“What a long, strange trip its been.” The Grateful Dead can best be described as the original non-genre jam band. Melding the elements of rock, folk, country, bluegrass, blues, gospel, jazz, reggae, experimental music, psychedelia, and space rock, they began in 1965 in the height of the counterculture movement in San Francisco. But as early as 1960, Guitarist and Lead Vocalist Jerry Garcia met Robert Hunter, who helped form the band’s lyrical image. While Garcia produced the music, Hunter wrote the lyrics.
While most know the band for being pioneers of weed and music culture, the roots of the Dead actually began with another drug: LSD. Ken Kesey, a local promoter, would hold public parties featuring copious amounts of the then-legal drug for the band and partygoers to enjoy.
While the band mostly performed concerts that were free in their early years, their disinterest in actually formulating a record lead the MGM Records reps to chase the band to get in the studio and produce something of worth, resulting in the record deal going south.
Festival after festival proved to be the Dead’s real draw: Show up, jam free-form, preach peace love and harmony, and move on. In fact, their debut album on Warner Brothers records didn’t even sell well. But somehow, as the 70s came along, the band managed to eek out 10 amazing albums of material with which to tour upon.
But it was the decade of the 80s that proved difficult for the band, with Garcia’s growing Heroin problem. By the mid-80s, Jerry had kicked the habit and managed to score a top 10 hit in the US with the band’s “Touch of Grey.” Though the high praise wouldn’t last, as the health of the band members including Garcia continued to decline. In fact, the band lost their third keyboardist by 1990 due to yet another drug overdose.
In both 1992 and 1995, Garcia once again experienced personal health issues that kept him and the band from the road. When he did hit the road, he often had trouble with diabetes-related pain that kept him from playing the guitar, and even had to be reminded what song he was playing at the time. Jerry Garcia passed due to a heart attack in a drug treatment facility in 1995 after being found in his room.
Today, the Dead are still active in some form, having toured recently with John Mayer as the frontman for Dead & Company.