Keyboardist Brent Mydland joined the Grateful Dead in 1979 following the departure of Keith Godchaux and Donna Jean Godchaux. Mydland’s time in the group continued through his tragic death in July 1990 at the young age of 37, making his 11 years at the keys the longest of anyone to hold that slot in the legendary band. Full Show Friday this week focuses on Brent on what would have been his birthday today.
Born on October 21, 1952 while his U.S. Army enlisted father was stationed in Munich, Germany, the Mydlands soon moved to San Francisco. Brent joined Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir’s solo band and toured with him in 1978 following the release of Bobby’s solo album Heaven Help The Fool. After the Godchauxs decided to split with the Dead, Mydland was called upon to fill the role of keyboardist in the band, trailing not only Keith, but also the late Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and one-time member Tom Constanten. Brent’s first official gig as a member of the Grateful Dead came on April 22, 1979 at Spartan Stadium at San Jose State University in San Jose, California.
Mydland made his debut with “Jack Straw” and soon made his presence further felt on the twangy “Mexicali Blues” and locked in with guitarist Jerry Garcia on the trailing “Sugaree.” His first set as an official member of the band ended with Brent and Bobby sharing vocals on a blazing “Passenger” followed by the keyboardist joining Jerry on a lively “Deal.”
Three songs into set two the Dead covered “Good Lovin’” which featured Mydland’s swirling organ work and soulful, gritty vocals. The rest of the set was highlighted by a sequence made up of “Scarlet Begonias” > “Fire On The Mountain” and “Estimated Prophet” > “He’s Gone” and closed with “Around & Around.” A bouncy, funky rendition of “Shakedown Street” gave Brent one final chance to showcase the sounds in his vast arsenal of keys as the last song of the encore. Give a listen to Brent’s debut with the Grateful Dead below:
Setlist (via JerryGarcia.com)
Set One: Jack Straw, Tennessee Jed, Mama Tried > Mexicali Blues, Sugaree, New Minglewood Blues, Brown Eyed Women, Looks Like Rain, Stagger Lee, Passenger, Deal
Set Two: I Need A Miracle > Bertha > Good Lovin’, Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain, Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone > Drums > The Other One > Wharf Rat > Around & Around
Encore: U.S. Blues, Shakedown Street