Show 'n' Tell: Bob Weir of Ratdog
Though the Grateful Dead are no more, guitarist Bob Weir continues the musical conversation with his band Ratdog's new CD, Evening Moods. Chatting from his home in Marin County, Calif., Weir seems at peace with himself and thankful for the opportunity he has to play his music. After receiving so much attention for 35 years, he calmly points out, "I entertain people with music. That's what I do, that's what I want to do and that's what I'm gonna do."
CL: Who influenced you to play the way you play? I don't think anyone plays the way you do.
BOB WEIR: I pretty much listened to piano players. I listened to a lot of McCoy Tyner. I listened to his left hand a lot, and sort of took it from there. You can hear the sounds that work in rock 'n' roll, the harmonics in rock 'n' roll, on almost anything but a rock 'n' roll record.
What are your three most influential records?
The second Beatles record, with "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You." [John] Coltrane's Africa/Brass. [Igor] Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps." Those three probably shaped my conception of what music is more than any other records I can think of.
Do you feel that Ratdog's Evening Moods and your tours are attracting new people and is that a goal of yours?
That would be a goal of mine, but I don't think we've done a whole lot of that yet. Maybe if this record goes big, we may see some of that. I don't expect to see a whole lot.
Why do you bring back some songs and why do some songs fade away?
Unless I know that they're going to have a whole lot of punch, I'm going to want to opt for tunes that kids can basically sing along with.
Has that always been a concern of yours?
Well, not exactly a concern of mine but I like to intersperse those kinds of tunes throughout the show so that we keep the audience engaged. Doing too much of that, you're not exploring enough. But ... they come to hear us take a little walk in the woods and they also come to sing along to some of the anthemic stuff. They have to give us the room to explore and we have to give them the anthems.
Do you also feel inclined to play Dead songs like "Shakedown Street?"
That's the whole deal. I'm not prepared to live without that arrow in my quiver. I love playing that tune; I'm going to play it. I figure if anybody can do [Garcia] tunes, I can because I know where they live.
Give me an example of a song you may like to work up.
A simple one would be "Brown-Eyed Women." I used to love playing that song. There were a lot of tunes that when they were getting close in [the Grateful Dead's] rotation, I would get kind of giddy knowing that song was due up that night. And those are the ones I'm concentrating on now.
What about songs that you authored?
Those as well ... I've got the great bulk of my old chestnuts already worked up. There's an occasional "Picasso Moon" or a "Brother Esau." The ones I haven't worked up, there's generally a reason for that.
Is there anything you want to do on this tour that is unlike any other tour?
This is the first tour we've done that's just going to be "An Evening With Ratdog." No opening band, so we're playing three to three-and-a-half hours. We're going to try to come up with at least enough new material so we can go four or five nights without repeating ourselves.
Do you listen to new stuff? Are there any new bands you like?
What happened is that a few years back, particularly when I started writing [Evening Moods], I stopped listening to popular music or stuff that was anything but jazz or classical, because I didn't want to be influenced by anything. And I haven't gotten back to it yet.
Regardless of what you've accomplished, do you still remember what it was like when you were a fan of other musicians?
Surely. For instance, the first time I played with [Chuck Berry pianist] Johnny Johnson and things started to click — or [blues giant] Willie Dixon, for that matter. With Willie, you hear that bass and suddenly you know exactly where you are. It's a defining point in time; it's a defining point in your life the first time you fall in behind Willie Dixon's groove. On the other hand, my whole life has been a part of this moment as well. You suddenly achieve a sort of timeless place. Needless to say, that's way cool.
Ratdog performs Sun., April 1, at the Tabernacle.??