The Grateful Dead Information Page
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The Grateful Dead was an American rock band formed in 1965 in the San Francisco Bay Area. The band was known for its unique and eclectic style, which fused elements of rock, folk, bluegrass, blues, reggae, country, jazz, psychedelia, and space rock.
"We now return our souls to the creator, as we stand on the edge of eternal darkness. Let our chant fill the void in order that others may know. In the land of the night the ship of the sun is drawn by the grateful dead."
~"Egyptian Book of the Dead"
Most loved for their live performances of long musical improvisation. "Their music," writes Lenny Kaye, "touches on ground that most other groups don't even know exists."
The fans of the Grateful Dead, some of whom followed the band from concert to concert for years, are known as "Deadheads" and are known for their dedication to the band's music. Many referred to the band simply as "the Dead."
The Grateful Dead's musical influences varied widely; in concert recordings or on record albums one can hear psychedelic rock, blues, rock and roll, country & western, bluegrass, country-rock, and improvisational jazz. These various influences were distilled into a diverse and psychedelic whole that made the Grateful Dead "the pioneering Godfathers of the jam band world." They were ranked 55th in the issue The Greatest Artists of all Time by Rolling Stone magazine.
The Grateful Dead began their career as The Warlocks, a group formed in early 1965 from the remnants of a Palo Alto jug band called Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. The band's first show was at Magoo's Pizza in suburban Menlo Park, California on May 5, 1965. They were still known as the Warlocks at the time. The show was not recorded and not even the set list has been preserved. The band changed its name after finding out that another band of the same name had signed a recording contract. The first show under the new name Grateful Dead was in San Jose, California on December 4, 1965, at one of Ken Kesey's Acid Tests. Earlier demo tapes have survived, but the first of over 2,000 concerts known to have been recorded by the band's fans was a show at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco on January 8, 1966. Later on that month, the Grateful Dead played at the Trips Festival, an early psychedelic rock show.
The charter members of the Grateful Dead were: banjo and guitar player Jerry Garcia, guitarist Bob Weir, bluesman organist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, the classically trained bassist Phil Lesh and drummer Bill Kreutzmann (who then used the stage name Bill Sommers.) Lesh was the last member to join the Warlocks before they became the Grateful Dead: he replaced Dana Morgan Jr. who had played bass for a few gigs. With the exception of McKernan, the core of the band stayed together for 30 years, until Garcia's death in 1995. ]\ The name Grateful Dead was chosen from a dictionary. According to Phil Lesh, in his biography (pp. 62), "...Jerry Garcia picked up an old Britannica World Language Dictionary...and...In that silvery elf-voice he said to me, 'Hey, man, how about the Grateful Dead?'" The definition there was "the soul of a dead person, or his angel, showing gratitude to someone who, as an act of charity, arranged their burial." According to Alan Trist, director of the Grateful Dead's music publisher company Ice Nine, Garcia found the name in the Funk & Wagnalls Folklore Dictionary, when his finger landed on that phrase while playing a game of "dictionary. In the Garcia biography, Captain Trips, author Sandy Troy states that the band was smoking the psychedelic DMT at the time.
The term "grateful dead" appears in folktales of a variety of cultures. In the summer of '69, Phil Lesh told another version of the story to Carol Maw, a young Texan visiting with the band in Marin County who also ended up going on the road with them to the Fillmore East and Woodstock. In this version, Phil said, "Jerry found the name spontaneously when he picked up a dictionary and the pages fell open. The words 'grateful' and 'dead' appeared straight opposite each other across the crack between the pages in unrelated text."
Other supporting personnel who signed on early included Rock Scully, who heard of the band from Kesey and signed on as manager after meeting them at the Big Beat Acid Test; Stewart Brand, "with his sideshow of taped music and slides of Indian life, a multimedia presentation" at the Big Beat and then, expanded, at the Trips Festival; and Owsley Stanley, the "Acid King" whose LSD supplied the tests and who, in early 1966, became the band's financial backer, renting them a house on the fringes of Watts and buying them sound equipment. "We were living solely off of Owsley's good graces at that time.... [His] trip was he wanted to design equipment for us, and we were going to have to be in sort of a lab situation for him to do it," said Garcia.
The band's first LP, The Grateful Dead, was released on Warner Brothers in 1967. Classically trained trumpeter Phil Lesh played bass guitar. Bob Weir, the youngest original member of the group, played rhythm guitar. Ron "Pigpen" McKernan played keyboards and harmonica until shortly before his death in 1973 at the age of 27.
Garcia, Weir and McKernan shared the lead vocal duties more or less equally; Lesh only sang a few leads but his tenor was a key part of the band's three-part vocal harmonies. Bill Kreutzmann played drums, and in September 1967 was joined by a second drummer, New York native Mickey Hart, who also played a wide variety of other percussion instruments.
The year 1970 included tour dates in New Orleans, Louisiana, where the band performed at The Warehouse for two nights. On January 31, 1970, the local police raided their hotel on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, and arrested and charged a total of 19 people with possession of various drugs The second night's concert was performed as scheduled after bail was posted. Eventually, the charges were dismissed, with the exception of those against sound engineer Owsley Stanley, who was already facing charges in California for manufacturing LSD.
This event was later memorialized in the lyrics of the song "Truckin'", a single from American Beauty which reached number 64 on the charts.
Hart quit the Grateful Dead in February 1971, leaving Kreutzmann once again as the sole percussionist. Mickey Hart rejoined the Grateful Dead for good in October 1974. Tom "TC" Constanten was added as a second keyboardist from 1968 to 1970, while Pigpen also played various percussion instruments and sang.
After Constanten's departure, Pigpen reclaimed his position as sole organist. Less than two years later, in late 1971, Pigpen was joined by another keyboardist, Keith Godchaux, who played grand piano alongside Pigpen's Hammond B-3 organ. In early 1972, Keith's wife, Donna Jean Godchaux, joined the Grateful Dead as a backing vocalist.
Following the Grateful Dead's "Europe '72" tour, Pigpen's health had deteriorated to the point that he could no longer tour with the band. His final concert appearance was June 17, 1972 at the Hollywood Bowl, in Los Angeles; he died in March, 1973 of complications from alcohol abuse.
The death of Pigpen didn’t slow the band down, and they continued on with their new members. They soon formed their own record group, Grateful Dead Records. Later that year, they released their next studio album, the jazz-influenced Wake of the Flood. It would become their biggest commercial success thus far.
Capitalizing on Flood’s success, the band soon went back to the studio, and the next year released another album, Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel. Not long after that album’s release, however, the Grateful Dead decided to take a hiatus from live touring so that its members could focus on their solo careers. This hiatus would be short-lived though, as they would resume touring in 1976.
That same year, they would resign with Arista Records. Their new contract would soon produce Terrapin Station. Although things appeared to be going well for the band, problems were arising with their two newest members, Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux. Donna Jean frequently had vocal issues while performing live, and Keith was becoming dependent on hard drugs. Both of those issues were causing complications with the band’s touring, and they were asked to leave the band at the end of 1979.
Following the departure of the Godchauxs, Brent Mydland joined as keyboardist and vocalist. The Godchauxs then formed the Heart of Gold Band before Keith Godchaux died in a car accident in 1980. Mydland was the keyboardist for the Grateful Dead for 11 years until his death by narcotics overdose in July 1990, becoming the third Dead keyboardist to pass away.
Almost immediately, Vince Welnick, former keyboardist for The Tubes, joined on keyboards and vocals. Welnick stayed with the band until Garcia's death, but he was never a member of The Other Ones or the Dead. Welnick died on June 2, 2006, reportedly a suicide.
Following Garcia's death in August 1995, the remaining members formally decided to disband. Since that time, however, there have been a number of reunions by the surviving members involving various combinations of musicians.
In 1998, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and Mickey Hart, along with several other musicians, formed a band called The Other Ones. The Other Ones performed a number of concerts that year and released a live album, The Strange Remain, the following year. In 2000, The Other Ones toured again, this time with Bill Kreutzmann but without Lesh. After taking another year off, the band was active again in 2002. With Lesh's return for this go-round, The Other Ones then included all four former Grateful Dead members who had been in the band for most or all of its history.
In 2003, The Other Ones changed their name to The Dead. The Dead toured the country in 2003 and 2004. In 2008, members of The Dead played two concerts, called "Deadheads for Obama" and "Change Rocks". In 2009 The Dead performed on a spring tour and were at the Rothbury Music Festival on July 4, 2009. In 2009, Weir and Lesh formed a new band, called Furthur, which has performed on several concert tours. In Fall 2010 Furthur toured the East coast using a tie dye backdrop created for the tour by longtime friend and tie dye artist, Courtenay Pollock.
In 2010, Hart and Kreutzmann re-formed the Rhythm Devils, and played a summer concert tour.
Since 1995, the former members of the Grateful Dead have also pursued solo musical careers. Bob Weir & RatDog have performed many concerts and released several albums, as have Phil Lesh and Friends. Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann have each led several different bands and have also released some albums. Recently Mickey Hart has been working with his Mickey Hart Band and Kreutzmann has been touring with BK3, and with 7 Walkers, a band he formed with Papa Mali. Donna Godchaux has returned to the music scene, with the Donna Jean Godchaux Band, and Tom Constanten also continues to write and perform music. All of these groups continue to play Grateful Dead music.