Jerry Garcia is fondly remembered for his exquisite guitar work, singing and songwriter capabilities during his associations with the band, the ‘Grateful Dead’. He was one of the co-founders of the band and was a musician with them for a whopping thirty years. In his long and fruitful career, he had the opportunity to work with some of the best and the most prestigious music labels in the country like Arista, Warner Bros., Acoustic Disc and Rhino. The band rose to popularity and became so successful that Garcia and his band decided to launch their very own record company called the ‘Grateful Dead’. Although he is widely associated with his band, he also released a number of solo albums and worked with a number of other artistes during his tenure as a musician. He was also ranked no. 13 in the famed Rolling Stones Magazines under the category of ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time’, which also featured as the magazine’s cover story. Aside his career, he suffered quite a bit health-wise due to his unstable weight and was also a victim of substance abuse. He was sent to a rehabilitation center, where he stayed till his death. Scroll further for more.
Childhood & Early Life
Jerry Garcia was born Jerome John on August 1, 1942 in San Francisco, California. He was the second of the two sons born to Joe and Ruth Marie Garcia.
He began taking piano lessons as a child and he would often play and sing at his father’s bar. However, after the untimely death of his father and a couple of other tragic incidents during childhood, his mother took over his late father’s bar and the children were sent to live with their maternal grandparents.
He attended Monroe schools and was introduced to the banjo, his first stringed instrument. As a young boy, he was introduced to a wide spectrum of musical genres such as rock and roll, blues, jazz, country and bluegrass.
He studied at Denman Junior High School and Balboa High School in 1958, where he joined his school band, Chords.
Jerry Garcia joined the United States Army but was quickly discharged on December 14, 1960.
After a near-death car accident, he began playing the guitar and was introduced to Robert Hunter, who became the lyrical collaborator for ‘Grateful Dead’ in April, 1961. He performed in his first concert with Hunter and also played in a band called ‘Wildwood Boys’. It was during this time he met David Nelson and Phil Lesh.
He soon began teaching and playing the banjo and the acoustic guitar and from 1962-1964, he sang a number of old-time folk and bluegrass music. It was around this time that psychedelic LSD was gaining popularity, which Garcia believes, changed his career and life for the better.
Garcia came up with the name ‘Grateful Dead’ for his newly formed band with Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann, and despite the band members not liking the name, news of a new band had spread and the name stuck.
He served as the lead guitarist and singer for the band and composed popular songs like ‘Franklin’s Tower’, ‘Scarlet Begonias’ and ‘Dark Star’. He became extremely popular as he was known for his ‘soulful guitar improvisations’.
The band toured from 1965 almost until Garcia’s death in 1995. During their three decade span, the band had performed in 2314 shows. His guitar-playing melded elements of Celtic, rock, bluegrass, country and jazz.
In addition to being the lead guitarist of ‘Grateful Dead’, he collaborated with various other side projects, the most notable project being, the ‘Jerry Garcia Band’ and ‘Legion of Mary’.
He played over 50 studio albums of varied genres and many artists sought help for their albums from Garcia such as Warren Zevon, Ken Nordine, Pete Sears, Bruce Hornsby and Bob Dylan.
In 1995, Garcia played on three tracks for the CD, ‘Blue Incantation’ by guitarist, Sanjay Mishra, which was his last studio collaboration.
The Grateful Dead
Anthem of the Sun
Wake of the Flood
Dylan & the Dead
Without A Net
The Arista Years
The Very Best of Grateful Dead
Before Time Began
Old and in the Way
Wanted Dead or Alive
Side Trips, Volume One
Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions
Awards & Achievements
Ranked 13th in Rolling Stone’s ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time’
Personal Life & Legacy
When he was young, he lost a couple of his fingers and faced personal losses which affected his psychological health, like the untimely death of his father.
He was also addicted to cocaine, heroin and LSD for which he was sent to rehabilitation centers for the longest time. He was also arrested on numerous occasions for the same.
He married Sara Ruppenthal on April 23, 1963. The couple had one child.
Carolyn Adams gave birth to Garcia’s second and third daughters in the 70’s. The couple only married in 1981.
Garcia suffered from a number of illnesses during his lifetime, which were mainly due to weight-related problems. He went into a diabetic coma in 1986.
He met Deborah Koons, while he was in a relationship with his second wife and fell in love with her. She eventually became his third wife. He then met Barbara Meier, whom he married on February 14, 1994, a year before his death.
He passed away on August 9, 1995 after he suffered a heart attack.
Following his death, a number of movies and documentaries were based on his life and many concerts such as ‘Comes a Time: A Celebration of the Music and Spirit of Jerry Garcia’, was held in his remembrance. Numerous other musical festivals across the world hold annual events in the memory of this great personality.