Melvin Seals. Photo by Steven Philips.

Interview with Melvin Seals of the Jerry Garcia Band

Words by Autumn Walden, Photos by Steven Philips

The Catskill Chill Festival is coming around again to Camp Minglewood in Hancock, New York bringing bands like Yonder Mountain, Conspirator, EOTO, The McLovins, as well as the legendary Jerry Garcia Band (JGB) with Melvin Seals.

For those not familiar with the JGB, it’s the Jerry Garcia Band—formed by Jerry Garcia in 1975. Melvin Seals, who joined the JGB on keyboards in 1980 is the only original member and continues to carry the torch. As their website explains, they are “Keepers of the Flame”. I had the lovely opportunity to ask Melvin a few questions about his time with Jerry Garcia, the band, and his Hammond B3.

TSI: How did you meet Jerry Garcia? Can you tell how you came to join the JGB in 1980?

MS: I met Jerry through John Kahn, who played bass for Jerry at that time. John heard me through Maria Muldaur and asked me would I be willing to play in another band he was in, and asked me to a rehearsal where I met Jerry. He liked my work and the rest is history.

TSI: Are there any songs that make you cry, laugh, or get angry when you play them or hear them played?

MS: “Forever Young” has brought tears to my eyes. Also “I’ll Be with Thee”. The lyrics are very touching.

TSI: Can you talk about any traditions that you keep (or have broken) with the JGB?

MS: The most important tradition is keeping the same look and likeness of the original band: 2 background singers, bass player , drum, guitar, and keyboard. I also try not to change the material.

TSI: Have you ever been asked/ordered to pay a license fee to cover a song due to copyright or intellectual property laws? (Note: I’m part of a JGB tribute band—The Michael Morrow Band—and we have been asked to “cease and desist” from playing High-Heel Sneakers by the Higgenbotham estate.)

MS: No I have not been asked to pay a license fee. To perform live, you usually don’t have to pay. You only pay license fee for a tv and radio.

TSI: Does your Hammond B3 have a name/persona? Why did you choose the organ?

MS: I like how the organ sounds and it’s been something I want to master. I like the sound of the organ over the piano. My Hammond is called the “Dream Machine”.

JGB with Melvin Seals. Photo by Steven Philips.