Longtime artists recharge with new music

Sisters Maggie, Suzzy and Terry are The Roches. The trio is set to play March 7 at Clark University in Worcester. Reminder Publications submitted photo
By Craig Harris

Special to Reminder Publications

March 1: Tuck & Patti; FTC Stage One, 70 Sanford St., Fairfield, Conn.; for further information, call 203-259-1036.

March 7: Donna Jean & The Tricksters; The Main Pub, 306 Main St., Manchester, Conn; for further information, call 860-647-1551.

March 7: The Roches; Clark University, 950 Main St., Worcester; for further information, call 508-793-7711.

March 8: Donna Jean & The Tricksters; FTC Stage One, 70 Sanford St., Fairfield, Conn.; for further information, call 203-259-1036.

There's nothing straight-ahead about the music available within a short driving distance this week. With the jam-band intensity of her latest band, Donna Jean & The Tricksters, combining with the emotional expressiveness of husband and wife duo, Tuck & Patti, and the intricate harmonies and quirky lyricism of The Roches, ex-Grateful Dead vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay will be celebrating the ever-expanding diversity of contemporary music.

Godchaux-MacKay brings an incredible resume to her performances. A native of Muscle Shoals, Ala., she became one of the city's top session singers, years before hooking up with the Grateful Dead. She sang on records by such artists as Neil Diamond, Cher, Boz Scaggs, Joe Simon, Joe Tex, Ben E. King, Etta James and Dionne Warwick. She appeared on such hits as R.B. Greaves' "Take A Letter Maria", Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman" and Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" and "In The Ghetto".

Joining the Grateful Dead in 1971, a year after moving to San Francisco and marrying keyboards player Keith Godchaux, Godchaux-MacKay worked with the band until February 1979, appearing on five studio albums, two solo albums by Jerry Garcia and countless live recordings. When the band was not touring, she remained on the road, performing with her husband in the Keith and Donna Band and with the Jerry Garcia Band.

Performing their last concert as members of the Grateful Dead on Feb. 17, 1979, Godchaux-MacKay and her husband had high aspirations for the group, Heart of Gold Band, they had formed with drummer Greg Anton. Their hopes were thwarted, however, with a July 1980 auto accident that took the life of the keyboardist at the age of thirty-two.

Performing rarely in the decade and half following her husband's death, Godchaux-MacKay has increasingly returned to the stage since the late-1990s. In addition to appearing with the Donna Jean Band, she could occasionally be heard singing with Phil And Friends, the group led by Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh. She recently released a new Heart of Gold album, "At The Table."

Godchaux-MacKay's current band, Donna Jean & The Tricksters, brings the vocalist together with keyboards player Mookie Siegel (Phil Lesh & Friends, Rat Dog), vocalist Wendy Lanter and six members of the Zen Tricksters, a Long Island-based jam band formed in the early-1980s. They'll be celebrating the release of their eponymously-titled debut album with performances at the Main Pub in Manchester, Conn., on March 7 and at FTC Stage One in Fairfield, Conn., the following night.

Recently releasing their first album in 11 years, "Moonswept," The Roches bring their fun loving harmonies to Clark University in Worcester on March 7. One of the most influential of the acoustic-based acts emanating from New York's Greenwich Village in the late-1970s and 1980s, the three New York-born sisters brought a new quirkiness to the folk tradition. Robert Fripp produced two of their early albums, using members of his band, King Crimson, to accent the sibling's vocal triads.

Going their separate ways in 1997, the Roche sisters pursued a variety of musical outlets. Terry led her own band, Terry Roche & The Moodswings, and wrote John Kerry's campaign song. Suzzy recorded a solo album and an album with Maggie.

Coming together following the release of a career-retrospective, "The Collected Works Of The Roches" in 2003, The Roches have made up for lost time. With the exception of some percussion, guitars and strings played by co-producer Stewart Lerman and some piano playing by Terry's partner, Garry Dial, the sisters played all the instruments on "Moonswept." Suzzy's daughter, Lucy Wainwright Roche, sings on her own composition, "Long Before."

Oklahoma-born guitarist Tuck Andress and San Francisco-born vocalist Patti Cathcart brought a soulfully lyrical sound to the New Age music, releasing three albums and a pair of Andress solos on the Windham Hall label in the 1980s and '90s. Since then the duo, performing at FTC Stage One, in Fairfield, Conn., on March 1, have continued to warm hearts with their deeply romantic music. Their latest album, "A Gift Of Love," features their interpretation of such classics as "Up On The Roof," "Can't Help Falling In Love With You," "Sukiyaki," "Close To You" and "Time After Time."