In 1965, San Francisco was the epicenter of counterculture - a home for hippies, Beatniks and psychedelic drug experimentation. Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, spread the good word about the new & legal hallucinogen, LSD, through his Acid Test parties. It was here that the Grateful Dead got their start as the house band at Kesey's legendary parties.
Playing at these parties were the five original members
- Jerry Garcia (lead guitar, songwriter)
- Bob Weir (rhythm guitar)
- Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (keyboards, harmonica)
- Phil Lesh (bass)
- Bill Kreutzmann (drums)
Drummer Mickey Hart and lyricist Robert Hunter joined a couple years later in 1967. Various other musicians came and went, but these core members stayed together for the entire thirty-year history of the band, safe for Pigpen who died in 1973.
What's notable about the five founding members is that they all came from a different musical background. Jerry Garcia was a bluegrass banjo player, Pigpen was a blues guy who played the harp and organ, Bob Weir came from folk music, Phil Lesh was a neo-classical composer and Bill Kreutzmann was a jazz drummer. As such, their music pulls inspiration from a lot of genres: folk, bluegrass, country, rock, blues, jazz and gospel. Add the resulting instrumentals to the lyrics of Robert Hunter, and folks, you got the Grateful Dead.