Oteil Burbridge: The Luckiest Man Alive October 9, 2018 21:00
Interview by Brett Hutchins
The rumbles of the Allman Brothers freight train and the ecstatic bliss of the Grateful Dead have had one singular common thread - low end master Oteil Burbridge. As bassist for the final edition of The Allman Brothers and now the ever-popular Dead and Company, Burbridge is well aware of his place in jam history and how lucky he is. But these gigs didn’t just happen. They’ve been stewing together since birth, immersed in a musical childhood, and pried and prodded by jam philosopher-in-chief, Col. Bruce Hampton. In front of a headlining gig at this weekend’s Suwannee Roots Revival, Burbridge dove deep with Live and Listen about Col. Bruce’s life lessons, fatherhood, the similarities of church and the Grateful Dead experience, and the importance of, at the very least, remembering to always try. If luck is when preparation meets opportunity, Oteil is its preeminent example.
You were immersed in the arts as a kid. How important was this to your future success?
Oteil: Absolutely crucial. Some of it you have to realize was necessity. It’s a good thing they looked at it that way. They were trying to keep us off the street. They threw everything at us - music, art, dance, acting, visual arts. They wanted to see what stuck and what we liked most. We were enjoying all of it. But for me and my brother Kofi, music was the strongest one. I also learned from my mom that your job was going to take up a huge chunk of your life time wise, so you should make it something you love. Mom enjoyed her work, and my dad not so much. I learned what kind of toll that can take on a person.
Were you and your brother having musical conversations as soon as you started banging on those instruments?
Oteil: He’s older than me, and it took me a while to be able to play anywhere near his level, which I’m still nowhere near. They discovered he had perfect pitch when he was seven years old, so he was someone that excelled at a really extreme rate. That was good for me because A - I thought that was normal, and B - it’s the mark I was shooting for. It helped me to push to where he was.
So it’s always been aspirational from you looking up to him?
Oteil: It still is. I’m still trying to catch up. By the time we were teenagers, we were starting to play together, so it took me a while.
Your name means explorer and wander in Egyptian. Do you ever feel like you were meant to play this type of exploratory music from the get-go?
Oteil: Oh yeah. And be on the road all the time. The African tradition is that your name has something to do with your destiny, so in my case, it was dead-on.
Talk about the Atlanta scene that got you started.
Oteil: When I moved to Atlanta with Kofi, we were just playing in cover bands, wedding bands, jazz bands. Anything to make ends meet. We had a rough time financially, but fortunately I met Col. Bruce, and my whole life took a complete left turn. I couldn’t have even begun to predict or envision how far to the left my career would go after meeting him. It was a great preparation for the Allman Brothers and Dead and Company. We had so much fun in that band mixing funk, bluegrass and blues, rock, everything. It was crazy. And more importantly, fun. That’s another lesson from Bruce - always have fun.
Was that relationship electric from the get go? He seems like the type of guy that as soon as you shook his hand, you knew something special was going.
Oteil: I’d say within 20 minutes of meeting him, I knew I was going to follow him.
What were the most important things he taught you, either in life or music?
Oteil: So many things. He taught me a new way of listening to music. I listened to music as a musician, but he taught me to listen as a human. He always stressed that in my playing. He wanted to hear all the other sides of you. He wanted music that sweats and bleeds and isn’t all dressed up and perfect. He liked that too, but you have to have both sides to really make it work.
You get that from a lot of folk , bluegrass, country, and blues. It does sweat. It does bleed. It’s like life. Sure you sometimes laugh and get all dressed up and perfumed up, but he wanted the pain, too. That’s something I now listen to in other people’s playing. A lot of the music I used to listen to doesn’t do it for me anymore, because it doesn’t sweat or bleed. I can’t smell it. I need more of the whole package.
So more feeling vs. thinking?
Oteil: Yes. I love intelligent playing, but if all I hear in someone’s music is how clever they are, it just isn’t enough for me anymore. When you’re a musician that’s just starting to play, and you came up in jazz and classical and all that, you’re focused on the mechanics and making sure you can actually play it. But that can quickly become the sole focus. When that happens, it’s a narrow vision of what music is capable of.
Watch Oteil performing w/ Col. Bruce & Aquarium Rescue Unit (1992) here:
You mention that back in those days you were super snobby about what you were listening to. What would Oteil from that era think about a pop star like John Mayer joining your band?
Oteil: I wasn’t even aware of him back then. I was deeply immersed in what happened in early recorded music. I had gone back to the mid to late 40’s and once Col Bruce came on board, we went back to the 20s and 30s and started studying classical as well. I had zero idea of what was going on on the radio.
Even at my age of 50, when I heard John Mayer was going to be a part of it, it surprised me. But I’ve learned you never know what’s going to happen and to never prejudge. Of course in being in the band with him, I was hoping people would give me, and us as a band, that same chance. If it wasn’t happening, it wasn’t happening. People can tell if the magic is there. We felt it as soon as we started rehearsing, but we didn’t know if the fans were going to buy it. Fortunately, they were feeling the same thing that we feel.
Was there a bit of a brotherhood between you, him, and Chimenti because of not being part of the core original members?
Oteil: Of course, as much because of our age than anything.
Is there a concerted effort by the three of you to inject some adrenaline into the shows sometimes?
Oteil: Yes, but it’s nothing that’s intellectually premeditated. We have a lot of energy, and that’s naturally going to happen. It’s not something we think about, in fact, it’s often times the opposite in that we have to force ourselves to reel it in or curtail it a little bit and not go off all the way too soon.
I’ve been following John for a while, and I know how excited he can get, not only when something’s clicking musically, but also how intensely he studies it.
Oteil: It’s good to have that tension. It’s good to play with cats that are older than you, and it’s good to see both sides of it with your own eyes and feel it. It’s good for us.
How intimidating were those first days of the Dead and Company experience, and how did you conquer those fears?
Oteil: You don’t. I tell my students all the time. You have to embrace doing it afraid. That’s another thing Col. Bruce used to always talk about. He called it embracing the mirror of embarrassment. You’re essentially getting naked on stage. It doesn’t matter how you feel about it. You have to be vulnerable and be willing to let the world see everything up there. I get nervous before I play. My stomach will be knotted up, but once we’re into a few songs the joy will rise up and obliterate the nerves.
Listen to John Mayer discuss playing w/ Oteil on 'Tales From The Golden Road' here:
Did you spend any time in the church growing up? Do see much of a connection between the secular musical experience and the church?
Oteil: I didn’t grow up in church. My parents were really scarred by the church, so much so that my dad was heavily against it. I had a very spiritual experience when I bottomed out at around age forty, and that caused me to investigate it. I’m sure I’d be considered a heretic now, but I do see a great correspondence between improvisational music - the dancing, the ecstatic nature of the beast - and spirituality of all kinds, whether it’s in church or not. When you get into this trance that music will get you, then your awareness is heightened. When you do it all together with a bunch of people, you achieve this group consciousness that really has a lot of what I believe is supernatural power. I do see a lot of correspondence. Probably more of the Pentecostal churches, where the music is a huge part of it, and it’s not subdued. It’s jammin’ pretty hard.
Especially in these big crowds with the Dead and Company shows. It gets stereotyped, but the energy is there. It’s palpable. You can feel it.
Oteil: It is, and it’s not like any other crowd. I’ve seen so many different bands and crowds, and this is a whole different animal. It’s a real positive time. We’re in a stadium playing a "Bird Song" or "Dark Star" that reminds me of a Miles Davis ballad for 20 or 30 minutes, and people are really listening. That’s something. People are really tuned in. It’s a different thing that I am super fortunate to experience from the stage.
How does being a new father approach either life or music?
Oteil: It’s changed everything. Every cliche is so true. He’s three and a half, and I can’t wait for him to get home from school so we can play. You always hear that you can’t imagine the quality of love that you will feel for your child. You won’t know until you have a child. It’s different than any sort of love - mom, dad, brother, sister, even your spouse. If you embrace it though, it can even deepen your love of your spouse. When we’re together, I’m like he’s part me and part her. It’s nuts. I had him late. I had him at 50, so my mind is at a better place, so I know to savor it and how quick it’s going to go.
You’re back at Suwannee Roots Revival Thursday with Oteil and Friends this weekend. Who are your friends?
Oteil: Scott Metzger (JRAD) on guitar, John Kadlecik (Further) on guitar, Jay Lane (Ratdog) on drums, Weedie Braimah on percussion, Alfreda Gerald on percussion, Jason Crosby (Phil & Friends) on keys, who used to play with me with the Peacemakers. It’s going to be smoking.
What makes the Suwannee grounds so special?
Oteil: I’ve always loved it. I’ve played there before the Allman Brothers, maybe five years before the Allman Brothers started playing there. The very last Wanee we did with the Allman Brothers, my wife and I camped there. I don’t even know if the moon was full, but the trails were so lit up even at night that we could see how to get back to the tent. All those trails were so lit up, and it was so mystical. I just remember being like “WHOA,” this is why they call it the SPIRIT of Suwannee. I could totally feel it. After all those years playing, I finally got the full taste by camping and got the whole shabang. It’s so beautiful.
In watching you play and reading your interviews, you seem like you are extremely in tune with the beauty of the world around you and how lucky you truly are. Do you have any sort of routine to keep that positivity flowing?
Oteil: It’s a constant fight on this planet. I’m trying to embrace all of it. I always say that the key to my happiness is getting closer and closer to radical acceptance. You can’t have peace all the time. It’s like the sun being out all the time. Night has to exist. I get better at not dealing with the negative stuff, but accepting it for what it is. I fail all the time. Try running through the airport with a three year old. That little guy knows he can work us. He wins sometimes, and I lose it. I try to do my best, but I’m just average.
It’s also realize easier for me. I play music for a living. I’m not driving hours to the office to a job I can’t stand. Life is going to challenge you, so just try. Trying counts for something.
Despite Hurricane Michael, this weekend’s Suwannee Roots Revival is still on at the beautiful Spirit of Suwannee Music Park.
Stream Dead & Company's Tour Opener For Free Tonight May 30, 2018 17:20
Dead & Company Tour Dates
May 30 - Mansfield, MA – Xfinity Center
June 1 - Camden, NJ – BB&T Pavilion
June 2 - Camden, NJ – BB&T Pavilion
June 4 - Cincinnati, OH – Riverbend Music Center
June 6 - Noblesville, IN – Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center
June 8 - Atlanta, GA – Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood
June 9 - Raleigh, NC – Coast Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek
June 11 - Saratoga Springs, NY – Saratoga Performing Arts Center
June 13 - Hartford, CT – XFINITY Theatre
June 15 - New York, NY – Citi Field
June 16 - New York, NY – Citi Field
June 19 - Darien Center, NY – Darien Lake Performing Arts Center
June 20 - Cuyahoga Falls, OH – Blossom Music Center
June 22 - East Troy, WI – Alpine Valley Music Theatre
June 23 - East Troy, WI – Alpine Valley Music Theatre
June 29 - Quincy, WA – Gorge Amphitheatre
June 30 - Eugene, OR – Autzen Stadium
July 2 - Mountain View, CA – Shoreline Amphitheatre
July 3 - Mountain View, CA – Shoreline Amphitheatre
July 6 - Chula Vista, CA – Mattress Firm Amphitheatre
July 7 - Los Angeles, CA – Dodger Stadium
July 11 - Albuquerque, NM – Isleta Amphitheater
July 13 - Boulder, CO – Folsom Field
July 14 - Boulder, CO – Folsom Field
August 25 - Arrington, VA – LOCKN’ Festival
August 26 - Arrington, VA – LOCKN’ Festival
Dead & Company Announces 2017 Fall Tour Dates September 7, 2017 11:45
Dead & Company Reveal Plans For 'Playing In The Sand' In Mexico July 25, 2017 14:08
Clear your calendar, Dead & Company is heading to Mexico! February 15-18, 2018 the Dead-themed supergroup will be Playing In The Sand. This event will be an all-inclusive Caribbean concert vacation in beautiful Riviera Maya. Want in early? Sign up for access to a special presale before packages are available to the public: playinginthesand.co/dc. Presale will begin August 1st, and packages will be available to the public on August 3rd. Stay tuned for further details on what is sure to be one of the most exciting events of the new year.
Dead & Company's First 2017 Tour Date Has Surfaced December 1, 2016 09:13
Watch Dead & Company Debut "Dire Wolf" at Alpine Valley July 10, 2016 13:43
Dead & Company's summer tour continued in fine form last night, with the first of a two-night run at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. This summer has been full of exciting moments and debuts, as the band has made a point to feed off of 2015's momentum and expand on their catalog. Saturday night at Alpine Valley was no different, as John Mayer (guitar/vocals) led the band through the Grateful Dead's "Dire Wolf," a debut tune for Dead & Company, and one which was surprisingly not performed at any of the five 'Fare Thee Well' shows last summer. "Dire Wolf" seemed to be as perfect of a fit as any for Mayer, as his blues/rock background truly complimented the Dead classic. Saturday night's show would also include two Bob Dylan classics: "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" and the Dead & Company debut of "Knockin' On Heavens Door" during the encore.
Watch Dead & Company debut "Dire Wolf" at Alpine Valley here:
Dead & Company Announces Webcasts For Alpine Valley Shows July 7, 2016 09:20
Dead & Company, the newly formed supergroup featuring Grateful Dead members Bob Weir,Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart joined by John Mayer, Jeff Chimenti and Oteil Burbridge, are continuing their summer tour this weekend at Apine Valley Music Theatre in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. If you're unable to make it to the shows, the band is giving you the option to watch the shows from the comfort of your own couch.
Webcasts of both Dead & Company shows at Alpine Valley are available on a Pay-Per-View basis via nugs.tv. Both webcasts can be purchased in both HD and SD formats. The broadcasts are expected to start at 8:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday nights. If you can’t watch live you can catch any parts you missed via nugs.tv's Video On Demand option after the show for 48 hours. Dead & Company continues their summer tour on Thursday night at DTE Energy Music Theatre near Detroit.
Dead & Company Will Play in Charlotte, Donate $100,000 to HRC & Equality NC June 3, 2016 11:47
With Dead & Company's highly anticipated summer tour scheduled to kick off next Friday, June 10th, in Charlotte, NC, thousands of fans have anxiously awaited to hear whether or not the band would join the likes of Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen in canceling their shows in North Carolina. Dead & Company has announced that rather than cancelling it's Charlotte show in protest of the infamous HB2 bill and depriving their fans, the band will instead be donating $100,000 to The Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina. They also announced that they will host a "participation row" section of "local organizations fighting discrimination and national organizations dedicated to voter registration and protecting the planet.
See below for the band's official statement:
This March, when North Carolina lawmakers passed HB2 and Governor Pat McCrory signed it into law, we categorically objected to it. We had hoped that by now this abhorrent law would have been repealed. Sadly, it has not.
After much thought, consideration and conversation, we feel the most effective way to move forward is to perform as scheduled in Charlotte, North Carolina on June 10 and to donate $100,000.00 to organizations engaged in this battle for justice – the Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina.
Additionally, we will assemble a "Participation Row" social action area, where we'll host local organizations fighting discrimination and national organizations dedicated to voter registration and protecting the planet. Every fan in attendance will have an opportunity to learn about the true ramifications of the HB2 law, and take meaningful action by registering to vote; to that end we are working on an online community registration site that will assist the HeadCount organization in promoting and simplifying voter registration.
Dead shows have always been a safe place for all of our audience to come together through music no matter how they appear or self-identify. History shows these values of openness and inclusiveness have served us - and the world around us - well.
We’ve never been a band that’s spoken many words when we’re on stage. But we hope that our actions, and the actions of our fans, will ring louder than ever before.
With Love and Respect,
Dead & Company
Watch Dead & Company perform "Scarlet Begonias" on Jimmy Kimmel Live here:
Watch Dead & Company's Five Song Set on 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' May 11, 2016 09:40
On Tuesday night, Dead & Company, the newly formed supergroup combining Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, & Bill Kreutzmann with John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, & Jeff Chimenti, made it's second-ever national television appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Tuesday night. The band played on an outdoor stage, performing a total of five Dead originals. Only "Bertha" was shown on television, but thankfully Jimmy Kimmel Live has officially released additional footage of "Scarlet Begonias," "Fire On The Mountain," and "Not Fade Away" as well.
Dead & Company is scheduled to kick off it's highly anticipated summer tour in next month at PNC Pavilion in Charlotte, NC (6/10), before performing two sets at Bonnaroo Music Festival on Sunday, June 12th. For further details and all ticketing info on Dead & Company's summer tour, head over to the band's official website.
All videos via Jimmy Kimmel Live on YouTube
Watch Dead & Company perform "Bertha" on Jimmy Kimmel Live here:
Watch Dead & Company perform "Scarlet Begonias" on Jimmy Kimmel Live here:
Watch Dead & Company perform "Fire on the Mountain" on Jimmy Kimmel Live here:
Watch Dead & Company perform "Not Fade Away" on Jimmy Kimmel Live here:
Watch Dead & Company's "Iko Iko," "Feel Like A Stranger," and "U.S. Blues" in Philadelphia November 6, 2015 15:10
Photo by Robert Altman
The Dead & Company tour continued on Thursday night in Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center. Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart have teamed up with John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti for the latest Dead-themed project. A handful of original Dead tunes were debuted during two lengthy sets, as the newly formed supergroup continued an unforgettable year of celebrating the Grateful Dead's 50th Anniversary. Tour debuts included "Candyman," "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo," "Casey Jones," "Iko Iko," "Standing on the Moon," and "U.S. Blues." Dead and Company's tour continues tonight in Washington D.C.
Set One: Here Comes Sunshine, Loose Lucy, Candyman, Mississippi Half Step Uptown Toodeloo > Bird Song, Cumberland Blues, Casey Jones
Set Two: Iko Iko > Feel Like A Stranger, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider > Drums > Space > Playing In The Band > Standing On The Moon > Sugar Magnolia
Encore: U.S. Blues
Watch "Iko Iko" - Video by Rick McGraw
Watch "Feel Like a Stranger" - Video by Rick McGraw
Watch "U.S. Blues" - Video by Rick McGraw
Dead & Company Announce 11 Additional Fall/Winter Tour Dates September 10, 2015 07:35
Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann will be joined by John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti this Fall for latest Dead-themed side project, Dead & Company. After the initial announcement of a two-night Halloween run at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the group released eight additional tour dates and have now added 11 more.
The newly added dates come after the previously announced fall run that begins at Times Union Center in Albany, New York on October 29 and concludes at Worcester's DCU Center on November 10. Dead & Company's Fall Tour continues on November 11 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York and is now slated to run until a pair of shows in Las Vegas at MGM Grand Garden Arena on November 27 and 28. Other newly added dates include visits to Columbus, Ohio; Greensboro, North Carolina; Atlanta; Nashville; St. Louis; Minneapolis and Broomfield, Colorado. Dead & Company end the year with a pair of shows in San Francisco (December 27 and 28) and Los Angeles (December 30 and 31).
A year ago Mayer took to Twitter to share more thoughts about what made the Grateful Dead so special. Then, in February, the guitarist invited Bob Weir to perform with him on CBS's The Late Late Show. Fast forward to June when John played two shows with Phil Lesh & Friends at Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael, California. Chimenti was not only a member of the Fare Thee Wellband, but he was Weir's longtime sideman in RatDog and also participated in a post-Jerry incarnation of "The Dead." Burbridge is a newcomer to the world of the Grateful Dead, but has sang many a version of "Franklin's Tower" with the Allman Brothers Band.
An American Express pre-sale for tickets to the newly added shows begins September 16 at 10 a.m. local time (except Nashville which starts at 9 a.m. local time) and will run through September 17 at 10 p.m. local time. Public on-sales start September 18 at 10 a.m. local time.
Watch John Mayer perform "Althea" with Bob Weir on The Late Late Show on February 5th, 2015
Watch John Mayer perform "Truckin'" with Bob Weir on The Late Late Show on February 5th, 2015