LIVE SOUND OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD
One of the most influential groups to emerge from the musically prolific city of San Francisco is the Grateful Dead. Universally recognized as the leading exponent of that city's sound, the Dead are taking over where the Airplane left off. Proving that is the fact that After Bathing At Baxter's, the Airplane's latest recording, is dying on the record stands, whereas the Grateful Dead's second album is being impatiently awaited.
The Dead's sound can be best described as the new blues. With raunchy chords and funky sounds, they grip their live audiences with a burst of sound that patrons of San Francisco's famed Fillmore Auditorium maintain cannot be duplicated on records.
Led by Jerry Garcia, who commands an almost religious respect among his copious followers, the Dead come on with hard, hoarse, screeching sounds that are almost unbelievable. Garcia himself admits, "I don't believe the live sound, the live excitement can be recorded."
Besides Garcia, who was born in Mazatlan, Mexico, there is Phil Leash on bass. Leash recounts his life: "born in a jail cell, the last of a line of at least three generations of horse thieves. Thereafter, history took over leaving me bewigged, lathered and ready for the axe."
Ron McKernan, better known to everyone as Pigpen, was born in San Bruno, California. Before joining the Dead, Pigpen was the leader of an all-organ blues band. He earned his nickname while still in high school. "I began singing at 16. I wasn't in school, I was just goofin'. I've always been singing along with records, my dad was a disc jockey, and it's been what I wanted to do." One noted San Francisco jazz/pop critic has called Pigpen "one of the major bluesmen in America."
Bill Sommers, who is their drummer, played in about ten bands until the Dead finally asked him to join them. Bill has a background in football at Stanford.
Their rhythm guitarist is one of the youngest guitarists ever to play with the Dead. Bob Weir was only 18 when he began playing with the group. Weir is also a fine artist whose rather interesting interpretation of Pigpen is being worn on thousands of tee-shirts across the city.
The group is extremely together. Working and living together has brought the group so close that it is almost impossible to tell where one mind stops and the others start. This closeness, this ability to become one being, is perhaps the greatest asset any group in pop music today can have. Through the closeness of sound and mind, they can make their individual achievements heighten considerably as a group.
They are at their best in front of an audience. They have fun while on stage, and it is evident that this is where they want to be. Garcia explains, "Audiences are where it's at. We get into a thing by ourselves, but if there's a few people listening it makes a big difference."
Phil Leash perhaps sums up the Dead's sound best when he states, "you just do what you do and we all kind of fell together. We orbit around a common center. It is impossible to define but it has something to do with making good music of any kind. That's the Grateful Dead."
(by Tony Leigh, from KRLA Beat, 27 January 1968)
The KRLA Beat archive of issues from 1964-1968 is here: http://krlabeat.sakionline.net/cgi-bin/index.cgi