On May 26, 1961, Brigid Meier had her Sweet 16 birthday party at home in Menlo Park, California. For the bash’s entertainment, she asked a friend, a budding guitarist and folk musician named Jerry Garcia, to perform for her guests. And her father Dick Meier, like any good dad would do, recorded it on a reel-to-reel tape recorder to preserve his daughter’s special day. Garcia brought along his pal Robert Hunter, whom he would collaborate with for decades on Grateful Dead lyrics, and the two entertained the crowd with traditional spirituals, sea shanties and group sing-alongs.
That birthday tape, one of the earliest known recordings of Garcia playing music, opens an impressive box set entitled Before the Dead, a collection of music that spans his early days before eventually forming the Grateful Dead in 1965. Over 5 LPs or 4 CDs, the set contains 84 tracks collected and assembled by the Dead’s longtime publicist Dennis McNally and television sound mixer Brian Miksis (Homeland, Law & Order).
Miksis says the impetus for this project began about 10 years ago. “It struck me as an [era] I wanted to learn more about,” he says. “That’s when the journey began.”