Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh and son share musical bond

The pair’s band plays Dead songs, classic rock covers

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When Grahame Lesh decided to enter his high school talent show in 2003, he asked his dad, Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, if he’d join him to perform the band’s hippie-era anthem “Sugar Magnolia.”

“I was so touched and so proud that he invited me to play with him,” Phil says.

Phil, 77, and Grahame, 30, now play together regularly, anchoring the Terrapin Family Band, Phil’s latest Dead-centric project that grew out of regular gigs at Terrapin Crossroads, the family’s bar, restaurant and music venue in San Rafael, Calif.

“People ask me what it’s like to play music with my son and I say, ‘It’s the best thing in the whole universe.’ I can’t even describe it,” Phil says. “A lot of times when we’re together we’re not so much like father and son as we are just a couple of musicians.”

Grahame, for his part, has tried to come at music in his own way. A self-taught guitarist who picked up the six-string at 13, Grahame grew up playing in garage bands and learning metal riffs. He now leads the country rock band Midnight North, which gigs weekly at Terrapin Crossroads and tours the country.

Grahame didn’t start pursuing music seriously until the venue opened in 2011, and he had a non-music job until a few years ago. Phil and his wife, Jill, encouraged Grahame and his younger brother, Brian, to play music but never pushed it as a career path.

“By the time I started picking up guitar they were like, yeah, as long as you do something (musical) we’re cool with it. … It doesn’t have to be your job or anything,” Grahame says. “I’m sure they’re happy that it is.”

“It’s so delightful that it turned out the way it did,” Phil says. “Everything he’s done has been entirely on his own effort. It was like a matter of policy in a way. I didn’t want to push. I wanted them to be who they were. I’m so glad it didn’t a skip a generation.”

Grahame grew up around music, touring with the Dead as a child and, after Jerry Garcia died, with Phil Lesh and Friends. When he got older, he would sit on a road case behind Jerry and I think he might have internalized that heavily,” Phil says.

When Terrapin Crossroads opened, Grahame started playing Dead songs regularly for the first time with his friends and his dad. The Terrapin Family Band has been through a few permutations but settled into its core lineup – with drummer Alex Koford, keyboardist Jason Crosby and guitarist Ross James – last year. They play a mix of Dead songs and classic rock covers.