Entertainment

Bob Weir’s lengthy, unusual desires of Jerry Garcia and large sheepdogs


Final 12 months, Grateful Useless singer and rhythm guitarist Bob Weir reunited along with his long-lost bandmate, Jerry Garcia.

“He wanted to introduce me to a song,” Weir, 74, not too long ago recounted of a dream he‘d had. “He invited the song into the room and it had the look and feel of an English sheepdog. It was about the size of the room. It was enormous, but you could see through it.

“The song came up and sniffed me,” Weir continues, speaking by phone from his home in Mill Valley, Calif. “We got to know each other and be friends. Then, as it turns out, it was a jazz ballad that Jerry and I were going to sing, and it was a duet.”

The ballad, however, wasn’t fairly prepared for the waking world — Weir didn’t have a melody or chords to indicate for it. “I’m still reaching for that,” he stated. “I’m going to have another installment on that dream, I think.”

Garcia has been lifeless for 27 years however the psychedelic dream of lengthy and winding jams and cockeyed harmonies lives on, and never simply in Weir’s sleep. A brand new album, “Bobby Weir and Wolf Bros: Live in Colorado,” set for launch on Feb. 18, is the newest incarnation of the various Useless-related initiatives which have blossomed for the reason that Grateful Useless ended, together with, variously, Useless & Firm, Additional, Phil Lesh and Associates and Weir’s onetime facet venture, Rat Canine.

Two rock band members playing guitars onstage

The Grateful Useless’s Jerry Garcia, left, and Bob Weir performing on the Empire Pool in Wembley, London, in April 1972.

(Michael Putland/Getty Pictures)

Weir shaped the Wolf Bros 4 years in the past as a trio, with bassist Don Was and drummer Jay Lane, and has expanded to incorporate keyboards, a pedal metal guitar participant and a horn part Weir dubbed the Wolfpack. “Live in Colorado” paperwork the second Weir started enjoying to dwell crowds once more after the primary wave of COVID receded final August. The Wolf Bros, Weir says, are a automobile not just for additional jamming however for serving to develop and burnish the Useless’s basic repertoire. “The songs, they grow, they mature,” he says. “They evolve over the years, and they’re nowhere near done doing that. I’m just trying to give them every opportunity to continue to do that in as many different ways as they feel comfortable going or doing.”

The brand new album opens with “New Speedway Boogie,” which the Dead originally recorded in 1970, and the track’s acquainted riff is met with an emotional crowd roar. “There was a triumph of having survived this plague,” says Was, the Grammy-winning producer and president of venerable jazz label Blue Word. “The audience was so glad and relieved to be back at a concert, and to be alive, that it was quite moving.”

Wolf Bros have the free and loping really feel of basic Useless, however with tighter and fewer shambolic musicianship backing Weir’s singing, which could be, for the uninitiated, an acquired style. His youthful yelp has taken on a sandpapered growl, however on songs like “Big River,” the Johnny Cash song the Useless first began covering in 1971, Weir leans into his weathered voice and has enjoyable with cornpone phrasing: “I’m going to sit right haaare until I die…”

That lyric has a particular resonance. All the time the youngest (and finest wanting) within the Grateful Useless — “Beautiful Bobby surrounded by the ugly brothers,” the band used to joke — Weir has taken on the mantle of elder statesman, rising a Yosemite-Sam-sized mustache that’s turning into practically as iconic as Garcia’s beard. When bassist Lesh retired from touring in 2014, Weir grew to become the de facto flame keeper of the Useless’s legacy, soldiering on with John Mayer as lead guitarist. He started conceiving the Wolf Bros after the dying of Rat Canine bassist Rob Wasserman in 2016. Naturally, the entire concept, together with the identify, started with a dream. “I woke, and I picked up my phone and I called Don,” says Weir. “I said, ‘Listen, I just had a dream. You want to do this?’ And [Was] said, ‘Sure.’”

Was first noticed the Grateful Useless in his hometown of Detroit in 1971 and later befriended Weir within the Nineties. To audition, Weir requested him to be taught 10 Useless songs. Was practiced feverishly — solely to have Weir launch into utterly totally different songs on the tryout. Regardless of: “In the first 60 seconds we knew it was going to work,” says Was. “We jammed for 20 minutes and he got his cell phone out and called [manager] Bernie Cahill, ‘We’re doing this, let’s book it.’”

Weir says he needed an easier, nimbler model of earlier teams he’s been in, one that may permit him to stretch out on guitar (he says Lesh’s busy bass enjoying took up quite a lot of area) and that might add or subtract members to attain totally different ends. “We can plug one, two, three, or 90 people in, and we’re doing any and all of that,” he says.

A man with a bushy gray mustache and beard holding an acoustic guitar.

“Death is the last and best reward for a life well-lived,” says Bob Weir. “But, that said, I still have a fair bit of life to live before I get there.”

(Jay Blakesberg)

As if to stress-test the idea, Weir is including the Nationwide Symphony Orchestra to the band for a program of lushly appointed performances of Useless materials. The concept first took root in 2011 when the Marin Symphony Orchestra approached him for a one-night-only present in San Rafael. The preparations — for songs like “Jack Straw,” “Uncle John’s Band” and “Playing in the Band” — can be a part of the orchestral repertoire Weir will premiere later this 12 months on the Kennedy Middle in Washington, D.C. Weir says the fullness of strings and brass was one thing the Useless had at all times been reaching for however by no means had the instrumentation to attain. “It’s just that we didn’t have the voices, in many cases, to hit some of those notes,” he says.

Performing with an orchestra presents some challenges: classical gamers comply with charts, which doesn’t go away quite a lot of wiggle room for psychedelic meanders. However Weir, ever bold, is working with arranger Giancarlo Aquilanti, who teaches music concept and composition at Stanford College (and who helped orchestrate the unique Marin occasion), to invent methods for permitting an orchestra to improvise too. For example, the conductor can cue particular members or sections of the orchestra, a clarinet or strings, to improvise on the fly. Weir says they may talk via iPads. “If this works for this piece, it’ll work for any composer,” Weir says. “Haydn, Mozart, Stravinsky — you can do this with any piece of music.”

Aquilanti, who grew up in Italy, wasn’t “fully introduced” to the Useless’s music till he met Weir. He stresses that these aren’t merely symphonic preparations of the Useless’s music however an try to combine a classical orchestra into the jammy spirit of the band. To this point, he’s drawn up 650 pages of rating that add as much as 3 hours of music. “There is a component of unknownness,” he says. “This is not an arrangement where you know exactly what’s going to happen. For better or worse, we’re trying to do something new.”

It’s all a part of Weir’s venture for giving the Grateful Useless catalog a life past the band. “We’re trying to give it a place to hang its hat for the next two or three hundred years,” he says.

Weir’s late-life renaissance doesn’t finish at symphonies. Along with the Wolf Bros, who will start touring in March, he’s creating each a musical he wrote with Taj Mahal (about baseball legend Satchel Paige) and an opera he hopes to debut on the Grand Ole Opry within the subsequent few years.

The opera concept happened whereas he was attempting to write down a rustic file in Nashville. He witnessed a lunar eclipse one night time and dramatically altered course. “I was sitting on the lawn out in front of the studio there watching the full eclipse,” he says. “I was just sort of in a state of wonderment about how all this music had come out of the heavens, and I was just, ‘How the hell did that happen?’ It’s like something slapped me on the back of the head. I could almost feel it, and I said, ‘That’s because you’re working on an opera, stupid.’”

A white-haired man singing and playing guitar onstage, wearing a poncho

Bob Weir performing on the Lockn’ Competition in Arrington, Va., in 2019.

(Jay Blakesberg)

Final 12 months, Weir stunned quite a lot of followers by becoming a member of TikTok, producing quick movies of himself understanding earlier than exhibits, swinging kettlebells and doing lunges with TRX bands. (The top of his safety element is his coach and Weir not too long ago outlined his train routine in Men’s Health journal.) Weir’s college-age daughters launched him to the platform and he plans on utilizing it to demo a product he dreamed up: a face overlaying for followers attending indoor concert events throughout COVID. Whereas scrolling via Instagram, Weir says, the “artificial intelligence sent me a little ad for a Japanese headband/scarf. I looked at that thing, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Now wait a minute, that’d make a decent mask with a couple of changes.’”

It’s a bizarre second to be a Nineteen Sixties icon, as contemporaries like Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones and Mike Nesmith of the Monkees slip away, whereas residing ones, like Neil Younger and Joni Mitchell, faucet again into their protest roots, battling Spotify over podcaster Joe Rogan’s COVID misinformation. Instances have modified, however Weir believes music could be the saving grace for a nation combating intractable division.

“I have a feeling that there’s not much that we agree on,” he says. “There’s the concept of American exceptionalism, I guess. I’m not sure that I buy that because there’s nothing particularly exceptional about this country’s drift toward fascism.

“But there is one thing that I do buy thoroughly,” he says, “That is that American music, as the world pretty much agrees, is exceptional. The elements of why that is are pretty clear and evident, that the African and European musical traditions that happened here on this continent made it possible. Hopefully, we can lean on the music to help pull us together.”

Weir clearly isn’t able to be gratefully lifeless within the literal sense, although he’s surprisingly sanguine about his personal mortality. “I have absolutely no fear of dying,” he says. “In fact, to look forward to it. In my view, death is the last and best reward for a life well-lived. But, that said, I still have a fair bit of life to live before I get there.”

Weir has been writing a much-anticipated memoir. He’s accomplished the primary 4 chapters. “It’s where I’m just now meeting Jerry,” he says, that means he’s solely at New 12 months’s Eve, 1963. However he’s bought different durations and tales fleshed out, he says, simply not but organized. The final chapter, after all, is one he’s nonetheless understanding in actual time. Along with symphonies, operas and kettlebells, there’s that unwritten collaboration with Jerry Garcia — every time the sheepdog decides to return.

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