Born Michael Hart on September 11, 1943, in Brooklyn, NY. Addresses: Production company--360 Degrees Productions, Inc., P.O. Box 1636, Sebastopol, CA 95472. Website--Mickey Hart Official Website:

Mickey Hart is best known as one of two drummers in the improvisational rock music band the Grateful Dead. The sixth of seven members to join the band during its most critically lauded period, Hart's complex time signatures and often exotic percussive techniques are credited with adding the sonic textures that are among several reasons why the San Francisco band is considered among the most groundbreaking rock bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The band's two-drum lineup was revolutionary in rock music in the 1960s, and the pairing of Hart and Bill Kreutzmann--who collectively became known as the "Rhythm Devils" for their adventurous two-drum approach on live performances of such songs as "Dark Star," "St. Stephen," "The Eleven," and "Drums"--lent musical depth beyond the lead guitar playing of Jerry Garcia and bass guitar playing of Phil Lesh.

Hart officially left the Grateful Dead in 1971 but continued to associate and record with band members before recording the band's Blues for Allah album in 1975. He rejoined permanently in 1976, playing with the Grateful Dead until the band's dissolution in 1995 following the death of guitarist and founder Garcia. Hart continued to tour and record both as a solo artist and with the Other Ones, a band containing such former members of the Grateful Dead as Lesh, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, and keyboardists Bruce Hornsby and Vince Welnick. He also became an outspoken advocate for the spiritual and healing properties of music, particularly as it applies to aging adults, and published several books on the anthropological and spiritual qualities of drumming. In addition, Hart made exhaustive field recordings of drums and percussion instruments from around the world that have been released as part of the United States Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture.

Hart was born on September 11, 1943, in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in New York City and on Long Island. His mother, Leah Hart, raised him alone; his father, Lenny Hart, left before Hart's birth. Both of Hart's parents were drummers, and his mother arranged for him to study drums when he was in high school. He developed a passion for the big-band style of drummer Gene Krupa and eventually quit school to join the drum and bugle corps in the United States Air Force. Stationed in California, Hart met his father for the first time. The elder Hart was working as a savings and loan executive, but he had retained his interest in drumming. The two men spent an afternoon together, drumming on items in the father's office, but they lost contact with each other after the initial meeting. Later stationed in Spain, Hart studied judo with a man named Pogo, from whom Hart learned breathing and focused mental techniques that he later applied to his drumming.

Hart was discharged from the Air Force in 1965. He returned to New York to pursue a career as a studio session drummer until Lenny Hart wrote him a letter to invite him to work in a drum store he had recently opened in San Carlos, California, a city 30 miles south of San Francisco. Hart convinced his father to change the name of the store from Hart Music to Hart Drum City, and he proceeded to organize drum clinics on the premises. One of the renowned drummers to visit the store was Sonny Payne, who played with jazz legend Count Basie. Hart's friendship with Payne led him to attend an August 1967 Count Basie performance at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium, where Hart was introduced to Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. Hart, Kreutzmann, and Payne left the Fillmore to attend a performance by Big Brother and the Holding Company at the Matrix. Payne, unimpressed by the blues-and-psychedelic hybrid of the Janis Joplin-fronted band, left. Hart, on the other hand, was impressed by the band's performance and stayed with Kreutzmann. The two men later bought a bottle of Scotch whiskey and wandered through the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, drinking and drumming on parked cars.

Joined the Grateful Dead

Kreutzmann invited Hart to visit the Grateful Dead rehearsals, but Hart could never find the band's rehearsal space. On September 29, 1967, however, Hart attended his first Grateful Dead concert, which was held at the Straight Theater on Haight Street. During the band's intermission, Kreutzmann invited Hart to sit in with the band on the second set. For nearly two hours, the band performed the song "Alligator," which segued into the song "Caution," and Hart was invited to join the band. He moved into a closet in Kreutzmann and Lesh's Belvedere Street apartment and became the sixth member of the band. A seventh member, keyboardist and composer Tom Constanten, briefly joined the band for the Anthem of the Sun and Live/Dead albums.

During the latter part of the 1960s, Hart became one of the band's most outspoken proponents of psychotropic drug use, especially lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and he also experimented with hypnosis. Hart would often take LSD with Kreutzmann or hypnotize the other drummer before shows in attempts to rhythmically mesh their two drumming styles. He also studied the tabla drums with instructor Shakar Gosh at the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Francisco in 1968. That same year, Lesh introduced Hart to the album The Music of East India, and Hart became preoccupied with one percussionist on the album, Alla Rakha. While performing in New York City with the Grateful Dead, Hart met Rakha, who was performing in New York with Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar. Rakha instructed Hart on how to create new time signatures: he kept a steady ten-count beat while calling out for Hart to play a different beat of various measures at the same time, including nine-counts, eleven-counts, and thirteen-counts. Hart introduced this methodology to Kreutzmann, and the two men created rhythms for the Grateful Dead that were previously unheard of in the rock music idiom, including seven-count beats over five-count beats and eleven-count beats over nine-count beats on such songs as the Robert Hunter and Lesh composition "The Eleven."

The new rhythmic approach, combined with the lyrics of Hunter, the experimentations of Constanten and Lesh, and the guitar extrapolations of Garcia, caused critics and audiences to recognize the Grateful Dead as among the most musically accomplished and adventurous rock bands of the time. The group's long, improvisatory jams became much more focused and interesting, as displayed on the 1968 recording of the group's second album, Anthem of the Sun. Anthem was two album sides of extended songs that blended seamlessly into each other, employing electronic effects more often associated with such twentieth-century classical composers as John Cage and Edgard Varese. The same year that Anthem of the Sun was released, Hart formed a short-lived improvisatory side project called Mickey Hart and the Hartbeats, which featured the more instrumentally accomplished members of the Grateful Dead and excluded Weir and keyboardist Ron (Pigpen) McKernan. In 1969 Hart also appeared on the debut album by the New Riders of the Purple Sage, which originally featured Garcia and Dave Nelson performing more country music-inflected songs.

In 1968 Hart became the first Grateful Dead member to move out of the Haight-Ashbury district. He rented a 32-acre ranch outside Novato, California, about 40 minutes north of San Francisco. Pigpen and his girlfriend shared the house with Hart, and the Grateful Dead rehearsed in the barn located on the property. In 1969 Hart performed with the Grateful Dead at the Woodstock Festival, a performance that is unanimously described by critics, band members, and fans as among the band's worst. The group also played at the 1969 concert at California's Altamont Speedway as a support act to the Jefferson Airplane and the Rolling Stones.

Following the release of the 1969 Grateful Dead albums Live/Dead and AOXOMOXOA, and the 1970 releases Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, Hart resigned from the group. In response to the enormous debt incurred by the band due to the purchase of expensive equipment, bad bookkeeping, and production cost overruns on the band's albums during the 1960s, Hart had convinced the band to hire his father as a business manager charged with returning the group to profitability. The elder Hart, however, eventually embezzled funds from the group in amounts estimated to be between $70,000 and $150,000. Hart stayed with the band for nine months after the revelation but then resigned out of embarrassment. The Grateful Dead provided him with a stipend, however, and Hart received a three-record advance from Warner Bros. He used the proceeds to build a 16-track studio on the ranch that he rented.

Developed Own Musical Pursuits

In 1972 Hart released the solo album, Rolling Thunder, which features Lesh, Weir, and Garcia, as well as Rakha on percussion. The recording also includes West Coast musicians Grace Slick from the Jefferson Airplane, David Frieberg and John Cipollina from the Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Tower of Power horn section, and Stephen Stills from Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The record takes its name from a Shoshone Indian medicine man who also speaks on the album. In 1974 Hart appeared with the Grateful Dead at the Winterland venue in San Francisco for the band's final show before an extended break from touring. He also provided percussion on the band's 1975 studio album, Blues for Allah. When the band resumed touring in 1976, Hart returned as the second drummer and percussionist, staying with the band until the Grateful Dead disbanded in 1995 following Garcia's death.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the Grateful Dead became one of the largest-grossing acts in the entertainment industry, affording its members the opportunity to experiment with side projects. In 1976 Hart fronted the Diga Rhythm Band and released Diga. An album that displays a wide variety of percussion instruments from around the world, it also features the song "Happiness Is Drumming," which includes Garcia on guitar. The song is noted as the basis for the song "Fire on the Mountain," which appears on the Grateful Dead album Shakedown Street and on several subsequent Grateful Dead live albums.

Hart teamed with Kreutzmann to record original music for the Francis Ford Coppola Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now. The recording sessions resulted in Hart constructing "The Beast," a large circular wheel that held such instruments as chimes, bells, and boxed crickets. The Beast became a regular stage fixture for the Grateful Dead. During the 1990s Hart expanded the Beast to include three double-headed drums patterned after a Brazilian surdo, as well as small drums that could be worn around the waist. In 1991 Hart told Musician magazine writer Connor Freff Cochran: "The Beast has been many different things. Right now it's both acoustic and electronic. I have the big drums, and a set of eight Roto-Toms, but I also have all of my percussion collection sampled and with me on disc. I'm using thousands of sounds." The sessions for the Apocalypse Now film score were released in 1980 as The Rhythm Devils Play River Music: The Apocalypse Now Sessions.

Continued Interest in World Music

His 1990 solo release, At the Edge, was inspired by music that Hart called "dreamsongs," which he said came to him while he was sleeping. In 1991 Hart provided assistance for a concert tour by the Gyoto Monks of Tibet. His fascination with World Music and percussion instruments led to his 1991 book and album Planet Drum. The album features such musicians as duggi tarang and dundun player Sikiru Adepoju; djembe, conga, and shekere player Babatunde Olatunji; Udu drum, balafon, and tabla player Zakir Hussain; and multiple percussionist Airto Moreira. The album received a Grammy Award for Best World Music Recording in 1992.

In the early 1990s, Hart testified on behalf of drum therapy before a United States Senate Committee on Aging. He also interviewed mythologist Joseph Campbell on the drum's mystical significance. Following Garcia's death in 1995, the individual members of the Grateful Dead decided that the guitarist could not be replaced, and the group disbanded. Hart released Mickey Hart's Music Box in 1996, about which Musician magazine critic Robert L. Doerschuk claimed: "[Hart's] integration of Third World percussion over dance beats is effortless and unobtrusive." The album is notable also as the first major writing collaboration between composer Hart and lyricist Hunter since Rolling Thunder. He formed the Mickey Hart Band in 2000 and occasionally plays live performances with former members of the Grateful Dead in a band called the Other Ones.

by Bruce Walker

Mickey Hart's Career

Joined Grateful Dead as second drummer, 1967; left Grateful Dead, 1971; released first solo album, Rolling Thunder, 1972; rejoined Grateful Dead for performance at Winterland, San Francisco, 1974; appeared on Grateful Dead album, Blues for Allah, 1975; rejoined Grateful Dead permanently, 1976; spoke about health benefits of drumming before U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, 1991; released album and book Planet Drum, 1991; released Mickey Hart's Mystery Box, 1996; toured and recorded as drummer and percussionist for the Other Ones, a band containing former members of the Grateful Dead, 1999; released album and book Spirit into Sound, 1999.

Mickey Hart's Awards

Grammy Award, Best World Music Recording for Planet Drum, 1992.

Famous Works

Further Reading



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