This summer in Paris, JamBase correspondent Craig Judkins had the good fortune of speaking with Bob Weir while Ratdog was on tour in Europe. At the time Bob had just played Bonnaroo, and he shared many observations about the scene in Europe and the States, the fans, the music and more. As the Other Ones are truckin’ across the US on fall tour, we decided to reprint this interview (originally published on Ebong.org) to give fans a little more insight into this legendary, yet surprisingly accessible, performer.
You hear a lot of things about people. And because of what you hear, you form opinions about people you don't know. I do it just the same as anyone else. I thought I knew Bob Weir before I sat down with him. I came to find out I didn't know anything about him, actually. But what I came to know of this person is that he is a true gentleman and kind-hearted soul who likes to talk about music. When he spoke of "our scene" and "my kind of musicians" a certain glow came over him, an excitement you usually only find in fans. It’s clear that Bob Weir feels very much a part of what's going on in this realm of North American culture, and is eager to continue what he helped start.
Ebong's Daniel Teige with Bob Weir
Paris, July 2002
CJ: The last time you played in Europe, was it 1990?
CJ: Why did you choose to come over now? Is it like a vacation tour?
(photo by Norman Sands)
Bob: Nah. We... it's two things, really. We wanted to establish a new fan base over here. And second, we wanted to challenge ourselves. We wanted to bring what is ostensibly new music to fresh ears and see what lights them up.
So the shows you've played so far... you play at smaller, more intimate places over here. Do you notice any difference in the way your shows play here as compared to the States?
Is it working? Are you lighting people up?
Very enthusiastic - I'll say that. We did a tour of England in the midlands and we didn't get big crowds, but the folks that came are glad they did.
Lots of Deadheads in the UK. Do you find that the crowd is mostly Deadheads or people that are second, third generation people that want to go out and experience a bit of the magic?
We have seen all ages at our shows. Back in America, it's mostly younger fans. Over here, we get more older fans, but significantly more younger fans as we keep pressing onward.
Did you imagine that the movement that is going on - for instance I write for a publication that wouldn't exist if you hadn't have done what you've done in your life, basically. Did you ever imagine that this movement that you helped to create would have grown to the proportions that it has grown to today?
In the States, it's big. Though, really... I trace our lineage back to Louis Armstrong and stuff like that. They played pretty much jam music. When the band got real big, it was fairly arranged, but still the sections worked fairly loosely... in the best of them. So what I mean to do is debunk the notion that the Grateful Dead actually originated something. We just started doing it with electric instruments and with different ensembles and a different songbook.
You set some people free in there, though.
You showed them a different way to live and things like this.
Well, we like to live our lives kind of open-ended, keeping our options open, I guess. We like a little adventure. And that's going to come out in the music. And a certain kind of person wants to have that in their life. Maybe they don't play music, but if they listen to music, they want it to sound like that, to be like that [chuckles]. And we're more than happy to provide that for them with that kind of music.
Have you noticed the scene as it has grown from the Grateful Dead, and now you have all the baby bands that have come up and made their bones, etc. Have you noticed the scene surrounding it change for better or worse over the years?
Dead at the Greek | Berkeley, May 1982
(photo by Jay Blakesberg)
I think within the jamband scene, that whole section of the music industry, if you will, has changed for the better. Way back when, in the '60s, we didn't want to go into what was available then in terms of the business arrangements and the kind of business that was being done because it was sleazy. You know, it was not really far off from the kind of thing you get in professional wrestling. It was all packaging and people were being horrendously exploited. And to be sure, it still goes on, but in the jamband scene people are a whole lot more direct. And I think the business end of things is more on the up and up.
Do you find any difference between... I was showing a video to a friend of a big Dead show or something, I can't remember what it was, but he noted that there wasn't much difference between the person on stage and the person in the audience. In pop music, you have all these beautiful people that are so glitzy up there, and people, I guess, want to be like them. It seems to me, in the jamband scene, if you have the spirit and know-how, you can draw people to support you and buy tickets to see you play. Obviously this is different from the pop scene.
Well, we're all the same kind of people, as we covered earlier. There isn't a whole lot of emphasis being put on the spectacle or the show. The show is the music. However many guys that you get up on stage that have developed an ability to play their instrument and play off of one another - and find a thread and develop it.
You just played Bonnaroo. Do you think in that scene... it's so massive. In the Dead you played to bigger crowds than that. But what's going on with, say, Gateway computers and their media tents and whatnot. Do you think that it's becoming over commercialized? Do you think you see corporate American wanting to sink its teeth in this ever-expanding thing that is going on here?
Well, there is one advantage that this kind of music has. For instance with Gateway or Apple, or whoever wants to get involved… those people, by and large, are of our ilk. They are people who like adventure and they like this kind of music, and so they bring their wherewithal. There is a danger that it can become over commercialized. We'll just have to trust our own footsteps. And if it doesn't seem right, we'll just have to not do it. And I am speaking for all of my kind of musicians.
What were your general impressions of this Bonnaroo? Was it a positive experience for you?
I was a great experience for me - big fun. There was a lot of music. I personally can't imagine going there for three or four days or whatever it was, and just getting hammered with music from before you get up to after you just want to fall down. So it may have been too heavy on the music. They should, and I don't know how you can do it, but there should be an area where you can go get some down time. That's my only real criticism.
Like "the nap tent" or something? The "chill-out tent".
And another thing is water should be plentiful and cheap.
Are you going to do it again next year? They said they are going to do it.
Uhh... I expect so.
With Ratdog, the last album you put out got great reviews from people that didn't even know much about the Dead, or maybe some fans came in by way of another musician in the band. Would you like to identify yourself more with Ratdog and move away from what you've done in the past?
Ratdog | Rome,
Well, I have that legacy with what I have done in the past. And I didn't play those songs for a couple of years and I got lonesome for them. So we worked a lot of them up. But at the same time, I am anxious for this band to get back home and get writing and develop our own legacy. This is the main thrust of my endeavor.
Do you feel like there is still something that you need to do musically?
Lots and lots of stuff.
Is there anyone you want to play with? You've been playing with Logic lately.
Yeah, DJ Logic has been lots of fun to work with. And we'll be hooking back up with him when we get back to America. Umm... we were just down at the Jazz Fest in New Orleans, and we had we had a couple of trumpet players on the stage who were among the very best trumpet players on earth. This one guy, Nicholas Payton - he's gotta be the new Louis Armstrong. I mean he's one of those guys that can hang a note there and just hang it and hold it. He'll visibly be doing nothing; audibly doing nothing, but you can watch it change colors - he's that good. So to answer your question, who do I wanna work with? Sure, but I don't know who they are. They just keep arriving.
As far as Logic goes, it was a bit hard for me to get my head around: a turntablist playing Dead music.
Well, we had to find where he lives and he had to find where we live. And that's still in progress, but it's a lot better now than when we first started out. When we first started out, it was just wicky-wicky stuff over the top of the music. There are more things that he is capable of doing. So we said go there and we'll surround you. But it's a big learning curve. He's not familiar with this type of music at all. And a big learning curve for me. And that's why I was anxious to do it.
So this term "jamband." Do you think it's going to stick? Is it gonna go away? Is it stupid?
Oh, we're stuck with it. It's short, it says what needs to be said. So fine.
The things is, the bands that do it the best... I interviewed Billy Martin
from Medeski Martin & Wood
not long ago and he said he felt like that label short-changed what his band was
doing. For me, their music is pure jams. So I do think of them as a jamband. I
guess there are lots of younger bands out there that haven't put in the time and
effort and they are calling themselves a jambands and they can play a tune for
20 minutes, but it's not that inspiring.
(photo by Mir Ali)
Well, for that matter, you get all kinds of jazz bands, too. Some good ones and not so good ones: junior high bands and then the Doc Cheathams. You know those guys, the word “jazz” shortchanges things, depending on your interpretation.
Good point. Okay, the last bit I have here is a word association. I say a word and you shoot back with what comes to mind.
Sea of people.
I love it. You know space only occurs - I am talking about space in music - if people let it.
What I like best about music is when time goes away.
It's a legacy. I still don't know what to make of it.
John Cage! [laughs] Umm... interesting guy. He was a good pal of a friend of mine: Robert Rashenburg. I learned more about him from Rashenburg, I think, than I did from his records. But he'll teach you a little about what music can be - where to hear the muse in the music.
Willie Nelson, oh he's... whoever called him the penultimate bar-room poet pretty much nailed that one. I love Willie.
The '80s? I had fun [big laughs all the way around].
Perfect. That's all we have for you.
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Check out more of Craig's interviews on Ebong.org!