The Grateful Dead started in the mid-1960s, with an original lineup consisting of guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia, guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, and drummer Bill Kreutzmann. Most of them had played together before, in multiple bands around San Francisco, and most of them would continue to play together as members of the Grateful Dead throughout the thirty-year run of the band. Although he did not play with the band until the early 1990s, pianist Bruce Hornsby is often known for his contributions to the group as well.
As a rock band, the Grateful Dead had something of an eclectic style. Their influences range from common rock influences such as bluegrass, folk, blues and country, to less conventional influences such as jazz and psychedelic rock. They were also influenced by space rock, a subgenre involving heavy use of slow and ambient synth music. They grew infatuated with rock music due to the influence of the Beatles, and Bob Dylan influenced their use of electric instruments. They helped to establish the subgenre of psychedelic rock, but they made it their own through their highly improvisational style.
While they loved to improvise, their records showed that Jerry Garcia knew how to write melodies. He was skilled on the guitar, and he demonstrated his abilities in a number of Grateful Dead ballads such as “Wharf Rat,” “Loser,” and “Stella Blue.” Phil Lesh helped to back Garcia’s melodies with his innate rhythmic sensibilities, developed through a classical music background. He was generally backed in this endeavor by drummers such as Bill Kreutzmann or Mickey Hart. The band’s unique musical sensibilities showed that convention was far from integral to success, as their legion of fans (known as Deadheads) continued to grow throughout their long career.
The band stayed together through 1995, releasing new albums every few years through 1990. After they split due to the death of Jerry Garcia, their former members continued to play music as members of other various bands, many of which they had started themselves. This changed in January of 2015, when the band announced their “Fare Thee Well” shows. In order to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the band’s original formation in 1965, it was decided that Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, Bob Weir and Bruce Hornsby would reunite. They would also be joined by Trey Anastasio, who played guitar with Phil Lesh and Friends, and Jeff Chimenti, who played keyboard with Bob Weir & RatDog.
Although Jerry Garcia is no longer alive to play the band’s reunion shows, he still remains one of the band’s most notable members. He was integral to the creation of their musical style, which in turn made him a vital part of the influence that the Grateful Dead had on other jam bands. At least some of the band’s influence can also be attributed to Robert Hunter, one of their primary lyricists. Hunter’s lyrics often dealt with serious subjects such as death, loss, chaos, beauty, love, life, religious themes and political issues.
The Grateful Dead was not known for a barrage of hit singles, but they were known for the sheer influence of their style and talent. That has made their impact on the music industry incredibly long-lasting, and is responsible for the fact that Deadheads continue to be created long after the band’s original run. Although they are playing their last shows in 2015, their legacy is likely to live on for quite some time thereafter.
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