Keith Godchaux

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Keith Godchaux
Birth name Keith Richard Godchaux
Born (1948-07-19)July 19, 1948
Seattle, Washington
Origin San Francisco, California
Died July 23, 1980(1980-07-23) (aged 32)
Marin County, California
Genres Rock
Occupations Musician, songwriter
Instruments Keyboard instruments
Years active 1971–1980
Associated acts Grateful Dead, Heart of Gold Band

Keith Richard Godchaux (July 19, 1948 – July 23, 1980) was a musician best known for his tenure in the rock group the Grateful Dead from 1972 to 1979.


Keith Godchaux was born in Seattle, Washington and grew up in Concord, California. He met and married Donna Jean Godchaux in 1970; their son Zion, of the band BoomBox, was born in 1974.

The couple introduced themselves to Jerry Garcia at a concert in 1971. At the time, Godchaux had been appearing with Dave Mason (formerly of Traffic). He was also known to Betty Cantor-Jackson, a Grateful Dead sound engineer. His first show with the Dead was October 19, 1971 at the Northrop Auditorium at the University of Minnesota, filling in for a hospitalized Ron "Pigpen" McKernan.

After playing an upright piano on the fall 1971 tour, Godchaux primarily played full-size Yamaha & Steinway acoustic grand pianos at concerts from 1972-1974; in mid-1973, he added a Fender Rhodes electric piano that remained in his setup through mid-1977. Following the band's hiatus, he used a baby grand piano in 1976 and early 1977, switching exclusively to the Yamaha CP-70 electric grand piano in late 1977; the latter instrument's unwieldy tuning contributed to the shelving of the band's recordings of their 1978 engagement at the Giza Plateau. Despite brief flirtations with synthesizers (most notably a Polymoog during the band's spring 1977 tour), his stated recalcitrance against other timbres—compounded with a nascent heroin addiction and violent domestic scuffles with Donna—would ultimately hasten his departure from the band.

During his tenure with the Dead his only written contribution and lead vocal was "Let Me Sing Your Blues Away," from Wake of the Flood. It was only performed live six times, all in 1973.

Initially, Godchaux incorporated a richly melodic, fluid and boogie-woogie-influenced style that complemented the band's improvisational approach to rock music. This same style was replicated in Godchaux's work with the Jerry Garcia Band. Following the group's 1975 hiatus, Godchaux (often impaired from drug abuse) increasingly yielded to a simpler comping-based approach that melodically emulated Garcia's guitar work. Bassist Phil Lesh has retrospectively opined that by 1978, "Keith's playing had degenerated to the point that most of us were simply trying to lose him onstage... never a paragon of self-esteem, Keith's increasing drug & alcohol use had put him in an almost vegetative state. His musical timing was suffering, and he had developed some annoying habits onstage, notably slavish imitation of Jerry's lead lines, a tic that began to irritate Jerry to no end."

Frayed from the vicissitudes of the rock and roll lifestyle, according to Donna Jean Godchaux, "Keith and I decided we wanted to get out and start our own group or something else - anything else. So we played that benefit concert at Oakland [2/17/79], and then a few days later there was a meeting at our house and it was brought up whether we should stay in the band anymore...and we mutually decided we'd leave." The Godchauxes were replaced by keyboardist/vocalist Brent Mydland.

Keith and Donna Godchaux issued the mostly self-written Keith and Donna album in 1975 with Jerry Garcia as a member of their band. The album was recorded at their home in Stinson Beach, where they lived in the 1970s.[1] In turn, they performed as part of the Jerry Garcia Band. Subsequently, Godchaux co-wrote songs with Lowell George (of Little Feat) and Robert Hunter.

After Godchaux's departure from the Grateful Dead, he cleaned up and formed The Heart of Gold Band with his wife; the ensemble included a young Steve Kimock on guitar. Godchaux died in an automobile accident in Marin County, California, in July 1980, at the age of 32.[2]

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

See also[edit]

Portal icon Grateful Dead portal


  1. ^ Grateful Dead Family Discography: Keith and Donna Godchaux, accessed February 2, 2008
  2. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 344. CN 5585. 
  3. ^ List of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees

External links[edit]