Remembering Grateful Dead Europe ’72

The famous singer turns 75 today.

By Andy Kahn August 22, 2022 2:24 p.m. PDT

Grateful Dead singer Donna Jean Godchaux-MacKay celebrates a milestone birthday today as she turns 75. Earlier this year marked another milestone for Godchaux with the 50th anniversary of his first tour with the Dead, their historic Europe ’72 tour which took place in April and May this year.

JamBase revisited each of the 22 performances the Grateful Dead put on during the Europe ’72 run with deep dives released on each’s 50th anniversary date. Godchaux appeared at 21 of the 22 concerts, seated outside the show on 16 April 1972 at Stakladen on the campus of Aarhus University in Aarhus, Denmark.

Prior to the Europe ’72 tour, Godchaux made her first stage appearance with the Grateful Dead on December 31, 1971. Donna’s New Year’s premiere at Winterland in San Francisco was during a rendition of “One More Saturday Night”. Also on stage that night was Donna’s husband, the late Keith Godchaux, who became an official member of the band in October 1971, as well as guitarists. Jerry Garcia and Bob Weirbass player Phil Leshkeyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and drummer Bill Kreutzmann (drummer mickey hart was on sabbatical from the band, joining in 1974).

After the New Year’s sit-in, the Grateful Dead flew to New York at the end of March 1972. They spent a few days in New York before leaving for London to begin the Europe ’72 tour. While in town, the Dead performed a series of concerts at the Academy Music Hall which included a March 25 benefit for the Hells Angels, which saw the Dead supporting Bo Diddley, in addition to playing a set which officially marked the start of Donna’s tenure. as a full-time member of the group.

On an episode of insight Good old grateful Deadcast podcast, Donna told host Jesse Jarnow about the experience:

“You know, it should have been [intimidating], if I had a bit of common sense in my head, but I didn’t and I wasn’t afraid. One of the reasons I wasn’t scared was that the Angels were very respectful of the group. And, really, above all, about me. The president told them, “Don’t mess with her. And they respected that. So I was never afraid. I always felt protected. And they have always been very nice to me.

“So here I am. This little girl from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. All of a sudden, I’m in New York, with the Grateful Dead, on this stage, on my way to Europe. And it was just… can you say I’m at a loss for words? It was amazing – to be in this place, at this time, with this group. ”

Donna, whose career began as a backing vocalist at Muscle Shoals historic FAME Studios where she recorded with Elvis Presley, Percy Sledge and others, was featured primarily on ‘Playing In The Band’ on the Europe Tour’ 72. Weir often preceded her on stage, introducing the new band member to European audiences.

“Playing In The Band” was played at every stop of Europe ’72, including twice when they recorded an appearance on the beat the club program for West Germany TV (see above). Another song performed on this tour on which Donna can be heard prominently is “Greatest Story Ever Told”, which was performed eight times with her (and also during the aforementioned Aarhus show without Donna).

Probably one of Donna’s most memorable experiences occurred at the Concert of the Dead on May 3, 1972 at the Olympia Theater in Paris, France. Donna spoke about her experience in Paris during a session with Betty Cantor-Jackson – who was part of the Europe ’72 sound engineering team – at the Grateful Dead’s 2013 DSO High School Retreat, in upstate New York (see here).

Donna: Of course we had [on Europe ‘72 tour] the good acid… And so we were there for two months, right Betty, something like that?

Betty: Yes, two buses: the Bolos and the Bozos…

Donna: So eventually the acid we had taken in the States got weaker and weaker and weaker. So I was like taking 15 hits every night, before every gig. And then Owsley [Stanley] showed up.

Betty: No, he didn’t come, he was in prison. He had to send an emissary, because he was in [prison in] Lompoc…

Donna: He showed up at some point, or sent some.

Betty: He sent some, because I had to get him some tapes, my tapes in Lompoc, so he could hear Europe 72. The whole tour… he had a moving van to get out of that place, he had so much stuff smuggled into this “low security”. jail” …

Donna: I didn’t realize the new batch we received in Paris looked like a New lot…and I didn’t know, no one told me. And I took like 15 tubes of this cool, bubbly acid and halfway through the Olympia in Paris, I found myself – I don’t know how I got there – under Keith’s grand piano. During the show!

Betty: I was about as stoned as you were that night.

Donna: We were all shouting loud.

Betty: I used to look at the meters and think, “Are they moving or are they moving because I’m looking at them?” Is it a secondary image? ” I swear to god! “Do I hear it because I listen for or is it really in the mix?

Donna: And she makes the sound!

Betty: I did it. I recorded everything, on a multitrack recording.

Donna: At some point, I realized I was like, “Oh my god! I sing with this band! And somehow, I don’t know how I did it, but I got up, and when I was supposed to sing again, I was up there on the mic. And I don’t know how I did that.

Betty: I don’t know how I recorded all that either!

As Jarnow noted in a 50th anniversary episode of Europe ’72 from the Good old grateful Deadcast podcast (featuring Donna telling the story of the piano), the May 3 “Playing In The Band” opener set was likely the moment she pulled out from under Keith’s piano.

Play in the Band – May 3, 1972

By the end of her first tour as a member of the band, Donna’s 21 appearances with the Grateful Dead between April 7 and May 26, 1972 fully cemented her place as an integral part of the legendary band. The band spent 55 days touring Europe, performing 55 different songs in six different countries while traveling (along with an entourage of around 50 friends, family and crew) some 5,572 miles.

Donna and Keith Godchaux continued to play in the band for a final gig on February 17, 1979. Keith tragically died in a car accident on July 23, 1980, aged 32.

Donna’s career has also seen her do stints as a member of the Jerry Garcia Band and the Heart Of Gold Band. Other collaborators include Zen Trickers, Dark Star Orchestra, Jeff Mattson, Dead & Company and others.

[Ed. Note: JamBase would like to thank sources relied on for the Europe ‘72 retrospective series, including JerryBase, Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast,, Grateful Dead Guide, DeadSources, Grateful Dead Reference Site, Bozos And Bolos, Grateful Seconds, Grateful Dead Archive Online, (and all the tapers) and DeadBase, among others.]