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Bob Weir: Furthur & Beyond (From October 2000)

Toni A. Brown | October 16, 2017

In honor of Bob Weir's 70th birthday today, revisit this cover story with the Grateful Dead guitarist from the October 2000 issue of Relix where he dishes on a variety of new projects. 

It was a hot, early summer afternoon. RatDog was playing at Asbury Park, New Jersey, the former stomping grounds of Bruce Springsteen. It was a shock to drive up and see the boarded up area that was once a major seaside resort. I suppose that when the music moves on, all that gets left behind are the skeletons...

A warm, friendly greeting from Bob Weir wiped away my surprise at the nearby desolate surroundings. His eyes were filled with light and vigor, and his sincere smile washed away the years. His willingness to talk was reassuring as the summer heat brutally beat down on us as we chatted by the pool.

Where can someone begin when there is a vast history and a million unanswered questions? The music is always the best place to start. Bob Weir has kept true to his musical vision in the years since the Grateful Dead has stopped touring. He was hesitant at first to incorporate material from the Grateful Dead's repertoire into his solo touring entities-Weir and Wasserman and RatDog-because this was, after all, his solo career. And once Jerry Garcia died, the sorrow he felt at having lost his longtime contemporary also kept him from delving into the Dead's musical well. Bobby was simply uncomfortable and chose to distance himself from that music for a while. This may have alienated many fans, but Weir feels that he has done things the way he needed to and has not compromised his music for the sake of drawing a crowd.

Selections from the Dead's archives have gradually found their way into RatDog's playlist. But there's the lingering question of whether or not Weir should have pulled this material out just to please his audience. "I have to do what floats my boat," Weir adamantly remarked. "I have to please myself first. Either that or I'm just an act. I'll retire before I'm just an act. I've got to write. There's music that I haven't written. There's stuff that I haven't said, and I'm just getting to it. I think that's probably always going to be the case. That said, there are also a lot of things that I'm not prepared to walk away from, so you're gonna be getting some of the new stuff and some of the old stuff with me. I don't even have a choice in the matter. I have to do it this way."

The first, long anticipated RatDog album, Evening Moods, has just been released on Grateful Dead Records. It's Bob Weir's first non-Grateful Dead studio project since the early 1980s. He and the band spent several weeks in Weir's home studio, Ace's, and the songs evolved organically. RatDog then went to Coast studio in San Francisco, and in a live, jazz-like manner, recorded the tracks. Musicians on this album are Bob Weir on vocals and guitars, Rob Wasserman on bass, Jay Lane on vocals and drums, Jeff Chimenti on vocals and keyboards, Mark Karan on vocals and guitars, Eric Crystal on saxophone and Matthew Kelly on vocals and harmonica.

The Dead had been performing "Corrina," the Weir/Hunter composition, for years, but had never released a studio version. (It did appear on last year's live Furthurmore.) Weir's approach to the song is distinctively RatDog's, giving it a different feel than the Dead's standard performance. Weir discussed the departure. "It wasn't like, 'Okay, we're gonna do this song different,'" he explained. "Sometimes we decide to do that, but that wasn't the case with 'Corrina' though it has come out substantially different just because the song has been morphing all along. There was never really an arrangement or a feel that was etched in stone or even in glass for that tune. I guess there is now that it's recorded. Once it gets out on a record and hits the airwaves, then that's the definitive arrangement."

Weir had a hand in writing every song, having worked with several contributors. "2 Djinn," "Bury Me Standing" and "Even So" were co-written with Gerrit Graham. Weir's longtime collaborator, John Barlow, contibuted to "Lucky Enough" and "Welcome To The World" with Andre Pessis. Pessis also co-wrote "Ashes & Glass" and "October Queen." "Odessa," co-written by Weir, Graham and Russ Ellis, seems to have been a crowd pleaser during the last RatDog tour with its rowdy, up-tempo delivery.