When the Beach Boys Jammed With the Grateful Dead

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The Grateful Dead in 1971

When Jerry Garcia announced from the stage, on April 27, 1971, “We got another famous California group, it’s the Beach Boys,” there were indeed a few groans—What were those guys doing with our hipper-than-hip psychedelic heroes?—but mostly there were cheers. It was an incongruous sight, to be sure, bordering on surreal, the old California guard commingling with the new at New York’s rock mecca, Fillmore East. What in the world would they do together?

Turns out they would have a good ol’ time. And when Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Dennis Wilson and Bruce Johnston sauntered out to join the headliners for a guest spot (Brian Wilson was not touring with them at the time), that’s exactly what ensued.

The Grateful Dead had played two shows of their five-night run already, beginning April 25. On the 26th, they’d been joined for a few tunes by Duane Allman, who’d become friendly with the band since his own group, the Allman Brothers Band, had opened for the San Franciscans a year earlier at the same venue.

On the 27th, the Dead were well into their set—they’d followed opening act the New Riders of the Purple Sage with their popular boogie “Truckin’” and had already torn through such crowd-pleasers as “Bertha,” “Hard to Handle,” “Sugar Magnolia” and “Playing in the Band.” After finishing “Dire Wolf,” the country tune from their Workingman’s Dead album, there was a pause and then a bit of commotion. That’s when Garcia made his surprise announcement.

The Beach Boys in the ’70s

Now that the Beach Boys were sharing the stage with the Dead—at that time a five-piece featuring Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and Bill Kreutzmann—what in the world were they supposed to do? It’s not as if the Beach Boys knew any Dead songs, or vice versa.

Oldies proved the ticket—early rock ’n’ roll and R&B was one commonality among those musicians. They started out with “Searchin’,” the great 1957 hit by the Coasters, with Pigpen taking the lead and the Beach Boys and other Dead members providing vocal harmonies. Another R&B oldie penned by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the Robins’ “Riot in Cell Block #9,” followed, at which point the Dead left the stage and allowed their visitors to take over for a bit.

On their own the Beach Boys performed three of their biggest hits—“Good Vibrations,” “I Get Around” and “Help Me, Rhonda”—with the only sour note occurring when Mike Love insisted on convincing the audience how cool he was by relating a story about getting stoned on a bus with the Buffalo Springfield.

Garcia re-emerged toward the end of “Help Me, Rhonda,” and then both groups turned out a respectable take on Merle Haggard’s country hit “Okie from Muskogee” before ending the show’s second set with “Johnny B. Goode.”

A few encores sans Beach Boys and it was over, one of the more unusual nights in the history of both bands, for sure. They didn’t do “Fun, Fun, Fun,” but everyone seemed to be having plenty of that.

A selection of tunes from the Dead’s April ’71 run have been released as Ladies and Gentlemen…The Grateful Dead, but that does not include the Beach Boys jams. However, you can listen to the entire Dead show, including the Beach Boys jams, here.

Listen to the Dead and the Beach Boys jamming on Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee”

The Beach Boys are the subject of a 2024 documentary, coming to Disney+ on May 24. extensive recording library is available in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here. An official autobiography, The Beach Boys by The Beach Boys, was published in April. It’s available to order in the U.S. here and the U.K. here.

Best Classic Bands Staff

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  1. Aurie
    #1 Aurie 30 April, 2019, 02:06

    Grateful, forever

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