7 Walkers bring 'swampadelic' to MOTM
Call it "swampadelic."
Call it fusion.
Call it New Orleans meets the Grateful Dead.
But first and foremost, call it a good time.
7 Walkers, featuring Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann and singer-songwriter Papa Mali, released its self-titled album in November 2010, an organic compilation of original tunes that expertly blends Kreutzmann's Americana rock roots with Mali's inimitable New Orleans-inspired funk.
They're bringing it to Music on the Mountaintop on Saturday, Aug. 27.
It's a natural sound, and that's no mistake.
"It helps a lot that Billy and I are really very good friends," said Mali, aka Malcolm Welbourne, lead guitar and vocalist for 7 Walkers. "It just happened naturally, and I think that's part of the reason it works so well. We have a real good chemistry because we have a real good friendship, and the same goes for all the guys in the band."
That includes George Porter Jr., of New Orleans funk powerhouse The Meters, on bass and vocals, and Matt Hubbard, sound man for Willie Nelson, on keyboards, horns, harmonica and vocals.
"If you've never seen 7 Walkers before, it's as good as it looks on paper," Welbourne said.
The band's origins trace back several years ago to the Oregon Country Fair, where Welbourne was headlining.
"I just finished my set, and Bill and his girlfriend came backstage, and I didn't even recognize them," Welbourne said. "He just seemed like this nice dude sitting there, talking knowledgably about music, and we were just hitting it off. We'd been talking about 15 to 20 minutes before I even realized who I was talking to. He introduced himself as Bill, and, all of a sudden, I noticed he had a Grateful Dead emblem on his cowboy hat.
"When I met Billy, it was refreshing for him to meet somebody who didn't have an agenda. So many people he meets are just so in awe of the Grateful Dead and their legacy - and I am, too, and have become even more so the more I learned about them. But I think it was refreshing for him to sit down with somebody who was already a realized musician without that sort of worship factor."
With the festival under way, he and Kreutzmann "ended up hanging out for about three days," Welbourne said. "We were just inseparable. After it was all over, I was pretty confident we'd stay in touch with one another.
About a week later, the two were set to perform together in Hawaii, where Kreutzmann lives. "I hadn't really booked a band for Hawaii yet, and I asked Billy if he'd be interested in playing drums," Welbourne said.
That was the birth of 7 Walkers.
Soon, Hubbard was on board, followed by bassist Reed Mathis. Mathis performed with 7 Walkers from 2009 to 2010, and also on the album, but eventually left due to scheduling conflicts with his other band, Tea Leaf Green.
Enter Porter, with whom Welbourne had worked on numerous occasions - a dream come true for Welbourne, a Shreveport, La., native.
"The Meters were the first professional band I saw," Welbourne said. "And as well-respected as he is around the world, in New Orleans, he's like royalty."
All the same, he was surprised at how well Porter meshed with the band.
"None of us realized how great Billy and George were going to hit it off," he said. "It kind of surprised everybody, including George and Billy, certainly me and Matt, and audiences, but their chemistry is amazing."
Fittingly, Porter also played bass for Mickey Hart, the other half of the Grateful Dead's drumming duo.
"Every gig we play, you can see the smiles on their faces, Billy and George just looking at each other, like, 'Hey, man, we know how to do this,'" Welbourne said.
The band shares another tie to the Grateful Dead, as Welbourne collaborates with longtime Dead songwriter Robert Hunter.
"When Bill asked if I wanted to start writing songs with Robert Hunter, I couldn't have been more blown away on two levels," he said. "On one level, I'm getting to write with one of the greatest American songwriters of all time. On the other, Bill trusted me enough to make that connection and believed in me enough to do that."
His faith has paid off.
"Hunter and I have become very close," Welbourne said. "For me, when I first started putting music to his lyrics, I wondered if I was going to be able to pull this off. But suddenly, I had a breakthrough, like with the first song he sent me, which was 'King Cotton Blues.' If you just look at the lyrics, really digest them and process them in a way that touches you, then the music comes to you. It opens up my writing ability, and from then on, I just never really questioned it."
When he sent Hunter and Kreutzmann the demo, Welbourne couldn't have been happier with their response.
"Within just a day or two, Hunter had sent Billy a note, saying something to the effect of 'Looks like you've found that old magic again, my friend,'" he said. "From that moment on, I had confidence that these guys believed in me, that I was meant to do this."
And nearly a year later, the band's still going strong, with a new record already in the works, to be preceded by a live album.
"Now that George and Billy have been playing together as long as they have, with so many live shows, we've really gelled," Welbourne said. "We have something very unique. Billy calls it 'swampadelic,' and that seems to be catching on. I like that phrase."
7 Walkers performs on Saturday, Aug. 27, from 9:15 to 11 p.m. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.musiconthemountaintop.com. For more on 7 Walkers, visit http://www7walkers.com.