As lead guitarist in a rock environment, Jerry Garcia naturally got a lot of attention. But it was his warm, charismatic personality that earned him the affection of millions of Dead Heads. He picked up the guitar at the age of 15, playing a little '50s rock and roll, then moving into the folk acoustic guitar era before becoming a bluegrass banjo player. Impressed by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, he and his friends formed a rock band called the Warlocks in late 1964 and it debut in 1965. As the band evolved from being blues-oriented to experimental to adding country and folk influences, his guitar stayed out front. His songwriting partnership with Robert Hunter led to many of the band's most memorable songs, including "Dark Star," "Uncle John's Band," and the group's only Top 10 hit, "Touch of Grey." Over the years he was married three times and fathered four daughters. He died of a heart attack in 1995.
When the Dead began to play in 1965, Bob Weir was just 17, so he was naturally treated as "the kid." Over the years, he grew to the point of being one of rock's finest and most distinctive rhythm guitarists, and a band loyal. He grew up on the peninsula south of San Francisco, and was glued to a guitar from the time he was 14. One of his earliest influences was a local folkie named Jorma Kaukonen. He first joined in with Garcia in 1964 to form "Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions," and then was a co-founder of the Warlocks, later the Grateful Dead. As the band grew, he became the co-lead-vocalist with Garcia, and wrote a number of important songs, including "The Other One," "Sugar Magnolia," "Playing in the Band," and "Throwing Stones." He is married to the former Natascha Muenter, and they have two daughters, Momo and Chloe. His band RatDog is increasingly active.
Ron "Pigpen" McKernan
Starting a rock band was actually Ron McKernan's idea, and he was its first front man, delivering stinging harmonica, keyboards, and beautiful blues vocals in the early years of the Warlocks and Grateful Dead. Nicknamed "Pigpen" for his odd approach to life and sanitation. He was born into a family that was generally conventional, except for the fact that his caucasian father was an R & B disc jockey. And that sound put Pig's life on the rails of the blues from the time he was 12. Liquor, Lightnin' Hopkins, the harmonica and some barbecue, it was an unusual life for a white kid from San Carlos, but it was Pig's life. And the hard-drinking blues life began to catch up with Pig by the very early '70s. He played his last show with the band in 1972, and on March 8, 1973, he died of internal hemorrhaging caused by his drinking.
Less extroverted than his partner in boom, Bill has been the steady beating heart of the Grateful Dead's rhythm section for forty years. His first drumming gig was keeping a beat for his mother, a dance teacher at Stanford University, as she choreographed shows for her classes. Later he found a serious teacher in Lee Anderson, part of Ken Kesey's "Perry Lane" gang. Lee not only taught him a good deal about drumming, but served as a bohemian role model. Bill was a rock veteran by 1965, having worked in a local R & B group, The Legends, when he came to Dana Morgan's music store to teach percussion. Even then he had a swinging touch, and he was Garcia's easy first choice for the drum seat. In recent years, Bill has devoted much of his energy to things oceanic, surfing, kayaking, and diving, and in 1993 made a video, "Ocean Spirit," about a trip he made to Mexico's Revillagigedo Islands.
One of the strongest intellects and most extraordinary musical talents in rock history, Phil Lesh re-defined what the bass could sound like, and in so doing heavily influenced what the Dead sounded like. Instead of being part of the rhythm section, Phil's bass was a low-end guitar, and his improvised interplay with Garcia and Weir made the Dead the not-quite-rock-band rock band that it was. Raised in an eastern suburb of San Francisco, he began his music studies with classical violin before switching to "cool jazz" big-band trumpet. Later he studied with Luciano Berio and composed music in the realm of Stockhausen. In 1965 he attended a Warlocks show at a pizza parlor in Menlo Park, and afterwards his friend Garcia informed him that he was the new bass player in the band. Fortunately for future Dead Heads, he said, "Why not"? He and Jill, his wife of more than twenty years, have two sons. Phil presently presides over a repertory-theatre-as-rock/jazz-band called "Phil Lesh and Friends."
Phil Lesh was standing in line at Cal Berkeley's music department in 1961 when he overheard a young man, Tom Constanten by name, remark that music stopped being created in 1750 and began again in 1950. They shook hands, and became friends for life. Shortly after, Tom persuaded Phil to apply for a special class in electronic composition at Mills College with Luciano Berio, which would become one of the touchstones of Lesh's life. As the Grateful Dead emerged and began to create, Phil returned the favor to T.C., who became the Dead's advisor/keyboard creative spirit, altering normal piano sounds by inserting combs, Dutch dimes, and a gyroscope into the body of the keyboard, as they recorded the masterpiece albums Anthem of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa. He joined the touring band in November 1968, and amicably departed in January 1970, feeling that he was underamplified, and in so doing avoided the curse of the Dead keyboard seat.
Donna Jean Godchaux
Donna Jean Godchaux was a beautiful southern girl who grew up in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. A man named Rick Hall founded a studio there called "Fame," and before too long, people began to talk about the Muscle Shoals sound. By the age of 15 she was wearing a cheerleader's uniform at her first session - Donna Jean was one of the harmony singers at Fame. She appeared on tracks that included Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" and Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman." After a while, she said, it started feeling like a job, so she headed for San Francisco in the summer of 1970. A few months later, she fell in love with a guy named Keith Godchaux. One night in October friends dragged her to a Dead concert at Winterland and she discovered the spiritual nature of the band. After introducing Keith to Garcia and getting him the gig, she waited a while before joining him on stage. She still sings, and she's still very beautiful.
The Grateful Dead has always been a focus of synchronicity -- of magic "coincidences" happening at just the right time. In early fall 1971, the Dead really faced up to the fact that they needed a keyboard player. Pigpen was too frail (he'd entered the hospital), and T.C. had left long ago. One day a young woman grabbed Garcia at a Keystone Korner show in San Francisco and introduced her husband. He'd never studied the Dead and had gone to only a couple of shows, but she somehow knew that he was the new piano player. And after playing with Garcia and then the complete band -- it turned out to be so. Keith was brilliant for the first three years or so he was in the band, but he was sensitive and prone to depression, and the road ate him alive. Eventually, he and Donna left the band in 1979. A year later, Keith died as the result of a car accident.
By the time Brent had joined the band, the cloud that seemed to hang over the Dead's keyboard seat seemed firmly in place. He grew up in the Bay Area suburbs of Contra Costa County, and swiftly joined a succession of local rock bands. A record contract took him to Los Angeles, where he caught Bob Weir's attention just as Bob was putting together a live band to represent his album Heaven Help the Fool. Garcia heard that band and was impressed by Brent, and when Keith resigned, suggested that Brent join the Dead. Over his 11 years with the band, his contributions grew mightily. His first, rather than sweet voice and songs "Easy to Love You," "Far From Me" grew much stronger by the time In the Dark's "Tons of Steel," and by 1989, when the Dead recorded Built to Last, he had some of the best material of them all, from "Just a Little Light" and "Blow Away" to the exquisite lullabye for his daughters, "I Will Take You Home." His 1990 death deeply hurt the band.
When Brent Mydland died in 1990, the Dead cast about for a new keyboard player/high harmony vocalist, and soon found a good one in Vince Welnick, who served nobly until Garcia's death in 1995, sharing keys with Bruce Hornsby for the first two years. Vince knew something about bands with history. His hometown first band had been called The Beans. Eventually it moved to the S.F. Bay Area and became that notorious theater of the perverse-rock band - freakshow called The Tubes. After a stint with Todd Rungren, Vince was looking around for something else when the Dead came calling. After Garcia's passing, he formed "Missing Man Formation" and played with Bob Weir and Mickey Hart at different times. The Dead's tragic keyboard player history re-emerged in 2006, when Vince died on June 2nd.
Practically born with drumsticks in his hands,both of his parents were champion rudimental (marching band-style) drummers, Mickey Hart committed to percussion from the beginning. After experience in both high school and military (Air Force) marching bands and a brief stint working for his father at a drum shop, he encountered Bill Kreutzmann one night at the Matrix. On September 30, 1967, he sat in with the Dead, and joined the band. His influence over the next year was to push the band into complex, multi-rhythmic explorations. A student of Ustad Allah Rakah (Ravi Shankar's tabla player), he added various strains of non-Western music to the Dead's general atmosphere. Over the years, he has been involved in many musical and archival projects, most notably the band Global Drum Project, and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress's "Endangered Music Project." He is the author of several books, including Drumming at the Edge of Magic and Global Drum Project.
Robert Hunter joined the Grateful Dead in the fall of 1967, when he arrived at a rehearsal just in time to write the first verse of the band's classic "Dark Star." Though he'd never play onstage, he became not only a genuine band member but its secret ace in the hole. Though Bob Weir's words for "The Other One" would endure most of the band's early verbal efforts, it was Hunter's work that would elevate their songs from short and simple to rich, complete stories set to song. Hunter had fallen into the Dead's general scene in 1961 when he'd met Garcia in Palo Alto, and he'd played in several of Garcia's early bluegrass bands. But he'd always thought of himself as a writer, probably a novelist, and it was only in 1967 that he fulfilled his personal destiny, and enriched the Dead's music. He's gone on to write several books of poetry, and is currently at work on a novel.
John Perry Barlow
John Perry Barlow is a retired Wyoming cattle rancher, a former lyricist for the Grateful Dead, and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Since May of 1998, he has been a Fellow at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. He was born in Sublette County, Wyoming in 1947, was educated in a one room schoolhouse, and graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut with an honors degree in comparative religion in 1969. In 1971, he began operating the Bar Cross Land and Livestock Company, a large cow-calf operation in Cora, Wyoming where he grew up. He continued to do so until he sold it in 1988. He co-wrote songs with the Grateful Dead from 1971 until their demise in 1995. In 1990 he and Mitchell Kapor founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization which promotes freedom of expression in digital media. He currently serves as its Vice Chairman.