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Appreciation: Bill Walton was a passionate music fan who saw the Grateful Dead more than 850 times

George Varga, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

SAN DIEGO — Bill Walton's passion for basketball was rivaled only by his passion for rock 'n' roll, in particular the music of the Grateful Dead. The San Diego-bred basketball icon — who died Monday at the age of 71 following a battle with cancer — saw the Dead perform more than 850 times, starting with a 1967 Mother's Day show at San Diego State University's Aztec Bowl.

"I loved the Dead right away, the first time I heard them," Walton told this writer in a 1992 Union-Tribune interview. "I loved the speed, the dancing, the rhythm, the creativity. It's just like being on a basketball team. Basketball, like good, creative, rock music, is never the same."

A frequent attendee at concerts in San Diego — including Neil Young & Crazy Horse's April 26 performance at SDSU — Walton was also a devoted fan of everyone from Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones to Bonnie Raitt and the Beach Boys.

When he was negotiating his contract with the San Diego Clippers in 1979, Walton sought a clause from the team that guaranteed him 56 tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert. His quest was successful.

But it was the Dead's music that most enchanted him throughout his life.

In recent decades Walton sat in as often as his schedule allowed with the Electric Waste Band, a leading Dead tribute band, at its weekly performances at Winstons in Ocean Beach.

 

Elvis Costello, who was also a major Deadhead, invited Walton to duet with him on the song of his choice at Costello's 2012 show at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay. Walton chose the Dead's 1971 classic, "Ramble On Rose," and enthusiastically sang along on the chorus with Costello.

"There's never a day in my life where I don't listen to the Grateful Dead," Walton said in a 2015 Union-Tribune interview.

"And when I don't listen, it's because I'm sick and because I'm not smart enough to turn the music on! But (I always welcome) the ability to consume, and the ability to immerse yourself, in the music culture and in the art work, the history and the inspiration, and the light and all the things that make the Grateful Dead what they are. Because they have been at the forefront of everything good in the world, in terms of driving us to a better place."

Musical bliss

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©2024 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit sandiegouniontribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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