CLASSIC ROCK CORNER
Jim Weider Carries The Weight in the Legacy of
BOB RUGGIERO | APRIL 6, 2021 | 4:00AM
It was a warm summer evening on July
14, 1985 as I sat in the audience at AstroWorld’s Southern Star
Ampitheater awaiting a show by Crosby, Stills and Nash. But before the
trio took the stage, there was an opening set by The Band.
The Band? I was only 15 years old and still new in my knowledge of
classic rock history (this was pre-internet, kids), but I was confused.
Wasn’t the concert documentary The Last Waltz filmed at their 1976
Thanksgiving Day farewell performance? Hadn’t The Band broken up?
Well, sort of. Hitting the stage at
AstroWorld were original members Levon Helm (vocals/drums), Richard
Manuel (vocals/keyboards), Rick Danko (vocals/bass), and Garth Hudson
(keyboards). But in place of guitarist Robbie Robertson in the
reconstituted lineup—and with big shoes to fill—was Jim Weider. And more
than 35 years later, he remembers that night in Houston.
“I really think that might have been my very first actual show with The
Band. We had done something at a bar out here in Woodstock, then they
flew me out with no rehearsal,” he recalls today. “And they had to carry
Richard Manuel in the air to go onstage. That was some introduction to
real rock and roll.”
Manuel was a deeply troubled soul with a serious substance abuse
problem. Less than eight months after the AstroWorld show, he hung
himself in a hotel bathroom after a Band gig in Florida.
But there would be many good years ahead, and Jim Weider would play with
The Band until 2000, writing and recording three albums: Jericho, High
on the Hog, and Jubilation. He then joined the Levon Helm Band until
Helm’s 2012 passing. The origins of the Weight Band (named for one of
the Band’s biggest hits) started the next year after a Band tribute show
Weider participated in, and that also included Garth Hudson.
The current lineup of The Weight Band includes Michael Bram
(drums/vocals), Brian Mitchell and Matt Zeiner (keyboards/vocals), and
Albert Rogers (bass/vocals). Weider also has side gigs with the
Helm-affiliated Midnight Ramble Band and his own Jim Weider Band.
The new release Acoustic Live was recorded in two places very close to
Band history: An October 25, 2019 rehearsal with a group of family and
friends at the West Saugerties, New York “Big Pink” house near
Woodstock. And the next evening’s show at Levon Helm’s performance
barn/studio. Big Pink, of course, is where some members of The Band
lived in and the whole group recorded The Basement Tapes with Bob Dylan.
It was also namechecked in The Band’s 1968 debut record, 1968’s Music
from Big Pink).
Big Pink is now a rental property,
bringing in fans of Dylan and the Band from around the world. But Weider
knows the owner, so he had something of an in. “I asked if we could
rehearse there because it would be cool and it made sense. And we
decided to record it,” he says. “We went through the songs just once or
twice. And we said ‘We got it.”
The five Big Pink and six Barn tracks on Acoustic Live include covers by
The Band (“Ain’t No More Cane,” “Rockin’ Chair,” “ King Harvest [Has
Surely Come],” “Caledonia Mission”); Jerry Garcia (“Deal”); Bob Dylan
(“Highway 61 Revisited”); and tunes from The Weight’s own original
record, 2018’s World Gone Mad. Weider says he also filmed at both
Today of course, whether you call it “Americana,” “Roots Rock,”
“Alt-Country,” or any one of a half dozen other monikers, the type of
music played by The Weight Band is now its own genre. But back when The
Band released their debut album in the era of psychedelic rock, many
didn’t know what to make of the much more rustic, old-timey sound of the
music and lyrical themes. And mandolins??
Weight Band at the Big Pink house.
The Weight Band at the Big Pink house. Photo by Jim Rice on record back
cover/Courtesy of Jim Weider
Asked why it’s such a popular sound today, with its own conference,
organization, and awards shows featuring bands like Mumford & Sons, the
Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlisle, Brittany Howard, and Jason Isbell,
Weider has a definite opinion.
“Look at what else is out there. Kanye West? And all these guys who
don’t even play or like Post Malone who have to have auto-tune on their
singing?” he offers. “With [Americana], the music speaks to people with
a story and a melody. They strike each person differently, and that’s
what music is supposed to do. And that’s the way the Band was.”
Of all The Band members, Weider was closest both personally and
professionally to Levon Helm. And he treasures the memories they made
together on the road and in the studio.
“Levon was such a strong personality, very powerful. And that’s how he
played and sang. I can’t say enough about his backbeat. Drummers from
Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner to Neil Peart and Don Henley, they all
looked up to Levon,” Weider says. “He always had a great sense of humor.
But the was always about the music. That came before anything.”
And while Acoustic Live is out now, Weider says he’s putting the
finishing touches on a new record by The Weight Band, which he plans on
shopping around to labels or releasing it on their own. It will feature
nine originals and one cover.
On it, the band worked with Colin Linden, the Canadian
guitarist/songwriter/producer who won a 2020 Grammy for Best Americana
Album for co-producing Keb’ Mo’s Oklahoma.
“The Weight Band started because people wanted to hear the music [of the
Band] again. But it was also important to make a new record. To carry on
in The Band’s vein, but with new music,” he sums up. “I’m excited about
this upcoming record. It’s a strong one.”
For more on The Weight Band and Acoustic Live, visit TheWeightBand.com. Also Available at