This past week, bassist Oteil Burbridge gave fans a chance to get inside his head with an official Reddit AMA. Coming off an incredible month on the road with Dead & Company, fans were eager to hear about his experiences, his views, his vocals, and more. Check out a collection of hot takes and interesting anecdotes shared during Oteil’s AMA:

Reddit: What was your first “holy shit” moment during this past D&C tour?

Oteil: “I’ve had a number of ‘holy shit’ moments, starting from the first day of the first rehearsal and looking across the room and seeing Bill, John, Bob, Mickey and Jeff. My next ‘holy shit’ moment was right after the show in Albany when we realized that the fans like what we were doing and weren’t going to crucify me and John! My third ‘holy shit’ moment was playing my very first stadium show, which I believe was Folsom Field. My fourth ‘holy shit’ moment was the first night I sang China Doll and my fifth was the first night singing Comes a Time. Pretty much every moment since then has been a ‘holy shit’ moment.”

On the differences between playing with the Allman Brothers Band and playing with Dead & Company:

“One of the major and most obvious differences between the two is that the Grateful Dead will play quiet for a lot longer. Also the Grateful Dead has a lot more diversity in song forms. They tend to be longer in some cases and when you take a solo you have to play through the entire form which is more difficult than playing a simple 2 or 3 chord jam. While the Grateful Dead certainly have plenty of 2 and 3 chord jam solo sections, you get these tunes like Crazy Fingers, Lost Sailor/Saint of Circumstance, etc. where you are going to be playing through a lot more chord changes. It’s one of the things that I love about the Garcia ballads… changes like Stella Blue, China Doll… That being said, the ABB came from a really hard-driving, hard-grooving blues and R&B background that was filled with deep voodoo. We also had the country and bluegrass side that tapped into American folk roots. We also got into some really deep grooves and also explored the jazzier side of open-ended jams. That’s where I think the ABB and the Grateful Dead meet is in the longer jam explorations.”

On his “dinosaur stomp” dancing onstage:

“I’m sure you can find video of me doing the “dinosaur stomp” with the ABB [too]! Derek [Trucks] and [Warren] Haynes are obviously not known for dancing or moving around a lot. I’m one of those people that is a mover. I am a drummer first and the point of drums is to make people want to dance. They are inseparable to me. If a groove is really good and strong, I’m going to be moving to it and [John] Mayer is the same way. I would also add that John and my chemistry has really grown this last tour. It’s just something that takes time.”

What songs do you want to sing for Dead & Co in the future?

“‘To Lay Me Down,’ ‘If I Had The World to Give,’ ‘Sing Me Back Home,’ ‘Mountains of the Moon’ and a few others. I’m working on those now.”

Have you discussed singing any of Brent’s songs? I think your voice would be perfect for a few of them.

“Bill Walton requested this same thing of me and I told him that I would do my best. Sad to say, it will be damn near impossible for me to do it as Brent sings unbelievably high a lot of the time. And he does this in his natural voice, it’s not falsetto. Precious few humans have this ability. I really wish that I could and I will make an attempt but if I can’t do it justice at home I’m not going to butcher it on stage.”

On trying to “sound like the original”:

“You cannot please everyone. I’m first in the line of believing that Phil Lesh is the true sound of the Grateful Dead. Honestly, I miss it myself sometimes. But I cannot be anything other than what I am. Indeed I have encountered some criticism but I also am aware that the vast majority of the fans like what I am doing as different as it is from the original. I try to think more about my energy and putting out positivity than anything else.”

On his favorite Dead and Allman songs to play:

“My favorite ABB songs to play are ‘Cross to Bear,’ ‘Dreams,’ ‘Please Call Home,’ ‘Blue Sky’… there are so many. As far as Dead songs go, since the beginning and still to this day, Grateful Dead ballads are among my top favorites. Both Jerry’s and Bob’s. Obviously I love ‘Stella Blue,’ ‘China Doll,’ ‘Comes a Time,’ ‘Standing on the Moon’… I could go on and on. And also Bob’s ‘Black Throated Wind,’ ‘Looks Like Rain,’ ‘Lost Sailor,’ etc.”

On his favorite place to play:

Red Rocks when the weather is perfect! But honestly, my favorite place to play – where I’ve never had a bad gig – is a small place called the Fox Theater in Boulder.”

Do you think of Butch Trucks when you sing China Doll?

“Yeah, I absolutely do. You can probably see me crying on videos of me singing ‘China Doll’ sometimes. And there’s other people I think about too, including Jerry. I’ve experienced quite a lot of loss this year that makes me think about deaths, recent and past.”

You always seem so happy and positive in stage. How do you stay upbeat after long stretches of touring and performing?

“People ask me this question a lot and I always answer ‘I have such a good time because I meant to before I got there.’ What we do should be, in my opinion, a celebration. If we’re all lucky enough to be there together on that same day in reasonable health we should celebrate. You guys actually paid money. It seems to me you should at least see me being happy to be there! It’s such great music in such great venues and there’s so much joy and anticipation that you can practically taste it. I start smiling well before I get on stage. How sweet it is!”

On how he came to take on more singing duties this summer:

“It happened organically, really. I wanted to sing ‘China Doll’ since the first rehearsal when it came up and neither Bob nor John wanted to sing it. It just wasn’t time yet. This was before we even figured out what kind of chemistry we had musically. It started with Bob asking me to sing ‘Box of Rain’ actually. And while I like ‘Box of Rain,’ I figured if I finally got asked to sing an entire song and not just a verse of GDTRFB, that I’d rather sing a song that totally blew me away emotionally and so I suggested ‘China Doll’ (again). And that time it took! Some things can’t be rushed. People that know me well have often heard me say “plants bloom when they bloom and not one second before” so I never fight against the timing.

On advice he’d give to young bassists:

Col. Bruce told me 99% of success is just showing up. What he meant by that was if you persevere for 5 years and then quit but your ship came in 5 years and 2 months later, then you missed your opportunity. The other crucial piece of advice is to always give people something that they can’t get anywhere else and that one thing is you. Nobody else is like you. If you find a way to let your true self come through your instrument, you will automatically be giving people something that they cannot get anywhere else. And finally, hold on to your joy by any means necessary!”

On upcoming projects:

My new record will be coming out this fall and I’ll be touring with my solo project, Oteil & Friends, in November with Melvin Seals, Eric Krasno, John Kadlecik, Jay Lane, Weedie Braimah and Alfreda Gerald.

On starting with drums:

“Drums was my first instrument, I started at 5 years old. When we were kids we all played piano and violin. Later I picked up bass clarinet, vibes, guitar, and more recently I fell deeply in love with the 5-string banjo.”

On his reactions to Long Strange Trip:

“I watched it while I was on the road with Dead & Co. right before Jess and Nigel came out. I went straight through one morning and watched all four hours. It’s so mind blowing to see pictures of Bill, who I met in 2008, from 1965. I was one-year-old then. For every single year documented in Long Strange Trip, I have a personal reference for in my life. That was a mind blower. When I look across the stage and I see these gentlemen, it’s really humbling to think of just how long they’ve been playing in this one band. No matter whether you like the Grateful Dead or not, you have to respect them. Long Strange Trip really showed me how the Grateful Dead has changed American culture. If America is the strongest country in the world, then what does that say about the Grateful Dead? They’ve always stood for peace and love and they’ve always tried to spread that even through their own trials and tribulations. And judging from the feeling of love and joy that I feel from the crowd, their mission has been a complete success. They’ve paid heavy prices for it at times, the heaviest – even the ultimate price. And they’re still here with the exact same mission.”

On jamming:
“If I’m lucky, I have plenty of time in advance of rehearsals to work on the songs. I usually listen to as many versions in different decades of the same song as I can. You can actually do this with groups like the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band. I need to hear how the song has morphed over the years. I also like to listen to the songs around the house when I’m not playing bass to get it in my head more. I prefer not to read charts on the gig, that’s why I walk around the house listening to it. Fortunately my wife doesn’t mind cause she’s a huge deadhead! Every jam is semi-rehearsed, but the point of any jam is to acknowledge the threat that the jam might go off in its own direction at any time. We’re fanning the flames of that happening in a sense every time we start off on a jam.”

On Col. Bruct Hampton:

“When I first met the Col., he guessed my birthday within 3 minutes of when I was born. I actually know my time of birth because my mom was really into astrology. When I asked him “how did you get it within 3 minutes?” he said, ‘your nose was screaming it.’ Like Bill said about Jerry, I knew from that moment on that I was going to follow him wherever he went.”

“Initially, Col. Bruce led the band much as his name would indicate. Even though the band was rooted in an improvisational and even free form philosophy, he was very hard on us in the beginning. He would poke me with drum sticks and called me and Jeff Sipe and Jimmy Herring “20 percenters” because he said we were only giving 20% of what we actually had. We didn’t really understand his philosophy at that time and so I guess he was just trying to beat it into us! But when I started to see what he was talking about it completely changed my life and I realized that he was right… that I was giving him my preconception of what I was and he wanted me to tear down the walls of that preconception and let out what I really was. He was the one that made me start singing. He said the voice was the first and most powerful instrument. After singing lead at Wrigley Field to a sold out house, he proved to be right once again. Thank you Col., for everything.”

On his favorite moments bringing his family on tour this sumer:

“After my brother Kofi had emergency heart surgery, the first day that I was back on the road and everything had settled down, we were doing soundcheck and we were playing ‘Women are Smarter’ and I could see Jess and Nigel up on the lawn dancing and she was swinging him around in circles and I realized at that moment that everything was ok. Kofi was going to be ok… it was a perfect beautiful day… I was soundchecking on stage with Dead & Company and watching my beautiful wife and child have a hallmark moment out on the lawn. I wish I had a picture of it.”

Do you ever jam with Mike Gordon? Are you going to see any Phish shows this summer?

“Mike has been a friend of mine for a long time, since the old ARU days as is Page [McConnell], Jon Fishman and Trey Anastasio. In fact, Mike [Gordon] is the one that introduced me to Bill Kreutzmann in 2008 and he is the 2nd person we know to wear the “Let Oteil Sing” shirt! We have jammed together in the past and I certainly hope we will again in the future. I would love to see some Phish shows this summer, but my 2.5 year old has curtailed a lot of my concert-going these days. I’m in kid-raising mode right now and hopefully when I do get to see Phish shows again, Nigel will be coming along with me! Lord knows his mama loves her some Phish!”

[Cover photo: Dave Vann]