To say the Dead had a logo is like saying Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" has a tune. Probably no band in rock history has been so identified with such powerful visual imagery: those skeletons, skulls, roses and dancing bears. But the Dead themselves had little to do with creating this striking iconography. Instead they turned to artists like Stanley Mouse and his frequent collaborator Alton Kelley.
"I did all kinds of stuff for the band," says Kelley, 55, who lives in Petaluma, Calif. "I did T-shirts, backstage passes, tickets, album covers, belt buckles and lots of posters." Not to mention the band's stationery and—usually working with nothing more than a title for inspiration—the album covers for Workingman's Dead, Skull and Roses and American Beauty.
"You know what was great about the group?" asks Kelley, remembering the days working with Mouse. "They left us alone. They said, 'You guys go ahead and do it.' They gave us the freedom to do what we wished. And whenever I brought in a piece, they loved it. They had no expectations."
Kelley, who has also done album covers for Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones and Journey, linked up with the band when they were still the Warlocks. On his very first poster for the freshly named Dead, in 1966, he misspelled their first name greatful.
Most recently he designed the poster for the June 2-4 shows at the Shoreline Amphitheater south of San Francisco. "It's really, really pretty," says Kelley. "But it's kinda sad to think it was the last."
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