Marin County’s Guitar Hero Barry Sless talks about David Nelson Band, Robert Hunter, Moonalice, and Sless’ Oatmeal Stout.

Published on March 6, 2020

GRATEFUL MUSIC: Tell me about where the David Nelson band is right now and maybe you could speak to getting the band back together after David’s health came back and recording the new music and leading up to this tour as well as to the Skull and Roses festival.

BARRY SLESS: Well we never really took a total break. We didn’t disband when David went down. David broke his shoulder late in 2016 and we had had some shows on the books then and we wound up getting Vince Herman from Leftover Salmon to do those shows. I think we called that run Left Over Nelson. So once his shoulder started to heal he had some other medical issues that he’s been dealing with and we didn’t play for over a year.

Then David started coming out and sitting in with one of the other bands that several of us from Nelson band are in called California Kind. Me and Pete Sears and John Molo are in that band along with Rob Rocco and Katie Skeen. So he came out and sat in a few shows with us and then, and thought he felt good enough to do a show. So we booked a Nelson Band show and there’s been a smattering of them since then.

And we had recorded the song, which was one of the last collaborations between Robert Hunter and David Nelson, Moving Right Along. We recorded on August 9th, 2016 and it was right before David broke his shoulder and wasn’t able to play for a while.

We didn’t do anything with it for a while until maybe about six or seven months ago, we finally mixed it and mastered it. It’s a very deep song lyrically. One of those classic Hunter tunes where you can look at it in a different light, depending upon how you’re feeling at that particular time and can be interpreted differently by different people and has that magic that many of his lyrics seem to have. And so, with his passing, we felt an urgency to get this song out there. And so Robert Hunter  fans that maybe are not totally familiar with David Nelson Band, would have a chance to hear these wonderful lyrics.

David Nelson Band plays this Grateful Dead song with Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead on drums. This show took place at the Kona Historical Society in Kealakekua on the Big Island of Hawaii on February 5, 2012

Hawaii is a special thing David Nelson Band does. We’ve done this for 10 years, running from 2007 to 2016 and we got a lot of the mainland fans. 150 or so will come over and we have our fans in Kauai that we haven’t seen for a while. It’s sort of like a big family reunion whenever we do these Hawaii trips. (this is happening now.)

GRATEFUL MUSIC: Let’s talk about the upcoming (and now cancelled) Skull & Roses Festival. Have you played there before. What makes it a unique experience.

BARRY SLESS: I’ve done it twice with Moonalice, and I’m doing it with Moonalice again this year and also with David Nelson Band. It’s a cool location in Ventura and a sweet gathering of like minded people that like to come out and support that kind of music. And it’s fun, all the different musicians that you run in to down there. So it’s a fun time.

GRATEFUL MUSIC: I’ve seen you play with Moonalice. In fact, just recently, I saw your warm-up show before LOCKN and then the LOCKN show. The T Sisters are amazing. Beautiful voices and their energy is off the charts. What’s it like for you to share the stage these remarkably talented angels? They’re so into the music and and you’ll jam and you, Roger, John, Jason Crosby and Pete Sears will be jamming maybe five, ten minutes at a time, and they are loving it. What’s THAT experience like?

BARRY SLESS: Oh, it’s great. They brought a new life to the band, you know, between them and the Chambers Brothers that are also in the band now. Lester Chambers and his son Dylan. And like you said, I’ve turned to them after they do a beautiful rendition of Attics of My Life and there’s been a couple times I’ve turned to them and I do feel like I’m playing with angels. Because they’re got this beautiful sibling harmony and they’re great stage presence. They’re total pros and they’ve just brought a great energy to the band. It’s really great the way the whole show has developed now. I mean organically it’s turned in to a show because Moonalice might come out and play one song on their own. And then we bring the Sisters up and they bring their wonderful energy. And then later on the Chambers Brothers come up and bring this soulful funkiness. Then the Sisters come back out and we have everybody out there and it just takes the energy level way up.  It builds really nicely. We’re all super excited about this coming year and doing more of that.

GRATEFUL MUSIC: It’s pretty much the greatest show on earth, right? It is a show and it’s unique to have that many musicians. Travel together and entertain all night. Serious showbiz!

BARRY SLESS: Yeah, I don’t think we ever really thought about it in terms of a show. We just go out there and play and do our thing and it is what it is. But the way it’s evolved, adding the sisters and the brothers and the way the show builds when each of them come out is kind of, like I said, organically turned in to a show. Nothing contrived about it, it just sort of fell in place that way.

GRATEFUL MUSIC: Let’s change course and talk beer. I enjoyed a couple of Sless’ Stimulating Stouts last time I was in town for a show at Terrapin Crossroads. Delicious!

BARRY SLESS: I live in Fairfax, California and there is a brew pub here called Iron Springs. I know the owner. Back in, I think it was late 2005 or early 2006, when I had a run of dates coming up with Phil Lesh, that was the year we did three shows, first one at the Fillmore, the second one at the Warfield, third at Bill Graham Civic. And so I got contacted by the owner of the brewery and he told me that he was thinking about doing this beer, just to sort of celebrate that run and he would like to name it after me. How did I feel about that,? Was I okay with that? Of course first question I asked was “What kind of beer is it?” And he said, “Well, it’s a stout.” And I’m thinking in my head, I’m not really a stout drinker. He says “A stout with a tincture of libido stimulating herbs.” And I was like, “Oh, cool sure yeah, you can use my name for that!”

And then he asked me to come down for the very first batch that they were brewing and bring something that would have my mojo on it like some song lyrics or anything that has my energy. So I took down a well played guitar pick and apparently that went into the very first batch.

Once he started brewing it I went down and I tasted it and it actually is delicious. It’s really good! And it went on to win three gold metals. Two in the World Beer Cup, in the oatmeal stout category. The first one was in 2008 and then in 2014 it won another gold at World Beer Cup and then I think 2016 it also won gold at the Great American Beer Festival in the oatmeal stout category. So anyway, I didn’t have anything to do with it other than just saying yes, happy to have my name associated with it.

At some point they had to change the name when they started bottling it and putting it in stores. They couldn’t call it Sless’ Stimulating Stout anymore. That was the original name because FDA looks at stimulating as a drug reference so now it’s just Sless’ Oatmeal Stout, or Sless’ Stout.

GRATEFUL MUSIC: is there any one you would like to collaborate with that you haven’t had the opportunity yet? Any music out there that, oh I’d love to play with that person.

BARRY SLESS: I’m in a good position right now where I’m really enthused about all the projects that I’m doing. Always love playing with David Nelson Band. We have a special chemistry and connection. Full Moonalice now with the addition of the T Sisters and Chambers Brothers. We’ve brought two families into the band providing all this extra energy and five strong vocalists. So I’m excited about that moving forward.

There’s also the project with Chris Robinson. We have a band called the Green Leaf Rustlers which is kind of going back and playing sort of early ’70s country rock. A lot of Birds, Gram Parsons, Flying Burritos, Waylon Jennings. So that’s fun. That takes me back to a rootsy thing that when I first started playing, I was into. Chris is just one of the best singers out there in rock and roll if you ask me. A great stage presence and front man. It’s a great time. There will be an album coming out on vinyl I think in March from Green Leaf Rustlers from some live shows that we did.

Moonalice will be releasing some music this year. And also the other band I mentioned earlier, California Kind released a couple singles and we’ve got some more stuff coming out this year. So, I have fun on all those gigs and look forward to more.

GRATEFUL MUSIC: Fantastic! Anything else you’d like to talk about?

BARRY SLESS: That’s about it. I would just encourage people to check out our new single, Moving Right Along, from David Nelson Band. I think it’s a really strong song, great classic Hunter lyric. And that lyric deserves to be heard.

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