How The Beatles changed Bob Weir and the Grateful Dead


How The Beatles changed Bob Weir and the Grateful Dead

(Credits: Far Out / Alamy)


If there was one band that represented the psychedelic world of San Francisco in the late 1960s, it was the Grateful Dead. Although they were an active band for 30 years, the Dead were always heavily associated with their first five years as a band. After forming as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, and Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan decided to drop traditional folk music and go electric.

The catalyst for the change wasn’t related to drugs, at least not initially. According to Weir, the change from jug band folk to souped-up rock and roll all happened thanks to the British Invasion. “Well, number one, The Beatles, followed shortly by The Rolling Stones,” Weir later told Jas Obrecht. “Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions started on New Year’s Eve [of 1963]. And I guess it was January or February of ’64 that the Beatles hit.”

“I won’t say this was the death knell for the folk craze, but it certainly co-opted the folk craze,” Weir recalled. “It was not too long before everybody pretty much had converted to electric guitar. Let’s see. The Beatles hit in February, and our jug band, Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, was beginning to electrify by November or December of ’64.”

Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions were officially transformed into The Warlocks sometime in early 1965. To help flesh out the lineup, drummer Bill Kreutzmann and bassist Dana Morgan Jr were added, the latter of whom provided the band a place to practice thanks to his dad owning a music shop. After a few shows, Phil Lesh stepped into the bass slot, solidifying the core of the band’s lineup. By the end of 1965, a lucky find in a dictionary led to a rechristening as the Grateful Dead.

“You know, at that time, I was listening to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Paul Butterfield,” Weir explained about the shift to electric rock music. “Playing that kind of music? My feeling is – and if you ask around, I’ll bet you’ll find it’s true – that most of the groups were a little insular in their appreciation of what everyone else was up to in the psychedelic scene. First off, I’m not sure that we were, at the point, real aware of the fact that there was a psychedelic scene happening. It’s just we were all doing the same thing at the same time because that’s sort of what the times presented to us.”

“I know the Grateful Dead were concentrating pretty heavily on what we were up to, and not particularly influenced by other people’s version of that same thing,” he added. “I think if you asked anyone in any of the groups at that time, they would have felt that they had a leg up on what they were up to, and that to sort of check in with what other people and what other groups were up to would be at least a half a step back for them.”

It wouldn’t take long for the Dead to catch up. Initially led by Pigpen, the band shifted from electric blues to psychedelia once the influence of LSD came into play. The Dead’s foundation as the house band to Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests meant that they became central to the burgeoning San Francisco hippie scene, eventually living communally in the Haight-Ashbury district of the city. And it never would have happened had The Beatles not stormed American shores in February of 1964.

Check out the Grateful Dead covering The Beatles’ ‘Rain’ in 1995, just five months before Jerry Garcia’s death, down below.

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