Web exclusive quotes from Bob Weir
Web exclusive quotes from Bob Weir
By Bob MargolisFor the Times Herald-Record
The Grateful Dead was always ripe for metaphor.
The obsessed sports fan dealing with arcane statistics and collecting all sorts of memorabilia is not unlike your garden variety Deadhead. So it isn't that surprising that Bob Weir likens his old band and his longtime "other band"-turned-primary-project Ratdog to football.
"Everybody has a neat and precise role or assignment," says Weir from his Bay Area home. "Then the ball is snapped, and it's pandemonium."
Tuesday on the Mid-Hudson Civic Center stage, Weir and his band mates will unfurl three hours of Dead-flavored tuneage as intricately designed as the vaunted West Coast offense linked to Weir's beloved San Francisco 49ers, and as in-the-moment as a broken play.
Make no mistake about it, Weir is the quarterback who encourages his band mates to bring a fresh perspective to classic Dead nuggets and makes sure they are aware of the original versions.
"I find myself listening to the Grateful Dead usually when there is something I want to describe to the band. A picture is worth a thousand words, right?" Weir says. "Usually I will bring Ratdog versions of a song with the purpose of imparting a feeling the old band used to nail. Just last week, I took a notion to do the Dead's version of 'Stagger Lee.'
"So I slapped on two tapes, one fast and one slow. We all opted for the fast one. It turns out a few guys had never the heard the song. Might have been more sporting to give them a chord sheet and send them on their own. But what I've tried to get the band to do is to state one time, usually in rehearsal, how the Dead left the song - that feeling - and then never go back there."
Weir, who at 59 now sports a full beard in the fashion of Jerry Garcia, has also been performing tunes sung by the late icon, including "Help on the Way," "Dark Star" and "Tennessee Jed" - a move he considers natural.
"Those Garcia/Hunter pieces are good tunes and made to be sung. Any singer would want to sing those tunes. Remember, I was there when all those songs were born," he says. "I had a lot to do with how they came into the world. Until I had my own family, they were like my own children. Do you think I'm going to turn my back on them just because Jerry checked out?"
Still, even within the familiar, Ratdog rarely makes the same gesture twice.
"It's really the old jazz modus operandi dating back I guess to Buddy Bolden," says Weir. "Somebody in the band will state a theme. Everyone will have a little something to say about it, take it for a stroll in the woods and then come back, hopefully. You rely heavily on improvisation and intuition."
Those two factors have been hallmarks of the Garcia/Weir relationship ever since they first crossed paths more than four decades ago. At 17, Weir became enamored with John Coltrane and his pianist McCoy Tyner. Like the latter, Weir's distinctive style of playing provided color contrast and context for Garcia's spiraling lines.
"I tried to intuit where Jerry was going and to be there with the right chord, with the right leading voice that would tilt him in this direction or that, to be either complementary or contrapuntal," he says. "And I'd try to have a little surprise for him when he got there."
Ratdog - made up of lead guitarist Mark Karan, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, sax player Kenny Brooks and bassist Robin Sylvester - provides that unpredictable spark that keeps Weir happy to be on the road almost as much as his old band was at its peak.
"This band now is spitting fire," he says. "The more you play, the better you get."
If you Go! ...
Where: Mid-Hudson Civic Center, 14 Civic Center Plaza, Poughkeepsie
When: 6:30 p.m. March 28
Here's what Weir has to say about new versions of old songs, releasing new tunes, embarking on new tours and collaborating with other musicians and taking new directions.
NEW VERSIONS OF OLD SONGS
"There is a continuum that is carried on now that flies in the face of completely reinventing the tune," Weir says. "The tunes are made to be reinvented over time anyway, organically. So I don't see much point in summarily dismissing what the tune amounted to in the first place when we trotted it out with Jerry."
RELEASING NEW TUNES
Concertgoers and fans can order discs of the show while at the venue or online at www.rat-dog.com. That cyberspace location will also be where the band's next set of releases will appear.
"I don't know if making a record is the way for us. To me, a CD is an arbitrary constraint to put on a bunch of tunes that may or may not be related in any way, except being written around the same time. Since we have Pro Tools and such, why not put them out as they get done? Most people in our demographic get their music from downloading anyway. This way, there is no buying tunes people are not interested in ... so if they pop up one at a time, people will be more into 'em!"
EMBARKING ON NEW TOURS AND MUSIC COLLABORATIONS
In addition to a new set of tunes that will pop into the rotation this tour, look for a possible reincarnation of "The Dead," the entity that has toured off and on over the past three years. But more interestingly, Weir has found himself fronting trios and thinking about one day hitting the road in a quartet setting with some familiar colleagues.
"Phil and I each have our own hot hands these days, but I really think the most interesting idea is to forget other members and just go out as the four core members. I have recently played in a couple trios and just had a ball - the first was with my drummer Jay Lane and (bassist) Rob Wassermann. Over time we have developed a vocabulary. The other was with Jay and Les Claypool. I was down at NAMM show in Los Angeles and ran into Bootsy Collins. He and a good drummer would be fun."
TAKING NEW DIRECTIONS
For Weir, the notion of leading a trio without a "lead" voice is not foreign to him.
"I can take what I do and consider that soloing - I'm blowin' when I'm playing. There is nothing staid about what I do. Maybe I'm not playing a lot of melodic stuff, but there's a lot of development happening." As with so many aspects of his career, he says, "I never go back to the same place."