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Oteil Burbridge: Long Live the Dead

Alan Bryson By

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It seems when people overcome that darkness and don't let it kill their spirit, there seems to be some really fine wine that comes out of that.
In 2015 rhythm guitarist Bob Weir and drummer Bill Kreutzmann, founding members of the Grateful Dead, formed the band Dead & Company, along with longtime Grateful Dead keyboardist Jeff Chimention and drummer / percussionist Mickey Hart. They enlisted some fresh blood into the band with the addition of singer/guitarist John Mayer, and bassist Oteil Burbridge. A couple of months prior to their first summer tour I interviewed Oteil Burbridge, and published it here on All About Jazz in audio form. Although the spoken word captures the nuances of the interview particularly well, it lacks the ease of accessibility and permanence of the written word. So to serve musical history, here is a transcription of that interview.

Oteil Burbridge is best known for his 17 year stint with the Allman Brothers Band, for which he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also an original member of the cult band Aquarium Rescue Unit, and in the original lineup of the Tedeschi Trucks Band. He's one of my favorite musicians, someone whose empathy, enthusiasm and energy are focused like a laser beam on serving the music and supporting the soloist with whom he is playing.

The night before we spoke B.B. King passed away, so initially our conversation turned to him and the blues, I asked if he had met and or played with him.

"We played some shows together when I was with TTB (Tedeschi Trucks Band) but I actually went with my wife Jess to see him at the Fox, and we just paid, went and bought a ticket and sat in the audience. It was special because that was the first time I got to see him live. He was already much older at that point, but it was like when I saw Bobby Blue Bland—just the opportunity to see them live at all was such a great gift. They are living history. But I did get to meet him at either the Montreux or the North Sea Music festival. My wife and I got to meet him and have our pictures taken with him."

"When you consider the place and time he was born in, to have overcome all of that, I mean if you put aside his career and how many people all over the world who loved him, and whom he made so happy—just the fact he ended up throughout the ages as not bitter, it's so huge. He and Willie Nelson are two people I've met whose humility is as big as their iconic status—that is a freakin' rare thing right there. I think it was his humility that kept him from being bitter."

"He was such a gracious person. He fostered his gift, and how far it took him, all that he did and accomplished. To me it's a day to celebrate the human being and all that he accomplished, and the example that he set of what musicians are capable of doing. And good for him that he played right up until the end, you know, that was his whole life. When I went to see him, he mostly told stories the whole night—I wasn't there in '64, I was just being born. So I was glad just to lay eyes on him, people could lay eyes on a lot of their heroes and it wouldn't matter if they weren't the same as they were in their '20s. I mean who cares, I'm so glad that he went for as long as he could."

Seeing Bobby Blue Bland

"I'll never forget, it was in the late 80s or early 90s, and I was working for Col. Bruce (Hampton) and if I recall correctly, and my memory's not always the best, Col. Bruce canceled a gig and said, (laughing) 'If I don't see you at the Bobby Blue Bland concert your fired!' I said, man we're so poor we need the money, but he was like, 'Bobby Blue Band is coming, and you gotta go see him, that's it!'"

"But he got us on the list and all that. So I got to see him, and I think Wayne Bennett was still alive. It was so great, not just Bobby, but the interaction between him and the audience—especially the women. They would come up and bring dollar bills up to the edge of the stage. And that album of BB and Bobby together, I think that's the one we're gonna put on today. (Laughing) Although, "Live at the Regal" in '64 is just.. ."

His first B.B. King album

"It was very late in life, I was such a jazz, funk, fusion-head that I didn't really listen to the blues until I met the Col. Although my dad was a big jazz fan, he had some blues in his collection, and he listened to BB King all the time. But it was really Col. Bruce who turned me on to Delta Blues which helped me to understand the later blues and bluegrass and the different American folk music. So it was pretty late for me, buying a BB King record. But by the time I did get one, what I didn't get before, was what blew me away the most. (Laughing)"


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