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50 Years of The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead celebrated its 50th anniversary in July with a series of farewell shows at Soldier Field in Chicago. We're using that as an opportunity to reexamine the legacy of the controversial band. The Dead formed in the Bay Area in the 1960s and featured a core membership of guitarists Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, keyboardist Ron“Pigpen”McKernan, bassist Phil Lesh, drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, with important contributions from lyricist Robert Hunter. Though it was the prototypical "jam band," The Dead's sound was much more eclectic and harder to pin down than that sometimes derisive term indicates, incorporating free jazz, psychedelia, bluegrass, blues, early rock ‘n’ roll, and more.

The Dead built a community of devoted fans who would travel with the band from town to town, some of whom would tape the performances and share the recordings, which the band encouraged. Though Deadheads contend the true essence of the band was experienced in its experimental live shows, Jim has little patience for the erratic performances and instead prefers the band's early studio recordings. Greg argues that The Dead was a consistently great live band during its peak in the '70s, before drugs took their toll and the surprise 1987 chart hit "Touch of Grey" altered the fanbase. Garcia, who died in 1995, was an irreplaceable musical genius, and the band leaves behind a legacy of experimentation, eclecticism, and an unparalleled musical community.