Under his leadership, the slightly renamed "JGB Band" pays tribute to Garcia by performing his songs and remaining faithful to his style. For many fans, it is a way of mourning, remembering and even reliving. But now, nearly a decade after Garcia's death, Seals is ready to move beyond the works of his former bandleader.
His solo debut, Melting Pot, is the culmination of nine years of extracurricular solo work. And sure enough, none of it sounds like the Jerry Garcia Band. The album jumps abruptly from blues to reggae to classic rock, and the extended jams that one might expect from the keyboardist of the JGB Band are largely absent.
Seals initially recorded the songs in his home studio as demos for other artists before realizing that he could compile and release them himself. He planned to shop the songs to artists such as Bonnie Raitt and Elvin Bishop, but instead he brought Bishop in as a guest musician and used the songs for his own album.
Now that Seals has Melting Pot under his belt, he says he has "every intention of putting a hot band together and seeking a career of my own." When he performs with the JGB Band, he has to stick strictly to the repertoire that Garcia used. "I tried to put some original songs in," he says, "and the fans were like, 'Jerry didn't do that song.'"
Meanwhile, the original Jerry Garcia Band is enjoying a revival of sorts, thanks to a series of archival releases from the Jerry Garcia Estate. Called Pure Jerry, the discs are sold exclusively through jerrygarcia.com and highlight the breadth of the guitarist's prolific career -- including fifteen years with Melvin Seals.
Seals still fondly recalls his first audition for the band. A deeply religious man who knew absolutely nothing about the Grateful Dead, he became unsettled by the artwork that hung on the walls of the rehearsal space. "Skeletons and the church just don't go together," Seals says, laughing.
After running through a couple numbers, he told Garcia, "Hey man, you play some great guitar!" Garcia repaid the compliment amid laughter from the other musicians. "They knew that I didn't have a clue who he was or what was going on," says Seals. "Nothing of nothing of nothing!"
Since that audition, Seals has dedicated his life to Garcia's music. "And it can go on," he says, "but in my own heart, as a writer, I think, 'Gosh, is there a place out there for my music?'"