TALKING WITH THE DEAD

Marshall: Hey Bob, my name is Craig Marshall. I'm the lead guitarist for Cubensis, the Grateful Dead tribute band out of Los Angeles.

Weir: Ah!

Marshall: And I'm also a big fan, after seeing my first Dead show in 1967 at the Shrine Exposition Hall. Now, Cubensis has been performing as a Dead tribute since 1986. It's been a real great lifestyle and a privilege to play Grateful Dead music. So the premise of this conversation is that I'm a tribute artist and I'm talking with Bob Weir today, who of course is the "real deal" and so, good afternoon to you, Bob!

Weir: Hiya!

Marshall: First, I want to thank you for all the years of wonderful music...

Weir: The pleasure's mine. Thanks!

So my first question is, "Why don't you get rid of those other two jokers that you have now and hire me as your lead guitarist?" (Laughing) I had to throw that in, sorry.

(Laughs) We'll bring it up before the committee.

Very good! What brings you to D.C. today?

I'm actually here to play on a satellite radio station and on a public radio station.

Oh, I see. As a solo act?

Yeah.

That sounds good. As a Californian, do you have any thoughts about President Reagan's passing?

You know, it's a merciful thing. A guy who is that wasted by Alzheimer's, people should be rejoicing that he finally got a break.

What about his significance in history? Any thoughts?

Well, I can't speak too kindly of him with regards to his legacy. I'd rather not say.

Understood. Okay, you guys are about to start a summer tour, what do you guys have in store for us this time around?

You know, it's impossible for us to tell what we're gonna be playing. We rehearsed I think some 160-plus songs, some of them even twice! So, I just can't tell you right now.

Okay.

You know, it will be fun!

I have no doubt! Any new original tunes?

Yeah!

Excellent. Who's writing those?

Mickey (Hart), myself, Warren (Haynes), and Phil (Lesh) is even involved in some of them, and Jeff (Chimenti). We've been writing by committee.

And that seems to be working?

Yeah.

That's kind of a departure from the old days where Hunter and Garcia might write something, or you and Barlow.

You know, I kind of "had it" with holing up and writing stuff, and then bringing it to the band because really, it almost always suffers in the translation. "Look what they've done to my song!" So instead of doing that, I like to work on the tune with the guys who are going to be playing it. And that seems to work pretty well.

Just get it over with, huh?

Well, you know what you're going to get.

Exactly. So for the record, who is in the current line-up of the Dead?


The Dead by Tony Stack
Okay, let's start from the left. Jimmy Herring on guitar. Warren Haynes on guitar and vocals and me on guitar and vocals. Phil on bass and vocals and Jeff Chimenti on keyboards and vocals. And in the back we have Billy Kreutzmann on drums and Mickey Hart on drums and some vocals.

So, Warren Haynes is being billed as a special guest, and you just said he'll also be on stage with the Dead, but he'll be opening as well? Is that correct?

Well, we may be opening by committee. He's doing a solo acoustic thing. I might do a little of that, too. And if I do that, you'll probably see other people creeping out, so...

It's got to have been great for you to have made music with so many world-class lead guitar players--from Garcia up till now. How is it, playing with Mark Karan? Can you describe the experience as compared to Jerry, or is there any comparison there?

Well, Mark's technically more proficient than Jerry was, for what it's worth.

I'd have to agree. His playing has grown by leaps and bounds since he joined Ratdog.


Jimmy Herring
He's opening up like a flower. But Jerry was kind of special in his way.

Yeah. Totally unique. I understand that Mark Ford was on stage with you in Japan. Can you describe that?

Well, he's an old friend of ours, of mine. You know, we toured together when he was in the Black Crowes. I don't know who he's playing with, do you know who he's playing with now?

I do, and his name escapes me... oh, it's Ben Harper.

Great. I really love his playing. He's a great guy as well.

Yeah. Both "Marks" have sat in with Cubensis from time to time and we've been real privileged in that. They're inspiring. Garcia, of course, is irreplaceable, but when you had to fill Jerry's shoes, was there a conscious effort to pick someone completely unlike Jerry, which is how I would describe Jimmy Herring's playing?


Warren Haynes by Tony Stack
At first, actually, when we went out as the Other Ones, we had Steve Kimock. And at that time, Steve's playing was quite reminiscent of Jerry's. I like Steve, he's a wonderful guy and I love playing with him, but it didn't seem to me to be the right choice but we did it anyway. And then we started looking for people who were unlike Jerry.

Okay, so this was deliberate and...

You know, we were just looking for good players.

Sure. I always thought that the fellow from Dire Straits (Mark Knopfler), I'd like to have heard him play with you folks.

Yeah, I'm having a senior moment here. I can't remember his name but he's a great player as well.

Indeed. So, talking about Warren Haynes, we've been lucky enough to have him sit in with us as well. Until I met him, I thought he was a rough "biker" kind of guy, but actually he's very mellow, isn't he?

Yeah. A real sweet guy.

Does Warren ever remind you of Jerry as far as his temperament, or his sense of humor, or anything?


Joan Osborne and Bob Weir
Uh, Warren's Warren for me. And that's just fine!

Say, how do you feel about cover bands? Any opinions there? Or any advice you can give a fledgling band, or a tribute band?

Well, yeah. Just love what you do. And of course you do. So there's no assignment there, there's no homework there. Aside from that, I don't know what to say... Have fun!

Tell me, how was touring with Joan Osborne?

I loved working with her and hope to work with her again at some point.

Was there a certain reason she's not on board this time around?

I get to pass on that question because I wasn't around when that decision was made.

 
"The morning he (Garcia) died, I was in New Hampshire, and he came to me in a dream. He was dressed elegantly, in Castilian splendor... In the dream, I was backstage at some gig in a club and I discovered a big old can of invisible paint... and Jerry came by. And I said, "Hey, check this out! Invisible paint!" And he didn't seem interested, which kind of surprised me. He seemed really preoccupied."
--Bob Weir
Photo by Jay Blakesberg
 

Okay, fair enough. Garcia passed away in 1995. How often, if ever, do you feel his presence, and can you tell me about any supernatural contact you might have felt when you "knew" he was there?


Jerry Garcia by Jay Blakesberg
Well, okay. The morning he died, I was in New Hampshire, and he came to me in a dream. He was dressed elegantly, in Castilian splendor.

Wow!

And he had a long velour cape and all that kind of stuff. In the dream, I was backstage at some gig in a club and I discovered a big old can of invisible paint, and me and the guys in the band that I was touring with, it was Ratdog at that time, we were all, you know, having great fun with the invisible paint, and Jerry came by, you know, popped in. And I said, "Hey, check this out! Invisible paint!" And he didn't seem interested, which kind of surprised me. He seemed really preoccupied.

Whoa...

Then I woke up and I think it was 6:15 and you know, I had to go hit the bathroom and then I went back to sleep, so I know what time it was. And that's probably right around the time he checked out.

Wow.

So, you know, as they say, when somebody checks out, they make some rounds 'cause time and space no longer exists for them.

I've got chills hearing that story... That's amazing.


Garcia & Weir by Jay Blakesberg
And aside from that, you know, he's "there." Every time, you know, any time I pick up a guitar, he's almost there playing. I can hear him.

Excellent!

You know, I can hear him. I can hear him coaxing me, saying "Go here, go there... no, don't go there." And I'm my usual headstrong self, so I can feel him lightening up, or getting pissed off at me or whatever, just like always!

That is great. I mean, you've got to appreciate that.

They say, in the Japanese culture, in their belief system, when you speak somebody's name who's departed, they're there, they exist. And any time we're playing one of Jerry's songs, we're basically saying his name. So he exists.

I like that a lot. Any thoughts about the passing of Ray Charles? Did you know him?

I never met him. But he was way influential. I was a big fan of his all along. Especially when I was a kid, though.

Music-wise, who are you listening to these days?


By Tony Stack
You know, I listen to anything but current popular music. I like modern classical, and jazz. Good old fashioned, mean, street jazz.

Anybody come to mind, jazz-wise?

Well actually, John Coltrane. Miles Davis. That era really was packing 'em in for me.

Anybody you'd like to perform with that you haven't had a chance to yet?

Ah, the list is too long.

Let me ask you this. I hope that this is not an uncomfortable question, but there are a lot of people that say that "The Dead," as opposed to the Grateful Dead, is a reunion of sorts, and they feel that Vince Welnick is conspicuously absent. Was he invited, or did anything happen to prevent that?

Well, what happened was that both Phil and I took up with keyboard players that we preferred playing with, basically. And we took both of them on tour last year.

Right.


Jeff Chimenti by Susan J. Weiand
And then that got whittled down to just Jeff this year. Now, Vince is a good keyboard player and a great guy, you know, and a good singer for that matter, but I've got a hotter hand going right now with Jeff.

Well, that's legitimate.

I mean, he takes us to way cool places.

Exactly. Which is what your intent is. No, that's beautiful. Vince has joined us for a number of shows and it's inspiring for us. It sounds like a '90s era Dead show, so it's pretty cool. Real quick... A few tongue-in-cheek questions from my fellow band members, if you would indulge us.

You bet.

Have you learned the words to Truckin' yet? (Laughs)

Well, I'll tell ya. (Laughs). You can know the words as well as you possibly can, but if you're not having the best of days, it's all just a series of tongue twisters. It's diabolical when those words come. I know 'em, but it's tough to get them out sometimes.

That's a beautiful explanation. I have no idea how you do it, all those lyrics, and all those songs, but you manage. Did you have a dog named Otis?

Yep. It's a crippled alien spacecraft I think.

Okay. You know there's a band in Pasadena that's called "Bob's Dog Otis?"


By Tony Stack
Are they any good?

Actually, we love them. They join us from time to time. A good band. Anybody ever fall off the stage? This is a real question!

Yes. Once in a while it has happened. You don't see it though. Sometimes when it's dark and you try to walk off the stage and you don't see the edge, you walk off. I've done it myself a couple of times.

No major injuries though?

Nah.

Regarding the leadership of the band, who would you say is in charge now, if anybody, or is there a democratic process?

You know, it's a... well, they say camels are racehorses designed by a committee, but that's pretty much what we've got, a committee rule.

Any plans to tour Europe, either with the Dead or Ratdog?

I'm trying to get Europe on the map for both bands really. We've been there with Ratdog a couple of times. But this year, I don't know if we'll have time to do that because it's awfully far away.

Two more questions then I'll let you go. Normally I'd never ask anything like this but my editor said I needed to ask, why go out as "The Dead" and potentially risk tarnishing the legacy of the Grateful Dead," if you understand my question? Some people have that criticism.


By George Weiss
You know, the hell with the people who feel that way. Let them feel that way. The fact is, we have, you know, almost 40 years of musical conversation that we've built up, a bag of tricks which is, you know, 40 years in the making. And it's absurd not to use that. These people, I don't know where they get off, having those kind of thoughts or those kind of opinions. You know, who are they? The hell with them!

They obviously didn't "get it" in the first place.

Yeah!

That's been my opinion.

Well, you know, they have their own notion as to what the Grateful Dead amounted to. First off, we're not calling ourselves "The Grateful Dead." We're calling ourselves "The Dead." Secondly, I have an obligation to play with these guys, to continue to further the music. And, boy, you know... those people are serious cranks!

Couldn't agree more! Well tell me, have I just killed any shot at having you sit in with my band sometime?

Not really. You know, if I'm down your way, I'd love to.

Okay, great! Well Bob, it's been great talking to you, and I want to wish you good luck we'll be seeing you at as many shows as I can possibly make.

Craig Marshall
JamBase | California
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