For 15-plus years, the renowned Atlanta bandSwami Gone Bananas entertained scores of enthusiastic tie-dye-garbed fans of the hippie/jam band genre. Inspired by the Grateful Dead, Swami Gone Bananas began as a tribute band to the Grateful Dead after the death of the their head honcho, Jerry Garcia, in 1995.
Originally composed of Gary Dreyfuss, Mike "Swami" Schulman, Richard Hurt, and Bobby Andre, the groovily-monikered group started Swami Gone Bananas and quickly landed a gig at Mike 'n' Angelo’s in Buckhead. Soon afterwards, J.R. Hawkins replaced drummer Andre and they rocked the place for a decade.
“We played weekends at Mike 'n' Angelo’s for 10 years. It's one of the longest runs for a band in any Atlanta nightclub ever,” said Hawkins.
Fans of Swami Gone Bananas were shocked to hear of the untimely death of vocalist Gary Dreyfuss on May 19, from a heart attack at age 59. A Roswell resident Dreyfuss and drummer Hawkins were scheduled to play an acoustic set at Smyrna's on Friday night. According to Hawkins, the show will emphatically go on as planned and will be a tribute to Gary’s life and music. The invitation to“Gig For Gary,” in Hawkins’ words, is below.
“I would like to invite you to come out and celebrate his larger-than-life self with his friends and family. Pickers are welcome; I hope to have as many of you as possible on stage. The regular gig hours are 7 p.m. - 11 p.m., so we have to be acoustic for the first two sets and there's no concrete plan for after that. You're welcome to come out even if you never met Gary and just heard him scream his guts out on that Who song at Mike & Angelo's a few years back. We may even do a couple of Dead tunes.”
A bittersweet Hawkins enjoys retelling one of his favorite funny stories about his buddy. Dreyfuss had somehow arranged for Swami Gone Bananas to open for Jefferson Starship at Centennial Park in front of 10,000 people on July 4, 2002. The band had just completed their set when the staff signaled them to play another song, because Jefferson Starship’s bus was running late. “Gary tells the crowd that the headliner is running late, which is never a good idea. Well, surprisingly, they cheer,” said Hawkins.
He continues, “Only Gary could get away with that. So we start playing "Baba O'Reilly," (Teenage Wasteland) by The Who. When we get to that great moment in the song where you sing, "You're All Wasted," Gary says, "You're Not Wasted"! We all look at each other, but the crowd goes wild! Gary, being a 'sober' man for 15 years at that point knew what he was doing. The crowd we were playing for was the "World Congress Of Narcotics Anonymous!”
Dreyfuss, a loving and beloved father, supportive and soulful husband, DeadHead, Braves’ fan, NASCAR nut and "member of the band" died last Thursday from a heart attack. He is survived by his wife Lauren, daughters Kara and Casey, and his parents. In lieu of flowers, the family asks you support your local band or the Alzheimer's Association.
Gig For Gary is at Bella’s Pizzeria on Friday at 7 p.m.