Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Conversations with . . .
The Kind's guitarist, Tom Snediker,
talks about 19 years of playing
with a Grateful Dead tribute band
On Jan. 31, 1986, the local band The Kind was born. Nearly 19 years later, the now well-known Grateful Dead tribute band is still truckin'.
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Most of the band members who have played with the group over the years have moved on. The band's on-stage setup has moved from loud amps and louder drums to processors and electronic drums, which can be smoothly wrangled into a manageable (and much quieter, if desired) decibel level on stage. The band has taken hiatuses and had band conflicts and managed to play every Wednesday night in Blacksburg for 12 years straight.
The Kind has survived the perils of trying to make a living as musicians and lived a pretty good rock and roll life — and played nearly two-thirds of the 30 years that the Dead itself managed to tour. Tom Snediker is undeniably the group's Jerry Garcia. Recently he sat down to talk about the history of The Kind as the group approaches the two-thirds mark.
When did The Kind get going?
Tom Snediker: Nineteen years ago. January of '86. My 20th birthday party was actually our first performance.
Who were the core members then?
TS: It started off with myself, Mark McLeod and Wendy Jaffee [now Wendy Godley]. . . . We started playing acoustic gigs I guess in the fall of '85 and then picked up the rest of the people — Tim Taylor, Keith Cooley, Alex Hamilton and Dave Ruggio were the original lineup. . . . Of those, just Wendy and I are the only one's left playing full time. Mark is now teaching at Penn State. Tim Taylor's in Hawaii playing.
What was the instrumentation?
TS: We had lots of guitars. Mark McLeod on guitar, Keith Cooley played bass, his wife Alex played keyboards, Tim played drums, and Dave Ruggio also played guitar. So at one point we had four guitar players — it was kind of a heavy sound.
So what's the lineup now?
TS: Wendy and I are the only two surviving members. Steve Hunt plays bass, who played with Bob Margolin here in town for years and years, and Rick Godley, Wendy's husband, is the drummer, and then also Danny Dunlap has been playing guitar. He's been playing with the Electric Woodshed for about as long as we've been playing.
Do you ever play originals?
TS: Some. We do on occasion. We're not motivated songwriters. Wendy has written some songs and we'll play her tunes on occasion — it's more out of laziness that we don't play them more. Mark McLeod, who left about a year and a half ago, wrote a lot of songs and we recorded a CD with him. . . . We're more into just playing.
So how did it come together?
TS: By accident. It was my 20th birthday party and some friends of mine from Ferrum College were supposed to play, and they'd had a little bit too much fun and found themselves in a condition unable to perform. And so Wendy, Mark and I were there at the party along with some other friends that had played — Tim and Keith and Alex were all there — so we just kinda grabbed all their amps and instruments and sat in and played. We certainly never planned on being here 19 years later.
So was everybody just into the Dead and that's how it got started?
TS: Yeah, in fact that night when we first got together we said, 'Well, what can we play?' and those were the songs that we all knew — that one common interest and a lot of other diverse ones. It was a good place to start, and then it snowballed.
And you guys have a yearly gig right?
TS: Twice a year we play a four-night stay down in Nag's Head at the Port O'Call, which all the old original members who are still able to make it to this coast come down and play. Tim actually comes down at least once a year from Hawaii to play, and Mark will come, so we'll have as many of the original members as we can rope together for that. And then we also do a reunion gig around my birthday on the 31st of January.
You guys have been playing for over half as long as the Dead was in existence.
TS: They played 30 years, almost 35 years before Jerry died. But they're still chugging along. We actually did a couple of gigs with Ratdog's — Bob Weir's band's — bass player [Robin Sylvester]. He's come to Blacksburg a couple times and played with us. He was a really cool guy and a great musician. That was pretty cool. And we're probably gonna book a show somewhere along Ratdog's tour, and play with Mark Karan — their guitar player — and a few other guys, which will be pretty cool.
Are there any songs in particular that you know you guys have just played to death?
TS: Oh yeah, there certainly are a lot of songs we've been playing since we started playing together, some of which we still play. . . . One of the cool things about Dead music is that it's so loose you're not bound to play it the same way every time . . . there's different things you can do with the song every time that keeps it fresh. . . . If it were a different type of music, I'm sure it would never have lasted.
That's interesting. I'm sure a lot of people would wonder if you guys go crazy being in a cover band for so long. So it's not so much a cover-versus-originals issue, as it is a structure issue?
TS: Or a lack of structure, yeah. A lot of bands I've seen do Dead songs that were really good, but they tended to do things the same way, and it kinda lost the point of doing something that's open and free to begin with.
So you're a heavy improvisation band.
TS: Yeah, we don't plan anything out. . . . There are certain things you play the same way every time, like a signature guitar riff, but other than that nobody's bound to do anything. . . . Yeah, if we did the same thing every night, I'd rather drive a truck.
Is there a key song that you know you've played more than any other?
TS: For a Dead song it would have to be "Shakedown Street." It's kinda the "Freebird" of that genre of music, basically because it's a disco song and people like to dance. And even if it is as simple of a disco song as it is, you can still have fun with it.
The Kind performs every Tuesday night at Champs Cafe in downtown Blacksburg, and the group will perform New Year's Eve at Whisker's Road House (above Mama Lazardo's) in Floyd. Check out the band's Web site.