Monday, April 25, 2005

RIP Scott Larned

What a strange and eerie coincidence...

On the same weekend that I saw the Phish cover band Phix for the first time ever, the greatest cover band in the history of the tribute genre -- Dark Star Orchestra -- lost one of its co-founders and top musicians.

Apparently the curse of Grateful Dead keyboardists is so strong that it extends beyond the band to its best cover band. I know someone who went to the band's show on Saturday night and they said DSO was on fire, especially Scott. Well, he went out with a bang then, which I guess is the best way to go out. But Scott wasn't only a supremely talented musician, he was also one of the nicer guys I've ever met.

I stumbled upon DSO by accident, really. One of my friends got thrown out of this bar called Matilda's for not having a good enough ID, so we all left and went to Brother Jimmy's down the street for a few beers. And there happened to be a power outage at Martyr's that night, so DSO played at an alternate venue. Fate, that's the only explanation as to how both groups ended up there. Fate, and love at first sight. I fell in love with the band that night (in the spring of 1997) and dragged people downtown a few weeks later in June to see these guys play. We were instantly hooked.

Throughout sophomore year, and then occasionally during junior year, Donnie, Starbux and I used to jaunt down to Martyr's every Tuesday night to meet TJ in OH and occasionally Tits McGillicuty for three hours of the closest re-creation of a Dead show you could ever imagine. The resemblence was uncanny, and it cost just three bucks (later five, later ten, then much more on the road). This band wasn't just a trite cover band...they played an entire Dead show from tuning to encore, complete with a long setbreak, a half-hour Drums > Space and a Donna Jean when doing a 70s show.

These guys would change their sound completely when playing different eras, and they were damn good at it too. They never once put forth a half-ass effort, you always got your few bucks worth. I'd even go so far as to say, over the past few years, they were better than the current incarnation of The Dead. It's weird to say, but by the end, DSO was a better band than the band it was covering. And Scott on those keys was the driving force.

In October of 1998 I hung around until after the show ended and I approached Scott. I had to write a long feature piece for my Newswriting and Reporting journalism class, and I thought of nothing else to write about than DSO. They were the perfect feature. Scott agreed instantly, despite the fact that I wasn't even doing this for a real publication (I didn't even have a fedora with a white piece of paper saying "Press" on it).

We met in at the Unicorn Cafe on campus -- DSO's headquarters are actually located in Evanston -- and he talked to me for well over an hour, probably closer to two. He went through his history with the Dead, the band's philosophy, his and the band's work ethic, the desire to start touring nationally, the strengths and weaknesses of the band, how they picked a show, how they rehearsed for the show...for everything I asked he explained away in detail. This was like a student of magic interviewing Copperfield. This guy was telling me how he made the Statue of Liberty disappear. As we were finishing up he let me in on some inside info, that Phish's own Johnny B. Fishman would be sitting in after the 11/98 Phish shows at the UIC Pavillion. Of course, due to a campus wide blackout and torrential shitstorm, that was the one Tuesday we missed all semester.

But Scott was amazing. Here was a musician taking hours of his time (and hours of follow-ups via phone and e-mail) to help out a 19-year-old kid with his school project. This wasn't even going into print (yet) and here he was doing all he can to make me look good. In fact, it turns out that I wrote the eighth article in history about these guys, of the hundreds that have since been penned. And that's pretty cool! Eventually I got that story into a short-lived NU campus magazine, 3 AM, but it still resides on DSO's press page under "Northwestern University Journalism Assignment (don't make fun, this article isn't good at all!)."

Years later, when DSO came to New York last year I paid $25 for a ticket. I e-mailed Scott to jokingly tell him what an outrage that was. Scott then volunteered to put me on the list free of charge the next time they came to town, an offer I'd clearly take him up on. DSO was supposed to play here next month, and I was literally about to e-mail him this week. I thought about it this morning even. That's just plain weird.

So here's to a great guy that got me closer to the Grateful Dead than I ever could have imagined. Here's to a great guy that, along with the band he helped start, gave me hours of of solid entertainment in the most fun years of my life. Here's to a great guy that gave me his time and helped me out when he clearly didn't have to. And here's to a guy that kicked ass at what he did.

We bid you goodnight.


At 12:40 PM, Blogger TJ in OH said...

Well said, Ace. I long for the care-free days when Tuesdays meant DSO at Martyr's. Remember how hot that place used to get? I never once left disappointed in seeing those guys probably 50 times over the years.

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Exactly...for a small fee, you always got a kickass show with energy and emotion. Sure it wasn't original, but who the fuck cares?! It was as entertaining as a band could get.

And yeah, it was incredibly hto in there -- there were nights I nearly fainted in that place...I loved during the winter when the glass windows would fog up at the start of the first set and be fogged all night.

At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Good post! I for one agree with you that they are by far the best GD cover band I have seen since a band called Jerry's Kids from San Francisco (they were awesome and since disbanded). Having seen my share of GD shows, DSO really kept the spirit and vibe alive. As ACE pointed out, they were better then the real thing in its latter day saint of circumstance. It is a shame that the keyboard seat, even in a Dead cover band is the Hell in a Bucket. I have a feeling that DSO will keep on truckin on but I just hope that they don’t hire a VINCE WELNICK type. Brents death killed the Dead in my opinion. They had alot more energy and fun with Brent. Talent does that! Dont get me wrong, I saw some great GD shows with VInce and young Bruce but Brent was the band if you asked me. A great Dead show meant that Brent was on and if Brent was on, That means the Fat man was too. Gosh i miss them! I have seen Brent and his alter ego, Scott, and I can say that they were more talented then they ever given credit for. Like Brent, Scott will be missed.


At 4:59 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

Well said, Fluffdead.

At 11:54 AM, Blogger offpeak34 said...

I cannot believe this. It's so sad. That was a great post Ace! We talked about DSO the other night at Phix, and I remember thinking how excited I was to see them this spring and summer. I still cannot believe this.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Bart Starbux said...

Good post, Bullet. Too bad about your boy and DSO. I agree with TJ. In all the times that I went to see them, I cannot once remember leaving.

At 5:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Drop me an thanks for the brought a smile to my face.


At 8:41 PM, Anonymous Denis Smith said...

Scott was an old friend from Institute of Reading Development, his last "real" job. He was a natural leader, and a very strong person. I just learned of his untimely death, and I'm so sorry for his family and friends. He was so funny and smart. He was also a talented teacher.

At 8:08 AM, Blogger Georgianna Port said...

Hi. I'm sorry about replying a free years later than most.
I just wanted t thank you for writing this. I'm constantly trying to learn more about Scott- my dad- and this post was so nice.

Thank You:)


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