The intricate and varied musical and personal relationships that formed in the late-'60s/early-'70s cultural scene spewed forth plenty of fertile collaborations. However, as unmystical as it sounds, it was merely a matter of timing in the case of Keith Godchaux and the Grateful Dead as their then keyboardist, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, was about at the tail end of the physical ravages of alcoholism. Born July 19, 1948, in San Francisco, CA, Godchaux grew up in Concord with a father who was a professional pianist and singer. Godchaux was trained in classical music at a young age, but spent his teen years performing at country clubs and in various bands; his earlier musical attempts tended to lean more toward jazz than rock & roll. While bumming around the California music scene in 1970, he met Donna Jean Thatcher and they married shortly afterward. Plenty of musical opportunities abounded during that time and Godchaux made the rounds. He was drawn to one band in particular -- the Grateful Dead -- and one day decided he wanted to be in the band. Not knowing the band's own keyboardist, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, was falling ill, his timing was sadly convenient for both parties. He joined on to play keyboards and sing and soon after, his wife was asked to join as well, and they stayed on from October 1971 to February 1979. The band, at the time, consisted of Jerry Garcia (guitar, vocals), Bob Weir (guitar, vocals), Phil Lesh (bass), Bill Kreutzmann (percussion), Mickey Hart (percussion), and the ailing Pigpen (keyboards).
Aside from studio efforts, the two survived the Wall of Sound days the whole band endured for the sake of the stereophonic pleasure of their fans. Godchaux took on side projects as well, appearing on David Bromberg's 1972 release Devil in Disguise and played on Weir's Ace from that same year, among others. As for Dead studio albums, he can be found on the band's first effort on their newly formed record label, (Grateful Dead Records) Wake of the Flood (1973) and 1975's Blues for Allah. Live releases featuring Godchaux abound, whether they be bootleg or otherwise. While the Grateful Dead went on hiatus in 1975, he and his wife formed a self-titled band and released one self-titled album that year. The two got some backup help from Garcia, who also contributed a drawing to the cover of the album that featured a photo of the Godchauxs' infant son Zion. The album featured the Godchaux-penned tunes "Sweet Baby," "Every Song I Sing," and "My Love for You," among others. When the band reconvened, the two went on tour and even made the 1978 trip to Egypt to be the first rock & roll band to play in front of the Sphinx. In 1979, the Godchauxs and the other bandmembers decided it would be best if they left the band. The constant touring and drug-addled lifestyle had taken their toll on the couple, so they parted ways. He and Donna soon organized the Heart of Gold Band, which included guitarist Steve Kimock, Greg Anton, and various other musicians and technicians credited on the few releases of live and studio recordings. Tragically, after only one concert, Keith Godchaux was killed in a car accident on July 23, 1980, in Marin County, CA. ~ Rachel Sprovtsoff, Rovi