Many years ago, in the easy, earliest time of the Dead, I was the girl who danced on the stage — before the need for stringent backstage security, before record contracts, world travels and a general nervousness about the motives of nearby people. I had no motive then except I wanted more than anything to step inside that magic circle of music and dance with it from that central place. I knew this time of privilege wouldn’t last long, so I wasn’t surprised when it ended. But for some of the most unspeakably happy and truly liberated times I ever had in my life, I’ve always wanted to thank you guys. — Rosie McGee
Grateful Dead are Much Alive
The Grateful Dead, a loud and very much alive Haight-Ashbury rock band, is hippier and happier than almost any group that comes to mind. They’re a fun-loving, far-out group with a hard-driving sound which is surfacing above the vast San Francisco rock underground.
The Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Charlatans, Country Joe and the Fish, Big Brother and the Holding Co. and several other bizarre bands have plugged San Francisco into a rock movement which now exerts a nationwide influence on pop music.
One of the principal reasons is Jerry (Captain Trips) Garcia, 24, lead guitar for the Grateful Dead. Garcia, regarded by some critics as one of the best guitarists in the country, used to teach his instrument in a Palo Alto music store. He earned his nickname, friends say, because “everything is a trip with him.” Other members of the Dead are just as alive. There’s Ron McKernan, 21, on organ, harp, and vocal, known as “Pig Pen,” for his outrageous appearance: long black hair, Indian head band, long black mustache, short, hefty build and a much-worn vest. He has been described as “one of the major bluesmen in America.”
Youngest is Bob Weir, 19, thin and soft-looking, with straight, very long hair. Weir brings his own sort of richness to the rhythm guitar. Phil Lesh, 27, is an astoundingly good bass player. He shares song-writing chores with Garcia. Bill Sommers, 21, played drums with about 12 rock bands before he “finally settled on the Grateful Dead.”
They pocket concert fees as readily as any group, but they play only on their own terms. They’d rather play for free in the park (and often do) than for money in an atmosphere which will “bring us down.”
“We’re not a recording band,” said Garcia. “We’re a dance band.”
Something about the Dead’s music can’t be captured on records. Partly it’s because they draw from so many different idioms: blues, country and western, popular music, even classical. “We’re musical thieves,” Garcia noted. “We steal from everywhere.” It has more to do with the excitement of playing weekly concerts to very tuned-in dance-hall audiences. These aren’t ordinary concerts. They’re psychedelic and extreme examples of total environmental theater, which engages all the senses: thunderous rock music, light shows that burst and flow in choruses of color, hundreds of dancing young people, incense floating through your mind.
The Grateful Dead tried to capture this gut-level excitement in their album called “The Grateful Dead.” Though there’s a taste of the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom, the full flavor doesn’t come through.
However, the album can stand alone. It contains some fine work, such as the strangely haunting “Morning Dew,” the bluesy “Good Mornin’ Little Schoolgirl” and “Viola Lee Blues,” which is as close to jazz as Paul Butterfield’s “East-West.”
The songs convey a sense of integration in the playing that has come about through the Dead’s having played and lived together, sharing experiences and dreams, for nearly three years. With their two managers and an assortment of friends they have occupied a nine-room Victorian house one block from Haight Street. But they are leaving the Haight-Ashbury soon. They expect to live for awhile in the Southwest, perhaps Santa Fe, New Mexico. “We’ve been squeezed out by tourists and Tenderloin types,” said Rock Scully, one of their managers.
– Ralph Gleason, from “The New Generation” column in the San Francisco Chronicle, March 19 1967
Billy Kreutzmann aka Bill Sommers
Photos: Dancer – Jim Marshall, Sommers – unknown, Pigpen – Herb Greene