"What a long, strange trip it's been." This is a lyric from one of the Dead's best known songs and embodies the long history of this band. The Dead is composed of former members of the Grateful Dead, an innovative band in psychedelic and country rock. The Grateful Dead were best known for their cult-like following, trance-inducing songs and drug use. When Jerry Garcia died in 1995, the remaining members disbanded to pursue other projects. The band's recordings include 1967's The Grateful Dead, 1970's American Beauty and 1987's In the Dark.
The Dead had its genesis as Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions with guitarists Garcia, Bob Weir and keyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. In 1965 the group changed it name to the Warlocks, and their line-up included Phil Lesh on bass and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. This was to become the first personnel for The Grateful Dead, as they became known later that year. At this time The Grateful Dead were already the house band at author Ken Kesey's Acid Tests, which were public LSD parties (this was prior to the drug's criminalization). Their music was a hybrid of rock, blues and R&B, with extended improvisation. Because of a huge local following, The Grateful Dead signed with MGM records in 1966, but their demo sessions were unproductive and the label dropped them. In 1967 The Grateful Dead signed with Warner Bros. and finally released a debut LP, The Grateful Dead. They also performed at the Monterey Pop Festival that year, and added second drummer Mickey Hart. The Grateful Dead became popular on the strength of their live performances and improvisations, and after trying to capture the feeling of those performances on two more records, they released a live album Live/Dead in 1969.
Following Live/Dead, The Grateful Dead issued two classic 1970 studio albums, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, which focused on the group's country and folk roots. The two albums contained some of The Grateful Dead's most popular songs -- "Uncle John's Band," "Casey Jones," "Sugar Magnolia" and "Truckin'," and were heavily drawn from in their concerts for years to come. Their live shows became increasingly popular, with many fans, known as Deadheads, following them from city to city. They released two more live albums in the next two years, finishing up their Warner Bros. contract.
In 1973, Pigpen McKernan, died of liver failure. McKernan was replaced by Keith Godchaux. Godchaux brought his wife Donna with him to sing backing vocals for the group. The Dead started their own label, Grateful Dead Records, and released two more albums. They took a break from touring in 1973 so the members could focus on solo music. The Grateful Dead returned in 1976, now on Arista Records. In 1979, Keith and Donna Godchaux were asked to leave because of Keith's drug problems, and he died a year later. Brent Mydland replaced him on keyboards.
The Dead recorded another studio album with Arista, Go To Heaven in 1980, and although they continued touring, The Grateful Dead did not return to the studio for seven years until 1987's In the Dark, which became an unlikely hit, and the Dead had their first Top 10 single with "Touch of Grey." A new younger generation of fans became Deadheads, and the band became one of the biggest touring acts in the US.
In 1990, Mydland died of a drug overdose and he was replaced by ex-Tubes keyboardist Vince Welnick and also by Bruce Hornsby. The Grateful Dead continued played to huge audiences for five years until the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995, after which the group disbanded. Weir and Hart started the Furthur Festival in 1996 an annual summer tour headlined by their bands Ratdog and Mystery Box. The remaining members of the Grateful Dead also toured in 1998, without Kreutzmann, as the Other Ones.
In February 2003, Weir, Lesh, Hart and Kreutzmann announced they would be touring once again, this time as The Dead, in respect of Garcia. The tour was very successful, but the band took a hiatus between 2004 and 2008, not performing together again until February 2008 at the concert “Deadheads for Obama” and again in October 2008 in “Change Rocks”, another concert for the Obama campaign. Now Warren Haynes and Jeff Chimenti are joining The Dead for a 2009 tour that’s sure to be a huge success.
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