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Music History & Criticism

All the Years Combine

The Grateful Dead in Fifty Shows

by (author) Ray Robertson

Initial publish date
Nov 2023
History & Criticism, Essays, Philosophy & Social Aspects, Rock
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2023
    List Price

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A Grateful Dead concert, Ray Robertson argues, is life.

Like life, it can be alternately compelling and lackluster; familiar and foreign; occasionally sublime and sometimes insipid. Although the Grateful Dead stopped the day Jerry Garcia’s heart did, what the band left behind is the next best thing to being there in the third row, courtesy of the group’s unorthodox decision to record all of their concerts. Meaning that it’s possible to follow the band’s evolution (and devolution) through their shows, from the R&B-based garage band at the beginning, to the jazz-rock conjurers at their creative peak, to the lumbering monolith of their decline.

In All the Years Combine: The Grateful Dead in Fifty Shows, Robertson listens to and writes ecstatically about fifty of the band's most important and memorable concerts in order to better understand who the Grateful Dead were, what they became, and what they meant—and what they continue to mean.

About the author

Ray Robertson is the author of five novels: What Happened Later, Gently Down the Stream, Home Movies, Heroes, and Moody Food. The latter two received starred reviews from Quill & Quire, and the last made it to the top one hundred lists of The Globe and Mail and The Vancouver Sun. In 2004, Ray published Mental Hygiene, a collection of his articles, essays, and book reviews. Ray lives in Toronto, where he teaches Creative Writing at the University of Toronto.

Ray Robertson's profile page

Editorial Reviews

Praise for All the Years Combine

"You do not need to drop acid, get high, or be a Deadhead to enjoy Robertson’s long strange trip ... Through the author’s research, knowledge, passion and critical analysis you will gain new insights about this unique group."
—David McPherson, Toronto Star

"Robertson—writing at full, heart-exploding tilt—charts the course of the greatest American band (yes, I said it), from their humble start to their humbling end through capsule reviews of 50 shows. This is a glorious book, full of setlists and anecdotes and clear-eyed love."
—Robert J. Wiersema, Toronto Star

"Robertson has written an ideal companion for the devoted Deadhead while charting intimidating territory for the curious ... books like this one help enshrine (the music) with the reverence it deserves."
—Michael Strizic, Literary Review of Canada

"Impressively insightfully informative, exceptionally well organized and thoroughly 'reader friendly' in presentation, All the Years Combine: The Grateful Dead in Fifty Shows is a 'must read' history for the legions of Grateful Dead fans."
—Midwest Book Review

"Ray Robertson's All the Years Combine is part love letter and part band history, showing why—and how—Deadheads really talk (and feel) about their favorite band."
—Peter Conners, author of Growing Up Dead and Cornell '77

“Ray weaves short stories around fifty shows—and altogether they tell the story of the The Grateful Dead’s timeline.”
—Karim Kanji, Welcome to the Music

"Ray Robertson ... walks listeners through the endless thicket of music. At points, his crackling prose froths over into hyperventilating superfan’s rants—an approach that befits a band with such a passionate following. Sometimes ... more is more."

“Author Ray Robertson delves into a staggering fifty Grateful Dead shows in his new collection … embark on a wild trip with Robertson and follow the trajectory of one of live music’s most groundbreaking acts.”
—Gabriel Sigler, Bad Feeling Magazine

"Delightfully genre-fluid—part critique, part review, part biography, part journalism."
—Ashwinin Gangal, Palo Alto Weekly

"If life were a Grateful Dead concert, Chatham author Ray Robertson would be it's philosopher archivist."
—Dan Savoie, 519 Magazine

"All the Years Combine is a fast, enlightening read but it is also something to savor, like one of the Dead's notorious hour-long jams."
—Kevin Wierzbicki, Anti Music

"There is a huge amount of useful information collected in this book. And it was written as a serious criticism with love and affection and a large portion of honesty and humor thrown in for good measure."
—M. Sarki, The Rogue Literary Society

"As any Deadhead worth their weight in hemp and LSD will tell you, there’s nothing like a Grateful Dead concert, and the author capably demonstrates the good, bad, and ugly elements that followed the band around for decades ... A must for devoted Deadheads."
—Kirkus Reviews

"The great thing about this book is that if you know the Grateful Dead’s music, it’s a hum-along, sing-along tome ... His summaries of Dead concerts often display elements of verve, invention and colour in the telling ... Robertson’s other object is corrective—to change the focus of the Grateful Dead’s legacy in our culture. And in this, he succeeds admirably."
—Winnipeg Free Press

"This collection celebrating fifty concerts by the Grateful Dead shows them to be tougher and more complex than you might think ... meticulous readings of the band's concerts (alongside track listings) are impressively extensive but crucially they also build a surprising picture too."
Louder Than War

"All the Years Combine is a superb book."
—Shannon MacLeod, The Miramichi Reader

"All the Years Combine is perhaps the first truly great book chronicling The Grateful Dead through the band’s live shows ... And for the Grateful Dead live neophyte ... the book provides a roadmap, a guide, a place to start and finish and explore the music while you read. And for these reasons, All the Years Combine, much like the music it heralds, transcends."
—Frank Valish, Under the Radar

“One of Canada’s most prolific writers ... one thing that’s always made Ray’s work stand out is how he seamlessly blends his favourite music into his prose, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.”
—Jason Schneider, Roots Music Canada

"Fascinating and provocative."
—David Gans, "Tales from the Golden Road" on Sirius Satellite Radio

"Author Ray Robertson ... put[s] it all in perspective."
—Greg Prato, Ultimate Guitar

"Robertson ... tell[s] the story of one of the most loved and bewildering bands of all time."
—Trevor Wilhelm, Windsor Star

"A fascinating chronicle of the band’s history told in a series of essays."
—Ottawa Citizen

Praise for Ray Robertson's Lives of the Poets (with Guitars)

“On North American shores, writing about music and its cultural spin-offs has largely been defined by the snarky authority of Pitchfork and trash-talkin’ teardowns of VICE giving birth to the new, new cool. Whereas those writing for music publications in Britain, although still cheeky, offer far more in the way of literary craft, storytelling and historical insight compared to the brash Americans. Ray Robertson, a Canadian novelist, aligns himself closer to the British tradition reinforcing that smart, lively prose and a bit of wit go a long, marvelous way. One part of Lives of the Poets is a record guide revealing these undiscovered treasures, the other is Robertson’s gift of spewing out stories that simply shame most rock 'n' roll writers into the hacks they really are.”
—Beat Route

Lives of the Poets (with Guitars) should come with a warning label: May cause significant increase of spending on music. Readers are strongly advised to avoid record stores within 72 hours of reading. There is much to love and admire about Lives of the Poets (with Guitars). Robertson brings a discerning ear and keen passion, a sly sense of humour and a deep sense of philosophical questioning to each of these pieces. [It] is a powerful book and one to which music fans are likely to often return.”
—Toronto Star

“Robertson toils for a higher purpose: to reveal the transcendent, enduring qualities of the artist and their importance to society. He establishes his intentions in the introduction: 'One wants to convey in words what it is that makes for a musically-transformed, more-alive human being.' With this collection of essays on 13 remarkable figures, Robertson leaves no doubt about the success of his endeavor.”
—Elmore Magazine

“Crossing a number of musical genres, Robertson is often effusive in his praise, but consistently provides a stirring rationale for the strong emotional impact that each artist elicits with their music ... Robertson offers the whole picture, warts and all. In doing so, he honors the music of artists who have enriched his life—and opens the door for his readers to experience the same magic.”
—Blues Blast Magazine

"Robertson brings a good ear and plenty of critical insight to essays aimed at helping readers discover new favorites or hear more familiar music from a fresh perspective.”
—Kirkus Reviews