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GRATEFUL DEAD'S DENNY MCNALLY

CATCHING UP WITH THE GRATEFUL DEAD'S DENNIS MCNALLY

By Eric Jaacobi

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Much lore surrounds the career of the Grateful Dead. Fortunately, us laymen can get a peek behind the acid-soaked curtains with the help of Dennis McNally. After speaking with Dennis it is clear that he is far more than the bands’ former publicist, he is a member of the Grateful Dead family.

His story is one that any young creative should look to for inspiration. Shortly after publishing a biography on Jack Kerouac, McNally sent copies to Jerry Garcia and

Robert Hunter via the Dead’s fan-mail address. Some might assume the copies of McNally’s book were bound for the abyss, but one ended up in Jerry’s hands and he thoroughly enjoyed it. McNally and Garcia met and chatted about the

Kerouac biography at an audition for comedic skits that would be used in Dead

Ahead, a concert film recorded at Radio City Music Hall. The skits in the film were co-written and hosted by Al Franken, yes, THAT Al Franken, but that’s another story. Some of the Grateful Dead staff members suggested that McNally write a biography for the band and after some time as a dedicated documentarian, he was appointed publicist. It isn’t easy to articulate the massive cultural impact of the Dead, but if anyone can do it, it’s Dennis.

It is important to note that Dennis is not just an encyclopedic reference to all things Grateful Dead. He’s written several books, one of which being On Highway 61: Music, Race and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom. Many people, myself included, are fascinated by the people that surround musical movements. I asked Dennis to speak about the familial nature of the Dead’s fanbase. This eventually led Dennis and I to speak about the regionality of music, something that permeates the Dead’s vast catalog of live recordings. Many Grateful Dead fans can name a location and date wherein their favorite version of a song was performed. Each improvisation attracts different ears. The jam band idea is largely credited to the early American jazz musings of artists like John Coltrane. Funnily enough, Dennis told me that Jerry had once said “look, we weren’t good enough to play it twice the same way, so we had to improvise.”

Some say music is a universal language, he and I spoke about the fact that music takes on a dialect depending on where it is produced or performed. He recounted a conversation between the band members and a high Egyptian official wherein the official asked the band if the locations of their performances caused their music to change, to which Phil Lesh replied “exactly, that’s why we want to play at the pyramids.”

Although Dennis is still an active Grateful Dead historian, he has taken on a similar publicist role with other notable acts, Zero and the Phantom Blues Band. The former being the jam-band brainchild of legendary guitarist Steve Kimock, and the latter being a supergroup of elite session musicians that have recorded with The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Taj Mahal, and many more.

Robert Cenedella (B.1940)

So Many Roads Grateful Dead 1965-Forever

2021. 55” x 96”. Triptych. Oil on Primed Linen Panel

ARTIST ROBERT CENEDELLA

Artist Robert Cenedella (b. 1940) presents his newest painting, So Many Roads (2021), honoring the legacy of the Grateful Dead, the eclectic band that reimagined the way we listen to music by transforming numerous genres, like folk, bluegrass, jazz, country, and blues, into rock and roll.

Also known as Grateful Dead 1965-Forever, this historic, mural sized painting is meant to be enjoyed by all Deadheads. Whether they are seasoned veterans who knew what it was like to be at a show over the past six decades, or newcomers who have just recently gotten onto the proverbial ‘bus,’ their interpretation of this painting will be unique in scope, but similar in awe.