The Grateful Dead began their music career as The Warlocks. In 1965, they made their debut performance at Magoo’s pizza house. The Warlocks caught the attention of Ken Kesey in July of 1965, known for his public LSD-fueled parties before the drug became illegal, and he hired them as his house band. These legendary parties later became known as Acid Tests!
Before long it was discovered there was another band with the same name. After several weeks with no success in finding a name everyone could agree on, Jerry Garcia picked up a dictionary and ran across the name Grateful Dead!
The members all moved into a communal home at Ashbury Street in San Francisco, there they became a fixture in the music scene and quickly built a fanbase through the many free concerts they performed.
The band began recording their first demos in 1966 after signing a deal with MGM, but the recording sessions were anything but successful and ended with MGM quickly dropping the band!
The band continued to draw a devoted group of fans. With their music consisting of a little country and blues with some folk sounds thrown in, they became one of the top drawing bands in the Bay area.
The bands first album, self titled “The Grateful Dead” was released in 1967 under the Warner Bros. label. The spirit the Dead evoked in their live performances didn’t quite make it to the LP which resulted in disappointment.
The Dead’s second album “Anthem of the Sun” released in 1968, saw better results. But, their habit of consuming studio time while experimenting with their music, left them over $100,000 in debt to Warner Bros. by the time their third album “Aoxomoxoa” was released in 1969.
Many of their fans had been asking for a live album and with the band’s desperate need to raise the money to get out of debt with Warner Bros, their first live album “Live/Dead” hit the streets in 1969!
The live album captured the true spirit of the Grateful Dead in all of their psychedelic glory. Singles from two studio albums became favorites on a lot of FM radio stations, but the Dead decided to go back to live albums.
The band saw growing success as more and more fans packed in for their shows. Many of their fans were so dedicated to the band that they followed them from concert to concert around the country for years!
Well known for their tye dyed fashions and extensive drug use, the fans appropriately called themselves the “Dead Heads”. This traveling circus became as big a part of the focus of the concerts as the music itself was!
In 1973, the band lost one of it’s original members, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan died of liver failure after a long history of alcohol abuse. The band added Keith Godchaus and his wife Donna and continued making music!
That same year also marked the bands first album release, “Wake of the Flood”, that appeared on the new Grateful Dead Records! Soon after releasing their next album the band took a hiatus from touring so the members could pursue solo projects.
In 1976, they started touring again, and released “Terrapin Station” under the Arista Record label. Though most of their albums did well, they just never lived up to the success of their live performances.
Dubbed as the “X Factor” by fans, the live shows were centered around Garcia’s fluid guitar playing. No song was ever done in the same way, the music was spontaneous and the electricity was felt through the audience!
Even after several years, Keith and Donna Godchaux still never really fit in with the band. Donna frequently got off key and gave some embarrassing live performances and Keith’s use of hard drugs began to cause problems. In 1979, the band asked the couple to leave.
Heading into the studio again in 1980, “Go To Heaven” was released. The album proved to be a failure with most “Dead Heads” considering it to be their weakest effort. And, with the band posing in white suits for the cover, it was thought they had gone soft!
Although, the album was a total disappointment for the band, it did get them their first, minor success in the US singles charts with “Alabama Getaway”. But, the album was failure, both artistically and commercially, that the band would not be back in a studio for seven years!
For many years all of the Grateful Dead members had been experimenting with drugs and by 1982, Jerry Garcia was addicted to heroin. The drugs began to take their toll on Garcia’s wonderful ability to make a guitar almost talk and his performances began to show his weakened, shaky vocals.
The Dead’s well deserved success finally came in 1987, with the release of “In the Dark”. The album was a hit and the single “Touch of Grey” was their first track that ever made it into the Top Ten pop charts! Suddenly MTV began featuring their videos in the regular rotations and a whole new group of Dead Heads was born!
But, with the new fans the crowds persona changed, the once peaceful audiences became infamous. Dead Heads were already known for their excessive drug use, but now the audiences were also becoming known for their violence with the police!
In 1990, the band suffered the loss of Brent Mydland from a lethal combination of morphine and cocaine. Mydland was the third keyboard player that the Grateful Dead had lost to death!
Mydland’s death brought not one, but two new keyboarders into the band. Former Tubes member Vince Welnick and Satellite member, Bruce Hornsby joined the group. Hornsby was a long time Dead Head and had often toured with the band.
Garcia’s health continued to fail and in the autumn of 1992 he had to be hospitalized with an enlarged heart and diabetes. When he finally returned he seemed to look better than he had in years.
But, on August 9, 1995, at 53 years old, Jerry Garcia was found dead at a substance abuse center in Forest Knolls, California. The death was attributed to a heart attack.
Garcia’s death marked the end of the Grateful Dead as we knew it. The members disbanded as the market was flooded with Dead merchandise which included everything from t-shirts to toys.
The bands remaining members attended a press conference in December of 1995, they announced that the bands name would be buried along with Garcia! Two of the members did a summer tour in 96′, but when the remaining members reunited in 98′ they called themselves the “Other Ones”.
The Grateful Dead introduced a whole new form of music to America. Even though they never had any radio hits and their albums never became the successful hits they’d hoped for. They still became on of the most successful touring bands in history!
The Grateful Dead was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 19, 1994. The bands amazing and diverse talent combined with the total devotion of their fans, has made this classic rock band one that will never be forgotten.
On August 3rd and 4th of 2002, the remaining members held a concert at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. A weekend called “A Grateful Dead Family Reunion” sold out quickly. Thousands of dedicated Dead Heads attended, they hung out in the grassy lot outside the theatre, eating, visiting and listening to one of the greatest rock bands of all time!
Written by Connie Corder, Copyright BestOfAllTopics.com 2010 all rights reserved and may not be republished in any form.