Jerry Garcia: Cultural and Musical Icon

Written by on September 3, 2015

jerry garcia

Guitarist and Songwriter: Jerry Garcia

Jerry Garcia was known as Captain Trips for his prototypical psychedelic persona and Uncle Jerry for his amiable onstage demeanor. His stinging, lyrical guitar sound was utterly distinctive, and his delicate, mournful, rough-around-the-edges vocals helped define the psychedelic music of 1960’s San Francisco. He was a cultural and musical icon, his ethos and improvisatory style emulated and expanded on by generations of followers.

Jerry was born in San Francisco on August 1, 1942, of Spanish, Irish and Swedish descent. The younger Garcia began playing piano early on, even though at age four he lost his right middle finger. He first heard the folk and country music of the Grand Ole Opry, and began playing the banjo. By the 1950s, his brother introduced him to the blues and rock & roll genres of music. At 15 he began attending art classes at the San Francisco Art Institute and by high school, Garcia’s family had moved to Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, where he formed his first band, the Chords. By 1960 Garcia was getting in trouble and joined the Army, relocating him back to San Francisco. In 1964 Garcia tried the new drug L.S.D. for the first time and it changed his life. He has said it made him feel freer to live outside a conventional lifestyle; musically, he began improvising beyond the constrictions of the basic folk-song formula.

With the Dead, Garcia continued experimenting with extended guitar improvisation, but he also was an eclectic multi-instrumentalist who performed with numerous side projects and assisted other artists throughout the Dead’s three-decade career. He was listed as a “spiritual adviser” on Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 psychedelic-pop breakthrough Surrealistic Pillow, and in 1969 he co-founded the country-rock band New Riders of the Purple Sage, playing pedal-steel guitar on the group’s debut album of 1971. During the Dead’s acoustic period, Garcia also played pedal-steel on “Teach Your Children,” from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1970’s album Déjà Vu. Garcia’s second solo album marked the beginning of the Jerry Garcia Band, with which sometimes Saunders and various members of the Grateful Dead would release a succession of albums on various labels throughout the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties. In 1986 Garcia fell into a five-day diabetic coma and was forced to relearn the guitar. He remained relatively healthy for about two years but relapsed on heroin in 1989, again attempting treatment. Within a year Garcia was in full-blown addiction, and in July of 1995 checked into the Betty Ford Center and then the Serenity Knolls treatment center. While there, on August 9, Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack; his legions of fans held memorial events all over the world.

His funeral was attended by members of the Grateful Dead and numerous celebrities. Garcia was cremated and parts of his ashes were sprinkled into the Ganges River in India and the other part in the San Francisco Bay. To hear his awesome music and many others, tune into Deep live stream for tremendous music of today!

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