August 1: Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead was born on this date in 1942...

... he died on August 9, 1995.

Jerome John Garcia was born in San Francisco, California. His parents named him after composer Jerome Kern. 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.

During a five-year period in which he lived with his grandparents, Garcia developed an interest in country and to bluegrass by his grandmother. It was at this point that Garcia started playing the banjo, his first stringed instrument.

In 1953, 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. His brother would memorize the vocals from his favorite songs, and would then make Jerry 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. After the family moved back to San Francisco, on Garcia's fifteenth birthday, his mother bought him an accordion, instead of an electric guitar which he wanted. 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.

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. Garcia joined a band at his school known as the Chords.

In 1960 Garcia stole his mother's car, and as punishment, was forced to join the United States Army. Garcia spent most of his time in the army missing roll call and accruing many counts of AWOL. As a result, Garcia was given a general discharge on December 14, 1960.

In early 1961, after a near fatal car accident, Garcia realized he needed to begin playing the guitar in earnest. In 1962 he met Phil Lesh, the eventual bassist of the Grateful Dead, during a party in Menlo Park's bohemian Perry Lane neighborhood. 

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. They recorded "Matty Groves" and "The Long Black Veil," and they later landed a spot on the show, where a ninety-minute special was done specifically on Garcia. It was broadcast under the title "'The Long Black Veil' and Other Ballads: An Evening with Jerry Garcia."

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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 to each other.

Between 1962 and 1964, Garcia sang and performed mainly bluegrass, old-time and folk music. One of the bands Garcia performed with was a bluegrass and folk band called Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, whose membership also included Ron "Pigpen" McKernan.

Around this time, the psychedelic LSD was beginning to gain prominence. Garcia first began experimenting with LSD in 1964. 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 quickly learned that another group was already performing under their new name, prompting another name change.

After several suggestions, Garcia came up with the name by opening a Funk and Wagnall's dictionary spotting the "Grateful Dead." Despite his band mates dislike of the name, it quickly spread by word of mouth, and soon became their official title.
Garcia performed with the Grateful Dead for their entire three-decade career from 1965–1995. Garcia also founded and participated in a variety of side projects, including the Saunders-Garcia Band (with longtime friend Merl Saunders), 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 by many for his distinctive guitar playing and was ranked 13th in Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" cover story.

 Garcia was sometimes ill because of his unstable weight, 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 addiction, and was staying in a California drug rehabilitation facility when he died of a heart attack in August 1995.
Garcia was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Grateful Dead in 1994.

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 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.

Numerous music festivals across the United States and Uxbridge, Middlesex, UK hold annual events in memory of Jerry Garcia.



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