Rubber Souldiers bring the Sixties to the 21st century.
By Paula Lehman
July 22, 2009
In 1972, David Gans' roommate dragged him to a Grateful Dead concert,
and his life was changed forever. From then on, all his musical
endeavors have been Dead-oriented. He started playing Dead-influenced
music at what he calls "steak-'n'-lobster" gigs. He drew crowds from
his generation and others with a taste of the past and a hint of the
future. Two decades later, Gans now takes his solo act on tour,
playing festivals and hooking up with world-renowned jam bands such
as String Cheese Incident and Phil Lesh & Friends. He continues to
stay connected to local bands in the East Bay, showcasing them on his
radio show, the Grateful Dead Radio Hour, on KFOG. He still looks the
part, too: usually adorned in gray sweatpants, tie-dye shirt, round
tinted shades, and long gray hair tied into a ponytail.
Gans, who has lived near Lake Merritt for the past 35 years, is a
classic jammer. He's known to the community as an accomplished
guitarist and a symbol of the old days with a modern twist, using
technology such as a looping device. But his strength is remaining
loyal to music of the Sixties and Seventies, from the Dead to the
Doobie Brothers. It's a philosophy that he eventually used to create
perhaps his most successful endeavor to date.
One fateful day in the KFOG studio, Gans invited local musicians
Lorin and Chris Rowan to play a segment. As the two tuned their
instruments, they started playing a Beatles song. Unable to resist,
Gans chimed in with his baritone voice and the classic Beatles
three-part harmony filled the room. The jam turned into Gans' newest
project: Rubber Souldiers.
To the casual listener, Rubber Souldiers appears to be a mere cover
band. To old hippies, it's a trip down memory lane. But to the
musicians themselves, the band is an improvisational take-off of the
British legends, influenced by the Beatles but in no way a clone.
"We're not a tribute band," Lorin said. "The concept is to continue
seeking out new capillaries, new brain cells to Beatles songs."
The band is starting to take on its own "identity," said Gans. The
band visits Florida twice a year for the Magnolia Festival and has
played festivals in Northern California through word-of-mouth. Gans
attributes the band's swift popularity to the ability of Beatles
songs to transgress generations of listeners.
"They've kept their catalog fresh," said Gans. "When the movie Across
the Universe hit theaters, a whole new generation was introduced to
their music. I think there is a revival of Beatles music among young
people who heard that."
The result is what Gans envisions the Beatles would sound like if
they had become a San Francisco band and written songs that were
longer than three minutes. Rubber Souldiers turn the original songs
into ten-minute jams, melding multiple songs together and sometimes
drifting into a different sound completely.
"We take those songs and stretch them out," Gans said. "We shuffle
them like a deck of cards. We're reverent in that we're giving them a
lot of love, but we're irreverent in that we're adapting their music
to our own style."
After years of typical hippie strife in the music biz, Gans has found
a unique formula to bring him into mainstream popularity. He's moving
listeners in the direction of musical appreciation and old-school
talent by bringing back the brilliance of the Beatles and the
jamability of the Dead.
But Gans says perhaps the greatest thing he learned from the Dead was
that storytelling and causing a political and emotional stir are the
backbone of creating great music. "Whatever people think about the
Grateful Dead, they were great storytellers," Gans said. "I also grew
up thinking music was going to change the world. I'm a diehard,
Sixties, tree-hugging, world-changing kind of guy, and I write songs
about that kind of stuff."
His philosophies and current musical style are best exemplified in
his new solo album, The Ones that Look the Weirdest Taste the Best.
The first track, "Shove in the Right Direction," perhaps best sums up
the current stage of his musical career. "Save Us from the Saved" is
critical of the conservative religious right who condemn what Gans
considers natural freedoms such as abortion rights and marijuana use.
He may be becoming more aggressive as his music develops, but his
philosophy and style remain constant.
"Music is art and art is not a mirror to reflect the world but a
hammer with which to shape it," said Gans. "I don't have a
heavy-handed agenda. I'm just a guy who wants to enlighten and
persuade. You can't change the world through coercion."
Gans continued to expand his musical knowledge in the form of
freelance writing and photography. In the 1970s he worked a series of
day jobs, including his radio show on KFOG and for the long-defunct
BAM magazine, interviewing everyone from Leo Fender, creator of the
Fender guitar, to the Grateful Dead themselves. On a press junket in
1982 when he traveled to Jamaica to cover the Dead, Gans schmoozed up
Peter Simon and the editor of Simon's book, Playing in the Band: An
Oral and Visual Portrait of the Grateful Dead. The goal was to sell
some of Gans' photos, but with his credentials and a bit of luck
Simon's writer had just dropped out of the deal Simon soon signed
up Gans as the co-author of the book. "My whole life I've been able
to be a musician," Gans said. "I've been able to play and find
related ways to really make a living."
Three decades of music education has brought Gans to where he is
today, analyzing music from the past and shaping it to the jamability
of the modern jam scene. He continues to perform solo throughout the
country but holds a special place in his heart for the Rowan brothers
and Rubber Souldiers. Lorin and Chris describe him as the fourth
Rowan (Peter, who also performs on the road, is the third Rowan
brother). And their family continues to expand. Rather than take a
full band on the road, the trio picks up local musicians along the
way and gets them into the groove. Thanks to Rubber Souldiers, the
Sixties are getting new life in the 21st century.