YouTube / Tito Garcia
Ah The Grateful Dead – they’re the band you’ve surely heard about but never really heard a lot. Their fans, endearingly called the “Deadheads”, however, surely everybody has heard about. The Deadheads basically immortalized The Grateful Dead with their undying loyalty and support and the culture they have created and established throughout the decades. Famous iconic personalities such as Al Gore, Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin, world-renowned chef Mario Batali, to name a few, are all Deadheads! Well, the Deadheads do have something to adore and be proud of anyway, as the Grateful Dead is an iconic and legendary band that are not only undeniably talented, they also graced the world with such great music that, in a way, is vastly underrated compared to their contemporaries of late ‘60s Bay Area psychedelic music icons. They also have such a tragic and storied career as a band, dealing with unfortunate incidents, intriguing controversies, and ironically enough, death.
Though the band was formed in Palo Alto, California in 1965 as The Warlocks, they made their name (and changed their name to The Grateful Dead) in San Francisco’s psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll scene. They came about in the Bay Area along with the likes of Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Credence Clearwater Revival, and Santana, among many others. They started out as part of one of Ken Kesey’s Acid Test parties which were LSD-fuelled parties in the San Francisco Bay Area. They became popular in the area with their free live shows which eventually led them to play at the Fillmore in San Francisco and the psych rock Trips Festival. It was legendary rock music promoter Bill Graham who helped catapult them into the scene. Graham and frontman Jerry Garcia formed a friendship that led the band to become one of the regular acts at the Fillmore. Graham was also the one who pushed other prominent Bay Area bands Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, and Janis Joplin in the right direction. Graham provided opportunities for these bands to play at the Fillmore and Winterland Arena, which he made famous by developing it as the focal point for psychedelic music and counterculture in the mid-1960s. Graham promoted the band’s first concert as the Grateful Dead (after the name change from The Warlocks), and the rest was rock n’ roll history. Had it not been for Bill Graham, The Grateful Dead wouldn’t be the iconic band it is today.
Shortly after they released their first self-titled LP under Warner Brothers, they went on tour and transformed into one of the most beloved touring bands in the industry. Their live reputation and their fan following grew around the world by playing events like the Mantra-Rock Dance, the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock (though their drug-quelled Woodstock set was a total disaster). Their fan support is so strong that even though they never really made a number one charting song or album, they managed to amass sales of over 35 million copies by 2014.
Unfortunately, the destructive habits of the leading band members proved too much and eventually lead to their demises. More than their rightful place as legends in psychedelic rock, they were the Godfathers of the jam band, passionate about jamming and experimentation, creating a wide range of sound that encompassed pop, rock, folk, and blues and country.
And even though they never really got to enjoy mainstream success or got recognized by high award-giving bodies, The Grateful Dead’s cult following is absolutely incredible and is worth more than any mainstream popularity or award. In every live show, they were able to bring thousands upon thousands of Deadheads together, making a mark on music history as having one of the most dedicated fans in the world. Their concerts became legendary. Their 2015 farewell tour alone (which consisted only of 5 shows), even if it received much negative criticism from the media, they still were able to earn 52 million dollars!
From their free gigs in San Francisco to their sold out international arena concerts, The Grateful Dead has proven that their live shows were the key to building their cult following, and their fans followed them to the end.