Dead & Company features founding Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, alone with John Mayer. But when it was first announced that John Mayer would be joining members of the Grateful Dead for their Dead & Company tour, many Deadheads were skeptical of whether the headline-making celebrity guitarist was worthy to perform under the “Dead” name. (To be fair, the same concerns were voiced when Trey Anastasio was announced as the fron man for the Fare Thee Well shows, but at least he had more support in the jam community thanks to fronting Phish, a legendary jam band in its own right).
In time, however, Mayer made believers out of many Dead fans and is grateful they’ve accepted him.
Gary Lambert, one of the hosts of Tales From The Golden Road on SiriusXM’s, spoke with Mayer about his experience falling in love with the Dead’s music, how he learned the songs, his regard for Jerry Garcia, and how he feels he’s defied people’s expectations of him.
“When people hear about the idea of me learning a song, it’s a bit loveless. It has a bit of a cold sort of lovelessness to it like I’m just sitting there going, ‘How does this part go,’” Mayer said. “I know how the songs go. I’m familiar with 90 percent of the songs that are in the repertoire over the 30 years.
“It really is about learning how it is on the guitar and where it lives on the guitar. You can learn chords to Tennessee Jed, but you also have to learn the ‘why’ of it. And if you learn the why of a solo over the chords, then you can do all of them differently because you’re not confined to a certain shape or a certain pattern, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. I think it’s happened even more since I’ve played these songs through a few times.
“If you learn the methodology – and it’s quite a way to get to know somebody who’s not here anymore; isn’t it? It’s a bit like being an investigator and going almost like, ‘All right, Jerry, why would you do that?’ Why are you doing that? And there’s always a reason. And you go, ‘Why would you go to that there? That’s not random. And it’s not really random.
“And what happens that’s really interesting is that you may learn how to play the thirtieth song you learn how to play better by learning the fortieth song. There’s something in one song that will teach you something about the ones before it.
“For me its figuring out not just C-F-G but what those numbers are and what that is theoretically and how Jerry Garcia – I can’t say just ‘Jerry,’ you almost want to say ‘Mr. Garcia’ in terms of the way I sort of don’t want to sound like I’m ingratiating myself – but there’s a reason for it, and if you learn the reason for it then you can understand how to speak a little more fluently on the solos. …You learn the song, and then you dive into it.”
You can catch Mayer along with original Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann as well as Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers) and Jeff Chimenti (Ratdog) on tour performing as Dead & Company through the end of the year.