Blair's Golden Road Blog-Bob Weir at 65: An Appreciation
“Nooooooooooo!” I can hear my cry in a very hazy memory. April 2, 1973. The house lights dim, a roar builds steadily in the crowd and grows to a deafening din as the band members amble onto the stage at the Boston Garden. As the spotlights brighten, I squint from my perch near the top of the upper level of the enormous arena. Something doesn't look right onstage. “What the-?” Oh, my God, Bob Weir's ponytail is gone! Jeez, you don't see the band for eight months and all hell breaks loose.
Did it matter? Of course not! I'm mostly kidding, but in some way, the disappearance of that ponytail, which cascaded so elegantly down the middle of his back, felt like another sign that the band was leaving its hippie past behind and that young Bob, just 25 at the time, was—gasp!—growing up. I was about to turn 20 and wanted to be Bob Weir—not that I had an ounce of musical talent. But I dug the look and I loved what he brought to the Grateful Dead's unique chemistry. To me, he was the essence of hippie cool. My first Bob was the Cosmic Cowboy one; I'd missed the beautiful young androgyne by a couple of years.
Bob was the Wild One. He was the rock 'n' roller, but also the confident, smooth-voiced narrator on all those dramatic country-rock numbers about desperados and fugitives; a perfect fit for those tunes. He was the guy who would screech and scream himself hoarse at the end of the show, whipping us into a dancing frenzy. He was the droll, wise-cracking emcee informing us that the band would resume playing after technical gremlins had been extinguished and everything was “just exactly perfect.” In the early days, he even told a few bad jokes. What a prankster. Seems as though he was never far from a smile or a smirk.
Except sometimes when he was playing—then he'd often have that look of intense, focused concentration, as he conjured endless creative guitar lines that provided an ever-moving rhythmic center in the heart of the group's sound. Labeling him a “rhythm guitarist” always felt horribly inadequate, because he wasn't some guy just chopping out simple chords in a conventional pop music way. Rather, he used an immense musical vocabulary and deft touch to construct sophisticated parts that were both rhythmically assured and amazingly nuanced.
I have this picture in my head of him standing in a semicircle with Phil and Jerry in the early '70s blasting through the nether regions of “Dark Star,” or maybe “Playing in the Band,” and he's hunched over his big Gibson, his whole body in fluid motion, and you can practically see how the parts all fall together organically. One moment he's grinning at some miraculous turn the jam has taken, the next he shakes his head, flips the hair out of his eyes and looks up into the lights as if he's wondering where it can go next. I get excited just thinking about that dynamic interplay—that's what turned me into a Dead Head in 1970, at the age of 16, and what has nourished my soul ever since.
Of course there were also the songs, and Bob co-wrote many of my favorites from my first years seeing band—“The Other One,” “Jack Straw,” “Truckin',” “Sugar Magnolia,” “Playing in the Band,” “Greatest Story Ever Told,” “Mexicali Blues,” “Weather Report Suite”—all completely different one to the next, each a glimpse into a different world. Later, I was knocked out by “The Music Never Stopped” and “Estimated Prophet,” “Feel Like a Stranger” and the still-amazing combo of “Lost Sailor” and “Saint of Circumstance.” I got my early education in country music listening to Bob sing “El Paso,” “Mama Tried,” “Dark Hollow,” “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” “The Race Is On” and “Big River,” and as time went on he provided new windows through which to view Dylan classics, old blues and so much more.
Basically, I'll follow him anywhere. I haven't loved every band he's been in or every song he's written. But he's earned my eternal respect and admiration for continually pushing boundaries and moving forward in a way that is so idiosyncratic—so … Bob!—that I want to be a part of and support whatever it is.
I first interviewed Bob for The Golden Road in the late '80s and instantly learned that what everyone in the Dead scene had told me through the years was true: he's a sweetheart! (It's a word you hear applied to him by both men and women.) He's warm, friendly, thoughtful, possesses a dry wit and has a surprisingly good and detailed memory (a boon to those of us who pester him with historical questions). I've never seen him be anything but polite to those around him, and in the dozen or so interviews I've done with him in the past 20 years—some on the phone, most in person—he has never really spoken ill of anyone. Which is not to say he lacks opinions or is uncritical. But he tends to give people the benefit of the doubt and he seems to have an inherent faith that things can and perhaps will work out for the best. His track record for giving his time unselfishly for benefits speaks for itself—and to his optimism.
On his most recent birthday, October 16, Bob hit 65, retirement age for many. His bushy grey-white prospector's beard almost makes him look his age for the first time (when The Warlocks started, he was 17 and looked about 14; in his early 40s, he looked 10 years younger), but fortunately for all of us he has not slowed down one bit. Maybe he's just trying to keep up with his GD elders—that indefatigable wonder of nature Phil (72), Mickey (69) and Bill (66). Nah, he just loves his job. Playing music is what musicians do. Age is just number (says the writer, pushing 60).
Look at just some of the great work Bob has done the past couple of years: Multiple tours with Furthur; his extraordinary collaboration with the Marin Symphony; a handful of shows with RatDog (here's hoping for a RatDog tour in 2013!) and Scaring the Children (with Rob Wasserman and Jay Lane); fine music from his acoustic trio with Chris Robinson and Jackie Greene; a bunch o' solo shows, plus appearances with Bruce Hornsby and Branford Marsalis; and sit-ins with such disparate acts as 7 Walkers, Jackie Greene, Slightly Stoopid, The National and God Street Wine. Those last few were at Bob's magnificent high-def audio-video facility in San Rafael, Calif., TRI Studios. Bob has been extremely generous in sharing TRI with a broad spectrum of different artists, and is helping to pioneer a new era of high-quality music distribution over the Internet.
So here's a virtual toast to Bob on this auspicious occasion. You've done more for us than you'll ever know, and we're all counting on being able to celebrate 70, 75 and beyond with you! I know this song, it ain't never gonna end!
Care to share some nice thoughts/memories about Bob Weir?
Yeah Bob Weird, the kid, the Other One, the youngerster, the macrobioioticrockgod, the wonderkin, the sprite, the dreamer, the seven, eightninetEN, the Lost Sailor. NineteenEighty? SantaCruz at the Catalyst, Bob and the Midnites with Bobby Cochren on guitar played some get down dancin tunes and I remember meeting a guy who had tye-dye a LaCross shirt for Bob and he wore it for the show, but with the Bob allterations of cutting the sleeves off.
Happy Times Bobby
Thank you for all the music.
Thank you for 7/18/82, my first show.
Remember 6/9/90 Cassidy? That experience led to my giving that name to one of my children.
Get back Truckin' on, Bob,
Love Bobby to bits - just wish he'd ditch Furthur for Ratdog! There's no Pigpen in Furthur, no sass, no R&B, no real rock 'n roll; and that's what PPig & Bobby brought to the Dead, which Bobby carried over into Ratdog, and which sadly for this feller is not there in Furthur. Regardless, Happy Birthday Bobby and keep on rocking...
Face it, in the 70's ,I was full blown deadhead from 72-78, The Captain was always Jerry, whose lead guitar and breathtaking jams were something to behold, but myself, I always had an affinity for Bobby, I had the hair down to the waist, and looked a good deal like him at that time, and he was no schlock at being a guitarist, he was not a rhythm guitarist per normal, I mean it was not like Duane and Dicky of the Allman Brothers playing harmony guitar parts. Much more subtle than that and difficult at what he was doing, Take the great China Cat Sunflower, I didn't notice this at first, but there are like 2 lead parts making that delicate bounce.
Bobby, your the best, May the 4 winds take you Home!
I've read so many times peoples complaints of Mr. Weir allegedly trying to "steal" the show in the later years...
Really, this sounded to me more like an inability to accept that Jerry was weakening and just not always as big a presence, and I love Bob's 'theatrics' of later years- he really stepped up; added some great new licks, harmonics and interesting sounds.
Given he was the youngest, most vulnerable and fried of the group in the late sixties and even faced some heavy criticism from his band mates, Bob really met the challenge and grew tremendously.
And cook me up with some grits if you can't hear his innovations and potential as early as some great '68 gigs.
Love you, Bob.
Bless and thanks for being an integral part of the best band that ever was.
wow just remembered 10/16,17,18,19,20,1974 38yrs ago what a great week time wow my mind is still blown!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Being quite new to the Dead in '86 I was curious when they came to town to help us celebrate the 4th in Buffalo. A year ahead of In The Dark, somehow Deadheads started to spring up in my little town of Williamsville. My crew (if you could call us that) and I were all about 60's music and it seemed logical that seeing the Dead would be a required date. I knew the hits and definitely knew who Garcia was but the rest of the band seemed like this amorphous entity. I could tell you stories about that day that would curl your hair but I'll never forget how my 1st show started.
Eyes on Jerry as they hit the stage but Bob kept drawing my attention. He seemed such the non-star, not in the Jerry sense of shunning the spotlight, but rather he seemed like he just happened to just amble on stage. Fiddling with his stack...making short strides back and forth. Then they kicked into Jack Straw with Bobby in classic form (didnt know it at the time) belting out those amazing lyrics with clarity and an edge of restraint. As the song built, all I kept saying to myself was "Who the fuck is this guy?" I mean Jerry I knew...but where did this guy come from? It was hilarious.
As time and more shows went on I developed a deeper realization of just how innovative and original he is. I'll never forget a full blown argument with some "Dead Than Thou" "sisters" from Oregon one show who insisted Bobby was degrading the purity of the band by his theatrics. Get a clue honey.
I caught Ratdog on back to back nights in '05 (Erie>Buffalo) while I was going through my marriage flaming out and I can truly say that Bobby not only saved me from doing something really life altering in a very bad way, he also helped me get on with things. Sounds extreme huh? It's true.
Happy B-Day Bobby. Many more. Thanks for everything.
I was always intrigued listening to interviews with the band. A NY disc jockey was with Mr. Weir. He wanted some insights on the songs he wrote. Asking, in general, how songs come about and what do the represent. Mr. Weir doesn't really give an answer and zero specifics. The DJ gets frustrated and says well whats the first thing you think of about the song Playing In The Band. Mr. Weir doesn't hesitate " The key of E"
Thank you for the inspired music over the years. it must have been the dreaded "bee pollen'. But whatever it was(talent) it continues to sustain you and thus, in turn, us, the fans. Keep those songs, in challenging time signatures, coming!
As I was getting to understand Grateful Dead music, back when (though still at it, now), I liked these meanings for the word "weir" that seemed to fit (as well as a thing can be fit to something flowing) a playing role that Bob maybe had created for himself by the time my ears were coming along to it (early 1970s): "a low dam in a river to divert water, as for a mill," and "an obstruction [sic] placed in a stream, diverting the water through a prepared aperture for measuring the rate of flow" (taking any notion of obstruction very lightly).
And he's such a good partner in performance humor, of many kinds.
Just two aspects of innumerable qualities from this man Bob Weir. Thanks so much, Bob.