The Grateful Dead were the ultimate cult band, spending the better part of their career well outside of the mainstream, all the while becoming superstars solely on their own terms. From the 1960s until the 1995 death of guitarist, singer-songwriter Jerry Garcia, they played around 2,300 long, freeform concerts popularizing the concept of the jam band. They influenced thousands of songwriters and earned themselves maybe the most loyal fans a rock band have ever had, Deadheads. The Dead even allowed their fans prime spots to tape shows and trade them with fellow fans, as long as it wasn’t for profit.
Jerry Garcia took up guitar at 15, and became friends with Robert Hunter, who became the Dead’s lyricist, when he moved to Palo Alto. In ’62 he began playing in folk and bluegrass bands, and by ’64 he was a member of Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, along with Bob Weir, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, and Bob Matthews (who engineered Dead albums) and John Dawson.
In ’65, the group was renamed the Warlocks, their lineup then including Phil Lesh on bass along with Bill Kreutzmann on drums. They debuted in July ’65 and became the house band at Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests, public LSD parties and multimedia events held before the drug was illegal. At the end of the year they renamed themselves the Grateful Dead, a name taken from a folk tale discovered in a dictionary by Garcia, and were bankrolled by chemist/LSD manufacturer Owsley Stanley. The band moved into a house in San Francisco and became a fixture on the local music scene and built a large fan base through numerous free shows.
The Dead’s legitimate recording career began when Warner Bros. signed the band. Their S/T 1967 debut album featured 3-minute songs but Anthem of the Sun (1968) and Aoxomoxoa (1969) were more experimental and studio time consuming, leaving them over $100,000 in debt to the label. With their reputation spreading, they played at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969.
As the ’70’s began, the Dead made 3 inexpensive albums: Live/Dead (1969), Workingman’s Dead (1970), and American Beauty (1970). The albums ranged from psychedelic to concise country-ish songs. They expanded their touring schedule and started various solo and side projects. Road crew, family, friends, and more would later become staff employees complete with health-insurance as the Dead evolved into a highly profitable corporation. The band finished out its Warner contract with a few live albums and then formed its own Grateful Dead Records.
Europe ’72 was the last album to feature Pigpen, a heavy drinker who died in 1973 of liver disease. Keith Godchaux, along with wife Donna, joined the band. The pair toured and recorded until 1979, then replaced by Brent Mydland. In ’76, they signed with Arista and began to use non-Dead producers for the first time for Terrapin Station (1977), Shakedown Street (78) and Go to Heaven (1980).
The band took a break until ’87, during which the Dead toured with Bob Dylan (recorded for the album Dylan and the Dead (1989), while Garcia’s health and personal habits made a decline. Once recovered, the Dead made a huge return with In the Dark (1987), their first Top 10 album, including “Touch of Grey”(#9), their first (and only) Top 10 single.
The early 90’s included some turbulent times for Deadheads (some acted irresponsibly) and Garcia’s health was up and down. But by ’95 the profitable Dead were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On July 9, 1995, Jerry Garcia played his last show with the Grateful Dead. A month later, he died in his sleep at a rehab center combating his long heroin addiction. The cause of death was reported as a heart attack.
The music would still endure through superfans recordings and the band’s members under various monikers and groups, including Bob Weir with his band, RatDog, Phil Lesh with Phil Lesh and Friends, The Dead, Further, Dead & Company with John Mayer, and more. The band is just as prolific today, if not more, than ever before.
- Jerry Garcia – lead guitar, vocals
- Bob Weir – rhythm guitar, vocals
- Ron “Pigpen” McKernan – keyboards, harmonica, percussion, vocals
- Phil Lesh – bass, vocals
- Bill Kreutzmann – drums
- See all band lineups throughout the years here
- Casey Jones
- Touch of Grey
- Friend of The Devil
- Uncle John’s Band
- Sugar Magnolia
- Fire on the Mountain
- Eyes of the World
- Scarlet Begonias
NE OHIO CONCERTS
- Cleveland Music Hall – October 17, 1970
- Allen Theater – October 29, 1971
- Cleveland Public Hall – October 28, 1972
- Cleveland Public Hall – December 6, 1973
- Cleveland Music Hall – November 20, 1978
- Cleveland Public Hall – November 29, 1979
- Cleveland Public Hall – August 26, 1980
- Cleveland Music Hall – March 2, 3, 1981
- Blossom Music Center – June 29, 1984
- Blossom Music Center – June 25, 1985
- Rubber Bowl – July 2, 1986
- Richfield Coliseum – September 7, 8, 1990
- Richfield Coliseum – September 4, 5, 6, 1991
- Richfield Coliseum – June 8, 9, 1992
- Richfield Coliseum – March 14, 1993
- Richfield Coliseum – September 8, 9, 10, 1993
- Richfield Coliseum – March 21, 1994