Bob Weir’s Dreams Features Jerry Garcia and Giant Sheepdogs

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Last year, Grateful Dead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Bob Weir was reunited with his long-lost bandmate, Jerry Garcia.

“He wanted to pitch me a song,” Weir, 74, recently shared of a dream he had. “He invited the song into the room and she looked like an English sheepdog. It was about the size of the room. It was huge, but you could see through it.

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

The ballad, however, wasn’t quite ready for the waking world – Weir didn’t have a melody or chords to show off. “I’m still looking for that,” he said. “I’m going to have another episode on that dream, I think.”

Garcia has been dead for 27 years, but the psychedelic dream of long, winding jams and corny harmonies lives on, and not just in Weir’s sleep. A new album, “Bobby Weir and Wolf Bros: Live in Colorado,” slated for release February 18, is the latest incarnation of the many Dead-related projects that have blossomed since the Grateful Dead ended, including, variously, Dead & Company, Further, Phil Lesh and Friends and Weir’s former side project Rat Dog.

Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, left, and Bob Weir performing at the Empire Pool at Wembley, London in April 1972.

(Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Weir formed the Wolf Bros four years ago as a trio, with bassist Don Was and drummer Jay Lane, and has expanded to include keyboards, a pedal steel guitar player and a horn section dubbed Weir. the Wolfpack. “Live in Colorado” documents the moment Weir started performing in front of live crowds again after the first wave of COVID receded last August. The Wolf Bros, Weir says, are a vehicle not only for further jamming, but also to help develop and perfect the classic Dead repertoire. “Songs, they grow, they mature,” he says. “They evolve over the years, and they are far from done. I just try to give them every chance to keep doing it in as many different ways as they feel comfortable going or doing.

The new album opens with “New Speedway Boogie”, which originally recorded deaths in 1970, and the song’s familiar riff is met with an emotional roar from the crowd. “It was a triumph to have survived this blight,” says Was, a Grammy-winning producer and president of venerable jazz label Blue Note. “The audience was so happy and relieved to be back at a concert, and to be alive, that it was quite emotional.”

Wolf Bros has the loose, bouncy feel of the classic Dead, but with a tighter, less shambolic musicality supporting Weir’s vocals, which may be, for the uninitiated, an acquired taste. His youthful yelp took on a sandpaper growl, but on songs like “Big River,” the Johnny Cash song the dead first began to cover in 1971, Weir leans on his weathered voice and plays with cornpone phrasing: “I’m going to sit down well haaare Until I die…”

This lyric has a particular resonance. Still the youngest (and handsomest) of the Grateful Dead – “Beautiful Bobby surrounded by the ugly brothers,” the group joked – Weir took on the role of elderly statesman, growing a mustache the size of Yosemite -Sam becoming almost as iconic as Garcia’s beard. When bassist Lesh retired from touring in 2014, Weir became the de facto guardian of the Dead’s legacy, continuing with John Mayer as lead guitarist. He started designing the Wolf Bros after Rat Dog bassist Rob Wasserman died in 2016. Naturally, the whole idea, including the name, started with a dream. “I woke up, picked up my phone, and called Don,” Weir explains. “I said, ‘Look, I just had a dream. Do you want to do this?’ And [Was] said: ‘Of course.’

First saw the Grateful Dead in his hometown of Detroit in 1971 and later befriended Weir in the 1990s. To audition, Weir asked him to learn 10 Dead songs. Was practiced feverishly – only for Weir to launch into completely different songs during the tryout. Regardless: “Within the first 60 seconds, we knew it was going to work,” says Was. “We stalled for 20 minutes and he pulled out his cell phone and called [manager] Bernie Cahill, “We’re doing this, let’s book it.”

Weir says he wanted a simpler, more nimble version of the previous bands he’s been in, one that would allow him to stretch out on guitar (he says Lesh’s busy bass playing took up a lot of space) and who could add or subtract members to get different ends. “We can hook up one, two, three or 90 people, and we do it all,” 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, having said that, I still have a lot of life to live before I get to that.”

(Jay Blakesberg)

As if to test the concept, Weir adds the National Symphony Orchestra to the group for a program of lush performances of dead material. The idea first sprouted in 2011 when the Marin Symphony Orchestra approached him for a one-night show in San Rafael. Arrangements – for songs like “Jack Straw,” “Uncle John’s Band” and “Play in the group“- will be part of the orchestral repertoire that Weir will premiere later this year at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Weir says the fullness of strings and brass was something the dead had always sought but never had the instrumentation to achieve.”It’s just that we didn’t have the vocals, in many cases, to hit some of those notes,” he says.

Playing with an orchestra presents some challenges: classical musicians follow charts, which doesn’t leave much room for psychedelic meandering. But the ever-ambitious Weir is working with arranger Giancarlo Aquilanti, who teaches music theory and composition at Stanford University (and who helped orchestrate the original Marin event), to invent strategies that allow an orchestra to improvise too. For example, the conductor can ask specific members or sections of the orchestra, clarinet or strings, to improvise on the fly. Weir says they could communicate via iPads. “If it works for this piece, it will work for any composer,” says Weir. “Haydn, Mozart, Stravinsky – you can do it with any piece of music.”

Aquilanti, who grew up in Italy, wasn’t “fully introduced” to Dead music until he met Weir. He points out that these aren’t just symphonic arrangements of Dead music, but an attempt to incorporate a classical orchestra into the band’s jammy spirit. So far he has written 650 pages of score which add up to 3 hours of music. “There is a component of the unknown,” he says. “It’s not an arrangement where you know exactly what’s going to happen. For better or for worse, we’re trying to do something new.

It’s all part of Weir’s plan to give the Grateful Dead catalog life beyond the band. “We’re trying to give him a place to hang his hat for the next two or three hundred years,” he says.

Weir’s late revival does not stop at the symphonies. In addition to The Wolf Bros, which will begin filming in March, he is developing both a musical he wrote with Taj Mahal (about baseball legend Satchel Paige) and an opera he hopes will debut at the Grand Ole Opry in the next few years.

The idea for the opera came about while he was trying to write a country record in Nashville. He witnessed a lunar eclipse one night and changed course dramatically. “I was sitting on the lawn in front of the studio there watching the full eclipse,” he says. “I was just kind of in a state of wonder at how all this music had come out of the skies, and I was just like, ‘How the hell did this happen? It’s like something hit me in the back of the head. I could almost smell it, and I said, ‘It’s because you’re working on an opera, you idiot.’ »

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

Bob Weir performing at Lockn’ Festival in Arrington, Virginia in 2019.

(Jay Blakesberg)

Last year, Weir surprised many fans by joining TikTok, producing short videos of himself working out before shows, swinging kettlebells and doing lunges with TRX bands. (His security chief is his trainer, and Weir recently described his exercise routine in men’s health magazine.) Weir’s college-aged girls introduced him to the platform, and he plans to use it to demonstrate a product he’s dreamed up: a face covering for fans attending concerts. indoors during COVID. Scrolling through Instagram, Weir says, “The AI ​​sent me a little ad for a Japanese headband/scarf. I looked at this thing, and I thought, ‘Now wait a minute, that would make a face mask. decent with some changes.”

It’s a strange time to be a 1960s icon, as contemporaries like the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts and the Monkees’ Mike Nesmith fade away, while the living like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell tap into their roots protesters, battling Spotify on podcaster Joe Rogan’s COVID Misinformation. Times have changed, but Weir believes music can be the saving grace of a nation struggling with an intractable divide.

“I feel like there’s not much we agree on,” he said. “There’s the concept of American exceptionalism, I guess. I’m not sure I believe it because there is nothing particularly exceptional about this country’s drift towards fascism.

“But there’s one thing I buy into,” he says, “is that American music, as the world pretty much agrees, is exceptional. The elements of why that’s pretty clear and obvious, that the African and European musical traditions that have occurred here on this continent have made this possible.I hope that we can rely on music to help us come together.

Weir clearly isn’t ready to die with gratitude in the literal sense, though he’s surprisingly optimistic about his own mortality. “I’m absolutely not afraid of dying,” he says. “Actually, to look forward to it. In my opinion, death is the last and best reward of a life well lived. But, that said, I still have a lot of life to live before I get there.

Weir has written a highly anticipated memoir. He completed the first four chapters. “That’s where I meet Jerry right now,” he says, meaning it’s only New Years 1963. But he’s got other periods and fleshed-out stories, he says, but not yet organised. The final chapter, of course, is one he’s still working on in real time. In addition to symphonies, operas and kettlebells, there’s that unwritten collaboration with Jerry Garcia – whenever the sheepdog decides to return.

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