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Another One: Drummer Bill Kreutzmann (center) missed playing so much that he rejoined the Other Ones for the Furthur Festival.

Return of the Other Other One

Coming around full circle with Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann

By Scott Cooper

AFTER THE DEATH of Jerry Garcia in August 1995, the remaining members of the Grateful Dead chose to wait a few months before officially announcing the band's retirement. At that point, they skipped only an intentional beat, but they were otherwise off and running with their solo careers.

All except drummer Bill Kreutzmann, who chose to let the sleeping dog lie and quietly retreated to his house in Kauai. Some of his former bandmates reunited as the Other Ones in 1998 to take the reins of the Furthur Festival, but Kreutzmann opted to stay away from the scene. Now, for the first time since Garcia's death, Kreutzmann is back with his musical siblings as an official member of the Other Ones, who play Shoreline Amphitheater on Friday (Aug. 25).

"The reason I came back is I just needed to play music again," says Kreutzmann, who filled much of his free time on Hawaii surfing and kayaking. "I really missed it a lot. It was just this overwhelming compulsion to come back and play. When I found out that these guys were setting up a tour, I asked if I could be on it. And they said, 'Yes!'"

Of course they said yes. After all, Kreutzmann was the Dead's original drummer, and the Dead's only drummer from '71 to '74, when second drummer Mickey Hart had left the band. Yet, over the course of the Dead's storied existence, it was usually Hart who got more attention, partly because of his solo career and books on ethnomusicology.

"Mickey seemed like he also wanted to talk a lot more than I did, and that was fine," Kreutzmann says. "This is my feeling about that: I thought the music would stand for itself. People listening to music, if they like or have fun with it, that's all I need to say. I'm not a wordy guy. I just don't need to be."

The Rhythm Devils, as the two are affectionately known, are now back together, layering the Other Ones' music with dense textures and driving force. "The way I work with Mickey is one really big thing," Kreutzmann says.

"He and I have a double drumming thing that nobody else does. He and [previous Other Ones drummer John] Molo played really, really great together, and Molo is a sterling drummer, but there's just something you have after 30 years of playing with somebody."

Unlike his drumming partner, though, Kreutzmann won't be stalking center stage with a microphone, rapping lyrics written by Dead penman Robert Hunter. "I'll leave that to Mickey," Kreutzmann jokes. "I asked my lovely lady, Linda, 'Do you think I should go get singing lessons?' She said, 'Nah, just play the drums.' She hears me try to sing in cars and stuff. I don't hit the notes too good."

Joining Kreutzmann are the returning Other Ones (Hart, Bob Weir, Bruce Hornsby, Steve Kimock and Mark Karan), as well as bassist Alphonso Johnson. Deadheads may be familiar with Johnson from his work with Weir in Bobby & the Midnights, or his work with Jazz Is Dead and Santana.

After 30 years of following Phil Lesh's harmonically bouncing bass lines with the Dead, Kreutzmann now finds himself working with a markedly different bassist. "He plays more like a traditional bass player," Kreutzmann says in comparison. "I mean that in a very good sense. His time is real good, and it allows me to play my stuff more fully. It's not better or anything like that; it's just different. We've played some cool music."

Back home in Kauai, Kreutzmann has been keeping his chops up by playing casually, when he isn't on the water. His only brush with formality came on an album by a trio called Backbone, released in 1997.

"The rest of the time I've just been doing casual stuff, not even getting paid," he says. "I would play with friends, just having fun playing. I like doing it. But then I also don't like doing it because I got tired of the bars. That's one reason it was easy to come back and do this. Bars are still bars and a lot of heavy negative energy comes out of those places. The drinking atmosphere isn't good for me."

Avoiding bars and rejoining his former bandmates aren't the only reasons for returning, though. "Not only the music and the playing, I miss just the pure excitement of walking onstage. I wouldn't have come back if I minded it," says Kreutzmann, who is looking to buy another house on the mainland. "Like anything else, you can't play drums and have a good time in your life, and then just leave it and not feel a little empty on some level."

The Furthur Festival takes place Friday (Aug. 25) at 6:30pm at Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View. Tickets are $28-$38. (408.998.TIXS)

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From the August 24-30. 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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