Today is Grateful Dead founding drummer Bill Kreutzmann’s 75th birthday. William Kreutzmann Jr. was born on May 7, 1946 in Palo Alto, California. Billy began playing drums at 13. One day while practicing at his high school, famed writer, philosopher and psychedelic experimenter Aldous Huxley heard Billy play and is said to have remarked that he had never heard anything like it. Kreutzmann was encouraged by this as his sixth grade teacher reportedly said that he couldn’t keep a beat.
Billy joined Grateful Dead forerunner The Warlocks in 1964 and also played at what would become the Grateful Dead’s first concert at Magoo’s Pizza Parlor in Menlo Park on May 5, 1965 just two days before his 19th birthday. Billy would go on to play every Grateful Dead show for the band’s entire 30-year tenure, joined for a good portion of that time by fellow drummer Mickey Hart.
The two percussionists often referred to as The Rhythm Devils and their “Drums” section was a staple of Grateful Dead shows from 1978 to 1995 and have also become a feature in sets of like-minded bands. Additionally, Kreutzmann has presided over a number of post-Dead supergroup projects including BK3, 7 Walkers and Billy & The Kids as well as playing in GD incarnations like The Other Ones, The Dead and currently, Dead & Company.
To celebrate Billy’s 75th birthday, JamBase delves into the JamBase Live Video Archive for a look at Billy’s extensive body of work drumming with the Grateful Dead and more throughout the decades.
1968 | Grateful Dead — The Other One
The first video is from the Grateful Dead’s May 3, 1968 — just days before Billy’s 22nd birthday — concert at Columbia University in New York City. GD provided some much-needed relief in a free show for students who had suffered through police violently quashing protests a few days prior. The clip of the performance features portions of “Cryptical Envelopment” and “The Oher One,” with Kreutzmann having a hand in writing the latter. The video also showcases the influence that jazz had on Billy’s drumming.
On Kreutzman’s 26th birthday, May 7, 1972, the Grateful Dead performed at the Birkershaw Festival in Wigan, United Kingdom on their famed Europe ‘72 tour. A clip from a Woodstock documentary-style film surfaced several years back featuring GD performing “Mr. Charlie” during a marathon set on a rainy festival day. “Mr. Charlie” showcases Billy’s funk drumming as he was also influenced by seminal funk groups like The Meters.
While the Jerry Garcia Band featured a number of drummers over the years, Kreutzmann was actually its first drummer when Jerry launched the solo project with a run of shows in August 1975. Billy would also join JBG in 1981 and 1982. The video above features Kreutzmann performing Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” with JGB on June 24, 1982 at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. Billy holds down a steady backbeat for the good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll number.
On July 2, 1999, Kreutzmann joined another fellow Grateful Dead bandmate, bassist Phil Lesh, for a Phil & Friends concert at The Warfield in San Francisco. Billy performed alongside Lesh, guitarists David Nelson (of New Riders of the Purple Sage), Steve Kimock and Barry Sless as well as keyboardist Mookie Siegel.
In 2008, Kreutzmann formed the short-lived trio BK3. The group featured The Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge, with whom Billy would reunite with in Dead & Company in 2015, as well as Max Creek guitarist Scott Murawski. Kretzmann and Muraski were introduced to each other by Phish bassist Mike Gordon. BK3 would make an appearance at the 2008 Gathering Of The Vibes festival held in Bridgeport, Connecticut that year and performed the Dead classic “Bertha.”
Most recently, Kreutzmann has rejoined his Grateful Dead bandmates guitarist Bob Weir and drummer Mickey Hart in Dead & Company. The past few years have seen D&C putting on a destination event in Mexico called Playing In The Sand. Dead & Company’s final shows before the pandemic were at the event in 2020 where they performed “U.S. Blues.” Fans will have the opportunity to can catch Billy and D&C at the Playing In The Sand 2022 two-weekend event.