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
Occupation(s) 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 1971 to 1979.


Keith Godchaux was born in Seattle, Washington, and grew up in Concord, California. He met and married former FAME Studios session vocalist 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 August 1971; ailing keyboardist/vocalist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (who would go on to play alongside Godchaux from December 1971 to June 1972) was unable to undertake the rigors of the band's next tour. At the time, Godchaux—who had commenced piano lessons at five at the instigation of his father (a semiprofessional musician) and subsequently played Dixieland and cocktail jazz in professional ensembles as a teenager—was irregularly employed as a lounge pianist in Walnut Creek, California. Although he was largely uninterested in the popular music of the epoch and eschewed the au courant jazz rock subgenre (as exemplified by the oeuvre of Chick Corea) in favor of Bill Evans, bebop, and swing, he had previously collaborated with such rock acts as Dave Mason and James & the Good Brothers, a Canadian trio acquainted with the Grateful Dead.

According to Godchaux, "I first saw [the Grateful Dead] play with a bunch of my old lady's friends who were real Grateful Dead freaks. I went to a concert with them and saw something I didn't know could be really happening... It was not like a mind-blowing far out, just beautiful far out. Not exactly a choir of angels, but some incredibly holy, pure and beautiful spiritual light. From then on I was super turned-on that such a thing existed. This was about a year and a half ago, when I first met Donna... I knew I was related to them."[1][2] He was also known to Betty Cantor-Jackson, a Grateful Dead sound engineer who produced James & the Good Brothers' debut album in 1970. While the band had employed several other keyboardists (including jazz musicians Howard Wales & Merl Saunders and Ned Lagin, a graduate student in composition at Brandeis University) as session musicians throughout 1970–1971, Godchaux was invited to join the group in September 1971. His first show with the Dead was October 19, 1971 at the University of Minnesota's Northrup Auditorium.

After playing an upright piano and increasingly sporadic Hammond organ on the fall 1971 tour, Godchaux primarily played acoustic grand piano (including Yamaha and Steinway instruments) at concerts from 1972 to 1974. He added a Fender Rhodes electric piano in mid-1973 and briefly experimented with the Hammond organ again on the band's fall 1973 tour; the Rhodes piano would remain in his setup through 1976. Following the group's extended touring hiatus, he primarily used a baby grand piano in 1976 and early 1977 before switching exclusively to the Yamaha CP-70 electric grand piano in September 1977. The instrument's unwieldy tuning contributed to the shelving of the band's recordings of their 1978 engagement at the Giza Plateau for a planned live album. Despite occasional flirtations with synthesizers (most notably a Polymoog that was used extensively during the band's spring 1977 tour), Godchaux's 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; bassist Phil Lesh lauded his ability to "fit perfectly in the spaces between [our] parts", while drummer Bill Kreutzmann was inspired by his "heart of music".[2] This same style was replicated in Godchaux's work with the Jerry Garcia Band. Following the group's 1975 hiatus, Godchaux increasingly yielded to a simpler comping-based approach that melodically emulated Garcia's guitar work.

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 & 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.[3] 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.[4]

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Chapter Twelve Additions". Retrieved 2016-03-13. 
  2. ^ a b "Grateful Dead Guide: How Keith Joined". 2012-09-04. Retrieved 2016-03-13. 
  3. ^ Grateful Dead Family Discography: Keith and Donna Godchaux, accessed February 2, 2008
  4. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 344. CN 5585. 

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