Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead, rock’s longest and most bizarre trip, were the psychedelic era’s most loved musical ambassadors. They also helped to spread their message of peace love and mind expansion around the globe for the better part of three decades. They were the object of affection for pop music’s most passionate and celebrated fan base — the Deadheads. Their numbers and devotion are legendary in their own right. The Dead were the ultimate cult group, creating their own universe and becoming a superstar on their terms. These tie-dyed pied musicians became renowned for their epic, free-form live shows that were rites for extended families of listeners who didn’t know any cultural boundaries. Jerry Garcia, who was a long-time bluegrass fan and began playing guitar at the age of 15, is the root of the Grateful Dead. After moving to Palo Alto in California in 1960, Garcia made friends with Robert Hunter. His lyrics were later used in many of Garcia’s most memorable melodies. He also met Phil Lesh, an aspiring electronic music composer. Garcia began playing banjo in local bluegrass and folk groups by 1962. Two years later, he formed Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions along with Bob Weir and Ron “Pigpen”, McKernan. In 1965, the group was renamed The Warlocks and their lineup included Lesh on bass and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. The Warlocks’ electric debut was made that July. Ken Kesey quickly selected them to be the house band at Acid Tests, his now-legendary series of public LSD parties and multimedia events. The Warlocks changed their name to the Grateful Dead as 1965 was coming to an end. They were renamed the Warlocks after a Garcia folk story. Owsley Stanley, a chemist/LSD manufacturer, helped the band members move into a house at 710 Ashbury Street, San Francisco. Soon they became a regular on the local music scene, and built a large following through free concerts. The Dead signed to MGM in 1966 and recorded their first demos. However, the recordings proved disastrous and the label eventually dropped them. The Summer of Love transformed 1967 into the Dead. They became a major draw on the Bay Area’s music scene. They developed a diverse repertoire that was influenced by blues, folk, and country while appearing regularly at top venues like the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom. The Dead’s self-titled Warner Bros. debut album was released in March 1967. It failed to capture the live performances and the cosmic sprawl that they had experienced. After performing at the Monterey Pop Festival the group grew to six members with Mickey Hart as their second drummer. 1968’s Anthem of the Sun was their second album. Although it captured the free-form jam atmosphere of their concerts better, 1969’s Aoxomoxoa proved to be a disappointing effort. The Dead’s penchant for tedious studio experimentation led to them owing the label over 100,000 dollars. The Dead responded to fans’ demands and recorded 1969’s Live/Dead. It featured a performance of Garcia’s “Dark Star”. This LP captured the essence of the Dead in all their improvisational, psychedelicized glory. The album was followed by two classic studio recordings, 1970’s Workingman’s Dead, and American Beauty. Recorded in tribute to the Dead’s folk roots, the albums were the foundation of the Dead’s live repertoire. For years, their most loved songs, “Uncle John’s Band,” Casey Jones, “Sugar Magnolia,” as well as “Truckin’,” became major FM radio favorites. The Dead continued to be a live band despite increasing radio airplay and sales of their albums. As their popularity grew, they began to tour the world for large portions of each year. The group attracted more fans as their psychedelic-era contemporaries began to disappear. Many of these people followed the Dead around the country. These “Deadheads” were known for their strict adherence to tie-dye fashions and heavy drug use. Their traveling circus became as important as the music as it was for them. The shows were also heavily bootlegged and the Dead ended their Warner contract with back to back concert LPs. This included a 1971 eponymous album and Europe ’72 in 1972. This was the last Dead album featuring Pigpen McKernan. He was a heavy drinker and died on March 8, 1973 from liver failure. Keith Godchaux replaced him with backing vocals. 1973’s Wake of the Flood, the first release on the Grateful Dead Records imprint, was also the first. It came around the time of 1974’s Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel, the group decided to take a break from the road in order to give its members the chance to work on solo projects. The Dead returned to live performance with 1976’s tour and signed to Arista to publish Terrapin Station. This was the first of a series misguided studio attempts that culminated in 1980’s Go to Heaven. It was widely considered to be the weakest album in the group’s catalogue. They did not return to the studio for seven more years. The Dead’s early 1980s saw a lot of turmoil. Keith died in a car accident on July 23, 1980, after Keith had been removed from the lineup. Brent Mydland was Keith’s replacement. The group stopped releasing new recordings after a pair 1981 live LPs, Reckoning u0026 Dead Set. Instead, they focused on their touring schedule. Despite the lack of new recordings, the Dead sold out every live date, playing to audiences that reached across generations. They were a cottage business as a band and traveled with a large road crew and dozens of family and friends, many of whom were Dead employees with health insurance. The Dead were still viewed as a cult group before 1987’s In the Dark. Their first studio album since Go to Heaven, In the Dark, became the year’s most unusual hit. “Touch of Grey”, their first single, became the first Dead song to reach the Top Ten of the pop charts. Their videos became a regular feature on MTV and the Deadheads’ popularity grew rapidly, with many new fans flocking to their shows. Long-term fans found concert tickets increasingly difficult to find. But there were more serious consequences. The influx of new fans changed the crowd dynamics significantly. Once-mellow audiences became notorious for their drug use and violent encounters with the police. The Dead were also plagued by other problems. In July 1986 Garcia, after a year of being in a drug rehabilitation program, fell into a near fatal diabetic coma due to his ongoing substance abuse. He regained consciousness five days later. In the years that followed, Garcia’s health was still a problem. However, the Dead spent more time touring than ever before, with a series dates with Bob Dylan resulting in Dylan’s live album.

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