March 24, 2006
Web exclusive quotes from Bob Weir
By Bob Margolis
For 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
3/23/2006 Calvin Theatre, Northampton, MA [Photos]
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II: Me and Bobby McGee@4, Victim or the Crime@, Even So > October Queen > The Deep End > Uncle John's Band > Stuff > Come Together > Sugar Magnolia
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