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Grateful Dead Biography


Home > Music > G > Grateful Dead > Biography


Birth Place: San Francisco, California, U.S.
Years Active: 1965–1995
Genres: Rock


The Grateful Dead was an American rock band formed in 1965 in the San Francisco Bay Area. The band was known for its unique and eclectic style, which fused elements of rock, folk, bluegrass, blues, reggae, country, jazz, psychedelia, and space rock—and for live performances of long musical improvisation. The Grateful Dead's musical influences varied widely, in concert recordings or on record albums one can hear psychedelic rock, blues, rock and roll, country-western, bluegrass, country-rock, and improvisational jazz.

Originally known as The Warlocks, the founding members were Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals, Bob Weir on guitar and vocals, Phil Lesh on bass and vocals, Bill Kreutzmann on drums, and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan on organ, harmonica, percussion, and vocals. Pigpen died in 1973, but the other four remained with the band for its entire 30 year history. Second drummer Mickey Hart was also in the band for most of that time. Others who were band members at different times were keyboardists Tom Constanten, Keith Godchaux, Brent Mydland, and Vince Welnick, and vocalist Donna Jean Godchaux.

While they were together, from 1965 to 1995, the Grateful Dead released thirteen studio albums and nine contemporary live albums. The nine live albums were recently recorded and mostly contained previously unreleased original material. They filled the role of traditional studio albums, and were an integral part of the contemporaneous evolution of the band. (The Dead's second album, “Anthem of the Sun,” was an experimental amalgam of studio and live material.)

Their 1987 album “In the Dark” became unexpectedly popular. The peppy "Touch of Grey" became a top-ten hit on the Billboard Hot 100, the highest ranking the band would ever achieve, and a frequently played music video on MTV. "Hell in a Bucket" and "Throwing Stones" also achieved significant album-oriented rock radio airplay. The album itself reached the top ten of the Billboard 200 album chart, again the highest ranking the group would ever have.

In 1991, the band started releasing retrospective live albums, a practice that has continued to the present time. There are several series of these albums. The "traditional" live releases were created by remixing multitrack recordings of concerts. A second series of live albums, from 1993 to 2005, was “Dick's Picks,” concert recordings selected for their musical excellence but made using stereo recordings that did not allow the different musical parts to be remixed. These were followed starting in 2007 by a similar series called “Road Trips.”