Brent Mydland in 1987
|Birth name||Brent Mydland|
October 21, 1952|
July 26, 1990 (aged 37)|
|Genres||Rock, psychedelic rock, blues, gospel, country rock, improvisational, jam|
|Instruments||Hammond organ, piano, synthesizer, vocals|
|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, vocalist and songwriter. He was a member of The Grateful Dead from 1979 to 1990, a longer tenure than any other keyboardist in the band.
Growing up in Concord, California, Mydland took up music while in elementary school. After graduation, he played with a number of bands and recorded one album with Silver before joining the Dead's Bob Weir's solo band. This led to an invitation to join the Dead in 1979, replacing Keith Godchaux who had decided to leave. Mydland quickly became an important member in the Dead, using a variety of keyboards including Hammond organ and various synthesizers and singing regularly. He wrote several songs on the band's studio albums released while he was a member.
After a successful tour in the early summer 1990, Mydland died of an accidental drug overdose.
Born in Munich, Germany, 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 Concord, California. He started piano lessons aged six 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 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.
Mydland began playing rock'n'roll with friends in high school, and was influenced by organists such as Lee Michaels, Ray Manzarek and Steppenwolf's Goldy McJohn. He became a fan of the Grateful Dead in the late 1960s, though was less impressed by their 1970s material.
After graduation, Mydland lived in a quonset hut in Thousand Oaks, California, writing songs. He joined a band with Rick Carlos, who was invited by John Batdorf of Batdorf & Rodney to join their band. Mydland was asked to join shortly after. He then formed the band Silver with Batdorf, releasing one album on Arista Records.
Mydland joined the Grateful Dead in April 1979, replacing Keith and Donna Godchaux who had decided to start their own band. After two weeks of rehearsals, he played his first concert with the band at the Spartan Stadium, San Jose, on April 22.
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 founding members Weir and Jerry Garcia to provide strong three-part harmonies on live favorites. 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 "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 wrote several other songs that were played live but not released on any studio albums, including "Don't Need Love," "Never Trust A Woman," "Maybe You Know," "Gentlemen Start Your Engines," and "Love Doesn't Have To Be Pretty;" the last two written with Barlow. He also co-wrote "Revolutionary Hamstrung Blues" with Phil Lesh collaborator Bobby Petersen, although the song was performed live only once.
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 color to old favorites such as "Cassidy," "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo," "Ramble on Rose," the Band's "The Weight", and he 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, Illinois. The last song he sang that day was "The Weight." His portion concluded with the words, "I gotta go, but my friend can stick around."
While Keith 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. 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 edited and mixed by Bralove and Mydland. During this time, Mydland became very adept at layering sounds (such as piano and strings, etc.), and he was always subtly changing his sound throughout songs.
Mydland regularly used the Hammond organ, and had a B-3 with ten modified Leslie speakers in his setup for his entire tenure. The Grateful Dead purchased three B-3 organs for his use when he joined the band, and he personally owned several B-3 organs at the time of his passing. The B-3 he played for the majority of his tenure with the Grateful Dead, known for once being covered with stickers, is currently used by keyboardist Jeff Chimenti during live performances. It was present at the 50th anniversary "Fare Thee Well" concerts in July 2015.
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 the summer of 1985, he performed with Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann in their band Kokomo along with 707's Kevin Russell and Santana's David Margen.
In 1986, Mydland formed Go Ahead with several San Francisco Bay area musicians, including Bill Kreutzmann, also former Santana members Alex Ligertwood on vocals and David Margen on bass, as well as guitarist Jerry Cortez. 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 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.
Brent Mydland died at his home on "My Road" in Lafayette, California, on July 26, 1990, shortly after completing the Grateful Dead's summer tour. An autopsy conducted by the Contra Costa Coroner's office revealed that Mydland had died of acute cocaine and narcotic intoxication. Richard Rainey, Contra Costa County coroner, stated that "Toxicology tests reveal lethal levels of morphine and cocaine in the blood" a mixture "commonly referred to as a 'speedball,' "  He was the third Dead keyboardist to die (after founding member Ron "Pigpen" McKernan in 1973 and Keith Godchaux in 1980); Garcia said Mydland's death was "crushing" and it abruptly closed a chapter of the band's career.
Mydland is buried at Oakmont Memorial Park in Lafayette, California.
Weir has said that the late '80s and early '90s, with Brent Mydland, was his favorite time playing in the band.
Mydland's contributions to the Grateful Dead's sound was wide-ranging and diverse, as demonstrated in the Grateful Dead's album Spring 1990 which features six full-length shows from his last year with the band.
With the Grateful Dead
- Go to Heaven – 1980
- Reckoning – 1981
- Dead Set – 1981
- In the Dark – 1987
- Dylan & the Dead – 1989
- Built to Last – 1989
- Without a Net – 1990
- Infrared Roses –1991
- Grayfolded – 1994
- Dick's Picks Volume 5 – 1996
- Dozin' at the Knick – 1996
- Dick's Picks Volume 6 – 1996
- Terrapin Station – 1997
- Fallout from the Phil Zone – 1997
- Dick's Picks Volume 13 – 1999
- View from the Vault, Volume One – 2000
- Dick's Picks Volume 21 – 2001
- Nightfall of Diamonds – 2001
- Postcards of the Hanging – March 2002
- View from the Vault, Volume Three – 2002
- Go to Nassau – 2002
- View from the Vault, Volume Four – 2003
- Dick's Picks Volume 32 – 2004
- Truckin' Up to Buffalo – 2005
- Road Trips Volume 1 Number 1 – 2007
- Road Trips Volume 3 Number 1 – 2009
- Crimson White & Indigo – 2010
- Road Trips Volume 3 Number 4 – 2010
- Formerly the Warlocks – 2010
- Road Trips Volume 4 Number 2 – 2011
- Road Trips Volume 4 Number 4 – 2011
- Spring 1990 – 2012
- Spring 1990: So Glad You Made It – 2012
- Dave's Picks Volume 8 – 2013
- Live at Hampton Coliseum – 2014
- Spring 1990 (The Other One) – 2014
- Wake Up to Find Out – 2014
- 30 Trips Around the Sun – 2015
- 30 Trips Around the Sun: The Definitive Live Story 1965–1995 – 2015
- Dave's Picks Volume 20 – 2016
- Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, Washington, D.C., July 12 & 13, 1989 – 2017
With other artists
- Silver – Silver – 1976
- Sweet Surprise – Eric Andersen – 1976
- Bobby and the Midnites – Bobby and the Midnites – 1981
- A Wing and a Prayer – Matt Kelly – 1985
- Down in the Groove – Bob Dylan – 1988
- New Frontier – New Frontier – 1988
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- Jackson 1999, p. 304.
- "Silver – Silver". AllMusic. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
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- "The Grateful Dead". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved October 2, 2012.
- "Grateful Dead Member Died of Drug Overdose". Los Angeles Times. August 11, 1990.
- Jackson, Blair (October 21, 2016). "Relix Revisited - the Brent Mydland years". Relix. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
- "Q&A: Bob Weir on Life With Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead". Rolling Stone. August 6, 2012. Retrieved April 12, 2018.
- Browne, David (2015). So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead. Hachette UK. ISBN 978-0-306-82171-4.
- Jackson, Blair (1999). Garcia: An American Life. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-029199-7.
- Edmondson, Jacqueline (2009). Jerry Garcia: A Biography. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-313-35122-8.
- Vail, Mark (2002). The Hammond Organ: Beauty in the B. Backbeat Books. ISBN 978-0-87930-705-9.
- Brent Mydland at AllMusic
- Brent Mydland on IMDb
- McNally, Dennis (2002). A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead. New York: Broadway Books. ISBN 0-7679-1185-7.
- Scott, John W.; Dolgushkin, Mike; Nixon, Stu (1999). DeadBase XI: The Complete Guide to Grateful Dead Song Lists. Cornish, New Hampshire: DeadBase. ISBN 1-877657-22-0.