The Grateful Undead

I'm a blatant thief.  If you have been reading much of my blog you have to agree with it.  But at least I admit it, and try to give credit to all the places from which I steal stuff.  Mainly pictures, but also painting and modelling techniques and even ideas.

Granted, most of the ideas changed greatly from the original.

The Grateful Undead, in all their glory
The Grateful Undead is such a case.  The original idea was my son's.  Back when he was in high school he was a very serious band geek (as opposed to my other two, very serious band geek sons :-)).  He, however, played Warhammer, and continues to play its spiritual successor, Kings of War, still.  Even back then (and he graduated over ten years ago now) he was very interested in conversions over painting, and now is to the point where his stuff may be better than mine.  (Ok, so yes a parent wants to see their children succeed, and even do better than themselves some day.  But competing with (and losing to) your own children is still a bit hard to accept).

Anyway, his idea was based on the concept of his high school marching band.  Musicians in warhammer (and 1st edition Kings of War) actually had special rules, so every army had some type of musician model.  He wanted to do an army that was all musicians - and the units would effectively be a marching band.

At this point he had already discovered his affinity for the undead (in games only, not real life luckily).  So he thought of doing a Vampire Counts, marching band army.  Being myself older than dirt, when he suggested undead musicians, I immediately suggest the Grateful Dead.  I guess he was more of the age to appreciate Phish instead of Jerry and the Gang, but was not at all excited about the concept.

A couple of years went by, and he still had not done anything with this idea, so I decided to run with it myself.  It was a slow army to put together.  Of course, after I had started on the army GW came out with a new army book that changed almost everything. Converting the ghouls really wore me out for a while, as did sculpting all the tuxedos on skeletons.  And the dancing Teddy Bears.  As I finished each new unit, the time to do the next one seemed to stretch out longer and longer - so that it took over two years to actually finish this army.

I started with some research - as while I knew of the band I wasn't a real fan.  Sure I knew Casey Jones and Silver Lining as they were both radio hits, and instantly recognize the "Steal Your Face" logo - but not much else came to mind.  I download the "Essential" Grateful Dead from iTunes to inspire me as I worked.

Now one thing that was iconic to me and stuck in my mind was skeletons - the band had lots of imagery of skeletons.  Of course a classic was the skulls and roses, but they also had a dancing skeleton, and their skeletal version of Uncle Sam.  So these became two of my core units of skeletons.

One of the new techniques I found was printable decals.  You printed the image onto special paper, then sprayed it with a sealer.  You then cut out the image and it was a water soluble decal.  I used this for the "Steal your face" logo, the banners and shields for the army.

Skulls & Roses
One of the key factors of the Vampire counts is that you can raise more troops during the game, so I wanted to make sure I had extras of every type of unit that I could raise.  Which basically meant I doubled the number of models for each unit.  So instead of 20 skeletons, I did 40.  The shields were decals of a rose, but the rose garlands around their heads were all sculpted with green stuff.

More Skulls & Roses
The other idea was the Uncle Sam skeleton in top hat and tails, dancing with a cane. The image from the Grateful Dead Movie poster inspired the second unit of skeletons.

The roses required quite a bit of work, but these were even more. I used green stuff to sculpt the tuxedos and top hats (with a bit of plasticard for the lapels and hat brims) (and even saved some work in progress pictures).
in progress shot of front of dancing skeleton

tuxedo from the back (yes, with a big thumbprint in the green stuff).
Dancing Skeletons

more Dancing Skeletons
The next core unit was of course zombies.  Anyone who knows anything about the grateful dead knows that their followers are affectionately known as "Dead Heads" - so what better use of brain dead zombies than dead heads?

At one point I had hoped to actually add lights so that they would be holding up 'lighters' (in this case torches), but never managed to do that.

I did play around with one however.  You know how at every concert there is that one drunk chick, who takes off her top and throws it on stage, shouting "I love you!".  Or so I've heard.  I haven't managed to go to any concerts where this actually happened myself.  So I figured some green stuff work to give a zombie a shirt, fill out the skirt, and of course add some boobs.

I eventually put her on the shoulders of some other poor slob (who wasn't getting any when he got home either)
Deadheads (w/ Janet & Michael)
There was one more 'special' zombie out of all of them.  Notice in the front right of the above group - with the red leather jacket and single white glove.  My own little tribute to Michael Jackson after the Pepsi commercial incident.

more Deadheads
The main theme of the zombies was tie-dyed clothes and jeans.  I then added them each holding a light up.
still more Deadheads
I wanted 80 zombies, because they are the easiest to raise.  So many zombies

so many more Deadheads
One of he most iconic images for the Grateful Dead is the "Steal your Face" logo.  Of course I wanted to incorporate it, but it didn't lend itself to any specific unit that I could think of, so I just put it on several items across the entire army (equipment for the roadies, for example).

It really started to feel like an endless horde.  But it was the next unit that really stopped me for a while.   I was going to use ghouls as roadies - who were then small skirmishing units - but switched to full ranked units - meaning I went from needing 10-15 roadies to needing 40!  Coming up with and doing all those conversions wore me out for a while.

Not only was it very taxing to figure out 40 ways for them to carry equipment (as well as come up with the equipment), the new ghouls that GW came out with were HORRIBLE to do any conversion with - as instead of a simple flat joint on the shoulders (which could then be re-positioned easily) they made an elaborate socket that only went together one way.  So each arm I wanted to move had to be cut off, glued into position and then backfilled with greenstuff.

more roadies
Another of the very iconic images for the grateful was the dancing teddy bears.  Some stupid part of my brain thought those would be cool for units of dire wolves.  I tried to find some very small ones (no more than 2" high) but had no luck at all, so I sculpted them myself.

The first version - which are still in my basement somewhere, looked ok, but when I put them next to anything else in the army they were just WAY too big.  So I ended up scrapping them and attempting to make smaller versions.

Dancing Teddy Bears
I'm happiest with the fur - it is simply static grass glued to the body, then airbrushed the primary color (with felt for the collar).  It was my first experiment with air brushing, and I picked up the cheap (oh so cheap, in the worst way) air brush that GW had just put out.  It worked for this, and then when I was cleaning it after the last color, it fell into the sink and broke. Truly a piece of crap.  Do not waste you money on this folks.

more Dancing Teddy Bears
The noses and eyes are round push pins of two different sizes. I still cringe a bit looking at these, especially since I've thought about bringing this army back for Kings of War with these as Werewolves (a little rebasing to take them from 125x50 to 120x40 is all they need). I may dig out the larger, older ones if I do that, I don't know.

The next unit to tackle was wraiths, which now had banshees as champions in them.  These where groupies - ghostly women throwing themselves (and their underwear) at the band.  Some zombie pieces, and some dark elf harpies.

Spirit hosts were another unit I always liked for undead.  These are basically swarms of ghosts. Really not much more than zombies, but these were painted ghostly, and then Halloween spider webbing was used to put them in clouds - which was fitting for ghosts.

enjoying some refreshments
The key here is to look very closely at their hands - and you should be able to find a lit joint being held by each one (and a few sharing a toke as well).  This was the refreshment section - because nobody goes to see the dead sober!

more refreshments
After I had played the army a little, I knew it needed a little more punch.  It took me a bit of research, but I came across the story of the free concert at Altamont - where the Rolling Stones had agreed to hire the Hell's Angels for security.  Already a bad idea, but then they paid them in beer.
Hell's Angels
Of course looking back it is easy to see the problems - 'security' ended up beating somebody to death in front of the stage during the concert.

Well that ended the concert.  At that point the Dead were scheduled to play but had not yet taken the stage.  Well I wasn't going to let THAT minor detail stop me from including them in my army.
Hell's Angels
These are 40K Ork Biker Boyz, with skulls for heads and I green stuffed leather jackets onto them, and removed all the weaponry from the bikes.  They barely fit on the base - the reason why the leader is popping a wheelie is to make room (the flames on his head are a tribute to the classic marvel "ghost rider".  The musician is holding a radio.

I used these as either Black Knights or Blood Knights, depending on how many points I wanted to spend on them.
Hell's Angels
A requirement of any Warhammer army is at least on character as the general - of course the characters are the band itself.  It did limit me a bit, as they all had to be infantry, except for the drummer.
I found some reaper minis to convert:
50055: Sid, Rock Star

50070: Toad, Punk Rock Drummer
50021: Buffalo Bill Cody
50047: Mike Noe, Biker Boss
And they became the band!  I actually used 2 of Sid (for the guitar neck and right hand) and 2 of Toad (well 2 of his drumset anyway).  I do not remember where I got the heads from though.
The band!
The band was made from some metal reaper miniatures - they had a couple of punk rockers, plus Buffalo Bill and a 'terminator' type in a long coat.

Of course, Jerry Garcia himself had to lead the band.  This was a Bill figure holding a rifle - cut off the hat, added curly hair (with a touch of grey) and made the guitar out of green-stuff and the guitar neck from the guitarist.  I liked the tassels on the jacket for Jerry.

Jerry Garcia
I decided to use Bill Kreutzmann as the drummer - a necromancer in a corpse cart. The cart itself was selling souvenirs - t-shirts etc.

Then I just slipped the drummer in with the drums.  I had a second set of drums on the stage for the display board.

I used the Toad punk rock drummer mini - he basically needed a head swap and came with drums!
Bill Kreutzmann
I figured on Ron "Pigpen" McKernan on keyboards (I liked the name more than anything, plus the mustache).  This figure was holding a gun in his right hand, so cut it off and replaced it with the arm from a second guitarist, bending it down to the keyboard.
Ron "Pigpen" McKernan
There were so many more members of the band, but for the last one I figured we needed a bass player, so it was Phil Lesh.  Once again a head swap (the mohawk on the figure didn't really fit :-) )
Phil Lesh
 And the rest was musical history.
All the models
The band, in concert.  I made up some mic stands for each of the band members, and some more lights (with a couple of clip on lights as well).
in concert.  The roadies are behind the back drop
I would put my iPod Touch in between a set of battery powered speakers and actually play the essential "Grateful Dead" when displaying the army.  It also looked good that it would display the album covers behind the band as it played.
The band on stage
On the backdrop, I printed out small versions of actual concert posters I found on the web.

To finish it off, I tie-dyed a couple of t-shirts and then made iron-ons of the "Steal Your Face" logo for the front, and put a list of the tournaments I was playing them in for the 2009 tour dates on the back.

It was only a small tournament at Origins 2009, but I did win best appearance with them.  The Olde World Warriors used to put on a great set of events there, but no more.  Look for the Ohio War Kings to be running Kings of War and other events at Origins and Gencon however.

The same year, the Legendary Gamers (in the Fairborn / Springfield OH area) ran a warband tournament at Gencon, and I took the main prize (even if misspelled).  I felt a little bad, as I took 20 zombies (for required core), wraiths w/ a banshee and an ethereal vampire (Jerry).  With as small a tournament as this was no one had magical weapons, so couldn't harm the wraiths or vamp (well except for an Ogre player, but we later found out he did not have a legal list as his hero did have a magic weapon).  It was one of the few times I felt like I took a broken cheesy list, and I felt a little bad about it.

I've thought about bringing these out of retirement for Kings of War, so who knows, they may go back on the road again some day.

Because it is all fun and games . . . 


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