While October 16th is undoubtedly Bob Weir‘s day in the world of the Grateful Dead, Weir isn’t the only member of his current band celebrating another long, strange trip around the sun today, as today also marks John Mayer‘s 44th birthday!
The singer, songwriter, guitarist, and current Dead & Company member has come a long way since releasing his debut record way back in 2001 with Room for Squares. Mayer started out as a young pop star, and eventually transformed himself into an expert blues guitar player with the John Mayer Trio, caught the attention of all-time greats like Eric Clapton and Herbie Hancock, and finally embraced the ease of Americana and group improvisation when he teamed up with Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, Jeff Chimenti, and Oteil Burbridge to form Dead & Co. in 2015.
In the five years since Dead & Company’s debut in October 2015, Mayer has made leaps and bounds maturing in his new role “playing in the band,” winning over countless notoriously critical Deadheads in the process. We’ve seen him party down in a unicorn onesie at a Phish show in Las Vegas, sit in with acts like Joe Russo‘s Almost Dead on multiple occasions, and generally embrace the jam scene with the sincerity and humility that many decried him for lacking in his earlier years. If you need proof, just read this heartfelt note he posted following his U.S. tour this past summer:
View this post on Instagram
This was the tour where all the pieces fell into place. The first tour without an album behind it, and a giant leap of faith that these songs could still matter after their time as chart contenders. You came, and you sang, and danced and wiped away tears and took inventory of what you had and what you’d lost, and all that’s left to discover, and I was thinking the same things right along with you, every night. Dead and Company taught me the “we” of you and me. The “we” of a band. This most excellent, loving band. “We used to play for silver, now we play for life.” We’re off to Europe to play some very exciting shows soon, but not before thinking back on what – and who – you’ve shown to me. Thank you.
If you’ve been listening over the last few years, it’s clear that Mayer at 44 is quite different from the John Mayer the world met way back around the turn of the century. Take a look below at a few videos that show John Mayer progressing as a player and Grateful Dead fan over the years.
First up, check out John Mayer with his single “No Such Thing” from his debut record, Room For Squares, and remind yourself where he started out. Then, watch a full set by the John Mayer Trio performing at Bowery Ballroom back in 2005—a video that starts with an introductory interview which explains why Mayer is experimenting with new styles outside of the realm of pop music.
Next up, watch him perform “Human Nature” at Michael Jackson‘s funeral, filling in for Jackson by performing the vocal part on his guitar. Also included are videos of Mayer performing “Vultures” with the Trio back in 2010 at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles and a performance of “High Time We Went” with Eric Clapton, Doyle Bramhall II, Derek Trucks, and Jimmy Vaughan, and a video of him playing the blues with Trucks, BB King, Susan Tedeschi and more in 2012.
While it’s clear that Mayer has always been a prolific guitarist, only recently was he “turned on” by the Grateful Dead music. That shift seemed to happen sometime in the early 2010s. As Mayer tells it, that switch first flipped when “Althea” popped up on a Pandora playlist at a pool party, prompting him to drop what he was doing and run to find out what the song was. By 2013, “Althea” had worked its way into his solo band repertoire, as you can see from the video of his well-executed rendition at Red Rocks that year. Just a couple years later, and John Mayer would be hosting a public jam session on late-night TV with Grateful Dead guitarist/vocalist.
John Mayer – “No Such Thing”
[Video: John Mayer]
John Mayer – “Human Nature” – Michael Jackson’s funeral
John Mayer Trio – “Vultures”
Eric Clapton’s 70th Birthday – “High Time We Went”
B.B. King w/ John Mayer, Derek Trucks, & Susan Tedeschi – Hollywood Bowl – 9/5/2012
John Mayer – “Althea” [Grateful Dead cover] – 7/17/2013
[Video: A.C. Lao]
The Late Late Show w/ John Mayer & Bob Weir – “Althea”
John Mayer – “Deal” [Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead cover] – 7/25/19
Happy 44th birthday, John Mayer! We’re grateful you started comin’ around…
[Originally published 10/16/17]