Donna Jean & the Tricksters
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Roy Buchanan - Reviews and recommendations, discography


Donna Jean And The Tricksters Zen TrickstersDonna Jean And The Tricksters Zen Tricksters

Donna Jean and the Tricksters

Donna Jean And The Tricksters Zen TrickstersDonna Jean And The Tricksters Zen Tricksters

Roy Buchanan - Reviews and recommendations, discography

Donna Jean and the Tricksters


Welcome to our website about 
Donna Jean and the Tricksters 

Donna Jean and the Tricksters
new CD -
1/29/08 - Review

Donna Jean with the GD and JGB

Zen Tricksters discography


Press Release (background of Donna Jean and the Tricksters)
February, 2007

Donna Jean Thatcher (Godchaux MacKay) was born to sing, and over the course of time she’s done so with people like Elvis Presley, Percy Sledge, Boz Scaggs, and Jerry Garcia.  Now she has a new band that she’s quite certain is on a creative par with anything she’s ever done.  “This band is a perfect fit for me as a singer/songwriter,” she said recently, “and I hope to be doing this for a long time to come.  We’re having so much fun with this music!”

The Grateful Dead alumna has joined up with six members of the next musical generation – Mookie Siegel (David Nelson Band; formerly Phil & Friends, RatDog), Wendy Lanter (Hope in Time), and Jeff Mattson, Tom Circosta, Klyph Black and Dave Diamond (Zen Tricksters) to form Donna Jean and the Tricksters.  Look out! Things have come full circle and anything’s possible. Oh, sure, they’re gonna jam.  But the band has seven vocalists and an incredible array of songwriting talent, and DJ&tT is going to make waves in ways you’d never anticipate.

Born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Donna Jean was a vocalist at both Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and Fame Studios, home of the legendary “Muscle Shoals Sound,” on records like Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds,” Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves a Woman,” and Boz Scagg’s eponymous first solo album.  She moved to San Francisco, married Keith Godchaux, and spent the 1970s as a vocalist in the Grateful Dead as well as the Jerry Garcia Band.  After life with the Dead, she and Keith created the Heart of Gold Band with drummer Greg Anton.  Following various side trips, she resumed serious focus on her singing in the ‘90s, recording a new Heart of Gold Band album, At the Table, and singing with Phil & Friends and her own Donna Jean Band.  But it was at a benefit concert for the Dead’s Rex Foundation in 2006, The Black Tie-Dye Ball, that she bonded with the Tricksters and decided that she’d found her future.

The Zen Tricksters began on Long Island in the early 1980s.  Lead by guitar wizard Jeff Mattson, the ZT have played for more than 20 years, establishing records at the legendary Wetlands Preserve and taking part in every Gathering of the Vibes. With Klyph Black on funky, blues-based bass and vocals (and slide and dobro), Tom Circosta on rhythm guitar and vocals, and Dave Diamond on drums, percussion, and vocals, the ZT rapidly became known as the best Dead-oriented band around – and a great deal more.  After a substantial career doing session work, Wendy Lanter joined with Tom Circosta to create the band Hope in Time as a platform for their original music.  She is a fabulous vocalist, adding angelic harmonies to Donna Jean’s work.  Finally, Mookie Siegel (keyboards and vocals) emerged from Baltimore in the ‘80s to become a member of such bands as the David Nelson (New Riders of the Purple Sage) Band, Bob Weir’s RatDog, and Phil Lesh & Friends.

Yet this band – a felicitous combination of experience and youth, with skills that cross all musical genres and defy category – is a great deal more than even the sum of its parts.  Something happened when they met – and DJ&tT is now (3/07) going into the studio to show you what that was.
Donna Jean and the Tricksters Zen Tricksters - Reviews and recommendations, discography
Donna Jean and the Tricksters
(aka, Kettle Joe's Psychedelic Swamp Revue)
Donna Jean and the Tricksters Zen Tricksters - Reviews and recommendations, discography
Donna Jean and the Tricksters  

Label - Dig 

1. All I Gotta Say
2. So Hard
3. No Better Way
4. Weight of the World
5. Shelter +, #
6. Travelin' Light
7. He Said/She Said *+
8. Moments Away
9. Farewell Jack
10. A Prisoner Says His Piece *
11. Me and Kettle Joe
12. Reno

Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay - vocals
Wendy Lanter - vocals
Jeff Mattson - lead guitar, vocals
Tom Circosta - rhythm guitar, vocals
Klyph Black - bass, vocals
Dave Diamond - drums, vocals
Mookie Siegel - keyboards, vocals

Jason Crosby - Violin *
Dave Eggar - Cello +
Randi Mattson - Handclaps #

Donna Jean and the Tricksters Zen Tricksters - Reviews and recommendations, discography
Donna Jean and the Tricksters review

Donna Jean and the Tricksters is a band composed of the revamped Zen Tricksters (ZT) with the addition of Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay. Donna Jean is best known for her work with the Grateful Dead. Though, prior to that, she did session work at Muscle Shoals Sound and appeared on notable recordings including Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds," and Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman."  Reading an interview with Donna, she discusses that aspect of her career and notes the awesome session players that she was involved with, bringing back thoughts of Aretha Franklin's early material. 

The Zen Tricksters have released three albums. After hearing the debut, Donna Jean and the Tricksters and enjoying it, I thought a listen to the Zen Tricksters was warranted. Since I don't have any of their albums I sought out a few live performances. Their performances include a wide variety of awesome covers interspersed with original material. The ZT have a strong Grateful Dead background and do include both Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band covers in their live performances. Quite well, I might add. However, there are no bands, zero, none,  that play Grateful Dead music as good as, you guessed it, the Grateful Dead. 

The February 2007 Donna Jean and the Tricksters press release has additional historic background on Donna Jean and the Tricksters. 

In a few ways Donna Jean and the Tricksters remind me of The Band. Not because of their songwriting or sound. Rather, because both bands have a numbers of composers as well as many good vocalists; in fact, all seven Tricksters sing. Most bands have a more basic formula by sporting one lead vocalist, maybe two and the same for songwriters. The Beatles generally had two songwriters, Lennon and McCartney, with an occasional Harrison track, The Rolling Stones credit Jagger and Richards composing most tracks, with one main singer, The Grateful Dead usually switch between Garcia and Weir with an occasional song by Phil or a keyboardist. The result of Donna Jean and the Tricksters diversity is that it takes a few listens to be familiar with them. It is worth doing! There is immense talent and all the members all have a lot to offer. Further, the album sounds better upon each listen.

Speaking of The Band, in my research I came across a gorgeous cover of the ZT on 12/31/2002, performing The Band's "W.S. Walcott Medicine Show." Wonderful! There was a tribute album to The Band called Endless Highway. The producers of that release should have enlisted the Zen Tricksters for it, as they would have ranked high among the great sounds on that disc. Truly. I have that release and can't think of better cover included on it.

For a band that includes Grateful Dead covers and even includes a former member you'd expect them to mimic them. Smartly, they steer away from that on their debut album. No matter how talented, a band can only go so far copying them. 

Enough of the background, how is the music? There are a variety of different styles when all stirred up yields a freshness, a bite, and even a bit funk to it. A few songs have the potential for some radio play. Notably, "All I Gotta Say," is a pop song, strong vocals, and a biting, stinging guitar. Topping it is "No Better Way"; with its catchy rhythm, upbeat and fast. The quick-fingered guitar solos brings early Steely Dan to mind. 

Sandwiched between those two tracks is a drummer Dave Diamond's song, "So Hard." his voice sounds a bit like Bruce Hornsby. Mookie Siegel takes the first solo. The second instrumental allows several members to be heard as they take turns, some nice sounds indeed. 

A few guests appear on the disc. I like the violin and Jason Crosby sits in on two numbers sharing his talents. "He Said / She Said" is a solid song. The other one, "A Prisoner Says His Piece," sounds a little corny with the vocals. Though, I like the country/southern feel. They can play some strong country licks indeed, a little James Burton anybody?

"Travelin' Light" has a nice beat, feel, hook, and melody. It features several vocalists. A fairly long track, over seven minutes. This guitar solo does have hints of a Garcia influence with both the tone and phrasing at times, sort of a "Tennessee Jed" bounce, but it maintains Mattson's feel at the same time, then closing with some more Steely Dan type licks. "Travelin' Light" is of the better songs. 

The track "Weight of the World" is interesting. The groove is successful. It has a bit of funk to it in a progressive sense, King Crimson like during the early 1980's Adrian Belew days.

A key track is the thirteen plus minute "Me and Kettle Joe." It begins as an upbeat song and then ventures off to a lengthy, healthy jam, with a nice landing. Another key track I suppose is "Shelter" as it was part of the promotional sampler disc. It sounds like it could fit on a Jefferson Airplane album, but it is no "Good Shepherd." 

Throughout the disc, Mookie Siegel offers superb solos and fills and really is instrumental to the great sounds throughout the album. A few examples include his work on Circosta's "Moments Away." Complimenting him, the guitar solos are quite good too, taking a nasty tone. Mookie takes the lead vocal on the final track on "Reno" in a straight forward rock 'n roll number in the style of Chuck Berry

Any album that has originality and at the same time brings memories of those influences as diverse as those noted in the review is more than worthwhile. To recap them, they include: The Band, Aretha Franklin, Emmylou Harris, James Burton, Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead, Steely Dan, Jefferson Airplane, King Crimson, and Chuck Berry. Interesting, all of these artists are very different in sound, with the common denominator being excellence, top shelf material. 

If Donna Jean and the Tricksters can continue to write strong material they should have even greater success going forward. A great start with their debut, an easy album to recommend. 
by Barry Small© 

Donna Jean and the Tricksters Zen Tricksters - Reviews and recommendations, discography
Amazon Product Description
Donna Jean and the Tricksters, a band legendary for it’s Grateful Dead covers, unites a host of Dead alumni on their new release. Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay, member of the Grateful Dead (1971-1979) and nationally acclaimed back-up vocalist at Muscle Shoals Studios (Percy Sledge, Elvis Presley, R.B. Greaves, Boz Scaggs,) fronts a roots-rockin’ band that features seven-part harmonies and top-shelf musicianship. The band’s incendiary live shows are generating rave reviews and continue to build their rabid fan base while reaching out to a whole new, younger demographic. The new album also features beautiful packaging and design by famed poster artist, Gary Houston.
Donna Jean and the Tricksters Zen Tricksters - Reviews and recommendations, discography
Donna Jean with the GD and JGB

We have reviews of almost all of the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band releases in their respective sections of my website. 

Donna Jean with the Grateful Dead
Live 1971 - '72 - Favorite release - Dick's Pick's Vol. 36
Live 1973 - '74 - Favorite release - Dick's Picks Vol. 12
Live 1975 - '79 - Favorite release - Dick's Pick's Vol. 3
Grateful Dead studio releases
Absolutely essential Grateful Dead DVD's with Donna Godchaux - Both The Grateful Dead Movie from 1974 and The Closing of Winterland from 1978

Jerry Garcia Band
As of this writing, Donna Jean has been on three live Jerry Garcia Band releases. In the studio she was on two releases, Reflections and Cats Under the Stars, where the latter was a better display of Donna and Keith's contribution from when they were in Jerry Garcia's side band between 1976 and 1978.
Favorite release: Don't Let Go

Dark Star Orchestra  - Donna Jean sat in with Dark Star Orchestra for parts of their recreation of the May 5, 1977, performance that was captured on their DVD.  Order

Donna Jean and the Tricksters Zen Tricksters - Reviews and recommendations, discography
Zen Tricksters discography
Donna Jean and the Tricksters Zen Tricksters - Reviews and recommendations, discography
The Holy Fool  

Label: Zebra Tango

1. Victim of Circumstance
2. Arise
3. Done is Done
4. Drownin'
5. Body Parts (The Anatomy of a Breakup)
6. Shine Your Light
7. Mother Found a Gun
8. Hoodoo
9. Not Quite Enough
10. Blinding Light
11. Lay Your Love
12. Homesick

From the ZT website
This 1996 CD was the first release for the ZTs and features such concert staples as the Afro-Calypso romp of Arise, the psychobilly
rave-up of Done is Done, the gentle beauty of "Shine Your Light," the swamp rock of "Hoodoo," and a monster 10+ minute version of "Lay Your Love" that gets way out there! Check it out!!
Donna Jean and the Tricksters Zen Tricksters - Reviews and recommendations, discography
A Love Surreal  
Label: The Zen Tricksters
1. Eilat
2. Warm Heart
3. Where You Want to Be
4. Who Are You
5. Goin' Down Slow
6. That's All
7. Down the Road
8. Calliope
9. Call of the Wild
10. Say That I Am

From the ZT website

When Phil Lesh heard this 1999 second release from the Tricksters, he was so impressed with their ability to jam in the studio (something he claimed the Dead were incapable of doing to his satisfaction) he immediately flew guitarist Jeff Mattson and keyboardist Rob Barraco to San Francisco to be part of Phil & Friends (Warfield Theatre 10/7/99-10/9/99). A LOVE SURREAL contains the favorites "Warm Heart," "Down the Road," "Say That I Am," and a very psychedelic "Goin' Down Slow" that features the pedal steel work of David Nelson Band's Barry Sless.

Donna Jean and the Tricksters Zen Tricksters - Reviews and recommendations, discography
Shaking Off The Weirdness  
Label: Zebra Tango
Released Late Dec. 2002 or Jan. 2003
1. Talk of the Town
2. Light of Life
3. All Night Long Blues
4. Waiting For a Sign
5. Sleepwalking
6. Last Ten Years
7. The One
8. No One Said It'd Be Easy
9. High Horse
10. The Dean Street Mess Around

From the ZT website
Ten new original tunes by Jeff, Klyph, and Tom. Special guests on the CD are Rob Barraco (The Other Ones, Phil Lesh & Friends,
former ZT), Buddy Cage (New Riders), Jason Crosby (Oteil & the Peacemakers, Susan Tedeschi, former ZT), Tom "Badbelly" Hanway, Lil' Cliff Bernard, Wendy Lanter, and Christian Cassan. Featuring songs you have heard live, such as "Talk of the Town" and "Light of Life" and brand new ones too! A surprising and eclectic acoustic album!

Donna Jean and the Tricksters Zen Tricksters - Reviews and recommendations, discography
Donna Jean and the Tricksters Zen Tricksters - Reviews and recommendations, discography
Donna Jean and the Tricksters Official Website
Zen Tricksters Official Website
Heart of Gold Band Official Website
2007 Interview A 2007 interview by Gary Lambert posted on
Article - S.F. Chronicle
Donna Jean and the Tricksters Zen Tricksters - Reviews and recommendations, discography
Donna Jean and the Tricksters Zen Tricksters - Reviews and recommendations, discography

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