As a child (10 yrs old) first getting turned onto music, my favorite bands were the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead. I thank my brother for my early musical influences and his friend, Hamza, who turned me onto Chuck Berry and Ike & Tina Turner, soon two of my other favorites. Of course, within this new world of wonder and discovery, the favorites just kept bounding into my life, beginning to shape and mold a love for music stronger than anything I could ever explain. This all lead to, a spider web effect with many of my favorite musical acts turning me onto many others. This has never been more true in my life than with the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead.
As a kid, I didn't know any better. I thought whoever was singing the song, it was there song. For so long I thought "The Boxer" was a Bob Dylan song, "My Girl" was a Rolling Stones song, "Good Golly Miss Molly" a Creedence (later I learned CCR was John Fogerty) song, "Cocaine" an Eric Clapton song, "Call Me the Breeze" a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, and the list goes on and on. Kudos to those artists for making those songs their own and earning boat loads of money (sometimes) for the people who actually wrote (and usually first recorded) the songs.
"Me & Bobby McGhee" in particular, sticks out to me. I thought that was a Grateful Dead song, then I heard Jerry Lee Lewis do it. And really freaking well. Then, I heard the definitive Janis Joplin version which is so good that it got the airplay and everyone knows it by her. I'm not saying this was the procession of my enlightenment, but like many Americans (The Boss and Tom Petty for example) who got their motherland's music handed back to them by the Rolling Stones, I started to did a little deeper. Of course, way back then, you couldn't just type J.J. Cale into the internet and get back a dozen or more other artists you'd also like if you liked him. I started reading the record labels and seeing the names under the song. "I'm Movin' On" didn't say The Glimmer Twins or even Jagger-Richards below it. It said Snow. Hank Snow. Who are all these people writing all these great songs?
Well as I dug deeper into the Grateful Dead (this took a while - I thought all their songs were there own), it really opened my eyes. I'd already started with the Rolling Stones and oh my the discoveries...Elmore James, Marvin Gay, Hank Snow, Chuck Berry (he was a little more obvious), Robert Johnson, Fred McDowell, Robert Wilkins and again, the list goes on. In turn, those artists turned me onto more music. I could have sworn I was not a country music fan as a kid. Here I was listening to The Rolling Stones, CCR, Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Prine, and the Grateful Dead and swearing I didn't like country. Ha!
As I began to look at the labels on Grateful Dead records, I discovered names like J.R. Cash, M. Haggard, E. Cotton, Reverend Gary Davis, Marty Robbins, Jimmy Reed, George Jones and the phenomenal list of legendary American blues and country artists just kept rolling on and on. The Dead covered a LOT of great music, just like the Stones. There is a great collection called "The Music Never Stopped - Roots of the Grateful Dead." The cover art is by R. Crumb and he only gets involved with high class projects. This is a collection of the songs that the Grateful Dead have covered, but by the original artists. It's a wonderful collection and could easily morph into a box set based on all of the material they've done.
I am truly grateful to all the people, famous, not famous, friends & family who have turned me onto good music. Of course, at the time, my brother knew not what he had done in awakening the obsessive monster within. I've said before that if I could have a super power, it (one choice) would be to be able to listen to as many songs as I want all at the same time, coherently. There's just so much music, and so little time.
Finally, if it hadn't been for all of these musical heroes, I never would have badgered my parents for a guitar to replace the baseball bat that I jumped up and down with in front of the mirror pretending to be Keith Richards, and I also never would have started writing songs. Now, these things are the most important things in my life and they define who I am and what I love.
Two excellent Grateful Dead albums with lots of covers and originals are:
The Grateful Dead (Skull and Roses)