Bill Kreutzmann can barely contain his enthusiasm for 7 Walkers, the former Grateful Dead drummer’s new band with guitarist / vocalist Papa Mali, legendary New Orleans bassist George Porter Jr., and multi-instrumentalist Matt Hubbard. “I can’t believe how much fun I’m having playing with these guys!” says Kreutzmann, who never missed a gig in the Dead’s 30 years together. “We’re making art together and having the best time.” One listen to 7 Walkers’ self-titled debut album (Response Records / November 2, 2010) and it’s easy to understand why Kreutzmann is so pumped. With nearly all of its songs co-penned by Papa Mali and longtime Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, 7 Walkers is an electrifying hybrid of classic Bay Area rock and New Orleans funk. Kreutzmann calls it “swampadelic.”
7Walkers formed in 2008 after Kreutzmann’s girlfriend tipped him off to Papa Mali. “She said, ‘You’ve gotta check this guy out,’ and she put one of his records on,” Kreutzmann remembers. “I listened and I said, ‘This cat’s for real. I love this music.’” A short while later, Kreutzmann and Mali met at an Oregon festival, hit it off immediately and found themselves jamming for hours. They quickly hatched plans to make more music together.
Since Jerry Garcia’s 1995 death, Kreutzmann has kept active musically, even since relocating to Hawaii. He’s toured in various configurations featuring other ex-Dead members and has piloted a few bands of his own. But 7 Walkers is something special to him, due not only to the chemistry among the players but also to Hunter’s involvement. “I asked Papa one day, ‘How would you like to get some songs from Hunter?”
For Papa Mali, who has released two albums under his own name, the notion that he’s been given the rare opportunity to co-write with Hunter, whose most buzzworthy recent credit was co-writing most of the songs on Bob Dylan’s 2009 Together Through Life album – as well as the chance to collaborate with musicians of the caliber of Kreutzmann, Porter and Hubbard – is somewhat daunting. “I can’t even describe it,” he says. “I really can’t. Bill and I became fast friends the minute we met. He’s one of those rare people that you instantly know you’re going to be friends with for the rest of your life. And I think that him having enough faith in me to make that introduction to Hunter and get that happening was the greatest gift that a friend can give you.”
He’ll get no argument from Robert Hunter. “7 Walkers hit the ball so far out of the park it’s still sailing,” he says about the album. “It might actually have gone into orbit. I’m very proud to be part of the project. This album is sheer joy from first note to last.”