Mostly Credited As: Jerry Garcia
Sometimes Credited As: The Grateful Dead
Legion of Mary
The Jerry Garcia Band
Old & in the Way
The Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band
Birth Name: Jerome John Garcia
Date Of Birth: August 01, 1942 (Age 53)
Country Of Birth: USA
Birth Place: San Francisco, California
Date Of Death: August 09, 1995
Cause Of Death: Heart Attack in Forest Knolls, California
Height: 5' 10 ½" (1.79 m)
One of the most prolific and iconic guitarists of the second half of the 20th Century, Jerome John Garcia was born in San Francisco, California, USA on August 1st 1942. Garcia, whose mother was a registered nurse and whose father Jose was a small time jazz musician, had a troubled childhood. At the age of 4 he lost the middle finger of his right hand in a woodcutting accident with older brother Tiff who cut it off by mistake, and a year later tragedy struck again when he watched his father drown in a river during a fishing accident. Jerry spent a lot of his youth with his grandparents as well as suffering from bouts asthma that at times left him bedridden. He was a well read teenager and showed a talent for Art which would become a lifelong interest for him. He listened to a lot of jazz and country music on the radio and then fell in love with the sounds of rock and roll when it began to cause a stir in the mid-1950s. In 1957 at the age of 15 he got his first guitar and began to learn the basics so he could play along with the rock and roll hits of the time, his then favorite guitarist was Chuck Berry. After high school and drifted for a while and after getting into a few scrapes he went and joined the army, but it didn't suit him and after collecting 8 AWOLs and a number of other court marshals he was discharged. Whilst in the army he began playing acoustic guitar and learning the craft of finger picking and folk style guitar. Upon leaving the army in 1960 he returned home and carried on with his art studies by taking lessons at college, during this period he got into the then growing beat and coffeehouse scene which introduced him to many other like minded artistic drop outs including a young poet named Robert Hunter would later become his songwriter partner. He studied and practiced guitar nearly ever waking hour and a year or so later he picked up 5-string Banjo and began to learn the art of Bluegrass music. Between 1960 and 1964 Garcia played in many different folk and bluegrass acts in which he played Banjo or Acoustic Guitar. He was by now a very serious musician and spending a lot of his time playing and practicing with whoever was around at that time. He could also play a little fiddle, bass and mandolin and sometimes all within the same gig.
In 1965 he formed an electric blues-rock band called the Warlocks, with himself as the lead guitarist. A few months later they changed their named to the Grateful Dead. The original line-up was Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Ron McKernan (Pigpen) and Bill Kreutzmann. They soon gained a reputation for playing long improvised jazz inspired folk-rock music and became one of the most popular live bands around. Garcia became the main songwriter within the group as his partnership with Robert Hunter matured over time and he led them through many musical changed throughout their long career. Over the next 30 years the Dead went through many musical and personal changes but they grew in popularity and became the most popular live band in history, playing some in some of the most legendary concerts of all time including Monterey Pop (1967), Woodstock (1969) and Watkins Glen (1973). They averaged around 80 concerts a year and had an incredible loyal fan base known as Deadheads. Despite being well known for their live shows they were also a sublime band in the studio which is often overlooked because of their lack of hit singles; in fact their only hit single was Touch of Grey from the In the Dark album in 1987, a full 22 years after they formed! The band recorded 13 studio albums - Grateful Dead (1967), the semi-live Anthem of the Sun (1968), Aoxomoxoa (1969), Workingmans Dead (1970), American Beauty (1970), Wake of the Flood (1973), From the Mars Hotel (1974), Blues for Allah (1975), Terrapin Station (1977), Shakedown Steet (1978), Go to Heaven (1980), In the Dark (1987) and Built to Last (1989). Their albums and original songs ranged from straight ahead rock and pop influences to blues, folk, jazz, country, electronic and progressive experimentation. They also released many live albums, most notably Live Dead (1969), Europe72 (1972), Reckoning and Deadset (1981) and Without A Net (1990).
Garcia had a deep interest in film going back to his childhood. He briefly studied film making at college in the early 60s. His first work of note in feature films came in 1970 when he worked on the soundtrack for the movie Zabriskie Point, where he performed the improvised instrumental guitar piece known in the movie as "Love Scene". In 1974 he began a film project that lasted a number of years. Mixing animation and real concert footage The Grateful Dead Movie was co-directed by Garcia. Other concert and semi concert videos followed with Dead Ahead (1981) and So Far (1987). He also performed a small part in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), where he provided the brief Banjo playing in a few short scenes. Despite being consumed with 30 years with the Grateful Dead, Jerry also found time to have a whole musical career away from the dead. He began playing in jam sessions and doing session work with other artists in the late 60s. He began playing pedal steel guitar and formed the country-rock group the New Riders of the Purple Sage with John Dawson in 1969. He released his first of 5 solo albums - Garcia (1972) in which he played every instrument except drums. Compliments of Garcia (1974), Reflections (1976), Cats Under the Stars (1978) and Run for the Roses (1982). His band, The Jerry Garcia Band, was formed in the early 70s and it gave him a chance to perform many other songs and styles of music outside of the Dead. The band went through many personal changes and name changes during its time but it allowed him to play any type of music he liked, and he did. He covered jazz, blues, Motown, R&B, gospel, pop, reggae, swing, ballads, Dylan covers and was equally at home playing any of them. In 1973 he formed a bluegrass band called Old and In the Way in which he played Banjo, it was a short-lived group but the record that was later released went on to become the biggest selling bluegrass album of all time.
The Dead and the scene they came out of was legendary for drug taking and Jerry was no exception and by mid 70s he had gotten into hard drugs, including cocaine and heroin. By the mid 1980s it had slowed down his creative process and he was by now a very heavy user and suffering many health problem which all came to a head in 1986 when he went into a coma and nearly died, spending some considerable time in hospital recovering. But it didn't stop him from his continued musical quest and after his recovery he returned to touring and recording with the Dead and his own versions of the Jerry Garcia Band. In 1990 he reconnected with old friend and formed Old and In the Way band mate David Grisman. Grisman was by now a musical giant and one of the greatest Mandolin players of all time. They formed an easy going relaxed acoustic double act which involved a few gigs and many hours worth of sessions at Grisman's home recording studio. Garcia/Grisman was released in 1990 then followed Not for Kids Only (1992) and since then 4 more studio albums of the recordings have been released - Shady Grove, The Pizza Tapes (with Tony Rice), So What and Been All Around This World as well as the movie Grateful Dawg (2000) which pays tribute to the musical friendship they shared. They played all different styles of music and the period probably represents Garcia's best work as an acoustic guitarist. Garcia continued touring with the Dead, his own band and recording with Grisman and others on session work right up till 1995 when he again tried to tackle his drug addiction and his overall health problems which included breathing troubles caused by years of heavy smoking and his love for junk food and lack of exercise meant he spent the last number of years of his life vastly overweight. He entered the Serenity Knolls treatment center in Marin County, California in an attempt to clean up and get healthy. In the early hours of August 9 1995 he suffered a massive heart attack and died. He was 52 years old.
As well as all his Grateful Dead and solo Band work he also clocked up a lot of studio time with other recording artists and he played on over 50 studio albums by other artists including the likes of the Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, Tom Fogerty, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, David Bromberg, Robert Hunter, Peter Rowan, Warren Zevon, Country Joe McDonald, Ken Nordine, Ornette Coleman, Bruce Hornsby and Bob Dylan and many more. Often given the clichéd title by the media of being the smiling easy going hippie who never sold out or let us forget the 60s and what it stood for. It should be remembered that Garcia was a talented and dedicated musician capable of playing not only guitar but piano, bass, banjo and pedal steel guitar all to a very high standard as well as being an underrated songwriter. It will be his guitar playing that he will be most remembered for as he was a brilliant guitarist capable of playing any genre or style of music in any setting with anybody and either electric or acoustic. He was a rare genius.