At the helm of the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia was a magnetic guitarist, singer and songwriter—one of the most beloved, enigmatic figures of the American 1960s. Yet Garcia’s life was as complex as one of his many-layered solos: a strange, psychedelic journey through highs and lows. This is our trip through his beautiful brokedown palace.
Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Adams Garcia:
Garcia was very outgoing and outspoken. Always the first guy there and the last guy to leave. He was fully committed in this funny way to whatever happened. Not only was he fully committed, but he was committed to keeping the door open for spontaneous events and the possibilities. We met a lot of times, but I think we really met at the Watts Acid Test. The Grateful Dead were in LA doing some shows and they lived in a big house. The [Merry] Pranksters wound up going over the border into Mexico for six months and then we returned later that year and caught up with those guys. They had been having their career and it was going pretty well. We were basically living in a bus, so there was a big difference in comfort level. They had no furniture and the refrigerator only had chicken. We hadn’t seen chicken in months, it was like this alien being. We were living on brown rice and veggies.
[At the Acid Tests] they were just willing to play. It didn’t really have that much to do with what they played because we didn’t know what the hell they were playing anyway. They were playing these strange old folk songs turned into blues tunes. They didn’t ever play for very long because it was too chaotic to play long sets and nobody really paid much attention, but they were brave enough to get on stage at an Acid Test. That was pretty exceptional. After the Pranksters came back from Mexico it all kind of split up. I was living at my brother’s [in San Francisco] and Jerry and I started seeing each other. I moved into [the Grateful Dead’s] house [at 710 Ashbury] after a while. It was lighthearted and it wasn’t very clean, but it was delightful. I did a lot of cooking and sort of house maintenance. The company was great, the only downside was that there weren’t enough bedrooms, so there was a lot of people sleeping on chairs. The bathrooms were not big and I had a baby [fathered by Ken Kesey] by this time. We were very much a world unto ourselves. We really formed a solid cohesive pod. It was actually more of a home and less of a public event. [Garcia] had a perverse yearning to learn how to play the pedal steel guitar. The Dead rehearsed for a number of hours a day if they didn’t have a gig, and sometimes even if they did have a gig, but he would get up early and fool around with the pedal steel guitar for a couple hours. It was just a nightmare, it was so hard, so complicated and so utterly different. He wasn’t sure if he was setting it up right, I don’t think he was. He had some pretty strange tunings, but he had a great time with it. It was like his morning yoga.
[710 Ashbury] was getting creepy and the Haight-Ashbury suddenly got really full and it started to spill up. We got busted for pot, and Jerry and I weren’t home, luckily. Of course they arrested Pigpen and [Bob] Weir, even though they didn’t smoke pot. Then nobody wanted to go home for a long time and got paranoid. Everyone went over to Marin in a wave around 1970. It wasn’t groovy in the Haight anymore. It lost its sweetness.
We had a great house in Larkspur and shared it with [Robert] Hunter and his girlfriend Christie [Bourne]. We had a couple of cats and a couple of dogs and Hunter was prolific, so they wrote a lot of stuff together. It was a good, rich time. [For Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty,] they wanted to make classics and they were really wedded to the concept of continuing in a certain tradition.
We had kids so there had to be a fairly calm domestic scene—I was about 28 or 29 with three little kids. We had a really neat house in Stinson Beach. I thought things were fairly blissful, but they didn’t stay blissful. We split up I think in ’75 and things were kind of on edge for a long time after that. We had a bunch of back and forth, but I had to mostly just pay attention to what was going on with family business. I couldn’t really focus on what was going on with the band anymore because they had about all the management they could handle at that time, a lot of people telling them what they ought to do. That’s when [Garcia] developed the realization that he loved to work, so he would work every day if he could. He was sometimes doing two shows a night in San Francisco. It’s what he did best and what he was most comfortable doing, the rest of life was not interesting.
We thought it would be a good idea [to get married]. We thought it would work out and getting a place together in Marin was the plan. I’d been planning to get married for really a long time, it just hadn’t happened. So finally we found a time and a place and I don’t know, it just kind of came together. It was a beautiful ceremony. My friend Peter Zimels was a Tibetan monk. He did the whole thing in full Tibetan regalia with brass bells. It was delightful. We were backstage at the Oakland Auditorium under the stairs. Jerry had this really funny little cramped dressing room so we did it in there. The kids were all there. There was a big party going on outside. It was hard to get privacy for anything like that. It was overwhelmingly difficult to feel like you were separate from the mass, and to maintain that separation was difficult, but we kind of snuck it in.
In 1986 I was back in Oregon and I got a phone call from my friend that ran the camp that my youngest daughter was at, and she wanted to know if she should tell her that Jerry was very ill. I was like, What do you mean? I had been out getting ready for the local Oregon Country Fair. I flew down there and went straight to the hospital. Basically he was in a diabetic coma from high blood sugar. It took them a long time to figure that out—over 24 hours—which I thought was ridiculous. They gave him Valium, I think they were CAT scanning him. If they had just checked his blood sugar it really would have shortcut things. He was starting to wake up a little bit by the time I got there. He obviously had been exhausted for a while. [The Dead] had just come back from doing a tour with extremely high temperatures—it was like 105 degrees at their last gig. It just cooked his head. It took him a long time to recover. I immediately moved back down to deal with it because it was crazy at that point. People were so anxious for him to get well. It was 24 hours a day, people knocking on the door wanting to see how he was. There were people hanging around that I didn’t like, that I wanted to get rid of, so all of that took some doing.
We stayed together for several more years, until 1990. Things were going really good. Eighty-nine was the big year. They did very well financially, it was gratifying as all get out. Then he got a place with a bigger swimming pool. He thought he was going to swim in it, but I don’t know if he ever did.
A friend called the morning [he died]. It was not an unexpected phone call, it was just really shocking. It didn’t seem possible there for a while. Luckily my daughters were with me at the time. The last I heard he was at Betty Ford and apparently he didn’t stay. I went by [the memorial service] briefly. I’m not going to get into that.
Like any celebrity, people didn’t know him very well and honestly, he was pretty much 100% musician and artist. He saw everything in these ways that are hard for other people to understand. He saw music as color, for instance. It was all twisted up in his head. It was a little confusing, his senses of what normal was were just off from other people.
There was an aspect of his playing that kind of reached through the dimensions and affected how people felt about things. There was a certain kind of musical catharsis going on sometimes when he played. At first I didn’t quite get it. After a while things became so fluid and sparkling and sort of gorgeous, I found it very touching and moving and loved it. I still do.
The best thing I could tell you about Jerry was that once when he was a kid he went up to the Randall Museum in San Francisco—the little natural history museum, right near Buena Vista Park—and he set all the snakes loose. He got in a lot of trouble. He was just a little guy. That’s pretty much what he was, he liked to turn that stuff loose.
Carolyn “Mountain Girl” Adams Garcia was a member of the Merry Pranksters. Her relationship with Jerry Garcia lasted nearly 30 years and they had two daughters together.
I was wandering the back streets of Palo Alto with a couple of friends on New Year’s Eve of 1963 going into ’64. We heard banjo
music coming from the back of Dana Morgan’s Music shop and we knew who it was: Jerry Garcia. He was in there alone and he was waiting for a student. It was like seven in the evening and I advised him that I didn’t think they were coming because it was New Year’s Eve. He acknowledged that maybe I was right and we chatted for a bit and decided to break into the front and grab some instruments.
I had discovered a little treasure trove of old Bluebird 78s that had a bunch of old blues music—some of it actual old jug band music, some of it just barrelhouse music. We formed a jug band and used a bunch of stuff that we found for our own repertoire. After a year I was working at the music store too, teaching students on guitar and banjo, and Pigpen was also working there, basically as a janitor. The son of the owner, who played a little bit of bass, wanted to be in a rock & roll band. The Beatles had been out for most of the year, the Rolling Stones were coming on and the electric instruments were starting to look impossibly attractive. The jug band—the Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions—turned into the Warlocks and that’s how we got started.
We went for about six months as the Warlocks and then it became apparent to us that our bass player had a bunch of limitations and he couldn’t play weekends because he was in the National Guard. We found Phil [Lesh], at which point we all lost our jobs at Dana Morgan’s. Right about the same time we hooked up with the Acid Tests we found out the name the Warlocks was trademarked by someone else. We were sitting at Phil’s house in Palo Alto wondering what to change our name to and in a peak of frustration, Jerry got up and went over to this big musical dictionary that Phil had and basically stuck a finger in there and got the name the Grateful Dead.
We started living together when we ran off with the Acid Test, I guess it was December of ’65. We lived together on the bus for a while. Then things were getting hot for [Ken] Kesey so we headed to Southern California, had a couple of Acid Tests down there, and then we relocated in Southern California to try and make a go of it in the music business. We lived together in Watts. It brought us closer together and also gave us a chance to rehearse night and day. Everybody brought their favorite music for everybody else to enjoy. Phil had a lot of modern classical music, Pigpen had a lot of blues stuff; I was all over the place, as was Jerry; Billy [Kreutzmann] was big into Ray Charles, as I recall. At the same time we were all listening to the radio and deconstructing what we were hearing. We just had no idea what we were up to, every possible direction was a possible direction. The world was full of endless possibilities.
Bob Weir was a singer and the rhythm guitarist in the Grateful Dead. He began playing music with Jerry Garcia when he was 16 years old and continued to until Garcia’s death in 1995.
I met Jerry in the summer of 1964 at a place called Sunset Park in West Grove, Pennsylvania, where every Sunday they had bluegrass music. We were both there to see Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. I was going to NYU and living in New York, and Jerry was on a trip across the country to hear bluegrass. We did some playing in the parking lot, which was kind of a tradition there, and I guess that was the start of it.
I was interested in a certain kind of music and so were the people I was hanging with. We were all interested in traditional American folk music, old time music, blues, bluegrass, a little bit of jazz. We would meet all of these kindred spirits, and there were groups of them in every urban area—a folk scene in Philadelphia, Cambridge, New York, Chicago, LA, Berkeley, the Bay Area. We were all really into the Anthology of American Folk Music, which was a six LP set that had been released on Folkways Records in the early ’60s and was put together by Harry Smith. It was a collection of bootleg 78s that were made in the ’20s and early ’30s.
In 1969 I was on a trip to San Francisco. I had been playing with a band called Earth Opera that [guitarist] Peter Rowan and I formed and
we had just played what turned out to be our last gig. Somebody said the Grateful Dead were playing a softball game against the Jefferson Airplane, so we drove out there. Jerry said, “Hey we’re working on an album and I’d like to have you play some mandolin on it.” So I went down and did the overdubs on what became American Beauty.
I’d been living in New York and I was getting held up with guns and knives and was looking to move, so Richard Loren and I decided to move out to California. We rented a house in Stinson Beach and within a year Jerry had moved to Stinson Beach and so had Peter Rowan. One day I took Rowan up to meet Jerry and we just started playing bluegrass. Jerry said, “Hey, I can get us some gigs, we should form a band.” He was playing in a lot of clubs in San Francisco and just had ’em dialed in. So that was the beginning of Old and In the Way.
In 1975, I had developed this project with its own repertoire and I was hanging out with these two kids Darol Anger and Todd Phillips, and a bass player named Joe Carrol who was like an old bebopper. I lived up on the mountainside of Mt Tamalpais, and [one day], when I drove down into town to get some ice cream, I ran into Jerry. I said, “Hey you wanna come play some tunes? I got these guys at my house right now.” So he followed me back up there and we did some jamming, and then I left to go pick up [guitarist] Tony Rice from the airport. That was the last time I played with Jerry for 13 years.
He and I were doing different things, but it also got into a space of, like, the Grateful Dead never paid me. They had never paid me for American Beauty until I acquired a manager and happened to mention it. I mean, I didn’t really care, I was like a hippie. And Jerry, he’d give me dope—he’d give me pot. He’d stop by my house and throw a quarter pound of pot on my bed. But that’s just the way they were. In addition to everything else, they were kind of pirates, the Grateful Dead. I’m not saying it was Jerry personally, but, you know, there were like checks stuffed into the door of his car that he never cashed. I kept hearing that Old and In the Way was the biggest selling bluegrass record of all time, but I wasn’t getting any money. I never said anything, but we just stopped communicating. Thirteen years later, in 1988, Pete Sears was making an album and we were both in the studio at the same time. Jerry walked in and he was very friendly and I was very friendly. We sat down and talked for a long time.
Somewhat after that, well, the Grateful Dead had this thing called the Rex Foundation, and every year they gave a grant to somebody who had made some contribution to music. Out of the blue I go to my mailbox and there’s a check for $10,000 there. I found out that Jerry had instigated it, so I called him up to thank him and he said, “We should get together and play some music.” So I invited him over and he said, “We should make a record that will give us an excuse to get together.” I had just built a studio and started my record label Acoustic Disc, so he said, “Great, we’ll do [what became Garcia/Grisman] for you then.”
When I found out about Jerry’s death it was early in the morning. It just hit me like a ton of bricks. It was not what I wanted to hear at all. The night before, [organist and frequent Garcia collaborator] Merl Saunders sat in on my gig, and he said to me, “I’m worried about Jerry.” And I hadn’t really thought of anything until he said that, but it made me worry. It was prophetic.
About two weeks before that we did what I believe was Jerry’s last session. I hadn’t heard from him in a while and then, out of the blue, he called me up and said, “I have a project that I’m doing for Bob Dylan, a record of various people doing Jimmie Rogers songs.” And that was it.
We recorded “Blue Yodel #9” and that was it. Jerry left and said, “Can you finish this up?” meaning could I produce it, and two weeks later he was dead. What I didn’t know at the session was that the next day he was checking himself into the Betty Ford Clinic. But he left there and I didn’t hear from him again. It was a big shock. A big loss. [Bassist] John Kahn and I were finishing the song up, and it kind of had a groove to it like a New Orleans funeral, so we decided to put a minor key horn intro on it. We made a little bit of a dirge out of it and made it into a tribute.
Mandolin virtuoso David “Dawg” Grisman is the founder of the long-running David Grisman Quintet, the record label Acoustic Disc and countless other projects.
The first time I met Jerry was at the Straight Theater on Haight Street. Buy a ticket at the door and get a little LSD with your admission price. Because at that time, LSD was legal. The Grateful Dead were playing, and [drummer Bill] Kreutzmann had invited me down. I wound up sitting in for the second set and we went someplace totally unique. It was like getting mainlined with this incredible life-giving serum. You know, it was an epiphany. It was a hierophony, as we say. This was a spirit that was moving everybody, even if everybody was on LSD.
We were like any pack. There are roles that you fall into, but back then the roles weren’t well defined. You’ve got to put the spirit into it and just play! We always had bad beginnings, bad endings, great insides. That was the whole thing with us, the journey. It wasn’t necessarily for entertainment, but it could be. You can dance to it! But we were in the transportation business.
What happened eventually was that in our experimentation we went off the deep end. Everybody yearned for a simpler song. Then Hunter! [Lyricist Robert] Hunter was writing these amazing limericks. So Hunter and Jerry started writing serious songs, and we did American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead and Aoxomoxoa. The band learned to sing. [Stephen] Stills lived with me for a while, and [David] Crosby moved close by, and they were singing all the time. Jerry and Bob [Weir] and Phil [Lesh] heard their voices and said, “We want to be able to do that.”
The band was a wonderful morphing of this American-based music. Well, African-based music, but it has a lot of Appalachia and a lot of Americana in it, and you see it mutating in different directions and then getting very loud. That was a whole other dimension—our collective love of volume. Now it became a neurological thing, because we had these marvelous sound systems that we developed as delivery systems, all of these very specific ways of taking sound and moving it out through a valley or a stadium. That was a huge part of our power, but it almost killed us. We were playing for the PA. We were hooked on the sound. But then instead of having a piecemeal soundsystem, John Meyer came up with this magnificent one and saved us from destroying the thing we loved the most.
I remember the end of it. We were sitting in a meeting saying, “What are we gonna do?!” And Jerry drew this snake that was eating its tail. He said “This is us. We’re eating ourselves.” It all worked out, but the tech part got so out of hand because if we didn’t do it, who was gonna do it? We needed it now! We wanted Phil’s bass to just thunder right up your pant leg, and our cymbals should dance around in your third eye. We were delivering sound by the pound, by the ton. You got a lot of sound per ton of sound! And also we gave you reverb, no extra charge.
Mickey Hart was one of the two drummers in the Grateful Dead from 1967 until 1971, then again from 1974 until 1995.
Before I was hired by the Grateful Dead to be their agent and eventually their manager, Jerry and I shared an office in Mill Valley where we addressed all of his affairs, not just those pertaining to the Grateful Dead. As a band, the Grateful Dead had a separate office in San Rafael. Every morning at 9 AM, Jerry would walk into our office, slap his briefcase down on the desk, grab a big fat cup of coffee, pull up a chair, lay out a couple of lines and start bullshitting. We’d spend the morning talking, maybe watch a movie or whatever—two friends hanging out. That’s something that happened kind of every day, and I looked forward to it. I consider myself one of the luckiest guys in the world for the time we shared. It was a great ten year experience for me, and although I really liked all the other guys in the band, I don’t know if I could’ve put up with life in the fast lane for as long as I did if it hadn’t been for Jerry.
The Dead were more than a band. They were like a social unit, a sociological experiment in a way. They weren’t a commune, but they were a community—a family of people locked into other little families like the Keseys and the Pranksters. The Dead put everybody on salary and paid them outrageously high amounts of money. The crew was paid like three, four and five times what other crew guys were getting paid. And then, of course, there were all the Deadheads. They were amazing! They often got a bad rap as hippies, but they were free spirits, extremely loyal. And they were survivors.
While the band was on hiatus in 1974, I went to Egypt. I found the Arabs to be kind of like hippies in a way. They got high, they relaxed, time didn’t seem to matter. After I’d been there a week or so, I was riding a camel around the Pyramids and the Sphinx when suddenly I looked over to my left and saw a stage. It all kind of hit me. A light bulb went off in my head and I thought, God, you know, the band should play here!
I went to Jerry and told him I’d just returned from Egypt and was really psyched about the possibility that the Dead could play this theater. He said, “That’d be fantastic!” The band appointed Phil Lesh and Alan Trist to go with me on a scouting mission—to lay the groundwork and organize the event. We went to Washington, DC and met with the US Egyptian Ambassador in the State Department. We flew to Cairo and met the American ambassador to Egypt. He set us up with local contacts and we met Egyptian President Anwar Al Sadat’s secretary and the head of the Secret Police. On our next trip we signed a contract to play three days at the Sphinx Theater in front of the Great Pyramids on the 14th, 15th and 16th of September, 1978.
The theater held maybe 2500 people. Half the audience was Deadheads who had flown over from the US on chartered planes, and the rest were Egyptian dignitaries and kids from the local high schools in Cairo. The concerts were an extraordinary phenomenon—the moon was in full lunar eclipse on the third night, and we happened to coincide with the Camp David Peace Agreement. The synergy was extremely powerful.
The idea was to make a record out of it—put out a three album set and we’d get our money back. But the band wasn’t happy with the performances, and music always comes first. So they refused to release it and we were left with a half a million dollar debt. We had rented the Who’s soundsystem and had it driven to London, put on a boat in Genoa, picked up in Alexandria, then we rented what seemed like the only semi in Alexandria to drive it to the pyramid site. It was like whoa.
On my first trip to Egypt I had befriended this boatman on the upper Nile, and he said, “After the shows, why don’t you come down and spend a few days on the Nile?” So that’s what we did. It was Bobby [Weir], Donna and Keith [Godchaux], [Garcia Band bassist] John Kahn, Jerry, Mountain Girl and some others. Fourteen of us went down the Nile for four or five days and it was the perfect way to unwind and see Egypt from an insider’s perspective. Mickey [Hart] and another group sought out a drum experience in a small village.
Jerry was the non-leader leader of the Grateful Dead. He always said, “I was high once and I was watching this guy speaking and I flashed on Hitler. I realized that I would never really want to express my views from a stage. I know the power that has, and I don’t want to tell people what to do.” He was extremely intelligent and had an extremely big heart. I think it’s fair to say he was looked up to in the Dead family—by everyone. We all relied on him to make decisions and I think that responsibility was very difficult for him and sometimes even a burden. It was hard for him to say no to anyone and if he said, “Yeah man, let’s do it,” then everybody wanted to do it. His charisma and enthusiasm were infectious.
Jerry was kind of the rock & roll Buddha in my estimation; he was wise in so many ways, but like everyone he had his demons. He had a very addictive personality, be it to food, music or drugs, and it was a part of him that he constantly had to deal with. It was also compounded by the demanding lifestyle. Under the strains of touring—as many an artist will tell you—it was easy to succumb to any temptation that could help you unwind and relax. You need Dr Feelgood because you’re leading an abnormal life, and the temptation of the candy is not to be denied. So when Jerry took something that made him feel good, he took more. You need to get from A to B and you’ve only had three hours of sleep, so in those circumstances you know what you take. So that was something that became abused, basically. And it happened to many bands. It went from relaxed dope smokers to hard edged…I don’t know what I’d say, but it changed the personalities.
That was introduced in the early ’70s and I don’t mean specifically with the Grateful Dead. I’m talking about all the Bay Area groups, and just in general, because that was when the good stuff was around. So you take that starting in 1970 and now you’re in 1978, 1979, and you’ve got a lot of people moving fast, sleeping little, with a lot of deadlines, and you’re overdoing it. And what does that do to your nerves? Your nerve endings are frayed. You don’t sleep. You’re edgy. So guess what the balm was? So the balm came in, and how did it come in? It came in from the Sufis. Because it didn’t come in as china white, it didn’t come in as white powder. It came in as a hash look-alike. And so it was, “Hey man you gotta try this stuff, it’s mellow, you just smoke it, it’s like Persian hash.” So it had an innocuous name, it wasn’t an injection, and it wasn’t like a hardcore jazz introduction. It probably came in a lot different to Ray Charles then it came in to this scene. So we were like, “Wow, this is incredible,” and I’m there with them too, like, “Wow.” It takes the frayed edges off, and that’s fine for a while—for a while. The rest is history. I don’t have to tell you how heavy the monkey on the back becomes. It goes from being the panacea to the thing you can’t control, and it takes over. It allows the demons in you to express themselves.
It didn’t have a big effect on the music for a while—it only had an effect on the playing when it was wearing the body down. There was a huge difference between Jerry onstage in 1978 and Jerry onstage in 1985, but I quit managing the band before that. I quit in 1981. Jerry had become very reclusive by that point and because of that I felt I had, sadly, kind of lost my friend. I think many people felt that way. I tried very hard to get him clean, and the other band members did too, but it was an insidious addiction.
In any event, I lost the Jerry who would show up at the office, hang out and talk about stuff—books we’d read, movies we’d seen, places we wanted to go. When I lost him, I lost it all with the band. I couldn’t really stay there anymore. So I tendered my resignation in ’81 and said, “I’m gonna go my way.” I disappeared from the music scene and that’s it—you’ve heard the coda.
Richard Loren managed Jerry Garcia’s solo career beginning in 1970. Eventually, he became the Grateful Dead’s booking agent and then the band’s manager until 1981.
In 1966 I lived over in Marin on a houseboat and on the houseboat next to me was the Quicksilver Messenger Service. They were playing at the Fillmore and the opening band was the Grateful Dead. One of the pieces of equipment broke during the set—I think it was Phil [Lesh]’s bass amp—and so it was one of those “Is there a doctor in the house?” kind of things. So I got up on stage and fucked around a bit and somehow got it working. At the end of the set Jerry thanked me for lending a hand; I made some comment about the sound and he immediately challenged me to get involved. I began going to their rehearsal sessions, and several weeks later there was another gig. Somebody gave me a bunch of pot and I sold it and I went to two of the sound rental agencies in the Bay Area and I rented all the stuff I could get. I turned it into this monstrosity soundsystem and it was a smashing success.
The Grateful Dead had the guts to back people who were trying to be frontierspeople within the industry. It used to be that the sound mixing equipment was to the side of the stage—well, you can’t be on the side of the stage and hear what’s going on in the audience. So I decided I wanted to be right out in the middle of the audience. Those are prime money-making seats. The reason I was able to pull it off was that Jerry Garcia said, “If Healy doesn’t get to mix where he wants to, then I ain’t playin.”
Dan Healy handled the Grateful Dead’s sound from 1966 until 1994.
The Grateful Dead were my first introduction into the more psychedelic realms of music, besides attending Jethro Tull/Procol Harum concerts with my parents as a child. Growing up in the suburbs [of Boston] in the ’90s you really had to look for mind-altering music. I have an older brother and when I was younger, he was in a jam band called Strawberry Hill—he got me into the Dead. I also thought it was very inspiring that Jerry lost a finger in a wood-chopping accident but still persevered to have one of the most inventive and recognizable right hand techniques of any guitar player I can think of. Any time people criticize me for playing a Takamine rather than something like a Martin, I always say, “Jerry Garcia played Takamines...so....”
Marissa Nadler is a singer and guitarist.
I was kind of naturally repulsed by the Dead for years because of the type of people the Deadheads were. I remember when the Grateful Dead came through Seattle, I had to walk where the show had happened and there were mountains of fucking garbage from what you imagine to be this rhetoric spouting batch of politically-minded hippies. So that didn’t help.
If we’re talking about Jerry Garcia, one of my favorite albums is the thing he did with [David] Grisman, Shady Grove. I really like the old timey feel. It’s actually kind of creepy. There’s a song about using some dead girl’s hair to make a fucking violin bow. It’s so fucking dark. Then there’s this song “Whiskey In a Jar” that just sounds like this old pub song about getting arrested and fucking breaking out, you know? As time went on I just got over the fact that you can’t blame a band for their fans.
Isaac Brock is the lead-singer and guitarist in Modest Mouse.
I moved to Baltimore when I was around 14, and the first person I met was Dave [Portner, aka Avey Tare] from Animal Collective. I was wearing a Grateful Dead shirt and somebody introduced us, like, “Oh you gotta be friends.” There was a guy that ran the cash register in the cafeteria and he also taught kindergarteners music. He was a big Deadhead and saw us wearing the shirts and eventually he was like, “I have tons of tapes—if you bring me blank cassettes and tell me what songs you like or what era you like, then I’ll just make you some tapes.” That’s basically how I learned about everything from the ’60s through the ’90s.
The Dead are a constant to me, I listen to them at least once every couple weeks. But there was a period after my initial infatuation up until I was 15—that’s when Dave and I discovered Pavement. We found it funny that you always hear so many indie rock kids putting down the kids that listened to the Dead or Phish when there was a really intense Pavement community that felt similar to the Dead’s community. That was when the internet first started and people would trade live Pavement tapes online. And Pavement would come through town and we would try to see a string of shows, as many as we could.
In college when we started doing Animal Collective more seriously, we all got back into the Dead. I think our whole idea of not playing song, song, song and stopping between them—keeping our music continuous—definitely comes from the Dead, at least in spirit. So that mixed with our love of electronica and DJ music. It was never talked about consciously, but later on we realized that we were taking this idea that the Dead had come up with and approaching it more like DJs, like cross-fading songs.
There’s also the parking lot. I try and say this to Animal Collective fans. In the indie world or whatever, there is a lot of pretension and exclusion in the attitude, like, “This band and this music are mine, and I have no interest in anyone else being part of it.” I’ve never been into that. At Dead concerts, these old hippies would be like, “Oh is this your first show? Welcome to the party! Congratulations, that’s great!” One day I hope that an Animal Collective show will feel like the parking lot at a Grateful Dead show, just an overwhelming sense of fun and community.
Brian Weitz, aka Geologist, handles the electronics in the band Animal Collective.
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The Meat Puppets got into punk rock, but we liked the Grateful Dead. We didn’t want to sound like the Dead, but we definitely wanted to play at parties where people were getting high. I used to go see them a lot. I got the idea that they were the lucky ones, getting to do what they wanted to. We thought punk rock was the new psychedelia. We were really idealistic about it before we started doing gigs.
Growing up, I didn’t know anybody who was into them. I met some people from Long Island who were down in Tucson who were really into them and they said, “You should check out this record, [Aoxomoxoa].” I was like, This is really fun. It was rare to get dumb, drool into a bucket kind of music. It seemed like they were playing backwards and inside-out and stuff and trying to evoke that Pavlovian drool element.
A lot of times when I would go to see them I would be kind of irritated. It could be a weird crowd sometimes, especially later. They got big with the frat boy scene, they started getting huge in the ’80s. Before, in Phoenix, there would probably be like 5000 people at a Grateful Dead show and it was these sick tripping people that you never saw otherwise. You didn’t even know they lived in Phoenix.
I was actually in Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love. My mom took me because I wanted to see the hippies. I was really young, probably six or seven, eight maybe. My parents had racehorses and during different seasons we went to different race tracks. The hippies looked to me like they were right out of The Lord of the Rings, but that was about as close to punk rock as you could get back then. I never thought punk rock was cool because it was aggressive. I thought it was supposed to be puckish, just mischievous. I mean criminals are aggressive and violent and bad. And Sandinistas and warrior rebels, they are societal changers. I never found Iron Maiden to be aggressive, I thought heavy was funny. I thought Black Flag was totally psychedelic. It all depends on what drugs you are on. With Garcia, whenever I read interviews with him he was always really cynical. He said hilarious things. He said the only palpable thing he ever came across was drugs. He was clearly not too impressed with mortality on an open level, which I thought was funny. It provided a human element to a lot of stuff that punk rock is. It’s folk music. What the Grateful Dead were doing, it was like, This is pagan ritual. You know like, Let’s drum up the devil and other spirits and whatnot.
Curt Kirkwood is the lead-vocalist and guitarist of the Meat Puppets, the visionary punk-psychedelic-country band formed in 1980.
I first met Jerry Garcia in San Francisco. We started a rapport of liking to play with each other and it just kept on growing until they got to the level of total freedom with their creativity and they used to call me and say, “We want you to come by and jam some.” It was mostly informal—just friendship and music. Their band to me was like a rhythm section because they didn’t have any horns, and they were more guitar than drums. So it was like
playing with a creative rhythm section.
Jerry played more like folk music. Folk players relate to sound like how people pray when they are religious. They don’t play really loud and they stay in the same key and move the idea a different way. It’s limited but it’s strong. With Jerry it was never about the key or the chords, it was only about the idea. That’s why I was drawn to play with him. He didn’t start with a key or a chord or nothing. He just started playing.
Ornette Coleman is one of the heavyweights of the saxophone.
The Grateful Dead are the reliable band. They are the sonic, aural equivalent to warm water. When you’ve taken anmanita muscaria or you’re just smoking a lot of weed or some psychotropic drug or some tool to get in a state that is maybe familiar, maybe unfamiliar to you, but outside of your typical, sober, conscious state, what do you need? Anything jagged, anything definitive, can be dangerous. It can be that thing that slips you over to a bad trip. The Dead, for example, sing [in “Box of Rain”], Look out any window/ Any morning, any evening, any day/ Maybe the sun is shining. Maybe… A lot of the lyrics are “maybe.” They give you choices. The sun might be shining, it might not. Things could be this way or they could be the other way. That’s what you want to hear. You don’t want it to be, “This is the way it is.” They give you these options and choices and it’s all a world of maybe. And the realm of maybe is what really makes a trip comforting. They are that comfort. Suddenly the water isn’t going to boil and it’s not going to turn ice cold, it’s going to stay warm.
Devendra Banhart is an LA-based singer/songwriter.
It was ’86, we were playing at New George’s in San Rafael and [Garcia] came to the show, him and Merl Saunders. It was his first night out after the diabetic coma. He got up and played and had a great time. I was drunk and I did a little Jerry impersonation, I had a little lick that I played to try and imitate him. He chuckled a little bit. That night Carlos Santana was there too, and we had one spare guitar. Jerry played for a while and then he would hand it over to Carlos and he’d play. They shared the guitar through the jams.
We did about 15 shows with the Dead and a few shows with the Garcia Band. We were at Giants Stadium in Jersey and they took their break and [crew member] Steve Parrish took me over to Jerry’s little cubicle. We talked about Buck Owens and steel guitar players. When I first met him, maybe I had enough liquor in me, I wasn’t nervous. When I talked to him sometimes I’d be like, This is Jerry Garcia right here, and get a little nervous about it.
David Hidalgo is a singer and guitarist in the band Los Lobos.
My first experiences with the Dead are from when I lived in Alabama. It’s one of those things where you figure out with your friends where you’re gonna smoke your herb and drink that keg, and for us it was always haulin it out in the woods. One of the main organizers for those things had a little VW bus with Deadhead stickers and he would put in the Dead and start singin. His whole body would rise up out of the seat, and I was like, Wow man! This guy’s layin into it! But when I listen to the Dead it really doesn’t get past where Pigpen stopped [in ’72]. I’m a Pigpen man, you know what I mean? I think during that time the sound was real gritty and below the belt. A little bit more roots, a little less jazz.
Another thing is that the culture around the Dead wasn’t a hippie culture, it was a working class culture. To me, the hippie culture itself didn’t live past the ’60s. But what did keep going was the quest for freedom and the reclamation of how we gather, and the Dead provided for that in a way that nobody else could. Working class folks can’t afford to do the things other people do, so when the Dead would come to your town, you’d get off work and you didn’t even have to have enough money for a ticket. You would be welcomed into the parking lot and probably have just as good of a time. They’d have buses with generators hooked up to ’em and bands playin in the lot. Where is working class America gonna come together and reclaim that culture now? At the mall?
I don’t even know.
When I first moved to Humboldt County, California in ’95, the parking lot scene around Phish was fading out and a lot of folks showed up and were selling their crafts and going to the park, making food and having drum circles. That still goes on to some degree, but those people have their own language and I don’t think it’s around anymore. I think that’s a shame. When I was there I could hear over the two community radio stations not only the music, but also the impassioned dialogue. One of the things I heard often was, “What’s your religion?” “Well my religion is the Grateful Dead.”
Think about the endurance of that band as far as a public forum that provided an area for people to come together. I don’t know if anybody’s going to be able to repeat that with the purity and also just the sheer outlaw vibe. We were in Denver a couple weeks ago smoking pot outside the place we were playing, and I couldn’t help but notice that everybody in our circle was looking over their shoulder.
Nabob plays guitar and sings in the band Brightblack Morning Light with his bandmate Rabob.
Where I grew up in Athens, the Grateful Dead were this very bourgeois thing. It was the frat boys and sorority girls. I was into the Ramones and punk rock. Later, when all the kids at my school were freaking out on Phish, I was freaking out on Stereolab and Sonic Youth. But if you think about it, all those bands kind of come from the same place. It got to the point where one of my friends forced me to listen to American Beauty. I was a voracious researcher and cross-referencer, and I found these books that said that the Dead would reference Stockhausen. And the drummer Mickey Hart was always referencing these African percussion things, and I was super into that kind of music in high school. So I began to see that it was not that hard to connect the dots between the Grateful Dead and these bands that I was into.
I was born in 1982. I don’t have it inherently in me to understand the context of the Grateful Dead’s music and how incredibly out it was. Because I grew up thinking of Sonic Youth as classic rock. Velvet Underground the same way. Those bands had noisy stuff, but I grew up in a context where noisy stuff was domesticated. So the context of the Dead is a little bit more impenetrable. The fact is that they were trying to do the same thing that we’re trying to do. They were trying to put you in a certain headspace. They were trying to create mindfuck records.
Bradford Cox is a guitarist and vocalist in the Atlanta-based band Deerhunter.
I first spent time with the Grateful Dead when I was head of Columbia Records. They were leaving Warner Brothers and seeing what their options were. They were frustrated with the discrepancy between their record sales and their ticket sales and were talking about setting up their own distribution system and really going into the neighborhoods, selling albums out of Good Humor ice cream trucks. They were also concerned with the purity of the vinyl that their albums were printed on. I told them that I thought that they were approaching things naively, that they ran the risk of credit problems and that they weren’t considering the promotion and marketing that a label does on their behalf. They did eventually start their own company and try their ideas on.
Two or three years after I started Arista, I got a call from [their lawyer] Hal Kent. The band was looking for a label. He said that I was the only one who had spoken to them straight, and they were impressed to the core by that. Getting the endorsement from Jerry and the band was very meaningful. They could have said, “Who’s on your roster?” But instead they had personal faith in me, and to a brand new company that meant a lot.
Other than asking if they would work with outside producers once or twice, I left the creative ideas to them. I would explain that if they somehow lucked into a single, it would have a dramatic impact on sales. I said, “You can like it or not, but if you want to sell more records that’s what you need.” When we had the hit “Touch of Grey,” they were very pleased. At the platinum presentation ceremony they were very, very happy.
Clive Davis founded Arista Records, which released the Grateful Dead’s records beginning with 1977’s Terrapin Station. In 2000, Davis founded J Records. He is also currently the President of both RCA and BMG North America.
I remember this hippie girl that I sat beside in social studies or history class in high school. She always stunk like campfire and patchouli and weed and she dropped out of school in grade nine to follow the Dead around. I was super anti-hippie when I was in high school. I was into punk and indie rock. When I was 19 or 20, I was dating this girl and her roommate was this flakey sort of hippie raver. I remember her putting American Beauty on when we were smoking weed and thinking, “Man, this is the Grateful Dead? This is actually pretty good.” She gave me the CD or I went out and got it the next day, and then basically from there I got all the albums.
It seems like Jerry Garcia is almost like a cartoon to people, especially the Deadheads. He was a real dude and he was a dark guy. I think people should have more respect for him. Whether you love it or hate it, they are the only band that did what they did. [Wendy Weir] wrote this book, In the Spirit, and it was her having psychic conversations with Jerry Garcia from beyond the grave. It was all this hippie spirituality, worshiping Jerry like the Deadhead god. That’s stupid because he was just a dude and a really great guitar player. He had a great voice.
Duffy Driediger is the lead-singer and a rhythm guitarist in the band Ladyhawk.
Growing up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, things like partying and smoking weed are omnipresent. With those two things, at least when I was growing up in the late ’80s, the Dead were a huge part of the experience. Just by osmosis you knew ten to 15 Dead songs, even if you didn’t care. Even if you actually actively didn’t like them, you knew “Fire on the Mountain” and “Friend of the Devil” and “Truckin’.” As I got older, like with most things classic rock oriented, the Dead certainly became something I revisited and enjoyed a ton. I think the idea that is really exciting, after getting burned out on punk rock and indie rock, is that they went up there with only a loose plan. It’s really kind of brave compared to most bands who try to recreate the record as best as they can. When I listen to them now I realize they had this idea that to be great some nights, you had to suck other nights. I think that’s really cool.
Craig Finn is the lead-singer and rhythm guitarist in the Hold Steady.
The first time I heard the Dead was when I was watching the Antonioni film Zabriskie Point, and “Dark Star” is on there—it’s an epic recording. With the Dead you can hear American roots music all over the place and their jamming is also special, but it’s his guitar playing, really. That’s the thing. It never stops for him—it just goes on and on. What strikes me is that he’s dealing with the electric guitar as though it’s an acoustic guitar. He’s sort of using the acoustics of the actual body of the guitar with the way he hits the strings. If you hit the strings pretty hard you get the guitar singing, you know? So it’s a very vibrant sound, and his sense of melody is amazing—he’s like a gypsy guitar player. He’s like a Mexican gypsy guitar player in a way.
Reine Fiske is the guitarist in the Swedish rock band Dungen.
Garcia was playing in Palo Alto at a club called the Tangent on University Avenue. I would go there by myself. He had the jug band—Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions—and he was playing banjo in that. Bob Weir was playing guitar and Pigpen was playing washtub bass and I think [Robert] Hunter was playing something too, probably guitar. I sat there in the audience and I said, Man, I would follow this guy anywhere. And then not very long after that I got a phone call and it was him or Bobby and they said, “Do you want to play drums? We’re switching to electric.” I was always into rock music, but it was a switch for those guys. It was after Dylan changed and went electric. I was a drummer in Palo Alto. I just played with every band that I could get my hands on—when you first start you say yes to everything.
Early on, before it became impossible, [Garcia] would help people that were ODing on psychedelics. He would sit down and take the time to talk to them. Then it became, Holy shit there are not enough hours in the day to do that. That’s probably where that reputation got started, him being a guru or father figure or whatever. He was a really gentle, neat guy. He had the most loving eyes. He would look at you and you would feel nothing but love.
The reason I moved over here [to Hawaii] is that he and I had a pact that when the band stopped playing—when there was no more Grateful Dead—we would both buy places over here. I just kept the promise. The bands after he left, like the Other Ones, just weren’t the same. Great players, but they never did the songs quite like he did them.
I was living in Mendocino when my girlfriend called and said he died and I flipped. I went into shock. I knew he was trying to go clean at the Betty Ford Center, and he came back and something happened. When you do stuff like that to your body, all your organs get weak. His body was ready to go, doggonit. He had kicked a few other times. One time he had kicked and we were playing a show at the Shoreline Amphitheatre near Palo Alto, and he was really wired and it was like razorblades on your backbone. He played so great. He leaned over and said, “Billy, I’m so nervous.” And I was like, “You are playing your fucking ass off, shut up.” I was hoping he would stay like that, but unfortunately that drug pulls too strong.
I think if he had gotten himself clean again he probably would have stopped playing in the Grateful Dead because I don’t think he really liked the Grateful Dead at the end there. That’s my honest feeling. I think he was doing it for money, I didn’t feel he was doing it for the fun anymore, I don’t think any of us were. I think the last five years in that band were kind of wasted. You can’t capture the magic in a box, even if there weren’t drug problems with any of the band members and everybody was perfect. The art kind of leaves. The muse kind of pulls its energy out. My feeling was that he was always going to play with another band.
Bill Kreutzmann joined the Grateful Dead in their original incarnation as the Warlocks in 1964 and was a member of the Dead until the end in 1995. He also played drums on Jerry Garcia’s first solo album Garcia in 1972.