Interview with Mark ‘Slick’ Aguilar of Live Dead & Riders ‘69 as the Days Between Near

Mark ‘Slick’ Aguilar (Photo Credit: J. Scott Shrader/courtesy of Live Dead ‘69)

Photo Credit: J. Scott Shrader/courtesy of Live Dead ‘69

One of the talented musicians gearing up to bring us something very special for The Days Between this August at The Hamilton spoke with one of DC Music Review's own about his musical journey and why he's excited about the upcoming  event.

Karin McLaughlin: Slick, I appreciate you taking the time.  We’re all excited about this ‘Days Between’ event that is happening and the fun group that you guys have put together.  This is a very collective group, lots of heavy hitters together for one night.  You’re the first of the group that I get to talk to so I’m excited to learn more about this whole thing and how it came to be.  Now you personally, you’ve been a part of the music scene for decades and have worked with so many artists, I’m curious – for those that maybe don’t know – if you could give us, maybe, a few of the highlights, I know there’s a lot of them, but throughout your career, to put people in perspective of what we’re working with.

Mark ‘Slick’ Aguilar (Photo Credit: J. Scott Shrader/courtesy of Live Dead ‘69)

Mark ‘Slick’ Aguilar (Photo Credit: J. Scott Shrader / Courtesy of Live Dead ‘69)

Slick Aguilar: Well, out of college, I fell right into KC’s (and the Sunshine Band) studio in Miami.  I got to go and attend classes – I mean, it’s hard to do this in the short little time, Karin.  When I was 18 years old, I used to attend classes with Pat Matheny, who’s my age.  He’s a couple months younger than me, and he was teaching at the University of Miami.  So I got to go and, talk about a heavy hitter – there’s no heavier guy in the world.  He’s probably one of the best musicians walking the planet and what an incredible influence.  Somebody turned me on to the Dead when I was in Peru – I lived in Peru when I was 17, 18, came back up to the States, so when I came back up and met Pat I was probably 19.  They turned me on to the Dead down there and so I went from one – the Grateful Dead is our rock group but it’s a jazz group, I mean I guess because of their influences musically and drug wise (laughs), we all grew up – I don’t know how old you are Karin, but I’m 64 and Mark’s the same age and Tom Constanten is older than all of us, he’s older than God (laughs).  We grew up on these three minute songs, then I got turned on to this group that plays eighteen minute songs and they just go and it’s magical and it’s so much fun now for me to play with this group because anything goes!  And I’ve been a fan of Jerry and Bob and all those guys for all these years and I got to meet and open up for Jerry a couple times and it’s just – but anyway.  So I went from being with KC at 23 and then (David) Crosby picked me up around 27/28, maybe 26, and I got to play with him and meet all his peers, you know, I’m hanging out with Jackson Browne, and then getting to play with people like Timmy Schmidt when I was 22, 23, from The Eagles and Al Cooper, Carlos Santana.  They would all come down to the club that I played at because Bill Szymczyk who produces The Eagles and is also the producer of The Thrill is Gone, B.B. King, he would bring all those people down, it was an outdoor, raw bar in Miami – it was really a cool hang.

KM: Yeah, sounds like it!

SA: He would just go ‘Yeah, Slick’s playing up the road’ and it was only a block away from the studio and they’d all come down and of course we’d all go ‘Yeah, come on get up here and play.’  That was in my young, wild days, fresh out of college and having a good time.  It just rolled after that.  I got in with David, and Marty Balin saw me play and he was having some problems with his guitar player and he called me up and said ‘Hey would you like to come play with me?’ and I told him, ‘Hire me!’

KM: Your life sounds a lot more exciting than mine!

SA: Oh come on, you’re having fun now aren’t you?!

KM: Yeah!  Maybe I’m just a late bloomer – that’s what we’ll call it. (laughs)

SA: You’re ‘in the now’ and the next minute is gonna be really cool too, Karin (laughs).  So that’s how you gotta think, it’s all positive and put out the good vibes and it’ll all come back to you.

KM: So obviously, you started out pretty young – what was your first musical memory where you remember thinking or knowing that music was a part of you as far as what you were going to do?

Slick Aguilar (Photo Credit: J. Scott Shrader/courtesy of Live Dead ‘69)

Slick Aguilar (Photo Credit: J. Scott Shrader / Courtesy of Live Dead ‘69)

SA: My father played piano, he was taught by nuns in Catholic School and he could read, so we had a piano in my house.  After dinner, we would all sit down with him and we’d go over to the piano and he’d sing songs and we’d pick songs out of the piano books that he had.  I’d go, ‘Dad! Play this song -  Sweet Georgia Brown.  Play this one – I Left My Heart in San Francisco’.  And he’d sit down and he’d go (singing), ‘Look at me, I’m as happy as a kitten in a tree’ he could play anything so my first – I started playing when I was 11, well when I was 9 but I started playing live at 11.  I was playing teen clubs – I couldn’t even get in to those clubs unless I played in the band, you know.  I mean, I’m up on the stage playing Ventures songs, like  – ​Walk Don’t Run, Pipeline, Wipeout and I’m a little kid – the guitar is bigger than me.  So that’s where I come from.  It’s just - music is a thing – you know the guys, everybody that I’ve played with is like, ‘It picked us’ you know?  You don’t go ‘Hey I think I want to be a musician’.   Well if you don’t have rhythm and soul, you’re not going to be a musician, it’s something that you’re born with, it’s in you and then you either decide to go out and educate yourself on it and learn the techniques of it and go that route.  I was playing in VFW’s for older guys, guys my age now (laughs).

KM: Well, I bet they had some good stories (laughs).

SA: I don’t know, I didn’t really talk to them all that much. They were a little intimidating then, I was only 11.

KM: Fun fact – I used to bartend at an American Legion, so I’m familiar (laughs).

SA: (laughs) Ok, yeah then you know exactly what it’s like in there.

KM: So you’ve been doing it for quite a few decades – I’m going to ask a two part question kind of.  Do you have a favorite decade of music as, first off, a fan and then a favorite decade of music as far as your own musical journey?  Maybe you were touring with a certain band or really getting into your own style or something like that?  So, a favorite decade as a fan and then, as a musician and are they the same, are they different?

SA: Uh, as a fan – you know, I was so busy studying and trying to be a good guitar player that I kind of missed the 70’s and 80’s.  We’ll sit around and somebody will go ‘Oh, did you ever listen to this band?’ and I’d go, ‘no’ – because I was studying guitar players.  So I don’t know a lot of, you know, Supertramp, I don’t know a lot of these bands.  I know their one hit and I’m sure they had more than that but I meet these people later on in my life and I see them or play with them and I hear these songs.  A fan – in the 70’s I was digging James Brown, going into the funk thing because I was playing at KC’s studio, which is actually TK’s Studios down in Miami, so I was just getting my musical chops together, you know all the (guitar sounds) and you get your wrist going and you’re muting with your left hand over here, just getting a sound.  It’s almost like chicken pickin', you know what I mean?  And my favorite time that I was playing was with the Starship, I played with them for over 20 years and Paul Kantner and Marty Balin and some of my closest friends – Paul’s no longer with us but, yeah.  Playing with Papa John in that band was great – do you know who he is?

KM: I know of him – not as familiar as with him as KC and Jefferson.

SA: Papa John Creach was an old, black violin player – we called it the fiddle, an old fiddle player – he played the blues.  You could probably go on You Tube and look up Slick Aguilar and Papa John and some stuff will come up.  Playing with him was like playing with John Lee Hooker, like playing with B.B. King, he’s incredible.  He was way old, he played with everybody in the world – he played with Frank Sinatra, Oscar Peterson.  One time I saw Ray Charles in the airport in Vegas and I’m flying to L.A. and I was staying at Papa’s house that night and I go, ‘Papa, guess who I flew with tonight!’ - I said hello to Ray and he said ‘Hey baby what’s happening?’ (laughs) you know with his head rolling.  And I said, ‘Papa, I flew with Ray Charles!’ and he said, ‘Did you tell him you know me?’  I thought like, ‘Well, no that wasn’t the first thought in my head there’ (laughs).  He goes, ‘I know Ray!’

KM: So you could drop Papa’s name to anybody and they would say, ‘Oh yeah, I got a story about him!’ huh? (laughs)

SA: Yeah, he was incredible and fun!  I wheeled him through the Baseball Hall of Fame.  We were driving down from NY, we had a day off and we saw a sign, it said ‘Cooperstown’ which is where the Baseball Hall of Fame is.  Steve Kaiser was riding with me and we were riding with Papa and Gretchen, his wife, and he goes, ‘Slick, Baseball Hall of Fame, 11 miles, should we do it?’ and I go, ‘Papa, you wanna go to the Baseball Hall of Fame?’.  He says, ‘Smokin Joe Williams’ and we said, ‘Who the heck is that?!’.  He said, ‘Smokin Joe Williams – Homestead Grays.’  We go to the ‘Negro Section’ – that was what they called it and there’s a big cardboard, life-size cutout and it says ‘GRAYS’ across his chest and who is it but Joe Williams!  So Papa, we’re just wheeling him through there and it was just great times.  So yeah, Starship was probably my fave and Crosby was a good point in my life too.

KM: So we’re still curious, you’re the first of the group that I’m getting to talk about – we want to know how this all came together and you guys decided that ‘The Days Between’ was your time and these were going to be the people and kind of all those intricate details – how did that all come to be?

Slick Aguilar and Tom Constanten (Photo Credit: J. Scott Shrader/courtesy of Live Dead ‘69)

Tom Constanten  performs beside Slick Aguilar (Photo Credit: J. Scott Shrader / Courtesy of Live Dead ‘69) (Note: Tom Constanten will not appear at the Days Between performance.)

SA: Ok, so this is what happened – since I put in all those years, it was almost 25 years, and Paul passed and the band was going to keep going and I went through a whole liver transplant so I was out the loop for a while.  I called up a friend, Michael Gaiman, who is the manager of this now, who was also the manager of the Starship and I knew him from David Crosby in ‘82 and ‘83 and this is how we got the gig with Paul Kantner and I said to Michael, ‘Why can’t I go do my own version of the Starship, The Jefferson Starship thing?’.  I was in the band longer than anybody besides Paul Kantner, Paul had more time and I played with him longer than anybody ever did and Marty Balin.  And he goes, ‘Okay, let’s do this.’  Years before, 15 years before that, we used to bring Tom Constanten on the road, Michael knew him.  He brought him out to open up for us.  You know, it’s like, you got the original keyboard player from The Grateful Dead.  He’d go out and he’d play solo and we became good friends and I’d say, “TC let me come out and play with you”, and he’d go, “Would you?” and then I started playing with him at night and then all of a sudden, the drummer is coming out and the keyboard player is coming out and we’d have a little band going on there.  Then I said to Michael, about 2 ½ years ago, I said, “Dude, I wanna do a Starship thing, an Airplane-Starship thing,” and we called that the ‘Airplane Family’ and we brought in other people that were affiliated in some sort with them – you either played with them or you had family ties, like Darby Slick – he never played with Starship but he wrote Somebody to Love,  so we brought him in.  So we used to do that and we started doing I Know You Rider and we’d do Cold Rain and Snow​ and just doing some Dead stuff.  TC, you know, is the only living keyboard player from The Grateful Dead.  So when I said to Michael that I wanted to do the Starship thing, he goes, “Why don’t we bring TC, add a couple people to it…”  So we kicked around a couple names and low and behold, Mark came up and later on, we were looking for a bass player to replace Peter Kaukonen [Editor Note: Peter Kaukonen is the younger brother of none other than legendary Jefferson Airplane & Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma Kaukonen], and I had called Mark up and said, “Hey man, what about Robin?”  So, there’s another guy from RatDog.  We had Robin, Mark, sometimes Jay Lane and Ezra Lipp and this round we’re using Joe Chirco, great drummer.  So that’s how that all came about and we were all really banking on The Airplane Family to take off and really do well but all of a sudden, it was like the magic that happened between us – Mark and I and TC – it was just superseded that.

KM: Took on a life of its own.

SA: Yeah and it’s so much fun to do because it’s total freedom.  You just listen to what’s going on around you and you just ride the wave.

KM: Do you think, in instances like that, that everyone is more connected to each other or to the music? 

SA: I think they both go hand-in-hand.  I think for one, the music thing but also, we’re looking at one another and making eye contact and we know when it hits so there’s that connection between the soul, the bodies, you know?   It’s like – Mark and I would start playing and then we’d hit this stuff and then we’d look at each other and smiles would just come on our faces (laughs).

KM: (laughs) Yeah, I’ve seen that onstage a few times and I always wonder about the inside jokes and connections and what they’re translating to for the musicians.

Mark ‘Slick’ Aguilar (Left) with Mark Kara (Right) performing with Live Dead ’69 (Photo Credit: J. Scott Shrader/courtesy of Live Dead ‘69)

Slick Aguilar (L) with Mark Karan (R) hitting that moment of happiness which is what we set out to accomplish. (Photo Credit: J. Scott Shrader/courtesy of Live Dead ‘69)  

SA: You just hit this moment of happiness where you go, “Yeah, that’s what we set out to accomplish!”  You never know what’s going to happen.  It’s like, you go to Dead shows and half of them aren’t that good and they’re still working on it.  They’ll even say, “We went through half the show and then all of a sudden it clicked!”  It doesn’t always click but you gotta put it out there.  It’s like, to win the lotto, you gotta buy the ticket. 

KM: All these musical acts that you’ve played with over the years, they are a little different but consistently, as far as live music, how have you seen the crowds change over the years?  Have you seen basically, the same crowd growing older with you or?

SA: No, there’s a whole new thrust of young people coming in and I’ve said this before to somebody – I’m watching 20 year old kids singing the lyrics to ‘St Stephen’ and ‘Dark Star’ and these songs was their parents time and really some of their parents are even younger than I am, but these little kids are just singing all these things and it’s just a cycle that goes around and gets passed down from generation to generation.  The Grateful Dead – I mean I go out on the road and I see more cover bands and more tribute bands of the Grateful Dead than any other band in the world.  It’s just a fun music to play and you don’t even have to play a Grateful Dead song and this is what’s gotten down with me.  It did this to me, 30 years ago, I was playing in bands down in Miami and we would take a song like Love the One You’re With and Jerry would go out and do cover songs – he would go out and do Motown, After Midnight into Eleanor Rigby he does Dear Prudence he does some Smokey Robinson, he does all that kinda stuff but he does it to a treatment where he would sing a little bit of it and then let it go and see where it goes, see what happens.

KM: One of my favorite things as a fan is hearing, you know a bluegrass band or a reggae band play a Grateful Dead song or a Tom Petty song or even a hip-hop song.  It’s just so interesting to me.  It’s so cool to hear what people are going to do with a song that you think you know so well.

SA: And just see how they interpret it.

KM: Exactly – and some of them end up being better than the originals.

SA: Yeah there’s just no – the sky is the limit, you can just go ahead and do what you want.  No one is there going, “NO! No, you can’t do that.”  It’s more like, let’s take this one and go south and then let’s go north, you know, whatever you take it in all directions.  That’s what I love to do.  I’ve been doing that in my own bands, I was never in a top 40 cover band.  When I played in my young career, and had to play clubs and stuff, I didn’t do the top hits, I did really cool songs, I mean, I was playing Grateful Dead 35 years ago and nobody down in Miami was doing that.

Live Dead and Riders (L-R) Slick Aguilar, Mike Falzarano, and Mark Karan (Photo Credit: J. Scott Shrader / Courtesy of Live Dead ‘69)

Live Dead and Riders (L-R) Slick Aguilar, Mike Falzarano, and Mark Karan (Photo Credit: J. Scott Shrader / Courtesy of Live Dead ‘69) 

KM: What is it that you think you’re most excited about with this Live Dead and Riders 69 and the days between stint?

SA: Well, I’m really excited about the future and see where we can take this thing and go with it and create our own and bring our own songs and give it this treatment.  I’m excited for the future of the whole thing.  We’re putting out hard, playing and putting everything into it and it’ll be fun to see what happens.  We want to build the crowds, you know, come out and see us and hang out with us, it’s a really fun gig, we speak musically, I think you’ll really enjoy it.   You’ll see.

KM: It’s getting quite an interest down here and people are getting excited so I highly doubt anyone will be disappointed.

SA: No, we’ll have a lot of fun.

KM: So I have one question that I like to ask everyone that I get to interview because it gives a little insight into you as a person, music fan and musician.  Musical bucket list – is there an instrument that you want to learn or a venue you want to play, someone you haven’t seen live yet or maybe a collaboration you’d love to see happen?  Anything on that list?

SA: Yeah, I haven’t been able to play with any of The Beatles (laughs).  Paul McCartney would be a lot of fun. 

KM: Well, he’s still out there doing his thing so it’s definitely possible!

SA: Did you see the segment of ‘Car Karaoke’ with Paul McCartney?

KM: Yes!  I love that segment and his was pretty good.

SA: Oh his was great!  Remember the part where they’re in the pub and he goes, “Play a song on the jukebox, go ahead, pick any song, it’s free!” and then you hear, “It’s been a hard day’s night….” And everybody turns around and goes, “Oh my GOD!!”

KM: Yeah that must be such a fun segment to do!

SA: Well, we played The Cavern Club in Liverpool seven or eight years ago and the guy who does The Magical Mystery Tour, there was like 5000 people that auditioned for the gig, to be the guide, and he won it because of his knowledge of The Beatles.  So anyway, he was there that night and I played In My Life and Eleanor Rigby I do instrumental versions of both of those, a la Jeff Beck kinda sorta thing.  He took us on a mini-private tour on a little bus the next day and it was just our band and road crew and I got to stand in front of McCartney’s house – the house you saw that they went into.  We also went to Ringo’s home and John Lennon’s and George Harrison.  I’ve got pictures of all that and one of me at Strawberry Fields which is an orphanage and it’s behind John’s house – his Aunt Mimi’s house, now he lived better than the rest of them and she was a little more upscale.  We went to Penny Lane – so when I saw that bit with McCartney, it was cool because I had been all of those places, I stood in front of that barber shop.  It was way cool.  This is what this guy told us, we were standing at Strawberry Fields and he said Aunt Mimi used to say, “John you can’t go back there, it’s the orphanage, the king or the queen said it’s against the rules.” And John said, “Well, it’s nothing to get hung about.”  That’s where that line comes from in the song.  Now back to Eleanor Rigby – he goes, “Now I can’t do this when I do the tour with 60 people because they can’t be trapesing through the cemetery but come here I want to show you something.”  He pulls over and said, “Since you played that song last night, I want to show you something.”  He took me to the grave of Eleanor Rigby.

KM: Really?!!?

Slick Aguilar (Photo Credit: J. Scott Shrader / Courtesy of Live Dead ‘69)

Slick Aguilar (Photo Credit: J. Scott Shrader / Courtesy of Live Dead ‘69)

SA: Oh yeah, I’ve got a bunch of cool pictures of it.  It says ‘Here lies John Rigby’ and then below that it says ‘Eleanor Rigby, wife of John’ and you’re going ‘Oh my god, Eleanor Rigby, there it is!’  (Starts to sing they lyrics) ‘picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been’ and there’s the church right there!  Now how the hell – McCartney and Lennon must’ve been out there smoking pot or something!  I mean they went and saw the grave, I mean they had to have seen the grave, they weren’t notables or anything.

KM: Now that’d be a real story, what were they doing there?

SA: Yeah, because they met right across the street because he showed us, he said “Right there is where Paul McCartney first played with John, John was playing with the Quarrymen and Paul came in and said ‘Hey you’re doing that all wrong’ and John got all pissed off and Paul showed him and then John goes ‘Hey, will you join us?’  And you’re standing there and you’re not that far from Eleanor Rigby’s grave.  My bucket list would be to be in Paul McCartney’s band.

KM: Pretty good – I think we can make that happen and by we, I mean you of course (laughs).

SA: (laughs) You just gotta think positive.

KM: Slick, it was so much fun talking to you and I’m looking forward to seeing you in the days between.

SA: Thank you - enjoy the rest of your day and I’ll see you down there.

To see Slick Aguilar perform with Live Dead / Riders ‘69 at The Hamilton, you can purchase tickets below.

Thursday, August 2

Doors: 6:30PM

Show: 8:00PM

Tickets: $20/$30


Tom Constanten will NOT be performing with Live Dead & Riders '69 at this Days Between performance. Scott Guberman will be performing on keys.

Related Articles & Interviews:

Read more about the Days Between event presented by The Hamilton and those associated with this event.

About the author
Karin McLaughlin

Karin McLaughlin

Karin has been a live music junkie all her life, however is a fairly new fan in the world of jam bands and bluegrass. She grew up on hip hop, classic soul, motown and classic rock but has found a new home in the festival world and that is what, in part, had brought her to DC Music Review. Karin produces and hosts a weekly radio show in the area called Karin's Calendar, where she talks all about 'Where to be in the DMV'. She is very excited to be starting down a semi-new road with us and hopes to use her interview skills and write ups of shows to contribute even more to DC Music Review.