There’s no denying the massive effect LSD had on the early years of the Grateful Dead, if not well beyond. Nearly every band member has openly talked about performing while on acid be it at the acid tests or much more recently in the case of Bob Weir. Let’s not forget the Dead’s longtime sound engineer, financier and creator of the famed “Wall Of Sound,” Owsley “Bear” Stanley is thought to have made 10 million hits of the drug between 1965 and 1967. Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann of the group formed Dead & Company with John Mayer, Jeff Chimenti and bassist Oteil Burbridge last year and over the summer Burbridge took part in the ritual by dropping acid for the band’s show at The Gorge.
Oteil told his tale to author/journalist Alan Paul for a Music Aficionado interview confirming an earlier report by Grateful Music. “Listen to how different that night sounds, because that music and Owsley [acid] go together and I found that out. I never liked to play tripping. I did all that as a teenager and even then I didn’t like to play. My friends wanted to jam and I just wanted to keep it separate,” Burbridge said.
The bassist wanted the full Grateful Dead experience and ironically it was one of his fellow newcomers with which he had the greatest connection that night, “The whole point was to see what they were seeing and boy did I! The first thing I realized was the stuff I was doing as a kid was absolute garbage and this was a completely different experience. Playing that music with them on it was eye opening. And I finally caught John [Mayer], because I don’t know his playing with the same intimacy I know Jimmy Herring, Derek Trucks, and Warren Haynes, whom I’ve played with for many years.
“I’ve been chasing John and I caught his ass that night and he knew it. Afterwards, he sat Bill and me down and was like, ‘What happened? What is this all about?’ It was hilarious. I was like, ‘Yeah I got you.’ And I connected to the audience. I felt like an octopus with tentacles connecting to each person in the band—and each person on that vibe in the audience. And it was heavy,” Oteil revealed.
Burbridge discussed a bevy of topics with Paul including playing with the dual drummers of the Allman Brothers Band versus those of the Grateful Dead, “I think it’s more about the differences in the bands than the drummers. The Dead will play so much quieter for so much longer. Bill is really more like Jaimoe. He’s very limber and funky. There’s way more jazz, avant-garde jazz and even modern classical influence in the Dead than in the Allman Brothers. It wouldn’t fly too long in the Allman Bothers to go Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler out. I actually think Butch and Jaimoe would be fine with that, but Gregg was pretty much gonna shut that down. There’s a much wider scope built into the Dead.whatever mistake you made before. Then everyone will say, ‘We’ve never seen that before! And we’ve been watching them for 50 years!’ It’s a wonderful environment to just go for it.”
One of the more interesting portions of the interview is when the bassist talks about the era Weir advised him to use in terms of a launching point for Dead & Company’s approach to Grateful Dead songs. “Bob wanted my starting point to be right before Jerry died. The catalogue included all the changes in form or content that had evolved up to that point. Obviously, it evolves from that point onward but with so many eras of the same song to choose from I could be missing things by learning the 70’s versions. But there’s always reassessment, even night by night. Everyone expresses their ideas and we try them. John has as many good ideas as anyone,” Burbridge explained.
The whole interview is fascinating read. Head to Music Aficionado to check it out.