The names Jeff Mattson and Rob Barraco should be familiar to most fans of the Grateful Dead and its seemingly countless menagerie offshoot bands. They’re founding members of Long Island’s Zen Tricksters, a band that found a receptive audience for its Deadhead-friendly brand of rock. They both have played with Phil Lesh & Friends, with Barraco a member of Lesh’s famed Phil Lesh Quintet lineup. Barraco also was a member of The Other Ones, a post-Dead, arena-filling band that featured surviving core Dead members Lesh, Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. Mattson and Barraco are also relatively recent additions to Dark Star Orchestra, the long-running Dead tribute that recreates a specific Dead show at most of its concerts.
Despite the name recognition, it’s a safe bet Deadheads are less familiar with Mattson/Barraco and Friends. In addition to its namesake members, the rotating lineup of Friends, which includes DSO’s Skip Vangelas on bass, now includes family – Barraco’s drummer son Tom. With a handful of New York metro shows in the wings – Friday, Dec. 12 at 89 North Music Venue in Patchogue, Long Island; Saturday, Saturday, Dec. 13 at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, N.J.; and Wednesday, Dec. 17 at Garcia’s at the Capital Theater in Port Chester, N.Y. – we recently spoke with Barraco about Mattson/Barraco and Friends as well as his entrenched status within the Dead community. In this installment of the interview, we focus primarily on Mattson/Barraco and Friends. Stay tuned for Part Two, in which Barraco chats with us about Phil and Friends (some good news coming for fans of the PLQ), his first Dead show and more.
H81R: Tell us about Mattson/Barraco and Friends.
RB: We do Dark Star together and it’s 100-percent Grateful Dead, and we have so many other likes musically. We like to be able to go out try and to something a little bit different. A lot of it hinges on our original music – we’re both writers and Jeff has a really vast repertoire, and I have stuff as well. It’s a great vehicle to really play this music. And we also love artists like Donovan and Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna that we like to play. We also throw in a couple Dead tunes that we think are really special and we dig playing; people expect that, and we don’t mind that.
H81R: The lineup has rotated since you started this project.
RB: We had a run of shows when I was playing bass, Jeff was playing guitar; we had a 4-piece electric band; we did it as a power trip last year. This time, DSO got a new bass player last year, and he is from New Jersey and he’s a great player and he’s local to us, we he’s joined us, and I’m back playing piano and my son is playing drums.
H81R: You’re obviously quite busy with DSO’s extensive tours every year. What is your goal for Mattson/Barraco and Friends?
RB: Our main mission is just to go out and play really great music and just to have fun. That’s what we’re hoping to do; we just love to play. We could go out there and pretty much play anything. Mostly, I’m hoping Jeff and I develop this thing into a more steady calendar of shows and do a bunch of dates three or four times a year.