Monthly Archives: March 2011

Bob Weir on Psychedelic San Francisco and the Birth of the Grateful Dead

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. Continue reading