Rainbow Full of Sound revisits ’70s Grateful Dead music on epic tour

Waynard Scheller interview

WAYNARD SCHELLER

In a project recently started, Waynard Scheller and his group Rainbow of Sound are taking the stage for 21 individual shows from a bygone era.

“What bygone era is that?,” you ask. Well, you see, Scheller and his revolving cast are taking on the task of recreating the Grateful Dead’s entire 1972 European tour; they will perform each show from that tour just as the Grateful Dead performed them.

If you think that you are going to see just any old tribute band, Scheller says you better think again.

“We are traditionally a Grateful Dead tribute band but the variables are, this tour, I came up with this idea to create an entire tour,” he said.

In 2012, he added, “I came up with the idea to recreate the Radio City Music Hall Tour from 1980 and we did that. It was an eight-show run and it was really great, and I said, ‘All right, let’s keep this going.’ So then about two years ago I came up with this other idea to recreate the Europe ’72 live album and the tour … in 1972, they went to Europe and did 21 shows all across Europe, and it was kind of a historical moment for the band.”

Twenty-one shows seems like a lot of work. Scheller says that it is more like a labor of love for him, as his connection to The Dead extends back to his youth and continues to flourish each day.

The cover of The Grateful Dead’s live triple album, “Europe ’72.”

“I was, like, 10 or 11 years old and started out playing guitar and I was into Neil Young and Dire Straits and all of these different bands,” he says. “And when I was around 12 or 13, I heard the Grateful Dead and my brother had a bunch of albums and I borrowed some of those and started listening and really liked it. And ever since then, they’ve been my favorite band. I started playing keyboards and then started a Grateful Dead tribute as a teenager, and then I went off and did other things somewhere in the middle and learned a lot of different styles: blues, R&B, country, reggae. I’ve worked with a lot of different groups, including Motown.

“I just tried to make a living as a musician but the Grateful Dead have always been my favorite group and I’ve seen them a couple of hundred times and over the past five or six years I’ve worked with a couple of the members of the band. I was fortunate to end up onstage with Bob Weir a couple of different times and Donna Jean (Godchaux) a couple of times. TC (Tom Constanten), who was one of the keyboard players in the early days … I worked with him and Hot Tuna.

“When people ask me who is my favorite band, I say, ‘Well, the Beatles are my second favorite band.’ (laughs) I kind of set them up because then they say, ‘Well, who is your first?’ It is definitely The Dead. … after all those years of being a fan … getting to meet them and actually perform music with them was an amazing opportunity and experience for someone like me. Sometimes I still say, ‘Wow, did that really happen?’ ”

Because of the pandemic, last year was especially rough on musicians who rely on live performances to pay their bills. Rainbow Full of Sound also was affected by this; Scheller says the current tour is actually “take two.”

“I live here in New Jersey and most of the band are from the tri-state area so we launched it in Sea Bright, N.J, on Sept. 28. We did a tour launch party with a beachfront concert at Donovan’s Reef. The tour itself actually runs through 11 states: Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, Virginia, Florida and here in New Jersey, and it’s spread out over eight weeks. We have one leg where we do, like, 10 nights in a row, and then there are a couple others where we do three shows in a row, but it is not like a full-scale tour where we’re doing 21 shows in, like, three weeks. We’re doing 21 shows over eight weeks and it’s pretty exciting, considering we were barely able to perform at all for 18 months. We’re really re-launching this tour; we launched our first tour with this theme in 2020 and we got halfway through the tour when COVID shut us down because the state shut down.”

What about the group itself? Surely such an undertaking must require dedicated players who are willing to travel, put in long hours of practice and learn 21 separate shows.

“It’s a 23-member cast,” Scheller says. “There are 23 players but I’m the only member and all of the other players are revolving. So we have a lot of talent in the group and every show that we do is usually a different lineup. It’s a revolving cast, which is the really unique approach that we take.

“For instance, we often work with double drummers, but this tour was in ’72. It was a one-drummer era. Mickey Hart had stepped out for a year or two and when they went to Europe, they only had Bill Kreutzmann. So we are doing our tour as a one-drummer lineup.”

The Grateful Dead were notorious for lengthy performances and the 1972 European tour was no different. So what can one expect from each show?

“We usually do a 90-minute set and then a two-hour set but it varies show to show, because when they were in Europe, some of the shows were longer because they jammed longer. They did a lot of improvising and deeper jams in the ’72 era, so the shows were generally a little bit longer … for example, now with Dead & Company they may do two 75-minute sets, whereas back in ’72, they were doing 90 minutes and two hours. So, we need four hours minimum to be able to do a show because we have to take a break.”

Opening all 21 of their performances is one of the aforementioned dedicated players: James Dalton, who has his own successful solo career and is no stranger to Rainbow Full of Sound.

Scheller laughed when recounting a story from his and Dalton’s past which has led to their current long friendship.

“I’ve known him since he was 19 years old when we became friends. We actually snuck him in the back door of a club we were playing because he was 19 and he actually sang his first song with my group, which I think was ‘Hard to Handle,’ and then we snuck him back out and kept playing (laughs). James is a great guy and really talented.”

Oct. 1, they play at The Biergarten, located outdoors at the German-American Society of Trenton in Hamilton, with plenty of room for social distancing on its vast expanse. Club magnate Don Warner always runs great events from this space and this one shall be no different.

They will also perform at Sera Phi in Philadelphia, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m., and The Hard Rock Cafe in Atlantic City, Oct. 16 at 10 p.m.

For more about the band, visit rainbowfullofsound.com.

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