By Quinn Eaton
"Casey Jones?" "Truckin'?" Everyone knows the Grateful Dead right? The band has existed in some form or fashion for 54 years, and along with them has resided one of the most loyal and passionate fan bases in all of music (they prefer the term "Deadheads"). Talk to anyone that has seen the Grateful Dead, or other renditions of the band, such as the Other Ones, the Dead, or the now touring Dead and Company, and they will tell you that the atmosphere is unlike any live show you will ever attend. The music is cranked, the vibe is kaleidoscopic, and air is abundant with...well you know what the air is abundant with. The remaining band members that tour still manage to pack venues and amphitheaters across the country, and in the band's heyday, it was often difficult to grab a ticket to a Dead show. How have the Grateful Dead managed to keep one of the most ardent group of followers coming back again and again while also reinventing themselves to appeal to generation after generation?
Bands do not necessarily have expiration dates, but there is usually an understood period of success that a band experiences before either breaking up or fizzling out. The Beatles, as we all knew them, were together for 8 years. The Clash stormed in and then "clashed" out in a matter of 10 years. Many bands have been able to outlast that "10 year max," such as the Rolling Stones and U2, but many have struggled to maintain persistent success outside of that typical grace period. The Grateful Dead, or some form of the group, have lasted over half a century. How old are they exactly? They are older than the handheld calculator, the ATM, and the 911 call, just for reference.
The Grateful Dead's career discography includes upwards of 200 albums, with most of them being live recordings. The band has produced and played a total of 184 original songs, as well bringing somewhere around 317 cover songs to life in their existence. If you search "greatest bands of all time," they will most likely be included in the conversation. If you search "greatest fan bases of all time," the Deadheads could possibly be the heaviest of all the hitters on the list. Here is the interesting part. If you search "Grateful Dead Billboard Top 50 Songs," you know how many songs come up?
How is it possible for a band that sells millions upon millions of records, with arguably the most devoted following in music of all time, as well as over 500 songs to their name, to have only one song peak in the Top 50 Billboard Charts? "Touch of Grey" peaked at #9 on the charts in 1987, and prior to that, "Truckin" had gotten them to #64 sometime in the 1970's. The fact that the Dead never had a song reach #1, let alone touch the Top 5, is a testament to both their longevity and the mystique that surrounds the band.
Once in a while, two people will cross paths and BOOM the world is forever changed. John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Will Smith and Alfonso Ribeiro. Or in this case, it was Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. The Grateful Dead, along with any iteration of the band that they have rolled out, has one magnificent principle to their music: jam. The Dead depend heavily on feel, are often classified as "genre-less," and design songs to be malleable for optimum "riff off" potential when they play them live.
The Grateful Dead ship has long sailed, and with two legendary musicians at the helm, the ship has done a lot more than just stay afloat. From when the Dead first officially formed in 1965 until Jerry Garcia's death in 1995, the band sold over 20 million tickets and generated over $380 million dollars in ticket sale revenue. Following Garcia's death, the band has exemplified the "I will get by" mantra, still keeping the psychedelic sound "truckin" to this day with Dead and Company. Consisting of original Grateful Dead members Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Bill Kreutzmann, accompanied by Oteil Burbridge, Jeff Chementi, and most notably John Mayer, Dead and Company has toured every year from 2015 to 2019.
54 years later and the Dead, like their famous "Dancing Bears," keep marching on. The fans continue to pack venues, and the addition of John Mayer has allowed a younger demographic to discover the Grateful Dead. The addition of Mayer to the band and filling the role of the late Jerry Garcia was met with some initial outcry and worry, but the Deadheads have now accepted him with open arms (possibly because of the "Uncle John's Band" connection, at least I think so). Filling the shoes of a music icon such as Jerry Garcia is impossible as well as unfathomable, and the Dead and Company have been adamant that no one ever will. John Mayer has stepped into the role that was left, but he is honoring Garcia rather than replacing him.
The music still jams and delivers. The atmosphere is still just as mind-bending as it was when the Grateful Dead first kicked off. The name of the band is pretty fitting after all of these years. Considering their astounding longevity, their extremely loyal following, and towering career revenue, the band has a lot to be grateful for.
Photo Credits: wmwv.com
Information: songfacts.com, gratefulseconds.com