For 30 years, Bill Kreutzmann was the sensitive stick-wielder channeling psychedelic rhythms as the Grateful Dead's drummer. After Jerry Garcia's death in 1995, Kreutzmann moved out to Hawaii — something he and Garcia had promised to do together if the band were ever to break apart. Since then, Kreutzmann has explored the visual arts, gardening, and social activism. His ensuing musical pursuits include multiple reincarnations of the Dead and projects with Dead members as well as collaborations with members of Phish, Journey, and a multitude of jam-scene characters, including Warren Haynes and Oteil Burbridge of the Allman Brothers.
Kreutzmann's latest musical vehicle is a mashup of New Orleans swamp funk and psychedelia called 7 Walkers. Joining him is Malcolm "Papa Mali" Welbourne, New Orleans legend George Porter of the Meters fame, and multi-instrumentalist Matt Hubbard. To the delight of Deadheads, Garcia's primary songwriting partner, Robert Hunter, contributed lyrics. The band is touring in support of its self-titled debut album, set for release November 2. Recently, New Times chatted on the phone with Kreutzmann as he enjoyed a gorgeous Hawaiian day by the pool with his dog. We discussed chicken shit, donkeys, and the new Grateful Dead archive at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
New Times: How does your garden grow?
Bill Kreutzmann: We have a real beautiful garden here. It's good for your body to eat the vegetables. You can grow them organically, and you don't have to use fertilizers. We use chicken manure around here 'cause there's lots of chickens.
Do you ever draw parallels between gardening and music?
The only parallel is that they [both] feel good. One is really good for you physically, and the other one is really good for you emotionally and spiritually. [Pauses to throw ball for dog.] Heck of a day here.
How about your new musical garden, 7 Walkers?
It's a fun band to play in. So much different than the Grateful Dead. It's like a breath of fresh air. I love that.
Does it still feel fresh to create at this point?
At this point in my life, I make sure the music-business part is fun, not work. I've done the work part. I didn't plan to play this much this year, but playing with Rhythm Devils [with former Grateful Dead drummer Micky Hart] and 7 Walkers, I've probably gigged more this year than I ever did with the Grateful Dead.
I know! It blew my mind too. I was like "God, can I still do that?" At my age, I'm not going to do something that doesn't feel good.
Have there been periods in the past of it not feeling good?
Some nights, you didn't feel like playing. You could be jet-lagged. That was one of the biggest hindrances with touring. You'd get this overwhelming sense of tiredness. You'd be like "Oh, do I have to go play tonight?" and you get over it. It just makes you go in deeper, reach deeper to get a good result. And the music is the medicine.
Playing music brings you out of the fatigue.
Yeah, if you're in a bad mood or something, you can shake it by playing. You never take it out on the music. Just 'cause I'm not feeling good one or two nights, I sure don't want to do that to the audience, you know? That's not my job. And the audience is feeling good, so they have that energy.
And that comes back into you.
It was always so cool to be in the cities and get to the gig and see all these bright, bright colors, see all these Deadheads in their tie-dyes. It was almost like a relief. There's the tribe again!
Psychedelics were such an important part of the '60s. How do you see them playing into this moment in history?
They are probably more important in this moment in history than ever. We have a lot of unfinished business from the '60s. Google has opened a tremendous wind farm on the Atlantic Coast. The power company down in Southern California is putting in ten square miles of solar panels out in the desert. If we just kept going like we're going, it wouldn't be very good. I'm gonna get a couple of mules over here and start driving on the road like the Amish. I just really want to get people to stop using fuel. I have a little bit of a hesitation, because when I travel, I'm flying on jets, and that's definitely using fuel. It's kind of a Catch-22 there. But I think as long as people are enjoying themselves and feeling good about life, then music is worth doing that.
How were the 7 Walkers recording sessions?
The sessions were like the most fun sessions I've done in a long time. They were easy. They were enjoyable. We never kept tracks to listen back to. We had to play the whole thing and like it or forget it. And I love that. There is a real honesty. I've been in situations before where you have to listen to 20 tracks and try to pick the best one. Take 22, oh my God. I'm out of there. [laughs] Papa would just say, "Hey, everybody like that track?" and we'd say, "Yeah, sounds good," and we'd listen back, and it was good.
Has Robert Hunter come out to any shows? Is there any chance of him getting on stage with you?
You read minds. I invited him the last time we played in San Francisco, and he did come to the show. I asked him if he wanted to open for us, and he said, "Bill, you know, I've just exclusively been writing the last few years, and I haven't played in a while. So I don't feel good enough about playing."
When Hunter and Papa met each other [at the show], they almost had tears in their eyes, they were so happy. Hunter loves the way Malcolm put his words to music. There is a quote [from Hunter] in the liner notes that says, "They hit the ball out of the park. They probably hit it into orbit and it's still going." He liked it from first note to last. When the writer says that, you did it right. But it was really great to see the writer and the lead singer doing the material really like each other, you know? Yay!
Let's talk about the UC Santa Cruz Grateful Dead archive.
Yeah, I love it. It's really cool. It's another great place for Deadheads to meet. I went down there, and it about brought a tear to my eye. It felt so good for people to be honoring the spirit of the Grateful Dead. You'll love it. It's really fun. There is so much memorabilia. For instance, they have over 20,000 pictures. That's a lot! I'm really happy it's going on. It made me feel really good to have that body of work protected so nicely.
The Grateful Dead is still alive in so many ways.
You may have never seen Jerry live, but just talking to me, you're keeping it alive too.