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With a touring history that has made him one of the most traveled road musicians of all time and a restless music personality that has kept him occupied for over 50 years, Weir knows a thing or two about staying fresh and living in the moment. Although best known as one of the founding members of the Grateful Dead, adding Dead staples such as “Truckin’,” “Sugar Magnolia,” and “Cassidy” to the band’s catalog, Weir obtained a long and affluent music career that has allowed him to do what he loves and share it with others for nearly his entire life.
Born in 1947, Weir was adopted by a wealthy California engineer. As a teen, he secured his spot as one of the youngest members of the burgeoning folk scene that centered on a Palo Alto club called the Tangent—home to such future rock legends as Jerry Garcia, Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and Janis Joplin. In 1964, at the age of 17, Weir spent the majority of his time at a Palo Alto music store where Garcia taught guitar lessons. It wasn’t long before Weir and Garcia, along with Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, formed a blues and folk outfit. Originally called Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, the band was later renamed The Warlocks—adding Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzman to the lineup—and eventually came to be known as the Grateful Dead.
Weir’s odd rhythm style developed as he played between the sweet articulated lead of Garcia and the avant-garde bass lines of Lesh. His songwriting developed as well, taking off particularly in the 1970s when he crossed paths with former pal John Perry Barlow. The two began producing songs in Weir’s own distinct style, spurring a songwriting partnership that would last for years to come.
Even with the Dead playing close to 100 shows a year, Weir needed other musical outlets. 1972 brought the release of his first solo album, Ace, on which the rest of the Dead backed him. Throughout the rest of the 1970s Weir toured and recorded with a number of different groups, the first of which was Kingfish. After releasing an album with the band in 1976, Weir began a solo project with producer Keith Olsen called Heaven Help the Fool. A brief tour to support the album resulted in collaborations with various session players, including Brent Mydland (who would join the Dead in 1979), Bobby Cochran, Alphonso Johnson and Billy Cobham. Weir also briefly toured with a group as Bobby and the Midnites, producing two albums.
Throughout the late 1980s and during the first half of the 1990s, the Dead remained Weir’s primary gig. Touring incessantly while all the while building up a community of “Deadheads,” the band finally found commercial success with their 1987 album, In the Dark. When Garcia died in 1995, Weir had just recently formed RatDog with Rob Wasserman, a bassist he had been playing duo shows with since the late 1980s. After Garcia’s death, former Primus drummer Jay Lane and ex-Kingfish harmonica/guitar player Matthew Kelly were added into the mix. With a revolving lineup, the group toured relentlessly, building a name for themselves while performing a mix of new Weir compositions and older, reworked Dead songs.
In 1998, Weir reunited with several former Dead bandmates to tour as The Other Ones, releasing a live album in 1999 and hitting the road again in 2000. The same year, RatDog released their first album, Evening Moods. In 2009, original Grateful Dead members Weir, Lesh, Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart teamed up with guitarist Warren Haynes and RatDog keyboardist Chimenti to tour as the Dead. The results, however, were erratic, leaving Weir feeling like the road trip was more work than fun and Lesh saying the music didn’t seem to be moving forward. Besides stirring up some commotion, the ’09 Dead tour reminded Weir and Lesh of the chemistry the two had as bandmates. This led to the creation of Furthur—arguably one of the most successful Dead projects Weir has participated in to date.
Currently, Weir is married to the former Natascha Muenter, with whom he has two young daughters, Monet and Chloe. While not consumed by music, Weir spends a great deal of time as a social activist. He has done work as an environmental activist with several organizations, such as Greenpeace, and currently serves on the Board of Advisors for theRainforest Action Network and for Seva Foundation. He works with both the Rex Foundation, an organization started by the Dead in 1984, and the Furthur Foundation. Most recently, Weir is on the Board of Directors for Headcount, a nonprofit that registers voters and inspires participation in democracy through the power of music.A long, strange, very creative trip—and not remotely over. Keep up with Bob on Facebook or follow him on Twitter: @BobWeirRatDog.