The Grateful Dead

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Grateful Dead in 1970. Left to right: Bill Kreutzmann, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh.

The Grateful Dead were a six-piece group formed in San Francisco in the mid-1960s, best known for their improvisatory style of rock music, taking elements of psychedelia, country, folk, blues and whatever else they thought would fit. Essentially, they were the godfathers of the Jam Band genre. They appeared at the now famous Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, and the even more famous original Woodstock festival in 1969 (however, band members admit they weren't at top form at either festival), and have a reputation for long tours and musically exploratory shows where one song often blends into another.

The line-up was Jerry Garcia (lead guitar), Bob Weir (rhythm guitar), Phil Lesh (bass), Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann (drums - yes, two drummers, folks!) and a succession of keyboardists starting with Ron "Pig Pen" McKernan. Garcia and Weir were the primary vocalists in the group and were as different as night and day; while Garcia had a wispy, almost fragile sounding voice, Weir was best known for some of the group's most raucous rock and roll "shouters" and his fondness for "cowboy songs." Most of the band's songs were collaborations between Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, though Weir contributed many as well, particularly with the help of lyricist John Perry Barlow. They also had an enormous library of covers, especially traditional Americana and blues, plus more modern country and rock pieces.

The Dead are probably as famous for their fanbase as they are for their music. The Deadheads, as they're known, were so dedicated that many of them would follow the band on tour for extended stretches of time, and trade tapes of past concerts. This latter practice was encouraged by the group. Since the Dead never worked from a show-to-show set list, trading tapes became to the Deadheads the ideal way to experience the music short of attending a concert live. Compounding this is that many consider the recordings of their songs from the original albums often pale to live versions of the same song, though some albums, notably American Beauty and Workingman's Dead, are still considered classics. The Dead toured every year of their existence except 1975, drawing millions of fans, both hardcore touring "heads" and casual listeners across the country. In spite of this cult popularity, the Grateful Dead were never quite as famous or mainstream as many of their peers of the period. In 1987, the band scored the sole US Top 40 hit in their long career, "Touch of Grey", a catchy pop tune that had the odd side effect of turning their erstwhile cult into a stadium-filling circus for the rest of their career. This later period was a time of ups and downs, as the band were playing bigger shows than ever, but the influx of new fans led to some unfortunate incidents at shows. Keyboardist Brent Mydland died of a drug overdose, and Garcia's own health and addictions fluctuated wildly.

The band formally dissolved in 1995 in the wake of Jerry Garcia's death, though members will occasionally reunite for special occasions. Culturally, outside of their music, the band's most famous impact is arguably the Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor "Cherry Garcia," the company's best-selling flavor, which was briefly made with black cherries after his passing. Selected songs from their studio albums are also available for download in the video game Rock Band (incidentally, several programmers have expressed that Grateful Dead songs in particular are a serious pain to chart).

After Garcia's death and the Dead's disbandment, a band from Vermont called Phish, which had existed for about ten years and had already started to become popular with college crowds, became the de facto jam band for people to follow. However, Phish and The Dead have very different sounds as fans of either band will point out - while both psychedelic bands, the Dead was more country and folk influenced, while Phish found their influences in jazz and alternative rock.


Studio Album Discography

Live Albums released during the band's career

  • Live/Dead (1969)
  • Grateful Dead (1971, also known as Skull and Roses to avoid confusion with their debut studio album)
  • Europe '72 (1972)
  • The History of the Grateful Dead: Volume One - Bear's Choice (1973)
  • Steal Your Face (1976)
  • Reckoning (1981)
  • Dead Set (1981)
  • Dylan & The Dead (1989)
  • Without A Net (1990)
  • Infrared Roses (1991)
  • Hundred Year Hall (1995)

Notable live albums released after the band's disbandment

  • Dozin' At the Knick (1996)
  • Fallout from the Phil Zone (1997)
  • Live at the Fillmore East 2-11-69 (1997)
  • Nightfall of Diamonds (2001)
  • Go to Nassau (2002)
  • The Closing of Winterland (2003)
  • Rockin' the Rhein with the Grateful Dead (2004)
  • Truckin' Up to Buffalo (2005)
  • Live at the Cow Palace (2007)
  • Rocking the Cradle: Egypt 1978 (2008)
  • To Terrapin: Hartford '77 (2009)
  • Crimson White & Indigo (2010)

There's also the Dick's Picks series of retrospective live albums which feature whole concerts personally selected by the band's tape archivist Dick Latvala (and after his death in 1999, David Lemieux), which started in 1993. After signing to Rhino Records in the mid-2000's, Dick's Picks was discontinued and replaced with the Road Trips series, which is just the same thing with a different name.

In January 2015, the surviving members of the band announced their intention to celebrate the 50th anniversary of its formation with a three-day stand at Chicago's Soldier Field on July 3, 4 and 5, 2015.

The Grateful Dead provides examples of the following tropes:
  • The Band Minus the Face: After Jerry Garcia's death.
  • The Beat Generation: A major influence.
  • Black Sheep Hit: "Touch of Grey".
  • Creator Couple: Keith and Donna Godcheaux.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: When Jerry Garcia passed away, not only was there increased demand for the albums, but also for his line of men's ties and even Ben & Jerry's "Cherry Garcia" ice cream, which had existed since the mid-'80s and went from being one of its better selling flavors to the brand's biggest selling flavor of all time.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: see Old Shame for details. Steal Your Face was two disks totalling about 84 minutes of material. The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack was five disks, adding 300 more minutes of material from that era.
  • Epic Rocking
  • Greatest Hits Album: Thanks to their lengthy tenure, they have four.
  • Grief Song: "Birdsong", "Cassidy"
  • Long Runner Lineup: Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Brent Mydland, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart for 11 years, from 1979-1990.
  • Obligatory Bondage Song: "Hell in a Bucket"
  • Officially Shortened Title: (The Grateful Dead) - (Jerry Garcia) = (The Dead).
  • Old Shame: Although the album cover is one of the most iconic logos in the history of rock music, Steal Your Face is considered the worst live album by the band. The two main criticisms were its poor sound quality, which required studio overdubs, and its emphasis on songs rather than the band's signature improvisational jamming. It's frequently referred to as Steal Your Money by fans, critics, and the band themselves. When Rhino Records released two box-sets containing their main studio and live albums, they opted to exclude this album and instead release the separate five-disk Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack to represent that time in the band's history.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Ron "Pigpen" McKernan.
  • Pyramid Power: The reason they did a concert at the pyramids of Giza, during a 1978 solar eclipse.
  • Revolving Door Band: At least when it came to keyboard players.
  • Scare Chord: The post-drum duet jam from The Closing of Winterland concert has a Scare Thunderclap, which is very jarring if the sound is turned up.
  • Signature Song: "Truckin" or "Casey Jones".
  • Sixth Ranger: Despite not actually being a member of the band, Robert Hunter was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the band in 1994, due to his importance as the band's primary lyricist.
    • The only member of the band not inducted as a band member also counts as a Sixth Ranger. Bruce Hornsby (a Grammy-winning musician and Deadhead), who was the band's keyboardist on-and-off during their last few years (he was, however, the band's induction presenter during the ceremony).
  • Something Blues: About a dozen different songs.
  • Straw Vulcan: The soldier in "Terrapin Station".
  • Train Song: "Casey Jones".
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend: In their version of "Stagger Lee".
  • Wanderlust Song: "Friend of the Devil".
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "China Cat Sunflower"