Singer, songwriter and founding member of the Grateful Dead Bob Weir sat down for an intimate discussion about his new solo album Blue Mountain on Friday afternoon as part of AmericanaFest.
The rhythm guitar pioneer, who was honored with an Americana Lifetime Achievement Award on Tuesday, joined Buddy Miller and the album’s co-producer Josh Kaufman at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater to talk about song inspirations, the record’s recording process, and of course, the Dead.
Blue Mountain was recorded sporadically over the last three years in New York and on the West Coast, with Josh Ritter, a co-writer on the project, submitting contributions remotely.
As his first release with solely new music in more than 30 years, Weir set out to make a record of cowboy tunes inspired by his time working on a ranch in Wyoming.
“When I was 15, one summer I thought it’d be a terribly romantic thing to do, to run off and be cowboy. So I did.” Weir said. “I found my way out to Wyoming and got work on ranch, in a bunkhouse with a bunch of old boys. A number of them had grown up in an era before radio had gotten that far, to Wyoming. Their notion of how to spend an evening was to maybe pop a cork and tell stories and sing songs. I was the kid with the guitar.
“It was great ear training for a young musician, and at the same time, I sort of got steeped in a culture that just stuck with me.”
Blue Mountain‘s title track descends directly from those fireside nights, as it’s inspired by an obscure folk song Weir vaguely remembered playing more than a half-century ago.
“It was one I never quite got,” he said. “It just haunted me for 50-some years … I finally dug it up after of years and years of searching on and off … I took what I could get from [an internet search] and Josh Ritter and I reshuffled the lyric a little bit and fluffed up the character.”
Armed with the Martin 00-17 used on the album, Weir performed “Blue Mountain,” “Lay My Lily Down” and “Ki-Yi Bossie” from the album for the crowd of just over 200, all while discussing the songwriting and guitar techniques he used on the record. Weir said he tried to implement bluegrass banjo playing style on his acoustic, an influence dating back to his early run-ins with Jerry Garcia. This was one of several times the discussion veered towards the Dead, as Miller, one of Americana’s great guitar players, wanted to pay the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer his due respect.
“There’s not a night when I’m playing on stage where I don’t reference the guitar playing, the interaction you guys had,” Miller said. “In every gig I play, it’s in the back of my head.”
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