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 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.
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 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.
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 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
Hart joined the Grateful Dead in September of 1967. He excelled in polyrhythmic rudiments and exotic percussion, which were both integral to the band's arrangements. This sound characterized the "primal Dead era" of 1968–1969.
The Members: Mickey Hart Pt. II
Hart left the band in February 1971, removing himself after his father (who briefly managed the group) embezzled $70,000 from the band. Hart's playing also diminished in the period before he left the band, though. He had a growing dependence on heroin, and the band was already toying with removing him from the group.
Getting Ready for Playboy
The group's popularity was skyrocketing, and more commercial appearances were on the horizon. The band brought controversy wherever they went, egging the establishment with their views on free speech and willingness to promote psychedelic drug use.
Getting Ready for Playboy Pt. II
The band was recording throughout 1968 and 1969, preparing Aoxomoxoa, which, as we noted, featured a painful and lengthy recording session. The band was moving into their most psychedelic days to date, intent on stretching their songs into long jams and refusing to follow any whim outside of their vision.
While the Playboy
performance occurred in 1969, it wasn't until 2015 that Bill Kreutzmann went on the Conan O'Brien
show and revealed that the Playboy After Dark
crew had been dosed. It was one of those mythic moments in rock 'n' roll history that was always rumored but never confirmed. For further proof, Hart posted a letter Hefner had sent to the band.
Grateful Dead on Playboy After Dark
Thanks to the internet, footage of the now renowned performance is readily available. Hefner was as stiff as a board, while Jerry and the boys were giggling and having a great time, clearly under the influence of something nefarious. The Dead were equal distributors of drugs. They wouldn't dose anyone with LSD if they wouldn't take it themselves.
Playboy After Dark aired in syndication through Screen Gems from 1969 to 1970 and was taped at CBS Television City in Los Angeles. Playboy After Dark followed a similar same style as Hefner's earlier show, Playboy's Penthouse (1959–1960), which had been taped at WBKB-TV in Chicago.
Playboy After Dark Pt. II
The show portrayed a normal party at Hefner's pad, complete with Playboy Playmates and celebrities, who would be interview subjects for Hefner and eventually perform for the party. The show's first guest was Sally Marr, mother of Lenny Bruce.
Plaboy After Dark Pt. III
The show's theme was performed by Cy Coleman, and while short-lived, the show had a monumental impact on the emergence of counter-culture. The show ran just two seasons but managed to churn out 52 episodes during that time.
Great Performance: Ike & Tina Turner
Tina and Ike performed in 1969, bringing along The Ikettes as their backing band. It was a seminal performance, and firmly established Tina as the voice of her generation. They performed "I Want To Take You Higher," "Come Together," "Proud Mary," and "Honky Tonk Woman," which featured a surprise appearance by Doug Kershaw.
Great Performances: The Byrds
The Byrds performed Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “This Wheel’s on Fire” on Playboy After Dark. Roger McGuinn handled the lead vocals, alongside Clarence White on lead guitar, John York on bass, and Gene Parsons on drums. Marvin Gaye and a young Linda Evans joined the band for a performance of "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
Great Performances: James Brown
James Brown performed a ballad from the Broadway show Pickwick before diving into his defiant civil rights anthem, "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud." Written in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination that April, the song became a crucial part of the soundtrack to a tumultuous summer rife with riots and unrest between those who differed in race, age, and culture.
Great Performances: Deep Purple
Deep Purple formed just nine months before their performance and still featured their original lineup. Members included Rod Evans on vocals, Nick Simper on bass (both of whom left the band less than a year later), Jon Lord on organ, Richie Blackmore on guitar, and Ian Paice on drums. Among others, the band played their popular hit, "Hush."
Stanley met the members of the Grateful Dead in 1965. He both financed them and worked with them as their first soundman. Along with his dear friend Bob Thomas, Stanley designed the band's iconic lightning bolt-skull logo.
During his time with the Grateful Dead, Stanley started recording the Dead while they rehearsed and performed. His initial motivation for creating his "sonic journal" was to improve his ability to mix the sound, but the unintended thrilling result is a rich archive of Dead material fans still utilize and listen to today.
Owsley built electronic equipment for the Grateful Dead until late spring 1966, at which time he began producing LSD. He produced up until 1970, when the band was busted in New Orleans. Stanley was confined to federal prison from 1970 to 1972. When he returned to the group as a roadie and live engineer, he found his standing with the band to be greatly reduced.
The Acid in the Coffee
Things got a little weird on set because Owsley Stanley dosed the huge coffee urn that was just off-camera. Almost everyone on set was drinking coffee, and the place turned a little interesting. While SPIN doesn't condone dosing in any capacity, Owsley's little experiment resulted in one of the most iconic stories in the band's rich history.