RatDog’s Return: Bob Weir and Life After Dead (Relix Revisited)
By the end of the first set at The Grand, the band reached critical mass. With Weir stoking the engine with his angular, immediately identifiable if sometimes downright weird rhythm guitar playing, guitarist Karan cast dancing silvery lines over the burbling, driving sound. The capacity crowd writhed and shook, half not old enough to have seen the Grateful Dead play and remember it. A four-year-old girl chased a balloon in the back, running underfoot of the dancers.
“He has a carefully crafted style of rhythm that was like the missing puzzle piece in Jerry and Phil,” Lane says of Weir. “It’s almost like if you take one part out of it, probably any part, and it’s kind of weird. So when it was just him without the lead guitar in there… I came from a very strict funk/R&B background, and this— not knowing the Grateful Dead—it was like jamming along with one little piece of it.”
Among the three guitars Weir played at The Grand was the Parber Telecaster, an instrument with a back-story worthy of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. A few years ago, Weir, who was raised by adopted parents, met his birth father, a retired Air Force colonel who never knew he fathered the child who had been put up for adoption and had raised four sons of his own. All of Jack Parber’s boys were musical, but the oldest, James Parber, actually played professionally, working local clubs as lead guitarist with Lawrence Hammond and the Whiplash Band and a group led by former Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen vocalist Billy C. Farlow.
In 1979, James came down with spinal cancer and spent the next 12 years going through an agonizing, slow death under his parents’ care. After he died, his family divided instruments among themselves. After Weir made contact with his father and struck up a warm, endearing friendship, he and his wife used to take the kids up to spend the night at the Parber’s house. Every time he did, he foundhimself having to step over or push aside a beat up guitar case containing a mangled electric guitar, pickups off the moorings, strings all broken. He finally asked the Parbers if he could take the guitar to have his tech crew look it over and they replied something to the effect of “What took you so long?”
Rehearsing with the group that had decided to reclaim the band’s original name and go out as the Dead in 2003, Weir took the guitar to its Novato headquarters. His roadie returned in a few minutes with the guitar
cleaned up, the pickups properly mounted and a new set of strings. Weir, who had been having problems pulling the band’s sound together, tried on the guitar.
“The Telecaster has a thin, reedy sound,” Weir said. “It was instantly perfect. It cleared out a lot of clutter and made the whole band sound gel.”
Noticing a small five-figure serial number on the back, Weir asked the roadie to inquire at the Fender factory. Yes, indeed, they reported back, that is an original first-year, 1956 production model Fender Telecaster, worth as much as $75,000. Weir has played the guitar on every show since. James Louis Parber never made the big time, but his guitar did. His brother Christopher Parber—Weir’s newly discovered half-brother—was backstage at The Grand now that he’s family.
The 90 dates RatDog played last year represents a schedule as heavy as the Dead’s at that band’s peak. Sears and his management partner, New Jersey-based impresario John Scher, have already booked three nights at New York’s Beacon Theater in April and Sears was on the bus before the Grand show talking to Weir about doing an acoustic solo appearance at the annual Merlefest at Doc Watson’s farm. Weir apparently likes to work just about as much as he can.
“I keep getting better at it, too,” he said.
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The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
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