Grateful Dead tribute band pounds it out at Winston’s
by Bart Mendoza
Published - 04/04/13 - 11:07 AM | 7909 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print

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There are plenty of tribute bands in San Diego, but few have the longevity or the following of the Electric Waste Band, champions of all things musical connected to the Grateful Dead. The band has a long-running Monday-night residency at Winston’s Beach Club, so it’s possible for Dead Heads to get their weekly fix of their favorite iconic, 1960s-era band.

Comprised of keyboardist Paul Bell, guitarists Robert Harvey and Mark Fisher, drummer Ed Fletcher and bassist Bob Rosencrans, the band was formed in 1990.

“After paying to see them for so many weeks and wondering why there was no keyboard player, I joined the band in 1995,” Bell said. “I left for a year and a half and came back, and have now been playing non-stop with EWB since 1998.”

For Bell, his inspiration for being in the band came from his school days.

“I got into the [Grateful] Dead right out of high school and went to a lot of West Coast Grateful Dead shows between 1990 and 1995,” he said. “I learned the music from seeing them live, and used to seek out piano-practice rooms at the local community colleges wherever I was, so I could put on my own Grateful Dead sets on the piano. That said, I don’t think I ever would have imagined I would do something like play this music weekly for 16 years straight.”

Beyond their regular Monday night Ocean Beach gig, Electric Waste Band has also performed in Hawaii and Las Vegas.

Today, the band has a set list of more than 100 songs, ranging from originals to songs the Dead covered by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Buddy Holly.

“We do a few they never did, like some Pink Floyd or Allman Brothers. We do not plan out a set. We rely on people from the crowd shouting at us,” Bell said. “We will do things, like discuss which songs are being overlooked or might be due to be played. The varying degree of our sets and of Grateful Dead music, in general, over the years, is one of those things that keeps me, and I suspect a lot of Dead Heads, coming back for more,” Bell said. “More so than any other band, the Grateful Dead’s wide song list is a true luxury for a musician. I mean, if I played in an Eagles cover band or something, I would be playing the same songs, the same way, night after night. The wide song list is a big part of being able to do this for so many years.”

He cites “Shakedown Street” as a particular crowd pleaser.

For Bell, his musical aspirations started much earlier than his 1995 entry into the band.

“In kindergarten, on my first day, I was arguing with some kid about something, and for punishment, my teacher made me sit on the piano bench during recess while the other kids went outside. I started playing the theme from ‘Jaws,’ and then asked my parents for lessons.”

Though he gave a piano recital as early as age 5, music didn’t end up being Bell’s main focus in life, but that doesn’t make it any less important to him.

“At that recital, I did ‘Fur Elise,’ and made a mistake halfway through,” he remembered. “So, being somewhat of a perfectionist, I started the whole thing over and nailed it. The crowd loved it.”

Ultimately, Bell didn’t become a full-time musician, though he’s played in local band Last Exit, has a solo CD called “Hourglass,” and is working on a follow-up.

“I have sold dozens of albums, and stand to make literally tens of dollars,” he joked. “It is kind of funny, because there is another guy with my same name over in England with a few releases, and if you look for me on Spotify, or whatever, you get his stuff in there, too. I gave up on trying to fix i.t”

For Bell, it’s all just part of the process of making music.

“I didn’t choose musician as a profession, although I knew I would always make music and I would always be a musician,” Bell said. “Unlike other trades, where there is usually a motive behind it, making music is its own motive. I will always feel the need to write music, kind of like I will probably always feel the need to play through some good old Grateful Dead tunes at least once a week.”

• Electric Waste Band: Monday, April 8 and April 15 at Winston’s Beach Club, 1921 Bacon St. 9 p.m. $5. 21 and up.

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