Melvin Seals Interview

Exclusively for Appalachian Jamwich by Ryan Neeley

On August 9, 1995, Jerry Garcia, lead singer/guitarist of The Grateful Dead, died from a heart attack while in rehab at the age of 53.   Many people believed that this would mark the beginning of the end to Garcia’s musical legacy, but Melvin Seals refused to listen to the naysayers.  Seals, who had played with Garcia and John Kahn in the Jerry Garcia Band for almost two decades, formed JGB after Kahn’s untimely death in 1996 and has been the “Keeper of the Flame” since then, doing what he can to continue the band’s legacy.   JGB will be performing at Family Roots Fall Festival in Logan, OH on Saturday, Oct. 13th and the Hard Rock Café in Pittsburgh, PA on Sunday, October 14th.   Appalachian Jamwich got the opportunity to interview Melvin recently about JGB, how he came to play with the Jerry Garcia Band, and what we can expect on the coming tour.

Appalachian Jamwich:  This is Ryan Neeley for Appalachian Jamwich  here with Melvin Seals of JGB, who will be performing at the Family Roots Festival in Logan OH on October 13th and The Hard Rock Cafe’ in Pittsburgh on October 14th .   First off, happy early birthday!  (Melvin celebrated his birthday the day after this interview)

Melvin Seals:  Aww, Thank you, thank you,

AJ:   Can you talk a little about your early life – I understand that you started playing gospel music at your church in middle school?

MS:    Well, yes, because of my father, who was in the church, I was surrounding by gospel music from an early age.   I’d watch the church organist or piano player striking notes, and folks were shouting out, and I used to think ‘Wow, I want to do that.’

AJ:     You’re a beast on the (Hammond) B-3! When did you first start playing?

MS:   Well, we had a piano in the house and I’d sit around pecking on it and such until I started making some sense out of it all.  At some point my father saw a little talent there, and they sent me to school to really try to learn it right – It really got started around the age of 8.

AJ:    Who associated with Jerry first saw you in SF (and where was it)?

MS:   I was doing some gigs with Maria Muldaur, and her boyfriend at the time was John Kahn.   He came to gigs and liked my style and asked if I’d be interested in jamming with a band sometime.  He didn’t tell me it was Jerry (Garcia).   So I went up to the address and there’s Jerry and John Kahn and all these other musicians there.   I didn’t really know what was going and it didn’t hit me until the end of rehearsal.

AJ:   Was it a challenge learning the improvisational aspect of the music when you first started?

MS:  I had come from playing gospel music and Broadway plays – I had played with Elvin Bishop and I knew OF the Grateful Dead, but I couldn’t point them out in a crowd and didn’t know any of their songs.  It was different with Jerry – I had come from a very structured heavily orchestrated work on Broadway to playing with them – Jerry wanted it loose – he didn’t want it too tight or arranged, he just wanted it to flow.   Where I came from, in the R&B world, things are very technical, very precise.  It just wasn’t like that with Jerry.

AJ:   Yeah, it’s almost like the fans like when Jerry made mistakes.

MS:  And that was hard to get used to, but people would go WILD when Jerry messed up a line in a song or something.  They just went with it!

AJ:  You’ve played with greats like Elvin Bishop, Pete Sears, Merl Saunders, Chuck Berry, and Charlie Daniels and played on Broadway.   What makes the music that you perform with JGB so special?

MS:  It’s amazing – it’s timeless – I do these shows and there’s an old timer there next to an 20 year old kid, and the kid knows every lyric to every song – When we first started carrying on after Jerry, a lot of the older Dead Heads who went to see Jerry were not supportive. Their kids were – the ones that weren’t lucky enough to see Jerry.   But now more and more of the older fans are coming out, which is nice, but the younger generation will be the ones keeping it going – the kids of the older fans, and hopefully they’re kids will be listening, too.

AJ: Obviously things aren’t the same with Jerry gone, but it seems like JGB keeps plugging along.

MS:  You know, I’m just trying to keep what I learned from Jerry alive.  We try to play from the heart, and it seems like people enjoy it.  You can look out and see that people feel it, with a big grin on their face or a tear in their eye, these songs hold meaning to people.   That’s when I know we’ve done what we’ve set out to do.  It’s definitely not for the money – sometimes it’s actually a struggle (financially), but if I can put a smile on someone’s face with all of the bad news out today, I’m all about it.

AJ:  Appalachian Jamwich will be at Family Roots Fall Fest in Logan, OH and the Pittsburgh show at the Hard Rock on the 14th to check you out.  What can we expect?

MS:  You can expect a good time, that’s for sure – We’ll be playing all of the favorites that Jerry band played – With JGB it was a little different –we didn’t vote on things like the Grateful Dead did – What Jerry wanted to play we played – so these are the songs that Jerry loved to play, and we’re just trying our best to keep that alive for as long as we can.

AJ:   Well, I must say that we think you are doing a fantastic job and we really appreciate you keeping the music alive for all of us to appreciate all over again.   We can’t wait to see you.

MS:  Be sure to come over and introduce yourself.

AJ:   Will do, Melvin, thanks for everything.

MS:  Thank you.

For JGB tour dates, go to:

For tickets to Family Roots Fall Festival –

Tickets for Hard Rock Cafe show with Patti Spadaro and Big Gypsy are $18 adv, $20 gate – 21+ show –