T-Shirts from the Collection: The Remnants of the Dead

Grateful Dead Parking Lot Tee

Music and band t-shirts don’t interest me, but only the blind can ignore their appeal.  While I work the t-shirt racks at thrift stores, fast-moving scavengers buzz past me in frantic hunts for concert tees, tour tees, or tees of any kind from the iconic bands of the last 40 years. Rock tees don’t go back much further than that.

Vintage rock tees are like magic: put them on the online marketplaces, and they turn into money.  These tees are rare; but leaf through five or ten thousand t-shirts, and you just might find one. If you’re lucky.

Voodoo LoungeWhile thrifting this week, I picked up a 1994 Rolling Stones Voodoo Lounge Tour tee just for the hell of it.   It goes for $60 to $100 online — not a gigantic amount, but respectable.  The tee itself is striking; I’m thinking of wearing it around just for fun.  That’s what tees are for, right?

Of all the vintage music t-shirts out there, Grateful Dead tees are a no-brainer for hungry t-shirt dealers.  They’re very, very sought after.  I’m speaking of the tour tees put out by the band itself, that is.  They can go for several hundred.

After Jerry Garcia died in ’95 and the Dead disbanded, there were no more tours.  And no more tour tees. Though there were plenty of Deadheads who still wanted them. Prices rose, scarcity grew.  I have never spotted a single one at the thrifts.  Ever.  Too much competition, even if I was in that game.

The Dead-themed tee you see at the top of this article is not an official Grateful Dead product.  It’s a fan-made bootleg shirt.  Not a copy of an existing tee, but something thrown together out of existing Dead graphics.

It was probably sold in the parking lot outside a Dead concert by some Deadhead who’d printed up a stack to sel. Maybe he was just making  expenses for this particular trip; or maybe, making a living  while following the Dead on tour.  Anything. These things was pretty common in the 80s or early ‘90s, when this shirt was made.

And it didn’t bother the Dead at all;  people had to live, that was their philosophy. The tee may not be “real,” but it is of its time and place. It has a story. So I may keep it in the collection even while dripping burrito grease on the Voodoo Lounge.

Jerimiah Puddleduck Grateful Dead Tribute Band Tee

Mark Karan is a talented rock musician of long standing; he’s also the guy you want if you’re doing Dead style music and you need someone to cover Jerry Garcia’on guitar. He did that for the Other Ones, the band that most of the former Dead toured with the year after Garcia’s death. He did similar work for former Dead Bob Weir’s Ratdog band for 13 years. And he has his own project, Jemimah Puddleduck, which he revives from time to time.

The Grateful Dead are gone now, dissolved; and yet they’re aren’t.

Consider the sea star: cut certain species into several pieces, and eventually you end up with several complete sea stars.  That’s just about what happened.

Over the years, former members of the Grateful Dead have formed new bands, dissolved them, and formed yet more bands: The Other Ones, Furthur, 7 Walkers, Ratdog, Dead and Company, and on and on.  The loyal Deadheads keep showing up.  And there are t-shirts that I can find from time to time.

Each band has one or two of the original Dead,  plus other musicians from the same genre and some guy who can play like Jerry.  They play the Dead’s old songbook, bring in new music that they like, and jam and improvise for hours just like the old days at the Greek Theater.

And other bands have appeared that play like the Dead, and back former members of the Dead on tour, play at the same music festivals, riff off all the standards and create their own Deadish music. And jam like it was 1989, for hours.

Lazy Summer Daze GD Style Music Fest 1

After the Dead dissolved, there could be no more Grateful Dead shows — but there could be music festivals full of acts that were like the Dead. This tee is from one of them. For the people who know, the happy skulls are a tipoff as to just what kind of concert this is.

Lazy Summer Daze GD Style Music Fest 2

This is the other side of the same festival tee, which lists the acts. 7 Walkers was led by Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. “JGB with Melvin Seals” is Jerry Garcia’s old side project the Jerry Garcia Band — without Jerry. Steve Kimock is the other guy besides Mark Karan who stands in well for Jerry Garcia on guitar. He and Karan worked together on some of the same post-dead projects.

Flying Other Brothers

The Flying Other Brothers were a group of San Francisco Bay Area techie brahimins, including a venture capitalist and an investment banker, who put together a band in 1997. They backed former members of the Dead on several occasions — usually charity benefits — and appeared on bills with them at music festivals.
This tee was sold at at the 2000 Furthur Festival at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View. Further was a music festival featuring former members of the Dead and others working in the genre.

The Spawn of the Dead — Jerry’s Kids — won’t last forever.  Or will they? The Deadheads I see around here look a little long in the tooth. Yet there are at least some new fans to bulk out the rank. I ask the Gen Zs what they think of the Grateful Dead, and they mainly say, “We don’t.”

Well, mainly we didn’t back in the ’70s and ’80s, either.  The Dead and their fans were sort of a separate culture. Except for a couple of standards, little of their music showed up on radio.  Yet they perservered, and now there are even Dead tribute bands that claim to interpret the Dead’s heritage in their own way.

Of course the original Dead are all in their ’70s now, at least.  But they leave behind a complete genre that will survive them, no matter what: the jam band, a cult band that specializes in long, improvisational jams, tours a lot, and has a close relationship with their fans.

There have been many jam bands — the Phish, Widespread Panic, the String Cheese Incident, Disco Biscuit, and others.  And while they play their own music their own way, they all cut a certain alternative, funky Deadish profile.

In that sense the Dead’s heritage is safe. And the Deadheads and Dead successor bands and tribute bands will continue to live for the now, claim the moment, and keep on truckin’. Could the Old Dead annoint some New Dead to keep the truck rolling forever for the Faithful Dead(heads)? We’ll see.

2 thoughts on “T-Shirts from the Collection: The Remnants of the Dead

  1. lk

    As the National Lampoon folks said on their “Lemmings” album – a parody of a huge Woodstock-like festival put out in 1973 – “The Grateful Dead are dead! And they’re grateful.” Not quite literally true, yet. Getting there tho.

    I still have a few t’s that I didn’t send your way. They’re mostly music related. You may inherit them in time anyway since you could swap or sell them to acquire other t-shirts. Some of them might even have an interesting story. If anybody could suss that out, it’d be you Jim.

    1. admin Post author

      LK — I try to find a story in any tee that comes my way. If those shirts come my way, I’ll certainly try.

      Yeah: the only recurring Deadish gig in these parts is “Grateful Sundays” over at some restaurant/bar with a lot of outdoor space. Plenty of heavy-bodied 50-somethings weaving back and forth to the music in well-worn tie-dies. There are videos. I chose not to inflict them on you.


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