Jerry Garcia Biography

Guitarist, Songwriter (1942–1995)
Singer/songwriter and musician Jerry Garcia was the frontman for famed psychedelic band the Grateful Dead.

Who Was Jerry Garcia?

Born on August 1, 1942, in San Francisco, California, singer and guitarist Jerry Garcia helped form the group the Grateful Dead in the ‘60s. With albums like American Beauty, the band toured for decades with a highly devoted “Deadhead” following. Garcia also released numerous projects as a solo artist and with other musicians. Having suffered greatly from drug addiction, he died on August 9, 1995.

Early Life

Band leader, guitarist and songwriter Jerome John "Jerry" Garcia was born on August 1, 1942, in San Francisco, California. Garcia was the son of a Spanish immigrant who grew up to become a bandleader popular in the San Francisco area. He studied piano as a boy but turned to the guitar in his teens. Dropping out of school at age 17, Garcia served nine months in the U.S. Army before being discharged for poor conduct. He began to play folk and blues guitar—alone or with pickup groups—in clubs within the San Francisco area, while working as a salesman and music teacher in a music store.

The Grateful Dead

In 1965, Garcia formed a band, the Warlocks, but upon discovering another group with that name, it was changed to the Grateful Dead (1966). Closely involved with the San Francisco hippie movement and the use of drugs such as LSD, the band first played "psychedelic" rock but moved on to a more diverse repertory of rock styles in the 1970s. From around 1974 the band's members began to go their own ways, and Garcia made solo appearances and albums. In the 1980s he became heavily addicted to drugs, and after being arrested in 1985 was sent to a treatment center. After emerging from a diabetic coma, he decided to turn his life around, and the band made a comeback in 1987 with a hit single, "Touch of Gray" and an album, In the Dark.

Later Years and Death

Garcia and the rest of the band enjoyed this new wave of success and continued to tour, drawing legions of fans—new and old—to their shows. The Grateful Dead had built quite a following over the years and their loyal fans, sometimes called "Deadheads," were known to travel around the country to catch their concerts. Unfortunately, the show could not go on forever. Despite Garcia's efforts to improve his lifestyle, all of the years of hard living caught up with him. He died of heart failure on August 9, 1995, in Forest Knolls, California.

The band retained a devoted fan base through the continued performances of longtime members like Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, while Garcia's legacy endured thanks to his standing as a '60s counterculture icon. In August 2018, his ex-wife Manasha and daughter Keelin launched an independent label devoted to his music and art, Jerry Garcia Music Arts LLC, commemorating what would have been Garcia's 76th birthday with the release of his 1982 solo acoustic performance of the classic Grateful Dead track "Ripple."

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