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Jerry Garcia Biography

Home > Music > G > Garcia, Jerry > Biography

Birth Name: Jerome John Garcia
Born: 1942/08/01
Birth Place: San Francisco, California, U.S.
Died: 1995/08/09
Years Active: 1960–1995
Genres: Folk Rock, Jam, Bluegrass, Country Rock, Jazz, Rock And Roll, Psychedelic Rock, Rhythm And Blues, Blues-rock

Jerry Garcia (born Jerome John Garcia, August 1, 1942 – August 9, 1995) was an American musician who was best known for his lead guitar work, singing and songwriting with the band the Grateful Dead, which came to prominence during the counterculture era.

Garcia was influenced by music at an early age, taking piano lessons for much of his childhood. His father was a retired professional musician and his mother enjoyed playing the piano. His father's extended family — who had emigrated from Spain in 1919 — would often sing during reunions.

At age 4, while the family was vacationing in the Santa Cruz Mountains, two-thirds of Garcia's right middle finger was accidentally cut off. Garcia was given the chore of steadying wood while his elder brother chopped, when he inadvertently put his finger in the way of the falling axe. After his mother wrapped his hand in a towel Garcia's father drove him over thirty miles to the nearest hospital. A few weeks later, Garcia — who hadn't looked at the finger since the accident — was surprised to discover most of it missing when the bandage he was wearing came off during a bath.

Shortly after beginning to play the guitar in earnest, Garcia met Robert Hunter, who would become a long-time lyrical collaborator with the Grateful Dead, in April 1961. Garcia and Hunter began to participate in the local art and music scenes, sometimes playing at Kepler's Books. Garcia performed his first concert with Hunter, each earning five dollars. Garcia and Hunter also played in a band called the Wildwood Boys with David Nelson, a future contributor to some Grateful Dead albums.

In 1962 Garcia met Phil Lesh, the eventual bassist of Grateful Dead, during a party in Menlo Park's bohemian Perry Lane neighborhood (where Ken Kesey lived). While attending another party in Palo Alto, Lesh approached Garcia to suggest that he record some songs on Lesh's tape recorder with the intention of getting them played on the radio station KPFA. Using an old Wollensak tape recorder, they recorded “Matty Groves” and “The Long Black Veil,” among several other tunes. Their efforts were not in vain, leading to a spot on the show, a 90-minute special on Garcia.

Garcia soon began playing and teaching acoustic guitar and banjo. One of Garcia's students was Bob Matthews, who later engineered many of the Grateful Dead's albums. Matthews went to high school and was friends with Bob Weir, and on New Year's Eve 1963, he introduced Weir and Garcia.

Between 1962 and 1964, Garcia sang and performed mainly bluegrass, old-time and folk music. One of the bands Garcia performed with was the Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers, a bluegrass act. The group consisted of Jerry Garcia on guitar, banjo, vocals, and harmonica, Marshall Leicester on banjo, guitar, and vocals, and Dick Arnold on fiddle and vocals. Soon after this, Garcia joined a local bluegrass and folk band called Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, whose membership included Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, a rhythm and blues fan.

In 1965, Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions evolved into The Warlocks, with the addition of Phil Lesh on bass guitar and Bill Kreutzmann on percussion. However, the band discovered that another group was performing under their newly selected name, prompting another name change, ultimately choosing Grateful Dead.

Garcia served as lead guitarist, as well as one of the principal vocalists and songwriters of the Grateful Dead for their entire career. Known for their experimental approach to improvisational rock music, Garcia and the band toured almost constantly from their formation in 1965 until Garcia's death in 1995,

In addition to the Grateful Dead, Garcia had numerous side projects, the most notable being the Jerry Garcia Band. He was also involved with various acoustic projects such as Old and in the Way and other bluegrass bands, including collaborations with noted bluegrass mandolinist David Grisman. The documentary film “Grateful Dawg” chronicled the deep, long-term friendship between Garcia and Grisman.

Other groups of which Garcia was a member at one time or another include the Black Mountain Boys, Legion of Mary, Reconstruction and the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band. Garcia was also an appreciative fan of jazz artists and improvisation: he played with jazz keyboardists Merl Saunders and Howard Wales for many years in various groups and jam sessions, and he appeared on saxophonist Ornette Coleman's 1988 album, “Virgin Beauty.” His collaboration with Merl Saunders and Muruga Booker on the Grammy-nominated world music album “Blues From the Rainforest” launched the Rainforest Band.

Garcia also spent a lot of time in the recording studio helping out fellow musician friends in session work, often adding guitar, vocals, pedal steel, sometimes banjo and piano and even producing. He played on over 50 studio albums the styles of which were eclectic and varied, including bluegrass, rock, folk, blues, country, jazz, electronic music, gospel, funk and reggae. Artists who sought Garcia's help included the likes of Jefferson Airplane (most notably “Surrealistic Pillow,” Garcia being listed as their "spiritual advisor"), Tom Fogerty, David Bromberg, Robert Hunter, Paul Pena, Peter Rowan, Warren Zevon, Country Joe McDonald, Pete Sears, Ken Nordine, Ornette Coleman, Bruce Hornsby, Bob Dylan, It's a Beautiful Day and many more. In 1995 Garcia played on three tracks for the album “Blue Incantation” by guitarist Sanjay Mishra, making it his last studio collaboration.

Throughout the early 1970s, Garcia, Lesh, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, and David Crosby collaborated intermittently with MIT-educated composer and biologist Ned Lagin on several projects in the realm of early ambient music. These include the album “Seastones” (released by the Dead on their Round Records subsidiary) and “L,” an unfinished dance work.

Garcia also lent pedal steel guitar to fellow-San Francisco musicians New Riders of the Purple Sage from their initial dates in 1969 through 1971, when increased commitments with the Dead forced him to opt out of the group. He appeared as a band member on their debut album “New Riders of the Purple Sage,” and produced “Home, Home On The Road,” a 1974 live album by the band. He also contributed pedal steel guitar to the enduring hit “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. Garcia also played steel guitar licks on Brewer & Shipley's 1970 album “Tarkio.” Despite considering himself a novice on the pedal steel, Garcia routinely ranked high in player polls. After a long lapse from playing the pedal-steel, he played it once more during several of the Dead's concerts with Bob Dylan during the summer of 1987.

Having studied art at the San Francisco Art Institute, Garcia embarked on a second career in the visual arts in the late 1980s. He offered for sale and auction to the public a number of illustrations, lithographs, and water colors. Some of those pieces became the basis of a line of men's neckties characterized by bright colors and abstract patterns. Years after Garcia's death, new styles and designs continue to be produced and sold. Some ties that were produced began as etchings, other designs came from his drawings, paintings, and digital art.

From 1989 to 1995 Garcia’s artistic endeavors were represented by the Weir Gallery in Berkeley, California. Roberta Weir undertook to provide Jerry with new art techniques to use, giving him his first solo show in 1990 and preparing blank etching plates for him to draw on. These would then be processed and printed by gallery staff and brought back to Jerry for approval and signature, usually with a passing of stacks of paper backstage at a Dead show. His annual shows at the Weir Gallery attracted much attention, soon there were more exhibits, in New York and other cities.

On August 9, 1995, at 4:23 am, eight days after his 53rd birthday, Garcia was found dead in his room at a rehabilitation clinic. The cause of death was a heart attack.