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Couldnt remember and too lazy to check whether I ever posted this interview?
Published March 2006:
On the Record
Bob Weir: The Greatful Dead's Blues for Allah
By Jeff Maisey
Tuesday, Mar. 14, 2006
o explore separate musical projects. With two of their greatest albums released in 1970 —Workingman’s Dead ("Casey Jones" and "Uncle John’s Band") and American Beauty ("Truckin’" and "Friend of the Devil") — the Dead set up camp at guitarist/singer Bob Weir’s newly completed home studio to record what would become known as Blues for Allah.
Following is my interview with Weir on the making of this truly unique album from the Grateful Dead.
What were the circumstances with the Grateful Dead as you prepared to record Blues for Allah in the early part of 1975? The band had taken a break before recording the album, correct?
Yeah. We had taken a year or so off. Everybody was out doing their own thing. So when we reconvened to do Blues for Allah, to begin with we had no real intention of hitting the road again real quick. We just went into the studio with the idea of making a record. That was about as far as we took it. We didn’t want to hit the road because we didn’t want to restart that huge juggernaut machine that had just driven us into the ground. The touring machine was too cumbersome. The return on the investment both in terms of money and effort was not worth it. So we just thought we’d go into the studio. I had a studio that I was just finishing constructing, so we went up to my place.
Having been off on our own, all the individuals for a year, we reconvened with everybody having a new bag of tricks. And that was the fun of Blues for Allah. Usually, before and after that album, if somebody had learned something it was incorporated immediately. For instance, if Jerry had noticed something on a record or learned something in a jam, the next day he was showing it to me and everybody else. It just hit right away. Whereas over that year, if I learned a new trick or a new scale, I had the rest of that year to work on it and develop it. So I had several new things going when we came back together for Blues for Allah, and so did everybody else.
So unlike a lot of material on previous Grateful Dead albums, none of the songs were "road tested" before recording Blues for Allah.
No they weren’t.
You know a lot of our songs, like on Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, those tunes weren’t all that road tested either. Unlike "Touch of Grey" and those on In the Dark; that stuff we’d been playing for years. On Blues for Allah, everything was either written in the studio or at least new to everybody in the band. If I brought in a tune that was fully written it was still new to the rest of the band.
What was the recording process like then if everyone is hearing these for the first time? Were the songs complete when they were presented?
No. By no means.
Which songs were actually composed in the studio?
Let’s see. Do you have the songs there?
Yes. The first is "Help on the Way/Slipknot."
That was pretty much written in the studio.
"Franklin’s Tower": I think Jerry just came in with it. There were just three chord changes. It took us most of a minute and a half to learn it.
What about "King Solomon’s Marbles, Parts 1 & 2"?
That one was pretty much written in the studio and changed in the studio. It changed again and again in the studio.
"The Music Never Stopped"
That was half-written when I brought it to the band. It was finished in the studio.
When you say half-written, Bob, did you have the chord progression and melodies down? Which parts were half-written?
It had chord progressions and stuff like that, but it didn’t have the lyrics yet. Actually, I wrote the lyrics to that over the phone with John Barlow.
The next song is "Crazy Fingers."
As I recall, Jerry pretty much had that one written when he came in. That said, we still had to arrange it in the studio. Everybody had to learn it.
"Sage & Spirit"
"Sage & Spirit" I had been working on for awhile. I finished it up in the studio. My guitar part was fully-written, but the orchestration was not.
I’ve heard people say that your guitar work on "Sage & Spirit" is the best you’ve ever done. Would you agree with that? Or disagree?
Well I wrote that one basically as an etude. I started it as an etude just to, and I still use it as such, as something to warm up on; to stretch my hands because it is spectacularly difficult to play. And that’s what I wrote it to be; just for me. I didn’t write it as a challenge for anybody else, or to show off. I wrote it just to get me thinking musically and to get my hands and head loose. It wasn’t even my idea to record it on the record.
Whose idea was it?
I don’t remember. I wasn’t sure that I could play it all the way through. But I got a good take, and then we started piling stuff on it.
And it was a keeper.
The grand finale is the "Blues for Allah/Sand Castles & Glass Camels" piece. And can you also explain why the album was titled Blues for Allah?
That was a team effort written in the studio. As we went into the studio King Faifal (of Saudi Arabia), died. It was the big thing in the news.
We were starting to talk at that time about maybe going to Egypt. And given all that, we decided to do "Blues for Allah." Basically that piece is a modern classical approach edging towards avant-garde but not quite. The whole thing probably came out on the avant-garde side because there’s more room for interpretation than the classical genre likes to look at. But we were using 12-tone serial music.
Like I say, King Faifal had just died and we were also talking about getting it together and doing something interesting. If we were going to go back on the road were we going to do the same Cleveland, Pittsburg, Detroit? Or were we going to do something new? And if interesting, where would we want to play? Well how about the Pyramids? That’d be great; I’d get back on the road for that. It was going to take a little while to get that together. So we were talking about this in ‘75 when we were making the record, so we wrote Blues for Allah and it took up half the record. So we just named the record Blues for Allah.
Blues for Allah was the first and only Grateful Dead album recorded in your home. But I understand you had a little problem with power supply at the beginning.
That was quickly overcome. The more difficulty we had was the neighbors. It was kind of cranked up at all hours of the day and they were a little bit miffed after awhile. They were happy when we were done with the record. I’ve since gone through great lengths to further soundproof the whole architecture of the studio so that it’s a little more neighbor-friendly.
How long did it take to complete Blues for Allah?
Way longer than it should have. As Jerry said, we spent a whole lot of time arguing over what kind of mix that we wanted and just jamming around, and not buckling down and making the record. As usual for almost all of our records, there was a big crunch up at the end. The only way we ever seemed to get out a record is if somebody imposed a deadline on us; a very real deadline, like we don’t get paid. Then we get to work and actually do the record.
There are a number of jazz influences on Blues for Allah. Is jazz something the individual members were listening to at the time?
You know we have been fairly eclectic in our musical tastes all along. I think it was Phil who turned me onto John Coltrane when I was seventeen, and I was mind blown. I had heard Miles Davis but I had not heard the Coltrane Quartet yet. And I loved Miles Davis. When I heard John Coltrane at the age of seventeen that was either the beginning or the end of my childhood; I haven’t figured out yet which.
Blues for Allah was the third studio album released on Grateful Dead Records. How involved was the band with running the label as a business?
Well more than we wanted to; probably too much. We were basically in the business of hippy parachute packing.
Let me back up a minute. We got tired of the record business as it was, and pretty much still is, which is really one shade this side of professional wrestling. There’s a lot of backstabbing and just awful business practices. You know, we’re musicians, we’re artists; we don’t pride ourselves in our ability to take advantage of other people and squeeze them for all they’re worth, or to lie to people and get them to believe it; all the stuff that’s common practice in business. So we took it upon ourselves to change all that and we probably could have done at better job of it had we spent more time attending to the business, but that’s not what we do and that’s not where our passions drew us. We made a fairly brave attempt. The record industry is just old and established and they can just brush us off. Don’t even bother was their approach. We laughed at that longer than I think anyone expected us to. We were fairly tenacious about it. •
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