Garcia, Jerome John ("Jerry")
Garcia, Jerome John ("Jerry")
GARCIA, Jerome John ("Jerry")
Garcia was the son of Jose Ramon Garcia, a musician, bandleader, and businessman of Spanish descent, and Ruth Marie Clifford, a registered nurse. Raised in a musical family, Garcia began playing piano as a child. As a teenager he was first given an accordion, which he disliked; he was later given a guitar and taught the basics of playing by his uncle. In 1947, at the age of five, two incidents occurred that would affect Garcia's life. While cutting wood together, Garcia's older brother, Tiff, accidentally chopped off the tip of Garcia's right middle finger. Later the same year, while fishing on the Trinity River in northern California, Garcia's father slipped on a rock and was carried under the rapids and drowned, reportedly while Garcia stood on the bank watching. Garcia said the death of his father left him emotionally crippled for years. Garcia and his brother went to live at the home of their grandparents, Pop and Tillie Clifford, while their mother assumed the operation of her husband's bar in downtown San Francisco to support the family.
Garcia was a quick-witted student who attended various middle and high schools in the San Francisco area but often skipped class to hang out with his friends. In 1957, at the age of fifteen, in what was a defining moment in his life, Garcia's mother bought him his first guitar from a pawnshop. Garcia was thrilled with the guitar and with the idea of playing rock and roll music, which he had heard on the radio, collected on records, and seen played in movies by early rock musicians such as Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, and Chuck Berry. Garcia also developed a deep interest in folk and bluegrass music. In addition, other popular musical acts of the early 1960s, especially the Beatles and Bob Dylan, inspired Garcia to want to be a musician.
In 1959, at the age of seventeen, tired of school and of being idle, Garcia joined the army. He did his basic training at Fort Ord near Monterey, California. After basic training he was stationed at Fort Winfield Scott in San Francisco's Presidio. However, by the middle of October 1960, Garcia was honorably discharged from the army because of his inability to adapt to military life.
Out of the army and free to pursue his artistic interests full-time, Garcia moved to Palo Alto, California, and began to practice the guitar and banjo seriously and to play in public with his friends whenever he could, especially with Robert Hunter, who became Garcia's lifelong songwriting collaborator. Garcia was fascinated with the burgeoning musical and cultural activities taking place in San Francisco in the early 1960s, particularly the poetry and experimental jazz of the Beats, as well as with the social, political, and artistic ideas circulating around the campuses of Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley.
In 1963 Garcia married Sara Ruppenthal, whom he met in the Palo Alto arts and music scene. A daughter was born in 1964, but the couple divorced three years later. Garcia married three more times in his life and fathered three more daughters: two with Carolyn "Mountain Girl" Adams and one with Manasha Matheson. Garcia married Deborah Koons, a filmmaker, in 1994.
While living in the Palo Alto area between 1961 and 1964, Garcia played mostly folk, blues, and bluegrass styles in small clubs and coffeehouses, appearing in a number of groups including Bob and Jerry (with Hunter), the Asphalt Jungle Boys, the Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers, the Wild-wood Boys, and Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. This final band was an acoustic jug combo; the group later gave birth to the Warlocks, the predecessor band to the Grateful Dead.
In 1965 the Warlocks formed, and were the first band to feature Garcia and all of the members of the Grateful Dead playing together. The Warlocks were more interested in playing electric music than the acoustic music favored by Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. The War-locks' first performances were in standard nightclubs and bars, but soon they were invited to play their trademark loud improvisational sets at local gatherings known as the "Acid Tests." The Acid Tests were primarily multimedia events sponsored by the Merry Pranksters, an antiauthoritarian group of artists and rogues headed by the novelist Ken Kesey, who organized the gatherings, the history of which is chronicled in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968). The Acid Tests typically involved the attendees taking the psychotropic drug LSD and participating in free-form dancing, film and light shows, and other activities while the Grateful Dead provided the musical soundtrack.
Although other influential 1960s San Francisco bands, such as Jefferson Airplane and the Lovin' Spoonful, preceded the Grateful Dead in popularity and record sales, the Dead became the band most identified with the colorful 1960s San Francisco youth movement, which eventually evolved into the larger nationwide hippie movement. The band members lived communally in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco from 1965 to 1969, played many free concerts on the streets and in the parks, and were known for their magical and mesmerizing live performances.
The Grateful Dead recorded their first record, The Grateful Dead, in 1967, but sales outside of California were slow. However, by 1970 they had recorded five extraordinary albums—Anthem in the Sun (1968), Aoxomoxoa (1969), and Live Dead, Workingman's Dead, and American Beauty (all 1970)—and in 1971 had their first million-seller with the live album Grateful Dead. The band continued to grow in national popularity and reputation, at the center of which was Garcia's original guitar playing, songwriting, and distinctive voice. Throughout the 1960s the band toured ceaselessly and played to larger and larger audiences, especially at music festivals such as the Newport Pop Festival and Woodstock. The Grateful Dead's loyal fans, known as Deadheads, often followed the band from concert to concert in carnival fashion.
Garcia, who had problems throughout his life with various addictions, died in his sleep at a drug treatment center at the age of fifty-three. His body was cremated and the ashes scattered both in the Ganges River and beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Garcia's musical career with the Grateful Dead, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, defined and illuminated the 1960s ideals held by young people growing up in that era. Garcia is a major figure in the history of rock and roll music not only because of his fluid guitar playing, soulful voice, and songwriting abilities with the Grateful Dead, but, more importantly, because he embodied for the 1960s generation, as well as for later generations, the spirit of openness, experimentation, and authenticity that characterized the 1960s.
Biographies of Garcia include Sandy Troy, Captain Trips: A Biography of Jerry Garcia (1994); Robert Greenfield, Dark Star: An Oral Biography of Jerry Garcia (1996); and Blair Jackson, Garcia: An American Life (1999). Collections of interviews include Charles Reich and Jann Wenner, Garcia: A Signpost to New Space (1972); and David Gans, Conversations with the Dead: The Grateful Dead Interview Book (1991), and Not Fade Away: The Online World Remembers Jerry Garcia (1996). An obituary is in the New York Times (10 Aug. 1995).