keyboards in a band, it obviously doesn’t happen as much in the rock setting but there are some wonderful exceptions.”
Bassist Lee Braverman fills in as Phil and even sings a few Phil Songs. I asked him how he felt about Oteil who is touring with the boys in lieu of Phil. “I can’t really give a straight forward answer to Phil or Oteil. They each come from such different background and approach the music completely differently. They are both great in their own way and I’ve always admired both of their playing but I guess if I had to choose, strictly on the subject of Grateful Dead music it would be Phil hands down.”
DeadEye played three sets of music at the One To One Bar, a small intimate stage in Austin’s legendary 04 zip code. It’s become something of a minor residency for them along with Threagills an outdoor legendary venue near the heart of downtown Austin. At One-To-One they opened the evening with an acoustic set which ended with Ripple. Leo Bingleys definitely a familiar fixture at the shows and along with myself manage both a group and a page on Facebook dedicated to the Central Texas Deadhead scene summed it up succinctly “The set seemed intentionally designed to evoke deep emotions and it did! They nailed the set closer “Ripple.”
DeadEye has three upcoming shows: Friday December 4th 8 p.m. at the One2One Bar 1509 S. Lamar, Austin TX 78704 ~ Saturday December 5th 7 p.m. at the Cottonwood, 3422 N. Shepherd Drive, Houston TX 77018 and to close out the year, a New Year’s Eve Celebration at the South Austin Brewery 415 E. St. Elmo Rd. Austin TX 78745.