Personalities | Jerry Garcia | Grateful’s Greatness | Guitar Heroes

A leading figure on America’s West Coast music scene, Jerry Garcia was born in San Francisco in 1942. His father was a retired professional musician, his mother a pianist. The musically inclined Jerry began taking piano lessons as a child.

The emergence of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran inspired him to learn guitar at 15, his first instrument being a Danelectro. He took an arts course at San Francisco Institute of Arts, where he encountered the city’s Bohemian subculture for the first time. In the early 1960s, he met future Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and lyricist Robert Hunter. Garcia began playing guitar in earnest around this time, also taking up the banjo.

Garcia began performing in a bluegrass outfit and subsequently a jug band, which evolved into The Warlocks and ultimately into The Grateful Dead. The band fused such diverse elements as bluegrass, folk, blues, country, Celtic music and jazz, all of which were evident in their long, improvised live jams and in Garcia’s extended solos. Rarely captured adequately in the studio, early Dead is best represented on Live/Dead (1969). Their commercially successful albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty (both 1970) featured more conventional, country-flavoured songwriting and musicianship. Garcia was an accomplished pedal-steel player, and his achievements are all the more remarkable for the fact that he lost two-thirds of his right middle finger in a childhood accident.

Throughout his career, Garcia used a variety of guitars, sometimes favouring the Gibson SG or Les Paul, at other times the Fender Stratocaster. In 1973, he acquired his first custom-built guitar, and later added two more, all from the innovative guitar and bass company Alembic.

Although The Dead gigged relentlessly, Garcia found time for extracurricular activity, notably The Jerry Garcia Band, some Grateful Dead spin-offs and sessions for other musicians such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Jefferson Airplane and New Riders Of The Purple Sage. After struggling with heroin addiction for many years and surviving a near-fatal diabetic coma in 1988, Garcia died of a heart attack in August 1995. Many tributes have been paid to him since, including Soundgarden’s 1996 B-side track ‘Jerry Garcia’s Finger’.

Essential Recordings

The Grateful Dead: Live/Dead

The Grateful Dead: Workingman’s Dead

Jerry Garcia Band: Jerry Garcia Band

Jerry Garcia Band: Shining Star

Personalities | Billy Gibbons | ZZ Top’s Talent | Guitar Heroes


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