In Palo Alto, California back in 1965 a unique band called Grateful Dead was formed mixing Rock, Jazz, Blues and many other genres. During the 30 years of their career, until the death of the guitarist and singer Jerry Garcia in 1995 at the age of 53, they continued to prove that anything was possible in music.
The way the band worked was always different from most of the other groups in the music business. They proved they could be successful by not doing everything the way most other groups were doing.
A few years before his death, in an interview with Relix Magazine, in 1989, Jerry Garcia discussed the career of the group. He revealed something that in his opinion they were terribly bad at.
What Grateful Dead was terribly bad at according to Jerry Garcia
During the three decades they were active, the band released 13 studio albums that sold according to the Guinness World Records, an estimated amount of more than 35 million copies worldwide. However, bands with that amount of sales usually don’t get the chance to play to a completely sold out stadium, for example. They usually perform in smaller venues, but that’s not what happened with the Dead.
The only song by the group that entered the Top 40 or the Hot 100 charts during their entire career was the 1987 track “Touch of Grey” from their album “In the Dark”. So there was always a big difference between their record sales and their tours. Because for most part of their career, the group played to completely sold out stadiums in the United States and Canada, especially.
In the 90s, for example, they earned a total of 285 million dollars in revenue from their shows. They were the second highest-grossing tour in the world, only losing the first position to the Rolling Stones. And what Garcia said that Grateful Dead was terribly bad at, has a lot to do with that way the band worked.
“For singles (we are terribly bad at). It depends on the feedback we get from the record company. (Also) from radio airplay and all that kind of stuff. We can’t pick the singles. We’re terribly bad at all that kind of stuff.”
“So really it’s for the industry to say, ‘Well this would be a good single. Put this out.’ That’s really what we have that interface with the record business for, for their so-called expertise on that level.”
“Whether or not anybody knows what a good single is is completely debatable of course. But if somebody suggested, ‘Hey, this tune would be a good single,’ or whatever―hey, we’re up for anything. We haven’t drawn any lines through anything,” Jerry Garcia said.
Garcia believed the band was finally finding a way to make better studio albums in the 80s
The musician said in that same conversation that the growth of their audience was always a “slow, steady curve”. The group was known for always being a band that liked to experiment live. So every show they have done was unique, because there were really no rules. They could extend a song, play something they have never played before or just jam for half-an-hour, for example. So it was something that showed that they were much more a live band. It’s something that Garcia and the guitarist/singer Bob Weir said many times.
They have recognized that it wasn’t easy for the group to compose a “tighter” record. The main reason was because most of the times it ended up becoming “looser” in terms of playing and structuring the tracks. Garcia talked about that in the conversation with Relix, especifically about their 1989 album “Built To Last”.
“I think the thing is feeling more natural is what we’re after. I think we’re finally getting to it now. We’re learning how to make a record that has some of that Grateful Dead quality of loose tightness. But also has all of the detail that you can have on a record,” Jerry Garcia said.
That album reached the position 27 on the Billboard Chart 200. The track “Foolish Heart” appeared at number 8 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks charts.
Grateful Dead was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 by the musician Bruce Hornsby. During his speech, Hornsby said: “The Dead has always been about artistic curiosity and freedom”. He toured with the group from 1990 to 1992