Vince Welnick

Last Grateful Dead keyboardist


Leo Vincent Welnick, keyboard player: born Phoenix, Arizona 21 February 1951; married; died Forestville, California 2 June 2006.

Although Vince Welnick only played keyboards for the psychedelic rock band the Grateful Dead during their final years, from 1990 to 1995, he was accepted by their fans, the "Deadheads", who would hold up stickers saying "Yo, Vinnie!" to indicate their approval.

In 1990, the Dead had suffered the death of their third keyboard player - Ron "Pigpen" McKernan had succumbed to alcoholism in 1973, Keith Godchaux had died in a car crash in 1980, and now Brent Mydland had taken a drugs overdose. Although Welnick knew little about the band, he joined them on keyboards and high harmonies. After being told of the "keyboard curse ", he said, "I am aware that I could die doing this job, but I was dying of boredom before the job came up, so I thought I'd take my chances."

Welnick was born into a musical family in Phoenix in 1951. His mother loved playing boogie woogie and he quickly developed a love for Chopin. He played in church and formed various rock'n'roll bands with his schoolfriends. In the late 1960s, Welnick was a founder member of the Beans, who moved to San Francisco and hung out with the rock crowd. "You could get into any show for free by saying you were the bass player for the Steve Miller band," he said. "He had a lot of different bass players, so that would always work."

With an expanded line-up, the Beans became the Tubes. Al Kooper produced their first album The Tubes (1975), which included the anthemic single " White Punks on Dope". One of the Tubes, John Waldo, assumed the name of Quay-Lewd for a glam-rock parody, "Don't Touch Me There". When they came to the UK in 1977, local councillors banned their performance in Portsmouth.

Although they were a very successful live band, their records did not sell so well until Todd Rundgren produced Remote Control (1978), which included the single "Prime Time". The Tubes then appeared on Top of the Pops and also in the Olivia Newton-John film Xanadu (1980).

After the middle-of-the-road hits "Don't Want to Wait Anymore" (1981) and "She's a Beauty" (1983), the Tubes released the compilation T.R.A.S.H. (Tubes Rarities and Smash Hits). When the group disbanded, Welnick worked with Rundgren both in the studio and on the road. He is featured on Rundgren's Nearly Human (1989) and the live album Second Wind (recorded in 1990 and released the following year). He also recorded with both Dick Dale and the Persuasions.

Going from the exuberant Tubes to the laidback Dead might have been a culture shock, but Welnick immediately fitted in. He loved the adventurous way the band embraced so many genres - rock, folk, jazz, bluegrass - and specialised in improvised marathons. He was entranced by their leader, Jerry Garcia, "looking over the top of his glasses and smiling at you if you had done well". Welnick wrote "Samba In the Rain" with the group's lyricist, Robert Hunter, which became a stage favourite. Every one of the Dead's shows was recorded and undoubtedly records featuring Welnick will be released for many years to come.

The police in many cities probably revelled in Dead concerts as they could always be sure of a drugs bust. In August 1992, the police in Atlanta made 57 arrests over three nights and gathered a remarkable haul of LSD, magic mushrooms and cocaine. By way of irony, a few days later the Dead played for military personnel in Norfolk, Virginia.

In 1994 the Grateful Dead were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Jerry Garcia's health was failing, the result of 30 years' smoking. He died in August the following year and the band broke up. From then until his death, Welnick suffered from depression. He formed the Missing Man Formation (the very name a tribute to Garcia) and wrote songs for the group's only album, released in 1998. He also worked with one of the original Dead members, Bob Weir, in Ratdog.

Spencer Leigh

As well as depth of feeling, musical finesse and a nice sense of weirdness, Vince Welnick brought a huge knowledge of keyboards to the Grateful Dead, writes Ken Hunt.

The Dead had an uncommonly dense melodicism because it had two people playing melodies in Jerry Garcia, its lead guitarist, and Phil Lesh, playing contrapuntal melody on electric bass. The fundamental problem for any keyboardist was that there were very few places to slip in notes or textures beyond vamping chords. Tom Constanten, the Dead's second keyboardist (after Pigpen), said:

One of the problems I had with Jerry . . . is that we would think of doing the same thing at the same time. With his amplification he had a lot more beef than I did. I wound up getting shunted off the highway. Vince had something similar.

But Welnick slipped in keyboard textures of a very different sort to anyone in the Dead keyboard circle.

He once told me that "getting in the band was a culmination of a vision I had I was about 11":

I slammed on the brakes of my Stingray bicycle under a streetlight one night and I saw this sea of humanity with their arms outstretched and I'm standing on a stage. I'd seen that a few times at big gigs, like, when the Tubes played with Led Zeppelin. But really the vision came true when I stepped out on the summer tours with the Grateful Dead.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick