Fifty years ago today, a California rock band played its first concert under a new name and started a long, strange trip into music history.
Less than a week earlier, the San Francisco-based “Warlocks” had learned there was another group on the U.S. East Coast using the same name. With a series of prominent gigs coming up, they needed a name that would set them apart.
Thumbing through a dictionary, band leader Jerry Garcia happened upon a folk tale listed, and asked, “What about ‘Grateful Dead?’”
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They had been playing at the famous Acid Test house parties thrown by author and playwright Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), where their music became so popular that a stage gig was inevitable. On December 10, 1965 they performed their first official concert as “The Grateful Dead” in San Francisco’s historic Fillmore Auditorium.
There is no recording of that first performance — the set list even disappeared. But less than a month later, again performing at the Fillmore, someone in the audience would tape the first of more than 2,000 fan-recorded concerts of “The Grateful Dead” known to exist.
And those fans have to be grateful they don’t have to call themselves “Warlock Heads.” It just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily as “Dead Heads’.
Oh, and that other band that was called “Warlocks” later changed its name, too. It became known as “The Velvet Underground.”
(WATCH the video set to a 1965 Warlocks recording below)
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