100 Greatest Guitarists: David Fricke's Picks

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Jerry Garcia

Michael Ochs Archive/Getty

Garcia was a folk and blue-grass obsessive who started playing guitar at fifteen. It was those roots, as well as a lifelong love of Chuck Berry, that gave his astral experiments with the Grateful Dead a sense of forward momentum. Garcia could dazzle on slide ("Cosmic Charlie") or pedal steel ("Dire Wolf"), but his natural home was playing lead onstage, exploring the frontier of psychedelic sound. The piercing lyricism of this tone was all the more remarkable for the fact that he was missing the third finger of his right hand — the result of a childhood accident while he and his brother Tiff were chopping wood. He died in 1995 in rehab for his longtime drug habit. But his guitar still shines like a headlight on a northbound train.

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