Jim Weider's Project Percolator Under Investigation

World renown and highly respected as a player (the Band, Bob Dylan, Dr. John, Levon Helm, Scotty Moore, Keith Richards), producer (Mavis Staples, Paul Burlison, Los Lobos), teacher (Homespun Video, master classes, clinics), and tonal connoisseur/ co-architect (Colby and Fargen amps, Analog Man effects, and Jim Weider’s Big T pickups), Tele-master Jim Weider found himself standing at a crossroads in 2005.
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World renown and highly respected as a player (the Band, Bob Dylan, Dr. John, Levon Helm, Scotty Moore, Keith Richards), producer (Mavis Staples, Paul Burlison, Los Lobos), teacher (Homespun Video, master classes, clinics), and tonal connoisseur/ co-architect (Colby and Fargen amps, Analog Man effects, and Jim Weider’s Big T pickups), Tele-master Jim Weider found himself standing at a crossroads in 2005.

When his to-die-for gig with the Band ended after they broke up in 2000, Weider released two solo albums in the interim—Bigfoot (2000) and Remedy (2003). Both are excellent roots-rock affairs laced with a few classic-rock covers, but Weider was ripe for reinvention. “I was initially inspired by some great drum grooves,” he explains. “I’d played with the Band for 15 years, and I wanted to break away from the blues-rock/Americana thing I’d been doing and write some fresh, left-brain instrumentals with great grooves.”

It worked.

But Weider didn’t drastically change his sound or style per se. Instead, he dramatically altered its environment, and in essence built a completely new house around his already killer tones and techniques. Enlisting ace engineer and producer John Holbrook and a stellar rhythm section including Tony Levin (bass), Rodney Holmes and Randy Ciarlante (drums), and guest stars John Medeski (organ) and buddy Sid McGinnis (guitar), Weider co-wrote and released Percolator in 2006. It’s a landmark recording that channels all of Weider’s influences into a cornucopia of muscular Zeppelinesque chord riffs, angular single notes redolent of early-’70s fusion, some of the funkiest drum grooves ever waxed, delicate arpeggiated figures, and of course, Jimmy’s extraordinary soloing, often all within a single song. Unexpected modulations and changes in feel and dynamics abound, giving many of the songs a suite-like quality. Weider dubbed his touring band PRoJECT PERCoLAToR, and in 2009 recorded Pulse live in the studio with Holmes, bassist Steve Lucas, and co-guitarist Mitch Stein. Subsequent and interim touring units have included bassists Daniel Grimsland and Jesse Murphy, and guitarists Avi Bortnick and yours truly. Mission accomplished.

Weider’s blues-wailing lead guitar chops stand without question, and he has many tutorial aids available in that department. He’s certainly one rightful heir to the throne left vacant by Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton, but this investigation focuses on six examples of how Jim Weider reinvented his songwriting skills for PRoJECT PERCoLAToR, and broke new ground in the world of guitar instrumentals. But first, let’s investigate the tools of…


The liner notes for Percolator detail Weider’s gear song-by-song, but here’s a synopsis of what he used on our three excerpts: 1952 Fender Telecaster, Flying Finn Tele-style (with humbuckers), 1971 50-watt Marshall, Italian Waw-Waw, and Line 6 Pod (Rat sound) for “The Maze;” Flying Finn Tele-style, blackface Fender Deluxe Reverb, and Pod (direct) for “Percolator;” and both the Fender and the Flying Finn, the Marshall, and a Vox Tone Lab for “Flight.” Three years later, when P.P.’s Weider-Stein-Lucas-Holmes lineup solidified as a touring unit and cut Pulse live in the studio, Weider’s rig had changed considerably. The ’52 Tele was back along with a custom “Cooder-caster” (a Tele body with a rosewood neck and Teisco and Supro lap-steel pickups), now feeding Analog Man King of Tone and prototype Bigfoot distortion pedals, an Italian Vox wah, and a T-Rex Replica delay into a Fargen Jim Weider Signature head and vintage, basket-weave Marshall 4x12 cab loaded with 25-watt Celestion greenbacks (sigh). Weider’s current rig has also evolved. He now feeds his trusty ’52 Tele (retro-fitted with a Jim Weider Big T neck pickup) and Cooder-caster through a modified Analog Man Comp, the old Vox wah, a Top Tone DG-2 Distortion, the King of Tone, a Vemuram Jan Ray Overdrive, Castledine Supra Vibe, Providence Delay 80 (for long delays), and Catalinbread Belle Epoch Tape Echo (for short delays) into his signature Colby 50-watt Dual Tone Booster amp and 2x12 cab (drool…).


The first strains of the opening track from Percolator makes it obvious that there’s something out of the ordinary going on here. “The Maze” kicks off with a two-bar Liquid Audio tribal percussion loop decorated with a single B harmonic played slightly above the third fret on the low E string and affected with a guttural cockedwah tone. Weider’s rhythm figure follows (Ex. 1a), with spacious parallel major tenth intervals that outline an F-G-F-E progression. After two repeats, he enhances the already exotic mood by inserting short E Mixolydian-based fills in the open spaces between each pair of tenths. These create altered tensions over the G chord and resolutions on the E. Weider later incorporates F, the b2, into his fills and outro solo, which creates an exotic-sounding harmonic minor tetrachord (root-b2-3-4—check out this month’s Fretboard Recipes) inherent to the E Phrygian Dominant scale (E-F-G#- A-B-C-D). The song’s B section, illustrated in Ex. 1b, shifts to E minor and begins with an E-Dorian-based call-and-response riff (bars 1 and 2), but the syncopated broken A13b9 and G#13b9 chords in the second and fourth endings (which could also be perceived as Eb7#9/Bb – D7#9/A), provide an ear-catching harmonic surprise and enhance the sinister vibe. Listen closely and you can hear Jim’s beloved cat Tiu’s contributions during the rests in the first and third endings!

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Rodney Holmes’ popping two-bar, drumgroove intro to “Percolator” lives up to the song’s title and sets the stage for Jimmy’s ultra-cool rhythm figure notated in Ex. 2a. Gtr. 1 begins the four-bar call-and-response figure with hybrid-picked E and D octaves that break off into spooky, partial Db#4 and A7#9 voicings (bars 1 and 2), and then responds with two bars of triple A5 chops interspersed with ringy, hammered-and-pulled A blues fills laced with open strings on beats three and four. For the repeat, Weider layered Gtr. 2’s bluesy fills over the second half of bars 1 and 2. The song’s B section, presented in Ex. 2b, modulates to F and begins with a rhythmic “hiccup” in the form of a bar of 2/4, where Gtr. 1’s Eb-Bb-F chords utilize the same rhythmic motif as the A5 hits in Ex. 3a. This precedes an immediate shift back to 4/4 for the percolating single-note line played by Gtr. 2 while Gtr. 1 holds down the slash rhythms located above the staff. The syncopated lines in bars 2 through 5 are derived from the F pentatonic minor scale plus the 3 (A), while bars 6 and 7 paraphrase the same figure a whole-step lower in Eb on a lower string set. This uplifting section pays off in bar 8, where we briefly return to the opening lick in F before the pickup into bar 9 takes us on another unexpected harmonic ride. This time it’s an angular diminished-flavored single-note run that culminates with B7#9—the V of the upcoming octave E—before we restore the two dropped beats from bar 1 and segue back to another round of Ex. 3a.

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Next, Weider solos over a funky, 8-bar, E-minor-based vamp, and Ex. 2c excerpts the third of his four choruses. Its highlights include the clever use of the B blues scale throughout, strong thematic development, lively rhythmic syncopations, and the way Weider nails the Bm7 and D9 changes in bars 7 and 8 via some jazzy chromaticism and a descending D7 chord scale. It’s completely devoid of the typical blues-rock vocabulary and a testimonial to Jim’s versatility.

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The majestic and aptly-named “Flight” commences with another funky Liquid Audio loop. Four bars in, drummer Rodney Holmes joins in before breaking on beat three of bar 4 to accommodate Weider’s hammered-andpulled pickup into a broken D5 chord. When you play Ex. 3a, let the D5 ring (preferably with feedback) for an extra two-and-a-half bars, and then repeat the whole deal, with one exception—after playing the pickup at the end of the repeat, segue directly to Ex. 3b’s Csus2-G/B-D5 figure. It’s truly one of those forehead-slapping “Why didn’t I think of that?” deals, and its elegance lies in its boneheaded simplicity. The mood shifts to floaty Am-Csus2-G-Dsus2 chords played as whole notes over the course of four bars (not notated), and truncated to Am-Csus2 and a huge, gainful G5 sustained for two bars to announce the arrival of Ex. 3c, which depicts Gtr. 1’s humongous, Zep-style C5-D5 chordal call and ensuing G-Mixolydian- flavored, single-note, 4-3-2-b7 response (C-Bb-A-F). Weider’s D-Mixolydian-based wah-inflected overdubs (Gtr. 2) begin on the third of four repeats. Fly on.

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The intensity of “Squirrels in Paris,” the opening track from Pulse, belies the song’s kooky title. The intro features a floaty, fourbar loop followed by eight bars of Rodney’s impossibly propulsive, skittering drum groove. Jim and co-guitarist Mitch Stein lay down tied whole-notes at 140 bpm— one for each of the four parallel minoreleventh voicings shown in Ex. 4a—and then repeat the same eight bars before the song breaks down to the drums-and-guitar duet depicted in Ex. 4b. Here, Weider exclusively uses his second finger to play the slide-inflected melody completely on the B string in conjunction with a droning open E string. Played against Holmes’ drum figure, the effect is devastating—a call to arms. Note how the first and second endings each contain a single-note response lick. The fourth ending segues directly to Ex. 4c, the song’s whacked-out C section, which comprises Gtr. 1’s syncopated ascending G whole-tone scale (G-A-B-C#- D#-F) alternating every other measure with a pair of ensemble G blues runs. Weider’s wacky overdubs (Gtr. 2) enter on the third repeat. The first two whole-tone licks could be played using identical fingerings a wholestep apart, but Jim prefers the indicated fingering. Finally, note how Gtrs. 1 and 2 cover the same G blues response figures in octaves. Crazy, man, crazy!

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The intro to the title track from Pulse slams listeners like a guitar-driven, drum-andbass E.D.M. rave. Ex. 5a decodes how its interlocking guitar parts—Weider’s hybridpicked descending A pentatonic minor line laced with pedal A’s, and Stein’s drone-y octaves and b7-to-root hammer-ons—work with and against each other. Two bars of Am-G-Em-G-Am with hits on the downbeat of bar 1 and the and of beats two and four plus a recap of Ex. 6a (sans repeat) follow. Repeat this four-bar figure and segue to the Beck-tinged, F-Mixolydian-based, single- note riff shown in Ex. 5b. You’ll need to add an additional bar of rest to this riff to fill out its actual four-bar length, but the reason it has been omitted is to illustrate how the 3/8 hemiola that Stein layers over it recurs every three measures, even though it takes 12 bars of 4/4 to completely recycle. (You have been following Rhythm Workshop, right?) Weider (Gtr. 1) plays his four-bar figure eight times, while Stein (Gtr. 2) repeats his three-bar figure—F and Eb/F triads barred at the tenth and eighth frets—five times, and then adds two 3/8 hits in a single bar of 4/4 to even things out. Talk about rhythmic displacements!

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In contrast to all the rockers and groove numbers we’ve excerpted thus far, both Percolator and Pulse are generously peppered with gorgeous, heartfelt ballads like “Prayer,” “No Goodbyes,” and “Talking with You.” And then there are those that start out as ballads, but morph in and out of heaviosity. For instance, Ex. 6a excerpts the delicate, arpeggiated Dm7-Csus2/D-Bb/D intro and verse rhythm figure from “Dreamline” (Pulse), and Ex. 6b features Weider’s emotive reading of the melody played over Gtr. 2’s sweet triadic harmonies (or optional, hybrid-picked sixths by omitting the parenthetical notes), but between these you’ll find, amongst other heavy chordal riffing, the ultra-heavy G-based 6/4 figure illustrated in Ex. 6c. Sustain the first G5 for four beats on the first two passes, and then add the syncopated Fsus2 and G5 chords on the third and fourth rounds.

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Weider pays tribute to his Band-mates at every P.P. show with an extended, quasi-reggae arrangement of “The Weight.” (You’ll find the studio version on Remedy.) He receives many requests regarding how to correctly play the song’s solo guitar intro, so it’s fitting that we wrap up with Ex. 7, which shows Weider’s take on the iconic two-bar figure. He plays it the same way every time, beginning with a hybrid-picked, ninth-position A chord shape (plus the open-A string) broken into ascending Hendrix- style hammered dyads. The first two beats in bar 1 feature hybrid picking and sixteenth-note hammer-ons, but for beats three and four, we switch to picked downstrokes and grace-note hammers to outline C#m. Weider covers the IV chord (D) in bar 2 with more Jimi-isms, this time in seventh position, before a single snare drum hit on beat three signals a drop to second position for the concluding A-based double- stops. The reggae feel kicks in on bar 3, and after a few rounds of the melody, anything goes. It’s a loving tribute that ironically links Jim Weider’s past to his present, and proves that you can take the man out of the Americana, but you can’t take the Americana out of the man!

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I’ve lost track of how many other bands Jimmy plays with, but you can keep track of his gigs with The Weight (Band tribute), A Night of Guitar Ballads featuring the Big String Orchestra (with Amy Helm), Blue Chicken (with Randy Ciarlante and Sid McGinnis), Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble Band, and his amazing Roy Buchanan tributes featuring G.E. Smith and Danny Kortchmar at jimweider.com. They’re all worth traveling for, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. See you later, percolator!