Woodstock native Jim Weider heads up the Thruway to present Project Percolator featuring Garth Hudson at The Egg on Saturday, May 18th. Jim Weider talked with about his project, growing up in Woodstock and fondly recalls his time spent with The Band. His resume is long, his music is well crafted and he aptly presents something that is uniquely him.
Tabitha (TC): Let’s start off by talking about Project Percolator. Describe what people can expect from a live show.
Jim (JW): It’s all groove instrumental with my Telecaster Guitar. It’s rock style and blues over the top. We have several albums out and it is structured songs. I like to write instrumentals that are structured just like vocal tunes. There will be verses, bridges and everything. Then we have sections in the songs where we stretch it out. We play them differently each time. We might go into a Led Zeppelin line so it’s as exciting for the audience as it is for the band. All the musicians are so great behind me; depending who takes off, we follow the other. We try and jam out on certain songs. We’ll do “The Weight” by The Band, with a reggae feel and then in the middle we’ll jam it out then go into double time. If Garth Hudson (The Band) takes off on the keyboard, we’ll all follow him. So we do everything differently each night. It’s kind of exciting for both of us – the audience and us. I always have a blast playing with these guys. Rodney Holmes is just an amazing drummer to be seen. Avi Bortnick (John Scofield Band) is on guitar and he plays much different than me. Of course having Garth is a true dream. We’ve been together for many, many years. Garth comes up with amazing sounds. You’ll hear Garth Hudson like nobody’s ever heard him before because the way this band opens it up and lets us play. Everybody has a blast.
TC: How did you determine with whom you would work with for Project Percolator?
JW: It started about seven years ago with Percolator. I wanted to branch out from my blues – rock records into something different. I just felt like I was cornering myself. I wanted to get into groove music. I started writing and came up with drum loops. I was lucky enough to get Rodney Holmes. He played with Santana and Brecker Brothers. He freed up and joined me. Once I got Rodney, we toured Europe and United States. Rodney’s been with me the whole time. The bass player, Steve Lucas (Bruce Cockburn) joined up on the Pulse record. We’ve been together for quite a while now. We’re going to play some new tunes, and we’ll bring in some Dylan stuff and some Band tunes also, which we do our own versions.
TC: You have worked with Garth Hudson for a number of years, most notably with The Band. How is working with Garth similar or different in Project Percolator than prior commitments?
JW: Garth does some shows with us. He just fits in because Garth always made all the great atmospheric sounds for The Band. He was always into effects and sounds so putting him in the midst of Project Percolator works out perfect. He goes with the flow. He uses his ears and comes up with some great stuff and then we’ll break it down, then it’ll just be Garth by himself. He just fits right in with this kind of music because it’s wide open and flowing. It’s like a glove and very entertaining. I get a kick out of it and so does the band. I think the audience will too.
TC: What sparked the idea for Project Percolator?
JW: I had done a couple of blues-rock records. There were a million blues bands and I had done the roots rock thing with The Band. I just wanted to stretch out more. Get more down to the R & B feel where it’s about the groove. So I started with loops. I started recording by myself. On the first record the drums were over-dubbed. We’ll do some songs with some loops still. I just wanted to get out of that corner write something totally unique that’s not your standard blues shuffle. I really felt like I needed to come up with something fresh and I just stayed with it. Of course I still played with Levon up until his time of passing.
TC: We just past the one-year anniversary of Levon Helm’s passing. Having worked closely with him for many years, how has his passing impacted you both professionally and personally?
JW: Well, you can’t put a finger on when you lose someone you’ve been with that long of a time. We played a lot of shows. It’s deep rooted and it’s a huge loss – as a friend and a musician. About four years ago, Jimmy Vivino went back to Conan on the left coast. When he did, I joined up. I still kept Percolator going but it was great to be back playing with Levon. We did a lot of shows. I never saw him happier. He was on top of his game. He was just very happy and it was great to be with him. He really inspired me. He had my back and looked over my shoulder since we started to work together.
TC: Do you have a favorite pastime or memory of Levon?
JW: Laughing across the country in the back of the bus at three or four in the morning. That’s what keeps coming up.
TC: How has being born and raised in Woodstock contributed becoming a musician?
JW: Everybody was playing music. One after another a new group would come out. Then The Band, from our hometown, came out and that was a huge inspiration. It was just one thing at a time that led to the fire burning to be a musician. All these great players were playing around town. I never went too far. I went down and saw Paul Butterfield playing at the local café. All these great musicians playing live and then I saw Sound Outs (impromptu concerts) before there was the Woodstock Festival. It was a big inspiration living around this area. It was a fantastic time to be alive for music. All the sounds were inspirational.
TC: When did you first begin to play for an audience?
JW: Early on we would play high school dances. We practiced in my grandmother’s garage. We had cookies and coffee and just practiced for a high school dance or a hippy party in some older person’s backyard barn until I was old enough to play in bars.
TC: What was your first band?
JW: It’s hard to remember. I think I came up with a brilliant idea smoking something other than cigarettes looking up at a bunch of trees laying in the woods going, “hey, I got a great idea for the band, Leaves of Green!”
TC: Your resume of musical endeavors is jam packed with various projects. You’ve done everything from session work, to production, touring, and even large telecast concerts. Is there and event or a project that stands out for you?
JW: Well I guess playing at Dylan’s 60th Anniversary at Madison Square Garden. We were doing all Dylan tunes with The Band. Playing the Berlin Wall with Roger Waters when that went down. Just being able to play Carnegie Hall was fantastic.
TC: What was your most surprising, yet satisfying collaboration?
JW: Being able to produce tracks on a Mavis Staples disc and playing with her was fantastic. I also recorded with Scotty Moore, so that was full circle. I also got to lead The Band at South-by-Southwest in Austin.
TC: Is there a collaboration you have yet to do that you would like?
JW: I’m not quite sure. I have to think about that. People ask me that a lot. I am starting to write a new album and I have a new live CD that I’ll have at the show. I had Blues great, James Montgomery play with us.
TC: What do you believe was a defining moment in your career?
JW: I’d say when I joined The Band in 1985 changed everything. Levon getting me in the band was pretty amazing.
TC: Besides music, do you have another passion, hobby or activity that you enjoy?
JW: Yes! I like to be outside. I like to go fishing and talk a walk in the woods in stuff. There is a reservoir not far from me, which is where I like to relax.
TC: What is your secret to longevity in the music business?
JW: Keep listening, keep the glass half full and just stay at it, don’t give up. It’s harder now than it’s ever been, but you just have to keep an open mind. Play for the love of music because if you do it for any other reason, you should get out.
Preview the sounds in this video: