Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead

Topics: Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan Pages: 5 (1772 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead

Jerome John Garcia was born in 1942, in San Francisco's Mission District. His father, a spanish immigrant named Jose "Joe" Garcia, had been a jazz clarinetist and Dixieland bandleader in the thirties, and he named his new son after his favorite Broadway composer, Jerome Kern. In the spring of 1948, while on a fishing trip, Garcia saw his father swept to his death by a California river.

After his father's death, Garcia spent a few years living with his mother's parents, in one of San Francisco's working-class districts. His grandmother had the habit of listening to Nashville's Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts on Saturday nights, and it was in those hours, Garcia would later say, that he developed his fondness for country-music forms-particularly the deft , blues-inflected mandolin playing and mournful, high-lonesome vocal style of Bill Monroe, the principal founder of bluegrass. When Garcia was ten, his mother, Ruth, brought him to live with her at a sailor's hotel and bar that she ran near the city's waterfront. He spent much of his time there listening to the drunks', fanciful stories; or sitting alone reading Disney and horror comics and pouring through science-fiction novels.

When Garcia was fifteen, his older brother Tiff - who years earlier had accidentally chopped off Jerry's right-hand middle finger while the two were chopping wood - introduced him to early rock & roll and rhythm & blues music. Garcia was quickly drawn to the music's funky rhythms and wild textures, but what attracted him the most were the sounds that came from the guitar; especially the bluesy "melifluousness" of players such as; T-bone Walker and Chuck Berry. It was something he said that he had never heard before. Garcia wanted to learn how to make those same sounds he went straight to his mother and told her that he wanted an electric guitar for his next birthday.

During this same period, the beat period was going into full swing in the Bay Area, and it held great predominance at the North Beach arts school where Garcia attended and at the city's coffeehouses, where he had heard poets like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Kenneth Rexroth read their best works.

By the early Sixties, Garcia was living in Palo Alto, California, hanging out and playing in the folk-music clubs around Stanford University. He was also working part-time at Dana Morgan's Music Store, where he met several of the musicians who would eventually dominate the San Francisco music scene. In 1963 Garcia formed a jug band, Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions. Its lineup included a young folk guitarist named Bob Weir and a blues lover, Ron McKernan, known to his friends as "Pigpen" for his often disorderly appearance. The group played a mix of blues, country, and folk, and Pigpen became the frontman, singing Jimmy Reed and Lightnin' Hopkins tunes.

Then in February 1964, the Beatles made their historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and virtually overnight, youth culture was imbued with a new spirit and sense of identity. Gracia understood the group's promise after seeing its first film, A Hard Day's Night.

As a result, the folky purism of Mother McCree's all-acoustic form began to seem rather limited and uninteresting to Garcia and many of the other band members, and before long the ensemble was transformed into the Warlocks. A few dropped out, but they were soon joined by two more; Bill Kreutzmann, and Phil Lesh.

It was around this time that Garcia and some of the group's other members also began an experiment with drugs that would change the nature of the band's story. Certainly this wasn't the first time drugs had been used in music for artistic expression or had found their way into an American cultural movement. Many jazz and blues artists had been smoking marijuana and using various narcotics to intensify their music making for several decades, and in the Fifties the Beats had extolled marijuana as...
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