If you know of Jim Weider, it’s likely from his work with The Band. He took over the post held by Robbie Robertson when Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, and Richard Manuel reformed in the 1980s. He performed well under the considerable pressure, and he recently released an excellent album of tunes showcasing both his writing and playing abilities. Big Foot highlights killer solos and tones on great covers and originals, and features some nice guest appearances from the likes of Harvey Brooks, Tony Levin, David Sancious, Ernie Cate, and others.
Vintage Guitar: Many of our readers may only know you from your work with The Band, so the fact you have released a solo album may be a bit of a surprise. For their sake, talk about what you set out to do on the record.
Jim Weider: Well, I’ve always liked playing instrumentals. Even before I joined The Band, I used to play and write a lot of instrumentals in Atlanta. If you want to go back into some history here in Woodstock (New York) there was Buzzy Feiten, Dave Sanborn, and Neil Larsen, who, when they weren’t playing for Paul Butterfield, had a band called Full Moon. They were all developing their styles and playing lots of instrumentals, really stretching out, way ahead of their time. That was very influential for me.
There was other stuff for me, too, and you can hear it on my record; stuff by Lonnie Mack, and the Ventures. When instrumentals were big in the ’60s, we always played them. I’ve always written instrumentals, and always wanted to bring that back. Stuff you can dance to and groove to, yet it’s just not a jam. The songs have parts. Because back when there were great instrumentals, the songs had great parts. The songs will start you somewhere, take you somewhere, and bring you back.
How about the tones on the album? I mean on the first cut, that sound you’re getting…!
A lot of people like that. You know what it was? The sound I got on “Big Foot” was cut live in a studio with a Princeton Reverb in a bathroom with a Shure SM57 and a tube Echoplex. Basically, that’s it. That’s the tone. I mixed it so I was right up front. To get that edge, I’ll put the mic right on the speaker. The way the Princeton broke up and the tube Echoplex boosted the signal, it sounded great. I think I played the ’54 Esquire on that one.
A very nasty – but nice – sound, if you know what I mean…
Yeah, I think I doubled the licks with my Deluxe reverb when I messed with the track. Other than that, it’s pretty much live.
Is this your first – for lack of a better word – “solo” album?
Yeah, it definitely is. It’s actually a process that took years.
How did it come about?
To make a long story short, me and Randy Ciarlante – my drummer and writing partner – had a band together back in the ’80s. When there was time off from The Band, I was writing some of these instrumentals and we were playing them out. Of course, they were developing. I cut ‘em on an eight-track, then go back and re-write. “New Orleans Boogie” developed like that. Then when we started making a Band record, I cut “Many Rivers to Cross” for a Japanese release. That came out and I saved it. I was slowly cutting stuff, and I had a session on eight-track at Levon’s studio.
I was just accumulating tunes before we started recording The Band’s Jericho album. I cut three or four songs, then went back and cut “Texas Shuffle” with Harvey Brooks and Rand, along with three or four other tunes. I’d do it in between working on tracks for The Band record. So, I just never quite finished it. We had cut “After the Rain” for the Band’s High On the Hog album, but they didn’t use it. So I kept it and overdubbed Jonell Mosser on vocals. “Sliding Home” was cut in one day. We went in, and I said, “We’ve got some down time, so let’s do this track.”
So I had all these tracks in ’96 or ’97, The Band was finishing its last record, and I really wanted to finish this record. I went in and cut “Little Miss Lover,” not knowing who would sing it. Then I cut “I’m In Love,” because I’ve always loved that tune. Ernie Cate did an incredible job on the vocals. I kind of built those tracks after recording them at David Sancious’ studio.
“I’m In Love” has an incredibly warm feel.
Yeah, I got lucky with that one…and it really felt good!
You alluded to getting help from some great friends on the record.
I did. The main thing is Richard Bell and Randy, they’re on the main portion of it, but then we had folks like Harvey Brooks, Tony Levin, David Sancious…a lot of people just came to town, so it worked just great.
You’re talking about the Woodstock area. Are you from there?
Yeah, I grew up here, first heard The Band here, and met Levon here way back when.
Let’s talk some of your history. Where else would people know you from, besides The Band?
Well, I started out backing various songwriters in the Woodstock area. That helped me to learn how to play melodically around the tune. Then I went to Nashville and ended up working on the road with Johnny Paycheck. We jumped in a van late one night and went to Texas. Me and Jimmy Day, the great pedal-steel player, were living together.
I also did some work with Ben Keith, another great pedal-steel player who brought me to Nashville. After that, I went to Atlanta and worked for seven years with Harvey Brooks and Richard Bell as a rhythm section, recording people at Axis Studios. That time was cool, because I met a lot of players, and used to do a lot of shows with my band, Full Tilt. Then, Robbie Dupree called me up. He had a hit in the ’80s…
Yeah, and he asked me to come up and tour with him. Long story short, I did that, and then Levon was starting the Allstars. So I worked with him, and that turned into The Band in ’85. First it was Levon, then Levon and Rick, and Richard found his way back, then Garth, and then I came in.
We’ve got to ask; any fears about following Robbie Robertson, a guy many consider one of rock’s best guitarists and songwriters?
You know, a lot of people have asked me that, and it was a big thing for me to do. I had been playing with Levon and Rick for a while, and I had always dug their music, and Robbie was always a big influence. His playing was so melodic, with great riffs, and he usually used a Tele…
To all of a sudden be filling those shoes, and the first concert was the Crosby, Stills, and Nash reunion tour in front of about 10,000 people… They flew me out, and here I was playing with them. That was pretty wild. I was very nervous. They really made me feel at home, they let me solo exactly how I wanted, so I felt pretty much at home.
I grew up in Woodstock, so all that stuff was pretty well-ingrained. When I was in Atlanta, I really got into the country/rock stuff when that was big in the ’70s. Plus, I used to figure out all the Roy Nichols licks, and then when I heard Roy Buchanan… I used to try to do those pedal steel licks on the guitar. I try to incorporate all that stuff with blues bends, and call it electric country blues. I did a video on that for Homespun. I don’t know if people got the title or not. It wasn’t a country video.
For me, it’s guys like Jesse Ed Davis, who was one of my ultimate favorite players. His touch and tone and vibrato were so unique on the Tele. It was a very big influence for me.
Would it be safe to assume you’ve always been a Tele guy?
Oh yeah, from the beginning. From Steve Cropper to James Burton in the early days, those guys were huge influences. And then the guy who finally took me away was Buchanan. I learned to use the fingers on my right hand from listening to those guys, and from a guy here named John Hall.
The leader of Orleans?
Yeah, he was using those fingers, and I’d noticed it. From there I’d listen to Jesse Ed on the Taj Mahal records, and to Burton. I didn’t know at the time he was using fingers. Once I learned that, it opened up a lot for me in developing a sound. Then listening to Roy Buchanan cranking up those amps and really getting a unique sound from the Tele was something. I saw Roy in the early ’70s, and that did it. I had been playing ’60s Teles, so I went out and searched. I did my own going to California trip, and found my ’52 Tele, and that’s the one I’ve played for almost 30 years.
I’m guessing there’s a story behind your finding it?
Oh yeah, it’s a good one, because you’ll know the guy!
I traveled to California and found a ’57, but it wasn’t quite right. So I sold it to Jimmy Messina at the back of a concert hall. I had a chance to get Conway Twitty’s old Tele, but it had his name on the neck, so I passed.
Anyway, I saw an ad in the paper for two guitars. It said, “Old Telecaster and old Precision Bass.” I went to his apartment, and it happened to be Norman Harris from Norman’s Rare Guitars. $350 for the Tele and $300 for the bass. That was all he had – just those two guitars. He was just starting out, working for a music store. I only had $340, but he sold it to me – gave me a deal.
About 15 years later, I was working with Levon, and Norm was there. He saw me pull the guitar out and said, “Are you still playing that?” I said, “I never stopped, Norm.” And then I just said, “Three hundred and forty dollars, Norm…!”
That back pickup on those ’52s is so good. This one has a sound like no other I’ve ever heard. My guitar tech, Dominic Ramos, thinks it’s because at one time I’d cleaned everything with steel wool and he thinks it may have gotten in the pickup and screwed it up. He thinks there’s some kind of mojo goin’ on.
So, you take that one out on the road with you?
Yeah, I always have. You’ve gotta enjoy ‘em.
What else do you have?
It’s mostly Teles. On the record you might hear my Scotty Moore ’53 ES-295, or a Strat. But mostly for the tones, it’s Teles. For me, the hardest part is getting the tones. I mic’d it up myself in the basement. I like to put a SM57 on the amp, and put another amp with a distant mic. I’d take my time trying to get the right sound to fit the song.
Well, I think that was certainly successful.
That’s good to hear. I think when you’re doing instrumentals, that’s really important. The song and the tone have to move you.
When you go out on the road, what do you use for amps?
I always use my blackface Deluxe Reverb with a Naylor speaker. I use a Vibrolux or Princeton, too, depending on the size of the club.
Safe to say, with amps too, you’re pretty much a Fender guy?
All the way through. Diehard!
As far as The Band goes, is there any future?
I think that’s pretty much it. We lost Rick. Levon’s got his own band, so pretty much I’m pursuing The Honky Tonk Gurus, full-time.
What about touring? Any plans for heading out further than the East Coast?
Yeah, this is a really great band. And we’re going to go out and try to work it.
I know you’ve done lots of instructional video work. Anything else in the works?
Yeah, in fact I’ve got another one coming out. The first one was Get That Classic Fender Sound, and then there was Rockabilly One and Two. There was Electric Country Blues One and Two. That one actually shows a couple of tunes off of Big Foot. The one that just came out on Homespun is Basic Licks and Classic Solos for Electric Blues Guitar.
Any new music in the works?
Yeah, the Gurus have been doing some demos.
So maybe in the next year or so?
Maybe. I tend to write and rewrite instrumentals until they’re right.
Here’s my stock final question. What do you sit around and listen to?
You know, I like to listen to stuff like that new Macy Gray album.
That’s a great record.
Yeah, it’s really cool what she’s doing. It’s kind of like Sly Stone meets 2000. I’m really into production, too, and that record is produced very well. Great songs and great guitar parts. I love Van Morrison…
Guitar-wise, we’ve lost some of my favorites. The great Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan are gone. I like to listen to Sonny Landreth, and Ry Cooder. There’s not a lot of Tele players left! I just like good singers and players. I guess I go back and listen to a lot of old stuff, as far as players go. I always like to hear what Jeff Beck’s doing, but I love to hear him do something more organic because he’s such a great feel-and-touch player. I’d love to hear him just go in with a great rhythm section and just play the guitar. I love that organic sound of the guitar and amp. I did use some effects on “Little Miss Lover,” but that’s about it.
Since you brought that one up, were you, or are you, I guess, a Hendrix fan?
Oh yeah, big Hendrix fan. I’ll go back and listen to a lot of Jimi. And Clapton from Fresh Cream. The tones were so cool, not processed. Maybe just a fuzz-face or a wah.
With Big Foot, Weider finds himself at the forefront of Tele players. Any Tele tone you want is on the album. Rarely do you find a player who plays great tunes with this much soul and finesse. Check out this album, especially if you’re a Tele fan, and add a new favorite player to your list.
Jim Weider in action with his ’52 Telecaster. Photo: Amy Elliott.
This interview originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’01 issue.