AN INTERVIEW WITH BOB WEIR
"You're doing the Wier interview," I was told as I walked through the office door. "Oh really," that was news. I set out trying to collect enough intelligent questions in thirty minutes as I could. I came up with almost enough. Bob Weir is from one of those bands who spend the whole time telling you that they're just musicians in the most mystical way possible. Seated in the bar, Bob Weir, the philosophical stardust cowboy spun these words. After it was all over, I wondered what had I talked to: fact or fiction?
TRUCKER: Now that you have some success under your belt, do you feel that you have more freedom?
BOB: We've always been pretty free to do the things we want. We've always had 100% artistic control. We've insisted upon that. There's not much they can tell us not to do. In the field of [marketing] there's always [limitations], always.
TRUCKER: Now that you're coming out with solo albums, I've been told that that you're striving for better vinyl.
BOB: That's still a long ways away, I think. And the solo albums just happened. When somebody gets more material, then you can put on a Grateful Dead album.
TRUCKER: But it's still a Grateful Dead [album]. I noticed your [album still had all] the same people on it.
BOB: Well, that's on account of [that] no one [plays] with me as well as [the people who are] well versed in what I want to do.
TRUCKER: On touring are you on a more relaxed pace, doing things like two night stands instead of strings of [one] nighters?
BOB: Well, we still do our strings of one nighters. We have a huge organization, a huge business organization behind us; of mostly old friends that we find to employ in one capacity or another. Anyway, in order to feed everyone that's under our employment, etc, and I guess in all we're responsible for a little over a hundred people. It takes a lot of work to do that.
TRUCKER: [......] of audience, or [...]?
BOB: All different kinds of audiences. [...] audiences were louder and more [...] than New York audiences, which [......] loud rowdy audiences. Most of them were appreciative and some of them were variously enthusiastic.
TRUCKER: When you're on the road are you pretty isolated? Like I heard some people on the third floor who were yelling out some things like what are we doing in this town, and I was just curious, was this a part of being on the road?
BOB: Oh, yeah, that's true.
TRUCKER: Oh yeah, well I didn't take it personally. (Laughter) I just figured it was a part of travelling.
BOB: This is nothing. You should hear the abuse towns like New York and Detroit receive.
TRUCKER: I was thinking in terms of Europe... While you were traveling in Europe were you able to see some things?
BOB: Oh yeah, it was like a vacation for us.
TRUCKER: When you're touring, how many people do you travel with?
BOB: Well, our standard road group is about twenty people.
TRUCKER: Does that include lights, sounds, everything?
BOB: Yeah, it does, and in Europe, we toured with forty-seven people.
TRUCKER: Do you feel that you've escaped from the San Francisco trip that everybody puts on you?
BOB: Rather than escape it, I think we've more or less outgrown it, to the point that nobody ever pulls that on us anymore, unless it's a sort of "Do you remember" deal. There's not much of that happening anymore, San Francisco is just another town. There are a lot of music concerns in the town, but as far as a San Francisco sound, there isn't any.
TRUCKER: When you come out with an album, I noticed that your last two Grateful Dead albums, Live in Europe, and Grateful Dead, are live. Do you prefer to record in a live context what you play on stage, or do you still find time for the studio?
BOB: Well, in the last little while, it's been difficult for us to find time for the studio. 'Cause we've had to be out on the road touring, either that or rehearsing. If we take a month off to make an album, which is a reasonable time expectation for that, we haven't had the time. If we were to record an album, we more or less recorded live, and thereby be assured we had a record. And that way come up with a record without having to break our stride.
TRUCKER: The thing of playing for four hours. How did you develop this?
BOB: It simply developed over time as we needed more and more time to develop different aspects. To develop a whole show. It takes like an hour at least to warm up. We start out with our more highly structured type of material, then loosen up, and then we're playing fairly loose and we'll go on for three or four hours. Actually we nearly always go for four hours. But we may cut back a little bit, because if we play for four hours every night we'll begin to drain ourselves. We take all kinds of vitamins on tour. We may cut back to three hours, but even so you start to, you're just not playing as well as you could, so we may cut that back a little bit.
TRUCKER: Then this all developed in an urge to give a better show?
BOB: Yeah, it takes four hours. I don't see how we're going to cut it back. It takes four hours to get into all the things we want to get into.
TRUCKER: But your jams, which were really well received by the audience, would seem to be your pay off as a musician. Or do you feel that way, is the structured material more your choice?
BOB: Not necessarily either one. If we play a structured song and it comes off really well, then that's a joy too.
TRUCKER: I was curious, you mentioned the nostalgia thing. Do you find people who are still into that?
BOB: Well, as a rule everyone's looking forward, as ourselves.
TRUCKER: By looking forward, what are you people looking forward to doing, as a band, as a group of people even?
BOB: I think we've more or less established a direction for ourselves, and I guess you could just expect to hear more of what we're doing, more definitively done.
TRUCKER: Are you going to try to get into things like El Paso? Would you consider that the direction that you're heading?
BOB: The way that stuff happens is spontaneously, more or less compulsively. A song suggests itself, whether it's a new uptown boog-a-loo, or god knows what. A child's rhyme or whatever. If it just presents itself to somebody's head, or whatever, chances are we'll end up doing it. Just like the first two albums, that was the kind of music we did.
TRUCKER: How did you get into the Country and Western style, because the great change that came with Workingman's Dead, nobody was really prepared for.
BOB: Well, we've been doing it all along but we'd never recorded any of it. As for myself, and I think Garcia too, country music is really my first love. It was the first kind of band music that really turned me on.
TRUCKER: Who did you listen to?
BOB: Oh, Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, and Reno and Smiley.
TRUCKER: But you moved on into the direction of rock and roll.
BOB: Well, when I was listening to that I was playing in a Jug band, because my musical proficiencies were below that of a bluegrass musician. I had no more business playing that music than flying, but I certainly enjoyed listening to it. But anyway we evolved from a jug band and started playing, and we played country music on the side just to entertain ourselves, and finally some of it got around to being recorded and released.
TRUCKER: Were you surprised by the success of the whole thing? You always had a steady group of followers, but all of a sudden it swelled into a mess of people who had never listened to the Dead before Workingman's Dead.
BOB: Well, I knew at the time it came out that it was [... most] commercial thing we'd come out with [...] was really quite [obvious] to me. I had little or no doubt that it was going to do better than anything else we'd come up with.
TRUCKER: It really surprised me when I listened to it, because I wasn't prepared for that kind of album. When you started a different approach to an album, how did you go about it?
BOB: That was the first time we ever tailored our sound for that kind of album. That was our first real success at tailoring our sound for what we wanted to do and drawing a big line between our stage performance and what we were recording. Though it may not sound like it, Workingman's Dead was just one logical step after Aoxomoxoa, which was more or less...well, you know, on many counts a failure. But it was a lesson well learned certainly. Aoxomoxoa was certainly our most expensive album. It cost us a hundred and thirty thousand to make.
TRUCKER: It must have made your recording company very happy when you started becoming a commercial success.
TRUCKER: Did it change your stage approach when you started recording country and western style? Or was it essentially the same?
BOB: It was all the same. It was a logical extension of whatever direction we were heading in.
TRUCKER: Last night, as you said, you [started] with the more structured things, and [...] on into the big jams. Just out of [curiosity], how would you describe jamming?
BOB: Well, if you're well versed enough, you have any number of given directions you can move, and variations you can go on your [instrument]. The more practiced you are at it, the better you can associate one particular idea with what's going on. And you use that to build on whatever the rest of the band is working on. And they're building on what you're throwing on the fire. It's just a matter of being practiced so that it's more or less second nature. You get to a prevocal level on your instrument so that you don't have to consciously figure out what you're going to do. You just know where you're going and go there. Sometimes, it gets downright telepathic, and that's, of course, always electrifying to hear, Also, a lot of good music isn't so much telepathic as just steady controlled excitement, and you can use that to play yourself. And you can take that excitement and play yourself with it. And, in turn, yourself plays the instrument. You more or less culture that excitement, that feeling you're looking for.
TRUCKER: Are you people going to try to get into the video taping thing? I know there's been a lot of talk about televised concerts. Would you guys like to try that?
BOB: If it could be done, and done well, it'd surely be interesting.
TRUCKER: I remember seeing you on Hugh Hefner's trip.
BOB: That Hugh Hefner's program was a lot of fucking fun. We had more fun than anybody else there. It was just so strange, it was really surreal. There were all these cool-type model chics, that were trying to make it and they'd be real casual and cool, then somebody'd say action and then they'd snap into the party and all that. And we were playing off that and we had a lot of fun. That was back into our acid revolutionary days, and I think somebody got to the coffee pot. Anyway, I know the film crew was seen to. It took us like four takes to get the last song. We'd be playing and someone would yell "Cut, cut, cut," we forgot to afterburn the etcetera.
TRUCKER: You were talking about your acid revolutionary days, do you people see that as a part of you anymore? The drug thing, do you see that as a part of your band?
BOB: Well, certainly not for myself, I haven't taken dope for about six years. It was certainly a long time ago for me. On that issue I really can't speak for all the members of the band. Like I say for myself, I'm simply a musician.
TRUCKER: Do you think that people now accepted that you people aren't on any kind of mythical trip, that you're just musicians?
BOB: In some cases yes, in some cases no.
TRUCKER: I think that the very structure of your family, gives [rise] to that kind of talk.
BOB: Rather than any philosophical trip that all just seems back again, second nature, to take care of your [own]. You all do it, everyone does.
TRUCKER: Why did it strike a lot of people so strange, so impressive, so important, that whole thing?
BOB: Well, I'm not sure, for instance if you work for General Motors you get all kinds of fringe benefits, and stuff like that, and in a way General Motors looks after its own. And of course in a huge and impersonal way and in [......] we're a great deal [smaller] than that and a great deal more personal in all of our relationships, our way of [...] each other is a great deal [......] and intimate and all that. [......] the human being is, I guess, [...] of a travel animal. And with a few exceptions people who don't adhere to any [...] whatsoever. Those exceptions [are very] few. Here you'll find nations within nations, within nations sub-nations, [within] sub-nations you'll find tribes, and [within] tribes you'll find groups and cliques and stuff like that. And people just naturally band together. And it seems obvious that because everybody tries to support everybody else, and everybody benefits by it. We do that, and if people find that unusual or interesting, I don't see where it's coming from. I mean I don't see where it makes us any different from anybody else. We may employ somewhat [different] methods of looking after each other, like we may take all of our old friends and employ them, for instance, for one reason or another, but it's all for everybody's gain once again. I mean, they make a working salary out of it and we're expanding our business horizons.
TRUCKER: Do you find the business angle of things a hassle, as a musician, you know, having to suddenly come down and deal with all this stuff?
BOB: Not really, cause over the years we, the band members have carefully found ways to remove ourselves from the business angle, until we got so far divorced from it, that one of our managers took us for 200 grand at one point, over a year. We were broke at the beginning of the year, broke at the end of the year, and broke all through the year. We didn't make payroll a lot of times, and he was pocketing the money, and we were starving. In the end we found that he had made 200 thousand dollars and we'd made nothing. At that point we figured we couldn't afford to be that divorced from the business proceedings, and we came back, and in order to make business so that somebody like us can understand it, and sit through it, you have to make it interesting for yourself, so you come up with interesting ideas - and see if you can implement them.
TRUCKER: It must be strange, though, to wake up one morning and find that you do lose 200 thousand dollars.
BOB: Well, it is not really that strange, cause we were broke. We knew we were broke, but we didn't know why we were broke, but we knew we were broke. And we knew that we'd been working hard. I couldn't see where all the money'd gone, but that guy had some pretty good answers as to where it had all gone. And so, we figured well, you know, we fired him at the time that we were making Workingman's Dead. And only after we got rid of him did we find out he'd taken this considerable sum.
TRUCKER: Even then, that was partially the family type trip wasn't it. Wasn't that your drummer's father, that ripped off so much money?
TRUCKER: I noticed a long time ago, when you and the Airplane bought the Carousel Ballroom...
BOB: We didn't buy it, we rented it.
TRUCKER: Still in the back of your mind there was business.
BOB: If there's got to be business, it might as well be interesting. That's the only set rule that I can think of. If business is a drag, [then] that makes doing it for the money a lot dirtier than doing it for the trips and money. If there's money involved, it might as well be fun money. God knows, it wouldn't be that much worth going after. Being a good musician is a much better flash than being rich, I can tell you.
TRUCKER: Then money would be like a sideline to your own musical needs. If somebody likes the record fine, and if somebody buys it, great.
BOB: Yeah, that and I'm a musician, but there are other things I enjoy. Like I enjoy horses and for a while I was raising horses, and keeping myself broke that way. And in as much as you can have hobbies, investing money into one trip or another, to see what happens, what comes of it. We've started a film...see if we can get some product out of that. Applying bread into one thing or another is kind of a fun hobby. I don't know, if I played music and did nothing else, I don't think anyone has ever done that. I don't think it's a very good idea, cause then I'd probably start taking it too seriously.
TRUCKER: Someone particularly wanted me to ask you about Pigpen.
BOB: Well, the word is, he is getting better. Word is that he'll be back around with us at the turn of the year. How true it is I don't know. We'd like to have him back as soon as he's well, but we made the mistake of taking him on the road, last winter, before he was well, and the result was disastrous. We won't be doing that again until he is well.
TRUCKER: Has your new pianist helped a lot?
BOB: He fills in a lot of space.
TRUCKER: He seems to have some kind of classical influence, in his background.
BOB: I'm not sure, in fact, I flat out don't know. I know before he joined us he was playing in piano bars.
TRUCKER: A lot of people noticed the addition of the female vocalist...
BOB: That's his wife.
TRUCKER: Oh, really. When did you start that, is this a brand new thing?
BOB: We've been working on that since late spring of this year. Actually since I started working her in on my record.
TRUCKER: Do you think that adds a lot more vocal impact to you people?
BOB: Yeah, it's a new texture. It's another parameter now. It stretched our texture to new horizons, etc.
TRUCKER: Have you ever thought of adding horns or strings?
BOB: It might be fun to take a brass section on the road with us. I don't think a string section could be successfully done, on record it might. On the road you're talking about taking an entire orchestra with you.
TRUCKER: Have you played with any orchestras?
BOB: Yeah, the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra.
TRUCKER: Did that work out pretty well?
BOB: Yeah, it worked out fine. We had one or two days of rehearsal, I forget the guy we worked with, the conductor, I forget his name...(puzzled look which gives way to smile)...what the hell.
TRUCKER: Have you ever tried working in a more jazz oriented context? I noticed a lot of the stuff you do is jazz oriented.
BOB: Of course, we all listen to a lot of jazz people, and it's obviously a legitimate direction to look in. And we cop a lot of ideas from them.
TRUCKER: The lack of personnel problems must be an asset, to the band as a whole.
BOB: None of us were superstars before we joined the group. We didn't have to worry about egos and things like that.
TRUCKER: Do you think the ego is an enemy to any kind of organized...
BOB: Well, I have a huge ego, and I don't know if I can survive without it. Most of the other members do, we just pad each other's ego, that's all. It's a major motivational thing in any art, unless it's a religious art and I can't say that my music is a purely religious thing.
TRUCKER: But you think it has a spiritual aspect.
BOB: Any artistic endeavor is.
TRUCKER: With Ace, were you able to work out a lot of things that you personally wanted to do?
TRUCKER: Would you say that was the main reason behind it?
BOB: It was also a wonderful opportunity to do some things that I wouldn't necessarily want to try with the Dead.
TRUCKER: Would you like to try that again?
BOB: I probably will.
TRUCKER: Have any of the other members besides you and Garcia thought about trying?
BOB: Pigpen. He was pretty much at work on his own record when he took sick the second time. And he'll probably come up with his own solo effort pretty quick.
TRUCKER: Do you see the solo efforts as pretty much your own ideas?
BOB: Well, no, cause once you've already had the flash, it's water under the bridge. I'll probably end up trying out everything I've come up with on my own, with the band. That's the matter of what I'm doing right now. It'll all end up with the band, it's just a matter of what I'm doing at any particular time. On the band's record, or my record, which ever has priority at the time. I'll use every new twist I can come up with. And in the end it goes to the band. The band plays it. Actually in the beginning it goes to the band, then it goes on any record we're doing. I don't draw a line between my own efforts and the band's.
TRUCKER: That would seem pretty hard to do, you people seem to have the incredible unity that you know what you're going to do and do it.
BOB: We're still a fairly close knit musical organization. And as I say, it's the kind of musical unity that can only come after years of being together.
TRUCKER: You must have a lot of strange experiences with a group of people you know that well. Tell me a weird story.
BOB: I wouldn't even begin to know where to start, because every day, I mean, like every day something goes on. And there's no cappers really. I've been on some incredible trips with this group, starting with the acid test. And a few years later was a train ride we took across Canada. And then there was a trip that came up, some rich French guy wanted us for a party and flew us to Paris for the weekend. Right outside Paris, there's just been some incredible things that we've done.
TRUCKER: Do you carry a photographer? and make tapes?
BOB: Well we make tapes of our concerts each night for reference. On the Europe trip we carried a photographer with us. But generally there just aren't any real photographers.
TRUCKER: Do you ever designate any specific person to run around and shoot things, say with a super eight?
BOB: A lot of people are interested in doing that, but no one's really realized it yet. Everyone wants to get their cameras and start taking reels and reels, or footage or whatever, but no one's ever gotten around to it.
TRUCKER: Do you find that having a large family has any detracting elements?
BOB: Well, there's a lot of confusion inherent, having that many minds working on the same project. Too many cooks can make the soup pretty hairy at times. And that happens, certainly, as is to be expected.
(by Uncle Bubbles, from the Westport Trucker, Kansas City, unknown date, p.12-15)
The Westport Trucker was an underground newspaper in Kansas City. The Dead played there on Nov. 12-13, 1972; the interviewer refers to last night's show, so he met Weir on the 13th.ReplyDelete
I don't know what date this issue was, but it also carried a review of Frank Zappa's show at the Cowtown Ballroom on Dec. 2. I don't know if the Trucker also reviewed the Dead show; only this article came my way.
The printing wasn't great, with many typos. Although their transcription seemed generally good, sometimes Weir's answers don't quite make sense like there are words missing or misheard, so it may be garbled here and there. (Then again, the interview took place in a bar, so maybe Weir didn't make sense!)
On top of that, some parts were also printed on top of black & white drawings, rendering many words quite illegible. So there are some [...] spots where I couldn't guess them.
The interviewer was unprepared to question Weir (a half hour's notice!) but did a decent job. He was familiar with the Dead, he'd been listening to them since at least '69. It's interesting that other than the jams, the song in the show that struck him the most was El Paso - he's very curious about the Dead's country direction. ("Country music is really my first love," Weir admits.)
A lot of Weir's answers here tend to be brief or diplomatic or downright evasive though (except when he feels like getting philosophical), so this mostly isn't very revealing.
Some interesting bits:
- he explains why they play 4-hour shows (it takes at least an hour to warm up!); he's thinking of cutting it a bit shorter but doesn't see how they can do it...
- he talks a bit about the Playboy After Dark TV show in '69, and Lenny Hart's pilfering;
- he very briefly mentions that "we've started a film," which would be Sunshine Daydream, so perhaps the Dead hadn't rejected (or seen) it yet;
- he has high hopes for Pigpen, but "we made the mistake of taking him on the road last winter before he was well, and the result was disastrous."
Most frustrating moment: when he starts talking about when they played with the Buffalo Orchestra, can't remember Lukas Foss's name, and that ends his train of thought. Interesting to hear they had a rehearsal, though.