On New Year’s Eve 1963, a curious 16-year-old budding guitarist was wandering around a back alley in Palo Alto, California when he heard someone playing a banjo at a local music store. The banjo player was waiting for his music students to show up for their lessons, seemingly oblivious to the fact it was New Year’s Eve, and his students were likely out celebrating.
The budding young guitarist was Bob Weir, and the banjo player was Jerry Garcia. The pair took advantage of the fact that they had access to a full selection of instruments at the store and they jammed all night long. That was the beginning of a relationship that spawned the consummate and pioneering jam band, The Grateful Dead.
Weir will be in Buffalo at Shea’s Performing Arts Center on Friday with his latest project, Bob Weir & Wolf Bros. The three-piece outfit includes Weir, bassist Don Was and drummer Jay Lane. Was is perhaps best known for his stint in the group Was (Not Was), who had a hit with “Walk the Dinosaur” in 1987. Was is also a multiple Grammy Award-winning record producer. Lane has performed with Weir in Ratdog, and is the former drummer of Primus.
Even before the death of Jerry Garcia, Weir has blazed his own musical trail. In The Grateful Dead, Weir handled rhythm guitar and sang lead vocal on many of the band’s most iconic numbers, including “Truckin’” and “Sugar Magnolia.” Weir’s deep and powerful vocals provided a nice contrast to Garcia’s softer and higher pitched vocals.
Weir released his first solo album, “Ace” in 1972, and appeared on albums with Kingfish in 1976, and Bobby and the Midnites in 1981. Much of the material on “Ace” became staples in the Grateful Dead’s live set, including “Playing in the Band,” “Mexicali Blues” and “One More Saturday Night.”
Bobby and the Midnites were a popular live act, they had a heavy jazz influence and at one time featured the rhythm section from Weather Report, bassist Alphonso Johnson and drummer Billy Cobham.
By 1995 The Grateful Dead were one of the largest concert draws in the world, and were headlining shows in stadiums (they performed at Rich Stadium five times). On Aug. 9, 1995, Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack. Garcia was 53 years old. The band split up and did not perform under the Grateful Dead moniker for 20 years.
Weir had already formed RatDog before Garcia’s death-the group would take on a larger significance after The Grateful Dead disbanded. Weir carried on the band’s legacy in groups that performed Grateful Dead material and featured the surviving members. Those groups toured under names like The Other Ones, The Dead, and Further. His latest Dead related outfit is called Dead & Company.
Bob’s role in Bob Weir & Wolf Bros is unique since he is the group’s only guitarist. Most fans know Weir as a rhythm guitar player; the Wolf Bros project gives fans a chance to hear Weir play healthy doses of lead guitar. That should make for a unique night of music from a performer that has made a career out of unique performances.
Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.