Jerome John Garcia (Aug 1, 1942 - Aug 9, 1995) was the lead guitarist and
vocalist for The Grateful Dead, an improvisational rock band based in
the San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA. He also maintained several
solo projects and collaborations including The Jerry Garcia Band and
acoustic projects with mandolinist David Grisman.
He came from a musical family and gained an interest in the guitar at a
young age, despite having lost part of his right hand to a wood-chopping
accident as a child. He started out his career playing old-time music and bluegrass
in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Palo Alto, where he first met up with
Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. With Pigpen, he formed
the Warlocks in 1965, along with guitarist and singer Bob Weir,
bassist Phil Lesh, and drummer Bill Kreutzmann.
They changed their name to The Grateful Dead (as another band
were called "Warlocks") and got their first big gig as the house band for
Ken Kesey's acid tests. From this, they became a symbol of the culture
of the 1960's. Jerry was even nicknamed "Captain Trips". The Dead became
the centerpiece of hippie culture, famously situated in the Haight-Ashbury
section of San Francisco.
Garcia's early musical influences often colored the music of the Dead, with
blues, old-time music, bluegrass, country music, and even gospel
often taking up a significant fraction of their live concerts.
Garcia's solo work also reflected this, notably his collaborations with David
Grisman. But Garcia and the dead also embraced the adventurism of 60's psychedelia and avant garde jazz along with straightforward rock and roll, creating a unique style (and fanbase) that were praised and panned with equal ferocity
by different critics. In addition to his music, Garcia also did some visual arts work over the years, mostly abstract and impressionist in nature, and even dabbled in digital art towards the end of his life. In the 1990's, Garcia came out with a line of popular fashion neckties based on this work under the label J. Garcia.
Jerry and The Dead made brilliant music, but the culture of
the times and the hectic schedule of touring took its toll on several band members and
even on the fans. Pigpen died in 1973 from alcohol problems.
Later, keyboardist Brent Mydland died of an overdose just a week after the
end of their summer tour in 1990.
Garcia spent much of his life addicted to heroin, and developed several
health problems later in life related to his weight coupled with the
stress of a rigorous touring schedule. This lifestyle caught up with him in 1985/6
when he was hospitalized for a combination of drug use complications, coupled with diabetes and morbid obesity.
It happened again in 1992, when he slipped into a coma and nearly died.
After this, he managed to get his life back on track, and he cleaned up both
his drug and lifestyle habits for awhile. But in 1995, Jerry apparently had
a relapse to his drug addiction. He checked himself into a Bay area
residential rehab clinic in August. While there, he had a heart attack
in his sleep, and died in the early morning of August 9. The Grateful Dead
officially disbanded shortly afterwards. His ashes were divided and scattered
both in San Francisco and in the Ganges River in India. He was survived
by his wife Deborah Koons, and four children from previous relationships.
All surviving members of the Dead have moved on to other projects, but reunited first as The Other Ones and now tour under the shortened name The Dead.
There are many discographies and lyrics sites of the Dead and Garcia
on the net, most notably the Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics site
at http://arts.ucsc.edu/gdead/agdl/ so I
make only a few suggestions of some notable work here.
- Dead: Two From the Vault (live)
- Dead: Workingman's Dead
- Dead: Europe '72 (live)
- Dead: Without a Net (live)
- Dead: any of the many Dick's Picks CDs
- Jerry Garcia: Garcia (the solo album)
- The Jerry Garcia Band (live 1991)
- Garcia-Grisman: Not For Kids Only (for fun)
- Garcia-Grisman: Old and In The Way
- Grateful Dawg (the documentary film)
The Grateful Dead also allowed taping of their shows, sometimes direct from
the soundboard. It should also be relatively easy to find more live
material than I've listed here, which is where Garcia and the Dead often