I don’t go onstage with some kind of messianic vision or anything. I’m basically going out there hoping my guitar is in tune.
– Jerry Garcia
Guitarist and songwriter, Jerry Garcia was the front man for the psychedelic rock band the Grateful Dead. He also worked on a number of collaborations and solo albums. He is well known for his distinctive guitar playing, and for his band’s “Deadheads,” fans who followed the band from concert to concert. Garcia struggled heavily with heroin addiction, and in 1995 died of a heart attack.
Jerry first picked up a guitar when he was 15 years old. He played in bands in high school, but dropped out of school two years later. At the age of 18, he moved to Palo Alto, where he began playing in clubs and bookstores. This is where he first met many of the people he would work with throughout the rest of his career, including aspiring poet Robert Hunter, who became his songwriting partner. Garcia’s partnership with Hunter led to many memorable songs, including the Grateful Dead’s only top 10 hit, “Touch of Grey.”
In 1964, Garcia began playing in a jug band called Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. A year later, the band started using electric instruments and became a rock and roll band named the Warlocks. By December 1965, the band had officially renamed itself the Grateful Dead. The band evolved from being blues-oriented to psychedelic/experimental to adding country and folk influences, but Garcia’s distinctive guitar playing always remained front-and-center. During his 30 years with the Dead, Garcia also worked on a variety of side projects with other musicians and released several solo albums.
Garcia was always known for his love of psychedelic drugs, but by the mid-1980s he had moved on to harder drugs, including cocaine and heroin. His drug use, combined with his smoking and other unhealthy habits, lead to a physical decline that culminated in a diabetic coma in 1986 that lasted nearly 3 days. After being hospitalized for exhaustion in 1991, Garica tried to make some healthy changes in his life. He quit smoking and hired a personal trainer to lose weight. However, he wasn’t able to beat his drug addiction. He was in a drug rehab center for his heroin addiction when he died of a heart attack on August 9, 1995 at the age of 53.
During his life, Jerry Garcia was known as one of the most unique and influential guitar players in rock and roll. He was ranked 13th in Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. He was also viewed as an icon of the hippie movement of the 1960s, the counterculture fueled by psychedelic drugs and rock and roll that the Grateful Dead came to embody.