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Oteil Burbridge Summons Water in the Desert

JPG: After three Oteil and the Peacemakers albums what led to this solo release?

OB: The Peacemakers was Mark Kimbrell on guitar, Matt Slocum on Keyboards, and Chris Fryar on drums. It’s a band. Without that exact line up, until one of them dies or wouldn’t want to do it anymore, it’s not the Peacemakers. The Allman Brothers Band would never have done a gig without me and called it the Allman Brothers Band unless I was in the hospital, quit or got fired. That’s what it means to be in a band. None of the members of the Peacemakers were on this last record, so I wouldn’t disrespect them by calling it a Peacemakers record.

You probably wouldn’t notice this but everyone in the Peacemakers lived in Birmingham, Alabama, which is where I lived when that band was together. Almost everyone on my last album lived in or was from Atlanta, Georgia, where I lived when I made that record. I always thought it was good to find people that were right around me if I could. I’m sure I could put together a monster group using only people from south Florida where I live now if I needed to.

JPG: The album moves from R&B moments to jazz ones – reminding me of Stevie Wonder’s ‘70s work as well as bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra. It’s possible I’m completely nuts in my interpretation, so I’m asking you what artists inspired you for this album, and, possibly, what songs/albums/artists were you aspiring to align with for Water in the Desert ?”

OB: You’re not completely nuts, your ears are working! I was born in ’64. You’re hearing R&B, Jazz, Fusion, Gospel, Funk, Blues, Outer Space, Rock….. There’s Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder, Weather Report, Miles, Joni Mitchell, Earth Wind & Fire, Steely Dan, Rev. James Cleveland and Sun Ra. And plenty more! I don’t really try to align with them it just comes out that way. They are my musical parents.

JPG: I’m curious if you noticed that the vocal on “Let Somebody Love You” sounds like John Mayer (as well as the song itself). Was that written since you’ve become bandmates, and through conscious or subconscious ways he influenced it?

OB: Hahaha! You just proved a theory that I have. That was sung by David Ryan Harris who has clearly had a major influence on John Mayer! David is actually in Mayer’s band at this very moment. They’re in Brazil right now. I heard that Mayer used to stalk his solo shows. Maybe Mayer got turned onto David when he lived in Atlanta. I’ll have to ask him. David Ryan Harris is one of the most gifted singers, lyricist, guitarist, composer, and producers on earth.

And for the record, that song was written about 10 years before I ever met Mayer and I didn’t own any of his records. I certainly haven’t listened to any radio since the late 70’s!! Maybe it was influenced by David Harris and I didn’t realize it. I could never sing that song as well as David did. I’m eternally grateful that he did.

JPG: In the music world there are numerous brother combinations that are usually known for creativity marked with hostility – i.e. The Kinks, The Black Crowes, Oasis, The Jesus and Mary Chain – what is your relationship like with Kofi when it comes to making music? Is there a “shorthand” when working together that you don’t have with others?

OB: I guess I was always into the brothers that got along like the Isley Brothers, Bootsy and Catfish Collins, Verdine and Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, Carlton and Aston “Family Mon” Barrett of The Wailers, The Brothers Johnson, The Heath Brothers, The Jackson 5, The Neville Brothers. And let’s not forget about the Allman Brothers.

Kofi and I get along great. There’s something far more wondrous than shorthand going on. It’s pure mysticism. I would love to have a stage at a festival that is all brothers. Burbridge brothers, Evans brothers, Trucks brothers, Wood brothers, Coomes brothers (Lettuce), the McCoury brothers (Del McCoury) and any other brothers and sisters we could come up with!

JPG: Choosing the Friends (musicians) for your upcoming tour. What are you looking for from them that they can add to the studio versions of the music?

OB: Actually, I wasn’t looking for them to add anything to the studio versions of these songs because I’m not really focusing on the record for the live shows. We would need weeks to rehearse that music and that just was not possible this time around. I’m doing a couple of my originals, and at least one from Krasno, John K. and hopefully from Weedie and Melvin, too. The rest are old tunes that I love or ABB, Col. Bruce or Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia Band related.

JPG: Do you have particular aims for this album versus aims for the tour?

The album writing is a snapshot of where my head was back then. The tour is a celebration of past and present with some really great musicians and friends.

JPG: Are your goals and intentions the same when you’re playing as a member of a band versus leading a band?

OB: I think so. We’re all just making grooves, melodies and harmonies put to stories we want to tell. The only difference is that whoever is the bandleader or wrote the song is the one that is translating to the rest of us what he or she originally heard in their head.

JPG: You’ve worked with a number of iconic figures in the music world – Col. Bruce Hampton, Gregg Allman and Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. What have you learned from those experiences that you bring to those situations as well as back to your own music and performance leading a band? Feel free to add any others who inspired you to be the best Oteil you can be.

OB: Wow, that would take so long to answer and I’ve already been long-winded enough in this interview. First, I see why Col. Bruce avoided fame at all costs. There’s a really big price to pay for it. And it seems like the earlier in life it happens the bigger the price. Look at Michael Jackson. My life has changed a lot since joining Dead & Company and even more since I started singing. People look at me like I’m an extra terrestrial sometimes. It really is a strange feeling. It’s kind of new to me, so I’m just now getting used to it but I sure am glad that I’ll never have to deal with that Garcia-level of idol worship. It’s not good for anyone as far as I can see. Success can be a lot more dangerous than failure. It has killed many before their time.

But specifically, from those particular men, I think the biggest thing I learned is to keep going. And go for as long as you can. So many of my heroes played right up to the very end. Life is motion, doing. Doing is life giving. Just like a sine wave rocking back and forth. We’ll be playing a stadium and Kreutzmann will look at me and say, “Wow! isn’t this unbelievable?” I think, “Man, you’ve been playing stadiums since I was like 7 years old! And you’re still knocked out by it?” There’s certainly a number of lessons to be learned just right there.

JPG: It looked as if you were shedding a few tears when Dead & Company took its bow at the end of the second Wrigley Field show, which signified the end of 2017 summer tour. What was going through your mind at that time and what went through your mind when fall dates were announced?

OB: If I looked sad it’s because I was worried about Kofi making a full recovery. I’m never truly sad when a tour is over, just glad that it happened. Especially this year. And I’m always psyched when a new one is announced. It’s win/win on both counts. Fall tour is another chance to do it better than last time. And I know a lot more songs now whether we get to them this fall or not. I’m just getting started!

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