Monday, July 23, 2007

Weir still jamming
Former Dead guitarist meeting a troublesome demographic challenge
Barry Gutierrez © The Rocky

By Mark Brown, Rocky Mountain News
July 23, 2007
As Bob Weir talks from his Northern California home, his young daughter insists he needs more ice in his water. She brings it and tops off his glass. The former Grateful Dead guitarist has bigger things on his mind than ice. Guitarist Mark Karan had to drop off the Ratdog tour because of serious health issues and Steve Kimock has replaced him. Musically it works - Weir played with Kimock in the past - but there are lots of songs to learn. Weir's still political, but he lets the music do the talking, along with Headcount, a group that registers young voters at Ratdog shows. Rocky pop music writer Mark Brown talked with Weir about the tour.
It must be hard recovering from the shock of Mark's illness. How is Steve stepping up?

"We have an enormous repertoire. It wouldn't make sense for Steve to try to learn the whole book, so we'll try to play to Steve's strengths. We'll stretch some tunes a bit and let him work out there. He played with The Other Ones. I don't think getting him back up to speed on the tunes he knows will be much of a problem. Teaching him new stuff is a challenge because every night is a slug of new songs."

You played Bonnaroo again this year. With Dead tours and playing the Monterey Pop Festival, do you feel like you helped give birth to events like Bonnaroo?

"We were certainly there at the original one (Monterey), but there were many other bands at the original one as well. We had a part in creating that festival dynamic, and it's turned into something really well developed and a lot of fun."

With all your live releases, is there a need for another Ratdog studio album?

"I think we'll get around to making another studio record. How we're going to market it is still kind of up in the air. We live square in the middle of the file-sharing demographic. All the expense and effort of making a record, you're just never going to see that back with a CD. The first one is out, everyone has it. What we'll do is probably make it only available online. We have the material to make a record anytime we want to drop a dime. As soon as we find a plausible way to see a return on our investment, we'll get to work."

By allowing concert-taping early on with the Dead, would you agree that you, in effect, allowed "file sharing" for decades?

"They finally got high-quality recording decks down in size to the point where it became possible to pack one around to a show in the mid- to late '70s. We saw that happening and out of that there was the tape-sharing phenomenon. The limitations on that were the generational quality. After you made a tape of a tape of a tape, beyond that . . . you had the hiss go up and the sound quality go down. But with lossless digital recording it's now a commercial threat.

"It is a commercial threat. The jam scene in particular is so into that file-sharing demographic, most record companies aren't interested in 'jam bands' because of this. If you're a jam band, good luck getting a record contract."

You started in music when it was a key to social change. There has been fluff, but now a lot of music seems to offer social commentary again. Is that how you see it?

"Every now and again you arrive at a situation that requires that you address it. The situation with this bogus war we've gotten ourselves into is one of them. We do Masters of War every now and again. I don't need to stand and preach from the stage. Even if I did so, I'd be preaching to the choir."

With all the releases from the Grateful Dead vaults, you've still not released a definitive DVD/CD history like The Beatles Anthology. Any plans for that?

"I would imagine we'll get around to that. But there's more material in the Grateful Dead vault than in the Beatles vault. It's a pretty major task to put together a comprehensive anthology. That said, it should be done. I wouldn't want the job of putting it together, but there are people who are good at that."

Is there any future for touring as The Dead?

"The side projects are going to keep us busy, those of us who want to be busy. Those of us who want to be retired are going to stay retired."

* * *
Ratdog guitarist Mark Karan is off the tour at the moment because of a cancer scare.

He announced on recently that he had "less than stellar news," noting that a lump on his neck may not be benign as originally thought.

"They can't say it's cancer but they can't say it isn't, either (all tests are negative so far, but they are still quite concerned)," he wrote. He may rejoin the tour in August, he said, before sending out "much love to alla you boneheads!!!" or 303-954-2674

97.3 KBCO is also excited to have Bob Weir & Ratdog and Keller Williams, perform together live in 97.3 KBCO Studio C! Listen this Monday after 1pm to hear them perform live exclusively for 97.3 KBCO listeners. Tune in during the session to pick up a pair of tickets to their show on Tuesday night at Red Rocks!