The Grateful Dead: A Synopsis
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Jerry Garcia from the Outer Mission

Jerry Garcia the early years in the Outer Mission 

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the most successful touring band in the history of rock n roll
 

 
"The key element, the thing that sets the Dead apart from any other rock band, is improvisation. It's an all-American musical melting pot, drawing from an astonishing variety of sources and undertaking musical conversations in many voices at once."

Dawn of the Deadheads by David Gans 1983

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Anthems to Beauty
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The best documentary about the Dead on DVD. Follow the Dead as they grow from making the psychedelic Anthems to the Sun to their great classic, American Beauty.

"They're a band beyond description,
like Jehovah's favorite choir.
People join in hand in hand while the music plays the band
Lord, they're setting us on fire
"


-- "The Music Never Stopped" by John Barlow and Bob Weir

 

"When I'm playing, I'm in the now, and I experience how I am feeling right there on stage, and sometimes I'm able to get into a state of 100% bliss. It's a really joyous, serene place." -- Bill Kreutzmann more
 
 

Jerry Garcia played with a number of acts between 1960 and 1965 before finding the musicians who would become The Warlocks, and later the Grateful Dead. The Warlocks made their debut at Magoo's pizza house in 1965.

In 1966 the Greatful Dead were full of hope as the house band at Ken Kesey's Acid Tests. The definitive chronicle was  Tom Wolfe's best selling book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

The Dead lived at 710 Ashbury Street, and became synonymous with the 1967 Summer of Love cultural movement centered in the San Francisco Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The group took influences from all over -- rock, country, folk and blues -- and forged a defining sound.

"American Beauty remains the favorite studio record of many fans and members of the band, mustering, as it does, all the resources at our command in a futile but game response to the rising tide of commercially safe music which had already begun a counter-mission to recover its monopoly of the American airwaves and record racks in the '70's. "
Robert Hunter lyricist
at amazon

The struck a record deal wirh Warner Brothers in 1967, but soon teetered on the edge of collapse. They had been only fairly successful in selling albums, but good at running up huge studio bills while experimenting with their music.

Then came 1970's Workingman's Dead, followed soon after by American Beauty (Nov 1970).
The Dead played their ace, seeming to break with their psychedelic past while tapping into their early history in folk. In the process, the Dead did their best harmony work. Many songs have become classic anthems that tapped into the American frontier and underdog ethos. These two albums have remained the cornerstone of the Dead's live repertoire. Among the most popular songs are "Uncle John's Band," "Casey Jones," "Sugar Magnolia" and "Truckin.'"

During the recording of American Beauty Jerry's mother Ruth was in an automobile accident and died after spending some time in the hospital. Phil Lesh's father had recently died as well. The resulting bittersweet harmonies and earthy tone mixed with the wisdom of the ages made many Dead fans for life.

Although the Dead's albums did will from 1970 onward, it was their live shows that did the real selling. At the center of the live shows was always Garcia's fluid guitar playing. The music could shift in any direction as the Dead sought what the band and its fans called the "X factor": spontaneous, revelatory stretches of music arrived at through practice and serendipity. Because of this ethos, a song was never played the same way twice. The band toured practically nonstop from its inception, attracting legions of  peace-minded men and women who came to be known as Deadheads. Many followed the Dead around the country for years, creating a mobile culture centered around the group.

1973's Wake of the Flood was the first release on the new Grateful Dead Records imprint. Around the time of its follow-up, 1974's Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel, the group took a hiatus from the road in order to allow its members the opportunity to pursue solo projects. The group reformed soon enough to make 1977's Terrapin Station. In 1978 the Grateful Dead performed at the foot of the Great Pyramid in Egypt. The Dead went full-dancing bearsteam until the mid-1980s, at which point they took another hiatus. Despite their phenomenal success and legion of devoted fans, The Dead had only one top 10 hit, 1987's "Touch of Grey." The song featured the Garcia-sung chorus proclaiming "I will survive." They also toured with folk-rocker Bob Dylan, a stint which has been commemorated on the 1989 album Dylan and the Dead.

Around this time, Garcia had begun pursuing artistic avenues such as painting. His collection of designer neckties were quite successful and remain so today. Another spiritually connected guitarist from the Mission, Carlos Santana, has eclipsed Jerry Garcia in shelf space devoted to his own line of ties at the Macy's store in downtown San Francisco.

Despite debilitating physical conditions sparked by chronic sleep apnea, heart disease, carpal tunnel syndrome, a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit and a late-in-life addiction to heroin, a weary Garcia had to keep playing to support the fattened payroll of the extended Dead family. In 1995, the Grateful Dead operation included 30 fulltime employees and was grossing $50 million a year supporting deadhead fans, with The Grateful Dead performing with up to 85 times per year.

On Aug. 9, 1995, Garcia died in his sleep at a drug treatment facility in Northern California. He'd been admitted to battle his heroin addiction, although a heart attack was given as the cause of Garcia's death. Mourners flooded the streets all over the nation, especially in San Francisco.

The rest of the Dead (Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Bob Weir, Jeff Chimenti, Rob Barraco, Jimmy Herring) disbanded for a while, but soon began touring as The Other Ones. In 2003 they start calling themselves The Dead for the Summer Getaway 2003 tour. Joan Osborne joined the band on vocals.

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"Not that there aren't easy roads into Deadian wilderness. Friendships, hardship, love, death, work, faith, hope and charity all figure into the text. Among other subtexts, the Dead's depictions of outsiders are masterful: outsider status becomes an expansive, encompassing all.
"Even after their untimely demise, the Grateful Dead have continued to release classic music; i.e. One From the Vault, Dick's Pick, Vol. 4, and Fallout From The Phil Zone. What Dead heads have always argued - that the band was best represented on stage - probably will prove true, but this argument has helped disguise the fact that the band's original releases, given the band member's individual musical styles, and their rarified ensemble playing, are generally underrated. The work that started with Live/Dead (1970) and ended, four years later, after seven albums and various solo projects, is one of the most sustained periods of creativity for any sixties' rock band."

 

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