I remember hearing the name “The Grateful Dead” as a young music fan, and thinking that this must be a really intense hard rock band. As we all know now, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Deep in country-folk rock roots, The Dead will always be known as one of the most powerful touring acts in rock history, with their legion of following fans, the Dead Heads. They are also pioneers in the concept of a jam band, with each of their live sets presenting a different mix of songs and several extended, roaming tracks. Despite their primary notoriety as a live act, they did record several very successful studio albums, including today’s selection “Workingman’s Dead”, which is album #409 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The influence of band founder and lead guitarist / lead vocalist Jerry Garcia is very prominent here. The album is bookended by two of their most well-known songs, opening with the mellow “Uncle John’s Band” and closing with the ode to a narcotic-influenced train engineer, “Casey Jones”, which has always been one of my very favorite studio tracks by the Dead. Oddly enough, as popular as “Casey Jones” was and is, you don’t hear it very often in their live sets.
The rest of the album is mostly very soft country, with a few exceptions, including “Easy Wind”, a funkier rocker that features keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on lead vocals. As noted, the Grateful Dead and their indefatigable fans will always be known primarily for their never-ending journey of live performances. I learned this week that the remnants of the Grateful Dead, “Dead and Company” are coming back through my area in Virginia this summer. It won’t be the same without Jerry Garcia, but I can think of a lot of worse ways to spend a night out on the lawn listening to Dead tunes.
“Trouble ahead, trouble behind, and you know that notion, just crossed my mind…”