Keepers of the flame
KEYSTONE – When Melvin Seals met Jerry Garcia, he thought he had stumbled upon a satanic cult.”I wasn’t a Deadhead, and I didn’t know about the scene,” Seals said about his first experiences playing in the Jerry Garcia Band in 1980. “(I came) fresh out of the church world, and I was surrounded by skeletons. I didn’t know what was going on. Suddenly I was in a strange place where all the locals had skeletons with flowers in their hair. I didn’t talk much; I was shy, playing the organ and getting out of there as soon as I could.”Though Seals’ musical roots and beliefs reached deep into gospel soil – an area very far from Garcia’s hippie-laden-love land – Garcia’s music spoke to him, and the scene grew on him.”As I met the people, I wouldn’t trade it for nothing,” Seals said. “There was a church vibe all over the music, a sacredness vibe. It was like what’s known in church as a spiritual experience. Musically, I felt compatible.”And Seals’ organ playing struck a deep chord within Garcia.”Melvin started playing with us, and he was just a monster,” Seals quoted the late Garcia on his Web site. “This big guy, he was just playing a Fender Rhodes. But he was playing it so tasty. He turned out to be the guy that we were looking for all along.” Seals toured with the Jerry Garcia Band for 18 years. A year after Garcia’s death in 1995, Seals revived the band. He plays music Garcia wrote and covered, always yearning to capture that point where music merges with spirit, what he calls church vibe.”I’m trying to keep it exactly the way it was with Jerry,” Seals said. “I get the best musicians – guys that sound like Jerry. I am the real deal. I was there for 18 years, and I know what to do to teach the musicians to get the real feel. Jerry loved the music, and I know he wanted it to continue on, so I feel like I’m doing the right thing.”In addition to honoring Garcia’s memory through the music, Seals wants to give something to his fans.”If I could see the same smiles on their faces that they had when Jerry was there, that’s all I’m out to accomplish,” he said.Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at email@example.com.
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