Senior Year, 1973: Dead Freaks Unite
by Justin Farrar | May 25, 2011
The phrase "DEAD FREAKS UNITE" appeared in the liner notes to the 1971 live album Grateful Dead, aka Skull & Roses. It was one of the earliest acknowledgements made by the band and its extended family of footloose handlers and hippie roadies that a swiftly growing number of fans was beginning to follow them, like a wandering pack of teenaged Bedouins, from concert to concert. It was also around this time that rock writers and critics began using the phrase "Deadhead" to denote a resident of this wonderfully transient community.
Interestingly enough, it was on the cold and blustery East Coast, and not that mythical land of golden sun and prehistoric trees known as California, where Deadhead culture fully developed. There was, as author Blair Jackson points out in his book Garcia: An American Life, a practical reason for this: population density. In the "BosWash" corridor in particular, where The Dead traditionally barnstormed a slew of venues and college campuses that were no more than a five-hour drive from one another, it was far more feasible for hardcore fans, many of whom held jobs or went to school, to spend a three-day weekend following the band. Out West, in stark contrast, the trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles was no less than six hours in the early 1970s. Meanwhile, the trek from the Bay Area to Portland, Ore., was a whopping 11 hours or more. As for Denver, another Dead stronghold -- forget about it.
Musically speaking, the early Deadheads didn't listen to their heroes exclusively. Just as the band themselves were busy in this period exploring everything from boogie rock and psychedelia to fusion and bluegrass, their fans also freaked for a wide array of sounds, including New Riders of the Purple Sage, a group that started life as a Dead spin-off in certain respects; the mighty Allman Brothers Band, who shared more than a few stages with The Dead around this time; the avant-funk sounds with which Miles Davis was then pummeling rock audiences; and of course, fellow Californians Santana and Hot Tuna. The dawn of the '70s is also when the first solo albums by Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Mickey Hart appeared.