He was known as Captain Trips for his prototypical psychedelic persona, and Uncle Jerry for his amiable onstage demeanor. He was adored by Deadheads and jeered by critics who considered his extended guitar jams with the Grateful Dead ponderous and aimless. But Jerry Garcia's stinging, lyrical guitar sound was utterly distinctive, and his delicate, mournful, rough-around-the-edges vocals helped define the psychedelic music of 1960s San Francisco. He was a cultural and musical icon, his ethos and improvisatory style emulated and expanded on by generations of followers.
Jerome John Garcia was born in San Francisco on August 1, 1942, of Spanish, Irish and Swedish descent. His father, Jose Ramon "Joe" Garcia, was a musician and bar owner, and his mother, Ruth "Bobbie" Garcia, played piano. The younger Garcia began playing piano early on, even though at age four he lost his right middle finger in a camping accident. He first heard the folk and country music of the Grand Ole Opry during a stay with his maternal grandparents, and began playing the banjo. By the 1950s, his brother introduced him to the blues and rock & roll of John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles, and Chuck Berry. At 15 Garcia began smoking marijuana and attending art classes at the San Francisco Art Institute. (He would later produce paintings and a line of psychedelic neckties.) By high school, Garcia's family had moved to Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, where he formed his first band, the Chords.
By 1960 Garcia was getting in trouble and joined the Army, relocating back to San Francisco where he eventually met Robert Hunter, who would become one of the Grateful Dead's longtime lyricists. The two began performing together amid the city's beatnik coffeehouse scene, where Garcia also came into contact with future Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, whose early recordings of Garcia playing folk songs made their way on to San Francisco radio station KPFA as "'The Long Black Veil' and Other Ballads: An Evening with Jerry Garcia." Between 1962 and 1964 Garcia became known around city for his performances of folk and bluegrass music, and he eventually joined Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions along with harmonica player and keyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan.
In 1963 Garcia met Sara Ruppenthal, who worked in a bookstore coffee shop where he and Hunter often performed; the couple married and had a daughter, Heather, later that same year. In 1964 Garcia tried the new drug L.S.D. for the first time and it changed his life. He has said it made him feel freer to live outside a conventional lifestyle; musically, he began improvising beyond the constrictions of the basic folk-song formula. Lesh and drummer Bill Kreutzmann eventually joined his band, which morphed into the Warlocks and eventually the Grateful Dead, a name Garcia had found in a dictionary.
With the Dead, Garcia continued experimenting with extended guitar improvisation, but he also was an eclectic multi-instrumentalist who performed with numerous side projects and assisted other artists throughout the Dead's three-decade career. He was listed as "spiritual adviser" on Jefferson Airplane's 1967 psychedelic-pop breakthrough Surrealistic Pillow, and in 1969 he co-founded the psychedelic country-rock band New Riders of the Purple Sage, playing pedal-steel guitar on the group's debut album of 1971. During the Dead's acoustic period (1970's Workingman's Dead and American Beauty), Garcia also played pedal-steel on "Teach Your Children," from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's 1970's album D éjà Vu. In addition, Garcia regularly collaborated with bassist John Kahn and keyboard player Merl Saunders both on stage and in the studio.
In 1972 he recorded his first solo album, Garcia (Number 35), a mix of experimental avant-garde compositions with more conventional blues- and folk-based rock songs such as the Grateful Dead live staples "Sugaree" (Number 94) and "To Lay Me Down." In 1973, he and Kahn teamed with folk musicians David Grisman (banjo, mandolin), Peter Rowan (guitar) and Vassar Clements (fiddle) for Old & in the Way, a set of original and traditional bluegrass-based songs that included the Stanley Brothers' "White Dove" as well as a down-home version of the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses." The next year Garcia did an about-face on his second solo album, also titled Garcia, teaming with Kahn, Saunders and a host of other musicians for a highly eclectic set of mostly cover songs ranging from Chuck Berry's "Let It Rock" to Irving Berlin's "Russian Lullaby."
Garcia's second solo album marked the beginning of the Jerry Garcia Band, with which he, Kahn, sometimes Saunders and various members of the Graeful Dead would release a succession of albums on various labels throughout the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties including Reflections (Number 42, 1976), Cats Under the Stars (1978), Run for the Roses (1982), and numerous live sets, bootleg and otherwise, including the official Arista-released Jerry Garcia Band (1991).
As with the Grateful Dead, Garcia allowed home-tapers to record his shows and hours of recordings of his projects exist and have come out on various labels in the years since his death in 1995. Among official releases are several bluegrass/jazz collaborations with Grisman following their Old and in the Way project: the Grammy-nominated Jerry Garcia/David Grisman (1991), Not for Kids Only (1993), and the posthumously released Shady Grove (1996), So What (1998), and the documentary soundtrack Grateful Dawg (2001). Throughout the 2000s several of the Garcia Band's live dates have been released on Jerry Made Records under the series name Pure Jerry.
Garcia lived a truly hippie communal lifestyle, with the members of the Grateful Dead living together in San Francisco's Haigh-Ashbury district during the 1960s; hence, his romantic life is complicated. After separating from his first wife he began a relationship with Carolyn Adams, also known as Mountain Girl, a member of Ken Kesey's hippie tribe the Merry Pranksters. Walker, who had a child with Kesey, was married to fellow Prankster George Walker when she and Garcia began their relationship. Garcia and Walker had two children: Annabelle Walker Garcia, born in 1970, and Theresa Adams Garcia, born in 1974. The following year, Garcia met and began a relationship with Deborah Koons while he was still seeing Walker. During the late 1970s, while the Grateful Dead were touring constantly, Garcia began using cocaine and heroin. In 1981 he married Walker, but his drug use escalated throughout the Eighties and he was arrested and began a series of rehabilitation attempts.
In 1986 Garcia fell into a five-day diabetic coma and was forced to relearn the guitar. He began seeing another woman, Manasha Matheson, resulting in the birth of his fourth child, daughter Keelin Noel Garcia, born in 1987. He remained relatively healthy for about two years but relapsed on heroin in 1989, again attempting treatment. He and Matheson remained together until 1993; however, Garcia began seeing another woman briefly and soon reunited with Koons, whom he married on February 14, 1994.
Within a year Garcia was in full-blown addiction, and in July of 1995 checked into the Betty Ford Center and then the Serenity Knolls treatment center in Forest Knolls, California. While there, on August 9, Garcia died of a heart attack. His legions of fans held memorial events all over the world, including one in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park where some 25,000 people showed up. His funeral was attended by members of the Grateful Dead and numerous celebrities ranging from Bob Dylan to basketball star and longtime Deadhead Bill Walton. Garcia was cremated; part of his ashes were sprinkled into the Ganges River in India and the other part in the San Francisco Bay.