The Grateful Dead have a way of blending pre-composed songs with improvisation – frontman Jerry Garcia, after all, came to the band with a bluegrass background and bassist Phil Lesh came from a classical and jazz background. And it’s a style that has earned them hundreds of thousands of fans and has spawned almost as many hours of recorded music. For Seattle guitarist, Andy Coe, who holds a regular, free and well-attended Grateful Dead tribute night Mondays at the University District dive bar Blue Moon Tavern, this weaving together of styles popped up in his own life at an early age.
“My mom is a classical musician but she listened to jazz a lot at home,” Coe says. “She was also the first music therapist in the Northwest in the '60s. She taught for 30 years.”
Coe, who remembers both classical and improvised music being everywhere in his home growing up, and who started writing songs on the family piano when he was 3 or 4 years old, says he was about 10 or 11 when he was introduced to the groovy, jammy Bob Marley live record that changed his life.
“It had “Trenchtown Rock,” “No Woman, No Cry,” “Them Belly Full.” I had that on repeat,” he says.
As for his love of the band he now pays tribute to, he says, “I discovered [The Grateful Dead] when I was younger and I really dug something about the vibe that opened my mind – the way they marry the two aspects of having songs, written compositions with lyrics, with improvisation into one living organism, just really, to me, that’s what I want to do.” Coe saw the band do their thing up close and personal when they came to Seattle in 1994 and 1995.
Monday nights are typically hard nights to attract a regular audience, yet the Blue Moon is packed with sweaty, dancing music lovers on the regular. Since January 2013, Coe, who has been playing guitar for the last 23 years, drummer Scott Goodwin, keys player Gary Palmer and bass player Chris Jones put on a live set from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., intepreting Grateful Dead songs such as "They Love Each Other" and "Shakedown Street."
Being a professional musician comes with a lot of duties. Depending on his gig assignments, Coe says he's in anywhere from three to 10 bands at once and estimates that just with the Grateful Dead show, he keeps about 120 songs in his head.
“I feel pretty blessed to just play my guitar and make a living off that," he says. "It’s pretty amazing – there are lots of late nights, and lugging gear around, but it’s part of the adventure. And the music more than makes up for any of that other stuff.”
You can catch Coe and his band every Monday night at the Blue Moon, but in the meantime, you can watch this full set from the band, recorded June 10, 2013: