60s Oldies Music

Introduction to the Grateful Dead

Grateful DeadRock legends and jam pioneers
The Grateful Dead has an eclectic blending of rock, blues, folk, country, improvisational jazz and psychedelic music and closely associated with the psychedelia/hippie movement in the 1960s. Because of their improvisational techniques, they are credited with launching what are called “jam bands”.

The band began in 1965 in Palo Alto, California. The Grateful Dead earned their unique reputation by participating in such events as Monterey Pop Festival and The Woodstock Festival. During the 1970s, the Dead released well-received records, such the albums Workingman’s Dead, and American Beauty.

With their reputation spreading and number of followers growing, the Grateful Dead increased their touring schedule and extended their talents into several solo/side projects; they also enhanced their equipment, updating them with state-of-the-art sound system. They also augmented their traveling entourage and staff, leading the Grateful Dead as a successful corporate enterprise. “Touch Of Grey” was their only song that hit the10 – but their legions of fans even grew larger

One of the band’s founding members Pigpen died in 1973; for his exception all of the core members stayed intact most of the time until Garcia’s death in 1995. Before that, the band had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994. After Garcia died, the Grateful Dead officially disbanded, but the music and legacy lived on.

Formation of the Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead’s core lineup consisted of guitarist/vocalist/“the official spokesman” Jerry Garcia (b. 1942 – 1995), guitarist Bob Weir (b. 1947), keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKennan (b. 1945 – d. 1973), bassist Phil Lesh (b. 1940) , and drummer Bill Kreutzmann (b. 1946), but over the long years of their existence their lineup would experience several changes.

Their roots originated in Palo Alto, California in 1960, where Garcia met and became friends with Robert Hunter (b. 1941), who would be the Grateful Dead’s prime lyricist and the only non-performing member. Garcia also met Lesh, another musical aspirant. Two years later Garcia formed his first band named Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug along with Weir and McKernan; it was then renamed the Warlocks, having also included drummer Kretuzmann.

The Warlocks made such noise that Ken Kasey (known as the author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) invited the band in his Acid Test series of parties that glorified the use of LSD. By the end of 1965 the Warlocks changed their name to the Grateful Dead, taken from a name found by Garcia in a folklore “dictionary.” The “Acid King” Owsley Stanley provided the Dead with financial backing and helped them find a shelter as well as bought them their sound equipment. Soon the Dead were making rounds in the local scene through their free concerts.

San Francisco’s Summer Of Love became a social and cultural phenomenon in 1967, generating the hippie counterculture movement. The Grateful Dead became the phenomenon’s biggest figures as they started to make a name in the Bay Area music scene, fleshing out their eclectic musical styles such as rock, blues, jazz, and country. They headlined such large music events as the Monterey Pop Festival and the Woodstock Festival.

The Grateful Dead were signed to Warner Brothers, and released their self-titled debut LP in 1967. The band then welcomed another drummer, Mickey Hart, expanding the band into a sextet. The band released their following two albums, Aoxomoxoa and Anthem of the Sun which comparatively did fairly well in capturing the band’s free-form jamming style. However, as the band were too bent on lengthy experimenting in the studio, it cost them a hundred grand and left them in debt to Warner Brothers.

In 1969 the band went on to record Live/Dead, which was their first official live album; it was a considerable success as it best caught the band in their usually improvisational character.

 

Essentially a live act
The following year The Grateful Dead recorded two albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, which would provide them the repertoire for their future live gigs. These two albums spawned singles such as “Uncle John’s Band” and “Truckin’,” which performed relatively well on the Hot 100.

Despite the minor success of their studio releases, the Grateful Dead remained essentially a live act, and a successful one at that. Their cult fame slowly was expanding across the country, and internationally as well. The band were followed by their legions of dyed-in-the-wool fans, known as the Deadheads, who morphed themselves into a sort of community as well as becoming a focal interest of the band’s events just as the band and music itself. These dedicated Deadheads would also tape the band’s live performances that were broadcast on FM radio, and share the home-recorded tapes with other fans – which was all right with the Grateful Dead themselves as long as these taped recordings were not for sale.

Shifting and expanding concert entourage
Tragedy struck in the band as their original keyboardist McKernan, who had been an alcoholic since in his teens, died of liver failure in 1973. McKernan was replaced by Keith Godchaux who brought along his wife Donna, and she eventually became one of the band’s backing vocalists.

In 1974 the group founded their own record label Grateful Dead Records, and released their first album under that imprint Wake Of The Flood, and in the following year released Mars Hotel before taking a break off the road; around this time members of the band pursued their own solo efforts. The Dead returned in 1976, starting off another live tour. Then they signed to Arista Records and released another album called Terrapin Station, which peaked at #28 on the pop album chart although many fans see this as their weakest effort ever. The Godchauxs departed from the band following the death of Keith Godchaux from a car crash in 1980. He was replaced by Brent Mydland as the band’s new keyboardist.

The band released no new material, instead focusing on their live tours. Their entourage eventually expanded, which included friends and family members who also got employed as part of the staff. As they were working for the band, they were also given benefits such as health insurance. This led to the Grateful Dead as one successful commercial enterprise as well.

Over the years since their inception, the Grateful Dead had kept their reputation as a cult band. That would change when their single, “Touch Of Grey” (from their album In The Dark) became an unexpected hit on the Hot 100, peaking at #9 in 1987. The single became their only Top 10 hit ever in their career. They were thrust into the mainstream MTV culture, and a new influx of fans arrived in droves. The late 1980s and the early 1990s came to be considered the band’s peak periods.


Getting thrust into the mainstream
Over the years since their inception, the Grateful Dead had kept their reputation as a cult band. That would change when their single, “Touch Of Grey” (from their album In The Dark) became an unexpected hit on the Hot 100, peaking at #9 in 1987. The single became their only Top 10 hit ever in their career. They were thrust into the mainstream MTV culture, and a new influx of fans arrived in droves. The late 1980s and the early 1990s came to be considered the band’s peak periods.

Death of Jerry Garcia, and the aftermath of his passing

Mydland’s death in 1990 from substance abuse signaled the band to reform once more. And as for Garcia – who had experienced a near-fatal coma in 1986 – he was again hospitalized in 1992 from an aggravating heart condition. His illness led to the cancellation of the Dead’s upcoming tours. On August 9, 1995, Garcia was found dead in a rehab clinic room, eight days after his 53rd birthday.

Garcia’s death led to the ultimate demise of the band. Weir, Lesh and other musicians formed a group called The Other Ones. Kreutzmann would later join the band but Lesh eventually departed. The Other Ones later became The Dead in 2003. Even though the Grateful Dead was no more, the surviving band members nevertheless make sure that the legacy of Garcia and the band’s music shall live on.