Bill Kreutzmann: Fulfilling Jerry Garcia’s Promise
7 Walkers signing on Jam Cruise 10 – photo by Dave Vann
After taking a few years off following the death of Jerry Garcia, founding Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann has gone through a musical rebirth in recent years. In addition to sporadic tours with The Dead, the 65-year-old drummer has led his own trio BK3, recorded with Journey guitarist Neal Schon and other conspirators under the name Trichromes, worked with members of Phish and reunited with his closest collaborator Mickey Hart for a few Rhythm Devils outings. Most recently, along with New Orleans staple Papa Mali, he co-founded his most fully realized project since the Grateful Dead, the roots-oriented, psychedelic-leaning New Orleans blues band 7 Walkers.
In February, the drummer will travel to Costa Rica for an appearance at Jungle Jam, before beginning work on the next 7 Walkers album. While on Jam Cruise, Kreutzmann discussed his myriad of projects, his upcoming Jungle Jam collaboration with Max Creek’s Scott Murawski and how Mike Gordon’s backstage pass changed the course of his post Jerry-years. 7 Walkers bassist George Porter Jr. also pops in for bit to share some thoughts on Kreutzmann’s current musical renaissance.
You are heading to Costa Rica for Max Creek’s Jungle Jam next month. Scott Murawski from Max Creek has been a friend of yours for a few years, and he played in your BK3 trio. Can you start by giving us some insight into how you first met Scott and how that relationship has developed?
Bill: It’s a great story: Mike Gordon from Phish knew that I wanted to start playing again. I had been in Grateful Dead offshoots like the Dead and the Other Ones. They were fine bands—good bands, really good players—but I kind of wanted to do something on my own. So he went and asked [Allman Brothers Band bassist] Oteil Burbridge if he wanted to play with me. And this is how bad I am: I didn’t even know who Oteil was [Laughter.]! Sometimes when you play in a band like the Dead you kind of have your blinders on, but that might just be my bad habit.
He introduced me to Oteil and the lead guitar player from Max Creek— Scott Murawski —and the three of us just had a time. I still have pictures in my mind of those two guys standing out in front of my drums just interlaced in their music. It was very, very, very high music. Sometimes when the music is like that it doesn’t last that long but when it was lasting it was really great. BK3 was great—really great trio. We don’t play together any more but I am looking forward to playing with Scott at Jungle Jam. I don’t necessarily want to play with the Max Creek band since they have two drummers but Scott and I will get together and do something. It is fun to take Scott out of that place and bring him somewhere else. Same thing for me. It is a beautiful place, the Doce Lunas Resort in Jaco Beach Costa Rica—a four-mile long beach with places to stay. The Jungle Jam is really a fun thing—this is my third year playing down there.
Do you plan to make the trip a vacation as well?
Bill: I have some great buddies down in Costa Rica who I surf with. Usually, I will go with them on a river rafting trip before we do the concert. I like the outside—I lived in cities because of my business but I really like to get out into nature. I live in Kawaii with my wife now—I need to get back into surfing more. My really good surf buddy takes care of me down there. He’ll say, “Bill you’ve been out too long!” He surfs all the big stuff.
As you said, Mike Gordon originally introduced you to Scott. At the time, I remember you jokingly asked Mike of you could borrow Scott for your trio. What initially attracted you to his playing?
Bill: Max Creek is such a family—I love bands like that. Scott is totally free and he is not locked into any one type of sound. When he develops a solo he will develop his playing in one way and just grow and grow and grow. It will grow in a really nice way that is not automatic and obvious. He brings in new notes and different chords and then it all just splashes out at the end of the solo into the next verse. Basically, he is doing oil painting in music. With oil painting, you have to paint a layer first and it will dry. He basically does that in his music: he will paint and then add onto those parts when they dry. It layers. I will play with that guy any time.
From the Grateful Dead and The Rhythm Devils to The Dead, most of your past projects have been large ensembles. Do you feel that the BK3 trio laid the groundwork for 7 Walkers, which is a four-person band?
Bill: It didn’t segue so much as it was just the next project. Oteil got busy with Derek Trucks and couldn’t play as much as I needed so it went that away. I fortunately met Papa Mali at the Oregon Country fair a few years ago, and we become fast friends. We have been playing music together ever since.
You currently live in Hawaii and have played in a number of tropical locations over in recent years, including Jam Cruise and Jungle Jam. Why did you originally decide to move to Hawaii?
Bill: When Jerry died…A couple of things: Jerry and I had a promise together that if the Grateful Dead ever ended the two of us would move to Hawaii together because we both liked to dive. That was back in the late ‘80s when we both got certified, and I didn’t surf back then. When ’95 came around, unfortunately, he wasn’t able to keep the promise. I will always miss him very, very much.
So I moved there because, after all those years of playing, I was hurting. That is the best I could say it. I needed to get some healing, and I needed to be in a place that was helpful to getting your act together again. I was pretty out, and I wasn’t in the best place. So I moved to Hawaii for my own personal healing and it was really a smart thing to do. It is so far out of this mainstream music business that it gave me a way of re-energizing, healing and bringing myself back into the game again. I am having the best time now—I feel younger than I have ever been in my heart.