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.
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)
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.”
BR: And his limited-sounding Tele.
JW: That’s right! (laughter)