June 20, 2008

Former Grateful Dead Guitarist Bob Weir Keeps Doing What He Loves Best

It would be tempting to simplify Bob Weir's career as a long, strange trip.

And, certainly, it has been that.

But as one of the founding members of the Grateful Dead, Weir always has sought outlets for his creativity beyond being one of the originators of the world's most famous jam band. And he did it for a simple reason; he loved it.

"The M.O. (of playing through the years) is pretty much the same," he told the Vancouver Province last year. "For me, it's doing what I love to do. It's not a matter of establishing an identity or anything like that."

Weir and his band, RatDog, will perform as part of the Ironstone Amphitheatre Summer Concert Series on June 27 along with the band Gov't Mule.

Weir's first and most famous band, the Grateful Dead, was founded in San Francisco in 1965 and became an icon of the 1960s thanks to its eclectic, free-flowing mix of rock, folk, bluegrass, blues, reggae, country, jazz, psychedelia, space rock and even gospel. Weir distinguished himself playing rhythm guitar alongside the fluid lead solos of Jerry Garcia. He also sang lead vocals on a number of tracks.

Still at the height of the band's popularity in 1972, Weir released his first solo album, "Ace." Through the years, he has released seven solo albums. His independent streak continued in 1975, when the Grateful Dead took a year off and he took the time to record and tour with a number of groups, including Kingfish and Bobby and the Midnites.

Weir stayed with the Grateful Dead until Garcia's death in 1995. Shortly before that, he also had started a new band, RatDog, with bassist Rob Wasserman. The band, like the Grateful Dead, was a jam-based group that toured incessantly and developed its own following. Also like the Grateful Dead, RatDog has a revolving lineup with Weir at its center.

RatDog's music is a mix of rock, blues, Americana and jazz. The group also performs Grateful Dead songs and covers during its live shows.

The group released its first studio album, "Evening Moods," in 2000 and followed it the next year with "Live at Roseland."

Since Garcia's death and the Grateful Dead's disbanding, Weir has worked with his former bandmates on various projects, most notably in reunion tour stints in 1998, 2000 and 2002 as The Other Ones and from 2003-2004 as The Dead.

But the jamming spirit of the Grateful Dead is alive and well in RatDog, too. Weir also told The Vancouver Province that his shows can be epic events, like the old days.

"We're open," Weir says. "We have an enormous set list. We play a long show -- three to three and a half hours. You remember a song and really lean into it because this might mean you won't get another crack at it."

Jamming out with RatDog on a double bill at the Ironstone show will be Gov't Mule. The Southern rock jam band was founded in 1994. Ostensibly, it was an Allman Brothers Band side project.

Founded by Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes and its former bassist Allen Woody, the group charted a top 5 Billboard Blues Album hit with its self-titled debut in 1995.

Last year, its independently released "Mighty High" landed on Billboard again, this time in the top 10 of the Independent Albums charts.