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|The Grateful Dead
Rock's longest, strangest trip, the Grateful Dead were the psychedelic era's most beloved musical ambassadors as well as its mostenduring survivors, spreading their message of peace, love, and mind-expansion across the globe throughout the better part of threedecades. The object of adoration for popular music's most fervent and celebrated fan following -- the Deadheads, their numbers anddevotion legendary in their own right -- they were the ultimate cult band, creating a self-styled universe all their own; for the better part oftheir career orbiting well outside of the mainstream, the Dead bec ...read more
Rock's longest, strangest trip, the Grateful Dead were the psychedelic era's most beloved musical ambassadors as well as its mostenduring survivors, spreading their message of peace, love, and mind-expansion across the globe throughout the better part of threedecades. The object of adoration for popular music's most fervent and celebrated fan following -- the Deadheads, their numbers anddevotion legendary in their own right -- they were the ultimate cult band, creating a self-styled universe all their own; for the better part oftheir career orbiting well outside of the mainstream, the Dead became superstars solely on their own terms, tie-dyed pied pipers whose epic,free-form live shows were rites of passage for an extended family of listeners who knew no cultural boundaries.
The roots of the Grateful Dead lie with singer/songwriter Jerry Garcia, a longtime bluegrass enthusiast who began playing the guitar at age15. Upon relocating to Palo Alto, CA, in 1960, he soon befriended Robert Hunter, whose lyrics later graced many of Garcia's most famousmelodies; in time, he also came into contact with aspiring electronic music composer Phil Lesh. By 1962, Garcia was playing banjo in avariety of local folk and bluegrass outfits, two years later forming Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions with guitarist Bob Weir andkeyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan; in 1965, the group was renamed the Warlocks, their lineup now additionally including Lesh on bass aswell as Bill Kreutzmann on drums.
The Warlocks made their electric debut that July; Ken Kesey soon tapped them to become the house band at his notorious Acid Tests, aseries of now-legendary public LSD parties and multimedia "happenings" mounted prior to the drug's criminalization. As 1965 drew to itsclose, the Warlocks rechristened themselves the Grateful Dead, the name taken from a folk tale discovered in a dictionary by Garcia;bankrolled by chemist/LSD manufacturer Owsley Stanley, the band members soon moved into a communal house situated at 710 AshburyStreet in San Francisco, becoming a fixture on the local music scene and building a large fan base on the strength of their many freeconcerts. Signing to MGM, in 1966 the Dead also recorded their first demos; the sessions proved disastrous, and the label dropped thegroup a short time later.
As 1967 mutated into the Summer of Love, the Dead emerged as one of the top draws on the Bay Area music scene, honing an eclecticrepertoire influenced by folk, country, and the blues while regularly appearing at top local venues including the Fillmore Auditorium, theAvalon Ballroom, and the Carousel. In March of 1967 the Dead issued their self-titled Warner Bros. debut LP, a disappointing effort whichfailed to recapture the cosmic sprawl of their live appearances; after performing at the Monterey Pop Festival, the group expanded to a six-piece with the addition of second drummer Mickey Hart. Their follow-up, 1968's Anthem of the Sun, fared better in documenting the free-form jam aesthetic of their concerts, but after completing 1969's Aoxomoxoa, their penchant for time-consuming studio experimentationleft them over 100,000 dollars in debt to the label.
The Dead's response to the situation was to bow to the demands of fans and record their first live album, 1969's Live/Dead; highlighted by arendition of Garcia's "Dark Star" clocking in at over 23 minutes, the LP succeeded where its studio predecessors failed in capturing the trueessence of the group in all of their improvisational, psychedelicized glory. It was followed by a pair of classic 1970 studio efforts,Workingman's Dead and American Beauty; recorded in homage to the group's country and folk roots, the two albums remained thecornerstone of the Dead's live repertoire for years to follow, with its most popular songs -- "Uncle John's Band," "Casey Jones," "SugarMagnolia," and "Truckin'" among them -- becoming major favorites on FM radio.
Despite increasing radio airplay and respectable album sales, the Dead remained first and foremost a live act, and as their popularity grewacross the world they expanded their touring schedule, taking to the road for much of each year. As more and more of their psychedelic-eracontemporaries ceased to exist, the group continued attracting greater numbers of fans to their shows, many of them following the Deadacross the country; dubbed "Deadheads," these fans became notorious for their adherence to tie-dyed fashions and excessive drug use,their traveling circus ultimately becoming as much the focal point of concert dates as the music itself. Shows were also extensivelybootlegged, and not surprisingly the Dead closed out their Warners contract with back-to-back concert LPs -- a 1971 eponymous effort and1972's Europe '72.
The latter release was the final Dead album to feature Pigpen McKernan, a heavy drinker who died of liver failure on March 8, 1973; hisreplacement was keyboardist Keith Godchaux, who brought with him wife Donna Jean to sing backing vocals. 1973's Wake of the Flood wasthe first release on the new Grateful Dead Records imprint; around the time of its follow-up, 1974's Grateful Dead From the Mars Hotel, thegroup took a hiatus from the road to allow its members the opportunity to pursue solo projects. After returning to the live arena with a 1976tour, the Dead signed to Arista to release Terrapin Station, the first in a series of misguided studio efforts that culminated in 1980's Go toHeaven, widely considered the weakest record in the group's catalog -- so weak, in fact, that they did not re-enter the studio for anotherseven years.
The early '80s was a time of considerable upheaval for the Dead -- the Godchauxs had been dismissed from the lineup in 1979, with Keithdying in a car crash on July 23, 1980. (His replacement was keyboardist Brent Mydland.) After a pair of 1981 live LPs, Reckoning and DeadSet, the group released no new recordings until 1987, focusing instead on their touring schedule -- despite the dearth of new releases, theDead continued selling out live dates, now playing to audiences which spanned generations. As much a cottage industry as a band, theytraveled not only with an enormous road crew but also dozens of friends and family members, many of them Dead staffers complete withhealth insurance and other benefits.
Still, the Dead were widely regarded as little more than an enduring cult phenomenon prior to the release of 1987's In the Dark; their firststudio LP since Go to Heaven, it became the year's most unlikely hit when the single "Touch of Grey" became the first-ever Dead track toreach the Top Ten on the pop charts. Suddenly their videos were in regular rotation on MTV, and virtually overnight the ranks of theDeadheads grew exponentially, with countless new fans flocking to the group's shows. Not only did concert tickets become increasinglytough to come by for longtime followers, but there were also more serious repercussions -- the influx of new fans shifted the crowd dynamicconsiderably, and once-mellow audiences became infamous not only for their excessive drug habits but also for their violent encounters withpolice.
Other troubles plagued the Dead as well: in July 1986, Garcia -- a year removed from a drug treatment program -- lapsed into near-fataldiabetic coma brought on by his continued substance abuse problems, regaining consciousness five days later. His health remained anissue in the years which followed, but the Dead spent more time on tour than ever, with a series of dates with Bob Dylan yielding the livealbum Dylan & the Dead. Their final studio effort, Built to Last, followed in 1989. Tragedy struck in October of that year when a fan died afterbreaking his neck outside of a show at the New Jersey Meadowlands; two months later, a 19-year-old fan on LSD also died while in policecustody at the Los Angeles Forum.
As ever, the Dead themselves were also not immune to tragedy -- on July 26, 1990, Mydland suffered a fatal drug overdose, the thirdkeyboardist in group history to perish; he was replaced not only by ex-Tubes keyboardist Vince Welnick but also by satellite member BruceHornsby, a longtime fan who frequently toured with the group. In the autumn of 1992 Garcia was again hospitalized with diabetes and anenlarged heart, forcing the Dead to postpone their upcoming tour until the year's end; he eventually returned to action looking more fit thanhe had in years. Still, few were surprised when it was announced on August 9, 1995, that Garcia had been found dead in his room at asubstance abuse treatment facility in Forest Knolls, CA; the 53 year old's death was attributed to a heart attack.
While Garcia's death spelled the end of the Dead as a continuing creative entity, the story was far from over. As the surviving membersdisbanded to plot their next move, the band's merchandising arm went into overdrive -- in addition to Dick's Picks, a series of archivalreleases of classic live material, licensed products ranging from Dead T-shirts to sporting goods to toys flooded the market. Plans were alsoannounced to build Terrapin Station, an interactive museum site. In 1996, Weir and Hart mounted the first Furthur Festival, a summer tourheadlined by their respective bands RatDog and Mystery Box; in 1998, they also reunited with Lesh and Hornsby to tour as the Other Ones.In spirit if not in name, the Grateful Dead's trip continued on. « hide
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