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Feb. 26, 2016: RELIX MAGAZINE

New Alabama Music Hall of Fame Inductee Donna Jean Godchaux Talks Touring with Grateful Dead, Singing with Elvis

Donna Jean Godchaux, who worked as a studio vocalist in Muscle Shoals and Memphis and sang with the Grateful Dead for most of the ’70s, will be inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame today, commemorating her work on hits like Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” and Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds,” along her work with the Dead.

Godchaux, who was already inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Grateful Dead in 1994, recently spoke with about various aspects of her career, including her early music work, her thoughts on Elvis and Jerry Garcia and what she brought back from her trip to Egypt with the Dead.

“I have just been fortunate enough to have been in the right place at the right time,” Godchaux says. “Number one in Muscle Shoals and number two in San Francisco where they [the Grateful Dead] just happened to be looking for a keyboard player.”

“I was singing from pretty much as soon as I could talk,” Godchaux says, speaking of her time as a young girl singing on her porch when a neighbor opera singer heard her voice and told her she could be a great opera singer one day. “Of course that never happened,” she says.

Godchaux also shares her thoughts on Elvis (“I’m telling you, he was the most gorgeous human being I’ve ever seen, male or female – he was just unreal looking. Much better looking than any picture or any movie.”) and Jerry Garcia (“He was perhaps the most intelligent person that I’ve ever been around. Not only about music but about life and it’s hard to even talk about, but he was one of the most generous musicians I’ve ever been around.”)

On her trip to Egypt with the Dead, which she calls “really exciting, fulfilling deep times,” Godchaux is asked if she brought back any mementos. “Oh, absolutely,” she says. “I’ve got several necklaces. I brought back a cartouche that said ‘Donna Jean’ on it in hieroglyphs. I brought back three dresses, two of which were in the Grateful Dead exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and one is in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.”

Read the full interview here, and see a video of Godchaux singing the Grateful Dead’s “Sugaree” in the Relix office here.

Feb. 22, 2016: TimesDaily, Florence, AL

Hall of fame another stop on Godchaux Mackay's long strange trip

By Russ Corey Staff Writer

Can’t be there? Go to beginning at 5 p.m. Friday for red carpet arrivals, videos and updates throughout the event. Follow on Twitter @TimesDaily”

FLORENCE — Russell Mefford has no problem expressing his feelings through music and songs, but the frontman for the Fiddleworms finds it difficult to describe what it’s like to perform with Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay.

“I never thought in my life I’d get to play with Donna Jean,” Mefford said. “I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s part of the coolness of where we live.”

A Sheffield native, Godchaux-MacKay went from being a Sheffield High School cheerleader to singing background vocals on Elvis Presley recordings.

After moving to California in 1970, she became a vocalist for the iconic American jam band the Grateful Dead, along with her husband and Grateful Dead keyboardist Keith Godchaux. She later embarked on a solo career that continues to this day.

She is one of five Alabama music achievers who will be inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame during its honors and awards banquet Friday at the Marriott Shoals Conference Center in Florence. Other inductees are the Southern rock band Wet Willie, the Muscle Shoals Horns, keyboardist Chuck Leavell and producer/engineer Johnny Sandlin.

“I am more than honored to be inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame,” Godchaux-MacKay said. “Being included into this music community of the state of Alabama, where I met my lifelong dream, is, indeed, an honor.”

Godchaux-MacKay said she has had a variety of unique experiences in her life, so many that her brother, Ivan Thatcher, dubbed her the “Forrest Gump of Rock ‘N’ Roll.” Her Deadhead fans would simply call it “a long, strange trip.”

“Percy Sledge was in Helen Keller Hospital for treatment when Jeanie Greene and I took a copy of Billboard magazine into his room, and showed him that “When A Man Loves A Woman” was No. 1 in the nation,” she said. “What a memory that is. I will never forget it.”

Sledge died last year at the age of 74.

Meeting the King

She also has fond memories of being a young singer providing background vocals for “The King of Rock ‘N’ Roll” along with her friend and mentor, Jeanie Greene.

“The moment Elvis Presley walked into American Sound Studio in Memphis, I regressed to being in a theater in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at age 10 watching ‘Love Me Tender,’ ” Godchaux-MacKay said. “Singing with him could never happen in a million years, but it did. Imagine our surprise when Jeanie got the call that Elvis wanted our voice group to sing on the Memphis sessions.”

She said Presley had heard the background vocals the singers added to his hit record “Suspicious Minds” and wanted that sound.

“Elvis was such a gentleman to us, complimentary and very sweet,” Godchaux-MacKay said. “We girls were all professionalism in the studio, but when the session was over, we went to the International House of Pancakes in Memphis and screamed to the top of our lungs.”

She also added background vocals to Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” and R.B. Greaves’s “Take a Letter, Maria,” two classic tracks recorded in Muscle Shoals.

In the summer of 1970, despite having a career with the vocal group Southern Comfort, Godchaux-MacKay decided to move to California to follow her dream.

“I didn’t have a plan in mind, but history shows there was already one in the works for me,” she said. “I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 24 years.”

She saw the Grateful Dead perform at Winterland Arena in San Francisco, and eventually married keyboardist Keith Godchaux.

“I was mesmerized by their approach to music and sound,” she said. “I remember turning to a friend sitting beside me and saying, ‘When I sing again, it’s gonna be with that band.’ A year or so later, my husband, Keith Godchaux, and I were in the band.”

“The Grateful Dead stunned me when I heard them live,” Godchaux-Mac-Kay said. “They incorporated bluegrass, country, jazz, rock-n-roll, classical, blues, all kinds of music, collected and improvised into a live concert setting. Joining that band was a serious challenge, but one that jolted me into something new musically.”

Dark Star Orchestra guitarist Jeff Mattson said he first saw Godchaux-MacKay at a Grateful Dead show at the Nassau Coliseum in 1973. He also saw her perform with the Jerry Garcia Band and her band, Keith and Donna, with her husband. Dark Star Orchestra is a renowned Grateful Dead tribute band.

“Even early on, I loved that there was a female presence in the Dead’s music,” Mattson said.”When I got to see Donna sing some lead vocals with the Garcia Band and, of course, with Keith and Donna, I was blown away by her soufulness. I feel that starting in 1976 when she took over singing all the high harmonies in the Grateful Dead, the ensemble singing was the best it ever was in their 30-year history.”

It wasn’t until 2005 that Mattson finally met Godchaux-MacKay, after he was asked to coordinate a tribute to Jerry Garcia at the Gathering of the Vibes music festival near Bridgeport, Connecticut. She was one of the artists who would be performing at the tribute, which marked the 10th anniversary of Garcia’s death.

“I spoke to Donna Jean in the weeks preceding the show to help plan her participation, and she was gracious enough to offer to sit in with my band at the time, the Zen Tricksters,” Mattson said. “This had always been a dream of mine. She sat in and she spent the day hanging out with us. We became fast friends and, soon after, band mates.”

‘A consummate professional’

He continued to perform with her over the past decade, and the pair have co-written several songs, including some that appeared on “Back Around,” the 2014 release by the Donna Jean Godchaux Band with Jeff Mattson.

“Donna Jean is a consummate professional,” he said. “She spends as much time in the studio and in rehearsal as she has to to get it absolutely perfect, and she always nails it.

“At long last the Alabama Music Hall of Fame is recognizing her for the huge talent she is and her contribution to the Muscle Shoals sound and the San Francisco sound, and there is no one more deserving of that honor,” Mattson said.

Mefford said Godchaux-MacKay and her husband were members of a band he formed called Kenny and the C Notes.

“I met her and David when I was in kind (of a) low point of my life,” Mefford said. “It’s hard to put into words what they meant to me and my life and music. To say it’s an honor to get to play with both of those guys doesn’t do enough.”

Godchaux-MacKay has performed with the Fiddleworms on several occasions, and appears on the band’s albums “Live Bait,” “Volkswagen Catfish” and their latest release, “See The Light.” Her husband, David MacKay, is the band’s bassist.

Godchaux-MacKay has two sons, Zion Godchaux and Kinsman MacKay, both of whom are songwriters and musicians.

“My mom has always been an inspiration to me, just in being the quality of person that she is, music set aside,” Godchaux said. “But as a musician, I just hope that some of her personality is reflected through my music.”

Godchaux and Russ Randolph form the dance/trance/electronic duo Boombox while MacKay was part of the Grown Folks Band, which was originally a three piece that included Nate Slaughter and Colin Krout.

“I’m extremely proud of my mom,” MacKay said. “She has impacted so many people with her voice, Deadheads, Elvis fans, and pretty much anyone who has heard Muscle Shoals music. I’m honored to have the privilege to call her mother, and nobody deserves this more than her.”

Like many who grew up loving Shoals music, Godchaux-MacKay said her heroes include local musicians like Roger Hawkins, David Hood, the late Barry Beckett, Jimmy Johnson, Spooner Oldham and Donnie Fritts, to name a few.

“I was fortunate enough to grow up with greatness all around me,” she said. “I was schooled by the best of the best. The cool thing is that we have all remained good friends over the years.”

Godchaux-MacKay said she would not change the major decisions she’s made in her life.

“The major ones have been positive and part and parcel of who I am now, no regrets there,” she said. “The minor ones, of course, made through emotion, reaction or thoughtlessness are what every one of us has to learn from and then move on.”

Godchaux-MacKay said she will not be doing any extensive touring, but she wants to continue recording new material.

“I’m always up for recording,” she said. “There are songs I have written and already recorded on a couple of albums that I want to take another shot at. I’m ruminating on some new song ideas, and, as well, David is planning a solo project at the Nutthouse Studio that I will be a part of. Long story short, I guess, is that I’ll rock til I drop.”

July/August 2014: RELIX MAGAZINE

The Living Dead

Donna Jean Godchaux Band with Jeff Mattson


Donna Jean Godchaux Band with Jeff Mattson It is no secret that many Deadheads did not appreciate the vocal parts that Donna Jean Godchaux lent to the Grateful Dead in the ‘70s, but let’s forget for a minute that she was ever in that band. Instead, time-warp back even earlier to Muscle Shoals, Ala., where the teenaged Donna Thatcher cut her teeth singing background for the likes of Elvis Presley and Percy Sledge. (She’s on the timeless “When a Man Loves a Woman.”) That confident powerhouse is the Donna Jean Godchaux that’s showcased primarily on Back Around, a soulful set of original songs matched with well-chosen covers (Wilson Pickett, Stones, Beatles, Youngbloods and, yes, the Dead’s “Crazy Fingers”). Godchaux, aided by guitarist Jeff Mattson and a solid band augmented by the Muscle Shoals Horns, is alternately gutsy-raw and tender-romantic, and—this is important—always in control. Whatever your thoughts are on those heady days 40 years ago days, Back Around is the work of a very captivating, well-rounded singer. Jeff Tamarkin

July/August 2014: NOLAPRESS.COM

Life After the "Dead" Article on Donna Jean and review of Back Around

July 10, 2014: THE CORNER, AUBERN, AL "Donna Jean Comes Back Around"
Read about it here.

From the FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios to the San Francisco Sound, Donna Jean Godchaux blends her two realities seamlessly on Back Around, her latest release with the Donna Jean Godchaux Band and Jeff Mattson. We snagged 15 minutes with Donna Jean to talk about her Alabama roots, touring with the Dead, and teaming up with Dark Star Orchestra's Mattson, husband David MacKay, a smoking' rhythm section, and "The More the Merrier Players" for this record.

Read all about it here.

Dec 21, 2013:
Muscle Shoals Movie CLIP - Artists (2013) - Documentary HD

Donna Jean is in the Movie

Feb 1, 2013: Muscle Shoals Swampers and Friends including Donna Jean

Muscle Shoals Movie Trailer and Website
Donna Jean is in the Movie

Oct 30, 2012: IridiumLive 004 - 7.12.2012IridiumLive 004 - 7.12.2012

Legendary Grateful Dead and Muscle Shoals singer DONNA JEAN GODCHAUX delivers a smokin’ show at Iridium, with a special band featuring Mark Karan, Kenny Brooks and Mookie Siegel from Bob Weir’s Ratdog.

Featuring great takes on Grateful Dead and JGB classics: “Sugaree,” “Don’t Let Go,” “New Speedway Boogie” and “Easy Wind.” Also great Donna Jean versions of “Gone Gone Gone” (Everly Brothers, Robert Plant/Alison Krause), “Tear My Stillhouse Down” (Gillian Welch), and her own bluesy “Don’t Ask Me Why.” Click here to get your copy.

Jan 6, 2013: Jeff will be on Tales From the Golden Road, SiriusXM Radio, the Grateful Dead channel (23), 4 PM - 6 PM EST hosted by David Gans and Gary Lambert
Aug 3, 2012: Donna Jean Godchaux Appeared at Move Me Brightly Celebrating Jerry Garcia's 70th Birthday Live From TRI Studios

Bob Weir & Friends - 8-3-12 TRI Studios San Rafael CA
Donna Jean Godchaux and Bob Weir
Donna Jean Godchaux and Bob Weir
Donna Jean Godchaux, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh
Donna Jean Godchaux, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh

May 22, 2012: Donna Jean Godchaux to Appear at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Series
Donna Jean Godchaux will appear at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH on July 7. This event is free with a ticket reservation online or in-person at the Rock Hall Box Office. Tickets will become available to Rock Hall Members on Thursday, June 14 at 10 a.m. EsT and will become available to the general public on Friday, June 15 at 10 a.m. EST. A limited number of tickets will be available for those without internet access through the Rock Hall’s RSVP phone system by calling (216) 515-8426. This event will also be streamed on Godchaux was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with the Grateful Dead.

Jun 6, 2011: Sugaree
Brand new acoustic version of Sugaree video up on Performed by Donna, Jeff, and David at Relix studios Click here to see it.

Feb 26, 2010: RIP Our Friend David Nolan (1962-2010)
From 2/26/10

David Nolan, radio host, audio engineer and the very first employee hired at Wetlands Preserve passed away Thursday from a heart attack. Nolan met Wetlands founder Larry Bloch in 1988, while serving as a DJ during a Grateful Dead Night elsewhere in the city. He remained with the club throughout its history, spinning music, archiving live tapes and even working behind the lighting board on occasion.

Read Entire Article

Nov 19, 2009: Hey, DJGBwJM-heads!
We’re pleased to tell you that Jeff Mattson has agreed to continue subbing with Dark Star Orchestra through February – if you’ve checked any chat groups lately, you’ll have seen that his first show with them got triple-A-plus reviews… and that the DJGBwJM will thus also be opening for quite a number of DSO shows – check the list for one near you. He likes to play!
  • Fri., February 5, VIC THEATRE , Chicago --Opening for DSO
  • Sat., February 6, VIC THEATRE, Chicago-- opening for DSO
  • Fri., February 19, NEIGHBORHOOD THEATRE, Charlotte --Opening for DSO
  • Sat., February 20, NEIGHBORHOOD THEATRE, Charlotte --Opening for DSO
  • Fri., February 26, VARIETY PLAYHOUSE, Atlanta --Opening for DSO
  • Sat., February 27, VARIETY PLAYHOUSE, Atlanta --Opening for DSO
Check out DSO’s Full Winter Tour Schedule

Oct 19, 2009: From Dennis McNally
Such popularity! Our Jeff Mattson, who’s going to be sitting in with Dark Star Orchestra (as well as being part of the DJGBwJM as it opens for a number of DSO shows) in November, has already been asked to extend his sit-in to include DSO’s New Year’s Eve Run. Go see them – two terrific bands, one great lead guitarist!

See Tour Dates Page for details.

Oct 1, 2009: Press Release from Dennis McNally
The Donna Jean Godchaux Band with Jeff Mattson
is pleased to announce…
That Mom brought us up right and taught us to share. And while the DJGB w/JM isn’t going anywhere (except on the road and to musical venues near your house!), we’re happy to lend our sterling lead guitarist, Jeff Mattson, to our friends at Dark Star Orchestra in their time of need. Hey – we like him too! Jeff will be sitting in with DSO on:
  • 11/16 Mon McCarter Theater, Princeton, NJ
  • 11/18 Wed State Theater, Ithaca, NY
  • 11/19 Thu The Klein, Bridgeport, CT
  • 11/20 Fri Calvin Theatre, Northampton, MA
  • 11/21 Sat Memorial Auditorium, Lowell, MA

Sep 14, 2009: Check out our new Video Page. Catch a glimpse of the Donna Jean Godchaux Band at some recent live events!

Jun 26, 2009: Message from Donna Jean Godchaux Band with Jeff Mattson:
The good news is that Jeff Mattson will, in a couple of weeks, be fully recovered and the Donna Jean Godchaux Band with Jeff Mattson will be ready to cruise into a summer of making great music. The bad news is that yesterday (June 25th) he suffered a partially collapsed lung and had to undergo surgery this morning, which means that he and the band cannot perform at Nelson Ledges this 4th of July weekend. We want to express our sincere regrets to our good friends at Nelson Ledges and all our fans for having to miss the gig. Man proposes, the Universe disposes! We’ll make it up to you next year, promise! Meantime, Donna Jean will be representing the band and sitting in with various friends, including (But not necessarily limited to!) the New Riders of the Purple Sage and Boombox.

the Donna Jean Godchaux Band with Jeff Mattson

Jun 13, 2009: Butch Worrell photos from 5/1/09 McFadden's Ballpark. Thanks Butch!

May 29, 2009: Tonight at Midnight EST, check out the DJG Band on David Gan's Grateful Dead Hour on WFUV 90.7 FM Dial your radio or listen online.

May 24, 2009: New SOUNDS PAGE is Here!! Check out some live tunes and a few from the studio. Enjoy!

Announcing the Donna Jean Godchaux Band
with Jeff Mattson

A band, like every living thing, needs to evolve. Donna Jean Godchaux and Jeff Mattson are pleased to announce the Donna Jean Godchaux Band!
  • Donna Jean Godchaux – lead vocals
  • Jeff Mattson – guitar, vocals
  • David MacKay – bass, vocals
  • Joe Chirco - drums
  • Mark Adler - keys
Rock and roll and lots more, delivered with Muscle Shoals-trained soul and inspiration. Fine original material plus a nod to Donna Jean’s deep roots with lots of Grateful Dead songs, too.

All things pass, But the seeds that were silent burst into bloom. Look out – this flower will thrive.

The band will be stepping out in April with a full tour, and will be widely seen on the summer festival circuit.

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