It’s no secret that I’m something of a Grateful Dead fan. I can’t call myself a Dead Head because I haven’t been a regular attendee at their gigs, in fact my chance to see them live at Wembley in the late 70s was scuppered by the cancellation of the performance my ticket was for, which was the low point of that particular year.
Something that’s always fascinated me about the band is that they were a two drummer outfit for almost their entire existence up to Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995. Over the last 50 years or so, various other bands have toyed with the two drummer idea but none have seemed to be able to make it stick. Why is that?
One of the reasons, I believe, is that Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart were entirely sympatico, working with each other to lay down dense, multi-layered drumming that would be physically impossible for a lone drummer restricted to 2 arms and 2 feet. One only has to watch footage of them to realise how attuned to each other they were. Another reason is that, unlike most of the other bands that tried the idea, there was never a sense that Kreutzmann and Hart were competing, in fact the reverse seemed to be true; this wasn’t a drum battle. I’ve been to gigs by other bands where two drummers were going at it like Animal v Buddy Rich and it wasn’t often a pretty sight; or sound.
The complex rhythms that these superb drummers created were such an important element in the construction of the Grateful Dead sound, almost instantly recognisable and always exciting.
Still on the subject of the Grateful Dead, something which really burns me needs to be said, even after 30 years. In 1987 the band released a studio single Touch of Grey which, to almost everybody’s astonishment charted top 10 in America. I heard the song and loved it immediately, when I discovered that it was written after Garcia had recovered from a diabetic coma I loved it even more. Yes, it’s a toe-tapper but then so much of the Dead’s oevre has been, that was one of their magic ingredients. When I started reading sneering reviews that dismissed it as commercial I was furious. What’s wrong with commercial success? This is the job, the career path if you will, that these guys chose and part of that is making a living. As it happens they made a very good living out of performing in front of more people than any other band in history but to paraphrase the song “it’s alright”. Here is Touch of Grey, I love this video…