Grateful Dead – 25 Impressive Facts You Didn’t Know
Formed in Palo Alto, California, USA in 1965, the Grateful Dead were known for their unique style which fused elements from many musical genres. Famous for their live performances and long instrumental jams. The band’s members included Jerry Garcia (lead guitar, vocals), Bob Weir (rhythm guitar, vocals), Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (Keyboards, vocals, harmonica), Phil Lesh (bass, vocals) and Bill Kreutzmann (drums).
Keep reading for 25 impressive facts you didn’t know about the Grateful Dead.
They Owned A Jungle In Costa Rica
The band cared very much about the world’s forests to the point that they purchased a jungle in Costa Rica to protect it.
The Grateful Dead’s Frontman Had An Ice Cream Named After Him
Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia flavour is named after the Grateful Dead’s frontman Jerry Garcia.
Jerry Garcia Only Had Part Of His Middle Finger
Jerry was an incredible guitarist which is surprising when you realise he only had the bottom stump of his left hand middle finger. He had the top ⅔ chopped off by his brother during a camping accident when on holiday with his family.
They Weren’t Always Called The Grateful Dead
The band’s original name was “The Warlocks” and they were formed from the remnants of a California jug band called “Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions”. They had to change their name from the Warlocks as there was another band of the same name who had released a record.
Their Name Came Straight From A Dictionary
Apparently Jerry Garcia picked up an old copy of the Britannica World Dictionary and said “Hey, man, how about the Grateful Dead?” The definition read “the soul of a dead person, or his angel, showing gratitude to someone who, as an act of charity, arranged their burial”.
They Only Had One Number 1 In 30 Years
Despite their lack of mainstream chart success the Grateful Dead remained one of the highest earning American touring acts for many years. Which considering they only achieved one number one single (Touch of Grey) and that not on the main charts, just the Mainstream Rock Tracks Chart.
They Are One Of The Top Earning Concert Acts Of All Time
The Grateful Dead never received much airplay time on the radio and they never sold that many records, but they were one of the highest earning concert acts ever.
They Were Together As A Band For 30 Years
They formed in 1965 and only disbanded in 1995 after Jerry Garcia died.
In 30 Years, They Performed 184 Original Tunes
During their 30 years together, the Grateful Dead performed 184 original tunes and 317 cover tracks.
Their Music Was Featured On The Twilight Zone
On the 1980’s Twilight Zone revival, the Grateful Dead’s music was featured on the opening and closing credits.
Their First Show Was In A Pizza Parlour
Magoo’s Pizza Parlour to be precise which was located at 639 Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park. The site is currently used as a Harvest furniture store.
They Used A Pseudonym For Group Written Compositions
If the name “McGannahan Skjellyfetti” appeared in the credits as songwriter it meant that every band member had some part in its composition.
They Were The House Band At The Famous Acid Tests
During the early 1960s the psychedelic drug LSD commonly known as acid was legal in the USA. Author Ken Kesey held a series of parties mainly in the San Francisco Bay area around that time which he called the acid tests. The Grateful Dead provided the musical accompaniment at many of these parties.
They Met Owsley Stanley At An Acid Test
At one of the early Acid Test parties, the band met Owsley Stanley who was famously producing large quantities of LSD. He also went on to finance, produce and record the Grateful Dead. He was better known as “Bear” when he was working in the recording industry.
Owsley Created Their Wall Of Sound
The Grateful Dead were famous for their wall of sound speaker system which was created by Owsley Stanley their sound engineer. It consisted of 26,400 watts of power and 604 individua speakers. It required 4 trucks to carry the speakers and they had 2 sets because one set would travel to the next show to get set up while the other set was being used. They had to stop using it as it was too expensive to keep but for a while they had that big sound all thanks to Owsley.
The Song “Truckin’” Was About Their Actual Drug Arrests
The 1970 Grateful Dead song “Truckin’” is based on the band’s arrest for drug possession at their hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans on January 31st 1970 at 3am. The song contains the lines “Busted, down on Bourbon Street / Set up, like a bowling pin / Knocked down, it gets to wearing thin / They just won’t let you be”.
They Were Responsible For Popularising The Yogurt Market In The US
Back in the early days, yogurt was considered to be the food of hippies and never really gained much of a fan base. So Chuck Kesey who founded the Springfield Creamery in Oregon asked if his brother Ken could help. Ken asked the band and they organised a benefit concert to help the business grow. That show is often considered to have been one of the best Grateful Dead shows ever performed. If you’re ever in the US, look out for Nancy’s Yogurt and while you eat it, think of the Grateful Dead.
Jerry Garcia’s Image Was Used In An Election Commercial
Although he never voted for him, Jerry Garcia became a part of Richard Nixon’s presidential ad campaign. He was shown in the commercial wearing an Uncle Sam’s hat. Not only did Jerry not vote for Nixon, he never voted for anyone in the 1968 elections.
They All Had Very Different Musical Backgrounds
On closer inspection, it was amazing that they ever performed together at all, let alone for 30 years. Phil Lesh never liked rock ‘n’ roll, Jerry Garcia came from a bluegrass, folk background, Bill Kreutzmann was a jazz drummer and Bob Weir was into folk music. On top of that some of them had never touched an electric instrument until they were the Warlocks. Yet they became the highest grossing American group ever.
The Band Took A Cardboard Cut Out Of Jerry To Receive Their Induction Into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
In 1994 Jerry Garcia decided not to attend the Grateful Dead’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame so the rest of the band took a cardboard cut out of him instead.
They Had Their Own Physical Mailing List
At their shows they would have tables set up where fans could fill out postcards with their names and addresses. From which the band would send out newsletters. This was way before the days of the internet – twitter, facebook and such weren’t even dreamed of yet, but the Grateful Dead had their own mailing list.
They Were Business Pioneers
In today’s business world we often hear about branding, building tribes and reaching out to your perfect customers. The Grateful Dead were doing that for decades. They had their band logo, mailing lists and they allowed their fans to record their live shows, even giving “tapers” special spots at their concerts. Plus they had a hotline for fans to call to find out about upcoming tour dates and they sold tickets by mail order. All in the days before hot shot marketing strategies became the in thing.
One Of Their Tracks Run For 48 Minutes
Their single “Dark Star” was 2 minutes and 40 seconds long but the live version of that same track could go on for as long as 48 minutes.
Their Fans Go By A Less Than Flattering Name
Fans of the Grateful Dead have become known as “Dead Heads”. It all began from a notice written on the sleeve of the band’s 2nd live album which read,
“DEAD FREAKS UNITE: Who are you? Where are you? How are you?
Send us your name and address and we’ll keep you informed.
Dead Heads, P.O. Box 1065, San Rafael, California 94901”.
They Sponsored The Lithuanian Basketball Team
The band were friends with Lithuanian basketball player Sarunas Marciulionis. So when the Lithuanian team needed money to compete at the 1992 Olympic games, The Grateful Dead supplied it. Lithuania won the bronze medal and wore tie-dye kits when receiving their medals in homage to the band who’s fans wore lots of tie-dye.
Frequently Asked Questions
The Grateful Dead’s first show was performed in Magoo’s Pizza Parlour which was situated at 639 Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park.
The yogurt brand that the Grateful Dead held a benefit concert for was Nancy’s yogurt made by the Springfield Creamery.
The song “Dark Star” by the Grateful Dead was 2 minutes 40 seconds on record, but live they could play that track for over 40 minutes.
The Grateful Dead song that contains the lines “Light a candle, curse the glare, Draw the curtains, I don’t care” is “Touch of Grey” their only top 10 single.
Jerry Garcia came from a bluegrass/folk musical background, he could even play the banjo.
Jerry Garcia did have ⅔ of his middle finger on his left hand chopped off by his brother during a family camping trip when he was young. He’d been helping his brother cut wood and his brother accidentally chopped off part of his middle finger.
The Grateful Dead sponsored the Lithuanian basketball team during the 1992 Olympic games. They were friends with the Lithuanian basketball player Sarunas Marciulionis and so when the Lithuanian team needed financial support the band supplied it. They won a bronze medal and wore a tie-dye kit to collect their medals.
The Grateful Dead song that contains the lines “Your typical city involved in a typical daydream, hang it up and see what tomorrow brings” is “Truckin’” taken from the album “American Beauty”.
Grateful Dead fans are known as “Dead Heads”.
It is true that a cardboard cut out was taken to the band’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. When Jerry decided not to attend, the other band members took a life size cardboard cutout of Jerry with them to the induction ceremony.
The Grateful Dead were originally called “The Warlocks” but had to change their name due to another band of the same name releasing a record.
During Richard Nixon’s election campaign an image of Jerry Garcia can be seen in a commercial for the presidential candidate wearing an Uncle Sam’s hat. Jerry never even voted in that election.
The Grateful Dead song that contains the lines “Now the die is shaken, now the die must fall, there ain’t a winner in this game” is “Jack Straw” which is taken from the album “Europe ‘72”.
The Grateful Dead album that contains the track “Truckin’” is “American beauty” which was released in 1970.
The Grateful Dead’s famous wall of sound used 604 speakers.
The Grateful Dead song that contains the lines “There’s no need for you to be worrying about all those people, you never see those people anyway” is “Morning Dew” which was taken from the album “The Grateful Dead” which was released in 1967.
Members of the Grateful Dead were arrested on drug possession charges on Bourbon Street, New Orleans in their hotel on January 31st 1970 at 3am. They were released on bail in time for their next show and eventually the charges were dropped.
The title of the first album the Grateful Dead recorded on their own record label was “Wake of the Flood” which was released in 1973.
The Grateful Dead song that contains the lines “My name is August West, and I love my Pearly Baker best more than my wine” is “Wharf Rat” taken from the album “American Beauty”.
The Grateful Dead performed more than 2,300 live concerts.
Do you Have Any More?
That’s our 25 impressive facts about the Grateful Dead that you didn’t know. Do you know any we haven’t mentioned? Let us know in the comments.