Brent Mydland

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Brent Mydland
Birth name Brent Mydland
Also known as Clifton Hanger
Born (1952-10-21)October 21, 1952[1]
Munich, Germany
Died July 26, 1990(1990-07-26) (aged 37)[2]
Lafayette, California
Genres Rock, psychedelic rock, blues, gospel, rock, improvisational, jam
Occupations Musician, songwriter
Instruments Keyboard instruments
Years active 1979–1990
Labels Warner Bros.
Arista
Associated acts Grateful Dead, Bob Weir Band, Bobby and the Midnites, Go Ahead, Kokomo, Silver

Brent Mydland (October 21, 1952 – July 26, 1990) was an American keyboardist, best known as the fourth keyboardist to play with the American rock band the Grateful Dead. He was with the band for eleven years, longer than any other keyboardist in the band.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Born in Munich, Germany as the child of a U.S Army chaplain, Mydland moved to San Francisco, California with his parents at the age of one. Mydland spent most of his childhood living in Antioch, California, an hour east of San Francisco. He started piano lessons at age 6 and had formal classical lessons through his junior year in high school. In an interview he commented that: "my sister took lessons and it looked fun to me, so I did too. There was always a piano around the house and I wanted to play it. When I couldn't play it I would beat on it anyway." His mother, a graveyard shift nurse, encouraged Mydland's talents by insisting that he practice his music for two hours each day. He played trumpet from elementary till his senior year in high school; his schoolmates remember him practicing on an accordion, as well as the piano, every day after school.

"In my late teens I went and saw a lot of groups, and thank God I did, because it didn't last much longer." When asked if he had musical aspirations in high school he admitted to wanting to originally be a " a high school band teacher or something, I played trumpet in the [marching] band ... then my senior year I got kicked out of the [marching] band for having long hair ... they told me "sorry we'll lose points for your long hair", so that was the end of my [marching] band career. I gave up the trumpet and concentrated on the keyboards." Brent graduated from Liberty High in nearby Brentwood, California in 1971.

Beginning of music career[edit]

Of his early musical experiences Mydland has stated: "Late into high school I got into playing rock 'n' roll with friends and it was like I had to start from the beginning almost, because if I didn't have a piece of music in front of me I couldn't do much. I changed my outlook on playing real fast after that. I think dope had something to do with that."

Influenced by rock organists such as Lee Michaels, Ray Manzarek and Goldie McJohn of Steppenwolf. Mydland was in a series of local bands. In the late '60s he bought the first albums by Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead, and during this interview he stated that he was in a band "where I used to sing "Morning Dew" and we did "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" too."

When asked if that scene, which was based heavily on extended jams, had influenced him musically at all he said: "For a while, yes, but I could never find people that could make that kind of music sound good. We'd jam along and then. It's nice to have people who add to it and change it instead of "Ok, I've got my part"; that gets boring really fast".

He went on to state that: "In senior year I got together with a guitar player; he knew a drummer and bass player who were both pretty good. We were serious about it for about six weeks or so and then it kind of fell apart. I ended up living in a quonset hut in Thousand Oaks, California, writing songs and eating a lot of peanut butter and bread and whatever else was around. In one of the bands, I played with a guy named Rick Carlos and he got a call from John Batdorf of Batdorf & Rodney asking him to come to L.A, to play with them. A couple months later they were looking for a keyboard player who could sing the high parts, so I went down there and joined the band. I got to do a tour with them which was great experience. Then after that fell apart John and I put together Silver; Silver lasted about two years. We put out an album on Arista and were going to do a second but Clive Davis, Arista's president, kind of choked it".

"After Silver I bummed around L.A for about six months and then hooked up with Weir through John Mauceri, who I'd played with back in Batdorf & Rodney, and I joined the Bob Weir Band. With Bobby, at first, I'd say to him: "Well, should I play this instrument on this song, or this other instrument?" And he'd say, "I don't care. Why not play one this time and the other the next time if you feel like it." It loosened me up a lot and it got me more into improvisation. I liked it a lot."

Grateful Dead[edit]

On April 16, 1979, he joined the Grateful Dead replacing Keith Godchaux and Donna Godchaux who left the band in February of that year. Mydland quickly became an integral part of the Dead, not least because of his songwriting contributions. He easily fit into the band's sound and added his own contributions, such as in Go to Heaven (1980) which featured two of Mydland's songs, "Far From Me" and "Easy to Love You", the latter written with frequent Weir collaborator John Perry Barlow. On the next album In the Dark (1987), Mydland co-wrote the defiant favorite "Hell in a Bucket" with Weir and Barlow, he also penned the train song "Tons of Steel".

Built to Last (1989) featured several more of Mydland's songs, most notably the moody "Just a Little Light", the environmental song "We Can Run But We Can't Hide", the live performance driven "Blow Away" and the poignant "I Will Take You Home", a lullaby written with Barlow for Mydland's two daughters. His high, gravelly vocal harmonies and emotional leads added to the band's singing strength. Mydlands vocals added colour to old favorites such as "Cassidy", "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo" and "Ramble on Rose", Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster", Robert Johnson's "Walkin' Blues", Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy", the Beatles' "Hey Jude", The Meters' Hey Pocky Way, and the Band's "The Weight".

Mydland's last show with the Grateful Dead was on 23 July 1990 at The World Music Theater, in Tinley Park, IL. The last song he sang that day was The Weight. His portion concluded with the words, "I gotta go, but my friends can stick around."

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

Keyboards used when with the Grateful Dead[edit]

His predecessor had preferred to play piano at concerts, but Mydland was keen to experiment with different sounds when playing live performances.

Mydland played several different electric pianos and synthesizers throughout his tenure including, a Fender Rhodes, the early Yamaha digital synth GS-1, Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Minimoog, the E-mu Emulator II, Yamaha CP-70 and a Kurzweil Midiboard (Midied to Roland MKS20 or Oberheim Matrix 10). He was an accomplished organ player and played the Hammond B-3 throughout his entire tenure, and owned 7 at the time of his passing.

Other bands/activities during his tenure with the Grateful Dead[edit]

After joining the Grateful Dead, Mydland played in Bob Weir's Bobby and the Midnites during 1980 and 1981.

In 1986, Mydland formed Go Ahead with several San Francisco Bay area musicians, including Bill Kreutzmann, Jesse Colin Young, also former Santana members Alex Ligertwood and David Margen. The band toured during the time Jerry Garcia was recovering from a diabetic coma.

He also did numerous solo projects and performances, as well as duo performances with Bob Weir numerous times throughout the 80s.

He also had a love for Harley Davidson motorcycles, and was an avid rider.

Death[edit]

Mydland died from a speedball overdose[4] at his home on "My Road" in Lafayette, California on July 26, 1990, shortly after completing the Grateful Dead's summer tour. He was buried at Oakmont Memorial Park in Lafayette.

Legacy[edit]

Mydland's contributions to the Dead's sound were wide-ranging. His chemistry with the late band is catalogued well in the Grateful Dead's album Spring 1990 which features six full-length shows from his last year with the band. In the liner notes, Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter said this of Mydland:

The fourth major Grateful Dead era ends with the passing of Brent Mydland. The first concluded with Pigpen; the second with the departure of Keith and Donna. The third began when Brent joined and began learning the ropes and culminated with Garcia's physical collapse. The fourth era started with an unexpectedly successful comeback, fully integrating Brent's vocal and keyboard virtuosity. He improved the blend, adding, embellishing and sometimes leading the music.

Without distorting the character of what was uniquely Grateful Dead, the old songs came magically into tune and richly harmonized while new songs of Brent's own composition added diversity to the band's repertoire. The shows reached a performance peak which now passes into Deadhead history. From here on, the sound of the Grateful Dead will be different. The challenge or reconfiguration, resculpting and refining will be a mighty one. What else should be said of Brent? He rode hard, he drank hard, he played with the Dead. He also played with death and lost. He will be conspicuous in his absence.

Discography[edit]

Albums[edit]

With the Grateful Dead[edit]

With other artists[edit]

See also[edit]

Portal icon Grateful Dead portal

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Hollow, Michele (2009). Grateful Dead: What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been. Enslow Publishers, Inc. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-7660-3028-2. 
  2. ^ Talevski, Nick (2010). Rock Obituaries - Knocking On Heaven's Door. Omnibus Press. p. 454. ISBN 978-0-85712-117-2. 
  3. ^ "The Grateful Dead". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2012-10-02. 
  4. ^ The Grateful Dead: Biography

References[edit]