I haven’t written about one of my favorite bands of all time, the Grateful Dead, in a while, having published my last post on the topic back in July, but today it’s definitely time.
When I heard in August that three of the “core four” remaining members of the Dead — Bob Weir, Billy Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart — were going to do some shows under the name of ‘Dead & Company’, with the ‘company’ consisting of Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge, Jeff Chimenti, from Weir’s band Ratdog, on keyboards, and John Mayer on lead guitar, I was not surprised, but I was skeptical.
Not surprised, because earlier in the year, in February, Bob Weir was a guest on CBS’a The Late Late Show, guest-hosted by John Mayer, and they performed two very nicely done Dead tunes (see below), and during the interview segment Mayer professed his love of the Grateful Dead.
Skeptical for two reasons:
1. While I very much enjoyed Mayer’s work on the two songs I saw him play, and though I don’t believe that any guitar player stepping into Jerry Garcia’s vacant shoes needs to imitate Jerry’s tone and technique, Mayer did not at all emulate Jerry, which is fine when it’s Weir sitting in with Mayer’s band, but it won’t work for most Deadheads when Mayer sits in with the Dead.
2. In the Rolling Stone article announcing the Dead & Company shows, John Mayer said this (my emphasis added in bold):
“They take their time, sometimes too much. This free expressive sort of spirit – I listen and I want to find a mix of that openness. I kind of want to go to that show, if it still existed. But I wish that there were tunes that I was more familiar with. I wish that I could be the singer. I wish I could have harmonies. And I wish that I could make it seven minutes instead of 13 minutes. Now I’ll get the opportunity to kind of try that.”
I read that and thought, “Um, John, you wouldn’t actually dream of messing with one of the quintessentials of the Grateful Dead, would you? Really?! I mean, you do know that taking 13 minutes to play a 7-minute song was pretty much the whole point of the Grateful Dead, right?”
Well, what a difference a few months make!
According to Relix, Mayer has spent the time since then working 4-5 hours a day, learning the songs and rehearsing with the band in what he refers to as ‘Grateful Dead University’. In several articles I’ve read about his preparations, he sounded incredibly sincere and respectful, deeply invested in honoring the Dead’s and Jerry Garcia’s immense legacies.
And, last night was the first Dead & Company show, and right out of the gate they opened with a wonderful 15-minute version of Playing In The Band, one of the tunes that the Dead was most noted for stretching out on, sometimes as long as a half-hour, and Mayer not only nailed Jerry’s tone and technique, without sounding like a simple copycat, but he relaxed into the extended jam and fit in beautifully with the band.
For this week’s Video Fridays installment, then, let’s look at his transformation, first with Mayer being Mayer and decidedly not Jerry on The Late Late Show back in February, followed by Mayer channeling Jerry last night in Albany, New York.
Well done, John, and Happy Weekend, everyone!