Warner Brothers commissioned Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley to create both the Grateful Dead’s first album cover and this promotional poster for the band’s first LP and press kits. Management had a small number of copies of the poster printed on thicker stock to promote the album in the Bay Area, but most copies of this extremely scarce poster were printed slightly later by Warner Bros. Records, on thin glossy stock. This is one of those rare copies. They were factory folded to fit into Warner Brothers press kits.
The poster was a typical Mouse and Kelley composition, with Kelley selecting this group of….let’s see…maybe Hannibal’s Carthaginian war elephants (?) marching toward the viewer as the central image and Mouse doing all of the illustration work around it.
On the originally prepared artwork for the album cover, the writing for the top of the album cover read "In the land of the dark, the ship of the sun is drawn by the Grateful Dead", a passage taken from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. As the book had become more widely read, some had mistakenly assumed that the band had taken their name from the quote: "We now return our souls to the creator, as we stand on the edge of eternal darkness. Let our chant fill the void in order that others may know. In the land of the night, the ship of the sun is drawn by the grateful dead." They hadn't, and because Garcia worried that it seemed "pretentious", and the band were uneasy about being seen as beholden to any specific philosophy or doctrine, they asked the artist, Stanley Mouse, to stylize the script so that all but the band name were illegible. The central image depicts a 12th-century Chola sculpture of Yoga-Narasimha, an avatar of Vishnu.
The bandmates traveled to Los Los Angeles in January 1967 to record their eponymous debut album The Grateful Dead. The young and inexperienced artists were given only four days to record and cut the project. At the release party in North Beach’s Fugazi Hall on March 20th 1967,, Joe Smith, wearing a dapper Warner Bros. blazer, rose to announce, “I want to say what an honor it is for Warner Bros. Records to be able to introduce the Grateful Dead and its music to the world.” The Dead’s Jerry Garcia stood up and, deadpan, responded that the Dead were proud to introduce Warner Bros. to the world. It was the first chapter of what would be the Grateful Dead’s eternally ambivalent relationship with the record business.