MM: Wait‚ man...are you talking about me (laughs)?
RB: When I got to college the scene blew up in a way. In 1983 the Dead was still a small scene‚ but by the time I got into college the thing caught fire. At that same point in time Phish was coming up and I caught them at my college and I checked them out at Nectar's. This improvisational rock music was really starting to take hold‚ and so I spent a lot of my formative years listening to that stuff. At the same time I was really getting into all sorts of music‚ like really‚ really old folk recordings and more modern music. Anything that spoke to me I would check it out. So that's the short story...I think most of the time I would get into side trips where I would get into someone like Taj Mahal and I would listen to them for like four months‚ then I'd find out about Leadbelly and listen to that for four months (laughs). At one point in time I really got into P-Funk and the Meters and I still try to listen as much as possible to new music. Actually‚ I just found this thing on AOL broadband where you can listen to all of these stations and there's just a ton of great blues music‚ funk and old jazz recordings. It's great...and it's on AOL - who knew (laughs)? So that's been my new spot to find music because I haven't been able to find too much new music on the radio as of late...
MM: I've given that up (laughter).
RB: Yeah‚ it's a real shame‚ but that's just the way it is. College radio is great though. But for the most part it's all the same; if it's a popular genre‚ you have a few stations to cater to that everywhere in America. It's definitely too bad and it's definitely been a shift in my lifetime.
MM: Going back to what we touched on a bit earlier about listening to the Grateful Dead‚ I had the same kind of experience you did. I really got into the Dead in college‚ towards the end of their run‚ and for some people that was it - that's all they wanted to listen to. But for me that opened up this world of music. That's one of the things that I really got out of it where it made so much music accessible‚ and it sounds like you had the same experience where listening to the Grateful Dead lead to this world of discovery.
RB: Totally. I'm so glad that's what I got out of that. I had those same people in my life who were like‚ "This all we're listening to‚" forever and ever (laughs). But that wasn't the point at all; for me at least‚ it was about all the things that influence us and understanding where it comes from. That old blues tune they played by...say Big Mama Thornton‚ well let's check that out‚ and then you're like‚ holy smokes‚ and you see how that's really heavy stuff. So I think we had really similar experiences with it.
MM: And that goes hand in hand with your own playing?
RB: Yeah‚ I guess so. I don't really think about it. One of my problems is that I have too many influences (laughs). I'll listen to Mark Knopfler‚ then I'll listen to Duane Allman before I really finished listening to Knopfler‚ you know what I mean? There's a lot of ground in there and sometimes that can lead to my detriment.
MM: Yeah‚ but at the same time it can lead to a fresh approach when you pick up your instrument‚ and ultimately the point of listening to all these musicians is to find yourself.
RB: That's totally the idea. Listening to all these musicians‚ as far as the craft is concerned‚ is to get better and see how they approach it. I just try to soak it all in‚ and I think for the most part when I play it sounds like me. I try to do something and it still comes out sounding like me - I can hear the difference. But you're right - the idea is to find your own voice.
MM: Let's talk about playing live; I always get an interesting spin with every musician I talk with regarding playing in the live setting. I remember talking to one musician who said something along the lines of‚ "playing live can be the most emotional and spiritual experience in the world‚ and other times it can be like taking out the garbage."
RB: (Laughs) I read that one actually.
MM: Everyone has their own outlet. I find it can be a spiritual outlet where you can tap into this great thing. That's what music does for me; potentially you can tap in that grand experience and other times it's going through the motions. So what are your thoughts on that feeling based on your experiences playing live?
RB: That's a tough question....that's a really good quote‚ whoever said that.
MM: I believe it was Ray Paczkowski.
RB: Yeah‚ you have a job to do on some level. There's that aspect to it like taking out the garbage. But why I get so much out of playing live is for those moments when something else happens. You can't be in that spot all the time‚ there's no way to do it. Those moments do arise‚ especially when you're trying not to force them to arise - and it's like everybody knows it; you know it when you're there. It's those moments that don't happen if I was just in my basement playing. There's something else going on between the band and it's going on with the audience‚ and when it links up it's an extraordinary thing. I was just talking to Brian (Mangini) and Tom (Pirozzi) about this; we were listening to tapes of the band‚ and the same song from one night to the next‚ and one was killing and the other was brutal (laughter). Why is that? It's the same people playing‚ so what happened? That's the stuff you can try to figure out until you're 95 years old‚ or you can just keep doing it. It's like watching hoops and you see five guys on the floor go on 20-0 run or the other way around‚ and it's like‚ "What just clicked?" - it's the same five guys. With playing live...I really like it; for me‚ I think that's where it belongs. That's what I love: music in real time. I love doing it and I love seeing a band just going for it. I don't know if I answered your question (laughs). What do you think about the whole live thing?
MM: I think it's absolutely amazing. A lot of what you just said makes so much sense to me‚ and what's been running through my head lately about the idea of "music is life." The idea that music is the same as life‚ where I can talk about this stuff all day and still have more questions than answers. That's the beauty behind it‚ you know‚ you have this experience and you come back and try to figure out what it all means. I mean‚ even the fact that you can go out and see a live performance and know that it could potentially change your life (laughs). So for me‚ it's this really‚ really big thing. But at the same time there are so many levels of that connection. Some of my best experiences have been watching a band with five other people and just being blown away‚ and other times you're with 20‚000 people. I was the guy who grew up loving music and then like you‚ went to college and just got so into it. I ended up needing to make the connection stronger so I bought a guitar and started playing Dylan tunes and easier Dead tunes‚ then I started playing with other people - and there was something just so fucking amazing about plugging in and playing with three other people in a wet damp basement. There was something just so incredible about listening and when you hook up. That experience where you become in tune with the people you're playing with and they begin to play your instrument through you and you're playing their instrument through them. I mean‚ that stuff is just huge to me.
RB: Yeah‚ I'm interested because you care about it. Everything you said makes sense - there's a level of intimacy that when people are open to it‚ like you said‚ there's a level of human intimacy that's direct with the people you're playing with and the people who are there listening to it. It cuts right know‚ from soul to soul - to quote a Stevie Ray Vaughn tune.