Born March 15, 1940, bassist Phil Lesh, a founding member of the Grateful Dead, is now at an age where he can be considered one of rock's elder icons. For a genre that was once spurred on by youthful innocence and ideals, rock now finds its original innovators firmly entrenched in senior citizen status, most having advanced well into their fifties and sixties.
Being a sixties veteran now carries a double meaning - relating to both age and the decade in which they originally made their mark. It's an unusual scenario for Rock 'n' Roll; other genres - particularly - folk, blues and bluegrass - revere their older generations. In rock realms, old age becomes suspiciously out of sync.
It seems even more of a disconnect to imagine a 72-year old Lesh still postulating the Grateful Dead's lysergic legacy, considering that the band was born with such a freewheeling youthful purpose. The Dead were among the earliest insurgents to emerge in the mid '60s, a time when rock was still considered relatively safe and radio ready. Their communal lifestyle and a musical mantra that relied heavily on extended instrumentals that so readily accommodated drugs and daring, provided the springboard for a new youth culture that defied the norms of their elders.
That Lesh should now find himself boasting senior citizen status seems something of an anachronism. Lesh met Jerry Garcia when the latter was playing banjo in bluegrass bands and the two helped found the Warlocks, a moniker they employed until it was discovered there was already a band called the Warlocks. (Ironically, that band also opted to change their name... and become the Velvet Underground). Lesh, Garcia, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, Bob Weir, and Bill Kreutzman incorporated themselves as the Grateful Dead in 1965, providing Lesh with permanent employ until Gracia's death thirty years later and the band's subsequent demise.
Still the Dead ethos continues to provide Lesh with inspiration even now. He continued to perform with his former colleagues in the Dead, the Other Ones, and Further, all of which were various Dead offshoots boasting most of the band's surviving alumni. Likewise, his own outfit, Phil Leash and Friends continued to sample the Dead's legacy.
Unfortunately, aging hasn't been easy for Lesh. In 1998 he was forced to undergo a liver transplant as a result of a chronic hepatitis C infection. He continues to advocate for organ transplants and his concerts regularly include an entry to his audience to consider organ donations. In 2006, Lesh revealed that he had been diagnosed with prostrate cancer, the same disease that killed his father. He later announced that after successful surgery, he was cancer-free and he continues to tour today.
Happily too, he finds himself in good company. Here's a selective list of other rock gods that continue to perform well past the age of 70. Bob Dylan (70)
The timeless troubadour who sang "stay forever young" takes his own advice.
Bill Wyman (75) and Charlie Watts (70)
The former's an ex-Rolling Stone and the latter is still in the fold, but both prove that the axiom espoused in one of the band's earliest classics "Time Is On My Side" is as pertinent as ever.
Ringo Starr (71)
Starr remains as active as ever and even though "With a Little Help from my Friends" remains one of his signature songs, he shows he can still manage quite well on his own.
Paul Kantner (71)
Like Phil Lesh, the man who piloted both the Jefferson Airplane and its offshoot, the Jefferson Starship, can't exactly claim to be tied to the sixties any more, at least as far as his age is concerned.
David Cosby (70)
The man who sang "Almost Cut My Hair" needn't worry now. It's become so white and bushy, he's become a dead-ringer for Santa Claus!
Graham Nash (70)
It's hard to believe but the average principal in Crosby Stills and Nash has reached septuagenarian status.
Graeme Edge (70)
As drummer for the Moody Blues, Edge may still be searching for that lost chord, but chances is equally committed to finding those car keys he seems to have misplaced.
Lou Reed (70) and John Cale (70)
The two founding members of the Velvet Underground may have recorded the classic "Heroin" on the band's eponymous debut, but chances are their additives of choice these days are prune juice and No-Doze.
George Clinton (70)
The grandfather of funk once maintained a Mothership, and while someone his age may be more prone to travel via power scooter, Clinton in concert still prefers a cosmic connection.
Willie Nelson (78)
Willie's on the road again, and that ain't the odor of Ben-Gay coming from the back of his bus.
Little Richard (79)
Still going strong as he approaches the Big 8-0, Richard's signature song "Tutti Fruiti" has taken on a different meaning. Everything he eats tends to be mashed now.
Carole King (70)
Even at her age, Ms. King can still show the younger folks a thing or two about locomotion.
Chuck Berry (85)
At his age Chuck can still impress when he does his famous duck walk... Especially since he can do it without a walker.
Leonard Cohen (76)
Most people are retired at Cohen's age, but when a manager mishandled his money and forced him into bankruptcy, Cohen opted to return to the road. "Hallelujah," he's as great as ever!
John Mayall (78)
It's now more appropriate to refer to the one-time father of British blues as its grandfather.
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