“We needed a 10th tune for our album Shines Like Gold,” says Jim Weider, leader of The Weight Band starring in the Delta Roots Festival in Helena, Arkansas, Saturday, April 9th. “I remembered that Willie Dixon had sent Levon (Helm) this tune, “It Don’t Make Sense If You Can’t Make Peace,” and I always loved it. We didn’t cut it in 1993 for the Jericho album, but I remembered that cassette, and I said, ‘Man, I know the perfect tune to end this record,’ and we cut that live. We did two takes, and we kept the second take.
Helena Arkansas’s favorite son and founder of The Band Levon Helm is gone now as are Sonny Boy Williamson, Sunshine Sonny Payne and Bubba Sullivan, all critical movers and shakers behind the iconic King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas, beacons of hope for the future. The Delta Roots Festival is a declaration that the Biscuit will survive, a prelude to the October festival to come after two years silenced by Covid.
Each of these iconic shapers of The Biscuit, the south’s premier blues festival, has left us with a gift that’s the envy of the musical world. That gift is more than a memory, it’s a map to a brighter future, a future promised in The Delta Roots Festival. The flyer advertising that festival sports the headline “The Biscuit had a baby, and they call it Delta Roots.”
Jim Weider was the sole guitarist for The Band from 1985 until that group’s dissolution in 2000. He wrote songs and performed on three of The Band’s studio albums, Jericho, High on the Hog, and Jubilation. He toured internationally with original Band members Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko for 15 years and was featured with them on numerous albums, films, videos and in television appearances.
Weider is a phenomenal guitarist and singer/songwriter spearheading The Band legacy with Shines Like Gold, a new CD that carries that legacy into a world in need of its positive and grounded message of hope. I told him he was more normal, more grounded, and more focused than almost anybody in his position that I interview. Then, I asked him how he does it.
“You know what,” he said. “I’ll tell you how you do it. You do what Rick Danko said, ‘Always stay desperate!’”
We both laughed, and I told him that he must be in great shape then. “That’s one of my favorite Danko lines,” he answered. “I always stay desperate. As soon as we (The Band) would get off the road, he’d go off and play a gig in a freakin’ bar in the middle of nowhere, and I’d be with him.”
We’re all in this together. And the future lies in the differences we represent and our ability to pull together. In a world struggling to discover the new normal, the little festival that could on the banks of the mighty Mississippi is soldiering on. I remember Honeyboy Edwards telling me his first memory at five years old was the sound of the levee breaking in the Mississippi flood of ’28. He was too young to have seen the African Americans who were used as human sandbags ordered to lie down and hold back the waters.
Times have changed. The Delta Roots Festival and the King Biscuit Blues Festival in early October are a birth and rebirth in succession. It’s dusting ourselves off. It’s a family reunion. It’s our musical family. We will strive to survive and thrive in this promise to be fulfilled. Shines Like Gold opens with “Weight of The World.”
Some follow wise men some follow the fool
Some trust the liars some fear the truth
father of light high in the sky
lead the path in the circle of time
And make the weight of the world disappear
Release your burdens let go of your fears
Build tomorrow with blood and tears
And make the weight of the world disappear.
The song was written before Russia attacked Ukraine. “We were talking about everything we’ve been going through with the pandemic,” says Weider. “So, I started writing, and I wrote about five verses and sent it down to a good buddy of mine, Colin Linden who produced the record, and said, ‘What do you think of this idea? Here’s some verses and a chorus,’ and I had these chords, and that kinda developed. We rehearsed it, and at that rehearsal it just wasn’t really – there was something not quite right about – couldn’t get that chorus to really ring, you know. So, Colin and I went back and rewrote it again. He added a couple of great verses, and he really helped arrange that with me which made that tune great. For me it’s really you make the weight of the world disappear. You leave your burden.
“It’s a common theme through the whole record without saying it, without saying, ‘Oh, my God. I can’t take it no longer.’ The record has a theme on every song. I would write these tunes about what we’re going through, and then I would get an idea and come back.
“Every day I would go down stairs and write. I had no words. I had nothing to do. I got into a habit of every day once I got a song, the chords and the chorus, everything written, I would send it down to him and say, ‘Do you want to add a verse? Do you want to add a lyric, if you like it,’ and he was digging everything I was doing, so I ended up co-writing everything with him which was a long journey.
“‘Tall Trees’ (also on the new album) is a song that came to me. I was thinking about Levon. The verse about Levon is about my life, growing up and contemplating leaving town, and the mountains, and the second verse is about leaving town, and it’s about people you looked up to when they fall, but they’re never forgotten. Guys who really change your life with their work and their personality. I was thinking about just reflecting on my life and people that have changed my life, people that have changed me.”
That muddy river rolled by his back door
Helena Station whistle moaned
Cotton so white like a cold northern night
Looking for a song he left his home
There was no warning for you to heed
When you know the thing you need
All our heroes are like tall trees
When they’ve fallen to the ground
What they’ve done won’t be forgotten
Just like tall trees heaven bound
The title song “Shines Like Gold” and first single is the most upbeat song on the album.
“You know, there’s a new dawn rising, and it shines like gold. In other words, the whole album shines like gold. All the songs have a thread of positivity that we’re going to get through this without dying. Oh, my God. I can’t stand another day. It’s boring, whatever. There’s nothing to do. I mean, everybody’s sick. There’s none of that. It’s like there’s a new dawn rising. It shines like gold. It’s a thing of thinking we’re all gonna get through if we just think positively.”
I see the sun on the horizon
There’s a new dawn rising
And it shines like gold
Don’t cry Josephine
I think the hard times are leaving
I can’t help but believing
It will shine like gold
The Delta Roots Music Festival is a whole day of great sounds from where it all began in Helena, Arkansas. Joining The Weight Band for this special post-pandemic showcase are Arkansas’ own Cate Brothers, Fonky Donkey, Rodge Arnold, Duane Stevens Band, Mother Hubbard & The Regulators, Arkansas Brothers, Colin Linden, Bailey Hefley, and the Live Wire Band.
The Cate Brothers are 60-year Arkansas music veterans and frequent King Biscuit Blues Festival performers. Their 1976 hit record “Union Man” earned them appearances on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, Austin City Limits, and The Midnight Special Show. The Cate Brothers band members include guitarist Earl and Ernie on piano, John Davies on bass, Jason Davis on guitars and vocals, and Terry Cagle on drums and vocals.
“It’s like a family of musicians,” says Weider. “We used to go down there a lot to Levon’s hometown area, and The Cate Brothers are gonna be there. They played with Levon so much. They played with The Band on double shows, and so I’m really looking forward to it.
“It’s a celebration of Levon’s life. So, we’re gonna do some classic tunes from Levon’s catalog that we like, and it’s gonna be great. I think it’s gonna be great. It’ll be a cool thing to do for us.” Tickets for the Delta Roots Music Festival are $25.00 and can be purchased online at deltarootsmusicfest.eventbrite.com or at the King Biscuit Blues Festival office (319 Phillips Street, Helena). Hours for the festival are 10 a.m. until 9. p.m.