Keith Godchaux Biography

Keith Godchaux is known for his tenure as a keyboardist with the Grateful Dead in the 1970s.


Born in 1948, Keith Godchaux was raised in California, and played music with a variety of bands in the 1960s before meeting the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia in 1971. Godchaux began playing the keyboard for the band that October, and he remained in the lineup, for both live shows and some studio sessions. Feeling the affects of drug use and the rigors of the road, Godchaux decided to leave the band in 1979. He died a year later in a car accident, at the age of 32.

Early Life

Keith Godchaux was born in Seattle, Washington in 1948, but soon moved with his family to Concord, California, just east of San Francisco. Godchaux's father was a musician, and Godchaux himself showed an early interest in music and began playing at various venues in his teens. While moving around the fringes of the California music scene in 1970, he met Donna Jean Thatcher and they soon married (in 1974, the couple had a son, Zion).

The Grateful Dead

At a fateful Grateful Dead show in San Francisco in 1971, Godchaux and his wife, Donna Godchaux, introduced themselves to singer and guitarist Jerry Garcia. The band happened to be in need of a keyboardist, as their own keyboardist, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, had fallen ill. By the fall, Godchaux was touring with the Dead, playing his first gig with them on October 19, 1971, at the University of Minnesota. Donna joined the band soon after.

The first Grateful Dead album on which Godchaux appeared was 1973's Wake of the Flood, and while the Dead were never regarded as a studio band, making Godchaux's appearances limited, the endless bootlegged (and other live) recordings of Dead shows feature Godchaux extensively.

When the band took a break in 1975, Godchaux and Donna formed a self-titled group and released a self-titled album, on which Jerry Garcia appeared. When the Dead got back together, the Godchauxes went on tour with them, playing in Egypt at the sphinx in 1978—the first rock 'n' roll band to play in that locale. By the next year, however, the rock-star life, including frequent touring and drug intake, had begun to wear Godchaux down. So he and Donna left the Grateful Dead and put together a new band, the Heart of Gold Band.

Not long after the Heart of Gold Band's first concert, on July 23, 1980, Keith Godchaux was killed in a car accident, in Marin County, California.

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