The Genesis of the Online Deadhead Community

by Steve Silberman
Contributing editor, Wired magazine

Surfing around tonight, I stumbled on something that is so wonderful I'm crying tears of joy about it. I found a website that archives some of the earliest posts to Usenet, going back to 1981 and 1982. The archive is here:

(Usenet -- otherwise known as "the newsgroups" -- was born in January of 1980, thus the first year of posting traffic is missing here.)

I just "knew" that some of the first posters had to be Deadheads, since Deadheads have always been so tech-savvy, and the hefty representation of smart science geeks in the Deadhead world is well known. In "Skeleton Key," under the entry for "Dead-Flames," I talk about the emergence of the earliest online mailing lists for Deadheads out of a list created by Paul Martin of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab in the '70s. (Paul, are you still out there?) Until tonight, however, I had never seen postings from this first era of online Deadhead community -- the genesis of a conversation (others might say "a chaos") that has been thriving now for over 20 years.

All online jamband communities trace their beginnings back to these posts. The very first Usenet newsgroup dedicated to the music of a particular band -- -- evolved out of the posting activity of these pioneers.

The following are the Dead-oriented posts from the archive site posted above. It's interesting to read here that Greg Woods is so happy about finding *seven* Deadheads on the entire network, was ecstatic to have a handful of bootlegs, and was already using the primitive network to facilitate tape-trading. It's safe to say that the Greg of that time (Greg, are you out there? Please email me!) would have been mind-boggled by the number of Deadheads online now, by the number of high-quality tapes, vault releases, and sound files currently in circulation -- and by what the network itself became. It's also amusing to note that flaming Donna apparently has a VERY VERY long tradition in online Deadhead culture <grin>.

Here is the Beginning of it all. If any old Net-heads out there have earlier posts than this, I would love to see 'em.

To anyone who sees their own name in the posts below, THANK YOU for helping to build a virtual village green and trading network for Deadheads that proved even more enduring than the band itself. We are all in your debt.
Peace -- salaam -- shalom,
Steve Silberman

The Posts

Fri Apr 9 12:11:19 1982
Dead Heads
I'm new to the net; is where music lovers of the One True Religion hang out? If not, then where?

Tue Apr 13 12:48:02 1982
Re: Dead Heads
I was beginning to doubt if there were any at all! It seems to me that has been more devoted (until just this last week) to people who desribe rock as disco (which only shows ignorance) or as noise. (Saying the Grateful Dead sound like disco is like saying Beethoven sounds like Bach). Someone else pointed out that net.records and overlap. Maybe we should form and, etc., so we can avoid all these personal| arguments about musical taste and get on to exchanging information! Dead Heads: Where are you? Who are you? Send me mail and I will post a list network Dead Heads so we can all exchange\ mail. Please mail to me and not the net; I don't want all the rock-haters out there to get on me.
GREG (ucbvax!menlo70!hao!woods)

Thu Apr 15 22:29:14 1982
Grateful Dead Trivia
Some time ago, I received a very interesting picture titled "There are 58 Grateful Dead songs pictured here. How many can you find?" Unfortunately, it was a lousey copy, and many of the 'pictures' were unrecognizable blobs. Anybody know where I can get a better copy? Reply via mail, or send a good copy to:
Bill Williams
Dept. Plant and Soil Biology
|108 Hilgard Hall
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720

Fri Apr 16 16:23:36 1982
Dead Heads II
Sorry about this. I still want to compile a list of network Dead Heads and have received 4 responses so far. However, I have been informed by someone from sri-unix that their link to cca is for news traffic only, and any individual letters sent through that link will go to the WOM (Write Only Memory). Thus, the "r" command in readnews will probably not work to send mail to me. What this all means is that if you sent a response, please remail it again as I may not have gotten it. You will need to get out of readnews and do an explicit mail command to get it to me. My address is ucbvax!menlo70!hao!woods (Obviously if you are on the part of the net below menlo70 then you don't need to go through ucbvax). As I said before, I will post a list of Net Dead Heads as soon as/if I get sufficient response.
GREG (ucbvax!menlo70!hao!woods)

Fri Apr 16 09:33:48 1982
Re: deadheads
Deadheads do exist in New Jersey. I have a small collection of six live tapes, but I have access to fifty or so through avid deadheads in New York. Saw the dead at Nassua Coliseum this week in what was the least memorable dead show that I'v seen. Weir blew the words for truckin'. Even garcia was playing uninspired. Terrible sound didn't help the situation. Fortunately for other dead fans I heard the show the next night was cosiderabely better. I'd be interested in hearing comments about the sunday night show if others attended. Also would like to know if other dead fans are as happy to see donna gone as I am.

Tue Apr 27 09:32:46 1982
Grateful Dead Marathon
For those of you Dead Heads in the Denver-Boulder area, the Boulder public station, KGNU, 88.5 FM (that's right, the one that interferes with channel 6) will be playing 5 hours of rare live Grateful Dead concerts this Friday night (April 30) beginning at 9pm. In past years I have gotten some excellent bootlegs from the KGNU marathons, . You have to be able to put up with the fund-raising pitch, but if you are into collecting botlegs as I am, it is well worth it.
GREG (ucbvax!menlo70!hao!wods)
P.S. Coming soon to this newsgroup--list of network Dead Heads. Anyone who wishes to be on the list please mail me--DO NOT use the "r" command in readnews! I will allow a couple more days for people to send me their addresses. I have abut 7 people so far.

Mon May 3 11:42:27 1982
List of Network Dead Heads
Here it is at long last, the list of network Dead Heads. The people with asterisks next to their names have expressed an interest in trading tapes. Please note--As I mentioned before, we get our news through a link which does not accept private mail, thus I have had to guess at some of these path names, so if I posted a wrong and/or inefficient path name, please correct me. These names are listed in the order I received them (because that's easiest for me):
ucbvax!menlo70!sri-unix!knutsen Andrew Knutsen
ucbvax!ucbcory!cc-43 Stewart Huckaby
* ucbvax!allegra!lacy Jack Lacy
ucbvax!menlo70!hplabs!hp-pcd!tw and Tw Cook
ucbvax!lbl-unix!rice!skw Scott K. Warren
ucbvax!G:wwww Bill Williams
* ucbvax!ihnss!houxi!houxa!kfb ?
ucbvax!uwvax!msm Mark S. Manasse
ucbvax!ihnss!ihuxo!schnable Andy Schnable
ucbvax!menlo70!hplabs!Faunt@HP-THOR Doug
ucbvax!ucbcad!tekcad!paulp Paul Pomes
* ucbvax!menlo70!hao!woods Greg Woods (me!)
Whew! That's a lot of Dead Heads!
GREG (ucbvax!menlo70!hao!woods)
P.S. If your list entry is incorrect or you would like to be
added, mail me at above address.

Thu May 6 00:55:09 1982
Re: List of Network Dead Heads
Sorry Greg, but my mail got kicked back by ucbvax. Please add my name to the list of net deadheads (with an asterisk).
Rick Mascitti