Happy Birthday Jerry Garcia: Why The Grateful Dead Still Matters

Categories: Dead Air

The Grateful Dead at 710 Ashbury in San Francisco.
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Switching on the Grateful Dead channel this morning on satellite radio (yes, I have it preprogrammed) and wondering if there would be anything special happening for what would have been Jerry Garcia's 70th birthday (yes, I know that too), it was pretty much business as usual--just one of the hundred or versions of "Cold Rain and Snow" floating in the Grateful Dead universe.

But that got me thinking. There is no need to do something special for Garcia when in fact it's pretty special that a band like the Dead can have its own radio station. It confirms the viability of the band long after its founder, lead guitarist and central figure died. Drummer Mickey Hart, in a promo spot for the station said something to the effect of "it's Grateful Dead 24/7. Who'd have thought that could ever happen?"

Indeed, but no band has ever had the following or influence of the Grateful Dead--an influence still impacting and shaping bands today. In the course of reporting on music for nearly 30 years, dozens of bands have expressed to me the profound influence the Grateful Dead have had on its sound.

Bands like Umphrey's McGee, Phish, String Cheese Incident (in fact, listen to electric mandolin player Michael Kang's tone on many songs--he's channeling Garcia, which he admits), Animal Liberation Orchestra, Codetalkers, Greensky Bluegrass, Hot Buttered Rum, John Butler Trio, Dr. Dog, Keller Williams, and many others, openly embrace a spirit of free form improvisation that prior to the Grateful Dead, wasn't found in rock bands, but was more of a jazz thing.

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