Jan 29, 2024

May 1966: Introducing the Grateful Dead


(A Special Peninsula Teen Review) 

Did you ever wonder exactly what goes into the making of a modern day rock band? True, there are virtually tons of electronic equipment; guitars, amplifiers, microphones, speakers, tape recorders, and various other complicated and expensive gadgets. But the men behind all this electricity are what makes a good band what it is. 
The Grateful Dead is one example of a mixture of electronic technique and men with enough musical ability to stand behind that technique and really wail. 
The personnel of the Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia, lead guitar; Bob Weir, rhythm guitar; Phil Lesh, bass guitar; Bill Sommers, drums; and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, organ and harmonica) have diverse musical backgrounds which show in their sound. 
Jerry Garcia is "one of the best bluegrass banjo pickers around;" Bob Weir's specialty was city blues and folk music. Ron "Pigpen" McKernan has been involved in country blues and was a member of several rhythm and blues bands. 
Garcia, Weir, and McKernan made their debut as band members of a jug band called Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, which played locally for quite some time. 
Bill Sommers, the drummer, has had ten years of training at the drums, most of which had been in the jazz vein; and Phil, who is the newest addition to the Grateful Dead, had majored in music theory in college and has written a symphony for a full orchestra all by himself! 
This band is one of the most interesting ones to watch - if you can stand still enough to watch them while their sound surrounds you. Both Jerry and Ron sport shoulder length curly hair; Phil Lesh, tall and strongly built, sports blond hair almost shoulder length; Bob Weir could be the Greek god of the group, with his well-chiseled features and free-swinging clean hair. Bill Sommers would be the favorite man with people who admire individualism - he is the only man with relatively short hair. 
This group, not counting one personnel change, first played in a fairly obscure pizza parlor on the Peninsula. 
At that time they were known as the Warlocks - the name change to the Grateful Dead came when they found out that an East Coast group had chosen the name Warlocks first. 
At first they played just so that they could build up the stage presence that they now have. It wasn't long before kids became interested in the group - it seemed that they recognized and really dug the new out of sight sound. 
The Grateful Dead began, as most groups do, with songs gleaned from the albums of the really well-known groups such as the Animals, Rolling Stones, and Them. Kids used to pack that pizza parlor to hear the Dead's versions of Gloria, Not Fade Away, Satisfaction, and even some Dylan such as She Belongs to Me, and It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - just to name a few. 
At present, their songwriting possibilities have become apparent, and they have worked out some songs of their own.

(from the Redwood City Tribune, May 2, 1966)


  1. One of the earliest articles about the Dead, and a surprisingly well-informed one. Redwood City is on the peninsula not far from Palo Alto & Menlo Park, and it's possible the writer had seen the band since their Warlocks days.
    Some newspapers in those days had teenage sections where teens could write on topics they were interested in. I'm guessing the author here was a girl, judging by the salacious descriptions of the band's hairstyles. It reminds me of this fan poem from the same period:
    1966 was perhaps the last year where the Dead could be portrayed as a regular sexy, groovy rock group with particular appeal to teenage girls!

    Info-wise, the author hypes up their backgrounds, making me wonder if she was a friend of theirs. But it's interesting how this precedes later writing on the band which would so often discuss their diverse musical backgrounds as a key to the Dead's sound. It's also neat how she lists some of the Warlocks' most popular covers that "kids would pack that pizza parlor to hear"...most of them no longer played by mid-'66.

  2. A very interesting piece that reads like it comes from Sue and/or Connie. It was published May 2 66 after the Dead had spent a coupla months out of N CA in LA before returning and playing the late April Trips Festival at Longshoreman's Hall. Does the author know Owsley was now taping them or just that the Acid Tests used tape machines?
    I wonder if this was the first article in print to push the still ongoing myth (espoused by members of the Dead themselves) that Pigpen was the old country bluesman as opposed to the performer of contemporary or not too old black music that he was?
    "Bob Weir's specialty was city blues and folk music. Ron "Pigpen" McKernan has been involved in country blues and was a member of several rhythm and blues bands"!
    Hardly, when the Dead played old country blues it was Bob and Jerry who covered them (amongst many other things), Pigpen did the post-war "city" rhythm and blues, he didn't go back further than Lightnin' Hopkins. Pig was the contemporary man, Jerry and Bob were the diggers after old weird stuff. I'm sure Pig knew and could do the old stuff but he wasn't interested, that's why he talked Jerry into turning the Jug Band into the Warlocks.

    1. Pigpen had played solo acoustic around the Tangent, etc. ("country blues," even if not literally) as well as in several small-time R&B bands (The Zodiacs, Dr. Don & the Interns), so both claims are truthful to a degree.

    2. Interesting observations! Personally I wouldn't parse the wording too closely; the distinction between "city" & "country" blues may be just her impression. Would the average listener be able to tell that, say, New Minglewood Blues was a much older song than Katie Mae?
      Anyway, from the hints here I increasingly feel the author probably knew these guys from the Tangent days; this is nascent fan-club type writing.