Bill Kreutzmann and 7 Walkers Help Celebrate Jerry Garcia’s 70th Birthday at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with Q&A and Performance

Bill Kreutzmann Hall of Fame Series and 7 Walkers @ The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame celebrated the legacy of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia by hosting a Grateful Dead Weekend at the Rock Hall in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. On Friday night the organization held a members only Hall of Fame Series interview with drummer and Hall of Fame inductee Bill Kreutzmann just prior to a public performance from Kreutzmann with his current band, 7 Walkers, on The Rock Hall’s main stage. The events were held along with others across the country honoring Garcia during the days between the legendary guitarist 70th birthday and the 17th anniversary of his passing. In his interview with Jason Hanley Ph.D. Kreutzmann spoke fondly of Jerry, praising him for having a “big heart” and for always “looking out for the underdog.”

[All Photos by Michael Stein]

The Hall of Fame Series interview took place for nearly an hour and covered topics from the founding days of the Grateful Dead in the infamous Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco to the experiences of recording versus playing live to the difficulties of running a full-fledged independent music organization during the later years of the Grateful Dead. Kreutzmann recounted the day when Jerry called him on the phone asking him to play in a new band, then called the Warlocks, and his feeling that “This is definitely going to be a thing, and it isn’t going to be redundant!” During the early years, Kreutzmann was living in the Haight with the other band members and recalled how free they were to hold live music events by setting up stages on flatbed trucks in the middle of the street or tossing electrical cables over highways to provide power to a patch of grass where they’d decided to play.

In addition to Jerry, Mickey Hart was a major influence on Kreutzmann’s drumming by getting him to begin studying the musical theory that Mickey was already fluent in when he joined the band. “We divided up the drum set [between me and Mickey and] we made it one giant drum set.” Kreutzmann went on to describe how the two of them became known as the “Rhythm Devils” when filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola coined the term backstage at the Winterland after seeing them play one of their famous second set free drum-solos. Coppola was was looking for music for the soundtrack to the now infamous film Apocalypse Now and he hired the Rhythm Devils to provide a score for the movie.

Further discussion led to why Kreutzmann was so excited to form 7 Walkers with the band members that were sitting in the audience, Papa Mali, Matt Hubbard and George Porter Jr. “I don’t really consider myself in any genre… I just like drumming a lot and whatever type of music I’m playing I’m going to enjoy it.” He spoke of his passion for the rhythms and the music of New Orleans and how much of an honor it was for him to first begin playing with a founding member and bassist for The Meters, George Porter Jr. The electrifying hybrid of classic Bay Area rock and New Orleans funk is an exciting experience that can’t be described as a cover band so much as a “mostly un-cover band,” Kreutzmann said jokingly to singer/guitarist Papa Mali in the audience. The band does play many songs from all of its members’ former bands to produce the self-termed “swampadelic” sound that results from such a collaboration.

After the interview, 7 Walkers presented the crowd of listeners in the main hall of the museum with a smattering of songs from all band members and also included several tracks off their recent self-titled album. The set was dominated by Grateful Dead classics throughout including He’s Gone and Sugaree. The experience of hearing the Grateful Dead being played by at least one of its original members while surrounded by a treasure trove of iconic Rock & Roll paraphernalia is an exhilarating experience that forms a memory that won’t be forgotten. Impressive playing came from multi-instrumentalist Matt Hubbard, who showed off his talents on a variety of instruments including trombone, keyboards and soulful harmonica that opened the set up to more dynamic musical representations.

7 Walkers delivers a fun and engaging musical experience blending nostalgia with iconic rhythm & blues, rock & roll and New Orleans jazz. The hour and a half set also included a jammed out version of The Meters classic party anthem Cabbage Alley which got the funk and soul fans moving and allowed Papa Mali to reiterate the call made by Kreutzmann earlier during his interview that The Meters belong in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Overall, 7 Walkers offers fresh new approaches to classic tunes from its members’ original bands while providing new material in a fun and impressive collaboration that will hopefully continue for a very long time.

Here’s more photos from Billy and 7 Walkers at the Rock Hall…

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