In his latest venture, 7 Walkers, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann combines forces with an array of celebrated musicians, including Papa Mali, George Porter Jr. and Matt Hubbard.
"It's a completely different band, and I have to switch gears, but it's really fun for me," Kreutzmann said. "In other projects, I play a good ole groove. With 7 Walkers, I play the whole thing in the New Orleans spirit, snare kind of music. The hard stuff."
The ensemble will perform at Higher Ground in Burlington Dec. 11. 　Recorded in Austin, Texas, the 7 Walkers' self-titled release (Response Records) is a mash-up of New Orleans funk and San Francisco psychedelic rock described as "swampedelic." The character of the album stitches together the carefree tone of the Grateful Dead, the sinister magic of southern voodoo and the outlaw nature of Bourbon Street.
"The excitement is not being on the road, the excitement is playing the music. And, the music has been happening," Kreutzmann said. "I'm having the busiest year I've ever had. I didn't plan to go back to work this much this year. I thought with the Grateful Dead stuff, in 1995, after Jerry (Garcia) died, 'Well, that's that.' I took some time off and healed myself, got my energy back in Hawaii.
"Jerry and I had this dream of living in Hawaii, when the band stopped. Unfortunately, I was the only one that held up the agreement. This year, I don't know how many gigs I've played. It's fun. I'm not complaining."
And yet Kreutzmann isn't the only past member still truckin'. Weaving across the country, Bob Weir (rhythm guitar) and Phil Lesh (bass) have overtaken the festival circuit with Furthur, another reincarnation of the Grateful Dead catalogue.
"I haven't really got much interest in them. They sound just like the other bands out there doing it. What do you call those bands that copy other bands—" Kreutzmann said. "Anyways, I don't feel they're doing anything really new with their music.
"We play Grateful Dead tunes in 7 Walkers but with our own take on everything. We don't play them slow, we play it loud and up tempo. The saddest thing is that they (Furthur) hired a guitar player that's not Warren Haynes. It's too bad. They should have hired a great solo guitar player."
Legendary poet/lyricist Robert Hunter, who had an bountiful and irreplaceable partnership with Garcia, collaborates with Mali and churns out melodies that fit snugly within Kreutzmann's vision, soaking into your skin with the scent of a fresh rain or spilled whiskey bottle.
With sharp-as-nails acoustic guitar strokes and a bass drumbeat echoing the footfalls of a loved one walking slowly out of your life, "Evangeline" conjures the image of a femme fatale long lost, residing only in the foggy memories of the past.
Lacy keyboard strokes, dizzying circus rhythms and the soothing guest vocals of Willie Nelson waft throughout "King Cotton Blues." Somber guitar notes radiate from the speakers, mesmerizing the listener. It sticks to your heart; it sticks to your soul.
It is a sentiment solely revealed by poignant music crafted by kindred spirits.
Kreutzmann turned 64 in May. Does that milestone hold meaning for him— He paused for a moment then chuckled.
"I don't know. Will you still love me when I'm 64—"