In 1965, Grateful Dead was initiated by Jerry Garcia in California. Before they decided their band to be named Grateful Dead, they named themselves “Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions” and “Warlocks.” Their recorded albums band most especially their tours, made them a popular rock band in music history.
Until now, many “Deadheads” or the Grateful Dead’s fans still enjoy listening to the band’s music and continue purchasing their albums and merchandise like Grateful Dead t-shirts. There has to be something about this group that catches music lovers’ attention. Here is a brief history of the great band, the Grateful Dead.
Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions
Grateful Dead had its beginning in 1964 with guitarist Jerry Garcia, drummer Bill Kreutzman, and guitarist Bob Weir. It was said that Garcia and Kreutzman met at a local music store and instantly became good friends. Weir, on the other hand, was Garcia’s friend and student while working at the same music store as a guitar teacher. Later on, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan for the keyboards and Phil Lesh for bass were invited to join the band that was first named as “Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions”, which Garcia initiated.
The band’s type of music was so varied. They played just about any music genre during their time, including folk, rock. country, blues, bluegrass, reggae, jazz, and psychedelia. Almost every popular band in town went electric and soon they decided to go electric , too, as encouraged by Pigpen. With this transformation, they changed their band name to “The Warlocks” and hired Phil Lesh as their bassist. They had their first performance on May 1965 at Magoo’s Pizza in Menlo Park, California. The group later decided to change their name after Lesh found out that another band who had signed a recording contract also named themselves “The Warlocks.”
The Grateful Dead
Hence, the name “Grateful Dead” came to being, randomly taken from a dictionary. This term was described as “the soul of a person who died penniless, showing gratitude to a good Samaritan who arranged his burial as an act of charity.” The group performed many free concerts that gathered lots of fans.
Later on in 1966, they signed with MGM and recorded some demos, which unfortunately did not please the label, forcing them to drop the band off. In 1967, they signed up with Warner Brothers, and launched their first album. It was a failure, not being able to capture the spirit of their live performances. Later that year, the band decided to include in their line-up Mickey Hart as their second drummer and Tom Constanten as their second keyboard player to assist Pigpen who was having a severe drinking problem this time.
Their second album called “Anthem of the Sun” was launched in 1968 with success to the music scene, but was said to have left them over a hundred thousand debt to Warner Brothers. In a effort to raise money, they heeded the advice of many fans and recorded a “live” album, called “Live/Dead”. It was followed by other successful albums, entitled “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty,” which are said to be foundation of their many concerts that follow in the coming years. It reflected the band’s effervescent folk and country roots.
Even though the recent recorded studio albums proved to be successful, they decided to record another live album, which was self-titled, followed by “Europe ‘72.” More fans were attracted to their music and called themselves “Deadheads.” Later that year, the band ended their contract with Warner Brothers.
In 1973, the ailing Pigpen finally died of liver failure caused by alcohol abuse. The band hired Keith Godchaux and wife Donna for vocals to replace Pigpen. Later that year, they released another album called “Wake of the Flood,” which showed their jazz influence, followed by “Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel” in 1974. After that album, the group took a short hiatus to give members a chance to work on solo projects.
The band went touring again in 1976 and launched their album “Terrapin Station” under Clive Davis’ Arista Records. In late 1979, the group dismissed Keith and Donna Godchaux as Keith started using hard drugs and Donna often sang off-key during concerts. They hired Brent Mydland as their new keyboard player. In 1980 they released another album called ” Go to Heaven,” which was said to be a weak album. Although the band were less successful with their albums, they still proved to be popular with their tours during the 80s. It was also during these days that the band members started to go into drugs. Garcia was addicted to Heroin and his concert performances declined because of his drug abuse. In July 1986, he collapsed and had diabetic coma, but regained consciousness after a few days.
1987 was a great year for the group as they released their album “In the Dark”, with their hit single “Touche of Grey” reaching the Top Ten charts in the US. It was their first ever single to reach the US charts. Their videos became popular in MTV and the Deadheads suddenly grew in number. More and more fans flock to their concerts, but this time, the fans who used to be calm, were more active. More police encounters were also observed. During this time, the Dead were making lots of money with their tours and was labeled as one of the top money-makers in US. They even had a live album with Bob Dylan called “Dylan and the Dead.”
In 1989, the group recorded another studio album called “Built to Last,” following the death of Brent Mydland in 1990. He was replaced by Vince Welnick on keyboards. The Dead went around touring until the band breaks up in August 1992 when Garcia was diagnosed with exhaustion and enlarged heart. The group reunited in December of the same year and continued with their tours. The shocking news came on the 9th of August 1995, when Garcia was again found comatose, but this time without a pulse in a treatment facility in Marin County. With Garcia’s death, the rest of the members announced that they decided to just break up.
Despite the break up, the members have had several reunions with other musicians. Many of their classic live performances were also released. Even until now, many Grateful Dead fans continue to enjoy and listen their music and watch their videos.