Sep 7, 2014

April 1972: Bob Weir Interview


It's taken a long time for the Dead to get themselves back over here. They probably made it more by good luck than good judgment. Their camp is as diverse and unpredictable as any under the sun – but there must be some sort of magical karma guarding them for they always seem to pull through.
The Dead have brought a large family of 43 friends with them on this visit.
And so it was hard to find a private comer at their hotel to speak to guitarist Bob Weir, writes Danny Holloway. But after settling down, we talked of Keith Godchaux, the new member, as well as the music and life of the Grateful Dead.
Reports of their London Wembley concerts have been very favourable. It would be a good
idea, feels Holloway, if you could catch a performance while they're here.

HOLLOWAY: What was the reason for Keith coming in on keyboards?

WEIR: I think it happened like this. Pigpen got sick and we were about to do a tour, so we needed somebody. And just about that time, Garcia had met, and I think worked, with Keith in San Francisco.
We've always been looking for somebody, really. Pigpen's not really a virtuoso keyboard player – that's not exactly what he does with us. So Garcia suggested we give Keith a listen, and he sounded good to everybody, so we just worked him in.
It was a short notice, but he was incredibly adept. He picked up on everything fast. That was one indication of how it worked good, and another was how well he could pick up on feelings that we played.
I mean, he picked up on really minute subtle differences. Every one of us was mind blown by how well he fitted into the whole musical scene we've conglomerated over the years.

When you first started you seemed to have a hard time putting down on record what you were all about. Are you more satisfied now?

It's getting better. As we learn what we can do in a studio, we start working with the studios in mind – rather than simply playing our music. And we're finding that we play different kinds of music for different situations. At first, we didn't know that you can gear to a studio. We're learning to do that a lot more now.

Looking back, do you consider yourself involved with the San Francisco scene any more?

Well, I more or less consider myself involved with the world, musically. There's a lot of cross-fertilisation among musicians in Marin County where we live. And I guess you could call it the San Francisco scene, because the nearest big city is San Francisco and we do most of our recording there. But there's no specifically localised thing that I consider myself a part of. Just music in general, really.

How do you feel about your name being mentioned synonymously with the 1967 San Francisco scene? That's what I meant really.

Well, it's history, it's blown over. It's not a reality to me. It used to be fun. I used to feel like a part of it. It was a flash – a good scene – but it went away. We're all a lot more mature now. We're all the same people and we're still all great friends, but we were kids having a party back then. Now, we're older kids doing something that older kids do. It's different.

There's a feeling among some people that the Grateful Dead are a social phenomenon. Do you think this detracts from your music?

If they start overlooking the music and delve into the social phenomenon we seem to be, then they're off on the wrong trip. As far as our social situation is concerned, we live in a straightforward way.
We like to get a lot of people involved in what we're doing and it seems to work out. So we have a lot of people working with us who we're responsible for feeding. But at the same time, they're responsible for helping us to push forward.
As far as any philosophy is concerned, any one of us can rap for hours about the way we feel. (Garcia's particularly apt at it.). But apparently, the more you talk, the more people consider you philosophic. Then you start getting into being a social phenomenon more than a musical one. It's just that people listen to whatever they hear, and if Garcia doesn't have a guitar in his hands, he'll rap. Any one of us does that.

Do you think music's going to remain the prime factor in so many people's lives? There is so much intensity and competition.

It's getting competitive. That means you must be either original or really good to survive. It's sure Darwinism I guess. Throughout history, there has never been an excess of really top musicians at any one time. But people have got to have music. Most everybody has to have it, and here we are to give it to them.
Rather than asking: is there life after death? I think a real good question is: Is there music after death? I think a lot of people feel that way. Music represents a whole side of the human manifestation that we just can't live without. Nobody can live without it. Not even the Chinese.

Do you play many dates in a year?

Well, I'll tell you somethin'. When we got here, all the people in that big country show (the C and W festival at Wembley) were here at the hotel. And I was talking to a lot of those guys and we were talking about how many nights a year they work. I was telling them we work 50 nights a year, and they were amazed because they work 150 to 200 nights a year and more. I got the hint that they thought we were really lazy and just laying back and making money off a big name.
Then it occurred to me to ask them how long they play every night... 45 minutes. Well, we play about three hours a night, so it works out to about the same. You can't carry on to 150 or 200 nights a year while playing three or four hours a night and expect to survive.

(by Danny Holloway, from the New Musical Express, April 15, 1972)


  1. When the Dead arrived in England, a lot of curious reporters were anxious to talk to them, so there is a lot of interview material available from that month, and we hear more from Weir & the others than usual -- this is one example.

    His account of Keith's joining is interesting -- he actually mentions it in a few interviews that year, I believe. But I don't recall seeing a single Garcia interview where Garcia talks about Keith joining -- kind of a sad little omission from Dead history, since Garcia was the main guy involved.

    Weir says a little about how the Dead have been able to adjust their playing to the studio more over the years. I think this is something common to a lot of bands, who have at first have a quick & dirty introduction to studio recording (basically playing as they would live, and hoping it sounds OK), and gradually become more comfortable with the production process. The Dead had only done a few albums at that point that were studio-only (and a couple that were live/studio mixes) - their most recent studio sessions had been for Weir's Ace album that winter, which was apparently quick & easy.

    This is also one of the instances where Weir speculates that Garcia's become a social figurehead simply because Garcia was so willing to rap for hours to anyone who'll listen -- so people started considering him a philosopher. Weir says they're "off on the wrong trip" if they overlook the music...

    Odd that Weir says the Dead play 50 shows a year! In '71 & '72 they played over 80 shows a year -- they had enough fans to play a lot more shows than that, but they didn't want to be on the road so much and cut back a lot in '71. As Weir says, playing 3- or 4-hour shows can be draining...

  2. Weir says "we were kids having a party back then. Now, we're older kids doing something that older kids do. It's different." which reminds me of the discussion we had re: The Brotherhood vs.the Dead Machine. The spring of 1972 is a fascinating moment in the Dead's story, and the Europe tour is great peek into that. Thanks for posing these interviews that give us some sense of where they were at and how they viewed their music in a contemporaneous accounting.

  3. When we got here, all the people in that big country show (the C and W festival at Wembley) were here at the hotel

    country and western festival wembley 1972 (April 1st & 2nd)

    line up

    Bill Anderson & The Po Boys, Country Fever, Larry Cunningham, Tom T. Hall & The Storytellers, George Hamilton IV & The Numbers, Loretta Lynn & The Coal Miners, John D. Loudermilk, Ray Lynam & The Hillbillies, Margo & Country Folk, Anne Murray, Terry McKenna, Del Reeves, The Earl Scruggs Revue, The Stonemans, Tex Withers, Conway Twitty & The Twittybirds, Dottie West, Hank Williams Jnr. & The Cheatin' Hearts, Jonny Young Four. George Hamilton IV was MC (Saturday) and Bill Anderson was MC (Sunday) with the Billboard/Record Mirror Awards presented by Mary Reeves.

    1. I wonder if Weir or Garcia sought out any of those musicians...

    2. I think Vassar was playing with Earl Scruggs in that period, FWIW.

    3. I think Garcia would be interested in meeting The Stonemans, especially Scotty. I heard him talking about his impressions of Scotty on an episode of Arthur Godfrey's Talent Search in the 1950s.