On June 7, 1965, the future of rock & roll music was forever changed when a previously unknown bass player by the name of Phil Lesh joined the nascent music group called the Warlocks. The group consisted of Jerry Garcia on guitar and vocals, Bob Weir on guitar and vocals, Phil Lesh on bass, Bill Kreutzmann on drums, and Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on keyboard, percussion, harmonica, and vocals. This group went on to morph into one of the most influential and long-lasting rock groups of all time, the Grateful Dead. Although the band saw several other members come and go over the years, this core group were the ones who rode the wave of psychedelic counterculture to create a new form of rock/blues music that would endure for decades afterwards.
Albums of the Grateful Dead
American Beauty (1970)
Perhaps the most iconic album recorded by the Grateful Dead, comprised of a rich tapestry of meaningful lyrics, soulful vocals, and iconic riffs, American Beauty was ranked #258 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.
The album starts off with one of the band’s greatest tracks, Box of Rain. One of the only Grateful Dead songs to feature bassist Phil Lesh on vocals, this song was conceived by Lesh as he visited his father in hospice during the late stages of his battle with cancer. Robert Hunter provided the lyrics that result in a moving masterpiece of a song. It has the distinction of being the last live song performed by the band prior to the death of front man Jerry Garcia in 1995. Other recognizable hits from the album include Friend of the Devil, Truckin, and Sugar Magnolia.
Lesh, P. (2006). Searching for the sound: My life with the Grateful Dead. New York: Back Bay Books.
In the Dark (1987)
The album In the Dark featured the only Billboard Top 40 single The Grateful Dead produced, the iconic Touch of Grey. This song was also released as a music video, the group’s first. It immediately became a classic on MTV, famous for the skeleton marionettes playing instruments. The album reached double platinum status and climbed to number 6 on the Billboard music top 200 chart.
Workingman’s Dead (1970)
Workingman’s Dead was the fourth studio album produced by the Grateful Dead. It was ranked number 262 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, despite initially receiving little airplay. The album leads off with the iconic blues track Uncle John’s Band, which was originally dubbed too long to play by Warner Brothers. Jerry Garcia gave instructions on how to edit the song down, but the result was what he termed “an atrocity.” The original version went on to have much more airplay and commercial success than the edited version.
Another iconic track also resides on Workingman’s Dead: a song about a real-life train engineer, Casey Jones. The song doesn’t make an effort to accurately depict the events of the actual life of Casey Jones, instead telling a tale of a train conductor heading for disaster due to drug use. The song became a concert favorite of Grateful Dead fans, helping the album to become a successful and influential collection of music.
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