The Story Behind Grateful Dead on ‘Playboy After Dark’

Grateful Dead Learn to Rock

In 1969, the Grateful Dead were still a year away from hitting it big. They were deeply inspired by the rock and roll movement in the '60s, with lead singer Jerry Garcia even saying at one point, "The Beatles were why we turned from a jug band into a rock 'n' roll band."

The Band
The band was still a year away from breaking through nationally, still blowing minds during local showcases but still struggling to convey their powerful live shows on record. Led by Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Bob Weir, the group was existing, but not thriving. The following year would change all of that.
The Other Members

Jerry Garcia was the de facto leader of the group. Bassist/vocalist Phil Lesh and guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir were the other faces of the group. But any Dead Head knows that the band reached great heights because of role players like drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, as well as percussionist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan.

Aoxomoxoa, released June 20th, 1969, was one of the first rock albums to be recorded using 16-track technology. It's widely considered to be the band's experimental apex. The title is a meaningless palindrome. Aoxomoxoa signals the band's ascent to mainstream popularity, the last gasp of their most experimental tendencies.
Aoxomoxoa Pt. II
Aoxomoxoa was recorded twice. The first version had a working title of Earthquake Country (a Bay Area reference), and was abandoned when Ampex manufactured and released the first 16-track multitrack recording device. The band spent eight months in the studio recording and experimenting with the new technology.
Aoxomoxoa Pt. III
The long sessions for the album would put the band deeper into debt with Warner Bros. Records — specifically, a total cost of $180,000 for Aoxomoxoa. It was widlly ambitious and a costly venture. It was also the last time the band would ever run up such high studio bills.
Fillmore West 1969
Fillmore West 1969 is a three-CD album made up of of selections from four concerts from the group in 1969. The concerts were performed on four consecutive nights from February 27th through March 2nd, 1969. The shows were the basis for Live/Dead (rock's first 16-track live album, released in November o f1969).
Fillmore West 1969 Pt. II
In addition to the three-disc set, the entire run was released as The Complete Fillmore West 1969, a 10 CD set that was limited to 10,000 copies. Fillmore West 1969 includes highlights of the four nights that did not appear on Live/Dead.
The Members: Jerry Garcia

Although he disavowed the role, Garcia was viewed by many as the leader of the group. Garcia performed with the Grateful Dead for their entire 30-year career (1965–1995). The Dead fell apart after Garcia passed away from a heart attack at the age of 53. Though gone for over 25 years, Garcia continues to impact rock music.

The Members: Bob Weir
After the Grateful Dead disbanded in 1995, Weir performed with The Other Ones, later known as The Dead, with other former Grateful Dead members. With the Dead, Weir played mostly rhythm guitar and sang many of the band's rock-n-roll and country/western songs.
The Members: Bob Weir Pt. II
In the fall of 1968, the Dead played some concerts without Weir and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. These shows, with the band billed as "Mickey and the Hartbeats", were intermixed with full-lineup Grateful Dead concerts. Lesh and Garcia didn't think Weir and "Pigpen" were pulling their weight, but when both returned, the members of the Dead were impressed by Weir's improved playing.
The Members: Tom Constanten

Tom Constanten initially sat in with the band during live performances as his schedule allowed. The day after an honorable discharge from the Air Force, Constanten made his debut with the Dead as their permanent keyboardist on November 23rd, 1968, at the Memorial Auditorium in Athens, Ohio. 

The Members: Tom Constanten Pt. II

Constanten remained with the group for three albums and left by mutual agreement after the band's infamous New Orleans drug bust following a January 30th, 1970 show at the Warehouse. Both parties agreed that it would be best if he departed, though he remained close to "Pigpen," his best friend in the group.

The Members: Ron "Pigpen" McKernan

McKernan grew up heavily influenced by African-American music, particularly the blues, and enjoyed listening to his father's record collection. He taught himself how to play harmonica and piano, and, eventually, he began socializing around the San Francisco scene, becoming friends with Jerry Garcia. McKernan eventually suggested to Garcia that they start an electric group, which became the Grateful Dead.

The Members: Ron "Pigpen" McKernan Pt. II

McKernan was the band's first frontman and played harmonica and electric organ. Garcia and Lesh's influences on the band grew as they veered towards psychedelic rock. Pigpen struggled to keep up, and the group hired keyboardist Tom Constanten. Pigpen was then limited to vocals, harmonica, and percussion.

The Members: Phil Lesh
While volunteering for KPFA as a recording engineer during the early 1960s, Lesh met bluegrass banjo player Jerry Garcia. Though Lesh never played bass, Garcia asked him if he would join the band as their new bassist. He agreed, and the first song he rehearsed with the band was "I Know You Rider". He joined them for their third or fourth gig and stayed until the final day.
The Members Pt. II: Phil Lesh
Lesh was among a number of mid-1960s bass players that deemed melody as important as rhythm. Players like James Jamerson and Paul McCartney also adopted a more melodic approach to the instrument. Additionally, Lesh's smooth, high voice added rich harmonies to the band's songs. 
The Members: Bill Kreutzmann
Kreutzmann was an original member of The Warlocks, the group that would eventually become the Grateful Dead. Their first gig was in 1965, just 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.
The Members: Bill Kreutzmann Pt. II
After Mickey Hart  joined the Dead, they became one of the first rock bands to feature two drummers. Their playing was an important part of the band's sound and earned them the nickname "the Rhythm Devils" (the name was coined by Francis Ford Coppola). Their lengthy drum duets were a staple of nearly every show from 1978 to 1995.
The Members: Mickey Hart