Taking over what may have seemed a particularly doomed spot for a band, former co-founding Tubes member and keyboardist Vince Welnick dodged for more than a decade the proverbial bullet that seemed aimed at the Grateful Dead's most fatal position when singer/songwriter and guitarist Jerry Garcia died in 1995. Until then, Welnick had spent five years covering keyboard and harmony vocal parts after Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland died of a drug overdose in 1990.
Born February 21, 1951, in Phoenix, AZ, Welnick was still a teenager when he parlayed his keyboard-playing skills into an actual band (the Beans) with Bill Spooner (guitar, vocals) and Rick Anderson (bass). The addition of Fee Waybill (vocals), Roger Steen (guitar, vocals), and Prairie Prince (drums) thus led to the Tubes. Their rowdy rock led them to a deal with A&M, which released the band's self-titled album in 1975, followed up a year later with Young & Rich. Their stage antics and shock rock were non-transferable to vinyl, thus their studio efforts fell flat. However, the single "White Punks on Dope" did get some minor attention and radio play. After some more marginal efforts (1977's The Tubes Now, 1979's Remote Control produced by Todd Rundgren), A&M dropped the band in 1979. They continued on Capitol until 1986, when they disbanded. Welnick shows up on Rundgren's 1989 effort, Nearly Human, and again in 1991 on Second Wind.
The Curse of the Keyboard Player
When yet another Grateful Dead keyboardist died (founding member Ron "Pigpen" McKernan and Keith Godchaux both preceded Mydland in both the gig and death), Welnick auditioned for the spot and got it. He picked up where interim keyboardist Bruce Hornsby left off, but doesn't appear on any studio recordings. His playing is included on Infrared Roses (1991), which compiles a smattering of drums/space segments that were typical of Dead shows. A collection of live Dead performances, Grayfolded: Transitive Axis (1994), is another collage effort; this time, avant-gardist John Oswald put together performances of the Dead's "Dark Star" from 1968-1993. Welnick also guests on Zero's 1994 live release, Chance in a Million, as well as various live releases of Grateful Dead material.
Since the Dead's disbandment and the Tubes' re-formation with a new keyboardist, Welnick kept busy with his own Missing Man Formation. Along with Steve Kimock (guitar), Prairie Prince (percussion), Bobby Vega (bass), Bobby Strickland (bass clarinet, saxophone, vocals), and various other musicians, the group put out one self-titled effort in 1998. He performed a tour with the Mickey Hart Band, as well as playing some shows with jam bands such as Terrapin Flyer, Jack Straw and toured the US with others, most notably, Gent Treadly.
Vince began a serious struggle with depression, following the summer 1995 diagnosis of cancer in his throat, which he beat but always feared the return of, and a simultaneous diagnosis of emphysema (which he battled until his death), both of which he learned about only months before the final Grateful Dead tour of 1995, shortly before the death of band-mate and friend, Jerry Garcia.
Facing cancer, lung disease, the death of his friend and the collapse of the world he was living in was too much for him to take all at once. This dark depression overcame him only months later in December 1995 when he attempted suicide on the tour bus of fellow Grateful Dead band member Bob Weir, while out with Weir's RatDog Revue.
Vince kept his suicide attempt and depression a secret known only by his closest friends, family members and GDP employees for many years, but was all the while noticeably absent from any Grateful Dead resurgence shows such as The Furthur Festivals, and most notably Grateful Dead Production's major event in 2002, "Terrapin Station - A Grateful Dead Family Reunion" held in Alpine Valley, WI.
Vince broke his self-imposed silence and candidly revealed the truth on this website about the origin of his banishment from performing with Grateful Dead following rumor-fueled speculations as to why he was once again not invited to perform, and explained how he had been trying to make amends for his illness and tragic action since 1995 with little or no success. Vince was turned away from the Alpine Valley event, left without a ticket, when he came to the show, having scheduled to play nearby at other venues as a solo performer.
Vince was often subjected to the cruelest of Internet rumor-mongering by so-called Dead Heads, who inexplicably took sport in taunting Vince on this website and on other Grateful Dead forums. Vince always answered his fans and foes directly on this site, with a kind word for everyone, and always ended every posting he made with, "Love, Vince."
The so-called "Family Reunion" shows sparked a major negative turning-point in Vince's previous victory over his depression. Vince Welnick was never to play with anyone from Grateful Dead ever again. Grateful Dead Productions promoted Terrapin Station as a family reunion, but Vince was clearly a family member no longer. The impact on Welnick was devastating and in spite of his best efforts, his battle with depression would soon take its toll.
Vince posted his last message on this website on May 24, 2006. It ended with, "More then ever, the world needs love and the Grateful Dead! Love Vince"
Vince Welnick passed from this earth on June 2, 2006 at the age of 55 after a decade of battling tragedy while creating music, beauty and light around him. He is survived by his wife, Lorie Welnick.
Please, if you are suffering from depression, or know somebody who is, seek help for them or yourself. There is hope. Visit the National Institute on Mental Health for more information.