Looking forward to seeing Dead & Company again tomorrow (Saturday 6/24), even at CitiField. In honor, my interview with John Mayer about playing with Bob, from last year when I wrote a Guitar World cover story on Bob.
How would you describe Bob’s guitar style?
Bob’s approach to guitar playing is sort of like Bill Evans’ approach to piano was. He’s a total savant. His take on guitar chords and comping is so original, it’s almost too original to be fully appreciated until you get deep down into what he’s doing. Bob doesn’t hear 1-3-5 when it comes to stacking a chord. He thinks in substitutions. I think he’s invented his own vocabulary where a lot of times the root note isn’t at the bottom of the chord, it’s somewhere in the middle of it. It’s a joyous thing to play along with.
Were there any elements of his playing that you didn’t or couldn’t fully appreciate before learning the Dead catalogue and playing him with nightly?
Absolutely. Until you play with Bob in real time, you don’t understand how fun and vibrant it is to play with and against him. What I mean by that is that there’s this perfect push/pull happening, where he knows how to flow with you and then kind of swirl around you. That’s what makes the guitar section of the band sound so huge; it’s like he’s figured out precisely how to “fan out” against the backdrop of the rhythm section. He’s the harmonic engine of the band.
How has playing with Bob impacted your own playing?
I’ve certainly learned how to sit and let the music happen for a bit without pushing it forward. It was a huge education for me to go back and listen to tapes where I thought we had held too long on one vamp or idea, only to find that we hadn’t even gotten started diving into it at the point I would have thought there was nothing left to discover. Bob’s a gold prospector that way. And he’s brave and patient and fearless, and that’s been a ton of fun to follow his lead.
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