There is a rich and healthy seam of music coming out of the US right now. Amidst all the doom and gloom of poor album sales, abysmal streaming deals, and scant few quality artists breaking through the TV manufactured talent show pop, a more mature, highly musical scene has grown, partly out of the Jam Band scene, partly out of the desire from audiences and musicians alike to be playing great live music. Simultaneously contemporary sounding, yet steeped in heritage styles, these bands are taking back control over their music by delivering it regularly to eager fans across the planet.
Among the acts successfully ploughing this new, old furrow are Joe Bonamassa, Alabama Shakes, the Temperance Movement, Tedeschi Trucks band, and the movement has also seen the return in a new guise of one of its 60’s originators, Bob Weir with Dead and Company.
When Weir and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann set out with John Mayer in Dead and Company there was only ever going to be one choice to fill the bass chair. Someone who not only had that ability to play long stretched out improvised pieces, learn one of the largest, varied repertoires, and fill that crucial bass playing role of locking in with the drummer (when there’s two of them)! That of course was Oteil Burbidge.
Oteil Burbidge is a fascinating player. He has the jaw-dropping virtuosity of players such as Victor Wooten (with whom he has shared stages) and can hold down simple but effective shuffle with the Allman Brothers Band. Qualities that are essential when you are replacing, and playing the lines of a creative, somewhat maverick originator like Phil Lesh. Oteil has obviously relished the challenge, and has risen to it so perfectly that he has won the approval of the man himself.
But Dead and Company is just one highlight in an incredible, ongoing career. As mentioned, Oteil Burbidge had a great run in the Allman Brothers Band, and joined fellow member Warren Haynes into Govt Mule, replacing at short notice the late Allen Woody. Then he followed another Allman Brothers bandmate, Derek Trucks, and became a founding member of the wonderful Tedeschi Trucks Band.
In the Tedeschi Trucks Band Oteil formed another great rhythm section partnership with yet another pair of drummers (seems to be a theme forming here), this time with Tyler Greenwell and JJ Johnson. I don’t know what it is with this set up but it really seems to work for Oteil. It was also in this band’s debut recording, Revelator that Oteil’s songwriting was highlighted on Love Has Something Else to Say.
There are often arguments about the merits and demerits of certain styles of bass playing, with Victor Wooten’s virtuosity coming in for equal criticism as Adam Clayton’s conservative root notes in U2’s work. What Oteil Burbidge shows is that there is a right kind of bass playing for every situation, and he must be one of the finest at being able to execute them all to the highest standard.