Sunday, June 04, 2006

DEADOBIT: Vince Welnick

The death of Vince Welnick, the last of the Grateful Dead keyboardists, has been announced.

Welnick was born in 1951, in Phoenix; and it was in Arizona that he would join his first professional band. That band, originally called The Beans, expaned to include Fee Waybill on vocals and reformulated itself as The Tubes. In 1975, their reputation for rowdy, good-time shows brought a flurry of chequebooks after them, with A&M eventually getting the signatures. The Tubes' live strength proved their undoing as recording artists, though, as without an audience to drive them forward, their albums seemed somewhat lacking. 1975's The Tubes and 1976's Young and Rich attracted a little attention - including their greatest gift to popular culture, the single White Punks on Dope - but by 1979, A&M had had enough and allowed the band to drift away.

Capitol tried to stop The Tubes going down, well, The Tubes, but a couple more albums limped out; 1981's Completion Backwards Principle managed a Top 40 placing but by 1986 it was clear the group had run its course.

Welnick filled in playing keyboards on Todd Rudgren albums - Rudgren had been drafted in as a producer during the Tubes' time on A&M - but his next (and last) big musical job would be taking over as the fourth permanent Grateful Dead keyboardist (a position that had the permanence of a gig as a Spinal Tap drummer). Welnick took the seat left by the death of Brent Mydland (although Bruce Hornsby had worked as a brief fill-in) in 1990. He had to audition for the job, and although the band helped out by sending him CDs to listen to prior to the try-out, Welnick didn't have anything to play them on. In the end, he said later, it was his lungs which got him the job:

"That fact that I screamed a lot as a child paid off and got me into the Grateful Dead."

Unfortunately for Vince, the death of Jerry Garcia threw the sort of spanner in the rolling Dead revue which three ex-keyboard players hadn't managed, ad the band broke up in 1995. Welnick hadn't appeared on any Dead records.

He had almost managed to add himself to the Dead myth; during their last tour in 1995, Welnick apparently was suffering from a potentially fatal lung disease.

To make matters worse, The Tubes reunited - but with someone else on keyboards. Welnick concentrated on his own band, Missing Man Formation. Taking their name from the fly-past flown at a pilot's funeral, they released a single album in 1998. It was also called Missing Man Formation.

Welnick also turned up playing briefly with Ratdog, and - with his wife, Lorie - ran a gallery and arts space in Mexico.

The cause of death has not been announced, but there is some speculation that Welnick took his own life.


2 comments:

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Anonymous said...

This fall Vince Welnick was scheduled to be inducted, with the Tubes, into the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame. Check out their tribute on azhalloffame.org There's an expanded story in the Guest Book of the New Jersey Star Ledger.

I hope many of his fans and friends will sign that guest book for his family. The Beans and several other bands were hugely popular in AZ before moving on to San Francisco and Tubes stardom.
The post on this site about his Az musical past was great!! Thanks.

Feel free to email comments or questions about Vince to azartsandminds@msn.com

Just one of his many fans...

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