Before the Grateful Dead, there was Woody Guthrie, Elizabeth Cotten, Lead Belly, Big Mama Thornton, and countless other country, bluegrass, folk, and blues artists. Indeed, Jerry Garcia frequently praised Harry Smith's incredible Anthology of American Folk Music, released by Folkways Records in 1952, as a major influence. For many people, The Dead remain a wonderful port-of-entry into the expansive world of pre-war roots music in the United States. To begin your long strange trip into old weird America, check out Smithsonian Folkways' excellent new Spotify playlist: "The Roots of the Grateful Dead"
(Cover art by the talented Darryl Norsen)