The Grateful Dead was an American rock band, which was formed in 1965 in San Francisco from the remnants of another band, Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. The Grateful Dead was known for its 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.
Playing originally as The Warlocks, and later "Grateful Dead" (a name chosen at random from the dictionary by Jerry Garcia), 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 as well as Rhythm and Blues . 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.
Bandleader Jerry Garcia played lead guitar and classically trained musician Phil Lesh played bass guitar. Bob Weir (usually referred to as "Bobby"), the youngest member of the group, played rhythm guitar. Bluesman Ron "Pigpen" McKernan played keyboards, harmonica and was an inspirational vocalist until his death in 1973. All of the previously mentioned members shared vocal duties. Bill Kruetzmann played drums, and in September 1967 was joined by a second drummer, New York native Mickey "Cow-Bell" Hart, who also played a wide variety of other percussion instruments. Hart quit the Grateful Dead in 1971, embarassed by the actions of his father, Dead money manager Lenny Hart (for whom the song "He's Gone" is penned), leaving Kruetzmann once again as the sole drummer. Hart rejoined the Dead for good in 1974. Tom "TC" Constanten played keyboards alongside Pigpen from 1968 to 1970. Two years later in late 1971, Pigpen was joined by another keyboardist, Keith Godchaux, who played grand piano alongside Pigpen's Hammond B3 organ. In early 1972, Keith's wife, Donna Jean Godchaux, joined the Dead as a backing vocalist. Keith and Donna were fired from the band in 1979, and Brent Mydland joined as keyboardist and vocalist. Keith Godchaux died in a car accident in 1980. Brent Mydland was the keyboardist for the Dead for 11 years until his death in 1990. He became the third Dead keyboardist to die. Almost immediately, former Tubes keyboardist Vince Welnick joined on keyboards and vocals. For a year and a half, Welnick was often joined by special guest Bruce Hornsby on piano. Robert Hunter and John Perry Barlow were the band's lyricists.
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 the albums 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 spaghetti 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). Musically this may be illustrated in that the band not only improvised within the form of a song, yet also improvised with the forms.
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. In the 1980s, the band scored a top 40 hit "Touch of Grey" which garnered a much younger and more mainstream fandom that was considered sharply different from the traditional Dead Heads.
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 View from the Vault II (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 pseudonym Crusader Rabbit Stealth Band during the late 1990s, 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.
Wall of Sound
The Wall of Sound was an enormous structure of speakers. The wall was 32 feet high and weighed several thousand pounds. Because the wall had to be placed behind the band, the vocalists had to sing into a sound canceling microphone setup, to elimante feedback. There were two microphones, a top and bottom. You sang into the top microphone, while the bottom microphone picked up sound from the wall, the sound wave from the bottom microphone was then inverted and inserted into the top microphone output.
The Grateful Dead broke up in 1995 after the death of Jerry Garcia.
Remaining members came together as "The Dead" in 2003. Other variants had been tried since 1996, but this was the first use of the word "Dead" in the name. Besides remaining original members, "The Dead" usually feature a few rotating musicians on their tours to fill the missing guitar and keyboard slots.
Original MembersJerry Garcia - guitar, vocals (1965 - 1995)
Bob Weir - guitar vocals (1965 - 1995)
Phil Lesh - bass, vocals (1965 - 1995)
Bill Kreutzmann - drums (1965 - 1995)
Ron "Pigpen" McKernan - keyboards, vocals, harmonica, percussion (1965 - 1973)
Other MembersMickey Hart - drums (1967 - 1971, 1975 - 1995)
Tom Constanten - keyboards (1968 - 1970)
Keith Godchaux - keyboards (1971 - 1979)
Donna Jean Godchaux - vocals (1972 - 1979)
Brent Mydland - vocals, keyboards (1979 - 1990)
Vince Welnick - vocals, keyboards (1990 - 1995)