Jerry Garcia

American guitarist and singer (1942–1995)

Jerome John Garcia (August 1, 1942 – August 9, 1995) was an American guitarist and singer. He is best known as the founder and longtime lead guitarist (1965-1995) of the band the Grateful Dead.[1] Garcia was seen as an icon of the Hippie counterculture of the 1960s.[2] He was considered an almost mythic hero to his fans, called deadheads.[3] Garcia was an innovator who was constantly experimenting with sound. He was one of the most recorded guitar players of all time.[4]

Jerry Garcia
Garcia in the 1970s
Garcia in the 1970s
Background information
Birth nameJerome John Garcia
BornAugust 1, 1942
San Francisco, California, U.S.
DiedAugust 9, 1995(1995-08-09) (aged 53)
Forest Knolls, California, U.S.
GenresPsychedelic rock, blues rock, folk rock, country rock, jam rock, bluegrass, roots rock
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter
InstrumentsGuitar, vocals
Years active1960–1995
LabelsRhino, Arista, Warner Bros., Acoustic Disc, Grateful Dead

Early life


Jerry Garcia was born August 1, 1942, in San Francisco, California.[5] His father was Jose Ramon Garcia, a Spanish immigrant. His mother, Ruth Marie Clifford, named him after her favorite composer, Jerome Kern.[6][7][8] His father was a jazz musician who bought a bar.[5] As a child Garcia took piano lessons.[9] When he was four he lost part of a finger chopping wood.[10][11] A year later his father drowned. When his mother took over the bar, Garcia went to live with his grandparents. They introduced him to the Grand Ole Opry.[12] This along with his brother's collection of Chuck Berry records gave him an interest in country music.[13] In 1953 his mother remarried and Garcia moved back with her. Garcia attended several different schools in and around San Francisco.[2] But he had little interest in school until 1957 when he attended the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute).[2] At age 15 his mother gave him a guitar. In high school he played in several bands. At age 17 he quit school. He joined the Army in 1960 but was given a general discharge a few months later.[2]

Music career


Garcia returned to San Francisco. He spent time teaching acoustic guitar and playing bluegrass music.[13] He met up with poet Robert Hunter. Together they started playing in the city's coffeehouses.[14] Hunter later became the lyricist for the Grateful Dead and Garcia's lifelong songwriting partner.[15] Garcia started becoming famous around San Francisco between 1962 and 1964. He was known for his Folk and bluegrass performances.[14] Garcia tried a new drug LSD for the first time in 1964. From that time on he became a lifelong advocate of psychedelic drugs.[3] Musically he began experimenting outside the basic folk music formula and trying out new styles of music. This included jug band, Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions.[16] A year later they changed their name to the "Warlocks".[16]

Detail of Jerry Garcia's Top Hat guitar

The Warlocks soon became the Grateful Dead. Garcia found the name in a dictionary.[14] While Garcia was the frontman, the band always operated as a leaderless democracy.[15] Garcia continued to experiment musically. He became known for his extended guitar improvisations. He also worked on numerous side projects and frequently sat in with other groups. Jefferson Airplane, in their 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow, credited him as the group's "spiritual adviser". In 1969, he and John "Marmaduke" Dawson founded the country rock band New Riders of the Purple Sage. The New Riders, or NRPS, became the opening act for the Grateful Dead.[17] At this time Garcia was experimenting with the pedal steel guitar for both NRPS and the Dead.[17]

For the next few years Garcia and the Dead built their reputation based on their live shows. He was a guest performer with other groups. By 1970 the Dead began moving back to their bluegrass, folk and country roots.[18] Garcia began doing solo recordings often accompanied by keyboardist Merl Saunders.[18] In 1973 Garcia was a founding member of the bluegrass supergroup Old and in the Way.[18] Garcia formed the rock band Legion of Mary (band) in 1974.[19] In 1975 he founded the Jerry Garcia Band.[19] It became his most important side project until his death.

By 1974 the Grateful Dead members began to go their own ways. Garcia continued making solo albums and appearances. The Dead began touring again in 1976. By the early 1980s Garcia was heavily addicted to drugs.[20] In 1985 Garcia was arrested and sent to a drug treatment center.[20] In 1986, while on tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Bob Dylan, Garcia collapsed.[20] He went into a diabetic coma and was hospitalized.[21] Garcia returned to touring with the Dead. In 1987 the Grateful Dead had their first Top-10 hit, Touch of Grey.[22]

Death and legacy


On August 9, 1995, after years of health problems and drug abuse, Jerry Garcia died of heart failure.[20] He was 53 years old. He had checked into a drug treatment center and his body was found during an early morning bed check.[3]


  1. "Jerry Garcia". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 16 January 2015. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 William Ruhlmann. "Jerry Garcia Artist Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Steve Dougherty (21 August 1995). "What a Long, Strange Trip". People. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  4. Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and, ed. Jacqueline Edmondson (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2013), pp. 480–481
  5. 5.0 5.1 Scott Schinder; Andy Schwartz, Icons of Rock; An Encyclopedia of the Legends who Changed Music Forever (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2008), p. 328
  6. "Jerry Garcia: a SF mission upbringing growing up in the Excelsior". Archived from the original on April 1, 2007. Retrieved April 3, 2007.
  7. Troy, Sandy (1994). Captain Trips: A Biography of Jerry Garcia. Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 1-56025-076-3.
  8. McNally, pg. 7
  9. Brown, David Jay; Novick, Rebecca McClean. "Mavericks of the Mind: Conversations for the New Millennium". Mavericks of the Mind – Internet Edition. Archived from the original on October 23, 2006. Retrieved April 8, 2007.
  10. Lesh, Phil (2005). Searching for the Sound: My Life with the Grateful Dead. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-00998-9.
  11. Jackson, pg. 8
  12. Nick Talevski, Rock Obituaries - Knocking On Heaven's Door (London: Omnibus, 2010), p. 196
  13. 13.0 13.1 Jeremy Simmonds, The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches, ed. Jeremy Simmonds (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2008), p. 337
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 "Jerry Garcia Biography". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 16 January 2015. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  15. 15.0 15.1 "The Grateful Dead Biography". The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Inc. Archived from the original on 31 January 2015. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Jerry Garcia Biography". LifeMed Media, Inc. Archived from the original on 13 March 2015. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Blair Jackson, Garcia: An American Life (New York: Penguin Books, 2000), p. 168
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 All Music Guide to Country: The Definitive Guide to Country Music, eds. Vladimir Bogdanov; et al. (San Francisco: Backbeat Books 2003), p. 269
  19. 19.0 19.1 Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories that Shaped Our Culture, ed. Jacqueline Edmondson (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2013), pp. 480–481
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 "Jerry Garcia Biography". Archived from the original on 26 January 2015. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  21. Associated Press (13 July 1986). "Rock Guitarist Garcia Recovering After Slipping Into Diabetic Coma". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 February 2015.
  22. Nick Talevski, Rock Obituaries - Knocking On Heaven's Door (London: Omnibus, 2010), p. 197

Other websites

Preceded by
Townes Van Zandt
AMA presidents Award
Succeeded by
Lowell George