History of the Grateful Dead

Hosted byRichard Syrett

History of the Grateful Dead

About the show

The Grateful Dead rose to greatness under the inspired leadership of guitarist Jerry Garcia, but the band very nearly died along with him due to conflicting agendas, strained relationships, and catastrophic business decisions. Joining guest host Richard Syrett, music journalist Joel Selvin offered a behind-the-scenes account of the ebbs and flows that occurred during the years after Garcia's death, detailing the final and mostly unknown chapter of the band's history.

Garcia became the reluctant leader of a global empire, as the Dead rose in popularity to become the top-grossing rock band during early 1990s, and it took its toll on his health, Selvin explained. "He was a mess... I think that being the leader of the Grateful Dead had become a real burden to him," he said, noting Garcia gained weight and started taking drugs again during this period. According to Selvin, Garcia's death in 1995 came as a profound shock to the other band members, who only related to each other through him. Some members, such as Bob Weir, refused to play Dead songs in concert after Garcia died, he added. Other things fell apart too, as the band became leaderless, the members were grief stricken, and there was no strategy in place for the loss of a key member, Selvin reported.

Infighting between Garcia's widow Deborah Koons led to a buy out of her share of the band, the group laid off half its employees, and issued a press release they were no longer the Grateful Dead, he continued. Selvin called founding member Phil Lesh and his wife ruthless in their lust for power over the band's post-Garcia legacy, pointing out how these ambitions were in stark contrast to the original Grateful Dead ethos. Selvin also revealed how the band never really identified with their fans. "They [didn't] look at their audience as like people that they would relate to or their kind of associates... they looked down on Deadheads," he said.


Open Lines followed in the latter half of the program with a focus on rock-related stories. Mark in Sacramento related an account told to him by The Who bassist John Entwistle about how the band settled a disagreement with Jimi Hendrix at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Music Festival. The Who's Pete Townshend had been arguing with Hendrix about who would go on first, as neither artist wanted to follow the other. "It came to blows and Jimi actually clocked Pete a good one and punched him and knocked him down, and that's how the argument was settled," Mark revealed.

John from Williams, Iowa told Richard about his own brush with musical greatness as he attends a Bible study led by Kerry Livgren, founding member of progressive rock group Kansas. "He's really at peace and he loves his wife, and he's normal... and he's still making music," John said, noting how life seems to have worked out for Livgren. Michael in Virginia Beach encouraged listeners to catch Beatles tribute band 1964 live in concert. "The power, the excitement, the attraction of those four men is just beyond description," he proclaimed.

News segment guest: Tim Binnall

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