Today marks the 74th birthday of famed Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. In their earliest days, the Grateful Dead was a one-drummer band, as Bill Kreutzmann held things down behind the kit. The addition of Hart to the lineup enabled the Dead to push their improvisation into deeper territories, with every note amplified by the dual percussive combination. Hart was a musicologist and world music connoisseur, and added psychedelically-appropriate exotic elements to the band’s sound, from eastern rhythm patterns and tunings, to delicately textured percussion, to droning, tribal-style vamps, and beyond.

Though the band worked drum solos into some of their songs, notably “The Other One,” it wasn’t until the late 70’s and early 80’s where “Drums/Space” became a regular fixture at Grateful Dead shows. Hart and Kreutzmann would essentially become an eight-limbed music machine, transfixed with their free-form improvisation as The Rhythm Devils.

Watch this “Drums” footage from a 10/31/80 performance at Radio City Music Hall, courtesy of Grateful Dead on Music Vault:

While the Grateful Dead assembled a massive array of percussion instruments for their “Drums” exploration, this would only grow as technology improved. Hart is well known for his passion for music and neuroscience, and developed instruments like “The Beam” to harness primal sonic frequencies. The drummer has led many world music and drum-based ensembles throughout the years, but one of the most memorable uses of “The Beam” came at the Fare Thee Well shows, where the pomp and circumstance of the celebration made for beefed up and prodigiously powerful production.

Watch “The Beam” in action during the July 4th Fare Thee Well celebration, courtesy of Bill Walton’s Right Hand Man on YouTube.

Today, things are still clicking for the Rhythm Devils. “Drums/Space” continues to be a nightly occurrence on Dead & Company tour, and Mickey and Bill continue to push the boundaries of the expected and traverse new sonic terrain, decades after their rhythmic journey began. They’ve welcomed various modern artists into the fray to help them augment the “Drums” sound, from Jason Hann of String Cheese Incident to DJ/Producer Michal Menert, to NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton

Watch Bill Walton Join Dead & Company During Tour Finale ‘Drums’ Jam

Watch Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann let loose at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre below, courtesy of Ed Congdon:

Always pushing boundaries, Mickey Hart remains one of the most influential drummers today, and a vital part of the Grateful Dead community. Thank you for helping us keep time in this crazy world, and for reminding us to always be kind. Happy birthday!

For full info on Dead & Company’s upcoming Fall Tour and Mexican destination event, Playing In The Sand, head to the band’s website.

[Cover photo via Jay Blakesberg]