Jerome John Garcia (August 1, 1942 – August 9, 1995) was an American singer-songwriter and guitarist, best known for his work as the lead guitarist and as a vocalist with the band the Grateful Dead, which came to prominence during the counterculture era in the 1960s. Although he disavowed the role, Garcia was viewed by many as the leader or "spokesman" of the group.
One of its founders, Garcia performed with the Grateful Dead for their entire thirty-year career (1965–1995). Garcia also founded and participated in a variety of side projects, including the Saunders–Garcia Band (with longtime friend Merl Saunders), the Jerry Garcia Band, Old and in the Way, the Garcia/Grisman acoustic duo, Legion of Mary, and the New Riders of the Purple Sage (which Garcia co-founded with John Dawson and David Nelson). He also released several solo albums, and contributed to a number of albums by other artists over the years as a session musician. He was well known for his distinctive guitar playing and was ranked 13th in Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" cover story.
Later in life, Garcia was sometimes ill because of his diabetes, and in 1986 went into a diabetic coma that nearly cost him his life. Although his overall health improved somewhat after that, he also struggled with heroin and cocaine addictions, and was staying in a California drug rehabilitation facility when he died of a heart attack in August 1995 at the age of 53.
Jerry Garcia's ancestors on his father's side were from Galicia in northwest Spain. His mother's ancestors were Irish and Swedish. He was born in the Excelsior District of San Francisco, California, on August 1, 1942, to Jose Ramon "Joe" Garcia and Ruth Marie "Bobbie" (née Clifford) Garcia, who was herself born in San Francisco. His parents named him after composer Jerome Kern. Jerome John was their second child, preceded by Clifford Ramon "Tiff", who was born in 1937. Shortly before Clifford's birth, their father and a partner leased a building in downtown San Francisco and turned it into a bar, partly in response to Jose being blackballed from a musicians' union for moonlighting.
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.
Garcia experienced several tragedies during his youth. At age four, while the family was vacationing in the Santa Cruz Mountains, two-thirds of Garcia's right middle finger was accidentally cut off. Garcia and his brother Tiff were chopping wood. Jerry steadied a piece of wood with his finger, but Tiff miscalculated and the axe severed most of Jerry's middle finger. After his mother wrapped his hand in a towel, Garcia's father drove him over 30 miles to the nearest hospital. A few weeks later, Garcia — who had not looked at his finger since the accident — was surprised to discover most of it missing when the bandage he was wearing came off during a bath. Garcia later confided that he often used it to his advantage in his youth, showing it off to other children in his neighborhood.
Less than a year after he lost most of his finger, his father died. Vacationing with his family near Arcata in Northern California in 1947, Garcia's father went fly fishing in the Trinity River, part of the Six Rivers National Forest. Not long after entering the river, Garcia's father slipped on a rock, lost his balance and was swept away by the river's rapids. He drowned before other fishermen could reach him. Although Garcia claimed he saw his father fall into the river, Dennis McNally, author of the book A Long Strange Trip: The Inside Story of the Grateful Dead, argues Garcia formed the memory after hearing others repeat the story. Blair Jackson, who wrote Garcia: An American Life, lends weight to McNally's claim. Jackson's evidence: a local newspaper article describing Jose's death failed to mention Garcia was present when his father died.
Following the accident, Garcia's mother took over her husband's bar, buying out his partner for full ownership. As a result, Ruth Garcia began working full-time, sending Jerry and his brother to live nearby with her parents, Tillie and William Clifford. During the five-year period in which he lived with his grandparents, Garcia enjoyed a large amount of autonomy and attended Monroe School, the local elementary school. At the school, Garcia was greatly encouraged in his artistic abilities by his third grade teacher: through her, he discovered that "being a creative person was a viable possibility in life." According to Garcia, it was around this time that he was opened up to country and to bluegrass by his grandmother, whom he recalled enjoyed listening to the Grand Ole Opry. His elder brother, Clifford, however, staunchly believed the contrary, insisting that Garcia was "fantasizing all [that] ... she'd been to Opry, but she didn't listen to it on the radio." It was at this point that Garcia started playing the banjo, his first stringed instrument.
In 1953, Garcia's mother married Wally Matusiewicz. Subsequently, Garcia and his brother moved back home with their mother and new stepfather. However, due to the roughneck reputation of their neighborhood at the time, the Excelsior District, Garcia's mother moved their family to Menlo Park. During their stay in Menlo Park, Garcia became acquainted with racism and antisemitism, things he disliked intensely. The same year, Garcia was also introduced to rock and roll and rhythm and blues by his brother, and enjoyed listening to the likes of Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, B. B. King, Hank Ballard, and, later, Chuck Berry. Clifford often memorized the vocals for his favorite songs, and would then make Garcia learn the harmony parts, a move to which Garcia later attributed much of his early ear training.
In mid-1957, Garcia began smoking cigarettes and was introduced to marijuana. Garcia would later reminisce about the first time he smoked marijuana: "Me and a friend of mine went up into the hills with two joints, the San Francisco foothills, and smoked these joints and just got so high and laughed and roared and went skipping down the streets doing funny things and just having a helluva time". During this time, Garcia also studied at what is now the San Francisco Art Institute. The teacher there was Wally Hedrick, an artist who came to prominence during the 1960s. During the classes, he often encouraged Garcia in his drawing and painting skills. Hedrick also introduced Garcia to the fiction of Jack Kerouac, whom Garcia later cited as a major influence.
In June of the same year, Garcia graduated from the local Menlo Oaks school. He then moved with his family back to San Francisco, where they lived in an apartment above the newly built bar, the old one having previously been torn down to make way for a freeway entrance. Two months later, on Garcia's fifteenth birthday, his mother bought an accordion for him, to his great disappointment. Garcia had long been captivated by many rhythm and blues artists, especially Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley: his one wish at this point was to have an electric guitar. After some pleading, his mother exchanged the accordion for a Danelectro with a small amplifier at a local pawnshop. Garcia's stepfather, who was somewhat proficient with instruments, helped tune his guitar to an unusual open tuning.
After a short stint at Denman Junior High School, Garcia attended tenth grade at Balboa High School in 1958, where he often got into trouble for skipping classes and fighting. Consequently, in 1959, Garcia's mother again moved the family to get Garcia to stay out of trouble, this time to Cazadero, a small town in Sonoma County, 90 miles north of San Francisco. This turn of events did not sit well with Garcia. To get to Analy High School, the nearest school, he had to travel by bus thirty miles to Sebastopol, a move which only made him more unhappy. Garcia did, however, join a band at his school known as the Chords. After performing and winning a contest, the band's reward was recording a song—they chose "Raunchy" by Bill Justis.
Garcia stole his mother's car in 1960, and as punishment he was forced to join the United States Army. He received basic training at Fort Ord. After training, he was transferred to Fort Winfield Scott in the Presidio of San Francisco. Garcia spent most of his time in the army at his leisure, missing roll call and accruing many counts of AWOL. As a result, Garcia was given a general discharge on December 14, 1960.
In January 1961, Garcia drove down to East Palo Alto to see Laird Grant, an old friend from middle school. He had bought a 1950 Cadillac sedan from a cook in the army, which barely made it to Grant's residence before it broke down. Garcia spent the next few weeks sleeping where friends would allow, eventually using his car as a home. Through Grant, Garcia met Dave McQueen in February, who, after hearing Garcia perform some blues, introduced him to local people and to the Chateau, a rooming house located near Stanford University which was then a popular hangout.
On February 20, 1961, Garcia got into a car with Paul Speegle, a sixteen-year-old artist and acquaintance of Garcia; Lee Adams, the house manager of the Chateau and driver of the car; and Alan Trist, a companion of theirs. After speeding past the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital, the car encountered a curve and, traveling around ninety miles per hour, collided with the guard rail, sending the car rolling turbulently. Garcia was hurled through the windshield of the car into a nearby field with such force he was literally thrown out of his shoes and would later be unable to recall the ejection. Lee Adams, the driver, and Alan Trist, who was seated in the back, were thrown from the car as well, suffering from abdominal injuries and a spine fracture, respectively. Garcia escaped with a broken collarbone, while Speegle, still in the car, was fatally injured.
The accident served as an awakening for Garcia, who later commented: "That's where my life began. Before then I was always living at less than capacity. I was idling. That was the slingshot for the rest of my life. It was like a second chance. Then I got serious". It was at this time that Garcia began to realize that he needed to begin playing the guitar in earnest—a move which meant giving up his love of drawing and painting.
In April 1961, Garcia first met Robert Hunter, who would become a long-time friend of and lyricist for the Grateful Dead, collaborating principally with Garcia. The two involved themselves in the South Bay and San Francisco art and music scenes, sometimes playing at Menlo Park's Kepler's Books. Garcia performed his first concert with Hunter, each earning five dollars. Garcia and Hunter also played in bands (the Wildwood Boys and the Hart Valley Drifters) with David Nelson, who would later play with Garcia in the New Riders of the Purple Sage and contribute to several Grateful Dead album cuts.
In 1962, Garcia met Phil Lesh, the eventual bassist of the Grateful Dead, during a party in Menlo Park's bohemian Perry Lane neighborhood (where author Ken Kesey lived). Lesh would later write in his autobiography that Garcia reminded him of pictures he had seen of the composer Claude Debussy, with his "dark, curly hair, goatee, Impressionist eyes". While attending another party in Palo Alto, Lesh approached Garcia to suggest they record Garcia on Lesh's tape recorder and produce a radio show for the progressive, community-supported Berkeley 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. These recordings became a central feature of a 90-minute KPFA special broadcast, "The Long Black Veil and Other Ballads: An Evening with Jerry Garcia". The link between KPFA and the Grateful Dead continues to this day, having included many fundraisers, interviews, live concert broadcasts, taped band performances and all-day or all-weekend "Dead-only" marathons.
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 attended Menlo-Atherton 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, Weir, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, and several of their friends formed a jug band called Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. Around this time, the psychedelic LSD was gaining popularity. Garcia first began using LSD in 1964; later, when asked how it changed his life, he remarked: "Well, it changed everything [...] the effect was that it freed me because I suddenly realized that my little attempt at having a straight life and doing that was really a fiction and just wasn't going to work out. Luckily I wasn't far enough into it for it to be shattering or anything; it was like a realization that just made me feel immensely relieved".
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 (which would later become the Velvet Underground) was performing under their newly selected name, prompting another name change. Garcia came up with "Grateful Dead" by opening a Funk & Wagnalls dictionary to an entry for "Grateful dead". The definition for "Grateful Dead" was "a dead person, or his angel, showing gratitude to someone who, as an act of charity, arranged their burial". The band's first reaction was disapproval. Garcia later explained the group's reaction: "I didn't like it really, I just found it to be really powerful. [Bob] Weir didn't like it, [Bill] Kreutzmann didn't like it and nobody really wanted to hear about it. [...]" Despite their dislike of the name, it quickly spread by word of mouth, and soon became their official title.
Garcia served as lead guitarist, as well as one of the principal vocalists and songwriters of the Grateful Dead for their entire career. Garcia composed such songs as "Dark Star", "Franklin's Tower", and "Scarlet Begonias", among many others. Robert Hunter, an ardent collaborator with the band, wrote the lyrics to all but a few of Garcia's songs.
Garcia was well-noted for his "soulful extended guitar improvisations", which would frequently feature interplay between him and his fellow band members. His fame, as well as the band's, arguably rested on their ability to never play a song the same way twice. Often, Garcia would take cues from rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, remarking that "there are some [...] kinds of ideas that would really throw me if I had to create a harmonic bridge between all the things going on rhythmically with two drums and Phil [Lesh's] innovative bass playing. Weir's ability to solve that sort of problem is extraordinary. [...] Harmonically, I take a lot of my solo cues from Bob."
When asked to describe his approach to soloing, Garcia commented: "It keeps on changing. I still basically revolve around the melody and the way it's broken up into phrases as I perceive them. With most solos, I tend to play something that phrases the way the melody does; my phrases may be more dense or have different value, but they'll occur in the same places in the song. [...]"
Garcia and the band toured almost constantly from their formation in 1965 until Garcia's death in 1995. Periodically, there were breaks due to exhaustion or health problems, often due to unstable health and/or Garcia's drug use. During their three-decade span, the Grateful Dead played 2,314 shows.
Garcia's mature guitar-playing melded elements from the various kinds of music that had enthralled him. Echoes of bluegrass playing (such as Arthur Smith and Doc Watson) could be heard. But the "roots music" behind bluegrass had its influence, too, and melodic riffs from Celtic fiddle jigs can be distinguished. There was also early rock (like Lonnie Mack, James Burton, and Chuck Berry), contemporary blues (Freddie King and Lowell Fulsom), country and western (Roy Nichols and Don Rich), and jazz (Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt) to be heard in Garcia's style. Don Rich was the sparkling country guitar player in Buck Owens's "the Buckaroos" band of the 1960s, but besides Rich's style, both Garcia's pedal steel guitar playing (on Grateful Dead records and others) and his standard electric guitar work, were influenced by another of Owens's Buckaroos of that time, pedal steel player Tom Brumley. And as an improvisational soloist, John Coltrane was one of his greatest personal and musical influences.
Garcia later described his playing style as having "descended from barroom rock and roll, country guitar. Just 'cause that's where all my stuff comes from. It's like that blues instrumental stuff that was happening in the late Fifties and early Sixties, like Freddie King." Garcia's style could vary with the song being played and the instrument he was using, but his playing had a number of so-called "signatures". Among these were lead lines based on rhythmic triplets (examples include the songs "Good Morning Little School Girl", "New Speedway Boogie", "Brokedown Palace", "Deal", "Loser", "Truckin'", "That's It for the Other One", "U.S. Blues", "Sugaree", and "Don't Ease Me In"). Another signature to his style was a poignant, almost pleading quality of musical gesture that, especially in extended solos could evolve into disparate and unpredictable emotional regions such as anxiety, anger, or triumph. This tremendous breadth of emotional expression – between songs or even within a piece – accounts for a great deal of his reputation as a guitarist.
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 chronicles 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 a 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 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"). Garcia himself recalled in a mid-1967 interview that he'd played the high lead on "Today," played on "Plastic Fantastic Lover" and "Comin' Back to Me" on that album. Others include Tom Fogerty, David Bromberg, Robert Hunter (Liberty, on Relix Records), 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 CD 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. In 1970, Garcia participated in the soundtrack for the film Zabriskie Point.
Garcia also lent pedal steel guitar to fellow-San Francisco musicians New Riders of the Purple Sage from their initial dates in 1969 to October 1971, when increased commitments with the Dead forced him to opt out of the group. He appears 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 in the summer of 1987.
In 1988, Garcia agreed to perform at several major benefits including the "Soviet American Peace Walk" concert at the Band Shell, in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, that drew 25,000 people. He was asked to play by longtime friend and fellow musician, Pete Sears, who played piano with all the bands that day, and also procured all the other musicians. Garcia, Mickey Hart and Steve Parish played the show, then were given a police escort to a Grateful Dead show across the bay later that night. Garcia also played with Nick Gravenites and Pete Sears at a benefit given for Vietnam Veteran and peace activist Brian Willson, who lost both legs when a train carrying weapons to military dictatorships in El Salvador ran over him at Concord Naval Base in California.
Having previously studied at the San Francisco Art Institute as a teenager, 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.
Garcia's artistic endeavors were represented by the Weir Gallery in Berkeley, California from 1989 to 1996. During this period, Roberta Weir (unrelated to Garcia's bandmate) provided Garcia with new art techniques to use, sponsored his first solo show in 1990, and prepared blank etching plates for him to draw on. These would then be processed and printed by gallery staff and brought back to Garcia for approval and signature, usually with a passing of stacks of paper backstage at a Dead show. His annual shows at the Weir Gallery garnered much attention, leading to further shows in New York and other cities. Garcia was an early adopter of digital art media; his artistic style was as varied as his musical output, and he carried small notebooks for pen and ink sketches wherever he toured. Roberta Weir continues to maintain an archive of the artwork of Jerry Garcia.
Jerry Garcia's personal life was unconventional. Garcia met his first wife, Sara Ruppenthal Garcia, in 1963. She was working at the coffee house in the back of Kepler's Bookstore where Garcia, Hunter, and Nelson performed. They married on April 23, 1963, and on December 8 of that year their daughter Heather was born.
Carolyn Adams, a Merry Prankster also known as "Mountain Girl" or "M.G.," had a daughter, Sunshine, with Ken Kesey. Mountain Girl married another Prankster, George Walker, but they soon separated. She and Sunshine then moved into 710 Ashbury with Garcia in late 1966; they would ultimately live together until 1975. In 1967, Sara and Jerry officially divorced after a long separation. While raising Sunshine with Garcia, Adams gave birth to Garcia's second and third daughters, Annabelle Walker Garcia (February 2, 1970) and Theresa Adams "Trixie" Garcia (September 21, 1974). Adams and Walker eventually divorced in 1978.
During August 1970, Garcia's mother Ruth was involved in a car accident near Twin Peaks in San Francisco. Garcia, who was recording the album American Beauty at the time, often left the sessions to visit his mother with his brother Clifford. She died on September 28, 1970.
In 1973, Garcia met Deborah Koons, the woman who would much later become his third wife and widow. After a brief correspondence, he initiated a clandestine relationship with Koons in mid-1973; this gradually strained his relationship with Adams and culminated in Garcia leaving Adams for Koons in late 1975. The dissolution of his tempestuous relationship with Koons in 1977 precipitated a brief reconciliation with Adams, including the reestablishment of their household; however, she did not countenance the guitarist's persistent use of hard drugs and moved with the children to the Eugene, Oregon area (near Kesey) in 1978. Although Adams and Garcia married (largely as a result of mutual tax exigencies) in 1981, she remained in Oregon for nine years while Garcia continued to live near the Grateful Dead's offices in San Rafael, California with band publicist Rock Scully (who also served as manager of the Jerry Garcia Band) and Nora Sage, a housekeeper and law student who later became Garcia's art representative. After briefly reuniting following his diabetic coma, Garcia and Adams officially divorced in 1994. Phil Lesh has subsequently stated that he rarely saw Carolyn Garcia on any of the band tours, while Garcia opined that "we haven't really lived together since the Seventies" in a 1991 Rolling Stone interview.
During the autumn of 1978, Garcia developed a friendship with Chicago college student Manasha Matheson, an artist and Grateful Dead fan. They remained in contact over the following nine years before initiating a romantic relationship in Hartford, Connecticut on the Grateful Dead's spring 1987 tour. On August 17, 1990, Jerry and Manasha married at their San Anselmo, California home in a spiritual ceremony free of legal convention. Jerry and Manasha became parents with the birth of their daughter, Keelin Noel Garcia, on December 20, 1987. In 1991, Garcia expressed his delight in finding the time to "actually be a father" to Keelin in contrast to his past relationships with his children. A year later, Garcia dedicated his first art book (Paintings, Drawings and Sketches) to Manasha: "For Manasha, with love, Jerry."
In January 1993, a former girlfriend, Barbara Meier, reentered Garcia's life. The affair with Meier marked the breakup of Jerry's family life with Manasha and Keelin. Garcia ended the affair with Meier forty-five days later in Chicago while on concert tour with the Grateful Dead. In spring 1993, Garcia renewed his acquaintance with Deborah Koons. Garcia and Koons married on February 14, 1994, in Sausalito, California.
Garcia and his fellow musicians were subjected to a handful of drug busts during their lifetime. On October 2, 1967, 710 Ashbury Street in San Francisco (where the Grateful Dead had taken up residence the year before) was raided after a police tip-off. Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan were apprehended on marijuana charges which were later dropped, although Garcia himself was not arrested. The following year, Garcia's picture was used in a campaign commercial for Richard Nixon.
Most of the band were arrested again in January 1970, after they flew to New Orleans from Hawaii. After returning to their hotel from a performance, the band checked into their rooms, only to be quickly raided by police. Approximately fifteen people were arrested on the spot, including many of the road crew, management, and nearly all of the Grateful Dead except for Garcia, who arrived later; outgoing keyboardist Tom Constanten, who abstained from all drugs as a member of the Church of Scientology; and McKernan, who eschewed illegal drugs in favor of alcohol.
According to Bill Kreutzmann, the band's use of cocaine accelerated throughout the early 1970s. After experimenting with heroin in a brothel in 1974 (likely on the band's second European tour), Garcia was introduced to a smokeable form of the drug (initially advertised as refined opium) colloquially known as "Persian" or "Persian Base" during the group's 1975 hiatus. Influenced by the stresses of creating and releasing The Grateful Dead Movie and the acrimonious collapse of the band's independent record labels over the next two years, Garcia became increasingly dependent upon both substances. These factors—combined with the alcohol and drug abuse of several other members of the Grateful Dead, a period notably characterized by Lesh as "the Heineken years"—resulted in a turbulent atmosphere. By 1978, the band's chemistry began "cracking and crumbling", resulting in poor group cohesion. As a result, Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux left the band in February 1979.
With the addition of keyboardist/vocalist Brent Mydland that year, the band reached new commercial heights as a touring group on the American arena circuit in the early 1980s, enabling them to forsake studio recording for several years. Nevertheless, this was offset by such factors as the band's atypically large payroll and Garcia's $700-a-day drug addiction, resulting in the guitarist taking on a frenetic slate of solo touring outside of the Grateful Dead's rigorous schedule, including acoustic duo concerts with longtime Jerry Garcia Band bassist John Kahn that seldom extended beyond an hour and a half and were widely rumored to be a funding conduit for their respective addictions.
Though things seemed to be getting better for the band, Garcia's health was declining. By 1983, Garcia's demeanor onstage had appeared to change. Despite still playing the guitar with great passion and intensity, there were times that he would appear disengaged; as such, shows were often inconsistent. Years of heavy tobacco smoking had affected his voice, and he gained considerable weight. By 1984, he would often rest his chin on the microphone during performances. The so-called "endless tour"—the result of years of financial risks, drug use, and poor business decisions—had taken its toll.
Garcia's decade-long heroin addiction culminated in the rest of the band holding an intervention in January 1985. Given the choice between the band or the drugs, Garcia agreed to check into a rehabilitation center in Oakland, California. A few days later in January, before the start of his program in Oakland, Garcia was arrested for drug possession in Golden Gate Park; he subsequently attended a drug diversion program. Throughout 1985, he tapered his drug use on tour and at home with the assistance of Nora Sage; by the spring of 1986, he was completely clean.
Precipitated by an unhealthy weight, dehydration, bad eating habits, and a recent relapse on the Grateful Dead's first stadium tour, Garcia collapsed into a diabetic coma in July 1986, waking up five days later. He later spoke about this period of unconsciousness as surreal: "Well, I had some very weird experiences. My main experience was one of furious activity and tremendous struggle in a sort of futuristic, space-ship vehicle with insectoid presences. After I came out of my coma, I had this image of myself as these little hunks of protoplasm that were stuck together kind of like stamps with perforations between them that you could snap off." Garcia's coma had a profound effect on him: it forced him to have to relearn how to play the guitar, as well as other, more basic skills. Within a handful of months, he had recovered, playing with the Jerry Garcia Band and the Grateful Dead again later that year.
After Garcia's recovery, the band released a comeback album In the Dark in 1987, which became their best selling studio album. Inspired by Garcia's improved health, a successful album and the continuing emergence of Mydland as a third frontman, the band's energy and chemistry reached a new peak in the late 1980s.
Mydland died of a speedball overdose in July 1990. His death greatly affected Garcia, leading him to believe that the band's chemistry would never be the same. Before beginning the fall tour, the band acquired keyboardists Vince Welnick and Bruce Hornsby. The power of Hornsby's keys musically drove Garcia to new heights on stage. As the band continued through 1991, Garcia became concerned with the band's future. He was exhausted from five straight years of touring. He thought a break was necessary, mainly so that the band could come back with fresh material. The idea was put off by the pressures of management, and the touring continued. Garcia's decrease in both stamina and interest to continue touring caused him to use narcotics again. Though his relapse was brief, the band was quick to react. Soon after the last show of the tour in Denver, Garcia was confronted by the band with another intervention. After a disastrous meeting, Garcia invited Phil Lesh over to his home in San Rafael, California, where he explained that after the meeting he would start attending a methadone clinic. Garcia said that he wanted to clean up in his own way, and return to making music.
After returning from the band's 1992 summer tour, Garcia became sick, a throwback to his diabetic coma in 1986. Manasha Garcia nursed Jerry back to health and organized a team of health professionals which included acupuncturist Yen Wei Choong and Randy Baker, a licensed holistic doctor to treat him at home. Garcia recovered over the following days, despite the Grateful Dead having to cancel their fall tour to allow him time to recuperate. Garcia reduced his cigarette smoking and began losing weight. He also became a vegetarian.
By the beginning of 1995, Garcia's physical and mental condition declined. His playing ability suffered to the point where he would turn down the volume of his guitar, and he often had to be reminded of what song he was performing. Due to his frail condition, he began to use narcotics again to dull the pain.
In light of his second drug relapse and current condition, Garcia checked himself into the Betty Ford Center during July 1995. His stay was limited, lasting only two weeks. Motivated by the experience, he then checked into the Serenity Knolls treatment center in Forest Knolls, California.
On August 9, 1995, at 4:23 am, eight days after his 53rd birthday, Garcia was found dead in his room at the rehabilitation clinic. The cause of death was a heart attack. Garcia had long struggled with drug addiction, weight problems, sleep apnea, heavy smoking, and diabetes—all of which contributed to his physical decline. Lesh remarked that upon hearing of Garcia's death, "I was struck numb; I had lost my oldest surviving friend, my brother." Garcia's funeral was held on August 12, at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Belvedere. It was attended by his family, the remaining Grateful Dead members, and their friends, including former basketball player Bill Walton and musician Bob Dylan. Deborah Koons barred Garcia's former wives from the ceremony.
On August 13, approximately 25,000 people attended a municipally sanctioned public memorial at the Polo Fields of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Crowds produced hundreds of flowers, gifts, images, and a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace" in remembrance. In the Haight, a single white rose was reportedly tied to a tree near the Dead's former Ashbury house, where a group of followers gathered to mourn.
On the morning of April 4, 1996, after a total lunar eclipse earlier that day, Weir and Deborah Koons, accompanied by Sanjay Mishra, spread half of Garcia's ashes into the Ganges River at the holy city of Rishikesh, India, a site sacred to Hindus. The remaining ashes were poured into the San Francisco Bay. Koons did not allow former wife Carolyn Garcia to attend the spreading of the ashes.
Garcia played many guitars during his career, which ranged from Fender Stratocasters and Gibson SGs to custom-made instruments. During his thirty-odd years as a musician, Garcia used about 25 guitars.
In 1965, when Garcia was playing with the Warlocks, he used a Guild Starfire, which he also used on the début album of the Grateful Dead. Beginning in late 1967 and ending in 1968, Garcia played black or gold mid-1950's Gibson Les Paul guitars with P-90 pickups. In 1969, he picked up the Gibson SG and used it for most of that year and 1970, except for a small period in between where he used a Sunburst Fender Stratocaster.
During Garcia's "pedal steel flirtation period" (as Bob Weir referred to it in Anthem to Beauty), from approximately 1969 to 1974, he initially played a Fender Pedal Steel, and then upgraded a ZB Custom D-10, especially in his earlier public performances. Although this was a double neck guitar, Garcia often would choose not to attach the last 5 pedal rods for the rear or Western Swing neck. Additionally, he was playing an Emmons D-10 at the time of the Grateful Dead's and New Riders of the Purple Sage's final appearances at the Fillmore East in late April 1971.
In 1969, Garcia played pedal steel on three notable outside recordings: the track "The Farm" on the Jefferson Airplane album Volunteers; and the hit singles "One Toke Over The Line" by Brewer and Shipley and "Teach Your Children" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young from their album Déjà Vu, released in 1970. Garcia played on the latter album in exchange for harmony lessons for the Grateful Dead, who were at the time recording Workingman's Dead.
In 1971, Garcia began playing a Sunburst Les Paul. That March, he received a guitar that little is known about today. It is said to be an early Alembic project or referred to as Peanut. In May, Garcia began using a '57 Stratocaster that had been given to him by Graham Nash. Garcia added the Alligator sticker to the pickguard in the fall of that year. Throughout the summer, Garcia played a double-cutaway Les Paul TV Junior. Images of these can be seen at dozin.com.
This was in part, due to damage to his first custom-made guitar, made by Doug Irwin at Alembic. This guitar, nicknamed Wolf for a memorable sticker Garcia added below the tailpiece, cost $1500 – extremely high for the time.
Wolf was made with an ebony fingerboard and featured numerous embellishments like alternating grain designs in the headstock, ivory inlays, and fret marker dots made of sterling silver. The body was composed of western maple wood which had a core of purpleheart. Garcia later had former Alembic employee Doug Irwin replace the electronics inside the guitar, at which point he added his own logo to the headstock alongside the Alembic logo. The system included two interchangeable plates for configuring pickups: one was made for strictly single coils, while the other accommodated humbuckers. Shortly after receiving the modified instrument, Garcia requested another custom guitar from Irwin with the advice "don't hold back."
During the Grateful Dead's European Tour, Wolf was dropped on several occasions, one of which caused a minor crack in the headstock. Garcia returned it to Irwin to fix; during its two-year absence Garcia played predominantly Travis Bean guitars. On September 28, 1977, Irwin delivered the renovated Wolf back to Garcia. The wolf sticker which gave the guitar its name had now been inlaid into the instrument; it also featured an effects loop between the pick-ups and controls (so inline effects would "see" the same signal at all times) which was bypassable. Irwin also put a new face on the headstock with only his logo (he later claimed to have built the guitar himself, though pictures through time clearly show the progression of logos, from Alembic, to Alembic & Irwin, to only Irwin). In The Grateful Dead Movie Garcia is playing Wolf and this film provides excellent views of Wolf.
Nearly seven years after he first requested it, Garcia received his third custom guitar "Tiger" from Irwin in 1979 (the first Irwin was "Eagle", the second was "Wolf"). The first concert that Garcia played Tiger was August 4, 1979 at the Oakland Auditorium Arena. It was named Tiger from the inlay on the preamp cover. The body of Tiger was of rich quality: the top layer was cocobolo, with the preceding layers being maple stripe, vermilion, and flame maple, in that order. The neck was made of western maple with an ebony fingerboard. The pickups consisted of a single coil DiMarzio SDS-1 and two humbucker DiMarzio Super IIs which were easily removable due to Garcia's preference for replacing his pickups every year or two. The electronics were composed of an effects bypass loop, which allowed Garcia to control the sound of his effects through the tone and volume controls on the guitar, and a preamplifier/buffer which rested behind a plate in the back of the guitar. In terms of weight, everything included made Tiger tip the scales at 13½ pounds. This was Garcia's principal guitar for the next eleven years, and most played.
In the late 1980s Garcia, Weir and CSN (along with many others) endorsed Alvarez Yairi acoustic guitars. There are many photographs circulating (mostly promotional) of Garcia playing a DY99 Virtuoso Custom with a Modulus Graphite neck. He opted to play with the less decorated model but the promotional photo from the Alvarez Yairi catalog has him holding the "tree of life" model. This hand-built guitar was notable for the collaboration between Japanese luthier Kazuo Yairi and Modulus Graphite of San Rafael. As with most things Garcia, with his passing, the DY99 model is highly valued among collectors.
In 1990, Irwin completed Rosebud, Garcia's fourth custom guitar. It was similar to his previous guitar Tiger in many respects, but featured different inlays and electronics, tone and volume controls, and weight. Rosebud, unlike Tiger, was configured with three humbuckers; the neck and bridge pickups shared a tone control, while the middle had its own. Atop the guitar was a Roland GK-2 pickup which fed the controller set inside the guitar. The GK2 was used in junction with the Roland GR-50 rack mount synthesizer. The GR-50 synthesizer in turn drove a Korg M1R synthesizer producing the MIDI effects heard during live performances of this period as heard on the Grateful Dead recording 'Without a Net'. Sections of the guitar were hollowed out to bring the weight down to 11½ pounds. The inlay, a dancing skeleton holding a rose, covers a plate just below the bridge. The final cost of the instrument was $11,000.
In 1993, carpenter-turned-luthier Stephen Cripe tried his hand at making an instrument for Garcia. After researching Tiger through pictures and films, Cripe set out on what would soon become known as Lightning Bolt, again named for its inlay. The guitar used Brazilian rosewood for the fingerboard and East Indian rosewood for the body, which, with admitted irony from Cripe, had been taken from a 19th-century bed used by opium smokers. Built purely from guesswork, Lightning Bolt was a hit with Garcia, who began using the guitar exclusively. Soon after, Garcia requested that Cripe build a backup of the guitar. Cripe, who had not measured or photographed the original, was told simply to "wing it."
Cripe later delivered the backup, which was known by the name Top Hat. Garcia bought it from him for $6,500, making it the first guitar that Cripe had ever sold. However, infatuated with Lightning Bolt, Garcia rarely used the backup.
After Garcia's death, the ownership of his Wolf and Tiger came into question. According to Garcia's will, his guitars were bequeathed to Doug Irwin, who had constructed them. The remaining Grateful Dead members disagreed—they considered his guitars to be property of the band, leading to a lawsuit between the two parties. In 2001, Irwin won the case. Irwin, a victim of a hit-and-run accident in 1998, had been left nearly penniless by the accident. He placed Garcia's guitars up for auction in hopes of being able to start another guitar workshop.
On May 8, 2002, Wolf and Tiger, among other memorabilia, were placed for auction at Studio 54 in New York City. Tiger was purchased for $957,500, while Wolf was bought for $789,500. Together, the pair sold for $1.74 million, setting a new world record. Wolf went into in the private collection of Daniel Pritzker who kept it in a secure climate controlled room in a private residence at Utica, N.Y. Tiger went to the private collection of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. In May 2017, Wolf was again auctioned, but this time for charity. Pritzker decided to sell the guitar and donate all proceeds to the Montgomery, Alabama based Southern Poverty Law Center. Brian Halligan placed the winning bid totaling $1.9M.
Garcia appeared in the 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind as an extra during the scenes in India in a crowd shot. During the following year, the Grateful Dead would occasionally improvise the theme from Close Encounters in concert.
Famous guitar player and known Garcia fan Warren Haynes wrote the song "Patchwork Quilt" in memory of Garcia. Grammy award-winning reggae artist Burning Spear paid homage by releasing the song "Play Jerry" in 1997.
In the episode titled "Halloween: The Final Chapter" on the show Roseanne, aired shortly after his death on October 31, 1995, a tribute to Jerry Garcia was made, and the character name of the baby was Jerry Garcia Conner.
In the 1996 comedy Flirting with Disaster, the two protagonists name their newborn son Garcia in honor of Jerry Garcia.
According to fellow Bay Area guitar player Henry Kaiser, Garcia is "the most recorded guitarist in history. With more than 2,200 Grateful Dead concerts, and 1,000 Jerry Garcia Band concerts captured on tape – as well as numerous studio sessions – there are about 15,000 hours of his guitar work preserved for the ages."
On July 30, 2004, Melvin Seals was the first Jerry Garcia Band (JGB) member to headline an outdoor music and camping festival called the Grateful Garcia Gathering. Jerry Garcia Band drummer David Kemper joined Melvin Seals and JGB in 2007. Other musicians and friends of Garcia include Donna Jean Godchaux, Mookie Siegel, Pete Sears, G.E. Smith, Chuck Hammer, Barry Sless, Jackie Greene, Brian Lesh, Sanjay Mishra, and Mark Karan.
On July 21, 2005, the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission passed a resolution to name the amphitheater in McLaren Park "The Jerry Garcia Amphitheater." The amphitheater is located in the Excelsior District, where Garcia grew up. The first show to happen at the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater was Jerry Day 2005 on August 7, 2005. Jerry's brother, Tiff Garcia, was the first person to welcome everybody to the "Jerry Garcia Amphitheater." Jerry Day is an annual celebration of Garcia in his childhood neighborhood. The dedication ceremony (Jerry Day 2) on October 29, 2005 was officiated by mayor Gavin Newsom.
On September 24, 2005, the Comes a Time: A Celebration of the Music & Spirit of Jerry Garcia tribute concert was held at the Hearst Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California. The concert featured Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, Bruce Hornsby, Trey Anastasio, Warren Haynes, Jimmy Herring, Michael Kang, Jay Lane, Jeff Chimenti, Mark Karan, Robin Sylvester, Kenny Brooks, Melvin Seals, Merl Saunders, Marty Holland, Stu Allen, Gloria Jones, and Jackie LaBranch.
Georgia-based composer Lee Johnson released an orchestral tribute to the music of the Grateful Dead, recorded with the Russian National Orchestra, entitled "Dead Symphony: Lee Johnson Symphony No. 6." Johnson was interviewed on NPR on the July 26, 2008 broadcast of Weekend Edition, and gave much credit to the genius and craft of Garcia's songwriting. A live performance with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Johnson himself, was held Friday, August 1.
In 2010 the Santa Barbara Bowl in California opened Jerry Garcia Glen along the walk up to the venue. There is a statue of Garcia's right hand along the way.
The Argentinian band Massacre included a song called "A Jerry Garcia" (To Jerry Garcia) on their album Juguetes para olvidar.
Numerous music festivals across the United States and Uxbridge, Middlesex, UK hold annual events in memory of Jerry Garcia.
In 2013, in partnership with the family of Jerry Garcia, The Capitol Theatre christened its lobby bar as Garcia's in honor of the late Grateful Dead guitarist and singer, who counted the Port Chester, New York, rock palace among his favorite venues in the country.
"On the historic corner of Haight and Ashbury, Madame Tussauds unveils Jerry Garcia's wax figure with his daughter Keelin and wife Manasha. The family was filled with emotion and pride as the late legend remains an iconic representation of the city's vibrant culture, which he was a major part of. Now his legacy lives on as an official wax figure at Madame Tussauds San Francisco, where Bay Area visitors will have the opportunity to view Jerry..." "They've been doing this since the likes of Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin, and it's an incredible honor to have Jerry included," says Manasha Garcia.
In 2015, Jerry Garcia's wife, Manasha Garcia and their daughter, Keelin Garcia launched The Jerry Garcia Foundation, a nonprofit charity that supports projects for artistic, environmental, and humanitarian causes. The Foundation's Board members are Bob Weir, Peter Shapiro, Glenn Fischer, Irwin Sternberg, Daniel Shiner, TRI Studios CEO, Christopher McCutcheon and Fender Music Foundation Executive Director, Lynn Robison. Keelin Garcia said, "It is a tremendous honor to participate in nonprofit work that is in accordance with my father's values."
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