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Phil Lesh is best known for being the co-founder and bassist of the rock band The Grateful Dead, and later Phil Lesh and Friends to honor the band following its disbandment in 1995. He has since become one of the most intellectual and exceptional musicians in the genre’s history.
Here are 15 Phil Lesh facts you’ll be interested to learn.
1. He is a Godfather
Phil Lesh is godfather to singer and actress Courtney Love. How did that happen? He went to college with her father, Hank Harrison, who allegedly managed Lesh’s early band, the Warlocks, which eventually became the Grateful Dead.
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2. He was on a David Crosby Album
Phil Lesh has a lot of credits to his name, including on a 1971 album by David Crosby, If I Could Only Remember My Name. He’s a credited artist on the first track of side two, “What Are Their Names.”
3. Phil Lesh Didn’t Always Play the Bass
Phil Lesh’s claim to fame may have been as bassist for The Grateful Dead, but while attending Berkeley High School, he was known as the violinist around the school. He also studied the trumpet under the direction of Bob Hansen, conductor of the Golden Gate Park Band.
4. Phil Lesh Played with a Jazz Band
Just like the bass isn’t Phil Lesh’s only instrument, rock isn’t his only genre. In 1959, he played trumpet on a recording with the San Mateo College Jazz Band.
Related: 21 Best Jazz Songs
5. Phil Lesh was a Mailman
While attending college, Phil Lesh was hired as a mailman for the U.S. Postal Service. His role didn’t last, though, as he was fired for having too long of hair. Of all the Phil Lesh facts, this one makes us giggle.
6. Phil Lesh is a Best-Selling Author
Phil Lesh’s 2005 autobiography, Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead, became a best-seller almost instantaneously. Throughout, he shares with fans the journey of his life both within and outside his life as the Grateful Dead bassist.
7. He Has His Own Charity
Phil Lesh founded the Unbroken Chain Foundation with the help of his wife, Jill, in 1997. Just like his life and career, music is at the core of the foundation as it raises money for the arts, especially the musical arts, through auctions and charity events. The foundation’s main aim is to support future inspirational bands.
8. Phil Lesh Had Prostate Cancer
Phil Lesh was diagnosed with prostate cancer in October 2006. He was later deemed cancer-free after he underwent surgery. We think he was probably just as relieved as fans that this became one of the Phil Lesh facts considering his father wasn’t so lucky, having passed away from the disease years earlier.
9. Phil Lesh Had Cancer a Second Time
Prostate cancer was only the start for Phil Lesh. He announced in October 2015 that he had surgery to treat bladder cancer. Once again, his fans didn’t have to overly worry as he noted that his prognosis was favorable and was most likely to make a full recovery.
10. He Had a Liver Transplant
Cancer isn’t the only health problem that Phil Lesh has faced. In 1998, he had to have a liver transplant to treat a chronic hepatitis C infection. Ever since, Lesh has advocated for organ donation, pegged as the “donor rap” during any live performance recordings.
11. His Favorite Childhood Book
During an interview with Rolling Stone, Phil Lesh noted Destination Moon by Robert A. Heinlein as his favorite book as a child. “I was a space nut. In elementary school, I check [the book] out about 3,000 times from the library,” he said in the interview.
Related: Best Rock Songs: The Ultimate Top 40
12. Phil Lesh Loves Classical
There are so many sides to Phil Lesh. He may be a rock god, but he has said that he enjoys listening to Sebastien Bach and various string quartets. “I’ve always seen the music we make [in Phil Lesh and Friends] as electric chamber music,” he told Rolling Stone.
13. His Sons Have Followed in His Footsteps
Phil Lesh is the father of two – Grahame and Brian. They have followed in their father’s footsteps, pursuing a career in music. He has performed with his sons on multiple occasions over the years.
14. He Founded a Music Venue in California
Terrapin Crossroads, a music venue in San Rafael, California, was founded by Phil Lesh in 2012. It was an excellent opportunity for his rising star sons as they serve as the house band when they’re not on tour. Unfortunately, it was closed in 2021 after the lease expired.
15. Phil Lesh’s Biggest Influences
Phil Lesh has noted several musical influences over the years. Amongst them include Bach, Cream’s Jack Bruce, as well as jazz bassists Charles Mingus and Jimmy Garrison.
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