Getting in the Groove: Former Band guitarist settles into new “Project”

by Ryan Snyder

What’s the correct answer to the question, “Who held down the lead guitar spot for the Band longer than anyone?” Conventional wisdom would immediately lead most to the easiest reply of, “Robbie Robertson, duh,” but that would be overlooking an entire era of the Band that wasn’t enshrined in a Martin Scorcese-directed concert DVD. The correct answer, of course, is Jim Weider, who stood in the shoes of founding member Robbie Robertson for 15 years following their post-Last Waltz reunion. It’s been 10 years since the death of bassist Rick Danko dealt the final blow to one of the most influential acts in rock history and since that time, Weider has completed the evolution from being a gifted sideman who dabbled in solo artistry into an inspired bandleader in his own right. One needs look no further than his newest endeavor, the exploratory jazz-rock outfit PROJECT PERCOLATOR ( jimweiderband), to see an honest testament to that.

Weider built a professional relationship with Band drummer Levon Helm as a member of his RCO All-Stars after the Band’s initial break-up. After the original members decided to reunite sans Robbie Robertson, Weider sat in to play a pre-tour show before being invited to join permanently in 1985. “Those shows went really well, but I kept quiet at first,” Weider said. “They felt comfortable with me and it was a very natural fit because I grew up on that music.” After so many years playing with the likes of Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson in the Band, it is a given that Weider had grown accustomed to being surrounded by incomparable talent and enjoying flawless inter-band chemistry. With PROJECT PERCOLATOR, the personnel and the style may have changed, but the cohesion and sheer ability haven’t.

Though for a time the lineup was a work in progress since the release of his 2005 album PERCOLATOR, with many one-time members moving on to other commitments. The current edition has remained consistent for almost two and a half years now and with the release of their newest album Pulse, Weider’s fourth as a solo artist overall, the core has only been solidified even further. “Everybody is very strong and powerful in their own way and the chemistry is very interesting,” Weider said. “It’s been a ball because you can really just sit back and listen to each individual player on their own.”

Though Weider himself comes from a rock and R&B background heavily influenced by the likes of Steve Cropper and James Burton, he surrounded himself with a cast of jazz and fusion disciples. The principle, according to Weider, was to form a band where everyone was strong enough to produce compelling improvisations when called upon, yet remain adherent to the tracks’ underlying groove. Powerhouse drummer Rodney Holmes (Steve Kimock Band, Zawinul Syndicate, Carlos Santana) and bassist Steve Lucas (Bruce Coburn) drives that groove, while Weider says that band’s essence is derived from the stylistic differences between guitarist Mitch Stein (Steve Kimock Band, David Sanborn) and himself. “I wanted people who could improvise, yet were really powerful and could groove. Rodney can improvise amazingly, yet his groove is always there,” Weider said. “It’s also nice that Mitch is a lot different than me. I’m more of a blues and roots guitarist and he has a great fusion background.” With the new album Pulse, Weider played up the band’s performance strengths by cutting the tracks live in the studio to give it a highly spontaneous, improvisational feel. It’s a fairly significant leap from his previous efforts he admits, though he gives a nod to his origins by including a highly modified cover of the Band classic “The Weight” in his sets. “I felt like I had written myself into a corner with the classic blues-rock stuff,” Weider said. “Now we really try to take people on a journey and stretch the stuff out.”

Jim Weider’s ProJECT PERCOLAToR will play the Blind Tiger in Greensboro on Saturday at 10 p.m.