“Excuse me, are you Melvin Seals?”
That was the question posed by a young tech in the downstairs green room at Beachland Ballroom Monday night. Oddly enough, the tech directed the question to me, as I sat on a couch talking to good friend and bassist extraordinaire Bradley Rhea and his uncle, Frank Rhea, before Terrapin Flyer took the stage for the final gig of a seven-day fall tour.
I immediately looked at Brad, eyes wide open in surprise.
Brad tried to hold in his laughter, but the odd hilarity of the moment couldn’t contain it.
Now, I was once told I looked like David Spade. A couple people approached me for autographs several years ago, thinking I was former Penguins fan favorite Colby Armstrong. A few others believe I bear a strong resemblance to Brian Hackett, one of the primary characters of the 1990s NBC comedy “Wings.” (That remains my favorite lookalike comparison.)
But this … this was different.
See, I’m 5-foot-8 on a good day, 5-7 most days. Not to brag, but I’m in good shape for a 40-year-old. I’m mostly known as a sports writer, which I no longer am, in parts of Western Pennsylvania. I’m also white.
Melvin Seals is recognized by some as the best Hammond B-3 organ player on the planet, and he couldn’t differ more in terms of physical appearance. He’s tall. He’s large.
And he’s black.
Of course, Grateful Dead fans know Seals well. He joined Jerry Garcia Band in 1980 and remained with the popular side-project of the Dead’s frontman until Garcia’s death in 1995. After that, Seals played with JGB and many others. He’s beloved by many members of the community, and his name is the biggest of Terrapin Flyer, a top-notch Dead tribute band. which also includes Ratdog guitarist Mark Karan. My friend, Brad, is a bassist, vocalist and the main reason for my weekday road trip, as I was giving him a ride back to Westmoreland County after the show. (Later on that night, when Doug Hagman introduced Brad to the crowd, the fellas up front loudly let him know he was the man. A few even bowed. A few others sought out his autograph after the show. Yep, he’s that good, and parts of the country outside our neck of the woods are finding that out.)
In the techie’s defense, he obviously doesn’t follow the Dead, and, I was the new guy in the green room at the time, though Seals was sitting on the other side of a coffee table, fresh off telling me about his fear of hitting deer when he drives in certain areas of the country at night. Seals didn’t look up when the tech asked me if I was him, he continued to sign his name to Terrapin Flyer prints, which would be sold at the merchandise table outside the ballroom at Beachland, located in Cleveland’s Collinwood neighborhood.
Seals simply said, “You ready for me?”
The techie answered affirmatively, and, a few minutes later, Terrapin Flyer was on its way upstairs to perform for the seventh time in seven days in a seventh different city, earning fans at every venue.