A Word With Melvin Seals

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Melvin Seals has been a powerful presence in the music industry for over 30 years with a sterling reputation as a performer, recording artist and producer. Melvin is most revered for his powerful, high-spirited Hammond B-3 organ and keyboards in the Jerry Garcia Band for 18 years, and in doing so helped pioneer and define what has now become “Jam Band Music.”

Seals and the Jerry Garcia Band, featuring John Kadlecik, will be coming to the Kahilu Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, for a 7:30 p.m. show. Ticket info below.

I caught up with Seals by phone at an all-day music event called Denver Comes Alive where he was playing with Oteil Burbridge & Friends.

Will your show at the Kahilu Theatre mark the band’s Big Island debut, and what can fans look forward to at the concert?
Yes. I don’t think we’ve ever played there before. If they’re JGB, Jerry Garcia Band, fans they should expect to close their eyes and relive any of those songs and moments that they’ve heard in time with Jerry. We’ve dialed this in so fine. If you loved the music, you will once again love this music. Fans should be able to close their eyes and relive some moments in time that they’ve shared with the Jerry Garcia Band.

Can you briefly describe your first encounter with Jerry Garcia?
My first encounter? [laughs]Long and strange! It’s a long story, but it was a big shock to me because I didn’t know who Jerry was. And you probably read and saw that in certain interviews. I was invited by bassist John Kahn to come in and rehearse with this band, and there could possibly be some gigs. So, when I went to do the first rehearsal, I didn’t know any of the band members because I wasn’t a Dead Head and I just didn’t really know anything about it. So, the whole scenery was a big mystery to me.

Over the course of your career, is there one particular show that stands out as the most memorable?
Wow! There were a lot of electrifying shows, but the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre shows in New York were so incredible. [Oct. 15–30, 1987] We did 17 days of matinees and night shows that I thought were so incredible, how they were done and the whole deal about the show. Of course, the Warfield shows too. They used to call it church. They came to those shows for their Sunday church. But there were a lot of shows, even in Hawaii that were all aboveboard.

How has the music changed for you since you’ve been with the Jerry Garcia Band?
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to dial in to be as close as when I was with Jerry, along with musicians, singers, and guitar players, to relive those moments that I experienced on stage. And it has changed quite a bit. Now, even though I’m closer to it than ever, I seem to feel that it’s more open. I don’t think folks today really care that it’s all about guitar players that just sound like Jerry. I think now it’s about getting a good groove, a good vibe, a good feel. They are younger fans now that come to these shows like their parents, who were Deadheads, did. Back then, Jerry could put two or three slow ballads back to back and it would be perfectly fine. The fans back then were able to absorb what was coming from the stage. But now the younger kids want more energy. They want a more upbeat show. And, as an example, there are a number of bands that do kind of Jerry Garcia, all upbeat and they’re bigger than life. They just came out the gate like, ‘Whoa, where did you come from?’ They are younger fans now that have their own kind of thing. So, while I was trying to dial into the sincereness of what was happening on stage with Jerry, I’ve come to find that I don’t think that matters now. I think now you can open the door and do other things. Although I value the spirit that came in with songs like “Lucky Old Sun,” or “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and “Simple Twist of Fate,” there’s a vibe about that I do not want to lose. There are songs like “Ain’t No Bread in the Bread Box” that you can have fun with, but there are sacred songs I don’t want to lose that vibe with.

Besides touring, which projects are you working on right now or projects for the near future?
I’ve been working with Oteil & Friends. I’m in Denver right now with them. I’ve been working with Steve Kimock, and Zero. I’m also playing with Little Feat. They call it Dead Feat in New Orleans. So, there are four or five bands, when I have availability, they’ll book me. But the most exciting thing this year is I’m going to work on my own solo project. I’ve been attempting it, and I am more inspired than ever to do it this year.

John Kadlecik & Melvin Seals

What music have you been listening to lately?
I’ve gone back to a number of rock classics, only because I’m feeding my brain ideas… groups like Chicago… some older stuff that I thought was done so fine. I want to take and add it into a jam band sound, groove orientated that I’m squashing together with some clips of opera and classical music mixed in it. It’s just something I haven’t heard too many people do. So, I have something in the back of my head that I’m squashing together and I’m going to put some recording together and see if there’s something there.

Is there someone you’ve never collaborated with, but you’d like to?
Oh, gosh! Not necessarily a group or a band, but there are songs out there that I wished I wrote or were a part of. Songs that touched me musically. I think when you play music, sing, or do an instrumental, I think it should emotionally touch you, one way or another. You know, the kind of music that brings the hair up on your arm, or puts tears in your eyes, or gives you such a happy moment, and you’re dancing your butt off.

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we go?
Well, I’d like to welcome all the fans to come out and see what we’re doing. We have some dynamite musicians, as they know. Guitarist John Kadlecik recently joined the band. I always thought he was Number One in his field. So, there’s nowhere else to go from here, but just being the best!

If you go… Have a good show!

Event: Melvin Seals & JGB featuring John Kadlecik
When: Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Kahilu Theatre, Waimea
Cost:  $55 / $50 / $45
Info: Tickets can be purchased at kahilutheatre.org, (808) 885-6868 or at the Kahilu Theatre Box Office located at 67-1186 Lindsey Road, Kamuela (Waimea).


Steve Roby is a music journalist, an L.A. Times bestselling author, and a Big Island filmmaker. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the managing editor of Big Island Music Magazine.

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