Dennis McNally was born in 1949 at Ft. Meade, Maryland, the son of a U.S. Army counter-intelligence operative. He attended 21 schools across many states and several countries, eventually graduating from high school in Maine and undergraduate school at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY in 1971. He received his Ph.D. in American History from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1977 for a biography of Jack Kerouac which was published by Random House in 1979 under the title Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America.

He settled in San Francisco, and after a period of freelance journalism (for the San Francisco Chronicle’s California Living and the Berkeley Monthly, among others) and odd jobs, he became archivist for Bill Graham Presents in 1983. In the year he worked there he established the BGP Archives. Having been selected as the Grateful Dead’s authorized biographer in 1980, he became the band’s publicist in 1984, and continued in those duties for Grateful Dead Productions until its dissolution in 2004. From 1984 to 1995, he toured with the band, in the process working on its behalf at the United Nations, the White House, and Congress.

In 2002 he published his long-awaited history of the band, A Long Strange Trip/The Inside History of the Grateful Dead with Broadway Books, a division of Random House. It achieved the New York Times best-seller list.

Since the closure of Grateful Dead Productions, he has worked as a freelance music publicist with clients that have included Bob Weir & RatDog, the Jerry Garcia Estate LLC, David Lindley, Little Feat, the Subdudes, and a wide variety of other music business clients, including the Sonoma Jazz Festival, Rhino Records (for whose “Golden Road” package he received a Grammy nomination for liner notes), and many others.

He recently completed his third book, On Highway 61/Black Music, Freedom, and America, a study of what white people have learned from black music in America from the minstrel era to Bob Dylan. It was published by Counterpoint Press in October, 2014.


On Highway 61: Music, Race and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom
Why did America turn itself inside out in the 1960s, get so nuts that the culture wars that started then are still being fought in 2015? One of the major reasons, I decided after a lot of research, was the long relationship of white (mostly young) people and black culture (mostly music), going back from minstrelsy (the 1840s) and on up to the 1960s, where you can see it revealed in the music of Bob Dylan. And that’s what On Highway 61: Music, Race, and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom (out from Counterpoint Press on October 14, 2014) is about.

A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead
“Be careful of what you wish for – you might just get it.” And I did…no regrets. After wanting to write the history of the Grateful Dead for seven years, I got to hear the words, “Jerry said, ‘Why not us?’” – which is to say, would I like to do a history of the G.D.? I said I thought I could fit it in. It turned into a 22 year ride, and of course it entirely changed the course of my life.

I had a ton of material that didn’t really fit into a chronological framework, and I devised what I thought of as a hypothetical (and hyper-real) way to depict a typical year (there was such a thing) in the life of the Dead say between 1980 and 1995. And in the course of that year I portrayed a “typical” show (I know, I know – no two shows were alike). So here’s an imaginary – but real for all that – opening of a second set in the Fall…

Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, The Beat Generation & America
If you have no idea of your roots, your past, it’s hard to see where you’re going. So in 1972, still feeling part of the ‘60s, I looked back to the ‘50s and saw the most interesting part of it – Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation. Seven years later and some wonderful research later, I (with a little help from Random House) published Desolate Angel. I’m brassy enough to say I think it stands up. Here’s a chunk from where I compare the lives and work of Jack, Jackson Pollock the great abstract-expressionist painter, and the giant of bop saxophone, Charley Parker. Good stuff.