After a superstar band breaks up, the remaining band members either fade off into obscurity (Andy Summers) or step up to become mega pompous rock stars (Sting).
But when you’re talking about the Grateful Dead, who have built up a fan base over 30 years of constant touring, the spotlight never goes out.
Rather than continue without Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995, most band members refocused on their individual projects, reuniting once a summer for the Further Festival.
Bob Weir, the Dead’s co-founder, rhythm guitarist and best singer, waited five years to finally record with Ratdog, the low-key blues band he formed with bassist Rob Wasserman in the early ’90s. “Evening Moods” (Arista) is the first solo work Weir has released since the ’80s (bringing the total to seven). Weir, 53, talking this week about hitting the road yet again.
Q: This is the first album for the band, although you’ve been touring since the early ’90s. Has touring first and then recording helped shape the sound for the band more?
A: Well like they say, practice made perfect. We’ve been playing a lot, it helps everything. It was a decision that really made itself. Once the personnel in the band stabilized we immediately got to writing. Before that all our time was teaching the new guys the old book. The way I prefer to work in general these days is writing with the people you’re going to be playing with, that way you know what you’re getting and you know what you’re working with.
Q: Did recording for the first time in a band setting that was not the Grateful Dead free you up as a writer?
A: Not so much. I don’t consciously set out to write this or that kind of song. I just follow my fingers, really.
Q: Your new song “Ashes and Glass” quotes an older Dead classic, “Throwing Stones.” Was that a natural accident?
A: I went back and revisited the state I was in when I was working on “Throwing Stones.”
Q: What was that state?
A: I’d be loath to try to describe that, actually. It was a post-apocalyptic revisitation to that frame of mind I was in. The song is addressed to my (2-year-old) daughter, really. The chorus came from that old nursery rhyme, “Mocking Bird.” I was singing “Mocking Bird” to her one day and I ran into the (“Throwing Stones”) verses and she was enjoying it and I didn’t want to quit so I just started winging. The sillier it got, the more she enjoyed it.
Q: Some of your old bandmates are out there on tour with their own solo projects. Do you ever feel any competition?
A: A little bit maybe, but nothing that really drives me by any stretch of the imagination.
Q: You all got together for Further Fest last summer,. Will that be an annual thing?
A: Of course when we were doing it, we were talking about doing it again next summer. I’d be surprised if we don’t.
Q: Making the switch from stadiums with the Dead to clubs with Ratdog, has that been a good thing for you as a musician?
A: It doesn’t matter much to me. I enjoy playing. What we have now is not a very cumbersome situation, I like that. The equipment, the logistics of going on tour is easier right now.
Q: It’s been five years since Garcia died. Looking back, what do you see the impact that band has made on the music that’s being made right now?
A: I’m told that we sort of kept alive improvisational music in the popular music realm. And I guess that maybe that’s to some degree true. And maybe to some degree the popularity of what they call jam bands is a reaction to the heavily packaged music that musicians have been having to play for the last couple of decades. It’s a lot more fun for the musicians and I think that comes across to the audience.
Q: Has improvisation a large part of Ratdog?
A: I won’t say it’s our be all and end all, but it’s a great bulk of what we do.