By Andy J. Gordon
There was a strong Grateful Dead vibe at Saint Rocke (www.saintrocke.com) in Hermosa Beach on October 25, 2010. Moonalice (www.moonalice.com) the first band on stage, is a group with obvious love and respect for the Dead. The second band, 7 Walkers (http://7walkers.com) has a real Dead connection with founding drummer, Bill Kreutzmann, putting together this new group with Papa Mali, George Porter, Jr., and Matt Hubbard. The Saint Rocke show was filled with jam-loving fans, including members of the Dead cover band Cubensis, who grooved to the music late into the night.
Moonalice, a Northern California band with a serious rock pedigree opened the show. Members have been a part of Phil Lesh & Friends, Jefferson Starship, Bruce Hornsby and the Range, and the Other Ones. The band did several original tunes that had the rock, blues, bluegrass, and rockabilly sensibilities of the Dead while still managing to sound fresh. Two covers, the Grateful Dead’s “Stella Blue” and the Byrds’ “Mr. Spaceman,” really stood out. Barry Sless, who played lead and pedal-steel guitar, was amazing throughout the set.
After the fine warm up by Moonalice, the audience was ready for some magic from 7 Walkers. With a world-class lineup that features legends of the jamband, voodoo blues, and New Orleans funk worlds coming together as a new group, expectations were high. The band did not disappoint. Opening with a very trippy “Space” and segueing into Papa Mali’s “Early in the Morning,” the band launched into a rocking set. They cranked out the excellent new tunes “Sue from Bogalusa,” “King Cotton Blues,” and “7 Walkers” from their soon-to-be-released album. All have lyrics written by legendary Dead songwriter Robert Hunter.
Although there were some audio difficulties that caused an unplanned set break, when the band returned they broke out the time machine with eerily Dead-like covers. “Going Down the Road,” “Mr. Charlie,” and the show closing “Sugaree” all cooked. Another new song, “New Orleans Crawl,” that they performed before “Sugaree,” really demonstrated the magical blend of talent in the group. Papa Mali’s husky vocals and inspired guitar work kept the crowd bouncing. Matt Hubbard offered some fine keyboard, trombone, and harmonica solos, while delivering solid background vocals. The always funky George Porter, Jr., thumped on bass. He also took over lead vocals during “Sugeree.” Billy Kreutzmann pounded out a chest-thumping drum beat while looking both relaxed and happy throughout the show.
I spoke to Malcolm Welbourne (Papa Mali) after the concert. Welbourne said he is committed to this band and is thrilled to be working with Billy, George, and Matt. He is also excited to keep making new songs with Robert Hunter. Although he will still perform some solo material at the shows, and do some other projects, 7 Walkers is his priority now. They are already working on a new album with lots more Robert Hunter material.
7 Walkers will release its self-titled debut album on November 2 via Response Records. The guys say that the album is a tribute to New Orleans, and that really becomes obvious when you hear the songs. Hubbard’s collaborator, Willie Nelson, appears on “King Cotton Blues” and former 7 Walkers member Reed Mathis contributed to the project before returning to his regular gig with Tea Leaf Green. The album is an excellent blend of the musical stew that the band members bring to the table. You can buy it on line at http://7walkers.com/, and should also definitely see these guys live. In the spirit of the Dead and New Orleans’ musical gumbo, they really open it up on stage. You never know what great songs they will pull from their collective catalogs, but it is sure to be a blast – both from the past and into the future.
Photos courtesy of ©2010 Jim Brock Photography www.eyeonthemusic.com