Bob Weir’s long, strange trip with the Grateful Dead began on New Year’s Eve, 1963, when he followed the sound of a banjo into a Palo Alto music store. There, by chance, he met bluegrass veteran Jerry Garcia, waiting for a student. The 16-year-old Weir played folk guitar, and the two enjoyed a marathon jam session. They decided to form an acoustic band – Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions – with Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who doubled on harmonica and drums. Inspired by the Beatles, the musicians switched to electric instruments in 1965, changed their name to the Warlocks, and brought in Bill Kreutzmann and Phil Lesh on drums and bass. The Warlocks served as the house band at the first of Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests. The late Owsley Stanley, a pioneer in the manufacturing of then-legal LSD, bankrolled the band, which Garcia renamed the Grateful Dead. During the early days, the musicians shared a house in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district and, as Weir describes below, accelerated their musical explorations with LSD. By the time they recorded their 1967 debut album, Weir contends, they’d moved past the psychedelic stage.
The Grateful Dead, of course, went on to become the most beloved and enduring of the seminal San Francisco bands. For three decades, they delighted Dead Heads – the most avid and loyal family of fans in rock and roll history – with extended concerts highlighted by inspired improvisation. Along the way, several members had successful side projects. Bob’s first solo release, Ace, came out in 1972 and was the source of the concert fave “Playing in the Band.” As the 1970s rolled on, Weir also toured and recorded with Kingfish and the Bob Weir Band. In 1981 he stepped out again with Bobby and the Midnites, playing alongside legendary fusioneers Billy Cobham and Alphonso Johnson.