When Jim Weider joined The Band in 1985 as Robbie Robertson’s replacement, he already had a long history with their music. Born in Woodstock, N.Y., Weider began seeing The Band early on in their career, and their signature blend of folky, funky rock music was a significant influence on him. “They were a local band and I loved them,” says Weider. “As soon as they came out, it was like, ‘Whoa.’ [They were] mixing roots, rock ‘n’ roll and folk music with an organ going through a distortion box. I was an instant fan.”
That fandom soon turned into a steady gig. When Weider moved back to Woodstock in the early ‘80s, he subbed in on a gig featuring Levon Helm, and from then on, he was Helm’s resident guitarist, eventually joining the band for their 1985 tour with Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Years later, after The Band ended their illustrious run, Weider started his own band in the same vein: The Weight Band. They play a mix of The Band songs and original music inspired by that Woodstock sound. On Dec. 20, at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., Weider and The Weight Band will present a performance of The Band’s 1972 live album Rock of Ages.
Calling from his Woodstock home, Weider discusses the upcoming Rock of Ages concert, his influences and his long history with Levon Helm.
Let’s start with The Weight Band’s upcoming Capitol Theatre gig. You guys are playing Rock of Ages in full, right?
Yeah, we’re really excited about that. We’re doing the Rock of Ages, the 1971 show, which was actually the first time that I ever saw the band with horns. I remember I went to that show. I was there and it was an amazing show at the Academy of Music. Being a local and since they’re hometown heroes of mine, I saw them when they were just starting. I got to meet Levon [Helm] way back then in 1970, and that’s where I first met Garth [Hudson] and Rick [Danko]. Long story short, we’re gonna do pretty much the whole show. All the horn tunes and as much of the other part of the show without horns as we can do. It was 28 songs total from all the outtakes with all the nights, so we’ll definitely do all great tunes that don’t have horns, and all the horn tunes.
Who will be joining you at the show?
We’ve got the Dap King horns, which are awesome. They’re really amazing. And Clark Gayton from Bruce Springsteen’s band Levon’s band will be the horn band leader and the trombone player with us. And then we’ve got Willie Nile doing the Dylan songs. We’re going to do the four Dylan tunes that Dylan did with The Band, and Willy Nile is going to sing it. Willy just did a record of all Dylan tunes, so he was really excited about it. I think it’s going to be fantastic. And the opening act is Remember Jones. They’re doing some Joe Cocker songs from Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
You mentioned that you were actually at an original Rock of Ages show, so you saw Dylan play with them?
I saw Dylan, I saw The Band with horns and it blew me away. To hear those songs that we all loved, and some new ones–and to hear them with horns–was such a revelation for me. We used the horn section when we did Woodstock ‘94 with The Levon Helm band and with the Midnight Ramble Band. Levon loved to have that horn section and of course they did that on The Last Waltz, but that was five years [after Rock of Ages]. This was very early on and it was fantastic. I was in the audience and we were all feeling really good, as you can imagine in 1971, and this one guy yelled out, “Hey Gaht, play the organ!” We almost fell out of our chairs, we were laughing so hard. “Hey Gaht,” with that New York accent, instead of “Garth.” We were dying laughing and it was just a fantastic night. I believe they did it four nights. Maybe next year we’ll do four nights, but this is going to be one night only. We just want to pack it, have a blast, and celebrate the New Year coming.
Going back in time a bit, I’m wondering what it felt like seeing a band that you would eventually play in. Looking back, what was it like to see them in a small venue when they were just starting out?
I saw them when they went out after Big Pink in ‘68 at New Paltz college, which had fantastic conscious back then when college kids wanted to see live music. This was pre-YouTube [Laughs]. So, I got to see them there; it was great to see them locally. And then I met Levon. They would come into this local stereo shop and I met Garth there a lot. Or there was a place called Deanie’s restaurant and Richard Manuel and Rick would sit around the piano and sing tunes until four in the morning. But, long story short, they were a local band and I loved them. As soon as they came out, it was like, “Whoa:” mixing roots, rock ‘n’ roll and folk music with an organ going through a distortion box. That combination of blues and folk music was something else. And I mean the songs are so great. They were about the times, about the American people and strife and what people were going through. You could totally relate to it, all the songs. It was a great time and great music. The songs will live on forever.
And then you eventually joined The Band in the 80s?
Yes, in 1985. In ‘83, I started playing with Levon and Rick. I got in Levon’s band and Levon’s All-Stars, and then me, Levon and Rick went out. Then Richard and Garth moved back and they asked me to go on that first tour in 1985 with The Band and Crosby, Stills & Nash. That kind of went on for 15 years until we finally lost Rick Danko at the end of 1999 in December. It was a rough, amazing, rocky road, but we made three albums and did a lot of amazing stuff. And I got to play with all of the people that really inspired me.
When you joined, how did you see your role in The Band. Were you looking to Robbie Robertson as inspiration or were you trying to create your own sound within the group, or a combination of the two?
I had been playing with Levon, so we would do a few Band tunes. So I was very comfortable. When they first asked me, we played this little bar called The Getaway where I was playing with Levon. I sat in a week before they were heading on the road and just played a lot of those tunes. I would play those intros, those great guitar riffs, like the beginning of “W.S. Walcott Medicine Show”, or the beginning of “Up On Cripple Creek,” with that pinched harmonic. He would have these great intro licks, but when it came to soloing, they never gave me any rules. Just: “Play. Be yourself.” I would just solo, but I would do those trademark Robbie licks, which were really part of the song. Those are classic licks, like the beginning of “Makes No Difference.” So, yes, I would do those, but I wanted to establish my own style of soloing. So I would just play how I felt and what I’d learned up to that point. They were also loose about it and supportive. I mean nobody said, “Don’t play it like that, play it like the record.” Nobody ever said that to me in 15 years.