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Actions Speak Louder Than Drums

A Conversation with Bill Kreutzmann

By Colleen McSpirit

When it comes to protecting the ocean, Bill Kreutzmann believes being hands on gets a lot more accomplished than writing letters, waving flags, or donating money.

Kreutzmann, best known as the Grateful Dead's original drummer, is actively involved in various ways to protect the ocean and its marine life.

His activism began in 1994, 250 miles southwest of Baja while Kreutzmann was with a friend making an underwater documentary. Towards the end of his stay, poachers came along and killed all the manta rays they had filmed. "We got film of the people killing the mantra rays," he said. "Murdering all the animals we were just swimming with a few days before was the blow that put me over the edge."

Liking to take direct action, Kreutzmann hooked up with Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Watson, a co-founder of GreenPeace, left that organization as it was not hands on enough, explains Kreutzmann. Watson then formed Sea Shepherd.

"It is screwed up out there. Whaling is banned around the Antarctic, yet they take over 2,000 whales and dolphins." Sea Shepherd's ship, MV Steve Irwin, recently managed to save 500 whales, said Kreutzmann. "One whale dying is too many," he added.

BIlly by Butch (18K)

Photo by Butch Worrell

The Japanese are allowed to take 1,000 whales in the safe-zone for scientific purposes. Sea Shepherd, GreenPeace and other organizations still call it poaching and question why endangered species whale meat has turned up in Japanese fish markets. Kreutzmann's activism doesn't stop with the saving of marine animals. He is also involved with protecting their environment.

"All the plastic in the world that was ever made still exists," he said. He then goes on to talk about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. "There is no wind or current there. The garbage patch is the size of Texas and is located 200 miles west of California and 200 miles north of Hawaii. It is made mostly of plastics. Plastic made in 1950 is there."

"We need to stop using plastic bags and water bottles," said Kreuzmann. "Read your labels carefully - many products claim to be made of recycled plastic, but in fact are only 10% recycled and 90% new plastic. We do not need more plastic."

Kreutzmann said, "This is real new stuff. We don't know how or if we can reduce the size of the garbage patch but we can reduce any future amounts."

In general, he is very conscious about his footprint on the planet and what he can do to reduce his and help stop global warming. He drives a hybrid car and his house uses solar energy. "I don't want to use up Mother Earth," Kreutzmann said."What scares me is the corporations fighting (President) Obama's Clean Air Bill. It is not going to work keeping oil and coal as our main sources of fuels. It is the curse of the dinosaurs. We are basically poisoning our land and air."

He also avoids all chemicals on his lawn. "It is a type of wild grass. We don't do anything to it and I keep it cut close," he said.

Oh yeah the music...

Kreutzmann has three more gigs coming up before he enjoys summer in Hawaii. The Dead are playing July 4 as part of the Rothbury Music Festival in Rothbury, MI. It is their only show of the summer and the last one of 2009. Or is it the last one?

"I am not avoiding the question," he said, "Honestly there has been no conversations about touring or not. We did have a lot of fun. Mickey (Hart) and I are as close as were ever been and I think we sounded really good." He added he had a lot of fun, which is always a goal. "I play music to have fun, and for the fans to enjoy it and have fun too."

His own band, BK3, will perform July 10 at the Oregon State Fair in Venata, OR and July 12 at the All Good Music Festival in Masontown, WV. The current line up includes Scott Murawski, Hutch Hutchinson and Tara Nevins. "Right now we are four and not three," said Kreutzmann adding that the BK3 line up will always be himself and Murawski but the rest will change based on artist availability and wanting to tour. Last year bass player Oteil Burbage joined Kreutzmann and Murawski. "But the Allman Brothers are touring a lot more now. Hutch Hutchinson is one fine bass player," said Kreutzmann.

When asked which he prefers, The Dead or BK3, he said, "The contrast of the two is the high. They are just different and I like playing with different people."

Finally, the next time you see Kreutzmann play check out his t-shirt. Chances are that nautical design on it is one he designed himself.