Music / The Grateful Dead
Truckin', circa 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 Psychedelic Rock, Country Music, Folk Music, 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 one), 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 "Pigpen" 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 until his death in 1995.

The band formally dissolved in the wake of Jerry Garcia's demise, 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, blues and folk influenced, while Phish found their influences in jazz and alternative rock.

Studio Album Discography

  • The Grateful Dead (1967)
  • Anthem of the Sun (1968)
  • Aoxomoxoa (1969)
  • Workingman's Dead (1970)
  • American Beauty (1970)
  • Wake of the Flood (1973)
  • Skeletons from the Closet: The Best of the Grateful Dead (1974) (a Greatest Hits Album)
  • Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel (1974)
  • Blues for Allah (1975)
  • Terrapin Station (1977)
  • What a Long Strange Trip It's Been (1977) (another Greatest Hits Album)
  • Shakedown Street (1978)
  • Go To Heaven (1980)
  • In The Dark (1987)
  • Built To Last (1989)

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)
  • 5/8/77 Cornell (2017)

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.

What a long, strange trope it's been:

  • Aerith and Bob: Jerry, Bob, Phil, Bill... and Pigpen.
  • The Band Minus the Face: The "Grateful Dead" name was retired after Jerry Garcia's death, but various surviving members have continued to perform the band's music under other names since then, including "The Dead", "The Other Ones", "Furthur", and "Dead & Company", an incarnation fronted by John Mayer.
  • The Beat Generation: A major influence.
  • Company Town: "Cumberland Blues"
  • 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.
  • Dem Bones: a common theme in their artwork, the most famous being their "Skull and Roses" logo (based on an illustration from the book Rubaiyat Of Omar Khyyam) and the Touch of Grey video.
  • 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.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Yes, the Grateful Dead, of all bands, have an example of this trope. Casey Jones crashes the locomotive because he is high on cocaine. There's also a rueful reference to "living on reds, Vitamin C, and cocaine" in "Truckin'".
  • Epic Rocking: Most of their songs are epic jams of several minutes of length; in concert, the group often strung several songs together into a single jam that could run nearly an hour in length.
  • Greatest Hits Album: Thanks to their lengthy tenure, they have four.
  • Grief Song: "Birdsong", "Cassidy"
  • Improv: The band is known for their long epic jams, which is also why they were better appreciated during live concerts.
  • Long-Runner Line-up: Type 2: Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Brent Mydland, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart for 11 years, from 1979-1990.
  • Mascot: The group has several, most notably a group of rainbow-colored dancing bears, a skeleton draped in roses, and "Stealie" the red-white-and-blue skull.
  • Obligatory Bondage Song: "Hell in a Bucket"
  • Officially Shortened Title: (The Grateful Dead) - (Jerry Garcia) = (The Dead).
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Ron "Pigpen" McKernan.
  • Our Ghosts are Different: The story that they found their name when Garcia saw it in a dictionary are true. It was a folklore dictionary. "The grateful dead" or "the grateful dead man" occurs in fairy tales where the hero arranges for a stranger's funeral, usually with the last of his money, and is joined by a companion who saves the day and often marries him off to a princess before revealing that he is the ghost of the man who was buried.
  • Psychedelic Rock: One of the most famous groups in this genre.
  • Pyramid Power: The reason they did a concert at the pyramids of Giza, during a 1978 solar eclipse.
  • Revolving Door Band: Downplayed; The band was infamous for its rotating keyboard spot, but apart from the occasionally spots in the band's early and late career where they had two keyboardists simultaneously, most of the changes to the position happened years apart. The core of the band - Garcia, Lesh, Kreutzmann, Weir and Hunter - remained together from 1967 up through Garcia's death in 1995, apart from a few years in the 1970s when Hart took a sabbatical.
  • Rockstar Song: "Truckin'"
  • 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.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The band was scheduled to play at Altamont, but bailed after hearing that Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane was knocked out trying to break up a fight between the Hell's Angels The Rolling Stones had hired to do security and the audience, as seen in the Gimme Shelter documentary.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: "Ripple" -> "Brokedown Palace". "Scarlet Begonias" -> "Fire on the Mountain" became a particularly famous one in concerts, and became a much sought after pairing for fans. They would do this a lot when playing live, to the point where the "Scarlet -> Fire" coupling is usually indexed as the same track, and in the February 13, 1970, show, they played three consecutive songs ("Dark Star", "That's It for the Other One", "Turn On Your Love Light") that lasted a combined ninety minutes.
  • Sixth Ranger: Despite not actually being a performing 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. Garcia and Weir both considered Hunter to be an official member of the band, even though his role was as a songwriter.
    • 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).
  • Solo Side Project: Guitarist Jerry Garcia released several solo albums, and also had several side projects, including Saunders and Garcia (rock and funk), Old and In the Way (bluegrass), and Wales and Garcia (free jazz). All this while still remaining a member of The Grateful Dead.
  • Something Blues: About a dozen different songs.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Averted; there is no "The" in the band's official name, even though it's almost always used when referring to them colloquially. Look at pretty much any album sleeve, though, and it won't be there.
  • Straw Vulcan: The soldier in "Terrapin Station".
  • The Chick: Donna Godchaux, backing vocalist and wife of keyboardist, Keith Godchaux
  • Train Song: "Casey Jones", written about the legendary machinist Casey Jones who prevented a train accident, but lost his own life as a result.
  • Uncommon Time: "Uncle John's Band" contains a riff in 7/4 (including the passage that closes off the song), and also frequently skips a beat during the verses, inserting a measure of 3/4 into passages that are otherwise in Common Time.
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend: In their version of "Stagger Lee".
  • Wanderlust Song: "Friend of the Devil".
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "China Cat Sunflower"

Alternative Title(s): Grateful Dead