Easy Answers: The Stone Foxes Talk Grateful Dead

Believe it or not, the Grateful Dead had a far-reaching influence that stretched way beyond their inner circle of improvisational minded bands.  Since playing their first shows 50 years ago the Dead have earned their place in the lexicon of culture as perhaps the quintessential American band. In light of their final shows, which take place June 27 and 28 in Santa Clara, CA and 4th of July weekend in Chicago, without lead guitarist Jerry Garcia of course, and to commemorate their legacy as a whole, we’ve decided to launch a special column that focuses specifically on the impact of the Dead within many different musical communities. In each installment of Easy Answers (get the reference?) we will question a different musician or band, ranging from the obvious to the not so obvious, about the importance of Grateful Dead on their own life and musical path. We could easily keep this column within the jam band community – and we will most certainly turn our focus to some of those acts – but the goal of Easy Answers is to get insight from musicians who most wouldn’t expect to be influenced by or fans of the Dead.

San Francisco-based band The Stone Foxes are not exactly a jam band, but their rock and roll captures the kind of energy one might find in the crowd or even the parking lot at a Grateful Dead show. It’s loose, spontaneous and all about the moment. Most importantly, the group is hellbent on keeping their music and performances as soulful as possible. During this year’s South By Southwest I witnessed the Stone Foxes perform a mid-afternoon set on a grey, rainy day at a what is normally a douche bag-filled sports bar. The band came seemingly out of nowhere and seemed focused on one thing and one thing only: getting everyone nearby to join them for a riotous rock and roll ceremony. Along with his bandmates, all of whom played their asses off despite the odd time and venue, frontman Shannon Koehler drew passersby to the front of the stage and had them in the palm of his hand. The sidewalk was filled with random tourists dancing along to the groovy sounds of the Bay Area band. Needless to say, they won over everyone lucky enough to pass through at that moment. Having already opened for tried and true rockers like the Black Keys and Social Distortion, the Stone Foxes are on their way to big things, and in August they have a new studio album coming. But perhaps one of the band’s more unexpected influences – at least in soul and spirit – is the Grateful Dead, which is why bassist Vince Dewald and guitarist Ben Andrews were happy to jointly reflect on their own love of the Dead.

How did you first get into the Grateful Dead?

I don’t quite remember, I think I was stoned.

Are there any personal memories of the band or a concert experience you’d like to share?

I never got to see the Grateful Dead because I was 10 when Jerry died, but I used to go see The Dead and Rat Dog when they would come through town. In high school I went to a concert in Boston at Northeastern University that was unannounced, so there were about 200 people in a huge hockey arena all crowded up to the front. I felt like I was a part of a special, secret show that not a lot of people got to see.  G Love opened up the night, who I had never heard of and that was kind of cool too.

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What is your personal favorite Grateful Dead song and why?

I am currently really into the song “High Time”.  I have always loved Jerry’s ballads because he sings with such raw emotion. This song is also very beautiful harmonically and has some great unexpected chord changes in it.

What is your favorite era of the Grateful Dead?

My first Dead CD that wasn’t a shitty bootleg, it was the Europe ‘72 album, and to this day I think it’s still my favorite. Pigpen’s vocals on “It Hurts Me Too” are fuckin’ badass.  So I guess early 70’s when pigpen was still alive.

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What Grateful Dead offshoot (The Other Ones, Furthur, The Dead, Phil and Friends, Ratdog, etc) did you feel did the strongest job of playing the material?

Phil and Friends with Warren Haynes was my favorite.

Pigpen, Tom, Keith, Brent, Bruce or Vince on keys and why?
Hard to say, but Pigpen was my favorite member out off all of these guys. His organ playing was good and he was just a great presence.

What do you feel is the greatest misconception a lot of people outside the Dead’s circle have of the band?

The biggest misconception in my mind is Jerry Garcia’s legacy. The Jerry bears and all the tye dyes and forever linking him to products and packaging that sell hippy-dom and psychedelia. It seems like his legacy is more linked to psychedelic drugs, street kids and the jam band scene than it is to his incredible depth as an artist and a musician. Jerry Garcia is a historic link from early blues, folk and bluegrass music to what has now become modern rock ‘n’ roll. A truly profound American musician and artist with a depth in his voice and guitar playing that is very rare. I would put him in the company of artists like Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. His artistic contributions rival anyone.

Do you remember where you were when you heard of Jerry’s passing?

I was around 12 years old and hadn’t yet had a lot of experience with the Grateful Dead. I grew up near Chicago and I remember my neighbor across the street, who was a few years older than me, had just come home from seeing his last show in Chicago. So Jerry Garcia was a new thing in my life right around the time of his passing. I remember watching MTV news with my brother when it happened.

What are your favorite Robert Hunter lyrics?

My favorite Robert Hunter lyrics are “Brokedown Palace“.

Name three songs you hope they play in Chicago….

“Birdsong”, “Row Jimmy Row”, “High Time”.

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The Stone Foxes will be on tour this spring and summer. For dates and details on their upcoming album check out thestonefoxes.com!

Check out more Easy Answers:

Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth

Alex Bleeker of Real Estate

Aron Magner of the Disco Biscuits

Black Pistol Fire

Keller Williams

Matt Butler of Everyone Orchestra

Greensky Bluegrass

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