The Grateful Dead had a topsy-turvy 1969, the year the countercultural underground became a global youth phenomenon. There was the bum set at Woodstock. There was the nightmare of Altamont. And there was major financial stress, with large sums owed to Warner Brothers. Making matters worse, Mickey Hart’s father, Lenny—who the Dead brought on to manage their money—made off with all their cash, ultimately leading to Mickey’s self-imposed exile from the band. After two experimental albums and profound lysergic enmeshment, by 1970, the Dead were due for a refocus. Workingman’s Dead is the result of the blossoming songwriting partnership of Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia, which produced timeless tunes of ragged glory. Newfound attention was paid to the group’s vocal blend, in part inspired by the Boys’ friendship with Crosby, Stills and Nash. All of this came together in a collection of songs that helped shape what we now call Americana music. But as with all things Dead, words cannot capture the true essence, although it’s always fun to try. So hitch your ride and pull up a seat in the cosmic country saloon that is Workingman’s Dead.
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