Tag Archives: Grateful Dead

Billy Iuso: Dead Inspired Funk


Journeyman guitarist Billy Iuso is hitting his groove in the live-music scene by awakening the Dead.


Billy Iuso

“I’m a hippie,” Billy Iuso says in describing himself, his musical influences, and inspirations during a recent phone interview, as he speaks through a cold during the depths of winter.

Iuso’s Restless Natives opened the previous Saturday’s Anders Osborne’s Holiday Spectacular at Tipitina’s in New Orleans before Iuso supplied guitar-shredding support to Osborne’s set. The following Sunday, Iuso would perform downtown at The Maison with the Iko Iko All-Stars, a group of New Orleans-based, like-minded Deadheads in which he and former Restless Native C.R. Gruver (Outformation) slick the Grateful Dead’s wheels with a bit of Nola grease. From his home in Uptown New Orleans, Iuso, 44, explained he was looking forward to spending the holidays at home with this wife and family before taking off in January with Osborne to gig at Gov’t Mule’s Island Exodus IV in Jamaica in January.


While his serene summation of “feeling blessed” at this point in his life and career is the stuff of sage hippie wisdom, Iuso, a Port Chester, New York native of Italian heritage, applies the hippie label when discussing music. Iuso’s ascent in stature and gigs (such as being named Bear Creek Festival artist-in-residence in 2011) within groovy circles is obvious in the few last few years, particularly in his recently discovered kinship with the beastly, divine rock-and-soul stew that is Osborne’s sound. This ascent comes after decades of toil, triumphs and tribulations in various musical adventures, most notably to many in the Brides of Jesus, which Iuso formed just out of high school, earning fans and buzz in the early 1990s in New York City via weekly gigs at the Wetlands before moving to Athens, Georgia, where he moved the band to soak up “the hip little Southern music scene”.

Billy Iuso & Mickey Hart

Engagingly equal parts jaded musician and enthusiastic fan, buoyant boy and old soul, Iuso, a tattoo of Jerry Garcia’s famously four-fingered hand emblazoned on his right forearm, talks after sound-check/shrimp boil for the Holiday Spectacular on the sidewalk outside Tipitina’s.


He’s asked about the magic created last Jazz Fest, which found him in a late-night jam at an Osborne show that reached full-tilt guitar frenzy in a “Third Stone from the Sun” jam during the encore that featured Luther Dickinson, Warren Haynes, Osborne and himself. “In this genre, we have a respect that makes things easy,” Iuso says of how the aforementioned players worked harmoniously together, “because it’s really not work. Anders and I just click. Those others guys, they know when to play and when not to play. It’s a respect thing.”


Billy Iuso band2Iuso’s opening set with the Restless Natives — Thomas McDonald (bass), Michael Burkhart (keys), Eddie Christmas (drums), Jimmy Carpenter (saxophone) and the debut of vocalist Ginger Matthews — grooves with originals and covers including Jimmy Cliff’s “Sitting Here in Limbo.” Iuso is the first guest in Osborne’s set, locking in for an extended “Black Eyed Galaxy,” the title track off Osborne’s acclaimed album from last year that announced the Swedish-born, now-sober guitarist/singer was a Dead Head and proud of it. Along with rock songstress Shannon McNally, Iuso sang and soared in “Sugaree,” a staple Grateful Dead cover.

“I’m kind of a closeted Deadhead,” Osborne said in a Relix magazine interview following his Holiday Spectacular and in advance of his latest EP, Three Free Amigos, of which Iuso played an integral role. “Lately, it’s just popped up more and more. One of my closest friends right now, Billy Iuso, is a huge, huge fan of the Grateful Dead and he keeps sending me a bunch of stuff.”



Iuso moved to his adopted home of New Orleans from Georgia in 1997 at a point when the Brides of Jesus “started falling apart,” he recalls, and after the guidance of Meters bassist George Porter, Jr., whom Iuso began working for as road manager. Iuso credits Porter and Russell Batiste for indoctrinating an Billy Iuso & George PorterItalian hippie from New York into New Orleans, immersing him in its culture, musical traditions and community. In addition to solo albums (such as 2011’s Trippin’ over Dragons) and works with the Restless Natives, Iuso played guitar for five years with the Wild Magnolias, the Mardi Gras Indian band initiated by Big Chief Bo Dollis, Sr., who received the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)’s National Heritage Fellowship in 2011. Countless miles, studio hours, sit-ins, and small-crowds at no-cover shows have schooled Iuso in the cruel realities of music as business. But those same lessons, amazingly, have not diminished his energy, a palpable draw to his infectious handling of the Fender Stratocaster driven with passion and intensity through his Mesa Boogie amp.


Reflecting on the attributes brought by band mates Iuso, Carl Dufrene (bass) and Eric Bolivar (drums) on Three Free Amigos in the aforementioned Relix interview, Osborne says: “Well, usually they bring who they are, which is why we play together. There is not a lot of pre-thinking on my part. I just throw it out there and then we design it together. The reason that we are a band is because we like to see how things turn out. They add a tremendous amount by just being themselves and playing the way they do.”Anders Osborne at Brooklyn Bowl June 2012 Honest Tune


Playing his way — a trippy-licks, white-boy guitarist in a funky, soulful city — has landed Iuso new audiences among familiar faces via uncompromised virtues of vibe and tone in a town he now calls home. “When I first got here with the buzz from Brides of Jesus still out there, I came across some haters,” Iuso remembers. “They thought I was a tool, like ‘Who’s this guy coming to our town?’ But I’ve been here long enough, played enough, that I’ve gained respect. And once you’re in this community, you’re in it for good.”

Van-Tastic: YouTubing The Past With Nicki Bluhm

Van-Tastic: YouTubing The Past With Nicki Bluhm  


Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in the next big thing, or the obscure old thing, or the what does it mean thing. The music business is messy and doesn’t always reward talent and artistry. It can be frustrating to everyone involved. If you’re not careful, you can forget to listen. You can lose the joy. I worry about the artists who can never seem to catch a break or make a living, just as I lament the crap spewed forth by the karaoke TV shows.

But sometimes, beneath all the sheen, strategy and cynicism that coagulate to construct the music “business,” you discover something that reminds you just how elemental music is to being human. It’s why all this mess has built up around it to begin with.

We all do it because we have to. We do it even if there’s a broken apparatus that sometimes stifles the people who try to do it for a living. We do it for free. We do it for money. We do it when no one is watching. We do it, without constraint or self-consciousness, as children. This is proven time and time again when a four-year old sings “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” at the top of their lungs for six hours nonstop, even while eating.

Music is what we do, what we have to do, when we want to express ourselves. It’s what we do when there is sadness or happiness inside of us that needs to be shared or just let out.

Sometimes we have to be reminded that singing songs can be innocent and gleeful for it’s own sake. It’s not all about business. It’s not all about art.  It doesn’t have to be calculated or serious or even have any other purpose other than to amuse us and to have fun. It’s a great way to pass the time, too.

I found just such a reaffirmation while perusing the Internet last week, as I am apt to do. I found a series of YouTube videos from Nicki Bluhm and her band the Gramblers.  They’re a California outfit that plays an easygoing style of country rock and soul that takes you right back to 1975. Nicki writes and sings and her husband, Tim, sings with her when he’s not fronting his own band, The Mother Hips. The two bands tour together often, piled into a passenger van and towing their equipment in a trailer.

In each YouTube clip, Nicki and the band are seated in the van as it careens down the highway, presumably traveling between gigs. The camera is positioned on the dashboard, and the five of them joyfully sing songs into the camera. They’re just having fun. Goofing off. But the joy is palpable. It’s the millennial equivalent of singing songs in front of the bathroom mirror with a hairbrush for a microphone. It’s just that on the other side of this mirror, there’s the rest of the world.

The band uses a lot of carefully constructed harmonies and some sparse instrumentation.  A melodica (that tiny keyboard powered by blowing into a tube) or a travel guitar. The occasional ukulele. A kazoo. Things that you can fit in your lap while seated in a van. With just voice and these simple, small instruments they imbue familiar songs with gleeful zest. Most of the clips end with laughter or bright smiles that seem to say, “hey we pulled that one off pretty well!”

One can imagine it’s just a fun way to pass the time between gigs. But the playful performances come across as so heartfelt in their deep appreciation for Song itself that it speaks to a greater truth. These clips are connections to the musicians that came before them, the songwriters who knew the transformational shorthand that gets us all to that place where we are singing in the mirror. For as long as there have been traveling musicians, there has been music being made, for free, for fun, between stops. That we get to peek in on that world is what makes it transformative for us.

The songs have clearly been rehearsed. The lush harmonies on the Beatle’s “Here Comes The Sun” don’t materialize without some practice—these are not first takes.  But there is still an off the cuff vibe. Though they’ve practiced these songs before hitting “record” one can imagine that it comes after only a few hundred miles of woodshedding. Half the fun is probably figuring out which songs to tackle next.

The Beatles – Here Comes The Sun

Cover by Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers – Van Session

The songs run the gamut too. They are almost all well-known, easily recognizable cover tunes. It’s nearly impossible to prevent yourself from singing along with “Material Girl” and when Nicki does her little falsetto squeak it might be neurologically impossible for a living human being to not crack a smile.

They tackle the Grateful Dead’s “Deal” with style, Funkadelic’s “Can You Get To That” with vigor and their take on Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That” possibly outshines the original. Their giddy take on Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” became an apt homage that spread quickly after Houston’s death, though it had been posted months earlier. Buddy Holly, James Taylor  and Patsy Cline also get the joyous Van Sessions treatment.

Those songs are cultural touchstones for people of a certain age, and for many of those people, those 80s pop songs may well have been the very same ones they, too, were singing into a hairbrush years before discovering the Beatles, Funkadelic and the Grateful Dead.

A cynic would say these clips were carefully crafted publicity pieces featuring well-honed performances designed to show off the band’s chops and generate a viral marketing sensation. But to anybody who will listen, the van is actually a time machine that can make every one of us four years old again.


The Allman Brothers – Ramblin Man –

Cover by Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers -Van Session


Funkadelic -Can You Get To That –

Cover by Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers – Van Session


Grateful Dead – Deal –

Cover by Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers – Van Session


Whitney Houston – How Will I Know 

Cover by Nicki Bluhm – Van Session


Madonna – Material Girl –

Cover by Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers – Van Session



Hall and Oates – I Can’t Go For That –

Cover by Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers – Van Sessions

Grateful Dead : Dick’s Picks Vol. 34—Rochester, NY 11/5/77

Back in the day, before inexpensive, on-the-fly recording, and before the proliferation of digital downloading that now delivers complete performances from bands like Phish within 24 hours of the show’s end, there was this thing called a compact disc. Yes, kiddies, this was before Nugs.net brought full tours via electronic delivery; back in the old days when live shows were traded and live album releases were carefully selected, remastered, and delivered with the same hype as a new studio release.

The Grateful Dead changed the way we viewed live releases with the Dick’s Picks series, whereby archivist Dick Latvala mined the expansive collection of live recordings by the band, selected stellar performances, mastered them, and released them to the masses on the Grateful Dead Records imprint.  The Dick’s Picks series included 36 releases between 1993 and 2005, after which the branding was laid to rest in favor of a new Road Trips series. Since then, these releases have fallen out of print, but Real Gone Music is reviving the series beginning with Dick’s Picks Vol. 34—Rochester, NY 11/5/77.

To put it simply, this performance captures the Grateful Dead in all of its late-‘70s glory. Augmented by keyboardist Keith Godcheaux and his wife, vocalist Donna Jean, the core group – Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann – hits on all cylinders, delving into untethered explorations early on with the 12-plus minute “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,”  riding Garcia’s nimble fretwork on “Looks Like Rain,” and easing into the playful amble of “Candyman.” “Eyes of the World” is an early standout from the second set, but things truly get heavy through the middle passage of “Estimated Prophet,” “He’s Gone,” “Rhythm Devils,” and “The Other One,” which threatens to spin wildly out of control, before being guided back to safety by the deft touch of the band.

The Dead doesn’t skimp on the meat on this three-disc release, and Dick’s Picks 34 includes not only the entire 11/5/77 show, but discs two and three include portions of the 11/2/77 show from Seneca College Field House, Toronto, Ontario.

The featured show sounds immaculate, given that it is mastered from the original two-track analog reel-to-reel tapes, although it is complimented by the PA cassette master tapes to account for a missing reel. Unfortunately, the sound quality on the filler segments pales in comparison, but the inclusion of these tracks gives additional context of the band during that November run.

Technological advancements have allowed live shows from artists across the music world to flourish, but the business model owes a great deal to the Grateful Dead and its various archival projects that document the band’s long, strange career. Dick’s Picks Vol. 34—Rochester, NY 11/5/77 will put a smile on your face, a swing in your hips, and, thanks to Real Gone Music, it delivers an air of excitement and anticipation for additional re-issues from the series.

Dick’s Picks Vol. 34—Rochester, NY 11/5/77 is out now on Real Gone Music.

7 Walkers, 10/31/11

7 Walkers
Great American Music Hall
San Francisco, CA
October 31, 2011


Though only half of the 7 Walkers cast came out in costumes, there was no doubt that the celebration of the Halloween festivities was in full swing when they took the stage at San Fran’s Great American Music Hall.

On this night, Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green) — the bassist who is present on the self-titled album from 2010 — would fill out the low end duties alongside the 7 Walkers staples: legendary drummer and Grateful Dead co-founder Bill Kreutzmann, guitarist/funk crooner Papa Mali and multi-instrumentalist Matt Hubbard.

Susan Weiand was on the scene to capture the scenes from the event through her lens.



I: Space > Someday You’ll See, Junco Partner, King Cotton Blues, I Know You Rider, Nobody’s Fault But Mine, Walk on Guided Splinters, He’s Gone, Goin Down The Road
II: Positively 4th St*, New Orleans Crawl, Bird Song, Werewolves of London, Sue From Bogalusa,
7 Walkers, Evangeline, Bottle Up and Go
Encore: Big Railroad Blues, Wharf Rat

*Performed with Bob Dylan impersonator

Click the thumbnail(s) to view photos from the show by Susan J. Weiand

The Grateful Dead : The Grateful Dead Movie

Perhaps one of the best-known icons of the Grateful Dead, the  dancing skeleton was reworked as Uncle Sam by artist Gary Gutierrez for the opening animation of 1977’s The Grateful Dead Movie, where it dances, jams, and rides a motorcycle through psychedelic  scenery, leading viewers into the live performances at the core of the concert film. Years out of print, The Grateful Dead Movie is back, and the Uncle Sam skeleton’s glorious jig is now even more illuminated, thanks to Blu-Ray technology.

Filmed over a five-night stand in October 1974 at the Winterland Ballroom – and co-directed by frontman Jerry Garcia –  the film documents a high point in Dead lore. It marked the final shows before an extended hiatus, and it also marked the return of drummer Mickey Hart after a three-plus year absence. Take away all of these milestones, though, and what you have is a solid documentary with stellar playing by the band. Choice cuts like “Eyes of the World,” with its cascading breakdowns, and the heart-tugging  “Stella Blue” highlight the performance footage, which are interspersed with film of the crew setting up the Wall of Sound, blissed out audiences reveling during the performances, and often-comical commentary from Deadheads in attendance during the run.

The Blu-Ray release takes The Grateful Dead Movie to another level, though, with remastered audio and restored footage from the original negatives. If that wasn’t enough, a second disc includes 95 more minutes of live footage culled from this run, including meandering, improvisational readings of “The Other One,” which segues into “Spanish Jam” and “Mind Left Body Jam” before concluding, and the classic jam vehicle “Dark Star.”

The Grateful Dead Movie’s return is a reason to celebrate.  It is brighter, clearer, and sounds better than ever, a visual reminder of the magic of the Grateful Dead.

The Grateful Dead Movie is out now on Shout! Factory.

Yonder Mountain String Band: Live, Backstage and Unplugged (Video)

A few weeks ago, Yonder Mountain String Band hosted Harvest Festival on Mulberry Mountain. For the second year in a row, the event bore name of the Nederland, CO native quartet. Just in case anyone was in doubt of the outfit’s worthiness to such acclaim, Yonder proved it beyond any expectations by  sitting in with more bands than it would be prudent to name while also performing two three hour sets of their own. In short, to say that Jeff Austin, Adam Aijala, Ben Kauffman and Dave Johnston “had a busy weekend” would be quite the understatement.

In spite of their schedule, the four guys took time to sit down with Rex Thomson for an extended interview — to be released soon — and this, an acoustic serving of the Grateful Dead’s “They Love Each Other.” So sit back, relax, listen, watch and enjoy as Honest Tune exclusively presents Yonder Mountain String Band: Live, Backstage and Unplugged.


Yonder Mountain String Band: “They Love Each Other”

For more on YMSB, log on to www.YonderMountain.com

7 Walkers announce fall tour plans

IMG_8649.jpg7 Walkers, the revered band featuring legendary drummer and Grateful Dead co-founder Bill Kreutzmann, guitarist Papa Mali, multi-instrumentalist Matt Hubbard (Willie Nelson, Fastball) and legendary New Orleans bass man George Porter Jr. (The Meters, Funky Meters) today announce a run of fall tour dates that bring them to U.S. points south and west. Included along the tour are stop in hometowns of New Orleans and San Francisco, where very special local guest musicians are expected to sit in with the band. With George Porter Jr. also on a reunion tour with The Meters this fall, look for 7 Walkers Fall Tour to alternate bass players between shows, with select performances to feature Dirty Dozen Brass Band founder and sousaphone player Kirk Joseph Jr., and Tea Leaf Green’s bassist Reed Mathis (who also appears on the 7 Walkers’ album).

Current confirmed 7 Walkers tour dates are as follows:

October 14^ Harvest Music Fest Ozark, AR
October 15^ Kenny Dorham’s Backyard Austin, TX
October 18^ Tipitina’s New Orleans, LA
October 20^ MagnoliaFest Live Oak, FL
October 22^ LEAF Festival Black Mnt., NC
October 23^ Carolina Theatre Durham, NC
October 25-26***The Abbey at Hopmonk Tavern Sebastopol, CA
October 27***Napa Valley Opera House Napa, CA
October 29^ Hangtown Halloween Ball Placerville, CA
October 30*** Great American Music Hall San Francisco, CA
October 31*** Great American Music Hall San Francisco, CA
January 9-14^ JamCruise with Steve Kimock Ft. Lauderdale, FL

^Featuring George Porter Jr. (The Meters, Funky Meters) on bass
*Featuring Kirk Joseph (The Dirty Dozen Brass Band) on sousaphone
***Featuring Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green)

Additional dates to be announced.


10 Questions with…John Kadlecik

dso_thumb.jpgDark Star Orchestra has been reinventing and paying tribute to The Grateful Dead concert for almost a decade. 

The band has had many special guests, including Dead members Bob Weir and Donna Jean Godchaux, sit in with them as they perpetually take their own version of the long, strange trip on the road.

Honest Tune.com caught up with lead guitarist and singer John Kadlecik at the closing Cincinnati stop on their summer 2007 tour.

Continue reading 10 Questions with…John Kadlecik