Still one of the world’s most famous groups, despite the passing of frontman Jerry Garcia in 1995, it’s only natural that there be tribute acts in their honor, including Ocean Beach favorite Electric Waste Band. Now comes Alley Cat Street, a new offshoot of this combo; — this time dedicated to Garcia’s solo work.
Alley Cat Street debuted Dec. 7 at Winston’s Beach Club, where it will continue to play regular gigs. The group is made up of keyboardist Paul Bell, guitarist Andy Braunstein, drummer D.J. Bonin and bassist Andrew Lantz.
Bell said Winston’s is the obvious choice when it comes to a home base.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Bell. “I played 16 years of straight Monday nights there. The ‘dead-head’ scene is thriving in OB.”
Bell said he originally left Electric Waste Band for a change of pace, though he didn’t go too far.
“After spending over 16 years playing in the Electric Waste Band, I had a feeling it was time to move on,” he said. “I will always love Jerry Garcia’s musical sensibilities and will crave that style, so I knew I would be able to assemble these cats and have a good ol’ time playing with what, to me, are brand-new sets of music.”
Garcia fans will be happy to know that Alley Cat Street does, indeed, stick to Garcia’s solo work.
“For now, we are making an effort to not play Grateful Dead songs,” Bell said. “Jerry Garcia Band [JGB]would only play one or two songs that were also in a typical Dead show. The song ‘Deal,’ for instance.”
For Bell, the most exciting thing about Alley Cat Street is the different genres that can show up within a single show.
“JGB lists would include Jimmy Cliff one minute, then Irving Berlin, some Chuck Berry, some Motown, some funk, gospel,” said Bell. “A lot of these tunes are songs my dad would know and love.”
On the other hand, the no-Dead-songs rule is not set in stone.
“I sang over 95 tunes with Electric Waste Band, and if someone throws some dough in our [tip jar], I will oblige them with their Dead request, sure,” he laughed.
With two decades of playing Garcia’s music, it’s clear that Garcia has been a huge influence on Bell.
“I saw him with the Grateful Dead over 50 times and with Jerry Garcia Band another 20 or so,” Bell said. “He made me realize any song is fair game, and a good piece of music is a good piece of music. He had such a playful style. I used to be a very rigid piano player growing up, only able to play what was written in front of me.
“After discovering the Dead, and particularly Jerry, it opened up the possibility of my entire instrument to be utilized at any given time,” he said. “He taught me improvisation and musical exploration and to embrace the almost out-of-control sensation of improvising with others.”
He cites “Run For The Roses” as a favorite song.
“It’s up there for me. I never get sick of that one,” Bell said, noting that Garcia’s guitar technique is a crucial element of his own work. Its appeal is part of the reason Bell still loves Garcia’s music after all these decades.
“He played with such a slippery type of style, like a snake slithering through a wood pile, his lines would float in such a way it would to cause one’s mind to wander. He could put you in a trance on a good night,” he said.