the walking dead

7 walkers: malcolm "papa mali" welbourne, matt hubbard, bill kreutzmann and george porter, jr. photo by jay blakesberg.

7 walkers: malcolm "papa mali" welbourne, matt hubbard, bill kreutzmann and george porter, jr. photo by jay blakesberg.

Contemporary music has long loved to define its stylistic extremes in geographic terms – as in, say, having spiritually inclined traditions from the East crash into the earthier rhythmic drive of the West.

In presenting the music of 7 Walkers, let’s adjust the signposts a bit, alter the directions and keep the sounds on native soil. More exactly, take the sweaty, percussive grooves of New Orleans funk and send it out West to mingle with the San Francisco psychedelia that launched the Grateful Dead in the mid-’60s.

That’s the kind of terrain 7 Walkers travels.

“It’s a beautiful thing to have the two genres working together,” guitarist Malcolm “Papa Mali” Welbourne said. “New Orleans funk and the legacy of the Grateful Dead: Nobody would have expected that blend – including us.”

A Shreveport, La., native, Welbourne was raised on the music of The Meters, Dr. John and scores of other New Orleans artists, plus a generous sampling of music that extended to the singer-songwriter haven of Austin, Texas, where Welbourne now lives, and even reggae – he earned his “Papa Mali” stage name while on tour with reggae great Burning Spear.

Although he was a devout Grateful Dead fan, Welbourne discovered a connection to the band’s West Coast inspirations largely by chance. Backstage at an Oregon music festival, he was introduced to Bill Kreutzmann, the Grateful Dead’s drummer for its entire 30-year history. From there, the seeds for what became 7 Walkers quickly took root.

“It was such a random thing that we even met,” Welbourne said. “We hit it off so well as friends that it became only natural we would eventually want to play music together. One thing led to another to where Bill found enough faith in what we were doing to introduce me to Robert Hunter.”

Although Hunter has collaborated with numerous artists over the years, from young folk stylists to bluegrass pros, he is best known as the late Jerry Garcia’s songwriting partner with the Grateful Dead. Garcia composed the music and melodies, and Hunter wrote the lyrics.

On 7 Walkers’ self-titled 2010 album, Hunter did the same for the spicy Crescent City grooves and voodoo imagery of Welbourne’s music.

“I just wish I could keep up with him,” Welbourne said. “He is so prolific. We already have a second album written and part of a third.”

Combine these elements and what you come up with might surprise the most die-hard of Dead Heads. Take one of the highlights from 7 Walkers, a rootsy joy ride called Sue From Bogalusa. The song’s vintage-pop flair sounds less like a Hunter song and more a like mash-up of Fats Domino and Del Shannon. And the percussive strut that echoes New Orleans’ famed second-line drum sound hardly seems the product of the man who played Truckin’ and Sugar Magnolia for more than three decades – more, if you count the various post-Garcia re-formations of the Dead that Kreutzmann has been involved in.

“Bill has been into New Orleans music for a long time,” Welbourne said. “He was into it long before he met me. Bill’s mother is from New Orleans. He’s even said that his very first musical memory was listening to Fats Domino records. And that makes perfect sense when you hear what he is doing with this band.”

The musical depth of 7 Walkers runs even deeper, though. When founding bass guitarist Reed Mathis, who performs on the album 7 Walkers, had to bow out of touring duties to devote time to other San Francisco-based bands with which he performs, Welbourne turned to George Porter Jr., a seminal bass instrumentalist for such pioneering New Orleans acts as The Meters, Allen Toussaint and Lee Dorsey. Multiinstrumentalist Matt Hubbard – a musical protégé of Willie Nelson, the country icon who adds vocals and guitar to 7 Walkers’ decidedly Dead-like King Cotton Blues – completes the band lineup by adding generous accents of piano and harmonica.

“I couldn’t be more pleased,” Welbourne said. “This band has been like a dream come true for me. First of all, I’m in a band with two of my biggest musical heroes, Billy and George. Then to have those heroes meet and hit it off in such a really big way. … I mean, when that happened, I knew we were on to something special.

“We’re watching two musical worlds colliding here.”

7 Walkers perform at 9 p.m. March 31 at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St. Tickets are $20 advance. Call (859) 368-8871.

great wall of fire … ; Tonight a line of light will blaze along the entire length of Hadrian’s Wall, Adrian Mourby and his son walked the route

Belfast Telegraph March 13, 2010 great wall of fire John and I arrived at Arbeia Roman Fort, hot and close to an argument. The idea had been to get a pre-walk image of Britain’s Roman coastline because the actual point where Hadrian began his wall, Newcastle upon Tyne, had long ago buried all traces of Pons Aelius, the original Roman fort, under a Norman castle. go to web site hadrian s wall

We do these father/son trips from time to time. It’s proved a good mixture of exercise, travel and family bonding. Only this time the bonding had been severely tested by my dozy son leaving his backpack on the 15.03 to Edinburgh. Maria, our taxi driver, was wonderful, dropping us at Arbeia and then zooming back to Newcastle station to see if she could track it down.

I had an ulterior motive for this trip. This evening a spectacular line of light will illuminate the entire coast-to-coast length of Hadrian’s Wall for one night only. I wanted to preview the beginning of the route while introducing John to what the Roman empire had done for us.

Our starting point, Arbeia, was the military granary that supplied the wall. It’s been partially reconstructed in open ground, a fortified stone gate with ramparts amid the narrow terraced streets of South Shields.

“I really can’t believe it!” I muttered, a remark that Val, our guide, took as a reaction to the building’s remarkable authenticity.

Cheerily she led us through the reconstructed barracks on other side of the dig. Here we saw how the commanding officer and his wife would have lived in tall rooms, painted in bright Mediterranean hues.

Meanwhile his troops slept in wattle-and-daub cubicles dominated by three-up three-down bunks. According to an inscription they were probably from the Tigris region, which is how this fort got its name. “Arbeia means place of the Arabs,” Val explained to John, smiling and nodding now. My 19-year-old has a remarkable ability to get over my blowing up at him and, as ever, I soon forgot the backpack and was enjoying Arbeia too.

“You can tell where the grain was kept,” Val said, “because grain is very, very heavy when stored. Any foundations that have been buttressed were the granaries.” There were a lot of them; feeding legionaries from coast to coast must have been a huge job.

Our own provisioning came later once I’d received a call from Maria’s boss saying that John’s rucksack was in the lost-and-found at Edinburgh station, and had to be collected. By this time we were checking into the Hotel du Vin, which overlooks the Tyne and the new Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

“You’re going up to Edinburgh tomorrow first thing,” I told my son, “before we start the walk.” John nodded. But then David, the deputy manager, offered to go as he had a friend he wanted to catch up with in Edinburgh. I tried to insist that this was beyond the remit of any hotelier, and yet I was tempted. I had more confidence in a stranger getting there and back in time for us to start walking than in John.

We celebrated by going out to eat pizza in Newcastle, a city I last saw in 1983. I’ve never been quite so disorientated. Much that I remember was still there but it didn’t seem to be in the same order.

The next day we set off from Pons Aelius and headed west. I checked my watch. “1.15!” I declared slapping John on the back. By 1.30 we were sheltering from a vindictive thunderstorm under one of the Tyne bridges. Half an hour later we emerged and headed along the Hadrian’s Wall Path, which is really the northern embankment of the Tyne.

The wall itself lies under the dull suburbs of Benwell and Denton. No one would want to walk those, so the map sends you along empty quaysides and through a new business park.

It takes a while for Hadrian’s Wall to start resembling those dramatic images of Steel Rigg, Housesteads and Cuddy’s Crag. I dealt with a solid day of disenchanted boy before leaving him heading towards the aptly named village of Wall.

As we parted, John waved his walking stick cheerily. This was the part of the walk he had been looking forward to.

Unfortunately his first solo day ended with the police looking for him as he was two hours late and had not switched on his mobile phone. The second day he lost his phone. By the third day a pinched nerve meant he was having difficulty carrying his backpack and the kind owner of the next hotel collected him by car. go to web site hadrian s wall

For the rest of the week I was amazed by the kindness of people: the hotel receptionist who drove John and his arm to the doctor; the lady who found his phone and hand-delivered it to the next B & B; the hoteliers who arranged for Hadrian’s Haul — a great scheme — to transfer John’s rucksack by van (Pounds 5 a day — a bargain); the people who made him sandwiches; the fellow travellers who put him right when lost, those who mailed back the heavier items John chose to leave behind.

Over the week my son discovered Hadrian’s Wall and I rediscovered how generous people can be to strangers.

How to get there: Flybe flies from George Best Airport to Newcastle upon Tyne (flybe.com), while Easyjet flies from Belfast International to Newcastle upon Tyne (easyjet.com) Staying there: Adrian and John stayed at the Hotel du Vin & Bistro, Newcastle upon Tyne (0191-229 2200; hotelduvin.com/ newcastle) where double rooms with breakfast cost from Pounds 99.

More information: For details on walking Hadrian’s Wall visit hadrians-wall.org CAPTION: ROMAN HOLIDAY: hadrian’s Wall and (below) an artist’s CAPTION: impression of the line CAPTION: of fire along the wall



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