" Any serious analysis of the
Dead's music, "Garcia goes on,
"would make it apparent that things
are designed really appropriately.  There are some passages, some kinds of
ideas that would really throw me if I had to create a harmonic bridge be- tween all the things going on rhythmically with two drums an Phil's innovative bass playing. Weir's ability
to solve that sort of problem is extraordinary. He also has a beautiful
grasp of altering chords and adding color. Harmonically, I take a lot of my solo cues from Bob.  He's got very large hands; he's able to voice cords that

most people can't reach, and he can pull them off right in the flow of playing.  And now he's taken up playing slide leads quite a bit, and that's neat, too, because that's another context for me to play against. "Furthermore, Bob has shared the vocal and songwriting chores with Garcia and generally provided what very little on-stage communication occurs between the band and its fiercely loyal, and still growing, legion of fans.

    Born to a prominent San Francisco family, Bob was in and out of several public and private schools owing to a rebellious nature that was no doubt aggravated by a serious reading disability -dyslexia- and family problems.  He had no trouble with his ears, however, and began to pick up on popular music during the early '60's folk boom.  He acquired his first guitar at 14, and by the time he met Garcia he was ready to play in a working band.  Their first collaboration, which included Ron "Pigpen" McKernan on harmonica, was called Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. By all reports, it was a snappy and accomplished jug band.  The group was an immediate success on the local folk circuit and played together for more than a year.

    By 1965 the Beatles and Bob Dylan had helped pave the way for the return of electric instruments in popular music, and Garcia and Pigpen had been pressing the issue.  Because Weir and other members of the band were then working at a music store, they had access to electric instruments and took the bait.  After enlisting one of the store's drum students, Bill Kreutzmann, and getting the son of the store owner to play bass, they plugged in and became the Warlocks. When the work got to be too much for the bassist, Phil Lesh was recruited to take over, and all of the major elements locked into place.  Two months later they made it official when they adopted the name the Grateful Dead.

    Soon the band had a strong following in bars six nights a week.  In 1966 novelist Ken Kesey engaged them as the house band for his Electric Kool Aid Acid Test (which later resulted in a Bantam book of the same name by Tom Wolfe), and the Dead learned to play in many interesting spaces.  That was also the year they began to attract the kind of fans who would travel several thousand miles to see them play, and then camp out in the streets in front of the theater for days to ensure a spot close to the stage.

     The Dead signed their first recording contract and then brought on a second drummer, Mickey Hart, in 1967.  With the exception of the death of Pigpen in 1973, a three-year hiatus by Hart between 1971 and 1974, and the subsequent addition of Keith Godchaux and his wife Donna, the band's lineup remained intact until 1979, when Brent Mydland became the new keyboardist.  When the Dead took a year and a half off between 1974 and 1976, Weir became involved with an existing band, Kingfish.  This alliance lasted two years, through one studio and one live album.  Weir's first solo album, Ace, appeared in 1972.  It featured the rest of the Dead as his backup band.  He had a hand in writing every tune on the album, with most co-writing every tune on the album, with most co-written by his boyhood friend, John Perry Barlow.  Several of the songs remain fixtures in the Dead repertoire, including "Mexicali Blues," "Playing in the Band," and "Cassidy."

     Bob's second LP, Heaven Help the Fool, was recorded in Los Angeles and released on Arista in 1978.  The musicians were top studio players such as David Paich and Mike Porcaro (who were to become part of Toto).  Again, the tunes were primarily Weir/Barlow collaborations.  The Bob Weir Band, featuring Bobby Cochran on lead guitar, toured briefly after the LP was released.  Weir's latest musical project [1981] is Bobby & The Midnites, a group with Cochran, drummer Billy Cobham, and bassist Alphonso Johnson.

     Meanwhile, the Grateful Dead roll on.  Their 19th and most recent release, Reckoning.  At the time Weir was preparing material for an upcoming Bobby & The Midnites album project and traveling between coasts doing concerts.

What do you think is your role as a rhythm guitar player in a band?
Recently, I've been moving my whole conception of what I should be doing as rhythm guitarist higher and higher up the neck, just to get out of the way of the never-ending confusion between the bass and the keyboard left hand.  I try to move into the upper registers, and once you do that, you have a fairly well-defined sense of harmonic development.  Once you get in the upper registers, you're almost always dealing with leading tones, Instead of roots and fundamentals.  Leading tones do come up in the bass, but not as often as in the treble register.

What is the most challenging part of your job with the Grateful Dead?
     Well, being between Phil and Garcia, the most challenging thing is listening to them individually and in combination and intuiting where they are heading and what kind of chord is going to fit.  I have to be there and try to supply that tonality, and maybe even lend some sort of leading harmonic development to it.  Sometimes it works and sometimes the magic just ain't there.  But that's intuitive improvisational music at its most challenging for me.  When we're playing more structured material, I just try to be an extension of what Phil's doing and fill in the spaces. Sometimes I think of myself as a brass section or a string section.  When I'm on-stage playing, I'm not really conscious of the notes and the sounds and demands of the music.  And I'm trying to most aptly supply what the music requires in terms of sounds, textures, and harmonic development.

Does anybody have any particular responsibility to key the changes within the long space jams that the Dead are noted for?
      What we go for is for everybody to sort of agree "now's the time."  We try to keep it loose and open, although we have a number of musical cues, like somebody will play a line that'll suggest, "Okay, let's wrap it up," or "Let's head out in this direction." Sometimes you have to play the line a number of times for people to follow it.  Or sometimes you'll play a line and somebody's got a permutation of it in just the next bar, and then it'll be off into another realm. We do drift from key to key and rhythm to rhythm and tempo to tempo.

It seems as if you guys do like to play in odd time signatures.
Yeah, that's sort of been a pet of this band for the longest time.  It's fun to play in odd time signatures.  I think 7 [7/4, 7/8] is my favorite time signature.  It contains the best of 3 and the best of 4.  I've gotten so I can roll over the bar lines in 7 all day and not get lost.  But that's just a matter of practice.  About 12 years ago, I got this little device that not only has a metronome click, but also a little bell that can be set inside it.  It allows you to practice all kinds of time signatures, but it's particularly useful for 5/4 and 7/4.  I think you can get them at percussion stores.

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