Before Jerry Garcia forever influenced countercultural movements and their soundtracks, he fought his way out of his mother's womb on August 1, 1942 in San Francisco. Born, Jerome John Garcia—in tribute to the show tune composer Jerome Kern—Jerry Garcia was destined for a career in music. As the stories of musicians often go, Jerry Garcia battled many setbacks: The untimely deaths of his parents, a debilitating addiction to heroin, and, later in life, diabetes that nearly took his life in 1986. But Jerry Garcia kept on truckin' until his premature death at the age of 53 on August 9, 1995.
Music and drugs are often inextricably linked and such is the case in the story of Jerry Garcia. In the 1950s, two events orchestrated what would later become Jerry Garcia's involvement with music and countercultural movements: His introduction to rock 'n' roll in 1953 and his introduction to marijuana in 1957. It was in 1953 when Jerry's brother, Clifford Garcia, introduced him to rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues with the likes of Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Hank Ballard, and, soon enough, Chuck Berry. The two brothers often attempted to recreate these artists' tracks, with Clifford as vocalist and Jerry as harmonizer. Jerry Garcia later attributed his ear training to these sessions with his brother. Jerry's first encounter with marijuana happened as he began to bud as a young artist. He was enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute, taking a class in the visual arts, when he had his first taste of narcotics. In terms of his art, while a number of his illustrations, lithographs, and water colors were auctioned and sold during his lifetime, some of his abstract patterns and bright-colored designs now decorate a line of ties, offered by Mulberry Neckwear, and sell under the designer name J. Garcia.
Aside from balancing an interest in art with a demanding schedule for the Grateful Dead—in their three-decade career they played 2,314 shows, coining the term "endless tour"—Garcia worked prolifically on solo and side projects. Garcia got his first break in 1962 when he landed "'The Long Black Veil' and Other Ballads: An Evening with Jerry Garcia," the 90-minute special on radio station KPFA. The radio special showcased his tunes taken off a Wollensak tape recorder and made during a collaborative project with Phil Lesh, who would become the bassist for the Grateful Dead. Jerry Garcia played an active role in the San Francisco bluegrass, old-time, and folk music revival during the early '60s. He jammed with the bluegrass act, Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers and folk band, Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions—the latter transformed into the Warlocks, which became the Grateful Dead. The Jerry Garcia Band also played simultaneously throughout Garcia's career in the Grateful Dead. He composed the music for the Jerry Garcia Band as well as most of the songs for the Grateful Dead, including "Uncle John's Band," "Truckin'," "Alabama Getaway," and "Touch of Grey," four of their six singles that made Billboard's 100, in addition to his own single, "Sugaree."
While Jerry Garcia pioneered electric rock with the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band, his influence extends from rock 'n' roll music to rock 'n' roll artists. Many musicians have sought Garcia's guidance, like Jefferson Airplane, Tom Fogerty, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, David Bromberg, Robert Hunter, Paul Pena, Peter Rowan, Warren Zevon, Country Joe McDonald, Ken Nordine, Ornette Coleman, Bruce Hornsby, and Bob Dylan.
Jerry Garcia may have died young, but his music will outlive many of his contemporaries. One of his contemporaries, guitarist Henry Kaiser, says, Garcia "is the most recorded guitarist in history. With more than 2,200 Grateful Dead concerts, and 1,000 Jerry Garcia Band concerts captured on tape—as well as numerous studio sessions—there are about 15,000 hours of his guitar work preserved for the ages."
Read more about Jerry Garcia in Crawdaddy!:
"Are You Grateful for the Dead?"
"Classic Vantage: The Golden Road: A Report on San Francisco"