7 Walkers brings Dead tunes, live funk to Ghost Ranch Saloon
September 14, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Blond-dreaded guitar player Malcolm Welbourne wasn't a Deadhead growing up in Louisiana.
He listened to the music of the Grateful Dead, he admits, but it's only in the past few years since he formed a musical bond and a fresh new band with former Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann that Deadheads have been handing him CD after CD of old shows. It's brought Welbourne up to speed rather quickly.
"Deadheads are so loyal, and they are so knowledgeable about everything that has to do with the Grateful Dead," explained Welbourne, more commonly known as Papa Mali, lead guitarist and vocalist for 7 Walkers. "But sometimes, when they come out to the show, I can see they're a little skeptical. I love it when the Deadheads come up to me after the show, and I can tell they enjoyed it.
"I think they're always surprised at how much 7 Walkers retains the elements about the Grateful Dead that they love."
7 Walkers is not the Grateful Dead but rather a passion project from the Dead tradition that has taken hold of the live music scene during the past three years.
The band combines the drumming of the legendary Kreutzmann and song lyrics from the Grateful Dead's former writer Robert Hunter with the soul of New Orleans that resides deep in guitarist and singer Papa Mali and bassist George Porter Jr., of the Meters. Multi-instrumentalist Matt Hubbard brings a youthful Austin, Texas, energy along with a breadth of experience in the recording realm.
It's that diversity that Welbourne thinks makes the music — whether it's a Hunter song or a traditional blues piece — stand out to listeners.
"I never tried to learn to play like Jerry (Garcia); I never tried to emulate them in any way," he said. "Now that I am playing this material, I don't know how to play like anyone but myself."
The band plays a special show at Ghost Ranch Saloon on Wednesday, opening its Colorado tour in Steamboat Springs at 10 p.m. Tickets are $30. It will be a relatively small club venue for the band, which has been selling out larger theaters and playing festivals throughout 2011.
For the band's Colorado dates, Porter will be replaced by Dirty Dozen Brass Band's Kirk Joseph, who plays the sousaphone. Porter is on tour with the Funky Meters.
"Kirk Joseph is not a bass guitar player, but he's really the bass guitar player of the tuba," Welbourne said. "He can navigate that funk territory really well."
The band came together in the months following an impromptu meeting and jam session between Welbourne and Kreutzmann at an Oregon festival three years ago.
Welbourne said that from the moment they met, he knew they'd be friends for the rest of their lives. It was only natural they play music together, too.
From that connection comes a richly spiritual sound and a throwback-to-New Orleans vibe to the songs — many co-written by Hunter and Welbourne — that seem to carry the weight of the Dead tunes of yore.
Hunter's poetic influence is apparent on the band's self-titled debut album released last year, but 7 Walkers draws its influence from a wider network of musicians, with Willie Nelson singing on one of the tracks.
The album, and the project as a whole, channels the spirit of the Dead turned swampy and roots-y, with a configuration of legends that leaves even Welbourne a bit star-struck.
"For me, it's like a dream come true," he said. "I never imagined in my wildest dreams I'd get to play in such a great band with such a great drummer and also have George Porter from the Meters, who I grew up worshiping."
— To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com