Brent Mydland

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Brent Mydland
Birth name Brent Mydland
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, country rock, improvisational, jam
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Keyboards, vocals,
Years active 1979–90
Labels Warner Bros.
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 and vocalist, best known for being in the rock band the Grateful Dead from 1979 to 1990. His eleven-year tenure was longer than that of any other keyboardist in the band.


Early life[edit]

Born in Munich, Germany as the child of a U.S Army chaplain, Mydland moved to San Francisco 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 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 1960s he bought the first albums by Jefferson Airplane and the 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]

Mydland joined the Grateful Dead in April 1979, replacing Keith and Donna Godchaux who had decided to start their own band.[3] After two weeks of rehearsals, he played his first concert with the band at the Spartan Stadium, San Jose on April 22.[3]

Mydland quickly became an integral part of the Dead owing to his vocal and songwriting skills as much as his keyboard playing. He quickly combined his tenor singing with founder members Weir and Jerry Garcia to provide strong three-part harmonies on live favourites including "I Know You Rider", "Eyes of the World" and "Truckin'".[4] 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: the moody "Just a Little Light", the environmental song "We Can Run", the live performance driven "Blow Away" and the poignant "I Will Take You Home", a lullaby written with Barlow for Mydland's two daughters.

Mydland has written several other songs that were played live but not released on any studio albums, such as "Don't Need Love", "Never Trust A Woman", "Maybe You Know", "Gentlemen Start Your Engines", and "Love Doesn't Have To Be Pretty"; the latter two written with Barlow. He also co-wrote "Revolutionary Hamstrung Blues" with Phil Lesh collaborator Bobby Petersen, although the song was only performed once live.

His high, gravelly vocal harmonies and emotional leads added to the band's singing strength, and he even occasionally incorporated scat singing into his solos. Mydland's vocals added colour to old favorites such as "Cassidy", "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo", "Ramble on Rose", the Band's "The Weight", and even wrote his own verse for Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster". He sang lead on many covers, including Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy", the Beatles' "Hey Jude", and the Meters' "Hey Pocky Way".

Mydland's last show with the Grateful Dead was on July 23, 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.[5]

Keyboards used when with the Grateful Dead[edit]

While Godchaux had preferred to play only piano at concerts, Mydland was keen to experiment with different sounds during live performances. He frequently changed his setup to add new sounds whenever possible. However, Mydland would have liked to be able to play an acoustic grand piano during concerts as well, telling Keyboard Magazine in 1982 "I'd like to use an acoustic more often, but there's just no room for it". He had used an acoustic grand only during the Grateful Dead's acoustic concerts in the fall of 1980. He also used a rented harpsichord during these acoustic concerts, but told Keyboard Magazine "I never did feel comfortable with that thing".

Mydland played several different electric pianos and synthesizers throughout his tenure. His early piano sounds came from a Fender Rhodes from 1979 through 1981, and a Yamaha CP-70 in 1982. During this time he also used analog synthesizers including a Minimoog, and a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5. In 1983, he began using the Yamaha GS-1 digital synthesizer, replacing his analog synthesizers and electric piano. In the mid eighties, he also added an E-mu Emulator II to his arsenal. In mid 1987, Brent's setup changed once again. Bob Bralove had been hired by the Grateful Dead to program and maintain new MIDI systems. The GS-1 and Emulator II were replaced by a new Kurzweil Midiboard MIDI controller, connected to a Roland MKS-20 piano synthesizer, as well as other controllers with custom voices created by Bralove and Mydland.

He is perhaps best known for his mastery of the Hammond organ, and had a B-3 with ten modified Leslie Speakers in his setup throughout his entire tenure with the Grateful Dead. The B-3 he played (known for once being covered with several stickers) is currently used by keyboardist Jeff Chimenti during live performances. It was present at the 50th anniversary "Fare Thee Well" concerts in July of 2015.

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 1982, he recorded and mastered a solo studio album, but it was never released.

In 1985, he performed at the Haight Street Fair with Weir, John Cipollina, and Merl Saunders, among others.

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, and also briefly reunited in 1988.

He also did numerous solo projects and performances, as well as duo performances with Bob Weir numerous times throughout the 1980s, with Weir on acoustic guitar and Mydland on grand piano.

Brent also had a love for Harley Davidson motorcycles, and was an avid rider. A Harley which was owned by Mydland was featured on a 2013 episode of Pawn Stars.


Mydland was known mostly as a drinker, but in his later years he turned to hard drugs as he was struggling to cope with family issues and severe depression. He died from a speedball overdose[6] 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.


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:



With the Grateful Dead[edit]

With other artists[edit]

See also[edit]

Portal icon Grateful Dead portal



  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. ^ a b Jackson 1999, p. 304.
  4. ^ Jackson 1999, p. 305.
  5. ^ "The Grateful Dead". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2012-10-02. 
  6. ^ The Grateful Dead: Biography


Further reading

External links[edit]