High Adventure with the David Nelson Band

First Appeared in The Music Box, October 1998, Volume 5, #10

Written by John Metzger


In early September, the David Nelson Band will descend upon Portland, Oregon for a unique and different recording session that will yield the group's third album. Oddly enough, this will be their first real studio release.

Drummer Arthur Steinhorn, who spent time with New Riders of the Purple Sage, Kingfish, and Cowboy Jazz, explained, "This is the first studio recording the band has made where we set out to record something for an actual release. The first CD Limited Edition was produced as a promotional disc. The band had been together for only a few months when we a spent a few days in the studio recording and mixing the three tracks we had at that time. We decided we should probably add a few live tracks to show what we could do in front of an audience."

"As for Keeper of the Key," Steinhorn continued, "[Grateful Dead archivist] Dick Latvala and David [Nelson] were listening to a tape of a show at Dick's house, and Dick thought the performance was so good that we should release it. Our fans wanted something new, so we put it out."

Steinhorn works for the company that produces concerts in the landmark 600-seat Aladdin Theater in Portland which the band is renting for a week in September. The project will culminate with a pair of invitation-only recording sessions on September 11 and 12 and a public concert on September 13. Said Steinhorn, "We found that the studio wasn't the best place for the DNB to record because we rely heavily on our interaction with the audience. We wanted to find a place where we could invite people in order to draw from their energy. By way of taking the band out of the recording studio environment, we are hoping to achieve a more realistic reflection of what the band does best perform live. We are doing a few acoustical treatments to clean up some of the initial reflections off the side walls and the slapback from the front of the balcony, and we are constructing a control room in the lobby where we will be recording live to a digital tape recorder. We are hoping to not have to do many, if any overdubs. However, there will be enough separation (isolation) between the instruments so we have some leeway if we need to overdub some parts."

The David Nelson Band's strength is clearly their live performances. The group's songs are deeply rooted in and borrow heavily from traditional American music, and their style blends country, rock, and bluegrass into a rich psychedelic stew, which invites an informal dialogue between the audience and the band.

The band's namesake David Nelson played with Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter in a bluegrass band called The Wildwood Boys long before the Grateful Dead even existed. His association with Jerry Garcia continued over the years through Garcia's side-projects New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, and he also appears on the classic Grateful Dead recordings American Beauty, Workingman's Dead, and Aoxomoxoa. The remaining members of the band Steinhorn, bassist Bill Laymon, keyboardist Mookie Siegel, and guitarist Barry Sless have all crossed paths with each other and with members of the Grateful Dead through side projects like New Riders of Purple Sage and Bob Weir's Kingfish and Ratdog.

Aaron Hurwitz, best-known for his work with The Band, has been hired to produce the new David Nelson Band album. Hurwitz produced The Band's 1993 release Jericho, their 1996 release High on the Hog, and their forthcoming release Jubilation, which will debut on September 15 on River North Records.

Working with Hurwitz is an exciting opportunity for the DNB. Explained Steinhorn, "Over the course of the past few years while driving around during tours, we have listened to The Band's last few albums. We were very impressed with the quality and feel of them, and we were intrigued by the possibility of getting Aaron to produce our next record. I sent him our current albums, and he really liked what we did. He thought he could get behind this creative venture and said he would be delighted to work with us on this project."

"Part of the decision to use Aaron was that he is very good at bringing out the best in very characteristic male vocals," continued Steinhorn. "It was important that David's voice be recorded and mixed well. We are confident that Aaron can do that. Aaron has also been quite successful in being able to blend acoustic and electric instruments, which we would like to capture on this record. Aaron's experience in working with two drummers with The Band will also be valuable to us since we plan on recording High Adventure with the addition of drummer Charlie Crane."

Charlie Crane, a veteran drummer, has been filling in for Steinhorn at many of the DNB's performances since Steinhorn took a paternity leave from touring this past summer. "I have been playing on the same stage on and off with Charlie since the early '80s," said Steinhorn. "Our styles compliment each other well, and we are excited about the possibilities."

The band has performed a number of unreleased songs over the past few years, so many of the tracks being recorded for the new album such as Long Gone Sam, Road to Armageddon, Fable of a Chosen One, Edge of the Wire, and Kerouac will already be familiar to their fans. Other possibilities include cover versions of Jesse Fuller's Beat It on Down the Line and the traditional folk song Casey Jones, which Nelson performed as part of the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band. "We have been refining all of these songs for quite some time on the road," reflected Siegel, "so we don't need to flesh out the tunes as we go along. The important thing to do here is to try to capture some of that intangible live energy."

The band plans to release the new album in January, followed by a full year of touring that will carry them to the millennium. "The plan, at this point, is to work towards using two drummers on tour whenever possible," remarked Steinhorn. "As to who these drummers will be is still in transition, but there are many options. The latest is that Victor Bisetti from Los Lobos is interested in doing some dates with us. He and I will probably be working together on some of the West Coast October shows. A rotating selection of two drummers sounds like fun for the band as well as the fans."

As for the album's title, Steinhorn prefers the name High Adventure. "None of us have ever recorded this way," conveyed Steinhorn. "It will be a reflection of how it is as musicians. Every night we take the stage never knowing what to expect."

The same can be said for the audience as we all wait in anticipation to hear what the band has to dish out. "It will surely be an adventure a high adventure," conveyed Steinhorn.

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