Jerome John "Jerry" Garcia (August 1, 1942 – August 9, 1995) was an American musician who was best known for his lead guitar work, singing and songwriting with the band the Grateful Dead. Though 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), 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.
Later in life, 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 and cocaine addictions, and was staying in a California drug rehabilitation facility when he died of a heart attack in August 1995.
Childhood and early life
Jerry Garcia's ancestry was Galician (Spanish) on his father's side, and Irish and Swedish on his mother's. He was born in San Francisco, California, on August 1, 1942, to Jose Ramon "Joe" Garcia and Ruth Marie "Bobbie" (née Clifford) Garcia. 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 musician's 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.
At age four, while vacationing in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Garcia underwent amputation of two-thirds of his right middle finger. Garcia was given the chore of steadying wood while his elder brother chopped, when he inadvertently put his finger in the way of the falling axe. After his mother wrapped his hand in a towel Garcia's father drove him over thirty miles to the nearest hospital. A few weeks later, Garcia—who hadn't looked at the 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.
Garcia experienced several tragic events during his youth. Less than a year after losing the segment of his finger, his father died. While on vacation with his family near Arcata in Northern California in 1947, his father went fly-fishing in the Trinity River, part of the Six Rivers National Forest. Not long after entering he slipped on a rock underfoot, plunging into the deep rapids of the river. The incident was witnessed by a group of boys who immediately sought help, beckoning a pair of nearby fishermen. By the time he was pulled from the water, he had already drowned. Garcia later claimed to have seen his father fall into the river, but Dennis McNally, author of the book A Long Strange Trip: The Inside Story of the Grateful Dead, asserts that he did not, instead forming the memory from hearing the story repeated many times. Blair Jackson, who wrote the biography Garcia: An American Life, lends weight to McNally's claim, citing that the newspaper article describing Jose's death made no mention of Garcia being at the scene—even misidentifying him as his parents' daughter.
Following the accident, Garcia's mother took over their late father'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 just down the road with their maternal grandparents, 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, in a few years, 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 took up an art program at the San Francisco Art Institute to further his burgeoning interest in the visual arts. 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.
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 purchased him an accordion, 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.
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. Jerry Garcia was also an appreciative 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 Grammy-nominated 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"), 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.
Garcia also lent pedal-steel guitar playing 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 début 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 during the summer of 1987.
Having studied art at the San Francisco Art Institute, 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. Even in 2005, ten years after Garcia's death, new styles and designs continued to be produced and sold.
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 the only child they had together, their daughter Heather, was born.
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 Grateful Dead 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. Around fifteen people were arrested on the spot, including many of the road crew, management, and nearly all of the Grateful Dead (except Garcia, who arrived later, and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, who was not taking drugs at the time).
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. That same year, Garcia participated in the soundtrack for the film Zabriskie Point.
Carolyn Adams, also known as 'Mountain Girl', 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 Garcia married in 1981.
In 1975, around the time Blues for Allah was being created, Garcia met Deborah Koons, the woman who would much later become his third wife and widow. He began seeing her while he was still involved with Adams, with whom Koons had a less-than-perfect relationship. Garcia and Adams eventually went different ways.
While touring in late 1973 the band began to use cocaine. During the band's hiatus in 1975, Garcia was introduced to a smokeable form of heroin. Influenced by the stresses of creating and releasing The Grateful Dead Movie in 1977, Garcia became increasingly dependent upon heroin and cocaine. This factor—combined with the alcohol and drug abuse of several other members of the Grateful Dead—produced turbulent times for the band: the band's chemistry began "cracking and crumbling", resulting in poor group cohesion. As a result, Keith and Donna Godchaux were asked to leave the band in February 1979. With the addition of keyboardist Brent Mydland, the band was reaching new heights. Though things seemed to be getting better for the band, Garcia's health was descending. 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 smoking had now greatly affected his voice, and he began to put on 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 Grateful Dead holding an intervention in January 1985. Given the choice between the band or the drugs, Garcia readily 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; Garcia subsequently attended a drug diversion program. Throughout 1985, Garcia fought to kick his habit while on tour, and by 1986, was completely clean.
Precipitated by an unhealthy weight, bad eating habits, and recent drug use, Garcia collapsed into a diabetic coma in July 1986, waking up five days later. Garcia 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, Garcia quickly recovered, playing with the Jerry Garcia Band and the Grateful Dead again later that year. Garcia frequently saw a woman named Manasha Matheson during this period. Together they produced Garcia's fourth and final child, a girl named Keelin Noel Garcia, who was born December 20, 1987. (Jerry, Keelin and Manasha toured and shared a home together as a family until 1993.) After Garcia's recovery, the band released a comeback album "In the Dark" in 1987, which became their best ever selling studio album. Inspired by Garcia's improved health and a successful album, the band's energy and chemistry peaked in the late 1980s and 1990.
During the summer of 1990, keyboardist Brent Mydland died of a drug overdose. Mydland's death greatly affected Garcia, leading him to believe that the on and off stage 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 burnt out from four straight years of high powered touring. Jerry 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. Jerry's decrease in both his stamina and his interest to continue touring, may have caused him to use again. Though his relapse was relatively brief, lasting through the summer, the band was quick to react. Soon after the last show of the tour in Denver, Garcia was confronted by the Grateful Dead with another intervention. After a somewhat 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 simply wanted to clean up in his own way, and get back to making music.
After returning from the Grateful Dead's 1992 summer tour, Garcia became extremely sick, evidently a throwback to his diabetic coma in 1986. Refusing to go to the hospital, he instead enlisted the aid of an acupuncturist named Yen Wei Choong and a licensed doctor to treat him personally at home. Garcia recovered over the following days, despite the Grateful Dead having to cancel their fall tour to allow him time to recuperate. Following this episode, Garcia quit smoking, became a vegetarian, and began losing weight.
Garcia and girlfriend Barbara Meier, who had met in December of the previous year, separated at the beginning of the Dead's 1993 spring tour. In 1994, Garcia renewed acquaintances with Deborah Koons, with whom he had been involved sometime around 1975. They married on February 14, 1994, in Sausalito, California. The wedding was attended by family and friends. Garcia had divorced Adams in January of that year.
By the beginning of 1995, Garcia's physical and mental condition began a decline. 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 again just 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, a long-standing cigarette habit, and diabetes—all of which contributed to his physical decline. Phil Lesh remarked in his autobiography that, upon hearing of Garcia's death, "I was struck numb; I had lost my oldest surviving friend, my brother." On the morning of August 10, Garcia was rested at a funeral home in San Rafael, California. 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, and his widow Deborah Koons, who barred Garcia's other wives from the ceremony.
On August 13, a municipally-sanctioned public memorial took place in the Polo Fields of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, and was attended by about 25,000 people. The crowds produced hundreds of flowers, gifts, images, and even a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace" in remembrance.
On April 4, 1996, Bob Weir and Deborah Koons spread half of Garcia's cremated ashes into the Ganges River at the holy city of Rishikesh, India, a site sacred to Hindus. Then, according to Garcia's last wishes, the other half of his ashes were poured into the San Francisco Bay. Deborah Koons did not allow one of Garcia's ex-wives, Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Garcia, to attend the spreading of the ashes.