When Dead & Company formed as a band in 2015, it almost instantly became one of the most successful touring acts of the decade, which came as a surprise to some.
It wasn't a shock that a traveling group fronted by three surviving members of the Grateful Dead — Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann and Bob Weir — had become a hot ticket. Bringing on the pair of Allman Brothers' bassist Oteil Burbridge and RatDog keyboardist Jeff Chimenti would seemingly only help matters.
But John Mayer?
Yes, in the three years since the initial run of the jam outfit, Mayer has ingratiated himself pretty well with the same Dead faithful that looked down at that first announcement of his joining. Still, it feels a little odd to watch the guy behind "Your Body is a Wonderland" now holding down the guitar duties for a Dead song like "Dire Wolf", with its chorus of, "Please don't murder me."
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It's a feeling that even Mayer himself admitted to Rolling Stone in 2016, before the Company's first summer tour.
"I was self-aware enough to know it was going to be a head-scratcher," the guitarist told the magazine at the time. "But I thought it was cool. And it was going to make people go, 'What?'"
If you have any questions of your own about the unexpected partnership touring amphitheaters, including Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek in Raleigh this Saturday night, here's some answers about Mayer's involvement.
1. Mayer wasn't a Deadhead growing up
Mayer always has been open that the preferred music of his youth was the modern blues sounds of Jimi Hendrix ("The Wind Cries Mary") and Stevie Ray Vaughn ("Texas Flood"). He has said that being a fan of the legendary band in his hometown of Fairfield, Conn., was basically giving family members permission to buy nothing but tie-dyed clothes at holiday time. Mayer has always proclaimed that it wasn't that he was shunning the Dead's music, he was just more inclined to appreciate the guitar chops of Eric Clapton ("After Midnight") at that time.
2. And then there was "Althea"
One day in 2011 while Mayer was home from the road, the Pandora station he was streaming began playing the Dead's "Althea," found on their 1980 album "Go to Heaven." According to an interview with Billboard, he walked into his house, still dripping from the pool as he hurried to find who was playing the guitar riff that he had instantly fallen in love with, it was the first song of the jam masters to really capture the musician's attention. It led to Mayer spending hours of each day researching the band's music further.
3. He's there for the music, not for the atmosphere
Mayer has said several times that he represents a new generation of Dead fans, those who came after the experiences of the band's legendary live shows — those their parents waxed poetic about on occasion. They also can appreciate the music without distraction. It's possible to just enjoy the music that the group produced for decades, because it's good enough to stand up for itself years later.
4. Mayer's explanation of what the Dead sounded like got him this gig
Mayer was working with producer Don Was on a project in the studio when he mentioned that he would be meeting with Dead members Mickey Hart and Bob Weir at his office that day. (Was is the winner of the 1989 Grammy for Best Album for Bonnie Raitt's "Nick of Time.") Tagging along, Mayer couldn't stop himself from professing his love of their back catalogue of music. While trying to describe what the Dead meant to him, Mayer reportedly told the pair, "These songs are for people who have homes, who every once in a while don't want homes."
Weir reportedly responded by asking the young guitarist, "Hey, you wanna do our PR?"
5. A modern master of "guitar face" is learning to take it slow
Mayer sometimes is known for the exaggerated faces he makes while playing more than his actual playing skills. But he has said in viewing old footage of Jerry Garcia performing, he has taken inspiration in the late Dead member's pace as a musician. Relaying to Rolling Stone how Garcia "would set up camp for the night on one part of the (guitar) neck, cook the meal, put out the fire...and then move on to the next part of the neck," he said the late guitar player did a lot with a little.
"A lot of his comping was on one string. He wasn't even playing chords!"
Who: Dead & Company
When: 7 p.m., June 9
Where: Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, 3801 Rock Quarry Road, Raleigh
Cost: $45, $190, $250
Info: 919-831-6400 or LiveNation.com