7 Walkers: Fire on the Mountain, Fire on the Bayou
In the shadows of ominous redwood trees in Yosemite National Park, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann and The Meters’ bassist George Porter Jr. discuss strategies for a late night set for their new band 7 Walkers. The show will run more than three straight hours and kiss the sunrise with a small, stunned audience in tow. Before they even hit the stage at the Las Tortugas Festival in Northern California at 3:30 a.m., the foursomes exude a palpable excitement with their animated gesturing and broad smiles.
Austin psychedelic blues-rocker Papa Mali watches the pair intently, tuning his guitar and smiling softly. Matt Hubbard, a longtime Willie Nelson collaborator and the final member of the Walkers, flits around like a bundle of appealing nervous energy as he checks his keyboards and tests the slide on his weathered trombone. When they assemble onstage, the four exchange a knowing nod as they embark on a journey into a roughshod mythology drawn from the Deep South, voodoo culture, primal rock and roll, crime novels and New Orleans.
“I’m not kind of in love with 7 Walkers; I’m totally in love with 7 Walkers,” says Kreutzmann. “This band is such a dream for me. I hate to put it into a genre or qualify it in any way. I want it to stay open. It reminds me of the Grateful Dead when we were first learning songs and how to play our instruments better. We were totally free and that’s what this band is—except we’ve all had a lot longer to learn how to play.”
7 Walkers released its self-titled debut in November, a thickly-knotted, swampy, beautiful record with lyrics by Dead scribe Robert Hunter. The record features bassist Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green), whose existing commitments kept him from becoming a full-fledged member. George Porter Jr. jumped at the chance to join, and the quartet recently finished its first national tour culminating at the aforementioned late night barnburner at the Las Tortugas.
What’s already apparent is that this is not a temporary distraction. Something deep and powerful stirs inside this quartet, drawing energy from all of its members’ various musical tributaries before forming a gloriously raging torrent.
“This band feels like something dreamed up in someone else’s imagination,” says Papa. “Like, ‘If you get this guy together with this other guy, it’ll be great!’ This is just something different. At this stage in the game, it’s amazing to remember what it felt like to first be in a band. Bill and George have seen and done it all, so it’s surprising to all of us that we’ve got this feeling of being a real band. It’s more than guys just getting together. It’s almost like being a kid again.”
It was Hunter who inspired the band’s name after delivering his first of seven songs to the group, “7 Walkers.” “The number seven is really important in mythology, in Indian culture and many different spiritual beliefs,” says Kreutzmann. “Recently, I was watching this guy explain String Theory and it’s very far out. He said the only way string theory can work is if there are more than three dimensions, and he maintains that there are seven dimensions. So, in order for unified field theory to work [which String Theory is an example of], there has to be more than three dimensions. I thought that was pretty cool: there are seven dimensions and I’m in 7 Walkers.” [Laughs.]
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