The redheaded stepchild makes
Former Grateful Dead guitarist and Jerry Garcia's right-hand man Bob
Weir talks about high times and his new band, Ratdog.
Weir (third from left) and Ratdog|
Why didn't the
Dead ever come to Japan?
A couple of reasons. One, it was just too damned
much trouble. It's awfully expensive to get to Japan with our setup and we're
real picky. Other bands would rent equipment in Japan but we had to have our own.
And then there were the legendary problems with drugs: some of the guys didn't
want to leave their pot behind, and Jerry was into heavier drugs and didn't want
to leave those behind. Subsequently I've been over there with a couple of ensembles,
and had a great time. I'm not a two-fisted pothead, so I have an easier time traveling
than some of the guys.
That's not so much a part of the experience for
No, and for a lot of the guys in the band, it's just not the
You've been here with Ratdog. Was that your first time?
was the first time for Ratdog, but the second time for me. I went over with an
all-star outfit, and we played at Fukuoka.
Did you get a sense that
there were fans of the Grateful Dead there?
Absolutely. I saw a lot
of tie-dye out in the audience. I met a lot last year at the Fuji Jazz Festival.
And the atmosphere there was pretty loose, pretty relaxed. I've met a number of
Japanese Deadheads in America, so I kind of got to know what they look like.
a certain amount of crossover between rave, improv music and the Deadhead/jam
band movement here ...
In that case I think they're going to like Ratdog,
because what we've been working on for the last little while is looping stuff.
It seems to me that's a natural confluence that wants to happen-trance and rave
music into jam band music. Because if practiced right they're both highly improvisational.
On the whole issue of drugs: Do you feel like they still hold the same
position in terms of mind expansion and in terms of a counterculture that they
did back in the '60s?
I don't think they can. It was so new back then,
and so immediate. Back then, the establishment was pretty reactionary, and just
waltzed right into the Vietnam War without a second thought. The notion that war
was a perfectly acceptable way to resolve differences-that kind of thing was what
we were up against. So something was needed to crack through that phalanx that
was marching society into horror .... And the experience of taking LSD for instance-or
even smoking pot for me-when I saw that I was part of a large movement that was
clearly into expansive thought and feeling, along with that came the sure and
certain knowledge that anything was possible.
What do you see as the
main difference between the Dead and your solo projects?
It's the same
m.o. We develop scales much in the same manner as the jazz tradition. Basically,
what I do in both bands will, in years to come I think, be considered jazz. It
just sounds like rock, that's all. All that said, Ratdog is different. But the
difference is more in the personnel. It's the color of the souls that I'm involved
with that makes the music. It's just a different ensemble, so it's necessarily
going to sound different, even if we're playing the same song ... Also, there's
more of a tendency to quote, "Do the right thing" with the Dead material
in the Dead, and I have no intention of doing that with Ratdog.
don't have a four-decade tradition to uphold
I can be iconoclastic
dealing with the Dead material in Ratdog, and I do. Because there's a soul and
spirit to that music that goes beyond arrangements and details a lot of people
Were you surprised by all the publicity surrounding Jerry
Well, not really. It was a big deal to me.
Dead were always a counterculture icon. Was it a surprise to have the mainstream
Not really. Because by the time he checked out, we'd sort
of crossed the line: "The redheaded stepchild made good." People in
the straight culture were way more accepting of us at that point. We'd actually
cranked out a tune or two that most anyone could enjoy. And it was evident to
everyone that we were doing what we loved to do, and had stuck to our guns, and
it was an American success story. For that alone we were regarded as heroic, even
by people who didn't care for our music.
What has changed the most in
terms of the dynamics of the band without Jerry Garcia?
Not that much.
I don't even miss him. I don't think I'm stretching it to say that he's not gone-that
he's here. Not to mention the fact that at all times he's sitting on my shoulder
kicking me in the ear.
What is he telling you?
go there. Yeah! Go there, go there..." All that kind of stuff. It's hard
to miss a guy when he won't go away.
and Ratdog play the Field of Heaven at Fuji Rock Festival on July 25. See concert
listings for details.
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