Pete Sears Article

Pete Sears tells a story about how he became the bass player for the David Nelson Band

It was around 1987, I'd just left the band "Starship". I was poorer but happy to be out of a band I had come to dislike immensely…I was at odds with practically everything they did.

I had enjoyed playing bass and keyboards with the original "Jefferson Starship" from 1974 to 1979, including being a part of several hit albums like "Red Octopus" that hit number one on the Billboard Charts for six weeks. The single "Miracles" from the album was also a hit. We still had the spirit of the 1960's in our music with long songs, improvisations and I'd even do a long ten minute bass solo of all things…everyone else would leave the stage, just me and four strings in front of twenty thousand people. You could still do that sort of thing in the 1970's.

The mid eighties "Starship" was unrecognizable from the band I had joined in 1974. The turning point had been a riot in Germany after Grace Slick was unable to perform and we told the promoter to tell the audience they could have their money back and we would come back to play for free in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately the German promoter, who was speaking in German left out the bit about giving their money back…so the audience began throwing rocks, bottles, anything they could lay their hands on. Half the band was at the hotel trying to get Paul Kantner to go on without Grace, explaining that German audiences were different than in the US and they may well riot. Which they did. After many amps and instruments had been stolen, including my Hammond B3, my trusty old 63 Fender Jazz bass, and my brand new custom Doug Irwin shop "Dragon Bass" (made from the same piece of Cocobolo wood as Jerry Garcia's "Tiger") someone in the audience found some gasoline and set fire to the stage. We lost everything…it was horrible and looked like a bomb had fallen when we visited the ancient amphitheater overlooking the Rhine River the next day. Anyway, we played a disastrous show in Hamburg the next day on rented equipment with Grace three sheets to the wind and abusing the band and the audience. We flew on to play with Genesis at the Knebworth Festival in England with Paul Kantner, Marty Balin and David Freiberg singing, and Grace flew back to the USA to go into rehab.Our drummer got in a bad car wreck, so we got Aynsley Dunbar from John Mayall, Frank Zappa and Journey. We also hired singer Micky Thomas and the LA rock producer Ron Nevison. Everything began to change, but the band still recorded basic tracks with drums, bass and rhythm. Grace came back after one album but it just wasn't the same, things gradually became more pop around 1985. First Paul Kantner left, David Freiberg, then me.After I split I plunged back into playing the blues with Nick Gravenites, and Jeannette and I carried on our work with refugees of war from El Salvador and Guatemala, including making an album with songs about the disappearing rain forests and human rights. I wrote the music and Jeannette most of the lyrics. Jerry Garcia played on some tracks and through his share of the Rex Foundation helped fund a non-profit video company we started called "Watchfire Productions". We produced a human rights music video about the abuses suffered by the Mayan populations of Guatemala in Central America. Jeannette and I had visited Santiago, Atitlan several times just before Civil war broke out, and we knew the tremendous loss of life due to Ronald Reagan's military aid to the right wing dictators of Central America.

Image Of Pete Sears & Jerry Garcia
Jerry Garcia, David Hayes, and Pete Sears in 1988
Soviet American Peacewalk, Band Shell GGP, San Francisco
Pete procured and organized the musicians for the event.

We sent out hundreds of free copies of "Guatemala" to human rights organizations around the world, and it went into rotation on the Canadian "Much Music" rock video channel…MTV almost played it, but because their ratings were suffering at the time, decided it was too controversial and serious and pulled it at the last minute. The news department who really liked the video wanted to play it, but the powers that be just wouldn't let it air…they didn't want to risk "bringing their audiences down", it was the 1980's after all. We wanted to spread awareness of the human rights abuses happening in Central America.

Image Of Pete Sears with Jerry Garcia & Other Musicians
Pete Sears with Jerry Garcia, Norton Buffalo & Steve Kimock

At one point Jerry Garcia suggested I get together with a good friend of his and form a band…his friend was David Nelson of the old "New Riders of the Purple Sage". I had just left "Jefferson Starship" after 13 years. At Jerry's urging, David came over to my house in Mill Valley and we spent a wonderful afternoon talking about music and the worlds problems. However we didn't get the band together…the time wasn't right.

Then many years later after I spent ten happy years playing piano with "Hot Tuna" through the 1990's, the David Nelson Band's bass player Bill Laymon, a good freind of mine became very ill after contracting Typhus and was unable to play the second night of a festival that I was also playing, with the Flying Other Brothers. I had some charts David had made up for me when I occasionally stood in on piano for Mookie when he couldn't fly out to the east coast for a DNB tour. I had them with me because I knew Bill was ill and Barry Sless had asked me if I would bring my bass out in case he couldn't make it. I was actually amazed Bill was able to play the first day at the Festival being so ill…he looked awful.

So there I was playing a full DNB set on bass with no rehearsal and loving every minute of it. The David Nelson Band has a very special set of fans who know his music inside out…great songs with plenty of free-form improvisational jamming.

Somehow I just stuck with the band and became their bass player, even after Bill got better…although I gave him every opportunity to rejoin the band. He said it was my gig now. I got a benefit together for him and talked  the Modulus Bass Guitar Company into donating a bass for Bill…the plan was for me to get all these wonderful bass players to sign their names and auction it off to help offset Bill's medical debts. Stanley Clark, Larry Graham, Les Claypool, Jack Cassidy, Carol Kay, Bill Laymon and many more…I even signed it myself, hey! Why not?

I stayed touring with the Flying Other Brothers and later Moonalice, and guitarist Barry Sless, and drummer John Molo and I tour with the David Nelson Band several times a year. We have lots of fun playing together and I often draw on my experiences playing with an Indo Jazz Trio in 1967 London. In the Freeform sections anyway…Jimi Hendrix sat in with us once. I also draw from all the other styles of bass I have played over the years.

Anyway, I often think about Jerry wanting David and I to get a band together back in the late 1980's, which didn't end up happening, and here we are playing together. David and I have a good laugh about it once in a while…we still miss him.

We have so much fun it's like Jerry's up there looking down with that wry smile of his, and saying, "See, I told you guys".

Thanks Jerry, you were right.