Bob Weir Interview
(With A Surprise Guest Appearance By Jack Casady of Hot Tuna)
Bob Weir and Monty “Moe” Wiradilaga
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival – Manchester, Tennessee
Moe’s Intro – We have got a show of truly legendary proportions here on Moe Train’s Tracks. I got an opportunity at Bonnaroo to sit down with the legendary Bobby Weir of The Grateful Dead and Ratdog fame. I’m tellin’ ya, when Bobby Weir stepped onto the scene in the media tent, it was mass hysteria. Everyone wanted a piece of him, everyone wants to talk to a legend… Fortunately, we at Moe Train’s Tracks got to sit down with him backstage, and we got to pick his brain about music… about his philosophies…
I know Bobby always speaks about the music scene, but I decided to take it a different route. When I told Bobby that I really wanted to talk about music, more than the music scene, Bobby’s eyes lit up. That’s a sign of a TRUE musician.
Also, you know you have an interview of truly legendary proportions when two legends are in the same room, interviewing each other on the mic! That’s right… We had a little surprise on Moe Train’s Tracks when Jack Casady, a founding member of Hot Tuna, walked in during the middle of the interview, and Bobby Weir stood up and started to interview Jack Casady with our mics! I’m telling ya… I was absolutely shocked! I think Bobby’s manager was shocked too! As soon as Jack and Bobby were on the mic, it was like the paparazzi was let in… There were so many cameras going off… It was insanity! And we got it all on the mic at Moe Train’s Tracks.
So it is with our honor… That we bring you… Bobby Weir!
Moe – I know you always talk about music “scenes…” Let’s talk about music itself..
Bobby – Music what?
Moe – Music itself as a subject.
Bobby – Uh huh!
Moe – More importantly than a band… Of course you were in The Grateful Dead… You helped to form music itself.
Bobby – (Smiles) Yeah, so I’m told!
Moe – (Laughs)
Bobby – You know, I’m told that The Grateful Dead were the “Godfathers of the Jam Band Scene,” though I don’t see it that way. You know, I think what we do goes back at least to Buddy Boland, the legendary New Orleans trumpet player back around the turn of the last century. I think that basically jam music in Western culture comes from at least that far back. We… The Grateful Dead managed to bring rock and roll, or what they call rock and roll sort of in that direction. That may have been our crowning achievement, perhaps. And in that regard, I guess we have contributed a bit. I think that people have found inspiration in what we did and I think you can hear at Bonnaroo a lot of bands who, like I said, found inspiration in what we did and are sort of carrying that torch.
Moe – Absolutely.
Bobby – So… you know, I think that’s good ’cause the more adventure there is in music, the more I think the rewards are.
Moe – So it started back in the late 20’s and 30’s with Jazz… With Louis Armstrong or earlier than that…
Bobby – Yeah… Louis Armstrong… Those guys. You know, particularly Louis Armstrong.
Moe – Right… So you think it really progressed when The Beatles brought electric to the scene… They made it mainstream, do you think?
Bobby – The Beatles were more mainstream. Their arrangements were tight, but there wasn’t a lot of room for improvisation in what they did. They were awfully good at what they did, but I wouldn’t have called them a “jam band” by any means or a jazz band or anything like that.
Moe – Duke Ellington mentioned about jazz having no rules… no form… it can be held down to no laws. How do you feel that it applies to your music?
Bobby – Well, you know, it’s 100 percent applicable to what we do, though that’s an awfully high standard to set.
Moe – Of course.
Bobby – No rules… no form… It’s almost impossible to live up to that on a “good night,” and we have “good nights” pretty regularly in my band these days! We go to places where we’re really starting from go. We don’t even know what tempo we’re going to start with. Tempo is a rule. A key is a rule. A tonality is a rule. Then a melody is another rule. Rhythm is another rule… And all that kind of stuff… And to make music that people can actually enjoy listening to, you have to conform to a lot of those rules.
Moe – Right.
Bobby – Though like I say, on some evenings, we can throw all that stuff out the window and be really free, and still make music that people can get into. We’re trying to do that nightly.
Moe – You have a setlist of almost 200 songs, correct? Or is it more than that?
Bobby – Something like that.
Moe – How decide how to go from song to song? Are moving more to setlists now, or are you still doing improvisation? What is your approach these days?
Bobby – I usually do a setlist for this band. It’s real hard… We like to keep playing. We like to keep a meter going. See, if we start a show at 100 beats per minute. We like to keep that meter going for a while and change up the rhythms… Change up the keys… Change up the songs. Given that, it’s real helpful to, you know, to consult a list of the songs that we do that are in that meter, and pick from there. I’m working on making a software program that will allow me to do that on the fly.
Moe – Oh, very nice!
Bobby – But for the time being, I still write a setlist. And when I do that… I have a database of all the setlists that we’ve done for the past decade or so, and I’ll go back and look at… If we’re playing in Memphis, I’ll go back and look at the last two or three times that we’ve played Memphis, and all those songs that we did are automatically out. And then I’ll look at the last week or two that we’ve been playing on this tour, and all those songs are automatically out. And then I start from there.
Moe – Even when you were with The Grateful Dead or Ratdog, you still have a different show every night, don’t you? Do you keep switching? People follow you around from city to city..
Bobby – Yep.
Moe – And they’re getting a unique experience almost every single time, unless… I mean, of course, you can duplicate it every once in a while, it happens, but…
Bobby – You know, we’ll play a given tune two or three times on a tour, and that’s about as often as we’ll play it. We have enough tunes so that we can keep the rotation going, and that way… You know, when a tune comes up in a show, you know that it’s gonna be your last crack at it for a while, so you’re gonna put a little more of yourself into it. Besides that, you haven’t played it for a while, so maybe you’ll have some new insights into how to interpret it.
Moe – It keeps changing? Does it keep evolving?
Bobby – Yeah. So you know, every show’s going to be different. I really doubt that there’s ever been a show that’s even been coincidentally the same as one that we did two or three or eight years ago.
Moe – You always have different projects. You always seem to keep yourself very, very busy, no matter when you were with The Grateful Dead, you’d always have a side project, or you were doing your solo album.
Bobby – Right.
Moe – How did you go putting together Ratdog?
Bobby – Ratdog just happened. I, you know, started playing with Rob Wasserman… We did a benefit together and had a lot of fun, and decided to go out as a duo for a while, and that lasted for a few years… and then we decided to add a drummer, because we’d done a session with this guy and we both enjoyed working with him. And so we added Jay Lane, and we were a trio for a while. I think I’m actually gonna start playing that trio again.
Moe – Oh very nice! Where are you going to start that?
Bobby – Because, you know, I did a benefit a couple weeks ago with those guys… a school benefit in San Francisco. And it was you know… I remembered how much fun that was…
Moe – Excellent!
Bobby – And so I’m gonna start doing that again I think.
(Tent opens, and in walks the legendary Jack Casady… Founding member of Hot Tuna)
Bobby – (Surprised… stands and smiles) Look at this guy!
(Many photographers come into the tent and start to rapidly snap pictures…)
Moe – (Stands wide eyed and laughs in disbelief)
Bobby – (Turns his mic to Jack Casady) We’re doing a podcast here, so you’re on!
Jack Casady – Oh hi, this is Jack Casady, I’m coming in to see my old buddy, Bob.
Moe – (Laughs in further disbelief at the events which are unfolding in front of his eyes)
Jack Casady – How it goin’ Bob?
Bobby – Well, pretty good! Where are you playing?
Jack Casady – We have played… We played at 2:30 today, but we’re (Hot Tuna) gonna sit in with our buddies, Gov’t Mule at 12 midnight to 3 in the morning.
Bobby – I’ll be there too.
Jack Casady – You’ll be there too…
Bobby – You bet!
Jack Casady – And we’re gonna do a little thing over here… Jorma’s around the corner, Barry’s around the corner, Eric’s around the corner… What are ya gonna do?
Bobby – All right!
Dennis (Bobby’s manager) – Say hi to Jorms…
Bobby (To Jack Casady) – We’re gonna finish up here…
Moe – When my friends and my listeners learned that I was going to be speaking with you… They wanted to know one thing. They wanted to know what are some of your craziest memories of your whole music experience… not just Grateful Dead, but your whole music experience. Anything stand out particularly?
Bobby – Uhhh… Let’s see. The musical experience. The one that stands out the most is the time that we uh… the first night that we played… I guess it was actually the third night that we played… well it was a blend of all three nights that we played in Egypt back in ‘78, I think it was. It was with The Grateful Dead, and we had done our sound check… It had taken us a week to rig the Son Et Lumiere over there which is you know, thousands and thousands of year old ampitheatre built back in ancient times at the foot of the Sphinx which is at the foot of the Great Pyramid, and it’s all lit up real pretty these days. Word had sort of filtered out that there was going to be a rock and roll band playing there… It was a first time happening. Like I said, we spent a week setting it up and getting electricity out there, getting it reasonably reliable. We went on stage to play and it was just at dusk, and we started playing, and the lights came on and we were the brightest and warmest thing around…
Moe – (Laughs)
Bobby – This was down by the river… The Nile. So the mosquitoes came right for us. This is something we hadn’t planned for!
Moe – Oh jeez… (Laughs)
Bobby – I look at this cloud of mosquitoes around us and I saw them landing on me right and left, and I figured, ‘Welcome to hell, this is going to be throughly un-enjoyable!’ (Smiles) And then something flashed before my eyes… Some dark form… And then another… And then another… And then I looked around and I saw that these great big bats were flying around the stage and they were gulping down the mosquitoes…
Moe – (Laughs)
Bobby – You know… (Laughs) They knew a good thing when they saw it! You know… It was a good thing for them! And then I realized that there were like hundreds, if not thousands of them… there were of course thousands of mosquitoes, but these bats were just… They were saving the day!
Moe – (Laughs)
Bobby – And so, you know… In my mind’s eye, I sort of backed off from this… So here’s this rock and roll band, just hitting the groove, just starting to hit the groove… And they’re on this ancient stage… at the foot of the Sphinx… at the foot of The Great Pyramids… And the dunes on either side were lined with Bedouins on their camels, with guns over their shoulders… They’d heard about this, and they’d come in to check it out… Full moon was rising… and all this surrounded by a cloud of bats… BIG cloud of bats! And I was thinking to myself, ‘Take me now Lord, I want to remember it just like this!’
Moe – (Laughs) That’s amazing! That’s amazing… Mr. Weir, thank you very, very much for your time.
Bobby – You bet!
Moe – I appreciate it. Thank you for all the music for all the years!
Bobby – The pleasure’s mine!