More to Come from the Rhythm Devils
By Blair Jackson
At a Rex Foundation benefit concert at the Warfield Theatre in SF 12/1/06, Rhythm Devils Mickey Hart, Steve Kimock and Sikuru jam out.
Photo: David W. Clark
One of the most exciting Grateful Dead offshoots to rear its noisy head the past couple of years has been the Rhythm Devils, which of course is the proud progeny of Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. The group, which also features ex-Phish bass monster Mike Gordon, ace jamband guitarist Steve Kimock (a veteran of the 1998 edition of The Other Ones and early incarnations of Phil Lesh & Friends), Nigerian percussion beast Sikuru Adepoju, and singer Jen Durkin (who replaced the group’s previous chanteuses, Bobi Cespedes and Goapele), toured the east and Midwest in the summer and fall of 2006 and played a handful of very well-received dates in 2007. If you weren’t one of the fortunate ones who got to see this band onstage, fear not: A DVD, culled from three different shows the Rhythm Devils played on their most recent tour, should be out in the not too distant future.
In mid-April we caught up with Mickey and Billy to find out a little more about the group and the forthcoming DVD. “This new Rhythm Devils group pretty much got its start at the Jammy Awards last year,” Mickey says from his Sonoma County studio. “They asked Billy and me to be the emcees, and we figured since we were going to be there we might as well play. Who else was going to be there? Well, Steve Kimock was going to be there. [Blues harmonica titan] Charlie Musselwhite was going to be there. So were [African singers] Angelique Kidjo and Babba Maal. Mike Gordon was going to be there. So we quickly put something together and then we had a warm-up show at the Canal Room [in NYC’s Tribeca area] that went really well. And from there we went and played the Jammys and that went well, too, so we decided it might be fun to take it out on the road a little bit. We’ve taken it out on a couple of little runs to see if it can fly — it can fly!”
Adds Billy, speaking by phone from his second home on the lovely Garden Isle of Kauai, “I wasn’t playing at the time and I was looking for something fun to do, so when Mickey said ‘Let’s play,’ I couldn’t resist. Anytime you get a chance to play with people like Mike Gordon and Kimock, well, you do it,” he laughs.
“I played with Trey [Anastasio] and Mike a couple of years back [December 2005] at Warren Haynes’ Christmas Jam in Asheville [NC] and I loved Mike’s bass playing so much I said to Mickey, “If we can get Mike to play, let’s form Rhythm Devils with him.’ Mikes got great time and he plays really nice ideas; he doesn’t get boring. The other thing about Mike is he’s a good music leader. He has great ideas of how to go to changes and how to make the music different.”
As for Master Kimock (as our old buddy Vince Welnick used to call him in their Missing Man Formation days), “I just love playing with that guy; he’s such a wonderful cat,” Bill enthuses. “And he plays his heart out. What I like about his stuff is that he has really long ideas. He’ll take the time to build his ideas and make sure they’re actually going somewhere. That’s really a gift; a lot of musicians have trouble with that. He seems to never run out of ideas, which is also really rare.”
Since arriving in the U.S. more than two decades ago, Sikuru has played on a number of Mickey’s percussion recordings and has even made his way onto the Dead’s stage a handful times through the years. He’s definitely part of the sprawling rhythm brotherhood that seems to have Mickey Hart as its locus point. Sikuru is perhaps best known as an unparalleled expert at the talking drum, but basically if you can beat it or shake it, he can make magic come out of it. Billy, for one, was excited to play regularly with Sikuru. “Even though I’ve known him a long time, he and I had never really gotten a chance to work together much, so that was a real trip for me,” he says. Billy has been known to play the talking drum onstage from time to time, so I ask him if they played any talking drum duets in this band. “No, I would never touch a talking drum with him,” he says with a chuckle. “I just play regular drum stuff on the talking drum; he has a whole language he can speak on the drum. If I went to Africa and played talking drum, they’d probably throw me out. Don’t get me wrong — I love playing it, but when you’re around a master, you let the master play. Just playing my drum set with him was wonderful. We went to some really great places together.”
With her powerful yet elastic voice, singer Jen Durkin probably surprised many Dead Heads on the last tour, but East Coast jam band aficionados have known about her talent for years: She was a member of such groups as Deep Banana Blackout, Bernie Worrell & the Woo Warriors and Bomb Squad, and has appeared with everyone from Govt. Mule to John Scofield to the P-Funk All-Stars. “I’d heard about her and I’d heard a really good recording of her,” Mickey says. “It seemed like she’d be a good fit for this kind of band, and she was. She’s really a sweetie and she has iron pipes.” Adds Billy, “She has lots of great energy on stage. The Dead Heads really seemed to like her.”
When the group got together for the first tour in 2006, their initial rehearsals were at Trey Anastasio’s barn recording studio/rehearsal space in rural Vermont,” and right away everything clicked,” Mickey offers. “The chemistry was there and it was obvious we were going to go places with the material.”
The repertoire was drawn from a number of fine new original tunes written by Mickey in collaboration with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, and a selection of Dead favorites, including “The Other One” (perfect for this groove-oriented band), “Fire on the Mountain,” “Lovelight,” “Sugaree” and “Comes A Time.” To hear live versions of three of the Hunter-Hart tunes — “Fountains of Wood,” “The Center” and “Who Do You Think You Are” (as well as “The Other One”) — go to rhythmdevils.net and click on “rhythm.” Fascinating stuff.
As we prepared this news item, it was still unclear of when the DVD will be released. It’s currently being mixed to 5.1 surround at Star City Recording in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, by noted engineer Jeff Glixman. “He’s got a great ear and he’s doing a really good job with it, “ Mickey says. “It’s beautiful. It captures what this band does really well.”
Of course we’ll have more on this project as news becomes available.
I saw them at the Gathering of the Vibes last year and was completely blown away by them, I can't wait till they come around with Jen Durkin to the Noth East!
Wow. I was lucky enough to get invited to shoot some video coverage at Star City studio in Bethlehem, PA a few days before the first show of the tour. I walked in to find Mickey hard at work making notes. They had been rehearsing there for about a week. We hung china ball lanterns above the band. We proceeded to shoot all kinds of rehearsal jams, short interviews and B-roll. We then found out they were going to take us on tour with them.
We shot the Starland ballroom in NJ. The best show of the tour by far, in my opinion was then next one we shot...Chicago Theatre. I then went with my fiancee to Vegoose (where we got engaged) for a great performance alongside many many great artists. Nice to relax and just enjoy the show. THEN, I get a call...we're going to cover the REX benefit show at the Warfield in SanFran with planet drum opening for TRDs! It was incredible. That's all I can say. Guest appearance by Bob Weir, the whole family backstage, Planet drum, the fantastic REX crew, the stage crew and technicians, my fellow camera operators and director, the incredible video projectionist............the ceiling in the basement of the Warfield!!! What an incredible time! I was there for the video documentation of all of this, and I'm just as excited to see it as you are!!! Bill is probably one of the friendliest and personable people I've ever met. Thanks to the band, and everyone else involved for such a great experience. Tim
"A friend is someone who sees through the veneer that covers you and knows where you really come from." Carlos Castaneda; Last line from "The Active Side Of Infinity"
I am truly looking forward to the release of this DVD! I was lucky enough to see The RD's in Milwaukee, WI on their Fall 2006 Tour, and they were really great! All the musicians are awesome (of course), but special kudos are extended to Jen Durkin... here vocals were out-of-this-world!!! Hey guys: Keep her in the mix, she is the perfect singer to match your sound!
lets go baby get me shakin! Peace Love -n- Road Rage
Gotta agree -- more touring! Lookin' forward to the DVD, I am... and at the same wondering:
WILL THERE BE A "SOUNDTRACK" much like with the View From The Vault releases???
Anyway, happy to see the Global Drum Project dates on mickeyhart.net...
but how about a Rhythm Devils or Mickey Hart Band type of tour, especially throughout the Arctic and sub-Arctic villages off the road system in the Alaska bush country? Come on, whaddya say? At least Fairbanks and Los Anchorage?
Alright, what about Vancouver or Seattle then? Charleston or Myrtle Beach or, if you must, Orlando? I've got family in the southeast, always up for a visit. Ooooo, better yet, a New Orleans show? Yeah, with some Neville Brothers special guests?
Like I said, lookin' forward to Global Drum Project but need more Rhythm Devils/Mickey Hart Band shows!!!
R Devs put on the best "great expectations" tour of 2006 -- a whole slew of new tunes and a healthy treatment of old faves from all over. Cmon folks, we need more touring, not just documenting what we've already been treated to. Do it at least one more time. Where are ya this year?
The dude abides ...
Im not 100% on the exact date 18 or 19? In Toledo Ohio. Wow a very good band, w/ lots of energy, Mickey had lots of fun, I felt like he was leading it..I liked Jen singing and the jazzy jams with Bass to dance and grove with..Kind atmosphere. I enjoyed that venue.I would buy the DVD no question. If Mickey or Billy read this Go and plan another tour w/ some mid west dates please?
I Loved that Hard to Handle she can sing. Jay
love the devils at gathering of the vibes
As a loyal Deadhead since 1966 (yes it's been quite a while) I would love to see this DVD, until I am able to catch a live show! I don't shake my bones as much as I used too, But I am ready any time I get to see any of the boys :) (and girls, too)
Peace my deadhead friends, gregor
To conclude with the ever inspiring words of the Buddha:
"If the roots remain untouched and firm in the ground, a felled tree still puts forth new shoots.
If the underlying habit of craving and aversion is not uprooted, suffering arises anew over an
a few years back ,planet drum played the hammerstein ballroom ,upstairs!. I was fortunate to be there at this amazing event. The show was well covered by a 3 or 4 camera shoot,and has been broadcast by pbs...one showing in nyc channel 13 @3am!! will this ever see the light of day as a comercial release?