You can’t merely call the Grateful Dead a rock band. They are far more than that. To many, The Grateful Dead is more like a religion!
Few musical groups have been able to achieve the cult-like following that the Dead have. And even the few bands out there that do have a similarly devoted fan base; often are directly influence or associate with the Grateful Dead.
It’s been 27 years since the Grateful Death played their last show together at Soldier Field in Chicago on July 9, 1995. One month later on August 9th, the band’s leader, legendary guitarist Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack.
In the years since Garcia’s death, the music has never stopped. In fact, Jerry has taken on almost a god-like status among his fans; and the Dead’s music and merchandise has proved to be big business.
Dead & Company, a Grateful Dead tribute band of sorts fronted by John Meyer on guitar and featuring former Grateful Dead members; Mickey Hart, Bob Weir, and Bill Kreutzman have been playing sold-out shows since their formation in 2015.
While Dead & Company has done wonders for introducing the Dead’s music to a younger generation of fans. Old-school Deadheads will tell you that there will never be anything like a an authentic Grateful Dead show from back in the day. Just mention the date 5-8-77 to a Deadhead and watch their eyes light up.
The late 70s, In particular are typically regarded by fans as the Dead’s best era. And that date we just mentioned coincides with their legendary performance at Cornell University – arguably the best show they ever played.
The Grateful Dead were around for 30 years. As such, quite a few people got a chance to play with them throughout that time. Even so, the founding members of Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan, Phil Lesh, and Bill Kreutzman are typically who fans think of when discussing the band. In this video, we’ll be taking a look at the Grateful Dead members who have died. We’ll cover all of the major names while also taking the time to honor the lesser-known ones. For all of you stealie loving, Jerry bear wearing Deadheads out there, this is one Facts Verse video you won’t want to miss.
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan
Pigpen is one of the Grateful Dead band member and credited with bringing a bluesy, jazz vibe to the band’s sound. He was one of the Dead’s founding members and played with the group from 1965 to ’72.
McKernan grow up being heavily influence by Black musicians. He especially loved the blues and would spend hours listening to his Dad’s record collection while teaching himself how to play the piano and harmonica.
Pigpen met Jerry Garcia while bouncing around the social and music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area. The two had both played in a handful of jug and folk bands – most notably, Mother Mcree’s Uptown Jug Champions. At a certain point Pigpen suggested that they form an electric band. What started off as the Warlocks eventually evolved into the Grateful Dead in 1965.
While most people consider Jerry Garcia to be the Dead’s frontman, it was actually Pigpen that initially held that role. Eventually though, Garcia and Phil Lesh’s influence grew stronger as they embraced the burgeoning psychedelic rock sound that was taking the Bay by storm.
By 1968, Pigpen’s role had essentially limited to backup vocals, harmonica and percussion. Although at live shows he would still act as frontman on several songs including, Turn On Your Love Light, Good Morning Little School Girl, and Good Lovin.
While the rest of the band had grown quite fond of psychedelic drugs and marijuana, Pigpen preferred to drink booze – primarily fortified wine and whiskey. By 1971, his body is badly damage by alcohol that his doctors pleaded with him to cease touring.
Ignoring their advice, Pigpen continued touring with the band, albeit after taking a brief hiatus. He forced to quit touring due to health concerns in 1972 and on March 8, 1973, at the age of 27. And found dead of a gastrointestinal hemorrhage.
Born Jerome John Garcia on August 9, 1995, Jerry best known for being the lead guitarist and principal songwriter of The Grateful Dead. As a founding member of the band, his influence on the group and his legion of fans was borderline supernatural
While we’ll save a bit of his bio for a future more in-depth video; Gracia grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jerry expressed a profound interest in music from an early age. He took piano lessons for most of his childhood; and learned a lot from his father who was a retired professional musician.
In 1946, Jerry lost two-thirds of his right middle finger in a wood-splitting accident. Later that year, his father died in a tragic fly fishing accident while on vacation near Arcata, California.
While attending high school in Sebastopol, California, Garcia joined a band named The Chords.
In 1960, he stole his mother’s car. After getting arrested given the choice of either joining the Army or going to prison. He chose the former and was based at Fort Winfield Scott at the Presidio of San Francisco. After going AWOl several times, not taking his duties seriously, and missing roll call almost daily. Garcia discharged in December 1960.
In 1961, Garcia met Robert Hunter. Around that same time, he started performing around the South Bay and Palo Alto Area. He met Phil Lesh in 1962 . A year later, he met Bob Weir at a coffee shop.
Up until 1964, Garcia taught students how to play guitar and banjo while performing bluegrass, jug, and folk music in the bay area.
After playing in several bands with future Dead Members including Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers, Mother Mcree’s Uptown Jug Champions, and The Warlocks. The Grateful Dead formed in 1965. Garcia performed with the band for 30 years before his death in 1995.
Besides the Dead, Garcia would also play in bands like The Jerry Garcia Band, Old & In The Way, Legion Of Mary, and Riders Of The Purple Sage. He renowned for his technical prowess and for being a proficient multi-instrumentalist. He is credited as being the greatest improvisational guitarist of all time.
Later in his life, Garcia struggled with heroin addiction, obesity, and diabetes. He almost died after going into a diabetic coma in 1986. But his health seemed to improve slightly after that incident. Garcia had checked himself into a California drug rehab facility shortly before he died of a heart attack on August 9, 1995. He was 53 when he passed.
Born in Seattle, Washington, on July 19, 1948, Godchaux best known for his tenure with the Grateful Dead from 1971 to 1979.
When he was child, Keith’s family moved to a suburb in the East Bay of San Francisco called Concord. From an early age he became interested in music and started taking piano lessons at 5.
As a teen and young adult, Godchaux spent several years playing cocktail jazz and Dixieland in pro ensembles. While Keith was a gifted musician, he felt frustrated by how he felt limited to playing music that he had little connection to.
In 1970 he met a session vocalist named Donna Thatcher. After the two got married, Donna gave birth to a son named Zion in 1974.
Keith met Jerry Garcia at a concert in 1971. Garcia impressed by Godchaux’s abilities and knew that the band needed to hire another keyboardist to fill in for Pigpen whose health was rapidly deteriorating. After being given a spot in the band, Godchaux got to play his first show on October 19, 1971. At the University of Minnesota’s Northrup Auditorium.
At first. he primarily played acoustic grand piano with the Dead although he would occasionally sit behind an upright piano or Hammond organ. In 1973, he would add a Fender Rhodes Electric Piano to his arsenal and later, he would play a Yamaha CP-70 Electric Grand Piano.
Godchaux brought a richly melodic and fluid sound to the band that incorporated bluesy “boogie-woogie”-influenced elements. He was a very intuitive player who could jive effortlessly with the band’s signature improvisational approach to Rock ‘n Roll.
Succumbing to the vices of the the rock and roll lifestyle, Godchaux became increasingly dependent on drugs – especially liquor and heroin. He would also often become quite violent when he and Donna would get into fights. Obviously, the drugs only exacerbated his violent tendencies.
Keith and Donna left the band in 1978 to focus on other projects. Following their departure, the Godchaux’s spent a lengthy bit of time recuperating from their years on the road with family in Alabama. Fortunately, during this time, he seemed to mellow out a bit. Keith also started the band, The Ghosts, with Donna.
On July 23, 1980, Godchaux died four days after sustaining massive head injuries in a car accident. The fatal crash happened on his birthday while being driven home by famed tie-die Artist Courtenay Pollock. The Godchaux’s had been visiting Pollock in his home in San Geronimo, California, while they working together on their new band. Reportedly right before the accident, Keith had told Pollock that he was the happiest he had ever been in his life. He was 32 when he died.
Hunter was perhaps the most influential Grateful Dead member despite the fact that he was never tehcnically a member of the band.
Born on June 23, 1941, Hunter was best known for his role as lyricist for the Dead. But he was also a gifted singer, guitarist, translator, and poet. He grew up in the seaside California town of Lan Luis Obispo and spent most of his childhood in the foster system.
After returning to California after attending the University of Connecticut. Hunter met and became friends with Jerry Garcia in Palo Alto. That friendship would give birth to a collaboration between the two that would persist for the remainder of Garcia’s lifetime.
Hunter started writing music for The Grateful Dead when the band founded in 1965. He would continue to contribute to the band’s repertoire of songs right up until their breakup in 1995. Some of his best pieces included China Cat Sunflower, Ripple, Dark Star, Terrapin Station, and Truckin.
In 1994, Hunter became the only non-performer from the Grateful Dead to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
While best known for his work with the Dead, Hunter also put out more than a dozen solo albums of his own material.
In 2012, Hunter was hospitalized with a spinal cord abscess. Fortunately, he survived that ordeal; but he was left with a mountain of medical debt that forced him to come out of retirement.
Hunter died in his San Rafael, California home on September 23, 2019. Not long before his death, he had undergone surgery although an official cause of death was never given. He was 78 when he passed.
This Grateful Dead member enjoyed a longer tenure as the group’s keyboardist than anyone else. He was born on October 21, 1952, and grew up in Concord, California. He started playing music in elementary school, and after graduating he joined a handful of bands recorded an album with the country-rock band Silver.
In 1978, Mydland joined Bob Weir’s side project band Bobby and the Midnites. In 1979, he invited to join the Grateful Dead after Keith Godchaux’s departure. Quickly, Mydland became a crucial member of the band.
He played various keyboards, including Moog synthesizers and a Hammond Organ. He also frequently provided back-up vocals. Beyond just playing, Mydland additionally wrote several songs for the Dead’s studio albums.
Following the summer 1990 tour, Mydland died of an accidental drug overdose. The coroner report states that he had a deadly combination of morphine and blood in his system – a mixture that is commonly called a ‘speedball’.
John Perry Barlow
Born in Cora, Wyoming, on October 3, 1947, Barlow was an acclaimed poet, essayist, and political activist known for his staunchly libertarian views. Like Robert Hunter, Barlow never performed with the Dead. Rather, he wrote the lyrics for many of their hit songs, including Estimated Prophet, Hell in a Bucket, The Music Never Stopped, Throwing Stones, Shade of Grey, and Mexicali Blues.
Barlow met Bob Weir when he was a 15-year-old student at the Fountain Valley School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The two would remain lifelong friends. After being introduced to LSD by Timothy Leary, Barlow got acquainted with the rest of the Grateful Dead band members in June 1967.
Barlow started writing songs for the Dead in 1971 and would continue to play an active role penning some of their most well-known offerings from the sidelines as he worked as a cattle rancher in Wyoming.
Barlow died in his sleep at the age of 70 on February 7, 2018 at his home in San Francisco.
Who was your favorite member of the Grateful Dead? Most people will say Jerry Garcia, but Phil Lesh and Bob Weir are obvious standouts as well. And were you surprised to learn that any of the Dead’s band members had passed? Let us know in the comments
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As always, thanks for watching! And just remember, the Dead will never die.