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Published: 2010/10/20
by Brian Robbins

7 Walkers’ Papa Mali Talks the Walk

BR: “Evangeline” is just plain lovely. I don’t know if you got inside of that one or if Hunter got inside of you

PM: One of the two, man, one of the two … I know Hunter was really touched when he heard what we did with that song – just like I was when I first read the lyrics; I immediately connected with it.

Hunter had lines like, “Plain to her as street signs posted in the trees.” There are places in Louisiana where they put the street signs in the trees and I don’t think anybody who’s never been there could possibly know that, you know? It’s things like that that touched me … Hunter’s not just a great poet and lyricist – he pays attention to the little details that seep into our subconsciousness. I’d never even thought about the street signs until I read him describing them.

BR: Another thing that struck me about “Evangeline” the first time through was Bill – just his cymbal work on that tune would be a great study for any aspiring drummer.

PM: Billy is one of the most amazing drummers I have ever experienced. I mean, I knew that before I met him, but it’s different when you play with somebody. I had to almost re-approach my own playing when I started playing with him, because he liberates you; his playing is so perfect, yet his style is so free that it really makes you play more freely … it’s a beautiful thing.

I think that Billy really brought jazz drumming into the rock world, you know? I mean, guys like Mitch Mitchell did it, too, but Billy really did it better. You can hear people like Elvin Jones in his playing – it’s really amazing.

BR: I had to laugh when I first heard “Hey Bo Diddle”, thinking about how many times Billy and the Dead jammed their way into and out of “Not Fade Away”. But you guys took that Bo Diddley-style beat and found a totally different path to travel with it.

PM: And that’s one where you have to totally give the credit to Bill. He loves New Orleans music, but just like with anything else he plays, he always puts his stamp of individuality on it. So even though it’s sort of a second-line New Orleans beat and somewhat of a Bo Diddley beat, it’s really neither. It’s a unique thing that Billy created and it really defines the song.

BR: “7 Walkers” – which came first, the band name or the song?

PM: The song came first. We took our name from it because we loved that Robert Hunter magic of puzzles within puzzles and cosmic connections within his lyrics that are clues to other things.

BR: On one level, there are these cool street scenes – the right-in-your-face stuff – and at the same time, there’s this level of mysticism.

PM: You got it. That’s what intrigued us about the song and made it a perfect name for the band. It expresses our interest in mystic spirituality – and at the same time, we’re just regular guys just playing music on the road, man. (laughs)

BR: You’ve been playing music for a long time – has it ever felt like this band does to you?

PM: Never, man. Never. And it’s not just the fact that I’m playing with two of my heroes – I’ve been lucky enough to play with _a lot _ of my heroes over the years, actually. It’s something much more than that …

I have to say, when I first thought about bringing George into the fold, I never even dreamed that he’d be enjoying it so much that he’d put his other projects on the back burner and go with this, you know? He’s a very groovy and a very busy guy. But something special happened between he and Billy that just can’t be denied. That was when I realized that we really had a band – it wasn’t just me and Billy doing a project.

I think that’s what makes our sound unique: there are four of us who have each had very different experiences – but at the same time, we’re all really connected, man.

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