Bob Weir Interview.
interviewsofrecordingartists.com Since the mid 1960's, former Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist/vocalist Bob
Weir, as always remained active, with the legendary American rock group, the
Grateful Dead and on his numerous solo projects.
Bob Weir has been so continually active that, during the following
interview, when Weir is asked when was the last time he's had an extended
period of time off, he replies, "There's been a few months off here and
there, but that's it."
With Bob Weir's latest musical group, RatDog, his own personal musical
journey, continues. The new RatDog album is titled, "Live at Roseland"
Though he co-writes RatDog material, sings lead vocals and plays guitar, in
the following interview, Bob Weir stresses this time around, his primary
role is simply, "The leader of the band.".
(Q)- Your name and age and place of birth please.
Bob Weir- Bob Weir. I was born in San Francisco. I am fifty-three years of
(Q)- You came into the Grateful Dead at a young age for a musician correct?
Bob Weir- Yes. I started playing with Jerry (Garcia) when I was fifteen
years or sixteen years old.
(Q)- How did you meet Jerry Garcia? There is a story that states you were
one of his music students?
Bob Weir- I wasn't one of his students, though I ended up being one kind of.
I actually ended up being his partner right away. The first time I met
he was waiting for his student to show up for a music lesson one evening,
which was a New Years Eve and I was walking around the back streets of Palo
Alto, (California). It was New Years Eve and I was with a friend. We heard
banjo music coming out of the back of a music (instrument) shop called Dana
Morgan Music Shop. Since it was banjo music, we knew who it was (Jerry
Garcia). So my friend knocked on the (back) door and we sort of introduced
ourselves and we you know, asked him what he was up to. And he said that he
was waiting for a student to show up for a lesson. Then I said, "Well listen
Jerry, it's New Years Eve, it is about six-thirty in the evening. So I don't
think that your student is coming." After a couple of minutes, we decided to
break into the front of the music shop and get some (musical) instruments
and play. And we did that for a while and then that meeting turned into a
band the next week.
(Q)- So that is the true story of how one of the greatest American rock
bands in history, the Grateful Dead, was formed?
Bob Weir- Yes.
(Q)- You lead the Grateful Dead for many years, now you lead you own band
RatDog. In your role as the bandleader of RatDog, how does Bob Weir relate
to the band leaders of the early era of "Big Band" and "Swing" jazz music?
The jazz legends of the Fifties, let's say?
Bob Weir- There is a heritage there. While there is a heritage there now
(with RatDog) I won't say that I see a particular lineage there, except for
maybe the ones that I got through the Grateful Dead. I mean the Grateful
Dead, you know, pretty much established it's own lineage in American musical
heritage. But, there is a heritage there. And, you know, like for
instance, I equate myself somewhat with let's say, Louis Jordan. (Note.
Louis Jordan was a prominent American saxophonist / singer and band leader
during the 1940s into the 1950s.) As a The RatDog ensemble and Louis
Jordan's band were up to the same kind of stuff. Small ensembles, highly
improvisational music. That's blues and jazz tinged. Or based.
(Q)- There perhaps is a parallel between the RatDog and Louis Jordan's band.
Bob Weir- Louis Jordan's was quite a guy now wasn't he? And so, if I am
going to try and pick up or emulate somebody's bandleader job, he and that
live (jazz) ensemble where everybody is "blowing". He had that really
going. Charlie Mingus (1950's jazz music bassist and composer.) had a little
of that going but his ensembles tended to be larger. Mingus was purely a
"jazz" artist and he worked with somewhat larger ensembles then what Louis
Jordan tended to work with. But he also had the tendency to let his band
improvise. You know they weren't playing real strict (musical) charts or
note for note arrangements. Whereas, for instance with Count Basie, while I
worship those guys, but, with the ensembles the size they were working with,
it would have been chaos if they'd have let everyone in their band, just cut
loose (with the individual band members instrumental provisions).
(Q)- They had to run a tighter ship as band leader because of the size of
Bob Weir- Right, They had to run a tighter ship with their approach to
conduction of jazz music.
(Q)- What would you label Louis Jordan's music as a category within jazz
Bob Weir- Louis Jordan's music I would call not "Big Band" but "Swing" era
or "bop" era.
(Q)- How far along into achieving your goal of having a modern era
improvisational ensemble with RatDog, have you come to?
Bob Weir- What I'm trying to do with RatDog is to get everybody, my goal
would be to get everybody playing out of their heads all of the time in the
band and still have it work together and not be a cacophony.
(Q)- In your opinion, how has RatDog been coming along as the musical
ensemble which you are the bandleader of?
Bob Weir- The band which is now RatDog, that you hear on the new record,
we've been playing together for a few years now.
(Q)- How does the song material from your "Evening Moods" album with RatDog
come off in concert?
Bob Weir- We have a lot of fun with it. We won't be playing all of the songs
from the album but we will be playing some tunes in heavy rotation. While
there are several tunes on that specific record, we will get around to about
a third of the material from that album on any given evening's performance.
There is no end of depth to the musical tradition that I and we in RatDog
are tapped into. Once you achieve one level or plateau of I won't
say expertise but of facility with your (musical) idiom, there is always
endless depth that you can find anywhere you look. Some of it, some places
you might look would be within refinement of musical modes of expression
that have been covered before. But, you might want to redefine or refine
that mode of expression, like for instance which we actually kind of did on
the "Evening Moods" record and pick up on a place where Louis Jordan has
And we kind of did that with some of the songs. Then there are places that
you stumble upon where no one has really been yet. Harmonic modes or
rhythmic modes or combinations of that. Or lyrical modes and combinations
of all of that. That's of course what you want to be looking for by and
large whenever you are in an ensemble and searching for new modes of
expression. But you also have to catch that I think. Catch the new modes of
(musical) expression in some sort of framework or some sort of frame of
reference. That's where being able to quote the older (jazz music) masters
chapter and verse and give their modes of expression and maybe expand on
those modes of expression a little bit. Then, that makes the new stuff that
you do, more meaningful. At least to me.
(Q)- Has American "traditional country" music ever been an influence for
your music, either with the Grateful Dead, on your solo projects or with
your current band RatDog?
Bob Weir (BW)- Yes. It has been. Not so much right now, because the guys
that I'm working with didn't grow up on that stuff (country music) like I
(Q)- Who are your favorite "traditional country" artists? Who "traditional
country" did you listen to and who influenced you as a boy, musically?
(BW)- I grew up with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and George Jones.
George Jones is my all time favorite country singer. (Merle) Haggard is a
good (song) writer but George Jones is an incredible singer as well as a
(song) writer. I mean, Merle Haggard is a good singer, but it's not the
(Q)- There is no specific fan for either RatDog or the Grateful Dead.
By that I mean, there is no one style of music, be it, rock, pop, jazz,
country or blues, that RatDog does.
Bob Weir- RatDog does all sorts of musical styles.
(Q)- And the fans who followed the Grateful Dead around the world, also
probably enjoy many different styles of music.
Bob Weir- Yes they do.
(Q)- So, what is your goal with RatDog?
Bob Weir- What I am up to is that I'm chasing a pocket of American musical
heritage that exists now and has existed all along, that as far as I'm
concerned, is, "A Manifestation Of The Divine". If you've been on-stage and
you've felt it, or you've been in the audience and felt it, then your spine
gets electric and your entire spirit is elevated and edified. This is what
I've been chasing. And when I get there, I know it. And that's what the
hunger is for me and I think that's what the hunger is for people to come
out to see what we do. What I do and what RatDog does. We do achieve in
trying to break through those lofty bills. The entirety of our artistic
thrust or whatever, that's the entirety of what we're up to.
(Q)- That is a noble musical pursuit.
Bob Weir- Well, you know that's the only thing we're living for, once you've been there.
(Q)- Has RatDog developed a large musical repertoire?
Bob Weir- RatDog has a relatively large musical repertoire. We can play on a concert tour for most of a week, different songs, before we will repeat
ourselves. With the exception of a new song. Which we will play (new songs)
twice a week. But everything else (songs) we do only once a week whenever
we're in concert, on tour performing. That way we keep everything fresh and
we don't get bored with everything.
(Q)- How important is music to you?
Bob Weir- Music is the fabric of my existence basically. That pretty much
sums it up. It's like air, I have to have it. Otherwise I get no sense of
really even being here or having any particular reason for being here. I
mean music is all I ever wanted to do and all I ever seriously considered
doing from the time I was about eight.