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Grateful Dead Biography

Last updated: 12/09/2013 06:53:53 AM

The Grateful Dead were a San Francisco area based rock music group active between the years 1965-1995. Famous for their involvement at Ken Kesey's Acid Tests, their free concerts in the Haight Ashbury, as well as playing the largest festivals of Monterey and Woodstock, The Grateful Dead were a cultural phenomenon like no other. They released over 20 records, sold more than 35 million worldwide, a Grammy, several movies, and a top ten hit. Their real impact comes in the thousands of live shows recorded by the millions of fans known as 'Dead-Heads'. The original four members of Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzman played from the beginning until retiring the name on Garcia's death.

Jerry Garcia : guitar, MIDI, vocals. Jerome John "Jerry" Garcia was born August 1, 1942 into a San Francisco musical home, the youngest of two boys. His father 'Joe' had once tried unsucessfully to gain entry into the strong musicians union of the 1950's. After his father's death at age five, life changed for young Jerry while his mother struggled to support him and his brother. For his 15th birthday, he asked his mother for an electric guitar, and soon got busy learning all the late 50's radio standards of Elvis, rock-a-billy, and folk. By April 1961, after a short stint in the U.S. Army, Garcia met Robert Hunter, who would later become a long-time lyrical co-collaborator with the Grateful Dead. It was about this time (1962) that Jerry also first met future bassist Phil Lesh, during a party in Menlo Park's bohemian Perry Lane neighborhood (where Ken Kesey lived). In 1963 with Ron 'Pigpen' McKernan & Bob Weir (among others) Jerry helped form "Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions". After recording in July 1964, then disbanding, they later added Bill Kreutzmann and Phil Lesh, to become 'The Warlocks' the birth of the Grateful Dead. Playing banjo, pedal steel guitar and anything else needed, young Jerry brought a rich backround of bluegrass and folk standards to his new bandmates. Garcia went on to play with many musicians throughout his more than 30 year career, including, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, Jerry Garcia Band, and many sessions and studio works. Jerry Garcia died August 9, 1995.

Bob Weir : guitars, vocals. Robert Hall Weir was born October 16, 1947 in San Francisco, CA but raised in the nearby suburb of Atherton, CA. The youngest of the original Grateful Dead members, Bob was just 16 on New Year's Eve 1963 when he met fellow guitarist Jerry Garcia and Ron (Pigpen) McKernan in what later was known as "Mother McCrees Uptown Jug Champions". Throughout 1964, with great influence from The British Invasion, they began to evolve into a more rock oriented sound, becoming "The Warlocks". With the addition of Phil Lesh on bass, and Bill on drums, they finally became known as the Grateful Dead. Bob also had a distinguished parallel career with solo albums such as "Ace" and "Heaven Help the Fool" With side bands like "Kingfish", "Bobby and the Midnites", "Ratdog" and a duo project "The Other Ones" with Rob Wasserman. In September 2009 he teamed with former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, to create "Further". As of 2013, Bob has enjoyed a rich 50 year career in recording, touring and playing music.

Ron 'Pigpen' McKernan : Hammond organ, harmonica, vocals. Ronald C. McKernan was born September 8, 1945 in San Bruno CA, the son of a R&B disc jockey. As a youth, he taught himself piano, and immersed himself in the R&B standards dominating the local airwaves. Attending Palo Alto High School, he picked up the nickname 'Pigpen' and grew up in a racially diverse environment, a bit unique for the day. Frequenting bars that catered to blues music and African-American culture, Ron soon was involved with "Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions". Staying together with Bob & Jerry, Ron would later form The Grateful Dead with the addition of Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann. They quickly became the house entertainment for Ken Kesey's 1965/66 Acid Tests. Fueled by the current 'beat' of long improvisational jazz, Bill Graham helped introduce them to the psychedelic ballrooms of the Haight Ashbury scene, along with the Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. His final show with the Dead was on June 17 1972. Ron died March 8,1973. He was 27.

Phil Lesh : bass. Phillip Chapman Lesh was born March 15, 1940 in Berkeley, CA. Also coming from a musical family, he started out as a violin player, and later switched to the trumpet in high school. (A snippet of Lesh on trumpet can be heard on "Born Cross-Eyed" from the Grateful Dead's 1968 release Anthem of the Sun.) While a college student he met then-bluegrass banjo player Jerry Garcia. Despite differing musical interests, they formed a friendship and eventually Lesh was talked into becoming the bass guitarist for Garcia's new rock group, then known as the Warlocks. Soon after joining, while browsing in a record store, Phil noticed that another group had made a record under the name Warlocks when he found their single on Columbia Records. They quickly changed their name to the Grateful Dead, and the rest as they say is history. Phil was the bassist for the Grateful Dead until 1995. After the disbanding of the Grateful Dead, Lesh continued to play with its offshoots "The Other Ones" and "The Dead" as well as performing with his own band, "Phil Lesh and Friends". In September 2009 he joined former Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir to form "Further". Phil is also an outspoken advocate for the donation of organs, himself being the recepient of a donor liver, and involved with the Unbroken Chain Foundation.

Bill Kreutzmann : percussion. William "Bill" Kreutzmann, Jr. was born May 7, 1946 in Palo Alto CA. Bill started playing drums at the tender age of 13. By the end of 1964 he had helped co-found the band The Warlocks, along with Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan and Phil Lesh. Their first paying gig was May 5, 1965, two days before Kreutzmann's nineteenth birthday. During the band's early days, Kreutzmann sometimes used a fake draft card with the name "Bill Sommers" to be admitted to bars where the band was playing, since he was underage. In November 1965, the Warlocks became the Grateful Dead, and Bill went on to sit behind every Grateful Dead show until their end in 1995. More recently Bill has also rejoined his former bandmates with "The Other Ones" & "The Dead".

Mickey Hart : percussion. Michael Steven Hartman was born September 11, 1943 in Brooklyn NY. Mickey joined The Grateful Dead in September 1967, and for nearly thirty years was a percussionist with the band, and many other incantations. Nicknamed 'The Rythym Devils' he and fellow drummer Bill Kreutzmann pioneered a two drummer attack that was quite rare at the time. Mickey is also a trustee at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, the executive producer of the World series of music for Rykodisc, founder of "Planet Drum," author of Drumming at the Edge of Magic, Planet Drum, and Spirit into Sound, and composer of film scores, including the percussion soundtrack to "Apocalypse Now." His latest album is called "Spirit into Sound." He won the first World Music Grammy ever awarded, for his recording, Planet Drum.

Keith Godchaux : vocals, keyboards. Keith Richard Godchaux was born July 19, 1948 in Seattle WA. Keith played instruments from an early age, and began to sit-in with The Dead in 1971. When the original organist Ron's health began to deteriorate, Keith would take over the keyboard duties, occasionally together. By 1972 he and his wife Donna had joined The Grateful Dead permanently, and also played many solo concerts with the Jerry Garcia Band. After the departure of both the Godchaux's from the Grateful Dead in 1979, Keith died July 23, 1980.

Donna Godchaux : vocals. Donna Jean (Thatcher) Godchaux-MacKay was born August 22, 1947. With her husband Keith, she was a member of the Grateful Dead from 1972-79.

Brent Mydland : keyboards. Brent Mydland was born October 21, 1952 in Munich Germany. The son of a U.S. Army chaplin, young Brent moved to the San Francisco bay area when he was one. Playing instruments from an early age, Brent had musical experience prior to becoming the keyboardist for the Bob Weir Band. He was later asked to join the Grateful Dead in 1979 with the departure of the Godchaux's. Brent occupied the keyboards longer than any of the previous players at eleven years, and enjoyed a great resurgence the band experienced through the 1980's. He also played with "Bobby and the Midnites" and wrote several Grateful Dead songs including, I Will Take You Home. Brent died July 26, 1990.

Bruce Hornsby : vocals and keyboards. In 1987 Hornsby and his then-band "the Range" opened for the Dead near Monterey, and his relationship with the Dead progressed from there. Impressed with his music, Garcia sat in on several of Hornsby's albums, and when the Dead sought assistance in the keyboard realm in 1990, Hornsby ended up being a "permanent part-time" member of the band for the next two years. He is of course the notable singer, composer and pianist of such tunes as "The Way It Is," "The End of The Innocence (with Don Henley), and "Harbor Lights." He's been nominated for 10 Grammys and won three.

Vince Welnick was born February 21, 1951 in Phoenix Arizona. Prior to joining The Grateful Dead, Vince played most notably with The Tubes in the 1970's and 80's, and also recorded with Todd Rundgren. Vince shared the keyboard duties with Bruce Hornsby for nearly 100 shows before taking over permanently in 1992. He remained the keyboardist with The Grateful Dead until 1995 when Jerry Garcia died. Vince died June 2, 2006.

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