Bob Weir

Bob Weir Interview.
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 age.
(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 Jerry, 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 their ensembles.
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 music?
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 been (musically). 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 did.
(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 same thing.
(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.