For bassist Jon Shaw, the transition into his role in Joe Russo’s Almost Dead was practically seamless. It was as simple as jamming with friends in a basement. After all, that’s what he’s been doing with guys like Joe Russo and Scott Metzger for years.
Shaw’s accomplishments include playing in Wolf! with Scott Metzger, jamming alongside Russo with the likes of Cass McCombs, Erik Deutsch, Craig Finn and longtime work with Shakey Graves. Now, Shaw fills in for Ween bassist Dave Dreiwitz in Almost Dead as the seminal weirdo-punk outfit plot their reunion.
Shaw will be the first to admit his initial reaction on getting the call was excitement due to Ween’s reunion.
One of the main things I want to accomplish here is introducing you to some people who may not be familiar with the breadth of your work. So to start, tell me how you got connected initially with guys like Joe Russo, Scott Metzger, Cass McCombs and some of the other musicians you’ve shared the stage with over the years.
I started playing with Cass because of Dan Iead who’s an old hometown friend of mine who plays guitar and pedal steel in Cass’ band. We had toured together for a while in a project called the Broken West that he was in many years back, like 2006 or something. He started playing with Cass and at some point they needed a bass player to come in and they brought me on, that was probably 2012 or something like that and I played with Cass since then. Kind of in that same time, a little earlier than that, he was playing with Scott also in Wolf! and we kind of just met. He and Taylor, the drummer from Wolf!, were playing at a place called The Lovin Cup in Williamsburg and the guy playing bass couldn’t show up that night. They called me real quick and I kind of just swooped in. We were backing a singer that also didn’t show up so we had to just kind of wing it. It was great, that was kind of how that project started and it was a really fun thing to do. To do whatever we wanted to, there was no script, we didn’t have songs, we still try and keep it that way if we can or at least as much of that as possible.
And you were also with Russo in Craig Finn’s solo band.
That’s right, we sort of had a few mutual friends that had been working with him. That’s actually through Josh Kaufman, the producer and great, unbelievable musician who we were working together with here and there for the last few years. It’s been really fun to work with him, he’s incredible.
Since we’re listing them all off, there’s also Hawaii with Erik Deutsch.
It’s funny because we put that together with Joe, Eric and myself. We’re all so psyched to do it and we went in to Joe’s place and made a few recordings. It was really fun and great and everybody was super pumped about it. Then there was literally nothing that lined up with our schedules for forever. We’re still trying to sort that out. It could be worse, we’re all busy and everything but we haven’t managed to secure the time for that. Hopefully this year there’s going to be something coming up with that.
So let’s get to Almost Dead, tell me about getting the call that Dave was going to get back with Ween and you were kind of needed. What was your initial reaction to getting the call?
My initial reaction was just being psyched that Ween was back first and foremost, that was great news. Of course I was psyched to get that call. I’ve been into The Dead my whole life, I’m a fan more so than I think. So it kind of seemed like it would be a natural fit for Joe, in terms of, we played a lot together. He knows how I approach things but also he knew that I was a familiar with the material too in a way.
I’ll get fired if I don’t ask you about your Dead fandom.
Growing up, my whole group of friends were very much into The Dead. That was certainly helpful when I was working on the JRAD stuff. I was already very familiar with a lot of the material. I’ve been a fan for a long time.
Did you ever get a chance to see the Dead?
I never have seen them unfortunately, I wish I did get a chance to but it never worked out.
What was your study process like for this gig, especially given that you were already familiar with the tunes.
You know it’s funny, I wanted to not try and play like Phil or Dave, two guys who are just absolutely incredible and very different. It didn’t make sense for me to try and replicate either of those things because I don’t think that would have worked out well and it’s not necessarily what people wanted to hear. I kind of just went into to it taking it as it comes, doing my thing and letting it be what it’s going to be. Especially for a few a shows it’s fun for the band to get a different spin on things, it’s interesting for everyone for a little bit.
It’s funny you say that, because I spoke to Dave on Jam Cruise and he mentioned something similar about his initial approach.
I think that might have been something that appealed to Joe as far as looking to me to fill in here. To have that similar approach and be willing to do whatever is going to happen. I think I probably split the difference in terms of Dave and Phil’s style, so it was maybe pulling a bit from each, at least in terms of playing Grateful Dead stuff.
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