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Remembering Jerry through Music

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Aug. 9, 2003, is the eighth anniversary of the death of Jerry Garcia. Even now, for Deadheads like me, everything and nothing is the same.

In marking the occasion, be sure to avail yourself of the acoustic legacy of the legendary guitarist. This excerpt comes from the Aspen Times:

Garcia — born Aug. 1, 1942; died Aug. 9, 1995 — had as his first musical love the electric guitar. As a teenager in and around San Francisco, Garcia fell in love with early rock ’n’ roll — Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. Garcia followed that affection to electric blues players like Albert King and Freddie King.

Thanks to a teacher at the California School of Fine Art, Garcia was turned onto acoustic music. It was the early ’60s, the midst of the great folk scare, and Garcia got swept up in it. He practiced banjo and guitar fervently and, with his future songwriting partner Robert Hunter, formed a succession of folk/bluegrass bands: the Sleepy Hollow Hog Stompers, the Black Mountain Boys, the Thunder Mountain Tub Thumpers. Garcia was so hooked that, in 1964, he and bandmate Sandy Rothman spent a month traveling the Southern and Midwestern bluegrass circuit.

Not until 1965, when he and his mates in the jug band Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions saw the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” did Garcia decide to plug in.

Garcia would periodically unplug, sit down and become the acoustic picker again. Garcia was usually coaxed in this direction by mandolinist David Grisman, who Garcia had met in that summer of ’64. Garcia, on banjo, and Grisman — with guitarist Peter Rowan, bassist John Kahn, and fiddler Vassar Clements — formed Old & In the Way. The band was short-lived, playing only a handful of 1973 gigs.

But Old & In the Way would prove influential. Its album would become one of bluegrass’ biggest sellers. The Garcia-Grisman partnership would be a lasting and productive one. After the two pickers became estranged, they reunited in the late ’80s for occasional gigs and numerous picking sessions. Grisman always had his tape recorder running, and Garcia’s acoustic side is now well-preserved.

Thankfully, Garcia’s former bandmates just keep truckin’ on: With new members, Grateful Dead look forward, not back. Brief excerpt, featuring drummer Mickey Hart:

“This [music] sounds like the Grateful Dead, feels like the Grateful Dead,” Hart said. “It is the Grateful Dead. We built it, so we’re taking our legacy back. The Other Ones were transitional; they just got us here. I think I have the right to call it what it is. It’s the Dead.

“Jerry would be the first one to say that. He wasn’t the whole Grateful Dead; he was the lead voice, and he was a big part of it. But the music lives on, and that’s the way he would want it.”

We miss you, Jerry. But thank the goddess the music never stops.

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