Monday, January 25, 2010

#4 A Long Strange Trip with The Grateful Dead

Behold, the pioneers of psychedelic space cowboy jam-rock!

Seriously though, what could you possibly say to describe the Grateful Dead. They flawlessly combine rock with folk, country, bluegrass, blues, jazz, psychedelia, even a little reggae and they take it all and push it through the meat grinder and beam it out into space. Space is accurate because they really did take music where it had never been before. Their musical influences were so varying between them that their live shows often became monstrous jam sessions. Each of them adding different bits here and there like musical warlocks creating some vast brew to hypnotize their audience.

I won't even get into much of their history because to talk about the history of the dead you have to get into the entire 60's phenomenon that was San Francisco in the mid to late sixties. If you want to know more about them I suggest reading the book "Living with the Dead" by Rock Skully and David Dalton or the book Living With The Dead by Dennis McNally. Or you can always check out their wiki the Grateful Dead. The Dead were part of the force behind it all. Their early music (in the mid 1960s) was part of the process of establishing what 'Psychedelic' was, but theirs was essentially a 'street party' form of it. They developed their new sounds as a result of meeting Ken Kesey in Palo Alto and subsequently becoming the house band for the Acid Tests he staged. This 'Acid Rock' sound began to take shape and by the late 60's had fueled there journey to become the phenomenon that was and is The Grateful Dead.

I first got into the dead as an early teen, but gave up on them mostly because they seemed too country. But after growing up a bit and expanding my musical horizons, not to mention taking more then my share of psychedelics, I began to let go of my old musical prejudices with a little help from some older friends that were into the classics. I also read that book by Rock Skully about them and it was such an awesome story that I had to get into them more. One of the things I love about the Dead is that they can save your life. If you are having a bad time, suffering heart break, feeling alone, or even having a really bad drug trip, The Grateful Dead can quite literally save you. That's one of the reasons they have the sound they have. They learned to play this way at Kesey's Acid Tests and they would play to keep people from going insane, though they would often let you go a little crazy before bringing it all back home.

These guys can play anything and were guided for the majority of the last 40 years by Jerry Garcia, or as he was sometimes known, 'Papa Jerry'. Jerry was one of the greatest 'Gods of Rock' that there has ever been (Ranking 13 on Rolling Stones 100 Greatest Guitarist of all time).
Other reasons to dig the Dead include: They had two drummers playing at once; Terrific base lines that weave beautifully through the songs; some of the most beautiful and ranging vocal performance of songs giving lots of range depending on the mood of the track; Outstanding keyboard work that offers some of the best work I have ever heard in rock and roll; and ENOURMOUS instrumental solos that would often be improvisatory jam sessions live on stage that would sometimes go on for more then a half hour before launching back into the song like they had never left it.

The Facts:

-22 official albums between 1967 and 1990
-A lyricist you never saw. Robert Hunter wrote most of their lyrics often with help from Jerry or one of the others.
-One of the only bands so good they created their own sub-culture (see Dead Heads)
-FREE BOOTLEGS! go to ( I recommend the mid to late 70's thats my fave Dead era. This site is awesome and is testimony to the deadication of the fans

My Fave Album:

-It would have to be American Beauty (1970) which is also usually regarded as their studio masterpiece.
-It was their Fifth album, but really the one where they began exploring the folk rock sounds they had begun with 'Working Man's Dead' the year before.
-Stand out tracks for me include: Box of Rain (A beautiful song by Hunter and Lesh); Friend of the Devil (one of my all time favorite Grateful Dead songs); and Ripple (stunningly beautiful folk song infused with a touch of the glow of the 60's)

-Also, I have to mention for live albums, I really enjoy 'The Closing of Winterland' (1978) its a 3 set show that has some of my favorite versions of songs such as: Scarlet Begonias; Fire on the Mountain; and Playing in the Band.

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