That's a great thing about your career as a musician -- it's much more fulfilling. At the end of the day it's not about money.
Absolutely not. You know‚ it's like you can't have your cake and eat it too. I know a lot of guys who wouldn't take a gig for more money because it went against their artistic philosophy… being artistic snobs or whatever. I feel like… when I see all these guys who can't play worth a shit‚ why should they make a lot of money and I don't? So‚ I'll do a little of both. With the Allman Brothers I get to have my cake and eat it too. What gig on earth right now exists where you get to stretch out that much as far as improvisation and make that kind of money? [laughter] Derek [Trucks] and I stayed up late one night trying to think of one. We couldn't even think of one gig! That's a blessing. I think that was another way that God was rewarding me for going out on a limb and following my spirit. To me‚ the Allman Brothers were doing the same thing as The ARU‚ but it was in 1969. And Col. Bruce was doing it back then. You know‚ Duane Allman got Col. Bruce his first record deal in 1970 with Columbia. So there was a connection there. In hindsight‚ I can see it.
That is a blessing. It's funny‚ I see these musicians out there who are incredibly talented‚ you know‚ they're incredible improvisers and players‚ and they can hardly feed themselves. And then you see these guys out there‚ like what you were saying‚ they can't play worth a shit…
[laughs] And they're multi-millionaires. I remember when Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland started playing with Sting -- that was the era when pop musicians started hiring these jazz guys to play because they wanted the best musicians. You have Madonna hiring Vinnie Colaiuta [laughs]… you know‚ and that's great. Why shouldn't Vinnie Colaiuta make some money? Why shouldn't Victor Bailey play with Madonna when he's played in Weather Report with Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul? Sure. You should be able to have your cake and eat it too. Darrell Jones did the same thing with the Rolling Stones. I look at those guys and they're like‚ "Shit‚ I'm not going to starve." When I'm seventy-years-old‚ if I'm going to kick back‚ I'm going to want to kick back. But everything is a compromise. A lot of these idealists do things because they don't want to compromise. If you're seventy-years-old and have to play a wedding gig because you don't have any health insurance‚ well‚ then you're compromising‚ because you wanted to be artistic. You have to compromise no matter what. So‚ I have it made with the Allman Brothers.
[laughs] It's the least amount of compromising you could do.
Oh my God‚ it's like Coltrane of rock 'n' roll [laughter]. I mean‚ even these guys who are playing with Sting and the Rolling Stones or whoever‚ they don't get to stretch out as much as I do with the Allman Brothers. Not nearly…
Right‚ you have a lot of group improvisation going on with the Allman Brothers. I imagine touring with them has been really fulfilling.
Oh yeah‚ absolutely. It's really helped my playing a lot. Always getting to do everything you want to… you learn a lot from restraint‚ and boundaries‚ and having to reign yourself in. That's definitely helped my playing with the Peacemakers. You are always going to find that when you're playing with older guys -- they've been where you are already. Over the years they've edited things and discarded things and kept some things. They kept just the best and let go of everything else. You see what really has the most impact. It's a great learning experience to play with these guys.
Right‚ it's all about learning how to make better music.
Yeah‚ it's like exercising and someone telling you that you're using too much movement here or more than you need to actually do what you want to do. So you refine it and let go of all the stuff that's not necessary for what you're trying to do and do exactly what you need to do. It's great to see that and learn from it.
Well‚ going back to what you said before about going through stages‚ both in life and with music‚ is this part of the stage you're in now? And what else is happening now musically that's defining the stage you're in?
Well‚ you always feel like that. I still feel the same as I did when I was nineteen. When I was nineteen‚ I knew I was a good player‚ but I was frustrated because I knew where I wanted to be and that was so far past where I was playing at the time. And I don't feel any different now [laughter]. People don't realize that because of whatever stage they are in… you know‚ a lot of people come up to me and ask me how I got to play so good and blah‚ blah‚ blah‚ and the first thing that I ask them is‚ "How long have you been playing?" And they'll tell me that they've been playing for six years‚ or seven years‚ or eight years. And then I tell them that I've been playing twenty-six years. And if you count the years I played drums -- I started when I was five -- well‚ then I've been playing for thirty-five years. So when you've been playing twenty-six years or thirty-five years‚ you'll be a lot better than you are after six‚ seven‚ or eight years [laughter]. Don't sweat it; just keep doing it. I've been playing a fucking long time. If I'm not playing good by now‚ I need to quit!
Right‚ right‚ it's time to start thinking about doing something else. Well‚ let's talk about the connection between spirituality and music‚ and your philosophy on how music is connected to the spiritual side of your life.
I guess I was just like any regular person‚ whatever that means‚ and as far as religion I just never saw… you always kind of judge religions by the most negative; it's always the fundamentalists who are speaking the loudest and they all say that they are right and everybody else is wrong. And how can anyone really know? So to me‚ that just seems like rolling the dice and I'm not a gambler -- so screw the whole thing. And I guess music was really my only religion at that point‚ because that's where I connected spiritually. That's where I felt the spirit and that's where I felt in contact with this greater-than-us spirit‚ which I believe is God‚ or what everyone tries to describe as God. But‚ music was not enough to heal me of all the scars and darkness that I've either acquired or have inherently in my nature [laughs]. It never will be enough. Right now‚ in a lot of ways music becomes less and less important to me because… music can't save the world. If it could've‚ it would've by now. It really has a lot of power‚ but at the same time it doesn't have enough to heal the world or save it or whatever. Even when I see really bad musicians‚ I don't really judge them because they're trying to do something that they are not really wired to do -- God didn't really make them to do it. And when I see really good musicians‚ I'm not impressed by them -- I'm just impressed by God‚ because they can't tell you why they can do it and why someone else can't. They can't really tell you why‚ so they shouldn't judge musicians that aren't as good. It's really a double-edged sword. So when I see someone who is really good‚ I'm more impressed by God. Life really pounded me like it does everyone‚ but hopefully‚ you say everything I've tried is not going to work‚ and things I used to look to for relief don't work like they used to. At that point‚ if you're lucky‚ you'll realize that there is something greater than us -- which we call God‚ or the divine intelligence‚ or divine love. And that is what I look to and I feel lucky that I found it. I don't try to convert people because everyone has got to do their thing. Its like any addict. You know‚ if you ever had a friend who was an addict or suffered from addiction yourself‚ it doesn't matter how much someone tells you what is right; if it's not your time to hear it‚ then it falls on deaf ears. So conversion is God's job‚ it's not mine. My job is really to try the best that I can to live what I believe. And when someone gets as desperate as I was‚ they may turn to me like I turned to other people who I knew and say‚ "Look‚ I see your life and what you believe. How is that working for you?" At that point‚ if they ask me‚ I'll tell them. But I don't go around standing on street corners trying to tell people they're going to hell [laughter]. All of us who are going to hell‚ we know it! [laughter] We don't need to be told.
Right‚ its like‚ "Thanks. Thanks for reminding me."
Well‚ you know what I mean? It's like‚ shit… I know what hell is like. You don't have to tell me. I've had enough of it [laughs].
Well‚ that's really strong.
That's life‚ you know? You hear a lot about fundamentalist Christians witnessing the people. And they forget that what real witnessing is‚ is basically telling people what happened for you. And that falls on deaf ears a lot of times. You see that even in the Bible‚ where people didn't what to hear it‚ and Jesus was like‚ if you don't what to hear then that's fine-split [laughs]. He said he came for the sick‚ not the righteous. So the people who have been broken by trying to do it themselves for a long time and failing miserably-they already understand. They hear what I have to say in my songs and they relate to it because they have lived it. And that's what witnessing really is: What did you see with your own eyes? What did you feel? And how did you overcome it? And it's an ongoing process‚ you know? I'm not some saint. I'm still ashamed of myself‚ but now I'm not without a resource. Before‚ I was just completely…I had no hope. I had nowhere to turn. But now I have hope and it's not within myself because I can still fail miserably. At least I do know where to turn now and it has worked for me and it continues to work for me. That's a life process that a lot of people go through with different religions‚ and people who don't have any religion. I've seen that a lot with Alcoholics Anonymous or any twelve-step process that people go through. There comes a point where you say‚ "This is not going to work with me doing this by myself." You've proven that to yourself without a shadow of a doubt [laughs]. You proved it to you and everybody else.
Exactly. There's an empowerment there. Someone will go to an AA meeting‚ or they'll go to a concert‚ or they'll go to church. Whatever the case may be‚ there is something empowering about that support and that community‚ or whatever it is.
Yeah‚ yeah. You see‚ the scary thing to me though‚ and I see this now‚ but I used to think the Bible was so trite and so outdated. But being a musician‚ when you see people going to a concert to seek from either the experience or the musician what they can only get from God -there's a real danger in it. In the Bible they call it idol worship. And all idol worship is‚ is worshipping something besides God. And I see it. I see it with The Allman Brothers‚ I see it with the Grateful Dead‚ I see with my friends…Widespread Panic‚ Phish‚ Blues Traveler‚ Dave Matthews‚ and all the pop stars. And it is not good when you attach it to musicians. Because musicians cannot be what God is. We cannot fulfill that role [laughs]. God does something through us‚ and some of us open ourselves up to that and let it come through. And that helps people a lot‚ but if they don't see that it's God working through us and they attach it to us‚ then you have this incredibly tragic reality that you see played out before you over and over again. And that's why I think a lot musicians turn to drugs. A lot of it is just natural tendencies‚ where we are fallen people and where we're weak and we tend to go with what makes us feel good because we want to be in control of how we feel. But‚ a lot of musicians I know struggle with having people make them into a god. And they know what they are inside‚ and they know how incredibly far they are from that. It really messes them up…it doesn't help things‚ I can tell you that.
Sure. I remember hearing Jerry Garcia say‚ "Anyone who thinks I'm God should talk to my kids." And then someone like Carlos Santana who has a really spiritual philosophy towards playing‚ where he feels like he's just channeling this music from the gods and that he's just open to tapping into it‚ and then he talks about going home and doing laundry‚ taking out the garbage‚ cleaning your house‚ and raising your kids -- and that sort of thing keeps everything in perspective. But at the same time‚ I think people can get great things from the music and the experience. There's this fine line between it being really healthy and going overboard. I've had incredible experiences through music where I made this really powerful spiritual connection‚ and I think I took so much from having that kind of experience where it made me a better person and…
Oh yeah‚ definitely‚ but I think people attach undo importance to it‚ you know? Go to a child's burn care unit at a hospital and spend time with those children and do something for them. Give up yourself for that. There are a lot of people who do that and nobody pays them ridiculous amounts of money and they're not on Inside Edition or whatever. But I'll tell you what-they're getting a lot more than you're going to get from a concert. A lot more. Those are my heroes and those are people I'm impressed by‚ not somebody who can play really good and not be able tell you why. I don't give a shit about that. The person that is sitting there with the children who have been burned horribly bad in a fire and nobody wants to look at them and they're afraid to go out to play video games-those are the heroes out there‚ not us. We ain't doing shit. Col. Bruce said to me a long time ago‚ "Oteil‚ let me tell something. You're running your hand over a piece of wood. You're not curing AIDS. Don't get puffed up about what you're doing‚ because it doesn't really mean shit." Now he wasn't saying don't take it seriously and don't put your all into it‚ or think it's devoid of meaning‚ or power even‚ but keep it in perspective. People who have adopted three children and have totally given themselves for the rest of their lives‚ those are people I'm impressed by‚ not musicians. I like to hear them and see them and be blown away‚ but if you get right down to it there's no concert that I've ever been to…well‚ there's one concert that I went to that changed my life [laughs].