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Phil Lesh

Phil Lesh
Phil Lesh performing at Terrapin Crossroads December 6, 2013
Background information
Birth name Phillip Chapman Lesh
Born (1940-03-15) March 15, 1940
Berkeley, California, U.S.
Genres Rock
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Bass guitar, vocals
Years active 1961–present
Labels Columbia
Associated acts
Website .net.philleshwww

Phillip Chapman Lesh (born March 15, 1940) is a musician and a founding member of the Grateful Dead, with whom he played bass guitar throughout their 30-year career.

After the band's disbanding in 1995, Lesh continued the tradition of Grateful Dead family music with side project Phil Lesh and Friends, which paid homage to the Dead's music by playing their originals, common covers, and the songs of the members of his band. Phil Lesh & Friends helped keep a legitimate entity for the band's music to continue. Recently, Lesh has opened a music venue called Terrapin Crossroads, and has been performing with Furthur alongside former Grateful Dead bandmate Bob Weir.


  • Musical background 1
  • Music 2
  • Post-Dead 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Musical background

Lesh was born in Berkeley, California, and started out as a violin player. While enrolled at Berkeley High School, he switched to trumpet. Studying the instrument under Bob Hansen, conductor of the symphonic Golden Gate Park Band, he developed a keen interest in avant-garde classical music and free jazz. At the College of San Mateo, Lesh played trumpet in and wrote for the school's big band. (A snippet of tape of Lesh on trumpet in college can be heard on "Born Cross-Eyed" from the Grateful Dead's 1968 release Anthem of the Sun.) After transferring with sophomore standing to the University of California, Berkeley in 1961, he befriended future Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten before dropping out after less than a semester. At the behest of Constanten, he studied under the Italian modernist Luciano Berio in a graduate-level course at Mills College in the spring of 1962; their classmates included Steve Reich and Stanford University cross-registrant John Chowning.[1]

While volunteering for KPFA as a recording engineer during this period, he met then-bluegrass banjo player Jerry Garcia. Despite seemingly opposite musical interests, they formed a friendship, and following a brief period rooming with Constanten in Las Vegas, a stint with the United States Postal Service, and a collaboration with Reich, Lesh was talked into becoming the bass guitarist for Garcia's new rock group, then known as the Warlocks, in the fall of 1964. This was a peculiar turn of events, as Lesh had never played bass before. According to Lesh, the first song he rehearsed with the band was "I Know You Rider".[1] He joined them for their third or fourth gig (memories vary) and stayed until the end.

Since Lesh had never played bass, it meant that to a great extent he learned "on the job", yet it also meant he had no preconceived attitudes about the instrument's traditional "rhythm section" role. In his autobiography, he credits Jack Casady (who was playing with Jefferson Airplane) as a confirming influence on the direction his instincts were leading him into.[1] He has said that his playing style was influenced more by Bach counterpoint than by rock or Soul bass players—although one can also hear the fluidity and power of a jazz bassist such as Charles Mingus or Jimmy Garrison in Lesh's work, along with stylistic allusions to the aforementioned fellow San Francisco bassist, Jack Casady.[2]


Phil Lesh with Tooloos at the Keystone Berkeley; December 19, 1976 Photo: David Gans

Lesh was an innovator in the new role that the electric bass developed during the mid-1960s. Contemporaries such as James Jamerson, Paul McCartney, and Jack Casady adopted a more melodic, contrapuntal approach to the instrument; before this, bass players in rock had generally played a conventional timekeeping role within the beat of the song, and within (or underpinning) the song's harmonic or chord structure. While not abandoning these aspects, Lesh took his own improvised excursions during a song or instrumental. This was a characteristic aspect of the so-called San Francisco Sound in the new rock music. In many Dead jams, Lesh's wise and inventive bass is, in essence, as much a lead instrument as Garcia's guitar.

Lesh was not a prolific composer or singer with the Grateful Dead, although some of the songs he did contribute—"New Potato Caboose", "Box of Rain", "Unbroken Chain", and "Pride of Cucamonga"—are among the best-known in the band's repertoire. Lesh's high tenor voice contributed to the Grateful Dead's four-part harmony sections in their group vocals in the early days of the band, until he relinquished singing high parts to Donna Godchaux. In the 1980s, he resumed singing, but as a baritone. His interest in avant-garde music was a crucial influence on the Dead.

In 1994, he was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Grateful Dead.[3]


After the disbanding of the Grateful Dead, Lesh continued to play with its offshoots The Other Ones and The Dead, as well as performing with his own band, Phil Lesh and Friends.[4] One memorable tour paired him with Bob Dylan.

Additionally, Lesh and his wife Jill administer their charitable organization, the Unbroken Chain Foundation. The couple have two children together, Grahame and Brian. Both Grahame and Brian follow in their father's musical footsteps. The three frequently play together both publicly and privately, for example in an annual benefit concert grouping known as Philharmonia, dating to 1997, most recently on December 18, 2011 at a Christmas gig including Bob Weir and Jackie Greene at the Tenderloin Middle School cafeteria attended by 250 people.[5]

In 1998 Lesh underwent a

In April 2005, Lesh's book Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead (ISBN 0-316-00998-9) was published. The book takes its name from the lyrics of a Grateful Dead song titled "Unbroken Chain," from their album From the Mars Hotel. "Unbroken Chain" is one of the few songs Lesh sings. This was the only book about the Grateful Dead written by a member of the band until 2015 when Bill Kreutzmann released his memoir, Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreams and Drugs with the Grateful Dead.

On October 26, 2006, Lesh released a statement on his official website, revealing that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer—the disease that killed his father—and would be undergoing an operation in December 2006 to have it removed.[6] On December 7, 2006, Lesh released a statement stating that he had undergone prostate surgery with the cancer being removed.[7]

In March 2008, Phil Lesh did a guest voice on the Comedy Central series Lil' Bush on the second season episode "Big Pharm".

In 2009, Lesh went back on tour with the remaining members of The Grateful Dead and called it The Reunion Tour. Following the 2009 summer tour Lesh proceeded to found a new band with Bob Weir named Furthur, which debuted in September 2009.[8]

Phil Lesh & Friends has recently scheduled a short run of shows for 2012, starting with the Warren Haynes Christmas Jam.[9]

In 2012, Lesh founded a music venue called Terrapin Crossroads, in San Rafael, California. The venue officially opened on March 17, 2012, with a first of a run of twelve concerts by Phil Lesh and Friends.[10][11] When not on tour, Lesh's sons, Grahame and Brian, serve as the house band at Terrapin Crossroads[12]

Phil Lesh and Friends made appearances in the summer of 2013 at both Mountain Jam Music Festival and Gathering of the Vibes Festival. Lesh is currently on tour full-time with Phil Lesh and friends, having announced a temporary hiatus with Furthur for 2014.

In October 2015 Lesh revealed that he had undergone surgery as treatment for bladder cancer. He stated that his prognosis was good and that he expected to make a full recovery.[13]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Lesh, Phil (2005). Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead. New York: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-00998-9.
  2. ^ Jackson, Blair (1999). Garcia: An American Life. Penguin Books. p. 74.  
  3. ^ List of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees
  4. ^ Sullivan, James. "Phil's New Zone", San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 1999
  5. ^, November 28, 2011
  6. ^ Vaziri, Aidin (October 29, 2006). "Grateful Dead Founder Lesh Battling Prostate Cancer", SFGate. Retrieved October 17, 2015.
  7. ^ "Phil Lesh Doing Well", JamBase, December 8, 2006. Retrieved October 17, 2015.
  8. ^ "Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Joe Russo, Jay Lane, Jeff Chimenti and John Kadlecik Form New Band 'Furthur', Set Dates For September", JamBase, August 14, 2009
  9. ^, February 5, 2012
  10. ^ "Terrapin Crossroads Opening News!",, February 18, 2102. Retrieved February 26, 2012.
  11. ^ Oksenhorn, Stewart (February 10, 2012). "With Phil & Friends, the Dead Live On", Aspen Times. Retrieved February 26, 2012.
  12. ^ March 30, 2013
  13. ^ Kreps, Daniel (October 17, 2015). "Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh Reveals Bladder Cancer Battle", Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 17, 2015.


  •—Phil Lesh and Friends fan site
  • College CrierParker, T. Virgil. "Phil Lesh: All in the Music",
  • [2] free download of Phil Lesh and Friends audio
  • Lesh, Phil (2005). Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead. New York: Little, Brown and Company.  

External links

  • Phil Lesh and Friends official website
  • Terrapin Crossroads—Phil Lesh's new music and dining venue in San Rafael, CA (Marin County)
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