The Grateful Dead as the Ultimate Jam Band

Monday, August 09, 2010

The last time anyone got to hear Jerry Garcia play live was on July 9, 1995, when the Grateful Dead performed in Chicago. At the time, no one knew it be their last show: Exactly a month later – fifteen years ago today – guitarist Jerry Garcia died.

Today we take a look at the cultural impact Garcia and the Dead had (and still have) on music lovers, from the band's beginning in the '60s through today.

We want to hear from you. What are your favorite jam band experiences and what are your favorite jam band tracks?

David Shenk joins us – he is the author of “Skeleton Key: A Dictionary for Deadheads.”

Also with us is Luke Stratton, a 27-year-old guitar player in the band Mondo Gecko, whose music has been greatly influenced by the Dead.


David Shenk and Luke Stratton

Produced by:

Jay Cowit and Samantha Fields

Comments [10]

E Roller from Long Island,NY

We all still miss him, and always will. A gifted musician, whose legacy was the music he created and his relationships with his collaborators. Always modest, with a sense that the importance in life was to further a true spirit of sharing and kindness among us all. Since his death, we have learned much about the man,his strengths and weaknesses. Kind of like all of us I guess. I will always love Jerry Garcia. For all of you who didn't know his spirt,do yourself a favour, check it out.It's all out there,not just the ice cream and ties!

Aug. 10 2010 04:24 PM
Mahk from Wistah, Mass

Help on the Way/Slipknot!/Franklin's Tower...
Watching the glittery dust rain down from the rafters of the Providence Civic Center from one of Phil's bass bombs as the crowd below pulsed like some giant primitive organism...
Making our way across a pitch-dark Boston Common, seriously altered, after a manhole fire blacked out all of downtown and interrupted a Garcia Band show at the Orpheum...
Blasting "Scarlet Begonias" in the car with my groomsmen on the way to the church on my wedding day.

Aug. 09 2010 01:49 PM
Lindy Stafford from Indianapolis

Wow....five decades of Greatful Dead music. This is the only band I took both of my sisters to see on concert in 1971 and the other in 1978. There was like a real soul to soul connection with all who attended the shows. I loved that feeling.The Grateful Dead and all who have these understandings are all part of a larger picture of where humanity is headed in our future of peace, love, and understanding. Thank you all for the experience!! .......
"Wake up and find out that you are the sees of the world".

Aug. 09 2010 11:02 AM
tim from Ridgewood, NJ

I'm a fan of the Dead from Warlock days. Still am. But truth be told, they were, (are), a very successful American band. During the craziness of the Woodstock Fest, there were a few acts that would not perform until they were paid in full, in greenbacks, no cheques, before they hit the stage. Jimi, the Who and, the Dead are the three that I'm aware. Smoke in the truth pipe is harsh. Want a toke?

Aug. 09 2010 10:01 AM
Chris Bradsher from NCDEAD

My first experience with the Dead was my frosh yr. at ECU, 4/2/82. It was one of only 2 shows they played at Duke U. (78, 82) I was heavily dosed and my eyes were opened to what the whole "community of the Dead" was all about. That day my life changed completely. My goals, hopes and societal views all turned on a dime. I became one of the family, and I've never looked back, nor ever been happier. (~);}

Aug. 09 2010 10:00 AM
Greg Lewis from Florida Keys

The Grateful Dead was meaningful enough in my life that I named my daughter after one of their songs, Cassidy. My favorite Dead concert was at the Lewiston, Maine State Fairgrounds in August, 1980. The night before the concert, the Hell's Angels turned a dilapidated shack into an enormous bonfire. The throng cheered. When a fight broke out, the throng booed. We were self-policing, all loving, and tripping heavily.

Aug. 09 2010 09:29 AM
Jay the Director from NYC

favorite jambands of the past 15 years or so:

God Street Wine
The Disco Biscuits
Brothers Past
Umphrey's Magee
Santa Cruz Hemp All Stars
Garaj Mahal

Aug. 09 2010 09:05 AM
rick from New York

The Dead, or Grateful Dead as they once were when Jerry was alive had different stages of growth. They are all enjoyable, some more or less. In the beginning Pig Pen was the front man and the band had moved from playing in bars to the small stages. They created their own music and nobody else did what they did. They went from the psychedelic music and blues to country with their Workingman's album and American Beauty.

There was a period of change after Pig Pen died and new music found it's way into Wake of the Flood.

My personal taste is from the original band of the 60s into the 70s including the Wake of the Flood era and into the Terrapin album.

The band got better at playing individually and collectively. But their song writing faded in comparison. It didn't matter much because they were making more and more money and filling the football arenas right up until the demise of the band. By that time Garcia was very sick.

The music lives on and the remaining musicians continue to make music. And there are many cover bands but there's nothing that can match the perfect fit of the band. They had it all together.

The live performances that I saw were in the early 70s without Mickey. The best one was Yale Bowl in July 1971. There are no good soundboard tapes from that show but the performance stays in my head as flawless and just a great time. It was in the 70s that Garcia stated he was just learning how to play the guitar. The guy was purely modest. But he was changing his approach and always improving and improvising.

That's what the band was about - improvisation and never playing a song the same way twice. It was an experiment. Which perfectionists forget about. The Grateful Dead played for free in the parks and streets of San Francisco and shunned record deals so they were never a commercial success from the beginning like the other San Francisco bands such as The Airplane. They achieved success on their own terms and had to wait for it to catch up with them.

Aug. 07 2010 04:52 PM
Devin from NYC, NY

For one thing it was the 90min Maxell XL IIs that was most used by Deadheads... Not the crappy Memorex in the picture. ;)

The dead revolutionized more than music.
They were the first band to have a mailing list for fans. (first instance of social media)

They were the first band to allow taping of their live performances. They encouraged it by offering "taper section" seating with the best sound behind the sound board. This was and still is contradictory to most concert rules.

They had their own ticketing system which gave preference to more loyal fans. (first and only (that I know of) occurrence of music loyalty program. And was able to keep prices down and scalpers at bay.

They encouraged trading of the concert tapes amongst their fans. (first viral marketing campaign)

They gave ownership of the music and the experience to their fans... by integrating fan-made art into their posters, set design and album cover art.

They are one of the only bands I know of that pumped the music into the hallways of the venues so even those not in their seats (or were just spinning in the halls) wouldn't miss a beat.

I not only miss the music and the tour; I long for an institution that cares that genuinely for their public.

[Thanks Devin! We changed the photo to a Maxell XL II tape at your suggestion!]

Aug. 06 2010 12:17 PM
Doug Plavin from MA

It depends on how you'd define jam band. Would that mean improvisational music not played by "jazz" musicians? Musically, I'm not a Dead fan, but I am blown away by how they've defined themselves as a multi-generational institution. Who knew? They've written some great songs, have a defined sound, and I like Jerry's work with Grisman. But The Dead as interesting improvisors, nada. My only Dead experience was at the Bill Graham memorial concert in Golden Gate Park in '91. The experience was amazing and that's when I got the Dead as cultural icons.

Aug. 06 2010 11:14 AM

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