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Why The Grateful Dead had two drummers and how that worked

Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart from Grateful Dead
Photos by Jay Blakesberg


Why The Grateful Dead had two drummers and how that worked

The Grateful Dead was formed in Palo Alto, California in 1965 and originally it had only one drummer since the beginning, which was Bill Kreutzmann, who was the band’s only drummer for two years, until Mickey Hart joined the group in 1967.


Hart stayed in the band until 1971, returning again in 1974 and The Grateful Dead remained with both drummers until the band came to an end in 1995. Both musicians continued to play together on the other projects the members did after the group’s end like the most recent Dead & Company. But why does The Grateful Dead had two drummers and how does the band maked that work?

Why The Grateful Dead had two drummers and how that worked

Well, it’s not unusual for a Rock and Roll band to have two or more guitarists but two drummers playing at the same time is really rare. The “Double Drumming” can give a band a more powerful sound, especially live. Usually one drummer might play the rhythm while the other one can play in another style. But, of course, both of them can also play the same rhythm at the same time.

In Grateful Dead’s case, Mickey and Bill explained in an interview with CBS back in 2016 how they make that combination work. Mickey Hart said: “(Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage) We’re different people. He doesn’t play like me and I don’t play like him. We love each other’s technique and it goes together really well. Then there’s we just like each other a lot. You know, there’s a kind of a chemical thing, it’s something hard to describe,” Mickey Hart said.

Then Bill Kreutzmann gave his opinion on the chemistry between the two. He said: “Part of being really tight, because we watch each other. He have his eyes on me and we make sure we can see each other’s drums really well. So we get good eyesight, because it’s really critical to be hitting right on the money, playing right together. Like in the backbeat, we have to hit that really good. Mickey play on a different drum, so it sound different”.

It was the massive sound that made Grateful Dead adopt the two drums

As Mickey Hart said in the conversation with CBS it was the massive sound of the two drums that made the band decide to have two drummers. “It was the mass of it, you know, the absolute power. Two people are tracking each other, were playing polyrhythms. That was the most important thing. We could split the band in half, half would go with Bill and (the other half) could go with me.”

“Then we had all this going and then we would wind up somehow magically together at the end. That became the musical epiphany. (It was) odd times we were playing,” Mickey Hart said.

During the same interview Bill Kreutzmann joked that there are a lot of bands who play Grateful Dead songs but if they don’t have him and Mickey in the band, they are “in trouble”, because they wouldn’t be able to play it properly.

Hart explained that saying: “We propel it, (we are the) engine room. We plump the blood to the veins of The Grateful Dead”.

Mickey and Bill first met each other watching another musician play

They have been bandmates for decades, playing their drums at the same time and curiously, when they first met each other they were both watching another musician play. It was during a performance by the legendary American pianist, songwriter and bandleader Count Basie.

The curious thing is that they have no idea who was the guy who introduced them to each other at that show. Mickey Hart recalled that in an interview with ABC 7 NY (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage).

“The first time was, (I was) standing watching Count Basie down there in Bourbon Street. Somebody walked to (me) and said ‘You wanna meet the drummer of The Grateful Dead?’ I had never heard of The Grateful Dead. They had just started. We met, we got on, started drumming, walked around the city drumming on signposts, garbage cans.”

“We really got it on and I said: ‘Who was that guy (Who connected us)?’ And he always said: ‘I thought he was your friend’ (laughs). And I said: ‘No, I thought he was your friend!’ All these years he’s never come forward, the guy brought us both together, interesting. Then he asked to drum, sit-in and then that was The Grateful Dead,” Mickey Hart said.

What Jerry Garcia told Mickey Hart after their first show with two drummers

During the same conversation with ABC 7 NY, Mickey Hart recalled how the late co-founder, guitarist and singer of the band reacted to the first time they played with two drummers. Hart said it was a really difficult debut and he wasn’t sure about the result.

“He goes and gets the drums at half-time, sets them up and we play the second set. I had no idea what I was doing, I didn’t know the music. It was really intense and actually nobody clapped at the end. So I was trying to make it out the back door, I was just about to leave my drum seat. It was really (a feeling of) I gotta get out of here really fast.”

“All of sudden they (the crowd) erupted and Jerry (Garcia), we all hugged and kissed. He (Jerry) said ‘We could take this around the world. This is The Grateful Dead, we can take this around the world.’ The next thing I know I wound up at their house in the closet. It’s where I lived for a year,” Mickey Hart said.

I'm a Brazilian journalist who always loved Classic Rock and Heavy Metal music. That passion inspired me to create Rock and Roll Garage over 6 years ago. Music has always been a part of my life, helping me through tough times and being a support to celebrate the good ones. When I became a journalist, I knew I wanted to write about my passions. After graduating in journalism from the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, I pursued a postgraduate degree in digital communication at the same institution. The studies and experience in the field helped me improve the website and always bring the best of classic rock to the world! MTB: 0021377/MG

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