Emerging from San Francisco, California in 1965, The Grateful Dead were the longest enduring psychedelic acid band that would remain together until Jerry Garcia's death in 1995. The band was initially started by Garcia, who was born Jerome John Garcia in 1942. At age 15, Garcia began playing guitar and became an avid bluegrass fan. In 1960, Garcia, along with his lyric-writing friend, Robert Hunter (1938), and another composer, Phil Lesh (1940) got together to form a band. By 1962, the group had added guitarist Bob Weir (1947) and Ron "PigPen" McKernan (1946-1973), a keyboard player, and were calling themselves Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. The group experienced another name change to the Warlocks in 1965 when they added Bill Kreutzmann (1946), a drummer.
As the Warlocks, the band participated in the acid tests of Ken Kesey in 1965. These were testings, which resembled parties, with the subjects all-high on LSD, which was still legal at the time. During the time of the tests, the Warlocks found a new name for themselves while flipping through a dictionary and coming across the term; grateful dead. Some say it was the effects of the LSD that so intrigued the band with this name, but whatever the reason, they were soon to be known as The Grateful Dead.
From that point, the group was funded by the LSD manufacturing chemist, Owsley Stanley, and relocated to a house on 710 Ashbury Street in San Francisco where they all lived together. 1966 brought about The Grateful Dead's first demos with MGM, however, the label discontinued its relations with the band a short time after.
The Dead were becoming popular for their live performances at venues such as the Fillmore Auditorium, the Carousel and the Avalon Ballroom. In 1967, Warner Bros. studios took an interest in them and produced their first album, "The Grateful Dead". Unfortunately, this album lacked the electricity the band's live shows possessed and did not do very well. After the album, they went on to perform at the Monterey Pop Festival and ended up adding another member with drummer Mickey Hart (1943) before producing their second album, "Anthem of the Sun". This 1968 record did much better than its predecessor. However, a third album, "Aoxomoxoa," left the band in debt in excess of 100,000 dollars.
Up until this time, all of The Grateful Dead's albums had been recorded in the studio. Not doing particularly well with the studio ventures, the natural thing to do was to record a live album. In 1969, "The Live/Dead" became the first live album the band made. Because improvisation was a large part of the concert acclaim the Dead had achieved, the live album did much to capture this spontaneous element. After the "Live/Dead," the band did manage some successful studio albums in "American Beauty" and "Workingman's Dead". From the latter two releases came many of the Dead's most well-known pieces; "Casey Jones," Sugar Magnolia," "Uncle John's Band" and "Truckin'."
The Grateful Dead began to tour extensively for the better part of each year. Their concerts were the epitome of the rampant drug use and tie-dyed fashions so often associated with the psychedelic 1960's and 1970's in the United States. The band accumulated a large following that became known as the Deadheads. These people would follow the band across the country while they were on tour.
In 1972, the band completed its contract with Warner Bros. producing one last album entitled "Europe '72". At this time the band felt its first blow dealt by the abuse of substances. Pigpen McKernan, who played keyboard, succumbed to liver failure on March 8, 1973. He was replaced by the couple, Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux. Two records were released with the Godchauxs, "Wake of the Flood" in 1973 and "Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel" in 1974. Following these albums the group slipped out of the public eye to begin some solo projects.
The Dead were not heard from again until 1976 when they produced "Terrapin Station" under Arista records. A string of unsuccessful studio albums were released subsequently and ended with 1980's "Go to Heaven". For many Deadheads, the fear that the Grateful Dead were losing their style was brought on by the white suits the band donned for the album's cover.
Discouraged again by their less-than-desirable studio albums, the band did not produce another one until seven years later. They continued to tour, however, but excused the Godchauxs from the band. A couple of months later, Keith was killed in an auto accident. He was then replaced by another keyboardist, Brent Mydland.
In 1981, "Reckoning the Dead," a set of two live LP's, was the last thing to be released until 1987. While no more new material was composed, the Dead still performed to sell-out shows across the country. They even traveled with many family members and friends for which they provided health benefits, among other perks.
1987 marked the release of the album "In the Dark" and the band finally accomplished its only charting hit with "Touch of Grey," which also prompted an MTV video. This song brought not only mainstream success but also changed the nature of the once mellow Deadhead audience. More than ever drug use interfered with the concert scene and violence became a staple as well.
Jerry Garcia's health was also beginning to fail. July of 1986 found Garcia in a diabetic coma, a complication of excessive, long-term drug use. Luckily, Jerry recovered and the group produced their last studio album in 1989 with "Built to Last". Not too long after, the band suffered its loss of their third keyboard player, Mydland, to a drug overdose in 1990. Vince Welnick and Bruce Hornsby served as replacements for Mydland. With Garcia in and out of the hospital, the Dead continued to tour throughout 1993 and 1994. Garcia's life would soon be cut short, however, when he suffered a heart attack on August 9, 1995 and was found dead in his room at a drug rehabilitation center in California.
The United States certainly felt the loss of Garcia and an all night vigil took place in San Francisco, where flags were flown at half-mast and accompanied with a tie-dyed flag, representing The Dead. At a press conference in 1995, the surviving band members announced that the name, The Grateful Dead, would be put to rest with Jerry Garcia.
The remaining members have continued in the music business, producing solo work as well as being involved in other groups.
Page author: N.G.