South Florida isn't known outside of the area as a major wellspring when it comes to jam bands, but don't tell the Heavy Pets that.
For the better part of the past decade, they've built a respectable reputation throughout the nation as an exceptional instrumental ensemble, one well-known for both its lyrical muscle and its melodic intents. And if it sometimes seems they're more appreciated elsewhere than they are in their own backyard, that could have something to do with a rigorous touring schedule that's made them a constant fixture on the festival circuit. This includes appearances at such prestigious gatherings as Bonnaroo, High Sierra, South by Southwest, Gathering of the Vibes, and Langerado, among the many. That's not to mention half a dozen studio albums to boot.
It's little surprise, then, that the band offers such an inordinate amount of respect for another local outfit that bases its motif around the biggest jam band of all time, the Grateful Dead. That band, Crazy Fingers (its handle refers to a prominent Grateful Dead song), has been around far longer than most, starting with gigs at the old Fisherman's Wharf in Pompano Beach circa 1990. Composed of guitarist Rich Friedman, keyboardist Josh Foster, bassist Bubba Newton, drummer Peter Lavezzoli, and multi-instrumentalist Corey Dwyer, Crazy Fingers gained a rabid following here at home, earning continuous kudos as not only a first-rate Grateful Dead tribute band but also as a hardworking ensemble that often performs three and four nights a week.
So when Dwyer passed away last week, the result of injuries suffered in an automobile accident in early April, it led Heavy Pets' guitarist Jeff Lloyd to reflect on a musician he had come to know both as a friend and a colleague.
"When I first moved to Florida and went to the old Fisherman's Wharf to see Crazy Fingers for the first time, I met Corey and spoke of my plans to start a new band," Lloyd recalls. "Having never even heard me play, he invited me to jam with Crazy Fingers that evening, which was quite an honor.
"Later, he told me he had a studio, and I booked some time there immediately. The Heavy Pets spent hundreds of hours over the next year and a half with Corey, crafting our debut double album, Whale. Corey engineered and mixed the album, as well as loaned his talents on mandolin on a few tracks. The album was well-received and helped send us around the country."
As Lloyd tells it, their friendship soon began to flourish. "We recorded a follow-up EP with Corey and remained close," he confides. "I continued to play with Crazy Fingers here and there, sometimes just showing up and sitting in, and sometimes Corey would call me and invite me to play the whole show. I learned so much from him and Crazy Fingers, trained my ear and honing my jamming skills. They are one of the finest Grateful Dead cover bands -- or jam bands of any kind -- that I've had the pleasure to know. Playing with, and spending time with Corey was a privilege and an honor, and the time we had with him is something we will all cherish forever."
To help keep Dwyer's memory alive and raise money to cover his funeral costs and defray the medical expenses his family incurred, Heavy Pets will headline an all day benefit show on Sunday, May 25 at at the Backyard in Boynton Beach. The concert will also include the Funky Nuggets and a jam session featuring members of assorted South Florida bands.
"Come together to remember a South Florida Live Music Community forefather," Lloyd says. "If you grew up with Crazy Fingers, enjoy going to shows down here in general, or have enjoyed our debut album Whale, you owe much of it to Mr. Corey Dwyer."
A Corey Dwyer Memorial Benefit, 2 p.m. to midnight on Sunday, May 25, at the Backyard, 511 NE Fourth St., Boynton Beach. The show is free with a suggested minimum donation of $10 at the door. Visit crazyfingers.net.
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