He is a drummer, percussionist, author, producer, composer and musicologist who ran the instrument retail outlet, Hart Music, during the 1960s in San Carlos, California, with his father who had been a champion drummer.
He first gained his interest in percussion when he was at grade school and a visiting drummer from Nigeria, Babatunde Olatunji, performed at the school and allowed him and other students to have a go at playing them. This had an immense effect on him and he subsequently performed in the high school and Air Force marching bands as well as becoming the drummer’s student and regularly working in collaboration with him in his professional career. He also began studying and collecting percussion instruments from all over the world and working with many international percussionists.
He became a member of the group Grateful Dead in 1967 and stayed with them until 1971 before venturing out as a solo artist to record his album Rolling Thunder in 1972. He returned to the group in 1974 and this time became a long time member, staying with them until they disbanded in 1995. During that time he and Bill Kreutzmann, who was also a Grateful Dead drummer, became known as “the rhythm kings” and they have put out at least two albums under that name.
He has appeared/worked on many recordings with at least 10 of his own which include the Grammy Award winning Planet Drum, which was the first Grammy given for “Best World Music Album”, Music to be Born By, At the Edge, Spirit into Sound and Supralingua and also American Beauty, Aoxomoxoa,, Live/Dead, Terrapin Station and many more with the Grateful Dead, If I Could Only Remember My Name by David Crosby, Kundun by Philip Glass and Intersections 1985-2005 by Bruce Hornsby. Other groups and artists he has worked with through the course of his long career include Joan Baez, Norton Buffalo, Diga Rhythm Band, Jerry Garcia, The Golden Gate Gypsy Orchestra, Woody Guthrie, Samy Hagar, Jefferson Starship, the Latvian Women’s Choir, Country Joe McDonald, Riders of the Purple Sage and Grace Slick as just a few of many.
In the world of television and movies his work as a musician and/or composer can be heard in the series Twilight Zone and Vietnam: A Television History, in the movies Apocalypse Now, Gang Related and Rabbit Ears: Aladdin and the Magic Lamp and on the soundtracks of The Dreamers, Festival Express and Made in America to name just a few.
A respected musicologist, he has worked tirelessly on reviving some of the world’s oldest traditional music that has been facing the possibility of disappearing forever. To this end he has worked with the Smithsonian Institute, is a board member of the American Folklife Center and the National Recorded Sound Preservation Board at the Library of Congress and is a spokesperson for Save Our Sounds, which is an organisation that concentrates on audio preservation. Carrying this work into the medical field he is also on the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function’s Board of Directors.
Recognised for his contributions to bringing music and its positive effect to the public, he was given the Music Has Power Award in 2003 and he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with the Grateful Dead in 1994.
As an author he has written several books that look into the historical traditions of drumming such as Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion, Planet Drum: A Celebration of Percussion and Rhythm, Songcatchers: In Search of the World’s Music and Spirit into Sound: The Magic of Music.
During the 2000s he has created the Hydra Project with members of Particle, created the Global Drum Project, formed an official group called The Rhythm Kings with Bill Kreutzman and others who toured in 2006, appeared as a guest musician on Jimmy Buffett’s Party at the End of the World tour, still works with the members of the Grateful Dead in an offshoot band called The Dead and is currently heard performing with The Mickey Hart Band.
In 2010 he toured with the Rhythm Devils and did a show with them at the Gathering of the Vibes Music Festival in 2011. Also in 2011 he introduced a new lineup for the Mickey Hart Band who performed at various venues in the US. with a couple of slight modifications they did a 17-date tour in November and December. The Mickey Hart Collection of 25 albums was released in October 2011.
In 2013 his band toured with the Teal Leaf Trio to support the album Superorganism. In September that same year he and George Smoot premiered their film Rhythms of the Universe.
In 2015 he toured with the band Dead & Company for 22 concerts across the United States.
Here is his “Happiness is Drumming”….