By Hap Fry
Contrary to popular believe, Jon Kadlecik’s biggest influence was not the Grateful Dead.
Sure, Kadlecik is best known for helping form Grateful Dead cover band Dark Star Orchestra, before moving on to play alongside Dead founding members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir in Furthur as the group’s vocalist and lead guitarist. But there’s a lot more to Kadlecik than just being what now must be described as an instrumental part behind the Grateful Dead’s never-say-die legion.
“My first hero was Leonardo da Vinci, and what stood out about him to me was just how diversified he was,” Kadlecik said matter-of-factly during a recent phone interview with The Marquee from his Maryland residence. “He was a scientist, a philosopher and an artist in multiple fields – sculptures, paintings, drawings.”
Though some would be hard-pressed to believe it, especially considering his uncanny vocal recreation and guitar playing that is spot-on Garcia, Kadlecik has a pretty diversified musical palette. He was formally trained on classical violin before picking up a guitar at 16. Kadlecik also knows his way around a mandolin, bass, piano and drums, and he’s even done his share of multi-track recording and producing over the years.
“By the time I got turned on to Grateful Dead music, I had pretty much learned the entire classic rock catalog and a big portion of some pop rock, and I dabbled in some of the more technically interesting ’80s hard rock,” Kadlecik said. “So, I kind of knew my way around a guitar before I heard my first Grateful Dead song.”
The desire to learn more songs, not just play Grateful Dead songs, is ultimately what led Kadlecik to help form the most popular Grateful Dead cover band of them all – Dark Star Orchestra – in 1997.
“We sort of thought people would be turned off by it, but we were into it just because it was a great way for us to challenge ourselves to learn new songs,” Kadlecik said. “You’d be surprised to find a setlist where the entire band already knows how to play the entire list of songs. There are usually one or two songs in there that no one in the band knows or maybe just one or two people in the bands know how to play.”
Playing the role of the late Jerry Garcia for DSO turned out to be the perfect proving ground for Kadlecik. When Lesh and Weir came calling in 2009, Kadlecik wasn’t just prepared, he was expecting it. “I was hoping for it, and I felt like I was building up to it in experience,” Kadlecik said. “It was more just a matter of being able to get in the kitchen with some of the architects and trying to make some new recipes.”
Those recipes continue to taste good to fans of the Grateful Dead, and now Furthur. The group also features Jeff Chimenti (keyboards), Joe Russo (drums), Sunshine Becker (vocals) and Jeff Pehrson (vocals), in addition to Kadlecik and stalwarts Lesh (bass, vocals) and Weir (guitar, vocals).
While Kadlecik had a little history of playing music with Weir before joining Furthur, he had never shared the same stage with Lesh until the group rehearsed for the first time.
For obvious reasons, Kadlecik stops short of applying a hero-tag to his bandmates, but he is quick to admit there is pressure playing with the two icons. “The challenge is how to surprise them,” Kadlecik said. “That’s a lot of pressure. ‘What can I do to illicit a smile?’ I sort of look at that as my number one job in this band.”
If that’s his number one job then Kadlecik’s other job of utmost importance is living up to, as best as he can, Garcia’s legacy. “A lot of people understand the ornamentation of Jerry Garcia, but he was doing more than that,” Kadlecik said. “He was also seeking out these melodies. I don’t really know how to explain it. I guess the best way to explain it is the melody is used to decide what kind of furniture to make.
“There’s the ornamentation and then the melody of it all. I really strive for the moments when the melody shows up in the improvisation. Ornamentation is used to emphasize and give direction to inspiration,” he said.
All of Kadlecik’s musical experiences from violin to guitar to playing in Furthur, and appreciating da Vinci, help better explain how he has tried to define himself for a great deal of his life. “There’s part of me who considers me to be a cultural anthropologist on a quest to study subcultures in American society. The other part of me considers me to be an artist who is trying to help people heal and progress.”
:: Furthur ::
:: Ogden Theatre :: February 21 ::
:: 1st Bank Center :: February 22-24 ::
Recommended if you Like:
• Grateful Dead
• Dark Star Orchestra
• Phil & Friends