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Music

The Grateful Dead songs not touched by Dead and Company

@TylerGolsen

Dead & Company have been recreating the live Grateful Dead experience for Deadheads across America since 2015. Featuring original Dead members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart along with John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti, Dead & Company might not be the sprightly and energetic Dead of the late 1960s and early ’70s, but they remain perhaps the closest most fans will get to a true Dead experience in the modern day.

That’s probably best underscored by the sheer dedication the group has to continue the ethos of where the Dead were heading when Jerry Garcia died in 1995. Dead & Company have played material that stretches across the entire 30-year career of the original band, from the playful early cover of ‘Beat It On Down the Line’ to the late-period gems like ‘Liberty’ and ‘Days Between’. But there are still some songs that are essential to the legacy of the Dead that have remained untouched by Dead & Company.

Unsurprisingly, quite a few of these songs are tunes originally helmed by Ron ‘Pigpen’ McKernan. As the original frontman of the Dead, McKernan brought a bluesy edge and garage rock energy to the earliest incarnation of the Dead. His lack of ability to transition into the psychedelic jams of the band slowly isolated him from the rest of the band, and although he was contributing songs well into the Europe ’72 tour, Pigpen would leave the band for good after the tour and would die less than a year later due to his severe alcoholism.

When Pigpen died, so too did his songs. Bob Weir resurrected covers like ‘Good Lovin’ and ‘Turn on Your Love Light’ to mixed results in the 1980s, so it’s no surprise that those songs have been played by Dead & Company. Even Pigpen’s rollicking original ‘Mr. Charlie’ is now sung by John Mayer, but classic Pigpen songs like ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’, ‘Chinatown Shuffle’, ‘Alligator’, ‘Operator’, and ‘Hard to Handle’ have yet to be included on any Dead & Company setlists.

Also tricky to pick up are songs that are too closely tied to Jerry Garcia. The entire concept of Dead & Company functions as a sort of tribute to Garcia, and the band have been more than willing to take on some of Garcia’s most showstopping numbers, including ‘Touch of Grey’, ‘Morning Dew’, ‘China Cat Sunflower’ and ‘Casey Jones’. But some Garcia tracks are trickier than others.

‘Lazy River Road’, ‘So Many Roads’ and ‘Might As Well’, are three Garcia-sung tracks that have yet to be played by Dead & Company. The first two songs became intrinsically linked with the ageing Garcia, and as Weir lets the grey and white haris take him over, he could easily bring that same gravitas to those tracks. “Might As Well’, meanwhile, is just a rollicking romp that would fit in well with the loose and goofy angle that the younger musicians bring to the table.

Other tracks like ‘Foolish Heart’, ‘Dupree’s Diamond Blues’ and ‘Caution (Do Not Step on Tracks)’ could easily find a home on this year’s summer tour as well, but the fact that the list of songs that haven’t been played by Dead & Company is relatively small remains a testament to Dead & Company’s uncanny ability to channel the more unpredictable side of the Grateful Dead experience.

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