Carrying The Weight: Marty Grebb and Keeping the Spirit of The Band Alive
First thing’s first: The Weight are most assuredly not a tribute band. Far from it, these guys are really more of an extension of The Band itself, with members who played in The Band in its later incarnations (Jim Weider and Randy Ciarlante) and others (Brian Mitchell and Byron Isaacs) who have extensive relationships with The Band members both musically and personally. The fifth member of The Weight, Marty Grebb, is no different. He lived in Woodstock in its heyday, and his professional and personal relationships with Band members Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel go back almost as far as The Band itself.
This weekend, The Weight will bring The Band’s legendary Rock of Ages concert to life in Brooklyn, with the help of The King Harvest Horns who will recreate Allen Toussaint’s spectacular horn charts. Grebb recently took some time to recount the long and intertwined history that resulted in the formation of The Weight, along with Toussaint’s particular relationship with The Band, the complicated relationship that he saw within The Band’s members, and how the future of The Weight will definitely include an upcoming album of new, original (but still Band-influenced) music.
Take us through your history with The Band. How did The Weight come together?
Well, here’s the long way around the barn—no pun intended—these days I always say it’s because of spiritual connections that are predestined in my own life for me to sort of stumble around in the dark and then run into this person and that person and that kind of a thing. I came to Woodstock through Harvey Brooks and came into a band called the Fabulous Rhinestones. That town, at the time, was really a boom town of music, and Bob Dylan kind of started all of that out. It was formally an artist colony; I did say I’m going a long way around that barn, if that’s all right?
The Rhinestones went there to do their first album—I had already met Rick [Danko] and Richard [Manuel], but I hadn’t met Garth [Hudson] yet. I think I’d met Levon [Helm]. Garth sent a piano over for me to use—he had a collection of them already. He scoured the woods and found a bunch of great pianos that were just sitting there for the plucking in ’69. It was so great of him, and we’ve been friends ever since. So for me that was the beginning. I ended up in Rick Danko’s band by knowing him around town, you know, being “wild and crazy guys.” I wrote a bunch of songs with Richard Manuel and Terry Danko, Rick’s brother. Richard had asked me to produce a record of his, and I said “well, that is quite an honor to even be asked, but I don’t have the means to do it, how about if we just write some songs?” Then I was on the road with Rick, and I went out to California, and Rick came out there. Then Richard came out there, and Garth moved out, and then Levon came out. So that part of the picture kept going, and a lot of those songs were written in very “high times” and a lot of misbehaving drunken behavior, everything you can imagine under the moon. All of that material was lost until last year—it was re-discovered and resuscitated, and it may see the light of day depending on the heirs of Richard Manuel.
[Back in Woodstock], I knew a bunch of local musicians, and one was Jim Weider—he was a young guy, younger than me, so I didn’t hang with him that much, but I noticed him and I thought, “Wow, this guy’s good.” So by the time I left town and The Band had disbanded at The Last Waltz, I had worked with all of those guys. Then Richard and I had a group called The Pencils out in California that was very short lived, because The Band had decided to get back together. So, they all up and moved back to Woodstock, they got Jim Weider to be the guitarist and he played with them until they stopped being The Band again, and that was probably another 15-20 years. In that time period, Levon decided, “Well. I want to be up front some of the time, I want to get this guy that I keep seeing around, Randy Ciarlante, who sings great and plays drums, and we can have two drum sets and I’ll play double drums sometimes.” That was after Richard had passed that he made that decision to have another voice, and off they went. So then Jim and Randy, who had known each from Woodstock, were both in The Band.
Then Levon started his own thing, and Levon’s band had Brian Mitchell, and he added Byron Isaacs on bass. Then there was another side car of that, which was Amy [Helm]’s band. Amy was in Levon’s band while he was doing that, and now she has her own band, and those guys are part of the Midnight Ramble Band, which Levon started.
So when Garth had asked me to be a part of his band, I moved from California to Baltimore, because I had a son there. Jim said one day, “I know you’re working with Garth, and we have a connection with him too—how about if we got together and we formed a band and called it The Weight? We’ll do all Band material,” and so that’s how it started. It really expanded from there. We got way deep off into it, and there are really strong connections to The Band itself. I mean, guys who were actually in The Band, and then other guys who were connected with everybody else, like myself.
This growing thing evolved to a certain place where we have been doing more specialized shows, and that’s how the idea of this show at the Brooklyn Bowl came to be, an opportunity to do the Rock of Ages show, and not only that, but some of the outtakes that were issued on a re-release. We have a lot of the original Allen Toussaint arrangements, and then we have some that have been added to by Clark Gayton, who also played in the Midnight Ramble band and was friends with Levon. So we have this big picture of everybody that has these connections all together in one place doing the Rock of Ages show, recreating it and doing it as well as we can. Plus giving everybody a little freedom to add their own sound—we aren’t trying to mimic anything but the heart and soul of what’s there. I know everyone is really excited about it, and each guy has devoted at least part of his life to this music and has a strong connection.