Hidden Track Interview: Bill Kreutzmann

HT: How did you decide on Davy Knowles? He’s got that mean blues palette.

BK: We heard him play. I mean, you go on your computer and you look up different musicians and in this case I forget how exactly it happened, but his blues background, yeah, we thought he would be able to do Pigpen tunes over-the-top good. We sent him some Pigpen tunes and a couple of changes to some old stuff, and he sent back the most marvelous renditions, as well as his versions of some other songs. We didn’t get him just for Pigpen stuff, but that’s the first thing we thought of.

HT: How did you first hook up with him?

BK: I don’t remember the details, but there was discussion between Mickey and me, we were working on something, and his name just got in there somehow.

HT: It’s going to be a pretty unique lineup.

BK: I’m just glad it’s happening the way it is. Keller Williams is on guitar as well and he’s played Dead music a whole bunch in his shows, and we’re happy to have him and his energy. Sikiru, he’s been with Mickey and I for some time now and also worked on Planet Drum. And Andy Hess, I remember being at Warren Haynes’ Christmas Jam about five years ago and seeing him and he just impressed the heck out of me. I made a mental note that if I had an opportunity sometime in the future I wanted to have that bass player.

HT: Andy’s a busy guy, too. Was he tough to get?

BK: He was happy to do it, and I mean he knew about me and Mickey and stuff, and I just had a fortuitous moment where 7 Walkers played in Chattanooga and we had him be the bass player because our regular bass player, George Porter Jr., couldn’t be there. So I had a little free time with Andy and we played six hours that day and got to work a lot with each other.

HT: Shifting to 7 Walkers in the time we have, you and Malcolm — Papa Mali, that is, — seem to have something special here. How did you first hook up with him?

BK: I got to meet him at the Oregon Country Fair, opening on the main stage. I heard his set there and I was taken aback by him: I loved the music. I made a point of introducing myself and we hit it off from there. The rest is history, man, we just talked and you couldn’t separate us for hours.

HT: How did that lead to the rest of 7 Walkers, as it is now?

BK: Matt [Hubbard] and him had worked together for a long time, so Matt was a natural to come in with him. I played with Malcolm for about a year, then, and I thought let’s ask Bob Hunter if he’ll write some songs, and Bob Hunter wrote some really nice songs for us: 7 Walkers, Evangeline and real good originals. We have an album coming out Aug. 1 and it’s all Hunter originals. It’s going to be a super record, Willie Nelson is on one of the cuts and it’s gonna be really great. But for now I want to keep focused on Rhythm Devils, do you have other Rhythm Devils questions?

HT: Will you be recording at all with this Rhythm Devils lineup?

BK: Ha, well, I don’t think Mickey ever doesn’t record. That’s just how he is. There’s music at my web site, too.

HT: I know Rhythm Devils is front and center but just to close the book on last year, do you think you and Mickey will regroup with the other guys to do The Dead again? Any plans?

BK: Not that I know of. I’m so busy doing what I’m doing and I have a feeling that’s run its course.

HT: Focus on the new stuff, in other words?

BK: Well, I do focus on them because they’re new, and even some of the older songs, Hunter songs and all that, with these musicians, they’re going to sound quite a bit different. Right now I’d rather go and find new stuff than be in a tribute band. The tribute thing is excellent because there are people out there that want to hear that and deserve to hear that. But I was in the original band. I’m happy doing new stuff.

HT: Is it fair to say the 2009 Dead tour felt too much like work?

BK: Nah, it was never like that. I don’t get myself into situations that feel like work. It’s just better to do new things.

HT: Are there other new musicians you’re looking forward to playing with?

BK: Well, Tim Bluhm is going to be joining us for a leg of the Rhythm Devils early next year. That’ll be good.

HT: Just making sure I hit on all your recent endeavors: Do you think you’ll revisit that combo, BK3, you were doing with Scott Murawski, Oteil and then later Hutch Hutchinson?

BK: That kind of wound down, I think, and we did play a whole bunch. Oteil is playing with Derek and Susan now, he’s really busy with that, and I need guys who can do full time, and that band couldn’t quite do that. So that thing has kind of wound down. 7 Walkers, Rhythm Devils, these are the new projects.

HT: Gotta keep it moving, I guess.

BK: It’s a lot more interesting when you keep it moving.

HT: Agreed. Bill, I remember some years ago you were described as being in semi-retirement, and then it seemed like all of a sudden you had these very full tour schedules and lots going on. What brought you out again?

BK: I just enjoy playing music, and that enjoyment came back again. It never goes away really, and now I’m playing as much as I like. It’s just a lot of fun and I’m not going to stop until I can’t play anymore. I’ve never really been in retirement.

The Rhythm Devils’ new lineup kicks off an extensive tour on July 16 in Arcata, CA and continues through a batch of newly announced shows on the East Coast in September.

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