Taking Project Percolator’s Pulse with Jim Weider

(From Jambands.com 11/16/09)

Jim Weider and his '52 Tele

Jim Weider and his ’52 Tele

You know what would be interesting? I’ll tell you what would be interesting:

First, take all the people who knew Jim Weider from back in the days when he was with The Band – or perhaps watched Jim’s instructional videos years ago in an attempt to emulate his mastery of the Telecaster rockabilly sound, okay? Then, round up all the people who have been blown away by the uber-jam groove of Jim Weider and Project Percolator these last few years. I think it would be a gas to see the two worlds collide – classic rockabilly/country blues and modern rock/jazz/funk fusion – and have everybody realize that they both admire the same guy.

In fact, Jim Weider’s schedule these days reflects a melding of those two worlds: when he’s not on the road with Project Percolator (bassist Steve Lucas, guitarist Mitch Stein, and drummer Rodney Holmes), Weider can currently be found playing guitar with old friend Levon Helm and his band.

Justin Guip, the resident sound wizard for the “Barn” (home of Levon Helm Studios) has described Weider’s role in that setting as “totally locked in. When Jim’s supporting the sound with his rhythm guitar playing, he’s so locked in, it’s almost transparent. He’s perfect. At the same time, when he solos, he just takes over and leads the way. He’s a great player to have in the band.”

In the meantime, Weider’s Project Percolator gigs (and the new album Pulse) are gaining attention with the audience that’s looking for instrumental guitar slathered with plenty of jam. The comparison with the music of the Steve Kimock Band (of which Stein and Holmes are alumni) is inevitable; and although it’s a fair one, Percolator is definitely a band of its own. “I think the sound of this band is a bit of ‘shock and awe’ for anyone who knew my music back through the years, and hasn’t listened for a while,” says Weider. “But that’s the key: you always want to be moving forward with your music. It’s part of the trip.”

We recently had a chance to catch Jim at his home in Woodstock with a few spare minutes to talk about his relationship with Levon and The Band, the road that led to Project Percolator, and the new album, Pulse.

Project Percolator's Pulse

Project Percolator’s Pulse

Part one: Telemaster

BR: Let me start by telling you something – and I mean this: if I was on Jeopardy, and the clue was “Three kings of the Telecaster”, I’d be on that buzzer in a heartbeat with my answer: “Roy Buchanan, Danny Gatton, and Jim Weider.”

JW: (laughs) Thanks, man … I appreciate that. Those guys are my heroes.

BR: So take care of yourself, Jim, ‘cause you’re the only one left!

JW: I’m trying! Believe me, I’m trying! (laughter)

BR: One thing I’ve always gotten a kick out of is the people who consider the Telecaster to be “limited” in its sound – it’s just not true, you know? And what you’ve done with it is living proof. When did you first fall in love with the Tele?

JW: Well, the Telecaster was one of the most popular guitars going back in the 60s. One reason was because it was cheaper than the Fender Stratocaster – two pickups instead of three, for one thing – but more importantly, it was the guitar that guys like Steve Cropper, James Burton, and Jeff Beck were playing. So the Tele was the cool guitar at the time – right up until the late 60s when Jimi Hendrix picked up the Stratocaster. Then everybody wanted a Strat, of course. Me, I stuck with the Telecaster because I figured “Who the hell can play like Hendrix, anyway?” (laughter)

Jim Percolating

Jim Percolating

So my first real guitar was a Tele and I just stayed with it over the years, although I’d always have someone yelling at me, “Get a Strat – you can do so much more!” “What are you doing with that plank of wood?” “Get a Les Paul – it’ll sustain better!” I didn’t care. I liked the way the Tele looked; I liked the way it felt … and once I heard what Roy Buchanan was doing on the Telecaster, that was it, man. Roy was getting all these great sounds out of the Tele by cranking up the amps and making use of his volume and tone controls. You know, Jeff Beck was doing some wild stuff with the Yardbirds back then, but I think he learned it from Tele cats like Roy and Paul Burlison, who was a member of the Rock ‘N Roll Trio. Same thing with Jimmy Page – he played a Telecaster before he switched over to a Les Paul.

For me, it was a matter of knowing who inspired those guys – and that was Roy Buchanan and his Tele. He was doing all these neat feedback tricks and psychedelic stuff that was simply in the touch of his fingers and tone. “That’s where these guys are getting all this shit,” I said to myself. “They’re listening to Roy Buchanan.”

Roy Buchanan's 1985 album "When A Guitar Plays The Blues"

Roy Buchanan’s 1985 album “When A Guitar Plays The Blues”

BR: And his limited-sounding Tele.

JW: That’s right! (laughter)

Part two: Playing in The Band

BR: Man, you’ve been right out straight for these past few months between the Project Percolator shows and the gigs with Levon Helm, haven’t you?

JW: Yeah, I’ve been going pretty strong and it’s been good. The Percolator shows back in the first part of the summer went really well and then it was great to be back in contact with Levon and playing with him again. I love his new record, Electric Dirt.

BR: You started doing gigs with Levon’s band this year after Jimmy Vivino left, correct?

JW: That’s right – Jimmy headed out to the West Coast to play with Conan O’Brien’s band, so Levon needed someone in that guitar role alongside Larry Campbell.

BR: … who might be playing anything with strings at any given time.

JW: Exactly! (laughs) For me, it’s a matter of having played with Levon since back in 1983 and knowing his drumming style. It’s easy for me to lock rhythmically with Levon on either electric or acoustic guitar and support the sound of the band. My role is to hold the foundation down so that Larry can do his thing on the fiddle or mandolin or whatever in the meantime.

BR: Plus, you’re doing lead work, as well …

JW: Oh, sure – Larry and I trade off solos, including those great old Band tunes that Levon and I used to play together. It’s a blend of lead and rhythm stuff … it’s a lot of fun.

BR: How did you and Levon originally connect?

JW: My roots were in the Woodstock area. I lived in Nashville for a while when I first started playing professionally, but moved back to Woodstock in 1983 to work with Robbie Dupree – and that’s where Levon was living, as well. I hooked up with him to play guitar in Levon Helm’s All-Stars, which led him to ask me to join The Band in 1985. It was so cool to be playing guitar with such a talented group of musicians – Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Levon. I’d grown up with that music and had always loved it … now I was going to be playing it – with those guys, you know? I jumped on board and the first gig – with no rehearsal – was in front of 30,000 people in Texas on the Crosby, Stills & Nash tour. And I was with them for the next 15 years, playing all over the world.

BR: But you did get a chance to rehearse …

JW: Well, the road was our rehearsal but, yeah … eventually … (laughter)

BR: So here’s a question – and I’m thinking about when the Other Ones first went out on the road in ’98 after Jerry Garcia died and they ended up with both Mark Karan and Steve Kimock splitting the lead guitar duties; Jimmy Herring filling Dickey Betts’ role after the parting with the Allmans; George McConnell joining Widespread Panic after Mike Houser died – and then, Jimmy Herring joining them after George left, okay? In each of those examples, you had a band whose original guitarist had a unique and distinctive style – and the guys who came after them had to decide how they were going to handle that. You certainly were up against a situation like that with The Band, coming aboard after Robbie Robertson. How did you handle the situation? Were you consciously thinking, “This is how Robbie played this,” or were you trying to break away from that sort of thing?

JW: That’s a good question – I know what you’re saying. The fact was, what Robbie did was a lot of those great little fills in a Steve Cropperish vein – all those great little trademark intros and whatnot. After I’d brought the song in with one of Robbie’s intros, my soloing was just however I felt – the guys in The Band just let me be me, which was great. You take a song like “Don’t Do It” – once I’d laid down that intro lick, I was free to play what I was feeling at that moment. The guys always told me, “Play what you feel.” Actually, I never really went back and listened to what Robbie did after 1970 or so.

BR: I always figured Robbie was another player who’d been inspired by Roy Buchanan … for instance, those sort of chimey harmonics and squeals he’d get by really choking up on the pick with his thumb.

JW: That’s right. And, really, a lot of the blues side of Robbie’s playing was influenced by Levon, too – just as it was for me. Levon is just the absolute heart and soul of the blues; when it came to learning about how to play a shuffle, and playing really raw country blues, that came from Levon. He was a big influence on me.

Jim onstage with Levon (Ron Baker photo)

Jim onstage with Levon (Ron Baker photo)

Enjoying the stories? You can read the rest of my 2009 interview with Jim Weider by clicking right HERE and heading over to Jambands.com

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