Grateful Dead founding member Bob Weir infrequently provides interviews, but when he does, he goes for it, opening up with honest and insightful answers. I spoke with Weir about his upcoming solo tour (featuring a set with guitarist Jackie Greene), life in the Grateful Dead and post-Grateful Dead bands, including Ratdog and Furthur, carrying on Jerry Garcia's legacy by bringing back his songs, and mountain biking near his home in Marin.
Up on the Sun: You've done so many different things, so many different bands besides the Grateful Dead and relations, but also Kingfish, your solo outfits and side projects, is there any one particular thing that just stands out as a great time?
Bob Weir: I think the most outstanding period was for a couple of years in the late-80s, early-90s; the Grateful Dead's last years with Brent (Mydland) were the most rewarding. We were just real tight and had something real good goin'. The band was real together [laughs]. It was just all working, at least from my sensibilities.
Speaking of being real together, Furthur seems to be firing on all cylinders right now. After the Grateful Dead ended there were various attempt to find that groove again with The Other Ones and later The Dead. What did it take to get to this point?
It's a matter of finding the right combination of people and then putting in the time together, which was pretty much the same method we used with the Grateful Dead. We just had a lot of gigs. The time you spend together on stage is the time you spend finding the center of a band and learning to work from there.
After Jerry Garcia died it took a little while before The Other Ones appeared. Was there ever any hesitation trying to get a band back together that could carry forth what the Grateful Dead had started?
I think it was in the back of our minds, but we needed a little time to sort out what we were up to musically and how to approach our heritage anew and do something meaningful with it rather than just go out and play.
When considering that, the Grateful Dead have a massive and dedicated fanbase, was that something you had to consider as well, how they would perceive it?
We were mindful of the fact that there was something of a clamor to get something out there, but it still took us a little while to do it. There are some fans who haven't gone to a show of anybody's since Jerry checked out. That didn't weigh on us all that much. Really, just finding the right time and the right avenue of expression and putting in a little time together was what took as long as it did to get back at it.
Now that Furthur seems very set and cohesive, and you have some new songs not yet recorded or released, might there be albums in the works for either you or the band?
We're gonna see. I'd love to get in the studio. I probably need to write one or two more songs for a new record. I suppose I could hurry that up a bit, but first we'll have to find out what interest there is in making another record with the guys in the band. I know Phil, for instance, can take or leave the studio.
How is your relationship with Phil these days? I know you guys were on the outs at one point, but seeing you on stage with Furthur things look pretty copacetic.
When we did The Dead tour a few years back, Phil and I rediscovered a conversation we'd been having for a number of decades and that was what prompted us to go on with it. The music is working out just fine. I imagine that conversation would be pretty much endless.
One of the beauties of the Grateful Dead was never knowing what songs were coming next. What were the cues that told you which way you were going?
Pretty much will of the wood. What we knew we weren't going to do was what we'd just done the previous two nights. Generally we would figure out the first couple tunes of the set and the last couple of tunes, at least the first set, and then just fill in the blanks. All the time Jerry was doing a song I had to be thinking about what I was going to do next and vise versa. Often times what we would do is start shading with notions toward the next song. For instance, if I wanted to take it to a song somewhat related to the song were playing, I'd start playing licks that would suggest the next tune. We were all pretty busy listening to each other so we'd pick up on it and find ourselves there. Or sometimes it would just be something that occurred to someone and we'd explore that.
You live in Marin where there's great mountain biking. We talked about your love of mountain biking after a Ratdog show some years back. Still riding at all?
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I haven't been on my bike this year, but I actually do have it in the shop getting tuned up because I intend to get it out there pretty quick. I work out pretty much daily. Mountain biking sort of took a back seat in my little retinue of things to do of working out. I've been so busy I can't afford the downhill. The downhill is free and not really working out. It's fun, but I need to maximize my workouts. But I miss it enough that I'm just going to have to get out and do it.
Bob Weir is scheduled to perform Tuesday, December 11, at Celebrity Theatre.