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The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead

Fact Sheet

Musical genre:Rock  
City  San Fransisco, California, USA
Years active1965-1995
The Grateful Dead were an American rock band, which was formed in the mid 1960s in San Francisco from the remnants of another band, Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. The Dead were known for their unique and eclectic songwriting style, which fused elements of rock, folk music, bluegrass, blues, country, jazz, and for long modal jams. The band's numerous fans, called Dead Heads, were renowned for their dedication to the band's music; many followed the Dead from concert to concert for years.

In 1965, the band made the stylistic switch from folk music (specifically, a "Jug band") to rock music, with Jerry Garcia, Ron Pigpen McKernan and Bob Weir from the Jug Champions joined by Bill Kreutzmann and Phil Lesh, and in 1967 - the band's breakthrough year - another percussionist, Mickey Hart.

Playing originally as The Warlocks, and later "Grateful Dead" (a name inspired most likely from a folk tale in which a mysterious stranger helps in the quests of the living by paying off the debts of a dead man), they became the de facto resident band of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, with the early sound heavily influenced by Kesey's LSD-soaked Acid Tests. These events are covered in detail in Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." Their musical influences varied widely with input from the psychedelic music of the era, combined with rhythm and blues, jazz, and country. These various influences were distilled into a unique new music that was a synthesis of all American folk music forms to-date; it paid homage to previous forms, and also reflected a sense of adventure and a continuous quest for the "musical unknown"; more often than not, exploration and a search for continual newness were the hallmarks of their live performances.

The early records reflected their live repertoire -- lengthy instrumental jams with guitar solos by Garcia, best exemplified by "Dark Star" -- but lacked the energy of the shows and did not sell terribly well. The 1969 live album Live/Dead did capture more of their essence, but commercial success did not come until American Beauty and Workingman's Dead, both released in 1970. These records featured the band's laid-back acoustic musicianship and more traditional song structures.

Jerry played lead guitar and Phil played bass guitar. Bob (usually referred to as "Bobby"), the youngest member of the group, played rhythm guitar. Pigpen played keyboards, harmonica and was an inspirational vocalist until his death in 1973. Both Bill and Mickey played drums, and a wide variety of other percussion instruments. Mickey took an extended leave of absence from 1970 to 1975. Tom "TC" Constanten also played keyboards in 1968-1970. In 1971, Keith Godchaux followed TC on the keyboards - appearing alongside Pigpen on tour. Keith brought his wife Donna Godchaux as a vocalist. Keith and Donna left the band in 1979, and Brent Mydland joined as keyboardist. Brent was the keyboardist until his death in 1990. Without missing a show, Vince Welnick and Bruce Hornsby joined as keyboardists. Vince stayed with the band until 1995. Bruce left in 1992.

Touring was the hallmark of the Grateful Dead. With the exception of 1975, the Grateful Dead toured regularly around the USA from the winter of 1965 until July 9, 1995 - with a few detours to Canada and Europe (see Dick's Picks 7, Hundred Year Hall, Steppin' Out with the Grateful Dead, and Europe '72) and 3 nights at the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt in 1978. Their numerous studio albums were generally collections of new songs that had been initially played in concert. The band was famous for their extended jams, which showcased both individual improvisation as well as a singularly unique "group-mind" improvisation where each of the band members improvised individually, while still blending together as a cohesive musical unit, often engaging in extended improvisational flights of fancy. A hallmark of their concert sets were continuous sets of music where each song would blend into the next (a segue).

Many of their fans, commonly referred to as Dead Heads, would follow the band on tour. In contrast to many other bands, the Grateful Dead encouraged their fans to tape their shows. For many years, almost all of their shows would have dedicated taping sections. The band allowed sharing of tapes of their shows, as long as no profits were made on the sale of their show tapes.

Starting in 1991, the Grateful Dead released numerous live concerts from their archives in two concurrent series: the From the Vault releases are multi-track remixes, whereas the Dick's Picks series are based on two-track mixes made at the time of the recording. There have been at least 31 DP releases as of March 2004. A series of videos began to trickle out of "The Vault", starting with View From the Vault (recorded in Pittsburgh on July 8, 1990 at Three Rivers Stadium) and Another View from the Vault (recorded in Washington, DC on June 14, 1991 at RFK Stadium). All three series of releases continue to this day.

Following Garcia's death in 1995, the remaining members formally decided to retire the name "Grateful Dead". Though some of them occasionally toured through the late 1990s under the name "The Other Ones" they mainly chose to pursue various solo projects: most notably Bob Weir's Ratdog, Phil Lesh and Friends and Mickey Hart's music for the 1996 Olympics. The remaining members occasionally got together under the psuedonym Crusader Rabbit Stealth Band during the late 1990's, infrequently playing unannounced shows. The mid-2002 fall tour of The Other Ones, with Bob, Bill, Phil and Mickey, was so successful and satisfying that the band decided the name was no longer appropriate. On February 14, 2003, reflecting the reality that was, they renamed themselves The Dead, keeping "Grateful" retired out of respect for Garcia.