Between celebrating the holidays and gearing up for his end-of-the-year runs at The Capitol Theatre (Dec. 27 and 29) and Brooklyn Bowl (Dec. 30 and 31), bassist Oteil Burbridge recently carved out some time to discuss the many facets of his musical world.
When he’s not at the helm of Oteil & Friends or holding down the low end for Dead & Company, Burbridge is exploring a variety of projects from one-off gigs with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead to resurrecting Vida Blue with The Funky Meters’ Russell Batiste and Phish’s Page McConnell. See what’s new with Burbridge below.
If you can’t make it to his shows at The Cap or Brooklyn Bowl, The Relix Channel is presenting a webcast for each and every show.
You’ve played The Cap a few times with Aquarium Rescue Unit, opening for Phish in the ’90s and most recently in 2015. Can you share any fond memories you have tied to the venue?
All the shows with Phish are like a blur of wild youth to me now. I don’t remember the Cap specifically but I remember it all being really fun. The time in 2015 was the most memorable for me because those were the last shows I played with Col Bruce even though I didn’t know it yet.
Col. Bruce’s passing was a huge loss. Do the other members of ARU have any plans to perform or record together in tribute to him?
I would love to do that but who would sing it all? It’s a real dilemma. He’s not someone that can be replaced. We’d all have to sit down together and figure out how to approach it.
You seem like a spiritual person. Do you have any pre-show spiritual rituals?
[Laughs.] No I don’t. Other than a flash prayer for help not screwing up and help make my nerves calm down. Sometimes I try to meditate to help in that endeavor but it’s not consistent.
You’ve assembled quite a backing band for your holiday/New Year’s gigs: Melvin Seals, Eric Krasno, John K, Jay Lane, Jennifer Hartswick, Weedie Braimah. How did you land on this lineup and have you had the chance to rehearse together?
And also Natalie Cressman on the 30th and 31st at Brooklyn Bowl! I’m such a lucky guy to be able to have such great musicians join me. With players this good you’re rolling the dice hoping they’re available. We actually haven’t had the chance to rehearse but I sent everyone the new songs that I want to do for this run. They already know all the other ones from previous gigs. They’re all serious pros so I know I don’t have to worry.
You’re also playing intimate pre-parties on Dec. 27 and 28 at Garcia’s with John K. How does his guitar playing complement your musical sensibility?
John is really great at hearing old things in a new way. Unpredictability is one of my favorite things about his playing. I feel like we could perpetually, accidentally find ourselves in another dimension. Especially in a duo setting. It will be our first time doing it duo.
How has the material from your last solo album translated in the live setting?
I really don’t do much from my last solo album. You have to remember those tunes are over ten years old. My head is in a much different place now.
There’s one gospel tune from my last album that we do called “Water In The Desert.” People love that one. But how could you not with Melvin and Alfreda giving you such an authentic gospel vibe on it? It’s very powerful thanks to them.
We also do one of John K’s Songs and one of Eric Krasno’s. In the future I’ll start to put more originals in but right now, since we’re blessed to have Melvin I really want to immerse myself in the JGB material. That’s something I don’t get to do with Dead & Company.
You’ve been a part of some of the jam scene’s premier acts: Allman Brothers Band, Dead & Company, Tedeschi Trucks Band. Is there any band, past or present, that’d you’d drop everything to tour with?
Yes, Dead & Co. and Oteil & Friends! For me life is always about right now. I gave my all with Col Bruce, ABB, and TTB. I feel like I left an enduring stamp on all of them.
My life is in its most amazing and epic chapter right now. I’m learning all this new music created by the Grateful Dead and JGB and my wife and I are watching the amazing miracle of our son who is about to turn 4 years old.
As cool and wondrous as my past was nothing compares to right now. I never could have predicted any of it in a million years.
Your role in Dead & Co. has expanded a bit more with you taking on some vocal duties, and fans creating “Let Oteil Sing” shirts. Do you see yourself singing even more in the near future?
I guess we’ll see. That is something beyond my control. I’m certainly open to it if needed. I’m available to help in whatever capacity they need me the most. I certainly appreciate all the love and support from the fans. I certainly never pictured myself singing lead at stadiums!
See? What from my past could top my present?
There’s been a lot of talk about a Vida Blue record/tour. Can you share any details on that?
I wish that I could. I think that Page is finishing up the record right now. I suspect we will do a few dates when the record comes out but I haven’t really heard anything more than that. Page is a little busy right now.
Dead & Co.’s Playing in the Sand is rapidly approaching, and you guys are coming off a successful summer tour. What’s the general consensus in the band? Will Dead & Co. be alive and well for years to come? Do the “younger guys” in the band feel a certain bond?
As long as everyone maintains their good health I don’t see any reason that we would stop. It seems to still be going surprisingly well. I think there’s definitely a bond between Mayer, Chimenti and myself being the younger guys in the band. None of us came from a Grateful Dead background but we have all obviously fallen in love with the music. Personally I really love the entire philosophy and the whole tribe as much as I love the music. They’re kind of inseparable for me.
Finally, are there big plans for Dead & Co. on the horizon i.e. Fall Tour, Studio Record, etc?
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned about this band it’s that everything but summer tour is always up in the air. I couldn’t possibly begin to predict anything beyond that!