By Bill Harriman
I remember seeing the first issue of Sound Waves like it was yesterday. Iíd gone out to rent a movie at a video store in Stonington and saw this stack of magazines with Bob Weir on the cover. I remember that I was still upset over the death of the Grateful Deadís keyboardist Brent Mydland who had passed away a week or so earlier. I also remember thinking how cool it was that Bobby was the one on the cover. The norm of course would be to have Jerry Garcia featured on any cover story relating to the Grateful Dead. As much as I loved Jerry, Iíve always favored Bobby. I got a movie and grabbed the magazine too. My personal association with Sound Waves started a year later.
Sound Waves Magazine is 10 years old this month. In celebration of this milestone it is only fitting that Bob Weir is back on the cover. All of us at Sound Waves have known for some time now that Bobby would be on the cover of this special issue. Bobby once said that the Dead tend to attract people with an advanced sense of adventure. Iíve always taken that as a compliment. So it was with a sense of adventure that we (meaning Dave Pottie and I) began a relentless pursuit of Bobby. We finally caught up with him backstage after a Weir/Wasserman show at the University of Hartford this past April. We were able to take some pictures and tell Bob all about the magazine and our plans for the big anniversary issue. After that our next goal was to get a phone interview with him. With the help of Grateful Dead publicist Dennis McNally, whom I hounded to death, I finally got Bobby on the phone the evening of Friday July 21st, minutes before I had to leave for a Phil Lesh show at the Meadows. How great is that?
Itís amazing that Bob Weir is still as energetic, youthful, and handsome as always. Believe it or not Bobby turns 53 years old on October 16th. A week after that he will be the exact same age Jerry Garcia was when he died five years ago. But obviously some people wear 53 years a lot better than others. Bobby shows no signs of slowing down. "Iím really just getting started," he said. "Iím finding a lot of fulfillment in making music. Iím just now starting to get the hang of new and different ways to do that. Iím getting more fluid and looser and itís great. I canít get enough of it. That will tend to keep you young to begin with."
Another thing keeping Bobby young is his wife and baby daughter. He married his longtime companion Natascha Muenter on July 15, 1999. Their little girl, named Shala Monet Weir, is a year and a half old now. For the first time in his life Bobby now has to balance the constant touring with his homelife. "I try to take my family on the road when I can and that works well," said Bobby. "On short tours and little junkets itís too much much trouble to pack the family up. On the longer stuff we get a bus and we cruise."
The longer stuff begins later this month when the Furthur Festival gets under way. This year Ziggy Marley will be opening up for the Other Ones. Bobby will be reunited with drummers Mickey Hart and Billy Kreutzmann along with keyboardist Bruce Hornsby.
Also joining this tour will be bassist Alphonso Johnson who is best known for his work with the jazz fusion band Weather Report. Of course deadheads remember him for his stint in the early eighties with Bobby and the Midnights. Rounding out the band will be saxaphonist Dave Ellis along with lead guitarists Mark Karan and Steve Kimock. Absent this year is Phil Lesh who is off doing his own thing. The tour will blow through Hartford on September 9th.
So these days deadheads can see Bobby on stage in many different formats. The Other Ones will probably keep reuniting in one form or another for a tour every summer. Then thereís the acoustic duo of Bob and stand up bassist Rob Wasserman. The two have been musical partners now for over 15 years. Then, of course, thereís Ratdog. This is Bob and Robís electric band and have they ever been tearing it up lately! "Well you know itís all music and Iíve been chasing the Muse or whatever for pretty much all my life," said Bobby when asked about the different bands. "Each one is a whole different palette with a whole bunch of different colors on it. And you use that to the best effect you can. I like the choice. I like the variety."
Next month will see the release of Ratdogís first studio recording called "Evening Moods." "It will be all new stuff except for ĎCorrinaí," said Bobby. Fans of Ratdog who have seen the band in concert lately will recognize some of that new stuff. Besides "Corrina," look for "Welcome To The World," "October Clean," and "Odessa" to be included on the disc. Ratdog will do some extensive touring later this year. As always just log on to dead.net to stay informed.
The other project that Bobby is involved with at this time is the online distribution of the Grateful Deadís massive vault of unreleased recordings. Unconvinced that MP3ís are the way to go, the surviving band members have been researching various methods of online distribution. With nearly 2,400 concerts in the vault, this is quite an undertaking. "Well itís pretty simple and straight forward," said Bobby when asked how things were coming along. "Weíre still getting that deal together but itís nearing solution now. I mean real near solution at this point. And when that happens then we drop it down and start digitizing the vault. Stuff will come out but itís going to take six months or a year to digitize the thing at full race. But stuff will start being available. What weíll do is find a way or do a poll as to which are the most in demand shows and weíll start there. And then weíll get the whole deal digitized. I wonít say in our own sweet time but as soon as we can actually. My guess is that within a couple of months youíll start being able to get stuff online or more mail order discs."
So does Bobby know what the "in demand" shows are? "I have no idea," he said when asked. "Iím sure that there are people who do know what are likely to be the popular shows but Iím not one of them." I told Bobby that Iíd like to think of myself as someone who would know, and if Iím ever asked I would suggest they start with Palo Alto on 10-10-82, Hartford on 3-14-81, and Richmond on 11-1-85. I asked Bobby if he remembered these shows as well as other shows deadheads may occasionally talk to him about. "Yeah sometimes I do," he said. "Iíd say about half the time I do if they give me a little hint because I was there too you know. If they give me a hint often times it will take me back there."
The most famous words ever sung by the Grateful Dead were sung by Bob Weir. The Dead may have passed into history but it is clear that the "long strange trip" is far from over. The entire Furthur Festival will be sold out. Phil Lesh has been playing in front of huge crowds. Mickey Hart toured the country recently with his band. Ratdog will certainly play to sold out theatres across the country. Jerry Garcia is an icon now and deadheads, myself included, miss him terribly. However, with that said, the whole scene today is still a lot of fun. There are just too many deadheads around not to have fun.
The Grateful Dead was a remarkable phenomenon. You really had to be there and I was there for over half their thirty year run. These days Iíve enjoyed the Ratdog concerts Iíve been to immensely. My last question to Bobby was that with all of the books being written about the Dead does he plan to write his own autobiography some day? "Oh I doubtless will," he said. "But right now thereís just too much of that story still in front of me." I expect that when Bobby is on the cover of Sound Waves Magazineís 20th year anniversary issue Iíll be asking him the same question and heíll be giving me the same answer.