Some of his former bandmates reunited as the Other Ones in 1998 to take the reins of the Furthur Festival, but Kreutzmann opted to stay away from the scene. Now for the first time since Garcia's death, Kreutzmann is back with his musical siblings as an official member of the Other Ones.
"The reason I came back is, I just needed to play music again," says Kreutzmann, who filled much of his free time on Hawaii surfing and kayaking. "I really missed it a lot. It was just this overwhelming compulsion to come back and play. When I found out that these guys were setting up a tour, I asked if I could be on it. And they said, 'Yes!'"
Of course they said, "Yes." After all, Kreutzmann was the Dead's original drummer, and the Dead's only drummer from '71-'74, when second drummer Mickey Hart had left the band. Yet, over the course of the Dead's storied existence, it was usually Hart who got more attention, thanks in part to his solo career and his books on ethnomusicology.
"Mickey seemed like he also wanted to talk a lot more than I did, and that was fine," Kreutzmann says. "This is my feeling about that: I thought the music would stand for itself. People listening to music, if they like or have fun with it, that's all I need to say. I'm not a wordy guy. I just don't need to be."
The Rhythm Devils, as the two are affectionately known, are now back together, layering the Other Ones' music with dense textures and driving force. "The way I work with Mickey is one really big thing," Kreutzmann explains. "He and I have a double-drumming thing that nobody else does. Him and [previous Other Ones drummer John] Molo played really great together and Molo is a sterling drummer, but there's just something you have after 30 years of playing with somebody."
Unlike his drumming partner, though, Kreutzmann won't be stalking center stage with a microphone, rapping lyrics written by Dead penman Robert Hunter.
"I'll leave that to Mickey," Kreutzmann laughs. "I asked my lovely lady Linda, 'Do you think I should go get singing lessons?' She said, 'Nah, just play the drums.' She hears me try to sing in cars and stuff. I don't hit the notes too good."
Joining Kreutzmann are returning Other Ones Hart, Bob Weir, Bruce Hornsby, Steve Kimock, Mark Karan and new bassist Alphonso Johnson.
Deadheads may be familiar with Johnson from his work with Weir in Bobby & the Midnights, or his forays with Jazz Is Dead and Santana. For Kreutzmann, after 30 years of following Phil Lesh's harmonically bouncing bass lines with the Dead, he's enjoying the challenge of working with a markedly different bassist. "He plays more like a traditional bass player," Kreutzmann says comparing the two. "I mean that in a very good sense. His time is real good and it allows me to play my stuff more fully. It's not better or anything like that, it's just different."
Back home in Kauai, when he isn't on the water, Kreutzmann has been keeping his chops up by playing casually. His only brush with formality came on an album by a trio called Backbone, released in 1997. "The rest of the time I've just been doing casual stuff, not even getting paid," he says. "I would play with friends, just having fun playing -- I like doing it. But then I also don't like doing it because I got tired of the bars. That's one reason it was easy to come back and do this. Bars are still bars and a lot of heavy negative energy comes out of those places."
Avoiding bars and rejoining his former bandmates aren't the only reasons for returning, though. "[It's] not only the music and the playing, I miss just the pure excitement of walking on stage," he says. "Like anything else, you can't play drums and have a good time in your life and then just leave it and not feel a little empty on some level."
The Other Ones headline the Further Festival at the Lakewood Amphitheatre on Sun., Sept.24th. Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers and Sy Klops are also on the bill. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.