By: Andrew Bruss, JamBase.com
Even though the surviving members of the Grateful Dead have officially wrapped up their cross-country tour, drummer/founding member Bill Kreutzmann kept busy on the road, performing with BK3, his band featuring Scott Murawski of Max Creek on guitar, James Hutchinson on bass and Donna the Buffalo’s Tara Nevins on vocals (BK3 was originally the Bill Kreutzmann Trio featuring Murawski and bassist Oteil Burbridge). Prior to BK3’s set at West Virginia’s All Good Festival (read the review here), Kreutzmann randomly wandered into the press tent, catching various writers and photographers entirely off guard as he sat down for an impromptu interview that nobody expected. Kreutzmann has kept a lower profile than Phil Lesh or Bob Weir over the years, but when he spoke about the Grateful Dead one couldn’t help but feel as though you were hearing words spoken by a living relic of the counter culture. So, as soon as he got talking, it was clear that the only thing to do was whip out a recorder, start asking questions and take down Kreutzmann’s every last word as he went in-depth about The Dead’s most recent tour (you can read all about the tour here), his pet political causes, Grateful Dead tribute acts and his own answer to the bumper sticker hypothetical, “What Would Jerry Do?”
JamBase: What’s it like playing a festival with Dark Star Orchestra, a band that’s put so much effort into recreating the music of the Grateful Dead?
Kreutzmann: Well, do you want my honest opinion or a good opinion?
JamBase: Feel free to give both but I’d dig the honest opinion.
Kreutzmann: Well, I’ll give you the honest opinion. It always works the best. I think if you’re going to spend that much time on music you should work on your own music. I’m complimented they do that and I know people like it but what I think happened is when Jerry [Garcia] died and there wasn’t really a Grateful Dead anymore, they filled the gap, they filled the hole, and that’s cool, but I’d mix it up. I’d do some Grateful Dead and do some of my own tunes.
JamBase: Would you feel like you’d be progressing if you were just playing Dead tunes?
Kreutzmann: I don’t think that way. I know I wouldn’t be progressing. I like to be creative and make as much new stuff as possible. I’ve been playing with a lot of different people. At the Wanee Festival, I had Sam Bush sit in for a while and Col. Bruce Hampton. It was really fun.
JamBase: So for a guy who’s played every venue between The Fillmore and the Giza Pyramids, what do you think of All Good as a concert venue?
Kreutzmann: It’s a nice venue. I like the way it’s laid out. I haven’t really walked around. I got driven here, and there was nobody in my dressing room to talk to so I came here [to the press tent] to talk to you guys.
JamBase: Do you feel that this crowd will be receptive to newer music or are folks going to expect a note-by-note run-through of old Dead tunes?
Kreutzmann: We’re going to do some Dead stuff but we don’t do it like Bobby [Weir] or Phil [Lesh]… We do it our own way, but they’ll like it.
JamBase: Do folks expect to hear it a la RatDog or Phil Lesh & Friends?
Kreutzmann: They may expect it but my ace in the hole is that [Grateful Dead songwriter] Robert Hunter has written a bunch of songs for me and nobody has heard them yet. So, I’ll be playing at least three new Hunter songs that should make things exciting.
JamBase: Were you bummed that you and Bobby missed each other?
Kreutzmann: Nah. We just played a whole tour together, and we saw each other last weekend at Rothbury. That was a great festival – great layout, lots of trees and the stages were spread apart so the music didn’t bleed into other sets. I hate that.
JamBase: So with Rothbury in the past and no dates scheduled for The Dead, what are the conversations like regarding the future of The Dead?
Kreutzmann: That’s a good question but we haven’t been having any conversations about the future. There are no plans.
JamBase: Do you think you’ll be hearing from Bobby or Mickey Hart in the near future?
Kreutzmann: No, no. I think we’ll get offers and stuff but they probably won’t want to do it. After you’ve been together for 40 years it feels real good to get out there and play with different musicians.
JamBase: What made everyone want to get back together in the first place?
Kreutzmann: The Obama gig at Penn State. That was actually my idea and Bobby said he’d love to do anything to support him, and I said, “Shoot, we’re getting together and getting our gear and our best rigs out so why don’t we just do a tour?” And that’s what we did.
JamBase: So any plans for a 2012 Obama re-election gig?
Kreutzmann: I’d love it. I don’t know if it will be a Dead show, but I hope he gets re-elected. I think there are some changes happening, especially with Al Franken in the Senate. We did some work together when he was on Saturday Night Live. He was a writer and I played a few times.
HeadCount Representative: Have you heard of HeadCount? Bobby is on our board of directors and we registered over 100,000 new voters for the 2008 election.
Kreutzmann: Good for you brother! I’m all about registering people to vote, but my real cause is protecting the oceans. That’s where I put all my energy. I work with a guy who was the original trainer of Flipper, even though you’re too young to remember that show. But now there’s a place in Japan called The Cove where they kill over 1000 dolphins a year for meat, and it’s full of mercury. The mercury is coming from coal burning plants in China that don’t re-filter their chimneys and they put out tons of that crap and it hits the water and it turns to mercury. It’s hard though. You try and bring it to their attention but the Japanese filter out any negative information about eating dolphins or the dangers involved. So basically, you have school children eating dolphin without knowing the dangers. [It’s ironic because] the Japanese people are really big about pure, clean organic food. They don’t allow GMOs so we’re trying to educate them about these 37 fishermen involved in the horrible slaughter. There are a billion causes out there, and protecting the oceans is very important to me, but getting people to vote should be number one. You get people to vote the right people into office and you’ve got people making the changes that I’m talking about.
JamBase: You were saying that after 40 years of touring with the same guys you want to play with different people. Do you think if Jerry didn’t pass away when he did that the Grateful Dead would still be on the road to the extent that they were in 1995?
Kreutzmann: I actually don’t. I believe that Jerry would have had enough of the Grateful Dead and would want to start his own band. I know the fans will hate to hear that but that’s just how I feel. He felt so different about playing even with his first band way back when, and he felt so different playing with his own band [The Jerry Garcia Band] than with the Grateful Dead. I just think he would have gotten sick of it. But that doesn’t mean I’m right. How can you be right about something like that? I know he’d be playing music though. I guarantee you that much is a fact.
JamBase: So, how about the ladies at the shows? How do the girls compare to the chicks that used to follow the Dead back in the ’60s?
Kreutzmann: Now that’s a real Hugh Hefner kind of question [laughs]. The ladies at the shows are as wonderful as they ever were. My secret was that I’d pick the best lookin’ lady out there and I’d play just to her. The other day at the Oregon Country Fair, me and Papa [Mali] did a small set just me and him, and we had a big audience show up for this small acoustic set. And when I looked to the side, I saw four topless chicks dancing there and I asked myself, “Where am I?”