It seems somewhat strange to me how the Grateful Dead achieved fame and longevity and amassed one of the most dedicated fan base (the Deadheads) in the history of music despite having only one real hit – 1987’s “Touch of Grey” – and receiving very little radio play, especially on the AM band where musical careers were made back in their heyday. As any Deadhead would tell you, the Dead’s music covered a vast array of genres. Lenny Kaye, guitarist for the Patti Smith Group, said: “Their music touches on ground that most other groups don’t even know exists.”
Jerry Garcia, the group’s guitarist, is – to this day – often referred to as the Dead’s leader, though that was never really the case. The Grateful Dead were a true democracy, a musical commune and Jerry frequently stood back from the front of the stage when they performed, but he did not stand back from the attention and adoration of music lover of all kinds.
There is no question that Jerry was an amazing musician who deserves to be recognized not just as a guitarist but also as a more-than-competent player of many instruments, including mandolin, banjo, pedal steel, harmonica and whatever other instrument he was intrigued by.
A Versatile Musician
As an immensely talented musician, Jerry played with skill and passion even in the early days of the Dead. Raunchy rock’n’roll, inspired guitar psychedelia, blues, country, folk, jazz and “old-timey” music were all rendered beautifully. His soloing was always a treat and often mesmerizing, built around the song’s melody with particular attention to phrasing.
The Dead will go down in history for many reasons, one of which is that they were one of the first “jam bands”, taking songs into lengthy and uncharted territory on stage, frequently including extended, meandering guitar solos from Jerry.
Different Bands Jerry Played In
Any guitarist, or for that matter, any musician in general can learn from Jerry Garcia’s music. The tremendous variety of genres to which he contributed is evidenced by the over one hundred albums he played on as a member of the Grateful Dead, New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Jerry Garcia Band, the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, Old and In The Way, as session musician for dozens of other artists and in solo recordings under his own name.
His Favorite Guitar
As is probably the case with any professional guitarist, Jerry owned and played many guitars, but the one he is most often associated with was his bespoke Tiger. This heavy, 13.5 pound beauty is to my eyes, one of the sexiest guitars ever and was custom built for Jerry by Doug Irwin, who had also built previous guitars, such as Wolf and Eagle, for Jerry.
As with a lot of Jerry Garcia’s guitars, Tiger was loaded with electronics and featured easily removable DiMarzio pickups because Jerry felt their output weakened after a couple years. Tiger was almost exclusively Jerry’s choice of electric guitar for live performances from 1979 to 1990.