Interview by Danny Coleman
“That’s Band fan territory so we’re really looking forward to it,” says Jim Weider, one of rock music’s most admired guitarists and member of The Weight Band as he discussed their upcoming 7:30 p.m. December 9 show at the South Orange Performing Arts Center, their new album and more.
Fixed with the task of replacing guitarist Robbie Robertson when the The Band reformed in 1985, Weider says that he was, “Excited” yet rather, “Comfortable” slipping into the role due to a familiarity with drummer Levon Helm and bassist Rick Danko.
“Ya know, it was very exciting and I was in awe of the guys but I had been working with Levon and the All Stars in previous years and then I had started working with Levon and Rick and so by the time that I went out there, even though I hadn’t played those big giant stadium shows with Crosby Stills and Nash; I still had to kick those songs up a bit. I was already kind of comfortable as far as the music went because it was ingrained in me and I’d been playing some of that stuff with Levon and Rick so when I got to the point of joining of course It was very exciting but I was a little more comfortable than most guys would have been because I had been working with those guys a little prior to that individually.”
Since the group’s dissolution, he continued working with various members of The Band but with the eventual passing of perhaps his closest band mates and allies, Helm and Danko; he felt a determination to carry on the music and the legacy while continuing to solidify his place as a songwriter and performer. Weider explains the February 2018 release of, “World Gone Mad” as if it were almost a necessity to establish the group as more than just a tribute to The Band.
“We did it because we were like, OK we can’t just be covering the Band’s songs, it’s just not enough. I wanted to write an original record and make the group an original group while carrying on that music and sound. We’re the only group that can basically legally do The Band tunes because I was actually in The Band. All of these other bands that do them are just tribute bands so I wanted to do an original record so that we’d be known for our music and so far it’s working out good.”
“It’s been a long journey and I’m continuing the journey, continuing to play roots rock music; The Band’s music has made me a living for many, many years and we’re trying to keep that sound alive with this new album and these great musicians. We’ve got a new addition, Matt Zeiner a vocalist who worked with Dickey Betts Band and he’s an amazing keyboardist and vocalist; so it looks like we’re going to have to do another album (laughs). This album has Michael Bram drumming and singing and he really has the sound of The Band and Levon’s drumming style down; so people will feel the music especially when we do a Band classic they’ll really feel it and of course it comes natural to me. Brian Mitchell who played with Levon Helm is on the record; we cut a Dead tune, “Deal” and we did it in a band style so it sounds a little bit like, “Ophelia,” you know, that kind of groove. We purposely wanted the album to sound like another Band album so that we could put them in the show as we’re doing and not have it be a big difference. We’re not doing, “Jessica” from the Allman Brothers then going into, “Cripple Creek;” although that’s not a bad idea (laughs).”
With such a talented line up and years of recording and performing experience, one would think putting this disc together would come relatively easy; not so says Weider. The challenges came in the form of creating certain nuances that would keep the overall sound in line with that of The Band.
“It was really hard to get really good songs that are up to The Band standard. A couple of the tunes I co-wrote with Levon Helm and a buddy so I brought them back and re-wrote them and Brian Mitchell re-wrote, “Never too Old to Rock ‘N’ Roll” which I co-wrote with Levon and Joe Flood and he added a new verse and updated it; we’ve got some updated stuff but all of the new stuff was really a challenge to make it sound strong and be up to the level of The Band’s music. We absolutely took advantage of the newer technology out there today but we really tried to record the album with as live a sound as we possibly could; that’s the way The Band always did it.”
No strangers to being on the road, The Weight Band does a mixed repertoire of artists, most or all of which having had connections to The Band over the years but in doing so; does Weider ever miss his buddy Helm and does it affect his performance in anyway?
“It’s kinda ingrained in me now from playing with The Band for so many years,” he said with a mild laugh. “It’s just that I naturally feel that kind of music; plus playing with Levon for over 30 years with him sitting next to me on the drums always helps too but on this tour we’re doing a little bit of everything.We’re doing songs off of our brand new record, “World Gone Mad” and we’re doing some classic Band tunes and some Dylan tunes; this thing kind of changes up. We’ll do some of the classics and mix it in but because I was in The Band we’ll do, “Remedy” from the,“Jericho” album that I did and wrote; we’re carrying on the music.”
Many classic rock acts of today band together and go out on the road with reduced sets as they play a greatest hits type of show, playing only their popular hits while not recording any new music. Weider says that is not the case with The Weight Band’s concerts and feels that not writing and/or releasing new music can lead to stagnation.
“That to me, I can’t do that; that is boring for me,” he stated with conviction. “I’ve always got to be doing new stuff and writing, otherwise you become stale. You’ve got to keep creating, that’s what you get into music for and you’ve got to keep creating that’s all, that’s all I know. You’ve got to keep moving forward because once you start doing the same old thing you lose your inspiration and you always have to be inspired to make music.”
Weider also reflected back on his youth a bit, starting as a young musician he was akin to a sponge; taking in whatever he could with multiple influences that still stick with him today.
“Boy I’ll tell ya, it started early with The Ventures and Scotty Moore and Elvis, “Ain’t nothin’ but a Hound Dog” and the Yardbirds and the English people coming in, I just loved it all. I tried to soak up as much as I could and when I heard Roy Buchanan and The Band and that Telecaster playing; I was a Tele player in the mid-sixties I always loved them.”
Along with the aforementioned song selection, Weider says that those coming to SOPAC on December 9 can expect to get their money’s worth both in tunes, length of show and a little anniversary.
“Oh yeah, an hour and a half to two hours; we’ll play. They’ll get a big dose of the new album, some Dylan stuff, some stuff from, “Big Pink” since it’s the 50 year celebration and they’ll get some Band tunes.”
Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)
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