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Grateful Dead

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Essay title: Grateful Dead

Throughout history there have been many musical "influences". One extremely important influence to modern music is The Grateful Dead.

The group was formed in 1965 by bluegrass - enthusiast Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan on vocals and organ, Bob Weir on guitar and vocals, classical music student Phil Lesh on bass and vocals, and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. From the beginning, they brought together a variety of influences, from Garcia's country background to Pigpen's feeling for blues (his father was an R&B radio DJ) and Lesh's education in contemporary serious" music. Add to that, the experimentation encouraged at some of the group's first performances at novelist Ken Kesey's "acid test" parties-multimedia events intended to replicate (or accompany) the experience of taking the then-legal drug LSD-and you had a musical mixture of styles often played with extended improvisational sections that could go off in nearly any direction. The band signed to Warner Brothers in 1967, experiencing some difficulties early on with the restrictions of standard recording practices and the company's interest in producing a conventionally commercial product. As a result, the group's first few albums were somewhat tentative but showed promise for the future, especially with the key additions of Mickey Hart as a second drummer in 1967 and Garcia's old friend Robert Hunter as the band's lyricist. The Dead finally hit their stride with the release of Live Dead, a double album, in 1969. (They were always more comfortable on stage than in the studio.) Two studio albums in 1970, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, found them exploring folk-rock and more tightly constructed song forms and, along with extensive touring, won them a much larger audience. In the second half of the '70s, the Dead recorded a series of commercially - oriented albums for Arista, then concentrated on roadwork for the better part of the '80s. In the Dark, released in 1987, was their first studio album in seven years. It sold a million copies and produced the band's first Top Ten hit in "Touch of Grey."

One of the aspects of the Grateful Dead that made them stand out was their mixing of several different kinds of music. As mentioned earlier, the Dead's music is a hearty mixture of bluegrass, classical, and good old-fashioned rock and roll. Jerome "Jerry" Garcia's early or "pre-dead" work was with friend and partner David Grisman. Grisman is a still a renowned mandolinist, but while with Garcia, they both explored the bluegrass scene. This was Jerry's "foundation" for his musical contributions to the Grateful Dead. Without Jerry's influence, the Grateful Dead would not have it's distinct earthy timbre or feel that has been extremely significant in attracting their particular following.

Another contribution to the Dead's style was bassist Phil Lesh. With only formal jazz training on the trumpet, Lesh picked up a bass and learned as he went while playing with the Grateful Dead's then nucleus, The Warlocks. Lesh is famous for his jazz improvisational style. This particular style usually finds his fingers running up and down the neck of a five or six string bass (seen right), dropping what are affectionately known to fans as "Phil Bombs", furiously low frequency notes that tend to rumble in auditoriums and can only be created with a five or six string bass. As one can well imagine, these two aforementioned styles together could create somewhat of an interesting style. Well, it only gets better.

Bill Kreutzmann, the "heartbeat" of the Grateful Dead, had been behind a kit since the age of eleven when Jerry Garcia met him in 1962. His early love of drums allowed him to be heavily involved in the "rock and roll" scene. As a teen, Kreutzmann even created rock in roll bands in which to play, as the interest was barely there. After meeting Jerry, Kreutzmann formed The Zodiacs, Ron "PigPen" McKernan on harmonica; Jerry on bass and another friend, Troy Weidenheimer on guitar, and began working on his deeply intricate improvisational rhythms that he is so noted for. Upon Phil Lesh's arrival, the Zodiacs became the Warlocks, and the musical style evolved from a more rock and roll/bluegrass to an intermingling of jazz and the two.

The son of the first Bay Area rhythm and blues disc jockey, Ron McKernan grew up in a predominantly black area and found a bond with the black music and culture. As a youth, McKernan began figuring out blues piano. In his early teens, McKernan was expelled from Palo Alto High and also developed a strong affinity for alcohol.

McKernan began hanging around coffeehouses and music stores where

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