The Grateful Dead was most likely the most diverse and cohesive band ever. They came to prominence from the Acid Tests of the ’60s and The Haight Ashbury scene to be signed to a Major Record Label.
Which for any other band would have been a great thing. For the Dead, this was more a science experiment in the early years. For the Record company, it was a nightmare. For instance, during the recording of their second album Bob Weir broke the mind of The Sound engineer by stating what they needed to do was go to a remote spot and record the sound of “Thick Air” as a Rythm track on the project. They knew from day one that they were a live band, and making records was a means to an end.
As Road manager Sam Cutler described Guitarist Jerry Garcia “Jerry was the only guitarist to fully bring the Psychedelic experience to an audience through the guitar.” Iconic Concert Promoter Bill Graham said, “The Grateful Dead are not the best at what they do, they are the only band that does what they do”.
Garcia being well versed in Bluegrass and folk music found an interesting base to Build from in his approach to the electric Guitar. He wove in a fabric of sound difficult to describe in any certain terms. Blues, 50’s Rock N Roll, Bluegrass, Jazz, and then his own glistening runs Made him one of the best improvisational players in music ever.
Bob Weir on as the old Blues players termed “2nd guitar Created his own Language and should never be called the Rhythm guitarist. From the outset he yes held down the Rythm but had a very different approach in that there were other elements in that style to counterpoint both Garcia and Bassist Phil Lesh.
As time progressed the band played a lot of guitars, Guild, Fender Stratocasters, Gibson 335’s ..Les Pauls, and SG’s. Weir stayed with an Ibanez Professional in the ’70s. Eventually, Garcia bought a guitar built by former Alembic design employee Doug Irwin called “Wolf” due to its cartoon sticker on the face of the instrument.
He quickly thereafter moved to commission Irwin to custom Build The “Tiger” and later “Rose” and “Lightning”. Weir discovered Modulus guitars and both were waiting in line to add any new sounds and textures as the music technology of Midi interfaces came along and allowed them to play Saxophone sounds on a guitar or really almost anything they wanted. Musical explorer’s tone end.
It takes years and decades to arrive at what The Dead became by the 1980s in that a Grateful Dead show encompassed most styles of music from their past be it the Masterful Songwriting from the truly Main commercial success of “Working Man’s Dead” which much to the surprise of their label they finally made a record that could get on the radio, to be able to call back the Tripped out songs and extensive jams from “Anthem of the Sun” and also tip the hat by throwing in classic songs by other famous artists Like Bob Dylan or even a song from the Motown era and make it all work.
They survived the 70’s despite a long break after running physically and financially ragged. Touring with the “Wall of Sound” another masterwork of Owsley (that’s right folks, he didn’t just make the best L.S.D.) he was more than that he was the man who wore many hats in the world. If you are not familiar with “the Wall of Sound” look into it. That behemoth was worthy of a book of its own.
Then in 1986, the weirdest thing happened. The Dead released an album “In the Dark” with the single and accompanied by the video for MTV “Touch of Grey” They had a hit record and new faces came to the shows. This was not planned nor did it help the Live concert experience. The new faces came to the Party and little else and this brought along with it Law enforcement to an almost equal extent.
I had the good fortune of Attending Shows in Ohio exclusively at Buckeye Lake Music Center, formerly known as Legend Valley. This location was a safe haven from the riots the Band was met within Stadiums across the United States.
From 1991 to 1994 there was only one negative experience that being the year 1992 which was a bit of a Dark Cloud year for the anarchy of the new troublemakers. Red White and Blue was not now a celebration, it was the sign of The Ohio State Patrol and County Sherriff’s dept.
We were in anticipation of another Gathering for 1995 which we did not get in Ohio. Jerry Garcia died on Aug 9th that year of a heart attack while in yet another rehab facility for his on and off love of Heroin. It was over, or so we thought.
10 years later came the “Fare thee Well ” tour with Phish guitarist and vocalist Trey Anastasio. The Ticket availabilities and prices were not within our budgets and there was a degree of cynicism involved by many. We did catch a few live streams and it was enjoyable. Once again thinking well that is that. Not so. The next move made was a shocker to many of us.
Dead and Company a new grateful dead
It was rumored there would be a member or two of the Original Dead playing some dates with …wait for it…John Mayer. I personally bristled at the idea. The Television appearance also reinforced to me someone has flat lost their mind. It didn’t jive. It was insanity. Dead and Company were born and I carried my attitude on for a while. I had a personal thing with John Mayer in the course of my own career and was admittedly Biased.
I had been at home dealing with some health issues for about nine months and had not been out of the house much and the telephone rang. My friend on the line says “I’m leaving for Riverbend in 10 minutes and I have a ticket if you want to go, but I need a yes or no now so I have time to pick you up if the answer is yes.” Yes was the answer.
I went to the show and left there with a totally new respect for Mayer. There are very few musicians who could even begin to step into that position and John Mayer has after 3 Dead and Company shows shown he not only gets it but along with Oteil Burbridge on Bass energized the band to remarkable levels. It has brought us back to remember the Glory days while living in the now and wondering what will be the next level? Mayer himself before the work said he was a singer and guitar player. The Dead made him a Musician. I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong.