Nearly 50 years ago, when Rosie McGee told people, “I’m with the band,” she was telling the truth. From 1964 to 1974, McGee, now 68 and living in Cotati, traveled with the Grateful Dead.
“I was the girl who danced onstage right behind Jerry Garcia,” she said. “I never regarded myself as a performer, or thought anyone was watching me.”
But it was behind the scenes that McGee made her most important connection with the band and its cult following.
“I was the girl who took photographs,” she said. “People were drawn to my photos. The word got out that I was the keeper of this treasure trove of early Grateful Dead photos. I was well-known within the Grateful Dead community. Who else had a photo of Jerry Garcia on a horse?”
She took so many pictures of the band, both onstage and offstage, that friends and fellow Grateful Dead fans urged her to put all her pictures and stories into a book.
Now she has done that — three times over. Her online e-book edition of “Dancing With the Dead” came out two years ago, followed by the paperback version last year and the audio book earlier this year. The book, running 328 pages in print, includes more than 200 photos.
“It’s a memoir,” she said of her book. “It’s really a series of stories.”
McGee’s own life story began in Paris, where she was born in 1946. In 1951, when she was 5 years old, her family moved to New York, where her father hoped to work at the United Nations. When that prospect didn’t work out, the family moved again, this time to San Francisco.
McGee grew up in the city, and by 1963, she was one of thousands of teenagers seen on the streets packing guitars and hanging around the edges of San Francisco’s burgeoning music scene.
A turning point came when she met Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead in late 1965 at the Muir Beach Acid Test, one of the public LSD parties that were popping up around town.
“In February 1966, I moved to L.A. to live with Phil, and we lived together for over four years,” McGee said.
Even after their relationship ended in 1969, McGee remained part of the Grateful Dead’s inner circle.
“In 1968 and 1969, I went to New York with the band, and to Europe as their French interpreter,” she said. “I was their travel agent and interpreter in Europe again in 1972.”
Eventually, McGee moved on, living in New Mexico, Arizona and Oregon, and working in a variety of jobs, mostly in audio-visual and online production. She eventually returned to Northern California to work on a planned rock ‘n’ roll museum in Marin County, but that project failed for lack of funding.
In 2010, McGee began to put together her book.
“In March 2011, I sat in the Aqus Cafe in Petaluma, six hours a day, three times a week, working on the book,” she recalled.
A single mother with one grown son, McGee moved to Cotati two years ago. Now she continues to market her memoirs through her website, rosiemcgee.com.
The passage of time hasn’t dulled the public’s interest in the Grateful Dead, McGee said, and she believes she knows why.
SONOMA MUSIC FESTIVAL
When: Oct. 2-4
Highlights: Chicago and America on Friday, Oct. 2; Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band on Saturday Oct. 3 and Gregg Allmann and the Doobie Brothers with Michael McDonald on Sunday, Oct. 4
Where: Field of Dreams, Sonoma