A Brief Early History of the Grateful Dead

A Brief Early History of the Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead had a thirty-year history of active playing, but their musical roots were laid even earlier and continue to grow to this day. Although the band began playing together officially as the Grateful Dead in 1965, it could be argued that the band really had its birth on the fateful day in 1960 when Jerry Garcia made the acquaintance of Robert Hunter, who would later collaborate with Garcia to write the stunning songs that made the Grateful Dead so great. Throughout the years, Hunter contributed lyrics for very many of the band's original tunes, including the much-loved Terrapin Station.

Playing music together with friends was nothing new to Jerry. In fact, both Bob Weir and Pigpen played with Jerry in the early 1960s as the folksy bluegrass band Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. Garcia played banjo, while Bobby took the guitar and Pigpen hit the keyboards. The band later added Bill Kreutzmann as a drummer and Phil Lesh as a bassist to complete their sound, and they dropped the Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions act in favor of a new group they called the Warlocks. It wasn't until late 1965 that the band became known as the Grateful Dead.

The band got their start playing free concerts in the San Francisco Bay area, which had become a mecca for cultural progressives and other artistic “hippie” types. In 1966, they were signed by MGM Records, but they were dropped before releasing an album. They were picked up again the next year, this time by Warner Brothers, and the band released its first, self-titled album “The Grateful Dead.” Though the album wasn't particularly well-received, the band had been making a name for itself where their live shows at venues like the Filmore took the concept of rock concert to new heights. Experimenting with psychedelics and pulling the audience into both the music and the culture, a Dead show wasn't just a show—it was an event. Their magnificent and mind-blowing performances were enough to land the band excellent word-of-mouth publicity, and after getting known and popular in the Bay area, the group was ready to hit the nation and then the world.

Although some of its members are no longer with us, the Grateful Dead is still going strong in spirit, with its music and its lessons continuing to thrive today.