Interview by Scott Preston
May 20, 2009
Drummer Bill Kreutzmann, best known as the steadfast heartbeat of the Grateful Dead from 1965 to 1995, has devoted his life to stretching and surpassing the percussive limits of music. Armed with his signature dynamic rhythm and uncanny subtly, Kreutzmann’s lifetime pursuit has garnered him the reputation as an unequivocal, if enigmatic, backbeat.
Enigmatic because, during his four decade career with the Grateful Dead, and even since then, Kreutzmann has let his sweet rhythm and undeniable musical charisma do the talking. And that’s right where he’s most comfortable. He and fellow Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart (who joined Kreutzmann and the band in 1967, making the Grateful Dead the first rock band to have two drummers), were together known as the “Rhythm Devils” due to their ability to send audiences into paroxysms of polyrhythmic ecstasy. Today, Kreutzmann’s compelling musical dialogue continues in his potent new trio project BK3, Bill Kreutzmann featuring bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson (Bonnie Raitt) and guitarist Scott Murawski (Max Creek).
With BK3, Kreutzmann finds himself lined up and locking into a powerful new wave of musical freedom. In all it’s lineup variations (Phish bassist Mike Gordon and Allman Brothers’ bassist Oteil Burbridge have both done gigs with BK3),Kreutzmann is thoroughly enjoying making music with such great players, and is driven by musical chemistry that is simply “over the top.”
Cincy Groove: So how was your experience on Dead tour this year? How do you think the band did?
Bill Kreutzmann: I had a great time and the band played really well. We did some of the harder songs we haven’t done for years and spent a lot of time rehearsing and I think it showed in the performance. We had so many people come out to jam with us you wouldn’t believe it.
Cincy Groove: So I understand you are a digital artist as well.
Bill Kreutzmann: I am, I use photoshop, although I don’t think I use it the way it’s supposed to be used (laughing). The truth is I haven’t done very much of it for the last couple years now. I have been playing music with a lot of different people so that has kept me busy. It started back in 93 – 94 out in L.A. I bought an Apple C4, the first laptop that Apple put out and it had Photoshop 3 if you can imagine that. I didn’t really know how to use the laptop or any of the programs. So I called Jerry because I knew he was into computers and knew what he was doing. He came down to my room and showed me how to use it. Once you start leaning a certain way and keep going through with it, the learning curve gets easier and easier. I realized the only limitation was my imagination. I did some art shows every once in a while and I’m still finding people that still like the work a lot which surprises me.
Cincy Groove: I see that you are also playing with Papa Mali. How did you hook up with him?
Bill Kreutzmann: Last year my girlfriend and I went to the Oregon County Fair and he was playing there. My girlfriend was the one who turned me on to him. She really knows more about music than I do. Once Papa Mali and I met you couldn’t separate us. I’ll be playing with Papa Mali this Thursday, May 22 at Schwagstock at Camp Zoe and a few days later on May 24 at Bella Madre Music Fest in Harmony Park.
Cincy Groove: So tell me how you hooked up with the musicians you play with in BK3.
Bill Kreutzmann: The first few gigs were with Oteil Burbridge and Scott Murawski and we just had so much fun playing the music and it felt so free. Oteil was getting married and kind of wanted to settle down and not travel so much. The Allman Bros are kind of cooling down a little so he felt it was a good time to spend some time at home. He really likes playing the studio a lot, which is the opposite of me. I want to see the expression on people’s faces and feel the energy. That’s really important to me. The new lineup of BK3 has James Hutchinson, Scott Murawski, myself, and Tara Nevins from Donna The Buffalo who I hear is very popular on the east coast. My guitar player Scott and I are welded together at the hip on stage. It kind of reminds me when Garcia and I used to play together.
Cincy Groove: Are there any plans for a BK3 record?
Bill Kreutzmann: There are plans. With the original lineup of BK3, we have so much record material. It was also multi-tracked and is in post production right now. So it should be ready soon.
Cincy Groove: How do you feel about the internet and how it has affected music?
Bill Kreutzmann: I think it’s the most wonderful thing in the world. First off communication is terribly important and the internet makes that a lot easier and faster. It also takes out the middle man, takes out the record company. It really lets the artist be their own record company. Some bands have sold a lot of records and made money that way but that was never The Grateful Dead. We sold a lot of records but over a long period of time. We have gold records but not one of them is on the wall. Jerry explained this to me, a gold record is really about how much money they made off of you. One time Jerry and I wanted to actually play one of our gold records. When we did, it turned out to be a Johnny Cash record. They don’t even put in the real record (laughing). We both were laughing our asses off. Well I guess the records they can’t sell have to be used for something.
Cincy Groove: What was it like when you met Barack Obama?
Bill Kreutzmann: We have met him twice actually. We played the Mid Atlantic Ball for the Inauguration and half way through our set they made us stop and asked us to come to this backroom. We got to meet him and he looked at me and said “Do you live in Hawaii by chance?” I had just been in Hawaii and couple weeks before so I still had my tan. I said yeah I do and can I give you a big Hawaiian hug? I said it really loud because there were 3 Secret Service agents around him. I just wanted to make my intentions very clear. I met Michelle also, she is a very sweet lady. We also got to meet him in the Oval Office. They let us in the back door and never really told us we were going to meet the President. The door opens up and there is the President sitting behind his desk waiting for us. He had a big smile on his face thanking us again for helping him in Pennsylvania. Obama is just a really warm human being, he’s real. Before we were done meeting with him he said be sure to play China Cat Sunflower because that’s my favorite Grateful Dead song. Then they led us into the Nixon Library. The band was sitting around this table with our families and in walks David Axlerod. He sat at the head of the table and spoke with us for over an hour about any question we had. They really want us to know what’s going on, it’s really positive.