Interview with John Medeski of The Word: Sacred Jams

Before there was rock ‘n’ roll, there was the Word. So I’m told. Rock ‘n’ roll’s always been around for me. But prior to the devil’s music, there was blues and gospel. From those roots stem an overwhelming majority of the 20th century’s popular music.

So what better appellation for an instrumental jam band drawing from traditional gospel and blues? A supergroup consisting of organist John Medeski (of Medeski, Martin And Wood), the North Mississippi All-Stars (Luther & Cody Dickensen and Chris Chew), and an at the time unknown pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph, The Word wrote, arranged and recorded their self-titled debut in mere days. Their uniquely respectful vivisection of traditionals (such as “At The Cross” and “I Shall Not Be Moved”) and traditional forms, coupled the collective technical brilliance of all involved, created a consummate document of classic groove.

That was 2001. Since, the band has seldom had the chance to perform, being so tied up in their main projects. This year, New York City will see a special New Year’s Eve performance by the Word in advance of the Jam Cruise, a cruise line festival the band will be headlining for a week in the Cayman Islands. Not a bad way to spend the winter.

Medeski took some time to talk about the novelty of the material after all these years, the long-lasting chemistry of the band and the lingering possibility of new material from the Word.

I think this is the second time in three years you’ve gotten back together as The Word to do a couple shows around the holidays?

Yeah. Basically we never do it. We did a little run a couple of years back, but since we made the record, this would be the second time.

Is this the most convenient time of the year for you all to get together?

I think what did it was we got an offer from Jam Cruise that we agreed to and so basically we tried to fit some dates around that time, because we had this one gig that was sort of bringing us together. Medeski, Martin and Wood played last year for the first time. It’s a festival, but it’s on a boat. That’s really what it is. It’s a cruise ship, you go places, but it’s really a location for a music festival.

Have you rehearsed yet together?

No. We’ll do some stuff right before. It’s all really great musicians. In a situation like this we already have a chemistry together that maybe was instant when we had the record. It’s just a matter of getting together. Also separately, going over the material, each on our own, and then getting together and just trying out a few new things, hopefully.

You do a few covers, obviously. I know the last time you played New York, you did ‘Seven Nation Army.’ Do you have any surprises?

We will, for sure. Luther sent us all a bunch of new stuff he’s been working on. That’ll come together when we get together. We haven’t decided anything yet so I’d hate to say something and then disappoint because it’s not determined yet. But there will be, guaranteed. The thing is this band has played together so little the old stuff is fresh (laughs) for us. We’ve barely played.