Rhythm Devils

In 2001 a neurologist named Barry Bittman published a curious study claiming that drumming could improve one’s immune system. “Well, it must,” says Bill Kreutzmann by telephone from Hawaii when told of the report. “I don’t get sick often. If 30 minutes a day improves your immune system, then I’ve probably got a lot of immune boost.”

Kreutzmann, 64, was a teen when he cofounded a band called the Warlocks and began playing drums with the nucleus of what in 1965 would become the Grateful Dead. For 30 years Kreutzmann never missed a show. Mickey Hart joined the band in 1967, and by the middle 1970s he and Kreutzmann were doing the long drum breaks in concert that would eventually become an act unto itself called the Rhythm Devils.

Kreutzmann plays a standard kit, although his style is anything but standard. Mickey Hart, however, has always been deep into mysterious and ethnic world beats. On fitting his drum-playing style with Hart’s, Kreutzmann says, “It evolved, but to this day we both plan and we let it evolve. We let the muse take its course.” The Dead were one of the first bands to employ two drummers. “He [Hart] and I have such different styles that they complement each other. The thing I never liked about two drummers — and I don’t have anybody I’m making a point about here — but if they both play the same thing, it’s, like, what’s the point?”

Kreutzmann says that drumming is also good exercise. “I read this interesting article that a drummer that’s really been wailin’ all night burns more calories and has more stamina than a football player.” And then there is the extra caloric burn that must come with moving all that drum gear into and out of a gig, right? He laughs and says, “I never, ever move furniture.”

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