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aka: Grateful Dead

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"Our audience is like people who like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice."
Jerry Garcia

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/grateful_dead_1970.png
Truckin’, circa 1970. Left to right: Bill Kreutzmann, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Phil Lesh.
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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 core 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 and continuing, in order with Tom Constanten, Keith Godchaux, Brent Myland, Vince Welnick and - on occasion - Bruce Hornsby. Godchaux's wife Donna Jean also joined the Dead as a backing vocalist shortly after he did, and they both left the group together to be replaced by Myland. Aside from the keyboardists, whose tenures in the band sometimes overlapped into a dual-keyboards lineup, the band's membership was largely stable between 1967 and its split in 1995.

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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”. Lesh, McKernan, Donna Jean Godchaux and Myland all acted as additional backing and lead vocalists where needed.

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. Hunter is considered to be an official member of the Dead, to the point where he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of the band, while Barlow's official status is less clear. They also had an enormous library of covers, especially traditional Americana and blues, plus more modern country and rock pieces.

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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 setlist (they had a gigantic concert repertoire and are documented to have played more than five hundred different songs in their thirty-year existence, with around a hundred songs in rotation at any given time), 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, Anthem of the Sun, Workingman’s Dead, and American Beauty) 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 was 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, and they have performed under other names as The Band Minus the Face (e.g., The Other Ones, The Dead, Furthur, Dead & Company, etc.).

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. Although Phish were heavily influenced by the Dead, the two bands sound very different, as fans of either will point out. While both were primarily psychedelic rock bands, Phish were also heavily influenced by British prog-rock bands and Frank Zappa.

In 2015, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio was chosen as Garcia's stand-in for the "Fare Thee Well" shows, billed as the last time Weir, Lesh, Hart, and Kreutzmann would play Grateful Dead songs together. They were accompanied by Hornsby and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti, a member of Weir's band Ratdog who had been the keyboardist for many post-Dead reunion bands. Even if the Fare Thee Well band never officially used the Grateful Dead name, they didn't discourage its use either, and the shows were almost universally referred to as Grateful Dead shows. The five sold-out stadium shows made Fare Thee Well one of the biggest concert events of 2015, earning acclaim, major media coverage and grossing over $52 million in ticket sales.

Dead & Company - which features Weir, Hart, Kreutzmann, Chimenti, Oteil Burbridge and John Mayer (Lesh having declined a spot) - is the current touring iteration of the group, having formed shortly after the Fare Thee Well shows. The new band has surprisingly defied early fan skepticism (largely due to the presence of Mayer) by becoming one of the most popular touring acts of the past few years and easily the most successful of the post-Dead reunion groups.

The Internet Archive has a massive collection of live Grateful Dead recordings. The rights issues with the band’s music are sometimes complicated; as of early September 2017, audience recordings can be downloaded or streamed, while soundboard recordings can only be streamed.


Principal Members (Founding members in bold):

  • John Perry Barlow - lyrics (1971-1995, died 2018)
  • Tom "T.C." Constanten - keyboards, organ (1968-1970)
  • Jerry Garcia - vocals, guitar (1965-1995, died 1995)
  • Donna Jean Godchaux - vocals (1971-1979)
  • Keith Godchaux - keyboards (1971-1979, died 1980)
  • Mickey Hart - drums (1967-1971, 1974-1995)
  • Robert Hunter - lyrics (1967-1995, died 2019)
  • Bill Kruetzmann - drums (1965-1995)
  • Phil Lesh - bass, vocals (1965-1995)
  • Ron "Pigpen" McKernan - organ, harmonica, vocals (1965-1972, died 1973)
  • Brent Mydland - keyboards, vocals (1979-1990, died 1990)
  • Bob Weir - vocals, guitar (1965-1995)
  • Vince Welnick - keyboards (1990-1995, died 2006)
  • Bruce Hornsby (unofficial member) - piano (1988-1995, on-again-off-again)

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)
  • Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel (1974)
  • Blues for Allah (1975)
  • Terrapin Station (1977)
  • Shakedown Street (1978)
  • Go to Heaven (1980)
  • In the Dark (1987)
  • Built to Last (1989)

Compilations

  • Skeletons from the Closet: The Best of the Grateful Dead (1974)
  • What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been (1977)
  • The Arista Years (1996)
  • The Very Best of Grateful Dead (2003)
  • The Best of the Grateful Dead (2015)
  • Long Strange Trip: Motion Picture Soundtrack (2017)

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)
  • One from the Vault (1991)
  • Infrared Roses (1991)
  • Two from the Vault (1992)
  • Grayfolded (1994)
  • 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)
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, The Grateful Dead (2000)
  • Nightfall of Diamonds (2001)
  • Go to Nassau (2002)
  • The Closing of Winterland (2003)
  • Rockin’ the Rhein with the Grateful Dead (2004)
  • The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack (2005)
  • Truckin’ Up to Buffalo (2005)
  • Fillmore West 1969: The Complete Recordings (2005)
  • Live at the Cow Palace (2007)
  • Rocking the Cradle: Egypt 1978 (2008)
  • To Terrapin: Hartford ’77 (2009)
  • Crimson White & Indigo (2010)
  • Europe '72: The Complete Recordings (2011)
  • Sunshine Daydream (2013)
  • Wake Up to Find Out (2014)
  • 30 Trips Around the Sun (2015)
  • Cornell 5/8/77 (2017)
  • May 1977: Get Shown the Light (2017)
  • Pacific Northwest '73–'74: The Complete Recordings (2018)

There's also the Dick’s Picks series of retrospective live albums which (usually) 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-2000s, Dick’s Picks was discontinued (after thirty-six volumes!) and replaced with the Road Trips series, which is just the same thing with a different name. After seventeen Road Trips releases, that name was also retired and replaced with Dave’s Picks, named for the aforementioned David Lemieux. As of September 2017, there have been twenty-three of those. There is also a Digital Download series, which is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.


What a long, strange trope it’s been:

  • Aerith and Bob: The band's initial lineup had this: Jerry, Bob, Phil, Bill... and Pigpen. Later subverted when Pigpen was replaced by Keith and Donna.
  • After the End: “Morning Dew” consists of dialogue between the last man and woman surviving on the planet after a nuclear holocaust; it was inspired by the film On the Beach, according to its author, Bonnie Dobson (incidentally, it was the first song she’d ever written).
  • Artistic License – Biology: The "Touch of Grey" video. In real life, the hair follicles are rooted in the skin, meaning that skeletons wouldn't have them. If the filmmakers followed that rule, however, most of the band members would be borderline unrecognizable.
  • Avant Garde Music:
    • Mostly on Anthem of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa, the two albums Constanten appeared on. Constanten, a Terry Riley alumni, was a fan of prepared piano (think John Cage's piano sonatas) and tape looping, something most rock bands today don't do, so this was almost unheard of back then.
    • Grayfolded is another example: the band gave John Oswald unrestricted access to their live archives, and Oswald produced a medley of various performances of Dark Star.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: A lot of the band's business decisions were this, but the kicker is easily the "Wall of Sound" PA system they had in 1974. Designed by longtime sound engineer Owsley Stanley, the Wall was a sixty foot stack of speakers, with each instrument having its own channel (and in the case of Lesh's bass and Kreutzmann's drums, separate channels for different parts of the instrument) and with a particular focus on high quality sound. Unfortunately, the thing was a nightmare to take from show to show, and was retired when the band went on their touring hiatus.
  • Badass Boast: “New Minglewood Blues” is basically a long series of them.
    Well, I’m a wanted man in Texas
    Busted jail and I gone for good
    Well, I’m a wanted man in Texas
    Busted jail and I gone for good
    Well the sheriff couldn’t catch me
    But his little girl sure wished she could
  • 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 (named after Ken Kesey’s bus), and Dead & Company, an incarnation fronted by John Mayer.
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • Drummer Mickey Hart took a sabbatical from 1971 to 1974, making him the only member of the band to leave and then come back.
    • Lesser-known keyboardist Tom Constanten left the band in 1970, and never returned to the band permanently, but he sat in with the band for a few jams on 4/28/1971.
  • The Casanova: The narrator of “New Minglewood Blues” certainly seems to be one.
    My number one occupation is stealing women from their men.
  • Company Town: “Cumberland Blues”
  • Continuity Nod: Noah Lewis’ “New Minglewood Blues” was a staple of the Dead’s setlist throughout their career (it opens their famous Cornell ’77 gig, for example). It is so titled because Lewis had already written a song called “Minglewood Blues”, which had zero lyrics in common with it. The Dead’s arrangement kept the opening verse of “New Minglewood Blues”, but they typically added their own lyrics following it. The first album has a song entitled “New, New Minglewood Blues” for this reason (with the clear implication that it was the third in a series of “Minglewood Blues” songs), while Shakedown Street had “All New Minglewood Blues”. Despite this, their concert setlists typically stuck with the “New Minglewood Blues” title.
  • Cover Version: They had a gigantic repertoire of covers from a wide range of genres including folk, country, jazz, R&B, blues, classic rock, and many others. Around half their material in any given concert could be cover songs, and these often ranked amongst the band’s best loved material. They also Covered Up the original artist on several occasions.
  • 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 Khayyam), the Touch of Grey video, and the "Steal Your Face" skull.
  • 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.
  • Driven to Suicide: Implied to happen at the end of “Morning Dew”, since the narrator is considering walking outside unprotected in a nuclear wasteland and the final lines are "I guess it doesn't really matter anyway." Though it’s not explicitly stated as such, and it wouldn’t be even implicit to listeners who weren’t aware that the song is set after a nuclear holocaust.
  • 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 in length; in concert, the group often strung several songs together into a single jam that could run an hour in length or more.
    • A particularly celebrated example is the threesome of “Dark Star”, “That’s It for the Other One”, and “Turn On Your Love Light” from the band’s Fillmore East show on February 13, 1970 - they are a continuous ninety-minute performance with no gaps between the songs, each of which is thirty minutes long by itself. This show is considered one of the Dead’s best live shows ever, and these three songs are the main reason. (These three tracks are available on Dick’s Picks, Vol. 4, though it doesn’t include the whole show.)
    • By contrast, their studio work doesn't play this straight often (outside of Anthem); the average studio length is about 3-5 minutes, which is not particularly long by rock band standards. That said, there are some exceptions: "Viola Lee Blues" is 10:01, "What's Become of the Baby" is 8:12, "Candyman," is 6:14, and “Terrapin Station Part 1”, their longest studio effort, runs for 16:23.
    • The early '70s are commonly nicknamed their "space jazz" era because this was when they took their tendencies for this even further: this era has the longest versions of "Dark Star" (5/11/1972, at 47:11), "The Other One," (9/17/1972, at 39:07), and "Playing in the Band," (5/21/1974, at 46:26).
  • Fading into the Next Song: On their respective albums, “That’s It for the Other One” -> “New Potato Caboose”, “Alligator” -> “Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)”, “Ripple” -> “Brokedown Palace”. They would do this all the time live as well, to the point where some pairings became outright Siamese Twin Songs due to how frequently they appeared together. See below for examples.
  • Fingore: Jerry's brother accidentally cut off his middle finger while they were chopping wood at age 4. For the rest of his childhood he'd often show it off to other kids.
  • Four More Measures: One of the band members (it sounds like Weir) actually starts singing the first line of “Dancin’ in the Streets” four bars early in the Cornell ’77 performance (1:29 on the CD version).
  • Fun with Palindromes: Aoxomoxoa, though it doesn’t actually mean anything.
  • Gambling Brawl: In "Me & My Uncle", the uncle is accused of cheating in a poker game with some cowboys, one of whom starts to draw his gun, but the protagonist is quicker, manages to shoot all the cowboys, and he and his uncle escape with all the gold.
  • Grand Finale: The Fare Thee Well shows. Doubles a Milestone Celebration, as it was a reunion in time for their fiftieth anniversary.
  • Greatest Hits Album: Thanks to their lengthy tenure, they have four. The first of those, 1974's Skeletons from the Closet: The Best of the Grateful Dead, has sold three million copies and is the band's best-selling album to date.
  • Green Aesop: Many of their later songs, including “We Can Run” and “Throwing Stones”, have ecological themes.
  • Grief Song: “Birdsong” (for Janis Joplin, later modified to be about Jerry in the Fare The Well shows), “Cassidy” (for Neal Cassidy, an early friend of the band), and “Box of Rain” (for Phil Lesh's father)
  • Improv: The band is known for their long epic jams, which is also why they were better appreciated during live concerts. Alongside The Allman Brothers Band, they’re generally considered the best improvisers in ’60s & ’70s rock music, and they were famous for never playing a song the same way twice.
  • Lead Bassist: Lesh has elements of types A, B, and D. He sings some of the band’s best-known songs (e.g., “Box of Rain”) and performed in a melodic, contrapuntal style as though his bass were simply another guitar, as opposed to the simple timekeeping manner most rock bassists had used beforehand. This was actually fairly unusual in rock music at the time - arguably only the likes of Paul McCartney, Jack Casady, Jack Bruce, and James Jamerson were doing similar things with the instrument at that point. (Charles Mingus is another clear influence on Lesh’s playing, and he’s also credited Johann Sebastian Bach’s use of counterpoint as influencing his approach to his instrument.)
  • Lead Drummer: Kreutzmann and Hart are both types A and D. They're widely respected for their timekeeping abilities and mastery of the kits, and their polyrhythmic interplay was an essential ingredient to the Dead's sound. Hart also composed the instrumental parts to "Fire on the Mountain."
  • Limited Lyrics Song: Due to their extended jam sections, any of their songs is liable to end up as an example of this in concert. Many versions of “Dark Star” are half an hour or longer, and very little of that contains lyrics. This is compounded by the fact that sometimes the best-loved concert versions of songs were recorded before the band finished writing their lyrics – for instance, the Cornell ’77 “Fire on the Mountain” is generally regarded as being the definitive performance, and apart from a couple of lines, the third verse of the song hadn’t been written yet, so for the other lines, the band just repeats the first verse.
  • Long-Runner Line-up: Type 2: Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Brent Mydland, Phil Lesh, Robert Hunter, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart for 11 years, from 1979-1990.
  • Looks Like Jesus: Jerry, often.
  • 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.
  • Misogyny Song: The reason “Money Money” was only performed live a few times was that the band themselves quickly began to perceive it as one of these. In general, their work mostly averts this trope.
  • New Sound Album: They had a few. Some particularly conspicuous ones: Workingman’s Dead was their country album (more specifically, their Bakersfield sound album), while American Beauty was their folk album. After Pigpen’s death, Keith Godchaux’s addition to the band increased the jazz influence on their music, to the extent that some of their mid-’70s albums can almost be considered jazz fusion albums, and by the time of Blues for Allah they were at least dabbling in Progressive Rock. Terrapin Station, while further increasing the prog influence, also adds mild disco influence; the latter of these becomes even more pronounced on Shakedown Street. This is something of an oversimplification, though, as many of these albums are also cases of Genre Roulette to a certain extent; Terrapin Station features the gospel “Samson & Delilah” and the reggae “Estimated Prophet”.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Their sound combined elements of Psychedelic Rock, Folk Music, Country Music, blues, Space Rock, bluegrass, modal jazz, reggae, disco, Classical Music, and any number of other genres, depending upon what they felt like playing at the time. Due to their wide range of stylistic influences, while a number of jam bands have followed in their footsteps, the Dead’s sound remains unique.
  • Not Christian Rock: They are certainly not a Christian rock band, but they have covered gospel songs like “We Bid You Goodnight” and “Samson and Delilah,” and have used Christian imagery as the basis of their songs, most notably "St. Stephen."
  • Obligatory Bondage Song: “Hell in a Bucket”
  • Odd Couple: Keyboardists Tom Constanten and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan bunked together during the couple years that TC was the band's second keyboard player and they developed a close friendship. McKernan was your classic long-haired hippie in appearance and demeanor, and was a fan of blues and R&B. TC was an Air Force vet with neatly trimmed hair and a beatnik appearance, and was into classical Avant Garde Music and early electronica. The duo particularly grew close because neither used psychedelic drugs: They were the only two members not arrested in the infamous New Orleans drug bust that inspired "Truckin'" and led to Constanten's decision to leave the band.
  • 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.
  • Police are Useless: In their version of “Stagger Lee”; see Violently Protective Girlfriend below.
  • Posthumous Collaboration: Grayfolded, being composed of live performances throughout the band's history, is one for Pigpen, Keith Godchaux, and Mydland.
  • Precision F-Strike: In “Wharf Rat”:
    Half of my life I spent doin’ time
    For some other fucker’s crimenote 
  • Progressive Rock: While not generally considered to belong to the genre, they could be considered an Ur-Example with their complex time signature changes, their Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly approach to composition which incorporated influences from disparate genres (including some that are considered mandatory points of influence for prog groups, like jazz and classical), and their common usage of Epic Rocking. “That’s It for the Other One” is even divided into multiple movements, much as later prog groups would do; later compositions such as “Terrapin Part 1”, “King Solomon’s Marbles”, and “Blues for Allah” also do this. It’s possible geographical factors have contributed to their being written out of prog rock history, as American artists are often overlooked in histories of progressive rock (see also Todd Rundgren and Frank Zappa, amongst others; the latter is more frequently noticed than the Dead or Rundgren, but less so than the likes of King Crimson, Genesis, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Pink Floyd, and other British groups). Some critics have nonetheless contended that they belong to the genre, including this Pitchfork piece and Paul Hegarty & Martin Halliwell, authors of Beyond and Before, a 2011 history of progressive rock. The Dead's proggiest studio albums are probably 1975's Blues for Allah and 1977's Terrapin Station (oddly, probably also their most discofied album apart from the following year's Shakedown Street), with 1968's Anthem of the Sun (only one song below seven minutes in length!) deserving an honourable mention.
  • 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.
  • Rearrange the Song: This happened sometimes. Perhaps most notably, the bluegrass “Friend of the Devil” got a reggae arrangement in later years, starting sometime around the mid-to-late-’70s
  • Refrain from Assuming: Differences ranging from massive (it’s “Touch of Grey”, not “I Will Survive” or “I Will Get By”) to the extremely subtle (it’s “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo”, not “Half-Step Mississippi Uptown Toodeloo”).
  • Revenge Ballad: Their reworking of the classic song "Stagger Lee", in which the protagonist is forced into taking justice into her own hands.
    As Stagger Lee lit a cigarette she shot him in the balls
    Blew the smoke off her revolver, had him dragged to city hall
    Bayo, Bayo, see you hang him high
    He shot my Billy dead and now he's got to die.
  • Revolving Door Band: Downplayed; the band was infamous for its rotating keyboard spot, but apart from the occasional 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, Hart, 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. (Regardless, the Dead’s keyboard slot was probably the real-life inspiration for Spinal Tap’s rotating drummer slot, which - of course - took this trope Up to Eleven.)
  • Rock-Star Song: “Truckin’”, "Playing in the Band", "Uncle John's Band".
  • 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 Hells Angels The Rolling Stones had hired to do security and the audience, as seen in the Gimme Shelter documentary.
  • Shout-Out: They have quite a few. A few representative examples:
    • The chorus of “Loser” makes a lyrical reference to Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal Gone Down”.
    • The band’s publishing company is named Ice Nine Publishing, after the lethal MacGuffin of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (Vonnegut was one of Garcia’s favourite authors).
    • “Uncle John’s Band” makes allusions to the Gadsden Flag (the coiled snake with “Don’t Tread on Me”), the folk song “The Story the Crow Told Me”, and Robert Frost's “Fire and Ice”.
  • Siamese Twin Songs:
    • “Scarlet Begonias” -> “Fire on the Mountain” became a particularly famous one in concerts, and became a much sought after pairing for fans. They did this so consistently that the coupling is sometimes indexed as a single track.
    • “China Cat Sunflower” -> “I Know You Rider” were also almost always performed together during concerts - once the band started performing them that way, there were only two cases where they weren’t performed together for at least the next seven years.
    • “Lazy Lightning” -> “Supplication” were also usually performed together.
    • “Help on the Way” -> “Slipknot!” -> “Franklin’s Tower” were as well and, unlike the previous examples, appeared in that configuration even in their studio version on Blues for Allah.
    • Other songs are partial examples, as they were performed together sometimes, but not consistently; a particularly common one was “Dark Star” -> “Saint Stephen” -> “The Eleven” -> “Turn On Your Love Light”, which is represented in this form on Live/Dead and was still being performed that way the next year (the February 14, 1970 Fillmore East show is one example, where the combined four tracks lasted over an hour), and the surviving band members even performed them in this configuration in one of their 50th anniversary Fare Thee Well shows.
    • The sequence that really takes the cake was from the February 13, 1970, show, where 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. That said, this wasn’t a common succession of songs like the others above.
  • The 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. Garcia once described Hunter as "the band member who doesn't come out onstage with us." Weir's lyricist, John Perry Barlow, is another example for many of the same reasons.
    • The only member of the band not inducted as a band member also counts as a Sixth Ranger. Bruce Hornsby was the band’s keyboardist on-and-off during their last few years. Hornsby already had a successful career as frontman for the rock group Bruce Hornsby & The Range when he began playing with the Dead, and he spent most of the late 1980s and early 1990s balancing his time between the two groups. Despite his popularity with Deadheads, Hornsby never officially joined the Dead full-time, and Garcia considered him to be a floating member who could come and go as he pleased. However, he was selected as the band's induction presenter for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony.
  • The Smurfette Principle: The sole female member of the entire run was Donna Godchaux, backing vocalist and wife of keyboardist Keith Godchaux.
  • 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.
    • Weir also had a couple of his own: He's had a solo career that has produced three studio albums, including 2016's acclaimed Blue Mountain. He's also been the leader of the bands Kingfish (which he founded in 1973 and which continued without him when he quit in 1976), Bobby & The Midnites and his post-Grateful Dead band RatDog.
    • Keith and Donna released an album by that name in 1975, which Jerry Garcia guested on.
  • Something Blues: About a dozen different songs.
  • Special Guest: Occasionally, their sets would include one. Some notable ones include:
    • 2/11/1970 at Fillmore East had Gregg and Duane Allman, Butch Trucks, Berry Oakley, Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, and Mick Fleetwood joining the Dead for the Dark Star medley.
    • The Beach Boys on a few songs on April 27, 1971.
    • During the Pyramid Power shows on 9/14-16/1978, oudin player Hamza El Din joined them. He later rejoined them a month later for their Winterland sets.
    • Also a case of Crossover, throughout July of 1987, Bob Dylan toured with them. This was captured on Dylan and the Dead and View from the Vault Volume 4.
    • Saxophonist Branford Marsalis on several occasions, most famously March 29, 1990, an occasion for which they played “Dark Star” for the first time in around six months. This show is available as Wake Up to Find Out and as part of the Spring 1990 (The Other One) box set. Marsalis also performed with the band on at least New Year’s Eve 1990 and December 10, 1993.
    • 2/23/1993 @ Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum featured Ornette "The Shape of Jazz to Come" Coleman joining them for a few numbers.
    • A long list of guest spots can be found here.
  • 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 (and even on this very wiki). Look at pretty much any album sleeve, though, and it won’t be there.
  • Straw Vulcan: The soldier in “Terrapin Station” is introduced as having 'came through many fights, but lost at love.'
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Keith Godchaux, not known particularly for his singing ability, sang lead on Wake of the Flood's "Let Me Sing Your Blues Away" and co-lead on "Blues For Allah." He never sang live.
  • Strange Stage: They performed atop the Pyramids of Giza in 1978.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: The mother in “Jack-a-Roe” dresses up as a man to join the armed forces due to her concern for her son, which is justified, as it turns out; she finds him after he is wounded and ultimately ends up bringing him to a physician.
  • Titled After the Song: A fair chunk of their retrospective live albums after key lyrics in their songs, but not the titles themselves. For example, Wake Up to Find Out (their 3/29/1990 show) takes its title from "Eyes of the World," Get Shown the Light (their May 1977 tour collection) is from "Scarlet Begonias," and Believe If You Need It (various early '70s shows from the Pacific Northwest) is from "Box of Rain." There are some straighter examples as well, like So Many Roads, Truckin' Up to Buffalo, and Spring 1990 (The Other One).
  • 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: They used this a lot, to the point where David Crosby cited their experimentation with this trope as an influence on some of Crosby, Stills, Nash (And Young)’s later work.
    • “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.
    • Part of “Truckin’” is also in 7/4 (the “sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me” part; it switches back to 4/4 for the song’s most famous line, “What a long, strange trip it’s been”).
    • “The Eleven” gets its title from its 11/8 meter signature (usually 3+3+3+2/8 during the verses, though all kinds of polyrhythms and variations are played during the instrumental breaks).
    • “Playing in the Band” is in 10/4 (usually 4+4+2/4, but again, this can vary).
    • “Lazy Lightning” and “Supplication” are both in 7/4, which is probably one reason they were usually performed as Siamese Twin Songs.
    • “Estimated Prophet” is also in 7/4, and yet somehow manages to incorporate significant reggae influence at the same time.
    • “Viola Lee Blues” is an “eleven-bar blues” which essentially has five bars of 4/4 followed by a bar of 2/4, repeating.
    • Their versions of “Peggy-O”, at least in 1977, generally used patterns of 5+4+5+7/4 (adding up to 21/4).
    • “Terrapin Station” changes meter signatures several times. The opening segment is 4/4, but it’s mostly divided into five-measure patterns. It’s sometimes syncopated in a manner that makes it sound like it’s changing meter signatures more often than it does. Other parts stick 2/4 or 3/4 into otherwise 4/4 sections, and the instrumental ending segment is so rhythmically disorienting that it could be counted in a number of different ways, but can’t be subdivided into 4/4 (there’s either half an extra beat or a full extra beat, depending upon how one counts it).
    • “El Paso” is mostly in (4+3+4)/4 (11/4), with occasional extra bars of 4/4 as needed to suit the pacing of the song. This carries over from Marty Robbins’ original.
    • “Brown-Eyed Women” usually has patterns that can be counted as something like eight measures of 4/4 followed by one of 6/4, giving us a rhythm ultimately based on 19. (Another, perhaps more accurate division is seven measures of 4/4, one of 6/4, and one of 4/4.) It’s pretty subtle, though; if you aren’t paying attention, you probably won’t even notice.
    • Their rendition of “Morning Dew” would frequently open in 14/4 (or 7/4 depending upon how it’s counted), but it would switch to 4/4 by the time the vocals entered. The famous Cornell ’77 show contains an example.
    • “Unbroken Chain” is... complicated; see the link at the end of this list for a breakdown.
    • “Money Money” is mostly in 7/4, but at times they'll add or subtract a beat to the point where it can get extremely disorienting; again, see the link at the end of the list for further info.
    • The time signature of “Slipknot!” is... possibly even more complicated.
    • This undoubtedly isn’t a complete list; another attempt to create a list can be found here, but it too isn’t complete (for instance, it doesn’t list instrumentals, nor does it list songs that are mostly in Common Time but with a few measures that deviate from it).
  • Violently Protective Girlfriend: In their version of “Stagger Lee”; as revenge for her husband’s murder at the hands of the title character, she shoots him “in the balls” and then hands him off to law enforcement, who’d been afraid of him.
  • Vocal Tag Team: While Garcia is usually perceived as the frontman, he, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Pigpen, and others would trade off lead vocals most of the time. Garcia sang several of the band’s best-known songs (“Touch of Grey”, “Friend of the Devil”, “Ripple”, “Casey Jones”), but not all of them - for instance, Lesh sang lead on “Box of Rain”, Weir sang “Sugar Magnolia”, Weir and Garcia traded off lead vocals on “Truckin’,” "That's It For the Other One," and "Viola Lee Blues." Weir himself took solo lead on several of the band's most loved tunes ("New Potato Caboose," "Hell in a Bucket," "Sugar Magnolia," etc.) Pigpen also took many of the lead vocals early on (including several of their most loved jams and cover songs like “Turn On Your Love Light”, “Smokestack Lightnin’”, “Hard to Handle”, and “Good Lovin’”, plus studio cuts like “Operator”, “Easy Wind”, “Good Morning, Little School Girl”). Donna Jean Godchaux came on as a vocalist in 1971, but primarily stuck to being a backing vocalist, though she did sing lead on a few songs ("Sunrise," "From the Heart of Me") and co-lead on quite a lot of others (Terrapin's "Dancin' in the Streets," "Blues For Allah,"). When the Godchauxs left, Brent Mydland joined and provided his share of lead vocals ("Far From Me," "Easy to Love You," "Tons of Steel"), to the point of singing almost half of Built to Last. In fact, when Mydland died, his replacement Vince Welnick was selected primarily for his ability to sing Mydland's high harmonies. Overall, though, Garcia probably sang lead vocals most frequently, followed by Pigpen early on, Weir later, then Brent Mydland during the latter days.
    • Special mention goes to "Blues for Allah," where every member of the band at the time provided co-lead vocals to haunting effect.
  • Wanderlust Song: “Friend of the Devil”.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Robert Hunter has a propensity for this, most famously on “China Cat Sunflower”.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: The lyrics to “Comes a Time” boil down to this + The Power of Love.

Alternative Title(s): Grateful Dead

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