#RespectYourElders: Mickey Hart, 75, is a percussionist, author and musicologist best known as one of the drummers for the Grateful Dead. He is a Grammy Award winner, an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Drummers of All Time.
Hart was born in Brooklyn, New York to a family of musicians. His parents were both rudimental drummers, a type of percussion influenced by military tradition, and were a major influence on his passion for music. Mickey recalled that from the age of ten onwards, all he did was drum, “Obsessively. Passionately. Painfully.”
Hart dropped out of high school his senior year to join the Air Force, which he believed was a hotbed for drummers. He spent three and a half years stationed in Europe, where he says he taught judo to pilots during the day and played jazz with musicians like Gerry Mulligan and Count Basie at night.
After leaving the Air Force, Hart returned to the U.S. and lived in San Carlos, California where he helped his father run a music store called Hart Music. In 1967, he met the Grateful Dead’s drummer Bill Kruetzmann at one of the band’s shows. Soon after, Hart was invited to join the Grateful Dead as the second percussionist.
The Grateful Dead’s music style is a complex, hybrid genre of psychedelic rock with improvisational techniques, influenced by jazz, country, western and more. Their fans, also called “Deadheads,” often remark that no live performance is similar to the last.
The Grateful Dead put out several records during Hart’s tenure in the late 60s through early 70s including “Workingman’s Dead,” and “American Beauty.” Hart temporarily parted with the band in 1971 due to personal issues including his father, who briefly served as their manager, embezzling money from the band.
During his hiatus from the Grateful Dead, Hart released a solo album titled “Rolling Thunder,” which explored non-conventional drumming.
He rejoined the Grateful Dead in 1974 and stayed with the group until their final show in the summer of 1995 at Soldier Field in Chicago. One month later, after lead singer Jerry Garcia passed away, the group disbanded.
Hart and the rest of the band’s members continued playing together over the years as different groups including The Other Ones, the Dead, Dead & Company and the Rhythm Devils. The Grateful Dead made a return for several shows at Soldier Field in 2015 for Fare Thee Well, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the band.
Hart has also been actively involved in the science and therapy of music. He serves as a board member for the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, a nonprofit that provides a variety of services to help patients manage the symptoms of neurological conditions including strokes, trauma, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2003, he was awarded the Music Has Power Award for his advocacy and commitment to raising awareness about the positive effects of music.
“Shamans traditionally used drums and rattles to heal. So music and rhythm therapy isn’t something we’re inventing,” Hart said. “But through scientific investigation, we’re greatly expanding our knowledge.”