Over the Grateful Dead‘s formidable 30 year career, the band had its share of personnel changes. From Mickey Hart joining the band, leaving, then making his triumphant return to the addition of Donna Jean Godchaux, there was a steady stream of fresh faces. But no position on the band’s roster saw more turnover than the keyboards.
Originally filled by bluesman extraordinaire Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, the group’s first dynamic shift came in 1968 when Tom Constanten took the stage with the band for the first time. As Pigpen’s health worsened and his dissonance with the band’s psychedelic direction grew, Constanten took over the keys to take the band where it needed to go. But T.C. was never slated to be a permanent member, and by 1971 he had gone on to other pursuits. Instead, the Dead found their next permanent fixture on keys in one Keith Godchaux.
A classically trained pianist, Godchaux slipped into the Dead’s sound as smooth as Cinderella’s glass slipper. Staying mostly tethered to the grand piano, his contributions were elegant, if sometimes understated. Keith’s nearly eight-year tenure with the Grateful Dead began 50 years ago today—on October 19th, 1971—with a concert at University of Minnesota’s Northrop Auditorium. Later that same year, during the Dead’s New Year’s Eve show at Winterland Arena, Keith’s wife Donna Jean would join the band for the first time and soon become a permanent fixture.
Take a listen to the beginning of Keith Godchaux’s musical journey with the Grateful Dead with a complete soundboard recording of the band’s October 19th, 1971 concert at Northrop Auditorium.
Grateful Dead – Northrop Auditorium – Minneapolis, MN – 10/9/1971