4 Classic Songs: The Grateful Dead vs. Dead & Company

by Peter Wendel
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Jerry Garcia [photo: Rosie McGee]

The Grateful Dead ended their epic 30-year run on July 9, 1995, in front of a sellout crowd at Chicago’s Soldier Field. Magical frontman Jerry Garcia – the heart and soul of the iconic band – would pass away a month later on August 9, 1995, at the age of 53.

Just like that, The Grateful Dead were no more. The loss left a big hole in the hearts of fans around the world.

Fast forward to the summer of 2015. The 50th anniversary of the band’s formation brought five very special shows under the banner of “Fare Thee Well.” The concerts in Santa Clara and Chicago (the site of Jerry’s final show) featured the Core Four – Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart – with Trey Anastasio playing lead guitar and Bruce Hornsby and Jeff Chimenti on keyboards.


The ticket frenzy surrounding those shows – billed as the Core Four’s final act – was a shock to pretty much everyone, including the band members and mega-promoter Peter Shapiro. The lightning-quick sellout of “Fare Thee Well” proved the once-legendary draw of The Grateful Dead was still very much alive and well. (I had the good fortune of being in Chicago for all three shows, and it was a celebration for the ages!)

The momentum and good vibe from the shows in Santa Clara and Chicago spurred Bob Weir to put together yet another splinter band, Dead & Company. This latest iteration stars Bobby, Billy and Mickey with bassist Oteil Burbridge, keyboardist Jeff Chimenti and super-talented lead guitarist John Mayer, who has introduced the Dead’s music to younger generations.


John Mayer 2006

Dead & Company continue to sell out venues across the country with audiences heaping praise on the new band, calling Mayer the best thing since, well…Garcia.

It seems that a significant number of old-school Deadheads were at first skeptical of Mayer, who became famous singing bubble-gum pop songs to teenage girls, but the 39-year-old guitarist won them over (or at least most of them).

The success of Dead & Company is a testament to the musicianship and marketing of Weir, Mayer and the rest of the band, but it’s also a reminder of the enormous impact made by Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead as their music and spirit still enthrall fans, young and old, from sea to shining sea.

Remember, it’s been some 50 years since The Grateful Dead formed and some 20 years since their final show in Chicago. Kind of remarkable if you look at it right.

Here are four classic Grateful Dead tunes to compare and contrast original performances (with Garcia) to new Mayer-fueled versions. Don’t forget to turn it way up!


The Grateful Dead
May 16, 1980
Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT

Dead & Company
July 10, 2016
Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, WI


The Grateful Dead
May 28, 1977
Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT

Garcia’s “Bertha” Solo (Isolated)

Dead & Company
July 2, 2016
Folsom Field, Boulder, CO

Mayer’s “Bertha” Solo (Isolated)


The Grateful Dead
February 3, 1978
Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI

Garcia’s “Brown-Eyed” Solo (Isolated)

Dead & Company
July 23, 2016
Gorge Amphitheatre, George, WA

Mayer’s “Brown-Eyed” Solo (Isolated)


The Grateful Dead
August 13, 1975
Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA

Dead & Company
June 26, 2016
Citi Field, Flushing, NY

Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including the Peach, Mountain Jam, the All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at PWendel@SongMango.com.