The Weight Band, featuring members of The Band & the Levon Helm Band, is set to perform Saturday, Oct. 2, at the Waterville Opera House. From left are Michael Bram (drums & vocals); Brian Mitchell (keyboards & vocals); Jim Weider (guitar, vocals); Albert Rogers (bass, vocals); and Matt Zeiner (keyboard & vocals). Contributed photo

Jim Weider is a familiar name to the legion of fans of the legendary group, The Band. From 1985 to 2000, he replaced Robbie Robertson as the group’s lead guitarist, writing songs and performing on their three studio albums, “Jericho,” “High on the Hog” and “Jubilation.” In 2018, his group, The Weight Band (made up of Weider on guitar, mandolin and vocals; Michael Bram on drums and vocals; Brian Mitchell on keyboards and vocals; Matt Zeiner on keyboards and vocals; and Albert Rogers on bass and vocals), released its first CD “World Gone Mad” on their own independent The Weight Band Records label and not that long ago, I had the opportunity to chat with Weider about that album, the history of his band, and a few other surprises when I reached him at home in Southeastern New York near Woodstock. I began by asking how things are going with him nowadays.

Weider: Things are going good. We’ve got this acoustic live record “At Big Pink and the Levon Helm Studio” out and we’re out playing that. We went into the studio at the end of 2020 in December and recorded a whole original album for the Weight Band, so we might be doing a couple of those tunes in October when we come up to Waterville. You know, I think you’ve interviewed me with Percolator from up that way before.

Q: That could very well be.
Weider: Yup, and that was a while back, too.

Q: Then it’s safe to assume that you’ve performed in Waterville before.
Weider: Yes, we did. The Weight Band’s played there once before, we really enjoyed the theater. It’s a great old theater, we had a great time when we played there, the people came out.

Q: Now is it a conundrum for you to put a set together seeing you have so much material to draw upon?
Weider: We do and it’s great because that’s what we try to do is flip up the shows and change them up every night. We’ll do something from the “World Gone Mad” album, some Band classics, and then we’ll do a Grateful Dead song or we’ll throw in an Allman Brothers’ song, since Matt, our keyboard player and singer, was with Dickey Betts. Then we mix it up a little bit because we like to change each show and make it exciting for people.

Q: Well, one of the things that draws me to a group, no matter the genre, is vocal harmonies and as a band you guys are just so good.
Weider: I’m excited, this is the best harmony band I’ve had since being in the group The Band, and actually when we lost Richard Manuel we never had this kind of harmony. We had Rick and Levon, which is fantastic, but we have four-part harmony now, so we’re going into that Eagles realm where you can get the four-parts going, and then everybody sings so it makes it a lot of fun.

Q: And I’m sure certain band members gravitate to certain songs to sing lead and like that.
Weider: Oh, yeah, we flip up the vocals, we do like The Band always did: on our record “Heat of the Moment” on the “World Gone Mad” album, one guy will sing a verse, next guy will sing a verse. We’re doing that with “New Speed Boogie” in the Dead tune where they’ll all trade verses. So it’s really cool, nobody gets worn out (laughter)!

Q: (Chuckle) And it’s got to make it interesting and exciting for the members of your group, too, and that’ll help keep it fresh after all these years.
Weider: Yeah, that’s the thing, keep changing the music up and throw in new tunes every week so it keeps everybody on their toes. And then we’ll stretch it out: we’ll jam out some tunes like “Life’s a Carnival” and really stretch it out. We had such a great time the last time we played there, which has been years now because of COVID , in Waterville it just was a phenomenal show and everybody came out in town and the areas around it, so I’m looking forward to it.

Q: And with the total shutdown because of the pandemic you lost the opportunity to do the work that you love and need to survive, in a way.
Weider: It was a tough time, yeah, but in that period I just started writing material for this new album we recorded, so something good comes out of something bad, usually. So something good came out of it: we got a great new album that’s going to be released at some point, maybe towards the end of the year. I also just released this live album and we have another live album, “Live in Japan,” that we’ll do some songs from.

Q: Are you going to release that album, as well?
Weider: At some point I’m going to put it out for sale. So I got a bunch of things done during that period, creatively, too. That was all we had to do, there were no distractions, there was no work, no nothing for artists, so, in a way, it gave you a purpose: you had the time and there were no distractions, so it was kind of good. I never want to go through it again (chuckle), I hope we’re not going through it again now!

Q: Well, back to a more pleasant topic: the new album you guys recorded in 2020. Does it have a name?
Weider: “Shines Like Gold,” it’s a song I wrote with Colin Linden.

Q: I should have asked this earlier but how did The Weight Band come to be?
Weider: We started it with me and Garth Hudson from The Band and Jimmy Vivino, who’s with the Conan O’Brien Show now. We just went out and did a couple of shows playing songs from The Band and I thought, “If Garth’s going to do it I guess that doesn’t make it a ‘tribute’ band.” So we went out and it was so well-received that I named it The Weight Band; and Garth left and Vivino went off, but the group continued playing shows like that. And then I said, “I don’t want anybody to use ‘tribute’ so let’s write a new album,” so I wrote the “World Gone Mad” album so we would have an original record. The group has developed and it’s been nine years now that we’ve been together and we’ve got an all-original record, except for one cover tune by Willie Dixon. The group has really come into its own thing as a group, so we’re leaving that horrible ‘tribute’ word away. We’ll do Band tunes, we’ll do Dead, we’ll do some Allman’s because that our heritage, we’ve come into our own is what I’m getting at.

Q: That must be satisfying for you, too.
Weider: Yeah, it’s just not something that you get bored with, I like to hit the creative area and keep it new, fresh.

Q: Is there anything, Jim, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Weider: Yeah, you can just say that we have a new member since we were in Waterville last: Matt Zeiner, he’s from the Dickey Betts Band and is an amazing keyboardist and vocalist, he’s made an incredible difference. You can tell them that they’ll hear an Allman Brothers tune, they’ll hear some Dead tunes and they’ll hear some Band classics and some original songs, so it’s going to be a lot of fun and you can tell them to “Get out there and kick off your shoes!”

Lucky Clark has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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