These days, Kreutzmann is playing in a new band, Billy and the Kids, which features jam band veterans Tom Hamilton (American Babies), Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green) and Aron Magner (The Disco Biscuits). On Wednesday, the group plays the 9:30 Club as a precursor to Thursday’s Dear Jerry concert at Merriweather Post Pavilion. That tribute show — which just added Peter Frampton, Allen Toussaint and Grace Potter to its star-studded lineup — will kick off the festivities surrounding the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary, a celebration that culminates in this summer’s Fare Thee Well concerts: five shows that will mark the final time Kreutzmann and the three other surviving members of the Dead play together. Not that Kreutzmann, who turned 69 last week, is getting off the road anytime soon.
Happy belated birthday, Bill. Were you able to celebrate on your birthday [last Thursday]?
Well, I did a book signing last night and I got to celebrate with about 400 people.
How is the book tour going?
It’s a lot of fun meeting people and meeting fans. Getting to really have a one-on-one with people is tremendous because normally when you’re playing a big concert you’re so far away from them that you never get to experience them. And they said the same thing to me: They liked meeting me and shaking my hand.
Reading “Deal” feels like having a conversation with you.
You have hit on it. That’s exactly what [co-writer] Benjy [Eisen] and I planned from the get-go, that you were sitting in my living room — your living room, somebody’s living room — and you’re talking with me. I didn’t want to make it any other way. I never wanted to make it sound like a book report, I never wanted to make it sound like I’m lecturing. It has to be entertaining and fun.
You can put on a live Dead show in the background and read.
That’s a wonderful idea.
You had a period of time where you weren’t touring as much. Now you’re back on the road. You say in the book that your wife Aimee got you to go back out there.
Aimee and I have been married now for about eight years; we’ve known each other for 20 years. We both lived on Kauai [Hawaii], and we were in concentric circles but never had a relationship until eight years ago. When we got together, I found out she was a Deadhead, loves our music and she also was doing a [Dead] radio show at KKCR, which is our local public radio station on Kauai. She said, “Bill you’re not out playing. C’mon let’s do this.” And she said, “You have these great stories, I’ve heard them now plenty of times. Why don’t we put then in the pile, get them all together.” I said, “You mean a book?”
You’re coming to D.C. on Wednesday for a gig at the 9:30 Club, where you sat in with the Disco Biscuits last summer. How was that show?
That was really a lot of fun. I like playing with the Disco Biscuits. I’m going to be doing that again in a little while.
Your band, Billy and the Kids, has been revisiting some of the Dead’s most memorable tours. Will Wednesday’s show have a theme?
It’ll be a combination of themes. I wanted to do those two themes that we did so far: Europe ’72 and Spring ’90 because the music from those box sets, it’s another Aimee thing. Aimee got me to listen back to Grateful Dead music a lot more than I was listening to it and I went, “My God, that stuff is tremendous.” Benjy and I were writing in my Hawaii home and he was playing some Grateful Dead music for me and it stopped and I just said, “Man, that’s a really good band.” So sometimes a little time away is OK. Not so good for the playing but you get a new perspective on how much the music moves people.
What do you get out of playing with your Billy and the Kids bandmates?
I get a bunch of energy, a bunch of people that don’t say no. They want to play the best they can. They learned the Dead songs excellently, the nuances, the passing chords, which are the chords that are in between verses and lead from one to another — a lot of bands will mess that up. But my guys, they learn the material great and that gives us the ability to go out and jam like never before because they got the nuts and bolts of the song down. That frees you up to be whoever you want to be that night, musically.
You and the other surviving members of the Dead — Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart — are all performing separately at Thursday’s Dear Jerry concert. Do you think there’s a chance you might all share the stage?
I would gladly share the stage with Phil and Mickey and Bob if that opportunity arises. I won’t even know until we start rehearsing for that show coming up but that’s the thing I do: I like playing music.
What do you think Jerry Garcia would think about all this 50th-anniversary hoopla, the Dear Jerry tribute and the Fare Thee Well shows?
That’s probably the best question I’ve been asked for months and I don’t have an answer off the top of my head, but, God, I’m dying to answer that question. I don’t know what Jerry would think about the 50th if he was alive, if he would want to celebrate it or not. I know one thing: He hated awards, he didn’t like gold records.
In the book, you talk about how he didn’t accept his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame award.
He didn’t go to the show — he didn’t show up. And just to give you an example, we once tore apart a gold record. That’s about what he thought of award shows. If this was a tribute award thing, he’d probably shy away from it, would be my best answer. I’m like that, too. I have one Grammy and Benjy, my co-writer, he’d come to Hawaii a few times before he even saw my awards because I’ve got them up on some shelf as bookends. I don’t care about them. All the gold records are back in boxes somewhere.
Do you think you’d still be playing with Garcia if he were alive today?
I would sure want to. I don’t know if you want to make that question a little broader and say would the Grateful Dead still be playing? Who knows. If Jerry were alive today, he would be playing music and I sure would make a point of trying to play with him.
Billy and the Kids: 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; Wed., 7 p.m., sold out.
Dear Jerry: Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md.; Thu., 7 p.m., sold out.
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