How John Mayer Fell In Love With The Grateful Dead

John Mayer on stage with Dead & Company

By Hugh Scott |

John Mayer on stage with Dead & Company

(Getty Images)

When John Mayer joined the Grateful Dead off-shoot Dead & Company in late summer 2015, the famously dedicated fans of the band were surprised. The surviving members of the original Dead had just wrapped up an enormously successful run celebrating the 50th anniversary of the group’s formation and Mayer seemed like an odd choice to many Deadheads. It turns out, he was a perfect choice.

How He Fell For The Grateful Dead

John Mayer fell in love with the Dead in 2011. The guitar player was mostly known for his bluesy playing and his romantic love songs like “Your Body Is A Wonderland,” not for his improvisation, which is what the Dead are most famous for. Mayer recounted how one day, on a chance listen, he was hooked. The guitarist was listening to Pandora one day, as he explains in an interview on the Let the Be Talk podcast, “I think I had Neil Young Radio on or something, and [the Grateful Dead song] ‘Althea’ came on.”

At the time, Mayer was struggling with depression. He continues, “I was in Palm Springs — again, I think I was doing things to not be depressed. I was on depression watch. And I heard bom-bom-bom…” He was flabbergasted by the sound of the guitar he heard. “I had never heard anybody do that and I couldn’t — this is a very rare thing [for me] before I heard Jerry Garcia play the guitar — I couldn’t tell what he was doing!” Mayer says of the Grateful Dead’s legendary leader, who died in 1995. Mayer goes on, “I just knew that it sounded like the most fun thing in the world to play. Like, it’s the most jaunty thing that’s ever been played on a guitar.”

Mayer was hooked. “His inability to write something that repeated makes it difficult to learn, and so much fun to play. The fact that things happen three times and not twice? Right here, it happens five times. Next time, it only happens once. Okay, this is — how do I learn all this? But once you learn it, you’ll never get bored of it.”

Mayer Had A Chance To Play The Same Guitar On Stage

Eight years later, the moment came full circle for John Mayer. At a Dead & Co. performance at Citi Field in Queens, NY, the guitarist had the opportunity to play the guitar Jerry Garcia used to record “Althea.” The custom guitar – dubbed “Wolf” was built for Garcia by luthier Doug Irwin in 1973 and is currently owned by the author and businessman Brian Halligan. Halligan loaned it to Mayer for the performance and Mayer raved about it later.

John Mayer took to Instagram to reveal what he thought, writing, “It wasn’t time until it was. NYC, we were all holding Jerry’s guitar tonight. I cherished the responsibility. All I care about is that I might help take you where you’re looking to go. Thank you for your kindness and your trust. An unforgettable night.” Fittingly, in the second set of the show, Mayer and the rest of the band played “Althea,” the song that started the whole adventure for Mayer.