First Nations artist from B.C. brings West Coast twist to new Grateful Dead box set

Roy Henry Vickers, a First Nations artist from northwest British Columbia, has always been a fan of the rock band Grateful Dead but never imagined he would one day be working with them.

Roy Henry Vickers drew on his personal background to create the pieces

The cover of the band's upcoming box set shows people dancing around a Grateful Dead skull. (Roy Henry Vickers)

Roy Henry Vickers, a First Nations artist from northwest British Columbia, has always been a fan of the rock band Grateful Dead but never imagined he would one day be working with them.

Vickers was asked to design the artwork for the legendary band's upcoming 19-disk box set of recordings and, after several years in the making, his work is done.

"Music has always been a part of my life," he said. "When I talk about the Grateful Dead …  I think about ancestors and a lot of our traditional music is about ancestors so it's really a perfect fit."

One of the album covers Roy Henry Vickers designed for the upcoming box set. (Roy Henry Vickers)

Pacific Northwest '73 – '74: The Complete Recordings features the band's performances from around the region during those years, including concerts at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver back in June 1973 and May 1974.

It also has six shows that had never before been released.

Vickers said the band was specifically looking for an artist from the Pacific Northwest.  

"Somehow, my name came up," he told CBC's George Baker.

Roy Henry Vickers lives in Hazelton, a small town in northern British Columbia. (Robert “Lucky" Budd)

Drawing inspiration

Drawing on his own heritage, Vickers is best known for bringing together the traditional and contemporary. 

'You never know where inspiration comes from. Sometimes, you don't realize it for years after you create a piece," he said.

The artist has completed dozens of totem poles, published several books and has a gallery in Tofino that bears his name.  

Vickers said creating a design that mixes psychedelic rock with classical northwest Indigenous art came naturally to him.

"{It's] just the way I mix traditional and contemporary art work as a Northwest Coast artist who is Haida, Tsimshian, Heiltsuk, English, Irish — I just express myself," he said.

The Grateful Dead are releasing a box set of performances from their time touring the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s, and they've tapped North Coast artist Roy Henry Vickers to package it the style of traditional bentwood boxes. Vickers speask with the CBC's George Baker. 4:07

With files from Daybreak North and George Baker.

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