Sharing the Weight: Jim Weider talks about The Band, Levon Helm and where Americana is headed

Special to the Union Leader
April 18. 2018 12:46PM
Aiming to revive the Woodstock-type sound, the Weight Band (with Jim Weider at center) has released the album “World Gone Mad.” 
If you go...
WHO: The Weight Band, featuring former members of The Band, Levon Helm Band and Rick Danko Group

WHERE: Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday

TICKETS: $40 to$45

INFO:; 437-5100

Exactly what The Band’s slow-swaying country-folk classic “The Weight” means may never be fully understood.

Some fans call it a biblical tale with dark overtones. Others say it’s about mysterious people in the late singer and drummer Levon Helm’s life.

But sometimes, a song doesn’t have to carry with it such a complicated, heavy significance. Simply put, “it means looking after your brother — helping out,” said Jim Weider, a former Band member himself and a guitarist and vocalist for The Weight Band, a group inspired by that song.

Since 1968, The Band has influenced groups such as Counting Crows, Wilco and The Lumineers with songs like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “Up On Cripple Creek.”

Like those younger bands, Weider said, The Weight Band remains devoted to the roots-rock Americana style that The Band originated.

“They were always about the music. And that’s what this band is about,” Weider said.

The Weight’s new music stays true to that legacy. Among the original material on the debut record “World Gone Mad” are two tracks originally co-written by Helm for The Band — “Never Too Old (To Rock N Roll)” and “Common Man.”

From his hometown in Woodstock, N.Y., Weider reflected on The Band’s history, where he thinks the genre is going, and his memories of Helm.

What is ‘World Gone Mad’ about?

It has a little bit of a political theme. There’s a song called “Common Man” that I wrote with Levon Helm and Joe Flood that talks about hard times in America, and the plight of the farmer and Detroit with the car industry...

“And, of course, ‘World Gone Mad,’ ... just when you hear the song’s (lyrics) — ‘Lions and elephants running around. Looks like the circus is back in town. Scream and holler like chimpanzees, fightin’ one another on my TV’ — it’s kind of what’s happening now with political unrest.

Who are the other band members?

We got Brian Mitchell from the Levon Helm Band, who was in (that band) with me and the Ramble band. He’s a great singer, piano player, accordionist, harpist. He plays everything. Michael Bram, who was with Jason Mraz for years and still plays with him on and off, is on drums and vocals. He’s fantastic. And Albert Rogers, a great, great singer and bass player from North Carolina who I’ve known for years, and Marty Grebb (who has played with) Rick Danko and Garth Hudson and Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt and tons of people. He plays sax and vocals.

What can people expect to hear at Tupelo Music Hall?

It’s gonna be a mixture of folk, Americana music from The Band, and our new album and some blues. People are gonna have a good time. We’re gonna shake the rafters. People will hear their favorite tunes, classics, and they’ll get to hear some of the new album. And the album will be available only at our shows. So I’m bringing up a truckload for everybody.

We’re going to be doing classic Band songs in our show from “Cripple Creek” to “The Weight” to “Makes No Difference,” “The Shape I’m In” — all the classics. I wanted our new album to fit right in with that. That’s what I wanted to do, so it’s seamless.

How did you first meet Helm?

I met him here, in Woodstock. It’s my hometown, and I showed him my Telecaster. He was starting out with The Band, right here. I met those guys early on.

Later on, when I moved back to town, I started playing in his band, Levon Helm and the (RCO) All-Stars, and then… it was me, Levon Helm and Rick Danko. And then Richard Manuel moved back, and Garth (Hudson), from California. And we put the band together as a five-piece in 1985.

So Robbie Robertson wanted to quit The Band (after “The Last Waltz” rockumentary in 1976), but it sounded like everyone else wanted to continue with the group.

They wanna work. They wanna play music, you know. Levon didn’t want to stop. Everybody did some solo stuff — some people did anyway, but they wanted to keep playing.

What did you enjoy most about your time in The Band?

The camaraderie. Besides playing in some of the biggest shows I’ve ever played in my life, from The Wall (concert) with Roger Waters to Madison Square Garden with Dylan’s birthday celebration to Woodstock ’94 to Carnegie Hall. I got to play places I would have never dreamed of playing. But the guys were great. That was the main thing.

It’s the guys. (They) were a great hang. A lot of late night laughing on the bus.

When you were younger, was Carnegie Hall a place you imagined playing?

I got to perform there twice, and it was a high-water mark for sure. Never thought from playing high school dances and putting a quarter on a 45 single to learn a song (that) I would get there.

Do you think Americana music, or the idea of it, has changed over the years?

The Band was the original Americana group. There was no label back then. So it’s gotten a little bit slicker, with groups like The Lumineers, and Byron Isaacs, and they’re all good. It’s just a little bit poppier and slicker.

To me, The Band was a mixture of blues and rock, and rockabilly and folk. And it was more like Bob Dylan. It was more raw, (with) more roots. It’s a little loose, with a lot of deep feeling. And that’s what this band is about. Everybody is a powerful instrumentalist on their own, and it’s got that raw, edgy feel that The Band had. It’s not slick by any means. So yes, I think it’s changed.

Is it going in the wrong direction?

No, I don’t think there are any rules. I wouldn’t say it’s going in the wrong direction at all. If they’re good songs, that’s the thing, is the song. Last night I saw John Prine. And his songs are so powerful. Like The Band, like Dylan, they move you. So if they’re good songs and they move you emotionally, make you think, become some kind of story that you can relate to that’s part of your life, then that’s important.

Would you ever retire and hand The Weight off to another musician you admire?

You mean sit on the couch and collect? No, I don’t think so. Not a bad idea — Florida was nice; we were just down there. It looked nice. But ... other people are doing that. Groups that were influenced by The Band like Wilco, or even newer bands like Dawes. All of them have been influenced by The Band in some way. That sound’s carrying on.

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