The musical legacy and influence of The Grateful Dead has firmly established them as one of the pillars of Rock Music and popular culture. The band had a legendary run for thirty years, ending with frontman Jerry Garcia’s death in August of 1995. During that time the band was a pioneer in many respects–they formed a business around the band that had employees and benefits; the improvisational focus of their live shows continues to influence many bands in the jam band genre; the marketing and branding of The Grateful Dead showed an acute understanding of their fans and how to monetize a career from more than just studio albums and live appearances. Add to this the band’s dogged touring totaling over 2300 shows and you have a band whose act is certainly hard to follow.
Following Garcia’s passing and the formal dissolution of The Grateful Dead, the remaining core members of the band continue to stay very active in their shared and individual careers. In November, 2010, Grateful Dead drummer and founding member Bill Kreutzmann–who reportedly never missed any of those 2300+ shows–released the debut album for his latest project 7 Walkers, who will be performing in Iowa City at The Englert on Thursday.
Joining Kreutzmann in the band is Austin, TX-via-Crescent City singer and guitarist Papa Mali, multi-instrumentalist and lead engineer at Willie Nelson’s Pedernales Studio Matt Hubbard and Meters bassist George Porter, Jr., who performed on one track on the 7 Walkers album and replaces Tea Leaf Green bassist Reed Mathis in the touring band.
“I can’t believe how much fun I’m having playing with these guys!” says Kreutzmann who calls the jambalaya of Bay Area Groove, Texas Blues and Nawlins Funk ‘swampadelic.’ “We’re making art together and having the best time.”
The album’s New Orleans pedigree comes naturally to the group. Mali–born Malcolm Welbourne–is from Shreveport, LA and was influenced in part by band mate George Porter, Jr.’s career in the seminal New Orleans band The Meters (which incidentally started about the same time Kreutzmann’s did in The Grateful Dead).
Kreutzmann’s mother was born in New Orleans. “I have a real feeling for that music and I get along with the folks down there really well,” he says. “This music comes from the Tchoupitoulas, the Mardi Gras Indian tribes. They’re playing tribal rhythms and somehow it connects with my spirit. Plus, I get to play with the number one New Orleans bass player.”
I’ve had the album for a couple of weeks and while there is an undeniable zydeco and New Orleans jazz influence, I like the interesting avant-garde experimentation with percussion, sounds and effects. In fact, I’m very reminded of the work that Los Lobos did with producer/engineer Tchad Blake in Latin Playboys and the Mitch Froom-produced “trilogy” of Kiko, Colossal Head and This Time.
That said, this band has an undeniable Grateful Dead vibe going on. In addition to the fact that timekeeping is handled by Kreutzmann, the lyrics for the 7 Walkers songs are aided and abetted by Robert “A Box of Rain” Hunter who contributed to the majority of the Grateful Dead catalog. The band knows the draw for them and performed a lot of Dead songs during their 2010 shows including “Bertha,” “New Speedway Boogie,” “Bird Song” (a personal favorite), “I Know You Rider,” “Sugaree” and others. Listening to the collection of live 7 Walkers recordings at archive.org, it is interesting to hear vocal takes by Mali and Porter on these classics. The band included space jams and extended improvisational workouts and frankly held their own in this catalog.
It will be interesting to see how the band has changed in the three-month break they took from the last tour. The 7 Walkers music plus the Grateful Dead catalog they draw from will make for a very entertaining live show and you don’t want to miss a rare chance to see music legends like Kreutzmann and Porter share the stage.
7 Walkers will be performing at The Englert Theatre in Iowa City at 8 p.m. on Thursday night. All tickets are General Admission, $25 each or $20 for students. Click Here for more information and ticketing.
Click Here to visit the 7 Walkers Website
Click Here to visit 7 Walkers at the Live Music Archive to hear them live.