On Wednesday afternoon, friends and fans of Rob Wasserman were shocked and saddened to learn that the beloved bassist passed away in Marin County, California due to unknown health issues, according to Ultimate Classic Rock. Known for coaxing glorious and otherworldly, cello-like tones from his bowed upright bass, Wasserman was Bob Weir’s go-to guy for numerous projects, including Kingfish and Bobby and The Midnights.
Ratdog and Grateful Dead-related projects were by no means Wasserman’s only contribution to the world of music. Over the course of a career that spanned four decades, Wasserman performed and recorded with Van Morrison, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, Rickie Lee Jones, David Grisman, Aaron Neville, and many others. Nonetheless, the journeyman musician will be best remembered for his work with Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and the “good old Grateful Dead.”
Early news of Wasserman’s demise was revealed on Facebook by Ratdog alumnus Mark Karan. Ratdog bandmate Bob Weir confirmed the news shortly thereafter, according to Jambase. Karan subsequently noted that spreading the word that Rob Wasserman is dead may have been best left to Wasserman’s family members. It is understandable that the popular Bay Area guitarist would be moved to share his grief as soon as he heard the sorrowful news that his friend and former bandmate had “left the building.”
Bob Weir explained how Ratdog came to be.
“It started out with Rob Wasserman and me as a duo and we played that way for six or eight years, and then one day I was working on a project and we needed a drummer. And Rob said, ‘I know this drummer that I met last night and he was pretty good. You want me to give him a buzz?’ and I said, ‘Sure.’
“And so Jay [Lane] came up and did this session with us. The next morning, I called Rob and said ‘Hey, listen. That was kind of fun yesterday. How bout we take a drummer on our next tour?’ and he said he was just thinking the same thing.
“We started working together and booked another tour, and we were working with Jay at the time and we were about to go out on tour and my old pal Matthew Kelly came through town. And he was just sort of footloose and I said ‘Hey, you want to come out with us? You want to come sit in with us?’ And that worked so we had a little quartet and we took that on the road.”
Occasional “musical co-conspirator” Mitch Stein posted a touching tribute to his old friend on Ratdog’s Facebook page.
“My dear friend and occasional musical co-conspirator Rob Wasserman just checked out. I am bummed almost beyond words, but thought I’d take a moment to share one of countless fond memories I have of Rob:
“Shortly after moving to Corte Madera a little more than 20 years ago, I invited Rob over for a bass/piano jam session (we had been friends for a few years at that point, and had usually gotten together at my house in Mill Valley). We set up in the living room, which had sliding glass doors opening onto a large wooden deck. It was a beautiful, cloudless, 74-degree Marin day, and Rob suggested we set up outside in the shade. I got my Rhodes out of its case and he set up his amp, and we jammed for over an hour before he had to head home.
“There were many gatherings on that porch in the 12 years I lived in that house, and Rob and I jammed in my living room several times after that, but the beauty of that first day, the music shared, and the smile on Rob’s face at doing what he loved in an environment he loved has never escaped my memory. I will always be thankful for the time and music I was fortunate to share with Rob, and urge any of you unfamiliar with his work to check it out. Whether his solo work or with Bob Weir, Rickie Lee Jones, Jerry Garcia, Van Morrison, Neil Young, or a slew of other incredible artists, Rob’s playing was sensitive and tasteful, and his love for life and music was infectious.
“I will definitely miss him a great deal.”
[Photo courtesy of RobWasserman.com]