Jun 4, 2022

May 1972: Bob Weir Interview (Audio Version)

In May 1972, Steve Bradshaw interviewed Bob Weir in London. The interview was printed in Melody Maker that July: 
But in June or July, the tape was also broadcast on BBC Radio London. Here is the transcript:

[Jack Straw, audience tape from Bickershaw
SB: Right now, our main guest on the show, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead. I talked to Bob Weir between the two sessions of concerts they did in London [at the Wembley Pool & the Lyceum]... First of all we'll play just a very quick snatch, all we have time for, of what as far as I know is just about Bob Weir's first composition music-wise...
[Sugar Magnolia, from American Beauty]
SB: As it said on Time Out, Bob Weir was talking about his solo album. I'll run the interview in two parts, the following part will be next week when Bob Weir will be introducing his own solo album, which will be out in the shops at an unspecified date, sometime probably in about a month. Meanwhile we have Bob Weir talking between the Wembley & Lyceum concerts about six weeks ago about his music, about the Grateful Dead. First of all I asked him about the 3 Wembley Pool concerts, each of which was very very different. 
BW: Well, the first night we were real nervous, and we weren't exactly sure how we were gonna be received and so we were on our best behavior, more or less, and were taking a long time between numbers to tune up and stuff like that - [...] tune the bridge on my guitar instead of Garcia so we cut down our tuning time. The second night we were more or less - it was a lazy night - we had a good time but we were being lazy and just playing when we got around to it. I enjoyed the audience, I enjoyed the response - the response was appreciative - though not cool but reserved at first, and so we played more or less reserved music for them, and we built slowly and they built slowly and it all happened very nicely. 
Q: How do you decide what kind of concert you're going to do - do you go out with a kind of strategy beforehand? 
BW: Absolutely not. We play by the seat of our pants from moment to moment. 
Q: But it looks, watching you, as if there's only one guy thinking out there, cause you all do the same thing - you all obviously want to go in the same direction. 
BW: Well we're used to working with each other over a long period of time now, and so we more or less are able to intuit exactly what everybody else is gonna feel like doing at a given point. 
Q: Do you have a set run of songs? 
BW: Not really, no. We have a sort of general category of songs that we'll start out with, and then we'll move into another general category of songs as soon as we're loosened up, warmed up, and then we'll move into another category of songs which is generally our space music after our break, and then we'll go back into, I guess your hard-driving rock & roll. 
Q: There's nobody really leading the band on stage? 
BW: Not really. We have it worked out so that we take turns singing songs - if Garcia starts on an evening, he sings the first song, I sing the second, Pigpen sings the third, then we go back around in that sequence again & again; or maybe I'll start out and Garcia will be second and Pigpen will be third, and then we just go around & around & around like that. 
Q: [...] the way you move from improvisation or something straight into another song, like at Wembley, straight into El Paso - how does something click like that, have you got it worked out beforehand that you're going to do that next song? 
BW: Well no, not really, but if we get into a sort of rhythmic & harmonic mode that'll suggest a song to us within our plunges through the innermost & outermost regions or space or whatever, if we get to a region that has a rhythmic & tonal mode that suggests a particular song, one of us will start playing the comp to it, the vamp to it, and everybody'll fall in behind that and we'll be off into that song. 
Q: So generally you know what's going to happen next before the audience because somebody has got off on that particular tune. 
BW: Well, we know what's gonna happen next just about instantaneously with the audience really. Except for, we are better-practiced at intuiting where we're gonna go than people who haven't heard us... 
Q: At Bickershaw, you did this history of the Dead from the start, didn't you? 
BW: Well, that's what it was billed as, I guess - I never heard of that, that never reached my ears. Within the context of any show on any night, we'll do a lot of songs from different eras - we'll do a lot of songs that we've been doing ever since we started, and we'll do a lot of songs that we just recently came up with, and a lot of songs from in between, and so inasmuch as we do that, we don't start out in chronological order or anything like that, but we do a great range of our new & old material. 
Q: To be fair, that was a [...] asking you which way your music's developing [...] what strikes most people is that each member of the band is going more off onto a solo kick, some of the members are doing now: a Garcia solo album, and your own solo album that's just come out. Are you tending to pull more in different directions? 
BW: Well, that's always been the case really, whenever one of us would get down and write a song, he'll go off into one direction as far as he can possibly take that particular song, to make it something of its own, and inasmuch as Garcia went & did his own album with a lot of his songs on it, and I've gone & made my own album with a lot of my songs on it, they're certainly divergent directions but they've always been happening, they've never however been lumped together as such before. But as it turned out just recently, Garcia had more material than he could use for a Grateful Dead album, and likewise with myself, I had more songs than I could put on a Grateful Dead record without crowding other people off, so I just went ahead and made my own record. 
Q: Any more members of the band got solo albums on the way? I was told Pigpen had one... 
BW: Pigpen is thinking it over, and of course every last one of us would like to see him do that, and so we'll be helping him - as I was receiving help from the Grateful Dead, as was Garcia, as everybody - we'll be helping him put out his record - he'll be doing it himself obviously, it'll be his material, his songs - and he, among all of us, he's the one that writes the lyrics & the music to all of his songs, just about, and so I guess you can expect to hear a record from him in the next six months or a year maybe. 
[Other One, from live album]
INT: ...an example of the kind of musical improvisation they've become famous for. One thing I've talked to Bob about was - in fact, after we'd done the interview, we started talking about the actual musical structure of the band's improvisations, so I stopped the tape and [obliterated] part of the rest of the interview and took up the conversation there, which is where I had to stop the tape temporarily. What Bob had to say loosely was about his own case in the group as a rhythm guitar, and the way in which the band intuit from each other, the way in which they're going to improvise, if you can follow that. Bob Weir explains it a bit more succinctly. 
BW: Well when we're playing free and we're drifting from key to key and from feeling to feeling, mode to mode, and we're not looking back or anything like that, and we're just building incessantly off what we have, Garcia & Phil are generally playing single lines, and any combination of two notes suggests a chord. My role, and our piano player's role, is to intuit what that chord is gonna be, the next note they're gonna play, the combination of those two, and be there with that chord, and maybe an augmentation of that chord which will either suggest staying there & building that or suggest going to a new passage, a new mode or a new key or whatever. And...it's quite a choice sometimes, it takes a lot of concentration, sometimes it just rolls out just really easily, and sometimes you get a combination of people just guessing that comes up with some inspirational new idea which is worth living for. 
Q: To backtrack a bit, to take it up to the present day in the ten minutes or so we have left, I wanted to talk about Workingman's Dead, and the sudden shift of direction that most people would recognize in that album. At the risk of repeating what you've said many times before in interviews, what was going on in the group's collective mind at the time of that album? 
BW: Well, it was a certain change for the record-buying public but it was a gradual change for us because over the period of months before that, inasmuch as we'd been hanging out with David Crosby & Stephen Stills particularly and listened to them sing together and just blown out by the fact that they really can sing together, we began to realize that we had been neglecting our own vocal presentation for instrumental presentation, and so we started working on our vocal arrangements and choral arrangements, and as it turned out the next record we did had a lot of that on it, and it represented a marked change from the way we'd sounded in the past, though none of us had really given it any thought, we were just going straight ahead and doing what we'd been doing - it was a lot of fun to make that record, it happened very quickly, and there was a spontaneity about that record that was just beautiful. 
Q: Jumping on the last one, the live album, was there any deliberate policy in that [...] 
BW: It seemed the quickest & most expedient way to put out a record! And y'know, live recording has something to say for itself, there's a spark of spontaneity there that can't be reconstructed in a studio. 
Q: [...] Any plans for further albums? 
BW: Well, we're recording these four dates at the Lyceum and we've been recording throughout Europe, and we'll try to put together another live album of the finest takes of this entire European tour, which comes to quite a few dates so there should be some good material, we've been playing fairly well; and so we should have another good live album coming out shortly. 
Q: Any ideas as to the future of the band generally? Very vague question, but...
BW: We're going to go on doing what we're doing. We hope to at one point or another make enough money to have our own studios, and we're researching better & more efficient ways of marketing records for less, and essentially better & more efficient ways of getting better music to more people. 
Q: The Dead from the start were very much of a, as Steve Miller said, a sociological phenomenon, along with one or two other bands like the Airplane, whereas someone like Steve Miller wasn't; and now that there really isn't a kind of 1967 context in which to fit a rock band like that, do you miss that kind of dynamic, that kind of milieu, or are you rather glad that all that... 
BW: Well back when we were being a sociological phenomenon, we were living on top of each other by necessity in one house because that's all we could afford, our economic situation didn't leave us much leeway, and so we did what was necessary; and it was a lot of fun, and a lot of the time it was fairly uncomfortable. As it is we moved out first chance we got because nobody likes living on top of anybody else, and we stopped being a sociological phenomenon, nonetheless we do have a lot of people whose company we enjoy, and many of them work for us in whatever capacity they can find; we support a lot of people, and in turn they help support us, so we have a huge family, sort of tribal business scene going that seems to work fairly well. 
Q: I'm quite interested by that, does it have any formal contractual structure to it, or are you just...a kind of loose...
BW: Total anarchy. As is our music, it's almost utter & total anarchy. A lot gets done for one miraculous reason or another. 
Q: Why has it taken you so long to get a European tour together? 
BW: Well, inasmuch as we wanted to take everybody that works with us, or y'know, everybody in our big family along with us, it was obvious it was going to be very expensive to do, and heretofore we haven't been able to afford it - I'm not sure that we can afford it now but we went ahead and did it anyway.
Q: You making money [...] financial success? 
BW: I think we'll break even when everything is tolled up and we get home, I think we'll come out just about even. 
Q: Last question, what are your general impressions of the European tour, how have you found the audiences? 
BW: The audiences have been fabulous, you know. Inasmuch as they don't speak our language in many cases, and we really have to relate to them on a purely musical level because they can't understand the repartee that goes on between songs or anything like that, we've been concentrating on just laying the music on them and they've been most appreciative. 
Q: One more - your wife was saying before you arrived that on the two different nights in London so far, there seemed to be two different audiences; one was happy just to bop and it didn't really matter if they missed a note, the other one was a much more kind of Dead-freak or Dead-culture audience, who really wanted to hear absolutely every note, and she seemed to think the first one was more preferable. 
BW: Of course a combination of the two would probably be best. I like looking out into the audience when I'm playing, [...] people are really intent on what we're playing and really feeling that they're being spiritually elevated by it, that really makes me feel like King Kong on stage. But on the other hand, when I look out and I see people dancing around and just purely enjoying themselves, I like seeing that too. So it doesn't matter to me, any old way they want to enjoy it is fine with me, just so long as they enjoy it.

SB: That's an exclusive interview for [??] done by me with Bob Weir and it was done between their two recent London concerts. We're splitting the interview up into two parts, the shorter one comes next week when Bob Weir will be introducing his own new solo album...  


SB: ...a couple tracks off that, including the Bob Weir version of 'Playing in the Band,' which I should say also does have the Grateful Dead ensemble in the background. And we also have the answer to the question of how long Bob had been stockpiling material for the album, the music of which was entirely written by himself.
BW: Well, there's one on that record that I've been doing now for a year, I actually put it on our last live record, Playing in the Band, but it's been developed & extended from where it was, so it's not really recognizable as the same song, and so I figured well this is what I really wanted in the first place when we recorded it back then when it was immature, and now it's matured; it's a different song, it holds together, and so I really wanted to record it again. 
[Playing in the Band, from Ace
BW: In most cases a friend of mine named John Barlow wrote the lyrics, and on a couple songs Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics, and on 'One More Saturday Night' I wrote the lyrics. I have little faith in my poetic abilities, so I just leave it to the experts. It's getting easier for me to just roll with the flow, as it were; as I get older, as I get more experienced and better-versed at performing for audiences in public, I find it easier to just let the music roll out of me and [phone rings] answer the telephone. 
[One More Saturday Night, from Ace]
SB: Bob Weir, Ace, that's right in the shops now... 

1 comment:

  1. This is a fair bit longer than the printed version. For Melody Maker, it was condensed and rearranged so it had a more succinct flow. (Weir could be quite wordy.) There are actually a couple sections in the printed interview that aren't in the audio, so not all of the tape was broadcast (or copied) - for instance Weir talked more about his solo album than is heard in the brief part II here.
    There were a few words here & there [...] I couldn't make out, or misheard, but for the most part Weir's answers are transcribed word-for-word.

    Some points that struck me:
    - the broadcast starts with an audience tape of an unreleased song. Score for the BBC!
    - this interview took place more than a month after the first show at the Empire Pool, yet Bradshaw asks Weir specifically about how they moved from the jam into El Paso. It made that much of an impression on him.
    - Weir has interesting impressions of the Empire Pool shows: on the first show they "were real nervous" and reserved at first; but the second show was "a lazy night."
    - at the end, Frankie Weir (I presume) observes the different types of people seeing the Dead in London: one group happy dancers, the other group more serious Dead listeners. She likes the first type more. But Bob's quite pleased by the fans who "are really intent on what we're playing and really feeling that they're being spiritually elevated by it."