Jerry Garcia, one of rock music’s greatest musicians and composers, was born on August 1, 1942. He singlehandedly reshaped Americana, innovatively creating a new brand of music that imaginatively wove together aspects of country, bluegrass, blues, jazz and rock. His gentle spirit resulted in music that conveyed an overwhelming air of optimism and celebration which was magically passed on to his adoring worldwide audiences through the years. Best known as the mastermind behind the monumental Grateful Dead, he joined forces with Robert Hunter to create songs that have left an indelible imprint on American music history.
Born in San Francisco to a Galician (Spain) father and Irish, Swedish mother who were both musicians, he began taking piano lessons at a very early age. At the age of four, while on vacation, his brother Tiff accidentally cut off two thirds of Garcia’s right middle finger. That misfortune proved to become a blessing as it was instrumental in shaping Garcia’s distinctively unique approach to playing the guitar. Garcia commented on the individuality of his style and his ability to work around his handicap in a Guitar Player Magazine interview many years ago, “Most guitar players, I’ve noticed, seem to use a flat fingering. I’ve somehow trained myself to come straight down on top of the string. I play mostly on the tips of my fingers, so the high action doesn’t get in my way at all. Early on, I was lucky enough to have someone point out the usefulness of that [fourth] finger. As a result, it’s one of my stronger fingers, and I prefer to use it even more than my ring finger. That’s always made me different from most rock guitarists that I know….I think in rock and roll, a lot of guitar players favor something that lets them use the ring finger for greater articulation and vibrato effects. For me, I’ve got to be able to do it with every finger. I find it ridiculous to have to close all my ideas on my ring finger just so I can get a vibrato. That eliminates a lot of possibilities automatically. I have about four or five different families of vibrato. Some of them are unsupported – that is to say, nothing is touching the guitar but my finger on the string. Other methods are supported, and I just move a finger for the sound. Sometimes I also use wrist motion, and other times I’ll move my whole arm. I also use horizontal and lateral motion for different sound and speed.”
His relentless inner creative spirit and dedicated love for all American forms of music were wonderfully reflected in the extraordinarily inventive and personal style he passionately and carefully cultivated. His unique approach created new boundaries for rock music, presenting a new musical language, birdlike, chirping with enthusiasm, spilling out leadlines that had never been heard before. With The Dead he established far more than a following. He forged a musical culture that stood for celebration, the love of music and a brother/sisterhood that to this very day has never been recreated by any other band. There wasn’t a town existing in which Garcia couldn’t find a heart and while his trip may have been long and strange it stands as a beautiful dream that only served to enhance positive spirit in the world. “Nothing to do but smile.” Happy Birthday Jerry!!
This video features the Jerry Garcia Band performing “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” live at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco, CA 4-23-93.