Grateful Dead - Main Career (1967–1995)

Main Career (1967–1995)

One of the group's earliest major performances in 1967 was the Mantra-Rock Dance—a musical event held on January 29, 1967 at the Avalon Ballroom by the San Francisco Hare Krishna temple. The Grateful Dead performed at the event along with the Hare Krishna founder Bhaktivedanta Swami, poet Allen Ginsberg, bands Moby Grape and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, donating proceeds to the Krishna temple. The band's first LP, The Grateful Dead, was released on Warner Brothers in 1967.

Classically trained trumpeter Phil Lesh played bass guitar. Bob Weir, the youngest original member of the group, played rhythm guitar. Ron "Pigpen" McKernan played keyboards and harmonica until shortly before his death in 1973 at the age of 27. Garcia, Weir and McKernan shared the lead vocal duties more or less equally; Lesh only sang a few leads but his tenor was a key part of the band's three-part vocal harmonies. Bill Kreutzmann played drums, and in September 1967 was joined by a second drummer, New York native Mickey Hart, who also played a wide variety of other percussion instruments.

1970 included tour dates in New Orleans, Louisiana, where the band performed at The Warehouse for two nights. On January 31, 1970, the local police raided their hotel on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, and arrested and charged a total of 19 people with possession of various drugs. The second night's concert was performed as scheduled after bail was posted. Eventually the charges were dismissed, with the exception of those against sound engineer Owsley Stanley, who was already facing charges in California for manufacturing LSD. This event was later memorialized in the lyrics of the song "Truckin'", a single from American Beauty which reached number 64 on the charts.

Mickey Hart quit the Grateful Dead in February 1971, leaving Kreutzmann once again as the sole percussionist. Hart rejoined the Grateful Dead for good in October 1974. Tom "TC" Constanten was added as a second keyboardist from 1968 to 1970, while Pigpen also played various percussion instruments and sang.

After Constanten's departure, Pigpen reclaimed his position as sole organist. Less than two years later, in late 1971, Pigpen was joined by another keyboardist, Keith Godchaux, who played grand piano alongside Pigpen's Hammond B-3 organ. In early 1972, Keith's wife, Donna Jean Godchaux, joined the Grateful Dead as a backing vocalist.

Following the Grateful Dead's "Europe '72" tour, Pigpen's health had deteriorated to the point that he could no longer tour with the band. His final concert appearance was June 17, 1972 at the Hollywood Bowl, in Los Angeles; he died in March, 1973 of complications from alcohol abuse.

The death of Pigpen did not slow the band down, and they continued with their new members. They soon formed their own record group, Grateful Dead Records. Later that year, they released their next studio album, the jazz influenced Wake of the Flood. It became their biggest commercial success thus far. Meanwhile, capitalizing on Flood’s success, the band soon went back to the studio, and the next year released another album, Grateful Dead from the Mars Hotel. Not long after that album’s release however, the Grateful Dead decided to take a hiatus from live touring so that its members could focus on their solo careers. This hiatus was short lived, though, as they resumed touring in 1976. That same year, they re-signed with Arista Records. Their new contract soon produced Terrapin Station in 1977. Although things appeared to be going well for the band, problems were arising with their two newest members, Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux. While touring during the late 1970s the band began to use freebase cocaine. Donna frequently had excessive vocal issues while performing live, and Keith was becoming dependent on hard drugs. Both of those issues were causing complications with the band’s touring, and they were asked to leave the band in February 1979.

Following the departure of the Godchauxs, Brent Mydland joined as keyboardist and vocalist and was considered "the perfect fit". The Godchauxs then formed the Heart of Gold Band before Keith Godchaux died in a car accident in 1980. Mydland was the keyboardist for the Grateful Dead for 11 years until his death by narcotics overdose in July 1990, becoming the third keyboardist to die.

During the 1980s the band transformed as the talents of Mydland helped power the group. Shortly after Mydland found his place in the early 1980s, Garcia's health began to decline. His drug habits caused him to lose his liveliness on stage. After kicking his drug habit in 1985, Garcia slipped into a diabetic coma for several days in July 1986. After he recovered, the band released In the Dark in 1987, which resulted as their best selling studio album release, and also produced their only top-10 chart single, Touch of Grey.. Inspired by Garcia's improved health and a successful album, the band's energy and chemistry peaked in the late 1980s and 1990. Performances were vigorous and as a result, every show exceeded its maximum audience capacity. The band's "high time" came to a sudden halt when Mydland died after the summer tour in 1990. The band now had to rebuild.

Vince Welnick, former keyboardist for The Tubes, joined on keyboards and vocals. Bruce Hornsby joined the band as the pianist and vocals on September 15, 1990. Welnick stayed with the band until Garcia's death, but he was never a member of The Other Ones or the Dead. He did, however, play in early incarnations of Ratdog with Bob Weir. Welnick died on June 2, 2006, reportedly a suicide. Hornsby was a member until March 24, 1992.

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