Thursday, August 25, 2005

On the road with Weir



From Burlington Free Press:

On the road with WeirPublished: Wednesday, August 24, 2005

By Brent Hallenbeck
Free Press Staff Writer

Bob Weir keeps going and going and going ... .The former Grateful Dead guitarist is on the road with his band, RatDog, which is playing a sold-out show tonight at Higher Ground in South Burlington. He's been touring with the Dead, RatDog and various other bands for the better part of 40 years. At 57, he's showing no signs of slowing down.

We posed 10 questions to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer in a recent telephone interview from his home in Mill Valley, Calif., outside San Francisco in Marin County.

You've been in Vermont a lot with the Dead, The Other Ones, RatDog -- any particular Vermont memories you'd like to share?
The shows blend together. I like the look of the place.

Any idea how many shows you've played over the years with your various bands?
Between the Dead, The Other Ones, RatDog, my years with Kingfish and Bobby and the Midnites, it's got to be in excess of 5,000 shows, maybe six. It's what I've been doing for quite a while. What would be interesting would be to figure out how much time I've spent on stage. Figure 2 1/2 hours a show, multiply that by, let's say, 5,000 ... what you're going to get is 15,000 hours, so that would be -- (retrieves a calculator) 15,000 hours divided by 24, so that's 600 (days) -- that's a couple of years (reporter's note: It's actually 12,500 hours, or 520 days -- still a long time).

Higher Ground is a pretty small venue for you, 600 or so people. Is a RatDog show any different in a nightclub than the usual auditoriums or amphitheaters you play?
We're going to see when we get there and see what the room feels like and sounds like and go from there. You play the place for what it is, play the ball as it lies. I've never equated the size of the venue with the intimacy.
I've played in stadiums when it felt intimate, and in small clubs where everything seems miles away.

I saw RatDog in 1998 in Albany, N.Y., with 16 Horsepower, an excellent country-gothic band but (based on the booing and back-and-forth insults) not necessarily what the RatDog crowd wanted to hear. What's the strangest double bill you've ever played?
I'm not sure that (16 Horsepower) was a marriage made in heaven. Our crowd is kind of known for -- they're sort of tunneled in on what they like and they know what they like. One of the most challenging bookings was closing the show after having Miles Davis open for us (the Dead). That was interesting. It was daunting. And then we opened one time for Otis Redding. That was great. I remember one time we played an inauguration in Washington, D.C., and the opening act was Bill Monroe.

Is there a musician you'd love to work with that you've never worked with before?
The answer is there are too many; I wouldn't know where to start. I always wanted to play with a top-shelf sitar player or Indian musician, and I recently played with a guy named Krishna Bhatt, an Indian drummer, and (bassist) Rob Wasserman. That was sublime.

Jerry Garcia died 10 years ago this month. What are your thoughts around the anniversary?
It's in the past now, but at the same time it's not as if Jerry is gone for me. He's very much a part of my everyday life. I don't think about it much. The initial shock is over. A certain part of me will always be in mourning, but not all that deeply, because I've got a lot to do. If I were him, I would certainly want it that way.

Where would the Dead be if Jerry were still alive?
After that summer, we would have almost definitely have had to take a break, because there was trouble at all our gigs. It was getting out of hand, the crowd situation. I probably would have gone off with RatDog, etc., etc. I think we were all looking at the certainty that we had to let things cool down.

Ben & Jerry's made Cherry Garcia ice cream right here in Vermont -- what's your relationship like with Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, and what do you think of Cherry Garcia?
Every now and again we're peripherally involved in some environmental project or charitable project. I've never been a big dessert guy. I've had their ice cream and it's real good. It's as good as ice cream gets.

The Dead essentially created the jam-rock scene. What do you think of the scene now, especially since Phish split after its show in Coventry a year ago?
This question is premature. I'm about to go out and play a bunch of festivals. Otherwise I pay no attention to that. If I'm going to listen to music on my own time it's going to be something that's pretty far from current popular music. On my iPod I'm listening to old jazz and new jazz and modern classical and I guess what you'd call world music, and country, old country, like George Jones.

Our talk was postponed 45 minutes because you were at the doctor's office. How is that whole getting-older thing going?
I was just at the optometrist. My eyes have never been perfect, but he put these new contacts in and I can see 20/10 with them, so that's getting better. There's not many people that can do that. My back's a little on the funky side. I've played a lot of contact sports all my life, and that's never good for your back. For years and years, I played a real heavy guitar. That was maybe not the smartest thing I ever did.

If you go
WHAT: Bob Weir and RatDog
WHEN: 8 tonight
WHERE: Higher Ground Ballroom, South Burlington
TICKETS: Sold out
INFORMATION: 652-0777 or
http://www.highergroundmusic.com/.Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or bhallenb@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com

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