When Rosie McGee started hanging out with a new band called the Grateful Dead, she didn’t know she was creating a future career for herself.
Now, at 69, she is the author of “Dancing with the Dead,” a memoir that includes some of the many photographs she took during her nearly 10 years with the band.
“I wasn’t their official photographer, but I just happened to be a photographer and be in their inner circle with total access,” McGee said.
In 1966, she moved in with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and lived with him four years. After they broke up, she continued to work with the band until 1974.
“I was their travel agent. I occasionally danced onstage with them. I was their French interpreter when they toured in Europe,” McGee said.
Now recognized as an knowledgeable insider with first-hand insights into the Grateful Dead phenomenon, McGee makes frequent public appearances, often where tribute bands are playing Grateful Dead music. She also was a featured speaker during instructor Peter Richardson’s recent course at Sonoma State University on the history and influence of the Grateful Dead.
“As I’ve been promoting my book, I’ve developed an in-person presentation where I show photos, read excerpts, take questions and sign books. I’ve met a lot of people through that, and I have a professional Facebook page where I get a lot of comments and emails,” she said.
McGee finds that later generations, too young to have witnessed the band’s early career still find both the group and the hippie era fascinating.
“I think there’s a couple of million of Deadheads in the world, and 300 Grateful Dead tribute bands in the U.S. The reason the Grateful Dead audience has grown to phenomenal proportions is that today we live in a really dark, troubled world,” she said. “I think there’s a longing for that ’60s community and that ethic of being kind to each other.”
Although the Grateful Dead played together for 30 years, and farewell concerts have been planed this summer in Santa Clara and Chicago to mark the 50th anniversary of the band’s first show, Rosie McGee is most familiar with the first decade.
“By the end of that time, the Dead had become a hard-driving road band,” she said. “Everything started to get more hard-edged.”
In 1974, she left to begin a new chapter in Taos, N.M., with a new love, Greg Ende.
“In late 1975, we returned to the Bay Area, and while I went to occasional Grateful Dead shows, I didn’t spend much time around them,” she recalled. “Greg and I married, stayed together for 12 years and had a son after six years while living in the Sausalito boatyard.”
In 1991, McGee left the Bay Area again and stayed away for another 19 years. During that time she developed expertise as a visual display coordinator for gift shops at Grand Canyon National Park, and returned in 2010 to manage a planned rock museum in Marin.
“I was hired by the Marin County Museum as operations manager for the ‘Marin Rocks’ project, a planned museum celebrating Marin’s history as a hotbed of musicians, venues, studios, etc.,” McGee said. “I was laid off after four months, when the unfinished project ran out of money.”