Nov. 01--TIM WEED AND -- I met at Warren Hellman's memorial at Congregation Emanu-El in Presidio Heights back in December. As you probably know, Hellman was the beloved banjo-playing billionaire who gave us the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. In his honor, Weed joined a lineup of fellow banjo pickers on a rendition of "Soldier's Joy" as people filed out of the temple after the service.
The banjo buffs in that group may not have known all the other guys they were playing with that day, but it's a safe bet they'd all heard of Tim Weed. I certainly had. Whenever I'd talk to anyone about the best bluegrass/Americana string players in Marin, his name would inevitably come up. And for good reason.
In May, he was on the cover of "Banjo Newsletter," the foremost banjo magazine in the country. In the article, interviewer Mike Kropp writes that when he was driving through the Southwest, listening to Weed's classical banjo CD, "Milagros," he was so knocked out by it that he almost drove off the road. He called Weed "the world's greatest player I'd never heard of."
On NPR's "All Things Considered," Bob Boilen expressed a similar sentiment, playing "Morro Glenn." an original composition from "Milagros," which David Grisman released on his label Acoustic Oasis.
What sometimes get lost in all of this is the fact that Weed is a lot more than a banjo virtuoso. A former L.A. session musician, both as an electric guitarist and as a singer, he's a multi-instrumentalist who also possesses a trained tenor voice with jaw-dropping range.
His new Americana album, the all-acoustic "Soul House," is an extraordinary collection of original songs that marks an important moment of transition in Weed's musical, emotional and spiritual life.
It comes out after the breakup of his 17-year-relationship with the mother of his two children and six years after escaping the desiccating heat and career-killing lack of opportunity in Tucson, Ariz., where he lived before moving to West Marin.
"The release of this record feels like I'm entering a new era," he told me the other day. "And that's very exciting."
Growing up a surfer kid in Laguna Beach, he was a teenage banjo prodigy who got turned on to bluegrass when he heard Jerry Garcia play with Old and in the Way, the short-lived string band that came together in Stinson Beach in the 1970s.
While he was still in high school, his family took a vacation in their motor home, staying in the Olema campground, not far from where he lives now. And when young Tim discovered a rare banjo alum in the Inverness store, he knew he was destined to live there some day.
"I remember falling in love with this place," he recalled, sitting at the kitchen table of the high-ceilinged home on the Inverness Ridge that he shares with his yoga teacher partner, Debbie Daly, who sings with his band, and his 22-year-old son, Tucker. "I always thought in the back of my mind I wanted to live here."
In the relatively short time since that dream became a reality, he's made a name for himself as a consummate musician and charismatic personality, playing with Grisman and local legends Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Peter Rowan.
"Mr. Weed, whose blue eyes, tanned skin, shock of white hair and warm smile make him unmistakable around town, quickly carved a niche as one of the area's best-loved performers, often playing at benefits and community events," Tess Elliott wrote in her review of "Soul House" in the Point Reyes Light.
Before settling down in his ridgetop aerie, the previously peripatetic musician moved three times in the seven years it took him to finish "Soul House." Describing it as "a monumental task," he used 24 musicians, nine engineers and eight recording studios before it was done.
The album reflects much of the hard-won wisdom he's gained over the past decade or so. The title track, for example, was inspired by a talk that Welshman Ianto Evans gave at a conference on sustainable building that he attended in Taos, N.M.
"In the West, the primary concept of a house is a place to keep our stuff," he said. "But in the traditional world, people treat their house as a vessel for the spirit, a place to hold and nurture the soul."
While working as a producer for Epic-Sony Music in Japan, he studied Zen Buddhism, a spiritual practice that influenced the songs "Under the Banyan Tree" "and "Movin' a Mountain." And when he was invited to perform for the Dalai Lama at a concert in Tucson, he used the occasion to debut another song on the CD, "Love and Peace and Happiness," with its provocative opening lines: "I am the terrorist, I am the enemy till I can stop the war inside of me."
"The Secret Service was everywhere and here I am singing 'I am the terrorist,'" he recalled with a grin. "After a Tibetan monk asked me to repeat the lyrics, he said, 'I never have heard this in a song before. This needs to be said.' I was so relieved."
The great Pete Seeger, a Weed fan, likes the folksy song "Long Tom." But, for me, the centerpiece of the album is the achingly beautiful "Near but Far," a lament for something lost that also hints at the promise of moving on to a place where it's possible to find one's true self in community with others.
That idea seems to manifest itself on the African song, "Aye Mojinumba," a track that incorporates a live recording of a West Marin audience singing along during a concert in Point Reyes Station.
"It means welcome to my village, you're all part of my village, we're all one village," Weed explained. "When villagers are faced with a big task, like a harvest, the surrounding villagers will come and everyone will work together. I've taught that song to hundreds of people, and they love it."
Contact Paul Liberatore via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
(c)2013 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)
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