History Of The Grateful Dead Throughout the years The Grateful Dead was forced to overcome many obstacles to arrive at the point in which they are today. In San Francisco, on August 1, 1942, Jerome John Garcia was born. This marked the beginning of a long strange trip (Mokrzycki 4) Jose Garcia, Jerome’s father named his son after his favorite Broadway musical composer, Jerome Kern. Tired of the name Jerome, Jose and his family began to call him Jerry. Garcia was surrounded by music as a child.
His father would play him to sleep at night, the clarinet’s lovely melodies echoing in Jerry’s dreams. His mother listened to opera and his maternal grandmother loved country music. Family gatherings tended to be musical, too, for his father’s side of the family would gather round and sing songs together. (Troy 3) Young Jerry and his family took a trip to the Santa Cruz Mountains in California, when he was four, he and his brother who he called “Tiff” were given the job of splitting firewood for the family that night. Horsing around, Jerry and “Tiff” were teasing each other while chopping the firewood. Jerry accidently placed his hand in the way of the axe, lost half of his middle finger on his right hand. “He screamed. I screamed.
We both screamed. It was an accident. I didn’t do it maliciously. I was a kid. I was eight and Jerry was four.
We were little guys” ( Greenfield 5). Missing half a finger, Jerry had to press through life learning different types of instruments. He used his disability to his advantage by striving harder. A year after the loss of Jerry’s finger, tragedy struck the Garcias’ again. Fly fishing in a river when the current was too strong to be wading in, Jose Garcia suddenly lost his footing and was swept away by the raging current.
Fortunately Jerry did not witness his father’s death, he only heard the stories that his family members told him. This tragedy took Jerry and his pp 2 family much longer to overcome. After his father’s death Garcia’s life changed forever. Moving in with his grandmother who had a strong passion for country music gave Jerry a huge influence for that style of music. Living with his grandmother, Garcia was beginning to admire country and folk music more and more.
Turning fifteen, Jerry got turned on to marijuana. “Me and a friend went up into the hills with two joints, and just got so high, laughed and roared and went skipping down the streets doing funny things and just having a helluva time”, said Garcia. ( Troy 11) Garcia’s moving in with his Grandmother had given him too much freedom for a child his age. Garcia took full advantage of his grandmother’s permissive ways, by skipping school and staying out late. The San Francisco Beatnik era can trace its beginnings to the literary parties that the radical poet Kenneth Rexroth had been throwing in San Francisco since the 1940’s. After school, Jerry and a buddy would walk into the city and explore the whole beatnik scene.
“I was going to art classes on Saturdays and some summer sessions. This is when the beatniks were happening in San Francisco, so I was in that culture, I was a high school kid and a wannabe Beatnik”(Troy 14). Engaging in the Beatnik counter culture gave Garcia a feeling of togetherness and an outlet for his individuality and creativity. Jerry witnessed his first live performance of a rock’n roll concert, at a place called Studio 13, the musicians performed some type of early jazz. Jerry watched intently and was wondering if he could do what they were doing. Jerry would play rock’n roll on his mother’s piano and sing with his brother “Tiff”. Surprisingly, on his fifteenth birthday, his mother bought him an accordion. Acting ungrateful towards his mother, he told his mom he really wished for an electric guitar instead.
pp 3 Getting his wish, his mom went to the local pawn shop and bought him his first electric guitar. Jerry was in awe, he was beside himself with joy. His guitar was a Danelectro electric with a tiny Fender amplifier. His stepfather would tune it for him, and he ended up playing in a weird open tuning for about six months. Jerry taught himself how to play the guitar, after he learned a couple of things from his cousin Danny who knew some rhythm and blues. Garcia said, “I was fluid in a permissive way.. but the most important thing I learned was that it was ok to improvise: ‘Hey, man, you can make it up as you go along “( Troy 15).
That is why he is Jerry Garcia, because he had the ability to make it up as he went along. Dropping out of high school, Jerry decided that school was not for him. He just wanted to play his music and be with his friends. Deciding that his life was heading in the wrong direction, Jerry wanted to prove to his family that he could make something of himself ,doing so he enlisted in the United States Army. Treating the Army like school or a bum job Jerry would be late for everything, he would miss roll call and just screw off. Going “AWOL” (away without leave) eight times, which is a serious offense in the Army, gave Jerry a dishonorable discharge. Enlisting in the army actually benefitted Jerry to a degree, he met a couple of finger picking guitarists that enhanced his fascination with folk, bluegrass, and banjo music. After his discharge from the army, Jerry migrated to a San Francisco coffee house where the beatniks and musicians hung out.
The coffee house helped Jerry’s interest in music and art grow. Jerry opted not to have the American dream, a career, but he opted toward the beatnik dropout who failed to bow to authority or conform to society’s norms. Jerry was a Beatnik wannabe who shunned the conventional attitudes of his parents and pp 4 the conservatives of the 1950’s. Jerry decided not to go back and live with his mother, maybe it was the army or the food, but something had toughened him up. About that time Garcia’s appearance began to change. He began to sport a trim mustache and a beard that made him resemble a Spanish Duke.
You could tell by his appearance that he was not part of mainstream society. Moving back to Palo Alto, Jerry met his soon to be song writer Robert Hunter. At first they would just run into each other a lot, then they would repeatedly bump into each other at St. Michael’s Ally, a place they both liked to hang out. Hunter and Garcia had a lot in common; both had just recently got out of the army and had a love for music.
Soon after they met, they were both living out of their broken down cars in an empty lot in East Palo Alto, California. Garcia remembered, ” Hunter had these five or six big tins of crushed pineapple that he had gotten from the army, and I had this big glove compartment of plastic spoons, and we had this little cooperative scene, eating crushed pineapples day after day and sleeping in the cars”(Troy 24). In late 1961 one of Garcia’s friends turned him on to The New Lost City Ramblers, a bluegrass style band. When Jerry started studying bluegrass music it seemed very familiar, he believed it was because of going to his grandmothers house when he was a kid and listening to country music all night. His fondness for bluegrass music gave him the incentive to learn how to play the five- string banjo.
Garcia took up the banjo with a vengeance, and just a short time later he was known as the banjo picker of Palo Alto. Garcia’s mastering of the banjo was a clear indication the he had the ability of becoming a professional musician (Troy 29). Also in 1961 Garcia met another future band member named Phillip Chapmen Lesh. He was a serious musician who had played classical music since the third grade, studied theory and harmony pp 5 in high school, took up the trumpet at the age of fourteen, and played in the college of San Mateo’s jazz band. They coincidentally met at the Palo Alto Peace center, a gathering place for students, Beatniks, and others.
Lesh explains, ” I’d never yet heard anyone play the banjo like that. It was the most inventive, most musical kind of banjo playing you could ever imagine” ( Troy 33}. Although these guys were serious musicians, they still liked to have fun, which also included the experimentation of drugs. Smoking marijuana soon became part of the culture of the 1960’s. The large increase of marijuana started when large numbers of teens began questioning their parents social values. The use of marijuana could change the view or perspective a person has on life. Experimentation of marijuana and LSD (acid) brought a change of consciousness, that brought up the values of peace, honesty, equality, individuality, and sensuality.
Marijuana was also quite common in the music world. Musicians believed that it enhanced their ability to perform and write songs.(Troy 44) Being well known for his banjo playing, Garcia was gaining a tremendous amount of experience playing with a number of bands. They would play coffeehouses, bars, local clubs and bookstores throughout the San Francisco Bay area. It was New Years Eve and Garcia was at Dana Morgans music store where he had been working, giving music lessons to students. Being New Year’s, no one showed up for their lesson. Garcia had been wailing away on his banjo to pass time when Bob Wier, another future band member stumbled in.
Wier recalled, ” It was Garcia, we recognized him from the numerous bands that he was playing in at the time.. He was the local hot banjo player. He was in there playing pp 6 banjo waiting for his students to show up”( Troy 53). Weir persuaded Garcia to let him use a guitar from the store and they started jamming. By the end of the evening they decided to assemble a jug band. Needing another member for their band they enlisted Ron McKernen, a local harmonica player, better known as “Pigpen”. Pigpen grew up listening to his father’s blues collection, and learned how to play blues piano and sing the blues.
The name of their band was called Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. Hunter had the biggest part in naming the band. To the dislike of Garcia, Pigpen brought a lot of his own style to the band, which was radically different from the folk bluegrass style brought forth by Garcia. Far from being a conflict for Garcia, it became a source of musical growth. Mother McCree’s stayed a jug band for almost a year, then by Pigpen’s influence they went electric.
With Garcia on lead guitar, Weir on vocals and rhythm guitar, and Pigpen on harmonica, keyboards and vocals, all the band needed was a bass player and a drummer. Arriving back at Dana Morgan’s music store they ran into Bill Kreutzmann, a drummer, who was at the time teaching with Garcia. Garcia asked him to join the band and he replied, yes. Needing a bass player they were desperate, so they asked the owner’s son, who was playing bass for only a short period of time. Although, together the band members had been playing for a long time, they were all basically teenagers.
In fact, both Kruetzmann and Weir had to get fake ID’s because they were too young to play in clubs that served liquor. They were all serious musicians and took the band seriously. It was right before New Year’s when the band went electric, renaming the band The pp 7 Warlocks. The band used the equipment from the music store that Garcia and Kruet …