The Top 10 Greatest Ever Americana Artists: Number 7 – Jerry Garcia / Grateful Dead

As our countdown of the Top 10 Greatest Ever Americana Artists gathers pace we reach Number 7. Whilst some of our writers celebrated the Grateful Dead, a couple also honed in on the individual talent and influence of Jerry Garcia. For the purposes of this list we have combined those contributions to give a score of 32 points. 

AUK writer and man about London Town, Richard Parkinson, placed the Grateful Dead at Number 1 in his personal chart. Here’s what he said about them:

“Perhaps more than any other act, the Grateful Dead embody the essence of americana.  The band members’ backgrounds were in folk/ bluegrass, rhythm & blues, jazz and classical composition.  Starting out as a jug band they became a psychedelic rock band at the heart of the mid 1960’s San Francisco scene.  Their first album, though, largely comprises folk, blues and country tunes albeit interpreted through a psychedelic lens.  Even the more out there records produced between 1968 and 1969 feature interpretations of folk and blues songs.

1970’s ‘Workingman’s Dead’ with its old-style lettering and sepia-tinted artwork featuring band members standing in line to catch the bus to work, marked a change in direction being more acoustic-driven, drawing on traditional American musical styles and, via the lyrics of Robert Hunter, reaching back through American history – real and imagined – as well as confronting the black heart of the present.  ‘American Beauty’, released later the same year, broadened the range further with the addition of the pedal steel guitar to Jerry Garcia’s repertoire, the gospel tinge to ‘Brokedown Place’, David Grisman’s mandolin touches on ‘Ripple’ and ‘Friend of The Devil’ and songs that addressed grief, the outlaw life and in ‘Truckin’ that most American of intangible artefacts, the road.

In addition to the songs of their own, the Dead have always been great interpreters of others’ work across the full palette of the American songbook including Nashville country (Cash’s ‘Big River’), Bakersfield country (Haggard’s ‘Mama Tried’), cowboy ballads (‘El Paso’), rhythm and blues (‘Turn On Your Lovelight’), rock & roll (‘Promised Land’) and blues of every hue, not to mention a pretty full grasp on the works of Bob Dylan which have served as a musical signpost down many fruitful roads to this writer among many others.
On top of that, Garcia’s side project with Peter Rowan, Grisman, John Kahn and Vassar Clements, the bluegrass band Old and In The Way produced the best-selling bluegrass album of all time in 1975 until it was surpassed 25 years later by the ‘O Brother’ soundtrack.

The Dead have been frequent collaborators with other musicians in the studio as well as live.  ‘Laughing’ on David Crosby’s ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’ is essentially the Dead with Crosby on lead vocal.

The Dead live experience and the tours with accompanying troupes of Deadheads became and remain part of the travelling show strand of americana to the point where there is a case to be put that the Grateful Dead not only portray americana but have become part of it.”

About Clint West 319 Articles
From buying my first record aged 10 and attending my first gig at 14, music has been a lifelong obsession. A proud native of Suffolk, I have lived in and around Manchester for the best part of 30 years. My idea of a perfect day would be a new record arriving in the post in the morning, watching Ipswich Town win in the afternoon followed by a gig and a pint with my mates at night,
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Andrew Riggs

Top 10 ????