As a founding member of the Grateful Dead, Bob Weir’s place in rock history would be assured even if he’d never released a single solo record. But he has… not many, and not to the same fanfare as old bandmate Jerry Garcia, but any true Deadhead worth their salt will have at least a few Weir albums tucked away in their collection. Most of them are understated, eclectic affairs – much like the man himself, in fact.
To understand them, and to understand Weir, we’d need to wind the clock back to the early 60s, when a young Weir was bumming around the San Francisco Bay Area, zoning in and zoning out of the exploding folk scene and meeting up with a bunch of new, exciting faces. One of those faces was Jerry Garcia. They teamed up, formed The Warlocks, rebranded as the Grateful Dead when another band accused them of nicking their name, and thus launched one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time.
At the time, Weir was still a kid. Jerry Garcia and the rest of the band had been playing professionally for years. It took him awhile to figure out his place, and learn how to play rhythm guitar with a group of musicians who knew their craft well enough not to bother following the rules. But he got there. His style was odd, but it gave color to the music. Even when he wasn’t always evident in the mix, his playing helped shaped and direct the band’s sound.
In 1972, he released his first solo album, Ace. Over the years, he’s released a handful more. None of them have bothered the charts much, and most people would be hard pushed to name a single one. But sometimes, people don’t know what’s good for them. His solo career might have received less attention than almost any other major rock star who’s ever strapped on a guitar, but that doesn’t detract from its quality. Underappreciated he may be, but Weir is one of the world’s greatest (and definitely most eccentric) rhythm guitarists.
Here, we pay tribute to rock’s brightest underachiever as we countdown the 10 best Bob Weir songs of all time.
# 10 – Playing in the Band
When the Grateful Dead signed up to a three-album deal with Warner Brothers Records in the early ’70s, their reward was the opportunity to record solo albums. Weir, along with Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart, jumped at the opportunity, although Weir’s LP, 1972’s Ace, features the band so heavily, it could just as well have been a Dead album. Fortunately, another Dead album is no bad thing, especially when it features gems like “Playing in the Band.” The band had released a live cut of the track on the double-live LP Grateful Dead the previous year. That time around, it was underwhelming. This time, it was inspired. Stretched out over seven minutes in length, it captures the essence of what made the Dead such consummate improvisers perfectly.
# 9 – Ki-Yi Bossie
Bob Weir doesn’t make new music that often. When he does, the world should sit up and take notice. It doesn’t, but that’s a reflection of the world, not Weir, who, on 2016’s Blue Mountain (his first solo studio album since 1978’s Heaven Help the Fool) proved there’s still life in the old dog yet. The entire album is an Americana dream, with “Ki-Yi Bossie” (a song to be played around campfires with old friends and more whiskey than a liqueur store) standing out as one of the highlights.
# 8 – Lay My Lily Down
Few songs in Bob Weir’s repertoire (or anyone else’s for that matter) are laced in so much sadness as the emotionally wrought “Lay My Lily Down”. During interviews, Weir has said he transported himself into the mood of the song because he’s “been there.” Listen to it yourself, and you’ll be right there with him.
# 7 – Cassidy
“Cassidy” is one part eulogy to Neal Cassady, the beat hero who inspired the character of Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” and one part greeting to Cassidy Law, the newborn son of Dead sales manager Eileen Law and Dead roadie Rex Jackson. An inspired take on the circle of life, it was a major fixture of the Dead’s live shows and, in 1972, a highlight of Weir’s debut album, Ace.
# 6 – Me and Bobby McGee
“Me and Bobby McGee” has been covered more times than anyone can count. Kris Kristofferson’s story of a pair of hitchhikers singing their way through the American South found its ultimate expression on Janis Joplin’s 1971 posthumous release, but Weir’s typically understated effort deserves a lot more attention than it gets.
# 5 – One More Saturday Night
Bob Weir has always been that rarest of things – a hand off band leader. Never one to hog the mic, he simply lets people get on with their job without any attempt to interfere or diminish their contributions in favor of his own. Case in point, “One More Saturday Night,” a rollicking number that would be a far lesser thing had he not given free rein to keyboardist Keith Godchaux’s menacing bite.
# 4 – Blue Mountain
Blue Mountain has often been described as Weir’s best album since 1972’s Ace. In fairness, there’s not much competition – Weir might be many things, but prolific he is not. But that aside, it’s still a stunning album. Its titular track is a wistful joy, with Weir’s weathered vocals drifting over the top of the warm layers of guitar like a dream.
# 3 – Looks Like Rain
Weir’s 1972 solo debut Ace didn’t get much attention when it was released and it’s not got much attention since. Despite the lack of appreciation, it’s a stone-cold classic. “Looks Like Rain” is one of its standouts, with Ed Bogus’ lush string arrangements complementing Weir’s eclectic rhythm guitar to perfection.
# 2 – Greatest Story Ever Told
Ace might be a Bob Weir solo recording, but it wasn’t like the Grateful Dead were giving the day off. Their presence as a ‘backing band’ is felt on pretty much every song, and the album’s none the worse for it. On “Greatest Story Ever Told,” though, it’s not the Dead that give the song its power, it’s New Riders’ bassist Dave Torbert, whose raw bassline nudges things along nicely, and keyboardist Keith Godchaux, who trots out the kind of career-defining performance that could give Jerry Lee Lewis a run for his money.
# 1 – One More River to Cross
Weir’s 2016 album Blue Mountain is reflective but not nostalgic, warm but not sentimental. It’s a perfect balancing act, and on its closing track, “One More River to Cross,” Weir manages to dig deep into the past without becoming lost to it. Rustic pleasures don’t get much better than this.
Top 10 Bob Weir Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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