Some argue that the Grateful Dead were not the best musicians, but their deeply diverse backgrounds made for a powerful combination that created a sound unlike any other.
Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead's lead guitarist, also played bluegrass banjo, an influence that added to the Dead's category-defying sound. In fact, Garcia participated in numerous bluegrass side projects throughout his lifetime including his excellent band "Old and In the Way." You can hear this influence in Grateful Dead cuts such as "Ripple" and "Friend of the Devil."
Bassist Phil Lesh, on the other hand, began his career as a classical jazz musician who played trumpet; he learned bass guitar "on the job" after joining the Grateful Dead early on. Because he didn't know how to play bass, he didn't bring preconceived notions to the job. His willingness to experiment and learn resulted in his playing a significant role in defining the Grateful Dead's distinctive sound—and ultimately becoming one of music's most influential bass players.
Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, the Grateful Dead's first keyboard player, the son of an R&B disc jockey, was a blues harmonica player and also a keyboardist before he joined the band. His background added yet another twist to the Grateful Dead's unique sound.