Grateful Dead was an American rock band formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California. The band was known for its unique and eclectic style, which fused elements of rock, folk, bluegrass, blues, reggae, country, improvisational jazz, psychedelia, and space rock, and for live performances of long musical improvisation. "Their music," writes Lenny Kaye, "touches on ground that most other groups don't even know exists." These various influences were distilled into a diverse and psychedelic whole that made the Grateful Dead "the pioneering Godfathers of the jam band world". The Grateful Dead have sold more than 35 million albums worldwide.
The founding members of the Grateful Dead were Jerry Garcia (guitar, vocals), Bob Weir (guitar, vocals), Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (keyboards, harmonica, vocals), Phil Lesh (bass, vocals), and Bill Kreutzmann (drums). Members of the Grateful Dead had played together in various San Francisco bands, including Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions and The Warlocks. 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, who died in 1973, the core of the band stayed together for its entire 30-year history. Other longtime members of the band include Mickey Hart (drums 1967–1971, 1974–1995), Keith Godchaux (keyboards 1971–1979), Donna Godchaux (vocals 1972–1979), Brent Mydland (keyboards 1979–1990), and Vince Welnick (keyboards 1990–1995).
The Grateful Dead began their career as the Warlocks, a group formed in early 1965 from the remnants of a Palo Alto, California jug band called Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. The band's first show was at Magoo's Pizza located at 639 Santa Cruz Avenue in suburban Menlo Park, California on May 5, 1965. They were known as the Warlocks although at the same time the Velvet Underground was also using that name on the east coast. The show was not recorded and not even the set list has been preserved. The band quickly changed its name after finding out that another band of the same name had signed a recording contract (not the Velvet Underground who by then had also changed their name). 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.
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 side show 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.
One of the group's earliest major performances in 1967 was the Mantra-Rock Dance—a musical event held on January 29, 1967, at the Avalon Ballroom by the San Francisco Hare Krishna temple. The Grateful Dead performed at the event along with the Hare Krishna founder Bhaktivedanta Swami, poet Allen Ginsberg, bands Moby Grape and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, donating proceeds to the Krishna temple. 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.
Mickey Hart quit the Grateful Dead in February 1971, leaving Kreutzmann once again as the sole percussionist. 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 Grateful Dead's early music (in the mid-1960s) was part of the process of establishing what "psychedelic music" was, but theirs was essentially a "street party" form of it. The Dead were not inclined to fit their music to an established category such as pop rock, blues, folk rock, or country/western. Individual tunes within their repertoire could be identified under one of these stylistic labels, but overall their music drew on all of these genres and, more frequently, melding several of them. It was doubtless with this in mind that Bill Graham said of the Grateful Dead, "They're not the best at what they do, they're the only ones that do what they do." Often (both in performance and on recording) the Dead left room for exploratory, spacey soundscapes.
Their live shows, fed by their improvisational approach to music, made the Grateful Dead different from most other touring bands. While most rock and roll bands rehearse a standard show for their tours that is replayed night after night, city after city, the Grateful Dead never did. As Garcia stated in a 1966 interview, "We don't make up our sets beforehand. We'd rather work off the tops of our heads than off a piece of paper." They maintained this operating ethic throughout their existence. For each performance, the band drew material from an active list of a hundred or so songs.
The 1969 live album Live/Dead did capture more of their essence, but commercial success did not come until Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, both released in 1970. These records largely featured the band's laid-back acoustic musicianship and more traditional song structures.
As the band and its sound matured over thirty years of touring, playing, and recording, each member's stylistic contribution became more defined, consistent, and identifiable. Lesh, did not tend to play traditional blues-based bass forms, but opted for more melodic, symphonic and complex lines, often sounding like a second lead guitar. Weir, too, was not a traditional rhythm guitarist, but tended to play jazz-influenced, unique inversions at the upper end of the Dead's sound. The two drummers, Mickey Hart and Kreutzmann, developed a unique, complex interplay, balancing Kreutzmann's steady beat with Hart's interest in percussion styles outside the rock tradition. Hart incorporated an 11-count measure to his drumming, bringing a new dimension to the band's sound that became an important part of its emerging style. Garcia's lead lines were fluid, supple and spare, owing a great deal of their character to his training in fingerpicking and banjo.
The band's primary lyricists, Robert Hunter and John Perry Barlow, commonly used themes involving love and loss, life and death, gambling and murder, beauty and horror, chaos and order, God and other religious themes, travelling and touring, etc. Less frequent ideas include the environment and issues from the world of politics.Jerry Garcia & Bob Weir – WHEN I PAINT MY MASTERPIECE - "When I Paint My Masterpiece" is a 1971 song written by Bob Dylan. It was first recorded by The Band, who would release their version on Cahoots. Dylan subsequently recorded the song for Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II, on which it is segued back-to-back with "Tomorrow is a Long Time". Dylan and The Band performed the song together at a New Year's Eve concert later that year, a recording of which was released as a bonus track on the 2001 CD reissue of The Band's live album Rock of Ages. "When I Paint My Masterpiece" was frequently performed by the Grateful Dead throughout their career; the song was sometimes added to setlists alongside several other Dylan songs. Though Dead Guitar/Vocalist Bob Weir sang lead on the song when it was played by the band, Garcia had played the song as early as 1972 with Merl Saunders and John Kahn, both of whom would become members of the Jerry Garcia Band. This version was recorded live on the Late Show with David Letterman, year unknown. Unreleased.
Jerry Garcia & David Grisman – FRIEND OF THE DEVIL - "Friend of the Devil" is a song recorded by the Grateful Dead. The music was written by Jerry Garcia and John Dawson and the lyrics are by Robert Hunter. It is the second track of the Dead's 1970 album American Beauty. "Friend of the Devil" is about an outlaw, on the run from the police. His crime is never explicitly stated. The Devil helps him escape, but winds up chasing him just as the law does; several lines of the song are ambiguous, and could refer to either law enforcement or servants of Satan, such as "I was trailed by twenty hounds", which could refer to either police dogs sniffing his trail, or mythical hellhounds. The song is among the most covered songs written by the Grateful Dead; Hunter later stated, "that was the closest we've come to what may be a classic song." From the CD “Garcia and Grisman, 1991.”
Grateful Dead– U.S. BLUES – Taken from “From the Mars Hotel” the seventh studio album by the Grateful Dead. It was mostly recorded in April 1974 and originally released on June 27, 1974. It was the second release under the band's own label, Grateful Dead Records, after fulfilling their contract with Warner Bros. Records. A character named "Skin-the-Goat" figures in James Joyce's Ulysses. He was a member of the Invincibles, a 19th century group of militant Irish radicals intent on assassinating key members of the British government in Ireland. "Skin-the-Goat," a.k.a. James Fitzharris, was involved in the infamous 1882 Pheonix Park murders. According to Don Gifford's "Ulysses Annotated," contrary to what the blowhards sitting around the offices of the Freeman's Journal discussing the incident say, Fitzharris was not the getaway driver, rather he drove a decoy cab. He was caught and later sentenced to life imprisonment, but was paroled in 1902. "He was nicknamed 'Skin-the-Goat'," writes Gifford, "because he was said to have skinned his pet goat and sold its hide to pay his drinking debts."
Grateful Dead– CASEY JONES - Casey Jones's fame can almost certainly be attributed to the traditional song, The Ballad of Casey Jones, recorded by Mississippi John Hurt, Pete Seeger, Furry Lewis, The Grateful Dead, and Johnny Cash, among others. Songs titled Casey Jones, usually about the crash or the driver, have been recorded by Vernon Dalhart (Edison Disc recorded June 16, 1925), This Bike Is a Pipe Bomb, Feverfew (Blueboy (band)), Tom Russell, Leonid Utyosov, Billy Murray, The New Christy Minstrels, and Skillet Lickers. A well-known song by The Grateful Dead was written by lyricist Robert Hunter and guitarist Jerry Garcia in 1969. From “The Rolling Stone Collection, 1969-1970.”
Grateful Dead– TOUCH OF GREY - "Touch of Grey" is a 1987 single by the Grateful Dead, and is the band's only commercial hit. The song is known for its refrain "I will get by / I will survive". It combines non sequitur lyrics with a pop tempo. The music was written by Jerry Garcia, and the words are by Robert Hunter. It was also released as a music video, the first one by the Grateful Dead. From “In The Dark”, 1987.
Dwight Yoakam – TRUCKIN’ – "Truckin" is a song by the Grateful Dead, which first appeared on their 1970 album American Beauty. It was recognized by the United States Library of Congress in 1997 as a national treasure. Written by band members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and lyricist Robert Hunter, "Truckin'" molds classic Grateful Dead rhythms and instrumentation with lyrics that use the band's misfortunes on the road as a metaphor for getting through the constant changes in life. Its climactic refrain, "What a long, strange trip it's been," has achieved widespread cultural use in the years since the song's release. "Truckin'" was considered a "catchy shuffle" by the band members. Garcia himself commented that "the early stuff we wrote that we tried to set to music was stiff because it wasn't really meant to be sung ... the result of [lyricist Robert Hunter getting into our touring world], the better he could write ... and the better we could create music around it." The communal, shared-group-experience feel of the song is brought home by the participation of all four of the group's chief songwriters (Garcia, Weir, Lesh, and Hunter), since, in Phil Lesh's words, "we took our experiences on the road and made it poetry," lyrically and musically. He goes on to say that "the last chorus defines the band itself." From the Grateful Dead tribute CD, “Deadicated”, 1991.
Jane’s Addiction – RIPPLE – “Ripple" is the sixth song on the Grateful Dead album American Beauty. Robert Hunter wrote this song in 1970 in London in the same afternoon he wrote "Brokedown Palace" and "To Lay Me Down" (reputedly also drinking half a bottle of retsina in the process). The song debuted August 18, 1970 at Fillmore West in San Francisco. Jerry Garcia wrote the music to this song. Several lines throughout the song have been compared to the 23rd Psalm of the Bible. Cover versions have been recorded by Chris Hillman, Jane's Addiction (on Deadicated), The New Riders of the Purple Sage, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Rick Danko, Dar Williams, Built to Spill, and The McLovins.
Los Lobos – BERTHA – “Grateful Dead” is the seventh album by the Grateful Dead, released in October 1971 on Warner Bros. Records. It is their second live double album, and also known generally by the names Skull and Roses (due to its iconic cover art) and Skull Fuck (the name the band originally wanted to give to the album, which was rejected by the record company). While mainly a live album, there were a few overdubs including the doctoring of lead and background vocals. For the three new band originals "Bertha", "Playing in the Band", and "Wharf Rat", the band invited Jerry Garcia associate Merl Saunders to overdub an organ part. This made the organ playing of Saunders more prominent than that of Pigpen, whose organ contributions tend to be buried in the mix. From the Grateful Dead tribute CD, “Deadicated”, 1991.
Grateful Dead – WEST L.A. FADEAWAY – Originally recorded on Downhill from Here, a concert performance video by the Grateful Dead. It was recorded at Alpine Valley Music Theatre, near East Troy, Wisconsin, in July, 1989. Most of Downhill From Here was recorded on July 17, 1989. However, the last four songs of the first set from July 17 — "Row Jimmy", "When I Paint My Masterpiece", "When Push Comes to Shove", and "The Music Never Stopped" — have been replaced with the last three songs of the first set from July 19 — "West L.A. Fadeaway", "Desolation Row", and "Deal”. The title of the video is a double entendre playing off the steep hill that comprises Alpine Valley's general admission section and the popular notion, as well as opinion of several members of the Grateful Dead, that 1989 through 1990 was the band's final peak period. This version was recorded in 1980, location unknown. Unreleased.