Holy shit: black guys! Those two were the easiest human beings to find on the planet this afternoon.
The Dead didn’t have much cross-over appeal to the so-called “urban” audience. (“Urban” means black, “ethnic” means Jew, and “New Yorker” means gay Jew.) Pigpen tried to win African-Americans over one fox at a time, but that was more of a motif than an actual Hearts and Minds program.
The truth is that the Dead and their audience was and is whiter than a tube sock at Martha Stewart’s house that just had the fright of its life. Sure, they covered tons of black artists’ songs, but so does Ted Nugent: humans have always been gobbled up other cultures and spit out the people who made them.
They owed more to their country roots than to the blues; in fact, they never learned how to play a simple twelve-bar well. Instead of glomming like dilettantes onto the Mississippi blue like their contemporaries, they stole their riffs from Buck Owen and Merle Haggard–their Okie>California ancestors.
The blues was the sound of black folks being poor; country was the sound of white folks being poor. Same shit, different bar.