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.”
7 Walkers 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 - born Malcolm Welbourne in Shreveport, La. - met at an Oregon festival, hit it off immediately and found themselves jamming for hours. They quickly hatched plans to make more music together.
The original 7 Walkers lineup included bassist Reed Mathis, who performs on all of the album cuts except one. When Mathis returned to his regular duties with the Bay Area jam band Tea Leaf Green following the 7 Walkers sessions, Mali recruited Porter, a founding member of New Orleans’ iconic Meters. Hubbard, a friend of Mali’s who has worked with Willie Nelson for several years, was chosen to fill out the band on keyboards, trombone, and other instruments.
For both Kreutzmann and Papa Mali, 7 Walkers - whose name is borrowed from one of the band’s songs - is something of a dream come true. Kreutzmann has New Orleans in his DNA, literally - his mother was born there - and he’s always been partial to the city’s music. “I have a real feeling for that music and I get along with the folks down there really well,” he says. “This music comes from the Tchoupitoulas, the Mardi Gras Indian tribes. They’re playing tribal rhythms and somehow it connects with my spirit. Plus, I get to play with the number one New Orleans bass player.”
The Crescent City, of course, also impacted native Louisianan Papa Mali incalculably. Although he grew up in Shreveport, he made frequent trips during his youth to New Orleans, where his mom’s family was from. “I bought my clothes and my records there, saw lots of live music there and began to forge my own personal style and musical identity in New Orleans,” he says.