Dave Ellis Talks About Everything
Rob: It’s good to see you are writing too, and you’re writing with Jeff (Chimenti, keyboardist for Ratdog and Dave’s Quartet) as well?
Dave: Uh-huh, yeah. He lives an exit down from me off the freeway over in Oakland. So we spend a lot of time together and I get him over to my little home studio and I say “Hey, gimme some chords for this or that man and come on let’s get this goin’ or that…” I basically found Jeff when I left the Charlie Hunter Trio I called around looking for people to play with, who didn’t play guitar (laughs). Do you know who Charlie Hunter is??
Rob: Oh yeah, of course! I may ask you about him later.
Dave: So, I was looking for a keyboardist, and Jeff was the guy recommended to me by everyone in the Bay Area, which I will admit was a shallow pool, but Jeff was the cream of the crop. Hard to get. And I just called him out of the blue over a year ago, ’96 or so, after Raven came out, my first record. I was looking for people to play with. I just called Jeff and it was like we had been long lost friends or something, just instantly. you know, ah…chillin’ (laughs). So, it’s only natural that some of these songs would be co-compositions, ‘cause he’s my co-partner in the Quartet and in Ratdog, and also an extraordinary talent due to release a CD himself pretty soon…
Rob: As a frontman
Dave: Yeah, a lot of people don’t think that San Francisco produces legitimate jazz musicians, but I know for a fact that Jeff Chimenti is going to be recognized as a piano talent nationally. It’s going to take some time but, wait til you hear him on this – well you’ve already heard him on the record.
Rob: Yeah, he has a nice touch!
Dave: He’s sick man. Jeff and I and Jay too are really learning from Bob and Rob about this rock stuff, even Mark (Karan, Other Ones and Ratdog guitarist) too. These boys do that, and we do something else and bring it together here with Ratdog. That’s what that is. So, I’m glad to hear you say now Ratdog belongs in that jam band category because it God damn well better, our hearts are in every single piece of every tape out there, all of the music. I actually can’t speak from experience because I haven’t listened to too much Phish, and I haven’t listened to too much Widespread Panic, although they played right before us in up in Portland, Maine just a few days ago. Which was nice, I got to check them out. They were killer! Yeah (pause) they were good. Yeah.
Rob: You guys all went?
Dave: Yeah! We went and checked it out, man. I gotta say I really, really enjoyed it, you know. But I know that those, the fact that you didn’t originally consider us one of those bands is strange to me ‘cause this is such a good band, you better watch out now, that’s all! (laughs).
(author’s note: Dave and I had a conversation before the interview where I referred to Ratdog as “recently” being at the forefront of the culture of the folks that this web site reaches. I must have muddled my words, as Dave thought I was implying that until recently Ratdog would not even fall into that category. Since our time with Dave was limited, I didn’t want to waste any time explaining what I had related poorly. The simple fact is that since Ratdog has become Weir’s chief band, it has had more time to develop from a strong Grateful Dead side band into an entity of its own.)
Rob: No, no I-
Dave: But no, but I know what people are thinkin’ ya know. They’re like “ahh Ratdog, I don’t know, I don’t know, there’s Bobby and ahh I don’t know.” Now it’s just gonna be really, very strong. This last tour we’ve just done has really solidified stuff, and we’re gonna get ready to release this record and that’s gunna solidify the group as a band, like you said, as a unit.
Rob: Well, I was in Northampton last Thursday, and I liked, for example coming out of West LA Fadeaway, the relaxed approach to jamming, and the lack of concern for where it was going that maybe wasn’t as prevalent in Ratdog as recently as last spring. I find that really, really refreshing, and you must even more so.
Dave: Yeah, (smiling) in fact we’ve been working on that.
Rob: Was that a new song in the beginning of “Corinna.” You sort of started the body of the song, then you moved away, and you were definitely doing something pre-written, and it wasn’t “Corinna.”
Dave: Yes, it’s brand new.
Rob: Now how long have you been toying with that?
Dave: When Bob and I were out this summer on tour with The Other Ones, Jay and Jeff and Rob were at home working in the studio in Bob’s house, and that was one of the tunes that they came up with. They were keepin’ busy at the insistence of Bob. And they fuckin’ kicked ass and got some work done. This tune is great, we haven’t had enough time to do anything but structure it as a musical piece, and I’ve been sort of taking the lead and the chorus on the saxophone now for the time being while we’re working on it. And it’s great that you notice it because it is a tune unto itself, and I really think it’s a great thing.
Rob: It has some interesting changes in there.
Dave: It does! This is a tune that I think that people who are heads-up, like yourself, watching Ratdog right now, will hear on this record that’s going to come up and know that this is a song that started right here, Winter of 1998. You’ll hear that on our record, as well as about 8 or 9 other songs like that that we’ve been working on as skeletons that we haven’t had time to actually develop, but now we’ve got a unit, like you said. And now we have our deadline, and we’ll be enforcing it (laughs).
Rob: You just played Yoshi’s right?
Dave: I did, yeah!