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THE GRATEFUL DEAD BRIEF BIOGRAPHY

The Grateful Dead are one of the most famous of all American rock bands. From Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, and evolving, in 1965, out of the bizarrely named Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, The Dead became mainly known as a famous psychedelic rock band of the 1960s. But they also infused psychedelia with a lot of musical genres, including blues, folk, country, jazz, bluegrass, and rock 'n' roll, and mixed it all together in a unique sound. The Grateful Dead became renowned for long jams, which were de rigueur for a lot of groups from the mid-'60s onwards, including Cream and Iron Butterfly. Originally more folk orientated, it was after seeing folk rock stars The Lovin' Spoonful that The Grateful Dead decided to follow the likes of Bob Dylan and go electric.

Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s was the centre of the hippie universe, and the exploration of a fairly new drug, the mind-expanding hallucinogenic, LSD. The Grateful Dead were at the centre of the centre, and Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia was nicknamed Captain Trips. Also from Haight-Ashbury were Jefferson Airplane, Santana, and Big Brother & The Holding Company.

An intriguing name for a group, The Grateful Dead got theirs from a dictionary. A term coming out of Irish and Scottish folk ballads, 'the grateful dead' were people who had to return to Earth to do one good deed before they could rest in peace, and they'd then be grateful when they were allowed to do so, thus, the grateful dead.

The original line-up of The Grateful Dead had a mix of musicians, which made it unsurprising that their sound would be something different. Guitarist, vocalist, and the group's 'leader', Jerry Garcia, had eclectic tastes, encompassing rock 'n' roll, bluegrass, and folk - to name but three. He was the fulcrum for The Dead's musical perception. Garcia could also play the banjo, while other members had had either classical or blues training.

As a group that could be called a music collective, Garcia was a reluctant leader of The Grateful Dead, though he wrote and sang most of the early Dead songs. The Dead line-up began to get quite sizeable from 1968 onwards, and originally had Garcia as the lead guitarist, Bob Weir on rhythm guitar, Phil Lesh on bass, Ron 'Pigpen' McKernan on keyboards and harmonica, and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. Garcia, Weir, Lesh, and McKernan shared vocal duties. In 1968, a second keyboardist was introduced, Tom 'TC' Constanten, and a second drummer (cum percussionist), Mickey Hart. Constanten left in 1970, and Keith Godchaux joined in 1971 as a grand piano player. Hart quit The Dead the same year (but returned in 1975), after a fall-out with his father, Lenny, who was in charge of The Dead's money. In 1972, Godchaux's wife, Donna Jean, joined the band as a backing singer. The Godchauxs were to stay until 1979.

In 1973, and like something out of 'The Twilight Zone', or just a twist of fate - take your pick, the first of The Grateful Dead's three keyboardist tragedies occurred, with McKernan dying aged just 27. Keith Godchaux died in a car crash in 1980, and his replacement, Brent Mydland, died in 1990, after eleven years with the band. Ex-Tubes keyboardist Vince Welnick felt confident enough no keyboard curse was going to hit him, and stayed for the rest of The Grateful Dead's lifetime.*

The Grateful Dead were a legendary hardworking band, and their fans were regarded as some of the most loyal in the music business, and for having stamina equal to the group, being referred to fondly as Deadheads. The Grateful Dead toured most of the usual places rock bands go - US, Canada, Europe, but they also played three nights at the magnificent Great Pyramid of Giza 'venue' in Egypt in 1978! The Dead were innovative in their live act in other ways, with their The Wall of Sound, which, though impractical, helped to push the quality of live music forward.

Really known as a live band, The Grateful Dead weren't into commercial success per se, but live recordings of songs like 'Looks Like Rain' and 'Dear Mr. Fantasy' were even middle of the road radio friendly - but for the length. Also, their 'American Beauty' album is widely recognised as a rock classic.

Jerry Garcia's death in 1995 saw the group disbanding, though Weir, Lesh, Kreutzmann, and Hart got together in 2003 as The Dead. Sadly, the remaining members of The Grateful Dead have been embroiled in controversy, regarding trying to stop free internet downloads of their concerts from Archive.Org. Fans retaliated by boycotting official Grateful Dead products, and the concerts were made available again. So there was either a climbdown, or a misunderstanding. The Grateful Dead were a group which actually encouraged fans to tape their music, and were also famous for their free concerts, so were probably the least capitalistic and opportunistic of all the famous rock bands. Yes, they were earning millions of dollars a year at the height of their fame, but they could have earnt a lot more if they had gone down the traditional narcissistic rock star route. Whether this sad state of affairs would have happened with Garcia around is open to question. It made the band look grasping and money-grabbing to some, to others, some old rock stars trying to look after their futures. Whatever the truth, it was a monumental PR disaster.

The Grateful Dead were very famous in the United States, but, surprisingly, weren't so successful in the UK - a country more liberal than most of the states of their homeland. Maybe it was because of their famed, long, rambling concerts - it often helping if The Grateful Dead audience were stoned!

The Dead's place in rock and social history is pretty secure. The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane were probably the two most famous groups to embrace and embody the counter culture of the 1960s.

- Paul Rance/booksmusicfilmstv.com.

* A few months after this article was written, Vince Welnick died at the young age of 55, on June 2nd, 2006... "Vince passed from this earth on 2 June 2006... after a decade of battling tragedy while creating beauty and light around him," said The Dead website at the time.

GRATEFUL DEAD CDs available from booksmusicfilmstv.com - in association with Amazon.co.uk
Live/Dead [LIVE] [ORIGINAL RECORDING REMASTERED]
~Grateful Dead
Rhino (Audio CD) - March 10, 2003
Grateful Dead - 'Workingman's Dead' Workingman's Dead
~Grateful Dead
Warner (Audio CD) - June 1989
GRATEFUL DEAD CDs available from booksmusicfilmstv.com - in association with Amazon.com
Product photo The Golden Road (1965 - 1973)
Product photo Rockin the Rhein With the Grateful Dead

 

The Grateful Dead Albums Discography

The Grateful Dead 1967
Anthem Of The Sun 1968
Two From The Vault 1968
Aoxomoxoa 1969
Live/Dead 1969
History Of The Grateful Dead, Volume One 1970
Workingman's Dead 1970
American Beauty 1970
Grateful Dead (aka Skull & Roses) 1971
Hundred Year Hall 1972
Europe '72 1972
Skeletons From The Closet (Best Of The Grateful Dead) 1973 (compilation)
Wake Of The Flood 1973
Grateful Dead From The Mars Hotel 1974
Steal Your Face 1974
One From The Vault 1975
Blues For Allah 1975
Terrapin Station 1977
What A Long Strange Trip It's Been 1977 (compilation)
Shakedown Street 1978
Go To Heaven 1980
Dead Set 1981
Reckoning 1981
In The Dark 1987
Built To Last 1989
Dylan & The Dead (Grateful Dead with Bob Dylan, live) 1989
Dozin' At the Knick 1990
Without A Net 1990 (live)
Infrared Roses 1991 (live compilation)
Grayfolded 1996 (live compilation)
Grateful Dead 1977-1995 1996
The Arista Years 1996 (compilation)
Fallout From The Phil Zone 1997 (live compilation)
So Many Roads 1965-1995 1999 (boxed set)
The Golden Road 2001 (boxed set, Warner Brothers Records years, 1967-1972)
Postcards Of The Hanging 2002 (live compilation)
The Very Best Of The Grateful Dead 2003 (compilation)
Beyond Description 2004 (boxed set, Grateful Dead Records and Arista Records years, 1973-1989)
Rare Cuts And Oddities 1966 2005
The Complete Fillmore West 1969 2005 (boxed set, live)

There has also been three dozen 'Dick's Picks' albums, which were albums made from selected live recordings of The Grateful Dead.

 

 

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